In it together

I rarely take the bus, though I am deeply concerned about climate change. I’ve told myself I’m too busy, and I am probably not the only one to use that excuse. It can take extra time to be good to the planet, I’ve noticed, though when I do things like bike or hang clothes on the line, my quality of life improves. Could it be that what is good for the earth is good for us, too?

Yesterday I decided that I’d take the bus to my afternoon appointment. (I was meeting my husband, and would ride home with him.) I committed to that bus ride, and built the time into my schedule. This kept me from changing my mind at the last minute. The weather was gorgeous, which made the plan easier to execute.

I walked to the stop (10 minutes), and stood and waited (15 minutes). I was on my feet for 25 more minutes yesterday than I would otherwise have been, which is a good thing. A friend says sitting is the new smoking. As I waited, I noticed how unpleasant it feels to be exposed to the continual noise, rush, and stink of cars.

The bus arrived, and I got on and paid my $2.25. Soon we came to a stop near a school and students got on, filling the bus. A fit looking grey-haired guy who was wearing a backpack got on at the next stop. Two of the teenage students offered their seats to him. He laughed, said, “I am really, really old,” but declined their offers.

In front of me was a dad with a young girl on his lap. A guy next to him had a bag of groceries at his feet. After consulting with the dad, this guy asked the girl if she wanted a cookie. She said she did, and held up two fingers. Those of us sitting nearby laughed. He opened a box of them and gave her one. She ate it, and was left with a satisfying smear of chocolate on her mouth.

The actual bus ride took about 15 minutes, but factoring in the walking and waiting, I’d spent forty minutes getting to my destination, about twice what it would have taken to drive. But I would have spent twenty of those forty minutes getting to my destination anyway. I’ve never thought of it that way before. Maybe offering up twenty minutes for the good of the planet could be doable for me more often.

Had I driven, according to the MetroTransit web site, I would have released 4.3 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. By taking the bus, I was on a vehicle that released much less, 2.1 pounds, half of what a car would have released. And this 2.1 pounds would have been released anyway, whether I’d bussed or not.

Okay, it would have been quieter in the car, the seat would have been more comfortable, and I would have been alone. Privacy and convenience are great luxuries. On the other hand, had I driven, I wouldn’t have heard the bubbly talk of teenagers, some in an African language, who were happy to have been released from school. I wouldn’t have seen them do a polite, kind thing. I would not have been part of a small, temporary community comprised of people of different ages, ethnicities, and abilities, including a guy in a wheelchair. We were together, mostly moving through space sunk in thought, but occasionally offering each other company, food or help.

Just a few days before my bus ride, the world’s leading climate scientists (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change appointed by the United Nations) released a report that said, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause” of global warming, and warned that things will only get worse if we don’t act. The scientists say that climate change is underway, and that even if we curb our carbon emissions immediately, the effects of what we have already released will have an impact for centuries.

The last three decades are the warmest in 150 years, with the present decade being the warmest of them all. Fires, droughts, floods and storms are getting worse. Glaciers are melting, and the sea levels are rising. It is hard to hear about such dire, global effects without shutting down. What can one person do?

Start small. Drive your car less. In a recent issue of the Women’s Press, the writer Susan Griffin was quoted as follows: “We have to become much more collective, much more communal. And we have to find ways to do that that are sustainable not only ecologically, but also psychologically and spiritually.” Taking the bus is a good next step.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.