I have the greatest respect for John Kerry, our former senator, presidential candidate, and now President Biden’s special envoy for climate. But I must disagree with him on one significant point.
In a recent BBC interview, Kerry maintained that the average American citizen need not sacrifice a thing in order for our country to achieve our energy goals and avoid the worst consequences of the looming climate disaster.
Tell that to the less-than-charming woman I encountered outside Cumberland Farms a few weeks ago.
She was hunched behind the steering wheel of her car, consuming an enormous sandwich. As I passed behind her vehicle I noticed the telltale shudder of the dripping tailpipe, indicating that the engine was running. After going into the store and buying a few items, I returned to my own car and could see that she was still there, blissfully idling her car and eating her sandwich.
Delicate soul that I am, I hate these confrontations, but — here goes. With my best smile, I gave the universal signal for “Roll down your window”: a hearty rotation of the hand — even though car windows are now electric and driven by a push of a button.
“Hi! How ya doin’? I hope you’re enjoying the day. I just wanted to let you know that the state of Massachusetts has a regulation limiting the idling of cars to five minutes, and the town of Provincetown voted at our 2019 town meeting to back this up. You probably didn’t know about this, and you probably didn’t know that an idling vehicle contributes….”
Before I could finish my folksy message about the apocalypse and her part in it, I was interrupted by a tirade of expletives not suitable for a family newspaper. And with that accomplished, she abruptly screeched into reverse and peeled out of the parking lot: aggrieved, I deduced, at being told what to do. Oh, well. Not the worst reaction to my ministry, but close to it.
Not idling your car is one of the simplest acts you can do to benefit the environment. It is more than just symbolic. Idling vehicles nationwide waste more than four million gallons of gasoline every day. Each gallon of gasoline burned releases over 19 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. If we can’t do this — with raging wildfires and out-of-control flooding and storms — what can we hope for? Technology alone won’t solve our problems, despite what John Kerry says. We need an attitudinal change.
But people are tired of hearing that message, and sometimes I tire of delivering it. The average Joe or Jill wants what he/she wants when he/she wants it. It is hubris: they won’t be too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.
I hate like hell to tell people what to do. I am a go-along-get-along guy. I have had some positive reactions to my ministry, people even thanking me for the information. I have had many neutral reactions, nods of the head, that sort of thing, and a basketful of negatives. The hardest situations have been friends and neighbors. There was the woman who idled her Cadillac Escalade for an entire soccer match to keep her toddler warm, on a seasonable autumn day, when a plush sweater would have sufficed. There was the woman who ran her car to warm her dog while she was in Stop & Shop, when its coat would have more than sufficed.
On a good day, I confront them all. But many days, I am in a hurry, not in the mood, distracted, or suffering from a lack of courage. More often than not, I summon Greta Thunberg, that incredible young woman (like Joan of Arc, but with a much better cause), who inspires me. Or I summon John Lewis, and look to get in “good trouble, necessary trouble.” Perhaps if each of us got into a little bit of trouble now, we could save the next generation, and our planet, a whole lot of grief.