Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Through A Different Lens....................... 10 Years Car-Free

Click on photo to enlarge - image © jim otterstrom 2007
headlight lens © Ford Motor Company 1937

Today marks our 10th Anniversary of living car-free.

By "car-free", I mean that Peggy and I haven't owned a car since January 31st of 1997.

But, we have found it necessary to rent cars on several occasions, particularly during the time our son was hospitalized and recuperating after his near fatal car-wreck in 2005.

Still, cars haven't been part of our daily lives for those 10 years.

When we owned a car, we drove somewhere around the national average of 12,000 miles per year. So, according to this 'An Inconvenient Truth' CO2 calculator, our personal carbon dioxide output has been reduced by nearly 6.5 tons per year.

That's 130,000 pounds of CO2 over the 10 year period!

But, we must also factor in the approximately 6 thousand miles we have driven during that time, which means we need to subtract 6,500 pounds from that 130,000, bringing our net infernal combustion pollution reduction down to 123,500 pounds for the decade. This means we reduced our personal CO2 output by nearly 87%!

123,500 POUNDS!!!

Talk about a diet, now, to me, that's something to celebrate!

Yet, in a world of 6 1/2 billion people, does it make any difference?

Not really. Not to anyone but Peggy and I, and a small minority of eco-centric types whom, according to the status quo, would be defined as part of the lunatic fringe.

To a planet that's been around for some 4 1/2 billion years, and seen millions of species come and go, does it make a difference?

None whatsoever, unless you happen to be one of those species who have come, but not yet gone.

In a vast Universe of countless galaxies, stars, and planets, does it make any difference?


...unless, by some miracle of chance, you have the good fortune to be currently alive and breathing oxygen upon the beautiful blue planet, Earth.

No, a few individual members of an entire culture which is addicted to conspicuous consumption and material gratification aren't going to make much of a difference, so why bother?

Well, that's a good question, and one I've asked myself many times.

Once you know that smoking cigarettes causes cancer do you continue smoking?

Many people do, and continue doing so, even when they're hooked up to an oxygen tank or permanently bedridden. I've seen people, whose vocal chords had been removed because of smoking related cancer, suck on cigarettes through a trachea valve.

That's what I call addiction, mental, emotional, and physical addiction.

Yet, this is supposedly a free country, and I would say that's their business, as long as I don't have to pay the associated medical bills.

So, what is the difference between a person who, through denial, apathy, illness, or self-loathing, commits suicide by ignoring their addictions, and someone who hastens the destruction of a planetary life support system through denial of their addiction and its consequences?

The only difference I see is that people who commit suicide through substance abuse are just hurting themselves, and those who care about them, where people who would poison an entire planet because they refuse to face their own addictions, are not only suicidal, but homicidal, genocidal, and biocidal as well.

Are we that oblivious to reality, and to our own responsibilities?

Do we just not give a damn, or do we feel too hopelessly addicted to our old habits? Or, are we just in denial that there is a real problem, and that each one of us is a big part of it?

Of the thousands of cars which drive past us every week, blowing exhaust in our faces as we walk around Big Bear, how many of the drivers ever think about what they're doing, or about our health, or the stench they're spewing into rarefied mountain air belonging to everybody?

Why is something like that legal?

Should it be legal for me to shit all over everyone and everything?

What's the difference?

Legal or not, it's most certainly immoral!

Todays' infernal combustion automobile is probably the worst of our addictions, because of the magnitude of its destructiveness, but our disease goes much deeper than that.

How often have you heard the term "for the benefit of mankind"?

Humankind, blinded by its own cleverness, and imagined self-importance, values each technology primarily for the benefits to mankind.

Wouldn't a species with the slightest bit of common sense, and some desire for long-term survival, assess technologies primarily on their benefits to all life on Earth and the long-term health of their ecosystem?

Isn't survival considered a benefit to mankind?

