Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Green Problem (or) My Right Hand Surfs

Toddy & Antonio, Long Beach, Long Island, Early Summer 2010 
New York City by Gil Scott-Heron

I do not rate myself an environmental skeptic.  In fact, I am one of those who wholeheartedly accepts the fact that we are, and have been, slowly then very quickly doing unnecessary harm to the ecosystem of the planet.  I do not ascribe to this point of view based on facts, figures and data presented by an apparent majority of pertinent scientists (while this information plays its part at some point) instead, I base this view on the totality of my living experience.  Both apriori and aposteriori, in each of the hemispheres of my brain, through belief and observation, I have never witnessed something operating in a vacuum. I have never experienced through five senses, firing neurotransmitters or supernatural revelation anything, at all, that is not part of a larger whole.  This leads to some logical conclusions.  I'd like to say, I would say, we are killing the planet. Or, more precisely, we are decimating the living options of this planet.  But I do not know that this is absolutely the inevitable outcome.  It seems to be the case, but only time will tell.
In 1987, then again in 1992 I sent a stamped envelope with my name next to a checked box to the Surfrider Foundation. I was signing up to be a member, promising to send my check or money order in another envelope, later.  They sent me back a welcoming letter and a sticker to put first on my Sims snowboard, then on my Volvo four-door that said "Member Since 1987 (1992)."  I never sent in my dues.  And while I eagerly put the sticker on my snowboard, good intentions alight, I thankfully never put the sticker on my car. This is the complacency inside me.  This is the complacency that drives a total belief in the reality of the current environmental catastrophe while maintaining a sort of assumed acceptance which leads to an unconscious shrug of the shoulders.  Sad, yes. Ridiculous, even more yes.  Especially, as joining in the fight to save the world, making the sort of hard sacrifices for a positive effect on the environment is one of the easier things to wrap my mind around.  There are no thorny cultural considerations.  There is no checkered, tit for tat history.  There is no gray area of past moral interventionism.  A tree is a tree. Water is water.  Fish are fish.  Bugs are bugs.  Air is air.  Everything is connected.
When we moved to New York ten years ago I was confident I was finally making a concrete, positive environmental decision.  Just the fact that I was trading in driving a car to work for hopping on the subway everyday was enough to fuel this speculation.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, as they are thought of as mass-producers of trash heaps and epic amounts of raw sewage, the city model, with people packed in a small area, walking, riding bikes and using mass transit, cities have incredible possibilities for environmental economy
Surfers tend to assume they are more environmentally conscious than other groups of people.  We operate within an intimate knowledge of our natural surroundings.  Our pastime, or way of life, fundamentally teeters on the health of the ocean.  We pass on a loving respect of nature to our young. There are countless surfing related enviro-clubs and movements. Of course, this does not come without some introspection.  There is already much gnashing of teeth about mass produced boards, the impact of surf tourism and the contaminating nature of the surf industry in general.   And so it is this morning, on what becomes something of an annual summertime morning car commute to and from the beach, I found myself once again skewering my environmental credentials.
It is time to assess the situation. One, I am, unless conditionally dictated otherwise, a longboarder.  I generally don't ride fishes or thrusters or funboards.  I ride boards in the 9'8" to 11' realm.  These do not fit in the subway.  Two, I'm a regular footer and I don't operate well in ignorant crowds especially going backside.  Rockaway is basically out.  Three, my job every morning, starting anywhere between 6:30 and 8:30 is to wake my son up, make him breakfast, pack him a lunch and walk him to school.  My wife starts work at 7:00 am every day.
My car, a mid nineties Japanese sedan, gets (optimistically) between 36 and 41 highway miles per gallon.  The time it takes, in my mid nineties Japanese sedan, at around 4:30 am to drive to a surfable lump in Long Beach from my door is about 25 minutes. This is a roughly a 24 mile trip via the freeway.  The time it takes to get back to my apartment, leaving the beach at 6:15 am, is about an hour.  21 miles by mostly thoroughfare city streets at 19 miles per gallon.  I spend roughly an hour and a half, to two hours (with personal energy expenditure plus thirty minutes on either end) for typically five to ten clean waves.  If the waves are clean.  That's about two gallons of gas for an hour of surfing.  I think. That is, I'm pretty awful at basic arithmetic.  This week I have made that exact trek, more or less,  three times.  Probably seven or eight gallons of gas and six hours of traveling time for maybe twenty tiny waves, I mean tiny, waves.  If, for the next three months of "summer" I can get to Long Beach to surf at the same rate, that's 72 gallons of gas and 72 hours of driving a car for give or take 40 hours of surfing.  If I catch five waves every session, 180 waves.  I think. I am terrible at basic arithmetic. Besides spewing car fumes, I am burning the rubber on my tires, going through quarts of oil and other shitty car fluids and using up some small amount of electricity to make an espresso every morning.  Doesn't matter that I won't use the BP near my apartment anymore.
In the end though, it's hard to really quantify how this compares to some other surfer's environmental impact.  This is 72 gallons and 72 hours and quarts of bile more polluting than if I could either pony up and get comfortable backside shortboarding in a pack hassling over a single peak, or giving up altogether.  If I could really get my act together, I would take the A out there and make a real statement.  Not totally sure what time I'd have to get up for that, the connecting JMZ doesn't come all that often at four in the morning.
 All I can muster is a comfort in the knowledge that I am also alleviating stress, broadening my human capacities and setting a fine example of dedicated consideration of a lifestyle for my son.  I am happier, and as long as I don't get skin cancer or get into a car accident, I'm healthier.
And really, nothing exists in a bubble.


Jack Crank said...

The NY Surfers dilemma for sure. Up at 4am usually = in the water at rock by 6 for the JMZ-A-Shuttle trip including walking 15min to the train for me and making a cup of drip. Bring the log, nothin' else works during most of the summer.

Christian said...

I didn't feel like surfing today, but that video is just so damn nice. I want to bail work right now and glide for a bit. Great vid and through provoking words.

Well done!