Robert Meeropol

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"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

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Need of Flying

January 25, 2014

Tags: Carbon footprint of flying

Perhaps the single worst, seemingly harmless, thing we can do to damage our environment is fly on a jet plane. For instance each passenger on a round trip from New York to Los Angeles accounts for a metric ton of carbon spewed high into the atmosphere, where it does a lot more damage than at sea level.

I’ve known this fact for several years, but I still don’t know how to act on that information. In response, Elli and I have significantly reduced, but not entirely eliminated, vacation flying. But my post-retirement part-time work for the RFC includes visiting major RFC supporters while accompanying Elli’s travel to writer’s conferences and on book tour when her next novel is published in early 2015. We’ll take trains or drive when possible; it’s not always possible.

I’m conflicted about even this reduced use of air travel. My primary activism today is to sound the alarm about fast-approaching ecological disasters. I’m motivated for personal reasons: if we don’t change course, the second half of my five and one-year-old grandchildren’s lives will be hellish. I am also compelled by global reasons: our actions are dooming the vast majority of Earth’s animals and plants to rapid extinction.

Before going further, let me back up for a moment. Some of you may believe that my conclusions in the last paragraph are exaggerated, even hysterical. But I know that many of you at least fear that I am right. I don’t want to argue if you think it really isn’t so bad, or if you have faith that we’ll figure a way out of the mess we have created. Instead, I ask you to assume that I am describing the danger accurately and help me figure this out.

How can I hold myself out as publicly devoted to preventing global warming, yet act in a manner that speeds up that process? Mark Lynas, in his book Six Degrees provides a quick summary of individual excuses for inaction (quoted from p. 289):
• The ‘metaphor of displaced commitment’ (‘I protect the environment in other ways, like recycling’)
• The denial of responsibility (‘I am not the main cause of the problem’)
• Condemning the accuser (‘You have no right to challenge me’)
• Rejection of blame (‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’)
• Ignorance (‘I don’t know the consequences of my actions’)
• Powerlessness (‘Nothing I do makes much difference’)
• Comfort (‘It is too difficult for me to change my behavior’)
• And ‘fabricated constraints’ (‘There are too many impediments’)

I’ve heard all these arguments many times. Hell, I’ve even made them. In addition, I believe that capitalism itself is the principle driving force of the problem. Our system is based upon profit, and competition which requires the never-ending growth of economic exchanges. Perpetual growth feeds climate change and causes resource depletion. But does the fact that we can’t avert a global environmental collapse without altering the basic structure of our society absolve me from discontinuing one activity – flying – that will massively reduce my carbon footprint?

We are not helpless. If we calculate our carbon footprint and what actions are likely to increase or decrease it, at least we can make more informed decisions. And while I am far from overcoming my own need of flying, for me, confronting this dilemma is a necessary first step. I hope that engaging in a constructive discussion of this issue will provide some insights and I welcome your input.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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