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Friday, October 17, 2008

Drill, Bebé, Drill!

posted by on October 17 at 10:10 AM

Who just found a bunch of oil under its soil?


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey, Joni!

posted by on October 16 at 4:37 PM


I spotted Seattle Times editorial columnist Joni Balter at this afternoon's dual debate on Sound Transit and Initiative 985, so of course I'm looking forward to seeing what she has to say about the discussion. Given that this is a woman who opposes a city move to recycle kitchen waste, claimed a council resolution supporting local food imposed "militant vegetable growing" and other "enviro-dogma," has written not one, not two, not three, but four columns opposing the parks and Pike Place Market levies (noting, in every single one, that "everybody loves parks, but..."), and has argued that not only roads but light rail and even buses are "pricing the middle class our of our region," I'm guessing she'll be sympathetic to Tim Eyman and Kemper Freeman's anti-tax, anti-transit messages.

If you're interested in what I have to say about the debate, it'll be up tomorrow morning. If you're wondering why my post is coming so late, it's because I spent some time after the debate living out Joni Balter's worst nightmare: I biked to the north end of Capitol Hill to pick up my CSA from Full Circle Farm, which I put into my reusable bag (recycling the box the produce came in) before biking back. And even at this very moment, I'm wearing a Mass Transit Now! sticker.

Amazingly, despite all the eco-dogma I no doubt absorbed this afternoon, I don't feel nannied, militant, or oppressed. In fact, I feel a hell of a lot less imposed upon than I would if I had to sit in traffic, park, shop, lug a ton of plastic bags back to the car, and sit in traffic again just to get dinner on the table. But to some people, I guess that's what freedom looks like.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Brighter Days Ahead

posted by on October 14 at 4:09 PM

Reports the PSBJ:

Seattle is one of 25 U.S. cities that will be studied for its solar power potential, as part of a federal program to speed up America’s adoption of solar energy.

Denver-based CH2M Hill Inc. was given a three-year, $5.5 million contract by the U.S. Department of Energy for the program. The engineering company will be mapping the entire city of Seattle, rooftop by rooftop, which will allow residents to determine how much each individual household could benefit by installing solar energy panels.

Insert cliché line about how Seattle is always cloudy here.

Thanks for the tip, Ben.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Starbucks' Watery Controversy

posted by on October 6 at 9:23 AM


As the UK Sun reports:

STARBUCKS was blasted by environmental experts last night after The Sun discovered it pours millions of litres of precious water down the drain at its coffee shops. The giant coffee chain has a policy of keeping a tap running non-stop at all its 10,000 outlets worldwide, wasting 23.4 MILLION litres a day. That would provide enough daily water for the entire two million-strong population of drought-hit Namibia in Africa or fill an Olympic pool every 83 minutes.

Every Starbucks branch has a cold tap behind the counter providing water for a sink called a “dipper well”, used for washing spoons and utensils. Staff are banned from turning the water off under bizarre health and safety rules — bosses claim a constant flow stops germs breeding in the taps.

And as BBC News reports, Starbucks is sticking by its watery practice:

US coffee-shop chain Starbucks has defended itself against claims of a serious waste of water by leaving taps running in its stores all day. A spokeswoman said the purpose was to clean utensils and the policy meant the company met health standards.The company says the flow services a "dipper well", used for keeping utensils clean, and that the taps run at very low pressure. "Dipper wells use a stream of continuous cold fresh-running water to rinse away food residue, help keep utensils clean and prevent bacterial growth," the Press Association news agency quoted the spokeswoman as saying. "The dipper well system currently in use in Starbucks retail stores ensures that we meet or exceed our own and local health standards." She said the company was considering using dishwashers instead of the dipper wells and introducing a more water-efficient way of cleaning spoons.

Starbucks says although it recognises that there are opportunities to reduce its water usage, it does comply with United Nations standards, and it has to balance water conservation with the need for customer safety.

Clearly, if they turn off the water, people will die.

Former and current Starbucks employees: Please share your feelings about/experiences with the death-defying dipper well in the comments. (And Dear Science: What do you make of Starbucks' allegation that the "constant flow stops germs breeding in the taps"?)

Monday, September 22, 2008

City Strikes At the Root of Tree Removal Problem

posted by on September 22 at 2:53 PM

After a developer cut down number of trees on a greenbelt North Seattle last week, Save The Trees—a group of tree-loving neighborhood activists in North Seattle—held a press conference to scream at the city about a loophole that, they say, is allowing developers to deforest the city.

The city apparently heard Save The Trees' complaints. In a letter sent to a STT member last week, the Department of Planning and Development says it will seek to fine the developer.

Thank you for notifying the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) of the tree cutting issues at 12301 5th Avenue NE. Although the applicant had a permit application under review for this site, a permit has not been issued. Current regulations prohibit the removal of trees over 6-inches in diameter on undeveloped lots unless a building permit has been issued allowing removal of specific trees.

