Friday, November 28, 2008

Consuming for Happiness

In celebration of the annual Buy Nothing Day, here's a video from a UK site, Bonfire of the Brands. Rampant consumerism and excess energy use are inseparable twins joined at the hip.

A quote from the site:

Non-essential consumption is a root cause of the situation we find ourselves in today - the environment, the economy and popular culture are all affected by the drive towards consumer growth.

Are you a good consumer? This video will help you decide.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Consuming Less as a Way of Life

Living on Less

Energy use and prodigious consumption go together, as anyone living in America--in the most consumer-focused society in the history of the planet--is keenly aware (but often oblivous to the consequences). Jim Merkel, an engineer living in a small town in Vermont made the transition from (as he describes it) a jet-set military salesman who voted for Reagan to a bleeding-heart pacifist, eco-veggie-head-hooligan. Along the way, he dramatically simplified his life, shedding many of his "toys", and figured out how to live comfortably on 5,000 USD a year.

The story of Merkel's amazing transformation, which recently appeared in the Times Argus, is especially timely as many of us are trying to figure out how to cope with the current economic downturn.

Times Argus staff writer, Kevin O'Conner, effectively paints a picture of Merkel's evolution from consumer to conserver, with many examples of the motivations behind adopting a simpler lifestyle, gleaned from a number of different cultures, including the Navajos. Ultimately, the lesson is pretty simple.

So what’s Merkel’s solution?

“The easiest is simply to take less.”

He also suggests “sharing” housing and transportation (“Share with another person and halve your impact; with four people, quarter the impact”) and “caring” for what you have, be it properly maintaining household items or supporting communities by producing and purchasing goods locally.

Farm stands and mom-and-pop stores are close, but aren’t supermarket prices cheaper?

“What you don’t pay over the counter you pay in taxes, dirty air, dead animals, polluted water, clear-cut forests, sweatshops and strip-mined lands,” Merkel writes in his book. “Small-scale bioregional producers, although their products might use less energy and materials and create less waste, don’t get big tax breaks and bailouts or discounted access to resources because they wield less political influence.”

More on Merkel's vision and the details of his simplified life on his Web site: The Global Living Project.

Friday, November 21, 2008

San Francisco as the Electric Car Capital

San Francisco Skyline
Originally uploaded by m.john16

What better place than San Francisco to become a showcase for electric vehicle use and green transportation? The State of California has allocated a billion dollars to establish the infrastructure, including numerous charging stations throughout the city, to encourage the shift away from fossil fuel use.

As related in an article in The Guardian:

Officials say the plans will put California on a footing with other countries leading the attempt to switch away from dependence on oil, such as Israel, Denmark and Australia.

"What happens in San Francisco and in Oakland and in San Jose results in what happens in California - and what happens in California affects what happens in the rest of the nation," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco's department for the environment, who has helped make the city one of the greenest in the US.

Electric cars without charging stations are about as useful as fish on bicycles, so this move bodes well for California's transportation future.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stuck in First Gear: The Big Three Automakers Seek Bailout

For years Ford, Chrysler, and GM have fought fuel efficiency standards and focused on high-profit trucks and SUVs. As their folly puts them all on the edge of bankruptcy, the question is inescapable: do they deserve a bailout? This video from the American News Project offers some insights into the roots of the problem.