Friday, July 30, 2010

Perils of Modern Transportation:

Bigger, better, faster has so long been the mantra of our transportation objectives that we might have missed that it’s not working so well. Our hot new gas guzzlers are not only heating up the plane, they are making the increasing number of pedestrians lives dangerous.

In our exuberance to concede our available space to vehicles, we have forgotten that we not be able to always afford or wish to move about by vehicle.  We might want to move around (after we lose that job, or retire, or want some exercise) by walking and bicycling, but that isn’t so easy anymore.  What we’ve created is a world for cars and not so much for us. 

How do we step back from an asphalt environment to a more sustainable one?  Check this story out: [VIDEO] Dangerous Crossing | Blueprint America | PBS "In recent years a little noticed shift has been transforming suburbia: the home of the middle class has become the home of the working poor. As a result, roadways that were built for the car are now used by a growing population that can’t afford to drive. The consequences can be deadly. Blueprint America on Need to Know from suburban Atlanta where getting to the other side of the road is nothing to take for granted. " Blueprint America | PBS

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Deconstruction:

Good article from Mark Hare at the D&C on deconstruction.  Deconstruction should be the norm on how we do away with buildings, instead of demolishing them.  It creates more jobs, because it is labor intensive, and it recycles many of the good parts and materials into other projects.  

If it is cheaper to demolished a building rather than dismantle it and recycle all the parts, then things should be changed so it isn’t.  How does that happen?  I don’t know.  I’m not an economist.  But, if I was an economist I’d take another look at our economy so that it promotes environmentally good practices like deconstruction and presents good jobs. 

Is that idealism, thinking we should think of the environment first before our economics?  No.  It’s idealism to think we can construct an economy that doesn’t promote sustainability.  The laws of Nature vs. the laws of economics.  Think about it.   

'Deconstruction' program builds job skills | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle On a sultry afternoon this summer, four young men were slowly "deconstructing" an abandoned house on Ludwig Park, off Joseph Avenue. Wall by wall, window by window, floor board by floor board. Deconstruction is a slow and tedious, but green, alternative to demolition. (July 29, 2010) Democrat and Chronicle | Rochester news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Rochester, New York

Monday, July 26, 2010

What if gasoline were $10 a gallon?

There are many ways to get around Rochester that don’t use gasoline.  But the public is unlikely to use them—walking, bicycling, public transportation, hybrid electric, fuel cell, compressed natural gas, propane—until the price of gasoline goes up. Our infrastructure encourages the use of the gasoline fueled vehicle because there are streets everywhere that accommodate cars far better than bicyclists, slower moving electric vehicles, and even walking.

In fact using our gas guzzlers to get from here to there seems so convenient that we are oblivious of the number of deaths on our streets each year and what they are doing to our environment. Besides the myriad of reasons most jump into their car to go from here to there, there stands out the most compelling reason, for when it changes it drastically limits use of the automobile, the price of gasoline. People don’t drive as much when the gasoline prices go up. 

What if the gasoline price was $10 a gallon and not $2 and some change?  Seem preposterous?  Not so much.  Actually, our gasoline costs are absurdly low.

Subsidies and many more factors keep our gasoline, thus our current transportation system, on an unsustainable path. How long can we ignore the true costs of gasoline?  What will happen if that price changes dramatically?  Got a backup plan? 

Don’t believe me?  Check out the true cost of gasoline from an expert:   The Breakdown: What Is The True Cost Of Gas? | The Nation "Each summer, drivers across the nation seem to suffer a collective anxiety attack about the rising cost of gas. Now imagine that the cost you pay at the pump reflected not only the cost of gas without all of the government tax breaks and subsidies to the oil industry, but also the environmental costs of drilling for oil, and the political costs, and the health costs of all that oil. With these factors in place, what would be the real price of gas? The Nation's Washington, DC Editor Christopher Hayes and energy expert and author Terry Tamminen try to answer this question on this week's edition of The Breakdown. " The Nation

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Good Example of Environmental Investigation:

This three-part series on the fresh waters of the Great Lakes by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is an example of the kind of investigating reporting we need on our environment and what we may lose if we don’t find ways to increase thorough environmental investigations. 

Simple ad hock environmental stories when something big pop up and grabs our attention is not the way to report on our environment.  Usually, by the time an environmental issue gets so bad that it captures our local media’s attention; it’s too late to do anything about it. 

What we need from our media is to practice the Precautionary Principle and anticipate environmental issues and investigate them thoroughly before our ability to choose has vanished. 

