Sunday, August 31, 2008

the wheels of progress roll down like bicycles down the lane...

The Washington Post had a fantastic article comparing and contrasting the different bicycle policies of different countries. From the downright dangerous of the U.S., Britain and Australia to the benign neglect of Japan and the huge success of the Netherlands. One thing is clear, gas prices are driving people to ride their bikes. In accompanying piece the CEO of Giant Bicycles in Taiwan observes that in Taiwan "If you ride a bicycle, people will respect you"

Japan, a country of many contradictions, hostile to bicycles on one wheel but on the other wheel, spending $67 million on a high tech bicycle garage with automated valet. Check out the video of this cool bike garage.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Carbon by any other name is still just as warm..

After a few day hiatus, the long weekend has given me a little time to catch up on my reading. The New York Times has a story on Utah's experiment with Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) vehicles and the tax incentives provided to but cars that use natural gas. Utah is unique in that they have an infrastructure in place for natural gas delivery, which most states don't have. They also have a regulated gas market that artificially distorts the cost of the gas market, and that is what is driving its popularity not the supposed 20% reduction in greenhouse gases that LNG provides.

So prima facie it appears that moving our infrastructure to LNG would be a winner, it would be lower cost and it would reduce green house emissions. But the problem as I see is that economically it encourages driving again because people think of total cost of transport and will drive further and more. The recent gas hike prices show that behavior can be changed as long as their feedback. The equivalent cost of $0.87 per gallon fuel makes transport an invisible cost. If there was a true concern for greenhouse emissions, we would move to LNG as the primary fuel and cost it identical to gasoline. New cars would be LNG, and older cars would be grandfathered with gasoline. As time goes on, more LNG would be the dominant fuel and the 20% reduction would be realized, and users would alter their transport behavior.

Impossible, it's happened before and it's happening now. In the past, we made the decision for public health reasons to move from leaded gasoline to unleaded gasoline. And the auto industry survived, imagine that. The same thing is happening now with the transition from standard definition to high definition television.

LNG is a stop gap technology, our population is increasing. We need more bold steps away from a carbon economy, what that is I'm not sure. But just because we don't know doesn't mean we can't figure it out. Cause yes together We Can Solve the Climate Crisis.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maybe my last Tom Vanderbilt post....

A friend of mine forwarded me a link from Salon describing a drive with Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt. The Salon piece is more of a feature article on the author (what an interesting freelance lifestyle, tempting but I need the health insurance) interwoven with observations about how we drive. More deep is the essay by Vanderbilt in the Wilson Quarterly. This piece is much more reflective of how the automobile has transformed ourselves and our relationship to the environment. For instance, the automobile transform distance into time, and our geographies have expanded in relationship to the proliferation of well maintained roads. The centerpiece of the article is a profile of a traffic engineer who inadvertently discovered the counter intuitive conclusion that cars and pedestrians are safer when intermingled, not when they are separated. Also of interest is the references of Marcel Proust's insights into automobiles and our view of the world.

A common misunderstanding of the Amish is that they are anti-technology, but that is not completely true as I understand it. They view their stance on technology in relation to the impact it has on their community. For instance, rollerblades were banned because it was causing the youth to be more isolated from the community, not simply because they were technological. In effect rollerblades were altering the community because they changed the dynamic between distance, time and relationship. [ed. note: I don't have a reference for the previous story, if one knows it please note it in the comments and take it with a grain of salt] One could look at the elders as trapping their youth, but another way is what are the mechanisms for preserving tradition. It's not clear that coercion or removal of choice is the best solution for cultivating tradition. On the flip side, we tend to make short term decisions that lead to global minima, and the context of any choice drives poor choices over the long term. The value of studying history is not only to be aware of the past and the successes and failures, but to provide a context of the time horizons that we as human beings exist in.

I'm not sure Amish rollerbladers has a lot to do with cars, but the amount of press coverage for this Vanderbilt's book indicates that he has definitely hit a nerve and I believe induce a healthy dose of self reflection on our default means of transportation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Web Activism....

What's the most powerful force in the world?

If you said Google, well you must live in Silicon Valley. However there are others who know while they may not be the most powerful force in the world, they do have a lot of power to create new things (and in full disclosure I work for one of their major competitors). A group of bicycle riders are petitioning the Google Maps team to improve the Google Maps product to have an option to chart out bicycle routes that are safe and convenient. In addition to being an online petition the site includes a blog of cool bicycle related links. For instance I just found out that local news paper The Examiner has a blog dedicated to bicycle news.

