Coal vs. Passive Home Heat

Two energy articles came up in sequence on the New York Times website just now, one on the increased use of coal for home heat in the United States, and another on the construction of passive homes in Germany that don't even have a furnace and rely instead on advanced heat exchange and ventilation systems combined with insulation and airtight construction. Hm, who's on the right track? My friend Warren Wilczewski wrote recently for Policy Innovations on Germany's other wise moves in shifting from atoms to photons.


Obama Could Miss the Bus on Raising Gas Tax

Here's an op-ed I wrote for Carnegie Council on the need to raise the federal gasoline tax:

As supporters of Barack Obama celebrated around the world on November 4, climate activists were particularly moved to hear him declare that helping a "planet in peril" would be one of his administration's top priorities.

Since then he has restated his commitment to renewing America's leadership in international climate negotiations, and he has pledged to pioneer a "hybrid economy" where protecting health and the environment is not at odds with prosperity.

But as the election elation fades, recession deepens, and the transition team plows through its roster of appointments, Obama is missing the bus on an obvious upgrade in U.S. transportation policy: raising the federal gasoline tax.

The urgency of the climate problem grows every day we delay. Global mitigation efforts will have to be accelerated over the next two decades in order to have any hope of stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which has already jumped well beyond the stable range that was naturally maintained over the past 650,000 years.

Researchers at MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change have calculated a risk model they call the Greenhouse Gamble to illustrate the probability of global average temperature rise during the 21st century. Under a business-as-usual scenario without significant climate policies, they forecast a 50-50 chance of avoiding the catastrophic levels of warming identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a similar effort, Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow at Princeton University have outlined a strategy for stabilizing emissions by midcentury, mostly through the use of existing technologies. Primary among their recommendations is the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency, specifically the use of fuel-efficient vehicles. A strong stance by the Obama administration on raising the national gasoline tax would prove to be a profound motivator for this industry.

Fighting the climate crisis will be as much about engineering new incentives as it will be about engineering new technologies, and there are few incentives as reliable as price. This was made clear when the recent fuel price spike sparked a significant shift away from cars and toward public mass transit.

Obama has criticized the way our economy moves from "shock to trance" when prices fall and we renege on breaking our addiction to oil, yet he also asserted that it would be a "mistake" to increase the gasoline tax because doing so would hurt the poorest people most at a time when they are already struggling. Trying to depoliticize the issue in this manner plays right into the traditional pattern of Washington pandering that Obama has promised to end. It is not the mandate for change that his voters gave him. They voted for honesty, which is what Obama delivered during the primaries when he dismissed the idea of a gas tax holiday.

Going forward, structural aspects of our economy such as fuel must be political issues, especially when they pertain to problems like climate change that have disastrous global consequences. The people of island states that will be swallowed up by rising sea levels are not concerned with whether a particular ton of carbon dioxide was generated by a rich American or a poor American. They care about whether America is doing all it can to stop global warming. An attitude of reciprocity along these lines is essential for solving the problems of acting collectively across national boundaries.

At the same time, Obama is obviously not in the business of making poor people poorer when real median household income has already dropped 0.6 percent during the Bush years. This is where Obama could wield his budget scalpel to graft expenses and revenues from one column to another. He has expressed willingness to analyze the budgets line by line, and hopefully he will do this in a manner that alleviates pressure on the middle class and generates the price incentives to wean us off fossil fuels.

In the long run, figuring out a better link between consumption and government budgets is a good idea, but the relationship can be used in the meantime to leverage smart transportation policies. A Brookings Institution study points out that total vehicle miles traveled fell recently for the first time ever, while the federal gas tax has not budged since 1993, nor has it been indexed for inflation. The combination of these factors puts national and state transportation budgets at risk of being underfunded. As a result, we see maneuvers such as Governor David Paterson's recent proposal to lift the cap on New York state gasoline tax.

