Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Never fear, The Ethical Man is here!

Note: Melissa here, blogging about someone I'd like to make my new BFF...

There's a new superhero on the scene...The Ethical Man. At this moment, BBC “Newsnight” reporter Justin Rowlatt, the aforesaid Ethical Man, is speeding across the U.S. (on a train, at last check), able to leap global-warming doubters in a single bound, promoting truth, justice, and hoping to reform the American way of gluttonous fossil-fuel and energy consumption.

I first heard about “The Ethical Man” on NPR about two weeks ago, when they announced he was coming stateside. The backstory is, the BBC assigned him the task of cutting his – and his family's – greenhouse gas emissions for their UK home by 20 percent in one year (2006-2007) and reporting about it on air.

You can watch most of that series online. It's a blend of reality TV – watching Justin and his family try to walk the walk – and Justin reporting on the science and news about climate change and government goals and policies related to it.
Along the way, he explores efforts to change that range from the practical (switching to CFLs, installing rain barrels) to the fringe (getting into an airline's offices with protesters disguised as scientists).

I tuned in and had a blast. Justin points out that this experiment wasn't his idea, and watching him in action, that's not hard to believe. He's as befuddled as anyone else about the exact extent of the problem with climate change and as reluctant to let go of creature comforts. He stumbles, he tries to get away with short, he's human. And it ups the comedic factor that he dresses and has a haircut remarkably like Mr. Bean (who I usually don't find that funny, but it works for Justin...go figure!).

Carbon guru, wife and kids on board

Lucky for him, he was also assigned a “carbon reduction guru” to give him advice – and occasionally a kick in the pants – as needed (where can I get one of these?). It's his guru who spurs him to give up his family car and who takes Justin to task during one episode after he takes an air trip to Jamaica to demonstrate the idea of carbon-offsetting.

Justin's wife, Bee, is not just along for the ride, either. She adapts to the car-free lifestyle with reasonable grace, and even acts as lookout while Justin wets down his compost pile (at the suggestion of an “expert”) with, well, pee. But she goes further: She, too, gives Justin grief for the carbon offset stunt, and she reviews his portfolio of retirement investments and, finding that one is an oil company, does some research of her own to determine whether they can “ethically” continue that investment or keep the income it has generated.

Other highlights, for me: Justin pedaling a crazy-looking, but ingenious, contraption that demonstrates the amount of human-power required to light an incandescent bulb; an interview with a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement conducted with Justin's and his sisters' many children having a party in the background, and his very young daughters' brutally honest responses to of some of his efforts.

When the year was up, Justin's family had met their goal. But with all the strides they made toward reducing their family's energy consumption, they still just barely achieved their 20-percent target.

On to America

One could pause for frustration here. After all, as Justin's blog notes, “...according to the scientists, we need to cut our emissions by 80 percent by 2050 just to keep climate change within two degrees centigrade of current world temperatures. Clearly the efforts of ethical men and women acting alone are not the answer.”

But The Ethical Man hasn't paused (or, not for long anyway). Now he's here, trying to get to the root of the issue in “one of the most polluting countries on Earth.”

He observes, “Each American is responsible for 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, more than twice that of the average European. But America is also one of the most innovative and most powerful nations on earth and has a president who says he is serious about tackling global warming.... The idea of the trip is simple - if we can solve it here we can solve it anywhere.”

With that in mind, he is spending the next stretch of months criss-crossing 6,500 miles of the U.S., talking to anyone and everyone with ideas on how to make meaningful inroads against climate change. He even wants to see any crazy invention you might have been dreaming up or building in your garage that could help solve the climate change crisis.

And in keeping with the theme of this journey, he's attempting to tread as carbon-lightly as possible along the way (he already got a warning for hitchhiking on the first leg of the trip). So join the Ethical Man Climate Change Challenge Facebook group and share your thoughts... and for Pete's sake, offer him a ride or a vegan meal if he's in your neck of the woods!


Jenn said...

What I really love here is that he admitted to his wife calling him out on where his investment money was going. So what did they end up doing in the end? did they keep the money they made? Did they move to a different fund? What a cool concept, not the average reality show but such a timely one. I hope the word spreads and everyone checks it out! Hey send me the FB invite again, I have been ignoring everything and think I hit ignore on this one by accident.

Thanks for this info Melissa!

MelissaBBGG said...

You can watch for your bad self! The ep in question was called "Ethical Wife Invests," I think. You should see it if you click on the link to the BBC Ethical Man page. (Short answer, though, so as not to be too much of a smartass, is that I think they reinvested elsewhere for most of it, then gave away a chunk of the money they had already earned from it).

Cherilyn Ferroggiaro said...

Beautiful blog!