Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reduce, Reincarnate, Recycle?

One of the great things about blogs are they are as much a conversation platform as they are a publishing platform. Doug left a comment on my blog post about bags, bags everywhere, where he brought to our attention a project called Rejavanate that sells bags made out of old coffee bean bags. So the coffee bags get reincarnated in a new life as grocery bags. So may the mantra of the recycling movement should be "Reduce, Reuse, Reincarnate, Recycle"

The Rejavanate project speaks on fairness an opportunities not just in the form of resource efficiency, but also human capital efficiency since it is my understanding that part of the proceeds go to the ARC that works to unlock the capabilities of the developmentally challenged. Back in Colorado, the ARC ran most of the thrift shops which also gave a second life items no longer needed.

Another thing I really like about the Rejavanate bags is that they are made out of burlap, comprised of hemp or other vegetable fibers. This means the bags are biodegradable and when disposed properly will close out the carbon cycle. The same cannot be said of the poly-ethylene bags.

The rejavanate effort also touches upon the power of our trash, we tend to look at our consumer goods as individual objects when they are actually collections of items that can be useful. I think this is something our Depression surviving grandparents understood that just because something broke doesn't mean it's not useful. There are plugs and cords in most appliance that can be cut away and used elsewhere. Those old shirts have buttons that can be used when one is missing on another shirt, that old particle board desk has casters you can put on something else. If you start thinking about your stuff as combinations of stuff you realize how much value might be there.

As to my last post, I should also clarify, while I'm amazed by the trend setting power that the Whole Foods reusable bag has had on the culture, and they should be commended for being ahead of the curve on this. (I just wish they could democratize earth and people healthy food, and not make it just a yuppie thing) I glad to see that the re-usable bags are widely available. I hope it's just a start of the reuse movement not just a fad. Lots of people still don't have reusable grocery bags, so if you have extras pass them on.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's in the bag.

Actually, it's the freaking bag and the freaking bag is everywhere. And when I mean everywhere, I mean everywhere. I feel like I'm perpetually in a Whole Foods market since all around me are people carrying the green polypropylene grocery bags that scream Whole Foods. Emboldened by the ubiquity of said bags others have followed suit and gone Whole Foods one step further. They are giving them away for free. At the Web 2.0 conference, one vendor was giving out their version of the bag in blue emblazoned with their logo. At our company store we have them in our purple, but they are not free. At the Bike Away from Work festivities, they were giving away bags. This past weekend I did a 10K race and the food bag at the end was you guessed it, a polypropylene grocery bag. It's getting to be too much, I've been collecting them and giving them to my not so yet green friends but there will be a saturation point.

So start tossing those bags in your car people, and start reusing them. If you have too many, don't fall into the trap of hey they're free and toss them. Pay them forward.

But you know it is pretty freaking cool, that people no longer have an excuse for not having a reusable bag. A bag as schwag, we're definitely in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


This past weekend I wasn't very carbon friendly in that I ended up flying to Colorado to visit my folks. The dirty carbon secret of my life is I am a travel addict. I love visiting new places, eating new foods and meeting adventurous people. Horrors of horrors, I really enjoy flying (though to be honest, flying commercial these days makes me nervous since the pressures are so much to cut costs that I worry about airlines cutting the muscle not just the fat). I love looking into the clouds, seeing the map of the world unfurl itself as my imagination wonders what's happening below. It's just so amazing. I've been trying to cut down, last year was the first time in 10 years I didn't make elite status on any airline.

As another complete aside, there is one thing about flying that always puzzles me, the instant I get on a plane I get all sleepy for the first 10 - 15 minutes, I don't just get sleepy, I get narcoleptic and pass out and wake up about 10 minutes later. I try to stay up for take off, and if available listen to the cockpit chatter. But right after we're off the ground. Bonk, I'm out. Anyone else feel that way when they fly?

