Monthly Archives: December 2007

Days 301-307: MLwC and an idea about consumption

That’s consumption in the modern sense of the disease: think SUVs crammed with stuff. Come on, most of us did it to one degree or another this season, even if we didn’t use an SUV to haul the stuff around. So, let’s try to take our consuming habits apart one piece at a time. For example, did you buy a lot of stuff that will inevitably end up in land-fill, not only because the target user outgrew it, out-used it, or never really wanted it in the first place?

So how to think about that….I didn’t really do so much less this year, but what was different was this: I focused on making sure what I did buy or make was recyclable or immediately consumable (food, eg). I made calendars for all my near and dear ones…perhaps to their chagrin, who knows. But at the end of the year, they can toss those puppies in the recycling bin and the paper will be mashed up and turned into something else. We offered a feast of special delectables to our friends–pricey, fancy, certainly impressive. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and we had a blast. We gave beeswax candles which burn clean. We bought and downloaded music–no muss, no fuss. We gave gifts to kids that are recyclable or immediately usable or edible. We also endeavored to simply buy and give less, but make it mean more.

Wall Street is bemoaning the fact that even though spending on the holidays was robust, it was less than they hoped for and so they’re calling the season a disaster. Go figure. I ran across a blog this morning that helped me think about the prayed for endless upward trend on spending–something virtually unheard of in the natural world:

….I didn’t consume this season because of that as much as for the sake of the earth and equality and a chance for my kid to come of age in a world where a person’s worth is not measured by the limit on their plastic or the cubic footage of their SUV.

As any medical professional will tell you, untrammeled growth at the cellular level is known as cancer. But lots of economists and financial reporters don’t see the point in that: they say we need uncontrolled, rabid, nuclear growth at all times and especially at Christmas. I mean, look at all the good it’s done us, how sweet and warm and fuzzy is the cult of metastatic consumption, what blessings it has poured upon our nation and our planet.

I have had this same conversation with a lot of people before, usually those somewhere right of me who believe–literally believe—that endless growth and consumption is not only good, but what the Lord had in mind. I think they do a disservice to the Lord. Nothing, absolutely nothing in nature–outside of cancer–grows endlessly without dire results. It’s simply not possible, divine intervention or not. So, maybe it’s a good thing to see us slow down a little on the holidays. I know we focused more on sharing ourselves and making room for more good times together…and the results have been a real holiday, one full of friends and family and quiet and raucous times together.

Another note, on the MLwC project. I mentioned previously that on Thanksgiving, we took my car for a trip up to the San Juan Islands–a fabulous Thanksgiving of bike rides and hikes with sweeping views of the Straights. I had some car trouble, it was diagnosed as okay, but needing attention back in town. I got the attention and got the car fixed last week–for free. It seems the very expensive part that had worn out (catalytic converter) is covered on my car as long as I’ve put less than 90K miles on it. Not only was I less than 90K, I was less than 50K! So, another reward of less driving: you actually get a chance to use that methodically planned warranty they attach to the car when you buy it. Now my car is running smooth and happy, when I use it. Which it seems is quite a lot over this rainy, cold holiday season…..

Daily stats:
Car: 324 miles (out to the coast to visit family and back, plus several errands)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 8
Bus: 40 miles

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Days 298-300: MLwC and not much else

Have you noticed–MLwC just crossed the 300 day mark. Closer and closer.

Don’t have time for much more than a tally right now…Are you ready for the solstice?

wintersolstice.jpg

Daily Stats (Mon, Tue, Wed)
Car: 5 miles
Bike: 5 miles
Ped: 1.5 miles
Bus: 8 miles

Days 294-297: MLwC, looking past the current president and the Seattle ride metro campaign

There’s an article in the NYTimes today about how the global climate summit in Bali that’s been taking place for the last two weeks, came to the conclusion that they would need to plan beyond the current US administration if they were going to deal with the future of the environment at all. And ain’t that just the way with all things George Bush: people, countries, governments all over try to work with him, try to include him, but he’s such a my-way-or-the-highway kinda guy that ultimately, those same groups do what they do in all systems: they learn to move around the unmovable object.

