Monday, March 31, 2008

Seeing the (in)visible....

There is an old saw that a fish cannot describe water, because it's just what a fish lives in. So part of the surroundings that despite being in front of you, you ignore it. That sentiment captures how I felt after seeing Gabriele Basilico's photo exhibit From San Francisco to Silicon Valley at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA through June 15, 2008.

Basilico is trained as an architect and works as a photographer came to chronicle the role of change and how we are shaped by our surrounding. The Notes from the exhibit struck a chord as he plotted the places he wanted to photograph being guided by the " freeway and the culture it reflects. an exoskeleton that has an profound impact on how people live and travel in the area" in ways that one doesn't imagine. Despite the fullness of sprawl, Bailico captures the emptiness of the valley and how the roads shape a place of always going and never arriving. If unable to attend, seeing if a local library has a copy of the catalogue is well worth the effort, as is this passage from Nora Raggio in the catalogue:

"when one lives in a place too long, akin to living with the same person for years, one often starts to become less curious about the relationship with the person, with the place. one begins to take place for granted, to gloss over interesting details and transformations, to become blind to the environment one lives in."

The exhibit does what great art does, it changes your frame of reference. The larger prints (~1 m x 1 m) in person are far more compelling than the catalogue Human beings are adaptive creatures, once the environment immerses us like water to a fish we become blind to it. I realize that in Beijing, who seems abhorrent to us is no more than an shrug to those who live there. Blindness to that in front of us maybe worse than ignorance. the comic book author John Ostrander once wrote, "you can hide from the truth if you want, but you have to know it first."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Going Casual.....

Lot of philosophizing lately, and maybe getting a little grounded is in order. If you live in the Bay Area, you might have noticed that tolls are going up, and traffic is still horrendously slow across bridges sometime. Some people have figured out a way to get across in the carpool lanes and save a little on tolls even when traveling alone and that's through "Causal Carpooling" where right before a bridge you swing in an pick up a passenger who needs to get across. Details about pick up spots can be found here

This is an amazing example of the kindness of strangers and of community, according to Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine, I believe all that is behind the universe is conspiring to help us — if we will humble ourselves enough to let it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Falling farther falling further....

Yesterday, I wrote about the Earth Hour effort and how it changes one experience and awareness, there's another word for that and that's empathy. In this case, it's for the situation as opposed to empathy for an individual. The pity reflects onto us because over there is here. I put that post to bed in newspaper parlance not satisfied, but I also feel within myself a responsibility to post and push interesting articles and ideas in order to make myself think and hopefully others. However, looking over the post, a feeling of strong disappointment lingers. For it doesn't work informationally, nor does it work viscerally. It feels awkward and forced, which it was. The linkage of person experience to a change in my behavior was showy and a bit self conscious. I contemplated deleting the post, but recalled a celebration of failure.

I often link to articles from the San Francisco Chronicle, and one of their daily columnists is Jon Carroll, and I remember reading an essay of his on the NPR program "This I believe" and I hope he doesn't mind as I quote liberally:

I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. I have been told of an African phrase describing a good cook as "she who has broken many pots." If you've spent enough time in the kitchen to have broken a lot of pots, probably you know a fair amount about cooking. I once had a late dinner with a group of chefs, and they spent time comparing knife wounds and burn scars. They knew how much credibility their failures gave them.

I earn my living by writing a daily newspaper column. Each week I am aware that one column is going to be the worst column of the week. I don't set out to write it; I try my best every day. Still, every week, one column is inferior to the others, sometimes spectacularly so.

I have learned to cherish that column. A successful column usually means that I am treading on familiar ground, going with the tricks that work, preaching to the choir or dressing up popular sentiments in fancy words. Often in my inferior columns, I am trying to pull off something I've never done before, something I'm not even sure can be done.

Some of my posts will fail to resonate, some will fall short, some will simply fall down. And the whole endeavor of fighting climate change and preserving the environment feels no different. We're asking for something radical and that's to go against human nature. And we're going to try a lot of things, some are going to resonate, some will be done, and others will just fall down, but each time we'll learn. And why the hope?

We have a world designed to make us fat, lazy and stupid, but people still get fit, go the extra mile and create great work.

All because we're failing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What a difference an hour makes....

