14 March 2011
Carfree.com moves yet again, this time to Summit, NJ
New Jersey garden apartments at their best
Carfree.com Forced to MoveNoise conditions in my Maplewood, NJ, apartment were intolerable, and no one was willing to do anything about the sources, which were all related to air conditioning and ventilation. No decent alternatives were available in Maplewood, which is otherwise a pleasant town. I rented a nice garden apartment in Summit, NJ, which is three stops farther from New York on the train. It's not truly urban, but it's quiet. I'm close to a wide assortment of goods and services within easy walking distance.
The BooksCarfree Cities and Carfree Design Manual are widely available in Europe and North America. The hardcover edition of Carfree Cities is becoming rare.
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Towards Carfree Cities X to Be Hosted in GuadalajaraGuadalajara, Mexico, will host Towards Car-Free Cities X from 5 to 9 September 2011.
World Carfree NewsWorld Carfree News is now available in Czech, English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. This monthly bulletin is a great way to keep abreast of World Carfree Network.
CarBustersVisit CarBusters.org for the on-line magazine. Soon, I'll get them the final installment in the Carfree Conversions series.
Hansen Demands Carbon TaxJames Hansen has become increasingly frantic about the dangers of climate change. The threat is dire, and the need for action immediate. His latest move is to urge a tax on carbon. He thinks it's our last chance. He is preparing to sue the US government, to force them to protect the environment.
Hansen is director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading climate scientist. His engagement with politics is comparatively recent. He had hoped that politicians would respond to the threat of climate change by taking meaningful action. Over the past 30 years, during which he advised US administrations from Carter to Bush the Lesser, he saw how the influence of energy companies corrupted politics. With an ever-shrinking window in which to stabilize the climate before a tipping point is reached, he has been writing to heads of state around the world to advocate civil resistance against the coal industry. He has gotten arrested himself while campaigning against mountain-top removal coal mining in the USA.
Following his 1988 testimony in Congress that human-induced global warming had begun, Hansen spent 15 years turning down most requests for talks and interviews. He focused instead on research. However, in 2004, angered by the Bush administration's interference in climate science, he became convinced of the need to present the facts about climate change to the public. He also became an outspoken critic of governmental failures.
The best that has been put forward by governments so far is to limit warming to 2°C. This is a much easier target than reducing atmospheric CO2 from the current 390pmm to 350ppm. Hansen says, "Two degrees Celsius is guaranteed disaster. It is equivalent to the early Pliocene epoch [5.5 to 2.5 million years ago] when the sea level was 25m higher. What we don't know is how long it takes ice sheets to disintegrate, but we know we'd be starting a process which then is going to be out of control. Because the way it works - the planet is out of energy balance, most of the additional energy is going into the ocean, which melts the ice shelves, which then allows the ice sheets to discharge ice more rapidly - if you want to stop that and you've pushed it up to two degrees, then you've got to cool off the ocean. Well that's going to take hundreds of years. So you would have a situation which can't be fixed except with some geo-engineering, which is a pretty awful inheritance to leave for our children."
Hansen believes the recent UN talks were doomed to failure because they did not address fundamentals. He thinks the starting point is the recognition of the Earth's physical boundary constraints. Then it's necessary to work out how to live within them.
"We've reached a point where it's clear we can't burn all the coal or unconventional fossil fuels. We've got to phase them out. The large pools of oil and gas that are readily available to Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Middle Eastern countries is enough to get us well over 450ppm."
At the UN talks, the rich countries still expected that markets in carbon dioxide would play a central role in the final deal to be reached in Durban, South Africa, late this year. Carbon markets - the "cap and trade" scheme - allow rich countries to buy offsets from developing countries instead of reducing their own emissions. However, a 2008 Stanford University study exposed these supposed carbon cuts as largely illusory.
Hansen slams this approach. "You can prove that this is horseshit because they're building more coal plants. The fossil-fuel industry wants to continue with something close to business-as-usual and that is what they get with cap and trade and with offsets. But governments are supposed to be operating for the benefit of citizens not for the benefit of powerful industries that have money."
