Richer, greener

Focusing population growth in the right places will make us both

The New York Times looks at the impact of high gas prices in communities across the nation today and concludes that increases are most painful in rural areas. Part of this analysis involves an examination of money spent on gas as a share of total income. The big middle of the country does badly, and Appalachia and the deep South do very badly. We can explain some of the excessive spending on fuel in these places by noting their dependence on trucks and the lack of transit alternatives, but the biggest factor, without question, is simply that those places have …

Commuting can drive you crazy — no, literally

Think your commute drives you crazy? Well, you might be right. In a culture so accustomed to being on-the-go, sitting immobile in traffic for hours each day can take a toll on mental health, researchers say. “If you’re stuck in traffic, there’s a feeling of being out of control,” says psychologist Laura Pinegar, who says she’s hearing more and more complaints of traffic anxiety in her practice. Psychologist Ronald Nathan says it can get even more intense than that: “We can start to over-generalize by saying, ‘My life is worthless. All I am is somebody who gets into a piece …

Public transit ridership is up, but no one’s talking about a better system

But how long will they wait for infrastructure improvements? Photo: Sharat Ganapati One year ago, as America prepared for the traditional summer-driving crush, op-ed pages nationwide fretted over a disturbing trend. Only a decade earlier, oil had plumbed depths near $10 per barrel, and dirt-cheap gas had allowed us to roll over the nation’s blacktop in vehicles of monster-truck proportions. But now something odd was happening: In just nine short years, real oil prices had quadrupled. The steady upward march threatened all that we held dear, like Chevy Tahoes, the open road, and driving alone. How, the nation’s pundits wondered …

For all the world to see

California launches database of green state buildings

Some day I’ll stop being surprised at the eco-dreaminess of California. But for now, I’m still tickled by even relatively minor developments — say, the creation of the country’s first statewide map of government-run green buildings. Sites are color-coded (and searchable) by whether they’ve achieved LEED certification, are pursuing it, or are being “retro-commissioned.” And yeah, OK, it’s basically a Google map and a self-delivered pat on the back, but it represents real progress on the ground.

Car culture on the skids

USA Today: oil prices drive up asphalt costs, derail road maintenance

For decades, public cash has gushed into building infrastructure designed to get us around in those little (or not-so-little) privatized pods. Indeed, the mobilization to create and maintain our road and highway network probably counts as our greatest public achievement of the last half-century. Meanwhile, while the highway rode high, our rail-transportation network crashed. Attacked and defunded by politicians and rejected by the public, Amtrak lurches on, barely. It’s a a parody of a transportation system — unrecognizable as such by anyone who’s ever caught a train in Western Europe. Things may be changing, though. High oil prices aren’t just …

Scooter ridership zooms as gas prices rise

For reasons both environment- and wallet-related, motor scooter ridership is zooming (along with transit and bike ridership, natch). Between 1997 and 2007, annual sales of new scooters jumped from 12,000 to 131,000. Scooter sales in the first three months of 2008 were up 24 percent over the same time period last year, and sellers are having trouble keeping scooters in stock. But engine-powered two-wheelers don’t get a full embrace from purists. “While scooters are better than cars from a spatial-efficiency and pollution standpoint, they are noisy, still somewhat polluting (especially two-stroke engines) and they still make streets less safe for …

Train of thought

Rail and the coming changes in transport

National Train Day was marked this year on May 10, so it's not too incredibly late to mention two new books of note: John Stilgoe's Train Time: Railroads and the Imminent Reshaping of the United States Landscape that came out in the fall says that rail is "an economic and cultural tsunami about to transform the United States." Maybe that's a little grand, but rail is definitely on the ascendancy, since it can move people and freight at a fraction of the energy usage vs. petroleum. Also, Radio Ecoshock's March 28 edition of its useful weekly podcast had a recording (skip to minute 11 for the presentation) by authors Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl at the launch event for their new book Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil. They are forecasting a grid-tied and electrified (increasingly from renewables) rail system among four revolutions coming in transport:

Toxic trailers will be used again if need be, says FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised it will never again use formaldehyde-tainted trailers to house victims of a natural disaster — unless, of course, it does. In a draft disaster housing report, the agency said it would use the trailers if need be, though as a last resort, and for no longer than six months. Some 500 families made homeless in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina are still living in toxic trailers. Hurricane season started June 1, and forecasters predict a good chance of two to five major Atlantic storms.

Globalization death watch, Part I

Airlines, cargo ships increasingly desperate due to rising fuel costs

Globalization was built on cheap oil. As that era draws to a close, so will the current phase of global integration, whether Thomas Friedman, Wal-Mart, and all those involved in intercontinental trade like it or not. The current transportation infrastructure is based on cars, trucks, airplanes, and cargo ships, which together consume about 70 percent of the gasoline used in the United States. While the greatest focus has been on cars, trucking and airline companies are facing collapse. The International Air Transport Association just published a new report in which they call the situation of many airlines "desperate." According to The N.Y. Times: If price of oil, which is now just below $130 a barrel, averages $107 over 2008, the aviation industry would lose $2.3 billion for the year, the chief executive of the group, Giovanni Bisignani, said. Should it hold at $135 a barrel for the rest of the year, the industry will lose $6.1 billion.

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