Dealing with High Gas Prices

A few years ago gas prices started rising and people started noticing. Back then I was paying $2.69 and griping. Yesterday I paid $3.41. I’m starting to see more and more stories about rising gas prices, but it’s curious that three years ago there was a flurry of gas price hysteria. The prices stayed high but the hysteria faded away. I guess people just got used to paying more.

But now that we are paying more (and noticing again—44% say gas prices are a ‘serious problem’), the hysteria seems warranted. Well, maybe not hysteria (like Minnesota Republicans who blame Democrats for high gas prices, pointing to the 8.5-cent hike in the gas tax, of which only 2 cents has been phased in so far) but at least some sensible action would be wise. Let’s take a look at a few smart ways you can deal with the high price of gas:

Top 25 Ways to Save at the Pump – My friend Steve Knight offered this list back in 2005, full of practical tips to get more of out your gas.

Buy a Super MPG Car – Forget the hybrid, if you really want good gas mileage, you need a Geo. MPR featured this St. Cloud, Minn., mechanic who fixes up old Geos and sells them to people looking for cars with better fuel economy. Many of his cars get 50 mpg or better.

Join the Hypermilers – Or you could join the folks who squeeze every last drop of fuel efficiency out of their cars by changing their driving habits and score eye-popping miles-per-gallon. Some of these measures are dangerous, but the basic idea of slowing down, letting your car coast, and avoiding hard accelerating or braking is smart and effective.

Hybrid Schmybrid – You could switch to diesel. Or grease.

If gas prices still have you down, you can always take the bus.

Rummagepalooza ’08

This weekend we had our massive rummage sale.

This weekend it snowed.

That’s the way it goes sometimes (though not usually in April). It rained and snowed and blowed all day Saturday, so we had to set up inside. We had rummage on our porch, our living room, our kitchen and the garage was packed (furniture stacked on furniture).

People actually turned out on Saturday despite the weather. We did pretty well.

On Sunday I pulled out my long johns again for round two and we had some sunshine. We were able to spread out a bit, but the crowds were much thinner. We probably made three times more on Saturday (lesson: don’t do a garage sale on Sunday).

In the end the effort was very successful, but we only moved about a third of our rummage. I think we’ll probably end up doing it another weekend, hopefully a more seasonable weekend.

My favorite part of the weekend was a little girl who bought a mini stapler for a quarter and walked around saying, “Staple, staple, staple,” pretending to staple everything, and a guy who told me a story about a goat that liked to get drunk.

A big thanks to everyone who donated stuff and came out for the sale.

“Take My Children: Just Feed Them”

A New York Times report from last week on the worldwide foot riots included this heart-breaking bit at the end:

Meanwhile, most of the poorest of the poor suffer silently, too weak for activism or too busy raising the next generation of hungry. In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.”

A few related links:

Food Riots Begin: Will You Go Vegetarian – A quick piece suggesting vegetarianism (or at least partial vegetarianism) as a small, personal step to ease hunger—comparable to other “green” practices like compact fluorescents and canvas grocery bags. It’s an idea my wife recommended and while it doesn’t have a direct impact, at the very least it lets us act in solidarity with hungry people around the world.

Oxfam: What Can Be Done – Relief and development organization Oxfam has a section talking about what can be done, including reevaluating U.S. food aid, biofuel and more.

World Vision Canada Cuts Aid – Due to soaring food prices World Vision Canada will be feeding 23% fewer people this year. (Unfortunately the article and World Vision’s site don’t say what people like us can do to help. I assume donations, but you’d think there’d be more.)

America’s Role in Haiti’s Hunger Riots – An alarming article claiming U.S. farm subsidies and aid policies contributed to Haiti’s agricultural collapse and food riots. (Take it with a grain of salt: It comes from Truthout, a site described as “an anti-Bush landfill that masquerades as a bastion of news credibility”—of course that comes from a site that describes itself as “the only site on the web devoted exclusively to intellectual conservatism,” so you figure out who to believe.)

Youngstown, Ohio, Embraces Shrinkage

I love this story of Youngstown, Ohio, embracing their dwindling population and lack of growth:

Youngstown, Ohio, has seen its population shrink by more than half over the past 40 years, leaving behind huge swaths of empty homes, streets and neighborhoods.

Now, in a radical move, the city—which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up—is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.

It’s sad for the town and all the people who have lost jobs and homes, but at some point you have to accept the fact that growth isn’t happening and try something else.

“We’re one of the first cities of significant size in the United States to embrace shrinkage,” said [Mayor Jay] Williams.

