Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Clark Williams-Derry's Posts

Comments

Long distance runaround

The question of whether to buy locally grown food is not as clear as it might appear.

When shopping for food, how important is it to buy local? This question isn't rhetorical: I no longer know quite what to think about this. Obviously, transporting food long distances requires fossil fuels and creates air pollution, among other ills. So all else being equal, it's better to buy local. But how much better, I'm just not sure. Studies such as this one (reported on here by the BBC, blogged about here) suggest that, in terms of net environmental impact, it's even more important to buy local than to buy organic. The authors of the study didn't look at human …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Grid schlock

Critics of new urbanism’s grid street pattern miss the point.

One of the defining characteristics of sprawl is a branching street pattern -- one in which cul-de-sacs feed residential streets, which feed local arteries, which feed thoroughfares, which ultimately feed freeways. It's a design that can work fine for cars, but not so well for people. I spent (or misspent) part of my childhood in that sort of neighborhood. There were houses that were literally 100 yards from my house as the crow flies, but nearly a mile by the road network. That sort of thing discourages, you know, walking and stuff. Which is one reason why people who care …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Something smells rank

The ranking of most eco-friendly cities gives too much weight to good intentions.

Via Planetizen News, here's an interesting sustainability ranking for 25 US cities. Now, I haven't had time to look through the methods thoroughly. But my first impression is that it gives undue weight to intentions, and not enough to actual performance. For example, Portland does exceptionally well in climate and energy policy, while New York City's rank on energy policy is only middling. But this only measures what cities say about energy, not what they actually do. In the real world, however, the climate doesn't care about good intentions. And in point of fact--at least where transportation emissions are concerned--Portland …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Forests fired

Is using trees for biomass a good idea?

I point this out not because I'm in favor of it, but because I think it's a trend worth watching: the Klamath Falls, Ore., newspaper, The Herald and News is reporting on a project to use biomass--namely, thinned trees--to generate electricity. Here's what the article has to say about the greenhouse gas effects of the project: A major wildfire would release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. But the controlled use of that same wood for lumber or electrical production would be positive in terms of "greenhouse gas" emissions. Future fires would not release the same amount of carbon …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Peak performance?

Washington Monthly considers peak oil.

Blogger Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly has a well-written, informative, and balanced set of posts of the so-called "Peak Oil" theory -- the idea that, while the world may not be running out of oil, exactly, we may be fairly close to the practical limit of how much oil can be squeezed out of the ground in any given year.  After the peak, goes the theory, oil production gradually declines, no matter how high the price might go.  (By the way, oil production in the United States peaked in 1970.  Even with new production in Alaska and the Gulf …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Talking with cars

Transportation choices are made as much with the heart as with the head.

This New York Times article from last Saturday echoed news that has been popping up all over recently. The headline sums it up: "America's Love Affair With S.U.V.'s Begins to Cool." Higher gas prices are apparently starting to shift people's car-buying patterns -- which seems to have caught most auto-industry execs by surprise, though it should hardly come as a shock to economists who (quite naturally) expect that price changes will eventually change people's behavior. But what stuck out at me was this quote from a former SUV aficionado: "I never wanted a car before -- never," said Tamika Cooks, …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Car buyers imposing higher fuel standards

Increasing numbers are changing the cars they buy based on fuel economy.

From the Christian Science Monitor, evidence that consumers are beginning to think about gas prices as they make new vehicle purchases: Last month, 49 percent of new-car buyers, the highest level ever, had changed their mind or were thinking strongly about buying a vehicle they would not have considered because of gas prices, according to a survey by Harris Interactive and Kelley Blue Book. Over the short term, rising gas prices only affect consumption a little bit, because people have only so much flexibility to change their driving habits. Over the long term, though, people start making more fundamental changes …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Sometimes the cloth does not make the baby

A new study on diapers finds no difference between cloth and paper

Ok, that's a dumb headline. But the problem itself -- whether to diaper my babies with cloth or disposables -- was one I spent a bit of time agonizing over. But perhaps I shouldn't have. A new study commissioned by the British Environment Agency (reported on here and here) suggests there's almost no difference between the two, at least in terms of environmental impacts. Which is roughly the same answer that this 1992 study, at the website of our friends at the Institute for Lifecycle Energy Analysis, came to. The British study made some suggestions for ways that both disposables …

Read more: Living

Comments

Cutting the Accord

Buying a Prius has benefits, but don’t forget the costs.

A reader of the Cascadia Scorecard Weblog had this question: What do we think about this piece of advice from the May-June Sierra Club magazine's "Hey Mr. Green" column? Hey Mr. Green, What's best for the environment, continuing to drive my perfectly fine 1990 Honda Accord, or trading it in for a new gas-sipping Prius? -- Heath in Los Angeles Well, Mr. Green hates to say this because you might be bonded to your trusty old Accord, but she burns twice the petrol and wheezes out twice the global-warming gas of a Prius or similar hybrid model. Being a conscientious …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

Burnt CAFE

Raising CAFE standards may actually backfire.

It's a rare treat to read a dry, technical report and--almost by accident--learn something surprising, counterintuitive, useful, and (at least to me) genuinely new. Which is exactly what happened when I read this paper (beware, PDF) by Todd Litman at the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute. The upshot: Raising vehicle fuel-economy standards, which always seemed to me like a good idea, may actually be counterproductive, even if they're truly successful at reducing the amount of gasoline the average vehicle consumes per mile. Now, I'd long heard the argument that current fuel economy standards (also known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy or …

Read more: Uncategorized