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Japan: Out of Disaster, a Burst of Enthusiasm for Bicycling

Miki Tanikawa, New York Times
… Since March 11, when an earthquake devastated northern Japan and rattled the Tokyo metropolitan area, the streets of Suginami ward, where he lives, have teemed with wobbly bikers pedaling their way to work.

“The increase was sudden and visible,” he said during an interview.

Over the past 20 years, more commuters in urban areas like Tokyo have been switching gears and choosing to bicycle to work instead of using trains and cars, citing concerns for health, environment, costs and an escape from packed trains. The catastrophe last month has now converted some of the holdouts by proving one more benefit to cycling: you have a means to go home when the trains stop moving.

On that fateful day, millions of workers were stranded in the middle of the city when virtually the whole Tokyo train and subway system — which together shuttle nine million people in and out of the megalopolis daily — ground to a halt. Railways stopped trains for fear of aftershocks. While most of the trains and subways resumed service toward midnight, hundreds of thousands walked home or took shelter in their offices or public halls.

… That night, hordes of workers trailing home, sometimes as far as 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, on foot, swarmed any bicycle shops they found on their route.

“There were many, many people who bought a bike on their way home,” said Kenji Tanaka, secretary general of a bicycle retailers’ association in Tokyo. “Many stores went empty that night.”

Since then, “sales have been steadily growing and orders have been pouring in,” he added.
(18 April 2011)
Also see Your bike – the coolest part of your disaster kit. (Also at EB. -BA

Nature to Get Legal Rights in Bolivia

Brandon Keim, Wired
After decades of exile to environmentalism’s legal fringes, the notion that natural systems could have legal rights is receiving serious attention.

Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth is set to pass. On Wednesday the United Nations will discuss a proposed treaty based on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (.pdf), which was drafted by environmentalists last year. Both mandate legal recognition of ecosystems’ right to exist.

It’s highly unlikely that the United Nations would pass any such treaty in the foreseeable future, and the discussion has been criticized as a time-wasting political maneuver. But the intellectual argument for nature’s rights isn’t necessarily a patchouli-soaked Gaia fantasy translated into legalese. Some say it’s a practical extension of ecological insight.

“It has to happen. We have to be able to give legal protection and consideration to the rest of the natural world,” said Patricia Siemen, executive director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence. “It’s in the human best interest, as well as the larger natural world’s.”
(18 April 2011)
Suggested by Asher Miller who writes: “This may seem silly or inconsequential, but it is far from it. Keep in mind, the mirror of giving mother nature legal rights is claiming nature’s resources as a collective trust. Right now, we’re doing neither.” -BA

Open-sourced blueprints for civilization
Marcin Jakubowski, TED talks
Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an en

Declaring that, “We can lead self-sustaining lives without sacrificing our standard of living,” Marcin Jakubowski believes that only by opening the means of production can we achieve abundance for all. Though he has a Ph.D. in fusion physics, he became dissatisfied with its remoteness, and turned back to the earth as a farmer and social innovator.

He is the founder of Open Source Ecology, which is creating the Global Village Construction Set — the blueprints for simple fabrication of everything needed to start a self-sustaining village. At Factor e Farm in rural Missouri, he’s been successfully putting those ideas to the test.
(April 2011)
Video at original. Recommended by EB founder Adam Grubb. -BA

Leaving It In The Ground

Hans Noeldner, Entropic Journal
How is it possible we are not discussing how much fossil fuel we will LEAVE IN THE GROUND, just in case our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren need it for truly important purposes like growing food?

This is not merely a prudent form of insurance. Responsible stewardship – including a willingness to sacrifice present consumption – is a profoundly moral imperative. What kind of people would grab for all they can get from the Buffet Table of Life…and not give a second thought to leaving some for those who follow?

There are no guarantees that replacements for cheap and abundant fossil fuels will magically appear just because our heirs happen to need or want them. Hoping or expecting technology or market forces to “save” them is criminally irresponsible. If their inheritance from us is a continued structural addiction to oil – but not enough oil to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves – our generation will have perpetrated an unprecedented injustice.

A great deal of our current energy consumption in the United States is discretionary. We burn millions of barrels of petroleum to play, mow lawns, and blow leaves off our sidewalks. We drive and fly billions of miles for vacations. We demand uniform indoor temperatures year around. Perhaps as many as half of our high school juniors and seniors drive to school – even though school buses and transit are available. None of these are essential for civilized life.

And consider the lunacy of automobile-based access. Surely there is not enough energy on Earth for 7 billion people to drive everywhere in 2-3 ton motorized exoskeletons! Moreover, when most of us drive to most of our destinations, we make our communities unsafe, impractical, and unpleasant for non-motorists – which is to say, we force high levels of energy consumption on all who live in our midst.

What is needed? Increased efficiency is necessary but not sufficient. We need to CURTAIL our discretionary fuel-guzzling activities. Any comprehensive accounting will show the possibilities are vast. The more we curtail now, the more fossil energy we leave for a what may prove to be a difficult and lengthy transition.

Does our generation have the decency and determination to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job? Do we even have the backbone to make those who chant “Drill baby drill!” hang their heads in shame?
(18 April 2011)