“The next presidential election takes place at the halfway point in these treaty talks,” David D. Doniger, who directs climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council and served in the Clinton administration, said on his Web log on Saturday. “So the U.S. will field a new team in the second half. And there are good odds that the next president will get serious on global warming.”

….

Some environmental groups criticized Europe for not sticking to its guns. But it appeared that, in the end, the Europeans followed a path recommended in a speech last Monday by former Vice President Al Gore, fresh from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

He advised Bali negotiators to look beyond the Bush administration, whose tenure ends in one year.

If George Bush were just some yahoo from Texas (and soon he will be), I wouldn’t mind. Big whoop. But he has had his way with our global reputation and standing for nearly 8 years, much to our continued and growing chagrin, and I’m sick of it. A lot of people are sick of it. I don’t even take any pleasure in knowing he will be remembered as our worse president ever. What he’s dragged this country into isn’t worth any comeuppance, I just want him to go away.

So, okay. On to other things. Here in Seattle, there’s a plan in the works to try to wean some drivers off their car addiction in the coming two years. It’s part of a larger initiative to remove 2,688 cars from the daily commute in a number of ways. The one that caught my eye is called the Green Bike initiative and it works like this:

The “Green Bike Pilot” project provides drive-alone commuters with new commuter bicycles, training and gear in exchange for a pledge to reduce their drive-alone trips by 60 percent. Bike mentors will provide social support to new participants with route planning, tune-ups and bicycle safety training. Participants who fulfill their pledge will get to keep their bikes and will gain a healthy and sustainable commute habit. This unique project will help improve environmental and personal health, mobility and livable communities by providing a low-cost, carbon-free commute choice for commuters throughout King County. This project proposes to reduce 510 vehicle commute trips.

Some will likely get hot under the collar about the cost of providing bikes to people who could probably afford to buy one…but that’s not the point here. The point is very clearly to create a community support system to help people change behaviors around driving. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. I’ll be interested to follow this.

Tomorrow I’m trying a new route to my job over on the peninsula in P-bo–bus downtown, ferry over, friend picks me up and we drive together to the office. It’s a start.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 46 miles (peninsula, three tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 3 miles
Bus: 16 miles

Days 292 & 293: MLwC and a few other things

gotta be quick today. But I’ve been reading some other blogs and wanted to highlight a couple.

First, my neighbor Tom who is the bigolddaddy, discusses all the myriad of things one might do if one didn’t watch TV. Now, to some degree and in some ways, watching TV is like driving–it’s way too easy, way too mindless and way too addicting. Tom and family don’t watch TV at all which I think helps make their kids the creative, smart, thoughtful oddballs that they are. They’re all big readers. The great thing about reading? You choose what goes in your head. TV doesn’t really do that. Sure, you could turn it off, but most of the population doesn’t–it’s like this channel into your brain. So, some of the things Tom lists that you could do instead of watching TV are listed below. I would add to this: ride your bike. It will take you a little longer to get where you’re going and the trip will be pleasanter and you’ll be in better shape and also…you’ll have less time to sit in front of that TV.

  • read a book
  • talk to your family
  • go for a walk
  • call a friend
  • write a letter
  • clean out your closet
  • exercise
  • pray
  • volunteer
  • dust
  • visit a neighbor
  • cook
  • learn something new
  • look out a window
  • take a nap
  • balance your checkbook
  • knit
  • play a game
  • blog

I love this list, Tom, Thanks!

Another site, LiveGreen, has a great list of sites that will help us all be a little more mindful as we dwell in this consumer-centric time of year. Check out all the goods here, it’s an interesting roll call.

Re my year long car project, I’ve recently accepted a job with a company that is a bit of a drive and a ferry ride away. Fortunately, I can do a lot of work remotely from home, but this will sure test my car usage. I am aiming to figure out the mass transit way to work this out, but first I’ve got to get used to the job and the team and all the other stuff.

Daily Stats (Tues, Wed)

Car: 29 miles (B-vue and back)
Bike: 13 miles
Ped: 1.5
Bus: 14 miles

Day 291: MLwC and green holidays

We have a house nearby our West Seattle home that is a veritable beacon of light every holiday season. Literally, you can see it for miles, if not smell it. There’s something about that many lights burning bright in the night that smells like…well, like electricity or something. People drive from miles around to see this house; the family has a big crane come out to drape the evergreens with the longest strings of light I’ve ever seen–and these aren’t LED lights, they’re the real deal.

