Biomass in Austria: An adventure in pictures

The human-scale, renewable, domestic power systems reviving rural Austrian economies

Listen Play “Lonely Goatherd,” from The Sound of Music On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Salzburg, we took a field trip to a few examples of biomass in rural Austria. The country is over 40 percent forested, and over half of the forest is owned by small farmers with less than 40 hectares (just under 100 acres), so the government has put a priority on encouraging biomass use as a substitute for fossil fuels. It’s a stable domestic industry, carefully managed with an eye toward local economic development and, as with just about everything I laid eyes on in Austria, …

Oil gone wild

Transportation sector lies at the root of U.S. energy problem

This is a guest essay from Jack D. Hidary, chair of and the Freedom Prize Foundation. It was originally published on the Huffington Post and is republished here with the author's permission. The price of oil struck an ominous chord for the U.S. economy with yesterday's record trade of $147 per barrel. At these prices we are sending more than $1 million every minute of every day to oil rich countries. As oil hits a new high the dollar has hit a record low against the euro. Our equity is draining away and flowing to foreign hands. How can we get ourselves out of this mess? This crisis will take nothing short of a restructuring of our core industrial and transport sectors. Just as a turnaround CEO comes in to fix a troubled company, we need a retooling to rid ourselves of oil dependency. We do not need politicians looking for fake fixes such as a summer gas tax holiday. We do not need the President of the United States of America to beg sheiks for a bit more of the black gold. Keep your dignity, Mr. President. The problem is clear -- 55 percent of all the oil we use in the U.S. is guzzled by cars and SUVs. Not planes, not trains, not big trucks. To find the problem look no further than your driveway. Yes, the fleet of 245 million cars and SUVs that we drive in the US -- that is the main problem.

Salzburg: the arrival

Observations from a freshly minted Germanic expert

Listen Play "My Favorite Things," from The Sound of Music One of my favorite things to do when I go to other countries is to make wild generalizations about them based on the tiny sliver of exposure I get — like if someone from India flew to, say, Poughkeepsie and reported back, "Americans seem to love cheese fries!" Today, I flew into Munich and took a shuttle to Salzburg, stopping in several small villages in between to drop other people off. Now that I’m an expert on Germany and Austria, some observations: There are no ugly buildings here. There are …

Your city council could save the world

How local building codes can be adapted to meet the 2030 Challenge right now

Compared to cutting-edge technologies -- nanotechnology, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, biomimicry -- building codes seem downright stodgy and, dare I say it?, boring. Yet, much to the surprise of many, building codes are fast becoming the Titans in the battle against climate change. Able to fell with a single blow the giants on the other side of the battlefield -- out-of-control greenhouse-gas emissions, thoughtless energy consumption, and gross energy inefficiency -- building codes are beginning to look pretty darn sexy in their own right.

Insurance co. offers green-rebuilding coverage

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. has rolled out a home-insurance policy that covers the cost of rebuilding a home to green standards. The new coverage — which can only be added to Fireman’s top-tier insurance policy — covers the cost of reconstruction with sustainably harvested wood, efficient lighting and plumbing, nontoxic paints and carpeting, and more. The coverage runs an additional $70 a year for a home insured at $1 million, and can be purchased regardless of the greenness of the original dwelling, though owners of previously green-certified homes get a 5 percent discount on their premiums. Fireman’s, a division of …

The end of an era

U.S. driving declines

I’ve seen this graph cited and reprinted here and there on the interwebs, but it’s worth looking at again, if only to remind ourselves that something fundamentally different for the U.S. economy is underway: This is from a U.S. Department of Transportation report (PDF) on traffic trends.

Deal could open way for more development in Montana forest

Plum Creek Timber, which just negotiated a giant conservation deal with green groups, has also made a closed-door deal with the U.S. Forest Service that could ease the way for development on thousands of acres of Montana forestland. For decades, the USFS has enforced restrictions on logging roads that allow them to only be used for timber management. But under the deal expected to be formalized next month, logging roads on Plum Creek-owned land could be paved — easing residential access to deep-woods summer homes. Plum Creek, a former logging company which now focuses on real-estate investment, says that in …

High-speed rail coming to California

Looking good.

My other candidate is a bike

Obama, transportation policy, and the highway bill

Great story in CQ this week on bike politics. Did you know that Obama met a few weeks ago with 160 cycling advocates and promised them his support? I didn’t. The 600-pound gorilla in transportation politics is the 2009 negotiation of a new highway bill, which according to CQ “is already being touted as embodying the greatest overhaul of federal transportation policy since President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act into law half a century ago.” It might behoove CQ to add, "if Obama wins." Just as McCain’s "don’t pick winners" energy policy amounts to picking winners (nukes …

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