But I'm not here to write about my flying addiction, what I am writing about is my surprise in reading in United's In-Flight Magazine a great article about cool new green technologies for automobiles. It includes mentions of a company Flex-Fuel US that is offering conversion kits to run on E85 instead of gasoline. Or check this out, Coskata a company that makes ethanol from non-food crops. It of course mentions Tesla Motors

It's a really informative survey of gasoline alternative automobiles, and I discovered it while on one of the most carbon inconvenient forms of transportation. Go figure.

Hmmm where have you heard this before?

Every so often you get a chance to gloat and I'm going to take that opportunity. LA Times Columnist David Lazurus (formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle -- what are you thinking going down to SoCal?) writes about how telecommuting once a week may be the best route to fuel relief. In addition to being good for your wallet, it's good for the planet. It's chock full of great quotes like the following:

"Studies show that you only need to take 5% of cars off the road to make a difference," said Sarah Catz, director of UC Irvine's Center for Urban Infrastructure. "I remember the 1984 Olympics. I could just sail down the 405."

Five percent making a difference, doesn't that sound a lot like Five for Footprints?

or how about this tidbit:

I'm not saying that we should all go off-leash. But I am saying that employers could trust workers enough to experiment with one remote day a week -- work-at-home Wednesday, for instance.

Sort of sounds a lot like my first suggestion for "Five for Footprint" below:

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.

I'm all for telecommuting, for whatever reasons, it's all good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome to Sigma Gamma!

The New York Times has a fun story about how college has changed with the presence at Oberlin College in Ohio and the practices that members of the Green House undertake to reduce their carbon footprint, It's like a fraternity but it isn't but close enough that I call it Sigma Gamma for "Super Green" Part of their pledge activities include taking the shortest shower, sharing one refrigerator, and studying in the same room to save on lights. I'm impressed by the amount of energy these kids have for being green, they are role models for us all. But as consciously as we can be about being green, we need to figure out structural mechanisms for us to be unconsciously green.

Green focuses on self-restraint and there is so much in our life that requires self restraint but unfortunately we as human being may have limited energy for self-restraint according to this study So we need to make sure things are inherently efficient. In the editorial on self restraint there is this quote:

Other activities that deplete willpower include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep.

and it seems to be true since in the article on Oberlin at the end one of the occupants lamented:

He confessed to another one. Sometimes, he said, “on a Friday after a long week of finals, I have to have a bath and a beer.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

Adapting to change ahead....

The New York Times has a business feature article on how people are adjusting to the new highs in gas prices. The article focuses on whether this is a momentary moment of pain or is this a fundamental change in how people act. A good quote is the following:

“This is the wake up call,” Mr. Schipper said. “We actually have a lot of choices, based on what car we drive, where we live, how much time we choose to drive, and where we choose to go. But you have built in a very strong car dependency. And when the price hits the fan, people have a hard time coping.”

Another story of change is:

On a recent sunny Sunday in Encinitas, Calif., Ryan Andrews, 23, and Tara Driscoll, 21, arrived at the beach red-faced and sweating from riding their bicycles in 80-degree weather.

They had bought their bikes the previous week and had just cycled six miles from home. Ms. Driscoll said she got the bicycle so she could ride to work every day, a commute of two miles, instead of driving.

“It just makes sense,” she said.

Yes it does.

Transformers...more than meets to the eye.

Well today I went carfree, not driving at all and I can say that the switch over to "city slicks" has made a huge difference in commuting ease. It reminds me so much of the same zeal that we bought SUVs thinking we just might drive "off-road" so many people have bought mountain bikes thinking they would go biking in the mountains but never did. (In some defense of myself, my bike has gone off pavement many times, just not recently). These Performance City MTB Tires are a small investment to transform an existing mountain bike into a commuting powerhouse. This change cost me less than $20.

Here is a list of small things one can do to transform a mountain bike into a commute bike:

1. Get rid of "knobby tires" meant for off road biking and put on slicks. ($20 - $30)
2. Get racked. Get a rear rack for panniers or check out these collapsable baskets. Putting stuff on the bike rack does two things. First it gets it off your back meaning you sweat less and second it lowers the center of gravity making your bike more stable.
3. Fenders if rain is something that is regular where you live. ($15 - $30)
4. LIGHTS - If you ride anytime near darkness make sure you can see and be seen. ($20 - $40)
5. Trouser Strap, a small strip of velcro that keeps your pants out of your chain ($4)

You can do the same for your road bike for most people, converting a mountain bike makes more sense, it's a little more rugged and people like riding upright.

