There are cobwebs in my car. Okay. It’s spring. Spiders are hatching everywhere, why not in my car? Evidently, they are using it more than me. Spring is partly to blame. So is $4.26 gas. I’m using a startling new technique for decreasing my gas costs. I drive less. It has its advantages, and I wonder if we’ll finally see a change in the way we live.
I like to start Saturday mornings by listening to Car Talk. Back when I hiked every weekend it was fun to listen to Car Talk on the way to the trailhead and A Prairie Home Companion on the way home. The hiking doesn’t happen as much anymore. Gas prices, ferry fees, and an aging car explain a lot of that. My house is shielded by a ridge, so my radio has a rough time pulling in a good signal. Fortunately, streaming happens and that’s good enough. I listen because Tom and Ray are entertaining and because I usually learn something. I might even call them this week if I can’t figure out an oil pressure issue. My ~150,000 mile Jeep has high oil pressure but isn’t burning any. Go figure.
With my current financial situation, ugh, I’m driving a lot less anyway. Much of what I do with writing and consulting can happen from home, so that’s handy. I can walk to Hammon’s Preserve where I am a Site Steward. And my neighborhood is on the water with marvelous views. Staying home is a treat. There are plenty of reasons to get out and drive: groceries, photographing Twelve Months at Double Bluff, managing exhibits, giving talks, socializing, etc. But now that spring has arrived and the days are longer it is easier to use my bicycle for some of the trips. If it wasn’t for one pesky hill and some skinny road shoulders I’d use my bike even more.
Some people shop for cars based on mpg and carbon footprint. I’m an engineer so I know data are good. But how something is used can be more important than how it compares to its competition. I know folks that custom design and hand build electric trucks. Amazing. They do it as a passion. Most folks though are likely to shop and buy instead of design and build. They need criteria and mpg and carbon are handy. But published criteria and data only make sense if the vehicle is driven the same way it was tested and measured. A commuter may benefit from a strict adherence to the numbers, but someone that only drives once a week won’t see the same benefit. They may spend a lot on something that looks like a good idea and is lauded by Al Gore, and yet have spent more money than necessary. It can take years to pay back such a seemingly good idea.
The easiest and cheapest way to decrease a car’s pollution and operating costs by 10% is to drive it 10% less. No new equipment required.
At last week’s conference, Collaborations for Cause, my team was tasked with coming up with a multi-media pitch for improving life in urban corridors. We focussed on commuters and came up with a slogan, My Commute Sucks, only to find that someone else already was using it. Oh well, at least that is proof that we were not alone. Ironically, most of the team members had given up the drive time commute by either using mass transit, moving within a walk or bike ride, or finding jobs that didn’t require commuting. We might represent a trend.
Trends can start from the fringe. I am familiar with frugality and bicycling. I’m Board Secretary of New Road Map Foundation (aka financialintegrity.org) and the author of Just Keep Pedaling, A Corner-to-Corner Bike Ride Across America. (By the way, I remembered there’s a slideshow online too.) Being conscious of how I spend my time and money, and being very aware of how far I can go on a bicycle mean I am comfortable with the notion of using a twenty year old bike instead of unnecessarily burning bubbling crude. Whidbey is hilly and the region is laughed at for being – moist. Yet, I am not as strong an advocate or as active a cyclist as others who are pedaling around our hills in the rain. Kurt Hoetling only used foot power for a year and chronicled it in The Circumference of Home. Hannah Lee Jones and Philip Renker Jones seem to use their bicycles for everything, including as fundraisers for their Ndoto Project (empowering youth in Africa).
Systemic changes do not require massive investments, revolutionary discoveries, or severe depravation. Changing the habits of a population require incentives, and I am not talking about tax breaks. Change happens quickest when people want to change. I watch trends and I am watching how news reports, facebook posts, and tweets are changing as gas prices increase. When the bulk of the text switches from complaining about the cost to proclaiming personal solutions, then change is being embraced.
Commuting costs, housing markets, trustworthy investments, health care options are all being challenged. Mass transit and people power can create more pleasant commutes. A sucky commute can become a lucky commute. Owning a small and comfortable house is winning out over buying a house so large that it owns the owner. Local and peer-to-peer lending is appealing to investors who trust their neighbors more than they trust the traditional markets. Businesses that advocate “alternative” healthcare are finding themselves busy as people distance themselves from western medicine – a trend which is entertaining because the “alternative” frequently is based on thousands of years of development, practice, and experience.
I watch such changes because I am an investor. I doubt that I’d invest in a car company. I don’t want to sell my house, but it might be a prudent financial decision (care to look, shop, and buy?); but as I dream of a better abode I envision something small and well-built in a very nice place. I’m still in the stock market because I am optimistic about and have invested in positively disruptive companies. (Unfortunately, the market see disruptive and thinks risky. Therein lies my financial situation.) And as for health care, I’ve been following friends’ advice and feel much better than any prescription ever managed.
Our world is changing. We know we can’t continue doing exactly what we’ve done before. We’re running out of planet. But some very powerful solutions are simple and pleasant. In my case, it means giving the spiders enough time to weave a cobweb from the visor to the steering wheel to the mirror, while I bicycle through spring days. The cobwebs are actually a good sign. The moss growing around the edge of the bumper – well, that’s just proof that I live in the Western Washington and that our local car wash shut down.