Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Atlanta BeltLine

Good Government is Possible

~ Goethe would smile at the audacity of Atlanta's grand BeltLine vision. It sets a strong example in more than one way:
Atlanta BeltLine overview map
To briefly review the basics, the city is seeking to invest some $2.8 billion in a new, 22-mile public transit, trails and parks loop around the heart of the city of Atlanta on the site of an abandoned rail and industrial corridor. Because the BeltLine passes through some of the inner city’s most distressed neighborhoods, the intent is for this major public investment to leverage substantial private investment in revitalization, particularly workforce housing. The transit is to be either light rail or streetcars, connecting in several places along the loop to the MARTA regional rail transit system.

Around 2000 acres of new, expanded and improved parks are involved, all of which will be linked by a multi-use trail, itself a linear park, along the BeltLine as well as by the transit loop. Many of the parks are being designed to include significant green management features. The project will also involve the remediation of over a thousand acres of brownfields.

The hoped-for economic impacts include 5600 units of workforce housing, 30,000 permanent jobs and 48,000 person-years of construction jobs, and a $20 billion increase in the city’s tax base over 25 years. It’s an incredible bundle of related public benefits if the city and its partners can pull this off.
In this age of contemptuous cynicism, the most remarkable aspect of the BeltLine, however, is that it is happening at all.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Moment's Rest

Crazy Cat Takes a Nap

Kitten asleep on lap
~ My preternaturally rowdy attack kitten in a rare moment of post-cuddling torpor.

She's obviously exhausted from climbing window screens, clawing sofas, biting toes, terrorizing the dog, stealing socks and helping herself to my breakfast cereal. It's not yet 10:00 a.m.

It's hard enough to get any work done with a cat sashaying across my keyboard, much less with my arms pinned.

Fortunately, the little goofball hasn't yet figured out how to make her antics more sustainable. Yet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cars Versus Public Transit

Where is the Public Demand?

Vehicle miles per capita continue to decline since 1999
~ I wrote recently about some of the fallacious thinking behind opposition to supporting public transit. For the free marketeers out there, here's another reason for public support of public transit: it's what the public demands!

By "demands" I could point to that segment of the public that shows up at public hearings, whether due to an overabundance of free time or innate zealotry or whatever reason. But here I mean that pure expression of Milton Friedman: how people vote with their wallets and their behaviors.

In the Puget Sound area served by Metro Transit, people are driving less, and have been for years. Meanwhile, public transit ridership continues to surge.

Update: Replaced graphic with a better one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XLII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Tim DeChristopher Speaks Truth to Power

Tim DeChristopher bidder 70
~ Tim DeChristopher is a political prisoner in the United States.

DeChristopher was sentenced today to two years and fined $10,000 for two felonies (really) based on non-violent acts of civil disobedience. DeChristopher bid in an auction of oil leases in an effort to highlight the destructive effects of the fossil fuel industry, their impacts on climate change, and the corruption of our government by indstry wealth and power. The auction was later found to be illegal, and rescinded, but that didn't stop our government from a politically motivated prosecution.

Details of the allegations and the trial here. DeChristopher's web site here.

But the best thing to read about this sorry travesty of American justice is his final statement to the court. Excerpts:

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Default Price of Oil

Gas Could be $5 Per Gallon This Year

Chart of US dollar versus oil prices
~ To all the reasons why a US debt default would be very bad, add another one: much higher oil and gas prices.

Even the threat of default is causing jitters in financial markets, especially those that pay close attention to US debt instruments. There is a real prospect of interest rates rising, perhaps sharply. This would have three effects that push oil prices higher:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Economic Brinksmanship

Over the Edge

~ To the abyss:

Tom Toles | WaPo | Economic Brinksmanship
While pundits all talk as if a default is unthinkable, I'm starting to wonder: are there some who actually want a default? For some Congressional Machiavellians: yes. Here's why:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Energy Lies—III

"Obama is Responsible for $4 Gas Prices"

~ The idea that any one person, even the President, is solely responsible for the price of gasoline is absurd on its face. The energy market is intensely complicated and its actors can't even predict prices, much less control them.

But that doesn't stop the Wingnut chorus (Donald Trump, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Palin, American Petroleum Institute and others to whom I refuse to link) from assigning blame to Obama for everything from the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico to that hardy perennial, onerous regulations. Others suggest a conspiracy to promote renewable energy (would that it were so!) or hatred of Big Oil (we'll punish them with higher profits!) or a vague, generalized contempt for America (not that those impugning the President would be guilty of such, mind you.)

