Sunday, September 30, 2007

FPF.1: Telecommuting

In the quest for Five Percent for Footprint (FPF, like SPF just for the plane), it you are going to cut out 1 in 20 days of commuting to work, the simplest is to telecommute. No funky schedules, no readjusting your travel pattern. Instead of going to your car to drive to work, walk over to a place in your home that is free of noise and distraction. You may need to make sure your kids, S.O. and others understand that you are working, not just loafing at home.

Another dependency is that your works lends itself to working remotely, you may need to figure out how to connect to the office. It's important when working remotely that people get a sense that, well you're working. So talk with your boss about ways to schedule.

One way to make telecommuting work is to schedule your FPF day as a research day, or a day that your write those extended memos that need silence. The lack of someone popping into your cube at random times (Guilty!) breaking your hard earned train of thought.

This is the by far the simplest way to get back some time. Depending on your commute you'll realize how draining the commute can be. On the flip side, you need to be prepared if that was your alone time to decompress. In that case, take a walk after your work at home day and help both your's and the planet's health.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fifteen years of being Critical

Today, the Critical Mass bike protest, performance piece, political activism, traffic nusciance, and many other descriptors is fifteen years old. A monthly gathering where cyclists convene on the last Friday of every month to celebrate cycling, and assert their rights on the streets of San Francisco. By overtaking the roads, I'm not sure a spirit of share the road is maintained, but it does make auto drivers aware of some of the compromises that cyclists face on the roads. Now in over 300 cities, it all started in San Francisco.

Ironically in the same edition of the San Francisco Chronicle's online site was an article on the California Senate subcommittee struggling for solutions to the second worse in the nation congestion on the road. The suburban nature of Silicon Valley is not going to make it easy, but I am impressed by the number of people at my company, who with support from management initiatives don't drive. Ranging from people on the East Bay, to San Francisco converging on Sunnyvale. I either rode my bike or took light rail three times this week, and to be honest the culture supports it.

Things like showers and towel service make a big difference in providing ways to make alternative transit if you come in sweaty. And a culture where you show up to a meeting with your hair wet is never looked down.

We'll get cars off the road when attitudes hit a critical mass that there are acceptable alternatives.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Five for Footprints....

I've been hanging around some of the carfree sites and mailing lists, and I really admire the passion of these sites. But there's a downside in that perfection is a hard task master and it scares most away. The "nothing or nothing" spirit is too much for the most devoted and converted. And to be honest there just aren't enough of the faithful to make a difference. What can make a difference is lots of people changing, and the only way to get there is little steps. Five little steps, or more accurately five little percent steps.

Here is the challenge to "Five for Footprints" and that is to reduce your work driving trips by 5 percent. Now at first glance that 5 percent sounds like a lot, or maybe it sounds like a little. But what it is is doable. And here's how, FIVE percent is 1 trip in 20. You're done. Sounds easy, one out of every 20 days you find another way to work where you share the ride.

Sounds hard, here's another way to think about it. 1 in 20 trips, is about one day a month. Still sound hard, well you might be right. So here's another challenge to make it easier, find a work buddy to make it easier. Out of 20 co-workers find one to do it with you to cheer you on.

If you want, find ways to walk more on that day, and really make it "Five for Footprints"

The next few posts, I'll be sharing some ideas on how you can make "Five for Footprints" happen for you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Putting the Park into Park(ing)

DIg those Parentheses! The Wall Street Journal has a whimsical article on activists who on Sept. 21, set up little "parks" in public parking spots to highlight the difficulty in finding parking is causing needless amounts of gas and emissions to look for parking.

"Park(ing) Day" was started two years ago in San Francisco by an art collective to highlight the lack of public outdoor space, rolling out a fake lawn. IT's grown from an urban planning focus to an environmental one.

Parking day highlights one of the advantages of not driving, I remember when I was entirely dependent on my bike in my post about parking a bike is faster.

