Category Archives: alternative transportation

Supporting Each Other’s Work: It’s Automatic

The internet has been a great way for us to share our experiences with readers across the world and to maintain friendships over oceans and continents. I have been reading The Automatic Earth for years, and almost exactly two years ago Nicole Foss and Raul Ilagi Meijer gave a presentation here in Whanganui and stayed with us in our home.

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Raul has been writing up a storm lately – a series called Debt Rattle. Two weeks ago I sent him a short article on my personal take on debt just for a laugh, because he and Nicole usually write about Very Big Picture issues. But alas, everything is connected, and Raul managed to include a part of my article as a bit of an answer to his own question: “What do we want to grow into?”

Debt Rattle Apr 14 2014: The Parable Of The Blind Man And The Steep Cliff

 

http://www.theautomaticearth.com/debt-rattle-apr-14-2014-the-parabel-of-the-blind-man-and-the-steep-cliff/

But not all is black out there. 10 days ago, our Kiwi friend Nelson Lebo (Nicole and I stayed with him and his wonderful little family for a few days 2 years ago) sent me this article he wrote for the Wanganui Chronicle. Some people answer the question “What Do We Want To Grow Into?” simply by being it in their daily lives. They live the answer.

Financial Independence Through Bicycling

My position is that more people are receptive to messages of saving money than “saving the planet”, and that in many cases both are possible by designing win-win situations. For example, I graduated from University in 1990 with student loans and without a car. Some unexplained thrifty gene in my DNA told me to forgo buying a car until I had paid off my loans. In other words, don’t take on more debt until you’ve paid off the existing debt.

That experience was faster and less painful than I expected, so I carried on living car-free for seven more years before buying my brother’s old ute for $500. I continued bicycling and taking public transit for most of my transport needs but drove about twice each month until early 2000. At that point, after living nearly car-free for over a decade I had saved enough money to buy a small farm…on a teacher’s salary. To clarify, this was by no means a flash farm, and I did work every school holiday for most of those years to earn and save more money. On 1st June 2000 I took title of 38 acres and a 214 year-old farmhouse. I called it Pedal Power Farm.

Over the next eight years I used eco-thrifty thinking and lots of blood, sweat and tears to renovate the farmhouse, build a post and beam barn by hand, and improve soil fertility. In 2008 – at the start of the housing crisis in America – I sold the farm for nearly twice what I paid. Proceeds of the sale paid for four years of doctoral research at Waikato, a second-hand Subaru wagon, and a fully renovated but once run-down villa in Castlecliff.

While car-free living cannot be attributed for all of this, it provided a platform to get out of debt and to get onto the ‘property ladder’ debt-free. Other contributing factors were fiscal conservatism and working my bum off for 18 years. At 45 I am semi-retired with plenty of time to spend with my toddler daughter and to volunteer in the community. If you think about it carefully enough, I suppose you are reading these words in today’s paper because I made a choice 24 years ago to ride a bike.

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Celebrating Our Local Heroes!

Inaugural Unsung Hero Award to Green Bikes Whanganui  Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 9.22.22 AM

Green Bikes Whanganui has been a quiet, consistent contributor to the sustainability movement in our city for nearly six years. From beginnings in Taupo Quay, then shifting to Heads Road, and now at the Resource Recovery Centre in Maria Place, Green Bikes has provided hundreds of low-cost bicycles to our community, as well as cycle repairs, and education.

The vast majority of this effort has been done by Jonah Marinovich, in a humble manner, although with a rich, rye sense of humour.

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Although Jonah has handed Green Bikes over to the capable hands of Alan and Peter – both too shy to pose for a photo or even have their last names published – I think it is quite appropriate for us as a city to recognize the dedication that Jonah has shown over the last half decade.

The ECO School is proud to present the inaugural Unsung Hero Award to Green Bikes as Jonah has requested.

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Photo: Robin Williamson of the Sustainable Whanganui Trust is shown accepting the award from Nelson Lebo while Alan and Peter are behind the scenes cracking us up.

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Financial Independence through Bicycling

 

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Fifteen years ago a book was published that gave consumers in Western countries all the information they needed to make effective environmental choices. In fact, that was the name of the book: The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Written by a pair of researchers with initials after their names (PhD), the book was meant to be the definitive authority on paper vs. plastic at the checkout counter.

The success of the book was that the researchers used data to crunch the numbers on a wide array of consumer behaviours, and to identify those that had the lowest overall impacts on natural ecosystems.

The failure of the book was that the two top recommendations were exactly what consumers in Western countries did not want to hear: 1) drive less, and 2) eat less meat. What the researchers found was that compared to all other regular consumer habits, driving a personal vehicle and eating meat had by far the greatest impacts on the planet.