It's useful to review the price of gasoline over time. While the Energy Information Administration is notoriously poor at prediction, they are very good at compiling records:

Chart of US regular gasoline prices 1990-present
Average US price of regular unleaded gasoline, in dollars per gallon (Source: EIA)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Open Doors

Staged Reading at SIFF

5 doors: 4 shut, 1 open

~ Imagine a cross between When Harry Met Sally and The Kids Are All Right. That's how award-winning writer-director John Helde metaphorically describes his new comedy/drama about two marriage counselors who begin an affair with each other and discover what it’s like to walk in their clients’ shoes.

Helde is presenting a staged reading of this witty and provocative screenplay, entitled Open Doors, this Thursday, July 28, at 7:00 p.m. at the SIFF Film Center. Helde has been making films in the Seattle area for decades, and has enjoyed numerous commercial and artistic successes, including the critically acclaimed full-length feature documentary Made in China, that debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) a couple of years ago. That was a fascinating and moving film, and I expect his newest effort to also be well worth watching.

The SIFF Film Center is at the corner of Republican and Warren on the northwest edge of the Seattle Center. A donation of $10 is suggested to defray the cost of the wine you'll enjoy while watching. Space is limited, so please RSVP.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who Needs Innovation?

Missing Pieces

Death Valley
~ Politicians and others endlessly tout the importance of innovation nowadays, but it isn't the cure for what ails us, for a simple reason:

Having an idea is easy. Executing on it is hard.

This truism of entrepreneurship can be easily seen. Go to a business plan competition, or an angel investment group deal screening, or entrepreneur networking event and you'll hear dozens of ideas offered excitedly or cautiously by earnest startup inventors.

Most never make it. Companies fail to raise the capital they need, or they run out of what they've raised too soon. Almost always this is because the idea was never fully translated into goal-directed, mission-aligned and concrete steps that were taken clearly and purposefully, stepping over the inevitable obstacles that arose. The idea may have been good, but the execution wasn't.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XLI

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Money For Nothing

...And Your Roads For Free

Metro Transit (King County) electric bus
~ We are steadily hollowing out our country's core strength by refusing to tax ourselves to pay for anything, no matter the public interest. Here in King County battle is joined over whether to add a $20 yearly charge onto vehicle registration to provide funding for Metro, the Greater Seattle regional transit authority.

I am in favor of the levy, despite the fact that I would pay an extra $40 annually in addition to the bus fare I already pay several times a week.

The fee is absurdly small, less than 6 cents per day per car, but that hasn't prevented an outpouring of indignant complaints in response. While there are others, there are two criticisms I have heard repeatedly: (1) cutting costs should happen first (or solely), and (2) it is unfair to make non-transit riders pay a tax to subsidize something they don't use.

These two criticisms are stock complaints against public funding of almost anything, and can be heard in opposition to everything from defense spending to funding for the arts. Neither withstands scrutiny, and the outrage is usually highly selective.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where Did the Oil Go?

The BP Deepwater Horizon Legacy

~ Apparently at least half of it is expected to degrade "naturally" over time:

Where the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill went

The active spill response dealt with at best a third of the oil. More here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Energy Self-Reliance

Most States Could Power Themselves

~ Via Grist, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has issued a report that shows 31 states could generate all their energy needs for local renewable sources. Sadly, the report is over a year old, but a quick scan suggests that the data is probably still pretty relevant.

Map of how self-reliant states can be from renewable energy

States in green could generate more than 100% of their needs. Those in red, 25% or less. Orange and yellow states do better than the red ones, but still would require energy imports or other ways of meeting their local demand.

It's interesting the ways in which this map does and does not correspond to political support for renewable energy. Just because a state could be self-sufficient (e.g. Oklahoma) does not mean that its leaders support it. Just because it cannot yet be (e.g. New York) does not mean that its leaders aren't supportive.

What the map does show clearly, however, is that there could be a very strong political majority for energy self-sufficiency, if only the argument were made, and the bogus counter-arguments, especially about jobs, could be debunked.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We Are All Entrepreneurs Now

The Future of Work

~ Local entrepreneur T.A. McCann in a 2-minute video on "The Future of Work":

The future of work is one of no boundaries. Not on when we work, for whom, how long, with whom, or in what capacity. Success flows from passion: our best work is what we love, and we do it with our friends (who may also happen to be our business contacts) in one broad and fluid network of fast-moving, freely-associating individuals. Of course it also flows from regularly accomplishing goals, delivering on promises, and creating value.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Smarter Plants

Close up detail of a leaf
~ Phytelligence is the first of two new companies I'm forming with researchers at Washington State University, stemming from my role there as Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

Phytelligence has a system of micro-propagation for fruit trees and other plants that produces higher quality plantlets in less time, in less space, and at lower cost.

