Friday, October 24, 2008

Portraits Of Alternative Transport

Now is the time for some of the pictures I promised I'd post on this blog. All of these pictures portray people who are finding and using alternatives to automobile-based transportation. But I also have a few comments to make, comments provoked by a New York Times piece I read today.

That article, titled, “Completely Unplugged, Fully Green,” contained descriptions of the lives of several people who are trying to radically reduce their carbon footprint by living simply and self-reliantly. The article revealed a few interesting details about each of the people interviewed; yet the tone of the article implied not-so-subtly that these people were (at least mildly) freaks. One of those interviewed was Sharon Astyk, author of the blog, Casaubon's Book, who with her husband Eric Woods is raising a family of four boys. The Times writer, Joanne Kaufman, described how Astyk's boys were prevented by their mother from joining a Saturday Little League baseball team because joining the team would involve making an unnecessary trip by car, as well as how her boys slept together to conserve body heat in the winter. The article also described a man by the name of Jay Matsueda, who lives in Culver City, California, and who does not use heat or air conditioning for his condominium.

The tone in which the actions of Astyk and Matsueda are portrayed suggests that these are highly unusual lifestyle choices which fall far, far outside the mainstream. In fact, a Google search for the article reveals that it is also titled, “Extreme Approaches Toward Living A Green Life.” But the Times article goes further, coining a new word, “carborexia,” to describe those people who are radically and deeply limiting their consumption and dependence on the present economic system in order to reduce their carbon footprint. And with the introduction of this new term, which sounds suspiciously like the psychological disorder known as “anorexia,” the Times writer also includes interviews with psychologists who discuss the “unhealthy” side of those who devote themselves “excessively” to a sustainable lifestyle.

I think the Times article is childish, immature and inaccurate. For one thing, Sharon Astyk is Jewish and that's why her family does not participate in league sports on Saturdays. Is that so unusual? But when I think of the near shock expressed by the Times concerning some of the other lifestyle choices described in their article, I have to laugh out loud. Consider how the Times writer wrote about Jay Matsueda's decision to forego air conditioning and heating for his Culver City condo.

Culver City is in Southern California, about five miles from the Pacific Ocean and around, oh, 30 miles away from where I used to live in North Orange County. Don't tell anyone this, but I only used my heater twice during the year and a half before I moved out of California. And my home did not have air conditioning. Were there days I would have liked A/C? Sure! But my point is that I didn't die or suffer irreparable harm. Is Matsueda a freak? Not in my book. Of course, I also became a bicycle commuter in 2005, when California gasoline prices first rose above $3.00 a gallon. Maybe that makes me a freak; I don't know.

The biggest flaw of the Times article is that it both trivializes a serious issue and seeks to marginalize those who are trying to address this issue by a more simple lifestyle. This is entirely understandable, since the Times gets most of its revenue from advertising and because the Times is part of a global economic system whose aim is to foster ever-increasing growth of that system and ever-increasing dependence on that system among the general public. It is only natural for the masters of such a system to feel threatened by those who are trying for the sake of principle or conscience to disentangle themselves from the system. It is only natural for the masters of the present system to try to demonize those who are seeking to break free from the system.

Such demonizing is not only inaccurate, it also neglects the fact that increasing numbers of people are cutting back on their consumption and moving toward simpler lifestyles by force and not by choice, as the system known as the “official” economy continues its breakdown. Already there are hundreds of thousands of families in the United States whose children have been forced to forgo not only Saturday league sports, but iPods, GameBoys, big screen TV's, sleepovers, extravagant birthday parties, hanging out at the mall, the latest clothes, new cars, and much more – all because of the evaporation of their parents' livelihoods during the last several months. Whether we like it or not, the growth economy is in serious – perhaps terminal – trouble. The well has run dry. We will all be forced to live more simply.

Since that is the case, the intelligent people are the ones who are taking steps now by choice to adapt to a simpler life rather than waiting until the choice is forced on them. I therefore present pictures of some intelligent people I have met over the last several months. There are many such people here where I now live. Notice that they all seem to be having fun; at the very least they don't seem to be deprived souls, nor are they freaks. Also check out some of their cool rides!

Here's a picture of my odometer today after returning home from work, just so you know that I practice what I preach.

This vehicle is known as a "Bakfiets," and is a Dutch invention. I saw a lady riding one to a grocery store a few weeks ago. Her son was riding inside the wooden carriage. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the time, or you all could have seen a Bakfiets in action...

And here's a picture for those of us who ride public transit on occasion. See how serene and stress-free your commute can be! Take a hint from these kids...

Future posts on this blog will continue the theme of alternative systems, focusing on bicycle transportation. Stay tuned!

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