Hansen's solution is the imposition of a carbon tax in both the US and China. He has recently focused on the benefits this approach would bring to China:
It's as certain that as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, we will just keep burning them. So we have to put a tax on carbon which rises over time. China has said flat out that they will not accept a cap. However, China has every reason to tax carbon because they have invested a lot in carbon-free energy. They're now number one in production of solar, wind and nuclear. But clean energy is not going to take over from dirty energy if fossil fuels remain the cheapest. So they need to put a price on carbon within their country and they're now actually thinking about that. They can see that economically they will be better off if the world starts to move towards clean energy, as they will be in a great position to sell these technologies to the rest of us."What this means, of course, is that USA is now an also-ran in the race to develop sustainable sources of energy. China can also see the benefits in terms of air and water pollution reductions if they burn less coal.
Hansen proposes that 100% of the revenues from a carbon tax be returned in equal amounts to each citizen. Those with lower carbon footprints should benefit. In his latest book, Storms of My Grandchildren, Hansen says that Congress liked cap-and-trade because "it thinks the public will not figure out that it is a tax," a tax that delivers a windfall for energy companies and speculators.
The need now is to educate the public on the policy issues surrounding carbon emissions. Once people understand the issues and the choices, there is at least a chance that public pressure can force the adoption of a carbon tax. Otherwise we're all toast.
"Tax on Carbon: The Only Way to Save Our Planet?"
That Sucking Sound Is Saudi ArabiaJulian Assange has turned the world on its head this past year or so. His Wikileaks has published troves of data that have been equal-opportunity embarrassments for governments around the world. Recently, Wikileaks published some US State Department cables on the state of Saudi oil reserves.
The cables urged Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom's oil reserves were probably overstated by as much as 300 billion barrels, or about 40%. The timing was inconvenient, to say the least. Oil prices had been hovering around $90 a barrel for some time, but surged above $110 on a combination of concerns about future Saudi production and widespread civic upheavals in many oil-producing nations and their neighbors.
The longstanding plan simply calls for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil when supplies got tight. This all hinged, of course, on their actually having the oil. However, when Sadad al-Husseini, former chief of exploration for Saudi Aramco, met the US consul general in November 2007, he told the diplomat that Aramco's 12.5 mbd (million barrels/day) capacity, needed to keep a lid on prices in the years ahead, could not be reached.
The cables date between 2007 and 2009. Husseini said Saudi Arabia might reach 12 mbd in 10 years, but before then - and possibly as early as 2012 - global oil production would have peaked. Husseini said that Aramco would no longer be able to keep the lid on oil prices. It seems that the Saudi oil industry overstated its reserves to encourage foreign investment. He further argued that Aramco had seriously underestimated the time needed to bring new wells on line.
One cable states: "According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is twofold. First, it is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes described, and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as Aramco and energy optimists would like to portray." It continued:
In a presentation, Abdallah al-Saif, current Aramco senior vice-president for exploration, reported that Aramco has 716 billion barrels of total reserves, of which 51% are recoverable, and that in 20 years Aramco will have 900 billion barrels of reserves.
The consul then remarked: "While al-Husseini fundamentally contradicts the Aramco company line, he is no doomsday theorist. His pedigree, experience and outlook demand that his predictions be thoughtfully considered."
Two more cables followed seven months later. "Our mission now questions how much the Saudis can now substantively influence the crude markets over the long term. Clearly they can drive prices up, but we question whether they any longer have the power to drive prices down for a prolonged period."
A fourth cable, in October 2009, claimed that rising Saudi demand for electricity could further constrain Saudi oil exports. "Demand is expected to grow 10% a year over the next decade as a result of population and economic growth. As a result it will need to double its generation capacity to 68,000 MW in 2018," it said.
Recently, other energy analysts have backed Husseini's position. Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency said last year that conventional crude output could plateau in 2020. Jeremy Leggett of the UK's Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, said: "We are asleep at the wheel here: choosing to ignore a threat to the global economy that is quite as bad as the credit crunch, quite possibly worse."
