Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random thoughts (aka rants) about being green and caring about others

When I grow up, I wanna work at Alfalfa's
Where the cheese is dairy free
A Birkenstocks, Spandex, necktie, patchouli grocery store
I'll have a job, picking through the produce - no pesticides for me!
I'll be a working moderate income socially conscious Boulder Hippie.

~Left Over Salmon
(Best lyrics ever)

Weather: Supper Sunny! 71°F
Energy Level: 4 out of 10 (improving!)
Mood: Loving the beautiful day in Seattle
Health: Still dizzy, & the stomach is not cooperating for some reason

↑ Silly Molly - we bought some
new high-protein, low-carb food
to see if she'd lose weight that way,
but she doesn't seem to like it. :-(
She's currently trying to talk to birds
(she actually mimics birds chirp)!

(Now that we've both finished the latest Harry Potter, we can begin to write.)

Traveling without a car... (I know, madness)

Being weak and dizzy from FMS/CFS and celiac disease forces me to walk/bus/bike more instead of driving.

At first I thought this was frustrating, but I'm beginning to think this was a really good thing.

I've always been concerned about the environment in - to borrow words from Left Over Salmon - a "working moderate income socially conscious Boulder Hippie" (yuppie poser) kind of way. Even then, I've never given up driving as much as I have lately (although I've tried to offset our carbon emission footprints through Carbon Fund).

The good thing about not driving is that you become more aware of your surroundings.

As I look around, most cars I see hold just ONE person, in a vehicle that holds 5 to 7 people. To get to work? Running errands? Picking up kids from school? I have no idea. I really have no grudge against the people who have to haul heavy things or go from a place to place in the most efficient fashion for work during the day. I just wonder about those people, with only one person in the car and no significant load of stuff, who just seem to be driving for convenience. So they can start their trip from their doorstep and save 15 minutes getting there or going home? So they can start watching TV 15 minutes sooner?

I understand, in a rural area, cars are necessary. But in a city area such as Seattle with a pretty good public transportation system, you can run most errands on public transportation (or a bike).

Of course I'm not innocent. Until I got sick, I had the luxury of thinking about these things less. But as I stand at a bus stop, I can't help to notice that cars are giant metal boxes which shield you from the surrounding environment and cut you off from your senses; I say this because I doubt people in cars are thinking of what a stinky cloud of air they are leaving behind. (I wasn't, when I was driving.) As long as they are inside the metal box they can't smell what's outside - what they are doing to the air they, too, breathe.

These big metal boxes are not unlike carrying your house around to go everywhere. It keeps your personal space, which shuts you in from the rest of the world. They keep you from walking/biking (to bus stops or to run errands, etc.), and yet people in the U.S. spend billions and billions of dollars each year on gym memberships, exercise equipment, and diet solutions, because they need more exercise - not to mention health care costs related to obesity and heart ailments.

We often hear people say their schedules are just too busy to take the little extra time to take public transportation. Yet they make time to drive to the gym to exercise, or to walk on a treadmill at home (which uses even more energy). Hmm. What's wrong with the picture here? Is this lifestyle really buying us convenience? (I'm not even getting started on U.S. oil consumption - if you're curious how bad it is, click on this link.)

I've actually been enjoying walking to/from various bus stops, waiting at bus stops, and biking - it's bringing me back to the time in my childhood when I commuted to my elementary school, about 1.5 hours each way, connecting a subway, a train, and a bus. I would meander, pick up a bouquet of weeds (I call them native plants), touch things, and entertain myself in the process (no doubt frustrating my mom to no end, because I always took longer than 1.5 hours due to my exploring the world). People in the city looked at me funny when I started singing, but I didn't care. That time spent commuting actually gave me sanity, instead of driving me up the wall (which often happens when driving).

My strongest senses are tactile, visual and olfactory, so I really enjoy picking leaves here and there and smelling them, observing flowers and fruits on trees, and brushing against lavender bushes and smelling my hand afterward.

