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Solutions & sustainability - July 4

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Fuel Economy Tips

Ran Prieur
I consistently get over 40 mpg (17 km/l) in my mom's 18 year old Honda Civic. And I once got 16 mpg (6.8 km/l) driving over the Rockies in a Ryder truck. Here's how:

1) Unless you're on an empty road fleeing a volcanic eruption, never, ever step down hard on the gas. I don't even touch the half of the accelerator range next to the floor. This means when you start from a light, it will take you a while to get up to speed. I usually compromise with the consumption-cravers behind me and step down more than I want to -- if there were no other cars, I could probably get 50 mpg.

2) Use the brakes as little as possible. Every time you brake, you have to make up for it by burning more gas. The unattainable ideal trip would not use the brakes at all -- you'd make every light and coast to a stop at the end. Unfortunately, car repairs cost even more than gas, so not braking always has to take second place to not hitting other cars. But there are ways to minimize braking:

3) Leave a long gap between you and the car in front of you, so if it slows down, you can slow down by taking your foot off the accelerator instead of braking. Be patient with the short-sighted drivers who pass you to fill that space. They don't know it, but you're actually saving gas for the vehicles behind you. Here's a great page about how a single driver can smooth out traffic jams and possibly save thousands of gallons of collective fuel.
(29 June 2006)
See the original for 13 tips in all. Also note Ran's caution that a lot of concentration is required in traffic to drive this way safely. The linked article on smoothing traffic jams is fascinating. -AF


Chicago To Become The Most Bicycle-Friendly City In The United States

Michael, Groovy Green
The mayor of Chicago announced a few weeks back that the Windy City will begin promoting bike use throughout the city of the next decade. The plan recommends ‘projects, programs, and policies to encourage use of this non-polluting and afforadable mode of transportation.’ From the article, “Bicycling reduces traffic congestion, conserves limited energy resources, integrates healthy physical activity into everyday travel, and reduces transportation costs,” CDOT Acting Commissioner Cheri Heramb said.

“This plan lays out the steps so that Chicago’s bicycle facilities and programs will rival those of any large city in the world.” Some of the highlights of the plan include a 500 mile bikeway network by 2015. Permitting passengers 14-17 to board CTA trains and buses with thei bicycles so High Schools can promote a mix of transit and bike use. Hiring more “Trail Ambassadors” to keep bikeways safe throughout the summer.

Pro viding secure bike parking inside 5-10 city buildings, to encourage employees to bike to work. The future of Chicago may one day resemble modern-day Amsterdam–one of the more bike intensive cities I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Hopefully, this type of leadership will spread to other US cities. Cool!

Link: Chicago’s Bike Plan Site
(30 June 2006)


Cyclists pedal bravely in nation ruled by cars

Matt O'Brien, The Daily Review (Hayward, California)
HAYWARD — Steve Murtaugh was a commuter once.

He remembers sleeping in his car at the gas station some 30 years ago, waking up at dawn so he could get the cheapest rate.

Today, he wakes up and worries about the survival of civilization. War, peak oil prices and global warming are on his mind.

He wants to get rid of his Ford Focus right now and not replace it.

"I think there's a good chance I will do it," Murtaugh said, pondering if and when he might be ready. "I get more determined. A lot of it is principle."

A few minutes later, glancing at his bicycle outside a downtown Hayward restaurant, he promised to do it this month.

"First, it's the commitment," he said of life without a car. "Then, you find a way."

The problem is, he lives in the suburbs. The good thing is, he just bought a really nice tricycle — a luxurious, German-made recumbent tadpole (two wheels in front, one in back) that wins pleasant stares from neighbors and gets honks and smiles from passing motor vehicle drivers.
(2 July 2006)


Online presentations from New Urbanism conference (June 1-4 Rhode Island)

the Congress for the New Urbanism
For the first time in its 14-year history, the Congress for the New Urbanism is shifting the focus from those who plan and design to those who implement. The aim of the Congress is to increase the number of New Urbanist developers creating great urban buildings and places, and to help designers and planners become more effective in getting their visions implemented. The Congress will ask and seek to answer:
· What are the opportunities and obstacles for implementing New Urbanism?
· What do developers need to know to produce New Urbanist developments?
· What do New Urbanist planners, architects, regulators and marketers need to know to speak the developers‚ language?
· What do small business owners and neighborhood activists need to know to become successful small-increment developers?
· How do New Urbanists convince conventional developers to embrace New Urbanism?

The CNU XIV Multimedia Toolkit is a collection of materials from sessions and events at the Congress. A short description from the program and a list of speakers is posted for each session.
(July 2006)
Slides, audio. video and other online resources for many of the presentations given at the conference. There are slides and audio for The Post-Carbon Society: An Overview with James Howard Kunstler and Julian Darley (Post-Carbon Institute).