Pit Stop....

I'm trying to find ways to encourage my biking more from local trips. The hard reality is that it's going to mean that I start waking up earlier (probably not going to happen). But for non-morning trip, I decided to retrofit my mountain bike, which has not touched single track for a long time, into more of a "city bike" with city tires. I did the change over in less than half an hour last night. Sort of like and Indy Pit Stop. It cost me less than $20 and we'll see if it means I sweat less because I work less against the road. It does mean I get less of a workout, but perhaps more bike riding will even it out.

We're going to have to be more self-mobile in the future and that probably means we're going to start smelling like human beings more and more.

I wonder what is a good affordable rolling rig for replacing the car for less than 5 mile trips?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I dare you, I double dare you....

to look around you and find something that doesn't rely on oil or gasoline to be in our lives. In my last post I ended with the doom and gloom of $5 per gallon gas, but how about $6 per gallon gas. That's the prediction of Goldman Sachs oil analyst Arjun N. Murti covered in this New York Times article where he talks about the possibility of a "super spike" in oil prices. Originally dismissed as alarmist, his predictions have come true time and time again. His basic premise is the world has an unquenchable thirst for oil, and it's derivatives. And he's not wrong.

Looking around me on my lunch break, I can't see a single item that didn't require petroleum in it's production or delivery. Not even the electricity powering this blog post is free of petrol. The apple on my desk, probably driven in a truck, my resuable plastic cup, made of oil. In our lives, oil is the air of the modern age, it's like water to a fish, it's what we propel against in our lives.

We're not going to get rid of oil, but we can use a lot less of it. Whoops that implies a choice, it's probably not going to be an option.

Scoot, Scoot, Scoot

The Wall Street Journal has a whimsical article on the increasing popularity of motor scooters. With this trend America's going to look like an old Italian movie. Scooter manufacturers tried to make sales by being retro and cool, but instead it was $4 plus per gallon gas prices that have got people considering this throwback to simpler days.

Scooters are ideal form of transportation when one remembers that the vast majority of auto trips in the U.S. are five miles or less. (see "Trapped in the Suburbs" a few posts ago). And most trips are "errands" not requiring the space to carry things.

One challenge to scooter adoption is that in most states scooters require a motorcycle license and this was something that has deterred me from getting one. It makes sense safety wise, it's just a pain. But maybe no more painful that $5 plus per gallon gasoline.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When will we stop being PC?

Before you click away saying hey I want eco-politics not other politics in my blog posts hear me out. I think we need to start being PC and by that I'm not talking "Political Correctness" but I'm talking "Private Car" and when I say being I mean BEING. Being can be defined as a state of existence, and here in the United States if you were to describe what it means to be an American, having your own private car for the vast majority of Americans is a part of your existence. Nine out of ten times when I go out to meet friends for dinner or see a movie, each and every one of us will have driven a single passenger car to meet up.

So consider this little thought experiment, imagine that we had to carry our own life support systems, or they had to be within a few hundred yards of us. Imagine going to the mall and "parking" your personal life support system while you went about your shopping. Now imagine that someone stole your personal life support system while you were buying your stuff. Imagine your horror as you go back to get your personal life system and to find it missing. You'd be in a state of panic. But that's how our personal cars are to us. If we went back to find our car missing we'd feel our freedom, our life usurped. Let me repeat this one more time....


The PC is part of our existence, so basic we haven't thought about it until now. Now that it costs so much to drive, we realize that we have to think about it. Imagine thinking about breathing? Paul Krugman in the New York Times points out that while we can change our cars relatively easy, we cannot change the way our lives are organized, or as he puts it we're "Trapped in Suburbia" which assume that WE ARE OUR CARS, and that we all have chosen to be PC. This is not exactly a new thought, in 2001 Suburban Nation was published that foresaw this.