It's easy to take things for granted, especially electricity. The goal of Earth Hour 2008 is to remind us not to take it for granted, to do I dare say be conscious about electricity by turning off one's lights for an hour at 8 PM on March 29. Now one can argue that the gesture is largely symbolic and doesn't make much of a difference if you think that's the end of it. However an hour is just a start and I'll share why.

For all the talk of education, and knowledge through schooling and blogs. Somethings are best learned through experience, some of the experience is man made like Earth Hour and the Oxfam Fast For Day to understand world hunger. I've done the latter, and to be honest it's not clear that I will be able to participate in Earth Hour this year. But it definitely opened my eyes, but in both cases you know there's a safety net.

So what happens when there isn't a safety net? When I first moved to California, we experienced the canary in the coal mine with rolling blackouts that were happening. History shows that it wasn't shortage by manipulation by Enron and other traders. That was a taste. A few years previous, I was in a large earthquake that took out the power for a few days in a major city. All it took was a moment. It was amazing to see how people adapted, people hung out on the streets, played basketball, listened to the radio in cars. More reminders when I traveled in Western China and the only lights were a single light bulb straight out of Edison's Menlo Park lab. Too dim to read by. The point with all these stories, is that sometimes when you are reminded out of the blue that power is not something we can take for granted. Nor what it takes to make them.

So whether you take part in Earth Day 2008, look around you and think what do you take for granted, and wonder if it makes sense to use it a little more wisely. And while you think about electricity, it might not be a bad time to start thinking about water.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's all about feedback, or transparency as I call it.

Today in the Science Times, John Tierney has a column on mechanisms to provide feedback to people on their energy use. The theme of his column is basically how can you nudge people to do the right thing. An interesting anecdote was that when power companies published how one's energy usage compared to your neighbors, people over the average reduced their consumption. However, people below the average RAISED theirs. Hmmm, guess we all do want to be average. The power company then annotated the bills with value judgments, in this case smiley faces for people below the average and frowny faces for those above the average. Overall power consumption went down. I kid you not, what next gold stars on your electricity bills. It goes to show you that simple solutions work.

To that end, Tierney proposes an energy mood ring to let you know where your energy consumption lies.

In Tierney's associated blog post he explores more research on the psychology of nudges. Our assumptions of rationality in our decisions breaks down the more the impact of our decision becomes abstract. Think saving for our retirement, so making our actions more clear on their consequences both in the long term and short remains the challenge.

I think one of the reasons I'm more environmentally aware is my training in the sciences. We spend a lot of time understanding the role of subsidiary effects. For instance, in biology we study growth curves and after a period of exponential growth there is always a crash. However in business most exponential growth curves assume a plateau. That slight change in view changes the color of your glasses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Conscious Living Vs. Rule Based Living

One of the challenges of the green movement is to avoid being sanctimonious. It is an unavoidable part of being a human being, and it's likely to turn people off to the cause that faces us, as it does brings them home. A small action today caused me pause and my first thought was I just self-rationalizing or was my need legitimate. Today, I went to the gym after work and came out exhausted. Before returning to my desk, I stopped by the cafe to pick up a soda and I realized that I didn't have a cup with me, which is my daily practice when I get my 3 or 4 cups of coffee each day (sad but true, but it's pretty darn good coffee).

There were two options available to me, run upstairs and get my cup or use one of the styrofoam cups instead. I was pretty darn dehydrated and really wanted to get a drink. This is where I paused. I ended up grabbing a styrofoam cup since I knew I had to take off after work to somewhere else and wanted a drink for the drive. My cold cup in my cube wouldn't fit in my cup holder in my car. At this point was I rationalizing my decision. Partially.

Now zealots would have said that I wasn't walking the talk, that I'm a hypocrite. And they may be right. But I realized that being green isn't about denial, it's about choice, conscious choice. Most people are conditioned not to think about their actions to this level, but the green movement has focused me on these small things, and it has focused me on the big things as well. In college I avoided my problem sets by hanging out in the library (sort of ironic). As part of growing into myself, I spent some time reading about Zen Buddhism, and one of the tenets is to live consciously and in the moment. And that is really what the green movement is all about, living consciously. When this theme came back to me I did a quick web search and came to this quote at the website Zen Habits.