For people agonizing over paper or plastic, these findings basically said don’t sweat the small stuff if you’re not going to address the big stuff. Blunt, maybe, but quantitative research calls it like it is.

Over the last 15 years I have witnessed the underwhelming reception of these findings by the general public. Much of my current eco-thrifty advocacy results from observations that eco-arguments alone do not convince people to make “effective environmental choices.” Screen shot 2014-04-05 at 7.26.45 AM

My position is that more people are receptive to messages of saving money than “saving the planet”, and that in many cases both are possible by designing win-win situations.

For example, I graduated from University in 1990 with student loans and without a car. Some unexplained thrifty gene in my DNA told me to forgo buying a car until I had paid off my loans. In other words, don’t take on more debt until you’ve paid off the existing debt.

That experience was faster and less painful than I expected, so I carried on living car-free for seven more years before buying my brother’s old ute for $500. I continued bicycling and taking public transit for most of my transport needs but drove about twice each month until early 2000. At that point, after living nearly car-free for over a decade I had saved enough money to buy a small farm…on a teacher’s salary.

To clarify, this was by no means a flash farm, and I did work every school holiday for most of those years to earn and save more money. On 1st June 2000 I took title of 38 acres and a 214 year-old farmhouse. I called it Pedal Power Farm.

Screen shot 2014-04-05 at 7.26.59 AM

Over the next eight years I used eco-thrifty thinking and lots of blood, sweat and tears to renovate the farmhouse, build a post and beam barn by hand, and improve soil fertility. In 2008 – at the start of the housing crisis in America – I sold the farm for nearly twice what I paid. Proceeds of the sale paid for four years of doctoral research at Waikato, a second-hand Subaru wagon, and a fully renovated but once run-down villa in Castlecliff.

While car-free living cannot be attributed for all of this, it provided a platform to get out of debt and to get onto the ‘property ladder’ debt-free. Other contributing factors were fiscal conservatism and working my bum off for 18 years.

At 45 I am semi-retired with plenty of time to spend with my toddler daughter and to volunteer in the community. If you think about it carefully enough, I suppose you are reading these words in today’s paper because I made a choice 24 years ago to ride a bike.  Screen shot 2014-04-05 at 7.27.30 AM

Sidebar: The ECO School’s inaugural Unsung Hero Award will be presented today to Whanganui Green Bikes at the Cycling Advocates Network annual conference.

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Low-Car Lifestyle

Here in New Zealand there is a 12 Week “Challenge” hosted by Green Urban Living.

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I posted two weeks ago about the local food week challenge. Last week was a Car-less challenge. While we did not go the week without using our car, I thought it was a good time to reflect on many of the choices we have made to maintain minimum dependence on our car.

Coming home from a party two weeks ago.

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Collecting seaweed on the beach.

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Going to Steiner playgroup.

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Going to a local primary school to plant a garden with the children.

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Walking to the local surf break.

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Buckle up, bro.

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Coming home from the farmers market.

