Friday, January 15, 2010

The Eco-Friendliness of Restoring Used Vehicles

My roommate and I had quite an adventure over the last two days.  Brian won a vehicle in a public surplus auction in Holbrook, AZ.  The vehicle had been seized by Arizona State Highway Patrol because of drugs found hidden in the engine manifold (yes, the engine!).  For about half of the Kelly Blue Book value, Brian has a "new" used vehicle that will require only about $200 in new parts to be running like new.

We left on Wednesday night around 5pm so we could get an early start on Thursday.  The drive was long but fun, and we ended up in Snowflake, AZ for the night, which is only about a 30 minute drive south of Holbrook.  Thursday (yesterday) we woke up and hit the road about 8am so we could be ready at the Navajo County government center when they opened at 9am.  After paying for the vehicle and transferring the title, Brian and I drove around to the car lot and picked up the vehicle.  Thus started our crazy drive home.  The truck he purchased was a bit too large for the towing dolly he rented from U-Haul, so we decided to drive home on the I-40 to Flagstaff, then down the I-17 through Phoenix to the I-10 for the home stretch into Tucson.  Several times we had to stop because we were worried about the truck slipping off of the dolly, and in general it was pretty nerve-racking.  But we got home safe last night at about 5pm, and it was a success.

So what does this have to do with eco-friendliness?  Why would my roommate need two trucks?  Well, he hasn't yet decided whether or not he's going to sell this truck after fixing it up, but if he does sell it, that is one less new car that needs to be sold.  If he keeps it, this truck will probably run better and last longer than the truck he has now, so either way it wasn't a bad purchase.  And if he spreads his driving out amongst both vehicles, both will last longer and neither will need to be serviced as often.

I am a firm believer in buying and maintaining used cars rather than just buying a new one.  The materials in a used car have already been manufactured, mined, etc., and so the only impact a used car has from this day forward is the cost of the gasoline and fluids and the here-and-there parts that are needed to maintain it. 

A new car, on the other hand, has a very long tail as far as environmental impact.  The metals from that car have to be mined from somewhere, and that mine has environmental impacts which the car is ultimately (at least in part) responsible for.  The other materials from that car have to be manufactured, and the factory that makes them is pumping pollutants and other toxins into the environment as well, which also add to the impact the car is having.  And don't forget the money spent on advertising... which you might not think of as an environmental impact until you remember how many car billboards you see everywhere, or car advertisments in magazines, newspapers, etc.  That paper and glue and everything else associated with advertising has to come from somewhere, and ultimately the environmental impact gets tacked onto the car because their purpose is to sell the new car every year.  Everything in and about a new car is causing some kind of NEW damage that must take place within the environment where a lot of damage has already occurred.  So it is my staunch belief that a working used car on the road potentially means one less new car on the road.  Sure, it isn't as fuel efficient as a new car might be, but burning gasoline isn't the only impact a car has during its lifetime.  In fact, the environmental impact of manufacturing a new car probably far outweighs the impact of keeping an older used car on the road.

I believe that a thought experiment can prove my point.  Imagine a scenario where there was a 10 year long ban on the manufacturing of new vehicles, and it started today.  All of the new vehicles that rolled off of the assembly line yesterday were the last ones that would be manufactured anywhere on Earth until January 15th, 2020.  All of the environmental costs associated with the manufacturing of a car would drop to near zero (not all the way to zero, there would still have to be some manufacturing of parts for the used vehicles, but not nearly as much as with pumping out a new line of cars every year).  So now the only environmental impacts you have personally associated with your car are for gasoline and maintenance parts/fluids.  You might be thinking "well that's still a lot.  Cars pump out a lot of CO2, more so if they're older, so how does this help the environment?"  Well, ask yourself this now.  How would you treat your car if you knew it had to last 10 years?  Even if you replace it, it's going to be replaced by another car that will have to last until January 15th, 2020, no matter what.  Wouldn't you drive it a little less aggressively?  Wouldn't you drive it less in general, to save on the wear-and-tear of consistent use?  I think the answer is yes.  My vehicle turns 10 years old this year, and I drive it ever more carefully each year because I know that it has to last me because I don't have the money to buy a new car.

I think there are other benefits to getting into a used-car mentality.  I think it encourages people to bike places, or use public transportation.  When you're worried about how long your own vehicle might last, you're more likely to want to "put the miles" on someone else's vehicle.  More people would ride the bus, or take some other form of public transportation, or even carpool, just to avoid the wear and tear on their own vehicles. 

