Tag: daily life

The Myth of Convenience

Atwater flower market
Beautiful flower stalls at the Atwater Market, Montreal, Canada.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but sometimes I wonder if we must examine every little itty bit of it, even our trash, even how we store our food, even what we use to wipe our asses?! The answer, I am afraid, is an unavoidable yes.

Why is this worth doing? Well, as Jaren Diamond writes in Collapse:

“All of us moderns…can get away with a lot of waste when the economy is good. We forget that conditions fluctuate, and we may not be able to anticipate when conditions will change. By that time, we may already have become attached to an expensive lifestyle, leaving an enforced diminished lifestyle or bankruptcy as the sole outs.” page 156.

So, it seems to me, that it is much preferable to start now to downsize and simplify your life in a proactive rather than a reactive (and crisis-driven) manner. We can’t know when the system will crash (and following Taleb’s ideas about how Extremistan operates, that can be very suddenly! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq2_nyyugVk), but a lifestyle that is “antifragile” and flexible will weather the weather, as it were, more successfully than a day-to-day life that is dependent on large complex fossil fuel systems for food delivery and waste disposal.

Last summer, a visitor to my place in Montreal suggested Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home. I took it out of the library here in Dallas, and worked my way through it. (As an aside, the Dallas public library system automatically renews my books, unless someone has put in a request for the book, which is a really nice service! It means I can keep books for an unlimited time!)

Now the zero waste movement (and the minimalism movement which I will talk about in another post) is not the easiest thing to do. I am finding that it takes quite a bit of work.

https://www.texasenvironment.org/campaign/zero-waste/
https://www.goingzerowaste.com/
https://zerowastehome.com/

The difficulty with this, is that 1) we are hardwired to create habits, and then live as much as we can on autopilot, and 2) we get these habits from our cultural traditions.

Unfortunately, most places in the Western world, we are operating on very recent habits that have nothing in the way of a track record or deep traditions behind them. They are, at best, two generations old; and though they have been “brilliantly successful and understandable in the short run” as Diamond writes, they can fail and create fatal problems in the long run. They are based on two pillars of our current lifestyle: convenience and (its reason for being) hyperindividualism.

Hyperindividualism is a term Bill McKibben describes in his book, Deep Economy, as the idea that we deserve to have everything that we want when we want it, no matter the consequences for our community or the earth. It is the habit with which all of us here in North America have grown up; and it is virtually invisible to us.

And for all of us hyperindividualists, convenience and its partner personal comfort are the rationale for our way of living. It is more convenient to sit in hours long traffic jams alone in our air conditioned car with iPod and internet than wait a couple of minutes on the corner for a shared bus with its set schedule. It is more convenient to toss all the “trash” into a plastic garbage bag and throw it out (but exactly where is “out?”) than to take a few minutes to sort the trash into recyclable and compostable containers.

Local laws can help support lifestyle changes (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/what-you-need-to-know-about-montreal-s-plastic-bag-ban-1.4451421), but as long as we privilege convenience and our own personal comfort above all else, nothing will change.  As Tim Wu in his opinion piece for the New York Times, Feb.18, 2018 wrote: “Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable.”

So some other options: https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/11-easy-ways-reduce-your-plastic-waste-today.html

P.S. My apologies for not posting the past two months! It was planting season first in North Texas, where I was very busy getting everything in the raised beds at the Bridge Recovery Center before the weather got hot. You can follow my gardening blog at: ourbackyardgardenatthebridge.wordpress.com.

Then it was and is planting season here in Montreal where I spend my summers, and I am filling in the boxes and planters on my small balcony. I keep a gardening journal (not virtual but in sketchbook form) which I will photograph & post soon.

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Shopping Opt-out

Genesis Thrift Store copy
My favorite local thrift shop. Money spent here is used to support programs that help women & families struggling with domestic violence: https://www.genesisshelter.org/

“If we live like there is no tomorrow, we will create just that-no tomorrow.” Jim Merkel: Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth.

This blog is not only a catalog of better choices for a more sustainable lifestyle; it is also the record of my struggle to embody those choices. Jim Merkel’s book is a map of what to do to get to a life lived equitably, which is, to say, in support of the health of the Earth and her peoples, and in the care of the Earth’s resources. But how is that expressed in my very unimportant life?

Well, two days ago I stopped shopping. I have not bought anything for two days. Now this may seem like a very small thing, but in the doing of it, I realized how habituated I am, and have always been, to shopping. Please understand that I am not a binge shopper; my purchases have always been very modest: a second hand book, a piece of used clothing (https://www.genesisshelter.org/), some art supplies, groceries.

But my need to shop everyday, my expectation of shopping is unrelenting! My mother was a professional buyer, and I was taught early on how to shop well, which is to say getting the most quality for the least money; and I taught my daughter these skills. Buying stuff every day is as natural for me as breathing…and as unexamined!

