This guest essay comes from Steven Cohen and Jacob Victor. Steven Cohen is executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and director of its Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs. Jacob Victor is an intern at Columbia's Earth Institute. After overcoming numerous obstacles in Albany, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial congestion-pricing plan finally appears to be slowly moving forward. Thanks to a last-minute deal between Bloomberg and the leaders of the state Assembly, it is almost certain that New York will receive a $500 million federal grant to fund the equipment and upgrade mass transit in order to begin the program. While New York City has not been given permission to charge tolls to enter Manhattan south of 86th street, the first steps in implementing congestion pricing were authorized by New York state's famously dysfunctional state government.
When David pointed out that plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs) can reduce carbon emissions in all possible futures, two main arguments were raised in opposition -- practicality, and the possibility that they will provide too low a reduction, while blocking the path to something better. The way commercial plug-ins look to be implemented within the next five years is that normal hybrids will be built with large batteries and the ability to plug into a socket in your dedicated parking space. They will travel the first twenty miles or so on electricity and then turn on their gasoline engine around the 21st mile or so. Even with our current grid, they will emit less CO2 per mile than when they switch to their gasoline engine. Like hobbyists, who manually convert existing hybrids, these will have to be more expensive than a normal hybrid, because they have every expense a normal car has plus the extra battery cost. If gasoline prices rise high enough, I suppose they may pay for themselves in fuel savings, but mostly they will sell on the "cool" factor. However, there is another way to implement plug-ins, one we could begin now with a large enough investment, which produces savings comparable to a full electric car -- and which, if run on wind, or sun, or other ultra-low-carbon electricity sources, could actually provide a 98 percent emissions reduction.
You don't have to go farther than Hollywood to see one reason Bicycle Neglect is so rampant in North America. Consider the 2005 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The middle-aged protagonist, obsessed with video games and action figures, seems stuck in early adolescence. The film spends two hours lampooning him for being emasculated, immature -- not a real man. His vehicle? A bike. (You can almost hear the schoolyard snickers.) To be a successful adult, apparently, you have to drive. Cycling is for children; cycling is for losers. In this view, it's fitting that the pinnacle of the sport of cycling is the Tour de France. (Implied snicker about France as a symbol -- unfair, of course -- of all that's cowardly, effeminate, and weak.) Call this Bicycle Shame.
Some of you may have missed it, as Odograph introduced it down in comments, so I thought I’d bring it up front: Check out Walk Score, where you can plug in your address and find out how walkable your home is, on a scale of one to 100. My old place — a condo near the heart of Ballard in Seattle — scored a 94. My new place, a house north of Seattle, just south of Shoreline, gets a 66. I wonder if it knows whether you have sidewalks? Because that obviously affects walkability. We don’t have any in our …
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 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?
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.
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.
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: