surf’s up



NYC ninety years from now, if warming trends continue and seas rise to match ancient levels with the same temp

Since it’s EARTH DAY, I would like to take this occasion to be a complete asshole. “How does that differ from any other day?” you might ask, and you’d be right. But I’m getting sick and tired of various emailers and commenters giving me shit for “driving across country to see a basketball game” and various other would-be transgressions, so I’m going to lay it all on the table, and whoever doesn’t like it can take their best shot.

First off, I drive. A lot. I drive more than you do. The realities of having lives on both coasts has historically meant getting back and forth via car, which would seemingly make me a hypocrite, what with all my hoo-hah about peak oil and global warming. But you’d be wrong on several accounts.

Those who don’t like NUMB3RS can skip this paragraph, but let’s take airlines at their word: a 747-400 plane cruises at 576 mph (927 km/h), burns 12,788 liters (3378 US gallons) of fuel per hour, and carries 409 passengers when full. Even if you take the percentages down a notch for the usual Boeing 767 I’d fly to New York (and corresponding lack of passengers), we’re still looking at a PERSONAL rating of 52.2 mpg per person, assuming the plane is 75% full.

With the Prius, I average about 49.5 mpg on cross-country trips, which means taking a plane is only 2.7 mpg more efficient. Given that these numbers can fluctuate due to head winds, idling endlessly on tarmacs and various other things, I think we can safely call this one a wash.

“But lo!” you cry, “the plane is ALREADY GOING to New York!” True enough, but that’s circular logic. Every person on that hypothetical plane bears the responsibility for its gas usage. They made that choice, not me. If they all decided to not take the plane, then the airline wouldn’t fly it.

But let’s bring this back into the real world. If I take a plane from NYC to California, I’m stuck in LA without a car. Which means renting one to the tune of $1200/month (if you include the same insurance we get with our own car). If we’re here for five months (like last year), that’s $6000. Not to mention the rental car will average 20 mpg – thirty mpg less than the Prius. Thus my plane flight will cause me to pump EVEN MORE carbon into the atmosphere.

It doesn’t make any sense, either financially or environmentally, so unless you can prove to me otherwise, perhaps some of you can find another aspect of my personality to criticize.

While we’re at it, let me lay some more cards on the table. In one way or another, we keep three different residences. The farm upstate generates all its own electricity through solar panels, and in fact, we sell power back to the electric company. In Brooklyn, our apartment is powered entirely by wind and water. Even our sublet in Los Angeles is powered entirely by wind, geothermal, biomass and solar.

Yes, our car runs on more than just distilled gallons of smug superiority. We’ve calculated how much we’ve driven and “neutralized” our impact on the atmosphere through the Presidio’s School of Management (and Chicago Climate Exchange) excellent program DriveNeutral. There are a lot of sites that can negate your car’s impact on the climate, like TerraPass, and another one we use, With Carbonfund, we took all our plane flights, all our heating/cooking/living from our various places and brought our little family down to ZERO CARBON for about $12 a month.

“WHOOPTY FUCKING DOO you self-righteous PRICK,” I hear you say, but tell me, what the fuck are YOU doing? It took less than 20 minutes to switch our apartments over to green power, and it costs, like, 1/2 cent per kilowatt more. For the price of three combos at McDonald’s, you can negate your carbon impact on the planet each month. I don’t expect any of you to get solar panels until they become more cost-appropriate, but this shit is so painfully easy with the internet, why couldn’t you do just a little tiny something for Earth Day?

The conservatives will make more fun of me and keep on driving whatever they want to drive and offer alternative websites showing that America gains if Greenland melts. Honestly, those who deny climate change remind me of Jewish families who wouldn’t flee Germany in 1938.

I’d love to be wrong about this, in fact, I’m planning on being wrong about this. You can call me whatever you want, and you’re free to think as you will, but the one thing you’ll never be able to say is that you weren’t warned.


top: current view of NYC with my apt. marked red and Sean’s apt. marked green; bottom: a storm surge on top of a three-foot sea rise – my brother is under water, but I’ve got beachfront, baby!

0 thoughts on “surf’s up

  1. LFMD

    I had no idea you could use green power for residences. Thanks for all of the great information!
    You ROCK! Happy Earth Day.

  2. Anne

    Wait, wait, I don’t get how you switch over to green power for your house. OK, I’ll Google. Sign me up!
    It seems to me, though, that consumers in general should be given some concrete incentives (i.e., some relief in the pocketbook) for choosing green cars, power sources, etc. Not everyone is motivated to act locally. Low-income people in particular often have different priorities. (In my city, for example, the rate of recycling glass, newspapers, etc. varies enormously by ZIP code, with the highest participation rates corresponding to highest income and education.)
    So, I appreciate the pep talk, and it’s absolutely valid and true. But I await leadership at the policymaking level. I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath, huh.