Good stuff....

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Running down your carbon footprint...

The WSJ features a new breed of people beating high gas prices by running to work. Now that's dedication to either being carbon free, or dedication to their sport. (More the latter) It's pretty impressive the runs that people do to get to work, including a 23 mile run by Alan Geraldi. Now, running might not be cheaper than driving as MIke O'Melia discovers that you get hungry and drink and eat a lot more.

My favorite part of the story is this illustration of Mr. Geraldi's run and his sweat index.

I can completely relate, somedays I will get in a run before work since I my employer is next to some public land and even though I take a shower, I'm still running warm and sweating and my co-workers will go "did you just run here?" Well me, no but others maybe.

In addition to the benefits for reducing our carbon footprint, encouraging active forms of transportation to work improves the help of our workforce reducing the health insurance costs. People don't have to run, even walking to and from mass transit makes a difference.

That said, I'm right now investigating another form of human transportation and I am not kidding about this, I'm thinking of getting a skateboard. Anyone pick up a skateboard late in life and use it to move between mass transit? If so, leave me a comment sharing your experiences. If I do this, you'll be sure that I blog about it.

A personal transparency....

This weekend M. P. Dunleavey shares her observation that people are now talking among each other about of all topics money and their finances. Many commentators have said that money is the last taboo of America, even more than sex or politics. Her thesis is that this increased openness is helping everyday people deal with their money problems, in a way revealing that no one has it together, that we are overstretched and tired of trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Now what does this have to do with the environment. A lot, maybe everything. The oddest thing about the importance of money in our lives (and what is more American than money, we are a capitalist country after all, probably a value system more dominant in our daily affairs than even democratic values, but again I'm not original with that thought), is that we only know how others are doing by why they buy or display. It's sort of like the other minds problem in philosophy, the only way that you can know what is happening in other minds, is to make the assumption that your thoughts are similar to what others are thinking. So we do the same thing with our finances, but backwards. We see our neighbors with a new car and go, "hmmm, why are they doing so well? what am I not doing that they are?" then the thought turns to if I don't have a nice new car my neighbors will think that I'm not good enough so I better have a nice car. So I get one on credit. Problem is that your neighbors are in hock but you assume that they have legitimately obtained financial control.

But it doesn't stop with a car, it covers all the things that everyone else has as well. They have a Wii, I need a Wii, they have the latest scooter (have to be green don't we) so I need a scooter and it keeps going and going. So not only are we economically screwed, we're environmentally screwed as well since we buy, make and ship crap we don't need.

So maybe we'll start talking our debt, and talk about our wants and why we want them. It might turn out that I bought the car because I thought you were going to but the car. But I didn't want the car, well neither did I. Hmm, we both have cars that we don't want. If we can understand our motivations through conversations we might truly understand that all I want is to share some time with my neighbors and that means less but more meaningful stuff.

So have you bought things because your neighbors or co-workers have it and think you are missing out? Have you bought it on credit and are still paying it off? Have you bought stuff that you didn't want and is now sitting in a landfill? Money and the environment are tied together, since if the economy is stuff, the stuff is carbon and we know what that means.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Good Bike Hunting...

Of houses that is. The Wall Street Journal has an article about how some realtors are now targeting bicyclists as clients by showing houses via bike tours instead of the traditional see a bunch of houses by car. It allows interested buyers a better sense of the neighborhood, and I can say few things tell you about the vibe of a neighborhood than how the drivers treat bicycles on the streets. Are they polite, do they give clearance or are they complete jerks.

As gas prices continue to be high, buyers are looking for a sense of the scale of the places they are living. A place that is bikeable usually means that it has a strong sense of community resulting from density. I know, my own town is very bike friendly as I rode home from a friends home about 3 miles at night and felt safe.

However, realtors feel pressures that may be imagined or real. For instance:

Matt Peters, a broker with Windermere Dunnigan Realtors in Sacramento, Calif., thought about incorporating his bicycle into his job, but he worries it would diminish his professionalism. Agents in his office wear dressy clothes and drive Lexuses and Mercedes. If he showed up at appointments sweaty, with helmet hair, he says clients might not be impressed, even if they were riding themselves. "It wouldn't play well with my company," he says.

