Category Archives: global climate change

Take the time: Nick Werle on Free Markets and Nature

We tell ourselves stories, and sometimes we can see with frightening clarity the impact of those stories on our behavior.

A recent essay in 3 Quarks Daily by Nick Werle (Competing to Live: On Planet Earth and Being in Nature) takes a careful but wide ranging look at the many stories we tell ourselves about Nature.  He looks at David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series and the focus on the delicate balance in nature…and its requirements.  He looks at Darwin’s story in The Origin and sees similar threads regarding competition and the urge to survive. They both have a keen interest in understanding the mechanism of competition.

“In the rain forest, which we have seen has both high productivity and unceasing conflict, ‘competition for resources ensures that no one species dominates the jungle.’”

David Attenborough, Planet Earth

All of Nature is Regulated and Interconnected…and we are part of Nature

At the end he raises the obvious question of how we humans, the closest relative to the marauding gangs of chimpanzees that are depicted wrecking havoc in the jungle, care or alternately don’t seem to care about our place in the balance of nature.  Deregulationism has at its core a willful faith that the market will balance out all transgressions, that it is a marvelous–nay, Magic–self-regulating machine that is well within the bounds of Nature itself. It is a faith that ignores the obvious issue of interconnectedness.  Witness the global concern over Japan’s under-regulated, under-managed, growth focused nuclear program in the last month.  Earthquakes and tsunamis are natural disasters; nuclear meltdowns as a result of deregulation are not, and no market forces  can adjust the damage done.

As we have seen with increasing regularity, our wave of deregulation–from bubble to bust, from drilling and chemicals to “clean-ups,” implosions,  and overpopulation, we are not living in balance with the planet we call home.

We have managed to upset the balance of so many systems that it seems to me we are now living well outside of nature.  Plastic may well be the iconic metaphor for all we have become. The story we tell ourselves, and what we are actually doing, are not concordant, even as they could be.  Attenborough makes an argument that yes, we are part of Nature, and our particular playing field is uniquely human, but is nonetheless part of the large balance we would do well to have an interest in. The point Attendborough makes is more subtle than those put forth by deregulationists:

It positions humanity not as an alien force superimposed on an independently existing natural world but as a part of the same precariously balance system. The argument is so affective because it refuses to plead. Instead it suggests that we reconsider the boundaries we draw between systems we hope to keep in balance.

Instead of defining the jungle as the wild and unthinkable state of nature, this naturalist approach seeks to fuse man’s understanding of himself with the complexities of Nature in order to ensure that Planet Earth never becomes a stunning monument to irrecoverable beauty.



For Sarah and others

Take a few minutes and watch this short narrated slideshow documenting climate change.  Fortunately it ends on an upnote…if we choose the right paths now.

Days 360-365: MLwC hits the Year End Mark

 So, I thought in honor of the project that has changed the way I think about driving–this grew-up-in-Southern-California-you’ll -take-my-car-from-my-cold-dead-hands girl–I thought I’d review some of the high points along the way.

bianchi bike

First, recollection of the project’s goal as I’ve stated it on the blog:

MLwC stands for My Life w Car, a year long project to think differently about alternate transportation options and related issues…like, jeez, I never knew how angry driving made me until I stopped. Nowdays, I mix it up: bike, bus, ped, and yes, I still drive…though nowhere near as much as I used to. I may ditch my car at the end of the year–I like to think it’s possible. But I’m spending the year figuring that question out. For now, it’s enough that I’ve changed my habits in a big way.

For the big question, will I ditch my car? No, it became clear about midway that it made no sense to ditch a perfectly good, fully paid for car that works fine and is not sooo old that it’s a polluting disaster. Flexcar is good if you don’t have a car. But I’ve managed to completely change my transportation habits to include bike, bus, walking, ride sharing in my normal activities, and drastically reduce my car use period. Good enough.

sr520.jpg

And now for some of the high points along the year where I had some clear and habit changing insights. Here are the posts I would send the interested reader to:

Day 95: Walking! The subject of walking instead of driving brought up a lot of feelings for readers and myself. Walking takes longer, but the calm and enjoyment one gets from it really resonated with people. I started walking more and found I loved the parenthetical space it created–when you’re walking, you’re just walking. Looking around, hearing birds, being part of your town–and slowing things down a lot. Maybe some can’t imagine slowing things down and to them I just say: too bad, your loss. You should try it, you might like it.