Living consciously is about taking control of your life, about thinking about your decisions rather than making them without thought, about having a life that we want rather than settling for the one that befalls us.

The effort to be green is simultaneously an act of great responsibility to be observant about the world around us and react, It's also a very selfish one because it's one where one does not settle. Blind rule following does not solve the problem, because our problems are going to change, but being cognizant of your actions is more important. I think this will be a theme, Barack Obama's speech on race, transcended the notion of rules and move us to understanding on that topic. Being green will also need to move beyond the actions of lightbulbs, composting and driving less to understanding the trade offs that define our lives, and start trading trade offs.

What other actions in my life cause me to pause, and why do I choose the actions that I do?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

“If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.”

The words from the legendary baseball player Mickey Mantle though in a joking spirit to his medical ailments that were partially a result of his carousing youth. However, perhaps our carousing self is something that's within us when we were scavenging the plain and survival was uncertain.

That's partially the premise of a Washington Post story (registration required) on Why We Borrow Until it Hurts According to investing guru Jason Zweig:

"When people borrow and spend money, it's really the reward centers of the brain that become activated," Zweig said. "When you borrow money, you are thinking not about the long-term consequences but the short-term result: You have more cash in your pocket. The pain you are going to experience down the road of having to pay -- that's in the future, it's remote, it's abstract."

Sounds sort of how we treat our environment, and it's our desire for more that leads to our debt both financially and ecologically. In the article there is another line that strikes a cord "Through it all, whether on Wall Street or Main Street, our brains were focused on gain and oblivious to risk. That needs to change."

Amen brother. Like Mickey, chances are we're hanging around for awhile.

What we really want is access....

A friend of mine recently came over to borrow my snowshoes, and I was happy to oblige since right now I'm too busy at work to head up to the mountains and he could use them more than I could right now. The snowshoes get used, maybe a little wear and tear but I know he's a good guy and will take care of them. This little transaction got me thinking as to what is the root of our current troubles both ecologically and economically (more on that in the next post) maybe misunderstanding the role of ownership in our thinking.

Our current economic model is based on the notion of being an "ownership society" in that the key is to drive consumption to ownership. This allows us to acquire more than we can use in a way that services cannot. This is even more the case today with manufacturing improvements increasing efficiency that we need to buy more to take in the additional production of the various manufacturing processes. Let me explain, if we lived in a simple services economy based on one to one services of things like medicine, legal advice, manicurists, cooks etc. At any time you have one person serving another at a time. Your services efficiency is pretty low, but then there are more people employed. This in effect was what the craft labor movement was.

Fast forward, now we have manufacturing technologies which enable one person to create goods for 10 people. You have in effect one person servicing 10. Before we had one person servicing another. So we have 9 people who need to find work, and they start making 9 different things servicing the other 9. So we now get 10 times more stuff. This proliferation of stuff, requires that it be picked up and in a consumer society we oblige and buy the stuff on credit. This massive leverage is what makes modern society such an amazing accomplishment, but also it's downfall. We now need 10 times more raw materials to accomplish the same thing, and we produce 10 times the carbon and waste to produce those goods. We manage to be 10 times ahead of ourselves in stuff and waste.

So the question remains, why do we want this 10 times more stuff. And a lot of it really does benefit our lives. Few people will argue that light bulbs have not changed the way we live. I think part of it deals with access and perceived security. Now we may have 10 times more stuff, but what we still have is the same amount of time. So that means that we may have 9 times too much stuff than there is time.

So more waste, and more unused goods. Again, why? The big reason I think is access, people like the security of having things accessible. It gives one a sense of security, it also gives one a sense of accomplishment, you can see stuff, it's like your domain. Ownership is Access, and if everyone has the same stuff, everyone has access.

What if we could provide access without ownership. The obvious way is through rental models. We see this with zip car, which is awesome since most times our car just sits there. Sharing a car is great, until everyone needs one, and then there isn't enough around. So we encourage ownership for peak times. But most goods aren't that way.

So how about reducing the amount of ownership for items where people don't need it all the same time? Like snowshoes for instance. If stuff is raw materials and waste, then let's get more efficient, let's make sure our stuff gets used more often. The solution we already know it is fractional ownership, we see this in time shares. How about if we time shared our stuff.