These days I'm not impressed by nice cars, and this is especially the case if you have to lease or make payments on your car. If you are careless with your money, when you show houses are you careless about my money? I would be more impressed if Mr. Peters didn't have to work at all.

Bicycles especially in places like California make a lot of sense, so look for places that are bicycle friendly. It's great when you can ride to your grocery store, it makes buying that bag of chips a little less guilt free. I know that the places that are more bicycle friendly tend to be more friendly places too.

Do you consider bicycle friendliness when you buy a house or look for an apartment to rent?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's next or what first?

Looking back at the posts I've done for the past two years almost (has it been that long?) I realize that I'm treading over the same ground. We know that we should drive less, buy things that aren't meant to be disposed of, get CFLs, etc. But once we've done all that. what next? You've made them habits, you can continue to improve but that's not the point? I'm thinking about ways to make bicycling more tenable to the average person. There's been a lot of chatter about folding bicycles, which interest me considerably, but at the end of the day it's another bicycle and I have three here that I've acquired over the span of 20 years. I have all the good intentions of reconstructing my old college bike and making it useful again.

The truth is that most of the actions we focus on operate in the realm of our current societal architecture, and the structure of how our world is today shapes what changes we can make. The question is what can we do to change the architecture of the future? What does it mean?

One thing that I think it means is that notions of private space and public space are going to change. Yesterday I quoted a factoid that cars are not used 95% of the time. Sadly, the same can be said about most of the things that we own. I think my bed is the most used item that I own. Today in the NY Times there is an article about a couple who wanted their own competitive swimming pool. As an active swimmer, I can appreciate the convenience and niceness of the thought of having my own pool. But today, I went to a happy hour of my swim club and I realized that it's not just the ownership of the pool that matters, but the people in the pool at regular times makes you better. For some reason, we are competitive species. I know that when someone is close to me in another lane, I crank it up a notch.

Our stuff works great in isolation, but when enjoyed with others it gets better. And this is coming from someone who is a hermit. For instance, I saw a fantastic movie called "Man on Wire' this past weekend. As good as it was, it was better being able to talk about it right afterward with my friend who offers frighteningly deep insights that I miss completely. Goods become more interesting when they have a history, despite our penchant for newness.

One of my favorite traditions is at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Yes, I am completely aware that it is a women's college and I know it from my many friends who attended there and my almost going to it's partner school Haverford. In the dorm rooms, you can put a small inscription plate that marks your time there. Seeing all the names, some famous in the rooms gives you the sense of adding to a story, or partaking in someone else's.

Imagine a documentary of your car, pretty boring. Same routes mostly. But imagine a documentary of a car share car, who knows what different places it goes, and what different purposes it was used for. That diversity of experience reflects itself back onto our stories is were merely ask.

So first there is a story, and the consequences of that story and whether it's one of liveliness or just sitting around makes me wonder what should our world look like if we had different constraints.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cars. cars everywhere cars....

Traffic is big, it touches most of our lives if we live our daily lives. So what to do about it. One possibility would be to design our roads to support bicycles right? Well that's what you'd think and you'd even go further to say it'd be easy to demonstrate it. Well that's what Rob Anderson asked the city of San Francisco to do when it was working to rework city streets to support bicyclists. Pro-bike activists claim that more bikes reduce emissions. Anderson counters:

Cars always will vastly outnumber bikes, he reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution.

So he insisted that an environmental impact be done. It does seem reasonable, except that he assumes that cities are car centric because we are a car culture. I would counter that we are a car culture because we build our cities around the assumption. So let's assume that he's right and people are stuck more i traffic jams, stuck idling and do cause more pollution. It will be in the short term, since people adapt to the fastest transportation system available. The experience of Zurich, Switzerland confirms this. Instead of building an expensive subway system, Zurich decided on a surface tram system with one very important difference. At intersections, trams get right of way and cars have to wait. This made driving more difficult and less attractive and hence people looked for alternatives. People drive because it's convenient, especially in the suburbs as my friend is finding out when she moved from the city. It is also cheap, but recent spikes in gas prices reveal that behavior changes.

So when assessing the impact, one has to ask does what we do change the relative advantage, and when that changes our absolute advantage will change as well.