The other frustrating thing is the amount of dead space parking and zoning creates. The other day, I was running around my neighborhood where I live close to commerical as well as residential zoning. That in the evenings parking lots are dead zones unoccupied. We tend to move our selves from one zone to another in the states, where in Europe and Asia there is more mixing. This is a tenent of "New Urbanism" but imagine if a parking space was measured by the fraction of time it was used, instead of how much.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The romance of going carbon free...

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article from AP on the Lights Out San Francisco project where for an hour on October 20, you turn off all non-essential lighting. I'll most likely be in NY when it happens, but it'll be neat to see a dimmer city and maybe see more stars. To add to the romance of the stars, some restaurants will be holding candle light dinners as well, so a good excuse to smooch someone to say thank you for conserving.

The Lights Out project started in Sydney, and the founders of LOSF decided to try it in San Francisco. The event in Sydney is done annually during Earth Hour.

As positive as that seems, I'm going to leave on a bit of a downer note. Thomas Friedman writes in the newly liberated op-ed section of the NYT about the challenge to the planet doesn't lie in our hands, but in the hands of everyone who wants the life we have now. Just like they bypassed landlines for phones and went directly to mobile, may be they can have the good life more efficiently.

Now that' something to be hopeful for.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A good idea, too bad it wasn't mine.

The other day I talked about about subsidies to not drive and I was so proud that I was original. The bummer is that it wasn't but cool thing is that people are doing it now. Today, McPaper (I mean USA Today - Happy 25th) had an article that talks about a Georgia Program called "Cash for Commuters" that pays people not to drive.

The cash got people to stop driving, but the comraderie, the convenience, the enforced schedule kept people carpooling after the cash was gone. There is something powerful about saying, hey my carpool is leaving boss, got to wait until tomorrow. Sometime too much flexibility is a bad thing.

The Clean Air Campaign that runs the "Cash for Commuters" program has a great website that is a resource. The article in McPaper was triggered by a study that showed that we are spending more time stuck in traffic and how much it is costing us.

Glad to hear that someone is trying driving subsidies.

Carbon Neutral - Not really.

Well I just got back from my coast to coast whirlwind. Left-Right-Left.

I love travel, and even though this was for work. But I also know that air travel is really hard on the planet. So once in the Mass Transit friendly east coast, with high powered technical universities busily working on solutions to greenhouse gases I was.

The question is, does mass transit on the ground offset air travel. Probably not, but at least I didn't rent a car.

I really think it will be cool, as progressive lighting technologies show up in places. It will be cool. Literally, less heat than incandescent light bulbs.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Less Me-at, Less Me-Thane (post #200)

It's hard to believe that it's a little over a year of blogging and this is post 200! Wow, there was some periods of quiet, and a change from Car(e)free to Car(bon)free when I capitulated and bought a car. Interestingly, it was my social life, not my work life that caused me to break down and get a car.

In the past year, global warming has become more to the forefront, though to think it's new is silly. We've known about this for a long time. I will never forget a very right wing history professor making the flippant comment "global warming, nuclear winter, hey we're all set, they'll cancel each other out." I think he was joking. This was in the early 90s. Since then, suburbs have gotten further out, cars and houses have gotten bigger, and our waistlines have gotten bigger. When things happen slow or at a miniscule level it's hard to comprehend the law of large numbers. Visiting China will dispel that.

Sadly travel is a huge contributor, so we can't have people zipping around everywhere in planes. What we can do, is think about what is hazardous, chemicals that we wouldn't drink or breathe in a small room, why would we want them in a big room. And the earth is the biggest room around.

Today a post went around talking about a study from Australian National University in Canberra that suggests that reducing meat consumption would reduce greenhouse gases. Cows fart a lot, and the defoliating to create ranch land and fertilizer for feed also play into the equation. I'm a moderate meat eater, trying to have it only when I go out.

There is something fun about how the Brit's say Methane, as Meee-Thane, vs METH-ane. One sounds like a drug addiction.

