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Pantyhose, Planned Obsolescence and a Pampered Puss July 22, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Environment, How Many Earths? (Adventures in Ecological Living), Nature, Saving the World.
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yawning catHow Many Earths? (Part 3)

This tale began with a job interview yesterday, for a position as choir accompanist and pianist for a local church. Not knowing anything about the church in question or how conservative its directors were, I reluctantly decided that, yes, a skirt and pantyhose were probably the safest bet. Reluctantly I dug into the recesses of my sock drawer for the little-used and dreaded nylons, searching for any pair that (1) fit comfortably and (2) didn’t have a run yet. (For any men reading this post, this is a far greater challenge than it sounds.)

Though I took two pairs of intact nylons with me, regrettably neither pair survived the experience (the humidity was a complicating, and very aggravating, factor). While fortunately for my interview I was able to rescue one with a well-placed dab of nail polish, the other was quite clearly doomed. I stuffed it into the bottom of my bag, hoping I could find some use for it later.

It was earlier this afternoon that I pulled them out again and stared at the run. I hate planned obsolescence. The whole idea of intentionally designing something to be flimsy and breakable (and spending time and money to engineer this into the design!) to me is an utterly perverse one. It embodies everything I hate about our buy-more, don’t-fix-it, toss-it-when-it-bores-you-and-get-a-new-one societal mindset. There’s been a meme floating around for decades that pantyhose manufacturers know how to make pantyhose that won’t run, they just won’t for fear of cutting into their sales. Whether that’s actually the case I don’t know, but I must say I don’t have much trouble believing it.

For years before I’d dumped worn-out pantyhose straight into the garbage can in resigned disgust. But given my new goal of trying to live as ecologically as possible I didn’t want these ending up in a landfill. There had to be something constructive I could do with them…

Enter one spoiled cat.

Rumi had been looking rather bored ever since his laser toy burned out two weeks ago (speaking of planned obsolescence! No way to replace the battery, of course) and when I hopefully waved around his fluffy pink lure, his little feline face more often than not took on an expression of ennui. “Been there, done that, can’t you find anything new for me to chase?” I could hear him saying.

I grabbed my scissors and got to work with the pantyhose.

Half an hour later I had created three toys:

– a little round pantyhose ball stuffed with catnip:

– a slightly larger toy (two pantyhose-stuffed lumps separated by a knot):

– and a long lure, made just by tying consecutive knots in the leg of pantyhose and stuffing the end with, you guessed it, more pantyhose, then tying the whole thing to a string.

…He LOVED them. I have never seen Rumi go after any toy with such enthusiasm, except for the laser. When I handed him the first two toys his eyes lit up and (especially the second one) he did not stop batting around and pouncing on until I came along with the knotted lure. Then he really went wild.

There was something about the pantyhose fabric that really appealed to him. He could sink his teeth into it as much as he wanted and it would invariably pop back into shape the moment he dropped it. (I still can’t figure out how my pantyhose developed runs in five minutes and yet withstood half an hour of determined kitty attacks, but whatever…) I still have half the pair left so I’m going to try stuffing the next toy with pennies to make a rattling noise, and then one with tissue paper. But I’ll wait on those until the next time he gives me one of those bored yawns. 😀

Take that, planned obsolescence.

(Oh, and the job interview went quite well, by the way.) 🙂

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

Of Fans and Air Conditioners (How Many Earths?: A Postscript) July 8, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Environment, How Many Earths? (Adventures in Ecological Living), Nature, Saving the World.
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For much of the past week my area, together with large regions of the continent, has been hit by a scorching heat wave. For the first day or two it wasn’t so bad, but last night my apartment didn’t cool off at all, and my little bedside fan wasn’t doing the trick. I wasn’t affected so much as my poor Rumi, who went dashing around from one end of the apartment to the other panting and looking for some cool air. (I finally swabbed him down with a cool, wet cloth and that seemed to work.) Needless to say it’s been difficult to practice, or write another blog entry, or do much of anything…

So this morning I went looking for something that would, at least, help the situation until the promised cool front moved in this weekend.


The problem is, I didn’t want to jump on the air conditioning bandwagon. I have a fundamental antipathy to air conditioning. There’s something wrong with the idea of it: we already condition our lawns, our water, the food we produce, our bodies…anything that we see as dissatisfactory in its natural state. Is nothing to be left alone? What kind of society needs to collectively condition even the air it breathes?

Not to mention that, the more we go around running our air conditioners, the more pollution and carbon dioxide we’ll generate – heating up our Earth and reducing our air quality even more and making it necessary for us to run our air conditioners more often. It’s a vicious cycle, and a dangerous one. Air conditioning, with our current level of technology, is fundamentally unsustainable and and only worsens the problem in the long term.

Also, I grew up without air conditioning – none of my friends had it either. Our region wasn’t especially humid, but reached searing temperatures in summer, sometimes 40 C or higher. It was hot, but we lived with it. It was just part of summer, like intense cold was part of winter; no point in complaining about either. There was a time when nobody had air conditioning and we seemed to do just fine as a society. Have we collectively gotten way more whimpy, or are we just so used to continual comfort we can’t bear to give it up?


So, with these thoughts in mind, I resolutely headed out in search of a fan. After checking three or four places, I found the model I was looking for in a discount store, which had dozens of fans while all the rest of the city seemed to be out (kudos to Giant Tiger!) Interestingly, though some stores still had air conditioners in stock (indeed, on sale!), the fans were sold out pretty universally. I suspect this has more to do with the far cheaper cost of buying and running them than a wave of ecological consciousness spreading throughout our city, but it’s a hopeful sign in any case…

(Speaking of which, the local Shoppers Drug Mart started charging for plastic bags this week. Another excellent step in the right direction!)

