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How to lose 3,797 unsightly pounds in 8 weeks

by Amy Kingsley

On days like today, I miss riding my bicycle to work. It’s the second day of spring and already the pastels are showing; the sun is up high in the haze, throwing down just enough warmth to make our fair burg feel almost tropical.

And my bike? It’s not in the same optimal condition as the weather. So this weekend I’m going to take it down to the shop and get it tuned up. Once the mechanic replaces the busted rear tube and fixes the slipped gears, that bike is going to become the foundation of my springtime diet and exercise program.

My goal: Lose 3,797 pounds in eight weeks. That number is equivalent to roughly 20 percent of my average annual carbon emissions. Using Slate.com’s “Green Challenge” quiz, I calculated my yearly carbon emissions to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,000 pounds. That’s significantly less than the 44,312 pounds emitted by the average American, but still more than the 13,668 pounds your typical Frenchman produces, and orders of magnitude greater than the 440 pounds averaged by residents of Kenya.

In addition to being clearly correlated with prosperity and progress, those numbers are also humbling – and scary, given the scientific consensus on human contribution to global warming. As a reporter who occasionally covers environmental stories, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel more like part of the problem.

The big-impact stories about power plants and weather patterns can feel awfully removed from day-to-day life. Clashes between big business and government over environmental regulations can seem almost mythological in scope, something akin to titans and gods thrashing each other over the fate of the earth. There certainly seems to be little place for mortal intervention.

And yet emissions from vehicles account for a quarter of the carbon released into the atmosphere. There are things individuals can do to reduce their carbon impact. And I’m going to start by reducing the number of days I drive to work from five to three. On the other days I’m going to ride my bike, take the bus or telecommute.

Driving is a necessary evil for anyone in the journalism business. We go to events, meet sources for interviews and prowl for story ideas – all activities that are virtually impossible to undertake from our Adams Farm offices. But here at YES! Weekly we’re not really in the spot news business, and with a little planning I should be able to concentrate my newsgathering on my three driving days.

Figuring out a safe way to ride on High Point Road is going to be an entirely different kind of challenge. Between the lack of bicycle lanes and heavy traffic, I predict a pretty hairy commute.

It’s almost enough to make me miss my hometown. I did not own a car until I moved to Greensboro more than five years ago. When I lived in Austin, Texas, I rode my bike everywhere: work, school, grocery store, bars and parties.

I stayed for a while at my boyfriend’s house, an old Queen Anne without central air-conditioning where he lived with three roommates. On the hottest summer nights we rode bicycles down to Barton Springs, a natural-bottom, spring-fed public pool where we could swim for free after 9 p.m. The springs – which remained a nippy 68 degrees year-round – in tandem with the uphill ride home, cooled and tired us, enabling us to sleep in the swelter.

Last summer, about halfway through, my roommates and I stopped using our air-conditioner. Our landlord pays the utilities (they are included in rent), so our incentive wasn’t financial. We sweated a little at first, then bought some fans and adjusted. Nights were the worst, but they weren’t impossible, and eventually I acclimated – so much so that the air-conditioner at work started bothering me.

We can do even better. I’m going to buy a couple of compact fluorescent bulbs to use in our home. Experts suggest replacing the bulbs you use most often first. Fluorescents are expensive, yes, but that just means forgoing a restaurant meal or maybe a couple six packs of nice beer, sacrifices I’ll surely be able to endure.

The harder changes will come later. I love long showers, a guilty and wasteful pleasure if ever there was one. I’m going to save that change until later on in the eight-week program.

Spring and summer means greater availability of local produce at the farmers’ market, which in turn means that the food I consume will need less fossil-fueled transportation. I’m going to start reusing my plastic bags, too, instead of letting them pile up in the cupboard.

These should be easy changes, though they’ll take a measure of planning. But I’m hedging my bets that a little planning today means I’ll be doing less reacting in the future to the things – drought, heat and hurricanes among them – that global warming might bring.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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