Archive for April, 2008

Carpooling Is Cool

The financial benefits of carpooling, featured in a front page story of the Oregonian today, are only one reason that carpooling is cool. I’d say its coolness is embodied in four C’s: cash, congestion reduction, carbon footprint and community.

The carpool I’m in makes my commute between Portland and Salem a joy instead of a grind. But the cash part first. The Oregonian’s simple chart states that driving alone would cost each of the six of us $12,344/year (including depreciation, etc., besides gas). Parking fees would be $756/year individually, but are just $104 as part of the group. So, by carpooling rather than driving alone, my carpool partners and I each save more than $10,500 per year.

We’re also each reducing our carbon footprint significantly by carpooling, and also our role in traffic congestion. With all that virtue, you would think we are martyrs, sighing pitifully as we make painful sacrifices. But no, the opposite is true. We joke around, take naps, share news and books, debrief from work, read, grab each others’ last-minute concert tickets, team up for Pub Quiz nights. I played a great prank on them for April Fools Day that I think they’ve forgiven me for. Carpooling can be community.

Especially if public transit isn’t available to you, you should give yourself the gift of carpooling, too. Living here in Oregon, I found mine through Carpool Match Northwest. Keep in mind that joining a carpool doesn’t mean you have to carpool every day; it can be flexible.

Coming up soon: report and pictures of the EcoProm: Oregon League of Conservation Voters Annual Dinner for the Environment that just happened last Friday night.

The Maven of Green Careers

I just received a nice comment from Klara on “Why Bother? Three Great Reasons“. She is moving here to Portland soon and like many Portlanders, new and old, she is passionate about sustainability.

I imagine that also like many, she wants to find green-collar work, i.e. a job in sustainability. I’m going to refer her to a certain career counselor, Vicki Lind, the town’s unofficial maven of jobs in sustainability.

I used Vicki’s services frequently in the several years it took me to transition my career to the cool place it is now, promoting transportation options. Besides doing one on one counseling and job-seeking clubs, she does a one-day workshop for people seeking jobs in sustainability, through The Oregon Natural Step Network. She’s asked me to speak on the panel of people who successfully transitioned their career.

Driving A Prius In The Wild West

My job in transportation options has taken me, in a new Prius, to the high desert town of Bend, Oregon (recently named by American Cowboy magazine in its Top Ten list of wild-west towns). The Prius, mud-splattered from the Santiam Pass, is now dusted with snow as well, so it reminds me of an Appaloosa pony.

Appaloosa mare running
photo by emokidsdontcryx3

Oh, don’t I wish. Horses are cool.

So my Prius (actually my employer’s, not mine) informs me it is getting 46 miles per gallon on this trip. Excellent mileage compared to SUV’s, and of course with every gallon of gas we burn creating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, I’m saving a few hundred pounds of emissions over driving an average car. Also, this hybrid handles and performs beautifully, front-wheel drive and all. The Prius is so popular in our motor-pool that I couldn’t extend my use of it to a third day.

The downside of not just the Prius, other hybrids and actually all gas and energy conservation measures is that if we don’t stay conscious of the reality of peak oil, we can easily offset our conservation measures to some degree by then driving or consuming more carelessly. The irony of our nation’s overconsumption is that it does not make us happier. Juliet Schor, the Harvard economist, shows this clearly in her body of research.

Bearing that in mind, I am parking my Appaloosa-colored Prius this afternoon and taking a vanpool with about ten colleagues over to Redmond, saving a few hundred more pounds of emissions. Kind of like taking a stagecoach in the days of the old West. I wish.

Why Bother? Three Great Reasons

Of all the good pieces in today’s Green Issue of New York Times magazine, “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan is the one that helps us see that lower-consumption lifestyles are crucial in dealing with global warming, Inventors and legislators cannot rescue us.

1.) Pollan points out that being a role model is powerful. As various citizens like you and me consume significantly less, especially in terms of fossil fuels, other people will follow our example. Social change tends to happen exponentially (much faster than linear growth). I would add that people will especially follow the example of us diamond-cut lifers as they see we are happy in our simplicity, with a high quality of life (different from a high standard of living, which is measured just by volume of consumption).

2.) Acting ‘as if’ can make amazing things happen. Pollan cites how Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik were instrumental in bringing freedom to the Soviet blok by acting as if they lived in a free society. We need to act as if we are living in a sustainable society, one that intends to still be existing seven generations down the road.