How Many Earths? (…A Personal Experiment) July 3, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Environment, How Many Earths? (Adventures in Ecological Living), Nature, Saving the World.
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“…The world has too many people.”


It was late one night and a friend from #iranelection and I were having another online chat in our ongoing discussion of: What is Wrong with Our World And How To Save It. Or whether this is even possible, under the circumstances.

She didn’t seem too optimistic. “There aren’t enough resources to go around. We’re doomed to fight over what’s left. There’s no way the planet can support us – there’s just too many people.”

It wasn’t a conclusion either of us relished, but I was particularly reluctant to accept it. For most of history, I argued, there have been far fewer people on the planet than there were now, and yet those people scarcely behaved better towards one another as a result. Looking at the historical record, there have been more wars, more genocides, more atrocities in the past than now – despite today’s vastly increased population. Were we truly doomed to have this trend catastrophically reverse?

Still, I had to admit she could be right. Logically there had to be some number of people which the planet simply could not support. How could I know for sure that this threshold hadn’t already been crossed?


I wasn’t about to capitulate the point so easily, though. “Too many people for what, exactly?” I asked. “To support at a minimum level for survival, or at the standard we’re used to in the West?”

“The minimum for survival,” she clarified.

I spotted a contradiction. “That doesn’t make sense. Our society is already using far more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources, so according to your statement the majority of the world’s people shouldn’t be able to survive at all. But obviously they are somehow. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there, they would be dead.” (And, as I realized later, the population would hardly continue to increase…)

“Well,” she conceded, “I guess I should distinguish between ‘surviving’ and ‘healthy’.”

…The conversation moved on to other things, but over the next few days my mind kept returning to this question. If we could take the planet’s resources and divide them equally among all the people on Earth, what sort of living standard would result? Would it be one just barely adequate for survival, which few in the West would ever accept given our current luxury? Or, even if we couldn’t each own three cars, a sprawling house and an SUV, would it be moderately comfortable at least?


About a week later I sat down at my computer and did some research. A bit of web-surfing revealed the ecological footprint calculator as the most practical tool to answer my question. By analyzing my consumption habits, it would tell me how my own lifestyle compared to the Earth’s carrying capacity: if everyone on the planet lived as I did, how many Earths would we need? Ideally, this number would be 1 or less (an answer of over 1 would mean that my lifestyle was unsustainable ecologically.)

After glancing over a few I settled on the Ecological Footprint Quiz by the Center for Sustainable Economy (user-friendly, but comprehensive enough to give a meaningful result.) I plugged in five pages’ worth of personal data, clicked the “Next” button and waited…

“If everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need: 2.11 Earths.”


My reactions, in order:

1. Ouch. “Pride goes before a fall,” I thought resignedly to myself. I had always viewed my own lifestyle as quite ecologically conscious (was vegetarian, recycled almost everything, used public transit or walked…). And yet I was using over two times my fair share of the planet. Was it even possible, in our society, to lead a “1-Earth” lifestyle? Maybe even the best of us have “sinned and fallen short of sustainable consumption patterns”? It didn’t look good.

2. Reflecting for a moment, though, I grew rather more optimistic. After all, my own lifestyle was nowhere near a “minimum survival” state – it was relatively simple, perhaps, but comfortable and healthy. I was satisfied with it, at any rate. Could my own consumption of resources simply be made more efficient to eliminate the extra 1.11 Earths?

3. …Probably not, I realized, looking at the “Take Action” webpage. There weren’t that much I could personally do make my footprint smaller. I could, perhaps, switch to fluorescent lightbulbs (which I did), consume fewer dairy products, buy more local foods, and install a low-flow showerhead. But, let’s face it, that wouldn’t cut my resource consumption in half – at the most it would make a dent in the total. Was there any way out of the problem?

4. Over the next several months, I began to realize there was. But it wasn’t a step I could take alone. Many of the survey questions had dealt with factors I couldn’t individually change, either as a renter (low-flow toilets, solar panels on the roof, the temperature of our apartment building) or a citizen (the source of our electricity, availability of light-rail public transit, and so on). At the same time, these were the “biggies” that had the largest impact on my society’s collective footprint. If these “constants” could be made more efficient, then everyone in my area would automatically have a far smaller ecological footprint – best of all,with no effort required on their part!
Obviously I couldn’t just go install a solar panel on my apartment’s roof, or singlehandedly run a light-rail transit system through my city’s downtown core. But I could certainly join a municipal citizens’ group that worked to bring such changes about – and it would undoubtedly have a much larger impact than driving myself nuts trying to drink soymilk or take two-minute showers. 😉

If we can make it easy, convenient, and “the norm” for people to “be green”, they probably will be by default…

So I found my local group and joined it. (It’s actually quite an agreeable coincidence that a municipal election is approaching in any case, so there are quite a few opportunities to take action…)

I recommend that everyone who really wants to help save our planet do the same. Oh, and take the quiz. It’s quite eye-opening. 😀

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

P.S. A footnote to the story: my friend also took the quiz, and ended up scoring 2.35. As others pointed out, this is really not bad considering the average for North America is 6 (!!!) Earths. This obviously doesn’t mean that either of us can sit back and feel smug. But it’s hopeful, anyway…