Can we use technology to let us know what stuff we have, is it being used and where it is. I think we can. Let's create stuff circles where we list what we have that we are willing to share. Books are easy, tools are easy, technology is generally easy and we post it in a place where our friends can see them and request them when they need it and you can do the same.

So imagine a web spreadsheet like Google docs:




Who has it.

When Lent



Winter, occasionally

My friend

12 Mar 08

Post everything that you are willing to share, and ask your friends to the same. Bet you'll find out you spend less, you find out who your good friends are, and you save money which you can spend on a massage, a great dinner or something else.

Good candidates for my stuff circle would include my scanner (maybe use once a month), backpacking backpack, certain tools, certain cooking supplies, lots of books and CDs. You choose what you can part with and won't be stuck without. If it's all about access, this is access without ownership.

Note: I know the reasoning on economics and the concept are not well thought out, but wanted to get it out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Are you sure you want your kids to drive?

What do you get when you combine the suburbs and cars. A heck of lot of green house emissions. Add a bunch of teenagers and you get heartbreak. According to University of Virginia researchers in this press release urban sprawl may be deadly for teenagers. The basic gist is that teens are more likely to be killed driving, and the more miles driven the greater the risk. Not exactly an earth shattering (no pun intended) revelation. But it's nice to have data. Another thing to ask is do teens have a choice given the way our communities are organized? Probably not. The researchers bring up a real world view to the problem that is summarized below:

"Certain teenage characteristics, like the tendency to take risks, are not going to change. This makes health behavior modification in this age group very difficult. However, our results suggest that changing the way we develop and use land in order to minimize our dependence on our vehicles could be an effective method of reducing the risk of serious injury or death among teen drivers in the United States," he (Dr. Matthew Trowbridge) added.

Things you don't have to do when you are green.....

I have guests coming in this weekend, interestingly from both the east and west coasts in one weekend. As such, a good host I'm working to clean up my place and make it more than bachelor hospitable and I realized that I had to take out the trash. This little gesture caused me great pause, and I realized I hadn't done it for a long time. Not because I hate taking the trash out, which I do share that affliction with teenagers everywhere. But that I didn't take the trash out often enough to meet the schedule of the garbage pick up. That's actually pretty radical, since growing up in the suburbs, it was imperative, mandatory, necessary to take out the trash every week and have it picked up by the garbage truck otherwise you'd be buried in refuse. But since I've tried to make my life greener, it's not been a problem.

So a huge benefit of going green is that you tend to consume less, focusing on other things to make you happy. Another thing is by consuming less, you throw away less. Which means you don't have to take out the garbage as often. That's pretty cool, since when I was a teenager, I hated taking out the garbage. Now if I don't produce as much Garbage, the garbage truck doesn't have to come every week. That means less gas burned by the big garbage trucks. It means less noisy garbage trucks in the neighborhood. And it's not just consuming less, it's being smart about what you do with your waste. Imagine creating a compost pile, that's even less garbage.

Now imagine a world without garbage! Pretty amazing, fewer landfills, less stench. Less of everything, except quality of life. By consuming less, I don't notice having less of a life. The only odd thing is that I don't have a TV, (Did you know that Americans average 28 hours of television watching a week!). Living a greener life, means that you have less garbage, it's not planned, it just happens that way.

Now who wants less garbage in their (sic) life? Thought so.

So what is the difference between access and ownership? And does it matter? Something to think about in the next post.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Defending our country, defending our planet.

I'm right now swamped at work and other parts of my life feel like a jet streaking across the sky shedding pieces of its fuselage and excessive green house gases. Life can be dog eat dog kind of experience, where being green, or hell just being a good person can be hard in order to make it day to day. Sad but true, being green can feel like cutting off your nose to spite your face. OK, I'll cut out the cliches and quotes at this point, exhaustion hinders the originality muscles a little bit.

To that end, our acts of more environmental living is an actually an act of defense, of preserving our self interest. It may challenge our economy, cause adjustments, force us out of our rut. Often our acts of environmental protection have no direct relationship to our economy, our realpolitik or our day to day. However, it does remind me of another time when all expenditures were tied to the defense of our country. In 1969, Physicist Robert WIlson testified in front of congress and he was asked what exactly did a project have to do with defending our country. His reply is now legendary,

"It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending."

