Weekend Reading 3/6/15

The ultimate gentrifier, an answer to the hipster fixie, and more.
This post is 193 in the series: Weekend Reading


Futurist Vivek Wadwha has good news: within two decades we will have almost unlimited energy, food, water, and healthcare. The bad news is: there won’t be any jobs, and there is no “jobs bill” that can fix that. What are we to do? He suggests shorter work weeks, which makes sense. But how do you get shorter work weeks for everyone? Walmart won’t pay a living wage to full time workers, why would they start paying a living wage to people working only 20 hours a week when robots are doing all the dirty work anyway? I agree with futurist Zoltan Istvan that we need a Universal Basic Income so that people can work as much as they want on the things that are important to them without needing an anachronistic make-work job. Or as Vox puts it: have the federal government just give the money to people, instead of giving it to financial institutions in exchange for bonds and hoping that will evenually help people.

Wadwha’s Singularity University buddy, Peter Diamandis, is also thinking about an exponential future, but in a recent Medium article he unfortunately got caught up in some ideology about government slowing progress, so I wrote this response.


As one who couldn’t appreciate the fixie bike even in my ultra-flat home city of Chicago, I of course had to click on a story from Colorlines earlier this week, “Oakland’s Answer to Hipster Fixies: Scraper Bikes.” It profiled an East Oakland man setting a positive example for kids in his neighborhood by way of some truly awesome-looking bikes and regular group rides. Ah, the power of bikes…

“Is the Environment a Moral Cause?” And if so, why do liberals seem to glom on to it more than conservatives? Stanford sociologist Robb Willer and University of Toronto psychologist Matthew Feinberg found strong influence from the way the media discuss climate, in largely politically polarized (and polarizing) terms, and that to close the moral obligation gap, framing the issue in core conservative value terms—think “pure and sacred”—would prove a powerful strategy.


Brentin Mock takes a look at the ways in which climate change, gentrification, and racism play on one another in his recent Grist article, “Climate change is the ultimate gentrifier.” Some food for thought, as our cities adapt to a swiftly changing planet.


Vox celebrates the man who built a tunnel in a Toronto park.

Is American democracy doomed? Yes, says Matt. No, says Ezra.


Do you have any idea how big a grizzly bear paw actually is? (Now you do. Spoiler: Shockingly big.)

Is one unlikely word—geoengineering—the key to less political polarization around global warming and more conservative acknowledgement of the scientific consensus? (More likely it’s yet another lesson that people are more apt to accept a problem when the proposed solutions fit their worldview—and vice versa.)

And, ten untranslatable Norwegian terms, including, my favorites, a word to describe the feeling of warmth and friendliness that arises from sharing simple pleasures of life with people you like and a word for a person who avoids confrontation, risk, wild times, leaving the house…a “slipper hero”—tøffelhelt.

Finally, a must-see video version of Drew Lanham’s (and BirdNote’s) Rules for the Black Birdwatcher.

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The Comedy and Tragedy of the Port Mann Bridge

Yet another confident projection of endless traffic growth.
This post is 50 in the series: Dude, Where Are My Cars?

The comedians in the Port Mann Bridge forecasting department are at it again: despite a 29 percent decline in traffic volumes on the Port Mann bridge between 2005 and 2014, the province is still predicting an immediate, sustained increase in traffic across the span:

Port-mann traffic 375

That’s right—despite years and years of being wrong about the direction of future travel trends, they think they’ve finally spotted signs of a turnaround. You see, traffic volumes in December 2014 and January 2015 were a wee bit higher than they were in December 2013 and January 2014. And apparently that was enough for them to declare that..

“Traffic volumes on the Port Mann Bridge are stable and growing.”

and to make a forecast of…

“continual, long-term traffic growth on the Port Mann Bridge at a rate of about 2.5% per year.”

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Wyoming Legislature Embraces Socialism for Coal

Lawmakers from the Cowboy State say "yee-haw" to corporate welfare.
This post is 31 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor

You can’t make this stuff up. The Wyoming state legislature—ostensibly one of the most conservative deliberative bodies in North America—has embraced full-on socialism for the coal industry. From The Branding Iron, the student paper at the University of Wyoming:

A budget amendment making its way through the Wyoming legislature could grant the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) the power to pursue projects like coal ports in other states…The bill also provides $1 billion in bonds to the WIA for the express purpose of pursuing infrastructure projects, like coal ports.

So the allegedly die-hard conservatives in the Wyoming legislature want to commit a billion dollars in bonding authority, backed up by financial resources of the state government, specifically to build coal export facilities that the private sector itself won’t fund. And even though they residents of Wyoming would ultimately bear the risk from a failed infrastructure project, they even want to the bond money out of state, to build projects in Oregon or Washington.

If that isn’t a prime example of what conservatives profess to hate, I don’t know what is.

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Seattle to See Bigger Presence from Little Cars

Car2go Seattle increases fleet by 50%, covers entire city.
This post is part of the research project: Making Sustainability Legal

This morning, car2go—the free-floating car-sharing system featuring perky, pay-by-the-minute Smart cars across 60 cities worldwide—announced it would grow its Seattle fleet by a full 50%, increasing from 500 to 750, and that it would expand to cover the entirety of the city limits.

The expansion takes advantage of legislation passed by City Council in January to allow up to 3,000 car permits total: up to 750 for each of four companies, and 750 only if the company’s service area includes all neighborhoods within city limits. Further, any company operating for at least two years in the city must cover the entire city, regardless of the operator’s size at that time—an important provision to ensure equal access to car-sharing for all Seattle communities.