In coordination with City Arborists, DPD issued a Stop-Work Order on Monday. Unfortunately, it appears many of the trees may have been removed over the weekend. Our enforcement staff will be following up on this issue to prevent this from occurring on the applicant's adjacent parcels to the north. In addition to the Stop-Work Order, we will be seeking a civil penalty in an amount equal to the appraised value of the trees removed and may require a restoration plan as a result of this action.

If you happen to notice an illegal action such as this in the future, please call our complaint line at 615-0808. DPD enforcement staff are able to respond to these issues expeditiously when notified. Thank you for your continued interest in tree regulations and alerting us of this issue.

Bryan Stevens
Customer Service Manager &
Seattle's Industrial Permit Liaison
City of Seattle
Department of Planning and Development

While the city appears to suddenly have wood for Seattle's tree canopy, it remains to be seen whether DPD will step in to assist other tree-loving splinter groups around Seattle.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav, Katrina: Storms of the Century

posted by on August 31 at 11:14 AM



Right now, this is what constitutes good news for New Orleans.

Given the projected strengthening--to a category IV hurricane--and the predicted track that will take the storm's landfall near to New Orleans--where the levees are either weak or uncompleted, and thus totally unequal to the projected huge 10 to 20ft storm surges--this might be it for the crescent city. Again.

There will be no more "shelters of last resort," that fig leaf expended during Katrina when the rest of us learned astonishing numbers of our fellow Americans have no choice but the last resort. Some of the poorest people in the country--let's be honest with ourselves, some of the poorest people in North America--are being asked to evacuate, with no resources to do so. Again.

Frankly, this should be exactly why we pay taxes--to help people without any means to follow mandatory evacuation orders. Of course, after eight years of Bush and even longer under Republican dominance, such public assistance will be woefully unequal to the task. Again.

Consider donating to charity. The American Red Cross has started a fund. It's an ugly way to deal with this, but the only way with which we've been left.

The second storm of the century is about to hit New Orleans, the second storm of the century within five years. That should make you wonder.

(More after the jump, or here.)

Continue reading "Gustav, Katrina: Storms of the Century" »

Saturday, August 30, 2008

For Annie

posted by on August 30 at 11:54 AM


So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna On the field of battle. Not fare well, But fare forward, [voyager].

Now that we have flying on the mind:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two airliners were one minute from colliding when at least one of the planes turned away from the other over the Atlantic Ocean this week, federal authorities said Friday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating an incident in which a Delta Air Lines flight and a Russian-registered passenger jet were heading toward each other Thursday north of Puerto Rico when cockpit alarms went off.

The NTSB said the pilot of the Russian plane - a Transaero Boeing 747 - descended 200 feet to 300 feet to avoid Delta Flight 485.

The planes were at the same altitude - 33,000 feet over open ocean - and were "60 seconds apart from occupying the same airspace," said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

The spokesman describing a midair collision as "[two planes] occupying the same airspace," recalls the military satellite which, in 1992, registered the Los Angeles riots as a "heat anomaly."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gallons of Gas per 1000 Miles

posted by on August 27 at 1:06 PM


(Or another reason to love My Gassy L’il Pony.)

Sometimes Helping the Environment Looks Stupid as Poop

posted by on August 27 at 10:13 AM

I first had to deal with the fact in the subject line when I began sporadically riding a scooter. With the big round helmet on my big round head, perched on a shrimpy little scooter (that nevertheless can reach 65 MPH on the freeway), I look, quite literally, retarded. (If I don't quite look like a legitimately developmentally disabled person, I at least look like I'm playing one in a movie.)

Things get more acute with addition of my fella Jake, who occasionally "rides bitch." When the two of us are straddling that poor little scooter, I can't help thinking of the world's fattest twins crammed onto one wee bike. Passersby laugh at us. We understand, and laugh with them, for it is ridiculous. We call the scooter "My Gassy L'il Pony," or, alternately, the Dignity Mobile. These are the sacrifices you make during a gas crisis/environmental emergency.

I tell you all this en route to reporting something I saw this past Saturday at University Village. In the parking lot, I watched as two of those couldn't-be-tinier Smart Cars pulled in and parked right next to each other.

Out of each teensy car emerged one plus-sized person—one large man, one large woman, who walked away holding hands.

It was strangely sweet, despite the vague WALL•E vibe...

Anyway, if you see me out-and-about on a scooter, feel free to point and laugh. It's for the environment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Plastic Ethics

posted by on August 20 at 12:14 PM

My new tent came with one of these:


It's a "PLASTIC ETHICS REFERENCE CARD"—so sayeth the Leave No Trace website—a 3x5 plastic card explaining the seven Leave No Trace principles. These principles (and their 36 subprinciples) include:

-Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.

-Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

-Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.

-Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

I had a problem with this last one on hikes as a child; my father was given to say, "You're shattering the tranquility."

The principles also include leaving animals alone while they are mating, which is considerate.

The PLASTIC ETHICS REFERENCE CARD has the recycling symbol on it, but it’s my understanding that 99 and 44/100% of plastic—recyclable or not—ends up in landfills or the Great Pacific Garbage Miasma. Truly, how many recycled polarfleece garments and how much recycled fake lumber does the world need?

