You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘environment’ category.

Once, probably when I was in college or shortly thereafter, I was walking around my parents’ suburban neighborhood, the one where I grew up in Northern Virginia. I forget why. Maybe I needed some fresh air and time to think, maybe I was walking to 7-11. Maybe both.

Whatever the reason, it was summer, probably after midnight. I was about half a mile from home, strolling on the side of Sugarland Run Drive. A  Loudoun County sheriff pulled up behind me, flashed his lights and asked to see my ID. Luckily, I had my wallet, proving I lived within walking distance of the very spot where we had our little meeting.

Do you think the cop would have stopped me if I’d been driving?

Signs are rarely needed.

No, and that is the mostly unexamined aspect of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Yes, race is a factor in his death, and I do not at all mean to play it down. There already is loud debate on that (just drop by Facebook), as well as a debate over gun laws. There’s less noise about how we treat pedestrians in this country (though I did find this thoughtful piece on the subject).

It probably sounds like a joke. But I’m deadly serious. I was almost hit by a minivan the other day while jogging across a busy street IN A CROSSWALK ON A GREEN LIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. The driver glared at me as if I were in the wrong

In suburbs, gated or not, “normal” people are expected to be in cars. Oh sure, we tolerate pedestrians during the day, as long as they don’t try to cross the street when we want to hang a quick left. At night, it’s a whole different story. Anyone on foot is suspect, regardless of race. For some people, I’m sure, race only heightens suspicion that is already there.

It’s sad. But if Trayvon Martin was up to no good, why would he be walking along the road where any car could see him? The truth, obviously, is that he was just coming back from the store. But he had the double misfortune to be both black and on foot in a suburb where both were — and probably still are — out of the ordinary.

In that, the Orlando suburbs are far from alone.

Advertisements

Obama gave a great speech yesterday and I especially enjoyed his call to put away childish things (I hope he wasn’t referring to McDonald’s milkshakes).

However, only when this country grapples directly with pollution (of which global warming is but one symptom) will I believe we are serious about the future.

It’s a given that we fret about the economy and the wars we’re fighting (gee that looks like fun!). We wring our hands and issue dire predictions, but our ability to fix problems is hemmed in by a meek imagination that wants nothing more than to restore things to how they were.

Like they were in our childhood perhaps. When no one worried about the fumes drifting from a tailpipe or the clouds billowing from a power plant.

We patch and re-patch the holes. Do we dare seize the power to build a new roof? Polls have not been encouraging.

I’ve solved the energy crisis, at least the political one. Republicans want more drilling and refineries and Dems want more conservation and cars with better fuel efficiency. Why not have both?

If cars and SUVs and pickups really do end up traveling more miles per gallon, we won’t need more refineries or more drilling — but at least oil companies will have the option. Everyone gets what they want and gas can fall back to $1.30/gallon (I remember one colleague complaining when it hit that mark nine short years ago),

But, of course, Washington doesn’t work that way, at least for the moment. It’s more fun to yell and scream and block the other side from getting what it wants than it is taking a risk and figuring out how to satisfy everyone. And it is a risk.

But some country singer appearing on Glenn Beck’s show had a good metaphor for why we need more domestic drilling — he compared it to surgery (and no, I don’t think this particular singer had much background in energy policy, but so what?). Sure it might hurt, but you gotta do it.

The analogy worked for me, and then I figured it was worth approaching conservation and fuel efficiency in a similar vein. That’s like the special diet you have to go on after, say, a gastric bypass operation. In many cases, surgery alone won’t cure you. It just postpones the agony.

It looks like poor Harrisburg, Pa. is a major contributor to climate change, according to this Brookings Institution report. Each of us belches more than three tons of carbon a year. It’s true that, per the report’s findings, we live in big houses powered by coal and drive a lot. But I’m a bit skeptical, since those are only part of what it means to be an American these days. And I wanted to deal with the report since, earlier, I decided big cities are like big coal plants — relics of a centralized, industrial past.

Brookings says people in big cities emit less carbon than us non-urbanites, at least some of us anyway. However, I’m guessing that people in places like Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles (all cities with relatively small per capita carbon footprints according to Brookings) wear clothes and eat food. And I’m guessing that only some of the food is grown in their own kitchens and that only some of the clothes are made at dining-room tables.

Even food at a city farmer’s market has to get to its destination somehow, and I don’t think Ford is making any hybrid box trucks.

Stuff doesn’t come from nowhere. It takes factories and planes and ships and trucks to produce and deliver this stuff, all of which produces carbon. I wonder what the carbon footprint is of the average sushi restaurant in midtown Manhattan or the average department store in Los Angeles.

It’s this kind of analysis that’s missing from the Brookings report. And as long as it’s missing, we can’t hope to get a realistic grasp on climate change that empowers people instead of alienating them.

All this talk about Bush and his daddy is hogwash. The man he really wants to outdo is John McCain. How else do you explain Bush’s belated admission that global warming is real, following so closely a big speech by McCain on the same subject?

McCain won kudos for breaking with Bush and his own party way back on Monday. But it seems that Bush doesn’t want McCain to top him in the history books any more now than he did during the South Carolina primary in 2000. The pair have walked hand in hand on Iraq, with McCain lending an air of authority to Bush’s decisions. Maybe Bush is a little hurt that McCain is seen as abandoning him on global warming.

Why would Bush be more obsessed with McCain than with his own dad? Consider first that the elder Bush probably wasn’t around much during the younger’s childhood. It would have been natural for W. to look outside for a father-figure. McCain probably isn’t the first to fill that role.