Do being green necessarily benefit us directly? Does being green help us have more? Maybe not, but by living more effectively it makes our world worth having.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"It can sometimes be tough even to give items away."

Today's has a fantastic resource article for spring cleaning season. Part infobase of organizations you can contact to help remove your "junk" and part exposé on how difficult it is to effectively get rid of your garbage. Some garbage haulers are more green than others as they try to find homes for a lot of the really good stuff that gets thrown away. In a society that is always craving the latest and greatest, even perfectly usable items can be extremely hard to find new owners for. The article tells an amusing tale of finding a home for a brand new toilet.

Not covered in the article is that a lot of electronics are facing a premature death in that they use proprietary batteries. I have an old pocket computer that is basically unusable because I cannot find replacement batteries for it. Coming from the electronics industry, I understand that accessories are a huge profit center for companies where the actual item's margins are painfully getting squeezed. Interestingly, in China of all places, there are calls to standardize the power bricks or AC-DC chargers so that they are more interchangeable. This would mean that you'd be able to plug your mobile phone, MP3 player, digital camera into the same power brick. Imagine how simple your life would be. There'd be a lot less power bricks going to the landfill and do they add up.

But since we aren't there yet and liberally quoting from the article, here are some next best alternatives:

Where to get rid of stuff

Spring cleaning time is here. So what's the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of all that stuff cluttering up your garage? The best thing to do with unwanted items is to reuse them, which saves the raw materials and energy that would be needed to manufacture new versions from scratch. You can sell good-quality items on Web sites like eBay, give them away on sites like Freecycle, or donate them to a thrift store. Craigslist allows you either to sell or give away items. And don't forget the good-ol'-fashioned yard sale. For info, see:




After reuse, the second-best option is recycling (which differs from reuse in that it may involve breaking items down into component materials such as scrap metal). Most Bay Area counties provide online information about recycling bulky waste, from bicycles to building debris. See:

-- (Alameda County)

-- (Contra Costa)

-- (Marin)

-- (San Francisco)

-- (San Mateo)

If you don't have time to deal with reuse/recycling yourself, look into the bulky-waste pickup program run by your local garbage company. (Most cities offer at least one free annual pickup for residential customers.) Ask what they do with the materials they collect, and how much of it is recycled or reused.

In some cases, it may be less wasteful or more convenient to hire a hauling company that specializes in recycling/reuse. Some companies mentioned in this article are:

-- Bedbusters

-- Blue Sky Hauling

-- EcoHaul

-- IReuse

-- Junk General

-- Norcal Waste Systems (San Francisco)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The 10 minute rule....

One time I was in Paris visiting a friend, and we were walking back from her place to the hotel I was staying, and along the way I remarked that there were a lot of subway stations. Her husband then mentioned that one of the goals of the Paris Metro was that there should be a subway stop within 10 minutes walking distance of anywhere in Paris. It seemed an arbitrary but reasonable benchmark. Anyone can walk 10 minutes, it doesn't seem too long nor too strenuous. It basically translates to 1/3 of a mile.

Now I bring this up as I just came back from San Francisco and was wondering how close that vision is to Paris'. It's not bad near Market St., non-existent in places like Twin Peaks. So it got me thinking, what would a typical place like Palo Alto (no I don't live there, but since Stanford's there, we'll pick it) or Berkeley (no I don't live there either) would be like.

Palo Alto is about 6 miles by 6 miles, so if you divide by 0.6 (since if you are in the center between two stops, it's 0.3 miles), you would need 100 bus stops. If you go by the Paris goal (and it is a goal, not something they have achieved) you can tell density counts. I don't think that we can create sustainable cities until we accept a certain level of density.

Or maybe we rethink what density means. More on that later.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Socially Acceptable Sweat

Weather is starting to warm up again (well it's started getting cold again) and I've been working hard to ride my bike to work more and more. Three times this week, making up for my Five for Footprint goal of 1 day in 20. I'm back on track, though the average was lumpy. One of the things I struggle with in riding my bike to work is sweat, you try to go fast you build up some sweat and depending on who you are it can be pretty stinky. However, grabbing a shower means you have to lose some precious time.

I've been experimenting with different regimens such as not wearing a jacket to stay cool (but feeling cold), to using a fanny pack so my back (the place where it gets most sweaty because of a backpack acting as a big piece of insulation trapping heat in), to riding at a slower pace. Now I'm pretty good since my ride is pretty short, but it got me thinking. When is sweat socially acceptable.

The other night I was at a party at the top of a hill, and I met a nice woman who during our conversation in a group apologized explaining that she rode her bike to the party. I thought, wow she's apologizing for not polluting, and clearly she rode a lot and benefitted from that riding. A lot of greenies are hotties, definitely something for the marketing plan of a green life. I hang with a pretty progressive group when I'm in San Francisco, so all was swell, and there was no smell. Fitness helps.

But it got me thinking, where else do people ride their bikes a lot and how do they deal with the odiferous challenge that might occur, and I was thinking there were two places that really struck me as bicycle active (if not friendly). The first was Beijing in the late 90s. When I was in Beijing, everyone rode bicycles, it was pretty amazing and really crazy. When I went there two years ago no one rode bicycles (they are crazy but they are not THAT crazy now) since the traffic is terrible. I didn't notice it. The other place where bicycles are huge form of transportation is Amsterdam. I was amazed by the number of bicycles and how they were used the same way as cars are here. (This is a great page comparing bicycling in San Francisco and Amsterdam -- struck a similar chord). It was a normal part of life.

I think one thing is that people who bike short distances regularly are in better shape, I notice this among the walkers of New York City. The second thing is that it is common and people adjust. Lastly, it's about attitude.

For some reason exerting yourself in this country in regular life is uncool (but it's ok at the gym) for it implies that you are poor or something. Remember that commercial that said, "Never let them see you sweat!" (I love that NYC Mayor Bloomberg takes the subway). So maybe if you see someone sweating from place to place maybe we need to think, they're getting around honestly.

I'm still trying to ride for trips under 4 miles, but I'm not going to worry is they see me sweat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Living off the land city style....

The San Francisco Chronicle/ has a semi-appetizing story about a single mother downsizing to eat well while eating on the cheap. The story really captures how much waste there is and how much more efficient we can be if we try. It also captures that the one commodity that restricts people is not so much money but time.

In some ways it also captures that the bay area can is not in alignment elsewhere. The protagonist of the story lives a charmed life while minimalist is one of choice. Not everyone everywhere is offered that choice.

More Sad statistics....

Following Sunday's tragic death of 2 cyclists, did some research published in an article that showed that bicycle fatalities are on the rise, though on a more positive note the total number of accidents involving bicycles has dropped. According to the article, speed seems to be the main factor, but I would suggest that the increase in mass of autos has been a contributory factor. Unfortunately, Silicon Valley's home county of Santa Clara was the deadliest place for cyclists in the Bay Area.

Santa Clara County was the deadliest place for Bay Area bicyclists over the past decade, according to the CHP data, which is collected from local police and sheriff's departments. A total of 44 bicyclists were killed during the 10 years. Alameda County had the second highest total of fatal bicycle collisions with 29, followed by Contra Costa County with 27. The fewest bicyclists, 5, were killed in Marin County.

Santa Clara County also had the most bicycle injuries - 6,888. Alameda County followed with 5,803, and San Francisco was third with 3,165.

Time to form a "bikepool"

I work at a pretty progressive company, I have to say that I'm lucky that my employer generally has values that are in alignment with mine. I say generally, because I understand the pressures a company faces once it's public and compromises and trade offs are made. But in the area of environmental sustainability, the company tries to do right as much as possible, and it supports its employees in being eco-aware. But you can lead a horse to water, but that doesn't mean the horse will drink.

On our internal bike email list, there are calls for new cyclists or employees what want to ride their bike to work but don't know the best path, so I came up with the crazy idea (or at least the word) of creating a "bikepool" where local employees get together at a close by spot to ride into work together. Part of it is social and part of it is to help newbies learn the ropes of getting to work on their bike. Some will meet from the local train stop to meet commuters, and some ambitious souls are going to ride from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

So share your wisdom, share your knowledge, share your company. Form a bikepool today.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Without Meaning...

