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With oil prices staying high, talk turns to change in Ashland, Oregon

Robert Plain, Ashland Daily Tidings
Ashland resident who used to work for Chevron warns that the future will be totally different
Imagine an Ashland, and an America, much different from the ones we know today.

Instead of roads lined with cars, people may transport themselves by bikes, bus or light rail. Instead of green lawns fed by commercial fertilizers people may fill their yards with vegetable gardens and other forms of home-grown food. Instead of commuting long distances to work and to the grocery store, people may be forced to live more centralized lives, more reliant on their neighbors.

Whether this possible lifestyle seems pleasant or difficult, more and more Ashlanders are beginning to believe this is the reality to our future as the viability of our most widely used form of energy — oil — is increasingly being called into question.

… “Eventually, oil production won’t keep pace with demand,” said Len Eisenburg, an Ashland resident and petroleum geologist who used to work for Chevron, searching for new supplies of oil around the globe.

Eisenburg is hosting a lecture at the North Mountain Nature Center on Wednesday night at 7 entitled “Oil and Gas in Our Natural World.” He said his talk is about where oil reserves come from and how it gets from there to our gas tanks.

… “Eventually, the price will really start to prod people to conserve and make other technologies competitive,” he said.

In Ashland, this has already begun to happen.

“The escalating cost of energy is something that we do factor in,” Mayor John Morrison said. “The politics and economics of oil impact every American every day. Even though we are just a little corner of the Northwest, we need to do what we can to help out. Ashland is committed to a course of building conservation into our daily lives and will continue to do that. If a new technological advance comes up that allows us to conserve more, I think we would do it.”

Councilor David Chapman, who said many of his political objectives concern conservation of resources and local sustainibility, thinks developing different forms of mass transit is the best path toward freeing Ashland from the addiction of an oil-based economy.

“I’m hot on mass transportation,” he said. “If we can get people out of their cars more, we’ll save more fuel.”
(24 January 2006)
An excellent article, presenting the local angle to Peak Oil with a positive view of the changes required. Local figures are quoted, and local efforts are described.

UPDATE (Jan 27): A related opinion piece about Peak Oil in Eugene, Oregon

Lives recycled in Argentina
Unemployed farmers and factory workers take to the streets to scavenge for a living

Nicole Hill, Christian Science Monitor
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – As shopkeepers are shuttering windows and flicking off the lights on any given night, thousands of families are boarding old rusty train cars that will carry them into this city for a long night’s work.

Nearly 30,000 “cartoneros” invade the city’s neon-laced streets every night pushing handmade canvas carts, overturning garbage cans, strewing trash along the streets and collecting materials that they sell to recycling centers – each on average earning 10 to 15 pesos, about the cost of a large pizza.

Once factory workers, farmers, or low-wage workers who lost jobs during Argentina’s 2002 economic collapse, they were forced to invent work that scarcely existed here before the crisis. Unlike other South American metropolises that have seen generations of recyclers pass through their streets, this is a first for Buenos Aires. These people tend to be literate and have had other work experience.
(25 January 2006)

2 studies: Urban sprawl adds pounds, pollution

Eric Pryne, Seattle Times
Residents of King County’s less-walkable neighborhoods — can you say sprawl? — are more likely to be overweight, a recently completed study concludes.

Another related study has found, perhaps not surprisingly, that people who live and work in those neighborhoods generate more auto-related air pollution, another potential threat to health.

The two studies’ findings are summarized in the winter edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Planning Association. The authors, who collaborated in their research, say their work constitutes the most comprehensive look yet at the link between urban-development patterns and human health in a single metropolitan area.

…On average, researchers found, the Body Mass Index — a measure of height and weight — of residents of the more walkable neighborhoods was lower, and they were more likely to get the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise.

In the second study, funded by the Federal Transit Administration, King County and other local governments, researchers estimated the auto-related pollution generated by about 6,000 King County residents who kept detailed records of their travel for two days in 1999 as part of another study.

Again, people who lived and worked in more walkable neighborhoods produced fewer pollutants associated with smog, the study found.

