Scooter planet

As personal transportation becomes cheaper, the poor benefit and the climate suffers

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, the Times ran two nearly identical articles on the rocketing popularity of motor scooters in the developing world, one focusing on Iraq, the other on Laos. Although neither article mentions global warming, the pieces do neatly wind together some of the threads that will continue to pressure our climate system well into this century. The first thread is the rise of China as the world's factory floor. In this case, cheap Chinese bikes are flooding foreign markets. Available for as little as $440, these scooters are within reach of the very poor.

The greening of Greensburg

How one small town in Kansas is turning disaster into progress

There wasn't much to be happy about on today's media spectrum. So I thought I'd share one heartwarming story about one Kansas town's efforts to pick up the pieces after a devastating tornado: Townhomes are beginning to rise from the ragged tree trunks, weeds and ruins off Main Street. They mark a radical departure from traditional low-income housing, according to Duncan Trahl, who is from Pennsylvania and on contract with the National Renewable Energy Labs.The townhomes are "LEED gold certified," Trahl said. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The rating is based on a system which rewards energy savings. Trahl said gold certification means these places will be almost twice as efficient as they used to be.Building to this standard for working-class families is unusual, Trahl said."A lot of what's happening in Greensburg is some of the first in the country," Trahl said. Leveraging environmentalism to rebuild a community. It's an idea that's helping revive New Orleans and now a small town in the Midwest. To be sure, the disaster that struck Pakistan yesterday morning is one of a very different nature, but I wish them speed and strength in recovery. I also look forward to the day when "stability" in the Middle East is the norm so that things like "sustainability" can be the new goal. At moments like this, that time seems painfully far away.

Humans have intruded on large-mammal habitat, says study

Humans have driven out large mammals in, um, droves, says a new study in the Journal of Mammalogy. Since the year 1500, at least 35 percent of mammals weighing over 44 pounds have seen their range cut by more than half, thanks to humans moving on in. Well gee, maybe if the animals had brought over a welcome basket we would have been more neighborly.

Portland, Ore., green-building plan will be delayed

Portland, Ore., proposed an ambitious green-building plan last month that was to go before voters in January. But the building and real-estate industries were taken aback by the announcement and have expressed concerns; City Commissioner Dan Saltzman now hopes to have a draft before the city council in three to six months.

The depth of the Mississippi River’s influence, in numbers

Fifty-eight semi-truck trailer loads traveling over 9 feet of water. Photo: Sarah van Schagen   10 — states that border the Mississippi River 31 — states drained by the Mississippi River watershed 1 2 — Canadian provinces drained by the Mississippi River watershed 1 50 — cities that rely on the river for their water supply 1 40 — percentage of U.S. that’s part of the Mississippi River basin 1 2,300 — length of the river, in miles 1 326 — species of birds that migrate along the Mississippi corridor 1 260 — species of fish that call the Mississippi …

The riverfront in Memphis needs help — but what kind?

May God bless Memphis, the noblest city on the face of the earth. — Mark Twain To visit Memphis, Tenn., is to visit a place that is slowly waking from a decades-long stupor. The things that define this city in the popular imagination — the glamorous life of Elvis Presley, the shocking assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. — happened decades ago. Some of the young professionals the city would like to attract weren’t even born when Dr. King and The King ended their respective reigns. But in many ways, the city still lives through that past, both economically and …

St. Louisans turn a working river into a river that works for them

“The fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up.” — Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn As the sun rises over the city of St. Louis, an arch-shaped shadow moves eastward over the city’s bustling downtown and toward the Mississippi River, where it will leave its invisible mark until early evening. The 630-foot steel structure casting this iconic shadow over the city’s riverfront serves as a visual reminder of St. Louis’ role as a gateway for early American explorers, and of the river’s past (and no doubt future) as an invaluable means …

An Iowa river town develops a real relationship with the Mississippi

“The care of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart.” — Tanaka Shozo Arriving in Dubuque, Iowa, is a bit disorienting. After passing acres and acres of the heartland’s flat soybean and cornfields, you suddenly come upon a small city (pop. 60,000) with a surprising landscape. Gazing east to west, you see the muddy Mississippi meandering south toward New Orleans, a historic Main Street lined with 150-year-old brick buildings, and a wall of limestone bluffs covered in trees displaying the season’s majestic colors. It’s an idyllic setting for sure — but you begin to wonder …

Up and down the Mississippi, communities are reinventing their riverfronts

Gone are the days when the Mississippi River was just a shipping route and flood risk that happened to run through a city’s back yard. Increasingly, the legendary waterway is becoming recognized as a prized attraction, worthy of front-yard status. Here’s how a few communities are drawing attention to a natural feature they once shunned. St. Paul, Minn. The “mighty city on the Mississippi” is working toward a connected, thriving National Great River Park along its 17-mile riverfront, with residential areas, businesses, parkland, a public plaza, biking and walking trails, a light-rail line, and an interpretive center. La Crosse, Wisc. …

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