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Here's a 3 percent solution
Seattle Times staff columnist
To get on reality TV, you must be a bit of a freak.
Freakishly talented, say. Or freakishly neurotic or neat or diabolical. It doesn't much matter — reality TV is like a variety show. Starring freaks. So when FOX TV's wife-swapping show, "Trading Spouses," asked Seattle environmentalist Alan Durning to trade wives for a week, the meaning was inescapable.
He must be an aberration. An oddity whose life's minutiae would engross an ogling national audience.
Durning is a Ballard writer who runs a sustainable-living think tank, Sightline. How did he rate a reality casting call?
He doesn't have a car.
Really, that's it. Six months ago, Durning's son totaled their one car. To save money, but also as a sort of eco-experiment, the family of five chose not to replace it. To try a "year of living carlessly."
There have been ups and downs. They save $200 a month and have been featured on CNN. The major down: Some families have begun to shun them because the Durnings can no longer help with kid car-pooling. (You can read about Durning's carless life on his blog at www.sightline.org).
But what got me thinking about Durning this week was the abrupt shutdown of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
America just lost 3 percent of its daily oil supply. And how did our leaders react?
Republicans instantly called for more drilling. Not only in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but off both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico.
I didn't hear a single politician, national or local, suggest we weather this crisis by simply using 3 percent less oil. The thought of cutting back, even temporarily, is unthinkable.
And how hard would it be to cut 3 percent? To conserve away the Prudhoe Bay mess?
Take Durning. What he gave up — driving — consumes the lion's share of our oil. The average U.S. family drives 59 miles a day. But Durning's family now drives only seven miles a day (mostly using Flexcar) — 88 percent below average.
Of course, he's a carless freak. So take my family. In two cars we drive a combined 12,000 miles a year. To lop off 3 percent, we'd have to drive one less mile per day.
Just one mile daily. If I rode the bus to work twice a month, that would about do it.
As minimal as that is, requiring no real change in our lives, it still is somehow too much for today's politicians to ask of us. It's Jimmy Carter crazy talk.
Durning eventually said no to FOX — and a $50,000 payment. He guessed the FOX swap would be with a Hummer family, which intrigued him as a chance to make a green point. But he figured in the end the show would reinforce the very stereotype he hopes to dispel — that 120 years after the invention of the gas-fired car, anyone who doesn't drive one must be some kind of weirdo.
Besides, there was a catch. The other mom got to choose how the Durnings would spend the $50,000.
"What would our 'visiting mom' do?" he wondered on his blog. "Probably buy us a car."
Danny Westneat's column appears Thursday and Sunday.
Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company