Posts Tagged 'consumption'

Rejecting Agrofuel: What To Do

The diamond-cut life is about more joy, more integrity and less consumption as we deal with global warming. The food-as-fuel track that the U.S. is on assumes unlimited consumption (driving alone, for instance) with no particular joy or integrity.

What are practical, concrete things we can do? Here is what my household is doing to use less gas and discourage the business of agrofuel (food-as-fuel). Please write in with your ideas too (click Comments at the top of this post.)

Put your household on a fuel or gasoline diet. For instance, how much do you intend to spend on gas each month? (average $3.65/gallon in Oregon at time of this writing). Having healthy limits is what adults do. Some ways we live happily within our fuel diets:

  • Use public transit I am using only public transit today and not touching a car. To see the fun of this, read the 200-word piece Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog. (written before I started carpooling to Salem for my new job)
  • Walk for errands of two miles and less
  • Bicycle to destinations of five miles and less
  • Post a handmade map on your refrigerator of all the cool things you can do within walk/bike distance of home. Spring and summer weather make this much easier.
  • Post a list of all the fun things you can do AT home
  • Carpool or vanpool, especially for long commutes. I have great fun with this. See Carpool Survivor

Check out Drive Less Save More as a good resource for driving less. By June 1st it plans to have a Trip Diary that we can all use to record our non-drive-alone trips. That which gets measured gets improved. I’m going to use it!

Tell your Congresspeople you don’t want food used as fuel. Say that we should be using less fuel, instead. Here’s an easy place to find their contact info.

When you have to drive, drive the most fuel-efficient car you can. But, even then, don’t use that as an excuse to drive more than necessary. Tomorrow I’ll write about the new hybrid we just bought. Is your money on the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid?

Photo courtesy of “CaptPiper”, graphic added by Hanmi Meyer.

Driving A Prius In The Wild West

My job in transportation options has taken me, in a new Prius, to the high desert town of Bend, Oregon (recently named by American Cowboy magazine in its Top Ten list of wild-west towns). The Prius, mud-splattered from the Santiam Pass, is now dusted with snow as well, so it reminds me of an Appaloosa pony.

Appaloosa mare running
photo by emokidsdontcryx3

Oh, don’t I wish. Horses are cool.

So my Prius (actually my employer’s, not mine) informs me it is getting 46 miles per gallon on this trip. Excellent mileage compared to SUV’s, and of course with every gallon of gas we burn creating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, I’m saving a few hundred pounds of emissions over driving an average car. Also, this hybrid handles and performs beautifully, front-wheel drive and all. The Prius is so popular in our motor-pool that I couldn’t extend my use of it to a third day.

The downside of not just the Prius, other hybrids and actually all gas and energy conservation measures is that if we don’t stay conscious of the reality of peak oil, we can easily offset our conservation measures to some degree by then driving or consuming more carelessly. The irony of our nation’s overconsumption is that it does not make us happier. Juliet Schor, the Harvard economist, shows this clearly in her body of research.

Bearing that in mind, I am parking my Appaloosa-colored Prius this afternoon and taking a vanpool with about ten colleagues over to Redmond, saving a few hundred more pounds of emissions. Kind of like taking a stagecoach in the days of the old West. I wish.

Why Bother? Three Great Reasons

Of all the good pieces in today’s Green Issue of New York Times magazine, “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan is the one that helps us see that lower-consumption lifestyles are crucial in dealing with global warming, Inventors and legislators cannot rescue us.

1.) Pollan points out that being a role model is powerful. As various citizens like you and me consume significantly less, especially in terms of fossil fuels, other people will follow our example. Social change tends to happen exponentially (much faster than linear growth). I would add that people will especially follow the example of us diamond-cut lifers as they see we are happy in our simplicity, with a high quality of life (different from a high standard of living, which is measured just by volume of consumption).

2.) Acting ‘as if’ can make amazing things happen. Pollan cites how Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik were instrumental in bringing freedom to the Soviet blok by acting as if they lived in a free society. We need to act as if we are living in a sustainable society, one that intends to still be existing seven generations down the road.

3.) A reason of mine that Pollan did not address: we sustainability artists who live well by consuming less are working out the kinks in all the new systems and ways. I really mean the old systems and ways: growing a good percentage of our own food; skillfully using public transit, biking, carpooling and walking for transportation; sharing valuable items within a community instead of one-item-per-person. We are blazing the trail so that when various collapses start happening, these survival skills will be in the social knowledge-base.

Me? I’ve been working in our food garden and enjoying a car-free weekend, using my legs and a TriMet bus to get me everywhere I’m going — church, the film “End of Suburbia” at the Bagdad on Hawthorne, and a dinner party reunion of our cross-country skiing group. Fun!

About Bicycling And Auctions

This past Saturday night we went to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s (BTA’s) annual awards dinner and auction, attended by about 800 people. It’s called Alice B. Toeclips and it was invented about a decade ago by my awesome friend and mentor Karen Frost, the founding director of the BTA.