Speaking of car culture, the San Francisco Chronicle has a piece on Tom Vanderbilt, the author of the book "Traffic" which has some great factoids (I am so looking forward to getting this book from the library, what a planning geek I am). For instance, consider the following:

He learned that Americans spend more on cars than food and health care; that fast-food chains study which foods are easiest to consume while driving; that the average car spends 95 percent of the time parked; that people take longer to vacate a parking spot if another driver is waiting for it; that Sweden is the safest country for driving; and that total traffic delay in the U.S. went from 700 million hours in 1982 to 3.7 billion hours in 2003.

If that's not enough for you to mull over, consider checking out his lecture at Google. (I will when I stop watching the Olympics)

the power of perspective....

The Wall Street Journal has two articles that really hit on the power of perspective. The first is an article on the increasing popularity of car sharing programs such as Zip Car of which I have written about before. The price of gas and rising cost of maintenance is really driving interest in these car share programs. What's more interesting is how participating in a car share program changes your view on the essentialness of a car. Susan Shaheen, research director at UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center has observed the following:

As people embrace car sharing, they drive less, use mass transit more and put off buying new cars.

Sanjay Rishi of IBM's global auto industry practice has noticed that car buyers in America focus on buying for maximal need instead of median need. We use to call this peak hour or busy hour in my business. It use to be that you would get all circuits busy when you called Mom on Mother's day, because the phone network was built for the remaining 364 days of the year. Yet we buy our cars, and for that matter our homes based on the the 1 weekend a year when we have lots of guests.

The other article is actually a series of blog posts by WSJ reporter Niraj Sheth's auto-rickshaw adventure in India from Chennai to Mumbai. It was a very harrowing for him, including a terrible crash that left one of his cohorts needing medical attention. While I feel the observations of his blog seem cliche and the obvious musings of a young man who realizes the world is far more vast than the malls of one's home, it does feel heartfelt in his naiveness.

We do live in a fortunate place in this world, and direct exposure to the poverty of the world does change your world view. When I encountered the poverty of Western China in comparison to the lush modernity of Beijing at the time (and that was 10 years ago, you can see the amazingness of Beijing during the olympic games). For me at that time of my life, it struck me how sad our lives are in the U.S. where we let petty worries like what we should be wearing, is it fashionable take front and center of our lives when others are dealing with basic needs. Now note I said dealing with, not worrying. People tend to worry about the same human things, such as is my wife angry, is my child sick, etc.

And, that's the point, even with hardship there is happiness and joy. Even with much less material wealth, there is still great happiness. The concerns of life are more health and home, rather than fun and frivolity. For me it made me impatient with the world around me, I have litter tolerance for people whining about their car payments on a Hummer.

In summary, there are actions and experiences of life that make you realize that you can live with less, and the replacements of happiness are not necessarily stuff or goods, but control and companionship. If you have access to a car, ownership seems optional. If you live without, you know you can live without and then you can choose to live with. Despite our increased technology, our perspective seems to be narrowing, even when our world is expanding and that disconnect is what will prevent us from tackling the challenges we face openly and with courage. If we imagine we are tethered to a ball and chain, when we are not, it makes no difference to our freedom in both cases real or unreal, we are stuck.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thinking inside the box...

Food is sure getting complicated. If you want proof, the most emailed article today on the New York Times is this little gem on saying that wine drinkers should favor the box over the bottle if they want to be green wine drinkers. Explaining the carbon efficiency advantage of transporting wine cross country using boxes instead of bottles. Of course he neglected that east coast wine drinkers could be even more green by ordering French wines instead of California where wine is transported in bulk using ships, instead of by trucks. But I digress.

The green advantages aside, the box over bottle debate is reminiscent of the debate that raged when wine started being shipped with screw tops instead of corks. Given that most wine is consumed close to it's purchase date, and boxes keep wine longer than bottles. What's stopping us. Like most things, it's tradition and the fact that wine is inextricably linked to class and status and there is a romance to the bottle of wine, and to the ritual of opening it up with a cork screw. This is the case in France, but wine is also an everyday drink that occupies many facets of people's lives. So a regular table wine can be served in a box without shame, no different from getting your coke from the fountain, the can or the plastic bottle.

Much of the challenge of our efforts to be green, is not the facts of being green, but the associated emotions of what our ungreen activities entail. Cars in the U.S. are not about transportation, they are about freedom and status. Cars in China (and as my understanding permits India) represent arrival, that you have made it in the world. So relax if you get your wine by the glass, the waiter won't tell so just put it out of your mind. Instead, order a locally grown tomato instead.

