Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't fence me in, but then again once the horse is out of the barn...

The Economist has an article on the quantification of certain environmental factors where our ecosystem should be bounded for us to be part of that ecosystem. Scientists are getting confident enough to even set some numbers.

The nine areas of concern were: climate change; ocean acidification; the thinning of the ozone layer; intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth); the conversion of wilderness to farms and cities; extinctions; the build up of chemical pollutants; and the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere. For seven of these areas the paper's authors felt confident enough to put numbers on where the boundaries actually lay. For chemicals and particulates, they deferred judgment.
The article covers some of the criticisms and some of the impacts of ignoring the possibility of limits. The question for me is always reversibility, once we reach a point of no return why would we tempt it. Nature finds a way to move on, I don't believe that time will stop once we leave the planet so the question is never "save the earth" but "save our grandchilren's children"

Friday, August 24, 2012

the power of self locomotion...

Adam Driscoll has a nice post on his personal blog talking about how biking to work has made a huge difference in his happiness. It's a great post explaining the tradeoffs and benefits.

I too find that when I walk to work or get around I feel much more alive, because I am in the act of living, not the act of being carried around. You have to be more aware in an odd way when you are walking and riding than if you are being driven around. And being more aware is being more alive.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Getting to doing instead or worrying...

The New York Times "dot Earth" blog has a good post on positive steps one can do to tackle climate change. I'm not going to summarize since it covers a lot better than I could repost and has a link to an article that I planned to write about on why people aren't outraged or why people don't think it's a big deal.

The challenge we have is that we no longer have authorities in our cafeteria culture where we pick and choose. I always ask myself on any major issue where I hold an opinion "what would it be to change my mind on this issue." If I don't have anything, I know I'm acting on faith, but then I admit it.

Getting to Amsterdam, Beijing and New York City

After much consternation and hand wringing, it seems that a majority of New York City residents have come to terms with the expansion of bicycle lanes in New York City according to this recent poll. What is interesting about the results is that people don't necessarily see them as good for themselves but see it as good for the city or for people they know and seem to see it as a balance argument that we need to support many forms of transportation and it is good for public health. This got me thinking, what would it take to get to a bicycling norm and I reflected on my past world travels and it brought to mind two very different places.

The first is Amsterdam in the Netherlands which is an incredibly bicycle friendly city. If you visit during the spring, summer or fall you will see a huge number of bicyclists getting around. Bicycles there are cheap and functional, and mostly stolen. It may be apocryphal but supposedly the average bike has been stolen five times in Amsterdam, so it effect it has become a de facto community bike sharing program. Though apparently they have to dredge the canals periodically of the bikes thrown in there. Regardless of the set backs, bicycles have a primary role despite a weather situation similar to New York City. It has persisted as well.

Another city in my past travels has been Beijing, China. When I went there for the first time in the late 1990s, bicycles were a dominant form of transportation. The legendary "Flying Pigeon" Ruled the road. There were lots of bike thoroughfares connecting the different rings. Ten years later the car has become the dominant form of transportation and bicycles are relegated to the poor and to the "recreational" (that's a joke). Modernization, status seeking and decrease in cost of cars has led to this change in transportation mode.

New York City isn't quite Beijing, but it's not Amsterdam. The question is will policy be sufficient to change the mix of transport. What is the tipping point that leads to Beijing or Amsterdam. The next couple of years in NYC will be interesting to see how it plays out. I am optimistic, the transformation of Times Square to more of a square shows change is possible.

Friday, August 17, 2012


The New York City bike program is on hold according to the New York Times. Details here. I hope they use the extra time well. Curiosity missed its windows the first time but did great later.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Do you need a bag with that?

That's the title of a blog post on the MediaPost by Brigid Milligan which explores the increase by municipalities passing ordinances to make it illegal to provide disposable bags to customers for free. The question that often comes up is that will people care about a nickel here or there and just accept it as a cost, and when you look at the lack of redemption by people for their bottles and cans you would think it's the case. But for me it's the question that matters most, the public asking "do you need a bag?" where the potency lies. I increasingly see people telling cashiers that they have their own bags, but that's the converted. When everyone is asked, the social pressure becomes, do I really NEED, or is it a nice to have. I know that I don't like to receive bags because I have to recycle them later, so the time I save up front is time I lose later. But I digress. It just might be that the question is more important than the answer in changing people's behavior.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Planes v Trains

Looks like trains are making a comeback. In the northeast corridor Amtrak is making a stand as noted in the New York Times article. The security hassles and weather challenges have made trains more appealing, plus the added amenities of dining car and WiFi. The same has happened in Taiwan where high speed trains have impacted the air travel within the island country. I just got off of a standing room only caltrain too which I wonder if it is being driven (no pun intended) by the recent refinery fire driving gas prices up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

too much stuff or too much change?

