Category Archives: consumerism

Take the time: Nick Werle on Free Markets and Nature

We tell ourselves stories, and sometimes we can see with frightening clarity the impact of those stories on our behavior.

A recent essay in 3 Quarks Daily by Nick Werle (Competing to Live: On Planet Earth and Being in Nature) takes a careful but wide ranging look at the many stories we tell ourselves about Nature.  He looks at David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series and the focus on the delicate balance in nature…and its requirements.  He looks at Darwin’s story in The Origin and sees similar threads regarding competition and the urge to survive. They both have a keen interest in understanding the mechanism of competition.

“In the rain forest, which we have seen has both high productivity and unceasing conflict, ‘competition for resources ensures that no one species dominates the jungle.’”

David Attenborough, Planet Earth

All of Nature is Regulated and Interconnected…and we are part of Nature

At the end he raises the obvious question of how we humans, the closest relative to the marauding gangs of chimpanzees that are depicted wrecking havoc in the jungle, care or alternately don’t seem to care about our place in the balance of nature.  Deregulationism has at its core a willful faith that the market will balance out all transgressions, that it is a marvelous–nay, Magic–self-regulating machine that is well within the bounds of Nature itself. It is a faith that ignores the obvious issue of interconnectedness.  Witness the global concern over Japan’s under-regulated, under-managed, growth focused nuclear program in the last month.  Earthquakes and tsunamis are natural disasters; nuclear meltdowns as a result of deregulation are not, and no market forces  can adjust the damage done.

As we have seen with increasing regularity, our wave of deregulation–from bubble to bust, from drilling and chemicals to “clean-ups,” implosions,  and overpopulation, we are not living in balance with the planet we call home.

We have managed to upset the balance of so many systems that it seems to me we are now living well outside of nature.  Plastic may well be the iconic metaphor for all we have become. The story we tell ourselves, and what we are actually doing, are not concordant, even as they could be.  Attenborough makes an argument that yes, we are part of Nature, and our particular playing field is uniquely human, but is nonetheless part of the large balance we would do well to have an interest in. The point Attendborough makes is more subtle than those put forth by deregulationists:

It positions humanity not as an alien force superimposed on an independently existing natural world but as a part of the same precariously balance system. The argument is so affective because it refuses to plead. Instead it suggests that we reconsider the boundaries we draw between systems we hope to keep in balance.

Instead of defining the jungle as the wild and unthinkable state of nature, this naturalist approach seeks to fuse man’s understanding of himself with the complexities of Nature in order to ensure that Planet Earth never becomes a stunning monument to irrecoverable beauty.



This Sweet Old World

I’ve been humming the tune of This Sweet Old World today, floating between grief and disbelief over the BP Spill.  This isn’t a scree about that mess, I don’t know what can really be said.  BP should promise flat out that it will do anything and everything possible to make this right, simply, clearly, no hedging.

This sweet old world….

S’anyway…

Yesterday I had a minor medical treatment that involved a small incision and some stitches.  No big. But I was somewhat dumbfounded when over the course of 25 minutes I saw the assistant put on, remove and toss in the garbage no less than six pairs of latex gloves.

No, really.  Six pairs.  Right in the plastic bag that held the growing mound of waste that would be collected up and thrown somewhere.  The ocean probably.

I mentioned my surprise to the assistant and he, without the slightest thought, said, “well, we have to use a new set of gloves each time we open a canister because the germs can spread so easily.”

Ok.  Picture this: my little treatment happening at that moment, hundreds and hundreds of times yesterday all around the world…cuz yeah, it wasn’t very exotic.  And then imagine more complex treatments, and full out surgeries. Imagine the amount of plastic bags full of latex and plastic wrappers emanating from those hospitals all around the world.

six pairs of latex gloves in 25 minutes

So I’ve been thinking about this. Rolling it around in my head, along with the beached whales this summer and their stomachs full of plastic, and the ease of plastic, and the mindlessness of plastic and then a talk by Bill McKibben gave on NPR the other day and his new book, Eaarth,  which argues for the end of growth.

How did I get there?  Because it is the magic thinking of an expanding universe of humanity that is at the root of most of our problems today…as McKibben says, we are now “too big to succeed.”

