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Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Who killed the Streetcar?" Part I

Ever wonder what happened to Pittsburgh's Streetcars? I'm sure many of you, like I, have wondered, why did the streetcars of Pittsburgh, and most major US cities, disappear? The blog, Carectomy, ponders the question "Who Killed the Streetcars?" and provides some evidence, via About.com, that the auto manufacturers were behind the demise of the streetcar.

From About.com

GM first replaced trolleys with free-roaming buses, eliminating the need for tracks embedded in the street and clearing the way for cars. As dramatized in a 1996 PBS docudrama, Taken for a Ride, Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, said, “We’ve got 90 percent of the market out there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars.” And they did just that, with the help of GM subsidiaries Yellow Coach and Greyhound Bus. Sloan predicted that the jolting rides of buses would soon lead people to not want them and to buy GM’s cars instead.

The book Supercapitalism covered GM and it's power and ability to dictate the US economy in the 1940's and 50's. The following sentence pretty much sums up the power of big corporations during those times: "If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars."

Back in January of 2007 the Pittsburgh Tribune Review's Bill Steigerwald wrote a column on the revival of streetcars in a number of US cities.. He wrote that Pittsburgh would be better off investing in reviving it's system of streetcars instead of the billion dollar tunnel to nowhere known as the Northshore Connector. But Mr. Steigerwald, along with a Port Authority official, says don't count on a streetcar revival here in the burgh.

It's a shame Port Authority is blowing so much of its fiscal and political capital on "The Tunnel to Nowhere." It's a blatant waste of taxpayer money that is certain to be as underused as the rest of Port Authority's inventory of expensive busways, rail lines, tunnels and parking garages.

In a better, more rational, more imaginative transit world, instead of tunneling under the Allegheny River the Port Authority would throw away several hundred million dollars less and put together a modern streetcar fleet.

Think how much cooler it'd be to have sleek European streetcars quietly plying Downtown's lonely streets again -- instead of hundreds of smelly, thunderous buses.

Think how much cooler it'd be to have streetcars -- with big windows for viewing Pittsburgh's fabulous sights -- climbing the Hill (past the new arena) and looping out to Oakland and back. Or to have streetcars on bridges zipping over the Allegheny to the North Shore's ball fields and gambling parlors.

A streetcar system still would be a waste of taxpayer money -- state and local. But because it'd be above ground it would tie parts of the city together, attract tourists and make the act of riding it an end in itself.

It'll never happen. Port Authority has over-invested in giant buses and tunnels. The "T" is already under Downtown. For Pittsburgh, streetcars -- last seen on Downtown streets on July 2, 1985 -- are forever part of the past.

I'm hoping this isn't the case. I believe that public pressure, along with a campaign for the revival, can bring back some of city' streetcar lines. As I said in a previous post, at a minimum the city should consider a streetcar line between downtown and Oakland and also downtown and the Strip District. The streetcar lines would be much cheaper to install and would take a lot less time to implement than the proposed light rail extension.

Besides taking cars off the road, there would be many ancillary benefits associated with streetcar lines in the city of Pittsburgh . Riding a streetcar through Bloomfield's business district, and then down through the Strip District on the way to downtown would be a draw for tourists and locals alike. The lines between downtown and Oakland would help to develop the uptown and lower hill district neighborhoods - and would come in particularly handy when there are games at the new Penguins arena. What's not to like about that?

Opponents of these lines say that driving a car between those areas would be more difficult. Sure, but isn't the point to stop driving your car all the time?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jeff Immelt talks about the economy, global warming, and GE's role in providing energy and infrastrucure solutions

Back on December 10th GE CEO Jeff Immelt spent an hour being interviewed for USAToday's CEO Forum in front of Carnegie Mellon Students and Alumni. Mr. Immelt discussed the current state of the economy as well as GE's future with USA Today senior reporter David Lieberman, and, surprisingly, a good portion of the interview questions were about GE's role in energy infrastructure, the environment, and climate change.

A few highlights:

  • 2007 marked the first year that GE's sales outside of the US were greater than sales within the US
  • GE's Wind Turbines have already sold out through 2010
  • GE's Ecomagninaiton line - wind, solar, biomass, batteries, etc is rapidly growing
  • GE spent significant time and resources talking to customers about their feelings on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change - well before oil prices and climate change hype were at their current levels
  • Immelt did not take a position on carbon cap-and-trade systems but says he believes that market based incentives are the best way to bring about change in regards to climate change
  • Immelt stated that GE tries to avoid getting involved in politics, but he feels that our political leaders around the world should be doing the things necessary to protect our environments
Overall, it was a very interesting look at GE, the global economy, and Immelt's views on the economy, politics, climate change, health care, and the energy infrastructure business.

Video of the hour long interview can be found here.

A more comprehensive review can be found over on another CMU alum's blog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PA State Rep. Matt Smith's Green Building Legislation passes unanimously

Great news for Pennsylvania! State Representative Matt Smith's green building legislation will provide tax incentives to both commercial and residential builders for energy efficiency and green design. The full text of the press release is below, here is a brief sound byte from Rep. Smith. I will follow this up with more details as they become available.

HARRISBURG, Dec. 12 – State Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny, said legislation he authored to promote environmentally friendly construction and renovation in Pennsylvania unanimously passed the House of Representatives today during the special session on energy independence.

“This legislation will not only pay off environmentally, but economically as well,” Smith said. “By encouraging the use of environmentally smart materials and building design, we will generate new economic growth and development in an industry that has nowhere to go but up.”

The legislation, Special Session H.B. 5, would provide tax credits to commercial or residential owners or tenants for the construction of “green” buildings, or the renovation of non-green buildings into green buildings. These buildings, known as high-performance buildings, must meet specific size standards in order to qualify, and must also meet specific environmental standards in several areas, including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

“Green buildings are more comfortable to live and work in, and that increases quality of life at home and productivity on the job,” Smith said. “Green buildings also save on the cost of energy in operating the building over the life of the structure.”

The special session on energy independence was called by the governor over the summer. During the special session, only legislation affecting energy policy can be introduced, debated and passed

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers on Carbon Legislation

Over on the Cleantech Blog, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers posted a statement on some of the proposed carbon legislation, specifically, the cap and trade system proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Mark Warner. I think it's great that a CEO of a major coal burning utility steps up and attempts to reach out to the clean tech crowd - but his statement doesn't offer up anything new. Instead, Mr. Rogers pits electricity customers against carbon trader who would stand to profit from the proposed system at the expense of the homeowners, who he says would feel the burden of the costs associated with the Lieberman - Warner legislation. He then goes on to give a number of arguments for coal as a source of electricity generation. Yes, we know we have a 200 something year surprise of the black stuff. No surprises there.

There was one paragraph from his statement where we were in agreement. Many of us have accepted that coal, for now, is a necessarily evil until Nuclear waste storage is figured out and renewable energies such as solar, wind, and geothermal are ready for prime time on a large scale. So, with that said, for now Rogers says the government's carbon legislation should focus on the following.

The goal for carbon legislation should not be to punish utilities for building coal plants to keep the lights on in the past. It should be to create the incentives to put new clean technologies in place for the future – not just clean coal, but also nuclear and renewable energy, natural gas and the “fifth fuel” – energy efficiency.

I'm with the first commenter on that blog post, who stated that he wanted to hear specifics on Duke Energy's commitment to rolling out clean coal technologies, rather than the PR blah blah and coal cheer leading:
I would be interested in hearing your quantifiable commitments to improving the energy efficiency of your company. We are long past the time when a few encouraging words or PR spin in a forum like this would have sufficed. In case you haven't noticed, most of the rest of the world has moved far beyond this.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quitting your car - better than buying a hybrid.

The other day, on our drive back from our road trip through the Southeastern US, my wife and I discussed the practicality of me turning in my car when my lease is up at the end of 2008, and, instead of purchasing a new hybrid vehicle, not getting a new car all together. This would be great - if we could pull it off. I am currently working out of town 5 days a week - so I do not drive at all during the week. When I am not working in town our office is within a half mile of one of downtown Pittsburgh's light rail stations. There is a light rail station about one mile from our new house in Mt Lebanon, PA. So, there will be some pains if we both need to drive somewhere, but I think we'll manage. We live close to mass transit in a very walkable community. It is clear that we would save a bundle through gas, parking, and insurance fees, not to mention several hundred dollars a month in car payments. In addition to the hundreds of dollars in savings each month, the 3 miles I would walk everyday would help me to lose some of this excess weight I have been lugging around for some time now. The fact that I would no longer be driving a gas guzzler would help me feel more at peace with myself, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act."

