The irony was not lost on anyone that a majority of participants in Friday’s Methow Climate March in Twisp drove to the event. Some of the good citizens of Twisp walked from their houses, and a respectable handful of cyclists rode to the march, but the rest of us hopped into vehicles that are some of the primary culprits in causing the very thing we were headed to demand action on.
Like many of my fellow drivers, I felt sheepish to be arriving by means of burning fossil fuels, especially once I determined that I would need to drive not my somewhat fuel-efficient Subaru Outback, but instead our gas-guzzling Dodge Ram, in order to pick up some trees I had ordered from Yard Food.
I was conflicted. Should I drive the Subaru just to avoid the shame of being seen arriving at the march in the Dodge, and then go back down to Twisp the next day to retrieve the trees in the truck? You don’t have to be a climate change scientist to see the flaw in that approach. Should I skip the march entirely, given the hypocrisy of needing to drive to it in the first place? I had three seventh-graders with me; could I in good conscience drive the next generation of activists to the march in a vehicle that should have been forced into obsolescence by the previous generation due to its carbon footprint?
I started running through my justifications for driving the truck to the march. One: The honey locusts I was picking up will, like all trees, absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen — clean air, offsetting the toll my truck’s emissions take on the planet. (Drive a truck, plant a tree.) Two: Bees love flowering trees, and bees are the planet’s most prolific, efficient and effective pollinators. (Drive a truck, protect crops.) Three: Not taking the kids to the march would indicate indifference to climate change, and their generation will not have the luxury of apathy toward this issue. (Drive a truck, teach your children well.)
I realized that this is how we justify nearly all the sticky choices we make — we weigh the benefits against the impact, and select a course of action. I decided to drive the truck, pick up the trees, and attend the march with the kids. It was, like most decisions, an imperfect one. But if we only acted when our own authority on matters is beyond reproach, we’d rarely do anything. “We know we can do better,” such situations force us to admit to ourselves, “and we will just have to keep trying.”