Alan Durning

Alan Durning directs Sightline Institute, a Seattle research and communication center working to promote sustainable solutions for the Pacific Northwest.

Kerry-Lieberman, Luke Skywalker, and Stewart Udall's son

Winning on climate may require reforming the U.S. Senate

Tom Udall (D-N.M.)The chess game of climate politics — or, more specifically, of putting a binding limit on climate-changing pollution from dirty fuels — is at a moment of great uncertainty. President Obama continues to push for putting a price on carbon, and Senate action may come in July or August. But there’s every chance that a U.S. climate law (which would trigger Canadian action and advance Northwest sustainability more than any other single thing) will prove a bridge too far in 2010. So it’s a good time to think through contingencies, to identify paths on which the movement for …

a step in the bike direction

Tricked-out cargo bikes give SUVs a run for their money

It’s been a hard few months for us fossil-fuel-addicted societies: calamity in the Gulf of Mexico; coal mining disasters in China, West Virginia, and Russia; still-frustrated attempts to win climate and clean-energy policies in Salem, Ore., Olympia, Wash., and Washington, D.C. Perhaps we’re hitting bottom? If so, catching glimpses of a life cured of addiction can be a step toward recovery. To that end, I’ve been devoting odd moments this year to marveling at some of the innovations going on in human-powered urban transportation: walking carts, community carts, and convertible cart-trailers. Today: a report from the edges of human-powered conveyance, …

Game Changers

Un-democracy and the U.S. Senate, undercutting EPA edition

Last week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) sponsored a measure to ban the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial facilities under the Clean Air Act, as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.   The Senate voted 53 to 47 against Murkowski and in favor of EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, as the New York Times reports. But the closeness of the vote gives the wrong impression about Americans’ views on this issue. The vote results might make you think that the nation is closely divided on climate policy, that the nation is deeply conflicted. …

Rebutting CBO's climate policy and jobs paper

The Congressional Budget Office issued a briefing paper yesterday concluding that climate pricing will slightly reduce employment overall in the United States, because green jobs gains won’t quite offset other job losses. Unfortunately, this paper will likely be misquoted and misunderstood repeatedly. It’s not what it seems.

Shape shifting bike trailer-cart-strollers.

My 1994 Oregon-made Burley bike trailer-stroller (above) is still dear to my heart, but innovations in newer Burleys and in other companies’ offerings show that tools for human-powered urban mobility are developing at a rapid clip. The 31-year-old Eugene company Burley and four manufacturers outside the Northwest offer bike trailer-stroller-cart-jogger hybrids that convert into so many mobility tools they are like something out of Transformers. Almost every Burley model is quickly convertible from a bike trailer to a stroller/cart. (Sightline trustee and Walk Score creator Matt Lerner tows his loaded Burley above.) Some are even convertible into ski trailers for …

Community Carts Remove a Barrier to Walking.

When I was growing up in Seattle in the sixties, the neighborhood grocery where my mom shopped let her and other regular customers push purchases home in the store’s shopping carts. We lived two blocks away, and we returned the carts promptly to safeguard the privilege. It was sometimes my older siblings’ job to return the cart while the rest of us put away the provisions at home. Consequently, my family never owned a granny cart, but we never lacked for walking wheels either. That’s the point of community carts: to extend cart access without necessarily extending cart ownership. Unfortunately, …

Updating the "Granny Cart"

Transport guru Todd Litman says the biggest vehicular breakthrough of recent decades is the rolling suitcase. That’s not the conventional wisdom. Most recent attention to the wheels of the future focuses on electric cars, and they are clearly essential. Still, for some, they are also a false hope, suggesting that all we need to change is our drive trains, not our auto-centered way of life. If our future is to be sustainable, however, the role of cars—electric or otherwise—will have to diminish. The obesity epidemic, the range limits of electric batteries, the pressing need to get off the carbon-fuel rollercoaster …

A Representative Senate?

When I consider the hurdles to reforming state or federal constitutions, I’m reminded of the tale about the lost traveler who called out for directions to a farmer in a field. “If I were going there,” the farmer eventually hollered back, “I wouldn’t start from here.” Richard Rosenfeld, in Harper’s writes of how deeply embedded in the Constitution is the power of the Senate. For example, it says, “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” Even in a constitutional convention, votes are taken by state, not per capita, so there’s no reason …

Canada Rules

The undemocratic design of the US Senate is a huge obstacle to progress in the Northwest. How did the Senate get set up in the first place? Richard Rosenfeld, writing six years ago in Harper’s answers that question. The 1787 Constitutional Convention created the Senate in a triply split vote won by states representing just one third of the fledgling nation’s (free, white, male, propertied) electorate. In doing so, the convention rejected Common Sense-author Thomas Paine’s plea for a one-chamber, popularly elected legislature. Instead, it essentially imported the British system of government of the time, as filtered through the writings …

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