Although the auto industry bailout is stuck in neutral, raising gas tax revenue could be useful in this regard. With the United States consuming 390 million gallons of gasoline per day, a $25 billion bailout of the U.S. automobile industry could be paid for within a year by roughly doubling the current federal gasoline tax—from 18.4 cents to 36.0 cents. Interestingly, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2004, when gasoline prices were about the same as they are today, that a 46.0 cent increase in the gas tax would lead to a "10 percent reduction in gasoline consumption," at a lower cost than a comparable increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

The U.S. auto industry has a long history of lobbying against these and other policies to the detriment of public welfare, essentially slashing their own tires by pushing for low standards. The Big Three paid for lobbyists when they should have been paying for research and development—European cars already surpass the mileage standards that American manufacturers must meet in 2020.

Raising the gasoline tax strikes at the root of what is essentially a mobility problem. Just as a warming climate and shifting weather patterns will lead to a significant extinction of species that are unable to move or adapt, extinction may also await major companies and entire nations if we fail to innovate. Instead of accepting this fate, Obama should lead America to a better mobility infrastructure and to one extinction that would be welcome: that of the internal combustion engine.

So while the auto industry is on its knees, set to siphon funds from the public coffer, President-elect Obama should take this opportunity to simultaneously help them and enforce some consumer discipline. Otherwise the only shovel-ready American project will be a giant auto graveyard.


Mark Kurlansky's 25 Lessons from the History of Nonviolence

I recently finished reading Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. The first question that pops to mind is Dangerous to whom? To the people in power, or to the people who get a fascist boot to the face during a peaceful protest? The book is lite (~200 pages) on the theory and tactics of nonviolence, but it seems worthwhile to share and comment on the 25 lessons Kurlansky gleans from his research, despite their occasional drift into fortune cookie territory, conflating historical examples with aphorism:

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence. On the individual level, I think this linguistic gap is probably a result of our default state as humans: Most of the time we're not hurting each other. But on the political level, there is mental censorship at stake. Expressibility and possibility are bedfellows. The essence is that nonviolence is an active practice, a political tactic, and there is no word to capture this participatory sense.

  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them. Resist the urge to trot the cannon out on stage lest ye intend to fire it. This is mostly a matter of perceptions of power and self-fulfilling prophecy. The creation of new weapons also creates the logic for their use. Something to watch on this front is the development and deployment of nonlethal weaponry, both in the war theatre as a tool of hearts-and-minds nation-building, and domestically for crowd dispersal to quell protest. But obviously the big example here is nuclear weapons, which have never been used since their deterrent effect was established. Kurlansky indicates that their use is inevitable, but such a faith would also erode the whole goal of practicing nonviolence. Indeed, it's the possibility of military catastrophe on the order of nuclear war that makes the push for a global nonviolent worldview so relevant. I also recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a post-apocalyptic morality play in which most civilization and biological life has been destroyed by some unspecified but presumably human disaster. The survivors turn to scavenging and cannibalism. Not pretty.

  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state. Ooooh, scary. I don't think the regular marches we conduct these days count as nonviolence. They're too passive. Like-minded people milling down empty streets without audience or effect. True nonviolence means also civil disobedience, well beyond a properly filled out parade permitting application. Boycotts, obstructed streets, occupied buildings, unpaid taxes, etc.

  4. Once a states takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings. This would be better expressed in past tense. Are there any religions left to be co-opted? America certainly still feels the shockwaves of religion sans nonviolence, in the absence of religious voices from the forefront of the peace movement, and in the voting patterns of the "guns and religion" crowd. In all the marches I've attended I haven't noticed the church groups shoulder to shoulder with the unions, environmentalists, and other social justice advocates. Perhaps they are there, but they are not vocal.

  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead. Think Che t-shirts. Baby-eating barbarians.

  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings. Does hatred have any other outlet than violence or subjugation?

  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy. The logic of conflict and survival takes over. An eye for an eye.

  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won. Ay, there's the rub. Don't panic.

  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power. What is power but an unbalanced man?

