Payton Chung

Get ready for the summer driving season

Build your stockpile of gas now!

Gasoline supplies right now are plumbing historic lows, just as May and the "summer driving season" are about to roll around. This fact has the industry types at the WSJ's Energy Roundup abuzz with predictions of $4/gallon gasoline, should the inevitable disruption (refinery fire, hurricane, Iran war) occur. As in years past, areas with higher cost gasoline, mostly the blue states along the oceans and Great Lakes, will see the highest prices.

On the floor of GreenBuild Expo

Green building convention is abuzz

I'm currently attending GreenBuild, the U.S. Green Building Council's big annual convention. This is just the fifth iteration, but already it's a behemoth. Last year it drew over 10,000 attendees, and this year it's expected to best that record. The vast trade show floor (over 700 exhibitors) testifies to the big business of green building. The show places leviathan bridge-builders next door to some guy selling composting toilets. An entire aisle is lined with suppliers of modular green roofs. What I find interesting, though, is less the breadth of exhibitors than the depth.

Carbon fad diet

Slate and TH challenge readers to lose 2.5 tons apiece

Slate and fellow green blog TreeHugger have just launched an eight-week Green Challenge carbon diet. The goal: to get readers to cut their carbon emissions 20 percent through the usual variety of actions. The kicker: an interactive "my emissions" evaluation tool that friends can use to challenge one another. Nothing like a little competition to spice things up. (I'd love to share my results, especially since this week's theme is transportation, but it's not yet working for me. Anyone else?)

Green Bean counting

Chicago, like several other cities, has a Green Permit Program (PDF) that grants faster building permits for green buildings. Erik Olsen, the program's administrator, gets to scrutinize every single green building in the entire city. Luckily for us, Erik recently started GreenBean, a blog profiling the blueprints that cross his desk. So far, he's posted eight building profiles, including two single-family houses (both in my neighborhood -- must be my aura), high-rise offices, and the rehab of a YMCA into subsidized housing. For each, he notes the level of green-ness, unusual green techniques used, and perhaps a little back story about quirky geothermal wells or an underappreciated project manager who pushed the green angle.

Where does your gas come from?

Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek spent the last year on "an energy safari," working backwards from the customers and night-shift clerks at a single Marathon gas station in exurban Chicago (and the downstate refinery that supplies it) to the exact fields where the oil first left the ground. Last September, for instance, 71% of its gas came from the U.S., 20% from Africa, and 10% from Saudi Arabia. The eight stories and related multimedia (photos from Iraq, Louisiana, Nigeria, and Venezuela, and a 12-part video documentary) neatly tie together the disparate lives on both ends of the petroleum pipe: an angry gang recruit in Itak Abasi, Nigeria, an oilfield manager in Basra living under what amounts to solitary confinement, fiercely Chavista village elders in Venezuela, the gas station manager who spends a third of her pay on gas, and a "concerned" Hummer-driving realtor in St. Charles, Illinois. The Tribune calls our "globe-spanning energy network" "so fragile, so beholden to hostile powers and so clearly unsustainable, that our car-centered lifestyle seems more at risk than ever" -- a bit out of character for a Republican newspaper with a suburban circulation base.

Leave your car(e)s behind on vacation

Dreaming of getting away in August? How about getting away from your car? Xtracycle, a maker of "cargo bike" kits, offers up "car-free vacation tips" so you can fill your vacation with "clean, affordable, soulful transportation," whether in town or exploring the wilderness. Among the hints: plan ahead, choose your destination wisely, combine modes, and travel light.

Some Americans worried about global warming

Others … not so much, says new poll

A recent Pew Center poll done just as An Inconvenient Truth was opening nationally finds, not surprisingly, that Americans don't care about global warming. Or do they? 41 percent say global warming is a very serious problem, 33 percent see it as somewhat serious, and roughly a quarter (24 percent) think it is either not too serious or not a problem at all. That puts global warming 19th among 20 issues ranked. However, a very strong partisan pattern emerges here: although it's dead last among Republicans, it ranks 14th for both Democrats and independents, above such "hot button" issues as government surveillance, flag burning, abortion, the inheritance tax, and gay marriage, and about the same as the budget deficit and immigration.

EU may introduce carbon tax on airplanes

Following up on an earlier post on commercial aviation and global warming: the European Parliament voted 439 yes / 74 no / 102 abstain last week to tax jet fuel used on cross-border, intra-European flights, to allow member states to impose VAT (sales tax) on jet fuel, and to apply a cap-and-trade system to carbon dioxide emissions from aviation. (Currently, international flights, including those within the EU, pay no tax on their jet fuel.) Airlines predictably condemned the maneuver, calling on the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization to issue a proposal that would apply globally.

Investors see green in buildings

Contrary to popular belief, most developers don't bulldoze Bambi solely to satisfy their innate avarice. Instead, they pave the Earth at the bidding of their clients -- by which I mean lenders and investors, not homebuyers, office tenants, or other such "end users." Regardless of how exciting and cool a development proposal is, it just won't happen if some faceless banker doesn't advance a big pile of cash. As rapacious national banks swallow smaller, local competitors by the dozen, these lending decisions have increasingly fallen to bankers blindly applying generic guidelines. The result: a paint-by-numbers landscape of interchangeable (but financially safe) subdivisions, strip malls, and office parks. Any developer who dared to innovate would have to do so on his own dime -- and sure enough, many pioneering examples of New Urbanism have been backed by "nontraditional" investors like old-money families, large corporations (like Microsoft, Disney, EDS, and Ebsco), and even charitable foundations. Despite growing interest in socially responsible investing, few investors have thought of how to clean up the picture in the building industry -- source of, say some, half of America's greenhouse gas emissions.