Dear Leave No Trace: Your PLASTIC ETHICS REFERENCE CARD is unwanted by me, and others, I’m sure. How about living up to your name and putting it on paper?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Earth Food

posted by on August 11 at 1:27 PM

If you want to save this...

...Meaning, if you want the human race to continue, then you must turn this animal...

Into this...

Switching from beef to kangaroo burgers could significantly help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says an Australian scientist.

The methane gas produced by sheep and cows through belching and flatulence is more potent than carbon dioxide in the damage it can cause to the environment.

But kangaroos produce virtually no methane because their digestive systems are different.

Dr George Wilson, of the Australian Wildlife Services, urges farming them.

He says they have a different set of micro-organisms in their guts to cows and sheep.

Sheep and cattle account for 11% of Australia's carbon footprint and over the years, there have been various proposals to deal with the problem.

Now Dr Wilson believes kangaroos might hold the answer.

He said: "It tastes excellent, not unlike venison - only a different flavour."

Green is the new ethic--an ethic that has a solid ground and direction. Eating right no longer means eating merely for your own benefit but for the benefit of the only system that can sustain a large number of present and future humans.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Team Mask

posted by on August 5 at 2:40 PM

Athletes have begun to arrive in Beijing for the Olympics, and they're arriving in anti-pollution masks:


... four track cyclists on the United States Olympic team stepped off their flight wearing masks over their mouths and noses.

The masks were designed by Randy Wilber, a 53-year-old scientist for the U.S. Olympic Training Center, who has been fielding bizarre questions from athletes for months:

Should I run behind a bus and breathe in the exhaust? Should I train on the highway during rush hour? Is there any way to acclimate myself to pollution?

Wilber answers those questions with a steadfast, "No."

"We have to be extremely careful and steer them in the right direction because the mind-set of the elite athlete is to do anything it takes to get that advantage," he said. "If they thought locking themselves in the garage with the car running would help them win a gold medal, I'm sure they would do it. Our job, obviously, is to prevent that."

The IHT has a great story the air and the Olympics, including boxers who jog in their hotel hallways instead of the street, runners from last year's test Olympic events hawking up black phlegm, and one politic America athlete who said:

If the Olympics were in Los Angeles, we would probably wear these masks, too.

Give that cyclist a job in the embassy.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Green Porno

posted by on August 1 at 11:36 AM


This was brought up briefly a few months ago, but I wanted to give it more attention. Isabella Rossellini's insect-copulation short films are fascinating! She dresses up as different bugs and creatures (bee, spider, praying mantis, dragonfly, and more) and gives a first-person account of the habits, abilities, and mating rituals (If I were a snail…). The costumes are terrific and she really gives it her all: prancing around in bug outfits, humping, regurgitating, being eaten.

Go here to watch the videos.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plastic Bag Ban Got You Down? Furoshiki!

posted by on July 30 at 10:32 AM

Once again, the Japanese have solved our problems many years before we knew we had them. (See also: t-shirt folding)

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of creating various totes out of a square of silk or nylon cloth. It even works for bowling balls! Obsoive:

So if you don't want to shell out for some canvas bags, just grab the scarf off the nearest babushka and go to town. See? It's not so bad.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mercury and You

posted by on July 23 at 5:26 PM

Mercury poisoning has a delightful triad of characteristic symptoms:

1. Personality changes. (Think: Mad hatter from Alice in Wonderland.)

2. Uncontrollable shaking of the hands. Makes things like writing difficult.

3. (My favorite.) Swollen and bleeding gums combined with drooling.

Severe poisoning (typically from concentrations above 1 mg per cubic meter) shred your lungs until you die.

Basically, it's like the delightful scene from the movie Airplane! in which the pilot collapses, dooming everyone. I can't find it on YouTube, so enjoy these instead:

(Jonah asks, I deliver.)

LA Bans Plastic Bags

posted by on July 23 at 5:03 PM

But that's not as bad as Seattle's nanny-state, socially-engineered bag fee! At least in LA, they can still get paper bags! AT LEAST THEY STILL HAVE A CHOICE!

Oh, wait. They're charging 25 cents for paper bags—five cents more than Seattle's proposed bag fee. Carry on.

Mercury Rising

posted by on July 23 at 4:32 PM

In January, Stranger News Intern Brian Slodysko wrote about toxic fumes coming from the Lafarge cement plant in South Seattle:

South Seattle residents say the odor [from Lafarge's plant] causes respiratory problems, nausea, and headaches. There are instances where children and staff at nearby Concord Elementary School have been sent home from school after becoming sick during recess or prolonged periods spent outdoors, says David Tucker, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools.

Along with the toxic fumes emanating from the plant, a report released earlier today by the Environmental Integrity Group and Earthjustice says Lafarge—which asked the city to allow the company to burn tires at its plant near the Duwamish River—is releasing 30 to 39 pounds of mercury from its Seattle plant every year.

I've got a call in to our very own Dear Science to find out what happens when a plant belches out all that mercury. I'd wager it's nothing good.