Day 99: I really started to understand how things would change if I changed my habitual approach to transportation. Also, I found that discussing the project with others opened up a lot of questions and interest with my circle of friends. I didn’t expect the kind of interest the MLwC project engendered.

Day 116-118: In the process of removing habitual driving from my life, I became aware of the connection between driving and CONSUMING! You get in the car and you go…to get stuff. The two–the need for stuff and the trek to get the stuff–are so intertwined it takes a real effort to untangle them. This realization led me to discover the San Francisco Compact–a group that is dedicated to not buying anything for a year. Amazing.

seattle071.jpg

Day 160: Continuing on the issue of consuming, I truly get it! Moving quickly, hopping in the car, is the quickest route to impulse buying possible. Making things easy is truly making things a lot worse in the whole big picture. Fast food, fast cars, fast this and fast that–I’m just not sure we’ve got the right goals in mind. I know this perspective makes me a bad capitalist, but hey.

Day 191-194: I’m starting to really understand how things have changed from the 50’s to now. Unbridled populations growth as a machine for consuming and using every resource that’s not nailed down. No wait, we’ll use the ones that are nailed down, too.

station wagon promo pic

Days 213-214: Considerations about the older car, the urge to have something new, new, new! And plus, I just love the title of the post: The discreet charm of the older car.

Days 218-221: this is an important post, one of those posts where I really get an insight into my mind. Bill McKibbon hits the nail on the head when he points out that more has not made us happier, it’s just made us anxious for More. And that mirrors my experience with driving precisely. And my driving is inextricably linked to my consuming.

Day 233-237: The Puget Sound region rejects a proposal to build more roads! This is a watershed moment in more than one way!

urbanforest.jpg

Days 273-277: I took my car on a road trip, a rare experience. How rare? Well, I was completely unaware how expensive gas was, and I had a rude awakening that cars actually need oil now and then.

Days 241-243: One of my most favorite posts of all. This chronicles a trip I made to a day long meditation…and how crazy I made myself trying to get there on time in a traffic jam. I learned well the concept of “No Escape.” And I’ve thought of it often since this day. There a follow-up of this post here. This period was a real turning point in understanding the habit of driving, the real deep down problem of it.

Days 287-290: a plea to change your life and change the world. We can all make a difference. We must all make a difference.

Days 332-338: a video about the Story of Stuff. I just want to call this out because it’s excellent and Annie Leonard deserves traffic!

So this year comes to a close. I know not many folks will want to read all the stuff I’ve chronicled over the course of this year, but the upshot is: I’ve learned how to live differently. I’ve learned that I can learn to live differently.

The crowd roars

And because of this, my next target has already been selected: plastic bags and plastic containers. I’ll begin this project soon and have a killer kick-off post planned. Of course, the new post series title? MLwP.

Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri)
Car: 63 miles
Bike:5.0
Ped: 5.5 miles
Bus:

Days 301-307: MLwC and an idea about consumption

That’s consumption in the modern sense of the disease: think SUVs crammed with stuff. Come on, most of us did it to one degree or another this season, even if we didn’t use an SUV to haul the stuff around. So, let’s try to take our consuming habits apart one piece at a time. For example, did you buy a lot of stuff that will inevitably end up in land-fill, not only because the target user outgrew it, out-used it, or never really wanted it in the first place?

So how to think about that….I didn’t really do so much less this year, but what was different was this: I focused on making sure what I did buy or make was recyclable or immediately consumable (food, eg). I made calendars for all my near and dear ones…perhaps to their chagrin, who knows. But at the end of the year, they can toss those puppies in the recycling bin and the paper will be mashed up and turned into something else. We offered a feast of special delectables to our friends–pricey, fancy, certainly impressive. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and we had a blast. We gave beeswax candles which burn clean. We bought and downloaded music–no muss, no fuss. We gave gifts to kids that are recyclable or immediately usable or edible. We also endeavored to simply buy and give less, but make it mean more.

Wall Street is bemoaning the fact that even though spending on the holidays was robust, it was less than they hoped for and so they’re calling the season a disaster. Go figure. I ran across a blog this morning that helped me think about the prayed for endless upward trend on spending–something virtually unheard of in the natural world:

….I didn’t consume this season because of that as much as for the sake of the earth and equality and a chance for my kid to come of age in a world where a person’s worth is not measured by the limit on their plastic or the cubic footage of their SUV.