So the next time you're in the market for a car (especially if you have any kind of knowledge about servicing a vehicle), instead of buying the consumerist hype about how good that brand new Prius is for the environment, maybe you should take a spin around the used car lot to see what might work for you.  And no matter what you end up buying, try to go into it thinking "what would I do if this car had to last me for 10 years, and I couldn't just buy a new one in 3 or 5 years?"  Not only will you be easier on your car, you'll be easier on the environment as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Trouble with Money

I am writing today a bit frustrated.  This is more of a journal entry than a blog post, so please feel free to skip it if you're not interested.  An incident occurred with some income I was expecting to get.  I don't want to go into too many details, but let's just leave it at the fact that someone who owes me a significant amount of money isn't paying me back on the timeline I was promised.  Since I found this out on the 5th, money has been very tight and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to see how I might accomplish some of my goals for this year if my income continues the way it is going now.  As it stands I still do not have enough soil in my beds to plant a garden, and I have no seeds to plant either.  Visiting Portland anytime soon is completely out of the question, and it is even hard to eat healthy foods as they tend to be more expensive.

One of the reasons I want to homestead has always been to liberate myself from the monetary system, mostly if not completely.  It is curious to me that in order to do so I must play the game and take part in the monetary system so fully for quite some time.  Permaculture courses are expensive, natural building courses are expensive, and of course buying land is expensive.  Even just getting the proper soil to grow a backyard garden in is expensive in my current financial situation.  I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere.  The economy will get better, I'll find a job I'm better suited for, and I'll make the money I'm worth.  But I'm anxious to start my big project, to journey into homesteading and see what kind of liberty I can grow for myself.  I know it will happen someday, I just wish that day seemed sooner than it does today.

If you happen to be in the Tucson area, and you have any extra soil/compost/mulch/seeds that you would like to donate to my garden, that would be awesome!  That is the project I most care about in the coming months, because it is the most attainable, and will also be the most encouraging if I am successful.  As always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

I know that Avatar is not necessarily a movie that people would expect to be reviewed on my blog since it is about permaculture and homesteading, however I think the message of Avatar is an important one that anyone with a love of the earth will understand.

First of all, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way.  The visuals are stunning, and they really bring you into the film.  The environment, no that word doesn't quite describe it... the ecology that James Cameron creates feels very authentic, very believable, and is amazingly beautiful.  If you have not seen this movie, it is worth seeing just for the cinematography alone.  And if you haven't seen it, make sure you see it in 3-D.

With that said, I want to talk about the subject of the movie.  The message of Avatar is, on the surface, easy to understand.  Environmental destruction and displacement of indigenous cultures is bad.  But it goes much deeper than that, and as someone who feels a strong connection with nature, this movie spoke to me deeply.  The connection that Cameron builds between the Na'avi and their world, Pandora, is something that I think every permaculturist, environmental advocate, and nature lover in general has felt at some point.  In fact, the connection the Na'avi have with their environment is one that I found myself jealous of while watching the movie.  The deeper message of the movie, that losing or ignoring the connection we have with our surroundings can lead to their careless destruction, is one painted so vividly in this movie that at times I felt myself moved close to tears for a world that is entirely fictional.  I know of course that those feelings were a vessel for what I truly feel about my own planet, and I hope that some people who may not have yet realized their connection with the earth might be stirred to explore that connection by watching this movie.

I do not want to write too long of a post, because this is off-the-cuff, I'm am writing it late at night, and I don't want to spoil the movie.  Also, a lot of the message of the movie is rather political, and I don't want to go into that here because it is not the general message of my blog and I don't want to sound preachy.  But if you have ever felt that nature has spoken to you in some way I know you will love this movie.  And if you consider yourself a permaculturist or a naturalist, even if you only dabble, this movie will give you a taste of what that ultimate connection with nature might feel like once achieved.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Why Hunting is the Most Animal Friendly Way to Eat Meat

First off, I want to start with an immediate DISCLAIMER before I anger any vegan or vegetarian readers.  I am definitely not saying that hunting is more animal friendly than not eating meat at all.  But some people do definitely choose to eat meat, and it is to those readers that I speak.  If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I respect your lifestyle choices, but do not choose them for myself.  If this post might offend you, please just wait for the next one.