However, at my late stage of life, I find that I really need very little. So shopping becomes what it is for me and most of my friends: a way to entertain ourselves; a mode of anxiety relief; a distraction for loneliness. I am, of course, describing a particularly middle class (and richer) lifestyle, though poorer people are also being impelled toward buying things that they don’t need. The act of shopping assures every one of us our place in our commodified society. It also guarantees that the powerful corporations and their owners will get richer, and we will get poorer! Resisting the urge to shop is a way to slowly but surely change the balance of power, by husbanding our financial resources and denying the wealthy our money.

So we will see how long I can go without buying something that I feel I “need,” but which isn’t really a necessity.  How long before I can’t resist scratching the itch? Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, if you are interested, check out one person who went without shopping for a year! :

and some more radical ways of non-shopping:

https://www.facebook.com/RobGreenfield/

 

 

A Yankee travels Dallas

shadows at bus stop 2-18 watercolor web
At the bus stop: just me and the bus sign.

Some of the things I do here in Dallas, like walking, are seen as something only a Yankee would do, though I think that taking the bus is a very Southern tradition especially for working people-think of the Montgomery bus strike.

Certainly, my experience of using the bus system here in Dallas has been very different than using the bus and metro system in Montreal. One similarity (and a good one it is!) is that in both places I, as a senior (over sixty-five years old), can buy a monthly pass for $40 U.S. (49$ CAD, which is roughly the same price).

The big difference seems to be that the transit system in Dallas is not the first choice for getting around town. The buses are busy during the morning and evening rush hours, but are almost empty on the weekends. They also run on once an hour schedules during the weekends. Sometimes I have been the only person on the bus or the DART trains in the middle of a Saturday afternoon!

It is a peculiar sensation to wait for a bus or a train in a deserted station or all alone at a bus stop. In Montreal, there are always people in the trains, or getting out at my stop even if it is after midnight on a Friday or Saturday night! But here the preference for the young & hip is Uber.

The mass transit here is also, like the neighbourhoods, de facto segregated by income, race, and ethnicity. Almost all the passengers are people of color, either working folks or indigents. However, I have found the atmosphere on the buses very warm and welcoming, much of which is the result of engaged drivers and a Southern feeling for hospitality even to strangers.

The drivers too are, almost to a person, very considerate of their passengers. The buses have a ramp that can be let down to allow people in wheelchairs to roll up more easily into the bus. Then the drivers must get out of their seats to attach the wheelchairs to the bus. And when the disabled person needs to get off, the drivers have to disconnect the chairs again, and let down (and then take up) the ramps. This is a very important service that the Dallas transit offers their customers, but as there is no one on board to help the drivers with this job, the buses often run behind schedule!

So, once again, a better choice for transportation is in place, but the difficulty is getting people to opt for this choice, and by upping the ridership, create improvements to the service.

 

 

 

Artisans of the Common Good

old shoes 1 web
My walking shoes: L.L.Bean sneakers & Ecco leather ties. Pastel on watercolor wash.

I got a very interesting comment recently on my post about the difficulty of walking around Dallas, and I have been thinking about it since the New Year.  My reader noted that the folks in Dallas love their cars, but also that they need the cars in order to commute in a spread out city during the summer months when the temperature is often in the triple digits.

Fair point, but why make the solution to commuting, during the four months when it is unhealthy to be outside walking most of the day, fit every day the rest of the year? (It has been -11 degrees F. recently where I come from in the North so you can only imagine how happy I am walking around Dallas in your delightfully comfortable 55 degrees F.!) What would Dallas look like, and what could some strategies for encouraging walking be, if we didn’t assume an easy one size fits all means of transportation?

Texas just got ranked one of the lowest states (34th) in the nation for good health with 33% of the population obese, so the question is not a trivial one! But for most of us, we use the infrastructure that is in place, and don’t really notice it unless we come from another society with alternate ways of getting around. We tend not to think about how our world would be different (and better!) if we, as individuals, make different choices.

And as we change our lives, the infrastructure would begin to change too. Right now in Dallas, the highways that connect parts of the city are in good repair, but the smaller local streets have been neglected as the city endeavours to save money. It makes sense to walk locally if only to spare your car the damage of negotiating streets with a lot of potholes! If more people walked to do the errands that are now done by car (grocery shopping with a pull cart, picking up dry cleaning, going to the library, etc.); and used walking to get some of the exercise that either they are not getting, or that they are relegating to the time at the gym, the routes between destinations would improve: better sidewalks, more time to cross busy larger streets, and perhaps most important, drivers being aware that there are going to be pedestrians sharing the streets with them!

As David Brooks wrote in his op-ed piece, for the New York Times, recently, on Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily: “the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures: being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, ‘the artisans of the common good.’ ” Choosing to walk, choosing to quite literally “step outside the box” makes you an artisan of the common good!