Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good Garbage Makes Good Neighbors

The WSJ reports (subscription required) about the dilemma that is happening in Tokyo as the rules for what can be burned and what must be sorted out when disposed. Japan being an island country, lacks space and landfill is at a premium. In California when we complain about how much a dump costs, we lament about the state of the house, here they are literally talking about well the dump. So they burn a lot of their garbage, but some things are not allowed to be incinerated like plastics.

It's interesting is that the garbage man can refuse to pick up garbage if it's not been sorted. Additionally, people know who's garbage has been sleighted. Neighbors will even take your garbage and put it in front of your door if you've been lazy. My favorite quote from the story "A person's morality is really tested when it comes to diposal of trash," Ryouichi Sawachi, a maintentance man. The logic being that it degrades a common area, bringing down the value of everyone's place.

To be fair, the rules of garbage sorting both here and in Japan can be rather byzantine. There is something about the immediacy of the problem that brings the issue front and center, that a social stigma can be created. It's interesting to see the problems they've identified and tried to solve. For instance, to make it easier to identify offender bags, they went to clear plastic than the crows started at it seeing the goodies inside.

It's not just in Japan, the change in attitudes toward disposable water is making bottled water a social stigma, starting at high end restaurants. We see this stigmatization in disposable bag consumption (go canvas!) and maybe soon work place paper coffee cups.


Monday, August 27, 2007

"Stuff" and the space to store it getting more expensive

The past few days, between the mortgage crisis, the climate crisis, and the fromage crisis (ok, I'm making the last one up). There's an increasing amount of awareness about stuff. Paul Graham who often waxes poetic on technology, computer science and start ups, took a left turn and wrote about Stuff and how he has too much about it. He brings up a really good point that in the last 30 years stuff went from something that was valuable to stuff that was not valuable by virtue of abundance. Now, I'm one of those people who's a packrat, part of it might have come from my immigrant upbringing. part of it is probably genetic. But I am a person who tends to accumulate, despite my best efforts. At the risk of shocking some of my friends who know me, I am a dumpster diver in spirit if not reality. It always amazes me how much is thrown away.

As an aside, in California with a CRV or "California Recycle Value" on beverage containers and there are those who dumpster dive for the bottles and in the parlance of Silicon Valley --> Monetize it. If these vagrants, had access to a computer (or iPhone) they could probably collect more in the form of old computers, calculators, maybe furniture and monetize it even more. There use be city programs that would give homeless people voice mail numbers, so they could be reached in an effort at stabilizing their existence.

But all that stuff going into the trash, begs the question of why is it being thrown away. Perhaps there isn't a place to store it. Hard to believe when you think about the size of these McMansions. John Dingell is proposing legislation to remove the interest deduction for homes over 3000 square feet. It does make sense, homes are made larger to justifty higher prices, as developers well know. And any real estate agent will say, but you're not paying it, it's deducted off your taxes. Leading to even bigger houses. For most people, 3000 sq ft is plenty. It might inject some sanity back into our real estate fetish.

Anyone who is curious about real estate and the effect on the psyche, should read Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe series. Frank is a realtor, and the emotional attachment of real estate hits a deep and solid chord.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

"be my carbon offset"

I can only remember the tune vaguely and not at all the lyrics to Canadian fun band "Bare Naked Ladies" "Be My Yoko Ono" but carbon offsets are really nebulous, i've talked about that before. So instead of planting a tree to offset your carbon, how about paying someone else to stop driving or drive less. So they take your miles off the road. You don't want to stop driving, can't afford the time, maybe someone else can afford the hit in lifestyle if you paid them. So let me be your carbon off set baby or in the words of the Beatles, "Baby you can ride my bike, someone else is driving my miles..."

With all due respect to the Words & music by steven page & ed robertson, "Be my carbon offset"

If there's somewhere you can drive without, then do so.
And if theres someone you can just step and walk out, do so.

You can be my Carbon Offset
You can follow me wherever I transit
Be my, be my, be my carbon offset.

Isnt it beautiful to see two people walk away?
Barenaked as two virgins hand in hand and hand and foot on pave.
Now that Im far away it doesnt seem to me to be such a pain.
Not driving's not like some kind of ball and chain.


Oh no, here we go, our life is just one big pun.
Oh no, here we go as yoko sings

I know that when I say this
I may be stepping on pavement instead of gas pedal.
But I dont like all these people
Slagging you for melting the earth.
(dont blame it on my driving everywhere!)
If I was driving and you were walking,
I would gladly give up my wheels for you,
Just to have you as my walking shoes.
(hit it!)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No one is generally going to screw themselves intentionally.

Aside from this self-inflicted mess called the sub-prime mortage crisis and soon to be called jumbo loan crisis. Most people arent' going to inflict pain on themselves.

Case in point, I'm thinking of going to a picnic today and investigating taking mass transit. Drive 24 minutes, Mass transit best effort 2 hours 7 minutes. It's faster for me to ride my bike the 14 miles. It's under consideration. Off to the farmers market to mull over it.

No one's throwing themselves in front or on the bus if it completely insults your life by stealing time, which is life itself.

Have a good weekend everyone.

I care imagine, but it's hard...

The New York Times refers to a blogg post by Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic Monthly. In this post he points to research study by American Environics about attitudes torward the environment and his conclusion is that nobody cares. People when polled would more likely vote against a candidate who diagreed with their stance on Gay Marriage than they would who disagreed with them on environment. What is interesting is that this is true even if you identify yourself as an environmentalist.

For both groups, the order was:

1) Gay Marriage
2) Abortion
3) Illegal Immigration

ahead of the environment as litmus test issues. This should not be surprising, since the first 2 and perhaps the third are highly personal issues. Though I've never understood the vehmence against Gay Marriage by straights, it seems to lack proportionality in the response to the impact in their lives. But the first two relate to values of identity and tend to cause people shock.

Illegal immigration tends to strike on people's fears more than anything. Ironically, most people don't think about where their food is coming from. So the first three are very visceral and personal issues.

Now what is the enviornment. It's an ideal, it's something that everyone is for in the abstract. No one is against the environment. When polluters dump waste into rivers, they don't say they are doing a good thing. They say that people are over reacting, or that the cost benefits are more important.

But what exactly is a good environment. We tend to associate it with nature. But overgrown forests are natural but it doesn't make it a good environment. Nature has ways of correcting that called pine beetles and forest fires. But in most cases it's not a personal enough issue. I tend to not like cars because I spend a lot of time walking and riding my bike so I take the direct impact of cars in the form of exhaust and risk of injury. I've been able to personalize it so it matters.

I think people would be a lot more for clean emissions if they suffered what economists called the externalities. I use to joke that I was for people driving any car they wanted, as long as the exhaust pipe went through the passenger compartment. I guarantee that people would be more cognizant of emissions. Some things happen too slowly for the human mind to comprehend.

Think about it, is anyone wanting to be fat? But it hasn't stopped most people from gaining weight. By the time you notice, you've given up. I wonder if that's what's happened with the environment.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Char-broiled Cuisine -- barking up the wrong tree.

This carbon free affects everything even a summer barbeque. The San Francisco Chronicle had an article on the impact of your summer cookout.

Conclusion, worry more about how you get to your picnic and less what you do there.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trouble Ahead....

The legendary Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill famously said that "all politics is local" and the same could be said of desire. The San Francisco Chronicle had a page one story about China's rising middle class has done what middle classes around the world have done. Fallen in love with the automobile. There's something about a car that symbolizes freedom, but oddly on the 101 locked in traffic hardly felt free. I digress, but seriously why is it that the private becomes desired, even when it isn't even used. And there is always one upmanship going on, it never stops. And everytime we create something cool for the rich, someone makes it affordable for the masses and the cycle repeats.

Is it possible to make not having a car an aspirational? Can we make the public cool again? Unless we can make less cool, the rest of the world just isn't going to follow.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

How much of your stuff do you really use....

I'm struggling with wanting to get new things, yes I have that consumer instinct in me. High on my list is getting a new mobile phone and new computer monitor (so I can compose even more blog posts (yeah a little self justification/deception going on)). But I look around and ask, how much of my stuff I don't use or just sits there. I have my old dreamcast, fun fun fun, Marine Fishing anyone? But it sits there most of the time.

What got me re-visiting this topic is an LA Times blog posting on the renewed interest in small houses. Do we need large houses for us or for our stuff?

Do we get things, because we can? If we didn't have a place to put it in, would we accumulate. For instance, I don't have a TV, not because TV is bad, but because I have no self control. A physical contstraint of no TV makes me watch less TV. A little draconian. But you get the picture.

The other question is, would it make us just throw away more stuff as we get new stuff?

Chhhaa Changes...

With all due respect to Mr. Bowie. A lot's been happening here at Car(bon)free, in that I'm going more car(e)free again. I've recently taken a new job, having lost my last one a few months ago. And my new gig is pretty good, they even have a person on staff who's job is ways to figure out Commute Alternatives. Some of the really cool things are free Light Rail/Bus passes for Santa Clara county, bio-diesel bus between San Francisco and the campus and great facilities for bicyclers.

I'v been at the job for two weeks and I've not driven my car 70% of the time. Riding my bike and taking light rail, for when I want to listen to some audio books.

Very cool, I'm investigating a folding bike to jet between mass transit. Anyone have any thoughts let me know. I'm looking at dahon and bike fridays.