Monday, April 14, 2008

Leaving On a Jet Plane

So here I am on my urban farm sustainability blog writing to tell you that my family and I will be climbing on a gigantic fuel-sucking monster to fly across the country so that my kids can run robots around on tables in the Georgia Dome. When you put it like that, it sounds kind of absurd from an environmental standpoint, yet therein lies the rub and one of the stickiest parts of being an environmentalist: how far do you push your values on your kids? Sure, we could tell them that we refuse to go - just because their robotics team made it to the World Festival is no reason to be wasteful of resources. But could you really imagine doing that? Me neither. So off we go.

As with so many day-to-day decisions, we have to balance what is right for our principles vs. what is right for our children. In many ways, our values become second nature for our kids, the "HTF" (a phrase that my mom developed in days of water rationing for "Hold the Flush", and turn lights off when they leave the room. They hang up laundry, vegetable garden, gather chicken eggs, walk and bike around town. But while I will cheerily suit up in my Goretex gear and pedal off to work in a downpour, I don't ever force the kids to bike in inclement weather. Yep, we drive. Of course, we are usually carpooling and try to minimize car miles and maximize the usage when we do take a gas-powered vehicle, but there are many times when having my daughter make it to a dance recital with hair, make-up, and costume intact trumps my tree-hugging values. And this weekend is one of those times, for sure.

So we're off for five days of fun at the World Robotics Festival. Blue skies are in the making as the weather in Atlanta promises to be lovely, and I'm sure the kids will have one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives.


Wendy said...

I know the feeling. Sometimes I find it incredibly difficult to find the balance and I end up tipping too far to one side or the other. On the one side, is my desire to live lightly, but some of the things I want to do are things my husband just won't do, and can't really be done effectively if *I* am the only one. On the other side is our society and sometimes I just end up falling back into old habits, because it's easier and more convenient.

Most of the time I do find that happy medium, and when I've had to drive too many miles, I take heart in the fact that I also do a good many other very positive things.

So, enjoy your plane trip and the robotics contest. Your children, I'm sure, have earned it, both in the work they did building the robot AND in the lifestyle changes they've contributed to in your family ;).

EE said...

I just walked up to our computer to check the weather and this blog was up. I see my daughter, Julie, was signed in. So I read it.

I'm the dad of 5 basically unschooled kids. I'm an engineer during the business day. My only serious goal left in life, after seeing that my kids are well taken care of and have the best start in life I can reasonably give them, is sustainablity in the world. It's clear that it's the way everyone has to go, but no one seems to get it. Here in this blog I finally see someone who's thinking just like I do, that's refreshing.

I have some questions - there's a lot of talk here about saving gas, but the kids seem to be the exception. I do the exact same thing. In fact, we moved out into the country so we could have 36 acres we could afford, with a nice hill for wind power and solar, but now I drive 24 miles to work, and the "big city" is perhaps 40 miles away. I get 33 MPG but still it's a significant carbon footprint. How do we justify that energy use for our kids? We say, ya, the world is getting unstable, and cheap energy is going away, but I GOTTA take my kids to the soccer game. Aren't we just teaching our kids to be energy wasters, too? Is it OK to hope that some day algae farms are going to solve this problem and our kids should have all the non-polluting fuel they want (at maybe $15/gal in today's money)? Or does sustainability require the large social activity we get our kids into to end permanently? Even with 36 acres which would give me the energy for that drive to work, that energy is coming out of my soil and radiation, taking it for my car might cause some bad side effects as well. I want my kids to see the world too (my 3 daughters are going to London next week to bum around), but its clearly not sustainable. Will our kids tell stories about the old energy days when you could just go see the places in the world, rather than just experience them in 3D viewers? How does someone "earn" a trip with any amount of work, there is nothing that can justify destroying the environment? Do we reward ourselves for being the kind that truly understand the problem and take some small step toward improvement, yet we join right in with the crowd while it lasts? How can we call it a "balance" between doing what's right and not?