Friday, 15 August 2008

1958 - Global Warming - It's NOT newly known

Fifty years later, and the answer is offshore drilling!

David Byrne's Bike Racks

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Car Free Streets

Not only is this young lady adorably cute, she also manages some decent improvisational lyrics and dance moves!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

fast train - ave renfe - alta velocidad españa - spain

Yet another reminder that we are so far behind the rest of the world. What's going on?

Monday, 30 June 2008

Is there a way to compare a human being to an engine in terms of efficiency?


It turns out that "biological engines" -- which is what the muscles in your body are -- are pretty amazing in terms of efficiency. To find out how efficient, let's look at how many calories a person burns while riding a bicycle.
If you look at a page like this calorie chart, you will find that a person riding a bicycle at 15 miles per hour (24 km per hour) burns 0.049 calories per pound per minute. So a 175-pound (77-kg) person burns 515 calories in an hour, or about 34 calories per mile (about 21 calories per km).

A gallon of gasoline (about 4 liters) contains about 31,000 calories. If a person could drink gasoline, then a person could ride about 912 miles on a gallon of gas (about 360 km per liter). Considering that a normal car gets about 30 miles per gallon, that's pretty impressive!

To be fair, keep in mind that a car generally weighs a ton or more, while a bicycle weighs only 30 pounds. Cars also travel a lot faster than 15 mph. But it is still an interesting comparison. Note also that people cannot drink gasoline. However, people can drink vegetable oil, which contains nearly the same number of calories per gallon (if you look at How Fats Work you can see that fat contains long hydrogen/carbon chains just like gasoline does).

The people riding in a race like the Tour de France are riding more like 25 mph. Because air resistance rises very quickly with speed, they are burning about three times more calories -- something like 100 calories per mile. In a 100-mile stage of the tour, a racer might burn something like 8,000 to 10,000 calories in one day! So they are getting only about 300 miles per gallon. The only way to replace those calories is to eat a lot of food (see How Dieting Works for details).

If People Could Run On Gasoline

Some interesting thoughts relating to the posting above.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Is Parking Being Subsidized?

It just so happens that I've worked in a landmark hotel here in San Francisco as a reception desk clerk for the past several years. Originally, I took this job as a stopgap, figuring I'd find work in my trade as a Lithographer at a later date. Two things happened. First of all, I found that the union benefits and seniority protections made my job quite enviable. Lastly, I discovered that my trade is all but a tattered remnant in the city where I wish to live, thanks to outsourcing and other things.

On top of everything else, I have found that I really like what I do for a living. I have many opportunities daily to talk to all sorts of people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds, and varied cultures. The more I get to meet all these people, the more I've begun to realize that we all share the same concerns, hold the same values, and essentially we share much more in common than what might separate us. It also gives me an opportunity to plant seeds of change. I started this blog with the hopes that some of my ideas (those seeds of change) would get picked up and discussed, and people would begin to see some of the things I have noticed, and begin to reach their own conclusions. Right now, this blog has yet to gain any real readership or recognition, but it is a place where I am free to write down my insights and formulate ideas. Perhaps one day it will take off, but even if it simply inspires a few individuals to do something, then it has served a purpose greater than what I could ever do by myself.

Words – or better said, the ideas which words represent are powerful forces that can manifest themselves as physical realities. This is why we are wise to pick our words carefully. We are wise to refrain from immediately reacting to a given situation. Silence can be one's best defense. More often than not, we are generally unconscious to our words, and we tend to parrot everything we hear. At some point we can believe our own lies, and then those lies, or distortions, or exaggerations become manifest in the physical world in all sorts of ways.