  3. Andrew

    As Anne asked, how do you change your home over to green power or how do you find out if the power company is using green power?

  4. Josie

    I think it’s great that you practice what you preach. And it looks like you have chosen every conceivable way to do your part. We should all be as diligent.
    BUT – Let’s not mislead. Although you pay for the Green Power in NYC and LA, it is not specifically delivered to your home. You buy units that go into the power grid.
    Becuase I am too lazy to look it up (actually – I need to get to work here)- Are you sure you are buying all green for each kwh you use? In another metro area where I lived, this was offered, but you had to purchase it by the unit. You could not convert your bill wholesale into green power, since it’s not a demand —> supply thing. It’s more of a “you pay for the supply, and we use it to meet our demand.”

  5. alan

    Ian, you can spin it any way you want, but the fact is you are still part of the problem. You are, I am, and everyone else living in most of the civilized world contributes to this. Until we decide to go back and start living like people 200 years ago we will continue to be. So, you can pick a coast and work a job that doesn’t require travel or you can just accept that you, like the rest of us aren’t really doing everything possible to prevent what is happening. I don’t want to do that, do you?

  6. Matt

    No serious person doubts that climate change is occurring. What many serious people are doubting is whether *anthropogenic* climate change is occurring. Frankly, the evidence doesn’t support it. (See )
    Notice the caption to the top photo: “…if warming trends continue and seas rise to match ancient levels with the same temp.”
    “Match ancient levels with the same temp”? You mean it’s been this temperature in the past? That almost sounds. . . cyclic.
    Check it out:
    I don’t belittle anyone for conservation. It’s a good thing in many ways, and I try to do it myself, but those who screech on and on about climate change (global warming, global cooling… whatever, let’s just call it climate change!) remind me of the guy wearing a cardboard sandwich warning the end is neigh.
    Seriously folks, relax and breathe easy.

  7. Sean Williams

    I know you think I’ll be under water, but what you don’t realize is that my building is THREE STORIES HIGH. I’ll simply move into my attic! It’s like you think I haven’t thought of this.

  8. Tim

    God damn it, Matt. Stop it. You are WRONG. The “experts” DO agree that global warming is impacted by anthropogenic pollution. You can find people arguing about how much, and the occasional crackpot who honestly believes that it’s “just cyclical”. But the experts are in agreement. And the evidence DOES support it. And you can link to your pet crackpots on here all day long, but you’re wrong about what the consenus is.

  9. Joe

    “Seriously folks, relax and breathe easy.”
    Right, Matt – brilliant advice. You’d fit right in with so many other vocal ignoramuses in the past who preached complacency in the face of obvious danger.
    Look, I don’t care whether *you* choose to deny the facts while you’re pouring your glass of Jonestown Kool-Aid, but don’t tell the rest of that we’re mistaken if when we choose not to join you and yours in lockstep on the path of least resistance.
    Go read some Martin Niemoller and keep those blinders on.

  10. Scott

    Ian –
    Each time that I visit and read your prose, it’s like I am looking into a mirror only to find a more well-spoken, committed, unwavering version of myself. I wish I could write as well, and I wish I were able to voice my opinions so consistently and forecfully.
    But, I live in fear that I will offend some current or future client, or inadvertently offend some old friend, or my wife, or . . . well, just about everybody. So, instead, I read your site and think to myself – someday I’m going to lay it all out on the table and let the chips fall where they may.
    Thanks, Scott

  11. J.Boogie

    Oh, so driving cross-country a few times a year is okay now, because in comparison to a jumbo jet – what you are doing is not all that polluting. I like that logic, it is the same logic that the ELF left-wing environmental terrorists use, they say that going to a Hummer dealership and burning a Hummer SUV to the ground is better for the environment than allowing that SUV to be sold and to pollute the environment for 100,000 miles or so. At least Ian now admits he holds the same train of thought as the ELF terrorists.
    Ian never likes to talk about the liberal magazine Newsweek, and their article in the 1970s titled, “Global Cooling.” The article described the temperature drops from 1945 to 1968. Listening to uneducated drama majors talk about world science is funny, only thing these Hollywood stooges can do is parrot back whatever 60 Minutes or NPR or Al Gore told them, they can’t think for themselves.

