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Monday, July 2, 2007

How far behind is Pittsburgh?

I often wonder how long it will take to get people in this area to start coming around to the idea of "Going Green." The other day I met Rhette Rogozinski of the Pittsburgh Sierra Club at an event in Mt. Lebanon and talked with her about her involvement for a few minutes. Rhette said that a few other local chapter members from the area meet about once a month to discuss current issues which at the moment include getting the town commissioners on board with an effort to cut the town's GHG emissions. Rhette also mentioned that the senior high school will either be renovated and/or have new construction to expand the school within the next few years. There is some discussion around making the new high school LEED certified but I haven't found any confirmation on that.

Meeting someone like that gives me hope but I still think the average person in this region thinks those of us promoting green initiatives are a little "nuts." We still have work to do when it comes to changing the mindset of individuals. A few examples. People at my work discover I have a blog on alternative fuels and clean tech - they look at me like I am a nut case. People think it is weird that I carpool to work. My wife, among others, asks "Why would you put up with someone else driving to work everyday. Doesn't that get annoying?" Well, parking for $10 a day and $3+ a gallon of gas adds up. I also do not (yet) own a fuel efficient hybrid so for now me driving by myself into work each day makes me feel like a complete a-hole.

So how do we change the mindsets of these individuals who do not have the environment and energy efficiency on their radars? Education is the first place to start. With energy prices playing such a huge role in our economy we need more economic and public policy professors talking about energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. CMU's Tepper School of Business has a professor who is world reknown for his thought leadership in the area of energy policies. Check out these interview clips with Professor Lester Lave on gasoline prices.

How else do we inform the average Pittsburgher or other individuals in the US who do not have a clue on this issue? Incentives in the form of taxes and rebates are something everyone notices. I am against a tax increase at the pump it is a regressive tax that hurts the less fortunate while not making a dent in changing behaviors. What I am for is taxing new vehicle purchases based on their fuel efficiency. Let people buy their Hummers - I am all for free choice. But individuals should pay when their actions negatively affect society and so a tax for purchasing a Cadillac Escalade, in my eyes, is a good "sin tax." By the way - the tax rate for these new vehicles purchases should be on a sliding scale. Average fuel efficient vehicles should have a lower tax rate while those that are ultra fuel efficient should even get a tax credit.

What other methods do we have? It's all about the issue hitting home. For my wife, who is an animal lover, seeing the effects global warming has had on the icecaps and polar bears has led her to get on board the green train, although she is not as "coo-coo" on the issue as I am. Economic development is another way to get people's attention. Cleantech investments have proven to that they can provide growth economies almost over night in certain parts of the country and world.

So what is the tipping point? As Lester Lave points out in the interview posted above and in this editorial, $3 a gallon gasoline has not impacted the behavior of Americans. Unfortunately, higher gas prices and maybe even an oil crisis will have to happen for the majority of Americans to accept the fact that they must change their habits. I wish it didn't have to happen that way but I have to say our culture is pretty sad these days. We spend more time thinking about reality TV, video games, i-Phones, and fantasy football to really make an effort to do what is needed to save the planet.


jet said...

I've lived here a year and a half now, and I can't figure it out.

My guess is that a lot of it is class-based. Only poor people and students ride the bus, or something like that.

was in a professional business in Regent Square, directly on S. Braddock and I asked the women behind the counter where the nearest bus stop was for the 61B.

"Oh, we don't ride the bus" one of them said and the others politely laughed.

Anonymous said...

I've lived here for about 7 years after stints in Boston and Manhattan. As wonderful as Pittsburgh is in many respects, it is just not forward thinking on issues like this. Why is that? Well, there is no dynamic regional political leadership-- my god, any leader who proposes anything remotely innovative will be shouted down with cries of, "but what about our property assessments!, what about the potholes! what about an arena for the Pens!" And there are more urgent and fundamental regional issues such as a declining and aging population, an eroding tax base, and crumbling infrastructure. So what can we do? Each do our own part to conserve, talk conservation up amongst our friends and family, support any politician who sticks their head out above the parapet on this...and hope, little by little to nudge the region along. We just ain't California. But houses are cheap!