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Peace, Estwing

Is there an H in Hypocrite? Climate Change Denial

Editor’s note: This ran as an opinion piece in the Wanganui Chronicle on Friday, 27th December.
Beware those bearing H’s.
No, this has nothing to do with the spelling of W(h)anganui, although I suspect there is ample crossover with those who have come to embrace the word hypocrite when attacking individuals who speak out on climate change. In other words, it’s likely that the same people who do not want an H in Whanganui are more than happy to draw the mighty H from their quiver and quill as a first-line offensive against climate change activists and ordinary citizens who have the courage to bring up the issue in the press.
In our feel-good, consumer, deflect-blame Western culture, I reckon the worst thing you can call someone is a hypocrite. We all know that we do not live 100% by our values 100% of the time, but the last thing we want to hear is someone else telling us. I suspect it is part of a psychological defense mechanism.
Knowing this human tendency, the worldwide, corporate-funded climate change denial network has come to advise its “trolls” to use the term at every possible opportunity. Calling someone a hypocrite has become a common technique of climate change deniers when asking climate scientists or activists how did they travel to a certain conference, protest, or other event. It is meant to shut down the conversation before it begins by calling their credibility into question because they may have traveled by automobile or airplane.
In Whanganui, our Chronicle Letters Page climate change denial trolls – two of whom do not live anywhere near the River City – have learned this technique, presumably from an on-line tutorial from the right-wing Heritage Foundation or other such corporate-funded denial organization.
About six weeks ago, a local writer to the Chronicle – who appears to lack enough courage to use their first name when signing her or his letters – suggested I was a hypocrite for expressing my opinion that a predicted increased incidence of severe weather events would likely make clearing sand from the Castlecliff Beach car park more costly in the future. A prudent approach, I suggested, that would both save money (rates) and reduce pollution (carbon dioxide) would be to downsize the massive, underused car park in a managed retreat.
Of course the obvious response to this reasoned, win-win, eco-design solution is to call the messenger a hypocrite. Duh.
I have been called many things in my long and lonely life, but never a hypocrite. My street ‘cred’ is ‘legit’, yo.
I suspect that anyone who knows me would agree I am many things good and bad, but not a hypocrite. Regardless of political affiliation, it would be difficult to find a former colleague of mine willing to say I am nothing if not genuine in my words and deeds. Although I would not hold a candle to Buddha or the Dalai Lama, a colleague did once call me Bodhisatva. Go ahead and laugh, but this may be closer to the truth than you think. After all, I did teach Walter Becker’s son when he was in year 9, but do not remember if he took me by the hand during our parent-teacher conference*.
Although I share a car with my wife, I ride a bicycle and take the bus the vast majority of the time. I have traveled between Whanganui and Hamilton over a dozen times on board Intercity. When purchased a week in advance, the return fare costs less than half the price of petrol alone. Public transport reduces carbon emissions, and I have time to read, write and sleep on the bus.
I suppose this means those who wish to call me a hypocrite will simply say I’m self-righteous. With some people you cannot win, but that does not stop them writing letters to the paper, nor should it. Keep ‘em coming peeps, but please follow these simple instructions: do your homework first; only use quotation marks for direct quotes; include sources and references for anything that is not considered common knowledge; have someone proofread your work; Use your full name; and, above all else, don’t write anything that will end up embarrassing you in front of the entire city.
It takes courage to write something for public consumption, and I admire courage.
* In case you missed it, Walter Becker is ½ of Steely Dan.
Peace, Estwing

Hauling Brass

In 1999, a pair of researchers published a book called The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.
In this book, the authors use stacks of data to say, basically, don’t worry about paper or plastic. If you really want to have a small ecological footprint do two things: Drive your car less and eat less meat. These two actions far outweigh other “consumer” choices. And how many people took them up on their advice?
Apparently not enough. From my two decades of experience as an environmental educator, these are the two things that most citizens of wealthy nations (and particularly the English speaking ones, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) least want to hear. Even many self-styled Greenies in these countries embrace dubious claims about bio-fuels rather than take the bus or ride a bike.
The energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) of ethanol is very low. In other words, it takes about a gallon of diesel to make 1.1 gallons of bio-diesel. The numbers vary depending on whose study you look at. And in the meantime, global food prices skyrocket because globalization has dismantled most of the corn growing around the planet in favor of American exports. In the Asia-Pacific region, I’ve read that rainforests have been cut down in Malaysia for palm plantations to make palm kernel oil for bio-fuels in Europe.
And there are other problems with driving, as a member of my family – to be unnamed – recently discovered.
And so it was with great pleasure that I set off recently on a rainy, winter afternoon to run some errands. I loaded up the BOB trailer with some bits of your flue pipe that needed to be joined by a welder.
And, naturally, as soon as I got the bike loaded the rain intensified.
So I did not take any photos until I reached my destination…
… where a welcoming committee was waiting for me.
I managed to make it there with the load intact.
I dropped off my flue sections with Jonah, man of many talents, and headed to my next destination.
The PHO was giving away fruit trees. I was contacted about distributing them in our neighborhood, Castlecliff, which is lower decile. I picked up the apple trees, but they had run out of peach trees. But the next week they had been restocked with peaches, so I went back for a few.
The total round trip was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on flat roads. Even in the rain it was not a bad ride. After all, I had a warm, dry house to return to with heaps of solar hot water, and soon to be a functional wood-burning stove thanks to Jonah’s handiwork.
For as long as the book mentioned above had been around, and for the level of concern that many permaculturists claim to have about climate change and peak oil, I’ve always been amazed at how few choose to ride bicycles or buses instead of driving. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand the number of permaculturists that I know who regularly choose alternative (to the car) modes of transportation. Does anyone have any ideas why this is? I’ve never been able to figure it out.
For a boy who grew up on the outskirts of Detroit, my heart goes out to the unemployed auto workers who suffered the mismanagement of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. I’m in the Michael Moore camp on this one. (He, as you’ll recall, is from Flint, Michigan). I wonder how I’d feel now if I still lived in the Detroit area. Perhaps its easier to shun driving when your local economy does not depend on the automobile industry. Could be. But now, I live around the corner…
… from the meat works. This facility is less than a kilometer from our home. Many of our neighbors work at Land Meat and at the Mars Pet Food factory next door that does, I’m told, 1 million dollars of business per day. What does it mean to support your local economy while shrinking your ecological footprint? Where are the trade-offs?
On a whim, I stopped by the local butcher shop where I had heard they developed a “healthy sausage” that contains somewhere between a quarter and a third vegetables to make it lower in fat and calories, but still tasty. I asked the manager if he would donate some of this product to support a Solar Sausage Sizzle in local schools. He appeared interested while we were chatting, but I have not heard from him with a firm commitment yet. Stay tuned…
Where do you see the intersection of permaculture, diet, and transportation?
Peace, Estwing