Predicting the future is easy, because it's already happened.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Post Bike to Work Day discovery....

It's the weekend, so I hope you don't have to bike to work, but instead get to bike to play. Friday was Bike to Work day in most of the country and had a helpful story with some tips on making biking to work and anywhere else a little easier with solutions for commonly held exceptions from sweating to safety. Some of them are things you buy, others are things you do. Here they are in order:

- "If I ride to work, I'll get hot and sweaty."
- "What about my music?"
- "I have too much stuff to carry."
- "Is cycling safe?"
- "Get out more."

A lot of these are tips that's written about in my Ten Tips for Carfree Living While there are great tips, here are some other tips that can help with bicycling as a commuting option.

- Have the right tires

A lot of people especially during the time when mountain biking was really popular, a lot of people bought bicycles thinking they were going to take them off road. Sounds familiar huh, SUV fad, mountain bike fad. Truth is most people never take their bikes off pavement, but they have to suffer the extra resistance when driving on pavement. Spending $30 to buy "slicks" or tires with out the traction knobs will improve your ride tremendously.

- Think zen

Bicycles are most often thought of as exercise equipment, and like treadmills and stationary bicycles, a lot get bought so they are never used. If you can be unattached to your bicycle you can buy two bikes. You may live far away from your work, but if you can buy a bike that you can ride mass transit, and a bike you leave at the other end. You can get a car off the road. We often think that we want the nicest bike, but a bike you can leave and not worry about too much means you can ride more.

- Explore

I bike to run a lot of errands, and avoiding the busy main roads means you can discover more of your surroundings. Friends are always amazed by how much of the neighborhood I know and that's because I actually have seen the neighborhood. Riding the side streets means you'll discover the little neighborhood places you always dream of having in your place, and you know they're often there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm Melting....

It's a scorcher here in Silicon Valley, and the electricity load is increasing as air conditioners get throttled. While we haven't had any rolling blackouts, it's good to figure out ways to reduce demand including going to places with air conditioning instead of cranking your own up. I'm particularly good at this since my place does not have AC.

If you want to see how the weather is impacting the grid, be sure to check out the California Independent System Operator Status Board to see the current energy loads.

Feedback in the form of the kill-o-watt and other tools helps adjust your impact.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Goooooddd Moooorning Spinning Cranks!!!!"

Happy Bike to Work Day here in Silicon Valley on May 15 (yes, I know that in most of the country Bike to Work Day is Friday May 16, but it's always Thursday here). Be sure to visit one of the many "Energizer" stations up and down the Peninsula and collect a Musette bag (yours I may have helped stuff) and enjoy the foodie goodies. Be sure to hydrate if you are in Norcal since it's getting hot out there.

Have a fun bike to work day!! Don't forget to remember to see how your carbon footprint and possibly waistline are smaller at the end of the day!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to get motivated FAST!!!!

The New York Times has a story on how Juneau, Alaska has become rapidly energy efficient when an avalanche destroyed several major transmissions towers carrying electricity from the hydroelectric dam about 40 miles away.

Moving from a green source of electricity that is relatively cheap, to now diesel which is four times more expensive has motivated serious behavior changes. Now from the article there have been definite adjustments in lifestyle, some minor and some more conscious forms of living. But it has made a difference, before the avalanche, Juneau consumed 1006 Megawatts hours per day, and as of Friday it's down to 625. A forty percent drop in a few weeks!

So what does it take to motivate change? My biggest issue with climate change naysayers is they never say when will they believe. Is there a data point where they don't summarily dismiss the impact? It reminds me of a scene from the movie "And the Band Played On" about the AIDS epidemic and the reluctance of the blood industry to do screening tests and a doctor asks "How many dead hemophiliacs do you need" For the benefit of those who can't play the video here's the text:

Blood Bank Representative:

"Is the CDC seriously suggesting that the blood industry spend one hundred million dollars a year to use a test for the wrong disease, because we've had a handful of transfusion fatalities and eight dead hemophiliacs?!?"