Maybe a lot worse. As Matt Simmons argued in Twilight in the Desert, a meticulous analysis of Saudi information releases going back many years reveals that Saudi Arabia will soon have difficulty maintaining its oil production. And once Saudi production peaks, peak oil has definitely arrived. . .
"WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices:
Peak Oil: Coming in 2006The Energy Watch Group (EWG) has warned that the global peak of conventional oil production has actually already been passed. It said in its "World Energy Outlook 2010" that the International Energy Agency (IEA) expressly accepted this conclusion for the first time, agreeing that crude oil production will never again achieve the level of 2006.
In a 2007 report, the WEG explained that "after attaining this maximum production, there is a very high probability that in the coming twenty years - by 2030 - annual output of crude oil will halve."
For the past several years, the IEA has consistently revised downward its annual forecast of worldwide oil production. The IEA, however, continues to release forecasts that are too optimistic in regard to the expansion of total oil production, counting both conventional and unconventional sources. The EWG's project manager explained: "Leading representatives of the IEA regularly declare that 'several new Saudi Arabias' would need to be tapped only in order to maintain current output levels. This would also be a condition for their current scenario, but these oilfields simply don't exist. You can only produce oil that you can find."
Worse still, the IEA continues its unrealistic assumptions about potential output from "unconventional" sources, natural gas liquids and tar sands, both potentially substitutes for convention oil. There's no new Saudi Arabia to be found in these sources, and the tar sands may end up being the largest single man-made ecological disaster in history. They actually require more energy, in the form of natural gas, than is present in the oil extracted at great expense from the tar sands. This is a lose-lose proposition.
The IEA's unfounded optimism about oil parallels an equally unfounded pessimism regarding the expansion of renewable energies. In fact, the expansion rate forecast by the IEA runs well below current actual growth rates for renewables. And renewables turn out to be cheaper in the end. Download [PDF!] the study.
"International Energy Agency confirms peak oil was in 2006"
Conservatives Start to Get ItIf you doubt the judgement of "left-wingers" in George W. Bush's State Department, perhaps you'll trust one of America's leading right-wing commentators. Thomas L. Friedman, whose column appears regularly in the New York Times, recently said:
What’s unfolding in the Arab world today is the mother of all wake-up calls. And what the voice on the other end of the line is telling us is clear as a bell:Worried yet?
"If Not Now, When?"
Cars and AutismLiving near a freeway may increase the risk of developing autism. "Children born to mothers living within 309 meters of a freeway appeared to be twice as likely to have autism," said Heather Volk, lead author of a new study. The Centers for Disease Control reported a 57% increase between 2002 and 2006. The new study lends support the hypothesis that environmental factors may explain the increase.
Air pollution exposure during pregnancy has been seen to have physical and developmental effects on the fetus. Exposure to air pollution during the first trimester has been linked to cognitive developmental delay. The authors said, however, that the study is the first to link exposure to vehicular pollutants with increased rates of autism. Direct measurements of pollution levels were not made.
The study children were aged 24 to 60 months at the start of the study. They lived in metropolitan Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. Each participating family was evaluated in person.
The study examined the mothers' residence locations during gestation and the proximity of that location to a major road. Dr. Volk's team found that living within 309 meters at birth was associated with a doubling of autism risk. Studies have shown that vehicular pollutants induce inflammation and oxidative stress and may be involved in the pathogenesis of autism.
It is worth recalling research a few years ago that appeared to implicate proximity to high-current power lines with increased cancer risk. Further analysis, however, showed that proximity to power lines was merely a marker for proximity to highways, as the two often run in parallel. Lead poisoning, originally thought to originate from lead paint, also appears to be associated to highway proximity and emissions from cars in the days when tetra-ethyl lead was added to gasoline. Then there's the noise burden, which is implicated in heart disease.
Livin' by the highway just ain't healthy.