Check out this series of three stories that try to anticipate the need for fresh water in the future and how that may jeopardize the health of our Great Lakes.  When a desperate nation demands fresh water from a water system that cannot tolerate water leaving it’s boundaries to remain the same that’s going to be too late to deal with the situation wisely.  Divided Over Water | Part 1: Fresh water is in short supply in many Milwaukee-area communities. Tap into Lake Michigan, right? Wrong. An invisible line divides those who can use the Great Lakes from those who can't touch a drop. And if exceptions are made, who might come calling for water next? Part 2: Struggling with tainted water, the southeastern Wisconsin community of Pleasant Prairie and the northwestern Indiana town of Lowell both sought permission to tap Lake Michigan water. Pleasant Prairie got it; Lowell did not. Their stories are classic examples of the power and politics of Great Lakes water. Part 3: People who think the Great Lakes can't be damaged should talk to some farmers in the Great Plains. For 30 years, they pumped with abandon from an underground reservoir the size of Lake Huron, never thinking they might hit "E" on the tank that fueled the economy. Now, in some spots, they've run dry. --from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Breaking news, sports, business, watchdog journalism, multimedia

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quantifying our Natural Resources:

Too often we forget that it is not our economic system that rules our planet; it is the laws of physics and our biology. That we have not come up with an easy way to quantify and qualify the separate elements of our environment—the value of our forests and oceans and the plants and animals that inhabit them—is not Nature’s fault. 

It is our inability to create an economic system that properly includes them so we know the true price of the resources we take from our environment.

As one biologist said recently, (and I paraphrase from this interview A conversation on poachers, gorillas and copper wires | Home | Deutsche Welle) the animals in our environment are not postage stamps, they are the machinery of our environment.

You would think that with the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity humanity would begin to rethink the way it values its biodiversity.  Because at the rate we are going now, many animals and plants, which are an integral part of our environment’s ‘machinery’, are going extinct.

Economists call for accounting rules on environmental impact | Business | Deutsche Welle | 14.07.2010 Businesses and economic planners use elaborate systems to measure various types of capital including financial assets and human resources. Now UN-backed experts say they should take biodiversity into account as well.   With the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico damaging regional fishery and tourism industries, authors of a UN-sponsored report linking business and biodiversity are calling on companies to count the cost of overexploitation of natural resources. (July 14, 2010) Home | Deutsche Welle

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ramping up Recycling:

We hope this decision (see story below) by Onondaga County to recycle #5 plastics will prod Monroe County to adopt a similar measure for our county.  Not all counties in New York State recycle all plastics. 

When they don’t these plastics go into our landfills, which are filling up with this stuff that doesn’t break down well. 

One of the main reasons why our county and other counties who don’t recycle all plastics is that they complain that the markets for some plastics are not stable, meaning that when they fail these plastics will accumulate and have be land-filled anyways.

Other counties don’t agree and are willing to move forward on finding markets for these plastics and keeping them from contaminating our ground.

It's official: Onondaga County expands recycling to include No. 5 plastic | syracuse.com Syracuse, NY -- The board of directors of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency voted 8-0 Wednesday to approve the addition of No. 5 plastic to the list of mandatory recyclables. County residents immediately can begin putting clean yogurt cups, margarine tubs, cottage cheese containers and other polypropylene containers in their blue recycling bins.  (July 14, 2010) Syracuse NY Local News, Breaking News, Sports & Weather - syracuse.com

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bicycles as Transportation in Rochester:

In these hard financial times, it’s hard to see any alternative transportation ideas take root—gas prices are down and alternative vehicles still too expensive for many. So, most are sticking with their gas-guzzler to get around. But in Rochester there is way to get around with vehicles and a transportation system that doesn’t pollute and doesn’t increase greenhouse gases. 

The bicycle is being transformed in the Rochester region because, under the auspices of the Rochester Bicycle Master Plan, it will be easier and safer to ride your bicycle to those short distances from our homes that constitute most of the miles we actually ride. 

This transportation option in our area is moving, check here to find out more: City of Rochester | Bicycle Master Plan Project "The City is developing a long-term master plan for bicycling infrastructure and services. Sprinkle Consulting (with SRF & Associates and EDR as subconsultants) was selected through a request for proposal process and is on board to produce a plan that will: identify best practices for bicycling infrastructure and services,  assess their feasibility for local application, identify appropriate locations for bicycle facilities, and recommend bicycle-supportive policies. While the plan will provide conceptual design and inventory work with respect to on-street bike lanes, it will also consider shared lane markings (sharrows), bicycle boulevards, bicycle parking, commuter facilities (e.g. showers, lockers), bicycle sharing, and more. While the City of Rochester and Monroe County received an "honorable mention" from the League of American Bicyclists' "Bicycle Friendly Communities" program in 2009, the goal is to achieve full "Bicycle Friendly Community" status from the group. Download the project's full scope of services. " -from City of Rochester

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Keeping sharp eyes on ice melt:

Though Climate Change has faded recently in the public’s attention as a critical issue, is has not become less so. The BP Oil Spill and Climategate (though resent studies completely exonerate any wrong doing by climate scientists) continue to steal away the public’s eyes from this matter aided by our easily distracted press. And while those bloggers and deniers whose ideology does not include physics rage on at every errant thought that pass their mind on this subject one the main indicator of Climate Change, glacier ice melt, melts on.

