Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Life

Last summer, oil prices were sky-rocketing and we were all thinking about downgrading our cars and taking more public transportation.

Last month, we had "Earth Hour" where everybody was supposed to shut off their lights on Sunday night. Let's be honest, none of us is willing to live without electricity. But it is useful to reflect on how many items you have plugged in around your house.

Today, it's Earth Day. What are you doing to celebrate?

As normal, "Politics and Place" is focusing on public transportation and recent train stories in the paper. Will we have commuter rail? Will we have more efficient buses? Maybe Luke-y will announce a new initiative today at his Market Square event?

"Green is Good" proclaims itself the green news of Pittsburgh and is my favorite blog to read for local green news. At the world-wide level, treehugger is the end-all-be-all. Any others?

Lastly, there's the new "Carbon Caps = Hard Hats" agenda being endorsed by US Steel. Yes, US Steel is advertising for carbon caps. Why? Because they (and many others) are starting to realize that taking care of our earth can be friendly to our wallets as well.

If there's one thing I've learned about environmentalism in the last 10 years, it's that it has to be profitable to be accepted by the mainstream public. You will always have hippies out there buying hybrid vehicles and biking to work 5 miles uphill each way, but for the rest of us, there needs to be an incentive to put in the extra effort - from corporations to families. For too long the incentives at the federal level have been for buying a bigger house or having more kids or buying a gas-guzzling vehicle. With Obama at the helm of the nation, the incentives appear to be drifting towards train travel and energy-efficient windows.

Personally, I've given up driving a car this month. Not because I'm sacrificing but because I'm in Peru and it's easier (and a lot cheaper) to not have a car. It's been oddly very liberating walking or taking public transportation everywhere I need to go, but that's because the cities of Peru make it stupid simple. There are cabs everywhere, frequent buses, and most of the shopping and nightlife is centered in a small area. Maybe because they've never had government incentives for sprawl? Can we turn back time in the USA? Can we progress towards a country of train-travel and central business districts and responsible utilities usage? And will Peru ever adopt serious emissions standards so their plentiful taxis aren't choking me to death? Today is the day to dream about it.


Schultz said...

Thanks for the shout out. I gave up my car this past December but unfortunately I have to purchase a new car due to my work situation. My goal was to hold out on purchasing a new car until I could buy the Chevy Volt plugin but with the way GM is running things these days that vehicle may never see the light of day.

EdHeath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EdHeath said...

Sorry about the deleted message, I didn't notice my clipboard had something else in it till too late.

I gather much of Europe is also set up like your description of Peru. People live near tram stops, and also (perhaps in apartments) near shopping and entertainment areas. I am sure there are malls in various places, plus of course various tourist destinations, but there seems to be less of that (malls, anyway) than we have here. And more bicycles and walking.

Of course, that probably has to do with the five dollar a gallon tax on gasoline in European countries. I can just imagine what people here would say if we did that. But there is the point. No one wants to do what needs to be done to move us away from foreign oil or towards a sustainable future. If you ask a conservative if (s)he thinks there is enough oil for our grandchildren or our grandchildren’s grandchildren, they will probably say something about coal gasification and/or oil shale. Plus the ANWR and drilling offshore. Apparently we have to have a Blade Runner/Mad Max future.

There was something in the NYTimes recently (reprinted on the Terra Pass newsletter) about how it turns out that burning wood or dung produces soot, which can travel far enough to end up on glaciers. You say no one wants to live without electricity, and I agree. But apparently some people who do live without electricity need to get solar/wind power and some electric stoves.

I hope you buy a used car, Chris. To paraphrase John (all hail) Fetterman: the greenest car is the one that is already there. And I think you should inherit someone else’s unaddressed problems.

Mark Winston said...

I've pretty much lived without a car for almost 8 years now. What most surprises me is how alienated it makes me often feel when I encounter popular culture's fixation with the 'reality' of the automobile's integration into the lives of the average American. I don't relate to people like I did when I was younger because this part of their lives is so odd to me. And I know people who are driven by others much less than I, so I can imagine what they feel like.

Schultz said...

Yes, we are buying used. Speaking of feeling alienated - people at work think it's odd that I take public transportation or car pool to work. I find it odd that so many people drive to work by themselves when they could be sharing not only a ride with someone but also the expenses for gas, parking, tolls, etc. A while back I tried to introduce NuRide to the Southwestern PA Commission. One of the individuals there got us a meeting with one of the directors. The bureaucrat poo pooed NuRide and said that the SWPC's ride share serviced worked good enough. I think only something like .00001% of downtown commuters used it.