The feds just announced that they will be purchasing 17,500 new hybrid cars from the big three to replace an aging fleet of cars. The funds will come from TARP.

I applaud the sentiment. Fuel efficient vehicles are a good thing. Buying from an American company is a good thing. So why does the idea bother me so much?

I think it is because the program so clearly defines what I see as a huge problem in this world which is that, if you have a problem, you can buy and spend your way out of it. The idea of fuel efficiency is a false one. It will take far more energy to make and ship those cars than will be saved by their use. And what happens to the old cars? Somebody will either have to buy them (no fuel savings there) or crush them. A better policy decision would be to cut down the amount of miles driven by the current cars or to cut the overall number of cars they keep on the road. As for supporting American auto makers, 17,500 cars sounds like a lot of cars but it is a drop in the bucket, certainly not enough to stave off bankruptcy.

I think this is the way we approach a lot of problems. We assume that there is a consumption based solution before we look for a free/inexpensive/simple one. Take gardening. If you want to expand your current gardening space to include a blackberry patch, the consumption based solution would be to purchase a roto-tiller and break up the sod, purchase a load of compost to enrich the soil, then purchase  two dozen blackberry canes form a company located halfway across the country. The other solution would be to cover the existing grass with a piece of black plastic. We actually used a discarded pool cover to kill grass. After a season of no sun, the grass is gone and the soil ready to till. Now we get blackberry plants for free from a neighbor who is thinning hers. We give her some of our honey in exchange. We add lawn clippings, leaves, chicken sh… oops, manure and our own compost to the soil and plant the canes. We mulch with lawn clippings all summer and in the fall, enjoy blackberry jam on our breakfast toast.

This method takes a little longer. It’s messier and more work but the results are the same with little environmental impact and no cash outlay. In fact, it puts to good use some things that might otherwise wind up in the landfill.

I have seen any number of garden cloches for sale. They are mini green houses for tender, heat loving plants like tomatoes but I have good luck using recycled milk jugs. They last for many seasons, are free, work just fine and now we have a pile of jugs that do not end up in China for recycling. Win, win, win.

I’ll bet everybody has their own favorite tip for making do. As we face real challenges with energy and the economy in the future, the ability to find solutions for everyday problems that do not require a trip to a garden center or big box store may spell the difference between doing well and doing without.

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