Another Slog Success Story

posted by on July 23 at 10:32 AM

Yesterday I posted instructions for getting Dex to remove the useless phone books they left on our porches. Writes commenter Daniel:

I called and told them I had 100 books in my lobby. They're sending someone over to pick them up next week. Sweet!

Again, the information you need:

Dex: (877) 243-8339, wait for the auto-bot to finish a short spiel, then press “1.”

Phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., CST. While you’re on the phone, tell them you’d like to permanently cancel phone book deliveries. They’ll take down your address and that, with the grace of God, will be the last call to Dex you’ll ever make.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Book for Every Need—Except One

posted by on July 22 at 4:15 PM

Dex (that's the company that makes the phone book) has delivered three phone books—white, yellow, and mini pages—to each address in Seattle. But nobody uses phone books anymore, right? Apartment buildings have stacks out front. My house got three on the front porch. We don't even have a land line, but Dex delivers them anyway. Last summer, the public intern got the thankless task of trying to round them up, and Savage took one for beach reading. This year, inside the front cover, the book proudly announces…


A book for every need. That is, every need related to vacuum repair and pizza delivery. One need the book doesn't meet: How to get rid of them. When I called Dex, a cheerful woman in the central time zone said that if I didn’t want the books I should recycle them. But I explained that since they are such nice books, and since other people might request them, I’d hate for my phone book to go to waste. She replied that if I want the phone books picked up, I’d have to have 15 of them. Translation: If you want Dex to come get your useless phone book, call the number below and say you have 15 unwanted phone books.

Dex: (877) 243-8339, wait for the auto-bot to finish a short spiel, then press “1.”

Phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., CST. While you’re on the phone, tell them you’d like to permanently cancel phone book deliveries. They’ll take down your address and that, with the grace of God, will be the last call to Dex you'll ever make.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Purdue LED Us to More Efficient Lighting, Less Mercury

posted by on July 21 at 3:19 PM


Longtime readers know of my aversion to compact fluorescent lightbulbs:

The "mercury vapor" that fluorescent bulbs require is quite toxic. While new compact fluorescent bulbs are voluntarily limited to five milligrams of mercury each, as little as a tenth of a milligram per square yard will make you seriously ill. Shaking hands, drooling, irritability, memory loss, depression, weakness—sounds like fun. And that's what happens to adults; kids can be permanently injured by mercury exposure. If you break one of these bulbs in your house—and think of all the times a bulb breaks—the current advice is to open a window and run, not to return for at least 15 minutes. Whereas if it's a traditional bulb, you grab a broom and screw in a new one.

And even if you manage to not accidentally dump hazardous waste in your living room, what do you do with a fluorescent bulb when it just plain wears out? Most places cannot recycle fluorescent tubes.

There is another. LED (light emitting diodes) have a similar energy efficiency to fluorescent bulbs with a far friendlier environmental impact. In the least, they involve no mercury.

Great! Why not use them everywhere? Huge expense. Most LEDs are based upon a substrate of sapphire. Urk. Requiring a precious stone means LED lightbulbs are about twenty times more expensive than traditional lightbulbs.

Enter some clever researchers at Purdue University:

The Purdue researchers have solved this problem by developing a technique to create LEDs on low-cost, metal-coated silicon wafers, said Mark H. Oliver, a graduate student in materials engineering who is working with Sands.

(Who would think something good could come from Indiana?)

Replacing the sapphire with silicon (made from sand) makes the bulbs fantastically cheaper. Good work people. Expect the cheaper, environmentally sound and energy efficient bulbs in stores in about two years.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So Long, and Thanks for All the SUVs

posted by on July 15 at 10:50 AM

Via Sightline, check out NASA's new ClimateTimeMachine.


This screen grab shows parts of the southeastern US that would be underwater if worldwide sea levels rose by 6 meters--the amount of rise predicted if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Press Release of the Day

posted by on July 11 at 4:37 PM

From a press release for the upcoming production of Shrek: the Musical:

"Mayor Nickels Welcomes Everyone’s Favorite Large Green Ogre to the Emerald City."

So the mayor is welcoming himself to the city? But he's not green...

He just thinks he is.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Disposable Bag Fee Public Hearing

posted by on July 7 at 12:12 PM

Express your outrage/approval/indifference toward Seattle's proposed ban on Styrofoam food containers and 20-cent fee on disposable grocery bags at City Hall (600 4th Ave.) tomorrow, Tuesday, July 8, in council chambers at 7:00 p.m.

To recap, the legislation would:

Ban Styrofoam food packaging in grocery stores and restaurants;

Impose a 20-cent fee on disposable shopping bags at grocery, drug, and convenience stores;

Give retailers a portion of the fee to defray administrative costs; and

Provide free shopping bags for seniors and low-income people.

As far as I can tell, there's no downside. The proposal isn't compulsory--if you don't want to pay 20 cents for a disposable bag, all you have to do is bring your own. And if you can't afford a 75-cent reusable bag, that's no problem either-- the city will give you a bag (or bags) for free.