With that said, I want to argue that hunting your meat is the most animal friendly and a most permacultured way to eat meat.   I'll start off with the easy argument.  I think most people who read my blog will agree that eating factory-farmed meat is a very unfriendly and costly way to get your animal protein.  These animals are mostly fed with corn products that could instead be used to feed hungry people, most of the animals are raised in horrid conditions, and the potential for diseased and dangerous meat cannot be understated.

Next we have natural and free-range raised animals.  These animals clearly live under better conditions, eat a more natural diet, and have less potential for diseases such as salmonella.  If you are too squeamish to hunt, I do suggest eating naturally and free-range raised animals instead of factory farmed ones.

Now, we come to the heart of my argument.  Why do I say that hunting is more animal friendly than naturally raised animals?  The way I see it, a hunted animal lives its entire life out the way nature intended it to.  It roams its territory, eats what it has evolved to eat, and interacts with nature the way it most naturally can.  Right up until the hunter puts an end to its life, it is as free as any animal can hope to be, even more so than free-range raised animals.  Also, a hunted animal is almost always killed just as humanely as a naturally raised one might be slaughtered.  Most hunters that I know have a great deal of respect for the animals that they stalk, and they will not take a shot at what they are hunting unless they know they can bring it down cleanly.  I would argue that most hunted animals never know what hits them.  Finally, I want to make it clear that I am of course talking about animals that are hunted for food, such as deer, elk, birds, etc.  Sport hunting, just for the kill, is something I cannot support.  If an animal is giving its life, it should be for something more than just a trophy on the wall.

Finally, I would like to address a possibly obvious question that I imagine might be in your thoughts, because it came up in mine.  You might be asking "But I can't possibly hunt all of the meat that I eat.  Chickens aren't wild, and I love beef too but there are no wild cows either, what about them?"  I agree, I think it would be very difficult to maintain the level of meat consumption that most Americans have if everyone only hunted.  And I think this is a good thing.  Instead of using hunting to replace all of your current level of meat consumption, I think it would be a good idea to think of it as a way to lower your meat consumption.  If you only eat the meat that you hunt, you'll have to make up the difference with fruits and vegetables, which will make your diet much better.  By limiting yourself to the animals you might be able to hunt, you are correcting your diet to that which you evolved to eat, which is one that only occasionally consisted of meat.  But if you don't want to lower the amount of meat that you eat, I do of course encourage you to seek out healthy, naturally-raised, free-range animals whenever you can.

Hopefully I don't raise too much controversy with this post.  I wrote it because I do plan to start hunting someday, and ideally I would like to make what I hunt the mainstay of my meat intake.  I will of course occasionally eat some chickens that I have raised, or I might splurge and purchase some beef from a rancher that I develop a personal relationship with, but for the most part once I am on my homestead, I want to supply my own meat by hunting.  Let me know your thoughts on meat consumption and hunting, and thanks for reading!

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Permie Homestead Goals for 2010

The New Year is always a time of reflecting on the past year and planning for the next.  I want to share my 2010 goals with everyone so that I can be held accountable for them.  I want to point out that none of these are "resolutions", because who ever actually follows their New Years resolutions?  These are just straightforward goals that I hope to achieve during the next 365 days.  Some of them have to do with the stuff I've already talked about on this blog, some of them are actual goals for this blog, and some of them are just personal 2010 goals.  Let me know your thoughts on them please!

