Sign Of The Times


Each day on my way to work I pass a one-mile stretch of freeway that is lined on both sides with motor home parks and sales lots. Many of the newer motor homes are the size of a greyhound bus, get as little as 3 miles per gallon, and are priced as high as $500,000 or more.

This new generation of gas-guzzling, up-scale vacation toys is iconic, as the primary market for them is the retiring generation of “baby boomers” who have left us trillions of dollars in debt, 65% dependent on foreign oil (a loss of even 10% of which would be catastrophic to the ’status quo’), and sprawling population centers built atop rotting, 50+ year-old infrastructure–an infrastructure that would cost more to replace than the value of the buildings sitting on it.

To make matters worse, they are also leaving behind a “next” generation afflicted with the same degenerative disease. Like their parents, this “next” crowd is blindly dependent on an economic system that relies on consumer growth and leveraged credit in order to survive. And many of them, too, look forward to the day when they can buy one of those luxury motor homes and head comfortably into their sunset years without giving any thought to the incredible economic and environmental mess left behind.

giving_the_bird1Of course motor homes are just one symptom of a generational attitude. Yet they stand out like a raised middle finger when they pass by on the interstate, heading south…a little like a migrating “sign of the times” that says, “F**k You! It’s your problem now. We’re outta here!”

But even more troubling than the material problems being left behind is the mindless behavior that produced them. For example, a very large percentage of water usage in this country is dedicated to flushing toilets. A single flush uses from 1.6 to over 5 gallons of water (depending on when the toilet was made) just to get rid of a cup or two of pee. And why? Because it is essentially a thoughtless action…an action that routinely wastes nearly 8,000 gallons of water per year, per person. We have become the first generation of human beings on earth to use 70 times the water that we take in each day just to get rid of the quart or so that comes back out.

My concern is not so much about material challenges as it is about responsibility (or the lack thereof); its about the childish ‘kid in a candy factory’ behavior that now spans almost two generations. But that behavior can be changed very dramatically–almost overnight–by anyone. All it needs is enough motivation to ask ourselves the following question: “How do my actions (or inactions) today impact the future? And not just my future, but that of our children as well?”

And how hard is it to become more thoughtful, more responsible? Does it take years of therapy…or simply require a few moments of self-appraisal?

For sure, cleaning up the mess left behind will require a Herculean effort. But ending the practices that created it requires mostly just a good, hard look in the mirror. And the future, I think, relies on the results of that more than anything else.

12 comments on “Sign Of The Times

  1. William, have you read John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”? There is an absolutely brilliant cynical description of greyhound buses there. Now I am left wondering where you go to work… and what that work consist of. Won’t you drop me a line and tell me? I am dying with curiosity (and as one of my nicknames is “Katze”, I guess I can foresee the end of my curiosity). Please write something… I’ve been thinking about you a lot today.


  2. “…‘kid in a candy factory’ behaviour…”, haha! It’s so true, more so – I think – in the older generation. Younger people seem to be catching on to this greater need to envisage the future, and to now start making sacrifices in order to secure the wellbeing of new generations. I think it may have something to do with the amount of information sharing in the world today. People know a lot more about the issues (environmental, political, social) in the world now through sources such as your blog. I’m sure there’s hope for the future, it’s just going to take time…hopefully we’ve still got enough left :|

    Great post, and great blog, keep up the good work.


    • Thanks! And its true…without orchestration (i.e., ‘movements’) the internet has become the ‘loud speaker’ that’s increasingly opening eyes worldwide. Especially for the younger generation…who really are (albeit slowly) beginning to get and understand some basic realities. For the rest…ahhhh, well. ;-)


  3. I was particularly interested in your discourse on toilets It would be inappropriate of me to comment here on your website so maybe I will have something to say on my website I do commend you on the vastness of you work Well done


  4. So I have to comment on this…last night my husband was channel surfing on our newly installed tv (we were offline with tv for about 18 mo) and came across a show called “Extreme RVs.” We have an RV, but it’s pretty basic…nothing extreme, just a standard class C. The models on this show were nicer than the homes we’ve owned…not sure what that says about us! Anyway, who knew?! I certainly didn’t realize this kind of money went into something rolling down the highway. And what happens if they get hit? Insurance I guess, but I wouldn’t want that kind of investment on the interstates, to say nothing of the issues you address. ~ Sheila