As any medical professional will tell you, untrammeled growth at the cellular level is known as cancer. But lots of economists and financial reporters don’t see the point in that: they say we need uncontrolled, rabid, nuclear growth at all times and especially at Christmas. I mean, look at all the good it’s done us, how sweet and warm and fuzzy is the cult of metastatic consumption, what blessings it has poured upon our nation and our planet.

I have had this same conversation with a lot of people before, usually those somewhere right of me who believe–literally believe—that endless growth and consumption is not only good, but what the Lord had in mind. I think they do a disservice to the Lord. Nothing, absolutely nothing in nature–outside of cancer–grows endlessly without dire results. It’s simply not possible, divine intervention or not. So, maybe it’s a good thing to see us slow down a little on the holidays. I know we focused more on sharing ourselves and making room for more good times together…and the results have been a real holiday, one full of friends and family and quiet and raucous times together.

Another note, on the MLwC project. I mentioned previously that on Thanksgiving, we took my car for a trip up to the San Juan Islands–a fabulous Thanksgiving of bike rides and hikes with sweeping views of the Straights. I had some car trouble, it was diagnosed as okay, but needing attention back in town. I got the attention and got the car fixed last week–for free. It seems the very expensive part that had worn out (catalytic converter) is covered on my car as long as I’ve put less than 90K miles on it. Not only was I less than 90K, I was less than 50K! So, another reward of less driving: you actually get a chance to use that methodically planned warranty they attach to the car when you buy it. Now my car is running smooth and happy, when I use it. Which it seems is quite a lot over this rainy, cold holiday season…..

Daily stats:
Car: 324 miles (out to the coast to visit family and back, plus several errands)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 8
Bus: 40 miles

Days 294-297: MLwC, looking past the current president and the Seattle ride metro campaign

There’s an article in the NYTimes today about how the global climate summit in Bali that’s been taking place for the last two weeks, came to the conclusion that they would need to plan beyond the current US administration if they were going to deal with the future of the environment at all. And ain’t that just the way with all things George Bush: people, countries, governments all over try to work with him, try to include him, but he’s such a my-way-or-the-highway kinda guy that ultimately, those same groups do what they do in all systems: they learn to move around the unmovable object.

“The next presidential election takes place at the halfway point in these treaty talks,” David D. Doniger, who directs climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council and served in the Clinton administration, said on his Web log on Saturday. “So the U.S. will field a new team in the second half. And there are good odds that the next president will get serious on global warming.”

….

Some environmental groups criticized Europe for not sticking to its guns. But it appeared that, in the end, the Europeans followed a path recommended in a speech last Monday by former Vice President Al Gore, fresh from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

He advised Bali negotiators to look beyond the Bush administration, whose tenure ends in one year.

If George Bush were just some yahoo from Texas (and soon he will be), I wouldn’t mind. Big whoop. But he has had his way with our global reputation and standing for nearly 8 years, much to our continued and growing chagrin, and I’m sick of it. A lot of people are sick of it. I don’t even take any pleasure in knowing he will be remembered as our worse president ever. What he’s dragged this country into isn’t worth any comeuppance, I just want him to go away.

So, okay. On to other things. Here in Seattle, there’s a plan in the works to try to wean some drivers off their car addiction in the coming two years. It’s part of a larger initiative to remove 2,688 cars from the daily commute in a number of ways. The one that caught my eye is called the Green Bike initiative and it works like this:

The “Green Bike Pilot” project provides drive-alone commuters with new commuter bicycles, training and gear in exchange for a pledge to reduce their drive-alone trips by 60 percent. Bike mentors will provide social support to new participants with route planning, tune-ups and bicycle safety training. Participants who fulfill their pledge will get to keep their bikes and will gain a healthy and sustainable commute habit. This unique project will help improve environmental and personal health, mobility and livable communities by providing a low-cost, carbon-free commute choice for commuters throughout King County. This project proposes to reduce 510 vehicle commute trips.

Some will likely get hot under the collar about the cost of providing bikes to people who could probably afford to buy one…but that’s not the point here. The point is very clearly to create a community support system to help people change behaviors around driving. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. I’ll be interested to follow this.

Tomorrow I’m trying a new route to my job over on the peninsula in P-bo–bus downtown, ferry over, friend picks me up and we drive together to the office. It’s a start.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 46 miles (peninsula, three tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 3 miles
Bus: 16 miles

Days 287-290: MLwC and the difference a single person can make

Recently CNN has been running a show about Heroes. My cynical self sees this as riffing off the popular TV show by the same name, and then, maybe a little more critical than I need to be, I wonder what the bottom-line impact on the average viewer is seeing what these real-life heroes have done in their lives to earn such accolade.

