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Green with worry

In a blink, Bay Area residents have gone from being the most eco-conscious in the nation to the most eco-neurotic. We fight with our spouses over plastic bottles, head to our therapists in tears over rising oceans, and swing uncomfortably between guilt and denial every time we pull out a credit card or jump in the car. So how do we save the world without driving ourselves (and everyone else) crazy?

Leslie Crawford

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Chapter 1:
The case of the drowning woman

It’s one of those chilly, fogged-in afternoons that make San Franciscans wish they lived somewhere like Sacramento. But the weather—rather, this weather—isn’t what’s making Michelle Bodwell* cry. As she settles on her therapist’s couch, days of pent-up grief pour out. It’s all she can do to go through the motions of her life—her grad school classes, her part-time nanny job—and the worst part is that she feels so alone. You’d think her friends, who are smart, liberal, open-minded people in their 30s, like she is, would be supportive. If the subject were bad boyfriends or problems with her parents, they would let her rant for hours. But this…oh, geez, that look they give her when they sense she’s on the edge: disdain mixed with embarrassment and the frozen plea, “Please don’t go there.” So she saves her tears for Tuesdays at 3, when her therapist is happy to let her talk or weep about whatever she feels like.

* Some names have been changed.

It’s the polar bears. They’re drowning. “Polar bears aren’t supposed to drown,” Bodwell tells her therapist, a graceful woman in her 40s who has been practicing psychology for 15 years. Ever since she heard a BBC report a few days earlier, Bodwell hasn’t been able to erase the image from her mind: dozens of bears floating in the Arctic waters, dead from exhaustion after trying to swim to solid ground that’s disappearing like ice cubes in a cup of warm tea. “I feel so overwhelmed by what these poor animals are going through because of our incredible stupidity,” she says. “Saving polar bears from drowning is not a priority, but driving our SUVs is.”

Now, imagine for a moment that Bodwell is sitting beside a box of tissues in an office on, say, Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At this point, her sympathetic therapist might gently lead the discussion away from the Arctic and toward the patient’s inner landscape: What does she think the polar bears mean? Are they a metaphor, perhaps, for her aging father? A symbol of some long-repressed childhood loss? But given that Bodwell is in San Francisco’s Marina district, it’s as plain as the crystalline blue sky starting to peek out from the fog, unveiling another global-warming-beautiful day—this is about the bears.

Well, the bears

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