Consider: the growing universe of germs is due to an ever increasing population that is ever increasing its number of cure-all antibiotics that the invisible microbial world mutates to conquer again and again and again.

Consider: the more people we have, the more resources we use, in an obviously limited world.

Consider: the dwindling resources requires us to take ever more extreme actions to supply the ever increasing population of humans demanding ever more of everything, while believing there is no cause-and-effect–magic!.

There is a report today about the impact slowing down– reducing driving speeds– would have in a systemic way...proof positive that a small thing can make a big difference.  We could do this, but as a nation, the idea of slowing down is insulting, not to mention unenforced, and basically any questioning of our power to do what we want, when we want, and at the speed we want, is generally viewed as unpatriotic.  Our magic thinking has gone round the bend.

There are things we could do.  You and I both know there are things we could do differently, for the sake of this sweet old world.

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 323-331: MLwC, the easy Shake ‘n Pour Pancake mix & John Edwards

General Mills Shake n Pour

In the annals of things I would not have thought needed improvement: pancake mix containers. There’s someone somewhere who’s job it is to figure out how to improve on things that work fine in order to sell more products, and I think that might not be a very good use of someone’s time–I don’t care how much they earn.

Take Bisquick’s Shake ‘n Pour bottle of pancake mix. Is it really so very very difficult to make pancakes from the mix in a box? Do we have to make a plastic bottle to hold a chemically processed liquid so all you have to do (we’re very very busy!) is shake it and pour it out? I happened to see this product on TV the other day and really was taken aback.

Plastic bottle: will not decompose in that very busy Mom’s lifetime, nor the span of her kid’s, or even their kids.

Pancake mix: processing and shelf life virtually guarantee there is zero health benefit to the “food”–it’s just filling bellies, and likely has so much sugar and salt that the kids would be better off with a slice of toast and peanut butter. Much better off.

I know, I know–why should I care? But I’ll tell you why: I just spent a few days with my nephew who is 34 and fights with diet/nutrition issues. He’s grown up in a mass-consume culture, more accustomed to the taste of processed sugar than real food, and now when he’d like to change things, it’s extremely difficult. And as he gets older, his health problems will increase, his dependence on medications will increase, his positive participation in our culture will decrease–and that breaks my heart.

This is our culture, people. This is our country, our culture. I literally don’t think having a plastic bottle of pancake mix is making us any better–it’s just growing profits for General Mills.

Which brings me to John Edwards. I read the other day, though I can’t find it now, that some columnist was backing John Edwards, against all odds, because he felt that one of the core problems in our country, if not the world is the rise of unchecked corporations and of all the candidates out there, the one candidate that truly understands corporations and how to battle them effectively is John Edwards. It strikes me that that reason alone may be contributing heavily to his virtual invisibility in the run-up to the race.

But beyond his profession, Edwards’ tone and language on the campaign trail have increased business antipathy toward him. His stump speeches are peppered with attacks on “corporate greed” and warnings of “the destruction of the middle class.”
He accuses lobbyists of “corrupting the government” and says Americans lack universal health care because of “drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists.”
Despite not winning the two state nominating contests completed so far, with 48 to go, Edwards insists he is in the race to stay. An Edwards campaign spokesman said on Thursday that inside-the-Beltway operatives who fight to defend the powerful and the privileged should be afraid. (credit: indybay.org)

I’m not suggesting I’m backing Edwards–in fact, I don’t know yet who I’m backing. Any of the top three would be good, to be honest. But the issue with corporations is exceptionally important. We are currently suffering the burden of the polar opposite of Edwards: an administration so thoroughly in lock-step with corporations, the relationship is nearly seamless.

Apologies to Edwards for discussing General Mills’ ridiculous products in the same post as the presidential nominee, but in terms of corporate hunger for products above brains, it seemed to connect up for me.

Daily Stats (things seem to be getting way out of hand in terms of tracking progress in these final weeks of the year long MLwC project: Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat)
Car: 64 miles (P-bo, a dozen tasks and 8 days)
Bike: approx. 15 miles or so, several tasks
Ped: 5 miles
Bus: 0

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

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

Days 225-228: MLwC, One Fell Swoop and Canadian Thanksgiving

In one fell swoop, I have nearly driven half the amount in three days that I did the entire previous quarter. As noted in the last quarterly round-up, I drove a little more than 300 miles total. In the last three days, I’ve driven around town 130 miles–whoa! What’s going on?