Don Francis (Matthew Modine) gets up and yells:

"How many dead hemophiliacs do you need? How many people have to die to make it cost efficient for you to do something about it? A hundred? A thousand? Give us a number! So we wont annoy you again, until the money you begin spending on lawsuits makes it more profitable for you to save people, than to kill them!"

The clip from the movie below:

Multitasking is good.....

The has a blog post talking about the one successful story in Amtrak, the Acela Express that rides the Northeast corridor. Despite it's relatively quality relative to it's counterparts in Europe and Japan, Acela does quite well in the U.S. especially given that it trumps air travel when transit time to the airport and security is taken into account.

The blog post goes on to say what would make Acela better would be the including of wi-fi internet access on the trains to make it more appealing to business people so they would be able to work (or play World of Warcraft) while they are in transit.

It highlights one of the deficiencies of single passenger automobile travel in the U.S. that aside from listening to the news, or audiobooks. there are not a lot of ways to use your transit time. The act of driving responsibly requires you not to do too much. Mass transit and self transit provide other benefits besides transport.

When I was studying Chinese in Taipei, I found the time on the bus that it took me to get to campus was well used studying. When I walk or bike to places, I get some amount of exercise. Cars are a single tasking mode of transport, other alternatives are better on this count.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's Sweeping the Nation....

Well maybe just North Dakota..Yahoo News has this AP Story (hat tip to SC) about the increase in bicycling in North Dakota, and sales are up according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association which reports that bicycle dealers are experiencing an uptick in sales and looking for tips in Bicycle Commuting.

Supposedly less than one half of one percent ride a bike to work. (I should do it more). There's a lot of room for improvement.

They say trends start on coasts, may this one will start from Bismarck, North Dakota.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When was the last time you played at an office park?

The New York Times is on a green tear this weekend, there's an article about a recommendation to the Tarrytown, NY to start building residential housing mixed in with commercial real estate in an effort to create affordable housing. The argument is the infrastructure is already there.

It's always bothered me is that if you look at parking lots within suburban areas they look like flies moving from one piece of fruit to another. In the day there are swarms of cars surrounding offices, and at night there are swarms of cars moving to suburban housing. Why can't we have more balanced parking patterns, imagine people living on the top floors of office parks and shopping malls. Some of this is happening in places like San Jose's Santana Row is an effort at achieving that mixed use model. The verdict is still out on how successful it is. In many respects it's created a Disneylike downtown experience where the real San Jose downtown has failed, and it's done it with extreme high density, even higher than the real downtown.

Our single zoning model is predicated on affordable gas, and that may no longer be something we can assume. Putting residential into office park, or at least a mixed model like Paris's La Defense may suggest a future model.

Are you your stuff?

The New York Times touches upon the current housing crisis in the U.S. with an article on how many users of rental storage are having a hard time keeping up with payments. While I often disparage the rampant accumulation of material possessions, to be honest with myself is my distaste with stuff or with the way that people will put themselves into debt for stuff. I freecycle occasionally but often do find it hard to let go of things I've acquired. But I am getting better, and I am getting better at not getting it in the first place.

There is a particularly touching series of paragraphs that really caused me pause:

Bill Martin, a 50-year-old former manager in the technology industry, lost his house in the Southern California community of Lake Forest last August. His local self-storage company sent a truck and driver to pick up his things, a service it offers all new customers.

“Storage has my hopes in it,” said Mr. Martin, who sleeps on a foldout bed in his mother’s guest room. “I don’t tell anyone this, but at least once a week I go over and look at my couch, my refrigerator, my TV stand, my mattress and realize I did have a life, and maybe there’s a way to go back to it.”

It's true how much of our identity is associated with our possessions, and our possessions as symbols of our hopes of who we are and who we want to be. I often have spoke of ownership as access, and ownership is a sense of control, and a sense of control often translates to a sense of stability and in proxy safety. I was struck with great sadness that Mr. Martin didn't feel he had a life, but what struck me is how often I feel the same way given our societal pressures. I wonder if he holds pride in his non-tangible accomplishments like completing his education? The work that he's done? Stuff is a translation of our effort in to something we can enjoy, we save for that nice TV, we save for that nice car, it shows that we've worked hard in ways that other things cannot do.

