Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Efficiency, Growth, and the Killing Ground

The other day, I was running errands, as I tend to on the days I have off.  I'd had to take our aging 2002 minivan, as the wife was off at another interview.  As she was driving farther, she'd taken our hyper-efficient eco-pod.  Saves on fuel costs, eh?  It was a bitterly cold day, one of the few we've had in this wildly cycling pseudo-winter.

But when I got to the van, it was nice and warm inside, even before the errand began.  I didn't need to run the engine to warm it up.  I didn't need to burn those dollar bills that we pour into the gaping maws of our gas tanks just to have our engines idling, heating up so I could be comfortable.

That's because I'd parked it in the sun, and the sun had warmed it up nicely.  The energy had been freely offered from the vast fusion reaction that sits bright in the sky, dumping power onto our planet.

As I ran my errands, I made a point of parking the critter...not the most efficient beast, I fear...with its front untinted window pointed towards the sun.  I walked to get groceries, and then dogfood, and then an electronic doodad we needed to replace a failed electronic doodad.   When I returned, the van was warm again, free of charge, not a dime spent on fuel.

I do the same thing in the summer, but in reverse.  I'll go out of my way to park in shade, even if that means a longer walk to the store.  That means less compressor time to cool the car, less money spent, and less waste.

It's a habit, a pattern, a way of approaching things.  I simply would rather use less.  I don't want to have more, or to use more, or to consume more.  That's been a family focus.  In our flush-times, when resources are abundant, we've lived that way.  We save.  We keep below our means.  Where we upgraded, we upgraded to things that use less.  

Our goal is less, and smaller.  Because that's stronger, more resilient, more adaptable, more self-reliant.    That's peculiarly conservative, but it's something else.

It's peculiarly contrary to the "growth" measures of our culture.  The expectation that we'll spend every penny we make, that we'll consume right up to the edge of what we can manage and beyond?  That has been the dream of the oh-so-confident confidence men who sell us debt and credit and the illusion of easy, unearned wealth.

But that place is a dangerous place.  "Living large" in times of plenty means you are overextended when times are lean.  Though I'm not a military man, I find myself thinking of that in martial terms.  You find yourself vulnerable, deep into enemy territory, beyond your supply lines and with no way out.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, military theorist Sun Tzu had a word for that place.  He called it the Killing Ground.

Not my favorite place.