The Big Yapple

World’s mayors gather for climate-change summit in New York City Gone are the days when mayors chomped cigars and handed out keys to the city. Today’s civic leaders face a somewhat more monumental task: saving the planet. This week, mayors from more than 30 of the world’s biggest cities — from Bangkok to Berlin, Sydney to Shanghai — are in New York City to compare notes on fighting climate change. The C40 Large Cities Climate Summit follows a smaller event held in London in 2005; this time it also includes business leaders. With renewable energy, mass transit, and carbon reduction …

Paying to kill ourselves

Just what every taxpayer wants

This is super, super smart: A Depression-era program to bring electricity to rural areas is using taxpayer money to provide billions of dollars in low-interest loans to build coal plants even as Congress seeks ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions. … The beneficiaries of the government’s largesse — the nation’s rural electric cooperatives — plan to spend $35 billion to build conventional coal plants over the next 10 years, enough to offset all state and federal efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over that time. Your tax dollars at work!

Solar: such a tease

It could be fantastic, but nobody’s built any

CNET’s summary of its own story perfectly captures the highs and lows of solar thermal: Bottom line: A large-scale solar power plant with a large energy-storage system that is close to other solar-power systems and the customers they serve could produce electricity for about the same cost as that from standard utility plants. Such a system has yet to be built, however. And in other tauntingly suggestive solar news: A new mechanism for focusing light on small areas of photovoltaic material could make solar power in residential and commercial applications cheaper than electricity from the grid in most markets in …

Reclaimed Brown Fields

Leading British candidate announces plan to create eco-towns Gordon Brown, the man widely expected to take Tony Blair’s place as prime minister of Britain this summer, has made headlines with a splashy green announcement. Brown, currently the U.K. finance minister, said he intends to create five eco-towns that would meet a demand for affordable housing. The carbon-neutral communities, built on reclaimed brownfields, would contain 10,000 to 20,000 houses each. They’d be powered by locally generated clean-energy sources such as wind and solar, and would feature bus routes and bike lanes. “If we are to meet the aspirations of every young …

Metrofarming in the NYT

Coming to a city near you?

The New York Times ran a story this week on a grassroots effort that aims to demonstrate the potential for growing food in our cities. NY Sun Works' Center for Sustainable Engineering has a sustainable energy and hydroponics project floating on a barge in the Hudson River, and it's causing a minor buzz ...

LEED competition

Speaking of green building, it looks like LEED may be facing some competition: Lake Oswego-based Green Building Initiative, a nonprofit formed in 2004 with money from the timber industry, is bringing a popular Canadian sustainability program to America. … Green Building’s leaders argue that the U.S. edition of Green Globes is Web-based, interactive and inexpensive when compared with LEED certification. They claim LEED certification is a challenging undertaking that requires a commitment of both money and time to complete.

In the green building trenches

Developing ideas on development

Hats off to GreenbuildingsNYC, who beat me to the punch on a couple of items that seem important to future green development. First, there's a piece by Professor Charles Kibert that critiques a recent report on the benefits of green schools. It is notable for a couple of reasons. First, his analysis asks some important questions about this particular report's benefit claims. Second, through this analysis he critiques the lack of critical review and high research standards in the green building field. There's a response after the post by one of the report's authors. Worth checking out. Second, the Nevada legislature may be backpedaling on its green building tax breaks:

Social engineering, Soviet style

There’s more to freedom than free parking

I keep seeing the phrase "social engineering" used to describe policies that don't kowtow to the car. See, for example, this inexplicable subhead about a third of the way through this Seattle newspaper story. Not only is this usage annoying, it's exactly backward (as others have noted before me). First, let's look first at specifics. The paper reports that the city will put parking meters on some formerly-free spots in a rapidly urbanizing district near downtown Seattle. The newspaper calls this "social engineering." I suppose that's right, at least to the extent that parking meters alter the incentive structure for parking, which ultimately may change some people's behavior. But if anything, the alternative to the city's plan -- continuing to provide public rights-of-way for exclusive, uncompensated use by a handful of private car owners -- is closer to "social engineering" than charging a small fee for the privilege. Really, the question is not whether the city will engage in "social engineering," but what kind of social engineering. And in particular, will government continue to use public resources to subsidize private cars? Speaking more generally, just about any transportation policy -- or any policy at all, for that matter -- can be described as "social engineering." And using that inflammatory language is a game anyone can play. Consider some (slightly) overheated rhetoric: today's car-centric system is the result of Soviet-style social engineering. Governments used the awesome power of the state to take money from the populace. Then central planners used the money with an ethic of brutalism, forcing gigantic car thoroughfares across neighborhoods, into the hearts of cities, and then out into far-flung farmlands and wild places. In town, America's Soviet-style planning wasn't much different.

Medal to the pedal

People-powered transit makes you happy

Transportation uber-geek Todd Litman looked at studies of people's satisfaction with their commutes (PDF). The results: transit isn't all that popular, compared with a car commute: The leftmost bar represents a car-only commute; you can see that it gets higher satisfaction ratings (the green part) and lower dissatisfaction (the orange) than both transit and car+transit commutes, which are the next two bars. (Despite the popularity of park-and-rides, there are lots of yucky orange feelings towards a mixed commute.) But, wait! If you dive into the numbers, it turns out there's another side to this story. As it turns out, people don't have an inherent preference for cars, or an innate dislike of buses or trains. The real story is that people don't particularly like spending time in vehicles, period.

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