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CarShare heads upwardly mobile
Putting some pizzazz in the fleet

Akweli Parker, Philadelphia Inquirer
For all of Philadelphia’s cultural amenities, architectural richness and historical importance, the place can just stink if you like owning a car.

Ask any urban dweller-driver and you’ll likely get an earful about sky-high insurance, expensive or inconvenient parking, and, of course, break-ins.

Which might explain the success of car-borrowing nonprofit group PhillyCarShare, and the mounting interest in Philadelphia of bigger, corporate car-sharing firms that operate in other cities.
(12 April 2006)

In praise of … commons

Leader, The Guardian
Driven by the revolutionary enthusiasm of Cromwellian England, the levellers of Wellingborough once defended their right to “sow corn upon the common”. In a pamphlet published in 1650 they celebrated Commonwealth rule and the shared right to property: “God made the Earth for the use and comfort of all Mankind … God never gave it to any sort of people, that they should have it all to themselves”.

That did not stop Wellingborough’s levellers being tried at the next quarter sessions; nor did it prevent the restoration of the monarchy. But the group would surely be proud, and perhaps astonished, that Britain’s current obsession with the price of private property has not prevented common land from surviving into the modern age. Held for the shared benefit of all who have the right to use them, commons are a medieval relic of a system of land ownership which placed the collective ahead of the individual: awarding rights such as pasture, estovers (taking wood), turbany (peat), pannage (turning out pigs) and piscary (catching fish).

Today, commons still cover 4% of England and 8% of Wales: anyone can walk on them (thanks to a law passed in 2000). Parliament passed the first Commons Act in 1235; it is in the middle of passing another, sensibly preventing farmers from exploiting their rights to graze sheep and cattle by leasing them on and preventing unwelcome development on shared land. That will protect the landscape and preserve something of the spirit of the levellers, too.
(13 April 2006)

Elderly woman ticketed for walking too slowly

LOS ANGELES — An 82-year-old woman has received a $114 ticket for taking too long to cross a street in the San Fernando Valley, Calif.

Mayvis Coyle said she began shuffling with her cane when the light was green, but was unable to make it to the other side before it turned red.

“It turned red before I could get over. There he was, waiting, the motorcycle cop,” Coyle told the Los Angeles Daily News. “He said, `You’re obstructing the flow of traffic.”
(10 April 2006)
Anti-solutions, subsection: “cars vs people.” Courtesy of James Kunstler at his redesigned website.

Natural light ‘to reinvent bulbs’

A light source that could put the traditional light bulb in the shade has been invented by US scientists.

The organic light-emitting diode (OLED) emits a brilliant white light when attached to an electricity supply.

The material, described in the journal Nature, can be printed in wafer thin sheets that could transform walls, ceilings or even furniture into lights.

The OLEDs do not heat up like today’s light bulbs and so are far more energy efficient and should last longer.

They also produce a light that is more akin to natural daylight than traditional bulbs.

“We’re hoping that this will lead to significantly longer device lifetimes in addition to higher efficiency,” said Professor Mark Thompson of the University of Southern California, one of the authors of the paper.
(13 April 2006)

Let’s make a meal (Pollan’s “Omnivore”)

Tom Philpott, Grist
In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals”, Michael Pollan diagnoses the national attitude toward food: angst.

Channeling the modern middle-class shopper wandering vast supermarket aisles, Pollan asks: “The organic apple or the conventional? And if organic, the local or the imported? The wild fish or the farmed? The transfats or the butter or the ‘not butter’? Shall I be a carnivore or a vegetarian? And if a vegetarian, a lacto-vegetarian or a vegan?”

In Pollan’s view, our legacy as an immigrant nation without a central culinary tradition has damned the U.S. to a rudderless ride through the supermarket sea. We cast this way and that, battered by changes in scientific consensus and the food industry’s marketing schemes. “A country with a stable culture of food would not shell out millions for the quackery (or common sense) of a new diet book every January,” he writes. In France and Italy, by contrast, people “decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of ‘unhealthy’ foods, and lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we are.”

What we’re left with — 10,000 years of agriculture notwithstanding — is an atavistic return of the “omnivore’s dilemma.” Apes in the woods all over again, Americans grope to figure out what’s good to eat. Pollan seeks to provide a guide. He argues that our confusion about food stems from alienation: We don’t know what to eat because we’ve forgotten where food comes from.
(13 April 2006)
Also by Tom Philpott today: What’s at stake in the 2007 Farm Bill.