Climate Crossroads Blog
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:23PM PST on July 19, 2010
On Earth Day, Sierra Club member Oliver Bock and acquaintances left Woodside, Calif. on electric bikes on a cross-country trip to Washington, D.C., where they met their congressional representative. Along the way they engaged with environmentalists, bicyclists, clean-energy activists, politicians, and media members to talk clean energy and transportation. They also blogged about the journey and posted pictures -- which you can view here. Mr. Bock took a few minutes for a Q&A. (Photos courtesy Oliver Bock.)
How long did you travel and when did you get there?
Over 3,000 miles. We got there June 20.
What did you talk about with your congressional representative?
Anna Eshoo is very concerned about green issues and sustainability. She's frustrated with trying to get what they passed last June passed in the Senate. She talked about trying to green Washington and the Mall area. And we talked about bike trails. D.C. has made strong commitments to bikes, but they don’t allow electric bicycles on bike paths. She said she would talk to (Department of Transportation head Ray) LaHood about possibly getting that changed.
Talk about electric bikes for those who don’t know about them.
There are two categories. There are ready-made bikes that typically have a torque sensor and axle that activates itself when you pedal. The motor doesn’t work if you don’t work. The other category, which is what we did, is a kit where you can buy a hub motor and wire it up. Those have throttles on them. And you pedal assist. Anytime we'd talk to anybody about electric bicycles they'd asked, "Do you charge the battery when you pedal?" It’s a legitimate question because you’re generating power with your legs. But the answer is not really. The pedaling makes the battery last longer. We were getting about 85 to 90 miles on a charge, which really surprised us. If we didn’t pedal at all, we’d get about half that. So our pedaling was enough to ease the burden on the battery.
We brought a solar panel on a support vehicle with us. But this wasn’t an off-the-grid project. I don’t think it was possible to do that. We charged using the grid. We camped a lot and found places that had power. We figured we used about 1/20th of the amount of electricity used for an electric car, just based on the weight difference. And then with pedal power it adds even more efficiency. It’s really insignificant how much energy we used.
The most surprising part of the ride was how much fun it was to ride an electric bicycle. You’re in a really comfortable position. There’s no stress on your back or neck. You’re sitting up looking around. It’s a wonderful way to see the world.
One thing I noticed is, when you drive across the country, you see a lot of wind farms. But you don’t see any signage about what they’re doing. When you drive across Kansas, there’s nothing to look at. And suddenly there are 100 2-MW turbines gracefully sweeping through the air. And I want to know some real information. Give me a sign with some numbers. So we’re going to look at what it’d require to get signage, kind of like what you see on freeways, similar to those signs you see that say, "This section of highway is cleaned by the Kiwanis Club."Where was it the toughest to ride?
As any biker would agree, the biggest challenge is headwinds. Even with the motor, we had to work pretty hard. We hit some major dust storms. From Flagstaff to Window Rock (in Arizona) there was a dust storm that closed the interstate. The dust gets into everything. That was a day we portaged about 30 miles. It was too insane. Northwest New Mexico was even worse. Talking to people who live there, they said the wind and dust were never that bad. There’s desertification. It’s blowing over cropland that’s pretty marginal to start with. When you combine that with coal companies extracting water from the aquifer to make their coal slurries -- it’s amazing how everything’s interconnected with what’s going on.
Besides Rep. Eshoo, who were some of the people you met along the way?
Well, we attended events that ranged from showing up to bike shops and talking to them and customers about electric bikes to more sophisticated events. In Window Rock we had some exhibitors. It was elaborate. We had four or five newspaper articles. We had a couple of radio interviews that increased the curiosity. We met with a couple of mayors. The mayor of Flagstaff, Sara Presler, was completely delightful. She got on the electric bike. She was tentative at first. She ended up riding it for about 45 minutes. We also met the governor of Colorado. There was a group in Denver honoring Lester Brown and the governor was speaking there. Colorado is shooting for 30 percent renewable.
How was your message received? Any critics or unexpected responses?Early on there were two older guys we were talking to. I started about global warming and immediately it turned from friendly into, "Oh, we don’t believe in that!"
Using the language of climate change has become political. So anyone critical of politics is going to look at the whole conversation as a political one and not science-based. So after that we chose to stay away from that language. What resonated was talking about green jobs, especially with the oil spill. We'd talk about the potential of wind and solar.
What did you take away from the trip?
Gratitude for the people we met who are really committed to this stuff. Some of these people could be making huge salaries. They’re very talented and bright. But for them that’s not what it’s about. They don’t have money. They just really care about what they do. One guy we met in Champaign -- his wife is pissed off because he took out a loan to get an electric vehicle and everything he does is focused on trying to move sustainability forward. He’s an IT guy who works on the campus there. He was just very gracious. But he hosted us and showed us around and was really wonderful. That was the positive.
On a negative note, it was disappointing to see the health of the American population. Physical and mental. So many people are living on corn and sugar, a highly processed food diet. It’s hard to feel hopeful about where we’re going. Seeing a lot of that was a little discouraging.
Our next steps are doing some kind of publication and researching the stops we did on the way and flush out what these people are actually doing. We’re interested in connecting some of the people we met with each other. They don’t know each other but there is some sort of synergy going on out there and it’d be great to get some networking going.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:27PM PST on July 1, 2010
In April, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, a new effort to preserve parks and open areas, conserve natural resources, and promote outdoor reaction amid a changing climate. On July 8, federal agencies will hold a “listening session” in Los Angeles and continue to hold sessions throughout the country to collect public feedback for the initiative. Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s Director of Lands Protection, answered some of our questions about the initiative and the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats program.
