Cities

Meeting notes

The lost art of conversation

I passed a big rabble of bikers on my way to downtown Seattle yesterday evening. Several complimented my bike as I passed. There were a couple of talls in the mix. I assumed it was another Critical Mass ride, but maybe not. Sure looked like fun. I need to participate in one of those someday. I periodically attend a monthly gathering of Seattle atheists. There are always new faces, and they pick a different restaurant every month for variety's sake. We chatted about things like global warming, the recent shootings in Virginia, diesel verses hybrid cars and, of course, the American propensity for religiosity.

Super-adobe

Using earth to save the earth

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) In my last post on material intensity, I mentioned green building as an example of how to indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, before building one wind turbine or making one factory more efficient. Because green building is more familiar than most types of material intensity reduction, I'll use it for my first examples. After all, building construction worldwide uses about 40% of mineral and metal products, and 25% of forest products*. And we have experts in green building on this blog who can comment on the examples that follow. Let's start with "super-block" or "super-adobe" construction, invented by Nader Khalili, California architect/author and founder of the Hesperia, California-based Cal Earth Institute. It is similar to rammed earth: Wet soil under pressure (mixed with a little cement) turns into a sturdy and long-lasting building material. Khalili's innovation is to pump the soil into bags that are continuous coils and bind them with barbed wire.

Bullets flying in Brazil?

A bullet train, that is

According to this article, Brazil's transport ministry is considering whether to tender bids for a high-speed train linking São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Once (OK, if) the bullet train goes into operation, travel time would be just under an hour and a half, compared with the five hours it currently takes to drive between the two cities.

Tunnels everywhere!

First a train tunnel between Africa and Europe, now the Russians want to build the long-dreamt-of tunnel between Russia and Alaska. The tunnel would theoretically carry natural gas, oil, electricity, and fiber-optic wires. The more and better tunnels we have for rail, the more competitive rail will be with less efficient transport systems like air travel. This is better for energy efficiency and therefore the environment. This project still has a lot of problems -- it's not like there's a lot of spare rail up above the Arctic Circle, necessitating lots of construction -- but I'm sure Ted Stevens is already salivating.

Material intensity

Indirect greenhouse-gas savings

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) Previously I pointed out that efficiency, doing more with less, is a key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (A lot of people on Gristmill are fans of conservation, doing less with less. I have nothing against this, so long as it is a voluntary choice, but I won't be spending a lot of time on it.) Normally, when people think of efficiency they think of direct savings -- insulating homes, electric cars, and so on. That is: make the same sort of goods we make now, but more cleverly, so they require fewer inputs to operate. And that is an extremely important kind of efficiency. But Amory Lovins and Wolfgang Feist pointed out long ago that there is another kind of efficiency. Instead of looking at how to provide the same goods, look at what those goods do for us, and see if there is another way to provide the same service. For example, it remains essential to start making steel, cement, and mill timber more efficiently.

We Just Ran This Story So We Could Say “Chunnel”

Eurostar will reduce emissions, offset the rest Of trains, planes, and automobiles, locomotives already have the best rep for carbon emissions — but one operator is on track to boost the bar higher. Eurostar, which shuttles commuters under the English Channel, plans to reduce CO2 emissions 25 percent per traveler by 2012. Without raising prices, the company will choo-choose lower-emission electrical generators, electronic tickets, recycled uniforms, local food, and efficient lighting, heating, and air conditioning. It also hopes to fill more empty seats, which probably won’t require blow-up dolls; passenger numbers are up 5.4 percent from a year ago. Starting …

Lists

A couple

Here are two lists, for those of you into that kind of thing: First, Sustainlane — which seems to produce a list every few weeks, no? — has a list of the Top Ten Cities for Renewable Energy. That’s the cities that provide citizens with the most green power. They are: 1. Oakland, CA 2. Sacramento/SF/San Jose, CA (tie) 3. Portland, OR 4. Boston, MA 5. San Diego, CA 6. Austin, TX 7. Los Angeles, CA 8. Minneapolis, MN 9. Seattle, WA 10. Chicago, IL Oakland, huh? Maybe Van‘s doing something right. Read the whole thing for details. Second, from …

Smart grid baby steps: smart meters (metres?) in the U.K.

Helping homeowners monitor electricity use

One piece of the smart-grid puzzle is home electricity monitoring — allowing homeowners (and eventually business and factory owners) to track their electricity use in real time. As the old saw goes, what gets measured gets done. Simply making people aware of energy flows is the first step to helping them modulate those flows efficiently. On that note, it’s fantastic to see this: soon, every household in the U.K. will be able to request a smart meter and have it installed for free. The next step, of course, is giving homeowners more automated control. One part of that is smart, …

On efficiency

There’s more room than you think

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) As almost everyone who studies the subject concludes, one key to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is efficiency. Renewable sources generally provide energy at a slightly higher market price than fossil fuels. Oh, there are exceptions: passive solar heating, wind electricity, biofuel from waste. But overall, if we get all our energy from low-emitting sources, we will spend more overall per BTU. If we can use those BTUs efficiently, our overall energy bill can be the same or lower.

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