Here are some of the Heroes profiled:

  • An Ecuadoran lawyer leading a landmark environmental lawsuit
  • A U.S. expatriate who encourages attendance at rural African schools
  • A Ugandan missionary who runs a boarding school for girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army
  • A man who founded a clinic in his native Kenya A Cuban woman who transformed a toxic dump in Cuba into an urban garden
  • A teenager who developed a music system to help people with autism by linking language to sounds.

These are flat out amazing people, and it’s great to see a TV news show dedicated to highlighting their actions in a world that is overwhelming in its crises and problems. It was also great to see something positive on a national news tv show–it’s uplifting, to be sure.

But I also wonder: for those of us who lead quiet, normal lives and don’t hear the call to big heroic action, what does a show like this do? Is it just a cathartic fix, an opportunity to be moved by story and pictures? Does it actually move the individual to do anything differently or does it perhaps, worst of all, allow for a comparison between self and Ideal, where self (that’s you sitting on your sofa) comes up very short indeed. So short you actually don’t even try to change anything–not even the smallest thing.

This is one of those heaven or hell moments, where the viewer is sort of forced–unconsciously–to identify with the lofty ideal or feel less than and therefore not accountable. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I’d love to hear opinions on it.

So what heroic thing can one person do? Since I’m focused on the environment and finding ways to live differently, I think it’s heroic when someone takes the time and money to do a biodiesel conversion on their car. No one’s asking them to do it, they’re only doing it because they feel it’s important. Will that ever make it to CNN? I don’t think so–it’s not that interesting on a large screen. But I find the whole process, thought and action, very interesting.

I find it interesting when someone decides to sit down and figure out how many tons of paper would be saved if people simply used one less napkin per day. One less napkin! And then manages to get the word out and change the behavior of countless people–that network just amazes and inspires me.

There are lots and lots of people out there who notice one small thing and decide to focus on it to make it better. Like bus rider unions–they take the issue on and create something for the good of so many others. Here in Seattle, we’re discussing the possibility of starting a rider’s union–who knows where it will go, but it’s better than going numb and not even thinking about it.

There are garden growers and bike riders and organic farmers and so many others who are deciding for themselves to take a different path from the one laid out for them. Refusing chemically enhanced flowers and vegetables, taking back the streets and making them safe for more bikes–demanding space and recognition, going through the several year long process of becoming a certified organic farm….These are all leaps of faith and individual decisions to be part of a larger movement. This is what Paul Hawken’s talks about in his book Blessed Unrest and his work in building social networks of individuals making changes locally that impact all of us.

So, maybe I just get a little nervous when we hold up a handful of people as Heroes when there are heroes all around us, deciding to not do the simple thing, the expedient thing, but instead are changing their lives one action at a time. I admire all those people who decide to change their lives–simply because they have become aware it is the right thing to do. Collectively we are changing the world.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun–whew–been busy with the recent rain damage and stuff!)
Car: 11 miles
Bike: 7.5 miles
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0

Days 285-286: MLwC and it’s a Green Thing Christmas

Go ahead and have an irreverent chuckle with the new green-idea-of-the-month video for December. Do the Green Thing , it’s all in good fun. The idea is: buy something old this Christmas, or maybe nothing at all, and try to remember what Christmas is really all about. Now, there’s a radical act!

Seattle rain thanks to Creative TechThanks to CreativeTechs

So, up here in the northwest we’re reminded again what global climate change means to us: rain, rain and then, for good measure, more rain. Streets and freeways closed, basements flooded, and just way more water than the infrastructure is able to handle. This has been happening more each year–we just broke the previous rain record set in 2003.

Tim Flannery in The Weather Makers discusses in fine detail how global climate change will likely play out and one of the things he notes is rapid and extreme fluxuations in weather–where there was rain before, there will be massive flooding; where there was desert, there will be ongoing drought. The extremes will increase on all fronts. That appears to be happening.

One last thing: UN committee on Global Climate Change meets in Bali this week. Watch for the year 2020 to become a media buzzword in the next few months–it’s the watershed year for change that many scientists and scientific panels have agreed upon–the do or die date. It’s not a bad thing–clear dates and timelines always help focus the mind.
Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed)
Car: 14.5 miles
Bike: 5.5 miles
Ped: 0
Bus: 0

Days 278-281: MLwC and can we stop eating ourselves out of house and home?

