My Other Bicycle Is An Airbus A380


I could be a pompous prick and brag about how I live in a compact, walkable, mixed use, transit served neighborhood in a seven hundred square foot apartment. My commute to work is measured in blocks not miles. Compared to the average North American I use tiny little sips of water and power. I already own all the physical stuff I’m ever going to need or want. I’m practically invisible in terms of my personal impact on the environment. Yet I enjoying a very high quality of life.


Where’s my halo, damn it!


image1 (1024x765)

IMG_7959 (1024x683)

IMG_7965 (1024x683)



I fly a lot. I mean… a lot. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the air more than on the ground. I fly primarily because I can. I have access to various personal and business connections that allow me to travel at heavily subsidized rates which in no way reflect the real cost of the flights – on many levels. I may as well live in a giant house on the edge of the metroplex and drive a massive SUV two hours to work every day as far as my environmental footprint is concerned. I’m really just a cheap carbon whore.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 8.59.17 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.33.16 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 5.03.45 PM

I occasionally attempt to rationalize my activities. For example, I know for a fact that if I exercise restraint and stop flying entirely for the rest of my life someone else somewhere on the planet will burn up that fuel instead. The oil isn’t going to stay in the ground just because I don’t use it. The global demand for fuel is insatiable. It might be burned by an entire village of rural peasants in India over a lifetime of heating and cooking. Or it might be used in an instant to convert sea water into irrigation for a golf course in Dubai. But it’s going to be burned regardless of my individual piety.

 Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.08.36 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.18.56 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.10.19 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.17.11 AM

Like I said. This is a self serving rationalization. But it still reflects reality. And I have 7.3 billion data points to back me up. That’s the current human population all dipping in to the oil well together – and it’s a race to the bottom.




So here’s how I think about my nasty flying habit instead. It’s entirely discretionary. So is driving, which I do very little of. So is eating meat, which I could live without. So are most of the things I do in my life. My base consumption is very very low and it can get even lower without me feeling deprived in any way. I have a degree of personal resilience in my life. There’s slack and wiggle room. If I believed that I was part of a much larger global movement to voluntarily pull back, to make modest adjustments in order to serve a larger cohesive cause for social justice… I absolutely would. But for the moment, I see no point. We either all do this together or we don’t do it at all.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


Congratulations, you've just discovered the logic of collective action, a mere 50 years after Mancur Olson did! Also, shouldn't you further shrink your own human presence precisely so that those Indian peasants can more assuredly heat their hovels and cook their gruel? That is an argument for, not against, your continued shrinkage.

It sounds like you don't have children, which is a good thing as 700 square feet is more holding pen than home. Sure, those Indian villagers probably do with even less, but your own villager ancestors would likely be astonished that you would choose a lifestyle they actively sought (or at least hoped, if not for themselves then for their posterity) to improve upon.

But you are a very good citizen according to Nietzsche's foretelling of over a century ago: "making men smaller and more governable is desired as ‘progress’."

The asceticism of a monk in his cell is certainly admirable, but it's not for everyone.