I'm at an age where my friends who remain single, often the subject is how to end that state. A topic where I disagree with many is the area of signaling (my economic mind and evolutionary training says "Charles you moron, of course signaling matters") A friend of mine's lease on a very nice car is coming up and I've been meaning to ask did it make a difference. Other friends have also spoken about the value of having a home and what does it mean in the search for a spouse. If you think I'm kidding check out this Marketplace story about how home ownership is what single women in China are looking for in a man. I will bite my tongue so hard before offering any additional commentary. Do we value stuff because others value us because of our stuff?

How do we look at people who don't believe in stuff. How do we look at a Ghandi? How do we quantify honor and accomplishment outside of the realm of stuff? Does the Nobel have value because the prize amount is a lottery winning amount of a million dollars plus (currency fluctuations notwithstanding) vs a Pulitzer which is only $10,000 US which is a nice amount but not life changing.

How much of our stuff defines our identity? Probably more than we want to admit.

More on the effects of high priced oil...

I just received an interesting pointer from the Yahoo Group Carfree about an editorial in the Falls Church (Virgina) News about the impact of Peak Oil acting as a forcing function to transit. This is a nice follow on to my post yesterday about the rise in mass transit use seen across the U.S. The editorial deals with the issues that increased efficiency may not be enough, and that we will have re-conceive our mass transit to not only be for people, but for groceries, deliveries and many other multi-use purposes. A particularly interesting point is the following:

One day soon, it will simply be too expensive for electricians, plumbers and a myriad of other household service providers to drive 50 or 60 miles in large, inefficient vehicles to perform some relatively minor maintenance task. The very nature of such services will have to change, be localized, and planned so that travel is minimized. Someday, your electrician may arrive on a city bus pulling his tools and parts behind.

This quote really struck me about how inextricably linked sustainability and self-sufficiency are. In the past, the homeowner was really thought to be quite capable of doing basic fixes. And the culture of Home Depot and DYI does reinforce that, but we've also become separated. My father the professor is quite capable of may repairs around the home that were forced out of necessity (plumbers are expensive) vs today where many of my MBA friends have no idea even how to change a tire on their car just calling triple A. The argument for hyper specialization is efficiency, however there is an argument for learning different domains. The ideal of a liberal arts education is not to create generalists, but to reveal the similarities between domains and that problems exist in general classes of problems not limited to a specific field. That understanding of the abstract relationship at an innate level is being lost. Walter Mosley once questioned in the NY Times had the following:

NYT: Do you consider reading an essential activity?

WM: Not at all. Reading isn't the only way to obtain complex knowledge. Probably the best way to gain complex knowledge is human interaction. If someone knows how to build a wall, he can teach me, because I don't know how to build a wall.

NYT: Do you think that building a wall takes more knowledge than writing a book?

WM: I think that people don't know anything anymore. My father was a janitor. He could take a car apart and put it back together. He could build a house in a backyard. Today, if you ask people what they know, they say, I know how to hire someone.

I think Mostley is on to something when he says "people don't know anything anymore." We live in a world of black boxes, and without understanding the impact of our choices, the actions behind the curtain we make bad choices out of ignorance. Economists like pricing for illuminating our impact, however market norms may not be sufficient.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A "YAWN"ing Divide?

It was going to happen sometime and it's too bad it happened in such a sad way. Arduous and Green Bean Dreams highlight two articles from the UKs Telegraph about YAWNs "Young And Wealthy (but) Normal" or individuals of great wealth who disdain ostentation with their wealth and live below their means and giving to charity. Wealthy is defined by UBS as having £250,000 investable assets.

On this side of the pond (or more accurately, my side of the pond, I have no idea where you are reading this), the San Francisco Chronicle picks up the story with featured stories on YAWNs in California with guess what? Former dot-com millionaires.

