Published January 13, 2015
By Talya EmeryFormer Columnist, Jewish Herald-Voice
According to a CBS News articleon April 22, President Obama's flights on Earth Day -- two on Air Force One and four on Marine One -- consumed about 9,000 gallons of fuel. My first reaction to this news was that it was much ado about nothing, a scoop about as significant as the price tag on Sarah Palin's campaign attire. But upon reflection, I realized these 9,000 gallons reflect a hypocrisy, endemic to globetrotting politicians and celebrities fighting climate change, more serious than what we generally expect from our public figures.
What is 9,000 gallons of fuel? This quantity is so far outside the average person's experience that it is about as inaccessible as the astronomical monetary figures thrust upon us by TARP, the stimulus package, and the debt that will accrue from Obama's budget. To help evaluate the significance of these 9,000 gallons of fuel, I crunched a few numbers:
My 1998 Ford Explorer gets about 15 miles per gallon. Over the past ten years, I have driven it just over 100,000 miles (about average, I think), meaning I have used about 6,666 gallons of fuel over the past decade, or 667 gallons per year.
Let me state that I think it is perfectly reasonable for President Obama to travel, even for nonessential trips like this one, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of gallons of jet fuel. But I think it is sensible because I don't advocate radical action to fight climate change. If I sincerely believed that every last CO2 particle emitted was contributing to the imminent destruction of planet Earth, my convictions would require that I take a decidedly different position.
Did the president's Earth Day speech really do so much to fight climate change that it was worth those 9,000 gallons? I guess President Obama's policy advisors must have calculated that a speech in front of wind turbines in Iowa would be far more effective than an address from the White House in which the president explained that he was refraining from travel to help fight climate change. After all, due to that one trip, fourteen people must now stop driving their SUVs for an entire year just to undo the pollution recently released into our atmosphere by our president...
Many politicians and celebrities fly around in private jets to help fight climate change -- and also for business and pleasure. Environmentalists plan elaborate events to combat global warming, such as the energy-sapping Live Earth concert tour. Most of these people have huge carbon footprints, some in excess of 500 times that of the average person, but continuously tell us we aren't doing enough for the environment.
But these aren't your run-of-the-mill hypocrites: this is not a simple case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. If their theories are to be believed, they themselves--often actually in the name of saving the planet--are drastically contributing to the crisis they expect the rest of us to make big sacrifices to help alleviate. If I believed what they espouse, I would be very discouraged that with one fell swoop one of these individuals can undo the work of hundreds of us "regular folk."
Much of their travel might be justifiable if we lived in a world without printing presses, radio, television, and the Internet. But we don't. The same message could be communicated without extensive travel by famous individuals. These people's voices might not be nearly as influential as they would have us believe, anyway.
This is not just like a lavish Fifth Avenue banquet raising funds to help feed those starving in Africa. This is like holding the banquet right there in the village where the people are starving, and stealing food from them on the way there for a snack--and doing this in a world where food is a non-renewable resource.
If the goal is simply to encourage research into alternative forms of energy and to help reduce pollution overall, 9,000 gallon trips across the country are not a big deal. But if the fate of our planet truly stands at the brink, we should be cutting all non-essential expenditures of fuel: those with the biggest carbon footprints should be leading the way by making meaningful sacrifices rather than driving their Prius hybrids to their private airplane hangars.
Talya Emery, a Houston native, is a recent graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. A former columnist for the Jewish Herald-Voice, she studied Classics, History, and Religion at the University of Texas at Austin and Vanderbilt University.