On Friday, I had business on the eastside. If one is going to Bellevue proper, there are buses you can take from Seattle, easy shmeasy. Not that many do (‘cept you, Yo!), but you could if you wanted. If you’re going anywhere else in Bellevue, forget it. Bellevue is all about cars. They’ve got plans for more roads that stretch far and wide into the future. Nevermind that the amount of traffic will increase exponentially to fill the lanes available to it, and experiment we’ve all participated in for years and years. But I digress. I went to a part of Bellevue to which no buses come near and every time I go, I drive. That was the first trip.

The second trip was a winter clothes extravaganza. As I’ve noted earlier, the cold and rain and whatever else winter has in mind for us, has come early this year and I’m already thinking, Hey! Let’s move to Mexico! Short of that, more clothes are in order. Last winter I spent good and happy chunks of time in Central America and managed to get through a winter of historic proportions without much trouble…no such luck this year. So, we went all out and headed–along with about 3 million Canadians–to the outlet mall up north. It’s Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

waiting at the Canadian border

While in line with about 150 other people in the Banana Republic, I started talking with a South Asian guy who was holding a spot in line for his family. He was clearly bemused by the whole spectacle of shopping frenzy so I thought we had something in common. He told me he’d waited in line at the border of Canada and Washington for 2.5 hours only to come here and wait in line for the dressing room, for the check out, for the starbucks cuppa joe, for everything.

I said, “wow, so the prices are so much better here?”

“Not at all,” he says. “In fact, they’re about the same.”

I looked at him and said, “Sooooo….?”

He said, “No, we’re just here because then we can go back and say we were here.” I just stared at him. He started laughing, and then the guy behind me started laughing, because he was also from Canada and was there for the very same reason. He had waited in line at the border for about 4 hours. The woman behind him chimed in as well and then they all started sharing which routes were the best and fastest for getting down here and back. We live in a strange world.  It’s like all these people knew there was something insane about what they were saying, but hey.  It’s a Banana Republic World.

Compared to their outing, our little 40 minute jaunt from West Seattle was nuthin’. Got some great winter clothes, too. But it is amazing how the miles rack up so quickly. We ran a couple of other errands while we were out, and then this morning, my partner woke up quite ill with a bad cold so it was incumbant upon me to do the weekly and seasonal shopping…another 25 miles. But now we’re ready: we’ve got enough soup, pasta, fruit, cold meds, wool clothing, oatmeal and bottled water to last us for a while.

Needless to say, I have no illusions about coming in at less than 300 miles this next period. Not with the office project and everything else that’s come up. There’s a funny little urge inside me to just throw up my hands and say, Oh what the hell, let’s get in the car and drive everywhere! It’s raining, it’s awful, what the hell!

But not really. It’s just crazy little voice in me.

Daily Stats: (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 130.6 miles
Bike: 4.5
Ped: 3
Bus: 0

Day 179: MLwC, schlepping and such

We are remodeling my partner’s office space here in West Seattle, a lot of it on our own. This requires an enormous amount of schlepping stuff around, running errands to the hardware store to pick up a lousy little something or other.

Sort of blows my no-car ideation to hell.

Not only that, what a lot of waste goes with remodeling. Everything from paint roller sleeves (multiple) to packaging to cans, drywall bits and pieces, discarded hardware, change-in-plan waste, and on and on. When you think this is happening a million times everyday all over the country…it’s enough to make you sort of give up.

The Northwest has a lot of green remodeling companies sprouting up everywhere, and of course a lot more green resources than ever before. Right here in Seattle is the Environmental Home Center, a great resource we’ve used on other projects in our home. We have carpet made out of recycled plastic bottles, for example–wears really well and still looks good. We’re not using an eco-contractor per se but are instilling recycling and reduced waste practices into what we do…even so, I can see how much waste you could produce if you just didn’t care.  Plus there’s the stuff you can’t do much about.  We have a ruined carpet down in the basement of this office that is beyond reclamation, and that is headed straight to the landfill.