We have grossly overpopulated the planet through the invention and use of technologies which supposedly benefit mankind. Yet it is becoming clearer every day that those very technologies may soon render our planet uninhabitable for those who would breathe oxygen, including the mankind they allegedly benefit.

And, once again, we turn to the technologies of an obsolete social & economic model---to the proponents of a failing civilization---for so-called clean car technology, alternative fuels, and renewable energy sources, so the worlds 6 1/2 billion people can, by 2041, become 9 billion (see chart here).

Contemporary wisdom as seen through the dominant lens:

For the good of mankind, all 6 1/2 billion of us, we will find solutions.

The global economy will not fail because our technology will find ways around nature's limits.

I wonder what percentage of the world population ever considers the consequences we face if this ever-expanding global economy of 6 1/2 billion people doesn't fail until our ecosystem does?

Can we even imagine the collapse of our entire civilization, the complete die-off of the human species, a total extinction of life on the planet, or an Earth that more resembles Mars?

Are we aware that the entire world is now embroiled in resource wars over oil, water, minerals, fish & game stocks, and arable land?

Have we paid attention to the fact that huge tracts of land recently used for growing food, or sustaining wildlife, are now being converted to growing crops for ethanol based fuels, or, that more than 50% of the pollution an automobile generates during its lifetime is produced during the manufacturing processes, or that we are in the midst of the 6th great extinction period in the history of our planet, and that habitat loss due to human expansion, industrialism, climate change, pollution, and resource extraction is causing those extinctions (I recently read that 13% of Americans have never heard of Global Warming)? READ THE LATEST CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS HERE (added 2/2/2007).

As the diversity of life on our planet diminishes, as the atmosphere deteriorates, and the pollution of our air, water, and soil increases exponentially, as world fisheries are depleted, and soil erosion claims more & more acres of farmland, how do we respond?

For the good of mankind---to provide jobs, housing, schools, and to accommodate more resource extraction in support of the teeming hoards---we build ever more subdivisions, shopping centers, and freeways.


We've bumped up against something and the ship seems to be listing a bit. But this is the "unsinkable" Titanic, a marvel of modern technology, and besides, the band is still playing, many of the passengers are still dancing, and the crew in charge says there's really nothing to worry about.


Anyone who has seen Walt Disney's Fantasia will remember the Sorcerer's Apprentice, whose ineptness with technological wizardry, and Mickey Mouse tomfoolery, backfired when his creations ran amok, swarming uncontrollably with their own single-minded purpose.


And unfortunately, like Mickey, we're desperately hoping that the wizard wakes up soon to save our sorry butts.

Only this is no cartoon, unless you believe what you see on television.

Much like the prism design of the headlight lens above, from a 1937 Ford---which aims light in a prescribed direction, for a relatively short distance---our vision today of what lies ahead is mostly defined for us by the corporate media propaganda machine of the dominant culture, and designed to focus our attention on economically specific, anthropocentric, elitist solutions. READ HERE HOW A CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN THINK-TANK IS WORKING TO PUT THIER OWN SPIN ON TODAY'S BEST CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE (added 2/2/2007).

I try to contemplate the future through a different lens than the one offered by those who would rule the world solely for the benefit of mankind.

Through this alternate lens (I might call it a full-spectrum lens), which is focused upon the Laws Of Nature and the needs of all living things, it becomes more obvious that there will very likely be zero automobiles in the not too distant future of planet Earth---bio-fueled, hybrid, hydrogen or otherwise.

But the clarity of Nature's lens is where I also find reasons to hope that life itself---with or without Homo-sapiens---might continue to evolve and flourish on Earth, regardless of the arrogant selfishness of todays' dominant species! (HERE'S AN ARTICLE ABOUT THE PROSPECTS OF LIFE ON EARTH (updated 2/2/2007).

And, like I've said before, hope is more powerful than despair.

My hope might actually evolve into optimism if I saw the faintest hint that individual human beings, in huge numbers, were willing to address their own addictions to destructive technology.

