Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is 'Anyway'?

You may, or may not, recall that some time ago, inspired by Sharon Astyk’s Anyway challenge I had decided to tackle my own life. You may wonder if I’ve achieved anything. Hm. More on that later. Perhaps when I’ve achieved something.

But let’s take a step back. Let’s begin with 'The Theory of Anyway’. This is Pat Meadow’s theory, popularised by Sharon and it makes absolute sense to me. Many of the things I do cause my friends and colleagues to wonder. Why take public transport, for example, when I could get where I am going more easily (sometimes) by driving? My often-incoherent answer is made up of various points that come down to, ‘I think it’s the right thing to do.’ The component thoughts that lead to this conclusion for this particular choice are these.

If I need to travel I should pick the option that emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide. Climate change is cumulative and my decision will not, on its own, make a noticeable difference but it contributes to the problem and it’s the right thing to do anyway.

Similarly for transport congestion. Going anywhere by road in Sheffield is unpleasant because of the huge numbers of, mostly singly occupied, cars on the road. The car advert where a couple of gorgeous young people speed thrillingly along empty roads through glorious countryside is a dream. The reality is lines of little boxes on wheels, some shaking with heavy bass, containing grumpy unhealthy people, inching forward enshrouded in a miasma of their own exhaust fumes. Again, this is cumulative. One car on the road could get anywhere in the city in minutes. When everyone tries to do it unpunctuality ensues. Getting out of that collective misery takes away only my small contribution to gridlock but it’s the right thing to do and I do it anyway.

Then there is effective use of resource. I am struck by this when I look at the clutter of close-parked cars occupying all conceivable curb-side positions, and some frankly inconceivable ones, around where I live. During the day the street doesn’t clear, although there are fewer cars. The value in terms of money, embodied energy and resource tied up in these machines is vast. I know. I sold my car to pay for a kitchen. It’s not just the capital cost either. It’s the ongoing cost of tax, fuel, insurance and maintenance. If we owned our means of transport collectively think of the money and space that could be freed up. The road I live on is a tetris of steel, plastic & glass; without cars it is spacious, quiet, safe – a place for kids to play and adults to sit around chatting. Once a year when we close it for the street party. I can’t do anything about my neighbours’ choices but I can choose not to own a car myself. It’s the right thing to do; I should do it anyway.

The last two things are clear positives for me. One is exercise. For some years I used to drive to the gym, work out on the treadmills and steppers and bikes whilst watching MTV and then drive home again. ‘Like the doped white mice in the college lab.’ Being inherently lazy and having a certain amount of sense I have always struggled to exercise with the only aim being getting fit. My radical idea is to combine travel and exercise. Instead of walking to nowhere on an exercise machine I can walk outside, see the seasons change and arrive somewhere new, if only at work. Walking or cycling to my (fairly local) destination is the right thing to do for my health and wellbeing.

And finally, the time issue. I can get somewhere faster by driving, all being well and assuming no one has had an accident anywhere on my route. (I occasionally listen to Sally Traffic on a Friday afternoon just to remember how horrid driving can be.)
I’m not saying there are no delays on trains. Obviously not. But during the delays you can still get to the toilet, get a cup of tea, catch up with your mail etc. And if the delay is longer than an hour you can get a refund of the fare. But that is only one aspect of the time issue. In terms of actual time spent in travel, public transport requires more, but what you can do with that time, the quality of the travel time, is better on a train. You can read, write, work, knit, sleep, chat to your fellow travellers (or hide in the private aural world of your iPod), eat your lunch, drink a bottle of wine or just gaze out of the window. I am prepared to ‘spend’ a little extra time on public transport in order to enjoy the time I spend travelling. For me it is the right thing to do.

You can see that I am little short of perfect. Except last week Julia dropped me off at college and Doug gave me a lift home from Julia’s after a particularly fun evening at her house. This weekend I made Ian take me to a garden centre to buy two pots and two bags of ericaceous compost for planting blueberry bushes into. The first two trips were pure lazy indulgence, the last could not have been done without a car. What I am hoping to achieve is a minimisation of indulgence trips.

There are many other choices that I apply ‘Anyway’ to. Generally, like the issue of transport choices, they are built on a number of reasons. Why eat seasonally and locally? Why cook from scratch? Why eat at non-chain restaurants and cafes? Why make my own clothes? Why grow my own food? Why work for a small environmental consultancy? Why have a store of food in the house? Why be polite to people? Why try to form my own picture of what is true and important? Some of the reasons are based on a perception of environmental limits, on a sense of fairness, and some are just because I enjoy my choice but all come under the heading of ‘It’s the Right Thing To Do’, and that I should do it Anyway.

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