Jared Diamond, of Guns, Germs and Steel fame, wrote another book that got its share of acclaim but not nearly the read GSG did, for some reason. The other book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive basically chronicles our species’ historical tendency to consume itself out of house and home, with some notable exceptions which he also chronicles.

Diamond identifies 5 key features that can contribute to a society’s collapse and discusses each in its turn:

  • natural climate changes
  • manmade environmental damage
  • reduced support from neighbors or trading partners
  • hostile neighbors
  • how societies identify and respond to environmental problems

Of real interest to me today, in light of Jakarta’s government sponsored and orchestrated project to plant 79 million (Million!) trees to counteract the deforestation of their small island. Jakarta has the highest rate of deforestation in the world, and may well be–at least for its size–a record breaking carbon producer as it slashes and burns its way to “monetization” and simultaneously drains and harvests some of the largest peat wetlands in the world. The country is possibly in the running for real-time environmental collapse and is–credit where credit is due–trying to do something about it.

That brings me to the title of the blog and point 2 and 5 above. Diamond chronicles how many societies from ancient to modern use the resources around them to survive and reproduce. Inevitably, certain resources cannot be regrown or resupplied as quickly as we can reproduce and therefore the resource drain increases incrementally until the foundation upon which a society is built–based on resource usage–literally collapses. He uses a number of well known examples from long ago, the Anasazi, Easter Island, the Greenland Norse and others. In its simplest terms, the dependence on wood for heating and cooking was a critical mistake: the wood in these areas was slow growth and dependent on a fragile environment. In these cases, it is quite likely that the populations literally ate themselves out of house and home.

Point 5 above is all about situations wherein a population recognizes the danger signs and responds. He has fewer examples of this than he does of the other point which makes for a gloomy read all around, but there are examples: Tikopia in the South Pacific, New Guinea and a forest region in Japan. There are arguably others that are actively trying to stave off the effects of resource depletion all over the world, places like Costa Rica with some successes and still plenty to do, and Kenya (see the awesome Wangari Maathi), and now perhaps…perhaps add Jakarta. Some are calling this tree project a sort of window-dressing on the real problem: the black market for the exotic woods that grow there. Until the market declines or more viable options assert themselves, the slash-and-cash economy will continue to flourish. But let’s take an optimistic view for now…you never know. One small act leads to another and another and another.

Daily Stats (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu)
Car: 3 miles
Bike: 11 miles
Ped: 3
Bus: 0

A video of Diamond lecturing on this topic can be found here.

Days 269 thru 272: MLwC–it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Beach Drive Western Exposure

So, after many days of dreary gray skies and buckets of rain, today burst forth with brilliant sunlight, crisp blue skies and puffy clouds rolling across the horizon. I took a ride to Alki and to run my errands and stopped to take a snap of this view–too bright, actually, so I put my polarized sun glasses over the lens and got this result. Not bad for an iPhone camera and shades!

I’ll be driving my old car this coming holiday quite a little bit which will blow my stats for the quarter–they were already suffering compared to summer when the livin’ is easy. That’s just the way it is and will be around the holidays. I don’t mind though; I know I’ve radically changed my thinking and relationship to driving and cars and the whole dang mess. Driving now is for necessity and for special events–it’s just not an every day occurrence anymore and that, for me, is revolutionary.

Here’s wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving (except for the turkeys–I wish them a luckier incarnation next time around ;-))–plenty of laughter, love and good food, veggie or otherwise!

 

Daily Stats: (Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue)

Car: 11 miles (2 peeps, 4 errands)
Bike: 10 miles (3 errands)
Ped: coupla miles
Bus: 0

Days 267 & 268: MLwC and Good Carma

Pal Brian sent me a a link to a new site that’s getting some buzz. It’s Carma–Carbon Monitoring for Action, and it maps and rates carbon footprints of power plants and power companies by region and country, all over the world. It’s a deep site, with lots of drill down options so when you poke around, be sure to toy with the many options for viewing stats and facts.

Carma–Carbon Monitoring Map of the World

A world view shows Asia as producing the biggest carbon footprint in the world, in terms of power production, which isn’t surprising I guess when you consider the population density.

Closer to home, the midwest and east coast of the United States has the biggest carbon footprint. And even closer to home, the Seattle area has a tidy little zero for carbon footprint. However, if you dig even deeper into the stats, you’ll find very specific information on power plants within the zone. For example, if you look below, you’ll see that most of the plants in the Seattle area are green or at least yellow, but interestingly, our own University of Washington is red, meaning they have a significant carbon footprint:

Carma–Carbon Monitoring Map of the World

Another really great aspect of the site is its social network–it automatically picks up conversations and news stories through RSS and posts them on the site, but it also has engaged a LOT of conversation on the site itself, with everything from scholarly inquiry and feedback, to more pedestrian interest.