As for the upside: Seattle residents use around 360 million disposable bags a year. Most of those are plastic. Nationally, we shovel about 100 billion plastic bags into landfills every year , the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil. Most of the remaining bags end up as debris in places like the North Pacific Gyre, a whirling mass of garbage the size of Texas; just one percent are recycled. According to Planet Ark, an international environmental group, plastic bags kill around 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals every year.

Yes, there are other, arguably more pressing, environmental problems--sprawl, SUVs, our oil-dependent economy, to name a few. But I have exactly zero sympathy for people who claim that a fee for disposable bags is onerous, or that it constitutes social engineering, or that it somehow hurts the poor. Our society has been engineered to allow us to ignore the consequences of our actions, and we're just now starting to undo some of that damage. Put another way: Wasting stuff is not a human right.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Global Warming's Most Vulnerable Victims

posted by on July 3 at 12:29 PM

Monday, June 30, 2008

Look What My Kid Got at Wall•E

posted by on June 30 at 10:12 AM

I took my son to see Wall•E this weekend.

The latest from Pixar, a hit with critics and audiences, is set a eight or nine centuries in the future. Wall•E paints a picture of a planet destroyed by a thoughtless humanity in the thrall of a consumer culture that eventually overwhelms the earth with... junk. Garbage, refuse, crap—everywhere. Humans are forced to abandon the planet and blast off into space, where humanity survives on spaceships that look and function like cruise ships or, um, Disney resorts. There's not much to do out there in space but sit on lounge chairs (floating space lounge chairs), and eat, eat, eat. Meanwhile on earth huge garbage ziggurats tower over abandoned skyscrapers, container ships full of crap sit on dried up ocean beds, and dust-and-garbage storms blow scour the surface of the earth.

Depressing—all that garbage, all that thoughtless over-consumption, all that environmental devastation. But look what we got on the way into the theater...


That's a watch. A cheap plastic watch. According to the instruction card that comes with it, my son's Wall•E watch was made in China, it's not water resistant, and it's batteries are not replaceable. So basically it's a disposable watch brought to us by a movie about the dire consequences of thoughtless over-consumption, a watch that is just one of many—tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands—that will be coming soon to landfills near you.

UPDATE: In Wall•E the world appears to be governed by a huge corporation called Buy 'N Large, which at first encourages over-consumption and then, when the environmental consequences become clear, tries to find ways for humanity to consume its way out of the environmental crisis that over-consumption caused in the first place. Eventually the planet has to be abandoned—via Buy 'N Large space ships. Slog tipper Pop Tart draws our attention to a Buy 'N Large website, where you can... buy movie merchandise...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Newsflash: Shipping Cheap Crap Around the World Is Insane.

posted by on June 25 at 4:53 PM

The exurbs aren't the only inanity in trouble thanks to the jump in energy prices...

As the cost of shipping continues to soar along with fuel prices, homegrown manufacturing jobs are making a comeback after decades of decline. While it once cost $3,000 to ship a container from a city like Shanghai to New York, it now costs $8,000, prompting some businesses to look closer to home for manufacturing needs...

The rise in transportation costs are fueling what some economists are calling "reverse globalization." For instance, DESA, a company that makes heaters to keep football players warm, is moving all its production back to Kentucky after years of having them made in China.

"Cheap labor in China doesn't help you when you gotta pay so much to bring the goods over," says economist Jeff Rubin.

Some local manufacturers have suddenly found themselves in the thick of boom times.

(ABC news)

I also think Seattle Bubble might be wrong about the economics of moving from Marysville.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fuckin' A

posted by on June 24 at 10:05 PM

That was such a beautiful sunset I almost posted that poem again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Earth Lovers

posted by on June 21 at 6:16 PM

Something to think about:

Friday, June 20, 2008

You Don't Understand Fuel Economy; Blame MPG

posted by on June 20 at 4:25 PM

Assuming you drive the same miles per year, which change will save more gas in a given year:

* Switching from a Dodge Ram at 13 MPG to a Toyota Tundra at 15 MPG

* Switching from a Honda Fit at 32 MPG to a Toyota Prius at 44 MPG.

(Mileage figures are from Consumer Reports.)

Have your answer? Ok, next question.

Assuming you drive the same miles per year, which change will save more gas in a given year:

* Switching from a Dodge Ram that needs 770 gallons per 10,000 miles, to a Toyota Tundra that needs 667 gallons per 10,000 miles

* Switching from a Honda Fit that needs 313 gallons per 10,000 miles, to a Toyota Prius that needs 238 gallons per 10,000 miles.

Did your answer change?

As a measure of fuel economy, miles-per-gallon is incredibly unintuitive. One must consider both the change and the starting point when deciding the significance of an increase in MPG. Nasty.

How nasty? Richard P. Larrick and Jack B. Soll collected data to discover just how confused people become when considering changes in miles-per-gallon. Their work was just published in the Journal Science.