The San Francisco Bay Area Bicycling community is in shock today over the death of two cyclists by a car who veered across the center line to hit a group of cyclists who were training. The driver was a Sheriff Deputy, adding complexity to a senseless tragedy. Right now, there's an investigation as to what exactly happened. Witnesses say that the deputy in question claimed he fell asleep at the wheel. The lack of skid marks at the scene of the crime corroborate that, but it's too early to tell.

I've ridden my bike on that stretch of road dozens of times and it's scary to think about something that seems so ordinary could be so dangerous. One of the victims was a promising cyclist who was an all too young 30. One of her friends said the following that captured the risk that you forget every time you are on your bicycle.

"I would have been right there with her," he said by telephone Sunday evening. "When you're on your bicycle, you're very vulnerable. You have a lot of close calls.... Everyone's in a rush, but you've got to chill out and be careful."

I often think of riding in a group as safety in numbers, but in cases like this it only makes things worse. My heart goes out everyone involved, let's all be careful out there.

I don't want to Think!

Well it's finally happened, American's are consuming less gasoline. Articles at and even at the (not free for this one) talk about Americans finally reducing their gasoline consumption. And why are Americans finally becoming conscious of how much gasoline they use? Well the obvious answer is it costs more. And with that realization I realized why cars have become so successful, it's because you don't have to think. All you have to do is hop in your car and go wherever you want to go, you don't have to plan ahead. You don't have to coordinate, you just have to go. You might say that well gas has always cost money. Well that's true, but it's been literally cheaper than water (and still is). A bottle of nice bottle water is $2 and that's maybe just a quart, four of those equal a gallon. So gas has been so cheap you didn't have to think about it. Well now you do. Gas has become so expensive that now you have to make choices about how you spend your money, and making choices is thinking. Ouch!

Then I started thinking about when I love mass transit, and I realized when it's I don't have to think. In NYC or Boston, all I had to do was walk to the subway and hop in. Did I have to worry about the schedule, no it came regularly. Did I have to worry about driving to mass transit, no stops were all over the place. Did I have to worry about it I was running late, no there'd be another one soon. All those things are what people get when they drive, no wonder why people love their cars.

Well I'm tired of thinking, I want mass transit where I don't have to think! And so does everyone else.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


I've been consolidating and trying to simplify my life. One of the actions has been dealing with my vast CD collection that I no longer listen to. I have put a lot of my CDs into digital form on my Powerbook, to the detriment of my hard drive storage. But there are a lot of CDs I just don't listen to that often, and those CDs have been sitting under my coffee table for the past couple of months. Not sure what to do with them, since some of the CDs were experimental in that I bought them on a whim to check them out and not all the experiments were successful and remain generally unloved and unsaleable.

I do think the digital world is making the world more green in that it reduces the impact of "experiments" like mine. It reduces the cost of production and distribution. It reduces the chance that things will end up in landfill when people are bored of them or never liked them. This is a good thing. What is bad is in the meantime how do artists make a living, they get the distribution but will people pay. Ringtones yes, but music not so sure?

Those are bigger questions than I can answer. As for the simpler issue, what do I do with the old box of music CDs sitting in the middle of my living room? So what do I do? They won't disappear and I won't throw them away without a shot at second life.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Excavation time!!!!

I recently went out for a run, and to pass the time away I alter my path to explore new parts of my neighborhood. I'm fairly blessed (or cursed depending on your point of view) that where I live has a wild mix of buildings including office parks, single family residences, townhomes, apartments and small retail. It's about as close to being urban without being urban and there are a lot of nice trees. This time of year brings out spring cleaning, and I am never amazed by how much we throw away, and how many things we throw away that are perfectly usable.

You see tons of packaging from electronics, lots of boxes (though I am guilty of that myself, I've been "cooking" far too many premade meals), old clothes. It's amazing that clothes have become disposable. Apparently "Good Will" does not want so many clothes either. There are things that in my youth I would have never imagined being thrown away like computers, stereos and televisions. About two Christmases ago, by my pool there were tons of TVs sitting on lawns with a sign that said "Free" but there were no takes. Guess everyone was upgrading to flatscreens. I'm TV free, but that's because I sold mine. One thing that breaks my heart is too see all the books that are thrown away. There was one time when books were precious, now they are like magazines or newspapers.