After subjecting the data to statistical analysis, Frank said, researchers were surprised to learn that even small changes in neighborhood design can make a difference.

A 5 percent increase in a neighborhood’s walkability index, for instance, was associated with a 0.23-point drop in Body Mass Index. For someone 6 feet tall, that’s a difference of less than 2 pounds, but Frank said bigger changes in a neighborhood’s walkability would be expected to produce greater differences in weight.

The presence or absence of stores, parks, schools and other destinations within a quarter- to a half-mile of home appears to be the most important factor in how much people walk, he said.
(26 January 2006)
Turn the article around and you have a positive vision: “Walkable communities improve health, cut pollution.”

Agricultural sustainability = agricultural productivity

Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
If you were designing a worldchanging agricultural system for the developing world, one less likely to generate the kinds of social, economic and environmental costs we see in the current dominant system, what would you want to include? How about: improved water use efficiency; reduced pesticide use; agroforestry, both to maintain nearby forest resources and to improve carbon sequestration; conservation tillage; even aquaculture, to incorporate fish, shrimp and the like as part of a larger integrated farm system. All wonderful ideas, but of course the reason that industrial agriculture remains dominant is that it’s so much more productive, right?


According to a new study in the Feb. 15 edition of Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society, sustainable agriculture techniques like those mentioned above, introduced to developing world farms over the last decade, improved farm yields by an average of 79% in four years.
(24 January 2006)

Pay as you pollute

Neasa MacErlean, Guardian
A scheme designed to make individuals accountable for their contribution to climate change
In a few years from now you will have another plastic card in your wallet – your carbon card. You will start the year with 1,000 points on it and each time you fill up your car, you put the card in a slot on the pump and it will deduct a few points.

Each time you buy an airline ticket, it will cost you a minimum of 100 points. If you fly regularly, you may have to buy more points through the carbon market – but since it is all in the cause of reducing greenhouse gas emissions you do not mind so much.

An environmentalist’s pipe dream? Not at all, but a scheme put before parliament 18 months ago in a private member’s bill sponsored by Colin Challen, the Labour MP for Morley & Rothwell.

…Politicians are wary of public reaction, and statements such as: “One has to be looking at the end of cheap air flights” from the creator of the idea, David Fleming, terrify them. But Fleming – an independent writer – is pressing for his scheme of tradable energy quotas to be rolled out within a couple of years.

“Practically all the infrastructure exists,” he said.

Richard Starkey of The Tyndall Centre – a leading academic in the field – agrees.
(24 January 2006)

Web 2.0 and the new corporate watchdogging

Joel Makower, WorldChanging
| The online world has been aflutter of late with talk of “Web 2.0,” a suite of tools and technologies that define the next-gen Internet. You likely already know them: Web-based applications (where the software lives online instead of in your computer); online content-sharing communities (like Buzznet or; content-sensitive advertising (Google AdSense); community rating systems (hotel reviews on TripAdvisor); personal publishing (blogs and podcasts); and group publishing (Wikipedia). (For more, see Tim O’Reilly’s definitive essay on the topic.)

All good, geeky stuff, but what good will they do for those promoting peace, justice, and sustainability?

The full answer may be a while (though not a long while) in coming, but some hints have been seen lately from the activist community in the form of Web 2.0 tools and services focusing on corporate environmental and social responsibility. I believe they foreshadow a renaissance in activism, vanguards of a new level of corporate-watchdogging on a wide range of issues: transparency and accountability, environmental and social performance, green marketing (and greenwashing), political contributions, corporate governance, and others.

…By themselves, none of these projects is particularly revolutionary. Rather, it is their combined efforts — and the potential they represent — that’s of interest. As wiki’s, podcasts, blogs, and no doubt other techno-tools grow and flourish, they represent a new level of activism — one that promises to move beyond the limiting stovepiped agendas of individual environmental, social justice, and corporate accountability groups. As information about companies from a myriad of sources and interests is amassed, synthesized, and broadly disseminated, it will enable those that haven’t traditionally communicated or collaborated to connect the dots about companies’ social and environmental promises and performance. And that could put new juice into the movement aimed at getting companies to say what they do, and do what they say.
(22 January 2006)