Archive for the 'environment' Category

Great, Green Job Opening

I’m hiring! Rather, the state agency I work for is hiring me a full-time assistant to work on the Governor’s Commuter Challenge (I am the program manager). Full job description and link to apply is here

Perhaps I’m biased, but this is the coolest project in the greenest state in the nation (Oregon). The theme of the Challenge is “Save Money, Reduce Emissions, Share The Ride.” My assistant program manager will help me reach out to 8,500 Capitol Mall employees and encourage them to commute without driving alone, with a special emphasis on carpooling.

Please help spread the word to people who want to work in sustainability.

Advertisements

High Energy Prices: Good

I’m sipping my coffee at 6 a.m. at Stumptown in Southeast Portland (joy). The Oregonian’s front page shows an ocean of the 72,000 faces that turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday (yes, I voted for him, too) and the lower right corner story is: “Who loves high energy prices? The environment.”

The gist is basic economics: when price goes up, demand goes down. And we have got to demand (use) less energy, because it costs the earth heavily. I’ve seen oil fields and coal mines described as war zones, and that makes sense, because we’re violently wresting fossil fuels from the earth that have been millions of years in the making (hence the term fossil). Moreover, burning them causes global warming, because the atmosphere cannot quickly absorb millions of years worth of carbon dioxide and methane. High prices help us slow all this down. In fact, slowing down is crucial all around.

The big problem with high energy prices is that they can make the poor suffer, which of itself is immoral and unethical. If you can’t afford to get to work or heat your house, then you deserve a price break or assistance. (But you also should carpool!) We need a more progressive tax system altogether, and those who have enough need to just voluntarily share more with those who don’t have enough. My household gives about 5% of our net income to philanthropy, but I think we can and should increase that.

If the earth loves high energy prices, let’s get it straight that we are part of the earth, too. Would we put a rock-bottom price on our own lives? No; our civilization is built on valuing human life. Because our fate rises and falls with the earth’s fate, we have to put a high price on energy and use it as the incredibly costly stuff that it actually is.

Rejecting Agrofuel: What To Do

The diamond-cut life is about more joy, more integrity and less consumption as we deal with global warming. The food-as-fuel track that the U.S. is on assumes unlimited consumption (driving alone, for instance) with no particular joy or integrity.

What are practical, concrete things we can do? Here is what my household is doing to use less gas and discourage the business of agrofuel (food-as-fuel). Please write in with your ideas too (click Comments at the top of this post.)

Put your household on a fuel or gasoline diet. For instance, how much do you intend to spend on gas each month? (average $3.65/gallon in Oregon at time of this writing). Having healthy limits is what adults do. Some ways we live happily within our fuel diets:

  • Use public transit I am using only public transit today and not touching a car. To see the fun of this, read the 200-word piece Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog. (written before I started carpooling to Salem for my new job)
  • Walk for errands of two miles and less
  • Bicycle to destinations of five miles and less
  • Post a handmade map on your refrigerator of all the cool things you can do within walk/bike distance of home. Spring and summer weather make this much easier.
  • Post a list of all the fun things you can do AT home
  • Carpool or vanpool, especially for long commutes. I have great fun with this. See Carpool Survivor

Check out Drive Less Save More as a good resource for driving less. By June 1st it plans to have a Trip Diary that we can all use to record our non-drive-alone trips. That which gets measured gets improved. I’m going to use it!

Tell your Congresspeople you don’t want food used as fuel. Say that we should be using less fuel, instead. Here’s an easy place to find their contact info.

When you have to drive, drive the most fuel-efficient car you can. But, even then, don’t use that as an excuse to drive more than necessary. Tomorrow I’ll write about the new hybrid we just bought. Is your money on the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid?

Photo courtesy of “CaptPiper”, graphic added by Hanmi Meyer.

Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.

EcoProm: My Favorite Leaders

Part of the diamond-cut life, in my view, is taking responsibility for our democracy by being politically involved. We need candidates who support sustainability. That plus my fondness for sociability and community is the reason I host a table of ten each year at the EcoProm, also known as the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV) ‘s annual dinner for the environment.

Sam Adams and Alison Wiley at OLCV EcoProm 2008

City Commissioner Sam Adams has OLCV’s endorsement (also my vote) in the race for mayor of Portland. People say he tends to hold grudges, but I found him gracious and forgiving when I forgot to let him speak last summer at a transportation-options awards meeting. (I apologized profusely.) Sam’s my man.

Jackie Dingfelder, Judy Steigler, and Alison Wiley at OLCV EcoProm 2008

Jackie Dingfelder, running for Oregon state senator, is on the left and Judy Steigler (center) of Bend is running for the Oregon house of representatives. I got to know Jackie a bit recently at a house party, and discovered she shares my passion for renewable energy, transportation options and green-collar jobs. Judy is on a similar page; they both have OLCV’s endorsement and my own.

Alison Wiley and Scott Bricker at OLCV EcoProm 2008

I first met Scott Bricker, above, when he did legislative affairs for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Now he is its executive director, and Portland, with a whopping 6% of its population commuting via bicycle and another 10% using bikes as their secondary commute-mode, just earned the first Platinum rating in the nation for its bicycle-friendliness. Scott’s excellent leadership has much to do with that.

Chris Smith and Alison Wiley at OLCV EcoProm 2008

Chris Smith (aka Citizen Smith, above) is running for Portland city commissioner, and is strong on sustainability in general and transportation options in particular. I like both him and another excellent candidate running for the same seat, Amanda Fritz (not pictured).

Katherine Arnold and Alison Wiley at OLCV EcoProm 2008

Katherine Arnold, above, is a Beaverton city commissioner up for re-election, and has OLCV’s endorsement as another green elected official. She is one of the good folks who helped approve my motion for the Leadership Beaverton program to add a Sustainability Day to its curriculum. I had the pleasure of serving with her for a time on the board of Leadership Beaverton (until my new job and commute to Salem led me to resign from that commitment).

My cool blog assistant, professional photographer Hanmi Meyer, took all these photos. Thanks Hanmi!

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.