Granted, Seattle is one of more environmentally conscious cities, while it still has ways to go. It just made the decision to make use of the methane gas from garbage as energy; we have a large bus fleet that includes electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel-driven vehicles. So I'm lucky to be able to take buses or walk/bike to most places.

I'm starting notice that, in fact, when I was driving I was getting from a place to place too quickly. I failed to notice things.

Things I notice on my travels...

For example, today, I noticed for the first time that there was a food bank next to the bus stop we've used a few times. We'd driven by it numerous times and never noticed it. (See what I mean about being cut off from the surrounding world?)

There was a line of people - with backpacks or metal carts - and the majority of them were seniors and young women. The sight made me ask myself: What are we doing wrong, as a society, that these older people and younger people can't afford to buy food?

It reminded me of the time I was talking to the Executive Director of Phoenix House in Denver, which was a supportive/transitional housing program for the homeless with history of substance abuse. (Side information: this type of ongoing supportive housing program is far more effective at creating long-term solutions than, say, emergency shelters - while important - or outpatient detox programs, which may appear to cost less at first, but much more costly to the society in a long run.)

This fellow travels to Europe and Latin America frequently, and his comment was that people might have less, but people in many other countries don't allow their family members to be homeless even if they screw up. Translation = even if you screw up (or lose your job or become sick or have a mental breakdown) once or twice, they'll let you live in their back yard shack, living room, or let you share a room with a kid.

I'm not about to advocate for not taking personal responsibility with your life, but I can't help noticing that our culture (and system) doesn't always encourage helping out each other before a catastrophe (i.e. inability to afford food and/or shelter, not having health care that your illness goes out of control, etc.).

In this country there is such a strong sense of entitlement and pride in independence. We are all somehow entitled to a car and a big house filled with furnishings, with each person having a room, and it's somehow unfortunate if we don't have those things. Since each person is supposed to make those things happen on his or her own, we often kick our kids out of the house as soon as they are ready to go to college (or kids can't wait to leave and they leave to get their own pad, because the expectations are such). Do they have enough tools and resources to cope with everything that's out there? Who knows. If you screw up, it's your fault, and you are out there with no health care, food, or worse: home.

And what we see all around, resulting from that sense of entitlement and independence (i.e. having to have your own place no matter what), is our spending culture with little social support - with the least amount of personal savings and highest rate of personal bankruptcy compared to other industrialized nations. Most of us would say we can't afford to support another family member, if push came to shove (although it may not take that much - if you let go of preconceived notions of each person needing a room and having to live independently), because of mortgage, car payment, etc. I heard somewhere that many families in America are two paychecks away from bankruptcy, if a catastrophe were to strike (major health problem, accident, natural disaster, etc.). Many others live from a paycheck to paycheck.

So the public keeps pushing the government for less taxation for supposedly larger take-home income, and the government keeps cutting social services in return - are we any more secure because of the tax cuts? Did we save more? Probably not for the majority of people. We probably just spent more. (This includes me. I don't deserve to be all high and mighty; this is as much a criticism for myself as anyone.) And there is little safety net if something were to go wrong.

I'm not going to go into the recent infuriating supreme court decision (Ledbetter v. Goodyear - sign the petition! You can still make a difference) and the fact that in this day and age, women still earn only 80% of what men earn right out of college. It just made me really sad and angry to see young women and seniors lining up for free food, in this country of supposed abundance, in a city with one of the highest college graduation rates and median income.

Someone wise (whose name I can't recall, sorry) said, the character of a civilization is measured by how it treats its weakest citizens. I tend to agree, and I get the feeling we are failing to show character.

Can you tell I'm a bleeding heart liberal? I can't wait to be healthy enough to be more socially/politically active! :-)

-A

P.S. For those of you who wondered - the raspberry/boysenberry popsicles, as well as pineapple/coconut pops (made me wanna add rum to it), were delicious!

P.P.S. Momo's lab results were okay. Ender was negative for ringworm... and she has improved. Could've been fleas/mites (which we didn't see, but gave her medicine for anyway) or something else. It's up to Pete now.

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