  12. Matt

    P.S. As for there being a “consensus,” remember that there was also a consensus about Saddam’s WMDs. The minority opinion was right in that instance, was it not?

  13. kjf

    environmental guilt is second only to mommy (and daddy) guilt. everyone needs to take whatever steps they can to protect the planet. no competition needed. no confessionals required. our circumstances in life make certain choices easier than others and responsible people will do responsible things. we are all in this together.

  14. xuxE

    oh my freakin god, i can’t believe ian gets harpooned for taking a few steps to conserve energy and stop global warming. classic!
    that is some straight up hatin. i mean, he’s talking about how he spends his own money fer crissakes. it’s environmental capitalism!! you right wing types should be thrilled!! maybe he bought his solar panels at Wal-MART!
    ima go sign up for some more green energy shit right now just out of spite. right after i check my horoscope and go grab an organic soy green tea latte. “PPPPPTTTTHHHHHHHH!!!!”

  15. 1970s

    J BOOGIE, will you stop bringing up an article from 30 years ago that is no longer relevant? Scientists now know a little more, hopefully, than they did in 1975, don’t they? Besides, the climate is not the same as in 1975 – from what I remember, it used to snow in the winter a lot back then. I know; I didn’t have to go to school those days.
    Why would Ian talk about an article from 1975 when there are 30,000 articles since then to talk about? It’s 2006.
    All of us know more now than in 1975. If you disagree, then wake up tomorrow and listen to “Disco Duck” all day.
    Disco, Disco Duck. Disco, Disco Duck.

  16. Matt

    I wasn’t “harpooning” Ian for his conservation steps. I believe I wrote in my initial post that I supported such efforts myself. Not because we’re doomed if we don’t (we aren’t), but rather because it’s smart, efficient, will reduce our dependence (albeit only slightly) on foreign oil, etc. My biggest pet peeve is people who litter. People get upset when you call them on it. Most just snort and carry on, others take personal offense. Excuse me, but *you’re* the one who just emptied a car ash tray on the sidewalk. Smokers, I tell ya. I used to be sympathetic to their complaints about being persecuted for using a legal product. But last week I participated in a base clean up, and after picking up my one-thousandth cigarette butt, I’m not anymore.
    Anyway, maybe you were speaking of j.boogie, who’s in a class all his own.

  17. Matt

    Yes, things have changed since the 1970s. From one of the links above:
    “Since 1970, carbon monoxide emissions in the U.S. are down 55%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate emissions are down nearly 80% and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by half. Lead emissions have declined more than 98%.”
    Happy Earth Day!

  18. xuxE

    dude, that quote is from the national manufacturer’s association, what else do you think they would say, “we have been screwing the environment since 1970 and will continue to do as long as it is profitable” ?
    i actually do believe there is some valid/real scientific disagreement at least the whole climate change thing, especially the human-cause aspect. and i get particularly cynical because there is money to be made on the politically correct side as well as the CO2 emissions side:
    but you’d have to be a friggin meteorologist to figure out the science of it for certain. scientists get things wrong all the time, they have different factions and camps and they make revisions and discoveries constantly, so you can’t go around living by the science journal finding du jour.
    call it reduced dependency on foreign oil with a nice fringe benefit of reducing global warming if that’s easier to swallow, but i really see no reason why shifting your own personal consumption toward green energy is any kind of problem whatsoever.

  19. Matt

    I think we are in agreement, xuxE, and it’s nice to see someone acknowledge that there is legitimate disagreement among the scientific community AND the potential of monetary rewards to motivate the pro-scare side.
    Many studies that purport to prove an anthropogenic cause of global warming completely ignore water vapor, which accounts for 99.7% of the greenhouse effect. Leaving out WV greatly exaggerates the effects of the other GHGs. I’ve linked to an article on that a few times, but few people probably bothered to read it. That humans are the cause of every 0.5% increase in temperature is religion for some, to be taken on faith. Disagree or point out that observational evidence doesn’t support the climate models and you’re labeled a crackpot, no matter how many years you were the headed of the NAS.

  20. Betsy

    No one in this country, I don’t care if you own a Prius and a home with solar panels, can wipe their hands clean of global warming.
    Consider that the majority of goods and services we consume are part of the oil-energy grid. There’s no escaping it unless a major shift occurs in how we obtain energy in this country. (Unless a person lives like Thoreau.)
    If the people who are informed and care about global warming become even a little bit smug, then the situation seems particularly bleak.