I still have plenty of addictions of my own, like hot-running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, music, photography, the internet, beer, wine, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And I'll be working on some of those...

...but I'm already way over the automobile, and the stupid-ass television, which is nothing more than a brainwashing advertising platform for this whole conspicuously consumptive life-threatening mess.

An 86.7% reduction in our fossil-fuel burning?

123,500 fewer pounds of CO2?

Insignificant, maybe...

...but it's our small contribution to the future, to your future.

It's one simple thing we can do, and it feels good.

It feels right!

Love & Peace

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Blogger turnip said...

I would NOT say it is insignificant. If nothing more, you are living by example and showing others that there IS in fact another way to live, another way get by, even in our car-crazed society.
I didn't know that 50% of the pollution a car contributes is in its production! That makes sense though, and definitely something to think about before purchasing another vehicle even in the name of alternative energy.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks for your comment and I'm trying to find the article which was the source of my "50% of the pollution" statement.

But I do know that it included all the mining and resource extraction elements that comprise the production of a car.

8:22 PM  
Blogger dragonfly183 said...

According to the Co2 calculator it looks like my electric bill is whats driving me over the top. Since going to work at home I only drive 2228 miles a year (thats an estimated guess)but my electric bill averages 250. Its this stupid mobile home though. There is only about 2 inches of insulation in the floor and a 6 inch gap in between that and the actual floor. the walls area pathetic 4 inches. There is a whole under the plastic on the bottom in the bathroom and you can feel cold air seeping in from under the bath tub and a hole in the caulking around the back door and you can feel the cold in the floor back there. :(

10:55 AM  
Blogger GirlGoneGardening said...

Hey guys, great post!

8:55 AM  
Blogger David said...

verily, thou rantest!

but you have earned the right

10:02 AM  
Blogger grannyfiddler said...

like the myth of Robin Hood, you've not only hit the bull's eye with the first arrow, but split the first assunder with the second.

i love your blog - visit it often, though seldom post. the photographs are stunning, you're articulate and honest. so i thought i'd offer a thank-you for the inspiration you've given me. you and a few others have played a large part in reminding me of my responsibilities, and the dangers of complacency and ethical laziness.

i've just recently bought a little old house in town, after living in the country, a 15 minute commute away from work. working from home is not an option at present, but is a hope for the future. the plan is to park my little 12-year old mini-truck and walk to work, etc. if my guess is right, i'll find that i don't really need to own a vehicle - that public transport and the occasional rental will cover my needs quite amply. and then i'll sell the truck.... we don't change from being a bad toad overnight.

i'll begin to convert the garage at the 'new' place(which will be my studio for teaching violin students, and miscellaneous creative endeavors) out back to solar power, just to learn how to do it, then, when i have some idea what i'm doing, start on the house. i'll insulate and upgrade and renovate till my home's ecological footrprint is as small as i can get it. i'll gradually remove all the stupid lawn in the yard, and fill it with fruit trees and berry bushes, food and flowers.

i've also begun brainstorming with friends and neighbors about ways to promote and develop Small-Mart businesses.

there's more, but i'm sure you get the idea.

so, don't think that you're not making a difference, dear earth home gardener. one person can make a very big difference. never doubt it.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Most of our 27 years in this house were spent with single-paned windows and no insulation in the roof or floor. After I retired 6 years ago I finally had the time to remedy all that so the house is now warm, cozy and much more energy efficient. It just takes time and money, but because we did the work ourselves, we saved well over 50% of what it would've cost to have someone else do it.
We made a list of our highest priorities for saving energy (and money) and worked on our household deficiencies one at a time as we could afford it.


Thanks! Nice to hear from you again...


I appreciate that, we do feel that we've earned a little bit of credibilty in 'walking our talk'.


Thank you so much!

Comments like this are what make blogging worthwhile for me.

I find it difficult to keep writing these negative rants, but it's impossible for me to ignore the exponentially increasing destruction we humans are causing.