The most telling passage from the study:

The study was presented in an online survey to 171 participants who were drawn from a national subject pool. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 75, with a median age of 35. All participants were given the following scenario (5): "A town maintains a fleet of vehicles for town employee use. It has two types of vehicles. Type A gets 15 miles per gallon. Type B gets 34 miles per gallon. The town has 100 Type A vehicles and 100 Type B vehicles. Each car in the fleet is driven 10,000 miles per year." They were then asked to choose a plan for replacing the original vehicles with corresponding hybrid models if the "overriding goal is to reduce gas consumption of the fleet and thereby reduce harmful environmental consequences."

One group of 78 participants was randomly assigned to a policy choice framed in terms of MPG. They were asked to choose between two options: (option 1) replace the 100 vehicles that get 15 MPG with vehicles that get 19 MPG and (option 2) replace the 100 vehicles that get 34 MPG with vehicles that get 44 MPG. Note that town fuel efficiency is improved more in option 1 (by 14,035 gallons) than in option 2 (by 6,684 gallons). As expected, the majority (75%) of participants in the MPG condition chose option 2, which offers a large gain in MPG but less fuel savings [95% confidence interval (CI) = 65 to 85%].

Participants in the GPM condition (n = 93) were given the same instructions as those in the MPG condition. In addition, they were told that the town "translates miles per gallon into how many gallons are used per 100 miles. Type A vehicles use 6.67 gallons per 100 miles. Type B vehicles use 2.94 gallons per 100 miles." They read the same choice options as used in the MPG condition, including the MPG information, but with an additional stem that translated outcomes into GPM for the hybrid vehicles [(option 1) replace the 100 vehicles that get 6.67 gallons per 100 miles with vehicles that get 5.26 GPM and (option 2) replace the 100 vehicles that get 2.94 gallons per 100 miles with vehicles that get 2.27 GPM]. As expected, the majority of participants (64%) in the GPM frame chose option 1, which offers a small gain in MPG but more fuel savings (CI = 54 to 74%). Overall, the percentage choosing the more fuel-efficient option increased from 25% in the MPG frame to 64% in the GPM frame (P < 0.01).

When talking about fuel efficiency in terms of gallons per mile, people were nearly three-times as likely to make the rational choice as compared to the same numbers in miles-per-gallon. Remember this when making your next car purchase.

Updated for the graphically minded, like me:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Antarctic Winters Not So Wintery Anymore

posted by on June 17 at 10:46 AM

From the ominously titled European Space Agency press release, Even the Antarctic winter cannot protect Wilkins Ice Shelf:

Wilkins Ice Shelf, a broad plate of floating ice south of South America on the Antarctic Peninsula, is connected to two islands, Charcot and Latady. In February 2008, an area of about 400 km² broke off from the ice shelf, narrowing the connection down to a 6 km strip; this latest event in May has further reduced the strip to just 2.7 km.

This animation, comprised of images acquired by Envisat’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) between 30 May and 9 June, highlights the rapidly dwindling strip of ice that is protecting thousands of kilometres of the ice shelf from further break-up...

Wilkins Ice Shelf has experienced further break-up with an area of about 160 km² breaking off from 30 May to 31 May 2008. ESA’s Envisat satellite captured the event – the first ever-documented episode to occur in winter.

Excellent! The jury might be coming back on climate change. Perhaps this would be a good time to remind you of my posts and introduce you to a new podcast on nuclear power listen.

Scary animated GIF of the ice shelf breaking off is after the jump...

Continue reading "Antarctic Winters Not So Wintery Anymore" »

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Water Wars

posted by on June 16 at 3:39 PM

They're on.

Four years behind schedule and nearly $80 million over the original budget, the nation's largest sea water desalination facility finally supplies much-needed drinking water to 2.4 million people in the Tampa Bay region.

Despite the plant's troubled history, a handful of Florida communities want to follow Tampa Bay's footsteps in a high-stakes bid to keep water flowing to meet the state's growth. [...]

This spring, the Legislature debated a bill that would have helped utilities develop their own desalination systems. The idea was approved, but the bill stalled because of the state's budget woes.

Nevertheless, utilities and water supply planners believe it is only a matter of time before more facilities like Tampa Bay's dot Florida's landscape.

The new focus on desalination comes as the federal government has released a 300-page report on the technology's status as a viable drinking water source.

The report concluded that sea water desalination could forestall looming water crises in many regions of the country, but cited significant environmental issues needing more study.

The increased focus on harnessing oceans for drinking water is easy to explain: Many places are running out of fresh water and have few alternatives.[...]

While many environmentalists would like to see Florida slow growth, state leaders say that is not realistic.

"You can't stop people from coming to Florida,"
said state Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, who sponsored the proposed desalination law.

Two things:

1) The environmental issues surrounding desalination "need more study"? Hardly. According to a report issued last year by the World Wildlife Fund, the process of filtering the salt out of seawater creates massive greenhouse-gas emissions that worsen climate change, leading to drought and glacial melting and (ironically) threatening existing freshwater supplies. Desalination has also been linked to saltwater leaching, pollution, and damage to marine ecosystems. Moreover, desalination promotes sprawl and unsustainable population growth.

