RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Save the Planet Whichever Way You Can

When it's midsummer and the weather is just plain awful, my neighborhood gets up early and we try to finish chores before 9 a.m. Then many of us hunt out cool places to spend the bulk of the day. If that cool place is home, I'll probably take a nap in the early afternoon, thinking I'll go back outside and finish things up in the evening. My husband, on the other hand, is a late-afternoon napper. And, if either of us spends the day in an alternative cool place, like the library, we become evening nappers, crashing after we get home.

Under the circumstances, meals become rather indifferently prepared and consumed and our schedules get more and more erratic. Sometimes I'm picking bugs off the fruit trees at midnight by flashlight or he's working at the computer late after I'm asleep. The whole experience leads to an odd sleeping and waking consciousness that sometimes makes us feel we've had two days in one and other times makes us feel we've never quite gotten up. Here in mid-Missouri, please note, we've had hot seasons before, so we may be more adaptable than those in more fortunate climes, like the San Francisco Bay Area where they recently suffered through 11 days of record heat.

I occasionally wonder what kind of decisions we're making in this peculiar state of mind. Certainly we discuss things less and we have less energy to attack projects like, say, paying bills or weeding the garden. And that, perhaps, sums up the difficulty with combating global warming. Finding solutions will take commitment when all we can think about is how to get through another triple-digit-temperature day.

As the ice caps melt and power grids fail, it should really be no surprise that dumping pounds and tons of waste into the atmosphere have mucked it up. There's no example in nature that would lead us to believe otherwise. Dump trash in a pit and you'll soon fill up the pit. Pump waste into a cesspool and pretty soon it's polluted. So why would we think we could continue releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the air and not have it build up? Of course, why would we think that bombing poor people in a faraway land would make them peaceful? But I digress.

The solutions to global warming are, as Al Gore may say, inconvenient. We don't want to give up our comfortable cars or our air-conditioned homes. We don't want to give up our right to travel. When one of my neighbors heard that the glaciers are melting, her reaction was to find a cruise to go and see it. Sort of like the sailors that killed and ate the last dodo, we want all the experiences we can imagine and afford, even if our travel is killing the planet.

Most of all, and I hardly dare breathe this aloud: We don't want to give up our right to leave a mark, in the form of our own kids or grandkids, even though we know that the population on earth today is much more than twice as large as it was 50 years ago.

And that, per person, we're using many more resources than ever before in history. The fact is that if everyone on earth lived as Americans are living, we'd need four or five planets to accommodate all of us. Check it out on one of the many Web sites that measure your environmental footprint. For all of us to divide resources fairly and sustain ourselves on just one planet, earth, we'd have to live as our great grandparents did. Forget the convenience of electricity and gasoline engines. Each family would raise all the food we need, make our own clothes, travel by horseback and cram our families into just a few rooms.

Nobody's going to do that, so the most feasible solution is to allow our human numbers to fall, and quickly. This means injecting money into sex education, free condoms, family planning and, yes, morning-after pills and abortion clinics.

And, finally, saving the planet means honoring couples that decide to remain childless. Father's Day, Mother's Day, Couple's Day. Why not?

Bottom line: Your gene pool's not that special, and there are plenty of babies and kids to go around if you need one to bond to. Look into mentoring programs or volunteer at the after-school program. And parents of multiples are grateful for any help we can give, from preparing meals to taking walks with the kids to cutting the grass. In my neighborhood, with a set of triplets down the road and twins on the way, we can always find a youngster to feed or play ball with.

As for the childless couples you know, quit asking when they're going to reproduce. If they're childless and happy, give them the credit they deserve.

They may be saving the planet.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2006

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