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it.

Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life's work, unfairly labeling him "The Merchant of Death" because of his invention – dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, t he inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, "We must act."

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: "Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is "falling off a cliff." One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

Seven years from now.

In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.

Even in Nobel's time, there were a few warnings of the likely consequences. One of the very first winners of the Prize in chemistry worried that, "We are evaporating our coal mines into the air." After performing 10,000 equations by hand, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth's average temperature would increase by many degrees if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Seventy years later, my teacher, Roger Revelle, and his colleague, Dave Keeling, began to precisely document the increasing CO2 levels day by day.

But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless – which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.

We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: "Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.

Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth's climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: "Mutually assured destruction."

More than two decades ago,scientistscalculated thatnuclear war could throw so much debris and smoke into the air that it would block life-giving sunlight from our atmosphere, causing a "nuclear winter." Their eloquent warnings here in Oslo helped galvanize the world's resolve to halt the nuclear arms race.

Now science is warning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution that is trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of the atmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent "carbon summer."

As the American poet Robert Frost wrote, " Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice." Either, he notes, "would suffice."

But neither need be our fate.It is time to make peace with the planet.

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; thatProvidence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penaltiesfor ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called "Satyagraha" – or "truth force."

In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between "me" and "we," creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.

There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." We need to go far, quickly.

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step "ism."

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun's energy for pennies or invent an engine that's carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, "It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship."

In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the "Father of the United Nations." He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. I n that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

Just as Hull's generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, "crisis" is written with two symbols, the first meaning "danger," the second "opportunity." By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they've taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters – most of all, my own country – that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other's behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish toredeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, "Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk."

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, "One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door."

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: "What were you thinking; why didn't you act? "

Or they will ask instead: "How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?"

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

So let us renew it, and say together: "We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Make it Right - please donate to help rebuild NOLA's lower 9th ward with Green homes

Brad Pitt has been on the news recently getting publicity for his Make it Right project in the devastated lower 9th ward in New Orlean. Pitt has assembled an all star team of green designers, architects, and builders for this project. The website, www.makeitrightnola.org, contains plenty of video and flash animation and a method for you to donate cash to "adopt" a house. A cool feature is that it even allows you to designate that you want your donation to go towards the purchase of green items such as rooftop solar panels, solar thermal, CFLs, and environmentally safe paint.

As of this post, 9 of 150 homes have been adopted ($150,000 per home). This is a great initiative so please, check out the site and donate today!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Energy Bill likely to face veto from President Bush

Welcome to the Federal Government of the United States, the place where good policy goes to die by the pen of one man, the President of the United States. Despite the House reaching a compromise on separating light truck vehicles from the overall fuel efficiency requirements for passenger vehicles, White House economic advisor Allan Hubbard stated earlier today "it appears Congress may intend to produce a bill the President cannot sign." According to Hubbard, the issue is with the House bill requiring utilities in each state to produce no less than 15% of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal, by the year 2020.

Now, the states that have an issue with this requirement happen to be in the Southern United States, where, according to some Congressman from those states, there isn't "enough wind to allow us to meet the 15%." Hogwash! Did these yahoos ever hear of a thing called the sun, which happens to shine especially bright in the Southern US?? If a dark and dreary country like Germany can be the #1 producer of solar power, our sun belt states have zero excuse for not producing enough solar power to meet the requirement. The same goes for newer, less common renewable sources such as geothermal.

I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the House and Senate can get enough votes to make the bill veto proof, however, I think in the end there will be compromise. Compromise on a bill as critical to our future as this energy legislation will mean one thing in the grand scheme of things - we lose, they win.

Kermit the Frog: It's easy being green at Ford

Ford has a cute Kermit the Frog animation at their Escape Hybrid website. Please check it out and make sure to click. If you don't, Kermit will remind you that he cannot go home until he gets "2000 clicks."