The site is very new and will undoubtedly be changing constantly as it has the resources to grow and evolve, in response to demands and questions. A cool thing about the project is its focus on actionable information. It’s a resource for change (nudge to the University of Washington Enviro-watchers…)

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri)
Car: 5.5
Bike: 0
Ped: 4
Bus: 15

Day 260: MLwC, a new group of voters and a bus riders’ union!

Yesterday I posted a comment that lamented our collective and general inability to put large concepts into practice in our daily lives, a large generality that is mostly true, but startlingly untrue sometimes. I read today in the Seattle PI about how the mass transit part of the transportation bill that was voted down Tuesday (Prop 1) would have passed if it hadn’t been bundled with the new roads plan. Very interesting indeed.

It appears there is a new and growing group of voters who do indeed vote based on the large concepts:

But Riehle said he saw a new concern that could have changed Prop 1’s outcome.

“A new group of voters played a decisive role in determining the results,” he said. “We found that there was a group of voters who we would describe as pro-transit defectors.”

This new class was identified by cross tabbing voters who said they would have voted yes to a transit only plan with those who voted no on Proposition 1.

“Of that group that were pro-transit defectors…the single largest reason they gave (for voting no) was environmental impacts like global warming.”

That group of pro-transit defectors represented about 6 percent of all the voters who participated in the Proposition 1 election.

“In an election where the final margin might be around 12 percent, that suggests that in the absence of their concern about global warming this would have been a much closer election than it was.”

And what does that mean for the future of transportation issues in this region? I think it probably means that the Sierra Club and other groups will be invited to the Big Boys’ conversation next time. And that can only be good for everyone.

On another front, there is talk of a Bus Rider’s Union here in Seattle. I’ve seen the mention a couple of times in The Stranger and I’m curious to learn more. To quote one fed up bus rider in his Stranger article:

Rail is one solution. In every city I’ve ever been to—even cities with decent, clean, reliable bus service—riding rail is a more pleasant experience than riding the bus. But we aren’t going to get rail until 2009, and then only to the South End. So in the meantime, what could be done to make the experience of bus riding more pleasant for the 95 percent of riders who don’t stink, aren’t wasted, aren’t selling drugs, aren’t harassing other passengers, and aren’t raving loudly to themselves?

A bus riders’ union, like the ones formed by fed-up citizens in many other cities? More police on buses? A stricter hygiene and drug use policy—one that’s actually enforced, rather than the completely toothless system we have now? More frequent bus service and a kiosk at bus stops telling riders when the next bus will arrive? A faster, perhaps curbside, ticketing system?

Most of the buses I ride are okay, but downtown, the buses can be pretty terrible sometimes.  I think a whole lot could be done if there were a Union that Metro Transit listened to and worked with, you know: actual riders at the table helping to figure out how to build ridership and make bus riding a viable alternative to cars.  I want to investigate this more.  The articles in the Stranger I’ve come across indicate other cities are doing this–stay tuned.

Daily Stats: (thu)
Car: 8
Ped: 1.5
Bike: 0
Bus: 14.5

Days 258-259: MLwC and Roads, Revisited, Rejected, Reviled

Thanks to Carless in Seattle for surfacing the above vid, a commercial which actually made the hair on my neck tingle with anxiety.

I’ve posted a couple of times about Prop 1/RTID referendum here in Washington; of course we had the election yesterday and it looks like the proposal is going down in defeat, if not flames.

I’ve been watching the comments on the news articles in the local papers and thought several of them were worthy of repeating here, as I think sometimes we underestimate our citizenry and they’re ability to rationally think through an issue. Of course there are lots of posts that do not represent the most rational approach, but hey. You can’t please everyone.

Posted by lowerwallfrd at 11/7/07 12:28 a.m.

I really wanted to vote for Prop 1, it just did too little for too much money, I had to vote no. I hope we have a similar and better planned bill next year. Light rail to Tacoma is stupid. I think Sound Transit is a nightmare waiting to happen. There are no additional funds that should be given to those pretenders.

Posted by cj in seattle at 11/7/07 3:53 a.m.

Perhaps it would help if we had smaller $$ for more specific spending goals. I think the size of this and the fact that it was a multiple project package scared people off.