Web site under construction; more details in coming months.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Permitting Insanity

Heavier Regulatory Burdens on Renewable Energy Projects

Cape Wind location
~ Why does it take more than 9 years and endless anguish to allow wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, but deepwater oil drilling routinely has environmental impact studies waived, supposedly because massive oil spills are unlikely? The oil industry has received approvals with potentially severe environmental impacts in as little as 10 minutes. Contrast the (over-)abundance of caution for wind and the cozy practice of superficial scrutiny for oil. Recent events make the dissonance especially jarring.

The Cape Wind offshore wind farm is closer than ever to the start of construction. Just more than a week after the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon platform, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave formal approval, saying:
After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project at the Horseshoe Shoal location. With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our Nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XL

Where in Seattle is this? (Yes, Seattle, not the UK.)

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert Reich on Prosperity

Invest In America—End Our Job Crisis

~ Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the need for public investment to maintain America's prosperity:

America used to invest a big portion of our economy in the future prosperity of all Americans. We built excellent public schools; offered almost free public higher education to everyone who qualified. We built the world's best system of interstate highways, as well as public transportation.

We invested in public health, with state of the art water and sewer systems, and wonderful parks, and public recreation. And basic research, that got us to the moon.

Not only did these improve the quality of life of Americans at the time, but they also made Amercians more productive in future years. They built our joint prosperity. We're still living off these public investments.

But in recent years public investment has slowed, as a portion of our economy, and now we have a deficit in public investment that imperils our future more than does our future budget deficit.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ideology Illustrated

First Principles

~ Exactly:

Wiley Non Sequitur | The Invention of Ideology

It's not raining... and the climate isn't changing... and we're not running out of oil... and species aren't going extinct at an accelerating pace... and we can't afford cleantech investment... and renewable energy isn't viable... and austerity promotes prosperity... and cutting taxes boost revenues... and...

My brain hurts.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Climate Change False Balance

Of Boobs and Haboobs

~ Arizona, ravaged by wildfires and suffering recurring and more severe droughts, is in danger of experiencing dust bowl conditions like those of the Great Depression. Last week they even had a haboob, a towering dust storm of the kind found in Middle Eastern deserts:

Darkness at midday. Low moisture levels in the soil are to blame, as is our modern form of input-intensive agriculture with its heavy emphasis on monoculture supported by fossil fuel-based fertilizers and cultivation. Higher temperatures and stronger winds do the rest.

While it is a stretch to link any specific weather phenomenon as directly caused by climate change, the increase in extreme weather events, both in number and intensity, is a direct effect of our changing climate. These kinds of things are what the models suggest will occur, and, here they are, occurring more and more.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Little Boxes

Net Zero Living

~ The future of habitation for most people will not be a 3,000 square foot (or larger) home in the suburbs with several cars poised for any and all trips out of the manse. It will probably be something much smaller, with integrated energy and waste systems. Perhaps, closer to this:

A key design concept behind the Cube was that all materials and construction choices should be scalable, so that larger versions could be built. I would think modularity would also be useful goal, although that isn't stated.

More here.

In the market for smaller digs? They're available.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Repealing Common Sense

GOP Seeks to Promote Less Efficient Lighting

US Rep Joe Barton (R-TX)
~ The Republican knee-jerk response to anything promoting cleantech or energy efficiency is to try to kill it. They seem committed to preventing the United States from being competitive in the next globe-spanning, economically enormous, job-creating industry, preferring to cling to fossil fuels until the Earth is dry. (And then what?) The latest nose amputation and face-spiting maneuver:
In a move that could be called anything but conservative, Republican lawmakers are set to bring a bill to the House floor next week that will repeal state and municipal rights to set efficiency standards for lightbulbs. The bill would unravel a piece of federal legislation that was strongly supported by lightbulb manufacturers and has spurred innovation in the lighting industry.

