How Do Things Get This Far?

November 30th, 2007

When I got the e-mail reminder about an International Day of Action on Global Climate Change, I thought it was interesting. When I read, “Hundreds of people are needed, some to form the shape of an hourglass and the rest to move from the top of the hourglass, one by one, to the bottom of the hourglass,” on Siesta Key Beach, I thought it might be kind of fun–in an aging hippie sort of way. Probably not as much fun as the drum circle, but my Saturdays are mostly flexible anyway.

But when I read that “A helicopter will be overhead with a camera team to record the movement symbolizing that time is running out to stop global warming” I thought, “Are they serious?”

How do things go to such extremes? A well-intentioned someone has managed to charter a helicopter for at least an hour to hover above Siesta Key Beach in support of a “green” cause? Did this person not consider that aircraft are prodigious burners of fossil fuel? More specifically, a “TV-news” type helicopter, say, a Bell Longranger, or Jet Ranger, consumes approximately 40 gallons of fuel per hour. That’s nearly three tankfulls of gas for my car.

And if, indeed, hundreds of people show up to be part of the human hourglass—or the human sand—it doesn’t seem likely that many of them will get to Siesta Key Beach by public transportation. Even with a downturn in real estate values, the people who turn out for events like this probably don’t live within walking distance. So, even if they come by twos, the choreography of the hourglass will demand fifty or more cars that might otherwise have sat in the driveway on a Saturday.

But getting back to the issue of energy consumption, I wouldn’t expect the organizers of this event to know a lot about aviation fuel. But it’s not the unleaded stuff that Mom puts in the Camry at RaceTrac. Aircraft fuel, “avgas,” contains lead. While, on the surface this whole beach “happening” seems noble, I don’t think any cabbage-palm hugger wants to stand around on a public beach while a helicopter burning leaded aviation fuel hovers approximately 500 feet overhead.

Whoever is underwriting this event must have some deep pockets—or maybe a donor with a helicopter. I’ve just checked, and it costs approximately $1,300 per hour to charter a helicopter. I’m not even sure if that includes gas, but these days, if you want to fill up at Dolphin Aviation, it will run around $6.00 per gallon.

Now a day at the beach is always fun. But it seems more reasonable to me that with that kind of budget, it would be a no-brainer to hire a Computer Animation major at Ringling College of Art to do a stylized presentation of sand falling through an hourglass. There would certainly be enough money left to hire the local news anchor, or perhaps one of the understudy baritones from the Sarasota Opera Company to read the voice-over litany with the appropriate amount of gravitas. Furthermore, I feel confident that at least one of our local television stations would be only too happy to broadcast the piece as a public service, if they had not already covered the stunt as a news event. And, of course, someone could post it on YouTube.

I know Al Gore spends a fair amount of time traveling by aircraft. Nonetheless, I think he’d agree that while the time to avert the catastrophe of global warming is running out, we are already in the midst of a full-blown crisis of common sense.

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