Kat said...

I agree, Pittsburgh ought to take more of a green initiative. Pittsburgh could take a lesson from Boston...

I agree, such a simple action can do much to help the environment, and some Americans are beginning to do something about it.

Thanks to the recent efforts of Boston's current administration, Boston is now on the cutting edge of environmentally-friendly technology, setting a national example for early adoption of bold new environmental trends.

Most recently, in February of 2007, the city installed Verdiem's surveyor software on all PCs at Boston City Hill, and it has already reduced PC energy use by an average of 44 per cent. It is saving an average of 180 kWh of electricity or about $25 per PC annually through centrally managing the sleep, shut down and wake cycles. Essentially, this program simply places the PCs into lower power settings when they're not in use, like when you go to lunch, a meeting or even home for the evening. Based on its existing customer base, annual use of Verdiem technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions at a rate equal to taking more than 8,000 passenger cars off the road for an entire year, or conserving 4,317,988 gallons of gasoline.

Bill Oates, Boston's CIO, said the software only cost the city $25 for each PC licence, and based on projections, it will save the city $25 per PC annually. 'So we believe that after the first year we will have covered the cost of the licence,' Oates said. After that, 'we'll save about $30,000 annually.'

Taken from: Green Your Network Blog

Jake said...

I've lived in Pittsburgh all my life, and I know quite a few environmentally conscious people.

I'll be the first to admit that Pittsburgh has quite a few lessons it could learn from other cities.

Pittsburgh may not be quite as backward as some might first imagine though. We have the most LEED certified square footage of buildings in the country, mostly because of the convention center.


I’m personally a carpooler at a company downtown. I work with a lot of bus riders and we even have a handful of bicyclists. I must admit – this seems to be an anomaly for people working directly downtown. In the more outlying areas my experience has been a relative distaste and disbelief for the existence of any problems in the first place.

I’ve attended a couple of different meetings in town – one such where Senator Bob Casey was the keynote speaker. The event was sponsored by PennFuture, and free to members. I believe membership is free – though if it costs anything its very reasonable.

One tool I’ve been using to convince other people is to show them real numbers with their utility bills compared to other people’s. Duquense Light posts your electricity usage to your personal account on the internet every day, so its very easy to track your usage and figure out changes in your behavior.

It’s been pretty effective and eye opening for some people. While I haven’t yet convinced anybody who didn’t believe in climate change to begin with – I’ve had a good bit of success convincing people that there are easy and economical changes they can make in their lives.

That’s the approach I’ve taken anyway.

Schultz said...

Good to know there is a growing number of people here in Pittsburgh that are on board with going green.

Here are my responses to your post:

The Convention Center actually skews Pittsburgh rankings among Green Buildings, although we have the Green Building Alliance we are falling behind other cities that have incentives in place. New buildings in Pittsburgh that are a certain size should be required to be at least silver LEED certified, and all buildings that receive local and state tax subsidies should have a clause that requires those buildings to be LEED certified as well.

It is all about the policies and examples set from the top. You, me, and your friends at work can all car pool but in the end if there are no incentives or better options individuals are going to choose convenience over being "green." People, in general, are not going to be green for green's sake, they have to get something in return.

I am optimistic, but it is going to take some strong leadership and innovative thinking to make Pittsburgh a leading green city. We never make any of the Top Green Cities lists and, although the state has been doing admirably, we are not bringing enough clean tech companies to this Southwestern PA.

Here is a list of the top 50 green cities. We are not on that list but we would have ranked poorly in most areas of their methodology, poor air quality, mass transit, green economies, etc


Jake said...

Schultz – I agree with nearly everything you’re saying.

People are not going to change for no good reason. But that includes the politicians themselves. There won’t be strong leadership in the direction of pro-environmental concerns until there is an incentive for the politicians to do so. Namley – until voters demand it.

As much as it would be great to wait around for a strong leader to emerge – in the meaintime my plan is to contact the representatives that I do have – and to convince as many people as I can that this whole movement is something that is good for us from so many different angles.