2) Statements like "You can't stop people from moving to Florida" remind me of arguments like this one against investing in mass transit (or like this one against requiring density around transit stops): People drive now, after all, and by God, we can't force them not to! These kind of arguments—don't socially engineer me out of my car/ uninhabitable desert / suburb—ignore the fact that those high-speed freeways/ massive, unsustainable irrigation systems/ miles upon miles of uncontrolled sprawl are just as artificial or "engineered" as transit/ living sustainably/ density. There's nothing "natural" about moving to Florida and drinking desalinated water, any more than there is about taking transit to work from your dense urban community with a sustainable water supply. Both are choices about the way we live--and what kind of future we want to leave to our children—something even some suburban communities are finally starting to recognize. Once we can acknowledge that choices like where to live and how to deal with our limited resources are "engineering," it becomes possible to engineer things differently.

UPDATE: Just came across another nice example of engineering that could be called unengineering (ungineering?): Parking meters in San Francisco that are cheaper when demand is low, and higher when demand is high. Unlike the traditional ("natural") approach to parking (increasing supply as demand increases), pricing meters reduces demand to equal the existing parking supply.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SPOG Detective Challenges BIAW Rep for Mayor of Crazytown

posted by on June 11 at 6:02 PM

So you thought the Building Industry Alliance of Washington--whose representatives have compared environmentalists to Hitler, attributed global-warming and growth-management laws to "radical environmentalists"; and referred to Gov. Chrstine Gregoire as a "heartless, power-hungry she-wolf who would eat her own young to get ahead"--was the wackiest right-wing game in town? Well, get ready: The Seattle Police Officers Guild is giving the BIAW a run for its money. Introducing the editor of SPOG's newsletter, Detective Ron Smith:

Each time I hear the Mayor come up with a new "green idea to save the planet I laugh it off as part of the talking points of the environmental extremist movement. A movement that is hysterical to me, as just about 40-years ago we had so-called experts saying: "Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor "...the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born," Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970"... Anyway, the reason I bring this up is the Mayor doesn't want you to buy bottled water, and wants to ban its sale in city buildings. While I am sure it makes him feel greener than Kermit to hate bottled water and love Cedar River tap water, I wonder what the Mayor wants people to drink when "the big one" levels parts of Seattle and the people are left to provide for themselves. ... Plus, if bottled water were banned in the city, what would his buddy Obama have to give those fainting women in the crowd when he comes back to town? A pre-positioned glass of Cedar River tap water of course!"

Global-warming denial, mockery of "radical" ideas like drinking tap water, dated, off-point jokes ("greener than Kermit," HAR!) and irrelevant arguments—all in one badly typo-ridden package! But at least he doesn't call anyone a Nazi.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Day in SUVs

posted by on June 3 at 7:01 PM

Demand for gasoline falls 5.5 percent--in a single week.

Hummer sales down by 60 percent.

Light-truck sales, meanwhile, drop 24 percent.

And GM closes four North American truck and SUV factories.

Used SUV sales fall, too.

Hybrid SUVs aren't doing so great, either.

And Jaguar and Land Rover are bought by Tata Motors--the same company that's marketing $2,000 cars at droves of upwardly mobile Indian consumers.

The Future of Urban Farming

posted by on June 3 at 2:26 PM


Got your goat:

PORTLAND — Authorities in Portland are trying to figure out how a goat came to be on the bus.

The vehicle was on a layover Monday night in southeast Portland when the pygmy goat wandered aboard.

The operator was outside the bus, and the doors were open.

The operator shut the doors, penning the animal, and called for help.

The 35-pound goat, which was wearing a nylon collar, was sent to an animal shelter, and workers there say they couldn't find information about the goat's owner.

The End Is In Sight

posted by on June 3 at 9:58 AM

Yes, yes, Dan has already posted about this great piece of news.

General Motors is closing four truck and sports utility vehicle (SUV) plants in the US, Canada and Mexico as it looks to environmentally-friendly cars.

Recent strikes at some GM factories have dented production of SUVs.

And surging fuel prices have heralded a shift to smaller vehicles, with GM also considering scrapping its Hummer brand.

Greed is getting better everyday!

We saw the birth of the little monster:

Now we hope to see its death for good!

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Gotta Get to $5

posted by on May 30 at 4:02 PM

According to a new survey by IBM, only 25 percent of drivers nationwide would seriously consider commuting options besides driving alone if gas got above $4.00 a gallon. (Currently, the nationwide average is $3.96 a gallon; at the time of the study, it was $3.67). Another 46 percent said they'd start looking for alternatives at $4.50 a gallon. It wasn't until hypothetical gas prices topped out at $5.00 a gallon that a majority of drivers said they'd consider changing their habits--at that level, 66 percent said they'd start looking for alternatives.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds said traffic had gotten worse in the last three years, 45 percent said their own commutes had caused them stress, and 28 percent reported "increased anger" because of traffic congestion.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bottoms Up!

posted by on May 29 at 10:33 AM

From the Bar Exam mailbag:

Why not soak up the sun and action at Ivar’s Salmon House’s waterside deck on Lake Union?... The Salmon House boasts a local cocktail favorite, dubbed “The Lake Union Water,” to “commemorate” the murky, yet beloved waters of Lake Union.... this signature cocktail has become a happy hour must and is treasured by Seattleites and tourists alike. The Lake Union Water is composed of vodka, Midori, Blue Curacao, pineapple, and Lake Union Water.

