Thursday, April 29, 2010

Watching a slow train wreck, and reducing travel.

I have been falling a little behind in my postings, and my only excuse is that I live in Arizona and its like watching a slow train wreck. You can’t turn away even if the outcome is inevitable and horrific. This week Mexico recommended that its citizens not travel to Arizona as they would be subject to harassment and detention if their papers were not in order. I keep flashing to Claude Rains as Captain Renault in CasablancaclauderaisnhumphreybogartRick, there are many exit visas sold in this cafĂ©, but we know that “you've”  never sold one.  That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

I am wondering if I will need an exit visa to leave Arizona.

But I digress:

I wanted to post about  the concept of “authentic consumption”. A couple of decades ago it was called  “conspicuous consumption”. Consumption that reinforces your societal status. At the core, both ideas are about “showing off” by having something expensive, doing something different, or knowing someone who is cool.

“Authentic consumption” may be a fishing trip to the Yukon where you skydive in and you trek or are helicoptered out;  it might be “eco-tourism” (to me that’s an oxymoron) or a trip to Antarctica. Call it what you will, consumption is consumption, and most consumption with travel attached is the most non-sustainable activity you can partake in. I suspect in the post-consumer economy its going to get a whole lot more expensive. I am starting to see the future, and I am more and more convinced that we are going to be group consuming stuff but still in a capitalistic way. I expect that we will start telling manufacturers and politicians what we want as groups rather than individuals. Sure their will be fashion clothes and other electronic gadgets, but consumption of individual automobiles will be replaced by consumption of buses and trains.

I recently read a report form a major university on how they would become carbon neutral by the year 2020. The biggest single challenge to the institution: how to cut a significant portion of their faculty airline travel. Without attacking this head-on, the institution didn’t believe they would ever become carbon neutral.

Buildings of all sorts and living in homes that use fossil fuels to heat cool and run them are our most wasteful activity. Travelling, of all sorts, is the second most wasteful activity we engage in. You might say travel is worse, because, fundamentally we do need shade and shelter to survive, maybe we don’t need as much and we seldom are forcibly made to travel., and for business and trade their are now options.

I have known, through my heart, rather than my brain, that travel by car or airplane is my single most  wasteful activity.  I knew I couldn’t stop myself from the seduction of travel by “cold turkey” action, so I set out to find a way to reduce my travel over a significant period of time.

In my corporate days, annually, I would travel at least 250,0000 miles by commercial air carrier air and about 30,000 miles in cars. A decade ago I set out to significantly reduce that. This year, I will travel by air twice (maybe three times) less than 10,000 miles  and by car less than 6,000 miles including shared ride miles.  No brag , jsut fact, and anyone can do it with just a little will and planning. Many Americans travel even less than I do. I just mad a small effort to put a value to society vs. my selfish desires on all my travel. Wasteful travel dropped off, and I found myself with more time for recreation and thinking. If you want to start, I suggest making a through to-do list daily and limiting your shopping trips to things on the list. Pretty soon you won’t be nipping out for a jug of milk at midnight.

So what will the travel starved post consumer and post “authentic” consumer do:

Lots more telecommuting, or work from or near home .

Lots more local recreating. If the fishing isn’t any good, work on cleaning up your local streams.

Teleconferencing for academics and scholars.

Lots fewer national trade shows. (There already a trend towards smaller regional venues)

Electric cars that don’t go very far.

More shared commuting by buses, and trains and “other modes”

I hope for a resurgence of national train travel, a calmer method of travel, and with wireless networks, lots of work can be done, and and classic and relaxing travel will return.

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