May 042010

Recently I have been wondering about the legacy that we are creating for our children.

The recent oil spill in the Gulf reminded me that the gasoline that I put in my car each week comes from ‘somewhere’, it comes from a hole in the ground that taps into a huge oil ‘pool’. This is a finite resource and that concerns me. Mostly because we tend to not consider that it is finite, precious, limited.

My car manages to travel for about 24 miles on a single (US) gallon of gas. That gallon currently costs me $3.24, I know this because I filled my car up, but generally I take little notice of the costs, it is just built into my budget. That gasoline came from a hole in the ground somewhere.

It used a tiny, tiny percentage of the total amount of oil that is available to the world, but everyone else is filling their vehicles too, at some point that insignificant fill-up is going to have a real impact on the amount left.

The energy that was stored is gone, kind of, it is transferred into heat, electrical power, forward motion and, on part of my commute at least, sound waves in the shape of the B52’s.

Did I waste that energy ?

Did I use it in an efficient way ?

In terms of current accepted norms, the answer is that I did not waste it at all. My car is more economical than average and my commute is in line with the US ‘standards’ if not slightly shorter. If anything I am fairly frugal. I rarely use air conditioning in my car, prefering to open the sunroof or the windows and my commuting style is certainly geared more to economy than aggression.

So why am I worrying ?

Thinking about it I made a connection back to ‘how things where’ during my childhood. Back then we were much more frugal, much more likely to fix something rather than discard and replace, more likely to use glass bottles rather than plastic.

We have become more and more a throwaway society, we discard things rather than recycle, rather than upgrade or ‘make do’ we buy new, rather than use washable items we buy disposables.

Mainly because it is conventient.

I drink my coffee from a paper cup, using and discarding 4-5 cups per day on average, rather than using a single ceramic mug. I have no idea how much it takes to manufacture a ceramic mug vs a paper cup, but assuming I use 20 paper cups each week, that is around 1000 over a year, a ceramic mug will probably last several years and I cannot imagine that the environmental impact of creating a piece of cheap pottery will not be countered after a couple of thousand paper cups.

I use a plastic spoon for my yogurt each day, but, it is the same spoon ! Most people discard them, I do wash it though….

I presume that somewhere we have a process that takes all of the discarded plastic utensils from the rest of the trash and somehow sorts them, wash them and deliver them, pre-sorted, to third world countries that cannot afford metal ones. It is a vain hope I suppose, but just imagining the massive waste that we are producing gives me more of a headache than trying to figure out how to sort ‘trash’ and recycle.

We buy milk in paper or plastic containers nowadays, it is very conventient to do so too, but as a child, milk was delivered in glass bottles with a foil cap, daily. It was fresh and the glass bottles were washed and re-used many, many times. We did the same with pop (soda), the Alpine truck delivered fizzy drinks in glass bottles that they washed and reused. How many landfills are slowly filling with our plastic bottle waste along with all of those disposable plates, spoons and paper cups ?

Recently a water bottler has been making a big thing over their new bottles that use less plastic. This seems odd to me, we buy bottled water by the case, yet it is freely (almost) available from the tap, add a filter and it is as good if not better than bottled. Why not use a personal glass/aluminum bottle and refill it ?

The combination is making me think more about how I behave towards the environment and more about the environment that our children will live in.

Add to that an ever increasing population and increased speed at which we use the precious natural resources and if we are not careful, we will ‘suddenly’ have a major problem. I say ‘suddenly’ because it will be a long time before we, as a society, recognize that this is an issue and to the majority it will seem that the onset of ‘the problem’ is sudden.

In reality we already have a problem. The problem is not that we have busted a hole in the ozone layer through our use of aerosol propellents, nor that Los Angles is still smog bound despite the legislation that cleans up vehicle emmisions, nor even that we have just layed waste to a rather large peice of the Gulf coast.

The problem is that we do not care.

We do not care enough to modify our behaviour without threat of penalty, even then we do not actually care as a soceity, we modify our behaviour to protect our wealth.

We do not care that we are using oil at an unsustainable rate, sure they may be enough to power our 14mpg 5000lb SUV’s for another fifty years, but what happens after that ?

What happens when we actually do run out of oil ?

Ethanol is a possibility, but we have to grow food crops to make that.

Remember that the population is growing rapidly too, so unless we find a solution to feeding everyone with less farmland than we currenly have, we are not going to have space to grown fuel.

Our population growth, along with our excessive consumption and massive ‘waste’ is going to cause our offsprings some considerable headaches in the future.

But I guess that this is OK, because it will not be our problem ?

More and more I have come to realise that a very large percentage of soceity really does not consider that ‘rules’ apply to them.

This must be the case or how do you explain the parking lot ?

Since when has a Mercedes E500, Chrysler 300 or a Chevy Tahoe been described as ‘compact’ ?

Each of these cars are parked in spaces marked ‘compact’ on a daily basis.

I guess that the over-riding laziness (the spaces are close to the stairs and the elevator) over-rides the ‘rules’ section of their brain and they simply park there because it is conventient for them ?

The rules do not apply to me because I am lazy.

I do not have to worry about the environment because I will be long dead by the time we run out of oil.

These people that take up 1.25 compact spaces each day do not care that the spaces are put here to promote compact car useage. As long as they can get in early enough to park their ‘living room on wheels’, that is fine.

The rules do not apply to them.

So, how do we solve this ?

The EPA have a tough problem, they are trying to promote ‘greener’ initiatives by hitting people where it hurts, their wallets, but this makes ‘green initiatives’ synonomous with ‘expensive initiatives’. A little like dental care – I hate going to the dentists as I know it will hurt because I am not good at looking after my teeth. Well just the same, people hate green initiatives because they know it will be expensive.

Seriously, why would I want to spend money if I see no personal gain ?

It is, after all, ‘all about me’.

I get nothing tangible from using a cup that I have to wash each day, it is much easier for me to use a paper cup. I am lazy, therefore I take the easy route. But 1000 cups a year find their way into a landfil.

I can drive with the AC switched on in comfort, but use an extra 2-3 gallons / week. That is 100-150 per year and it hits my wallet. But I prefer fresh air. So it is my prefence.

The problem is that people are lazy and inconsiderate, they do not care about the future, because they know, deep down, that they are not going to be a part of it.

If we run out of oil in 40 years time, then it will effect me, but only slightly, I will probably be in a nursing home boring my grandchildren with stories of the internal combustion engine.

But if we still have 60 years worth I will not be there to see the final well dry up, I will be long gone, as will most.

It is therefore not my problem.

I doubt therefore that we will see a great deal of movement on ecologiocal issues for a long time, while the perception remains that we have ‘unlimited’ or even ‘a lifetime supply of’ oil, I doubt that we will see anything other than resistance to change.

While the rules do not apply and while we remain self centered we will continue to park our SUVs in the compact spots, use the HOV lane when driving alone (and can see no cops) and we will continue to burn as much gas as possible while we feel we can get away with it.

I am increasingly of the belief that we are wrong to behave this way. We put our own short-term needs ahead of those of our future generations. Effectively saying ‘screw you’ to our grandchildren by riding around in a 7000lb SUV and burning a gallon of gas every 8 miles. Commiting those future generations to a a lifestyle that is many orders more frugal, many orders ‘greener’.

I am not anti-car, nor even especially opposed to trucks and SUV’s, but more I am concerned that we are being so selfish that the impact of our decisions are simply terrible for the future generations.

 Posted by at 5:55 am

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