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August 01, 2006

Heat, as an entrée to bigger ideas

Kelly Corrigan's column is printed here with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

IT'S GOTTA PASS.

This is what I keep saying to myself as pour another glass of ice water and wipe my daughter’s hair off her sticky forehead. This is what I say as I toss out the three red candles that were too close to the window, the candles that folded over on themselves like playdoh.

But what if it doesn’t? What if this punishing heat is what environmental scientists, and their celebrity-sponsor, Al Gore, have been waving their arms about all these years? Is this what global warming feels like? Does this qualify as “climate change”?

It’s an obvious question. Like a couple million other people, I saw An Inconvenient Truth this summer. Besides being wowed by what Power Point can do these days and wondering if Apple paid to be Gore’s leading lady, I left the theater (the dark, cool theater) as motivated as I have ever been to make changes in our family’s wasteful ways. So far, we’re investigating three things: replacing old windows with double paned, energy efficient versions, putting solar panels on the backside of our roof—the side we never see, the side that bakes in summer sun for eight hours a day—and buying a hybrid.

These three changes have a few things in common; they cost money initially and save money over the long haul, they are visible to others, which helps nudge the country closer to what Malcom Gladwell calls “the tipping point,” and they help us talk to our kids about more than today’s swim lesson and tomorrow’s birthday party. It’s this last thing that really gets me out of bed in the morning.

Our kids are young, just starting school this fall, so we keep it simple. For now, it’s about sharing. Just like at preschool, where there are only so many glue sticks, and so many orange popsicles, we’re all sharing a single set of supplies—water, gas, electricity. So, I explain, when you refuse to use both sides of a piece of paper, or you turn the volume down on your CD player instead of turning the whole thing off, or when you stuff all your clean clothes in the laundry basket after playing dress ups with your friend, we’re using more than we need. At some point, that means that someone else, like some baby trying to nap in Modesto where it’s 113 degrees, might not be able to use her oscillating fan [which means that baby will cry for her hot, over taxed mother and I think we all know that hell hath no fury like a hot, over taxed mother.]

This conversation has the immediate benefit of keeping my bills lower and my conscious cleaner. But better than that by a mile is that this conversation implies that there is a giant world out there, a world that doesn’t go to The Piedmont Pool or to birthday parties at Kids In Motion gymnastics, a world that I so hope my girls become more and more mindful of. Because they can’t make it better if they don’t know it exists.