Ask a Brokeass: Sharing is caring

Who are the people in your neighborhood, and what have they got to lend?

I don’t actually have a question to respond to this week, so … pretend like somebody asked something. Remember back when people actually used to stop by their neighbor’s house and ask for a cup of sugar? OK, neither do I. Actually, the other day my boyfriend’s neighbor came over and asked to borrow some aluminum foil, and he was sort of shocked. I think it was the first time he’d ever even seen the neighbor, which is impressively depressing, since they live in tiny, side-by-side apartments. Even if you’re only vaguely aware that other people live around you, think …


Britain’s gonna build some

Britain’s building five new "eco-towns": The towns, each with a minimum of 5,000 to 10,000 houses, will be built to meet zero carbon standards and will each showcase a specific project promoting energy preservation or green technology, the Communities and Local government office said. Projects to be showcased could include use of communal heat pump systems or car pool schemes, the office said. Also, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper says all new homes built in Britain after 2016 must be carbon neutral. Why not now?

Step right up, get your 'lifestyle center'!

Walkable town centers are hip

In "Center points: Urban lifestyle gains foothold in growing list of suburbs," a Chicago Tribune journalist describes the beginnings of a new phenomenon that could have a bigger impact than better CAFE standards, carbon taxes, or cap-and-trade of emissions, in my humble opinion: walkable town centers. If people could actually walk from their residence to a store, train station, or even work, perhaps the constant rise in miles driven in automobiles would start to come down: At opposite ends of the generational spectrum, Baby Boomers and buyers in their 20s are getting credit for supporting the emergence of suburban centers where people live close to restaurants, stores, theaters and even boutique hotels and spas. The key is to find housing that is an integral part of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

Clean diesel: General Motors says yes, Toyota, no

GM will offer clean diesel passenger cars in 2010

GM is planning to bring diesel Saturns and Caddies to the U.S. market in 2010. (A Caddie that gets decent mileage? Who'd have guessed?) They join Nissan, Honda, DaimlerChrysler, and of course Volkswagen in planning to market clean diesels that will meet the new 2008 regulations on NOx and particulate emissions from diesel vehicles. Missing from this list of diesel adopters is Toyota, which is saying that clean diesels "... would end up being more expensive than gasoline-electric hybrids," a market segment which it dominates.

Toyota moves to test plug-in Prius in Japan

It’s getting closer

Green Car Congress translated a story that appeared in the Japanese press: Toyota Motor Co. will obtain permission from Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport by the end of July for the testing of a prototype plug-in Prius on public roads. Toyota will be the first car maker to obtain permission for a plug-in hybrid test in Japan. After completing the road tests, Toyota will start building a way to market the model by leasing them to public (government and municipal) offices. According to the report, Toyota is testing a lithium-ion battery pack in the plug-in. Earlier this year, Nikkei Business speculated that Toyota would introduce the plug-in at the Tokyo Motor Show in November. One of their readers offered a "slightly different" interpretation:

Alternatives to auto-mobility


This op-ed from Rick Cole, city manager of Ventura, Calif., will be music to the ears of all you Gristians: The feel-good stage of California’s leadership on global warming is unsustainable. Kudos to the pop stars with their calls to switch lightbulbs and unplug cellphone chargers when not in use. But we can’t pretend that we will actually reduce 2020 greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels without tackling our region’s embedded patterns of auto dependence and suburban sprawl. … Halting the slide toward irreversible global climate change starts with envisioning a new and better way of life. That is not …

Make me change my ways

Individuals support policies they don’t live by voluntarily

Over at the New Yorker, James Surowiecki draws our attention to this oddity: The curious fact is that many people buying three-ton Suburbans for that arduous two-mile trip to the supermarket also want Congress to pass laws making it harder to buy Suburbans at all. This is, he notes, not an isolated phenomenon: individuals often support policies that will force them to make different choices — choices they’re not willing to make of their own volition. Furthermore, this is not irrational behavior. Oftentimes an individual decision will confer competitive advantage, but the collective result of those individual decisions is deleterious. …