  1. I will write 150 blog posts during 2010.  This is an average of 12.5 per month, and I think I can do it.  This goal will help me strive to do permacultury things, because I don't want to write blog posts just for the sake of writing them.  I want them to have meaningful content that is worth your while to read, and worth my while to write down.  The more I do in the interest of sustainability, the more I'll have to write about, and the easier it'll be to write 150 posts.
  2. I want to have at least $10,000 in my land fund.  I will raise this money through regular savings, ad revenue I make on this site above and beyond what hosting costs are (click those ads for me please!), donations to my land fund (that pretty yellow button on the right), selling my "static" possessions on Craigslist and putting the money into my land fund, and whatever other methods I can think of.
  3. I will to pay off my vehicle.  It is possible for this to happen as early as February and no later than July, but I am so excited about having it paid off that I want to mention it here.  Not having a car payment will save me $225 a month, money that can go into my land fund!
  4. I would like to have 50+ regular readers of my blog.  I don't want this so much for the purpose of ad revenue or out of vanity, but because I started this blog to help me build a community within the permaculture movement.  The more people I know who I can share my thoughts, feelings, and goals with, the more I think I'll be able to accomplish what I have set out to do.  If you know someone who might enjoy this blog, please share it with them!  And as a side note about community, please share your thoughts with me often by leaving a comment!
  5. I will weigh under 200 pounds (about 14.3 stone, or 90.7 kg) by the end of the year.  One of the reasons I got interested in permaculture and organics was because I wanted to be healthier.  As of last night, that means I have to lose 3.5 pounds (.25 stone, 1.6 kg) per month, which is a very reasonable goal.  My ultimate goal weight is about 185 pounds (12.2 stone, 84.1 kg) but I don't want to get discouraged if I don't make it.  I can always revise my goal if I'm doing better than I expect.
  6. I will get promoted to Shift Supervisor or possibly Assistant Store Manager.  I don't want to come off as too aggressive in this goal (especially in case my boss ever happens to read this blog, I don't want to seem arrogant), but I am motivated to excel in my job so I can better afford my homesteading goals.
  7. I will move to Portland, maybe.  Now that I have a job that is with a national company it will be much easier to relocate to Portland, if I can be transferred.  However, I realize that for the time being I need to put the needs of the business ahead of my own in order to excel in my job, and if I have better opportunity in Tucson than I might in Portland, I will stay here a little longer in order to better position myself to achieve my homesteading goals.
  8. I will take some kind of workshop about earthships, cob, or some other kind of natural building.
  9. I will join the Tucson CSA.
  10. I will garden like my life depends on it.  Someday, it really will!
  11. To be more specific about the garden, I have set a smaller goal for myself this year.  I am designing my first garden planting around chili.  I want to grow enough that I can regularly make myself homemade chili from nothing but ingredients grown in my garden (except the meat of course).  This means beans, jalapenos, serrano peppers,  habanero peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs.  I will grow other things as well, but having the dish of "chili" as a goal will help me focus I think.  Also, plants I listed above obviously can be used for many things other than making chili.
  12. I will get my Permaculture Design Certificate.  Even if I can't earn this through an intensive internship, I want to have my PDC soon so I can be better prepared when I am ready to select land and observe that land, before I start interacting with it.
  13. I will have several small passive streams of income with which to grow my Land Fund.  I am starting many small projects, such as working with to try to get voice-actor work, or writing short articles for revenue-sharing sites like  Using these small but hopefully prolific streams of passive income, I will be able to supplement my (currently) meager income and put that money towards my homesteading goals.
  14. I will visit Portland for a short time.  Believe it or not, I still haven't even been to Portland.  I'm just pretty sure that I'll love it because I definitely love the Pac NW and I really enjoyed Seattle when I went in April.  Portland is reputed to be "more like Tucson" than Seattle by one of my friends, so in many ways that is a good thing for me and the kind of place I want to live.  I say all of this to justify my already solid feelings that I'll like Portland once I get there.  If I don't we'll see what the new plan is, but I'm 99% sure I will love it up there.
  15. I will make progress towards finishing the Arizona Trail before I move.  Finishing the trail once I am in Portland will probably be quite difficult, so I want to do as much as I can now.
  16. I will pick a skill once a month and spend at least 6-10 hours a week trying to develop a basic mastery of that skill.  These might include carpentry, primitive fire starting, a month on cooking various dishes, etc.  For this month, the skill I'm choosing is methods of fire-making, primitive and otherwise.
  17. If time allows, I would like to have a monthly project as well.  For Jan-Mar that project will all probably be the same, getting the garden up and running.  Once it is established and I feel comfortable enough, I might start on different monthly projects after that.  This goal may end up tying in closely with goal #13.
  18. I would like to attempt to develop a feed-a-family program with the Tucson CSA.  There are plenty of hungry people out there, and I know that CSA minded people are also very caring people.  If Tucson CSA would be willing to set aside one (or a few) shares, I would love to volunteer to help coordinate that program.
  19. I want to interact with more people of a homesteading and/or permaculture mindset, and build up a closer community for myself made up of those people.

For now, I think this is enough.  I'm sure there will be smaller goals here and there, but these 19 seem like goals I can strive for over the course of the year.  If I manage to achieve them all, I'll be $10,000 closer to owning land, own my truck completely, have basic mastery of 12 new skills, enjoy homegrown and locally-grown food for almost every meal, be in better shape, look better, feel better, live in a place I will really enjoy, and be that much closer to finally having my homestead.  Also, I will have much improved this blog over what I've done with it in 2009, and made it more enjoyable for people to read, which will help me achieve my goal of building more community.

Thanks for reading!