At present, Seattle is car2go’s largest US market, with nearly two million trips since its 2013 launch and reportedly more than 59,000 members as of December. (By the numbers, that’s one car2go member for every 11 Seattle residents!)  For those concerned about how 3,000 shared vehicles might impact already headache-inducing traffic and parking, it’s important to note a few things: Read more »

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The Dark Side of Cheap Gas

Inexpensive gas means more driving, more gas-guzzlers.
Runron, Morguefile.com

Runron, Morguefile.com

In case you hadn’t noticed, gas is a lot cheaper now than it was this time last year.  Starting last June, a glut in the international oil markets tipped oil prices into a sustained, seven-month decline. Falling oil price were quickly passed through to consumers, with fueling stations across the country regularly slashing gas prices to levels not seen since the depths of the Great Recession.

So now that gas is cheaper, are we driving more? The answer is both clear and unsurprising: yes, low gas prices have prodded Americans to drive more. Read more »


Cloud Peak Projects Major Coal Export Losses

Coal company projects substantial losses on exports.
This post is 30 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor

Cloud Peak Energy—the third largest coal producer in the Powder River Basin, and one of the main proponents of coal export projects in Washington and Oregon—recently released its earnings statement for the fourth quarter of 2014. And as I read through the details of their earnings statement, I discovered that a prediction I made last fall was wrong.

I had anticipated that Cloud Peak would start reporting losses from its export division starting in 2015. But I was three months too late: Cloud Peak actually reported export losses in the fourth quarter of 2014.

But as bad as that revelation is for Cloud Peak’s export ambitions, the news gets much, much grimmer.

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Weekend Reading 2/27/15

More zero-waste inspiration, the locavore's cocktail, and more.
This post is 192 in the series: Weekend Reading


After Meaghan’s weekend reading pick a couple of weeks ago, I went on another of my zero-waste reading and inspiration kicks—sort of an annual kick in the pants I need to keep on top of low-waste livin’. First stop: Bea Johnson (h/t L.S.), complete with recipes for everyday needs and a video introduction if you prefer.

Why are developers still building sprawl? Atlantic writer Alana Semuels takes a look at why we’re diving right back into the development patterns that contributed to the recession, the builders still trying to tell us we want ever more space, and the yet-to-be-determined influence of Millennial and new urbanist tastes on the market.

Wow: the incredible decline of unions, in one animated map.

And, happy weekend! If you like a good cocktail, Seattle Times just made it worlds easier to mix local.


My top recommendation is this account of what it’s like to testify on a bill in Olympia, which is something I have occasion to do a few times each year. The bill, in this case, one that would support emotional development in school children—a worthy topic—but the lessons that author Chris Langeler draws from his experience with the legislature are much broader— and refreshingly positive. Read more »

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10 Key Takeaways from BC’s Polluters-Pay Model

Advice from northern Cascadia.
This post is 34 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

British Columbia has a world-class carbon tax. It’s been working for almost seven years, cutting pollution and pumping money into other parts of the economy, like the pockets of businesses and households who now pay lower taxes. Jealous decision-makers down here in Oregon and Washington might be asking “Yes, but how how did they start taxing pollution and helping businesses and residents? How did they do it?” Clean Energy Canada set out to answer your anguished questions by interviewing 13 of the architects of British Columbia’s carbon tax. Below are their 10 takeaways about a carbon tax, along with a little explanation and my take.

1. A carbon tax and a thriving economy can co-exist.

“The numbers speak for themselves. In the last five or six years, B.C. has outgrown most of the rest of Canada, and has had significantly less emissions than the rest of Canada.” —Ross Beaty, Executive Chairman, Alterra Power

True, that.

Every single interviewee agreed that the carbon tax has not harmed the economy. Some interviewees noted that carbon-funded corporate tax cuts have helped attract businesses to the province.

Hear that, Oregon and Washington? Making prices tell the truth about the cost of pollution is at worst neutral for the economy and at best good for business.

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Grays Harbor Ship Traffic: the Impact of Oil Plans

Oil terminals could mean five-fold increase in major vessel traffic.
This post is 8 in the series: The Risk of Northwest Oil Spills

Of all the places in the Northwest that would be affected by a ramp-up in oil transport, none stands to be as profoundly transformed as Grays Harbor. A trio of proposed crude-by-rail-to-vessel schemes at the Port would result in staggering increases in oil-bearing vessels moving in and out of the bay.

Based on figures in the the Washington Department of Ecology’s “Vessel Transit and Entry Counts” database, it is possible to contrast the average volume of ship and barge traffic over the last decade to the number of vessel trips that would be induced by planned oil sites on Grays Harbor. The most direct comparison—the number of current to potential future tank vessel—reveals that the three sites could multiply laden oil tankers and barges by 44 times.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

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Weekend Reading 2/20/15

50 reasons to love Northwest rivers, Grays Harbor oil plans, money in politics, and more.
This post is 191 in the series: Weekend Reading


I’m a week late on this story, but I highly recommend Ashely Ahearn’s look at the oil terminals proposed for Grays Harbor with a focus on the potential impacts to local fisheries and the Quinault Nation.


How many reasons do you have to love Northwest rivers? Well, here are 50!

Not only is this a fun and beautiful look at the rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin, you also get to feel nostalgic about those days when you were first exploring among moss-covered trees and misty waterfalls. Enjoy!


In case you needed more evidence, two new studies by political scientists show that the rich use their wealth to control American politics.

Native Americans are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. I don’t know if it’s adequate, but the US Interior Department just announced millions in funding to help tribes adapt.

And check out Robert Reich’s video on the Keystone XL decision.

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