Saturday, December 17, 2005

Of work and carbon footprints

This is a post I've thought about many times but never written. It's about work and employment. I suppose it's about what we do with our lives and why we do it. About the impact of our lives upon the planet. Also, I want to note that Dave over at Capital Region People recently invited me to guest blog over there so this post is there as well. A big thanks to Dave for the invite!

Jobs, Feet, and Bikes
A little background context for those that don't know me. From 1992 - 2004 I lived in Memphis, TN. During my time there I worked at a health food store, bike shop, university library, and a non-profit adult literacy agency. In addition I volunteered in a variety of community projects. The point is that I chose my employment based, in part, on my perception of it's social and ecological worthiness.

With two exceptions all of my jobs in Memphis were within walking or biking distance. My favorite transport was my bike or walking. Both modes are generally much less stressful than driving and far more enjoyable to the senses! Riding the bus is generally stress free and allows for a short walk to the bus stop and reading during the ride. My last job in Memphis was 3 miles away and I ended up driving this because I re-injured my knee five years ago and am no longer able to ride a bike. I walked that 3 miles a few times but that is two hours a day and I rarely did it. I tried an electric scooter for a year but it was one of the first available and often did not make the full 3 miles. Overall, in the course of the 12 years I walked or cycled an average of 60% of my travel. Not too bad but could have been better. When I did drive it was usually 6-7 miles per day.

A thought about walking: We should do much more of it than we do and I don't just mean taking walks to be taking walks though that is certainly enjoyable. We should walk as transport. Should I leave the countryside to live in a city again I will do the same as before. It's not really that difficult to find housing in a neighborhood that has an integration of food sources, social gather spaces, public library, etc. Living in the countryside this is not so easy and in truth it's not possible for me. The closest town is 11 miles away.

Working less, using less
Which brings me to the present moment. I left Memphis in early 2004 and since that time I have not been employed. I've had a handful of contract jobs doing a variety of tech-related projects. I've gone from a life of activism and daily travel to one of quiet non-participation. My car sits for weeks at a time without being started. My only purchases are food. In the past five years I've purchased (new) 1 swimming suit, 6-8 pairs of socks, 1 pair of boots, 15-20 (?) pairs of boxer shorts, 2 t-shirts. I've purchased (used) 2-3 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters, 4-5 shirts. When I left Memphis all of my possessions fit into my 1992 Toyota Tercel. Actually, that's not totally true. I left many books to be used and enjoyed by my previous housemates. I also left a bed that I'd gotten off a curb and a few records. My little desk, purchased used over 15 years ago, was just a tad too big to fit in the Tercel so it was transported separately. Still, not too bad.

Over the years I've purchased several computers and several hard drives. One of those traveled around as a donation to several users. Last I'd heard it finally stopped working 2 years ago. Not too bad given I purchased it in 1997. My other computers are, as far as I'm aware still in use with the folks that purchased them from me. My current laptop is 2 years old and I expect to keep it at least one more year, possibly two more depending on future employment and the laptop's durability. I'll probably use this till it breaks rather than sell it off.

Community, Family, and Energy Resources
I don't have any children, no spouse or partner... at least not at the moment and probably not in the near future. I do have a dog... actually she has me... yes, it's true, I have a co-dependent relationship with a dog.

So now I come closer to the point. Why do we work? What's the point? Really, when you get down to it, why do we work? Of course add the responsibility of raising children and things get a bit complicated. But for those of us who have chosen not to have children why do we work? Why do we buy the things we buy? Do we consider the social and ecological costs of our purchases? Do we purchase and use only what is absolutely necessary? Is our employment contributing to the betterment of society or the ecological health of our planet? Is our employment contributing to negatives in society or ecology?

At this moment I'm living with family again. I was away for 12 years living in, and trying to create, a community of activism. As much as I enjoyed that life I'm enjoying this one too. It's very different. I think I'm still looking for that sense of community, sense of interconnection with my fellow humans but for the first time since being an adult I'm looking to my family for these things. I've come to think that the western mode of social organization took a turn for the worse many years ago. In the U.S. this seemed to happen in the 1950s and can be summed up in one word: Suburbia. What it comes down to is we've created a life-way, a culture, based upon the automobile and the nuclear family. It's not working. Not for us and not for our planet.

We have now come to it. Peak energy and climate change are upon us. What will we do collectively? What will you do personally?

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