Tag Archive | Environment

The Car Free Experiment

You heard that right, most of North America, Gwen and I have now joined the ranks of the car-less. Not careless, mind you. We still care. Lots.

We just ditched our 2004 Ford Escape in favour of, well, nothing. This comes as a surprise to many people I’ve talked to, especially, for some reason, to the dealership we were dealing with…here’s the phone conversation I had:

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Lucky day!

Yeah, haven’t been feeling the blog mojo lately, so you get stuck with this little tidbit: I found a unicorn!

Now I can check that off my list…what mythical items are left to find, let’s see: a unicorn, an antwerp, a live gnome, Muk Muk, pixie dust, my dignity, Canada’s national identity, my lost idealism, a purpose, Narnia, a hobbit and a truly socially compassionate Republican.

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Americans Driving At Historic Lows

The U.S. Department of Transportation is reportingthat Americans are continuing their downward trend in driving, with estimated vehicle miles traveled on all U.S. roads in March 2008 falling 4.3 percent compared to March 2007.

Hand in hand with these posts (here and here), there was a nice op ed piece I wanted to share from the NY Times.

Basically, the author, Thomas Friedman, says that whomever becomes president (he seems to be leaning towards Obama) needs to have enough will to actually tell the American people what they apparently don’t want to hear: High gas prices are not going away and the country needs to change its habits.

A couple of points really jumped out at me.  Most of us have probably seen the Dodge ads where they are offering cheap gas for 3 years – Friedman compares this to tobacco companies offering cheap smokes to kids.  Essentially Dodge is acting as a drug dealer, pushing big old SUVs down the throats of addicts.

I’ll leave you with this bit from the article:

I can’t say it better than my friend Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics, did in a Memorial Day essay in The Washington Post: “So Dodge wants to sell you a car you don’t really want to buy, that is not fuel-efficient, will further damage our environment, and will further subsidize oil states, some of which are on the other side of the wars we’re currently fighting. … The planet be damned, the troops be forgotten, the economy be ignored: buy a Dodge.”

He’s right, too…Obama did have the guts to point out that the McCain/Clinton gas tax holiday proposal was worthless pandering.  Let’s just hope he has the guts to do a big time intervention to get us off our car addictions, as well.

Thanks to Jimsey for the tip on this one.

Nine Cities, Nine Green Ideas

Ben

The Wall Street Journal ran a nice piece on Monday looking at 9 cities around the world and steps they’ve taken to reduce energy consumption.

 Some of the highlights:

  • Chicago’s efforts to plant rooftop gardens to cool municipal buildings.
rooftop garden in Chitown
  • Amsterdam’s cool water air conditioning system.
  • London’s “localized power” concept – moving energy generation closer to users.

    [Enrgy-london.jpg]
  • New York’s tidal generation – this is my personal favourite.

[Enrgy-newyork.jpg]

The only one on the list that didn’t make sense to me was Bejing.  Apparently, in an effort to both cut energy consumption and reduce pollution leading up to the Olympics, Bejing has been focusing on closing and moving a number of cement kilns, coal mines and chemical plants.  I think the key piece is the moving aspect.  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as reduction if you’re just shifting the plant to another area…but I’m not an scientist, nor am I Chinese.

Is this really an honour?

Ben

This kind of news story cracks me up.  I get a little update each day from the International City Managers Association with municipal news from around the world (yes, my dorkiness has been well established, thanks.)

So this story catches my eye.  What great news, Portland is the #1 green city! Huzzah!

But wait…named top green city by…Organic Gardening Magazine?  And it’s the top green city “of its size in the United States”?  The heck does that even mean?

I’m sorry, but when your illustrious list includes Burlington, Vt., Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D. and Billings, Montana I just can’t take it seriously.  Those places are “green” because nobody lives there.  Hell, my list of “green cities” would include Wamsutter, WY and Grygla, MN.

So the lesson?  Always check the source before getting ready to write a post about how great this is for Portland.

Oh, and I totally rocked the bark quiz.

Vampire Power and other enviro issues

Ben 

So I was listening to the podcast of my new favorite show, Spark, and was intrigued by a segment on “vampire power“.

I’m sure this concept is neither new nor earth-shattering news-wise, but I’d never really heard it summed up before.  So essentially, when we’re talking vampire power we’re talking all the bits of electricity our gadgets use while not being used.  For example, in order for your t.v. to turn on with a remote, some power is always being used for the sensor.  Or the clock on your stove or microwave is always on.

At first the amounts seem small – what’s a kW here and there, right?  Well, according to the estimate I heard a host of electronics most people have – t.v., microwave, clock, stove – chews up about $5 worth of electricity annually.  In my book that’s a beer.  Not a huge savings, but a savings nonetheless.

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It IS easy being green

Two U.S. municipalities offer some great examples of the relatively small and affordable steps that can be taken to both find cost savings and significantly reduce environmental impacts.

As reported in Governing Magazine, Viking Terrace Apartments, a 60-unit affordable housing complex in Worthington, MN, has made a number green improvements that have reduced environmental impacts and lowered costs for both owners and tenants.  Improvements have include low-flow plumbing fixtures, carpets made from recycled materials, and geo-thermal heating and cooling systems.  To top it off, Viking residents have had their electricity bills cut by 1/3 and water bills drop, as well.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Richland, WA has realized $150,000 in cost savings since replacing traditional incandesant traffic lights with LED lights in 2002.  City engineers also state that the LED traffic lights are cheaper and easier to maintain as they need less frequent replacement.  Check out the news report here (warning, local news!).

So, there you have it.  Two examples of some easy steps developers and municipalities can take.  If you have a minute, ask your Mayor why you don’t have LED lights yet or your apartment manager about getting low-flow toilets.  Hell, send them a link to this post!

San Francisco converts city fleet to biodiesel fuel

The New York Times is reporting that San Francisco has just completed a year long project which converted all city vehicles to be able to run on bio-diesel fuel.

The fleet of city vehicles have been converted to run on B20, a mix of 20% soy-based fuel and 80% petroleum based diesel fuel. 

This fleet switch over has also been coupled with a new “SFGreasecycle” program designed to collect fats and cooking oils from city restaurants for conversion to bio-diesel fuels.

While there are obvious benefits to using bio-diesel fuel, the method is not without critics.  Some argue that bio-diesel fuels have the possibility to create food shortages while the positive overall impact on the climate is questioned.

However, do I think this is better than a strict fossil fuel diet?  Can’t hurt.

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