Category Archives: el salvador

Day 43 & 44: My Life w Car

san-salvador-traffic.jpg

Holy shit, I was sitting in a car with a friend in San Salvador traffic yesterday–she was smoking, holding the cigarette out the window to not bother me–and suddenly we’re behind a bus that accelerates and good god, you should have seen the black cloud of smoke that encircled us. It was thick, like it was palpable with particulates, and with our windows open, the cloud filled the car and stayed there.

I literally felt trashed, like breathing would hurt me but I’m an oxygen dependent organism, so what am I going to do.

The swallows around here are preparing to travel up North–they’re swirling and chattering in large obvious groups. I imagine what it’s like flying here, as a small bird, and yeah, I’d be pretty excited about leaving too. Even though I like San Salvador, and love my pals here, I won’t miss the thick billowing clouds of pollution that happen all over the city. Also, I won’t miss the poverty and over-crowding, the wild population growth.

So…what am I doing down here?
I’m training the team here on Active Listening and the Art of Questioning. Specifically, how managers and direct reports go “dead” during evaluations because the manager practices the “opn-the-head-and-pour-the-info-in.” This approach works with kids up to about 8th grade, optimistically; after that, if the individual isn’t engaged on a problem solving, thoughtful level, they aren’t engaged at all. They’re merely nodding and saying, at specific points, what they believe they should be saying.

There’s a lot of that going on here with supervisors and managers. I observed a review yesterday where the agent stopped looking at the supervisor 2 minutes into the conversation, slumped in his seat and stared at the floor. The supervisor pushed on, never veering from her review form, never checking in with the agent. She even lowered her head to try and catch his eye…yet, she never veered from her performance review form. the conversation lasted 12 minutes, and 10 minutes of that time the conversation was functionally dead.

The good news, when I asked her what she thought was going on with this kid, she said she suspected he was ashamed because the review wasn’t good but his usual work is above reproach. I asked why she pushed on, knowing there was a problem–she had no answer. So, my work is trying to make this exchange alive, relational, meaningful.

Active listening means you take in the whole picture–the posture, the eyes, the words, and perhaps most important, your own feelings about how things are going. Our ability to put our own perception in the present moment aside in favor of the obligation of the task at hand is amazing to me…and a little frightening.

Daily stats:
Car: probably about 12 miles of gagging, pollution soaked travel through town
bike, bus, flexcar: zip
Walking: probably 1.5 miles

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Day 42: My Life w Car

overpopulation.jpg

Some El Sal stats to consider: 19% of the population of El Salvador has a yearly income of less than a dollar a day; 48% is under the poverty line. The cost of gas here runs around $2.40. A quart of milk is about a buck.

A friend of mine here in San Salvador yesterday was talking a lot about the inequality of income and economies in the world, as it related to immigration legislation in the states. It’s a big issue, no denying that, and personally, I feel as confused about it as can be. But as the conversation went along, I found myself more and more energized about another topic: Overpopulation.

So, I said, “let’s bump this up a few notches, to about 35 thousand feet, and look at the really big picture.” What is the world going to look like when there are 9 billion people in it? This is what it looks like when there are 6 billion–and no one I know feels like things are working very well–dwindling resources, inability to offer a quality life to the majority of earths human population. So, what is it going to look like when there are 9 billion.

His answer was totally predictable, and for a smart guy, I was sort of disappointed. He said, “it’s been proven that in industrialized nations, the birth rate drops as the families become more educated and healthy.” That’s the same Bill Gates crap I’ve heard so many times. In fact, if that were so, the US would not have surpassed 3 billion a few months ago, right? I mean, we’ve got to be among the most industrialized modern nations in the world, I’m thinking, so how come we’re still growing at a phenomenal rate?

Everyone points to Germany when they toss this industrialized nation/zero population pithy response out. Germany has zero pop growth and has for awhile now. Well, one nation out of the whole world–and a sort of unusual and smallish nation at that–is not good evidence of the whole industrialized nation theory.

The conversation with my El Salvador friend continued and I said, Look, you know what I’d like to see in the world? I’d like to see a world where we are equal to all other forms of life on the planet. Not more important, more special, more this or more that, but equal. No other organism on this planet is free to reproduce endlessly without dire consequences. Since we are, next to bacteria, the most populous species on the planet, our dire consequences will be dire for the whole dang neighborhood.

And still, all we seem able to focus on is ourselves–our poverty, our diseases, our human suffering. As if everything else were a mere backdrop to our own experience.

Finally, the crap about global warming not being caused by human activity–hello? If you really read the studies, you see that carbon pollution has been around since the middle ages…and it’s totally related to the rise of cities and city-states.

And it’s all about Coal. We should be rising up demanding the end of Coal as a fuel, period. Coal is evil. And it’s 40% of our “contribution” to climate change. AND, AND, AND!! Coal was viewed as so evil in the 13th century that King Edward banned it. A man ahead of his times.

medieval-village.jpg

Daily stats:
car: approx 7 miles (taxi)
bike, bus, flexcar: 0

Day 40 & 41: My Life w Car

Sitting in the backseat of the taxi from the Comalapa airport in El Salvador, up ahead I see what appears to be a great cloud of smoke over the city of San Salvador. I ask Cesar, the driver, if there’s a fire and he answers, “no, it’s the buses in the morning. All the buses hit the roads downtown and send a lot of exhaust in the air. It clears out by noon or so.”