Car Free Weightloss

Washington University reported that higher gas prices may not only reduce our driving but our waistlines. The paper basically cites that higher gas prices may drive people to seek alternative transport leading to what I call colateral exercise (my term). If you look in cities, people tend to be thinner.

Driving a nice car is generally thought of being more attractive, but being fat in a nice car is not exactly sexy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Green Street Journal???

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal had a flurry of articles about being green. It tells you how central the topic is becoming, but it also reveals that there's a certain trendiness that may mask light for heat. A lot of these are scriberwalled so you may not be able to read them. The first two concern Hotel Chains offering Green Options and Mortgage lenders offering green incentives for homes that incorporate green technologies. It's not clear that these are real improvements but it does bring to mind the environment which is a good thing. I hope it lasts, but really it'll be invisible improvements that are long lasting. We don't think of CFCs anymore, because we have alternatives that were the only choice, so there was no choice.

A more whimsical article is the one onJapanese war on air conditioning to reduce energy costs. Air Conditioners were set at 82 degrees, causing a relaxation of dress codes, in notoriously staid Japanese work culture. However, there were stalwarts who refused to give up on tradition.

A lot of the green revolution is motivated by a desire for green. But like the Chinese lead standards which were on the books more stringent than the American ones, when the profit motive gets involved one should be wary at best. The free market, is rarely free.

McMansion overhang on the earth....

Treehugger has an article from Alternet analyzing the impact of McMansions on the earth. In addition to tracking the environment, I'm a big real estate bubble tracker, and the flow of cheap money really led to some enormous houses being built. I've blogged on the waste of all the stuff we buy, and if you do a survey of what you own, you find out that you don't use a lot of it. One of my friends is bartering his unused bread maker and other goods for some services, and he went I have a lot of stuff.

The same applies to homes, think about the number of rooms that are left unused during the year. I recently held a shinding fearing that my apartment would burst at the seams, and I will admit my rarely used patio was invaluable. In the meantime, we have to heat and maintain all these extra rooms.

Not only are these homes bankrupting the earth, the focus of this blog, but it's also bankrupting our bank accounts. I remember visiting Versailles outside of Paris and the comment that the French royalty bankrupted themselves trying to upkeep their palacial accommodations, forcing more wars and taxes. Just heating the places were killing us.

One thing that might help people, is that when you buy a home is that in the MLS listings, you have how much it costs to maintain the house. We have this for appliances, why not houses where the utility is shelter, not cleaning.

Friday, September 07, 2007

And the worm turns...

The New York Times (what else?) has an Op Ed piece on the joys of composting. It's funny since a friend was telling me the other day about the under the sink composter he uses.

I put in my calendar a note about a local composting seminar. Now I have a back patio with some dirt that could be used for composting. I tried leaving one of those allegedly biodegradable plasticware spoons out to see if it would break down (no).

I fear that if I compost indoors, my dang fruit fly challenges would come back.

But back to the piece. this is a great quote

Waste is the partner of consumption, and consumption is the sin and substance of the suburbs. The worm box was an attempt to exploit a trickle of that Amazonian abundance.

Do worms ease our conscience?

I have been giving second life to the forsale email list at work, that reuses. But is there a fourth 'R' "return to earth"?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm starting to feel like a baton...

In a place as sprawled out as the Silicon Valley, when you don't have a car and you need to meet people, you tend to find yourself getting passed from one car to another like a baton in a relay. The further you get out from mass transit lines, you think hope I don't get dropped.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Carbon Subsidies

Consumption really is an economic problem. We create incentives and disincentives to people to do what they. For most people, not producing carbon in mass quantities (sound like a Conehead don't I) is an economic disincentive. To reduce carbon we've mostly been discussing taxes to discourage the creation of carbon. How about the flip side.

