Monday, July 21, 2008

More Thoughts From the Silver Screen

Last week, we went to see Wall E, thanks to our dear friend over at Green Hills Regal. I kept hearing before I saw it about the homages to 2001 (which I only saw recently, shame on me) and about the amazing graphics and storyline.
I was amazed however, on watching it, that the movie even made it to the big screen. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it seems that most movies with such an overt message that our consumerist, corporation-dominated culture will ultimately end in disaster only see the dim light of day on limited DVD release (think Idiocracy). I'm gratified to see a kids' movie with adult appeal that grapples with these controversial, but ultimately unavoidable issues (if the human race continues on its current path). This movie is essentially saying to kids and the sometimes conservative parents who bring them to the movie that global warming is real, that our waste and consumption is choking the planet, that we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by money and corporations to the detriment of our intelligence and our bodies and that if we continue, this is what our future will be like. And you know what, kids (and parents), that cute little Disney-created-Number 5-lookalike robot might not be there to save us. That's the scary bit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why is it so hard?

Why is so hard for me to remember to bring my reusable bags to the store? I am getting better about remembering to bring them to the grocery store, but I am useless at remembering to bring them anywhere else. Since watching the 30 Days episode about going off the grid, I feel guilty every time a new plastic bag comes into my possession. I think about it sitting in a landfill for thousands and thousands of years. I think about poor Wall-E having to crush and spit my plastic bags out into a part of a giant skyscraper of waste.
Hopefully these guilt motivators will help me remember!

Murder Mystery

The other day I came home with a splitting headache, you know the kind where you see spots and the ground keeps moving? I came home at about three in the afternoon and crashed out on the couch. I woke up about eleven that night, of course not knowing where I was or what time it was. I tried to move myself to the bed and go back to sleep.
I laid there, and laid there some more, and laid there some more. No sleep.
I finally decided to give in to my awake-ness. I got up, pottered around for a while and started playing on the computer. I had completely forgotten that I had an .avi file of Who Killed the Electric Car? on my computer. It was about 1:30 or so in the morning by this time, but I figured that sleep wasn't going to happen anyway and I might as well watch it.

During the movie, I had the unnerving thought, for an optimist, that the world we live in must be truly evil. I sensed a black cloud forming and I admit to some Darth Vader imagery as well. It seems that if the things depicted in this documentary were actually allowed to happen, were so efficiently covered up, and continue to happen, then the world must actually be a very evil place.

How can people allow themselves to be so controlled by money?, we ask. It must be that the high-ups at GM and Toyota and Shell, etc... must be truly controlled by agents of the Dark Side. I think though, that the human power of denial has much more to do with it. Many of the interviews in this movie show people who justify their decisions and the decisions of their employer and truly believe that they were in the right. I know I'm guilty of making decisions sometimes based on what will be selfishly most profitable for me in the short term. I'm trying to do it less these days, but I think we all naturally have that tendency.

Still, it doesn't excuse the part those companies, their employees, and government agencies played in killing a very viable technology in favour of prolonging our dependence on the status quo, the internal combustion engine. The movie talks to families who live in high smog areas and lists statistics on the lung capacity and efficiency of children brought up in those areas. That alone should make anyone willing to shatter that status quo and embrace new and different solutions.

During my long and tortuous route through my undergraduate education, I took a journalism class. On the first day, my professor said, "Follow the money - that's all you need to know in journalism. Do that, and we can all go home now." Ten years later, when I watch the news, read articles and listen to political posturing, that advice comes back to me time and time again, and its wisdom is continually renewed. Someone is making too much money from oil. They are riding that gravy train until the gravy is all gone and we're left with a very very dry dinner. (Did I just seriously mix my metaphors?). They are hanging on until the very last second so they can squeeze every last dollar out of oil, while we still have it.

Here's what worries me though. It's not the shortage of gasoline. We all know that a diesel engine can run on just about anything, so we don't have to worry about that. We also know that we can harness the power of the wind, sun, and even the earth to power our homes and our various gizmos. Do you remember the advertisement from a few years ago about plastic? The one that showed an emergency operation and doctors hooking up plastic bags full of fluid to an endangered patient? Well as I watched the movie, I thought about this. Plastic is a petroleum by-product and we are just using it and throwing it away without thinking twice. I recycle mine, but I'm still guilty of using too much of it. What will happen when the oil runs out? Will we have to go back and dig all of that plastic out of the landfills? Will plastic become ridiculously expensive? Will it become a controlled substance only for use in hospitals or in the military? Can you imagine that? I haven't heard much said about this possibility, but it seems to me that if plastic is made from oil and we have an oil shortage, we will also have a plastic shortage.

I've digressed from my original topic of Who Killed the Electric Car, but watching the movie did lead me to thinking about all the other repercussions of our current environmentally irresponsible policies and corporate practices.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kicking it SVO Style

I've written before about recycling and my wish to consciously live a more environmentally conscientious lifestyle. I recently watched a documentary called Greasy Rider, about two people who travel across the country in a 1981 Mercedes 240D, with the engine converted to run straight vegetable oil. I knew that diesel engines were capable of this because of Willie Nelson (apparently he's been running his tour bus on it for years), but I didn't realise how easily it can be done.
I also didn't realise the difference between SVO conversions (Straight Vegetable Oil) and biodiesel). Straight Vegetable Oil is a waste product. You can actually fill up your car at McDonalds, for free. It is sometimes called Waste Vegetable Oil. So even if you choose not to eat at McDonalds, you can profit from people who do and help save the environment.

When I was in college in Savannah many years ago, my friend had a 240D Mercedes. It was a great car, one that had a lot of character. You could hear him coming streets away (no one said diesel engines are quiet), but it was a tank of a car. It was old, but quirky and luxurious. Apparently, these old mercs are the post popular cars to convert and will run up to 400,000 miles or so on one engine. I've been toying with the idea lately of buying one and experimenting with running it on vegetable oil. With gas prices at $4 a gallon, it's breaking the bank to fill up my tiny VW.

I don't commute any more (big sigh of relief), but the main chunk of my carbon footprint came from that, even though I drive an extremely gas efficient car. I enthralled with the idea. The conversion kits cost about $900 or so and the car would be a couple of thousand, but for that, I could significantly lower the emissions and use a product that usually ends up in landfills, for free. Most restaurants are happy to have someone pump out their grease because they have to pay to have it taken away. You have to filter it before you can put it in the tank, obviously, because unlike humans, cars don't like french fries, they just like the grease.
The conversion kits provide an additional tank with a heater. Because vegetable oil is thicker than commercial diesel, it has to be heated to reduce its viscosity. The cool thing is that if you don't have access to grease, you can fill up with regular diesel, or biodiesel.
I haven't looked into the availability of biodiesel in Nashville. I'm sure it must be available here, but it's not like there's a pump on every block.
It's just a fantasy idea right now, but it's defineitly something I'm looking into.