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As I crest the ninth drop of 12 on the Coney Island Cyclone ride of this life, I’m looking for a career change. Something less office centric and more of a hedge on salvation than rubbing up against contractors in Las Vegas – so I’m going for sainthood. I’d be lying if I said this sainthood path was an easy road to hoe, not that anyone does that anymore. And I also think being all dodgy with truth might be a deal killer.

For sure there have been “errors of judgement” during the ride so far, fueled by 41,062 martinis to date ($615,937.00 which could have been delivered to the doorstep of charity.) I’m also confrontational, more like quick to pounce on any soft openings in the character of others. I’m also a huge fan of weaponizing humor to demean others for the entertainment of my own insecurities.

I think I’m a scream.

One of my other charming attributes is forgetting to count to 10 before something truly regrettable escapes my lips.

Little mother, one of God’s angels and soprano in the church choir, would say- “Kevin Dwight. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

I know I’ve got some work to, so I’ve been doing some homework on the Sainthood and penance thing. I’m at least good at that – I was class valedictorian for God’s sake. On the debit side of the ledger, I know I check the box on all the seven capital vices or cardinal sins of Christian theology. You know the wayworn list – pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth (I’ve highlighted the biggies in bold italic.) Sloth is pretty minor on the sins of Kevin list. I’m a workaholic overachiever, but I do love to nap all Sunday. As for lust, no one can duck that one, even Jimmy Carter.

Atonement for seven categories of capital vices seems like a lot for someone like me far along the actuarial curve, so Buddhism’s focus on austerity, asceticism and spiritual and physical whittles it down to four at least – that’s like nine years off a life sentence for me. Take that, and the highly convenient system of “indulgences” or paid “get out of jail cards” ramped up by Pope Urban II, and I think I’ve got the road hoed. For the uninitiated, or anyone who skipped the Bad Ideas in Western History class in college, indulgences were a cash for contrition scheme formulated by the Vatican to fund the crusades and the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I wish I knew the Latin equivalent of “eureka!”

As I’ve confessed, (that’s important for penance) I’m a sinner sevenfold, with extra mileage in the P, W, E and L categories. However, there now seems to be an eighth capital sin (like I needed it to get worse) – Selfishness. Particularly Carbon Selfishness. There’s an “End of Times” quality to this new sin, akin to the fire and brimstone prophesies, but certainly more grounded in science than fear mongering.

This love of “thermodynamic whoopee” (thanks Mr. Vonnegut, wherever you are, for boiling down the fossil fuel age to two memorable words) runs deep in the Gordon gene pool. Four-foot eleven Aunt Bernie, my favorite person in the amusement park so far, once drove from Pittsburgh to New York’s Time Square and back in one day because she was bored. She said her feet were running in her shoes.

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The new sin, number eight, of thermodynamic whoopee, is a biggie for me, far outpacing the martini consumption – so I’ll have to break it down by acts.

The sin of Flying
A few months ago, on a flight back from Dallas, a flight attendant handed me a note. My first thought was, “ok – who died now?” Turns out that somewhere over Louisiana I’d passed through the three-million-mile mark on Delta. And that’s just Delta. Add in about 600,000 on American and 120,000 on Qantas and you get a lot of damage – mostly while drinking vodka in first class.

It gets worse. In my addiction to thermodynamic propulsion, I own an airplane – got my license on my 16th birthday along with my driver’s license. Put another 70,000 on the pile.

3,790,000 airmiles. That’s a lot of whoopee – and about 1,895,000 pounds of carbon.

Way to go Sunshine.

The sin of driving
I am my beloved Aunt Bernie’s nephew. We Gordons were born to drive. Most always a convertible. Always a stick shift. Right now, there are three thermodynamic propulsion vehicles in the driveway – for the one still ambulatory person. Even when I lived in New York, the most pedestrian of all American cities, I usually kept two cars in very expensive garages. One of those is an MG I bought new in 1974. It’s still a daily driver.

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Anyway, at an average of over 18,000 miles a year, my personal odometer has ticked over the 940,000-mile mark. Add another 434,000 lbs. of carbon to the communal air.

Way to go Buckaroo Banzai.