The bill, sponsored by Texas Republican Joe Barton, would strip away any "federal, state or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting" that uses lightbulbs containing mercury. In other words, all compact fluorescent bulbs.
He wants to roll back legislation that was passed with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by famous bleeding heart liberal George W. Bush. The legislation has broad industry and consumer support. How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? Both too many (that are obsessing on something that doesn't need fixing, especially compared to what does) and too few (taking just one wingnut to waste the time of the entire Congress.) Joe Barton is a truly dim bulb. A sampling of some of his more embarrassing utterances:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

To Advance Clean Energy Do We Need A Republican President?

Strange Days Have Found US

Pieter Bruegels | Netherlandish Proverbs | The Topsy-Turvy World
~ In this era of triumphalist partisanship it seems little gets done even if the President's party supports it. President Obama, a Democrat, could not get a real clean energy bill done in his first two years even with his party controlling Congress. With Republicans controlling the House, the prospects of any energy bill, much less one that weans the country away from dirty legacy sources, appear poor.

Would a sane and forward-looking energy bill, one containing real and sustained policies to promote clean energy, conservation, mitigating climate change and practical steps for energy independence and security actually succeed with a Republican president? The answer: likely yes. In fact, it is probably the only way that it could.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXXIX

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hybrid Airplane

Capable of Battery-Only Take-Offs

Siemens/Diamond/EADS/Austro hybrid airplane prototype
~ It's long been thought that replacing liquid fuels in airplane power-trains would be nearly impossible. Apparently not:
Similar to General Motors' Chevy Volt drive train, the DA36 E-Star uses a serial hybrid electric drive train in which a main engine is powered alternately by a gasoline-powered generator and batteries.

A 70-kilowatt Siemens engine runs the aircraft's propeller. That engine is powered alternately between a small Wankel combustion engine made by Austro Engine that runs on gasoline and acts as a generator, and EADS batteries. Additional EADS batteries are used during takeoff and ascent.
The plane first flew a month ago in Austria but made its public debut two weeks ago at the Paris Air Show.

Boeing should worry; EADS is the parent company of arch-rival Airbus and the development target is obvious:
While it's in early development, Siemens claims its drive train can be scaled up for use on a large passenger plane, and under further development hopes to create a drive train that can save 25 percent in fuel consumption.
Can we compete with biofuels?

(h/t Grist)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Celebrating the Freedoms We Enjoy

The Prayer at Valley Forge, painted by Arnold Friberg
~ Happy Fourth of July to my American friends (and a belated happy Canada Day to friends and family too, eh.) Today we remember the challenges our ancestors overcame when they pulled together and became one nation. Affirming their commonality and equality, they did what needed to be done in casting aside differences to find common ground against that which oppressed. In the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, they chose to pursue "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Today, however, fractious in the face of fact, divided, we face a different kind of tyranny, oppressive in its own insidious way, that deprives us of those lofty pursuits about which Thomas Jefferson wrote so eloquently:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Energy Lies—II

"Gulf of Mexico Oil Drilling Stymied by Regulation"

Cartoon of oil company profits held up by subsidies
~ Hardly a day goes by without some lobbyist or cash-captured Congressional corpocrat griping about the urgency and importance of greatly increased offshore oil drilling and the supposedly onerous and unnecessary regulatory burden under which the industry chafes. If only the Obama Administration would get out of the way, so the recurring complaint goes, the industry could boost production, increase royalty revenues to combat the deficit and create jobs:
Onerous regulations, endless layers of red tape, restricted access to critical supplies of domestic energy and a lack of direction from government are only a few of the many examples of artificial barriers that paralyze business and make it difficult for America to grow and prosper.
Is any of it true?

Not much. The criticism of lacking a coherent energy policy and direction hits home, especially in the haphazard and half-hearted support for renewables, but otherwise Big Oil and its shills are largely getting away with doing as they please, same as always. Yeah, they doth protest too much.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Warning Labels

Not Just for Power Tools

~ We could add them to a lot of things. Especially those that could end up killing us:

Tom Toles: Warning Labels for Coal Power Plants

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sunny Days Ahead for Solar

Lower Costs, Better Technologies

Grid parity for solar is very close
~ Solar power continues to grow more competitive against other forms of electricity generation. At the just completed German InterSolar trade show module prices are down to $1.40/W and, according to Lux Research, headed to a low point in the second half of this year of $1.20/W. IHS iSuppli research expects PV modules to break the $1.00/W threshold in early 2012. Overall systems are roughly twice the module cost, meaning commercial solar could cost only $2/W (or less) a year from now.

What would such costs for solar mean?