Is my relationship killing the planet?

A Slate article argues for a "Date Local" movement.


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Tracy Clark-Flory
October 25, 2008 2:00PM (UTC)

My boyfriend is one of the most planet-friendly people I know -- and I grew up in Berkeley, Calif. (i.e. Hippie Central), so that's saying something. He refuses to own a car and rides everywhere on a bike -- until the winter's sleet and snow forces him to ride the bus. He recycles, uses canvas grocery bags and plants and harvests vegetables at a local farm. And, as an urban planner, one of his aims is to make cities less car-centric. There is but one contradiction to his eco-consciousness: I live in San Francisco, he lives in Alberta, Canada, and we fly to see each other every six weeks.

Neither of us likes the fact that we've emitted a total of 25.18 metric tons of CO2 (the result of 4,720 miles flown)  in the past year. But what are we to do -- end our relationship in the name of saving the planet?

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Why, yes, that's exactly it, according to an article in Slate that calls for "a robust Date Local movement" along the lines of the local food movement. Author Barron YoungSmith uses a (presumably hypothetical) long-distance couple as an example: She lives in San Francisco, he lives in Washington, D.C., and they visit each other once a month. Both of their lifestyles "would be about six times worse for the environment than that of the average gas-guzzling American." YoungSmith engages in several dubious estimates and calculations to arrive at the conclusion that there are currently "10 million individuals" in long-distance relationships (LDRs) in the U.S.

How odd to single out LDRs when you consider that business travel accounts for 65 percent of U.S. flights. A more practical and effective approach to reducing CO2 emissions would be to start a "Do Business Local" movement. Why fly when you can teleconference? Also, what about all that holiday travel? Wouldn't it be more eco-friendly to lose the relatives on the opposite coast and adopt a same-city family? Or, as a co-worker suggested: "Tell the author of this article he should move home with his mom."

Ah, but his argument against LDRs isn't just that they are selfishly killing the planet. YoungSmith writes, "By spending all their free time out of town or staring at a webcam -- that is, in their apartments or airline cabins, rather than in parks, bowling alleys, and pubs -- long-distance lovers erode civic commitment and social support networks." He can't be serious. It's bad for society that I'm not sitting in a pub every weekend, chugging beers and chatting it up with random dudes?

There's more. YoungSmith suggests discouraging this "type of conspicuous consumption ... nudging people toward the realization that breaking up is in their own, and enlightened, economic self-interest." Wait, you mean I would save money if I didn't split the cost of a $600 plane ticket every other month? Gosh, I'd never thought of that before! And, finally, he points out that it would be "many times more efficient" to "date someone within a 100-mile radius." Because efficiency is the secret to successful partnerships, don'tcha know.

As my boyfriend wrote back when I e-mailed him this article: "No one does a carbon footprint analysis of a long-distance partner before embarking on a relationship with them."


Tracy Clark-Flory

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