The sin of Architecture
My undergraduate degree in architecture in the early 1970s was surreptitiously called a Bachelor of Environmental Design.” It was the Earth Day era, and I wore Earth shoes to class. Looked like I had a platypus crawling out of each pant leg.

Anyway, that label was a sugar coating on a very bitter pill. Turns out that what I do for a living is the worst thing going for the planet – by far. According to the AIA, who are now accounting for our profession’s sins, buildings generate more than 40% of global CO2 emissions.

While racking up all those airmiles, I’ve been designing significant projects from Paris to Memphis –  Toronto to Melbourne – Dubai to Detroit totaling 18,210,000 square feet of new construction.


It gets better, or worse. It turns out that sometimes it’s a sin to think about sinning – lust, or coveting, is a good example. In addition to more than 18 million square feet of built work, I’ve got another 32,500,000 square feet of unrealized projects on my resume.

Taken together, that’s a whopping 50,710,000 square feet of concrete, steel and drywall that just doesn’t grow out of the soil on its own after a good rain.

At about 45 pounds of carbon per square foot, add another 2,281,950,000 lbs. of atmospheric chokehold.

I’ve clearly outdone myself.

Time to open up the wallet for some indulgences.

Lucky for me, I’ve got a mentor in the environmental payback racket. He doesn’t know it, since he’s been dead for 178 years. Every school kid in my hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio was taught lessons in personal self-sacrifice and asceticism (there’s that Buddhist construct again) from our third most important citizen behind Daniel Decatur Emmett, the author of the rebel war anthem “Dixie” and my childhood neighbor, the Hollywood Squares center square comedian Paul Lynde.

John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, the son of a New England “Minuteman” moved to the new state of Ohio in the early 1800s and set up apple orchards to supply immigrant pioneers. Most of his orchards and land holdings were in central Ohio – one was on the north riverbank of the Kokosing River in my hometown. Johnny Appleseed dressed in borrowed clothing, cared for injured animals and walked barefoot with a tin pot on his head across Ohio spreading the Swedenborg faith, a faith speaking to the connection between the spiritual and material planes that later inspired Emerson and apple seeds. In school, we all had to show up in class one day a year with one of our mother’s tin pots on our heads.

Anyway, one of his Kokosing riverbank properties, sold off after his passing, became the site of the local tire store – Knerr Tire. The proprietor, Toby Knerr, was a family friend and better still, owned an airplane – N6022P. On weekends I’d wash it for a free ride. In high school, I chased after his daughter Leslie, but she wisely turned down every phone call for a date, sensing I was probably really lusting (there’s that sin, again) more after her dad’s plane.

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I’m sure there’s a sin of insincerity buried in there somewhere, let alone the sin of lust and the new sin of flying. Great. 17 years old and I’m steeped in sin.

Carbon Dioxide was discovered by Joseph Black in Scotland in the 1750s. I doubt John Chapman knew about the merger of two atoms of oxygen to one of carbon, so let’s put all this sin in his currency – trees. An average tree absorbs about 45 pounds of CO2 per year, so here’s the ledger of my sin:

The sin of Flight: 1,895,000 / 45 = 42,111 trees

The Sin of Driving: 434,000 / 45 = 9,644 trees

The Sin of Architecture: 2,281,950,000/ 45 = 50,710,000 trees

For a total penance of 50,761,755 trees.

Now to be fair to myself, I’ve got another 22 years or so left according to the actuarial tables, so my real debt to this world upon my passing, assuming I immediately cease flying, driving and drawing is really a much more modest 2,307,352 trees.

I feel better already. Time to celebrate with a martini.

Now, a typical North American forest averages 50 trees per acre. So, the land required to indulge the indulgence of my penance of the modest 2,307,352 trees is around 46,147 acres. According to Wikipedia, the county I grew up in, Knox County, the county of Johnny Appleseed, has a total area of 530 square miles or 339200 acres of which 525 square miles is land and 4.1 square miles (0.8%) is water. Approximately 58% of the county is farmland and 28% is forested or about 94976 acres.

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I’ll have to piss off some farmers to steer clear of purgatory.

For measure, Central Park in New York weighs in at 843 acres, with an estimated 39 trillion dollars in potential property value if converted to speculative development. To offset my sins, I’d need to create another 54 Central Parks, with a combined land value of $2.1 to the fifteenth power.


I better put on the tin pot hat and get busy.