Category Archives: built-in obsolescence

Days 360-365: MLwC hits the Year End Mark

 So, I thought in honor of the project that has changed the way I think about driving–this grew-up-in-Southern-California-you’ll -take-my-car-from-my-cold-dead-hands girl–I thought I’d review some of the high points along the way.

bianchi bike

First, recollection of the project’s goal as I’ve stated it on the blog:

MLwC stands for My Life w Car, a year long project to think differently about alternate transportation options and related issues…like, jeez, I never knew how angry driving made me until I stopped. Nowdays, I mix it up: bike, bus, ped, and yes, I still drive…though nowhere near as much as I used to. I may ditch my car at the end of the year–I like to think it’s possible. But I’m spending the year figuring that question out. For now, it’s enough that I’ve changed my habits in a big way.

For the big question, will I ditch my car? No, it became clear about midway that it made no sense to ditch a perfectly good, fully paid for car that works fine and is not sooo old that it’s a polluting disaster. Flexcar is good if you don’t have a car. But I’ve managed to completely change my transportation habits to include bike, bus, walking, ride sharing in my normal activities, and drastically reduce my car use period. Good enough.

sr520.jpg

And now for some of the high points along the year where I had some clear and habit changing insights. Here are the posts I would send the interested reader to:

Day 95: Walking! The subject of walking instead of driving brought up a lot of feelings for readers and myself. Walking takes longer, but the calm and enjoyment one gets from it really resonated with people. I started walking more and found I loved the parenthetical space it created–when you’re walking, you’re just walking. Looking around, hearing birds, being part of your town–and slowing things down a lot. Maybe some can’t imagine slowing things down and to them I just say: too bad, your loss. You should try it, you might like it.

Day 99: I really started to understand how things would change if I changed my habitual approach to transportation. Also, I found that discussing the project with others opened up a lot of questions and interest with my circle of friends. I didn’t expect the kind of interest the MLwC project engendered.

Day 116-118: In the process of removing habitual driving from my life, I became aware of the connection between driving and CONSUMING! You get in the car and you go…to get stuff. The two–the need for stuff and the trek to get the stuff–are so intertwined it takes a real effort to untangle them. This realization led me to discover the San Francisco Compact–a group that is dedicated to not buying anything for a year. Amazing.

seattle071.jpg

Day 160: Continuing on the issue of consuming, I truly get it! Moving quickly, hopping in the car, is the quickest route to impulse buying possible. Making things easy is truly making things a lot worse in the whole big picture. Fast food, fast cars, fast this and fast that–I’m just not sure we’ve got the right goals in mind. I know this perspective makes me a bad capitalist, but hey.

Day 191-194: I’m starting to really understand how things have changed from the 50’s to now. Unbridled populations growth as a machine for consuming and using every resource that’s not nailed down. No wait, we’ll use the ones that are nailed down, too.

station wagon promo pic

Days 213-214: Considerations about the older car, the urge to have something new, new, new! And plus, I just love the title of the post: The discreet charm of the older car.

Days 218-221: this is an important post, one of those posts where I really get an insight into my mind. Bill McKibbon hits the nail on the head when he points out that more has not made us happier, it’s just made us anxious for More. And that mirrors my experience with driving precisely. And my driving is inextricably linked to my consuming.

Day 233-237: The Puget Sound region rejects a proposal to build more roads! This is a watershed moment in more than one way!

urbanforest.jpg

Days 273-277: I took my car on a road trip, a rare experience. How rare? Well, I was completely unaware how expensive gas was, and I had a rude awakening that cars actually need oil now and then.

Days 241-243: One of my most favorite posts of all. This chronicles a trip I made to a day long meditation…and how crazy I made myself trying to get there on time in a traffic jam. I learned well the concept of “No Escape.” And I’ve thought of it often since this day. There a follow-up of this post here. This period was a real turning point in understanding the habit of driving, the real deep down problem of it.

Days 287-290: a plea to change your life and change the world. We can all make a difference. We must all make a difference.

Days 332-338: a video about the Story of Stuff. I just want to call this out because it’s excellent and Annie Leonard deserves traffic!

So this year comes to a close. I know not many folks will want to read all the stuff I’ve chronicled over the course of this year, but the upshot is: I’ve learned how to live differently. I’ve learned that I can learn to live differently.