I can’t imagine how much energy they burn, and I’m not sure what all this has to do with the holidays or the birth of Jesus. If I were a believer, I would be confused, if not offended, to have Jesus and the whole entourage within 4 inches of a rockin’ rendition of Santa and his merry reindeers. Every motif in the world is going on in that yard, with grostesque results. But I will admit: the kids love it. And it IS a neighborhood tradition.

So, in this season of good cheer and energy consumption, is it a total faux pax to consider the environmental impact of all these lights?

LED lights are all the craze, and that’s great because they use soooo much less energy than the big honkers. And you might want to put your lights on a timer, the christmas tree too–so you don’t forget and leave ’em on.

Everybody seems to be in the mood for one reason or another to simply buy less this year. I know we’re looking forward to spending at least some of our budget traveling to spend real time with those near and dear–a better gift for all of us, or at least we hope so. We’re thinking: share more time, meals, tea, coffee, whatever with your friends and family, and focus less on the mountain of gifts we’ve all come to dread. You dread getting stuff you don’t want, they dread buying it. Why do we persist in this madness?

Whatever you do buy, make sure it’s as recycleable, reusable, renewable as possible. Avoid the stuff with lots of packaging material. Maybe the companies that do that will get a hint.

And if you’re hosting dinner, etc, remember: Cloth napkins, real dishes and flatware. Just think how happy the earth will be to not get more plastic “presents” in landfills all because you did it differently this year. You go, you!

Daily Stats:

Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3
Bus: 0

Days 287-290: MLwC and the difference a single person can make

Recently CNN has been running a show about Heroes. My cynical self sees this as riffing off the popular TV show by the same name, and then, maybe a little more critical than I need to be, I wonder what the bottom-line impact on the average viewer is seeing what these real-life heroes have done in their lives to earn such accolade.

Here are some of the Heroes profiled:

  • An Ecuadoran lawyer leading a landmark environmental lawsuit
  • A U.S. expatriate who encourages attendance at rural African schools
  • A Ugandan missionary who runs a boarding school for girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army
  • A man who founded a clinic in his native Kenya A Cuban woman who transformed a toxic dump in Cuba into an urban garden
  • A teenager who developed a music system to help people with autism by linking language to sounds.

These are flat out amazing people, and it’s great to see a TV news show dedicated to highlighting their actions in a world that is overwhelming in its crises and problems. It was also great to see something positive on a national news tv show–it’s uplifting, to be sure.

But I also wonder: for those of us who lead quiet, normal lives and don’t hear the call to big heroic action, what does a show like this do? Is it just a cathartic fix, an opportunity to be moved by story and pictures? Does it actually move the individual to do anything differently or does it perhaps, worst of all, allow for a comparison between self and Ideal, where self (that’s you sitting on your sofa) comes up very short indeed. So short you actually don’t even try to change anything–not even the smallest thing.

This is one of those heaven or hell moments, where the viewer is sort of forced–unconsciously–to identify with the lofty ideal or feel less than and therefore not accountable. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I’d love to hear opinions on it.

So what heroic thing can one person do? Since I’m focused on the environment and finding ways to live differently, I think it’s heroic when someone takes the time and money to do a biodiesel conversion on their car. No one’s asking them to do it, they’re only doing it because they feel it’s important. Will that ever make it to CNN? I don’t think so–it’s not that interesting on a large screen. But I find the whole process, thought and action, very interesting.

I find it interesting when someone decides to sit down and figure out how many tons of paper would be saved if people simply used one less napkin per day. One less napkin! And then manages to get the word out and change the behavior of countless people–that network just amazes and inspires me.

There are lots and lots of people out there who notice one small thing and decide to focus on it to make it better. Like bus rider unions–they take the issue on and create something for the good of so many others. Here in Seattle, we’re discussing the possibility of starting a rider’s union–who knows where it will go, but it’s better than going numb and not even thinking about it.

