Friday, July 31, 2009

Record Heat Wave Hits Seattle. And the Frog Never Saw It Coming, Either.

Is this one of these "duh" moments?

I experienced a kind of deja vu watching the news last night and again when I saw the front page of the paper this morning. "Heat Wave Breaks All Records", "Severe Weather Center Alert Report" and so forth....

It was kind of like that part of a disaster movie where the TV news anchors are talking about "record heat, record flooding, or strange doings". You know, the part right before Will Smith or some tother hero kicks the heck out of the aliens?

But here's the difference. That's the movies. This is real.

Not sure? Here are widely publicized and fairly long standing signs of global warming. See if any of these strike a chord.

"Heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather " (check),
"Ocean warming, sea-level rise and coastal flooding" (more flooding, check),
"Glaciers melting" (yep, saw tht on my Alaska Cruise, check),
"Spreading disease" (check),
"Droughts and fires" (check).
And pretty much everything else on the list as well.

It's been said that we humans are like a frog sitting in a pot on the stove at a slow boil. The changes are subtle and continuing and like the frog, we won't know we've been cooked until it's too late.

According to the experts. if everyone changed one light bulb, it would make a huge difference. Heck, I've changed EVERY lightbulb in my house, and my office. AND, I got energy efficient windows, reduced my dependence on fossil fuel, buy locally grown produce, recycle, plus many more of the other standard "100 things you need to do the save the Planet".

The ultimate question: WILL IT BE ENOUGH? Or are 100+ degree days going to become the norm here in Seattle? And will it stop there?

What level of disaster needs to happen for our leaders to think far enough past the next election cycle to make the kind of hard decisions, the kind of unpopular decisions, the kind of RADICAL LIFECHANGING DECISIONS that likely need to be made at this point to save us?

Or is it up to us?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

'Get Your Green On' Eco Camp - Sewage, Garbage, and Wind. Oh My!

okay, when I was a kid summer camp was either Boy Scouts, Church Camp or some other kind of Youth Group. We'd camp, hang out, play games, go on scavenger hunts, or what-not. But this ain't 1970.

Last week, my 12 year old went off to Eco-Camp (officially titled "Get Your Green On). This is something sponsored by the Pacific Science Center and here's the report (through twelve year old eyes...).

Day 1. We hung around and got to know each other and talked about plants (this was at the Mercer Slough Education Center in Bellevue which has won a Green Award from King County).
Day 2. We went to the sewage treatment plant (I mean really, could there be anything more fun to do?). "Did it smell?" uh, "No". "Was it cool?" uh, "yeah". "What did you see?". uh, "Sewage". Okay, on to
Day 3. The Garbage Dump. "We learned about landfills and where our trash goes".
Day 4. "We went River Rafting on the Wenatchee River and I fell in" (okay, not sure where this fits into Eco Camp but hey it was outdoors on a river).
Day 5. The last day, it was off to the Wild Horse Wind Farm. Here's some of what he learned: "the tower of a wind turbine there is taller than the Eiffel Tower", "the distance from one end of the turbine blade to the other is longer than a 747". He could also tell me exactly how many mega watts a wind farm created and how many homes it could power. His takeaway? "I'd like to own a wind farm because I could make money".

They say you should always judge the value of an activity by how your kid feels about it when they are finished. I asked my son if it was fun and he said "yes". I asked him if he'd do it again and he said "yes". That's a pretty good recommendation from someone who most of time wants to sit in his room and play Nintendo.

Here's the link in case YOU have a 12 year old like mine. I think they actually serve a range of kids. It wasn't the cheapest camp week we've ever put him in, but I do think it was a worthwhile experience.

And no one ran anyone's skivvies up the flagpole.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ZIPCARS "2nd Annual Low Car Diet" - Real Green? Or Greenwashing?


I received this as a press release from Zipcar. I looked beyond the fact that it appeared to come from a slick NY PR firm because as anyone who reads my blog knows, I'm a HUGE supporter of anything that gets people to drive less.

So here was the PR pitch "Hi, this is Jason with Zipcar, the world's leading car-sharing service. I wanted to give you a heads up of a cool program that starts this Wednesday in Seattle as I thought YOU might find this interesting." (Wow, Jason, ME?) "30 Seattle residents will hand over their personal car keys and take part in a low-car lifestyle as part of Zipcar’s second annual Low-Car Diet. Below is the media alert with additional details but please let me know if you think this is something you would be interested in covering or attending."

It went on to say "In the midst of a challenging economy, rising gas prices and a nation-wide focus on cutting costs and adopting a smart lifestyle, the Low-Car Diet will help people to realize living without a car may be easier than they think."

Like all good PR 'stunts' this one promised an arresting visual - "30 Seattle residents, including baby boomers, married couples, parents, students, researchers, city planners, and medical workers literally dropping their keys into a lock box, one by one, as they pledge to ditch their car for a month as they pledge to live CAR-FREE for 30 days"

WOW!!!!! CAR-FREE???? Well, not quite.....

Perhaps 'PERSONAL Car Free' would be more accurate. You see Zipcar is in the business of providing cars to drive by the hour. Think of them as perhaps a "time-share' for cars. Or perhaps your own personal Taxi Cab but without the crazy driver.

Yes, I suppose you could argue that the very act of sharing a car saves resources since it takes resources to make a car. Of course it also eliminates jobs (you listening Detroit), but let's set aside that discussion for the moment.

The real question in MY mind is - does it(A) actually take cars off the road??(not out off the parking lot mind you, but actually off the road)? (B) does it alter the behavior of the people who drive them in an way that reduces their dependence on a single family (or single person) automobile?

The company website addresses point (A) by saying "90% of our members drove less than 5,500 miles per year AFTER joining Zipcar." That of course begs the question "how many miles a year they drove BEFORE joining Zipcar?" Ie: did they join BECAUSE they don't drive that much (and therefore didn't really need a car)?

As far as point(B), the PR pitch did offer me then chance for "Interviews with participants during the 30-day program". If they'll let me,I plan to take them up on THAT offer to see firsthand what changes to driving habits really happened.

This might be the greatest idea in the world or it might be another case of 'greenwashing". I'll hope to find out. Meantime, what do you think?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New EV (Electric Vehicles) and New Places to Park Them

Been getting pretty interested in the whole Electric Vehicle thing. It seems of all the technologies being heralded out there, this one has maybe the highest "reality" factor in terms of how, when, and how much will it really cost.

To recent stories that caught my eye. First this press release about SeaTacParking offering - among other "green" updates, electric vehicle parking spots. Sure there are only four of them, and no idea what they charge to charge you, but it's still a cool idea and an indication that the EV movement continues to pick up stream (er,I mean electricity).

Then there's this one out of neighboring Spokane at The Tango billed as "The World's Faster Urban Car". I'm not sure about that, but my son's headed back to Gonzaga in the Fall so maybe I'll just pop by and test drive one for myself (you listening there Tango folks?). In addition to the obvious fuel efficiency, it is my understanding that you can use it in the carpool lane which is pretty epic especially considering our wonderful traffic. According to their website, they cost $10,000 and "are being delivered as mostly-assembled kits making completion by any customer a quick and easy task. Batteries and drivetrain are not included." Hmm, I'm pretty handy, but building my own car?

Good things happening on the EV front here in the Northwest. I'm gonna look into this one a bit more.