The crowd roars

And because of this, my next target has already been selected: plastic bags and plastic containers. I’ll begin this project soon and have a killer kick-off post planned. Of course, the new post series title? MLwP.

Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri)
Car: 63 miles
Bike:5.0
Ped: 5.5 miles
Bus:

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Days 332-338: MLwC and The Story of Stuff

When I started this year long project to examine and change my transportation habits, I had a sneaking suspicion that no matter what I did–ride a bike, take a bus, walk, drive my car–one fundamental thing had to change: driving less means using less. Driving is about Consuming, pure and simple, and what I’ve learned is that as I’ve driven less, I’ve consumed less in all kinds of ways. And using less is good. It’s  anathema to our culture, but it’s good…and I keep coming back to it, again and again.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonardson

Writer, researcher and activist Annie Leonard has been spending the last 10 years thinking about and researching our material-based culture. She’s been talking about it too, but has not been able to gain traction…until she put together a truly brilliant 20 minute film that’s easy on the eyes and brain, but still packs a punch. She also changed the name of her focus from material usage to Stuff.

Watch The Story of Stuff–watch it now! it’s so right on, and encouraging too–we can change the way our obsolescent-dependent culture drives us crazy!

Take some time to watch her film, The Story of Stuff. What it’s about: like the title suggests, it’s the story of stuff. And she manages to take a systems approach to our whole way of life, our entire culture to explain just how stuff works…and how we participate in the creation, consumption, and disposal of stuff. It’s an untenable cycle of life, pure and simple.

And the only way out is: use less, consume less, need less. Do less, buy less, create less. Whatever happened to Less is More? We’ve completely lost touch with the concept–and now we are mindlessly buying, using, consuming, trashing more stuff than ever in the history of the world.

I suspect that once my year of transportation evaluation is over I may be turning my personal attention to this issue. And it is incredibly thorny–everything in me wants what it wants and wants it now. I’m as culpable as the next person, sometimes more, in terms of consuming–but I know, I KNOW, this cannot continue and the only thing I can do is change my own habits. I know I can systematically look at how I buy and consume and begin to deconstruct it, bit by bit–and begin to Stop Doing What I’m Doing.

And I also suspect that I will be zeroing in on one area of massive consumption that nearly epitomizes all that’s wrong with corporate supply-and-demand: processed food.

Now that I’ve said that, do watch this film and consider the role of Corporations in her explanation. And again, I point to John Edwards as the only candidate in the field who has strongly addressed dual issues regarding Corporations, the environment, and the cycle of greed that drives the growth of corporations.

Not endorsing, I’m just sayin’….

On my transportation front: I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t been able to post on a regular basis. On the other hand, I’m starting to think about weekly transportation caps–I haven’t gotten my route to Poulsbo figured out yet, ie, bus use. I’ve got too much to juggle right now and things haven’t calmed down. So I’m still successfully keeping my car usage down, but have also targeted a 75 mile a week cap. I’m well under that this week with 51 miles, so that’s all good. Is 75 miles a week too much? Does that seem reasonable? Any thoughts out there?

Daily Stats: (Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 51 miles
Bike: 7.0
Ped: 5
Bus: 2 miles

Days 314-317: MLwC and How I Became Stupid

Great title, eh? How I Became Stupid is a wee novel I came across recently by French author Martin Page. His first novel, it’s billed as a “humorous & surprising mixture of optimism and nihilism.” Oh those French! It’s a quick, entertaining and thought provoking read which brought up a lot of the same questions and issues that have come up in my year long MLwC project.

How I Became Stupid by Martin Page

Basically the protagonist, at 28 years of age, becomes tired of his life of introspection, self-awareness, and intelligence in an increasingly fast-paced consumerist society that values quick money and fast cars over all else. He tries three ways to become stupid, finally landing on a solution: take the anti-depressant HappyZac and become a stock broker. The HappyZac changes his life completely; he no longer feels compelled to think through anything. He even finds himself one day achieving benchmark status as a non-thinking person by ordering a Big Mac at a McDonald’s…and liking it. The world takes on a rosy glow.

