Message from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Director, Joshua Ruschhaupt:

Lead by example

Chevy Volt

What do Gandhi, Neil deGrasse
Tyson, your RMC Director, and the
Chevy Volt have in common?
(This article.) 

 Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

[Part 1 of a multi-part series.]

2014, the new year, is upon us. I’ve always liked the phrase “be the change you wish to see,” generally recognized as misquoting Mahatma Gandhi. Less important is who said it, but the statement itself is philosophically intriguing, because of what that means for the planet. 

Whatever a utilitarian thinks about their own existence and relationship with the planet: conqueror, the world is my oyster, the one who dies with the most toys wins, et cetera, there is a direct and cumulative impact for living on this planet. Even the most ardent John Muir follower has an impact because we have homes, buy things, go places; we live, even as he did. 

The questions are 1) whether or not the planet can absorb, adapt, modify, or otherwise remediate those impacts, 2) how long that takes (seasonal or as many as centuries, usually dependent on the ecosystem’s resiliency), or 3) if the impacts are ongoing or irreversible. Important to this discussion is the carrying capacity of the planet in terms of numbers of humans and our activities.

Philosophy is at the root of the human carrying capacity of this planet. Because from philosophy come ideas, from ideas come plans, and from plans come actions, whether you realize it or not, whether you were led to the decision by someone else, or made the decision yourself. 

Another quote that I love dearly is from Neil deGrasse Tyson, who famously put a climate denier in his place on live television by saying, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Science is observation of fact, understanding those facts, and educated skepticism about interpreting facts, which leads to additional scientific study.

And the fact is the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter does the work that it does because there are irrefutable problems with the decisions made by humans in America/Colorado every day. Even if we don’t like having to make those decisions, we must lead by example as best as we can to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we do not, and we do not ask that of the decision-makers who represent us in government as well as those who we pay directly through our buying decisions that translate to America’s economic direction (including buying less), then 2014 will either be on a better path or worse. And so on every year thereafter.

There are a great many things that are easily done in your daily life that can make the world less impacted by your existence, but that still make life a joy to live. Turn lights off when you leave a room- something every child learns from their responsible parents, “Do you have a tail?! Turn the lights off behind you!!!” Use only the water you need, don’t let the faucet run. Everyone on the Front Range knows (or should) that a huge amount of water flows east from the West Slope of the Continental Divide. That water is no less dearly needed for west-flowing rivers and streams, and the ecosystems they support in an often arid or semi-arid climate – or not, if it gets gobbled up by trans-mountain water diversions to the Front Range.

New beginnings

I’m a fan of new beginnings, and that they can occur at any time, not just as a new year’s resolution, a birthday wish when blowing out candles, or wishing upon stars or fallen eyelashes. Change happens because someone made a decision to make that happen. Often, the best way of getting people to make a change in their life is to visualize themselves mentally living with that change. Organizers often ask voters on their doorstep, “What’s your plan for turning in your ballot or going to the polls on election day?” They do this because they know that abstract philosophy (civic participation is good), ideas for change (I’m a voter), and visualizing action (oh yeah, that’s something I can see myself doing, and I want to) are the precursors to real action and change. 

And chances are, if you’re reading this message, our philosophies as Sierra Club members are closer rather than further apart.

So, I’m asking you in 2014: how will you improve your life on this planet and your relationship with your environment?  You can reduce your impact to the planet, globally (“I will reduce my carbon footprint by using less fossil fuels, and here’s how…”), and/or locally (“I will stop letting the faucet run while I brush my teeth,” or “I will take shorter showers on average”). Will those improvements be small or large?

Making decisions

I decided to make a huge financial leap, the largest so far in my life by a wide margin, which will hopefully pay off in the long run, while also reducing my family’s global and local impacts. And by making this choice, there are ripple effects. In this and upcoming Peak and Prairie messages, I’ll explain, and share similar stories of others.

In the waning days of 2013, I shopped for and purchased a 2014 Chevrolet Volt. If you haven’t seen or heard about this vehicle, it is by my estimation the best available option for my situation and lifestyle for my transportation needs, and only recently became affordable for my financial options for multiple reasons I will explore later. I’ve never purchased a new vehicle before this. 

In upcoming newsletters, I’ll share my reasons for wanting to “upgrade” my transportation, what I’m doing with my old car, the financial side of making this kind of decision including the tax costs and benefits, how the plug-in affects my relationship with my home rental agency and HOA, and what making this kind of decision means for the planet and for Colorado.

In the meantime, here are a few articles you can read about what Sierra Club has already been saying about the Chevy Volt: 1 2 3 4 5.  Also, to keep the conversation alive, I'll be chatting periodically on Facebook (facebook) with those of you who might have questions, comments, or if you'd like to share what you're deciding to do in 2014 to improve your life while looking out for your environment.  

Thank you for all you do!

Joshua Ruschhaupt, Rocky Mountain Chapter Chair




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