It's the combined sewer overflows that make it taste so good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Eco"? Eh.

posted by on May 16 at 1:26 PM

I admit I was immediately skeptical when I read the headline, "Jobs, homes proposal for Snohomish County touted as eco-friendly," in Wednesday's Seattle Times. Would that be the same Snohomish County that was sanctioned by the governor for violating the state Growth Management Act? The same Snohomish County whose council opposed infill development, arguing that density did not belong in existing urban areas? The same Snohomish County where officials have not hesitated to fight for developers' right to turn rural farmland into sprawling exurban developments? The same Snohomish County where even modest pushes toward a sensible growth strategy were met with cries of overregulation and excessive government intrusion on private property rights?

Yeah, that would be the one. So like I said, I was skeptical.

Here, as far as I can tell, is what's "eco-friendly" about this exurban development, to be located on 600 acres in Cathcart, past Mill Creek near Highway 9:

• It'll have a transit hub and a job center--the same type of job center that has failed spectacularly at containing sprawl and auto dependency at Snoqualmie Ridge.

• It will include four-story condo buildings, plus "green" businesses "such as hydroponic greenhouses and solar-energy production on land once slated for a county landfill."

• And it will include 170 acres of open space, including some restored wetlands.

Here's the problem, though. Unless all those new condo dwellers work where they live--unlikely, as the example provided by Snoqualmie Ridge has shown--they'll all need to commute somewhere, and most of them will do so by car. Non-commute trips—which make up 75 percent of all car trips—will likely increase as well. (Sound Transit provides bus service in Snohomish County, but their tax base there is already stretched thin, making a major service expansion unlikely even if voters do back a Sound Transit expansion in 2008. And much of which could end up going toward a fund for future light rail, anyway.) Making a community "self-contained" (with jobs, retail, and housing in one places) rarely accomplishes much if that community's also isolated from surrounding cities.

Meanwhile, the people who work in all that ground-level retail that's being planned as part of this mixed-use development would most likely commute in from elsewhere. (I'm guessing workers at, say, Bed, Bath & Beyond can't afford a brand-new condo in a highly publicized "eco-development.") So while, you know, yay for a transit hub (after all, it's easier to provide transit when you only have to stop at one central location), I'm skeptical that the improvements in transit are going to translate into less congestion on the roads and emissions in the air.

Finally, on the subject of wetlands: "Restoring" wetlands--AKA creating new wetlands to replace wetlands that have been destroyed--is not the same thing as preserving existing wetlands. Wetlands are complex ecosystems that are extremely difficult to establish and maintain; restoring wetlands is far inferior to simply preserving them in the first place. And, de Place notes, "[developers] preserve the wetlands on these sites because it’s illegal not to." And "clustering a bunch of impervious surface [driveways, roads, and rooftops] around wetlands can pretty seriously degrade their quality."

Paul Krugman touches briefly on the subject of exurban development today on his blog, noting that the suburbs were designed with the assumption that oil prices would stay low forever. Now that gas prices are high and climbing, exurban dwellers—people who live in places like eastern Snohomish County— with few or no alternatives to driving are the hardest hit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dept. of Manic Weather

posted by on May 15 at 8:51 AM

Remember less than a month ago when it snowed? In mid-spring? Well, it’s still mid-spring and here's the current forecast for tomorrow.


Not that you can put much stock in weather forecasts. Whenever the weatherologists (TM) predict snow, I get excited and buy ingredients for soup, but it usually ends up balmy. So this prediction of record-breaking heat… who knows, maybe it will snow. You should still plan on going to the beach.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Re: When Does It End?

posted by on May 14 at 1:24 PM

As Dan notes below, the Seattle Times' Bruce Ramsey took the bold step today of coming out against the proposed 20-cent tax on disposable grocery bags... joining fellow faux populists Ron Judd, Knute Berger, Joni Balter , and the entire Seattle Times editorial board in protesting this grave violation of their human right to be given plastic bags free of charge and dispose of them however they wish. His column is a rehash of hoary old Seattle cliches--"social engineering" makes an appearance, as does the familiar shibboleth of—the injustice!—forced recycling. (A ghostly Nanny State™ also appears on the sidelines, in the form of the "city-wagging-its-finger-at-me" tax.)

Anyway, I won't add to what Dan so adroitly said below (and what I've said over and over and over again), except this: I sincerely hope that when Mayor Nickels decides to propose a tax on bottled water, "populists" like Ramsay, Balter, and Berger will wholeheartedly support it--since, presumably, all those poor, downtrodden low-income Seattleites who can't afford so much as a 73-cent reusable bag are already drinking tap water anyway.