In his new life as a stock broker, much like the monkeys in the famed stock picking experiments, he picks winning stocks through whimsy and error, resulting in million dollar wins, gi-normous bonuses, moves to a glitzy ultra-modern apartment, gets the fancy he car he doesn’t drive, dumps his quirky, creative and loving friends, and basically adopts a stupid life. I won’t spoil the end

Here’s a quote from his Before state:

Before, he hadn’t been able to live his life because of all the questions and principles tangled in his mind. For example, when he bought clothes he would always check where they came from so that he wouldn’t be participating in the exploitation of children in Asian sweatshops owned by multinational corporations. As advertising is an assault on freedom, a coup d’etat every company that investing in morally questionable activities, pollutants, or nondemocratic countries, or who laid off people when their profits were increasing. He didn’t eat food full of chemicals, either, or anything containing preservatives, coloring, or antioxidants and–financial circumstances permitting–he bought organic.

It wasn’t so much that he was an ecologist, a pacifist, or even and internationalist–just that he did what his conscious told him was right; his behavior derived more from moral principles than from political convictions. In that, Antoine was not unlike a martyr of this consumer society, and he was perfectly well aware that his intransigent attitude begged comparison with Christian mortification. This was an embarrassment to him because he was an atheist, but he couldn’t act any other way, he couldn’t help being this sort of renegade, secular Christ….

Now, basking in the chemical sunlight of Happyzac, Antoine discovered the World….Since he’d been taking his little red pills, salvation had come in the form of an absolutely watertight dam between the wold and its long-term consequences.

On his McDonald’s experience:

Only a few days earlier Antoine wouldn’t have been able to make that simple gesture of eating a French fry without thinking about the bloodstained history of the potato, the human sacrifices that the Aztec civilization made in it name, and the appalling suffering it visited on the Irish….He took a rather awkward mouthful of his burger…he had to admit he liked it. It was clearly not very good for your health, the packaging probably wasn’t biodegradable, but it was simple, cheap, very caloric, and it had a satisfyingly reassuring taste. In fact the taste of it made him feel as if he had found a family that knew no frontier, as if he had joined millions of people biting into an identical burger at that precise moment….He had a subtle feeling of pleasure, of confidence, a new strength derived from the fact that he was as others, with others.

As a novella with an “International Cult Following,” How I Became Stupid is a quick, fun read for those of us who do not always follow the road laid out for us by the Market, nor even use a car when we’re off the beaten track.

Daily Stats (Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat)

Car: 34 miles (Bellevue and back)
Bike: 5
Ped: approx 4
Bus: 0

 

 

 

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

Day 213 and 214: MLwC and the discreet charm of an older car

When I first started to drive, the general expectation was that I would 1) have an older, hand-me-down car and 2) I would maintain it for a long time, without the real expectation of a brand, spanking new car anywhere in my dizzy head. The first car I had was a Ford Falcon which I inherited from my parents’ divorce somehow…I’m still not sure how that transaction worked but I tend to think unexpressed guilt was at work in there somewhere.

my first car

I didn’t love the car, it had absolutely no cool factor at all, but it got me around and liberated my life at a crucial time. I don’t even remember at this point what happened to the car, though there’s a vague recollection of a tow truck and a purchase for parts.

My next car was beloved, even though it too, was the product of a divorce. A friend of my mother’s had a VW bug, yellow, that she used for zipping around; after her divorce, she felt she needed something more substantial and besides the car reminded her of her ex, so she wanted to dump it. I picked it up for One Buck, the minimum you have to pay for a car to avoid some kind of taxes or something. I loved this car and drove it all over, to Wisconsin for Grad School, to Florida for vacation, and on and on. My old cat Mo grew up riding around in the passenger seat, and thought nothing of 3 day road trips.

1965 vw bug

My next 2 cars were VW bugs as well, the last one being an older model that I adored, a 1965 turquoise sweet thing that caused boomers to stop me in plarking lots to tell me their youthful VW stories.

My current car is also a VW, a Jetta that I bought during the dot com bubble for cash–my First New Car Ever. I adored it also: heated leather seats, fabulous sound system, zippy engine and a compact cool look. I was exceptionally proud of my brand new car, purchased on a whim with stock money. It was more than a car, it was a marker in time.

But now my car is old, certainly old by current standards, and it doesn’t have the je ne sais quois of before. It gets me around just fine, but doesn’t flatter my ego at all. So, where am I now with regard to my old zippy car? Well, I’m starting to notice older cars–people who are still driving their 1990 whatever, keeping it in good shape, not asking it to be more than it is, and counting on it to be all that it still is.

I notice older cars that are washed and polished, clean machines, and that still look good, and presumably function well. And of course, in contrast, I think of all the new cars out there–the thrill of them, the status and such. I wonder if anyone coming out of high school shares the expectations I had around cars anymore: nothing new, but something that will get you from point A to point B, which was really all I cared about.

