I still remember Lorenzo Morales’ eyes bulging out of his head as I entered our hotel room in Durban and started to unpack the clothes, notebooks, computers, pens, business cards and film I had brought for the two weeks we would cover COP 17, the global conference on climate change.
Impeccably polite, and perhaps a little tired after a journey that took him from his native Bogota to the United States to Europe and then, finally, to South Africa, Lorenzo said nothing the first evening.
The second night, however, he broached the topic.
Jeff, you are from the United States, he said. Your country has the second highest level of emissions in the world. You brought a lot of stuff.
I am from Colombia, a country that has much fewer emissions. I have many fewer things.
The man had a point.
He had one computer. I had two.
He had one tiny suitcase for clothing. I had a large one and a backpack to boot.
He had two notebooks and a couple of pens. I had a dozen of the former and two dozen of the latter.
You get the idea.
The irony, of course, was that Dunreith had made precisely the same point to me before I had flown to the conference.
You don’t need all this stuff, she said.
I assured her that I did, and threw in a condescending comment or two about how she, as an educator, could not understand the demands of a journalist at an international gathering such as I was about to attend.
However, as is often the case in discussions between us, she was right.
I explained this to Lorenzo, who somehow did not look convinced. Faced with the evidence, I decided to embrace the situation and explore with him the notion that the differences in the materials we had brought somehow reflected national differences between us.
We laid out all of our things on our beds and shot videos in Spanish in which we reviewed the items we each had transported. Jeff is a very dedicated reporter, Lorenzo said with just a hint of irony when he arrived at and thumbed through the notebooks that sprawled over a good section of my bed.
For my part, I gave the context that I should have listened to my wife and made the point that the carbon footprint of Lorenzo’s flights were far greater than anything I had stuffed into my suitcase.
As humorous as the exercise was, though, there was a serious point behind it.
Attending the conference gave me renewed insight into the devastating consequences for people in the most affected nations of the casual consumption and erosion of the natural environment by Americans like me.
This point was brought home with particular clarity during one of the dozens of daily press conferences in which ministers from Central American nations implored the major producers of greenhouse gases to arrive at a significant deal.
To our neighbors to the north, one of the ministers said, know that migration is the ultimate form of adaptation.
If you don’t make this happen, be prepared for millions of us to arrive, legally or illegally, in your land.
Dunreith and I had already been talked for years about selling our house, a large, drafty four-bedroom home in Evanston. The conversations had taken on additional urgency after our son Aidan had graduated from high school and begun his studies at Tulane University in New Orleans.
My interactions with Lorenzo gave me another push. (Feel free to check out this gallery of some, but not all, of the rooms in our house.)
Fast forward a year.
Dunreith and I resolved at the beginning of 2013 that we would sell our home and move to a smaller, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful living space.
Moving from idea to action was no small task.
We had accumulated untold bags of papers in what could be loosely be called our filing system during the nine-and-a-half years we had lived in the home.
And, like many people, we had one room filled with stuff into which we simply wouldn’t let people go. In our case, it was the fourth bedroom that nominally doubled as a study. I wondered at times if we would ever see its floor, let alone clean and empty its contents.
We persevered, though.
Dunreith took the lead, and I followed, with her cousin Pam and Aunt Ginna providing valuable assistance.
Decluttering also involved moving the paint and other materials that had come with the house when we bought it in 2003 and had not had the foresight to insist on their being removed.
By mid-March, we were ready to show our newly repainted house. It went on the market April 1.
The house sale process for us was an emotional one.
We had a buyer, a bid and an agreement within the first week, but that fell through.
April moved into May, with June looming in the distance.
We explored renting out the place, but ultimately wanted to make a clean break for many reasons.
The second offer came in late May.
A series of visits by the buyers, a second inspection and an appraisal followed.
The deal felt like it wobbled at times, but in the end it held.
Last Wednesday we signed the papers.
With each signature I felt a weight lift from me.
Part of the release was the shedding the financial burden, to be sure.
But another part was fulfilling the promise I had made to myself during the conference.
Dunreith and I moved yesterday from the two-bedroom place we had stayed in here in Santiago for the first four days to the place where we’ll be for the next five months.
It’s a postage stamp of a place in an apartment building with 18 stories that is smaller than the great room in our old home.
The kitchen, dining room, and living room are one side, while the bed takes up at least 75 percent of the other room. Take a look at this gallery if you want to see it for yourself.
It feels just right to me.