It's nice that people will put free on their trash, and it is true one person's garbage is someone else's treasure. But even then there are limits to what one will take for free even if it's usable. So what of all the things that don't get reclaimed, they get sent to the garbage dump where they pile layer on top of layer. Finding one of these dumps someday is going to be an archeologist's dream. What is that excavation going to say about us?

Monday, March 03, 2008

How's your five for footprint going?

It's been awhile since I've talked about five for footprint. The challenge to reduce your driving by one day in 20 by finding alternative means of transportation to work. I've been close, averaging about one day in 22. Not quite five, but work has been harrowing is my excuse.

Things that are making five for footprint easier:

1) Gas prices have shot up, giving more motivation to find alternative means of transportation.
2) The weather is getting warmer in many places.
3) Still got to walk off those winter pounds.

Things that are making five for footprint harder:

1) Mass Transit has had to increase fares.
2) A nervous economy is making people nervous and time sensitive.

Love Conquers All....

Yesterday I wrote about what would be the green things would be deal breakers for a potential partner. I've chatted with a few people and the comments indicate a theme that a person's non-green habits do not necessarily signify any particular traits about a person, and that if all things being equal it'd be possible to bring the other person over. (Of course I wonder if the same thing is happening on the other side, when I was more strictly vegetarian a long time ago, a carnivorous woman I was briefly dating was always tossing pieces of meat onto my bowl of noodles despite my repeated protestations).

In reading other green blogs, I know this is a common theme. Some partners think that this whole green thing is a fad, while others a resigned to what difference can I make. So does green conversion rely on a reading of the "facts" or do you agree to disagree?

I do think that while my list was a little tongue in cheek, not having CFLs would not prevent me from dating someone, though to be honest the SUV probably would depending on the circumstances. However, green is a set of values, how you look at consumption, your sense of status, your role in the world. But in the human equation, opposites do attract, matches are not always made in heaven and people do grow.

So enough about whether one should date green, to how one goes about dating greenly in future posts (though not necessarily the next one).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Looking for a Green Girlfriend....

Ok, this is not a personal ad masquerading in a blog post, but I couldn't resist a provocative alliteration in the title.

This weekend was interesting in that almost all my conversations with different dining companions focused on the subject of dating. Ok, a bunch of single people on a weekend evening, it is inevitable that the topic will come up, but for some reason it seemed to dominate the subject of the evening. We did touch upon politics (Obama taking Ohio and Texas, HRC, split?) but then we went back to the topic of dating. Maybe the advent of spring has something to do with it.

We judge and evaluate possible mates based on different attributes? Should green be one of them? How about the whole process of courtship? A popular complaint about a possible S.O. is that she (or he, but I'm going to go from my perspective for the rest of the post) is that they re geographically undesirable of GU? Could it be that the large distance is because it's carbon footprint? Does all that driving, picking someone up cause too much carbon. What does going on a date on mass transit say. Hmmm,

So what would a green girlfriend be like (and I'm not talking about that green dancer from the original Star Trek series):

1. Would not own a SUV. For some people I know this is up there with a prospective being a smoker. What does owning a SUV say about a person, unless that person is a forest ranger or some other similar job, it seems to say overkill. Bonus points for a hybrid maybe.

2. Could not be a massive carnivore, super green points if she's a vegan. This is an interesting one, since I actually know more women who crave a steak than men I know. My friend claims it's the iron cravings they get. So how does that explain chocolate? Given the amount of crop land and fertilizer it takes to raise the grain for a cow, a super carnivore might not be the most green person.

3. Would have CFL's in her home.

4. Would emphasize quality over quantity in her possessions. Someone who knows what she likes because she likes it, and not because it's the fashion of the moment probably speaks volumes about treading lightly on the planet.

5. Recycles, consciously. There are those who trash everyone, and those who go multistream (I think Finland they separate their garbage into 12 different categories!)

Will these categories end up on Yahoo! Personals, eHarmony? Probably not. But one has to be careful not to cast judgement since we all have a long way to go, my eco-unfriendly addiction to coffee and chocolate has a larger impact on my carbon footprint.

However, what does green living say about a person? Are these things desirable, or do they rain on the fun of being together with someone and make someone a fuddy-duddy (I have never ever thought that I would use that word in any of my writings ever!)? One often hears about green of a different sort being attractive quality, how about eco-green? Next time I'm with my tribe I'll pop the question, and report back.