3.) A reason of mine that Pollan did not address: we sustainability artists who live well by consuming less are working out the kinks in all the new systems and ways. I really mean the old systems and ways: growing a good percentage of our own food; skillfully using public transit, biking, carpooling and walking for transportation; sharing valuable items within a community instead of one-item-per-person. We are blazing the trail so that when various collapses start happening, these survival skills will be in the social knowledge-base.

Me? I’ve been working in our food garden and enjoying a car-free weekend, using my legs and a TriMet bus to get me everywhere I’m going — church, the film “End of Suburbia” at the Bagdad on Hawthorne, and a dinner party reunion of our cross-country skiing group. Fun!

Sustainability Round-Up

Today’s post is a round-up of my recent mini-discoveries on important aspects of sustainability.

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Our country needs more people working in sustainability. Towards that end, I just learned that Oregon State University offers a sustainability certificate online. (If I didn’t already have an advanced degree, I would seriously consider getting an online certificate in sustainability.)

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People often wonder about sustainability assessment tools and the triple bottom line. Well, the triple bottom line is people, planet and profit — the idea is to hold all three important, not only profit (that’s how so many messes get made). Another way it’s often expressed is ecology, economy and equity — the basis for 3E Strategies, a great organization in Central Oregon founded and directed by Cylvia Hayes, a person I deeply respect.

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Sustainability in the automotive industry: Of my current 71 posts, the most-read by far is Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid? It’s not my personal favorite since I believe cars (any cars) are best put on a diet. But in fairness to the many readers who are clearly interested, here is a link to research on sustainability in the automotive industry.

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How to shrink our carbon footprint? This is what the Diamond Cut-Life really comes down to, i.e. crafting a hihh quality of life with a low carbon footprint. Click here to calculate your current footprint and here for a series of posts providing my real-life examples of how to reduce our carbon footprint.

The Very Best Diet, Part II

Last week I named the very best diet for weight loss as being one of low car use. That’s because our bodies were designed to get us from place to place with this cool gait called walking. My husband and I share just one car, and use public transit, our feet and our bikes for many of our trips. It’s more fun, too.

What else has been rising in the U.S. in the past decades besides car use, body weight and obesity rates? Television watching. We’re watching four hours a day per person on average. I haven’t met anyone who thinks that’s a good thing. Robert Putnam in his breakthrough book “Bowling Alone” showed that decreased exercise, voting, social activites, etc. are all so closely linked to increased television watching that we can fairly say heavy TV use crowds out the things that create healthy citizens.

That’s why I believe the second part of the very best diet for Americans is the diet for our televisions. The less time we spend sitting still watching it, the more we move around doing other things being relatively active, both physically and socially.

Thor and I watch literally no television. While we own a TV, it lives humbly downstairs in the basement, and gets used occasionally for a rented movie. If the weather is halfway decent the poor thing can be starved of any attention for weeks at a time. It’s not a flat-screen either — flat-screens use too much electricity and we believe in energy diets too . . . a topic for a future post.

Consider putting your television on a diet, too. I bet it helps you lose weight by opening up time for more activity, both physical and social.

Our Portland CRAG Launches!

Last night five friends of mine, new and old, got together at Colleen and Thad’s house in NE Portland. We had wine, a delicious potluck dinner and animated-to-hilarious planning of our Carbon Action Reduction Group.

Honestly, it would have been fun and funny even without the wine. The four sled dogs milling around our legs added a lot to the happy hubbub. Bottom line: We’re going to do it! We’re responding to global warming by measuring our households’ carbon footprints and working together to control and reduce them. This is the basic spreadsheet each household will use.

Probably because I was the initial instigator, I get to be the group’s ‘accountant’ in the first year. I accepted this role only because Ewan O’Leary, who is starting his own carbon-offset business, is going to help me. (I love teamwork.) We are naturally open to new members: please post a comment at top of this article if you’re interested.

If you are sitting there thinking you are definitely not ready for this CRAG thing yourself, don’t feel alone. Here is what some of my friends said at the prospect. And I am absolutely still friends with them; I’m even going hiking with Micki tonight. I do believe, though, that my frequent-commenter Mick down in Berkeley is thinking about starting a CRAG, himself. Hope he’ll keep us posted. 🙂