Q: What are these listening sessions?
A: They are excellent opportunities to tell the Department of Interior what a 21st century land-management plan should be and to push these agencies to keep climate change in mind. When you look at policy in the past, it was always in reaction to railroads, sprawl, oil and gas drilling, and logging. But now we have a more profound threat and that’s climate change.
The listening session is like a public hearing. These agencies really want to hear from the public and make it as much of a grass roots policy as possible.
There are going to be seven or eight sessions across the country after next week's hearing in L.A.: Florida, New York, Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, for example. They’ll probably run one or two a week till the end of August. The Interior, the EPA, and the Forest Service will look at the public feedback, put together a report, and base recommendations on what the public has to say. We want to augment that and put forth our vision for Resilient Habitats.
Q: Explain the Sierra Club’s Resilient Habitats program.
A: It’s mainly designed to protect public lands, habitats, species, and resources that are being impacted by climate change. We think this should be prioritized above all other stressers. We need the federal government to recognize that climate change is changing our public lands more than anything in the last 100 years.
The first thing we need to do is reduce our emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Then we need to complement that by funding adaptation programs to climate change’s impacts. Animals are starting to change their migratory patterns. Migration corridors are shifting. So we need to shift or expand the boundaries of these lands accordingly. Animals are moving further and into higher elevations to get away from rising temperatures. There are a lot of changes happening to habitat and species that we need to catch up to and start funding via a cap-and-trade system.
Q: Obama’s initiative is in coordination with other government agencies, like the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, among others. Why?
A: They’re all legitimate and one of the largest managers of public lands is the Department of Defense. These military bases are islands of natural habitat. A lot of animals and plant species have migrated to these places because of sprawl, road building, mining, and oil drilling. They are a huge manager of land and in terms of endangered species -- from the red cockheaded woodpecker to the desert tortoise -- they’ve been very good stewards. They take it seriously. So there’s a lot of overlap between them and what the Department of Interior does. Right now we’re pushing Resilient Habitats with the Department of Interior but we’d love to do more with the DOD.
Q: EPA head Lisa P. Jackson in talking about the initiative has specifically called for more outdoor access, especially for inner city kids and minorities. Can you elaborate?
A: This is one of their three priorities -- getting kids outside and connecting them with hiking and biking. They want to get inner city kids out there who don’t get to leave the city often. And this effort complements the First Lady’s Let's Move initiative to fighting childhood obesity.
The Sierra Club of all the environmental groups is probably best positioned for these efforts because of our Building Bridges to the Outdoors program and getting youth outside, and our Military Families Outdoors program. The Department of Interior in particular is very eager to work with us because they see it as part of their own campaign for the Obama Administration to pursue.
Q: What end result are we hoping for?
A: Some of it's legislative, but mainly we need different land management plans. Current plans don’t talk about climate change at all. Some agencies are ahead of the curve. For example, Fish and Wildlife is recognizing that migratory corridors are changing. So the first step is recommendations for these agencies. And then the next step is probably legislation to fund the work they want to do. Or in the case of one issue like migratory changes -- such as mule deer that are starting to wander on private lands like ranches or farms -- we might have to do some conservation easements and rezoning so that we can adjust the corridors to where the animals are going. The first step is making recommendations and climate-smart management plans.
Q. If you don’t live in L.A. or nearby other cities that these agencies will be visiting to collect public feedback, how do you get yourself heard?
A: The Sierra Club can always make your voice heard. But there is also a public comment page on the web. But the Sierra Club is the best way to do it. That’s my unbiased opinion.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:52PM PST on June 29, 2010
One thing climate-change deniers use is the weather. When meteorological conditions are seemingly contrary to warming on a given day, they harp about it. "Look at all the snow we got!" they say. Well, if you're going to read anything today, check out this handy five-question interview with NASA scientist Dr. Eric Fetzer about the distinctions between climate and weather.
We all know smokers who live into their eighties, and health nuts who drop dead in their forties, but these examples are not taken seriously in discussion of health issues. Most people understand and accept anomalies in fields like health care and economics, and we need to do the same with climate issues.When you're done reading, watch this informational video on how to handle (er, strangle) a climate-change denier.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:05PM PST on June 21, 2010
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:57AM PST on May 18, 2010
Lisa Gautier, who co-founded Matter of Trust, is partnering with other organizations in an ongoing drive to deliver tons of hair stuffed in pantyhose to the Gulf to soak up the oil. Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with her on the phone. She's a pretty busy person these days. Matter of Trust began its hair collecting drive 10 years ago. The effort really took off after the Cosco Busan spill three years ago. But it was only after the BP disaster last month that the hair idea exploded.
"My phone is just ringing off the hook," Gautier told me.
She told me that May 20 will be the day hair by the truckloads will be heading to the Gulf. And we're not just talking about human hair.
It sure seems like a better idea than lighting the slick on fire. Hair naturally takes in oil. That's why we shampoo it out.
Gautier's efforts have paid off with press coverage. The New York Times, CNN, and Reuters are among the dozens of outlets that have provided coverage. (Gawker summarizes all the weird clean-up ideas in addition to hair.)
Here's a pretty great demonstration of what we're talking about:
If you want to donate your hair to help clean up BP's catastrophic mess, click here for the details.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 6:56AM PST on May 6, 2010
Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's Executive Director, will be holding a live chat at 4:30 pacific, Thursday May 6 to talk about his recent visit to the Gulf Coast. Tune in to find out what he saw, and what the Club is doing to end off-shore drilling and move the U.S. to a clean energy economy.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:32AM PST on April 23, 2010
Bernard Brown of Philadelphia is the founder of the PB&J campaign, an online-based non-profit supported by Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. The campaign’s goal is to reduce people’s carbon footprint through a simple message about food. According to the campaign, a plant-based lunch like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will “reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets.” Take a PB&J pledge and read my interview with Brown:
We had an idea of doing a peanut and jelly eating contest. We would then figure out the impact of that. I was coming out of finishing a master’s degree and I had been to lectures about the impact of the poultry industry on the Chesapeake Bay. This impression was that the impact of livestock production was under-discussed. The contest didn’t end up happening, but we did all this research for it, so we launched the website.
I’ve been vegetarian for a while, but I’m not vegan. One of the things about this concept is that in practice, someone who’s not vegetarian at all and doesn’t tend to eat much red meat might have a lower footprint than a vegetarian who eats a lot of cheese. The idea here is a plant-based focus. It was never a question of vegetarianism as much as a shift in how one eats. If you’ve ever been a vegetarian or a vegan, you learn that eating animals is a luxury. It then becomes easier to conceptualize shifting to a plant-based diet.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:35AM PST on April 22, 2010
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:42AM PST on March 30, 2010
Is there any room for comedy in climate change? Read the WSJ's interview with novelist Ian McEwan. McEwan's new book Solar will be out next week:
Mr. McEwan says he's wanted to address climate change in a novel since the late-1990s, but it was a 2005 trip to the Arctic, where he hiked along frozen fjords in temperatures of 30 below, that sparked the idea for "Solar." Details from that expedition appear in the novel, along with passages describing advances in quantum physics and artificial photosynthesis. While researching the novel, Mr. McEwan visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and traveled to New Mexico, where the novel comes to a dramatic, crashing conclusion.Sounds enticing!
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:27AM PST on March 29, 2010
If you want to hook your home up to renewable energy and solar energy isn't all that feasible, perhaps the answer is blowing in the wind. Ron Stimmel is a small-systems expert with the American Wind Energy Association. He took some time to answer questions about what a typical American homeowner needs to know about wind power.
When people think of wind power they think of vast farms with giant turbines. In contrast, small wind is something entirely different. Can you briefly define small wind?
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:33AM PST on March 26, 2010
photo courtesy Zan Dubin Scott.
In Sept. 2008, Laura Love and her husband got solar panels for their four bed, two-and-a-half-bath home in San Diego. They couldn’t afford to purchase the panels but, because of a leasing deal offered by SolarCity, they live almost entirely off the grid thanks to a four-kilowatt panel system.
The way San Diego Gas & Electric runs it is that we owe a bill once a year now. They do a net-metering account that we only pay in October. Through the summer we usually generate more than we use. Last year our total usage for the year came to $220, whereas before we installed the system, we paid about $130 or $140 a month. It depends on how much we generate and use. In the rainy months, we have usage. In the summer, we feed energy back into the grid.
Any rebates involved?
No. The owner of the system gets state and federal rebates. But what SolarCity did is take those rebates and factor them into the cost of the system and that lowered our lease payment. And those rebates amounted -- if I remember the paperwork right -- to about $7,000. That's a lot of money. But if you pay for panels straight out, the rebates are yours. Plus this year I'm filing for a credit on my federal return. There was a $1,600 deduction for energy-efficient upgrades.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:59AM PST on March 26, 2010
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
Skeptical Science is a Web site I often link to, especially on such topics as climate-change denial. The site is an excellent resource for anyone who has to debunk myths -- maintained by an Australian named John Cook. Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin interviewed Cook this past week. Read the interview here.
Other blogosphere happenings:
-- Check out the art at the Bicycle group's blog here on Climate Crossroads.
-- Excuse me, but biking and walking are not "alternative" modes of transportation:
Alternative transportation is an auto-centric term which implies that only motor vehicles are mainstream transportation.
-- A changing climate equals a shift in fisheries. Mother Jones's Blue Marble blog has some excellent details on this fact, provided by the experts at NOAA.
-- Can your kid identify a tomato?
I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad.
-- The Last Supper has evolved into a huge feast:
In paintings of the Last Supper done over the past 1000 years, the portion sizes of the food depicted have increased by 69%.-- And last but not least, our Organic Lazy Gardener had a fantastic list of tips on starting your garden. Read it here. Want more? Here's a similar blog post over at Lime that's worth a read.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:06AM PST on March 1, 2010
courtesy Zan Dubin Scott
Tom Fuller, a financer from Santa Monica, is the proud owner of the electric Tesla. Moreover, his car is powered by solar panels that have sat on his home’s roof for 10 years. This is the last of three interviews with EV owners. Read the others here and here. For more information on how to become an EV owner, visit PlugInAmerica.org.
They did a phenomenal job at marketing it to people like me. It was convincing that -- yeah, it’s expensive but by buying this car, you’re keeping it in business -- by immediate cash flow and sales, but also by being a driving advertisement. I wasn’t really price sensitive anyway and I thought it was important to do. They created a following around the company.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:51AM PST on February 25, 2010
courtesy Charlie Garlow
Charlie Garlow, a Sierra Club member from Silver Spring, Maryland owns a three-wheel electric motorcycle. Garlow is planning this summer to hitch a solar trailer to it and drive across the country with his dog Rex to raise awareness for EVs and renewable energy. His journey will probably launch after the EV drag race in June at the Mason Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown. Follow his progress on his website FunRunintheSun.org and his blog. This is the second of three interviews with EV owners. Read the first one here.
How did you get this electric motorcycle?
It’s a little tricky. There are not a lot of three-wheel electric motorcycles for sale. But there is a company out in Oregon that is now manufacturing the bodies -- or shells, frames -- so that you can put it together yourself and you can put into it your own electric motor that you buy from them or separately. I bought a separate motor because I wanted more power. Mine is considerably modified from the original BugE.
Can you describe this vehicle?
It’s got two direction wheels in the front and one drive wheel in the rear and a body structure that is aero-dynamically streamlined that makes it slick to the wind. It looks kind of interesting, frankly.
What’s the range?
If you have lead acid batteries in there, it’ll probably go about 30 or 40 miles on a charge. If you put in lithium ion batteries, as I’m attempting to do, it’ll have a 100-mile range or more.
And your adventure will be powered by solar?
My intention is to have a trailer to be pulled behind it with solar panels on top of it. It will also have extra lithium ion batteries underneath the panel to give it extra weight or ballast to hold this thing down. I have six 80 watt Sharp PV polycrystalline solar panels, but I am open to an upgrade!
Have you always been this passionate about EVs and renewable energy?
I’ve always been interested in reducing my carbon footprint. For the last 20 years I’ve been involved in electric vehicles. I’ve owned a series of EVs. One was a sedan -- a 1981 Dodge Neon. I had a 1997 Chevy pick-up truck made by General Motors at their factory. And now I’m working on this three wheel motorcycle. I feel a bit like Toad of Toad Hall -- that animated cartoon from years back who always wanted to buy the latest contraption that would take him around.
Let’s say I’m a typical middle-class American and I want an EV. What's your advice?
There are a number of second-hand, cheaper electric vehicles, whether they’re motorcycles or cars or trucks. They’re on sale on eBay or Craigslist and you can find them through various electric vehicle associations. There are electric vehicle clubs. If you have enough money to buy a new electric vehicle, Nissan is coming out with the Leaf all-electric vehicle sometime in 2011. The Volt is an electric hybrid, which is a pretty good idea. It’s pure electric for the first 40 miles, which then kicks in your gasoline engine. By that process you can go 100 or 150 miles per gallon. The Volt’s supposed to be sold this fall. And there are a lot of other companies that are getting on board.
What do you think about when you see gas prices?
Gas prices are way too low in this country. We need to tax gas so that it’s $5 a gallon like it is in Japan or $7 a gallon like it is in Europe. That would be more of an incentive for us to think about electric vehicles. I think a lot more people would look at it and say, “This is a great idea.” In fact, it’s already a great idea. If you get yourself an electric vehicle, your cost for fuel -- your electricity -- is one-quarter the cost of gasoline, presuming gas is about $2.50 a gallon. When we had $4 a gallon the summer before last, we had a lot more people asking about electric vehicles. And maintenance costs! There are no oil changes, there’s no muffler to be replaced....
All of those costs to maintaining a gas engine, which is basically an explosion going on in your car -- no wonder the thing falls apart -- don’t happen. Think about your power drill you keep down in the basement. When was the last time you had to overhaul its engine, or change the oil, or flush the radiator? Never!
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:56AM PST on February 24, 2010
courtesy Colin Summers
In 1998, Colin Summers, an architect who lives in Santa Monica, convinced his wife that they should get an electric car. They got one and never looked back. Today, they are the proud owners of a four-door Toyota RAV 4. While his wife primarily uses the car for her commute, Summers drives a Prius. They also have solar panels on their home. This is the first of three interviews with EV owners. For more info on becoming an EV owner, visit PlugInAmerica.org.
When did you get the car?
In 2004. We had a four-year lease on it and then we bought it. My wife has 57,000 miles on it. Before that she drove GM’s EV1. So she’s been driving electric for over 10 years now. It’s our family car on the weekends, but she’s the one who uses it during the week for her commute. I work from home primarily and picking up the kids from school is less than three miles, so I do a lot less driving. Right now for her it’s about 20 miles each way.
What was your initial reason for getting an EV in 1998?
My love of technology and being an early adopter for things. That was the infancy of the Internet and just after Google appeared -- everyone had dial-up but we had an ISDN line, for example. When GM started marketing the EV1, they knew it was a big jump for people, which is why the dealerships would let you have one for the weekend. So I had them drop one off and I thought it was astonishing.
It’s odd to look back and know that if GM just had just the nerve to stay with it, they’d be so far ahead of everyone right now rather than needing bailouts from the government. They would’ve owned the market.
Anyway, here in Hollywood it’s nice to have an identity and not be just another person driving a Lexus SUV. So I convinced my wife that it’d be a cool car for her.
Can you describe the battery?
It’s a nickel-metal hydride. When we first got it, it had a range of 120 miles and now it’s probably about 80 or 90, so it’s still useful for her. What’s great is that it’s a four-door, so on the weekends we’re able to go down to the science center and the Natural History Museum in downtown L.A. -- and driving there and back, we don’t burn any gas at all.
Like the battery in your laptop, they slowly lose the capacity for a charge. When it’s no longer useful you can replace the battery pack entirely, which is I think over $10,000. But, on the balance, the car has never needed any maintenance. It gets its brakes checked and tires rotated, but there are no oil changes, no coolant, no need to recharge your AC system. It just has never needed anything other than the basic check-up once a year.
Let’s say I’m a typical middle-class citizen who makes $50,000 a year. Can I get an EV or is it still too exclusive?
This car is certainly not exclusive. It was leased as though it was a $35,000 car. So it was on par with the sporty model of the RAV 4. And then at the end of the lease we bought it for $20,000. So, to me that was within reach of middle-class America. When we got the EV1, I was watching our electric bills for what the jump would be, and it only went up $10 a month. At the time back in ’98, the gas I was spending on my Saab was $120 a month. So we were instantly saving $110 a month, the insurance was cheaper, there was a $3,500 tax credit, and the maintenance was no cost at all. All of that slides it down to the middle class.
What’s the biggest myth about EVs?
That there’s a complexity to the vehicle. It’s actually a simpler machine. When people look at it they think, “This isn’t a useful car to me.” But the truth is for a two-car family, 90 percent of the driving they’re doing is easily within what an electric car can do. Our family can probably get away with two electric cars -- and once or twice a year we’d need to rent a car for a weekend trip to the desert or the Bay Area.
Describe the process of charging your car. For anyone who’s never even seen an electric car, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine.
It’s incredibly simple. There’s a little flap on the front of the car. There’s a button inside that you press, similar to what you open for your gas tank flap. You push it and the flap pops open and then the charger -- there’s a plastic paddle and you slide it into a slot in the front of the car and the car and charger communicate with each other. And tells the charger the state of the battery is and how much current it needs and it slowly charges itself up. Completely, it takes about three hours, but it goes up to 80 percent in less than an hour.
Do you and your wife even think about gas prices anymore?
Well I do, because I still need gas with my Prius. But that’s one of the things that she talks about. She loves that it’s been 10 years since she’s stopped for gas somewhere.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 8:56AM PST on February 1, 2010
Danish architect Jan Gehl is one of the preeminent urban planners in the world. Since the 1960s, he has worked to make Copenhagen a cycling- and pedestrian-friendly city. His concepts of “human scale” design and the importance of public spaces have led city planners the world over to rethink the way they design. In 2007, New York City sought Gehl’s help when improving its bicycling infrastructure, which has paid off with huge increases in cycling. We spoke to Gehl on the phone from his office in downtown Copenhagen.
Q: Designing with the human dimension in mind is a key part of your philosophy. What does it mean to build on a “human scale?”
A: I mean planning where you put an emphasis on the people walking and bicycling and also on public life in general. That means you start with the people and end with all the other things […] you start with the people and have motor traffic and buildings as second priorities.
And the point is, in all this, is that if you don’t start with the people side of the story, you can never add the people side after you have made cars happy and placed a number of buildings around a place, and then you look at what space is left over and that can be used by people. You have to start with the people. So, when we talk about human dimension in city planning, that is something about putting a high priority on making sure people are treated well in the planning and then the other things will have to be treated afterwards.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:27AM PST on January 13, 2010
Trails has just posted an interview with photographer Ian Shive. Says Shive: "I’ve spent a lot of time alone in the parks. There’s something that happens after your seventh day in nature, where you start to hear things, understand things better -- about the weather that’s coming, what animals are doing…"
Posted by: Paul Scott at 9:37AM PST on November 30, 2009
Many of you have no doubt heard of the book, Confessions of An Economic Hitman by John Perkins. Essentially, Mr. Perkins was recruited to work for the World Bank and organizations like USAID to convince certain developing nations to become indebted to the World Bank in order to develop infrastructure (roads, utilities and the like) that mostly benefited the wealthy of those countries and ultimately neutralized them politically while enabling extractive industries, mostly oil, to take all they wanted.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:09AM PST on November 13, 2009
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:45AM PST on November 6, 2009
I attended Climate One’s lecture series on Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, which featured Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider, who is an expert contributor to IPCC's assessment reports. He has studied climate for thirty-plus years. He is also the author of a new book Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate.
Schneider spoke at a fast pace, which made for a very informative 50 minutes. His prevailing theme: climate-change solutions are a form of risk management. He likened these solutions to surgery – either you do something to prevent catastrophe because that’s what the odds tell you to do, or you don’t and see what happens.
"Climate is the study of a system, like the human body," he said. "What we are looking at is an array of multiple outcomes." And while scientists have varying opinions of these outcomes, the likelihood of catastrophe is too high to ignore, he said.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:14PM PST on September 8, 2009
The Honey Brothers -- a five-man “new wave folk” band based in New York City -- has recently kicked off a carbon-free, eco-friendly tour. The bandmates are traveling in a biodiesel Sprinter van, eating locally grown food from farmers’ markets, and lodging at LEED-certified hotels. They'll be playing this weekend in San Francisco before trekking to LA and San Diego. The band has offered the song “Demonstration” as a free download here on Climate Crossroads. We got to chat with the band’s drummer, Adrian Grenier (yes, the guy from HBO's Entourage).
When did you start playing music? Who were your musical idols?
I started with guitar in high school after I discovered my mom’s old acoustic in the closet and I began reading Beatles’ songbook tablatures. When I finally moved out of my mom’s house, I got a set of drums, because I could do whatever I wanted. So I just started banging away. Bonham [from Led Zeppelin] was my favorite drummer. I always followed the Beatles, of course, and Leonard Cohen.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:14AM PST on September 3, 2009
Dr. Michael Shermer is executive director of The Skeptics Society, an organization dedicated to the science and facts behind controversial issues. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, a columnist with Scientific American, and the author of several books.
Explain the relationship between skepticism and science and some of the misconceptions of skepticism.
Science is skepticism and skepticism is science. It’s the same thing. Scientists refer to the "null hypothesis." We assume that your idea, your theory, your hypothesis is not true and your task in collecting data is to overturn the null hypothesis. So to that extent all scientists are skeptical. That is the default position.
So what’s the difference between a scientist who is a skeptic and a so-called global warming skeptic?
A: Of course the word gets used and abused and, like all words, it evolves. You can be a Holocaust skeptic or, in our case, someone who’s skeptical of Holocaust skeptics. Likewise, there’s a group of HIV skeptics who don’t think HIV causes AIDS. We did a big investigation of them and ended up being skeptical of those skeptics, which I guess made us a true believer. I would say that was also the case with global warming.
Are people skeptical that the Earth is getting warmer? No, most of them aren’t. What they want to dispute is what the cause is and how much warmer it’s going to get and what we can do about it. So that was not as clear-cut. But for the most part we tend to be skeptical of most of the global warming skeptics’ claims. The point is that skepticism is not a position we take. It’s not just “we are starting at this position no matter what.” We are just open to any and all claims and go ahead and give us your best evidence.
You used to be a global warming skeptic, correct?
For two reasons. I’m not a climate scientist and I didn’t follow the research all that closely. Although in the 70s and 80s the research wasn’t that clear and skepticism was a pretty reasonable position to take. There was enough evidence in the 90s to be pretty conclusive that global warming was real and human-caused.
What did it for you? You’ve said at one point you took a “cognitive flip.”
(more after the jump...)
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:50AM PST on August 28, 2009
We recently ran into musician Missy Higgins -- a friend of the environment who has offered a free music download to anyone who takes the 2% pledge. So we gave her five quick questions about global warming. (Also read: James Lesure, Dianne Farr, David Alan Basche, and Mike Richter.)
What lifestyle changes have you made because of global warming?
What would you say to someone who doesn't think global warming is for real?
I'd say just do your research. The information and the evidence is all there in plain daylight. There are charts that show a rise in carbon dioxide and global temperatures like no other time in the history of this planet! And yes there have been ups and downs in temperatures over the course of our history but not one of those periods have been anywhere near close to what we're experiencing now. There is no doubt in even the most cynical of scientists' minds anymore.
Complete this sentence: Building more coal power plants is as crazy as __________.
Going to war to make peace.
You've just traveled back in time to London in 1750 while they are building one of the first ever coal factories. What do you tell them?
"I've come to pass on a message from your great-great-great-great-great-great-grand children! They beg you to stop what you're doing for the sake of their future and the future of their children. What you've been digging up will not replenish itself and burning it will cause the demise of the planet. It will cause wars, sickness and destruction. Please, if you can, take yourself out of the picture for a second. It's so much bigger than you and me."
Imagine that you’re Frosty the Snowman, how would you explain global warming to a child in order to alert them of your imminent danger?
"Aaaagh! My head's melting! Recycle for Pete's sake!!"
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:41PM PST on August 19, 2009
Journalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben authored the first general-audience book about climate change 20 years ago; since then he’s done much to expose and help combat the problem. He’s written articles for many magazines, including Sierra. Now he’s founded 350.org, an international climate campaign, and is traveling globally to promote its mission. Here, the recent Colbert Report survivor relates inspiring news from this summer’s travels and why we all should be focusing on one three-digit number. This interview was conducted by Jamie Hansen and cross-posted with The Green Life.
Q: You've been traveling the world spreading the gospel of a number: 350. For those not yet in the know, what makes 350 the most important number in the world?
A: We finally know where the red line for climate really is. After the rapid melt of arctic ice in the summer of 2007, our best scientists, led by NASA's Jim Hansen, went back to work and produced a series of papers showing that with more than 350 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we couldn't have a planet "similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted." That's strong language, especially considering we're already well past 350. The air outside today holds 390 ppm -- that's why the Arctic is melting. In other words, stop thinking about global warming as a future threat and understand it instead as a present emergency, one that requires a far stronger policy response than we'd imagined.Q: On 350.org's blog, you described meeting enthusiasm around the world for curbing emissions -- often in smaller, still-developing countries that are not seriously contributing to the problem. Can we learn anything here in the states from that sense of global citizenship and responsibility?
A: What amazes me is that people in the rest of the world aren't angrier at us. They're a little angry -- we've caused most of this problem, after all -- but they're still willing to work with us to right it. I can't tell you how moving it is to open my email and see a picture of 1,500 Buddhist monks and nuns in the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh forming a human 350 against the backdrop of the melting glaciers. This is not their fault, and yet they're stepping up to be part of the solution. Do we have any choice but to join them?
Q: 350.org is coordinating an International Day of Climate Action to push for strong legislation at this December's climate conference in Copenhagen. What are 350.org's goals for that day of action? What can we expect the day to look like?
A: It's like a big potluck supper. We've set the date and the theme -- 350! -- but we're not an organization, we're a campaign. So people all over, some of them in groups like the Sierra Club and some of them novice activists, have taken over, figuring out how to get that number across on Oct. 24. There will be the world's largest underwater political demonstration, led by the president of the Maldive Islands, Mohammed Nasheed; thousands of churches will ring their bells 350 times; there will be some of the world's greatest mountain climbers up high in all the world's ranges with banners and signs. Big cities will see big demonstrations -- and crucially, there will be at least as many across the global south as the developed world. For the first time we're all in this as a planet.
Q: It seems that the campaign's efforts culminate in Copenhagen. In an ideal world, what would come from that conference? What can we realistically expect?
A: At the least, an acknowledgment that whatever agreement is conceived there is not a solution but at best a start, and that we've got to keep the work going and the pressure on. We think we can move the negotiations in the direction of the science, but we have no illusions we'll triumph completely -- the opposition is powerful. I mean, Exxon made more money last year than any company in the history of money. We're not going to match their dollars, so we have to top their enthusiasm.
Q: In organizing for 350.org, you've been traveling the world and presumably using a lot of fuel. How do you grapple with the large carbon footprint created by promoting the cause globally?
A: I'm the one moving part in this thing -- we've organized it so that we'll have thousands of distributed actions, not a few big march-on-Washington things. We think it's a better model politically and environmentally. But I've been on airplanes all year, and though I offset the flights, I can't justify them except by saying it's an emergency. The world is on fire, and I'm doing my best to help steer the firetruck. I hope it's worth it -- to a large extent it depends on how many people respond. So far the signs are good -- we've organized more than 1,500 events in more than half the countries on earth.
Q: Along those lines, the 350 campaign has chosen a web and technology-based platform. It's a medium for change that's not carbon-neutral. What role do you see the internet playing in the future of the environmental movement?
A: All things considered, the internet seems fairly environmentally benign to me. The last stats I saw showed you could do 1,000 Google searches for the gas it took to drive six-tenths of a mile. But the internet can't substitute for real connection and community. We use the web to help people organize in the flesh, and then we take the images of those events and put them back on the web to make them add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Q: Since we're talking for the Green Life, can you help readers envision what a 350-friendly lifestyle will look like? Are there a few especially effective personal changes we can make to help achieve that number?
A: Oh, you know the changes we need to make at home. But the truth is, we're past the point where we're going to solve this one light bulb at a time. So screw in a compact fluorescent, but then screw in a new global policy. The most effective and practical action you can take at home is to organize your community for Oct. 24.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:16AM PST on August 7, 2009
We recently ran into James Lesure, who's starred in several TV series, including "Lipstick Jungle," "Las Vegas", and "For Your Love." He's a friend of the environment, so we gave him five quick questions about climate change. (Also read: Dianne Farr, David Alan Basche, and Mike Richter.)
What lifestyle changes have you made because of global warming?
I now lease a hybrid car. I've purchased some energy-saving light bulbs. And I unplug appliances that I don't use on a daily basis in my home.
What would you say to someone who doesn't think global warming is a serious problem?
"I dare you to buy some property in New Orleans."
Would Florida be any better?
Let's say you're a polar bear, what's going through your mind right now?
"Okay God, this ain't funny anymore.... There are three icebergs left.... Either give us the power to rule over humans, or have them wake up!!!"
If you were a space alien visiting earth, what would your opinion of global warming be?
I would think, "Do these folks think life on Mars looks appealing?"
Posted by: Heather M at 7:14AM PST on August 6, 2009
Sierra Club columnist Javier Sierra recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He wrote a column on this discussion, which you can read on his Sierra Club page. But we also wanted to provide the complete transcript right here for you to read and enjoy. Thanks for sharing, Javier!
HEAD OF WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
July 31, 2009
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:41AM PST on July 15, 2009
We recently ran into Dianne Farr, who has starred in several TV series, including Rescue Me, Numb3rs, and Californication. She's a friend of the Sierra Club (pdf.), so we gave her five quick questions about climate change.
What lifestyle changes have you made because of global warming?
"I had leased a brand new Landover the day before I saw An Inconvenient Truth. I seriously wanted to throw the truck in the trash. The day my lease expired I gave it back with a note saying "I'd rather have an earth with some resources left in it than a flashy car killing the place my kids will inhabit."
What do you think of our leadership's handling of global warming?
I think Teddy Roosevelt must be weeping in his grave. The Bush administration treated our country, as well as our world, like a business they were trying to liquidate. The sell off, of not only our land and air and seas but also our people and our future was so insulting to both democrats and republicans of the past.
Let's say you're a polar bear. What's going through your mind right now?
"How desperate are y'all gonna let this get? If I tread any longer, I'm gonna be thin enough to be on The Bachelor."
Complete this sentence: Building more coal power plants is as crazy as...
Believing a view of Russia is a foreign policy.
Imagine that you're Frosty the Snowman, how would you explain global warming to a child in order to alert them of your imminent danger?
"Do you see this puddle under me?"
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:06AM PST on July 10, 2009
Bruce Hamilton -- the Sierra Club's Deputy Executive Director and an outdoors expert -- sat down with me to talk about the hidden impacts of global warming in our country's wild places and why we need to focus on creating Resilient Habitats. This is part two. Read part one.
Q. Global warming skeptics say that the wilderness will be fine. It will adapt. Climate change naturally happens. And if we are going to cut down our emissions, it will cost too much money. How do you respond to that?
A. The best thing to do is to bring it home to the local place with as much information as you have. If you live in New Jersey or Ohio or Indiana, you might say, “I don’t see it happening.”
We need to put it into terms that people understand. If you are in New England and you are used to living with the bright fall colors and sugar maples and maple syrup, you know what? Maple trees are slowly migrating north. They won’t be able to survive in New England. It’s basically going to turn into an oak hickory forest there. Similarly, the moose that you used to go out and hunt won’t be able to live in New England either. If you’re a fisherman and you used to go out and get trout, we need to turn around and say, “The projections from your own game and fish department is that bull trout populations will be reduced by 90 percent.” We’re already seeing the fishing season closing for half the summer because the streams are too hot and there’s too much stress on the species.
There will not be any Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park. That is the signature species. They’re all going to die out. There will still be Joshua trees farther north. But farther north is not a protected national park. So if going forward into the future we want to have a Joshua Tree National Park, we need to create a new one farther to the north to make sure that species is protected.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:40PM PST on July 9, 2009
While the media continue to focus on the melting Arctic, few notice the changes that are already happening in our own backyards. Bruce Hamilton -- the Sierra Club's Deputy Executive Director and an outdoors expert -- sat down with me to talk about the hidden impacts of global warming in our country's wild places and why we need to focus on creating Resilient Habitats. This is part one of a two-part interview.
[Update: Here's part two.]
Q: In terms of parks and open spaces, in what ways is global warming already having an effect?
A: We’re already seeing changes in ecosystems, and we’re already seeing extinctions. So this is not just a hypothetical problem, and it’s something that’s projected to accelerate dramatically.
Right now we're mainly seeing this at the poles and the tropics. That is where the vast majority of extinctions are projected to happen. But you see shifts in range already taking place here in the United States. For example, a researcher has found that while you’d ordinarily find the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly in Baja California, because of temperature increases it can no longer live there, so it's steadily migrating north. But just north of Baja, you get into Tijuana and San Diego and the Southern California metropolis, and that’s not good butterfly habitat. As a result, you’re seeing a crash in the population as it tries to move north.
You’re also seeing situations where species are changing their phenology. That is, plants are blooming earlier. Insects are emerging or hatching earlier in the spring. Birds are migrating later in the fall and coming back earlier in the spring or sometimes not migrating at all.
Q. And these changes are supposed to accelerate in the decades to come. What will that mean?
A. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that even if we were to dramatically cut emissions and reach the goal that we need to reach -- an 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 -- we’re still going to see 20 to 30 percent of species that they have studied to date at an increased risk of extinction. It would be a more significant extinction than when the dinosaurs were lost.
(The interview continues after the jump.)
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:00PM PST on July 7, 2009
Still unconvinced that there's a scientific consensus? DISCOVER recently sat down with four experts for a very informative and enlightening conversation about the science behind our climate. The four interviewees were Ken Caldeira, a Stanford professor, Bill Easterling, Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at PSU, Stephen Schneider, senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, and Robin Bell of Columbia.
The whole thing's worth a read. Here's Caldeira during the roundtable:
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:53AM PST on June 23, 2009
We recently ran into actor David Alan Basche, who has starred in the TV series Three Sisters, Lipstick Jungle, and The Starter Wife, and in several movies, including United 93 and War of the Worlds. We gave him five quick questions about climate change.
What lifestyle changes have you made because of global warming?
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:00PM PST on June 18, 2009
We recently ran into Mike Richter -- one of the most successful hockey goalies in NHL history -- who led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup title in 1994. He is an avid environmentalist as Outreach Chair for the Sierra Club's National Advancement Council. His work helps Sierra Club reach out to a broad range of politicians and advocates in support of the Climate Recovery Partnership. So we gave him five quick questions about climate change.
What lifestyle changes have you made because of global warming?
What would you say to someone who doesn't think global warming is for real?
What do you think of our leadership’s handling of global warming?
The Bush administration was horrendous. Maybe worse than that. The world will be paying for his inexcusable irresponsibility for many years -- maybe forever -- you cannot get extinct species back.
You've just traveled back in time to London in 1750 while they are building one of the first ever coal factories. What do you tell them?
Imagine that you’re Frosty the Snowman. How would you explain global warming to a child in order to alert them of your imminent danger?
"I am going to sweat my snowballs off if we don't address global warming immediately!"
• Food & Drink
• Home & Garden
• Curbing Carbon
• Current Events
• Green Cuisine
• Take Action
• Lazy Organic Gardener
• Green Livelihoods Center
• BP Oil Disaster
• Current Entries
• November 2010
• October 2010
• September 2010
• August 2010
• July 2010
• June 2010
• May 2010
• April 2010
• March 2010
• February 2010
• January 2010
• December 2009
• November 2009
• October 2009
• September 2009
• August 2009
• July 2009
• June 2009
• May 2009
• April 2009
• March 2009
• February 2009
• January 2009
• December 2008
• November 2008