A pig and a chicken were walking down the street when they noticed a billboard advertisement for a bacon and egg breakfast special. The chicken turned to the pig and exclaimed, “Isn’t it great? Think of all the people made happy by what we do!” The pig responded, “I don’t see why you feel so special. For you, it’s just a contribution, but for me it’s a total commitment.”

Are we totally committed, or are we merely contributing?

Let me give an example. In 1863, as the Civil War dragged on, the North needed men and money for the fight. The North levied a draft, but with a significant loophole — any draftee could get out of service by paying the government a fee of $300. Now it cannot be denied that a draftee buying his way out of service with $300 had contributed significantly to the war effort, but could he be said to be completely committed? Of course not. How could anyone be totally committed when all he had done was throw some money at his problem to make it go away? The soldiers who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in firing lines were completely committed, and almost 600,000 paid with their lives.

The difference between making a contribution and being totally committed was not lost on the people of the day. A well-dressed gentleman might be greeted with a sardonic call of “There goes a $300 man!” While both soldiers and wealthy “$300 men” contributed to the war effort, the total commitment of the soldiers trumped the monetary contribution of the wealthy.

Here’s a more recent example. The other day I drove behind someone with a TerraPass bumper sticker. The driver was still putting CO2 into the atmosphere, but he had purchased an indulgence from TerraPass so he didn’t have to change his lifestyle and become totally committed to reducing pollution. After a quick look at the TerraPass site, I realized that I could buy forgiveness for my car’s CO2 emissions with a simple yearly payment of $39.95. And it’s so much easier to pay to have someone else take care of my CO2 emissions than it is to be wholly committed to a vastly smaller CO2 footprint. That’s the difference between contribution and commitment.

I have seen the distinction between contribution and being completely and totally committed in another way. Former Vice President Al Gore has spent countless hours bringing global warming to the people’s attention through his movie An Inconvenient Truth, his books, and his speeches. But based on his actions, is Gore merely contributing to a solution, or is he completely committed to that solution?

The answer has to be obvious. While Gore is contributing his time, his energy, and his money, he is far from being totally committed to fixing global warming. Gore talks about the effects of CO2 on global warming, but his actions and lifestyle produces vast quantities of CO2. He has flown many thousands of miles on private and public jets to promote his cause, and his personal mansion consumes more energy in one month than the average American household consumes in a year. If he were totally committed he would change his lifestyle in a significant way, but he has not. Instead, he excuses his large, deep CO2 footprint through his contribution of money to fight the problem in his name.

If you ask me, Al Gore and TerraPass users are the 21st century’s version of the $300 man.