environment

Gas price mapping

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How the World Works' post Triumph of the City Dweller points to a new mapping tool from the the Center for Neighborhood Technology showing relative residents' gas costs within metropolitan areas, both absolutely, and as a share of the regional median household income, for 2000 and 2008. The outcome? Downtowns win!

Now, yes, as Andrew Leonard points out, "Flash forward to 2008: The entire map is SCREAMING RED" ... with the few outliers of low household gas spending speckling downtown. it emphasizes things are rough for almost everyone - but that would seem to show a compelling need to address people's inability to go about their life without spending a crazy amount on gas.

Covering the mortgage through the long emergency

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For snarky, mildly academic news commentary on the long finance meltdown the country is in the middle of, my reading of choice is Salon's How the World Works. Combine that with a Salon feature today on oil prices, and you start getting to immediate questions for my profession:

The bottom line: Oil prices are high today, not due to a temporary disruption in the global flow of petroleum as in 1980, but for systemic reasons that are, if anything, becoming more pronounced. This means news headlines with the phrase "record oil price" are likely to be commonplace for a long time to come. ...

Even more visible than a solar city hall

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...would be a wind farm along the freeway.

But it looks like Wyandotte's going to beat Ypsi to it, with $2m(!) in federal grants lined up for the first turbine of five.

Shopping your way green?

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Yesterday, my sister sent me a link to The Daily Green's $250,000 home/car/life "eco-makeover" drawing. "Grand Prize Winner will win $250,000 which can be used to purchase products and services to help make your life and home more eco-friendly."

So, let me get this straight. You want me to consume more - a lot more - in order to be "green", which typically requires pursuing happiness more efficiently, or, in other words, consuming less. Gotta love America!

Rapid results

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Nothing like being in the basement while a family member is showering and hearing drip...drip...drip... I had meant to spend this past Sunday working on skills like "sitting" and "reading". Instead, I worked on "plumbing", "tiling", "caulking", and "cursing".

Essentially, our showerhead's hose (it's one of those removable hand-held dealies) had sprung a leak at one of the connections, which led to some spraying of water out of the tub, onto the floor, where poorly caulked aging vinyl tiles allowed the water to flow through, and into the basement. Lovely. (Note: I knew the floor tiles had said issues, but was hoping that issues would not become problems before we were ready for the full bathroom gut and rebuild.)

Restoring vs. replacing historic windows - data?

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Perhaps the most frequent and bitter of debates I see between historic preservationists and the average resident of an older home is window replacement. From the preservationist's standpoint, original windows are among the most important of defining characteristics of historic residential architecture. The typical rejoinder from the homeowner, convinced that replacing old drafty windows is key to home energy savings, is, "Okay, but are you going to pay my heating bills?"

The preservationist, in turn, will assert variously that significant energy savings can be achieved by properly restoring and weatherstripping the existing windows; that the return on investment from replacement windows vs. repair and weatherstripping is too low for replacement to be financially worthwhile; and, showing some savvy when dealing with purely environmentalist criticisms, that the embedded energy that goes into a replacement window is far greater than the lifetime savings of the replacement, and that the R-value of even a high-end energy efficient window is still very low.

Think Global: Act, Dingell!

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Southeast Michigan is blessed with a political powerhouse in Congressman John Dingell (D-15th), the longest serving member of the House, and the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Dingell's therefore pretty well placed to Make A Difference when it comes to addressing climate change.

However, as the Congressman from Southeast Michigan, Dingell is also strongly wedded to the auto industry (literally - his wife Debbie is President of the General Motors Foundation). With the Big 3, and their unions - Dingell's largest funders and voter bloc - digging in their heels every step of the way on anything that smells like a fuel efficiency mandate, Dingell is notably hesitant to embrace positive energy legislation. In response to calls for increased CAFE standards, he put forth what was at first a stunt - a proposal for an intentionally unrealistic plan meant to kill debate on the issue by being too sweeping. While the political chessgame aspect of this has received its share of criticism, I think Dingell has also been surprised to see people taking it seriously, and he's now starting to get behind the proposal as a serious attempt to address climate change.

And that's where we come in. Whether you're a Dingell constituent or not, you can show him that you support strong action on climate change. A group of Ypsilanti residents have set up a petition to urge Dingell on, and state their support for action. I've signed the petition, and you can too.

Together, we can pull down the sun!

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A few years ago, city resident Dave Strenski led a project to mount solar panels on the roof of the Ypsilanti Food Co-op (pdf), aided by a $5,000 grant. Now, he's upped the ante a bit with two solar projects: the Co-op is applying for a $50,000 grant to add much more solar capacity, and Dave is aiming for City Hall next.

The south face of City Hall is a four-story blank wall, completely unshaded by trees or buildings (there's a sunken parking lot behind City Hall), and with astonishingly few windows on it. Not only does this southern facade make a tempting target simply for the solar exposure, but it would be an excellent way for Ypsilanti to show off. A solar array on that facade (updated pdf) would be visible to everyone entering town from I-94, 20-30 thousand vehicles daily. Additionally, the City could host an energy meter on its website, showing live and archive information on solar yield.

Register, "Ecocities"

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Creating an Ecocity Zoning Map for any American city:

On an up-to-date map of your town, which will be Map #2, locate the present city, town, and neighborhood centers and draw concentric circles indicating distances from these centers. These will look much like the concentric circles of a target. On about one-fifth to one-third of the land area of the town, in the zones closest to the centers, the density of development should be significantly greater than is the case presently. On about half to three-quarters of the land area of the town, in the zones farthest from the centers and most dependent upon automobiles, there should be much less density of development in the future and, ultimately, only natural or agricultural land uses. The lower the [present] density of the whole town, the smaller should be the percentage in the increasing density area and the larger the percentage in the decreasing density area. Everywhere the mix of uses should become far more complex, even in the restoration areas on the future fringe; all sorts of diverse agriculture and networks and patches of nature corridors and zones can be established in time.

Richard Register, Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance With Nature, "Chapter 10 - Tools to Fit the Task."

Environmentalism means jobs.

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For a post with a lower screed-content, I'll point you to Grist's interview with Oakland, CA, social justice advocate Van Jones. Jones notes that while the environmental movement is often seen as a self-righteous fixation of upper middle class white aging hippies and hippie wannabes (and that impression is too often correct), an environmentally-friendly economy can be and will need to be something that provides economic opportunities for the working class and poor. As I've noted before, a more environmentally sound economy will involve more "skilled service" jobs, and less focus on cheap energy and global flows of disposable goods.

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