Sarah Cushman, Rob Levin and their 8-year-old daughter Cedar live on Munjoy Hill in Portland ME. Sarah is an alternative transportation consultant for non-profit organizations, Rob is a land conservation attorney and Cedar is a budding artist, with a gallery of work for sale throughout their home. I met Sarah and Rob through www.warmshowers.org, a website that links ling distance cyclists with overnight hosts. A few years ago they took a four-month bicycle loop through Canada. I am sworn to secrecy about when and where their next cycling trip will be, but I can attest that it will be huge. Sarah and Rob were my first warmshowers hosts, and they set a high bar with their gracious hospitality.
How will we live tomorrow?
Cedar’s response is quick: “Tomorrow is going to be an awful Friday because we have gym. After that, I will live in this same house as long as my guinea pigs are alive.”
As a Quaker, Sarah felt adrift after the 2001 terror attacks. “The response to 2001 was so extreme.” When Sarah and Bob married, in 2002, they chose to mark this new phase of life in several ways. They moved from their previous home, Baltimore, to Maine, and Rob opened his own practice. To commemorate these changes, they walked from Baltimore to Maine, a two-month journey that included parts of the Appalachian Trail and stretches of local roads. “Walking helped me love my country, the individuals are so wonderful.”
They settled into a five-room condominium in old house on Portland’s east side. The small, affordable home helps shape a basic lifestyle. “We have voluntary simplicity living in this condo. There is a good group of Quakers in Portland. We have 100 chairs in our meeting, and most Sundays 75 are filled. That is nothing compared to other faiths, but we have a strong community.”
Rob recently went on the Pipeline Pilgrimage in MA from the Berkshires to Dracut to protest the proposed Kinder-Morgan methane pipeline. He described it as a retreat in motion. “My struggle is that I am generally optimistic. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’
“Then there is the other side. I am very concerned about climate change, and it’s hard to be an optimist about climate change. I listen, I read, and sometimes I’m scared. How do we not be overwhelmed to paralysis? I’ve been reading The Climate Casino by William Norhaus. That leaves me less scared about the next fifty years, but more worried longer term. I relate climate change to human generations. I can’t look Cedar in the eyes in 40 years and tell her it was too hard for me to do anything. It’s easier to put this in the context of my own family.
“I’m a political person. I’ve gone door-to-door for Presidential campaigns and gay marriage. I want to work in the system. But I can’t see how the system will address climate change.
“I am trying to rein in the two largest carbon footprints in my life. First, I have stopped eating beef. Second, I am trying to stop flying. I don’t want to judge others, I just want to do what I think is right. I am giving a presentation at a Land Conservation conference in Sacramento in a few months. I don’t want to fly there, and it would take a lot of time got there by bus. So, I asked the organizers, whom I know, if I could give my presentation via videoconference and they agreed. If we want to live on a planet that does not want to burn out, we have to stop crisscrossing the planet.
“Personal behavior has to change if we are going to change our climate. I believe in Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. Act as you want the rest of the world to act.”