I hate contributing to landfill.  It just bugs me inordinately.   Does anyone else out there think about landfills a little more than is healthy, or is it just me?

But I won’t lose sight of my year-long project in all of this upheaval.  Even if this little blip does add to my overall car usage, I’ve radically reduced it over the course of the last several months and I won’t let this project get in the way. It’s temporary.

But just for the record: remodeling is a pain in the butt.

Daily stats (Monday)
Car: 7 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus: 0
No exercise, yipes!!!

Day 160: MLwC and when making things easy makes things worse

In the USA, making things easier and then selling tons of those easy things is the basis of our entire economy and consumer culture. It’s human nature: easy is good, difficult is bad. But as with all good things, there is a tipping point where good goes bad.

In the world of “easy things,” that tipping point is often related to over-consumption. At this time of year, I think of all the garden watering contraptions that have been invented–to take the trouble out of the task of watering. Most of them rely heavily on a broadcast spray functionality that could not–really!–could not be more wasteful. On an 80 degree day, spraying water into the air guarantees losing about half of what you’re pumping out.

Sierra Club blog had a good quote a few months back that comes to mind:

“The greenest ballpark in the country may be Fenway Park, because only an idiot would try driving and parking there.” (Sports Illustrated, March 2007)

And over at Confessions of a Green Girl Wannabe Marguerite, who is in Paris right now, notes that:

There is some advantage to not having access to the comfort of modern appliances. In our Paris appartment, I still have not figured out how to use the wash machine. The dryer appears to be even more of a mystery. One [interesting] consequence has been how little dirty laundry we have generated as a result.

Fast food is easy–so easy, we eat too much of it. Driving is easy–so easy, we forget other forms of transportation, or even forget how nice it might be to hang closer to home. Getting a double tall split shot cappuccino is ridiculously easy–and our landfills are overflowing with plastic and paper cups to prove it.

I rarely drive downtown anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did, and I would not have predicted that a year ago. I resonate with the Fenway park quote above: driving downtown is so hard anymore that I’ve learned a hundred other ways to get there–all smarter and less impacting than driving.

What other things might be better if they were just a wee bit more difficult? And how on earth could we possibly sell such an idea to an entire culture that bases its choices on “easy livin'”?

Daily Stats: (Wed)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0
internet: all day long.

Day 153 & 154: MLwC and one cool thing

Here’s a cool idea for those omni-readers among us that falls in the category of re-use and recycle: a book trading site. I found this on Teensygreen’s blog–(a great blog for Moms looking for smart ways to be more green) the book trading site is called BookMooch.

Pile o books–seacat.wordpress.com for more

The deal is you list the books you have that are looking for a new home, trade them off to folks for points and then cash in the points for books you want. Best to know what books you want because even though the search function is good, the browse function is horrible. Still, I entered Jane Smiley and got a full page of available books of hers and even a few I haven’t read.

All you do is pay the shipping to the requester, (if you’ve ever participated in Amazon’s marketplace, you know shipping books is pretty affordable ) and when you select a book, that person pays the shipping to you. Interestingly, they also participate in Amazon’s referral program, so if you don’t find the book you want, you can pop right over to Amazon for a fresh-off-the-press version, full price and shipping included.

So why do I think this is good? I haven’t tried it yet, so the jury is still out but it does a few things that are cool: it creates social networks of mutual benefit, it recycles perfectly good books to people who really want them, and it avoids chopping down more trees to print more new books. For those of us who mostly transitioned to the library a while ago, this is a logical extension. There is the issue of carbon based shipping, which excludes this from carbon neutrality, but hey, you can’t have everything. I’ll let you know how it works when I give it a whirl.

Daily Stat (Tues, Wed)
Car: 10 miles (3 tasks, 1 person)
Bike: 8 miles
Ped: 6 miles
Bus: 0
other: 0

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 124: MLwC, the hundredth monkey and a global immune system

I’m into the second half of Hawken’s book in which he discusses the varied organizations that in hundredth-monkey ways are tackling the many issues of our day: poverty, corporate abuse, pollution, disease, and dozens of other concerns. Through the interconnectedness of the wired world today, these organizations can share best practices, learnings, energy, inspiration and sweat equity to move en masse towards a more equitable, safe, healthy future.

