Opinion: Climate Heroes and Zeros

Everyone loves heroes.  As a born and bred Red Sox fan I can think of no greater hero than the great, great, grand, Papi himself – David Ortiz!  The greatest clutch hitter and Yankee slayer ever!  Worth every penny of his multi-million dollar contract, hands down!  But what did he do with that fortune?
When I learned that Big Papi bought not just one, but a fleet of Hummers, well, I was aghast and humbled.  Oh my goodness, my baseball hero was a climate zero.

For those who don’t remember, Hummers were a, thankfully, short lived line of Sports Utility Vehicles that closely resembled heavily armored military assault vehicles.  Notorious for their extremely low efficiency ratings, it had just enough range to reach the next gas station.  

It was not the first or last time a personal hero has come to disappoint me.  Part of growing older and wiser is learning to evaluate people through different perspectives.  I also started thinking about just who is, and what constitutes, a climate hero.

One might start by thinking that a family with an electric or hybrid car, with a Bernie sticker, and an array of solar voltaic panels on the roof of their house would be the very embodiment of  climate hero.
However, when calculating the carbon footprint of a new vehicle, an honest accounting would include all the fossil derived energy that went into its production, the mining of the mineral resources that make up the vehicle, the wastes that are generated and the human labors that are imbedded in it.  Also include the resources that went into building and maintaining the factory, mining equipment and labor force while engaged in its production.  Not to mention all the profit margins included at every step from inception to delivery. 

These same calculations also apply to solar panels, largely made using energy from coal mined in Australia, assembled with labor in China, shipped and installed on a farm, or newly cleared land here in the United States.  The meager solar energy output over their twenty year optimal lifespans, may never make back the fossil energy invested in them.

If you where to also add in the energy and environmental costs of manufacturing the necessary battery storage for wide use adaptation, then the cost to benefit ratio gets even bleaker. Even the Bernie bumper sticker isn’t worth the plastic its printed on, as far as the environment is concerned.

So, what does a true climate hero look like?  I am thinking about someone with an absurdly small carbon footprint.  Someone who doesn’t fly in airplanes or even drive to work.  Someone who doesn’t manufacture, sell or buy consumer goods.  Someone who doesn’t gobble up energy or fancy foods and lives a simple life, so that future generations may simply live.  

Then it hit me.  The unhoused are the real climate heroes! The folks who don’t heat a house and don’t even have a home.  Most of these heroes are unintentionally so, nevertheless, they personally bear the brunt of our climate catastrophe, do the least in adding carbon to the problem, and get no recognition for their non-contribution.  Instead, they get shunned, harassed and pushed away.  It is past time they get their due and respect for the true heroes that they are.  Perhaps we can, at least, offer them the chassis of spent automobiles with a permanent parking spot.  Starting with the Hummers, of course, their roomy interiors and plush seats will offer the shelter and comfort commensurate with their standing as true hero.

Jim Turner has lived in Amherst for more than 25 years.

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