That’s a lot of exhaust. Really, it looked like a big fire was burning somewhere.

Continuing to read The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery and continuing to feel overwhelmed by the evidence of global climate change. One of my friends down here is from Costa Rica, I asked him at lunch today about the Golden Toad story and he just said, yeah, that frog is gone. Extinct.

 extinct

Tim Flannery does such a good job in his book of not just listing the catastrophes but explaining why the catastrophe is important, what that catastrophe means in the entire system. Of course the golden toad was part of a larger system, not just an indicator of a problem. Much like the coral reefs around the world–many, many species depend on the health of coral reef to exist, and many other species depend on those species to exist. And when that entire system falters, or a piece is removed or is missing, the entire system stands the chance of fragmentation.

On another front, I’ve decided to try to nail down just how much car-action I’m actually eliminating from my carbon footprint. This will take a while but just at a high level, looking at the previous week, it looks like I used the car 3 times in the previous week, and my bike just twice. I’d like to see the car come down to about 2 times a week but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Still, 3 times is better than 7 times a week. Mileage was about 26 miles, while biking about 15. I consciously chose to combine as many tasks in a given day as possible if using my car and managed to avoid any single-task trips, averaging about 3.5 tasks per trip.

bianchi bike

Day 15 & 16: My Life with Car

The thing about business travel is that the “throw-away” culture hits its apex–you keep nothing, you come with only the bare necessities…your trash quotient is likely at its highest, and dislike that as I might, I find myself eating off plastic plates with plastic utensils…everything ending up in landfill.

Daily stats:

Car: approx 20 miles, 10 passengers
bike: 0
flexcar: 0
bus: 0
a pied: 3 miles

San Salvador snap

Day 13 & 14: My Life with Car

The trip to El Salvador is a little over 3K round trip. Took the red-eye out of Seattle and arrived in ES Sunday morning early.

Pollution in El Salvador–mainly San Salvador–is pretty bad. The air smells like diesel and fossil fules and after a week down here, my throat hurts. I really like El Sal, don’t get me wrong, and I especially like it right now–middle of Summer–when Seattle tends to be so grey. I’m working with a company down here and I really enjoy working with the team down here as well.

I asked my driver, Cesar, yesterday about the pollution. He agreed it was very bad; I had heard that the same family that owns most of the buses that course the city are also highly placed in the government and won’t improve the fumes that spew out the back–pitch black billows of smoke. Cesar confirmed this and said that the bus companies can buy “credits” to offset their pollution–sound familiar? He said that there are newer buses and they’re a little better–but I haven’t seen so many of those.

Virtually no bike riders and I understand why: the sort of courtesy we take for granted in the US is simply foreign here. If a bike or ped is crossing the street with the light here, that person runs a pretty high risk of simply being run over. Cars and buses always have the right of way here–no questions asked.

San Salvador is the most densely populated city in the western hemisphere–not kidding. It statistically is. El Salvador is a tiny country with a fairly well developed infrastructure–it is known for the best highway system in all of Central and Latin America–a testament to decades and decades of war. Without roads, an army cannot move. So, with all of those roads, people from El Sal and neighboring countries can move around easily and industry/business can grow–mostly unchecked. The beautiful countryside, the flora and fauna, definitely takes the brunt of this very western-style economic growth.

el sal map

I have spoken to a few americans during my visits who mention the frustration they feel about the level of environmental consciousness they take part in in their own home towns–and then they come here and feel the enviromental movement is lost before it even begins. I totally understand that–it’s discouraging. But even El Salvador is starting to make

baby steps

towards cleaning up the environment. Tiny steps, but still….an awareness is growing.

I started reading The Weather Makers on the plane and found it so great a foundation to understanding the nature of our planet and the impact of our modern life.

daily stats:
car: 8 mi
air: 3018 mi
bike: 2.1 mi
flexcar: 0
bus: 0

Next: a review of Aaron’s Bike Repair in West Seattle.

Day 9: My Life with Car

One day, maybe, the title would be: My Life without Car. Dunno…

Quiet office day today, got out for one long sprint in the area, but otherwise holed up on this gray, drizzly day.

gray seattle day

transportation stats:
Car: 0
Bike: approx 10 miles
Flexcar: 0
Bus: 0

this coming weekend I travel to El Salvador–that will be a big transportation day, and then while I’m in San Salvador, I’ll pretty much be hoofing it around. I work down there as a consultant on a long term project for a NW company; I go to ES once a month for a week.

When you buy your tickets on Expedia, they allow you to add in what they call a TerraPass which allows the traveler, for an added amount, to buy back the carbon footprint of your travel. I add it to all my trips and it helps a little. I travel a lot, so the pollution concerns get to me after awhile.

Also, nice blog entry on northwest bike commuting here.