'But Americans won't ride trains'

Defying conventional wisdom, NC residents express desire for public transport

Photo: Roadsidepictures You know that old saw about how greens should shut up about public transportation because Americans hate trains and insist on getting around in their own private chunks of resource-sucking steel and plastic? Well, that may be going the way of $2/gallon gas. Get this, from a recent poll of North Carolina residents: Potential new railway options were embraced positively by those surveyed. Commuter rails in urban areas and high-speed train travel between larger cities were supported or strongly supported at 72 and 70 percent of respondents respectively. Respondents also embraced the possibility of a regional rail system …

Journalist Michael Grunwald on the hubris of the Army Corps

Dam, that’s a pretty lock: the sun sets behind the Corps navigation structure at Alton, Ill. Photo: Mark Hirsch Imagine the Pentagon had been caught red-handed concocting its justification before launching the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Imagine that after the scandal died down, the Pentagon admitted Saddam didn’t really have WMDs — but proposed an even larger invasion, because there was a remote possibility things might change someday. Then imagine Congress had rewarded this logic with overwhelming bipartisan support. It’s a silly thought experiment, because Congress — for all its flaws — takes war at least somewhat seriously. But …

A brief history of the creation and growth of the Army Corps

Today, it’s almost impossible to say “Army Corps of Engineers” without also saying “Hurricane Katrina” and “levee failure,” or “Yazoo Pump” and “boondoggle.” But the corps’ original mandate made no mention of hurricane and flood protection, or even of the Mississippi River. An Army Corps survey crew in 1916. Photo: In 1802, Congress established the Army Corps of Engineers as the nation’s design and construction crew. The country was barely a quarter-century past the Revolutionary War — where the first iteration of the corps had been assembled on the battlefield — and it needed a steady supply of engineers …

A special series on the Army Corps and the Mississippi River

It’s spring, and for most of us that means tackling a few home improvement projects: cleaning the gutters, say, or replacing storm windows with screens. Remaking the Mississippi An interactive look at a few current Army Corps river projects The Mississippi Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for maintaining the Mississippi as a useful and navigable waterway. But some of the Corps’ projects have critics crying “pork.” Click the map below to find out more. Compiled by Patrick DiJusto Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh But what if you took that to-do list and magnified it by …

If you build it ...

Green building may be quickest path to decreased emissions

Reuters has the skinny on a new report on green building. The report concluded that building green would reduce greenhouse emissions more quickly than any other approach. According to the article: North America's buildings release more than 2,200 megatonnes, or about 35 percent of the continent's total, of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If the construction market quickly adopted current and emerging energy-saving technologies, that number could be cut by 1,700 megatonnes by 2030, the report said. Alas, there are "obstacles" preventing the rapid adoption of green building techniques: One is the so-called split incentive policy, where those who construct environmentally-friendly buildings do not necessarily reap the benefits of using them.Also, governments and other institutions separate capital and operating budgets instead of budgeting for the lifetime of a construction project, creating a disincentive to build "green," the report found. Oh well, I guess I'll have to make do with a nice cozy place on the Street of Dreams until green building catches on. Uh, scratch that.

Juice of the future

Everything you could possibly want to know about batteries

The Economist has published a very readable history and explanation of batteries, especially ones suitable for all electric cars, called "In search of the perfect battery." In particular, it has a very extensive discussion of lithium-ion batteries, which will almost certainly be the core battery for most electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. I highly recommend the piece, since electricity is the transportation fuel of the near- and far-future. (h/t to my brother Dave for sending this to me.)

This guy has it figured out

The SOZEV/train combo commute

Pete has the coolest-looking SOZEV (Single-Occupant Zero-Carbon Emission Vehicle) in Seattle. (Click the photo to the right for a larger view.) It has turned a sweat-inducing, 45-minute slog up a killer hill into a comfortable 10-minute cruise. He rides to the Sounder commuter train station from his house and then from downtown to his office east of Seattle. Surfing the net while commuting by train is a concept that appeals to me. I wonder how well the free wi-fi concept is actually working out ... Pete said he would let me test-ride it, so I jumped at the chance and met him downtown. A hybrid bike's top speed, like its weight, is not a very relevant indicator of overall performance. This one can go a lot faster than it should, but I suppose that's true for every motorcycle and car in the world as well. The windscreen (which reminds me of the canopy on an F-16) makes it a little too aerodynamically clean, especially when going downhill. Some bike seats can be, ah, "sucky for your sex organs," but this one feels like you're sitting in a BarcaLounger, and a laptop fits nicely behind it. If there were such things as protected bike lanes, we would all be riding rigs similar to this, replete with over-the-head fairings, turn signals, and electrically heated clothing. Entrepreneurs have not realized it yet, but with that much battery power, all kinds of things become feasible. Heated clothing could keep you warm and toasty in the coldest weather, negating the need to bundle up for the start of a ride and strip down toward the end of it. Turn signals would negate the need to take a hand off your brakes to signal (as cars race toward you from behind). With this much power, you can also light a bike up like a Christmas tree.

Denver hopes to reduce car emissions by encouraging better driving

The city of Denver has unveiled a “Driving Change” pilot program designed to reduce vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging drivers to ease off the lead foot. Starting in May, 400 public and private Denver vehicles, including that of Mayor John Hickenlooper, will have a device installed to monitor time spent braking, idling, accelerating, and speeding. Analyzed results and personalized recommendations for reducing fuel consumption will then be posted on the internet. Vehicles account for approximately 30 percent of Denver’s greenhouse-gas emissions, and the program hopes to cut fuel consumption 20 percent among Driving Change participants.

All close together now

A post-petroleum American dream

"This craziness is not sustainable," concludes The New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert, and he's talking about the economy, not the environment. He continues: Without an educated and empowered work force, without sustained investment in the infrastructure and technologies that foster long-term employment, and without a system of taxation that can actually pay for the services provided by government, the American dream as we know it will expire. And without petroleum. Oil is shooting over $100 per barrel, caused ultimately by a looming decline in global supply, and exacerbated by rising demand in China and India, foolish policies such as the occupation of Iraq, and repressive regimes such as in Nigeria. And if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions to near zero in order to avert climate catastrophe, we must scale back our use of petroleum to near zero. While we're learning to live without petroleum, we need to rebuild the workforce, infrastructure, technologies, and tax system, as Herbert suggests. I will argue in this post that we can accomplish all of these goals by replacing internal combustion engines with electric motors, using other energy sources for other petroleum uses, and perhaps most importantly, by changing the arrangement of the buildings, production, and people in our society in order to eliminate the need for so much petroleum. In order to understand how to accomplish all of this, we need to know how petroleum is used, so let's look at some numbers!