The government in the past has paid farmers not to produce crops when there is a market imbalance in the form of Farm Subsidies. A subsidy to not farm. Really should be called a "Don't farm subsidy" Now imagine if you were paid not to drive a car, or drive less. The logistics wouldn't be too hard. If you don't drive you would get a tax credit of $x per year, or better yet paid that in your refund check. Nothing works better than actually getting something.

If you don't drive or have a car, you claim your subsidy. This would help low income families who can't afford a car tremendously.

To drive a car, it has to be registered. If you want to claim this credit, when you register, you log the number of miles currently on your car. You would have to go to an office odometer place to register. The following year, depending on your mileage you would be eligible for a certain amount of subsidy.

If you need to drive, want to drive you don't claim your subsidy. Don't have to register your miles, nothing changes. If you do want to participate you go through the extra steps.

It would drive increased usage of mass transit, reduce wear and tear on the roads, hopefully relieve congestion. Many people work within distance of their work and they would benefit from being able to pay higher rents. It rewards non-carbon producing instead of penalizing it.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

In Memoriam...

In the past week two pioneers passed away.

The first was Paul MacCready who won the Kremer prize for first human powered flight, and for the first across the English Channel. The Gossamer Condor, a sheen pedal powered plan made the critical figure eight loop course to win the prize. Later interested in electrical cars, he demonstrated the increased efficiency possible today. He showed what was possible and is role model that we can go further on our own than we ever imagined.

The second pioneer to pass away was Alfred Peet, founder of Peet's coffee. Every gourmet coffee shop including Starbucks can trace it's lineage back to Peet who introduced America to flavor in coffee. Starbucks Howard Schulz originally worked for Peet. In an age of consumerism Peet's coffee encouraged reuse, giving a discount if you reused your Peet's Bean Bag, or brought your own cup in. I wrote about a bag that endured in the past. Not everything in our life is about stuff, but about experiences.

Thank you to both for showing what's good in life.

Happy Birthday Bike....

Well my bike is 20 years old now. I got it in college, a reliable aluminum tubed Cannondale ST-400 and it is still going strong. It's amazing that if you buy good stuff (and this bike was a low end 'dale, more expensive than any bike I had bought at the time. but low end comparably.)

Over the years it has been ridden on both coasts, in colorado. It has done many a climb, and descended swimmingly. Amazingly the frame is in good shape, and most of the mechanical components have endured. The bike has lasted longer than some of the companies that made the components. I don't think SunTour exists anymore. I've got new stem, new bars, tuned it up repeatedly and it's still going strong. That's the amazing thing about mechanical things, they can last forever or be retrofitted to work. Truly amazing.

I will have to get clever, as the 27" wheels are harder to find, there are no replacement parts for the 6 speed transmission, now up to 10 or even 11 gears in back. I have a mountain bike that is still going strong at 12 years. It's hard to get rid of them since no one wants them, but there's no excuse to upgrade either.

We had a bike fair at work, and there were these big catalogs of "bike porn" that had sleek new bikes, but something tells me, until i lose a few pounds, it won't matter.

I wonder if the 'dale will last another 20?

I'm feeling irregular.

Too much information. I'll let you be the judge. What I'm talking about is my non-car commuting experience this week. I ended up taking mass transit only one of the days. Not my 3 - 4 goal. It was tough, but what caused it was that my regular routine was broken. I either had after work dinner appointments that required me to leave right after work, or mid day appointments not easily done during the day.

The key to commuting in the suburbs is to find your schedule and keep to it. Tough in our flexible lives. I tried to mitigate by riding my bike to a brunch meeting today. I still try.

Hope that my schedule becomes more regular. Or mass transit becomes a little bigger.

World's Largest Gym...

World Changing has an article on how New YOrk City's pedestrian lifestyle is leading to longer lives. In addition to the physical benefits of walking, you get to enjoy the stylish dressers of the city. I do find myself slacking in dress here living in California and some sadly myself included would say descending into slovenly. Guess the money you don't spend on cars you can spend on clothes.