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An Earth Day column

April 21, 2011

Everyone wants me to celebrate Earth Day. My inbox is full of green mail—no trees were harmed in the making—urging me to buy shoes and cosmetics, go to a yoga retreat and help Robert Redford rally the American people. Of all these, I’m most likely to buy shoes, but I’m not deluded that it will help the earth.

One of my earliest efforts to rescue the planet ended in an emergency room in Manhattan, tending to my big brother Chris, who had broken his nose doing chin-ups on a tree near Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. Maybe it was Earth’s revenge. That was at the great Easter Be-In, the precursor to what we now know as Earth Day. Hippies were ahead of the curve in saving the earth. (They did it by smoking the weeds.)

My editor encouraged me to write an Earth Day column, perhaps thinking it would be earnest and heartfelt. Poetic. But this year, with the earth’s axis tilting after the Japan earthquake, I’m a little cynical that my shopping-for-the-environment plan is going to work out well for anyone. Although I do need a new pair of shoes for my niece Abby’s spring wedding.

The wedding is in California, and instead of paying to offset our carbon footprint for air travel, my daughter and I are driving across the country. Hold the cards and letters, readers, we’re driving the Prius. I was going to drive the minivan, thinking we could bunk down in the back instead of at a Motel 6 along the way. But Andrew Revkin convinced me to take the Prius. Revkin is an environmentalist who writes for The Times’ Dot Earth blog. He’s also a certified MacArthur Genius who is known for warning that by 2050 or so, the earth’s population will reach 9 billion. And you thought the traffic on Route 17 was heavy now.

Like me, Revkin drives a Prius and a minivan. He’s no saint, mind you. Sometimes he even drinks orange juice that has had to travel 1,000 miles to his breakfast table. But this genius knows enough to drive the Prius on long trips and save the minivan for trips to the dump.

Still, I was looking forward to the idea—if not the reality—of sleeping in the blue van in National Parks in Tennessee and Illinois and California in May. I figured the extra money we would spend on gas would be saved in motel bills. Then I remembered my carbon footprint. If I really cared about my impact on our planet, I should just stay home and send the happy couple a gift certificate to a farmer’s market via email.