So what does it matter if our wine comes from a box, relax we'll figure out something else to signal our arrival.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A happy minimalism....

This weekend I had the pleasure of celebrating the publishing of my friend Peter Lawrence's book The Happy Minimalist and enjoy a glorious moonrise from his window that is shown on the cover of his book. He's treated to this moonrise, once and sometimes twice a month. My friend Peter has a very minimal carbon footprint through a minimal, and some may say ascetic lifestyle. For instance, he does not have a bed, does not have much furniture and his travel distance is quite small since he does not like to drive (correction: drive use to be travel. He likes to travel, but will avoid freeways. - 8/18). I don't realistically think his experience will translate to the population at large, and he admits as much.

Those limitations aside, he builds a good case for a minimalist lifestyle not only from a perspective of what is good for the planet, society, but also what is good for the individual. A particular point is our reliance on automobiles and a sedentary life is making us more obese as a nation. He also pulls from a range of sources in historical and contemporary literature to make the case that these are tried and true ideas. Making no claim to being ground breaking, it is a nice summarization of thought in support of a minimalist lifestyle.

The value of "The Happy Minimalist" is not in the descriptive reasons for his lifestyle, but the prescriptive remedies and suggestions he takes from his experience. He provides real usable tips for reducing the impact of your life and on your life that modern age throws us. For instance, what put Lawrence on the path of writing this book was his encounter with a doctor who prescribed medicine for a chronic condition. Upon further studying Lawrence decided that regimen of diet and exercise could correct the situation, something the doctors said was not possible. However months later his condition disappeared. I think this says more about our desire for a quick fix, but also our loss of critical thinking in matters of our planet and ourselves. I too had a similar medical experience where I was prescribed a drug for an ailment. I asked my doctor how that ailment could have arisen and he said you get old. I asked well how will I know that was the ailment, and he said take the drug and if it goes away you had the ailment. Bad logic. I ignored him and got better. In my previous posts on safety, I think the larger issue is a disengagement of ourselves from the world around us. Creating a world where we don't have to think does not make for a better life.

This absence of thinking leads to one of the greater ironies of the green movement (and the voluntary simplicity movement) is that it's portrayed as the domain of the liberal or the left. But really, these are return to a true conservatism. An acknowledgment of things that have worked for thousands of years and are proven. "Live within your means", "Eat less, exercise more", " make sure you leave something for tomorrow", "plan now". These are hardly radical ideas, but somehow we've lost them.

"The Happy Minimalist" is a brief primer that shares the experience of one person and there are some suggestions that are usable for everyone. (I appreciate his TV suggestions). However, I think the book is a good short read to get a sense of why and how to be a minimalist. However, , I would supplement it with other books from the voluntary simplicity movement first and foremost, Your Money or Your Life. No one book is going to address the change of our world view, but these and other books will increase the likelihood that more people will get exposure to a necessary change of perspective on how we live our lives.

Friday, August 15, 2008

That's a lot of rolled oats....

It's not a secret that I work at a major internet company, and one of the things we focus on is electricity consumption in all aspects. We are not the only one, our competitors do the same thing. It's not just good business, it's the responsible thing to do. At this link Microsoft's Rob Bernard explains how they monitor their energy usage and comparison of how much compute power is used in terms of horsepower (more traditionally used to measure the power of an engine) is quite amazing when each internet query uses 97,000 horses (I wonder how they feed those horses). Well not your query, but everyone's at once. The only time we tend to externalize our energy consumption is when our electricity bill comes in, this is another way of visualizing.

And what do we have to show for it...

Courtesy of JennConspiracy bookmarks, Steve Greenberg has the following political cartoon on his blog

While deficit spending is terrible, what makes me sad is that we have so little to show for it that's meaningful for the public good, and sadly not even the private good as tons of homes get foreclosed on, and we have ghost suburbs littering the land. The money lost could have spent on alternative fuels, better schools, more efficient infrastructure, instead we have Baghdad.

It's apocryphal that Native Americans believed that we "owned" the land as stewards for the next generation, and that we are merely borrowing it. The question is what steps do you take to invest in your future. The one that has given me the most returns has clearly been my education. I was incredibly fortunate to go to a high octane University and be pushed far beyond my limits as my mediocre grades attest, but I developed muscles I didn't know I had and crossed boundaries that I never knew I could cross. I also discovered that there is a LOT of talent in the world, it is humbling. But it's exciting since you get to spend time with talent and grow.

Beyond education, what do you do to invest in your future and this planet's?

1) Live sustainably so the land can recover and replenish, i.e. Don't eat your seed corn.
2) Stay fiscally solvent. I suspect that the reason that so many scandals happen in companies is that people don't have the leverage to say no, because they are leveraged to the hilt. In the movie "Thank You for Smoking" Aaron Eckhardt's character when asked why he shills for the tobacco companies replies "Everyone's got to pay the mortgage." Personal finance advisors recommend an "emergency fund" of 3 - 6 months of savings, don't call it that call it a "F you fund" when the BS starts to pile up, you don't have to wait to find another job.
3) Buy what you need?
4) Remember the immortal words of Lily Tomlin, "The winner of the rat race, is still a rat" It's meaningful to call it a rat race, since rats can live in almost any environment, and the one we leave may only be good for a rat. (Now I must say, I love Ratatouille the movie and Remy the rat there with exquisite palate.
5) Nurture your relationships, in times of thin and thin, our stuff will not save us, but our friends and family will.
6) Act, I close with act since knowledge without application is like collecting bottle caps, satisfying in it's own way but not meaningful.

What do you do to invest in your future?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An amazing blog post....

I am really lucky to be alive in this day and age. And so are you. As I move on in my years and struggle with my inner sense of arrested development as to why I am alive, this comes along. Every so often something causes me to give pause. In this case it's the abundance of talent that exists in this thing called the blogosphere, where talent reveals itself in unexpected places. More often than not, it's a new generation of young women bloggers who have voice.

One member of that group that I'm particularly fond of is the illogicality of my friend "E is for Eating" (and that is even when she does not take my dining recommendations, though when she does that's even better). As an aside, I have yet to have the same experience with male bloggers of any generation, who tend to be better at polemic or imitating Anthony Bourdain, but have not devised that quality of voice. They tend to dazzle with facts and figures wrapped with outrage. I wonder why that is. Regardless of the gender of the writer, we are fortunate to have mediums that span the globe to bring stuff this good to us.

Another member of these 20s women bloggers and the occasion for this pause is a recent post by a blogger who I have only just met in person named arduous aka Ruchi. This post deserves to be read, it's about the memories that come from a friend who's passed in the form of a sock. True to my gender, I'll use a sport analogy, the bat connects with the ball and this post goes out of the park. And it'll connect with you too. It has nothing to do with the environment, nothing with being green, but everything thing about why we need to protect the world by being green.

Has efficiency gone too far...

Editor's Note: My postings have become a bit sparse, a series of things called life have intervened in my life recently with the most being a summer cold. I've also been distracted by the olympics. I'm also struggling to get some head space about how to have an impact. Things may get weird in the next few weeks, but I hope they will get interesting

The Wall Street Journal health blog has a controversial posting on how safety has gone too far, in the case of a children's park where kids were scalding themselves on the soft surface meant to reduce injuries. The irony, reminds me of Edward Tenner's Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. I recently blogged about Tom Vanderbilt's "Traffic" that posited that our accident rate increased when drivers felt safe and stopped thinking.

The operative words, stopped thinking. I was shopping for groceries and it's been a long time since I've bought fruit outside of the farmers market and I noticed that my fruit had little stickers on it. Now, I know the stickers are there to help cashiers punch the numbers in and charge you correctly. But it got me thinking, every sticker is most likely going into the trash. Yes, but if you stop thinking, you forget that before they get stuck on the fruit, they have to be stuck on something. Most likely wax paper. And that paper most likely goes into the trash. Thinking about that wax paper, I remembered that I bought a stamp at the airport on my way back to California for a postcard for a friend. In the old days (and here I date myself) I use to get a stamp where I'd either lick the stamp (is that that safety thing coming into play again) and put it on my postcard. End of story. But no, this stamp was on a piece of paper and self adhesive. Another piece of paper to throw away. All this in the name of efficiency.

Does our pursuit of efficiency and it's sibling convenience lead to waste. Absolutely. But it does something else, it leads to speed and eliminates self reflection. Every pause in our lives is a chance to reflect, and our pauses are evaporating away in tide of "efficiency" Are we being tricked into more. It reminds me that music is not about packing more notes into a measure, but the balance between the notes.