  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes. I'd say so. Hence the waning attractiveness of drawn-out insurgencies or terrorist campaigns. Ditto armed conflicts without end like Vietnam and Iraq.

  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force. This sounds like an invitation to the dance. Can we make the right steps? Is Kurlansky implying that without power there is no state? Or is the state simply structural, the tool of power? Even soft power, or cultural attractiveness, is discussed in terms of winning and losing, cultural domination dressed up in the lamb's wool of inevitability and trends.

  13. It is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails. Organized, yes. Articulate is debatable following the presidency of GWB. Unless, of course, articulated means not literate but expressed, brought about. In that sense, the Republicans have done a great job articulating their strategy, while the Democrats still stumble incoherently through eloquence.

  14. All debate momentarily ends with an "enforced silence" once the first shots are fired. The trick, then, is to keep talking so as to never start shooting.

  15. A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself. This lesson comes from historical examples that Kurlansky cites, including the American Revolution and its frustration of the colonial economic model. I wonder, though, if this doesn't relate to lesson 2. There has to be historical inertia behind the forming and training of militias, despite contemporaneous successes in nonviolent civil disobedience. I guess the point here is that there needs to be unified coordination among the revolutionaries so as to avoid the internecine bloodshed of revolutionary consolidation.

  16. Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence. See Shakespeare, William.

  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists. Action reaction.

  18. People motivated by fear do not act well. While there may be wisdom in crowds, the mob rarely exhibits restraint or good judgment. Fear erases thought, masses erase accountability.

  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance. Political nonviolence is thus not instinctual and will require disciplined mind training.

  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military. That's a good argument for mandatory military service actually reducing militarism, but has it played out in practice?

  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get "deeper and deeper," without limits. Fog of War? Once ethical argumentation is abandoned is it a slippery slope toward using mathematical precision to optimize warfare?

  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation—which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails. ("Comes with" is bad verb.) Rationalizing is a natural habit, I guess, before and after war. I would ask: Is killing anti-rational?

  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over. This is pretty true. In fact, the contagion model of memetic transmission has been documented for physical characteristics such as obesity.

  24. The miracle is that despite all of society's promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values. Hallelujah. Not wrenching enough in most cases, however, to incur the jail time that would accompany disobeying orders. Think Catch-22 and Yossarian always in the hospital.

  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done. The idea here is that just as it only takes one shot to end debate and start a war, it only takes courageous people to spurn violence and practice nonviolence. That such people have existed, continue to exist, and will hopefully exist in the future is the spark that illuminates this book.

On a related note, I saw the film Battle in Seattle this past weekend, a fictionalized account of the 1999 WTO protests. It's a pretty bad B movie, but I'd rather watch a B movie about a worthwhile subject than an A movie about a bunch of dysfunctional people finding ways to torment and maim each other, which seems like the usual Hollywood and indie fare these days. Check it out, because that's the level of civil disobedience I think we need to be prepared for on the climate issue, and soon if the Palin-McCain ticket prevails.


Transportation Trends

Bike production up, automobile sales down!

Catching My Breath

Everyone, thank you again for the awesome support. The Climate Ride was a big success, with only one minor bump along the way. And a couple extra sponsorships came in while I was on the road to push me over my goal! I'm catching my breath this week and will post my thoughts and some photos soon.


camp in Princeton

going strong head over to skysride.wordpress.com to see a picture of my back while on the road!


Some of my thoughts cross-posted on the Climate Ride blog

Thanks go to David Kroodsma for cross-posting some of my thoughts on sustainability on the main Climate Ride blog!

Dave has already done a couple climate-awareness journeys on his own. One from California to Argentina (!!!), and another from California to the Canadian border and then across the United States. Holy saba sushi, Dave. That's awesome.

Music + Environment = Hot Buttered Rum

My friend Amos just sent me this video about the band Hot Buttered Rum and how they tour 200+ days per year in a biodiesel-powered bus. Greening music and creative events is something I interviewed Brian Allenby of Reverb about a while back. My question is: Have any hip hop groups rapped about the Prius? Send me the artist and tracks if you know.