I had good conversations with great people at Toeclips, and just one reservation I’ll get to in a minute. I believe deeply in bicycling, and I specifically believe in it as the ideal form of transportation, rather than just recreation. I liked executive director Scott Bricker’s gutsiness when he stated his vision of bicycling as something that can help save the world. Given global warming and most people’s addiction to fossil fuels (not to mention obesity in the U.S.) I think he is right.

So, my reservation? It’s not that Alice B. Toeclips was a fundraiser, because I believe in raising money for good causes, and I enjoy giving. I’ve done successful fundraising myself. But I’m developing a problem, a values-conflict with auctions, with hundreds of feet of tables loaded with goods and services that are luxuries. I know that auctions are a good way for businesses to affordably donate to nonprofits. I get it.

But then it stops being grassroots. It becomes high-on-the-hog. When the live auction starts and the auctioneer is doing the high-powered, hypnotic, show-biz patter to get us to bid higher and higher on luxury items, it feels slick, like I’m in Las Vegas, like I’m being hustled.

I know that grant funding can only take a nonprofit so far, whether from federal, state, or Metro sources, and that fundraising has to then supply the rest of the organization’s budget. But auctions are very expensive to coordinate and produce. I know because I’ve done one. The profit margin doesn’t necessarily put you ahead of where you’d have been if you’d just asked sincerely for straight donations, rather than promoting more consumption of things that well-off people really don’t need.

How do you grow a great movement that can help save the world without buying into the materialism of that same world? I’m open to input.

The Peak Of Happiness

I recently asked a good friend how happy he was on a scale of 0 to 10. He only had to think for a few seconds. “A five,” he said. “You?”

“I’m at 9 or 10,” I replied. Interestingly, he makes about twice as much money as I do, and even likes his job (as do I). The social sciences have studied happiness quite thoroughly, so what have they learned about what makes us happy? Plenty, but the single viewing- lens I’ll choose for today is the year in which people in the U.S. reported their highest level of happiness, which was 1957.
In 1957 people did less T.V.-watching, more reading and more bridge-playing with friends and neighbors than now. They ate more meals together at home and did less dining out. They voted more. They walked and used public transit more, owned fewer cars per household, and did less driving. They bought fewer clothes. In fact, Americans were less affluent and did much less purchasing of most items in general during the time in history in which they reported the most happiness.

Would I want to be living in 1957? Absolutely not. Back then our culture was stiflingly homogeneous and repressive of women and minorites. I don’t believe in idolizing ‘good old days’ that really never were, but instead, in learning all we can from our history. In its favor (if you care about social justice in addition to happiness) 1957 America had a strikingly smaller gap between rich and poor than it does now. Of course in all times and places, if your survival needs are not met, you have no chance of happiness. Incomes were much more moderate than now during the peak of happiness in the U.S.

All the above makes it unsurprising that I report twice as much happiness as my friend who earns twice what I earn. (Note: he is single and I would like to set him up with a cool single woman. Any ideas?)

Hillary and the Concept of Legal And Rare

I’m glad that Hillary Clinton is back in the presidential race. While I wish she would mount a a truly appropriate response to global warming, I respect the way she has reached across party lines in the past as a senator to help make abortion both legal and rare. (Repeated research has shown that is what most Americans would like abortion to be.)

Let’s run today with that concept of ‘both legal and rare’. It’s valuable and I like it. It encapsulates that there are lots of things in life that we want to have the freedom to do, but that are usually better left undone because they have a negative impact on society.

Here is a short list of things I’d like to see become legal yet truly rare within the next decade so that consumption starts aligning with the earth’s actual production of resources:

  • using disposable coffee cups instead of mugs
  • using fossil fuels for nonessential travel
  • eating meat from feedlot-raised animals
  • raising corn to feed engines instead of humans
  • using blowers instead of human energy to clear away leaves

What would you like to see become rare though legal? Coming up tomorrow: an on-the-ground post from rural Oregon as I travel out the Columbia Gorge.

Unclothing The Horse and Juliet Schor

My husband Thor and I went to the Illahee lecture last night here in Portland. Juliet Schor spoke, a sociologist and economist from Harvard University. She was excellent, and one of the most salient takeaways for me was on clothes. (It’s only fair to report Thor has sometimes termed me ‘a bit of a clothes horse’.)

Ms. Schor reported that in 1991 we in the U.S. bought an average of 34 garments per year (not counting socks or hose). In 2001 that number increased to 52. That’s an average of a new garment every week, when we can’t even wear more than three or four at one time. Moreover, the millions of tons of surplus discarded clothing we have been shipping out to other countries has been climbing even faster. And fashion cycles have escalated, spurring an artificial need to buy.

Where am I in all this excess consumption that drains the earth’s resources? Well, even though my household income has become high, my shopping habits have changed little from my starving-artist days, i.e. I still shop mostly at Goodwill. But I shop too much (at least I did until my long commute kicked in two weeks ago) and I’m frequently needing to give little-used clothes away. And nobody even needs those clothes!

Used clothes in large quantities doesn’t equal less consumption. I’m part of that absurd statistic. This clothes horse needs some unclothing.