What really gets my goat about the acronym is the emphasis on the word "WEALTHY" as it implies that living below your means requires you to be wealthy. One of the featured story profiles includes an man who is struggling to live only on get this $50,000 a year! Well nice to be slumming when in 2006, the median annual household income was $48,201.00 according to the US Census Bureau. (Source: Wikipedia) and let me indicate that is HOUSEHOLD not individual.

There are plenty of individuals who have decided to live within their means, work hard, save, give back to their community that aren't wealthy by US standards (note almost everyone who lives in the developed world is wealthy by global standards). If our media presents living responsibility as a privilege of the rich, as opposed to a part of the transformation from consumer to citizen, then it fails to see the leaders around us living without fanfare. Sometimes a little less fanfare might be a good thing, if you check out the walk and talk of Brad Pitt. But then again, there are theories to how we got here.

It's not what you have it's what you do.

Have we reached a tipping point?

Today's New York Times has a story on the increase in ridership of mass transit in some unexpected places. The increase in gas costs are causing people to trade as Houston accountant Michael Brewer said "“Finally I was ready to trade my independence for the savings,” while waiting for a bus.

The Times article explore other drivers to mass transit

Other factors may be driving people to mass transit, too. Wireless computers turn travel time into productive work time, and more companies are offering workers subsidies to take buses or trains. Traffic congestion is getting worse in many cities, and parking more expensive.

Michael Brewer, an accountant who had always driven the 36-mile trip to downtown Houston from the suburb of West Belford, said he had been thinking about switching to the bus for the last two years. The final straw came when he put $100 of gas into his Pontiac over four days a couple of weeks ago.

Financial incentives are extremely powerful in changing behavior, and as drivers they are often referred to as what MIT Economist Dan Ariely calls "Market Norms" however repeated experiments reveal that "Social norms" may be even more powerful drivers. I know my consciousness about my own driving comes from my experiences not driving, there is an increased sensitivity of exhaust when I'm behind a tail pipe walking or on my bike than when I'm safely ensconsed in a car. Behind a car on my bike, my breathing is hesitant knowing what the air holds. This awareness establish an empathetic contract that shapes an awareness of my own driving.

I strongly recommend Ariely's book Predicatably Irrational since the findings covered in our research may provide ideas for us to internalize our lifestyle so that we can change it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"It's not just a good idea, it's the law!"

The speed limit? No recycling! In this story so says San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom who is considering making it illegal to not recycle. While there will not be a recycling police, there is the thought of making it ok for garbage collectors to not pick up garbage that contains recyclables.

What cracks me up is how competitive the Newsom is about recycling, wanting to completely dominate other cities in this respect. Yeah, competition is good.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How do you measure your exertion.....

Today I had the good fortune to attend an event recognizing a very talented young woman who was being recognized for her work with Engineers for a Sustainable World that brings back the calling aspect of engineering to make a difference. At that event, I bumped into a friend of mine and we were talking about transportation and possible businesses, and I remarked on my latest blog post what do you call it when everyone has a hybrid? A traffic jam. He told me that studies have shown that hybrids consume as much gas as regular cars which shocked me and I asked him to explain. He said that people tend to think in terms of dollars or gas tanks, and they keep thinking oh, I'm just filling up a tank a week. Which is true, but they are driving miles. So any efficiency gained is lost on additional consumption. Plenty of studies have shown this to be true, in other contexts so I'm not surprised in hindsight that it wouldn't hold true. It's simple economic analysis.

So the question comes to my mind is how do people regulate their consumption, what is your internal gas gauge, thermostat or whatever to gauge your impact. If it's your internal perception, you are probably estimating in the wrong way your impact. Why do I think this? As an endurance athlete (I use that word generously in my case) one of the great inventions in training has been the "Heart Rate Monitor" The HRM measured how hard your heart was beating, and it provided a true measure of your exertion. Previously athletes relied on perceived exertion to measure their exercise. However perceived exertion has proven to be wildly off, even if you feel you are working out, it's entirely possible that you are not.