This being able to see and measure ice melt has to be one of the toughest nuts for climate deniers to crack. For watching ice melt is not as simple as it sounds.

Glacial ice melt is being watched and measured by many scientists; by many specially designed satellites, and has been for some time. One has to ask oneself, what’s the point of spending millions of dollars, sending so many satellites up into the atmosphere to measure so many predictable aspects of Climate Change if they are going to be so easily dismissed by the public and the media? What the point of having scientists as a watchdog for our planet, if we are incapable of listening to them because their observations don’t match our view of reality or disrupt our comfort zone?

Is it the case that our minds, which have been shaped by years and years in our institutions of higher learning where hard core science is taught, in a country so intelligent and innovative as ours, can be so blind-sided by a bunch of clever phrase turners? Do we just get stupid when Climate Change science comes up? Check out how ice melt is being measured and what it tells us—before the Climate Change denier rob us of our senses:

High Above the Earth, Satellites Track Melting Ice by Michael D. Lemonick: Yale Environment 360 "The surest sign of a warming Earth is the steady melting of its ice zones, from disappearing sea ice in the Arctic to shrinking glaciers worldwide. Now, scientists are using increasingly sophisticated satellite technology to measure the extent, thickness, and height of ice, assembling an essential picture of a planet in transition. " (July 6, 2010) Yale Environment 360

Friday, July 09, 2010

Down the Drain, get the report

We have so much fresh water in our region why should we conserve water? Here’s the reasoning by "Down The Drain": “The perfect abundance however, is only a mirage. While the Great Lakes hold a great wealth of water, only one per cent of their total volume is replenished on an annual basis. This means that only a very small volume of the total amount of water in the Great Lakes is returned by rain and runoff annually and if our consumption exceeds that amount, it results in a permanent loss of the lakes themselves.”

This report is an example of how we don’t see environmental problems readily. We need studies like “Down the Drain” and environmental investigative reporting to ‘see’ what is actually going on.

It isn’t immediately obvious that our area, with over 20% of the world’s fresh water, might be in trouble. When it comes to environmental matters, we must begin viewing our situation from another vantage point, from that of sustainability, and from a longer time span of our own daily lives to get a more realistic assessment of our environment. If not, we are like the boiling frog story where frogs unaware of gradual changes think everything is going well, until it’s not.

Down The Drain Report "Water Conservation in the Great Lakes Basin - 2010 - Water is essential to life on earth, so much so that we often take it for granted. Throughout the day, from the time you shower in the morning until you brush your teeth before you go to bed, you are using water. Most Canadians use water like we breathe air; not thinking about it, just doing it. Many Canadians have developed this type of thinking because we benefit from one of the earth’s greatest gift, the Great Lakes. The vast majority of the residents of the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec and significant populations in the States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin depend on the water of the Great Lakes for drinking, irrigating crops, generating power, transporting goods and recreation. Ontarians are the largest water users of the Great Lakes "

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Our Energy Strain on Wildlife:

By now most realize that how we will get our energy in the future is going to be complicated.  We are more aware of how burning coal, running nuclear power plants, getting electricity from wind, and fracking for natural gas from shale affects our environment. 

Some of the effects include Global Warming, pollution, possibly contaminating our water supplies, and killing wildlife.  Below are two news stories (on the same day) of our power sources killing animals. Wind power killing birds; nuclear power killing fish.  

What are we to make of it?  I suspect many will be driven to distraction by the day-to-day reporting of these consequences of how we get our energy where the net effect will be an inability to make up their minds on energy sources.  Others will not be affected by any reports on how energy will affect our environment: they’ve already made up their minds. 

These day-to-day ad hoc reports of the effects of energy production do little to help us make a wise comprehensive choice on energy options for our future.  Neither will allowing the forces of the market tell us, as ‘the invisible hand’ is blind to environmental effects of our economy, except as an annoying externality.

We need a different way to access our energy options for the future that holds sustainability (keeping ourselves and our environment healthy) as the guiding principle. In today’s world where jobs, corporate owned media, continual political warfare, and short-term economic gains rule, there’s little chance that we will come upon a wise energy plan.  These stories point to critical input that we need to choose future energy sources, but how to we put them together for an overarching plan for a healthy, sustainable future?  

NCPR News Archive - Wolfe Island bird kills raise wind power concerns "A recent study of bird and bat mortality at Wolfe Island’s 82-turbine wind farm is raising concerns among environmentalists. Wolfe Island is Canadian territory, located where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River. The report found 600 birds and more than a thousand bats were killed by the windmill blades in a six month period. Nature Canada called the numbers “shockingly high.” (July 7, 2010) NCPR: North Country Public Radio

Pickering nuclear plant ordered to quit killing fish - thestar.com The Pickering nuclear power plant is killing fish by the millions. Close to one million fish and 62 million fish eggs and larvae die each year when they’re sucked into the water intake channel in Lake Ontario, which the plant uses to cool steam condensers. (June 6, 2010) News, Toronto, GTA, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Canada, World, Breaking - thestar.com