Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Unplugging from The Man, Part 5
As we get deeper into Unplugging from the Man, we invariably come face-to-face with our addiction to petroleum. Sure, we like to sit around and do the "ain't it awful" with our peers, but we keep using gasoline. Classic addiction: I'll stop tomorrow. And, tomorrow never comes.
So, what's the solution? Stop pumping!! It's that simple.
The average American household spends $385./month on gasoline. That is almost $100./week. Even with the recent surge in gas prices, consumption has only reduced by 0.7%. We all know that we are past peak oil. We all know that our three wars are contingent upon our lust for oil. Yet, our societal behavioral changes seem to lag behind our knowledge. We are suffering from cultural cognitive dissonance.
Let's look at some practical things that we could do, easily, to stop pumping and start Unplugging:
(1) Bicycle: Get a bicycle, equip it with a basket for carrying groceries. You'll be getting heart-healthy at the same time you stop stressing about escalating gas prices. You'll slow down. You'll notice more things along your route. And, you will no longer be held captive by the oil barons. Bicycling is good for the Planet, good for your health and good for saving money.
We all think that we don't have time to bicycle places. It's just a head trip. Recently, my partner needed a large bunch of mint to put in his recipe for the evening meal. So, I hopped on my bicycle and went a couple of miles down the road to a large pond, where both peppermint and spearmint grow abundantly along the south shores. Within a few minutes, I had filled my bike basket and was peddling back home, enjoying the fragrance of fresh cut mints. My more conventional neighbors asked me, “How do you find the time to do these things?” Let’s take a look at this, though, for a minute. I can bicycle eight miles per hour even on a bad day. That puts my transportation time at roughly fifteen minutes. The actual wildcrafting takes about ten minutes, including the time spent watching some ducklings learning to bob for fish, bringing my total time investment to about twenty-five minutes. This is roughly ten minutes less than it would be to drive into town and go to the market. There are no hidden time costs such as parking, waiting in a checkout line, or having to go to a second store because the first one didn’t have it. My mints were super fresh, didn’t require any packaging or gasoline use, and didn’t create any auto emissions. So, we do have time to bicycle places!
(2) Ride Share: How hard would it be to share rides with others? Sure, it involves some planning, but that's about it. Planning means that you will be talking with your neighbors and colleagues. And, what's so bad about that? Wouldn't that be community? Have you ever gone to your son or dauther's sporting event and noticed that all of your neighbors are there, too--and that you all fired up your own, individual gas guzzling machines to drive down there?
Commuting just 15 miles each way to work can cost as much as $ 2,264 per year at current gas prices. Sharing the ride with just one other person can cut your commuting costs in half. Think of all of the more interesting things that you could do with that extra thousand dollars!
(3) Consolidate Errands: Again, a little planning can go a long ways. Instead of firing up your rig to run into town and back every day of the week, designate one day as "errand day". Train yourself to get sufficiently organized to do everything that you need to do in a single trip to town: groceries, errands, meetings and appointments. Make lists. Work around already existing commitments. If, for example, you have a weekly Wednesday afternoon appointment or meeting, go into town a little earlier on Wednesdays and also do your shopping and errands.
We are so incredibly used to instant gratification that this will make us uneasy for awhile. We are used to running into town to pick up a single lag bolt, right? Or, a bottle of olive oil? Once, though, the savings start to show up in the household budget, we'll be really excited about the whole list-making and planning process! There is real money (and time) to be saved here.
(4) Walk, Ski, Snowshoe: You will be surprised how fit you will get in a very short time by making this lifestyle change. When you feel like a trip to town just to "get a java" at the local coffee shop, ski in. Walk. Snowshoe. Or, bike. It makes the outing even more fun than it would have originally have been. Maybe you could invite a friend to share the foot-transport with you.
Of course, we keep pumping because we think, erroneously, that we "don't have time" for alternative forms of transportation. But, why are people in the most technologically advanced civilization in the world starved for time? One of the hooks that keep people locked into the consumer culture is the lure of convenience. We are told that convenience frees up time. This looks good on paper, but when inspected more closely, it doesn’t quite ring true.
Convenience does, superficially, create more time. But those conveniences are expensive and, in the long run, require people to work more hours to make more income to pay for them. In other words, people end up working more hours—thereby having less available time—to make enough money to pay for convenience. The final product of convenience is time famine. There’s something wrong with this picture.
Harvard economist Juliet Schor, in The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, argues from statistics what I have figured out from experience. According to Schor, American’s work increases by one day each year. Averaging only sixteen hours of leisure a week after jobs and associated travel and communication responsibilities, working hours are longer than they were forty years ago. This, in large part, traces back to our addiction to gasoline. It strikes me that by dealing with our gasoline addiction--which is really a "convenience addiction"--we will be freed up to enjoy more leisure. And, that's a pretty nice perk for Unplugging from the Man.
Author’s Note: This blogpost was the fifth in a series of articles about Unplugging from the Man. Stay tuned for more suggestions and ideas about achieving personal freedom.