Thursday, November 1, 2007

I bought firewood while California burned

Last Thursday I took delivery of a cord of Almond tree wood that I intend to burn in my living room fireplace. By that day the fires closest to me in the Los Angeles area were all under control, although several in San Diego were still blazing. The smoke lingered in the air for days. Today the Associated Press reported on a study that the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere from the week of fires equals the output from the entire state of Vermont for a year. Each year wildfires contribute about 5% of the total greenhouse gases produced by the United States. ("Fire Spews Tons of Global Warming Gas" by Seth Borenstein)

My fireplace is one of those luxuries I allow myself while acknowledging its damaging effect on the world. Life is about balance. Even a commited spiritual life must find balance between self-denial at the service of the larger community and the enjoyment of life. The Buddha, in preaching the Middle Way, saw that the path to enlighteement was neither the excesses of his royal childhood, nor extreme ascetisim.

I forgive myself somewhat by noting that if I heated my home with the central heat I would still be burning fossil fuels indirectly at the power generating station. And by using the fireplace I'm only heating the room I'm actually sitting in, instead of the entire house. But those are half arguments. My fireplace creates a burden on the world. On the other hand, I'm part of the world, too. My enjoyment of life also counts as bettering the world. So it's a difficult calculation to make. The best path is to indulge, in moderation, in those activities that bring us joy, and then balance the negative effects with a recommitment to activities that improve the world in other areas.

No comments: