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Posts Tagged ‘green politics’

So, what would happen if the City of Seattle where to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and not replace it with anything?

According to most pundits: Gridlock!

But according to the Braess Paradox: Better traffic flow and less traffic.

This is the conundrum presented in the Infrastructurist post “Huh?! 4 Cases Of How Tearing Down A Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams (And Save Your City)”, where four case studies are examined and show that removing roads can actually reduce traffic in a city.

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Today on KUOW, Steve Schere interviewed Bill McKibben, Jim Hanna, and Matt Cohen about the public hearing that the Environmental Protection Agency will hold tomorrow, May 21st, in Seattle on whether global warming pollution is a threat to public health and welfare. It was an interesting interview and lots of good information was discussed over the various issues we are facing here in America.

Weekday: Is Carbon Dioxide a Danger to Public Health?

Weekday High MP3

Weekday Low MP3

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On Thursday, May 21st, the EPA is holding the second of two hearings on the “Proposed endangerment and cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act”. Primarily they will be determining the following:

The Administrator signed a proposal with two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

  • The Administrator is proposing to find that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. This is referred to as the endangerment finding.
  • The Administrator is further proposing to find that the combined emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, and HFCs from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change. This is referred to as the cause or contribute finding.

This proposed action, as well as any final action in the future, would not itself impose any requirements on industry or other entities. An endangerment finding under one provision of the Clean Air Act would not by itself automatically trigger regulation under the entire Act.

What does this mean in English? 

  1. Do various gases emitted by autos and industry form a threat to us and our descendants in the form of global warming and other types of harm?
  2. Do cars contribute to global warming because of their emissions?
  3. And even if they do, the EPA won’t do squat about regulating them at this time.

You can register to speak on this subject at the EPA site. You can also attend a rally being planned at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center by several groups. For those of us in the North King County area, I suggest RSVPing at Northeast Seattle Neighbors’ Sustainability Network. Or you can register at 1Sky to attend the rally.

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The folks at Arnold Imaging, together with Kansas City Public Television, produced this 11 minute movie on the benefits of light rail on land development. This video shows how it helps encourage walkable development wherever there is a light rail station. It helps reinforce how light rail is a positive change in a community.

Imagine KC

In a way, this meshes with a previous post in the Living Sustainability Blog: Smart Transit Oriented Development.    

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The Transition movement, while noticeably growing in areas such as the U.K, isquietly developing a toe hold here.  One nearby town that has adopted Transition Town principles is Sandpoint, Idaho.  An article published recently in the New York Times discusses their efforts. Interesting reading.  The following is an excerpt:

The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.

Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak.

We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now.

Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”

Read the full article here…..

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In Washington State, two bills failed to make it out of committee, House Bill 1490 and Senate Bill 5687. Both bills were aimed “to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through land use and transportation requirements”. The gist of the bill was to encourage more transit oriented development (TOD).

Photo by Mike Lydon

Photo by Mike Lydon

The main bugaboo about this kind of development is that it brings density to cities and towns outside of Seattle. My own town of Kenmore is wrestling with this very issue. Density would be limited to the corridor along SR 522 and up 68th Avenue for about half a mile or so. (My apartment is within that area.)

Yet at meetings with my neighbors there is talk about keeping Kenmore from growing and to somehow stop growth. Which you can’t unless you turn your entire community into a closed, gated citadel, keeping the barbarians out. Hopefully not everyone wants to do that.

You can’t stop growth, the only thing you can control it and direct it to areas where you can stand to grow. If you don’t, growth will come and grow where it damn well pleases. And that’s the old model of development. We need a new model that makes it easier for residents to make use of different transit options and also turn your standard “bedroom community” into a real community.

For instance in King County is starting a pilot program of water taxis across Lake Washington, with stops in several cities, Kenmore included. The proposed dock for this water taxi would be near the densest portion of Kenmore, population wise. It would be a boon to each city, bringing more people to their waterfronts. The problem is that most of the waterfronts are… industrial in nature for Kenmore and Renton. Currently, as far as I know, Kenmore does not have a plan to build a waterfront, so I’m not very confident that the water taxi service will really benefit Kenmore as much as our city fathers (and mothers) think it will.

Still, it is a step in the right direction towards making Kenmore a greener and more livable city. However, just building next to the Park and Ride or bus stop does not a transit oriented development make. You need more than that; you need to turn your community into a place for families and other people to congregate at, not just visit. Most development puts expensive boutiques in the retail space on the ground floor, and then wonder why no one shops there.

One of the major roadblocks to the development of the Kenmore Village by the Lake project here in Kenmore is that the contractors cannot find an “anchor store” for the project. The problem with that is any “anchor store” that they bring in to the project will probably be a franchise store and kill off any local businesses that could compete with it.

You want to promote local businesses, who will put their profits into the local economy, not into the franchise’s Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters. That’s the real goal of transit oriented design: Making the local community more livable and inviting, and not turn it into a strip mall with apartments on top.

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In today’s Crosscut article, Buy Local, Think National, it’s author, Floyd McKay, reports on the upswing of buy local organizations, highlighting the Bellingham, WA, group, Sustainable Connections, as one of the shining examples of a successful organization.

In many ways, this highlights the shortcomings of other regions in Washington state when it comes to encouraging local businesses. Many cities and towns, my own included, need to encourage the buy local ethic, and they need to encourage local businesses, either through tax incentives or by creating a business incubator for new local businesses. 

Now,we do have more than our share of farmers markets in the Puget Sound region, but they are very seasonal so that you only get a window on locally grown produce, fish, and meats. But we could do better. 

One common complaint I hear about my town, Kenmore, WA, is that while you have plenty of choices for lunch or dinner, or to have a drink, you can’t buy new shirt or underwear within a 20 minute drive. And drive is the operating word here. There is only one of two places I could go to without changing buses, the rest either take one or two bus changes and/or switch to a different transit company. 

The problem with that sentiment is that a business that sells clothes like that is typically not a local business, but a chain store. The reasons why are well known: chains can buy in bulk, substantially reducing the end cost of a good to the consumer, while local, mom & pop stores only buy lots of ten or twenty, thus paying a higher cost for the same goods, and passing on a higher price to the consumer. And consumers want low prices, despite the fact that it’s bad for their local economy and way of life. 

Can we turn the clock back to where it was more economical to buy everything locally? No, not unless we experience another major crash of the economy, one greater than the one we’re currently experiencing. 

Speaking of the current economy, one of the big problems most people cite about buying locally is that the prices are higher than for items shipped in from other countries. It’s one of those vicious circles: People don’t buy the local product, so that the local producer reduces the amount of that product he produces. Prices go up because now there’s fewer of the that product on the market and the producer has to cover his costs. People don’t buy the product because the price has gone up…

Eventually the local producer goes out of business because the cost of production just a few items is far higher than the return he gets selling the items.

One solution is to buy more of that locally produced product and encourage the local producer to make more.

That has it’s own nasty side effect. Take produce for instance. The sustainable farmer sells out of all his produce, so he opens up those fields that he had lie fallow or, more realistically, buys new fields and increases his yield for the next season. He may be able to lower prices and if he does well, he may expand again, if he can. And the demand for his produce increases.

The sustainable farmer is now faced with a dilemma: Not expand and maintain his current market or become a commercial farmer and drop sustainable farming in favor of production farming, using chemical fertilizers and non-ecological farming techniques. We all can hope he doesn’t choose the latter.

In the end, all we can do is to try to support those local businesses that we can and try to live a sustainable life.

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