Category Archives: planned 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

Day 291: MLwC and green holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Stats:

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

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 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

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?