Cities

Portland, Ore., will pay builders to build green

Portland, Ore., has unveiled an innovative plan to slash greenhouse-gas emissions. The city will require an energy-efficiency inspection of new homes, then levy a tax on builders who have merely complied with Oregon’s efficiency requirements. …

Trading, taxing, and public reconstruction

Some signs of another mitigation alternative emerging

There has certainly been a great deal of discussion of carbon taxes and various cap-and-trade and cap-and-auction frameworks among environmentalists. Recently, Nordhaus and Shellenberger used the term "public investment" as another mitigation strategy, a term which seems to refer mostly to research and development. However, another alternative is direct governmental construction of the various means of transforming economies toward sustainability -- what might be called public reconstruction. I thought I'd share three quotes from well-known writers that seem to be moving in this direction.

Cool things happening at the local level

California ‘cool cities’ are taking the lead on climate change

Now in her seventh term, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) represents California's 36th Congressional District. Jane Harman. Even sunny skies and pleasant ocean breezes over much of our state can't mask the fact that Californians breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation. California is the world's 12th largest source of carbon dioxide, the chief heat-trapping gas that causes global warming. As dirty as our air is, we are taking the lead nationally in trying to make the air cleaner and our actions greener. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law ambitious legislation establishing the goal of reducing dangerous emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. And yet many in Washington, D.C., are unhappy with California's efforts and are working to undermine and override state laws and regulations designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and promote cleaner fuels. Several weeks ago, emails from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggested senior-level administrators, and possibly the secretary of transportation herself, have been lobbying on behalf of automobile interests to persuade the EPA not to issue a waiver allowing California's clean-air rules. Currently, the Bush administration and Gov. Schwarzenegger are at odds over whether California can do its part to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles. Sixteen other states have either adopted or are planning to adopt the California standard, so if the U.S. EPA grants the waiver, it would directly impact 40 percent of the U.S. auto market. In April, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to the EPA giving them six months to act on his waiver before he would be forced to file a lawsuit. Six months have now passed, and the EPA has still not made a decision. Not one to make an empty threat, Schwarzenegger's administration filed suit today demanding that the EPA make a decision on the waiver. It is unclear how this standoff will end, and whether the Bush administration will allow California the leeway to regulate its own emissions. Fortunately, the feds cannot impede a growing effort to address global warming now underway at the local level: the "Cool Cities" program.

Clinton, Daley to green Sears Tower, other Chicago landmarks

The tallest building in North America is officially going green, along with a few of its Windy City counterparts. At a green building expo in Chicago yesterday, former President Bill Clinton and eterna-Mayor Richard Daley …

Transportation and climate get hitched

Seattle-area voters tied the knot

In the Seattle metro region, voters just sank an $18 billion transportation megaproposal that would have built more than 180 lanes miles of highway and 50 miles of light rail. But so far, the mainstream press has missed one of the most important stories of the year. The real story isn't tax fatigue, it's this: perhaps for the first time ever in the U.S., a critical bloc of voters linked transportation choices to climate protection. In the run-up to the vote, a surprising amount of the debate centered on the package's climate implications. (The state has committed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and many cities, including Seattle, have been national leaders on climate.) The opposition argued global warming. So did the measure's supporters. If you don't believe me, see, among others, the Seattle P-I (yes), The Stranger (no), the Yes Campaign, the Sierra Club's No Campaign, the right-leaning Washington Policy Center (no), and even the anti-tax/rail No Campaign, which oddly enough kept trumpeting the Sierra Club's opposition as a primary reason to vote no. The turning point may have been when King County Executive Ron Sims suddenly withdrew his support. He cited the climate-warming emissions from added traffic as one of his chief objections -- he was thinking about his granddaughters, he said, not just the next five years. The funny thing was, there was a heap of confusion and disagreement over the proposal's true climate impacts, mainly because no one had conducted a full climate assessment of the measure. But climate clearly weighed as a factor for a critical bloc of voters on both sides of the issue. In fact, Prop 1 may be the last of its kind, at least in the Pacific Northwest: a transportation proposal that lacked a climate accounting. Obviously, there were more factors in play than just the climate. Taxes and traffic congestion mattered too. But what ultimately may have tipped that scales is that Puget Sound voters are reluctant to expand roads because they lock us into decades of increased climate pollution. It's pretty well accepted that Seattle-area voters are receptive to environmental messages -- and in this case there were smart and well-informed greens on both sides of the debate. But green or not, the biggest problem for a certain segment of voters may have been that there was no comprehensive accounting of the climate impacts of the project -- one that included the roads, the rail, and the probable effects on land use. So what's the lesson?

Climate change direct action

It’s beginning.

Oregon voters roll back destructive property-rights legislation

Sheepish Oregon voters have approved Measure 49, which significantly scales back development rights under the state’s Measure 37. When voters passed Measure 37 three years ago, it was the farthest-reaching legislation in the U.S. in …

Bike culture

Biking communities thrive in San Francisco and Santa Cruz

We moved offices earlier this year, and are now a little off the beaten track. To deal with the increased distance, and because I broke my colleague Gwen's foldable bike, I brought in a couple of bikes for the office: a pink Stumpjumper of '80s vintage at a garage sale in Lee Vining, and a more recently minted Hardrock bequeathed by good friend and noted environmental economist Michael Greenstone. This is all to say that I've been biking around San Francisco quite a bit recently, and I am struck by how much better things are. The lane striping, for one, makes a big difference. It creates a margin of safety that borders on acceptable. The city, with prodding by the super-effective SF Bike Coalition, has done a fantastic job of laying out lane-striped bike routes through popular corridors. For example: to get from downtown to the Haight, you take the Wiggle. Most people have to wait until they get to the Haight before they start wiggling, but not bike riders. They get their wiggle in early, on the way.

Green career tips for locavores

How to find a job in your local area

I’ve been on the road. I started the first week in October at the University of Michigan and ended it at a “career visioning” retreat in the Connecticut woods with students from Yale. My impressions? …

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