Saturday, October 25, 2008

Land O'Plenty of It

From the ranks of the slim number of people who purposely arrive at this blog, one faithful reader told me that she was mesmerized by my recent inclusion of a YouTube that captured two minutes of traffic moving through an intersection in India. Just so's you don't have to go searching for it, here it is again:

I had the same reaction she did. I found it fascinating how the vehicles manage to intertwine their way through that intersection and continue on their way without creating either big traffic tie-ups or accidents. There's no signal, no regulation, people just make do and go with the flow.

Try that in Southern California sometime! Ever been at an intersection with a power outage? Grrr...

For the most part, the motion is constant; even pedestrians just keep on moving. Did you see that the majority of moving things in this video are pretty small? There's lots of motorcycles and hyrbid car/scooters, with only an occasional truck or bus or larger automobile heading towards their destinations.

Contrast that with what a video of a typical intersection in So Cal would look like, with all the oversized vehicles chomping at the bit, traffic backing up further and further by the second. Why do we need such big vehicles?

It seems like everything is supersized in America, including our automobiles. We complain about the high price of gasoline, yet this nation seems highly resistant to embracing smaller or more efficient forms of transportation. We say we support it but in reality we don't. Just like how consumers clamor for more healthy choices at fast food restaurants and when they're added to the menu, hardly anyone actually orders them. Does it relieve our conscience enough just to say we advocate something beneficial, enough to where we don't actually have to follow through and do it? And thank goodness for carbon offsets. What would our conscience do without them?

Just because the stripes are drawn in certain places in a parking lot doesn't mean we need to have cars that fill up the entire space.

We could also reduce the cost of eating out by reducing the size of the meals. Just use smaller plates or packaging so that there's no white space to give the impression you aren't getting your money's worth; do we really need all that food anyway?

Housing as well - in general, we have pretty generous living quarters compared to the rest of the world. Take our house, for example. It's not big by any means but it is very comfortable. Just a few feet shy of 2,000 square feet, meaning, since the kids don't stay here any more, that Julie and I each have 1,000 square feet of living space. Assuming we each take up about two square feet of space, that's 500 times more space than we each occupy.

How much space do we really need? Someone once asked Abraham Lincoln how long should a man's legs be. His answer: about 2' 9" or thereabouts. Well actually he said just long enough to touch the ground. Somehow that story seems to have relevance to what I said about living space but I'll leave it to you to figure that out.

The thing is, once you have something it is not easy to give it up. It's a lot easier living without something you never had in the first place, than to become acclimated to a certain level of living and then have to drop down a notch or two. You get used to it.

If we really wanted to save, there's lots of things we have that we think are necessities that really aren't, things we wouldn't think of sacrificing. Cell phones. Computers. Gadgets. Games. Big cars. Big meals. That Starbucks coffee each morning. Oh, we economize by switching to McD's, but think about it - do we really need any coffee at all in the first place (some of you are saying yes, I do!)? But we don't.

That said, I don't mean to come off holier than thou because I am no different. While I do make efforts to conserve, I know I offset these efforts by being wasteful in other areas because I also feel like many things are necessities that aren't. Like my computer. Every time I am away from my computer it's torture! Mostly my conservation boils down to doing what I find convenient or what fits my preferences

I'm thinking maybe that isn't so healthy.

America is a rich country. You could say we earned the right to conspicuous consumption because we built such a rich civilization and that's our entitlement. Like I said, once you become accustomed to the good life, it's hard to give it up. Some of us may not think we have a particularly "good" life but in comparison to the rest of the world, many or most of us are living like royalty. The things we take for granted aren't the things other cultures take for granted. They would be taken as signs of living the good life.

So what do we do? Since I am as guilty as the next person, I hesitate to say too much about that! But it seems to me that in this economy, and the fact that we are increasingly becoming a global civilization with blurring of national boundaries, the days are coming, if not already here, when we will have to make some hard choices about the way we live.

I'm not advocating socialism or robin hood-ism because that's why we live in America in the first place, to avoid excessive regimentation and to have a choice about the way we live based on how we earn it. But when the economy falters because of living to excess and our not wanting to give anything up, it's something we need to deal with and it will require sacrifice.

Politicians focus on telling people the plans they have for maintaining the status quo or improving things without much cost to anyone. Or how they are going to fix this problem or that problem without troubling us too much. No one wants to hear any kind of solution that involves a lot of sacrifice from our own self. But is that possible? We got ourselves into this mess so how can we dig out of it without incurring costs? No public figure is brave enough to say that we're going to have to give this up or that up in order to fix things because no one wants to lose votes. No one would listen anyway.

We are afflicted with Little Red Hen syndrome.

Well, sorry to wind up on the soapbox ranting like this. I hadn't planned on it when I started writing this entry but things just ended up heading that way! I feel we're gonna have to bite the bullet and face up to what's confronting us. We're not the king of the world any more.

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