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Sustainable Fun. Good for the Environment? I Think So!

Yesterday I went skiing.

The sun was shining and the snow was there. The nearby mountain scenery, sharp and clear, tried to lure me away from the chairlift up onto the glaciers and into the summit colors of the nearby peaks. When my ski tips touched down at the top of the lift, I glided away from the highest point to the lowest. I did this repeatedly; though every time was different. The snow had an icy depth to it with a thin sugary slide dusting it. The ravens floated in the sky instead of the usual dusky clouds, and people were expressing joyous emancipation from desk and duty.

Everyone seemed appreciative of being alive and able to ride the snow. Lift operators met my goggled grin with: “How’s it goin?” or “Havin’ an awesome day?” Even the custodial staff was smiling!

Skiing definitely contributes to my own well-being. But does it hurt or hinder the well-being of others now or in the future? Is it sustainable? Might some folks rightly question me about my ethics?

On the one hand, as a teacher, I like to think that I teach for sustainability. But on the other hand I am out enjoying myself at a ski area that is miles from home. Am I loser for relying on the power of internal combustion engines— first my car, then the chair lifts— to carry me over the road and then up a mountain? These are the kinds of questions that keep me awake at night! So let’s break it down…

First of all, we should work very hard at not getting trapped into answering complex questions with simple yes or no answers. Instead we should think about the whole picture and then sort out the conflict in a moderate manner that is always the lesser of two evils. Doing this equates to positive progress forward.

For example, I opted to ride a local privately owned bus up to the ski area. This service cost me nine dollars and it saved me from having to drive the bulk of an 80 mile round trip in a single occupant vehicle. I also learned that I our local Whatcom County bus, which has a stop four miles from my door, will welcome me aboard with my ski kit. This will allow me to connect with the private bus further up the road.

When we begin to think outside of the box– or in this case: the car–we invite sustainability into our lives.

If we get serious about this kind of thinking, we might try to compute the total carbon budget for our trip up the mountain. How much energy does it actually take to lift me and my skis to the top of my favorite run? Why does this matter to me and my world? What routine things might I cut back on or change (like turning off the lights and turning down the heat when sleeping or way from home) that might help compensate for my recreation?

This welcoming of alternative ideas and compromise is what’s known as adaptability. Adaptation is difficult; it is not easy. But we cannot survive without it.

The top of your mountain is calling you.

— Shannon Zellerhoff

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