Ranchers and farmers, spurred by the growing market for natural foods, are finding a silver lining in the conservation cloud

Glen Martin, SF Chronicle
Darrell Wood drove slowly across his land near Chico, a battered cowboy hat pulled down over his forehead, his eyes darting back and forth as he sized up the Black Angus cattle grazing nearby. In the back of his truck, three border collies stood at attention, ready to work.

The cattle looked in prime shape as they stood in lush pasturage dotted with sapphire vernal pools. Large flocks of northern pintails dabbled in the water, while white-tailed kites hovered overhead and red-winged blackbirds called from the sedges along the pools.

"This ecosystem is like anything else," said Wood, gesturing across the gently rolling plain that stretches all the way to the foothills of the Sierra. "Properly managed, it flourishes. Improperly managed, things start falling apart. We're doing everything we can to manage it properly."

Not too many years ago, that kind of talk might have sounded strange coming from a cattleman. But Wood represents a new breed of rancher. He and hundreds of other ranchers and farmers in California and across the nation are part of a growing private initiative that "embeds" wildlife habitat into the working agricultural landscape.

The trend is driven more by market incentives than bunny-hugging sentiments: The natural and organic food business is now a multibillion-dollar industry. But farmers and ranchers who produce for this market find they also have the opportunity to improve or create wildlife habitat on their land.

Adding to the incentive for wildlife-friendly agriculture are conservation easements -- essentially, cash payouts by government agencies or private conservancies in voluntary exchange for future development rights. The trend for such easements is bullish. In the last 20 years, about 260,000 acres of land have been protected in California through conservation easements -- with 85 percent of that land set aside in the last decade.
(2 July 2006)
Long article.


Author finds sprawl isn't the be-all and end-all

Laura Oppenheimer, Portland Oregonian
Chain restaurants, three-car garages and big, green yards have become as American as baseball.

Anthony Flint wondered why -- and what will happen to suburbia. So he wrote the new book "This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America."

Flint visited subdivisions across the country, and, not surprisingly, his research brought him to Oregon. He wanted to experience the first state to promote squeezing together in cities with an urban growth boundary, and understand the backlash.

In the end, Flint, public affairs manager at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge-based think-tank, argues that typical suburbs will lose allure as fuel costs rise and demographics change.

His advice? Rethink what makes you happy, and if you're a politician, spruce up urban areas, rezone land and offer incentives such as tax breaks to encourage development there.

During a visit to Portland, Flint sat down with The Oregonian: [interview follows]
(2 July 2006)


Old Big Brother Had a Farm
USDA ID-tag plan for farm animals has some small-scale farmers unhappy

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist
If only Orwell could get a load of this.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting a system that would have farm-animal owners and livestock handlers attach microchips or other ID tags to their furry and feathered charges so they could be monitored throughout their lifetimes by a centralized computer network. The National Animal Identification System, as it's known, has been in development by the department since 2002, with help from an agribusiness industry group that represents bigwigs like Cargill and Monsanto.

Sounds like Animal Farm meets Big Brother. Yet, while some small-scale farmers are outspoken in their criticism of the scheme, many in the agriculture community say it's high time the U.S. more carefully tracked livestock. The question is how best to do it -- and the devil, as always, is in the details.

The vision, says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, is to create a comprehensive high-tech tracking system that would eventually know the whereabouts of every cow, llama, hog, catfish, ostrich, and other farm critter in the nation so that animal-borne diseases such as avian flu, mad cow, and foot-and-mouth disease could be easily and systematically kept in check. If an animal were discovered to be a carrier of a disease, this system could supposedly track every location it had been in through the course of its life and the other animals it may have come in contact with; those exposed could then be killed before the disease spread out of control.

Some independent farmers are concerned that the costs of NAIS would be particularly burdensome for small-scale operators, who are already struggling to stay afloat. "It's horribly insidious," says Lynn Miller, editor of Small Farmer's Journal. "The USDA is poised to push us off our farms."

...Some small-scale farmers also suspect that the program was designed by big industry, for big industry -- and, indeed, there's no denying that industry had a heavy hand in it. According to Glenn Slack, president of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a trade group, "The program is largely based on a plan developed in 2002 through an industry-government collaborative effort facilitated by NIAA." NIAA represents, among others, the biggest meat producers in the U.S., including Cargill Meat Solutions and the National Pork Producers Council, and the makers of high-tech animal-ID equipment, such as Micro Beef Technologies and Digital Angel. The latter group, needless to say, could benefit directly from a nationwide animal-ID program.

...Zanoni sums up the views of many independent farmers: "Real food security comes from raising food yourself or buying from a local farmer you actually know. The USDA plan will only stifle local sources of production through over-regulation and unmanageable costs."
(10 March 2006)
The tie-in to sustainability is that small farmers will play a crucial role in a low-energy future. The interests of small farmers may not be protected, with the lobbies of agro-business being so powerful. This ID scheme is only one example. It is in the national interest for small farming to be economically viable. -BA

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