"Researcher from Children's Hospital Los Angeles and USC
China Starts to Worry About CarsChina raised the sales tax on small cars effective January 1st. This brought an end to a major economic stimulus that made the Chinese the world's leading buyers of cars while also encouraging the purchase of smaller, more efficient cars. This followed on the heels of a decision to sharply restrict the number of cars allowed in Beijing, which is ensnarled in car traffic.
The moves are expected to slow the growth in auto sales in China, but the national market is still expected to grow rapidly. GM sold one million vehicles in China during 2010 and expects sales to increase by at least 10% in 2011.
During 2009, China had cut the sales tax in half for vehicles with engines up to 1.6 liters. This move was expected to stimulate the economy while limiting the damage to air quality from large cars.
The limit on new cars in Beijing arises from a new traffic plan for the city. The plan includes miles of new underground highways, higher inner-city parking fees, and a new bike-sharing plan. The most controversial element is a limit of 240,000 new license plates for the capital in 2011. This is a two-thirds reduction compared to 2010. Even more stringent controls are in place in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which allow 10,000 and 1,000 respectively.
As of mid-December, Beijing had 4.76 million registered vehicles, an increase of 700,000 in 2010 over the previous year - and a growth rate Beijing traffic authorities said could not be supported.
"China to raise sales tax on small cars Jan. 1"
The Economics of Bike ParkingAs part of her Master of Urban Planning thesis, Alison Lee researched the expenditure patterns of visitors to a neighborhood in Melbourne and discovered that there was economic justification for turning car parking spaces into bike parking spaces. Public parking space was used 99% for car parking; the remaining 1% was for bikes. Her research into the situation on Lygon Street revealed some interesting statistics.
It is true that car drivers do spend more money shopping when they park than cyclists do. However, because bikes are more space-efficient, the space used for bike parking produces more economic activity than that used by cars. Here are the numbers:
*Based on car occupancy of 1.2 people per car and bike occupancy of 1 person per bike.
The average cyclist's expenditure is a hefty 73% of that of a car user, but the space required to park a bike is only 12% of that required to park a car. From a strictly economic perspective, it makes sense to allocate space for cyclists until saturation is achieved, and only then to allocate the remaining space to cars.
In 2008, the Melbourne City Council exchanged two car-parking spaces for bike-parking spaces. The project was extremely successful, with the bike parking full at peak periods, from about 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and very full around lunch time also. This, in fact, suggests that even more space should be allocated to bike parking.
"Changing Car Parking to Bike Parking in Melbourne"
Drive or Dine?Here's a staggering statistic for you to drop at your next social gathering: one-quarter of US cropland is used to produce ethanol for use as a gasoline additive. (In essence, this process converts petroleum to ethanol with little or no net energy gain. The real gain is purely financial and accrues to agri-biz.)
The article, "The Future of Food Riots," was published by CommonDreams.org. It says in part:
Some short-term fixes are possible. If the US government ended the subsidies for growing maize (corn) for "bio-fuels", it would return about a quarter of US crop land to food production. If people ate a little less meat, if more African land was brought into production, if more food was eaten and less was thrown away, then maybe we could buy ourselves another fifteen or twenty years before demand really outstripped supply.And that's food for thought.
"The Future of Food Riots"
Cities Safer for KidsMany young families abandon the city before their children can walk and move to the suburbs where, they imagine, their children will be safer. But it turns out that the city may actually be safer.
The danger arises mainly from cars. Suburban kids practically live in the car, and when they're not in the car, they may get run over by one. Quite a number of families say they find safety in their dense urban communities, where neighbors keep a watchful eye, where condos employ security guards, and where parents can walk to stores, schools, and playgrounds.
They are not imagining this. A growing body of research shows that a large house on a big lot in a quiet suburb may actually be more dangerous for children than many inner-city neighborhoods. While many parents worry that city living could mean their children will be abducted or caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting, it is exceedingly rare for children to be harmed or murdered by strangers, says William Lucy, a University of Virginia urban planner who studies community safety. Perceptions about urban safety are still "lagging well behind reality," according to Mr. Lucy. "In terms of traffic fatalities versus homicides by strangers, it's almost a 13-to-one ratio," he says.