Much has been made of Bush the son following in his dad’s Air Force footsteps. But McCain also was a pilot — who made a name for himself in the very war Bush avoided.

Maybe it’s all just psychobabble, but I can’t help scratching my head about these two Republican leaders both acknowledging the reality of global warming in the same week. It has to be more than coincidence. I can understand why McCain did it — he’s been a consistent supporter of climate-change legislation. Bush has had seven years to think about it. Why now?

The debate over the gas-tax holiday has gone far enough. It’s mostly a showpiece with little real-world effect (what would politics be without that sort of thing anyway?) Still, I’m willing to go along with it if we can come up with a more creative solution: force people to stop driving their SUVs and monster pickup trucks unless they’re hauling three passengers and/or a load of stuff.

Every time I venture out in my little Honda Civic, I’m surrounded by solo drivers in huge machines. It’s time for a little trade-off. I’m happy to spare those drivers some pain at the pump, but only if they’re willing to stop being the biggest, self-inflicting cause of it.

A friend of mine in a state that voted before PA warned me that I’d be burned out on the presidential race after the primary. He was right. It’s not worth following right now. It’s all about the horse race and the strategery, and I guess it will be for the next six months. Barack Obama has failed, in some respects, to move the media conversation off its sinking foundation in poll numbers, public gaffes and explosive preachers. Oh well.

I can’t complain too much, since I engaged in a little horse-racery myself. But we seem to have suffused the entire presidential process in a cynical brew. When John McCain denounces a negative ad, he’s seen as employing a backhanded trick to keep the ad in the news while keeping his own distance from it.

It’s probably ever been thus. Politicians are human and humans aren’t exactly the noblest of breeds, though we fight pretty hard sometimes to do good things. However, the crises do seem to be piling up pretty thick at the moment, from high fuel prices to food shortages to global warming to an unfinished war to nuclear terrorism (this site graciously lets you imagine the consequences of a bomb in your own hometown!).

Maybe it would be too much to ask people to pay significant attention to the bad stuff. Still, it’s no accident that the stories dominating headlines before 9/11 were about shark attacks and Gary Condit. We want to hear about a disaster only as long as it’s happening to other people, not to ourselves. The major media, safe in their NY/DC bubbles, are as insulated as our politicians, but not any more prone to seeking insulation than the rest of us.

I doubt that people whose homes have been hit by a tornado turn on the TV news to watch the aftermath — at least for now.

It’s good to see that an eternity in office hasn’t dulled George W. Bush’s sharp, pointy finger. He can still redirect blame with the best of them.

I’ll just take issue with one clearly absurd statement: that somehow farm subsidies are to blame for rising food prices. Farm subsidies have been around for decades and food prices haven’t been rising (at least as sharply) for that long. So clearly the blame lies elsewhere. For a clue, Bush should read the conservative press on this one. Yes, ethanol is the culprit, and plenty of people saw it coming.

My memory may be faulty, but I remember a certain state of the union address where a certain George Bush called on Congress to expand the mandate for producing ethanol. Congress agreed.

Too bad Bush’s memory isn’t as sharp as his rhetoric.

Here they come, DC…Imagine the traffic congestion this truck convoy will cause around Washington, where the roads are normally smooth sailing on a weekday morning…Yup. This should get people’s attention.

If truckers really think government should intervene in this case, why have they fought the government when it tries require cleaner engines, cleaner fuel and cleaner air? Someone, somewhere is benefiting from high diesel prices, and I bet they can afford some pretty sharp lobbyists.

I’m sympathetic to the trucking industry’s fuel-induced pain. But if I had to place a bet, I would put my money on nothing much happening at all. A true, long-term solution is likely to induce further pain, or pain in some other area of the body politic.

The problem is our myopia. The US is used to being — has been for nearly 20 years — the sole superpower and chief consumer of natural resources. The ride’s over, but we are so enamored of our recent size and strength, we fail to see beyond our borders, that other countries are getting bigger, if not yet stronger.

Failing any other solution, we can always fall back on the free market: if something costs more, buy less of it. Oh, but we need trucks to haul things a long distance. Fair enough. Here’s another tip from the free market: if it costs a lot to haul something a long way, make it closer to home.

Maybe truckers undermined by high diesel prices can start growing rice. We may need it.

So I was in New York City last Saturday — and not to see the Pope, though he apparently had the same plans. What struck me driving in was the enormous effort it must take to send food, water and other essentials and non-essentials into the metropolis — not to mention the energy that goes into heating and cooling all those ginormous buildings.

Don’t smaller, distributed cities like York and Lancaster, Gettysburg and Chambersburg make more sense? A big city is sort of like a big coal-burning power plant, a relic of the industrial age that will have to change if we truly care about the environment.

Yet, people in big cities think of themselves as somehow more eco-conscious than us provincials. Sure, they don’t drive. But how do they think all those organic soaps get into the stores they can walk to? Yes, our small towns have problems with sprawl and traffic. But it seems like they’d be easier to address.

What also struck me was the way people sat on the grass in the small slice of Central Park (the lower west corner) where my son and I ran around for an hour. No “group” was bigger than three people, and they were all magically about 15 feet apart. The distance couldn’t have been more regular if they’d all been out there with measuring tape before they set down their blankets.

Another observation: I get the sense (rightly or wrongly) that urbanites see themselves as less conformist, more individualistic than suburban or rural people. Yet, when you think about it, what’s so against-the-grain about choosing to live in the same place as 8 million other people? That seems like a pretty big herd.