Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Karl Coplan's "Live Sustainably Now"

Karl Coplan is professor of law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, where he directs its environmental litigation clinic. He is a coauthor of Introduction to Environmental Law: Cases and Materials on Water Pollution Control (second edition, 2016). Coplan is also a member of the board of directors of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network of clean water advocates.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Live Sustainably Now: A Low-Carbon Vision of the Good Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Live Sustainably NOW captures the essence, but not the substance of the whole. That sounds contrary. Here’s what I mean. The book is an argument for paying attention to your personal carbon footprint, and taking measures to live conscientiously and responsibly in this moment of climate crisis. Most of the book is devoted to the ethical and practical arguments for reducing your carbon footprint, and practical tips on how to do it. Interspersed with the chapters on ethics, sustainability, and home heating options are vignettes of my own experience of one year of living on a carbon budget. Page 99 happens to fall on one of these carbon diary entries, describing a late-winter camping trip with my adult son. Here it is:
March 2016

Most winters for nearly two decades now, my son and I have arranged to get together for a weekend ski mountaineering and camping trip in the Adirondack Mountains. Now that Justin is an adult, it gets harder and harder to find a weekend when it works for both of us.

This year, we settled in advance on the first weekend in March. Justin drove up from his home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, and on Friday we drove together up to our cabin in North River. This was Justin’s first visit to the cabin. It had recently rained heavily on top of a thin coating of snow, and everything was a glaze of ice. When we arrived, it was colder inside the cabin than outside, so we fired up the woodstove, took a walk around the trails on the property to warm our bodies, and went to the lodge for dinner while the cabin warmed up a little.

There was too little snow in the Adirondacks for backcountry skiing that weekend, but the 3 to 4 inches of new snow on the balsams and red spruce made for a beautiful backwoods hike, and with the spikes on our boots, we made an easy climb of New York’s second-highest peak, Algonquin. Saturday, March 5, was a perfect day for a winter ascent—light winds, clear skies, fresh snow—and the Algonquin summit was crowded with hikers. I was pretty sure I could pick out the ridge where our cabin is from the summit. The temperature went down to zero at our campsite overnight, but I had long ago learned that as long as you stay in your winter sleeping bag you can sleep quite comfortably. You just have to get moving fast in the morning, before your toes freeze up.

I continued to test the range on my electric Smart two-seater car.

One Saturday, we were invited to a traditional rice-feeding celebration for
Very little about page 99 hints at the substance of the book’s argument for individual climate action – just the “Carbon Diary” title and the reference to range anxiety in a Smart For Two electric vehicle. And yet... the emphasis of the book is on what you can do to live a fulfilling life while sticking to a carbon budget, not what you can’t do. The Carbon Diary entries, while few in pages, illustrate how little you need to give up to clear your climate conscience. That weekend winter camping trip with my son enriches my life and family bonds. It involves carbon emissions, since we drove up to the mountains in a fossil fueled hybrid. But it fits in my carbon budget, so my climate conscience is clear.

That’s the essence of the book – if you set a carbon budget, keep a rough account of your greenhouse emissions, and stick to it, you can still have a rewarding life while doing your part to fight climate change. If you want the substance of the book, take a look at the table of contents, which includes chapters on “CLIMATARIANISM: OUR PERSONAL MORAL OBLIGATION,” “WHY BOTH INDIVIDUAL ACTION AND COLLECTIVE POLICY WILL BE NEEDED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE,” “GOING ON A CARBON DIET TO SAVE THE PLANET, “GRAPPLING WITH THE BIG FOUR ELECTRICITY, HEAT, TRANSPORTATION, AND FOOD,” “HAVING FUN ON A CARBON BUDGET,” and “MEDIUM-TERM GOAL: GETTING TO ZERO.”

But page 99 captures the essence of the book. That we all should live. Sustainably. NOW.
Visit the Live Sustainably Now website.

--Marshal Zeringue