He analyzed Virginia's major cities in 2009 and found that suburbs and rural areas were the most dangerous, while the safest communities were, for the most part, high-density cities. Not only did low-density communities have more traffic fatalities, but it turned out that they were the most dangerous places for stranger homicides. Mr. Lucy also considered mass school shootings and found that these also occurred more often in the suburbs, where the student population was more homogeneous, making it harder for some kids to fit in. "In suburban settings, especially outer suburbs, it's much more of you're either in or you're out, with much less variety of groups to find a home with," he says. "It's the loner child who is typically the one who has been picked on and retaliates."
Car crashes and schoolyard bullies are not usually on the minds of parents when they are seeking a safe place to raise their growing families, he says. "When they move in, the kids are in preschool or elementary school. Ten years later, they're teenagers in school and they're driving and drinking. But parents don't think about that at the point they buy the house."
Reports from the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre showed that Toronto had the lowest rates of emergency room visits for motor vehicle collisions, along with the lowest rates of ER visits for cycling accidents involving children, and the second-lowest rates of ER visits for violent crimes against children.
A 2003 study from Rutgers University of 450 American cities that found people were five times more likely to die in car crashes in a sprawling community compared to a dense one. A 1% increase in urban density translates to a 1.5% decrease in traffic deaths and a nearly 3.5% decrease in pedestrian fatalities.
While the number of children struck by cars has declined widely, that is mainly because they are walking less. More walkable environments were actually safer for children.
In 2008 in Canada, five times as many children were killed in traffic accident as were victims of homicide. Two-thirds of those killed were at the hands of their parents.
A 2003 report by the RCMP examining childhood abductions in Canada found police had reported 90 stranger abductions in just two years. But closer study revealed that police had classified abductions by friends, neighbors, aunts, boyfriends, babysitters, and grandparents as "stranger abductions." Of the 90 cases reported, only two were true stranger abductions. The huge attention paid to the very few real stranger abductions seems to affect parents' decisions regarding where to live.
Most neighborhoods are safe for children, says Lenore Skenazy, who published Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry. She was called "America's worst mom" for allowing her nine-year-old son to ride the New York subway alone in 2008. Crime rates have been steadily dropping in most communities for decades, so today's parents grew up in more dangerous times than their children, she says. She says, "Kids are more competent than we think. They can walk to school. They can take a bus to school. They're safer than we think."
"Baby & Hood: Studies suggest urban areas are less risky for children"
Metro-Freight Proposed for Los AngelesThe San Gabriel River Infrastructure Development (GRID) is a transport system that would provide efficient freight handling, better passenger movement, and more attractive and functional utility services. In some ways, the system resembles metro-freight as proposed in Carfree Cities and utilities located in service tunnels as proposed in Carfree Design Manual. Largely out of sight, the system would run from the great Los Angeles ports on San Pedro Bay to the railyards in the Inland Empire (to the northeast of the city).
GRID would begin with a compact system of integrated cargo cranes that would move containers directly between ships and railcars right on the docks. (The conceptual drawing I have seen appears to stack containers higher than I believe the specification allows, but the rest should be possible as proposed.) The system would take up less space than the current ship-truck-train sequence. The right-of-way would be concrete tunnels located underneath the channelized San Gabriel River. The following features are envisioned:
"Making Freeways Obsolete"
Video of the Quarter
This one comes from Street Films. It describes a pilot project in San Francisco in which "underutilized street space" was converted to spaces for people. Of course, in some people's opinions, all street space devoted to car storage and movement is "underutilized."
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
A study of Islamic design at Catnaps.org.
No Car Go where carfree is the name of the game
Transport & Environment web site
Michael Pawlyn: Using nature's genius in architecture at TED. Fascinating.
"Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding" [PDF!]
"Shall we subsidize or charge trucks? On the distance-based road charge of heavy trucks" [PDF!] from our friends at Levego
"Crude Oil - The Supply Outlook" [PDF!]
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