Peggy and I are simply trying to learn and practice ways of living which lessen our own destructive impact, but quite often I feel the need to rant a bit about how the culture we are part of looks to me.

More often than not, a non-anthropocentric perspective is a lonely one...

...but then, along comes someone like you, with sweet, thoughtful and supportive comments to make us feel less alone in our struggles.

Which reminds me that I haven't dropped by your blog in some time.

By the way, I wish you were close enough to give me fiddle lessons.

11:35 AM  
Blogger SimplyTim said...

Jim: Thanks for your contribution. In chaos theory, there's the story of the butterfly in the Amazon influencing the storm in the mid-west. One of the ways I look at that is that you never know which butterfly is the good guy or the bad guy...the one who changes it all in one direction or the other.

About the question of people thinking about their long range survival choices: to view current choices in long range mode is an acquired skill. The shorter range view - today, tomorrow, and the day after - may be hardwired into us from a survival point of view. But the insanity of decreased attention span which our society is saddling us with is such an abberation. It is portrayed in the context of increasing survival potential, I suspect, but it has just the opposite effect.

Hey, here's a little one for you. I read somewhere recently that it takes 1,000 years for glass to break down. (if you say 500 its still a long time, if you say 25,000 years...well, you get the picture.) Since then, I separate my glass for the recycling center. Does that make a difference? I ask you Jim O, does that make a difference?

Be well,


11:02 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi Tim,

Ahhhh Yes, the 'Butterfly Effect', your recycled glass, and my pounds of CO2.

It makes a difference to me Tim...

...Thank You!!!

12:08 PM  
Blogger clairesgarden said...

you're right, so right. I am too scared to give up the car, I feel I'd have no life at all.

8:35 AM  
Blogger TDharma said...

Jim, while I applaud the passion of your rant, I can't help but think of all the other words to insert instead of automobile: the manufacturing of computers is a very dirty business, for instance. I know some folks who are equally passionate about the ecological and cultural ramifications of our computer age -- along with the www. Are we to stop using computers?

I wonder what the stats would be like for pre-auto accidents on horses/wagons/buggies/farm equipment. What the disease rate was for city dwellers who lives with animal waste in their streets - not to mention dead animals in their streets - every day.

I guess that every benefit of "modern" living has its downside - that we are all butterflys affecting the weather elsewhere. If we didn't have all these great medical advances and people still had a very short life-span, we certainly would help the population crisis. But then, I would've died 12 years ago from diabetes - no, wait, 20 years ago from asthma.

Just my thoughts, Jim, I appreciate your take on the world very much.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Rockin' Hejabi said...

...but it gets worse. "TATA" car company in India is producing automobiles that many in India and all over the 3rd world will be able to afford, for the first time! It's around US$10,000! More people will be able to pollute the air with their egos!

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been somewhat removed from blogland for a while and am just now getting back into the swing of things, reading back posts for some of my favorite blogs.

I appreciate reading your honest perspective about your car-free lifestyle. I try every day to live an earth friendly life-style. But often times I think about throwing in the towel and giving up. Just the other day I had two different native plant nurseries over to talk about converting our lawn into a natural habitat. They both told me it wasn't worth it. I was shocked. So it looks like we're going to tackle a small portion of the lawn ourselves each year and hopefully, little by little, we'll have transformed our lawn into an earth-friendly sanctuary. It saddens me when my neighbors do a blanket "weed and feed." Our properties are on the top of a small hill and at the bottom of the hill is a beautiful creek. I'm sure the runoff from their lawn care is not helpful to the environment or the wildlife that rely on our creek.

Anyway, for all this rambling, sometimes it just seems so difficult and I begin to wonder for all this struggle, if it is really worth it. Posts like these are an inspiration and you and Peggy continue to remind me why it's important to care.

I was recently in California and I wish we would have had some extra time to head on up to Big Bear. I would have loved to visit you both. Hopefully next time.

Best regards and much love. :)


10:04 AM  

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