Are we so ensconced in safety, movement and packing things in that our mind has no chance to rub and catch and work. I remember when the internet bubble was happening, the goal was a frictionless economy so we wouldn't have a chance to think. Where one click buying is the goal.

So what do we do to return ourselves to our world, to think again. To want to engage our minds, to want to engage our bodies and to want to engage our souls again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Joining Technorati....

Wish me luck!

Technorati Profile

Monday, August 11, 2008

Things that make you go yech.....

I have a have a hard time with bad attitudes about common areas. What I mean is leaving your mess for someone else to clean up. Sometimes it's innocuous like someone leaving a spent tea bag on the counter in the break area, or disgusting like someone peeing on the floor of the bathroom (I kid you not, I am not making that up). It really bugs me when it happens with people who should know better, you know the educated class. The degreed class. People with schooling. Intelligence does not always translate into empathy.

This attitude can extend itself into greater common areas, such as people who pollute excessively into streams, or take short cuts with emissions, thinking it's someone else's problem. And it feels like it, when you are in the cab of your big truck, you are driving away from your exhaust and you are insulated from others. It feels like it's elsewhere. However, the truth is right now we live in one big common area. You can't expect someone to clean up after you, since it's just too hard. The only thing you can do is be clean from the start.

So think of the things you do in public, would you do them in private. Would you pee on the floor of your own bathroom, and hey you can misfire, wouldn't you clean up after yourself. You wouldn't leave it just sitting there. So would you run the exhaust of your car into home, would you dump your waste into your own well. I didn't think so. If what you do in someone else's house doesn't match what you'd do in your own, think about it. The problem is no matter what political spectrum you subscribe to, the earth we all own it and nobody owns it. Sort of makes you feel responsible, kind of weighty.

Maddening isn't it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Maybe we need to rewrite Kyoto...

A popular exercise for states is to imagine themselves as an independent country. For instance California is ranked 7th according to Wikipedia. What if we looked at other rankings, well Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen looks up carbon emissions on a state by state basis.

In millions of metric tons:

Texas: 688
California: 394
Pennsylvania: 275
Ohio: 262
Florida: 256

Illinois, Indiana, and New York come next. I didn't know that Texas would rank so high on the list

On a population basis, California comes in at 36.5 million and Texas 29.3 million, Pennsylvania 12.4 M, Ohio 11.4 M and Florida 18.3 M.

Eyeballing the numbers, California comes out the best of the listed states on a per capita basis. What is most revealing is that despite California's higher regulation, it has not impacted the economic capability of the state. Perhaps it may even enhance it by providing a healthier environment for it's workers.

Olympic Fever, Catch it....

I so love every two years when the Olympics happen. The alternating of Winter and Summer games was an inspired brilliant idea. It is amazing to see the passion, the drive, the exuberance of these athletes (I was going to modify athletes with young but with inspirational Dara Torres the word no longer needs modification). New countries showing up in medal standings. South Korea getting it's first swimming medal ever, and it's Gold. The US Women's Saber Team ending a drought of fencing medals with a sweep, Michael Phelps aiming for history. You GOTTA love it. Sports has always been dear to my heart, because it reflects what is capable in the human spirit.

Now what does that have to do with the environment? Nothing and everything. At the surface they are unrelated but if you look at what each olympian goes through to achieve what they do requires, dedication, focus, commitment and passion. It's nothing short of a way of life. And those same things are what we're going to need to tackle the environmental challenges in front of us.

Percy Cerutty, the legendary coach of the legendary miler Australian Herb Elliot said this:

"Hard things take time to do. Impossible things take a little longer."

During these two glorious weeks, think about pursuing your own green medal.

Friday, August 08, 2008

How sexy is green Part 2.

The following post references another article whose links are not all NSFW (Not Safe For Work): You've been warned.

The de-boing-boinged (sounds obscene...almost) Violet Blue shares her thoughts on is green sexy. Seems like her pals only half agreed with the Hot Chix Dig gals on whether a Prius is hot or not and other ways to green up your live life. Only in San Francisco, I love this place.

hmmm, it's us again.....