He suggests that these organizations can be seen as the antibody response of our planet to the threatening disease of pollution and environmental degradation. It’s really a cool idea, and it makes sense too: a growing number of us sense the threat we face, understand the very personal toll that pollution and diminishing resources are taking on us, and we are making choices that correspond to the way the body wards off infection and viruses. It’s the Gaia philosophy expanded out even further…and it makes sense to me. We are an organic part of an organic system–as much as we often like to think the real world really is composed of the shiny new products we create. I welcome the idea that a growing majority might be compelled to respond to the potential crisis we face in a naturally evolving fashion–albeit with urgency.

Some examples of the localized antibodies that are collecting at the margins of our global culture (Hawken’s names names in his book, a list that is too lengthy for me to go in to here but I suggest you watch the video for more, if you can’t get the book):

the list goes on and on, and includes very powerful, very well known billionaires , ex-presidents, and celebrities, as well. It is a coalition of every level–from the margins of our society, working like antibodies to fight the many threats to our environment. There are more of us all the time.

Daily Stats (Monday)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0
internet: all over the place

Day 119 thru 121: MLwC and WiserEarth.com

Traveling again this week, and really rushed for time. Time is a critical factor in selection of transportation modes. I elected to drive to the airport and park rather than risk not getting picked up by the shuttle again….Anyway, I was thinking about how much I travel over the course of the year and how much this impacts my carbon footprint. I’m a consultant and this travel issue won’t likely change a whole lot in the near future which makes my activities while at home even more important–walk, bike, bus, etc.

On Sunday, I hung out a while at Paul Hawken’s site WiserEarth, trying to figure out how it works. I heard back from Michael regarding the beta site re my sense that it wasn’t targeted well; I couldn’t figure out if it was for professional .org people or for regular people like me. He confirmed that they are still working out some aspects of the site (it’s beta) but:

“In a nutshell, it is definitely for people like you. I encourage you to check it out and make sure your favorite organizations are represented in there. And we are always looking for feedback on usability and for ideas on future enhancements to make the site more useful for your line of work. We can’t guarantee everything will be implemented (we have constraints on tech support and funding of course), but we do value community feedback.”

So , I went back to the site and created an account, and then went for a run.

alkilincolnpark.jpg

During the run I began to think about all the stuff rolling around in my head and realized (this may be a Doh! moment for some of you but it was sort of exciting for me): The Compact, my own MLwC project, Wildlife Alliance, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Critical Mass, the Backyard Wildlife movement here in Seattle and a hundred other things that I personally take an interest in, are all part of a much, much bigger movement that as Hawken puts, is as yet un-named and is potentially the biggest movement in the history of the planet. People like you and me–perhaps not doing big global projects, but doing things we care about, passionately, and that contribute to a larger common good.

And it’s the combination of all those things that is creating this massive global movement that Paul Hawken is writing about.

When I returned from my run, I went to the site and entered my first organization. I’ll follow up with others. I’m no expert on so many things out there, but I know about my own life and interests, and that’s what I can share. How the site will evolve, how it will utilize my interests, network us all, remains to be seen. How I will use it remains to be seen.

Participating is sort of a leap of faith. Take The Compact, for example. You use your big car to go shopping and buy things, much more than you really need, without thinking about alternate paths, and it’s all so easy, so fast, who really thinks about it. So the Compact has groups all over the planet finding different ways to live outside the planned path of consumerism. Once that habit is busted, these people like Rachel in SF, or myself here with my own habit-busting project, we find ourselves connecting to our city, our community, our planet in a whole new way. Rachel, just like me, just like you, is one little atom bouncing around out there amidst a gazillion atoms, changing the way atoms bounce here in Seattle, Tokyo, Buenos Aires and who knows where else.

And that, I believe, is what Paul Hawken is talking about. Bring what you have, share it, find your community, find energy, find a different path and share your map. And Hawken clearly understands the internet has made the path to sharing your map possible.

Daily stats: (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
Car: 25 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: 3.0
Bus: 0
Air: 2400

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?