Archive for the 'transportation' 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.

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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.

Stampede To Small Cars?

The New York Times has a front-page article today about Americans making a stampede to small cars due to rising gas prices.

I read it avidly since our transportation choices form such a high percentage of our national carbon footprint (and carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming). It turned out that one in five U.S. car purchases in April were of a compact or sub-compact car, compared to one in eight a decade ago.

This is called a stampede to fuel-efficient cars? I’m underwhelmed.

I see a misguided but very human thing playing itself out around gas prices, cars, carbon emissions and global warming. Science tells us we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70-85%.  Yet, media coverage and public behavior reveal a childlike desire for our lifestyles to change very little from what we’re used to — despite full evidence and knowledge that our lifestyles need to change a lot, based as they are on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

My post on Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid? has gotten almost as many hits as the next two most popular posts put together. Clearly, people are hot for green-tinged cars. But why aren’t we talking about cutting our driving in half, rather than having wet dreams about cars in different flavors and sizes? Where is the front-page NY Times story on how 82% of U.S. trips of five miles or less are currently made in cars, rather than on foot or bicycle? Using our bodies for transportation addresses national health and obesity problems as well as global warming. And exercise elevates mood and makes us feel happier, too.

The time when people reported the highest level of happiness in the U.S. was a time when they walked and bicycled more and drove less. Let’s not be impressed by the current so-called stampede to small cars. The transformation needed to effectively deal with global warming calls for changes in us more than in our cars.

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.

The Very Best Diet, Part I

You have probably read by now that our country has been getting dramatically more obese for twenty years now. Most people I know seem to want to lose weight and be more lean and fit. Diets, though, are famous for non-lasting results and nasty backlash effects.

My philosophy of the diamond-cut life naturally has a different take on weight loss and dieting than the mainstream culture does. (I’m not making any money on any of this after all, which can help with objectivity.) The little-publicized fact is that our body-weight is rising in conjunction with the miles we drive in our cars and the hours we spend in them. Incidentally our carbon emissions are on the same upward trajectory.

Think about it. Sit in a car more, gain more weight. Use your body to get yourself around, lose weight. Too simple, huh.

My conclusion: it is the car-use that needs the diet, not the well-meaning person. (You may think the car is well-meaning, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt over inanimate objects).

photo by Jill Greenseth

photo by Jill Greenseth

Here is the very best diet I know. I would call it the Low-Car Diet except that my nice pals at the car-share company Zipcar already use that name for their fun summer program.) I subscribe to the diet below and am often asked how I stay so slim. (I don’t talk much about the time back in college when I got really fat, it’s too embarrassing.)

  • Use stairs instead of elevators and escalators
  • Bicycle for trips and errands of five miles and less
  • Walk for trips and errands of up to two miles
  • Use transit whenever possible (entails more walking than cars)
  • Pick a church or other steady destination that’s within walking distance
  • Use the car only when nothing else will work for the purpose at hand

Next week I’ll write about the other very best diet I know. It’s almost as fun and carbon-reducing as this one!

Our Carbon Reduction Group

The funny thing about climate change (also known as global warming) is that it is so invisible to us, while so serious. Our daily lives here in the affluent U.S. don’t look different despite the icecaps melting, etc. But our lives should look different — we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. So Colleen and I are starting a Carbon Reduction Action Group (here is my first look at this).

This means we and whoever joins us will be counting our households’ monthly greenhouse gas emissions in three ways: our heating bills, electricity bills and transportation (personal use, not business use). The idea is healthy competition with ourselves to steadily reduce our emissions down to a sustainable level, especially given that government is not taking the lead.

To clarify, CRAG in the United Kingdom is a Carbon Rationing Action Group. I’ve noticed though that the term ‘rationing’ is seen differently in the UK than in the U.S., i.e. with less morbid fear. So I’m doing as some others have done by using the term ‘carbon reduction action group’ rather than ‘carbon rationing action group’. Got to respect your market.

If you find this idea daunting you’re not alone. Half my friends freaked at the idea of counting and reporting their emissions. But I know in my gut this is absolutely doable. More soon.