A few days ago, I went to visit a friend in need. This friend, and others who know about my trip, have said "it was good of you to do this." I have told them that if visiting a friend in need has become a heroic act, then we are truly lost. Or, as is more likely the case, that our lives have become so chaotic and "noisy" that we don't even have the capacity or ability to decide what to do with the time that has been given to us. When visiting friends becomes an inconvenience, we have a serious problem on our hands.
A few days before I went to visit my friend, I saw "An Inconvenient Truth." When I was in grad school in the 1990s, I had access to the results of the general circulation models that examined climate change. It isn't as if I'm ignorant or unaware of these issues. I knew the science has progressed since then. These early models had grids the size of the US, and one of them had sunlight 24 hours a day. But I had no idea about some of the most compelling--and frightening--topics and findings discussed in the movie.
The Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegrated in less than a month?
So I headed off to the airport to visit my friend with a renewed sense of reflection and respect for relationships--with people, with the environment, with myself. I decided to walk to Baltimore Penn Station, and then take the light rail to BWI Airport. Usually, I will drive to the airport or take a taxi. As I walked to the train station, I noticed very few people walking. Lots of cars whizzed by, but very few people walked by.
When I arrived at Penn Station, I went to the light rail stop, which is not well marked or identified. I guess if something is rarely used, it's unlikely that someone will complain about poor signage. As I emerged onto the platform, I saw a light rail car at the end of the tracks. I learned that there is a separate spur that connects Penn Station to the regular light rail line.
Fine. I bought my ticket for $1.60 and waited for the light rail to come back to the main portion of the station. Another person appeared and asked me about the light rail to the airport. This was encouraging. Maybe I was being too cynical in assuming that no one used this service. He started talking on his cell phone, while he paced around and smoked a cigarette. In the time it took for me to wonder when the light rail would come back in our direction to the time I looked back at him, he had disappeared. And he did not come back.
At this time, I noticed that the light rail had also disappeared. I was sincerely hoping that it would come back.
And it did within a few minutes. Apparently, it does not come into the main part of Penn Station. This time I walked to end of the platform. When it returned, I immediately boarded. Since I was standing in the sunlight, noting those first annoying beads--and then streams--of perspiration that form and run down one's back, I was glad for the air conditioning. As I cooled off, I began to wonder...
I'm the only person on this light rail. Does it run all day? It only took a few minutes to return from the main line. Couldn't I just walk to the main line station? How much energy is this thing using?!? As the light rail operator walked by me, I asked him how many people ride this particular light rail on a daily basis. He said "You're probably the only one for today..." We waited a few minutes, air conditioning and lights full blast, for people who would not come. Not even the anxious individual I had seen a few minutes earlier.
Once on the main line, the BWI light rail came within a few minutes. But it took more than a few minutes to get to BWI. My entire journey took nearly two hours. Almost everyone else who used the light rail to BWI was wearing a retail uniform or an airport badge, and almost certainly welcomed an inexpensive form of transportation. I noted one fellow air traveller who looked like she could have afforded to drive or take a taxi; that is, she made a choice to use the light rail.
When I drive or take a taxi, it takes about 20-25 minutes. It costs a lot more, not in only direct dollars. But it is sooooo convenient. One of my other friends and former colleagues used to take the light rail to BWI airport when she would go on business trips. I remember having several conversations with her about this choice. I would argue that since she would be reimbursed for her taxi fare or mileage costs, she might as well forgo the light rail. She would tell me that she chose the light rail for other reasons. I would argue that she was not considering value of time. My Economics professors would have been proud of me. Of course, economists also believe that the value of human life is tied to one's wage rate. So much for the unemployed and retired folks (and remember you're only unemployed if you don't have a job, but are actively seeking one...if you've stopped looking for a job...well, uh, I guess you're not part of the statistics anymore). It's only now that I begin to realize why she felt so passionate about her choice.
What about the value of the environment? Putting aside moral, ethical, spiritual, religious, etc. considerations, from a purely economic perspective, it's irrational to expend natural resources so carelessly and thoughtlessly. Would you invest in a company that told you it was planning to burn through its machinery without any plans for the next phase?
If someone doesn't have the means to have choices, then the light rail is wonderful. But I confess that I kept asking myself...isn't it worth the $35 to take a taxi? Isn't the light rail an inconvenient choice?
But what if gasoline becomes $8/gallon? What if more ice melts in Greenland, the Arctic, or Antarctica, and Europe starts to cool off? What if the severity and frequency of hurricanes intensifies? What if we have more wildfires, more power failures, more wars?
I can imagine a lot more inconvenience in the future if we don't start making some of these "inconvenient" choices today.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
How happy do you think Alex Ferguson was to see Wayne Rooney cross the ball to Christiano Ronaldo for Manchester United's fourth goal against Fulham in the season opener. Ferguson should be applauded for not giving into Ronaldo's impulses to leave Man U, and for finding a way to make Rooney and Ronaldo forget their World Cup episode.
Soccer players are so fickle :-)
Soccer players are so fickle :-)