An interesting pair of complementary article that make sense together. The first is an blog post in the New York Times Bucks Blogs that argues that we have too much stuff, but more importantly asks questions to help us assess why we have the stuff we have and how to reduce it once those questions have been answered. I know that I am a sucker for a good deal and will pick up things because they are a "good value." But once I have them, I will be hesitant to throw away because I know it has it's use just not right now. Contrast this with an article in Techcrunch talking about the eWaste problem that will be created if Apple's rumored change in docking connector happens and it's mind blowing. So many products have been created for this docking connector that will no longer be compatible with the rumored new iPhone. It's true, I have a lot of cradles and cables that use the old dock. Think of the thousands of hotel rooms that have clocks that have the dock connector? Do you throw them out? The business case for introducing a new connector is huge, but so is the environmental cost. The European Union saw the endless incompatible charging adapters of the different mobile phone manufacturers that they mandated phones be chargeable with microUSB adapters. Apple had to comply as well. Change for change sake, or profit margin will lead to more stuff in our lives,and don't we have too much already?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A wealth of links today....

Alternative energy and commuting have a wealth of stories. Plus today I went shopping and consumers were asking not to get their plastic bags and use their own, plus I went on an 8 mile hike. A nice Sunday indeed. The first story come from the Atlantic and is on Zurich's experiment on parking allocation but reducing the amount of parking instead of increasing it. This then becomes a constraint on buildings and like evolution in action, these constraints drive solutions. The insight was to limit parking wherever there was good mass transit and this had the unintended consequence of becoming more efficient. Parking we tend to forget is not free (cost of parking lot) and also a low productive use of space. By countering that, Zurich has created some nice benefits. The second article is from the New York Times about the delays and turmoil experienced with the New York City bike share program. Looks like the weather will postpone its launch for this year. The elections are coming up and bicycling has been very controversial. The third article is also from the New York Times and covers the company Sungevity and how it is competing to make solar more likely. My favorite summation was the incredibly coherent discussion about why it doesn't make sense we are not using more solar.
When we burn coal, gas or oil, we are simply harnessing an archived version of that same energy from the sun, stored in plant and animal life, compacted and preserved under the earth’s crust. As Kennedy puts it in his passionate but rational way: “Think about it this way. We’re killing people in foreign lands in order to extract 200-million-year-old sunlight. Then we burn it . . . in order to boil water to create steam to drive a turbine to generate electricity. We frack our own backyards and pollute our rivers, or we blow up our mountaintops just miles from our nation’s capital for an hour of electricity, when we could just take what’s falling free from the sky.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Caltrain, moving forward.

The Mountain View Voice has an article reporting on how Caltrain ridership has increased recently as a sign of the improving economy. This is good news since it shows more people can see mass transit as a viable option to their day to day lives.

In fact I am writing this post while riding Caltrain heading to brunch and a baseball game. The train is very full with most of the seats filled.

A downside which I can tolerate because I love my Kindle is that I al leaving an hour earlier than I would like and have to spend an hour more waiting for my appointment once I get to SF.

This could be alleviated by greater frequency of trains because it isn't just the travel time that makes mass transit challenging but the end to end.

Smartphones and ultra light laptops are helping us reclaim that time. Urban centers also support the proliferation of third places which help make a car free lifestyle more palatable.

To that end the increase in ridership, means that Caltrain is adding new mid day routes. Hurray. Good news indeed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Familiarity breeds risk.

Coming in on the shuttle today there was an ambulance and fire truck in the parking lot. Apparently a car hit a bicycle in the parking lot. Just because one is in a familiar place doesn't mean you can let your guard down. Let's be careful out there.

Spare the air day.

Here in the bay area is spare the air. Seems to have worked, more people on the shuttle.

On a related note, looks like we will have the worst corn crop in 17 years.

They are related aren't they?