Posts Tagged 'Juliet Schor'

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.

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?)

Seeking A Diamond-Cut Life

I’m back after a break! Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamond points out in the New York Times today that we in the U.S. are consuming 32 times more than the citizens of developing countries, and that that has to change because the earth’s resources are running out.

A little more surprisingly, he also says something I have been maintaining for years: our quality of life is not directly tied to our consumption. In other words, as research by Juliet Schor and others has shown, more stuff doesn’t make us happier. Much of the time, it’s just waste that doesn’t add value — although it hurts the planet.

All of us want to be happy. And probably we’d like to ‘do the right things’ in the process if we can. So, if you and I are average U.S. citizens, what’s the best route to consuming less? If happiness can be symbolized by a diamond that gets cut from surrounding rock, which things cut from our lives can best craft the diamond?

Here are my Top Five high-impact suggestions.

  1. Put ourselves on air-travel diets. Flying represents enormous fossil-fuel consumption. Buying carbon offsets for it, while not as good, at least brings us closer to paying the real cost of flying.
  2. Downsize our living space and make better use of what we’ve got. This doesn’t just apply to moving; we can shut off little-used rooms in winter and conserve heating fuel.
  3. Get a smaller vehicle or get rid of one vehicle altogether. Naturally this is only a viable option when public transit or carshare programs are available.
  4. Get a housemate (not necessarily a lover). Single-person households are a new fad in human history, and very resource-consumptive. This is also the best way for many single people to start saving for retirement.
  5. Put ourselves on car-mileage diets. Before grabbing the keys, think: How much is this trip really adding to our well-being?

I plan to write again on the diamond-cut life later this week. FYI, the best website I know of with good practical advice on consuming less is Wa$ted!.