Toyota moves to corner the 'plug-in' market

Announces development plans

Plug-ins are on the way! We've said it many times, but then we aren't the world's leading auto maker. The Christian Science Monitor reports: Toyota's revelation Tuesday that it will develop a new "plug-in hybrid" - which uses a wall socket at night to charge and relies on an electric motor to go many miles before sipping any gasoline - could presage a major shift in automotive technology, some industry analysts say. Detroit's Big Three have each said the technology is being looked at - after years of outright dismissal. But Toyota's announcement was more significant because the company is presumed to have the technology to actually bring such cars to market, they say ... On Tuesday, the president of Toyota's North American subsidiary, Jim Press, said the company is looking at developing a plug-in vehicle that can "travel greater distances without using its gas engine." The technology would "conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels." The latter claim assumes, of course, the electricity is greenhouse-gas free, which it will have to be if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming (though even running on current grid electricity, a plug in is much cleaner than a regular car). Looks like we may have a race for the first practical, consumer plug-in between Toyota and G.M. Targets can be troublesome things. If they're set for some distant future date, the target setter may not live long enough to see if they've been met. Interestingly, much discussion about tackling climate change anticipates having achieved something by the middle of this century. What's the target? Both the European Union (EU) and, at a national level, the United Kingdom have focused on a CO2 emissions cut of at least 60%, which is intended to reduce average global warming by 2°C. (The June G8 summit also spoke of an emissions cut of 50% globally, but only in the context of exploring such a goal and with no greenhouse gas stabilization target in mind.) What are the chances of meeting the 2° objective? Not likely, according to Malte Meinshausen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who presented the scientific evidence in a report of the 2005 Exeter climate change conference and who's been quoted since, both by UK government economic advisor Sir Nicholas Stern and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His analysis of 11 climate sensitivity studies of the effect of global CO2 atmospheric concentrations on temperature shows that settling for a 60% cut in atmospheric CO2 (which corresponds to 550 parts per million by volume) leaves a probability between 63 and 99% of missing the 2°C target. Both the UK and EU proposals indicate that their emissions reduction targets might be toughened. Perhaps, like an athlete attempting the high jump, we are warming up at lower heights first. But scant evidence supports that luxury. Not only must we reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, we need a timetable that reduces the risk of positive feedbacks and sink failures that could lead to runaway catastrophic climate change. In a democracy, it is difficult to convince voters that they should take actions, especially expensive ones, to avoid an as yet largely unseen and unquantifiable danger. How do you base a policy that is likely to have significant economic impacts on model data and forecasts that some might regard as guesswork? We only need to recall the false economy of not spending taxpayers' dollars on building up the New Orleans levees to realize how actions taken today could avert a long-range problem. Delay, combined with the risk that skeptics may accuse the Al Gores of this world of "crying wolf," could make tougher policies harder to adopt later. In setting a UK target, the government must also ask what the United Kingdom's share of the burden is. Its national target must necessarily relate to reductions in other countries, including the developing world, where industrial growth to alleviate poverty is increasing emissions, as foreshadowed in 1992 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We cannot make a random national calculation and throw it into the global pot of targets; rather, we have to determine what the global need is and figure out how to distribute it -- a calculation that must combine science with justice. A successful global climate change framework will have to pay as much attention to the latter as to the former; countries such as China and India will be more inclined to budge if developed countries fully embrace their own responsibilities. Why should anyone sign an agreement that cements their own disadvantage? The UK government is the first to take on this challenge, with publication of the draft Climate Change Bill in March of this year. Its leadership carries the responsibility to get emissions targets right. The final bill needs to make explicit the formula used to arrive at any target that government sets. That formula should tell us not only the size of the cake but also how we calculate our share of it. The draft bill proposes a figure that cannot be explained in terms of either criterion. If it did, that would surely boost confidence that the result is designed to solve the problem faster than we're creating it. I suspect I have set myself a target of living until I'm 97 to see what transpires. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Go Get ‘Em, Plugger

Plug-in hybrids would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, says new study Plug-in hybrid vehicles, long extolled here at Grist HQ, seem always to elicit one question from doubters: Wouldn’t running cars on electricity just mean more emissions from power plants? Answer: No! According to a new study from the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, widespread use of plug-in hybrids — which can travel up to 40 miles before using any gas, and can exceed 100 miles per gallon — would significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, regardless of the energy source. Even if only 20 percent of U.S. …

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