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Welcome to the Measure Dome

Oregon voters lash out against land-use planning For more than three decades, Oregon's comprehensive anti-sprawl land-use planning rules have funneled development into urban cores and preserved vast swaths of land covered by farms and forests. Sixty percent of Oregon voters apparently found this state of affairs intolerable. On Nov. 2, despite opposition from current and former governors and state officials from both major parties, labor unions, enviro groups, farm bureaus, and utilities, they approved Measure 37 by a 20 percent margin. The measure takes Oregon further than any other state in protecting individual property rights, requiring full compensation for any …

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The urban archipelago

My hometown alternative weekly The Stranger has an unbelievably good article running this week -- it's the first thing I've read post-election that actually felt authentic and hopeful to me. It says that relevant red/blue divide is not a matter of states but a matter of rural vs. urban. Cities vote Democrat. It's time to celebrate that, celebrate cities and the values of diversity, vitality, and imagination that make them run, and turn our attention to making cities ever more aesthetically, practically, and politically attractive.  My eye was particularly drawn to this passage: And, as counterintuitive as it may seem …

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The Shipping News

Global warming may open Northwest Passage to shipping Global warming may melt arctic ice enough to make the legendary Northwest Passage a viable trade route, trimming almost 40 percent (roughly two weeks) off the current Asia-to-Europe route, which involves a large detour down through either the Suez or Panama canals. Some view this as a bright spot in the otherwise grim report released this week on the impact of global warming on the Arctic. Enviros aren't so sure. The route would inevitably involve large oil tankers navigating narrow channels filled with ice. "The question is not whether an accident is …

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European. Small. How Can They Fail?

European automakers target the U.S. with itsy-bitsy cars European automakers hope to make inroads in U.S. markets with small, fuel-efficient cars, but they have quite a task ahead of them, despite gas prices that now exceed $2 per gallon. While a segment of the U.S. market is gaga for hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which gets about 44 miles per gallon, some small European cars like the Smart two-seater get nearly 70 mpg. Three problems: One, many U.S. drivers feel insecure in small cars, competing on freeways with gargantuan idiotmobiles like the Cadillac Escalade. Two, small cars have lower horsepower, …

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Fat Accompli

Overweight passengers lead to higher airplane CO2 emissions Everybody knows the U.S. is in the grips of an obesity epidemic. And many folks know that airplanes are major sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which exacerbates global warming. But did you know that the former is contributing in a significant way to the latter? Neither did we -- until now. Americans' average weight rose by 10 pounds during the 1990s, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that caused airlines to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000, costing them $275 million and producing an estimated …

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The Truck Stops Here

New electrical hook-ups at truck stops prevent diesel pollution Long-haul truckers, hardy though they may be, occasionally need rest. Traditionally they have pulled into truck stops and taken naps with their trucks idling, to avoid, you know, freezing to death. Unfortunately, idling diesel trucks produce emissions that likely cause asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart disease, and premature death, both in the truckers themselves and those who live around the truck stops. Now, a truck stop in New Jersey has installed a system that will allow truckers to turn off their trucks, hook up a long yellow tube to a truck …

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The Traffic is Murder Out There

Traffic causes heart attacks Being stuck in traffic could substantially raise your chances of having a heart attack -- and it's not just the stress. The particulate pollution that hovers over traffic is the likely culprit, says a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, though "we can't exclude that there is an interaction between stress and pollution," says lead author Annette Peters. And before you greenies start feeling smug, note that it doesn't matter whether you're in a car, aboard public transportation, or riding a bike; as long as you're breathing the stuff, you're at risk. So, …

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So whatcha whatcha whatcha want?

In the U.S., as with many other places, the industrial era saw a massive exodus from rural areas into cities.  The "information era" (or whatever buzzword you like) has seen a massive exodus from cities to suburbs and exurbs, with long commutes to work, sprawling colonies of large homes, strip malls, and cars, cars, cars.  Now, the mere fact of such a large exodus would seem to indicate that Americans prefer such a lifestyle (despite the fact that it may be killing them.) But according to a new survey conducted by Smart Growth America in conjunction with the National Association …

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They’ve Been Working on the Railroad

Recycled plastic railroad ties making inroads There are nearly a billion wooden railroad ties holding together the railroads and subways of the U.S. That's a lot of wood, and thus a lot of trees. It's also a lot of creosote, a preservative chemical used on wood and deemed by the U.S. EPA "probably a human carcinogen." The cost of wood coupled with insurance against creosote-related litigation is inspiring some rail operators to switch to ties made from recycled plastics and rubber -- milk jugs, plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, and so forth. Manufacturers claim that plastic ties are environmentally friendly, and …