Thursday, August 29, 2013

Things We Take for Granted

They've been paving the streets in my neighborhood. This is a welcome development, because riding a bike around here had started to become a bit like running an obstacle course what with all the potholes and cracks.

So today they were doing my street, and as I had my morning tea I watched them work outside my window. Holy Moly! That's quite an operation! I was amazed just by the sheer volume of physical material that it takes to pave a street. Just to cover one side of the street in front of my house took 4, yes FOUR giant truck loads of asphalt! 

Think about it... four loads of asphalt for the space in front of each house! And that doesn't even count the side streets that don't have any houses facing them. 

It sorta got me to thinking. What exactly is asphalt anyhow, and where does it come from? Well, according to Wikipedia it's a "...carefully refined residue from the distillation process of selected crude oils." Hmmmm... sobering thought, especially when you consider the reality of peak oil.

You know, when I think about my environmental footprint, my mind starts contemplating the resources I consume. How much gasoline, natural gas, electricity and water do I use? What resources were used in the creation and transport of the goods that I buy? How many trees did it take to build my house? But I don't tend to think about my share of our societal asphalt.

And that got me to thinking about all the other things that I take for granted. What about the cement in the sidewalks, alleys and bike paths?  How about all those telephone poles and wires, not to mention satellites that let me talk to CatMan on the phone several times per day? How about the pipes that carry water and gas to my home? What about the sewers that carry away my waste, and the storm sewers that drain our roads? The list goes on and on...

I once read that American society consumes such a vast quantity of resources, that even the carbon footprint of a homeless person here is beyond sustainable levels, simply by virtue of their share of the public resources. 

I'm not sure that I have any brilliant conclusions to offer on this topic, but it certainly has given me pause...

And I think I'm going to appreciate the smooth ride on those freshly paved streets, just a bit more than I otherwise would have!

Our Freshly Paved Street

So what other sorts of things do you think we take for granted in this society?


  1. You are so right! I think back to cobblestones and how they lasted forever. They can be re-used too. Our city tore out cobblestone streets down town. Our block club used them for a park space. There's not a huge carbon footprint re-using those. That's why I like old stuff....

    1. I like old stuff too. I once saw a "green" remodeling tv program where people were ripping out perfectly good bathroom tile to replace it with new tile made from recycled glass - because, of course, the new tile was "more sustainable!" Bang head against brick wall...

      Anyhow, I love cobblestones, but I'm afraid I'm not terribly fond of riding my bike on them! There is one big bike race in Europe (Paris–Roubaix I think) that's primarily on cobblestone streets... all I gotta say is those guys must have tougher butts than I do! :-)

    2. I've seen shows like that too where they rip out perfectly good things to replace them with new "green" things. I usually turn the channel, because it drives me crazy.

    3. Yup, greenwashing at its worst!

  2. What a sobering thought. Even the homeless are on the path of unsustainability...

    I suppose some of these things (roads, pipes, & other infrastructure) are sunk costs, though the maintenance is not.

    I hold out an illogical hope that our ingenuity & ability to adapt will solve our sustainability problems faster than we create them. What do you think?

    1. I dunno... there are days when I think we'll pull through somehow, and then there are days when I think our goose is cooked.

      Ultimately, I think there are just too many people on this planet, and that we're never going to achieve a sustainable existence unless we find a way to limit our population. In a certain sense this is a self-limiting problem, but it would sure be nice if we could find a way to do it ourselves and avoid a whole lot of suffering.

  3. The homes we live in and the buildings we work in are more examples. I sometimes wonder about all the new homes and buildings when I see empty storefronts and homes--I realize some buildings are un-useable, but still. I like Habitat for Humanity and their re-store concept.

    1. Ha! I was just thinking about the steel in my security door. It sorta blows my mind when I stop and think about all of the resources that went into making that door.

      Have you ever seen the TED talk by the guy who decided to try to build a toaster from scratch? It does a good job of pointing out how much we take for granted!


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