I met the minimum!!!

Thanks to a big surge from my friend Todd Rengel, I just passed the minimum funding requirement for the ride! When Todd's not busy BEING AWESOME, he and his team at Animus Rex build great websites, such as Policy Innovations. So check out what they're up to, but be warned: Creative people sometimes talk funny.

Public Comment Period Officially Open

Friends, please use the comment section on this post to let me know what's most important for our Senators to hear (other than a honking car at close range). Also post what you think you can do to get greener this year, or any simple good luck wishes for my ride.

Here's the scoop on my Senate meetings and where some of the NY reps stand on environmental legislation:

Th 10:30 Sarah Birmingham (Sen Schumer) 313 Hart SOB
Th 11:00 Dan Utech (Sen Clinton) 476 Russell SOB

Sen Charles Schumer "Thanks, do more"
· Co-sponsor of S.2191, Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act which would reduce emissions 18-25% by 2020 and 62-66% by 2050.
· Has not co-sponsored Boxer-Sanders, the only bill in the senate which will achieve the requisite 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.
· Supports funding the Green Jobs Act of 2007 providing $125m for green jobs training

Sen Hilary Clinton "Thanks, you're awesome"
· Co-sponsor of S.309, the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which would reduce emissions 14% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.
· Supports funding the Green Jobs Act of 2007 providing $125m for green jobs training

Rep Kirsten Gillibrand "Thanks, you're awesome"
· Co-sponsor of H.R.1590, the Safe Climate Act, which would reduce emissions 14% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.

Rep Jerrold Nadler "Thanks, you're awesome"
· Co-sponsor of H.R.1590, the Safe Climate Act, which would reduce emissions 14% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.
· Co-sponsor of H.R.620, Olver-Gilchrest Climate Stewardship Act, which will reduce emissions 11% by 2020 and 56% by 2050

Rep Timothy Bishop "Thanks, you're awesome"
· Co-sponsor of H.R.1590, the Safe Climate Act, which would reduce emissions 14% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.
· Co-sponsor of H.R.620, Olver-Gilchrest Climate Stewardship Act, which will reduce emissions 11% by 2020 and 56% by 2050

Shout Out to Debra Hampton

The great thing about having a blog is that you can give a shout out where it's due. Today's good vibes go to my partner, Debra Hampton. Baby, I am so all over those dishes come January and February when you're cramming for your gallery show. Thanks for supporting me through this hectic project. Love, Ev


The Glass IS Half Full!

This is a big thank you to the 25 different people who have sponsored my Climate Ride so far. I passed the halfway mark today for the minimum I need to raise ($1,175 out of $2,250). It's pretty amazing to feel that so many people support me in this project.

Maybe I'm just buzzed from blasting home down the river, but the gong is ringing in my head that focus and determination need to be applied in everything from here on out. With the ride just 5 days away I'm pushing hard to hit my ultimate goal of $3,000. Which means... back to work!


Graham Slick embarasses me with generosity

One of my deep people Graham Slick embarrassed me with his generosity last night. Not only did he kick in a little for the cause but he also put up a sweet webpage to help spread the word about this project. (Thank you, Graham. YOU are awesome.) He even decked it out with some images from his Inktank (Fall In) series, which is among my favorite works of his as an artist.

It's his birthday this Sunday and he's in a show that day at Supreme Trading, so give him a shout out or come see us this weekend at the gallery. Here's what he says about the event:

I'm in a little show opening on Sunday Sept 14th aka MY BIRTHDAY!!!! at Supreme Trading in Williamsburg off the Bedford L stop. 213 N8th St (bet Driggs and Roebling)
I'm showing my Asphalt - Skateboards (these are new baby!)

