Monday, May 12, 2008

$700 A Year

I've been thinking and talking quite a lot about giving up my car lately. I'm not going to get rid of it -- I love it -- and I own it. It does need to be cleaned.

An interesting article caught my eye this morning -- via the oil drum. Seems someone in Ottowa's done a bit of the math involved in trading cars around...

"The CAA [Canadian Automobile Association] measured the total annual ownership costs of a $20,000 Chev Cobalt and a $26,000 Chrysler minivan, both driven 18,000 kilometres a year. As you might expect, the minivan costs more to drive, but it's not because of fuel consumption. The Cobalt costs $8,944.50 a year in total. The minivan is about $2,800 more but almost all of that is increased depreciation and financing costs on the more expensive vehicle.

There is a $531 differential in annual fuel costs between the two vehicles. If gasoline went up 10 cents a litre, it would cost the person with the minivan about $50 more a year than the same increase would cost the thrifty Cobalt driver."

[Note -- the Canadian dollar at today's exchange rate is almost exactly equal. I looked it up. THAT's a little alarming!]

Okay -- so the article goes on to talk about luxury. That a manicure probably costs more than a fill up.

[As an aside, I find this a sort of interesting thought. I had a conversation with a manicurist about how that is not necessarily a luxury, but part of the uniform for the modern business woman. Interesting to think what extra are required of women -- where men just sort of show up, don't they; so that if belt tightening is in order, women have more to lose more quickly perhaps... but I digress!]

The author also says that the user of the smaller car saves only about $700 a year. Not enough for me -- good to know in the justifying department.

I do think it's important to note that that is a lot of money for a lot of people. That while I ruminate on my $40,000 car and my day at the spa, $700 is heat, medication or food for a lot of people not very far from me. Don't get me wrong -- the spa is a wonderful thing. Health inducing, calm, good for you. Still, I've been intrigued by the tone of privilege in so many of the stories I've been reading lately. As if WE are talking to US. As if the concepts that we are all in this together is lost...

In art school we were shown a film by my favorite photographer, Robert Frank. Frank and the beat poet Charles Orlovsky filmed themselves talking to Orlovsky's brother -- who was autistic. It's a horrible film, I complained after our viewing. Throughout the course of it, the two men resort to screaming and throwing things at the autistic man, who withdraws further and further into himself. The comment on the film is 'it doesn't matter what we do.' But it does matter -- you can see it over the course of the hour. Furthermore, how do we hurt ourselves by participating in the infliction...

Isn't that the trick -- to do what little thing we can do...

On our nice little Discovery Kids cartoon this weekend, the girl from the future asks the girl from our time, 'where people in your time really always so careless about their energy use.' 'Pretty much,' she says.

Which brings me to the other thought. Isn't that $700 in fuel efficiency important in another way? I have been looking around my house, lately -- thinking of what I can change -- even in the littlest ways. The lights on the machines that stay on when they aren't in use. The radio, the printer, the computer, the cable...

"Remember when gas went over a buck and we all thought it was an outrage? Now, if we see it for $1.16, we grab the bargain. People's sense of what something is worth is often based on historical perception, not intrinsic value, but we adapt fairly quickly."

Well, I think this is a mistake. If we are looking at $7 a gallon, few people fold that kind of hike into their daily budget easily -- few governments...

But still,

is there any way to remember that this is not a conversation about money?

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