There are garden growers and bike riders and organic farmers and so many others who are deciding for themselves to take a different path from the one laid out for them. Refusing chemically enhanced flowers and vegetables, taking back the streets and making them safe for more bikes–demanding space and recognition, going through the several year long process of becoming a certified organic farm….These are all leaps of faith and individual decisions to be part of a larger movement. This is what Paul Hawken’s talks about in his book Blessed Unrest and his work in building social networks of individuals making changes locally that impact all of us.

So, maybe I just get a little nervous when we hold up a handful of people as Heroes when there are heroes all around us, deciding to not do the simple thing, the expedient thing, but instead are changing their lives one action at a time. I admire all those people who decide to change their lives–simply because they have become aware it is the right thing to do. Collectively we are changing the world.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun–whew–been busy with the recent rain damage and stuff!)
Car: 11 miles
Bike: 7.5 miles
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0

Days 285-286: MLwC and it’s a Green Thing Christmas

Go ahead and have an irreverent chuckle with the new green-idea-of-the-month video for December. Do the Green Thing , it’s all in good fun. The idea is: buy something old this Christmas, or maybe nothing at all, and try to remember what Christmas is really all about. Now, there’s a radical act!

Seattle rain thanks to Creative TechThanks to CreativeTechs

So, up here in the northwest we’re reminded again what global climate change means to us: rain, rain and then, for good measure, more rain. Streets and freeways closed, basements flooded, and just way more water than the infrastructure is able to handle. This has been happening more each year–we just broke the previous rain record set in 2003.

Tim Flannery in The Weather Makers discusses in fine detail how global climate change will likely play out and one of the things he notes is rapid and extreme fluxuations in weather–where there was rain before, there will be massive flooding; where there was desert, there will be ongoing drought. The extremes will increase on all fronts. That appears to be happening.

One last thing: UN committee on Global Climate Change meets in Bali this week. Watch for the year 2020 to become a media buzzword in the next few months–it’s the watershed year for change that many scientists and scientific panels have agreed upon–the do or die date. It’s not a bad thing–clear dates and timelines always help focus the mind.
Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed)
Car: 14.5 miles
Bike: 5.5 miles
Ped: 0
Bus: 0

Days 282-284: MLwC and thinking about pavement differently

Recently Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickels spoke on our local radio station KUOW to address environmental issues in the Puget Sound area. He discussed his leadership in the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement which evolved from the current Fed decision to not participate in the Kyoto agreement. Nickels and many other mayors took matters in their own hands and decided to lead the charge by having their own cities live up to the Kyoto agreement’s mandates, and more. The goal continues to be to cut greenhouse emissions to 20-30% of 1990 levels by 2020–that being a watershed year for change, if it’s going to happen.

Everyone complains about their local government, and I’m not push-over for Nickels but this discussion on KUOW was encouraging. The main thing I took away was Nickels’ understanding of the recent election in which the people clearly voted: no more roads. His goal is to change behaviors around transportation and lifestyle habits–no small undertaking. But his approach is interesting: there will be sacrifice with ammenities. What does he mean by that?

Well, it won’t be easy or cheap to drive downtown. Parking rates have gone sky high, parking is simply not a priority anymore, there won’t be more pavement to get downtown so traffic isn’t going to get a lot better. On the other hand, he’s making it very attractive for companies to pay for employee transit options, downtown living has truly never been more attractive than it is now in Seattle, there are plans for more and better parks and recreation areas closer to dense living sectors, and access by bikes, scooters and pedestrians will be better than ever. I like that–and really hope it happens. Most encouraging, however, is simply the recognition that behavior has to change.

As for the 520 bridge, a big bone of contention as it is the main arterial to Microsoft from the west side of Lake Washington, Nickels couldn’t have been clearer: No More Pavement. Fix what we have, and focus on transit alternatives, mass transit that works for people and is actually an attractive alternative. There are lots of competing interests out there on this front, it will be interesting to see if they can come together for a smart decision that stands up to the environmental issues of our day.

Bottom line: nice to see an elected official talking about the hardest issue of all, behavior change. You can’t buy your way out of that problem.

Daily stats (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Car: 37 miles (about 5 errands, including a biz trip to Bainbridge island…gotta figure that one out but quick.)
Bike: 0
Ped: 2 miles
Bus: 0
potentially west seattle and ballard