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Perils of Carless Parenting

Alan Thein Durning,
[Tyee Editor’s note: this is the second in an occasional series written by Alan Durning, head of Sightline think-tank in Seattle. He and his family are living car-free for a year, and he’s writing a series about how they’re faring.]

When my family decided in March not to replace our Volvo for at least a year, we were mostly thinking about the practical implications. We were thinking about pollution, of course, but also about dollars and safety and bus routes and walking distances.

What has become evident a few months into this adventure is just how much our cars equate not just to money saved or spent but also to cultural currency. Even while we’re saving bundles of cold hard cash on gas, insurance and upkeep, hidden costs have emerged in a social barter system that, like much of our culture, is car-centric.

We quickly collided with the face of the car economy: other parents.

The thing about parenting is that it’s best done in groups, so you can share with others. This sharing operates largely on the gift economy. That is, parents do favours for each other. The most routine favour they give — the currency of parenting — is the ride: I give your kid a ride to practice; you give mine a ride home. You bring your kid over to play; I drive her home again.

…Lacking a car, Amy and I have been forced to do more asking and more creative reciprocating. This necessity has become a virtue: more community, more time with neighbours. In fact, renegotiating the social side of the car economy, and adapting to life with no cultural car capital, we’ve found new — enjoyable and enriching — ways to experience and engage with our communities. We have discovered that without our car, we spend more quality time with our own kids and with groups of their friends because of creative carless favours. We enjoy more activities that are around the corner rather than across town, which means supporting community businesses and services and keeping our neighbourhood vibrant, bustling and safe.
(2 Jan 2007)

He’s still following the sun

Lee Romney, LA Times
N the beginning, to explain the concept of a solar water heater, Gary Gerber toted a homemade graphic of a black hose sitting on a lawn.

“Do you ever go out in the summer and turn on the hose and the water is hot?” he’d ask potential customers. “Well, that’s how it works.”

In those “stone age” days of the mid-1970s, there was no solar energy industry, Gerber says, only a small collection of “experimenters, forward-thinking people, inventors.” Even eking out a living was an impossibility: Gerber survived, courtesy of a side gig selling cheese from his Volkswagen van.

Three decades later, his Sun Light & Power can barely keep up. A frenzied demand for solar power, or photovoltaic, installations has eclipsed the water heater portion of the business, and since 2002, sales have ballooned by about 66% annually – to more than $11 million in 2006.

Once the domain of hippies, whose off-the-grid escape doubled as an anti-establishment rebuke, renewable energy is now a pillar of California politics. In recent months alone, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed the California Solar Initiative, which aims to help bring solar power to a million rooftops, as well as a landmark greenhouse-gas reduction law.

Cities in the Bay Area – California’s alternative-energy hotbed – are tricking out public buildings with solar panels, outfitting municipal vehicle fleets with the latest plug-in hybrids and tweaking building codes to require energy-efficient features in new construction. Large companies are scrambling to certify their buildings as “green.”

And across the state, in locations not at all off the beaten path, solar installations on homes and small businesses have soared, thanks largely to rebates for systems tied into the state power grid.
(3 Jan 2007)

A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School

Gina Kolata, NY Times
The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Year after year, in study after study, says Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, education “keeps coming up.”

And, health economists say, those factors that are popularly believed to be crucial – money and health insurance, for example, pale in comparison.

Dr. Smith explains: “Giving people more Social Security income, or less for that matter, will not really affect people’s health. It is a good thing to do for other reasons but not for health.”

Health insurance, too, he says, “is vastly overrated in the policy debate.”

Instead, Dr. Smith and others say, what may make the biggest difference is keeping young people in school. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age.

It is not the only factor, of course.

There is smoking, which sharply curtails life span. There is a connection between having a network of friends and family and living a long and healthy life. And there is evidence that people with more powerful jobs and, presumably, with more control over their work lives, are healthier and longer lived.
(3 Jan 2007)
More at the original. What intrigues me is the continuing evidence that money and possessions have little correlation with life satisfaction (or in this case, with longevity). This contradicts the common argument that high levels of energy use are necessary for a happy life. -BA

Black Earth

Big Gav, Peak Energy
…Erich J Knight left a … good set of links on Terra Preta (which Tom Konrad included in his list of Top Ten Technologies for an Alternative Energy Future that I included yesterday). I liked Erich’s closing paragraph “I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies. That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial society.”.

This new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation. The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

I feel we should push for this Terra Preta Soils CO2 sequestration strategy as not only a global warming remedy for the first world, but to solve fertilization and transport issues for the third world. This information needs to be shared with all the state agricultural programs. The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade in place. These are processes where you can have your Bio-fuels, Carbon sequestration and triple fertility too. ‘Terra Preta’ soils have great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.

(3 Jan 2007)
More links and excerpts on Terra Preta at the original. More soil enthusias at WorldChanging: For the Worms: Vermiculture in Brooklyn