I talk a lot about how continual growth doesn’t always work, and I think this is a good example. Despite the hardship, it’s cool to see something new rising out of the city. It won’t be as big, but that’s OK. Bigger isn’t always better.

Today’s Earth Day

So today’s Earth Day. What did you do to save the planet?

I took the bus.

OK, I’m just bragging. Being a stay-at-home/work-at-home dad I don’t normally go anywhere, so taking the bus actually increased my carbon footprint/energy usage/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Oops.

Restless Sleep and Mundane Dreams

I woke up with a sore throat yesterday morning (on the most beautiful day of the year) and ended up going to bed early. A fitful sleep resulted in bizarre, weird dreams. Or rather, mundane dreams. At one point I was dreaming about nailing planks on to the backyard fence we’ve talked about but haven’t started building yet (currently we have a chicken wire concoction that’s holding up surprisingly well—I’m tempted to leave it, but always feel self-conscious when neighbors walk by).

In the dream I was planning exactly how to build the fence: how many nails to use, how to space the planks (two pencil widths), how far off the ground they should be, etc. And it was then I literally dreamed the thought, “Seriously, I’m dreaming this? My dream is building a fence? My dream sucks.”

People Dying of Hunger and a Fancy New iPhone

Food riots are still on my mind. Turns out I didn’t have to look to broader news outlets for that breaking story, I could have just caught up on the 1,000+ unread items in my Google Reader. If I did, I would have come across this slap in the face from Shaun Groves:

“If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave,” said protester Renand Alexandre. “If the police and U.N. troops want to shoot at us, that’s OK, because in the end if we are not killed by bullets we’ll die of hunger.”

In other news, rumor is Apple’s releasing a 32GB iPhone in May for only $599!

Ouch. But he’s right.

Happenings in Ethiopia

With our upcoming adoption we’ve been paying more and more attention to Ethiopia. So it’s been a bit discouraging to read about two bombings earlier this week and another one last month. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s not a big surprise to see Ethiopia included in the countries facing civil unrest over food prices. They’re also facing drought. It kind of starts to pile up. We really have no idea how incredibly lucky and wealthy we are here in the U.S. (“While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs.” -World Bank Chairman Robert B. Zoellick).

But amidst all the worrisome news, I also came across Lauren’s blog. She spent about six months teaching in Ethiopia and gives a great glimpse into real life in Addis Ababa. That is until she survived a horrific car accident that broke a vertebrae in her back and had to be airlifted to an Israeli hospital. She’s now recovering in Duluth. She also used to attend my church (It’s somewhat morbidly ironic, but another young woman from my church with aspirations of working in Africa recently survived a horrific car accident and broke a vertebrae in her back). Despite her traumatic experience, Lauren’s stories of life in Ethiopia are captivating.

Then there’s Shaun Groves’ story of child sponsorship in Ethiopia. I’ve been unsure about child sponsorship, but it’s hard to argue with a story like that.

It’s just another example of adoption and Ethiopia connections coming out of the woodwork.

Sometimes Business Growth is Business Greed

I’m always harping on the idea that businesses don’t have to grow. The U.S. economy doesn’t have to be growing by leaps and bounds to be healthy. Sometimes things shrink. It might be painful, but it’s not the end of the world. I think they call it pruning. That constant growth everyone seems to expect isn’t sustainable. Some people even call it greed.

That’s what Semco CEO Ricardo Semler says in his book Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace:

A few years ago, I struggled with an opportunity to acquire a company with five plants and 2,000 employees. “Why do we want to grow more?” I asked myself. Are we going to be better for it?”…

It’s all about persistence, isn’t it? But where does persistence end and obsession begin? How high is too high? How big is too big? Of course, some growth is necessary for any business to keep up with competitors and provide new opportunities for its people. But so often it is power and greed and plain stubbornness that make bigger automatically seem better…

Semco has learned that to want to grow big just to be big is a catch … Much about growth is really about ego and greed, not business strategy. (excerpted by 37signals)

If Semler sounds familiar, I quoted him saying something similar a while back (also found via 37signals). That’s two references to the guy—maybe it’s time to read his book.

Stopping AIDS, Saving Children

This story from a woman who spent time at an orphanage for HIV positive children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is amazing:

Once they started getting the ARVs that were needed and at a fair price, children stopped dying. And so money that they used to save to pay for children’s coffins is now being used for growth and development, empowering the organization to grow and help so many more people.

It reminds me of the stories of Ethiopian orphans in There Is No Me Without You.

Talk about getting a double spoonful of crap in life: orphaned and HIV positive. While these tragedies may not be able to be rectified, they can be redeemed. That’s what the church is supposed to be about (not just teachin’ and singin’).