And I think of the huge mountains of cars that we go through in search of that new-car-high, which is admittedly pretty intoxicating.

I came across this article in MSN about the upside of keeping your old car. Some good ways of thinking about your older car are, it turns out, pretty quantifiable. For example, keeping the thing running might cost you $1500 in repairs–every year. But that still falls short of buying a new car, a new car which will be old very soon, and within a few years you’ll find yourself choosing between repairs and a new car–and endless cycle. Your insurance will be the lowest around, your taxes even lower and in fact, even if you have a major repair every year, you’ll likely still come out ahead.

But here’s something subtle to think about: new cars are like guns in Hollywood films. If a gun appears in a scene–over the mantle, in the drawer, on the shelf–it’s a guarantee that gun will get some use in the course of the film. Same with a new car–if you have a new car, you will use it. There’s no earthly way you will choose to ride your bike, walk or take the bus, it’s just a given you will drive that car everywhere.

So, today I want to sing the praises of older cars. Not the old-old-old cars, that are poorly maintained and spew clouds of smoke as they go–those are a dying breed. Cars with pollution controls have been around for a long time so even a 17 year old car does a pretty good job of minimizing pollution. I’m talking about older cars that are maintained and loved for what they are: reliable transportation tools. Appliances, even. You take care of them, they take care of you, and that odometer is a badge of courage. Recall Seth Godin’s idea that in the future, the best made cars will have their LED odometers on the outside so people can oooh-and-ahhh about how well made this car is.

Daily Stats: (Sat, Sun)
Car: 8 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0

Day 150 & 151: MLwC and green films

I love a good movie–when it’s raining in Seattle, there’s nothing better than a good movie and a bowl of popcorn. Random and Sundry Things highlighted a Grist article on Hollywood’s 15 greenest movies a couple of weeks ago, you can find it here.

Chinatown, movie–for the full article go to seacat.wordpress.org

Random and Sundry was surprised that Chinatown was included in the list which pleased me in a weird way. It pleased me because it shows that the plot was so well crafted that the issue of overdevelopment in Southern California, the rerouting of water from the more fertile valleys to the Los Angeles basin was part of the backdrop–vs. a clunk on the head type plot, a plot with an agenda. Chinatown actually has a lot in common with Cadillac Desert, a documentary and good book, though you wouldn’t know it on the surface.

I like a good story, and I hate it when a good story is sacrificed for an overbearing agenda, even though entertainment is often a good way to spread real information. So, even though the true story is hugely important and captivating all on its own, Chinatown is a movie, it’s fiction that is meant to bring the historical facts to life. The greed, the ruthlessness, the corruption.

One film that would have been interesting to include, and which any discussion of Chinatown always reminds me of in terms of period and plot is…oddly enough: Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Why? Because the murder in that animation film, and the whole plot, is based on the idea of removing the existing and beloved Red and Yellow Street Car lines from the Los Angeles basin, in order to put in thousands of miles of freeways–the current freeway system that L.A is famous for. It was a true event and was chronicled, and as the basis of a Disney animation, make for a good story as well as a commentary on choices made out of greed, corruption, and ruthlessness.  Highways mean cars, cars mean gas, gas means money, and money means business.

What other Green Films would you like to see on the list?

Daily Stats (Sat and Sun)

Car: 0
Bus: 0
bike: 0
Ped: approx 2 miles

Day 146 & 147: MLwC and the awful truth.

God, how I admire the Compacters. I really, really do. I sometimes think: maybe next year I can take on the issue of consumerism, but not right now. For me, it’s bigger in many ways than changing transportation methods. Why? Because I’m a consumer.

The awful truth: I bought the iPhone. I did. And I love it.

Whew. Really, here’s the deal. I switched to a Mac about 2.5 years ago in response to the last in a series of Dell computers that imploded under the weight of its own bloat. The hard drive died after only 3 months and while I had the warranty, the whole machine spiraled down from that point on, so when it finally became too much for me, I took the plunge and switched. The main driver: I had a lot of friends who claimed to have the same high functioning machine for more than 4 years.  I’d never had a desktop last longer than 3, and by the third year it was like pulling teeth to get it to do even basic stuff easily.