Both my self and my husband ended up voting for it even though it size of it made me think on it a while. I recognize the importance of the responsibility of one generation to those who come after.

I think though that if we could get a package for just mass transit that it would take off nicely with voter support. There has been so much corruption in government that the public has become jaded by it. They don’t trust it anymore. Its important to public servants to recognize this.

Posted by jungleal at 11/7/07 5:51 a.m.

Prop 1’s flame out is worth getting up out of bed early to celebrate. Let’s have the media bring to light every penny of gas tax hike spending. Bring back those “Your Nickel at Work” project signs, and how about some “Your Another 9.5 Cents at Work” signs and some “Your Original 23 Cents at Work” signs and a breakdown of where the 18.4 cents per gallon of federal gas tax is going. If the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 bridge are so fragile and dangerous, why are they not receiving more immediate gas tax money??

Posted by rwb77 at 11/7/07 6:33 a.m.

For affordable light rail: build it like many other cities are at much less cost, at-grade, not elevated or tunneled. Build it on existing rights of way, like highways and abandoned railroads. The gold-plated Sound Transit version is great for contractors but bad for taxpayers. And for a route, how about a simple loop around the lake? Start at Southcenter, branching off from the current elevated line, go to Renton, follow the old railroad right of way north to Bothell, around the upper end of the lake to Northgate, then past Husky Stadium into downtown. Don’t try a potential engineering nightmare with tracks across the lake; dedicate both floating bridges to Bus Rapid Transit; those are the two corridors where it would probably be most feasible.

For highways, spend dollars first on safety and maintenance (remember a certain bridge in Minneapolis this past summer …..). It is not WSDOT’s responsiblity to enable people to commute 40 miles one way at 60 mph on the same road at the same time as 100,000 other people. That’s what happens whenever new lanes are approved: developers come in with new housing and new strip malls and by the time the lane opens, it’s as gridlocked as the older lanes.

Posted by SleeplessInSeattle at 11/7/07 7:31 a.m.

Proposition 1 is NOT a comprehensive package. It is mainly an Eastside improvement project, with a small fragment thrown in for the rest of the area in an effort to gloss over what it really is. Is there anyone out there who is really dense enough to believe that light rail to Mercer Island and Bellevue addresses this area’s major transportation problems and environmental concerns, much less does anything to repair the roads and bridges in most need of improvement?!

We already voted in and pay an exhorbitant gas tax in this state for what was supposed to fund road/brige repair and improvement projects. At the time, 520 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct were specifically mentioned as projects that would be completed with that gas tax money. Senators Murray and Cantwell also got federal disaster money to help repair 520 and the Viaduct. Almost immediately after those two money sources came into fruition, our new governor began looking for ways to legally divert the Viaduct portion of those funds to 520. So, mark my words, 520 will be rebuilt whether Proposition 1 passes or not. Proposition 1 was just the boondoggle they were looking for to build the new 520. Now they’ll just have to use the money that was already budgeted for it, plus impose tolls. Gee, what a concept. And, yes, I certainly was thinking of my children, and their children. . .when I voted no. They would be the next generation paying for this mess, and they too would have no money left to devote to projects which would actually improve the quality of life in this area.

It’s interesting that when push comes to shove, the vote was anger directed at the government, and bewilderment over taxes already set aside for projects that are not being done. Very few of the comments really take on the larger issue of Transportation Alternatives or the issue of global climate change. Those issues are likely too big for most people to actually apply to a vote on roads. Nevertheless, and for whatever combination of reasons, we have wisely elected to not get sidetracked building roads to Redmond as a weird panacea for the rest or our many, many transportation problems.

Daily Stats: (Tue, Wed)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3.5
Bus: 0
Many remote conferences, email, vid conferences and other alternative connectivity.

Day 257: MLwC and a new green site that’s not what you would expect…

Think green sites are lacking a certain je ne sais quois? Humor, edge, sex? Well, you would be wrong….check out GreenThing, a new non-profit social networking site started by a group of certifiables, including a friend of mine James Alexander of many start-ups-fame. The first vid on the home page is fabulous! Predictably, the humor on the site is completely off-color good fun, slightly scandalous for our protestant-american sensibilities. Gotta love that.

The vids are unexpected and subtle enough to actually be pushing green thinking to a new level–thank god. There’s no pamphleting, per se; a green consciousness is built in and present a new way to learn about being green. Take a look at the vid for October--very clever. I’m sending you to their site instead of posting the vid here because the site is well worth taking a few minutes out to explore. Enjoy! And best of luck to GreenThing!

