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April 1, 2008

Summary of My Discontent: OCD is the new green

For most of my life I’ve tried not to be a dick to our planet earth, which many scientists believe we’ll need if we want a place to stand in the future. Thanks to a lifetime of watching TV spirit-guides like Iron Eyes Cody, Captain Planet, Woodsy Owl and Albert Gore, I’m convinced we can all do our part to overcompensate for Dick Cheney. Although I have a soft spot in my heart for activists who chain themselves to trees and stick pins in voodoo replicas of Rep. Jim Gooch (D-Coal’s Backpocket), I’ve focused in recent years on my own personal habits. Personal sacrifices not only protect the planet, but they flood the brain’s pleasure center with sanctimony-rich chemicals normally unleashed only by quietly rolling your eyes at that annoying co-worker who won’t shut up about “Lost.” I’ve found that there are a lot of easy ways to reduce my own impact without lifting a finger (not counting the middle one, which I occasionally wave at Hummer drivers).For years, my contributions were modest. I recycled, of course, and I subscribed to all the hippest enviro-e-newsletters, where I read about efforts to save species of animals I’d never heard of before opening the e-mails reporting on their demise. I also tsk-tsked a lot, especially during environmental catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez spill and the 1987 wandering garbage barge. And I quit eating beef, but that was mostly because beef is disgusting, so I don’t count that — even though it’s one of the best things people can do for the environment. But now the stakes are much higher. Even Christian Republicans recognize man’s ability to impact the planet, which is the textbook indication that an event has been going on for at least 100 years. Many people are calculating their own “carbon footprint” to determine their impact on global climate change. But I’ve been focusing on reducing another important benchmark: my carbon assprint. In recent years, I’ve made significant strides in reducing my carbon assprint. For one thing, we moved our family to a smaller home in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood closer to work. The move allowed me to begin riding my bike to work, whereupon I began to see some real results on the assprintometer. Not only did I reduce carbon emissions, save gas and burn a lot of calories, but the slower pace gives me the opportunity to wave the aforementioned middle finger with more casual gusto. Full of the Holy Spirit, I took another plunge: I got rid of my lawnmower and bought a reel mower just like the one my grampa used to use. I now use my “sanctimower” to mow my lawn with zero emissions, zero petroleum, that tilted-doghead look from passersby and a modest workout that makes even more assprint headway. But then things began to get a little weird. I began turning off lights and unplugging appliances a little too aggressively (like when loved ones were using them). I caught myself becoming an anti-consumer and evaluating every purchase for its environmental impact. Was it local? Organic? Sustainable? I began noticing the assprints of others, most notably a Rolling Stone interview with Al Gore during which the environmental hero grilled steaks for Jann Wenner. Would I, a nascent environmental superman, dare to condescend to Gore, our cause’s maharishi? (Memo to Al: Here’s an inconvenient truth: Recent photos seem to indicate a fairly large assprint.)At some point while riding my bike home in a 35-degree downpour, I began to wonder: Was I a patriot? Saving the planet? Or had I become an obsessive-compulsive lunatic? Was it possible to strive for carbon neutrality without going fucking crazy? And now comes word that carbon neutral isn’t good enough. Researchers at Princeton, Columbia and Berkeley are working on solutions that are carbon negative. Negative! Will I have to mow my lawn twice as often to make up the difference? Arrrgh! I guess I might as well go all-out obsessive/compulsive. If the planet is going to survive, we’re all going to have to be OCD about it eventually. They say that recognizing an illness is the second step toward recovery,* so perhaps by shining a light on my new compulsion I can regain my sanity. Too bad the lights are all turned off.  * The first step: finding out if your insurance covers it. Contact the writer at jimwelp@gmail.com