I am now officially hard-core on Apple; I’ve even bought stock. I’ve never relied on a computer to the degree I do my powerbook. So when the first demos on the iPhone came out, I had this thought: I wonder if Apple could do for my relationship with my phone what it did for my relationship with my laptop? I hate phones–they’re a pain in the butt and none of them work very well. I will do almost anything to avoid using my mobile and anyone who knows me knows to contact me via email unless they can’t avoid the phone.

The more I learned about the iPhone, the more intrigued-yet-skittish I became. Finally, I decided to give it a try and ordered one online. I can only tell you this: I’ve made more calls in the last 4 days than I have in the last 4 months. My dear mother is undoubtedly pleased on some level that I have an iPhone, even though she doesn’t know what it is, because I’m so much more willing to call her.

But here’s the rub: I now have two mobile phones waiting for me to recycle them properly–I will, there are better paths for recycling phones than computer equipment. I’ve also had 3 or 4 desktop computers, uncountable routers and cabling, and 2  laptops (one still works, a Toshiba, which has been relegated to my partner).  I am painfully aware of my own hill of techno-detritus.

seacat.wordpress.com.

I know–compared to someone like my friend Brian, I’m hardly scratching the surface of true gadget consumerism, but I think of the mountains (no, I’m not exaggerating) of computer and computer related crap that is being hauled to some landfill or 3rd world country for disassembly or permanent “storage” and it makes me want to scream.

I noticed that NoImpactMan  posted re his lust for an iPhone, but he has so far held out to purchase a used one because that works with the rules of his NoImpact contract. All I can say for my purchase is that I didn’t drive my car to get one.

My hope is that this device will last a very long time and that when it kicks, Apple will have a nice recycle path in place for me to use. I may be in complete denial….

So, okay. Bottom line: many of those close to me are happier now because they can reach me more easily. My business partners are happier because I’m willing to talk to them on the phone and do fancy things like attempt multi-party conversations and the like. I’m happier because I’ve got a phone that works really really well for both biz and personal–seriously, this thing is a quantum shift. It’s a beautiful thing.

I didn’t purchase it without thinking about those mountains of computing devices…but in the end, I did purchase it. The awful truth.

Daily Stats: (Tuesday, Wednesday)
Car: 5.2 miles
Bike: 6.5 miles
Ped: approx 3 miles
Bus: approx 15 miles
other: 0

Day 136 & 137: MLwC, here’s a sign of change…

Saturday, we used my my car to go to the beach in the afternoon for a read and some people watching. We took the car because we have these beach-chairs-with-backpack-functionality that we love and were made for that very activity… and they’re a little bulky.

beach-chairs.jpg
Summer time and the livin is easy!

So we hopped in the car and I sort of unconsciously checked the gas. Half a tank, cool. In that moment, I realized I didn’t remember the last time I put gas in my car. It could be two months, it could even be more–I simply don’t recall. That, to me, is amazing. And a real sign of change in my habits. And I’m happy as a clam at how much money I’ve saved without realizing it! cool!

Speaking of Cool, NoImpactMan completely redefines cool on a regular basis and his recent addition of Ultra-cool drinking devices was a LOL moment–not that he isn’t totally serious–he is. But rather because his idea for water carrying devices just makes me giggle, it’s so…I don’t know…so what-they-would-have-done-50-years-ago and not given it another thought. We’ve come a long way, baby, or maybe not. Check it out here.

Also, it seems in the arena of personal action, we have a newish blogger, LaMarguerite whose blog name is a hoot: “My Inconvenient Truth: the Daily Sins of a Green Girl Wannabe.” What’s cool about this blog is how she chronicles this growing awareness around how we live and what the impact is. The post called “Why” is so interesting–it’s an earlier one where she wonders what I’m sure just about everyone wonders when starting to change how they live; in her case she sees a fractal in the way she forgets to bring her own bags to the store:

What happens when I choose the lazy way? What makes me go for “Plastic please”? My first thought is, why bother, such a small thing, it will not make a difference. The global warming problem is so huge. One little extra plastic bag, I can get away with it. Leave it up to the powers in charge, the heads of States, the big businesses, to come up with the big solutions.

I am very attached to my life as I have known it in America. Things I do not really want to give up: long hot showers, letting water running while I work at the kitchen sink, using the dryer to dry our clothes, the convenience of plastic bags, shopping for clothes whenever I feel like it, plane travel, printing indiscriminately on one side of the paper, our two daily papers, not having to unplug and restart my computer each time, paying my bills using snail mail, living in my big house, being a dilettante recycler. It all boils down to a short term personal balance sheet. What am I willing to give up in terms of personal comfort, in return for a relatively minuscule, and mostly unacknowledged, contribution to the larger pie?