Dodgey Transport

Dodgey: (adj.) sketchy, questionable
Transport:
(n.) transportation, in our case mainly bike, bus, and hitch-hiking

Dodgey Transport I
I haven’t had much luck biking in New Zealand. Nelson says that, like many other things, a large part of being a good biker is having confidence. On our first three bike rides I got a flat tire, a flat tire, and broke a derailleur. Setting out for our fourth bike ride you could definitely say that my bike-confidence wasn’t at an all-time high, but I’m not sure that it would’ve affected the outcome of this story.

We were biking down Victoria St., in Hamilton, and came to an intersection. We were at the front of the intersection and a city bus was behind us. In Hamilton the city busses are called “Go Bus”. I’ve since come up with some better names for them (like “STOP! Bus” or “Go to hell Bus”).

As we pulled through the intersection there was a car parked on our left. The bus driver decided that we weren’t going quite fast enough and wanted to pass us. Unfortunately she tried to pass a bit too close and side-swiped me. My bike ended up under the parked car and thankfully I did not end up under the back wheel of the bus. I wasn’t hurt much, just some scrapes and bruises and sore muscles, but my bike confidence is shattered for the moment.

Dodgey Transport II
On Friday after filing a police report, which hopefully will lead to the bus company repairing the bike, Nelson and I headed to Raglan. Matt and Sylvia were nice enough to offer to drive us there. Knowing their time-management skills we should have been wary of the offer from the outset, but since Raglan is only about a half-hour drive from Hamilton we thought it would be nice. Thrusday night Matt and Sylvia left us a note saying we would leave at 10 am, and we told our next wwoofing hosts, Phil and Bernadette, we would be there around noon, leaving plenty of lag time.

When Matt and Sylvia didn’t wake up until 9:30 I wasn’t too surprised. When we were packed and almost ready to go by 11 I was actually impressed. But then Sylvia suggested we eat some lunch before we left and I thought “Oh no, here we go”. Lunch involved making avocado smoothies and more juice. I called our hosts and changed our arrival time to 2pm. We did get on the road a little past noon and to make a long story short, after stopping to buy avocados, getting a guided tour of Raglan, stopping at two scenic overlooks, passing Solscape once, visiting an organic farm, and chatting with a very cool Maori farmer, we made it to Solscape.

It was a good lesson in patience. I tried to meditate. When Sylvia got out of the car for the sixth time I cursed. I thought about how my sister would approach the situation and took the more civil route. In this case I suppose the transport wasn’t dodgey, just my attachment to timeliness.

Dodgey Transport III
Raglan is absolutely lovely. The town is cute. The ocean is beautiful. Solscape is great. Although we were looking forward to avoiding transport for a few days, when we arrived we found that our room here was a refurbished train car. Sooo cute!


It was about 5pm once we got settled and Phil told us we could have the evening off. After our last two stressful days we decided that we could use some wine, and were upset that we hadn’t thought of it during one of the many stops we had made that day. By our estimates town was only about 2-3km away, so we decided to walk in.

Apparently we underestimated. It took us about an hour and a half to walk down. We had brought headlamps and so we weren’t too worried about walking back in the dark, but it was going to be a long walk. We picked up some wine and food for the next few days and headed back up to Solscape. Raglan was a nice hippy town, and traveling with a big strong guy made me brave enough to try to stick out my thumb. The first three cars didn’t stop. I was mentally prepared for the hike back up. My feet were hurting. But the fourth car was a little hatchback with a case of beer in the back driven by a blonde-haired angel named Cam. Funny enough he was doing his masters in the psychological and social studies of waste. I don’t think he knew that he had inadvertently picked up his best potential case study in Nelson. Cam lived just a block away from Solscape and dropped us off at the bottom of the driveway. Turns out that hitching was the least dodgey of all of our transport experiences this week.