Saturday, July 30, 2011

When to Complicate Things

We have a tendency in American culture to over simplify things. In politics, we see things very straightforward and we tend not to look at multiple sides of an issue. This is not always a bad thing.  It helps us make quick decisions, keeps us solid on platforms we stand for, and reduces our distractions.  We seem to glorify this idea of simplicity, even dedicating a week to it.  I myself have been known to spread the mantra, "Keep it simple Stupid!"
I do believe, however, that there is a time to complicate things, especially when it comes to energy and plastics.  Right now what concerns me about the replacing oil discussion is that it seems like we want one alternative plastic to solve all the problems.  Corn plastics are gaining ground, but this also perpetuates corn production growth, an industry which still relies heavily on petroleum for fuel, fertilizer and processing.  It does have its upsides though, especially since so much plastic ends up in the ocean, if it is biodegradable that may help (although who really knows, right?) reduce contamination.
We are making plastics out of various vegetables, and today I read an article on a new plastic made from fish scraps. These are innovative and good solutions, but my hope is that we don't pick one and run with it. We need to diversify our energy needs, so that we aren't relying on one or two resources to try and sustain us.
How do we shift from these monocultural tendencies? The same way our food system is going back to diverse solutions, by buying a variety of energy sources. Don't let one win. Instead, buy products that are powered in different ways, and reduce your energy consumption.  If you are a homeowner, you have a lot of options. A few solar panels can heat your water tank. A white roof can reduce your cooling costs.  Try some hand powered appliances.  Invest in wind, solar and hydro power.
With plastics, reusable is the key. Try and use washable containers, bags and water bottles whenever possible.  When you do buy plastic, look for alternative materials. A combination of recycled post consumer plastic, bioplastics and other cleaner materials will help send the right message.  Good luck in complicating your plastics!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Consuming at the Right Time

This morning I woke up and decided I wanted dim sum.  So, I thought to myself, the new place two block from my apartment just opened, and they start serving at ten.  My husband and I made coffee, relaxed and fought our hunger until the grand hour arrived. I had hiked all day yesterday and was famished.
As we arrived, however, we were the only people approaching. And it was a strange feeling. My husband turned and said to me, "You know, dim sum never really gets busy until 11, especially on this side of town."

And alas, he was right. The problem with an empty restaurant for dim sum is the flow of the food, the experience. No guests means no constant traffic of fresh, hot dumplings that I delight in consuming. It wasn't the right time, and we decided it was better not to force it, knowing we wouldn't get the right experience.

We drove down the street a ways and approached the Brief Encounter, a cafe we'd never tried before, and ate a hearty breakfast in a busy, friendly, fun diner environment.  I was somewhat disappointed at first because it was not my initial craving, when I realized I was more infatuated with the experience than what I was eating, and that the particular place we were in satisfied my urge for that atmosphere. I happily paid for my breakfast, and did not think about our failed attempt until someone asked me how dim sum went.

Sometimes our consumption is closely related to time. Being aware of the timing of a purchase can contribute to overall financial well being and prevent a lot of regret.  I like to call this the Strawberries in December rule. You may want to eat strawberries more than anything, but you just shouldn't do it, because no matter what, they won't be satisfying.  Find a reasonable alternative.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Consuming For Happiness

I was reading Gretchin Rubin's book the Happiness Project yesterday at the gym and found myself pondering the question, as she does, "Does money buy happiness?"  Rubin concludes that having money does not mean you are happy, but having it can certainly help you achieve it.  I think that is a wise perception, and it turns a lot of people off, because it suggests that we are perhaps embracing material items over things like love and natural beauty and personal development.  However, if spent consciously, money can be used to support all those things.  And we don't really mean wealth, we're talking about being aware of what makes you happy and what you are buying for superficial reasons. I highly recommend the book, and invite you check out Rubin's blog.
Let's take my luxurious image of me on a treadmill, in an air conditioned gym, reading The Happiness Project on my Nook.  I shelled out money for the privilege of being at the gym and for the Nook.
A lot of people, especially environmentalists, would argue that the gym is a scam, full completely overpriced machines that don't really work out your muscles appropriately and it's full of people who are obsessed with their looks more than their health.  An honestly, I agree with these ideas. However, being able to be stationary while exercising so that I can read on a flat, easy to manage apparatus is really the best motivation to get me to exercise at all. So, knowing who I am, I am buying the perfect environment for me to stay healthy. 
This idea is a direct Pillar of Conscious Consuming.  Spending money that support our desired lifestyle, even in small ways like spending the extra couple of bucks for grass fed beef, yoga classes, knitting yarn or books, makes you more aware of where your money goes and brings us the most possible satisfaction.  It is important, however, to be honest with yourself and do not let these fleeting desires you pick up from media or marketing drive your ideas about where to spend money.  Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this syndrome in Eat, Pray, Love when she realizes she is not the silent, peaceful, ethereal apparition gliding quietly around the temple in solace after all, and decides to embrace her naturally bubbly social demeanor. The point is, sometimes things you admire are not in sync with your personality, and its good to be in touch with that, otherwise you are left looking at your pile of abandoned craft projects wondering why you spent all that money on supplies that never get used.
Please comment on purchases that contribute to your happiness, I'd be interested to know!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Bus

On Tuesday my friend and I went on a crumpet excursion in Seattle. Since we live outside the city there was a question of transportation: car or bus?  I personally detest city driving and find that hunting for parking is even less desirable, so taking the bus is my first impulse, and when I deduced the decision logically, there are many great reasons to utilize public transportation. 
The benefits for riding the bus extend beyond my personal preferences. It results in less traffic, accidents and emissions, and gives us more local government revenue and more access to new jobs and commerce centers.  It’s so good I question whether to sell my car, then buy a zip car pass and take the bus.  But of course my transportation needs vary, and it is pretty cheap to buy a car. However, when considering the cost of driving across the lake to go to the city during off-peak hours, the bus is cheaper and even if you say that the convenience worth dropping ten dollars for parking downtown in maddening traffic, I consider where that ten dollars goes.  Ten dollars to park downtown, plus gas money, or ten dollars for round trip fare for two people?  Giving the metro that ten dollars tells the city that I value public transit as a service and that when I want to use it I appreciate it being there.  Giving it to parking lot that charges outlandish fees for a mere hour or two of use is telling the city that I don’t need the bus, I’d rather give my money to some greedy fool who pays attendants minimum wage with no benefits. 
I admit I’m not willing to ride the bus all the time, but it does make trips to the city very pleasant.  I hate traffic, and city driving and paying to park.  And my friend and I had more time to visit while we relaxed on our smooth ride down the car pool lane.