Daily Stats: (Sun, Mon)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 3
Bus: 0

Days 244-245: MYLwC, Support your Local Ruminant and Blog Action Ruminations

goats-head.jpg

Meet one of the goats that is busily clearing out some ivy-infested soon-to-be gardens for kids at our nearby Gatewood Elementary. Well, actually, he’s not busy. He’s taking a break. This one is much more indicative of the ruminant activity taking place:

img_0006.jpg

 

 

As one of the ecstatic kids running around the ivy-removal site told me, “There are 60 of them! 60!” And they’re taking that ivy out like nobody’s business. Rent-a-Reminant (site under construction) is the business that is taking ivy infested hillsides throughout Seattle by storm. And boy, are those goats well-fed. They look almost uncomfortably beefy, and if you ever wondered if the rumor that goats will eat anything is true, it is. Branches, blackberry thickets, small trees, and yes, ivy, right down to its roots.

The secondary gain here is what the presence of goats on the hillsides has done for the neighborhood. I met new peoplethis morning, and ran into other friends who were out just enjoying watching the goats. It’s great to see farm animals in the middle of the city! Keep in mind that these creatures are helping to rid us of a very aggressive and invasive non-native species with lots of downsides, add to that the social benefit and the enjoyment the whole neighborhood is getting from the project, and the idea of ivy eating goats in the city is a no-brainer.

 

On to ruminations about Blog Action. La Marguerite is dedicating certain posts on her blog to bloggers who are doing something to become more in tune with an environmentally compromised planet (one gets so tired of “global warming,” “global climate change,” and all the rest–I’m liking environmentally compromised planet right now). I think her idea of calling out Blog Actions is really cool and would recommend taking a moment to go over and check it out.

It also got me to thinking about my own year long action and action itself. Action seems like such a…well, active thing. And I don’t quite think of my year long project as an “action.” Maybe at first I did, but I don’t now. Now it’s just part of my life, and that’s good. But I got to thinking about my project and realized, you know when you commit to change something in your life–something fundamental or maybe even not so fundamental–many other aspects of you life change as well, not to mention your consciousness about all kinds of things.

For example, you can’t start taking the bus or riding your bike for most errands or meetings downtown and not have that impact your thinking about lots of things. It’s also not possible–at least I don’t think it is–to become conscious about one part of your life without other things popping up for attention. Let me diagram this in my own case, my year long project to change my transportation habits and perhaps even ditch my car:

 

Blog Action

 

So again, I’ve discovered and re-discovered this all along the way: it’s the small steps that count. The single Blog Action I took on was to chronicle a year of learning about my transportation habits. The hundreds of offshoots from that one commitment–now that’s action.

 

Daily Stats: Mon, Tue

Car: 0
Bike: 4.5
Ped: 4
Bus: 14

Days 229-232: MLwC and there’s a bus in the urban garden!

My pal Yo recently pointed me to an article on Putting People First about the Mobile Experience Laboratory at MIT, and how the thought leaders there are trying to take advantage of the current global-climate-change-dependence-on-oil moment in our collective lives. Federico Casalagno is a sociologist on the MIT team who is focused on making bus stops more interesting, inviting and useful.

Casalegno views the urban landscape as a garden of communication, the better the communication, the healthier the garden. He wants to create bus stops that encourage riders to use the bus, sure, but also to enhance and enable communication. He sees our movement around urban environments as part of the larger flow of communication between people, places and things. It’s a systemic approach to transportation and I have to admit, it’s a challenge to envision since one tends to think of buses as the means to get from point A to point B–the very thing Casalegno questions.

MIT bus stop design

The uber-modern bus stops would have walls of digital images and information, some very useful such as when the next bus is going to arrive, other bits including civic events, activities, local neighborhood postings, etc. Casalegno goes further and takes on the interior of the buses themselves, suggesting that those dull and often empty spaces above the seats and the ceilings themselves could be used as a means of communication of all kinds. I shudder to think how much of that communication would become advertising…and how quickly.

Still, I read about what MIT, Boston and Massachusetts is thinking about mass transportation and I am both envious and wistful. In most cities and states, mass transit is the last thing on the list of government things to do and the Puget Sound area is no different. I would love to see this kind of forward thinking and investment that would actually help drive (no pun intended) higher ridership on mass transit alternatives.

Daily Stats (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu)
Car: 0
Bike: 8
Ped: approx 5 miles
Bus: approx 15 miles