The hilarious Mary Roach (author of classic science books like "Bonk" and "Stiff") has a fun book review in the New York Times of Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us that explores that mind boggling thing called traffic and how it emerges. Automated transport has really changed the way we do things and in effect changed us. For instance:

One reason, Vanderbilt reports, is that people are driving to do things they once did at home or down the block. “It is not just that American households have more cars,” he writes, “it is that they are finding new places to take them.” They’re going someplace to eat. They’re driving to Whole Foods because they don’t like the produce at their neighborhood supermarket. They’re going out to get coffee. (So much of Starbucks’s revenue now comes from drive-through lanes that the company will put stores across the street from each other, sparing drivers “the agony of having to make a left turn during rush hour.”)

It reminds me of Wall-E and the uber-obese people in the movie floating around on chairs having their every whim catered to. I recently read the Time Magazine cover story about our obese kids. At the risk of sounding harsh, perhaps too much self-esteem is a bad thing. The root causes of our childhood obesity is our fear that keeps our kids locked in. Growing up, I use to ride my bike everywhere, now we are frightened to let our kids roam free. I don't have children myself, so I'm hesitant to be quick to judge (ok, let me have 10 seconds here). LET YOUR KIDS ROAM, teach them to be aware of the world around them so they have to think.

Back to Vanderbilt's book:

This basic truth — feeling safe kills — lies beneath many of the book’s insights. Americans think roundabouts are more dangerous than intersections with traffic lights. Roundabouts require you to adjust your speed, to merge, in short, to pay attention. At an intersection, we simply watch the light. And so we may not notice the red-light runner coming at us or the pedestrian stepping off the curb. A study that followed 24 intersections that had been converted from signals or stop signs to roundabouts showed an almost 90 percent drop in fatal crashes after the change.

The less safe we feel the safer we will be, our definition of safety is to disengage from the world, and hence and I know I am stretching here, we start abusing it since we are cocooned from it. Be aware of you actions and the actions on you, it's not just about traffic. It's about the world we live in.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

how bad habits get formed...

Sorry for being in the dark, sometimes life throws you a curveball and beans you. It's definitely impacted my posting. All will be ok, but life is full of lessons and I hope growth.

So I thought that would be a good segue on the danger of hedonic adaptation, or in this case relative pricing. Lately I've been driving a lot, for the same reason that convinced me to give up my carfreeness and get a car. You can find the post under "Non-Negotiable" Yes I am a simple man.

One thing I noticed was that my thinking on gas prices changed. I was paying upwards of $4.60 every two weeks and it seemed terrible, and now that gas is down to $4.25 I'm thinking gas is cheap. But just 3 months ago I would have gone $4.00 gas are you nuts. Getting on the bike. Our mental set points for gauging reasonable pricing are getting whacked around. I fear that despite high prices of gas, they aren't the highest and we'll start forgetting about conservation.

the only measure really is how many gallons do you use, independent of price. Well that's the theory of rationing which didn't work so great either. Remind yourself and others, just because we've had a temporary set back in price doesn't mean we've had a temporary set back in our environmental impact. Now's not the time to slip back into our old habits, just because it seems cheap again.

posting will be irregular, but do check back

Friday, August 01, 2008

"You've got to fight for your right to bike to work!"

The Wall Street Journal has an inspiring article (hat tip to John at 8 Asians for forwarding to me) on Angeleno's are braving the mean streets of L.A. to get around to use, ehm.. BIKES AS TRANSPORTATION or stepping up to BAT as I say. And they are taking it on the chin, literally. There are a lot of scuffles and motorists act as if they bully us off the road we will get off of the road. Well get use to us, for those who say riding a bike is too dangerous, you're right but the only way it's going to get better is to be a bit of a pioneer. Isn't there a feeling of romance in that sentiment, to blaze new trails or paths. In the article this quote I love:

"Cyclists have equal rights, but in fact a lot of motorists think they should get off the road," says Lynne Goldsmith, manager of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority's bike program. Nearly everyone has a bike sitting in the garage, but people are starting to actually use their bicycles for transportation, ranging from short hops to the market to long-distance commuting, she says. "When we're used to seeing more cyclists, we will treat them better."

A friend of mine from college once had a debate about flag burning, he was for it, but for a very good reason. He says if we truly have rights to protect speech, the only way to know them is to exercise them. I took the position that we had the right, but we don't have to exercise them, since bleeding heart that I am, I said why offend someone with something so offensive. He wasn't arguing for constant flag burning, but he said it has to happen for us to know we have the right. The same is happening for bicyclists, we have to assert our rights to the road otherwise our claim will never be proven. Liberty in its many forms is never a give me.

So fight for your right to bike!