Cities

Cities worldwide will turn off lights for Earth Hour

Mark your calendar for March 29, when cities around the world will switch off non-critical lights at 8:00 p.m. for an awareness-raising Earth Hour. At present, 24 cities — with a total population of some …

Let buildings heat and cool themselves

How to kill coal in 10 years

We know that coal is the enemy of the human race, what with carbon emissions, deadly air pollution, and unsafe and destructive mining practices. The supply of coal is becoming more problematic as well: recently, a Wall Street Journal article described a "coal-price surge," and Richard Heinberg has warned that coal may peak much sooner than most people expect. So what's to like? Not much. But since coal-fired plants provide almost half of our electricity, we can't get rid of coal unless we find either a way to replace it or a way to reduce the use of electricity. Recently, Gar Lipow has discussed how friggin' cheap it would be to replace coal, and Bill Becker has pointed to several studies that show how renewables could replace coal. I will argue in this post that if buildings could produce all the space and water heating, air conditioning, and ventilation that they need, we wouldn't need any coal. Heating and cooling buildings and water now consume 30 percent of our electricity and 32 percent of our natural gas. If, for instance, geothermal exchange units (also known as geothermal heat pumps) were installed under every building, and an appropriate amount of solar photovoltaics were installed on roofs in order to power those units, we wouldn't need to burn 60 percent of our coal because we would not need 30 percent of our electricity. And because we could redirect our natural gas from warming and cooling into electricity generation, we could get rid of the remaining coal, replacing it with natural gas. In other words, the buildings would both destroy electrical demand and free up natural gas, until renewables come online and replaced natural gas in turn. If we did this within a 10-year timeframe, we could generate millions of green-collar jobs, create new industries, and help the rest of the world kill off the rest of coal. All of the data that I use in this post is available online in a spreadsheet I created called "EnergyUse." It has tabs for electrical use, natural gas use, my calculations concerning coal, and some notes on the data, all of which comes from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). So let's get electricity literate, and take a look at how electricity (and natural gas) are used in this country, so that we can figure out how to kill coal:

Lance Armstrong: more bike commuters, please

A breathless appraisal of Lance’s new bicycle mecca and mission

Lance Armstrong will soon unveil his 18,000-square-foot Austin-based bike shop, Mellow Johnny's (named after the Tour de France's yellow jersey -- or "maillot jaune"). The goal of the shop is to promote bike culture and bike commuting: "This city is exploding downtown. Are all these people in high rises going to drive everywhere? We have to promote (bike) commuting..."Showers and a locker room will allow commuters who don't have facilities at their offices to ride downtown, store their bikes at the shop, bathe and catch a ride on a pedicab or walk the rest of the way to work. Armstrong's advocacy could move mountains. Cycling has always been a trend-driven sport. As far back as the 1800s, manufacturers promoted their technological innovations by sponsoring racers. In the U.S., bike sales boomed in the early '70s (reaching a high they've never quite touched again) due to a sudden craze for road bikes.

Engineer plans to sell compressed-air car in India within a year

Could folks in India be driving a car that runs on compressed air within a year? French engineer Guy Negre says it will be so. Tata Motors has backed his invention: a five-seater called the …

The hills

What would you build on the land near the iconic Hollywood sign?

Get out your checkbooks, folks: The mountaintop property located just above the "H" in the iconic "Hollywood" sign is now for sale. The asking price? A sweet $22 million. Two years ago, Los Angeles officials …

Not-so-dirty dancing

NYC nightclub groovin’ to a green tune

Dirty dancing is so 2007. An NYC hot spot aiming for LEED certification could become the first eco-club in the U.S., W Magazine reports: Jon B., owner of Manhattan nightclubs Home and Guest House, plans …

LEED score and seven years ago

Abe Lincoln’s summer home goes green

Does this building look LEED certified to you? Well, look again. This is part of Abe Lincoln’s summer home complex near Washington, D.C., and after a seven-year restoration, it’s the first-ever historic monument to receive …

City limits

A poet takes the measure of Portland — on foot

Starting early this century, poet and professor David Oates set out to walk the boundary line that Oregon drew around the city of Portland decades ago to concentrate its development and discourage sprawl. What is today called "the New Urbanism" is not new in Portland: it's been part of the political process since l973. As Oates writes in a forward to a book he recently published about his adopted state's experiment in urban utopianism: We hope to grow in, and in some places, up. To get richer in connections and cleverness -- to get deeper -- instead of wider, flatter, and shallower. That simplicity of language and depth of thought is part of the charm of City Limits: Walking Portland's Boundary. Like Thoreau, to whom Oates alludes in his first chapter -- titled "Where I Walked, What I Walked For" -- Oates has a knack for linking a bold action, such as walking over 250 miles around the city, to a self-deprecating description. Oates lightly mocks himself for getting lost, for his fear of dog attacks in redneck neighborhoods, and even for his own occasional tendency to stereotype people. This willingness to reveal his flaws helps the reader trust Oates' discussion of the issues raised by Portland's boundary (known as the UGB, or Urban Growth Boundary). Oates also dares include in his book brief essays from others, including philosopher/writer Kathleen Deen Moore and winemaker Eric Lemelson, as well as a planner, a landscape architect, and even a developer -- the sort of voices not usually heard in "environmental" books. Most surprising of all, on his walks Oates occasionally encounters legendary figures -- such as John Muir, Paul Shepherd, Italo Calvino -- who just happen to have inspired Oates. These ghostly figures turn out to be quite chatty, and yet utterly themselves, giving the book a jolt of originality to match its open-mindedness. Each encounter with these ghosts has a wistful quality; one can tell that Oates hates to see them go. Calvino especially inspires, with his discussion of the city of the labyrinthian spiral, the city of multiple desires, the city "that fades before your eyes," he tells Oates. "Like all of Portland's inhabitants, you follow zigzag lines from one street to another ... all the rest of the city is invisible. Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, buried, erased." It's a wonderful, original, eye-opening book. Although sometimes the multiple introductions and voices give it a patchwork quilt quality, in the end the book resembles the city Oates obviously adores: vibrantly alive, defiantly progressive, fearlessly contentious. For Grist, Oates kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Portland and its attempts to control its development:

A climate for old men

Spearheading transit for livable cities at 93

I recently ended 100 days without Grist. And wouldn't you know, the title of the first post I saw, "No climate for old men," spoke directly to the reason I was away. No, I wasn't with the McCain campaign. Rather, I was immersed in a project, spearheaded by a really old man, that could become a terrific tool for beating back the climate crisis. That man is 93-year-old Ted Kheel, legendary New York labor-lawyer-turned-environmentalist. His project is a study of the feasibility of financing free mass transit in New York City through congestion pricing and other charges on driving. I directed the study (PDF), which has just been released, and I think its implications could be huge, not just for New York but for every city in the U.S. and around the world.

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