Running on a carbon footprint

The new year brings a new medical treatment to Pohnpei.

When I am out running I often get thirsty - water sometimes seems to be the limiting performance factor in the tropical heat and humidity here on Pohnpei. I have been on a running binge this Christmas, racking up hour long runs every single evening without a break. I suppose one of my motivations has been in part the somewhat regular visits to the hospital in the evening and visiting with other friends who are not well.

Micronesia is a particularly unhealthy place apparently. A friend my age who was an active basketball player, is dying of kidney failure due to untreated early onset adult type II diabetes. He is inflated like a balloon, almost like some cartoon figure prior to popping. If the situation were not so tragic and the end result so grave, his appearance would be darkly humorous. Unfortunately he still has young kids who will lose their father all too early in their lives.

Another friend burst the vein used for dialysis to treat her diabetes, she is on the list for medical referral to the Philippines for treatment. She is blind and immobile. Her husband is an incredibly spry and athletic 73 year old, still able to run and play a competitive game of ping-pong, a sport in which he competed internationally. An active lifestyle saves Micronesian lives.

Another colleague and friend has just been discharged from the hospital, he is suffering from congestive heart failure. Low blood oxygen (86) and fluid retention put my 81 year old friend into the hospital and onto bottled oxygen. Merely lifting his legs onto the bed puts him out of breath - he is that close to the edge of not enough oxygen. His is a catch-22. His heart is weak and not pumping blood efficiently enough to pick up sufficient oxygen from his lungs. He needs a stronger heart. Strengthening the heart requires exercise. Which requires moving limbs. Which he cannot do as he does not have enough oxygen in his blood stream. Because his heart is not pumping strongly enough. He needs a stronger heart...

Thus I was reminded me that water is not the real limiting factor in my running. Running up the Spanish wall hill in Kolonia I discover what my friend with a weak heart already knows all too well, oxygen is a more limiting performance factor than water. I am even more keenly aware of the critical importance of oxygen when a vehicle belching half-burned oil and carbon monoxide fills the air with a dense petrochemical soup. I try holding my breath until I run out of the smog, but I usually fail. You can run for an hour in tropical heat without water, you cannot run uphill for more than a few tens of seconds without oxygen.

As I ran up the hill, pushing as hard as I could, I realized that feeling out of breath is uncomfortable. My brain knows that I will get my wind back at the hill top, but what if every hour of every day were that way? That feeling of never getting enough air? So I push even harder, run even farther. Still really slowly: a 6:24 per kilometer pace over an 11.6 kilometer distance.

As I ran I felt like an electronic warfare equipped runner, a GPS in my right hand providing speed, time, and distance data, a cell phone in my left hand providing constant communication capabilities. This was my second run with the cell, purely an experiment. With my sister-in-law now back in Kosrae, and Shrue at "week in prayer" service at the church, the cell provided the "home alone" trio to call me if something happened at home.

As I neared the top of the hill a truck with a never-been-maintained diesel passes me, feeling the tree enclosed road corridor with a thick black smoke. As I try in vain to hold my breath, an impossibility when one is already out of breath - I have to wonder "Why shouldn't the islands of this nation go under water?"

It is not like we are doing anything to curb our carbon emissions around here. All of our cars are out of tune, we run the island power on diesel generators and have no national alternative energy plan. Each of us outhere has a fairly huge carbon footprint.If one is serious about keeping Utwe, Pingelap, Nukuoro, Likinioch, and Eauripik above sea level, then personal decisions and sacrifices have to be made. Tuning a car is expensive, but that is exactly what the leadership of this nation is asking other nations to do: clean up their emissions no matter how expensive.

If in the 1970s the ecology movement focused on groups and broad environmental issues, today the focus is clearly on personal carbon footprints. The new realization is that industry, coal fired power plants, and other large entities are not the sole cause of green house gas emissions and global warming, we all are. Each one of us makes daily personal choices that decide our own personal carbon foot print. Saving the world is like saving the children: it happens one person at a time.

It seems to me global warming begins at home. Not that I am good at reducing my carbon footprint. Every so often I wander the college campus cutting Merremia peltata iohl vines that are choking trees to death in the hope of saving the trees. The other day under a withering two in the afternoon tropical sun I was whacking iohl vines on a steep slope while standing in six foot deep razor grass. The vines were climbing up and smothering an Albezia lebbeck tree, a junk tree if every there was one. I working under the sun, surrounded by tall grass that blocked any air flow, working up an impossibly steep slope, I was more out of breath than when running up a hill. I was downright dizzy. "Be gone, carbon footprint!" I shouted at the vines.

I kid myself that I am reducing my carbon footprint one tree at a time. Maybe I am. At the same time I know that the catalytic converter on my car is long ago dead. Although the car is tuned up every six months, the car is aging and older engines produce more emissions.

I do make efforts to turn off lights and other power eating devices, but I am not as consistent as I should be. I realize I could probably run my home computer on a roof-mounted solar panel, but that takes a lot more effort than plugging the computer into the wall outlet. Although I do want to reduce my carbon footprint, even now a fan is blowing on me here at home. At work we use air conditioners.

I do not make new year's resolutions. I try to make changes as I go along, whenever they appear to be necessary. No need to wait for the new year. If I did make resolutions, the among my resolutions would be the desire to continue to reduce my own carbon footprint by remaining vigilant in power usage, reducing the number of trips with the car, and trying to combine light "one or two item" shopping with my running.

Of course running increases my carbon footprint by increasing my carbon dioxide production. I can only hope that any health benefits I derive have some long term reduction in carbon footprint.
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