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The dirty car badge of honor

November 10 2009 | Water, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I drive a Mini Cooper S and I'm like all good Californians, I love my car.

I love how fun it is to drive. I love that it gets 40mpg on the highway. I love that I can carry three surfboard inside. Go ahead, admit it... you love it to.

One thing I've noticed over the past few months is how dirty the outside of my car is. I park it outside at home and it is frequently in airport parking lots. It's outside all the time. It's in the elements... getting dirty. It might not be a stretch to say that my car has the dirtiest exterior in our lot. No, this isn't my car to the right... I found a dirtier Mini than mine online.

My car is dirty but secretly... I kinda dig that.

It's not that I like dirt as I don't. It's just that I think that washing a car, at least as much as many Southern Californians do, is a waste. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm less self-obsessed about my car than others are... as I'm right there with everyone else. I LOVE me car. It's just that I see washing a car frequently as a waste of time, energy and natural resources.

And I think I can trace all of this to... Sam Walton.

Sam Walton, yea... the guy that founded Wal-Mart. You see, Sam drove an '88 Ford pickup truck when he could afford to be driven in a limo. I'm sure Sam was aware that his truck was a metaphor for his company and his management philosophy... money was to be preserved because it was inherently valuable. He didn't spend money on a car because he didn't need to spend it. Another way to say this is that Sam did anything but waste something he saw as valuable.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

I grew up in the midwest and northeast. Maybe that is also related to my less-than-clean car. People's cars are dirtier in those regions than they are in Southern California. Sure, we have great weather in Southern California but our cars still get dirty (just look at mine). I think there is a different reason. Southern Californians are less connected to the water cycle. To generalize, we don't have a clue about the water we drink (or the water we wash our cars with... which is the same as the water we drink). When it doesn't rain for six months at a time one can easily lose the connection to the value of rainfall. What does this have to do with dirty cars, everything. The average person uses 65 gallons to wash their car. We use clean drinking water, arguably the most valuable resource on the globe, to wash our driveways and water lawns in an area where lawns aren't anywhere close to the natural, indigenous plants.

Sam Walton preserved cash and built an empire based on frugality. He embraced preservation of valuable resources. I'm suggesting that there is a metaphor in there for us, all of us. I'm suggesting we become more aware of how much we waste water.

Some of you might say "where do you draw the line, do you wash your dishes or water your lawn?" These are valid questions and worth asking. Where DO we draw the line? What is waste and what is not waste. My family ripped out our front lawn a few years ago and planted ocean friendly plants. Today it requires very little water and it looks gorgeous (check out Surfrider's new book on Ocean Friendly Garden's on Amazon). I committed to an ocean friendly front yard after thinking more about how much water I was pouring onto our lawn every day. I was literally watering my lawn with drinking water... all of us are.

The last thing I want to suggest with this post is that I've got it all figured out. I don't. We're ALL attempting to figure out more sustainable lifestyles. We need to be a bit more aware of what our daily habits cost. We need to understand that just because clean, drinkable water comes out of the faucet when we turn it on that doesn't mean it's free. We should be willing to sacrifice a little bit here and there. We need to align our habits with those things we see as truly valuable.

Our natural resources are among the most valuable commodities on the earth. Let's treat them that way... go ahead, skip your next car wash. Just park next to me and no one will notice.
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