Friday, September 18, 2009

MFM Day 20: Logical Conclusion

September 18th, 2009. Motor Free Month Day 20.

Whoo-hooo day 20! Got my hair cut at lunch, MOTOR FREE, that's right.

Then there's this guy: No Impact Man

Then there's this guy: John Coltrane, Stellar Regions

Danielle clued me into this chap Colin Beavan, who has just released a book and movie called "No Impact Man", which is about his Year of living a "no impact" lifestyle in New York City. Certainly no motorized transport like yours truly, but he also takes it to a whole new level: eating only locally produced food, no meat either, no purchasing of new things, no TV, no air conditioning, no plumbing (couldn't verify that one), etc , etc. Did I mention that he was doing this with a wife and a young child as well? I'm torn between admiration, humility, and incredulity for this grand experiment. As an aside, can one be torn between 3 simultaneous feelings?

Admiration: There's always something more that can be done. I'm motor free for a month. Will that save the planet? No. Will this guy's actions save the planet? No. But he decided to write about it, make a film, publicize his experiment. Other people read about it, think about what he's doing, maybe try their own experiment. Maybe change one thing, for one day. Maybe change something forever. I truly admire what Colin is doing.

Humility: Every time I run a race, there's always someone faster than me. Now here I find someone who makes what I'm doing seem not very news-worthy! Go Motor Free for a month? Pffft, amateur hour. Anyone can do it. Try going No Impact. For a year. Then come talk to me. Fair enough. And I have to admit, going Motor Free has not had a tremendous impact on my lifestyle. But, and this is important, I was hoping it wouldn't! I look at what No Impact Man is doing, and I am humbled by his commitment, but I'm skeptical that I would ever want to go that far down the path Motor free Month is leading.

Which leads to Incredulity: No Impact Man says he's happier now; he feels healthier since he eats locally produced farm-fresh food. He's healthier since he has to walk and bike everywhere. He's happier since he spends more time with his family instead of watching re-runs of Scrubs on TV. All of this sounds good, but, there's something in the back of my mind that won't let me believe him completely. What if you liked sports? No football? Not good. Or listen to that crazy John Coltrane song again? Or watch a movie? What if you had friends and family you wanted to visit in another state? What if you wanted to travel and see the world? All of these things are good things, things that enrich our lives.

I mean, how far do you take it? Colin still has to eat, still has to clothe himself and his family. Although the food is produced locally and the clothes are second-hand, there still was some impact created by producing and distributing the food, and creating the clothes in the first place. Heck even by breathing Colin is having an impact. One that he offsets by planting trees and engaging in environmental volunteer work to his credit, but there is still an entropic factor at work here. You can't really have no impact, and I think you'll go crazy trying. Entropy always wins.

Entropy. A funny word, with many definitions. This one will do today: a measure of the partial loss of the ability of a system to perform work due to the effects of irreversibility. Huh?
(Cartoon by Sydney Harris)
In other words, everything we do results in a little (or a lot) of wasted energy that can never be retrieved again. This usually manifests itself in the form of heat and noise caused by friction. When I ride my bicycle, as efficient as it is, I always have to put in more work into the bike than I get out of the bike. Where does that extra work go? Mostly it goes into a slight increase in tire heat and crank heat, and noise caused by friction and rolling resistance. That entropic heat and noise is not reusable because it is low-grade energy. It is lost potential work. Now think of a car. Same concepts, except that the energy put into the system (the car) came from gasoline, and not leg power. And that gasoline had to be produced, and the production of that gasoline resulted in lots of unusable heat and noise as well. Heat and noise. Commonly accompanied by pollution and greenhouse gases. And overall, the amount of entropy can only increase in time. The "logical conclusion" is that at some point in the future, all we will have left is unusable heat and noise. It's all rather depressing.

At a subconscious level, I think Colin, and to a lesser extent me, are trying to slow down this process. But it can not be stopped completely, and personally I think you can go a bit crazy trying to do so. I've joked about this with my friends before, but you really want to have no impact? The only logical conclusion is to go live in a cave like a neanderthal.

But that's not being fair to what Colin is trying to do, which is sincerely and ultimately admirable. I guess my point is, there is a scale of impact-living. From, say, commuting to work via helicopter on one end, and living in a cave like a neanderthal on the other. Most of us are comfortable somewhere along this scale. The point is to find out where you are on the scale now, and decide if you can nudge it down a little bit. We don't have to go no impact. We probably can't all go no impact. Someone had to create the second-hand shoes that Colin wears. And as attractive as Daryl Hanna is, we certainly don't want to go back to Clan of the Cave Bear. Something tells me the women didn't look like that anyway.

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