Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reusing New-Old Stuff

Deus Ex Machina and I were chatting the other day about stuff in the world, as we often do - sharing stories about things we've read in the media. He's a CNN guy, I have a Yahoo page with various news outlets and I read Der Spiegel, and of course, we're both Facebook aficionados with a cornucopia of friends and acquaintances across the political and social strata who comment on both sides of the spectrum. There is a lot of information out there. We take all of these little pieces we get from all of these different places and boil it down, and the sticky mess in the end isn't as bright and shiny as some would want us to believe.

The media tells us that the economy is improving. Our eyes tell us that it's not. Prices are increasing every where. We went to a birthday party the other day and gave $20 cash (because the celebrant is trying to earn cash for an upcoming trip, and cash, in this case, seemed appropriate). When I thought about that sum, though, it seemed so paltry. When I was little $20 would have been a fortune, but today ... I spent $11 at the ice cream parlor the other day for a milk shake, an ice cream parfait, and a dish for the dog. We spend so much money for so little these days.

There are other things that seem to indicate things aren't in as wonderful shape as some would have us believe. We can see that, overall, there is a lot less being built, and like in China, many of the recently constructed homes and offices sit empty of owners/tenants.

I'm not complaining about that though. I'm happy to see less build-out. In fact, the question came up the other day while chatting about the whole climate change argument of how maybe the urbanization of the world is partially responsible for the climate change. Still man-made, for certain, but the fact is that cities are hotter than rural areas. It's called the "heat island effect."

Recently, Deus Ex Machina referred to this article about the overabundance of cars. According to the article (which Snopes has been unable to prove or disprove), in spite of lack of new car sales, car manufacturers are continuing to roll out car after car after car on their assembly lines, and the result is that all over the world new cars sit empty, unpurchased, and rotting in parking lots - often built for just that purpose - or abandoned air fields (or on test tracks) - a sea of new cars, just rotting. It's like a scene of a mall parking lot in one of those post-apocalyptic movies.

Car manufacturers insist that they can't reduce the price of the cars to sell them, because if they did that, then no one would buy them for full price ... and they would lose money. They can't reduce production, because too much of the world's economy is tied up in the car culture, and a reduction in automobile production would result in worldwide mass layoffs.

So, the cars sit, rotting. They, probably, eventually, get recycled.

It's interesting that a whole group of people work to build cars and create jobs for a whole group of people whose job it is to recycle cars for scrap.

Personally, I don't understand how the auto industry can afford to make cars that they aren't selling ... oh, wait, maybe I do understand.

What bothers me is the notion that without car manufacturing our economy would completely collapse, which is what the Big Three automakers claimed when asking for the $50 billion bailout back in 2008 (and, frankly, I'm pretty sure they were in trouble a LONG time before 2008, but saw an opportunity to cash in on a country that was hip deep in fear). The argument seems to be that, without auto manufacturing, every facet of our economy, across the board, would be negatively affected, and the result would be like a cascade of dominoes as one after the other, businesses and industry would cease to be productive.

I disagree. I think we're a lot more resilient and creative than that.

In the late 1930s and 1940s, dozens of companies geared up to begin creating goods for the war machine. At the end of the war in 1945, our economy didn't crumble when those businesses no longer had the war to manufacture goods for. Instead, those companies switched gears.

The companies that were manufacturing chemical weapons started marketing to our farmers and with the support of the 1970s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, squashed small farming (especially anything that resembled pre-Depression farming using real fertilizer and soil amendments) and enabled the Big Ag (and its inherent diseases and mal-nourished food stuff) to take over, not just our food supply, but our government also.

The companies that were providing shelf-stable food for our soldiers, started marketing to the "housewife", and we are on our third generation of children raised on Bird's Eye frozen foods, Banquet Frozen Dinners, and Chef Boyardee in a can.

The companies that were building munitions, tanks and other vehicles are, now, making our family cars.

I'm not saying that I think it's okay, and I'm not happy with how our entire economy has been confiscated by companies that started out as manufacturers of the war machine. My point is that those companies adapted, and with encouragement and motivation, they could adapt to the new, lower energy world we are becoming, not by polluting us and our world, but by reenvisioning their role in it.

Maybe car manufacturers would be smart to take a look at the tiny house movement. With the vast numbers of homeless in this country, and the growing movement to downsize, a savvy car manufacturer could make the move to, instead of a tiny, incredibly expensive, electric car, a mobile car with a large, roomy interior where a person could live. The fact is that people already live in their cars. Why not make it for real and make the car more livable? Seats that fold into beds, more storage space, little heater/stoves built into the interior.

And it could also boost other parts of the economy. All of those malls that are closing down these days, could be rehabbed to offer parking space for these vehicles, and the mall itself could be a support center with bathing facilities and camping supply stores. They could even rent kitchen space in the food courts for people to prepare home cooked meals (with food purchased from the onsite community garden and/or grocery store). They could even turn some of the store spaces into lockers where the car dwellers could store extra stuff, like their winter clothes.

It could be the New Age homeless encampment. The fact is that homeless camps exist, and instead of pretending they don't or passing laws to make them illegal, companies, business owners, and land owners could get proactive and creative and start envisioning solutions to solve the problems ... instead of catering to a dying economic model.

We could solve the homeless problem, solve the problem of decaying shopping centers, and keep people working.

Or we could just wait until the cars are inoperable and turn them into chicken coops.

Either way.


  1. Good thinking Wendy! Maybe all the homeless people need to learn how to refurbish cars, so they can earn a living that doesn't involve working for unprofitable and unscrupulous companies.

    This weekend I saw a good use for an old car. It had been cut in half and stood on its end to make a compost bin. You open the boot to fill it :-)

    1. I'd love to see a car compost bin! How innovative! ;)

      I've been trying to convince my husband - for years - to get an old van or VW bus that we could turn into a storage shed. Our lot is too small and oddly shaped for our town to allow us to build any new "structures", but we're allowed to have one unregistered car parked on the property. A VW bus, as long as we kept the exterior painted to prevent rust, would actually look kind of cute as a place to store things like animal feed and garden tools. Or we could turn it into a kind of writing studio or a place for my girls to go hang out when they need some peace and quiet :).

      And we could put planting containers on the top to expand our garden space :).

      So many options.

  2. I like your ideas, Wendy, they make a lot of sense, but I think that they would bring in a lot less money. And that is something most people are not willing to accept (yet), even though it will be necessary in the end.

    1. Ellen - I know you're correct about the money thing. As the article mentions, car manufacturers aren't willing to discount the previous years' model cars and sell them, because if they started doing that, people would wait to buy a car, and they'd lose money.

      Mostly, I was being facetious, because the ridiculous waste of it all drives me crazy. If I worked in a car factory and I knew that my work was going to be parked in a lot somewhere like that it would bother me. I know most people would say, "Well, you got paid,", but, for me, it needs to be more. I need to feel like what I'm doing has a useful purpose, and it's not enough *just* to get paid.

      Car graveyards have always bothered me, but to see them filled with *new* cars is even more infuriating.

  3. I love the whole tiny homes movement, and the car you mentioned would fit with that. Some people don't want/can't afford a house, so why not create something else? Adapt or die, I heard that a long time ago...