Column Date 2006-01-22

Thank you, Brad Pitt

You may not realize it, but the carbon dioxide you exhale every day adds to global warming. That’s no joke – scientists tell us that the more you breathe, the warmer the earth gets.

Now an outfit in London called ‘Future Forests’ is doing something about it. Rather than sit idly by as the North Pole melts (which it is actually doing, by the way) they want us all to take personal responsibility for the carbon dioxide we exhale.

How can we do this? Simple: plant trees.

Trees, you may remember from high school science, do the opposite of what people do: we breathe in oxygen and exhale CO2. Trees take in CO2 and release oxygen – the perfect solution!

What Future Forests does is help you calculate just how much CO2 your breathing adds to the earth’s atmosphere (starting from the day you were born, of course, since you ought to take full responsibility for your being here). Then you make a donation, and they go out and plant just the right number of trees to make up for all that planet-warming CO2 you’ve added to the atmosphere.

An ingenious idea, to say the least. Some might even call it wacky.

But not Brad Pitt. In 2004, Mr. Pitt gave $10,000 to plant 1,700 saplings in Bhutan (a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas) to counteract his lifetime of exhaling of CO2.

Frankly, I think this show of initiative is terrific.

If only President Bush believed in global warming, I think he’d be delighted with Mr. Pitt. It seems to me that taking personal responsibility like this is the very heart of the conservative movement. And, frankly, how much more compassionate can you get than to care about the entire planet, as Mr. Pitt does?

Why, Mr. Bush and his cabinet ought to jump on the bandwagon and get out there and start planting their own trees! It might even make up for all that new logging they’ve allowed in our national forests, but that’s another story.

Mr. Pitt is not the only person to step forward and shoulder his responsibilities. Cameron Diaz is also planting trees. As is Elijah Wood (who played Frodo in The Lord of the Rings).

And Leonardo DiCaprio planted his trees on a site near Leipzig, Germany that once housed Soviet SS20 missile silos. Talk about Hollywood creativity: here’s compassion for the planet plus a political statement at the same time! (Nuclear missles bad, trees good.)

But I am hopeful that taking personal responsibility for breathing is just the start.

After the massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean (the one that triggered the horrendous tsunami), scientists said the movement of tectonic plates actually shifted the earth’s weight around, and gave our planet a tiny but perceptible wobble.

Read that again, carefully: the weight of the earth shifted around, and now it wobbles.

Am I the only one really bothered by this? I mean, rocks under the Indian Ocean moved around a bit, and now our planet wobbles?

All Americans should be worried: remember that we live in the fattest country in the world. Sixty-five percent of our population, according to U.S. Government figures, is now either overweight or clinically obese. This represents an enormous weight addition to our side of the world in the past half century.

A few million more Americans, a few million more Big Macs, and the whole planet could be in big trouble.

So perhaps overweight Americans will also step forward and accept their responsibility for the smooth rotation of the planet.

They just have to follow a basic, weight balancing formula: you gain 25 lbs, you ship 25 lbs. from where you live to the other side of the globe. Everything stays in balance. The earth doesn’t wobble. We all live happily ever after.

(By the way, I called FedEx and they can send 25 lbs. from Detroit, Michigan to Wuhan, China, for about $220. That’s a lot less than planting hundreds of trees. And with all the stuff we now buy from China, it seems only fair that we send some of it back.)

Thanks, Brad. You’ve shown us the way.

© 2005 Peter Tannen