The show is a little disorganized, i don't have a start time, i know it's not my style and it's driving me crazy, i think it's a sign that i need to loosen my grip a little for my 33rd year of life. let's just assume 7:30or8pm is a good time to get there for a bday drink, the art should be in full swing. it is a school night, i can't see it being a late night event.

Supreme Trading is a pretty cool space/place/compound, it's a bar with a gallery connected to it and an outdoor BBQ and smoking zone and i think there's a performance venue attached to it too, although i haven't seen anyone perform there in a while. it's a cool place, and it's my bday.



Meeting Confirmed with Schumer's Office

I just got confirmation from Alex Tinker at Focus the Nation that I have a meeting with Sen. Schumer's office after the Climate Ride. They're still working on Hillary and Jerrold Nadler. Not sure yet whether I'll get to record any of the meetings, but getting a foot in the door is the first important step.


The Bigger Picture Behind Evan's Climate Ride

The following is a little background about my motivation for doing the Climate Ride, how you can get involved and go green(er), and why it's critical that we act now. There are also some very concrete outcomes I hope to achieve (no, I'm not talking about my thighs).

Here's my donation page: www.climateride2008.kintera.org/evan

There are some easy ways we can all chip in to reduce global warming emissions.

Making the change to renewable energy is probably an option wherever you live, and often for only a marginal cost increase. If you like to leave the light on when you switch rooms, at least you'll know that somewhere a windmill is spinning for you. I'm currently purchasing 100% green energy from ConEdison.

We spend a lot of time at work. Do what you can to garner support among your colleagues and make the appropriate changes around the office. There is often a latent and widespread environmental consensus waiting to be tapped. I recently drafted some pilot sustainability goals for my workplace, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, to cover the environmental costs of our operation: energy, transportation, food (such as Fair Trade coffee for events), and print publishing.

As much as you can, walk, bike, or take public transportation wherever you go. It's often healthier, more fun, and eye-opening to the worlds around us. The internal combustion engine must go the way of the dinosaurs within our lifetimes if we're to get tailpipe emissions under control. They account for about 20% of American emissions, and America makes up about 25% of global emissions, despite constituting only 4% of the global population. By biking as much as I can I free up one space on the subway for someone who can't bike or doesn't want to.

Clean Air-Cool Planet has done some great research to show that, while there are still some problems in the new industry of carbon offsetting, many good companies do exist that fund renewable energy projects to absorb whatever emissions you can't eliminate from your lifestyle. I pledge to retroactively offset 5 years of automobile driving (~60,000 miles) and every airline flight I have taken and plan to take. Most likely I'll do this through Native Energy, a company that builds renewable energy capacity on tribal lands.

All of these activities have costs that aren't factored into the prices we pay as consumers. But they are real costs. It is our responsibility to pay them and to start forcing our governance--local, state, federal, international--to account for and eliminate this pollution.

Often these costs are pushed to the future, onto the backs of future generations. It's up to us to break that cycle. Especially because we are that future generation. If many of the current climate predictions are accurate, the changes from global warming will start to manifest during our lifetimes. Education and advocacy are the key.

Some experts are warning that we have only one hundred months before the climate hits certain irreversible thresholds. Most of us are not climate scientists, but there is overwhelming consensus among them that industrial business as usual will push the atmosphere into conditions not experienced during the course of human civilization. Do we want to risk that? As far as I can see, one planet is not enough to experiment with.

Climate change is not a leap of faith, despite the uncertainty of detail in how it will play out. If we trust the undeniable regularity of the world around us, then we must accept the scientific conclusion that a high concentration of greenhouse gases will make our planet inhospitable to the best that human civilization has achieved, to the good life we all enjoy though it is not universally shared within our nations or across this planet.

Our finest trait as humans is as architects of the future, but it is also our biggest personal and social responsibility. History is a series of moments where a small group of strong-willed people becomes the decisive factor in choosing a future. There is a slow, green revolution already under way. I hope you'll join me in it.

Your two-wheeled friend,

Evan: www.climateride2008.kintera.org/evan