I have seen the future Ė and it should have been ours. A sprawling city, but made up of a variety of self sufficient neighborhoods. Sounds familiar, but then differences begin. There are parks Ė large and small Ė everywhere. It is almost impossible to be more than two blocks from efficient mass transit with two interconnecting metros, a great bus system then smaller eclectic tram cars to go into residential areas. Sidewalks are so wide they can accommodate several feet of a different color pavement reserved for bikes. Garbage cans everywhere that are color coded for waste, paper, glass and plastic. Only cars with low emissions are allowed in the central city.
This is Berlin, where I recently spent several weeks and where every day brought a new revelation of what can happen when green is a priority. You want a plastic bag at the grocery store? That will be fifteen cents. The hotel rooms all have key cards that are used to turn the electricity on. You take the key when you leave and all the electricity goes off. Toilets have two choices of water flow. They have made it look so easy. I checked with a few travel sites looking for those innovations in American hotels and I see that they arenít being used because there is a fear that some people might be concerned their room will be dark when they enter and that low flow toilets might not do the job. Well they do and they can save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. And once the changes are in, people will adjust.
I travel a lot and I always love coming home to Los Angeles, but this was the first time I looked around in outright dismay. I am a fourth generation Californian who had it pounded into my head from an early age that Californians were always on the cutting edge. That is hardly the case today. How much greenery would we have left in the city if it wasnít for cemeteries and golf courses? Our idea of conserving is not to water the lawns between 8 and 4 and pass laws against leaf blowers that arenít enforced. I take a bus three miles to the beach and it takes me an hour with one transfer. Where is the political will to make the environment a priority?
Looking in vain for a macro response and not wanting to be a Lindsey Graham whiner, I told myself to shut up and do something micro. So for a couple thousand dollars, I bought an electric car. It is really a golf cart on steroids and I have to stay off of streets that are for 40 miles an hour or faster, but it is fine for running errands or for my son to drive to school. Truth be told, there are often days where I donít go anywhere that is more than three miles away from home. I donít have to pay anything in parking meters and a couple of hours of charging in a regular socket lets me drive for 35 miles. It has only been a week and the looks I get are a bit strange, but very supportive. Drivers even wave me in front of them and smile about it. So far anyway. But I like to think they too are pleased that somebody is trying to do something while we look for leaders with that political will.