October 31, 2008
Last Sunday, I rode (together with my good friend, Senator Rodney Ellis) in the LiveStrong Challenge bike ride. We rode 45 miles.
As a cancer survivor, the son of two parents who died of cancer, and someone who rode a bike that stinking far, I’m proud of the effort.
Candidly, I’m also pretty proud that the very next morning, at 8:00 a.m., I was actually able to sit – carefully – through a lengthy Senate committee hearing.
The ride was great. We went through a big swath of the beautiful Texas Hill Country. It was a very well organized event and raised lots of money for the fight against cancer.
Really, the only negative part of the deal was when – and how – I lost my sunglasses.
I was at mile 20, where the organizers set up a place to stop and catch your breath. It was a chance to refill water or Gatorade bottles, eat a little food for fuel, or even put some Ben Gay on aching muscles. And, of course, there was the opportunity to use the porta-potty.
Now, we cyclists have special bike shoes that “clip” into the pedals. They’re very rigid, with hard, slick plastic soles and a clip on the bottom that elevates the front of your foot and puts your toes in the air. This is great when you’re pedaling a bike. It’s less great when you’re trying to walk around in these goofy little shoes. And it’s a lot less great when you’re trying to stand on a slope inside a portable outhouse.
Please don’t get me started on the spandex riding britches.
My typical sure-footedness being already compromised, I slipped. And then I bounced and tumbled around that little cubicle like a pinball in an earthquake. I banged against every wall trying to regain my balance. During part of my dance, I smashed my head hard against the door and almost passed out from the sheer horror of thinking I was going to knock it open and fall out on the ground.
Anyway, my good sunglasses were looped over the front of my shirt collar. During either my second or third triple axel with a half-twist, they fell straight into the eye of the portable pot.
I’ll miss those glasses, but not enough to have gone after them.
I suppose the good news is I traveled the 45 miles with almost no carbon footprint. I think a lot about that sort of thing these days.
As I mentioned last week, three other state senators and I just got back from London, where we learned about what the United Kingdom is doing to combat climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The trip was sponsored by the UK’s foreign office, and it was fascinating and eye-opening.
We met with a number of members of Parliament, government officials, business leaders, and many others. It was a diverse group, but the most interesting part may have been how all sides accept the science of climate change, consider it a vital issue, are doing whatever they can to solve it, and aren’t making excuses based on the actions or inactions of anyone else.
Their target is bold: an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, specifically) by 2050. Such ambitious goals, on this or any other issue, would be impossible without people coming together. In this case, the Labour Party is in power and recommended the aggressive reductions target. And as David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said on June 16, 2008, “We are not going to drop the environmental agenda in an economic downturn.”
He also said, “The truth is, it’s not that we can’t afford to go green – it’s that we can’t afford not to go green.”
British industry is supportive as well. Companies see this, frankly, as a way to make some economic hay. Shell Oil, along with one of the nation’s largest power companies, and representatives of the nation’s business community (their equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) all talk in terms of “Sustainable Economics.” Really, they seem to be saying that whatever the business climate is right now, they (and, well, we) have to get our arms around this problem – or there won’t be an economy as we know it in 2050.
Perhaps the most important partners in this effort are British citizens. As the nation’s political leaders see it, their constituents want to do right by the environment and end practices they know are destructive. The public also sees this as a way of increasing its safety and security – people who live on an island have a unique concern for rising sea levels. And they don’t want to rely on a country that doesn’t like them for their energy.
So as citizens, they elect officials who will do the right thing by moving the country toward renewables and away from carbon-based generators such as coal plants. And as utility customers, they make clear that they’ll accept nothing less from the power companies.
They also consider this issue to be the result of a failure to appropriately consider economic risks. They compare this failure to some of what we’ve seen recently on Wall Street. In other words, the sort of recklessness that caused the credit crisis can also lead to rampant greenhouse gas emissions even when we know they’ll have dire consequences for the environment and business climate.
That’s part of the reason they’ve turned to the government. But it’s also the reason the British want to use market-based solutions, such as a cap-and-trade program (which essentially sets a market price on greenhouse gas emissions), to address this issue. That’s an important lesson: we need to let the free market work, and we can have it work for all of us.
The biggest lesson of the trip might be that while we all need to take responsibility for our own behavior, we’re also all in this together. Great Britain offers a good example – by not only doing what they can about their contributions to this problem, but also working with the U.S., China, India, and other countries to focus on it and rally the world around a solution. They aren’t pointing fingers, and they certainly aren’t using the inaction of others as an excuse to do nothing.
Where I come from, that’s called leadership.