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Mass transit in D.C. is a triumph

Metro is succeeding, but like all public transit systems, it needs our support

It was a bad headline and a bad take on an important issue from a writer at a publication that ought to know better. Last week, M.J. Rosenberg, writing at TPM Cafe, penned a quick post entitled "Question for Paul Krugman: Why Does the DC Metro Suck?" In the space of a few short words, Rosenberg revealed that arguments in favor of increased public transit shouldn't just be directed at environmentally negligent conservatives. There is a lot of work to be done winning over writers, voters, and leaders on the left as well. The source of Rosenberg's anger was a …

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Be car-ful?

Giving up car-lessness for Rob Lowe’s plug-in hybrid

This essay is part of a series on not owning a car. ----- The weekend before Halloween, my car-less family got a loaner plug-in hybrid-electric car to try. You see, the City of Seattle and some other local public agencies are testing the conversion of some existing hybrids to plug-ins to accelerate the spread of these near-zero-emissions vehicles. As a favor and, perhaps, for some publicity (this post), the city's program manager offered me four days' use of the prototype -- previously driven by actor Rob Lowe. Enthusiasm about plug-in hybrids -- like their now-almost-mainstream siblings the gas-electric hybrids -- …

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Thousands of monkeys uprooted by sprawl move into New Delhi

Last month, the deputy mayor of New Delhi fell from a terrace to his death while trying to fend off a gang of wild monkeys. This weekend, rampaging monkeys attacked up to 25 people in the Indian capital. While the scenes are tragic, it would be a stretch to call them unexpected: In the center of New Delhi, monkeys scamper through buildings, bathe in fountains, and frolic in parks and on groomed lawns. "They attack patients who are being rolled inside the hospital, pull out IV tubes, and scamper off to drink the fluids," says lawyer Meera Bhatia. Half a …

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Just the big-box facts

New tool helps groups assess large retail proposals

Big-box stores have significant impacts on a community's economy, environment, and character. The Big Box Evaluator (created by the Orton Family Foundation, which offers numerous programs that aid good land-use planning) is a new online tool designed to help citizens, activists, and municipal officials get the basics on these impacts in an unbiased manner. It's interactive, and lets you plug in variables like tax rates, community demographics, size of a hypothetical big-box proposal, and much more. The outcome is a well-rounded assessment of probable impacts, the good as well as the bad, which will help its users ask important questions …

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Hear some trains a-comin'

Public transit will be necessary for CO2 reductions

At the end of October, both New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg and, believe it or not, Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, passed their cosponsored bill in the Senate to allocate $1.9 billion per year for six years to expand passenger rail in the U.S. According to Parade magazine (yes, the one that's inserted into Sunday newspapers), the main goal is "to develop high-speed, short-haul rail corridors modeled on the European city-to-city routes. They could run between Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C.; Portland and Seattle; Chicago and Detroit; Miami and Jacksonville, Fla." In addition, the Senate wants to give Amtrak …

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Portland, Ore., will pay builders to build green

Portland, Ore., has unveiled an innovative plan to slash greenhouse-gas emissions. The city will require an energy-efficiency inspection of new homes, then levy a tax on builders who have merely complied with Oregon's efficiency requirements. Builders who construct homes 30 percent more efficient than the state building code requires will escape the fee; those who go above and beyond, with construction that saves at least 45 percent more energy, will be paid cash rewards. Portlanders will vote on the plan in January. Hint: vote yes!

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Trading, taxing, and public reconstruction

Some signs of another mitigation alternative emerging

There has certainly been a great deal of discussion of carbon taxes and various cap-and-trade and cap-and-auction frameworks among environmentalists. Recently, Nordhaus and Shellenberger used the term "public investment" as another mitigation strategy, a term which seems to refer mostly to research and development. However, another alternative is direct governmental construction of the various means of transforming economies toward sustainability -- what might be called public reconstruction. I thought I'd share three quotes from well-known writers that seem to be moving in this direction. First, Richard Heinberg recently wrote about the problems of trying to solve both global warming and …

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Cool things happening at the local level

California ‘cool cities’ are taking the lead on climate change

Now in her seventh term, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) represents California's 36th Congressional District. Jane Harman. Even sunny skies and pleasant ocean breezes over much of our state can't mask the fact that Californians breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation. California is the world's 12th largest source of carbon dioxide, the chief heat-trapping gas that causes global warming. As dirty as our air is, we are taking the lead nationally in trying to make the air cleaner and our actions greener. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law ambitious legislation establishing the goal of reducing …

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Clinton, Daley to green Sears Tower, other Chicago landmarks

The tallest building in North America is officially going green, along with a few of its Windy City counterparts. At a green building expo in Chicago yesterday, former President Bill Clinton and eterna-Mayor Richard Daley announced a partnership to retrofit landmarks including the Sears Tower and the Merchandise Mart, the nation's largest commercial center. Using features like wind turbines and green roofs, the endeavor will seek to save energy, fight climate change, and -- perhaps most important -- show other communities and countries around the world that environment and economy do mix. Green building and other climate fixes represent "a …

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Transportation and climate get hitched

Seattle-area voters tied the knot

In the Seattle metro region, voters just sank an $18 billion transportation megaproposal that would have built more than 180 lanes miles of highway and 50 miles of light rail. But so far, the mainstream press has missed one of the most important stories of the year. The real story isn't tax fatigue, it's this: perhaps for the first time ever in the U.S., a critical bloc of voters linked transportation choices to climate protection. In the run-up to the vote, a surprising amount of the debate centered on the package's climate implications. (The state has committed to reduce greenhouse-gas …