    • I have to admit that I once owned and very much enjoyed occasionally using a (modestly sized/priced) motor-home. But it wasn’t until I began to notice the extraordinary growth in both size and cost of these new models, that I began to see them as a perfect reflection of how far ‘over the cliff’ we’ve gone; and how detached from a sustainable reality we’ve increasingly become. Not unlike the Romans, 1500 years ago, we are so conditioned to drinking the ‘fruits’ of our technological prowess, that we’ve completely (as individuals) lost sight of the rapidly shrinking resources from which those ‘fruits’ have been squeezed. And, like the Romans, too many people have left the farms (not to mention basic tools and skills) behind in countryside, and come to town…to join the party. (Much the same as what’s currently happening in China.)

      “Ahhh…but of course the party can’t really end! Of course we’ll do everything necessary to straighten everything out…to get it all right-side-up again!”

      Which is exactly what the Romans assumed as well…until someone accidentally looked out the window one day and noticed that huge columns of barbarians from the north and east were entering the outskirts of the city. And even though a few toga-clad leaders considered turning down the music a bit, and maybe even going outside to have a look, most concluded that it would be much more pleasant just to pull down the blinds, pour a little more wine, and deal with all that messy stuff outside…some other time.

      Sound familiar? ;-)


      • Hmmm…fiscal cliff? I sometimes worry that this won’t end well! But what to do? We try to be thoughtful and financially responsible…but I’m not sure anything we do will make a real difference when government policies and bailouts are passed on to all of us taxpayers. Not usually pessimistic…but hard to be hopeful about some things. ~ Sheila


  5. Most of the time, change comes through the application of common sense and experience – but accidents can be valuable as well in promoting us to alter our behavior. I heard the water running in one of my toilets an hour after I had flushed it. I came to discover that the ten year old stopper was not returning to the original closed position. While I looked around for a replacement, necessity required me to lift the lid on the tank and manually push the old stopper back in place. (Of course, I waited until the debris had exited stage south). Then I thought, there’s still more than half the water left in the tank – what a waste. So even though I now have a new stopper which works fine, I still do that. You would think that if we can create a phone which practically makes dinner for us, someone could design a more environmentally-friendly toilet. I guess it’s a matter of priorities.


    • “…accidents can be valuable…to alter our behavior.”

      Which underscores how a societal disconnect from reality is the source of most of these issues, and the major barrier that stands in the way of recognizing, understanding, and then (hopefully) solving them. Ranting relentlessly about them produces (maybe) a few heads to nod with a tiny bit of quasi understanding. But until someone (accidentally usually) steps beyond that ‘protective barrier’ there’s little chance they’ll fully understand, much less accept personal responsibility for making the necessary changes. In other words the incentive for change seldom comes from abstractly identifying a need for it, but rather when there is no longer any way of avoiding it…or at least recognizing it. But even so, as ‘Sandy’ has recently demonstrated, direct contact with reality is no guarantee that a problem will be fixed. More likely it will be ‘papered over’ with the hope that it will then somehow go away.

      So…if ranting about these issues has so little effect, then what’s the solution? It’s probably to be found in the same dynamic that fuels consumerism. For example, “If girls begin to like boys that ride horses better than those who drive cars, watch how fast the boys will begin trading their wheels for hoofs!” Forget about trying to convince them with arguments about global warming, peak oil, etc., and focus on what creates and drives desire; i.e., don’t go for the brains, go for the gonads. ;-)


  6. Om second reading I have to wonder why you are not attacking the Catholic Church for their stance on birth control pills Seems to me less births equals less people less motor homers less toilets Oops I forgot Less money for the Sunday collection plates What was I thinking


    • “Less money for the…collection plates” Which has always been the basic dynamic of power-grabbing…and sustaining it…whether religious, political, criminal or otherwise. Just tell ’em what they most want to hear (or fear), and they’ll keep mindlessly marching in step to endlessly support (and defend) your claim to the Palace on the Hill.


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