The very fact that LaMaguerite is asking these questions makes my day. For the most part, we’re living unconsciously. Waking up, seeing the potential for change in the smallest choices is a huge step. All the product engineers, the marketing gurus and the bean counters have made this lifestyle of ours very easy–waaaay easier than doing otherwise. It’s waaay easier to just use the bag at the store than to remember to bring your own. But bringing your own is one small part of a larger frame of mind, and the larger frame of mind can maybe move mountains. You are my hero today, LaMarguerite!

Daily stats: Saturday and Sunday
Car: approx 7 miles (2 people, 2 tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 3 miles
Bus: 0
other: 0

Day 116 thru 118: MLwC and the way things are interconnected

I’m old enough to remember when the term built-in obsolescence began to gain currency. Apparently, the movement on the part of manufacturers to create goods that would have a shorter, definitive life-span started in the 30’s (I wasn’t around then 🙂 ) and really became part of our culture in the 60’s (I was around then) and is now so common we rarely think twice before trashing something we bought a week ago, year ago, two years ago, whatever.

There was a time, really, when you bought things and expected them to last. And last a long time.

This built-in obsolescence or planned obsolescence is, in many ways, at the root of our collective carbon footprint now and I find myself thinking about it with relation to My 30 Days of consumer celibacy and how The Compact works, that was mentioned here the other day. The author, Wendee Holtcamp spent 30 days not buying anything new and chronicled the adventure. According to the Compact, the goal is to wean oneself from our consumer addicted society….

What happens in an experiment like this, I imagine, is similar to what has happened in my own experiment with urban transportation: once you break a pattern of behavior, you begin to view everything in relation to that pattern differently.

So, now I’m starting to wonder about this buy-nothing-new project that started in San Francisco by Rachel and others. It’s not some anti-corporation, self-punishing hard-core movement–it’s smart people who understand that the more new stuff we buy, the more landfill we create and the more we put into motion this global supply chain that is at the heart of an unsustainable consumer culture.

When we first bought the house we’re living in now, we had to do a lot of very necessary repairs right off the bat. Some of them involved new wood siding on the house to repair dry-rot, etc., and I remember thinking, “what would it be like to follow the production of this lumber from the forest all the way to our house?” Because it’s not just the lumber yard where you purchase it, it’s the trucks, trains, ships that get the wood from the forest (sustainable or otherwise); it’s the rubber in the tires, the steel in the chassis, the hardhats, the gloves, the dock with its hauling equipment and cranes; it’s the computerized programs that track inventory, the reports, the finance and banking; it’s the plastic ties, the labeling, the marketing and the packaging…it goes on and on.

Marley’s ghost

For some reason, it makes me think of the Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol who shows up to haunt Scrooge dragging a long line of chains and money boxes rattling behind him.

Basically, that’s what buy-nothing-new is getting at: recognizing that the mass of stuff we buy new involves a greater participation in this completely unsustainable pitch of manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and sales–unsustainable because it takes resources to create and distribute stuff, but the model doesn’t put stuff back in.

So, the Compact is focused on not introducing more new stuff into the world, borrowing or buying used, and thereby perhaps driving a market demand that items be built better to last longer. That then got me to thinking about Seth Godin’s post commented on here a while ago that he will know we’re actually gaining ground in the environmental movement when cars have LED readers on their bumpers that advertise the mileage–encouraging longevity over new, new, new.

I’m not ready to do the compact quite yet, and when I do, I’ll definitely do a 30 day trial first; but I’m really captured by the thought of reducing the massive global supply chain that goes into our consumerism–making things last longer, repairing, recycling, borrowing, lending. There’s also a wonderful network and community aspect to the Compact that is attractive.

Daily Stats (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Car: 8 (2 tasks)
Bike:7 miles
Ped: 3.5 miles
Bus:0
air: 0

PS. I have a confession to make. I’ve gone back and forth and back and forth on whether or not to include other people’s cars in my daily stats. I’ve been incredibly ambivalent about it but have this last week decided: No. This project is about My Car, not all cars. So, I’m really only looking at ways I use my car…and the possibility of living without a “my car” in the future. Thoughts?