  21. Ian

    Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to abdicate all responsibility.
    As several asked, the way to switch your residence over to green power exists almost everywhere. Most of the time, you can just go to your electric company’s website and look for the “green” option. For instance, in New York City, we have Con Ed:
    In LA, we have LADWP:
    There are national companies that can do the same thing no matter where you live:
    And sometimes, there’s a local solar provider. It only takes a few seconds on Google.

  22. KTS

    My questions may seem a bit off kilter, but never mind, for a second, what a person can do to slow global warming. Let’s just assume that it’s happening and that it will keep getting worse. Let’s also assume the dire: that it will have major effects (as if it hasn’t already) that dramatically cause serious harm sooner than later. Like real soon, say within 20 years. Hurricanes, droughts, temperature increases, fresh water shortages, large population shifts, tent cities, etc.
    So one of my questions is, given the forgoing, where would be the best places – the least worst alternatives – to invest in property now? The best places to live in the foreseeable future.
    The Coasts are out. The South too, I would think. The Midwest may be a dustbowl. Other countries? I’m sure studies have been done on this, and those in the know are buying places based on these as I write!
    Note: Just read – “A hugely destructive cyclone described as a “perfect” storm bore down on the isolated northern Australian city of Darwin, devastated by a killer cyclone in 1974… Cyclone Monica is stronger than the dreaded hurricanes Wilma, Katrina and Rita or any other Atlantic hurricane ever were, never mind at landfall. The symmetry in Monica is flawless.”
    Guess Darwin real estate is out. Ironic, since Darwin is being threatened here in the states, too. Cyclone Monica is wiping out Darwin. What?
    And this is only the beginning.
    So where’s the market?

  23. xuxE

    not exactly, matt. i do think there is valid dissent, but my point was more about the futility of a non-scientist trying to debate a scientific topic and come up with some kind of certainty. especially when it comes to predicting the future! i mean, if that is the standard that has to be met before a person can take action that is just ridiculous.
    and it’s just really ludicrous to think we actually would debate whether it’s a good thing to use like, solar power or wind power instead of oil. i mean, can anyone produce ANY kind of debate about like, the dangers of windmills?
    so anyway, i just want to be clear, i am definitely voting for solar panels over moving to danbury.

  24. Matt

    Fair enough, xuxE. But since you mentioned it, some people actually are upset at the dangers of wind turbines. It seems thousands of poor birds are killed by the death machines each year (“bird guillotines”, I think they call ’em). I’m totally serious.
    You can be sure I’m with you on this one.

  25. Emily

    I don’t have any time to research, but I read somewhere that wind turbines spin at 30 mph. If birds can avoid our cars, then ‘death by wind power’ shouldn’t be an issue.

  26. Matt

    xuxE, here’s another argument being made against wind turbines (that I also don’t agree with).
    “The basic situation is that some environmentalists and a company called Cape Wind want to build 130 windmills way out in the ocean to help offset energy costs in the region — and to satisfy all those demands that we find substitutes for evil fossil fuels.
    “Meanwhile, other environmentalists and conservationists are eager to stop the wind farm from being built, largely because it will mar the view from their extravagant coastal homes. Leading this charge is Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose famous compound would have a nice view of the turbines.”
    It appears that some people’s environmentalism is of the NIMBY variety.
    And here’s another way to reduce one’s CO2 vehicle emissions.
    “BP has launched a ultra-high octane fuel, Ultimate 102. It’s selling in 6 gas stations in the UK at $20 a gallon. BP claims that if all the cars in the UK switched to it, the reduction in emissions would be like taking a million cars off the road. A small price to pay! — Iain Murray”

  27. badbob

    I guess I’m screwed living on waterfront now at 22′ above sl.
    I always did want to live on my small piece of MT @ 7500′. When will that be under water? Or will the next ice age happen first? Oh well, back to Jack and Stephen. Another Margerita?
    Did you know lawn mowers and such put out 20% of the measurable exhaust gases of all the internal combustion engines combined in the US? There’s a cause folks….some are proposing catalytic converters. Heh.

  28. kj

    What about volcanos? One volcano can really ruin your day, and they are increasing at a phenominal rate. Hey, you don’t have spell check on here. Arrrrrgh!

  29. Chris M

    Didn’t want to harsh the mellow in today’s kudos post so I’m stashing this back here…it is a response to Peak Oil and makes some good points. Reason is essentially libertarian — “free minds, free markets.” If a very large and complex organism is left unshackled it can work out the kinks and prevent fatal shocks to the system in way no one person or bureaucracy could ever predict. The primary goal is to keep the all people (the organism) free to do their work as individuals so each individual doesn’t have to worry excessively about all potential problems.


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