Category Archives: mass production

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 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

Day 200 – 202: MLwC and the New Continent of Synthetics

 

Over at Strange Maps, there’s a new map for the Continent of Synthetics. It’s quite intriguing, a geography of artificially created materials with poetic, if not sort of nightmarish descriptions:

• “Petrolia is the land of the new synthetic rubbers.”
• “Cellulose is a great state, something like Texas, with many counties, all of which grew out of old Nitrocellulose (Celluloid).”
• “Rayon is a plastic island off the Cellulose coast, with a glittering night life.”
• “Vinyl-land, a fast-growing new country of safety-glass (…) and rubbery plastics, will probably subdivide soon.”

All of which makes me think of farm fresh food. As our local Tomato Wars continue (turns out Neighbor Susan isn’t all that much ahead of our harvest of tomatoes), we find ourselves swamped with a vertible cornucopia of fresh tomatoes which we are busy turning into fresh sauce for this winter. We lightly bake them with fresh basil and oregano and then freeze the resulting gumbo in dinner size plastic bags for a deep January taste bud extravaganza reminding us that spring and summer are around the corner. You don’t find tomatoes like this in Petrolia!

But how I got on this topic…I read an article in The Grist about local vs. long distance food resources. This article was based on an article in the NY Times by James McWilliams debunking the idea that local food is better for all concerned and easier on the environment in general. He slices and dices the data and presents some interesting ways of looking at the issue…but I come down squarely on the side of The Grist:

Purchasing locally grown food, as Maiser observes, “is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it’s the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.” Buying local builds relationships, almost organically forcing the consumer to become aware of the plight of the producer and the producer to become familiar with the needs of the consumer.

Author David Morris then explores issues of equity to small farmers who depend on foreign buyers of their goods, etc. All good points. There’s undoubtedly a middle ground here where local is the best path for many reasons including community, relationships, importance of story and connectedness–those might seem like “soft” arguments but they’re important to me. And then there are other markets globally that depend on foreign participation to stay afloat. What I’m not thrilled about participating in is the global agri-business that puts local-everything out of business and has little to no accountability, not to mention “story” or community.

Cherry tree

That said, neighbor Susan and I had a discussion the other day about buying local and here’s the rub: I’m such a fruit freak. I mean, if there were such a thing as a fruit gourmet, I might qualify. AND I live in Seattle, Washington. I mean, in the winter, there’s not a lot of fruit. Apples, apples, apples. And then Apples. Come Spring and Summer, things open up a bit, but I would do back-flips to get some of the fruit I grew up with in Southern California, and baby, that stuff ain’t local. So, if push came to shove, I guess I’d move. I’d move to a place that grows good (I mean Good) watermelons, for example, and Santa Rosa plums.

So, anyway. It’s the harvest time of the year. I hope you’re enjoying the fruits of the season!

Daily Stats: (Monday, Tues, Wed)
Car: 0
Bike: 8
Ped: 4 or 5 miles
Bus: 0

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 122: MLwC and more connections

Connections, Episode 5 Part 5 of 5

Nkilkenny pointed me to the above vid on youtube which chronicles our American cultural rootedness in mass production and consumerism….as well as a few other things. 😉

Daily Stats (Thursday)
Car: 0
Bike: 5 miles
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0
air: 0