So often, we undertake environmental steps based on our perceived improvements. There was a debate on an internal mailing list concerning whether paper cups or washable mugs were better, with statistics on both sides. So how do we measure our impact. Is it on our bills, our wallets, our number of trips to the gas stations. Does your perceived impact match your actual impact? What's your internal impact gauge?

Monday, May 05, 2008

It's not what you eat, it's what you believe....

Today Yahoo had a link to a story on Science site Live Science has an article about how substituting chicken for beef can make more of a different than even buying locally. The conventional wisdom is that transportation is the primary cause of greenhouse gases related to food. However, production is seriously underestimated:

The production phase is responsible for 83 percent of the average U.S. household's greenhouse-gas burden with regard to food, while transportation accounts for only 11 percent, the new study found. The production of red meat, the researchers conclude, is almost 150 percent more greenhouse-gas-intensive than chicken or fish.

This has been the conventional wisdom, in the various diets for a hungry planet, the calculation is that the grain required to raise a cow for slaughter is many times what could be used to feed people directly. So forget the knowledge in the article is old hat, take a look at the comments. What is clear, is that the challenge is not the knowledge, it's the ability to consider new points of view.

Q: What do call it when everyone is driving a hybrid?

A: A traffic Jam!

This weekend I was heading up the Maker Faire to see what kind of crafty inventiveness that people were dreaming up of coming parts, trash and other things to well new stuff. A highlight was hearing Adam Savage of Mythbuster fame as he described his obsession with making film prop replicas and the adventures in constructing facsimiles that were pretty darn amazing. He had on display an bull whip from "Raiders of the Lost Ark", the mega pistol from the "Fifth Element" and even a reconstructed Dodo from the 18th century. As cool as the event was, getting to the event really sucked...

The event has grown huge since its origins 2 years ago, and it really gnarled up traffic. What struck me was that even if you're driving a hybrid you're still making up traffic. Especially if you are a single driver, and that includes all the roads, parking lots, etc. It took upwards of two hours for some people to get off the freeway and parked. Unless....

You took mass transit. I heard about the hideous travel situation, and with it being National Bike Month, decided to ride my bike to the Caltrain, put my bike in the bike car and ride from the train station to the fairgrounds. A nice bonus was that the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition had set up complimentary valet bicycle parking. I was able to walk right in.

Hybrids are a huge improvement over standard combustion engines, however they're not the full answer. The infrastructure to support cars is often forgotten. It's like a fish, they take water for granted, we take roads for granted, it's what we swim in. But when the roads aren't enough we have to "think different" or at least "ride different"

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Geez, those miles add up.

I just wrote a post about National Bike Month, so what did I do today. I drove a lot. Well not a lot but conventional standards, but even I was surprised by the number of miles that I drove today and everything was local. Today I ran a series of errands after work and ended up driving about 18 miles. No trip was more that 5 miles, but it did add up.

- Home to Work
- Work to haircut
- haircut to grocery
- Grocery to bank
- Bank to library
- library to home

If I planned better, perhaps I can choose places all located downtown and that would reduce those miles. But it just goes to show, that even when you are conscious of your miles, those little miles add up. 18 miles don't seem a lot. Think about what those miles would be if you walked or rode a bike or took mass transit. It's not just how we drive, it's how we build that makes a difference.

May is National Bike Month!

April Flowers Bring May Cyclers!

Not quite a rhyme but it's the truth as May is National Bicycle Month. The League of American Bicyclists has a list of activities to celebrate human locomotion. It's amazing to think that two bicycle makers tinkering led to human flight, it wasn't the automobile industry. The bicycle is also the most efficient form of transport with the highest percentage of energy transferring to motion, this is a function of how simple the system is with fewer points of energy loss.

The big event of the month is Bike To Work Day which is in Silicon Valley May 15, and officially May 16. The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition does an amazing job hosting with energizer stations everywhere where you can collect a musette bag with food and goodies.

I'm trying to reschedule my life (i.e. go to bed earlier, too much a night own) so I can bike to work more. I did bike the past two days, and coming home was a challenge in the cold wind. But I survived. So dust off the old bike and try to get a few five for footprint days in in May.