My job in particular, is one of those jobs where diplomacy is paramount. But that does not mean I'm not free to express myself. I just have to choose my words with extreme care. Once a guest inquired as to whether or not I supported trade unions. It was apparent to me that our guest was not a fan of organized labor. My response to her was "Yes, I support organized labor. I am actually one of the representatives of my union here at this hotel, and it is my duty to ensure that our negotiated contract is followed and to make sure that our members are treated equitably. I don't believe that unions are free from corruption, or that they never make grave mistakes, or even that there have not been times unions have worked against their best economic interests. I keep an open mind, and many detractors of organized labor have made some valid arguments against them. Ideally, labor would represent all working people – not just those who are able to organize. But in the end, I believe there needs to be a balance of power for a democratic process to function, and in this country, the only true representatives of labor have been trade unions, and when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, I know that my union has my best interests at heart." Our guest was dumbstruck, and realized that in my summary there was no way she could argue with me, because I had made a concession to her, and confessed that I did not have the perfect answer, but I made it clear that I would support the organization that had my best interests first and foremost. And why would I or anyone else for that matter, vote against our interests? I'm sure that this lady walked away with a different perspective, and perhaps more open to other ideas. If anything, I was at least successful in explaining why there are people who support unions. Had I been afraid to express myself, or worse yet, had I come across as defensive and argumentative, no transformation would take place – to the contrary, this individual would likely become more entrenched in her world view.

A few months ago, we raised our parking rates from $45 to $50 overnight. It is incredible how many of our guest's are up in arms over this. My strategy initially was to avert the blame by stating that the hotel does not manage the garage, and we have no control over their parking rates, which is generally correct. After seeing that averting the blame did little to quell our guest's ire, I tried another tactic, which was one of comparison. Stating that our parking rates were within the going rate in the area, seemed to work a little better. But I've found that my best tactic is simply to side with the guest and say something to the effect of, "isn't it crazy?". The problem with this tactic is that it is disingenuous. Let me explain why this is so.

There are things that have inherent value. A thing becomes more valuable as its scarcity rises. Space is one of those things. If you think about it, you'll realize that space is indeed limited on this planet. In fact, the oceans cover two thirds of the surface – so you can immediately count that out until we start building floating cities! But the truth of the matter is that space, especially in urban areas, is at a premium. And when you begin to realize that the auto-centric urban environments have dedicated a surprising amount of space to the personal motorcar, you'll also begin to realize how amazingly subsidized that space is when compared to everything else. I have made the same point repeatedly regarding fuel costs. The real price of gas is conservatively estimated at $20 per gallon. If the consumer were to see this reality at the pump, he would sell his car, buy a bicycle, move closer to work, or take public transit (or do all the aforementioned).

So let's get back to the idea of a privately owned car, and the ability to park it at will on open public space, or within a garage. One of my mental exercises involves taking a stroll through one's neighborhood and imagining personal, and privately owned objects, preferably of value, in place of the cars that are parked on the street. If you spot a new Mercedes Benz, then you can imagine a fine Persian carpet with a very expensive leather sofa, and perhaps an antique end table with a lovely art nouveau lamp on it, since that would essentially equate the value of the car in that space. Now let's say we come across a compact economy car, like a Toyota. Now we can imagine a large plasma screen television set and high-fidelity stereo system and a nice modern recliner in its place. Lastly, imagine a smog-belching junk heap of an automobile that might be worth five hundred dollars on a good day. You've just imagined my entire apartment's furnishings! Isn't this a fun exercise? This is exactly what personal transport is with a few important differences. First of all, it is arguably more of an eyesore, and it is noisier, it emits toxic fumes (and people get upset with cigarette smokers!), and it is only available to its owner. Presumably, if one were to park a sofa on the street, people tired from walking could take a break and sit upon it.

Most importantly, the car is designed to be mobile, although ironically, it spends over ninety percent of its time resting. That means that wherever I drive my car to, I need a space to park it once I get there. If you figure conservatively that the average parking space takes up 275 square feet, and every car owner needs an average of six parking spaces throughout the city at their disposal, then each car needs roughly 1,650 square feet of space for its intended operation, not including roadways. Now if you figure your average apartment is 700 square feet, and the average rent in this city is $1500 per month, you'll see that the residential rate is roughly $2 per square foot. If you figure that each car requires 1650 square feet of space throughout the city, then would it not be equitable to charge $3000 per month for its parking requirements? Can you begin to see how car owners are subsidized? Even if you were to charge for a single residential space, the equitable amount would be $550 per month, and our parking rates are not anywhere near that. You can buy a residential permit in my crowded neighborhood and park your heap of junk for $60 annually, or quite frankly next to nothing. Why is such valuable space considered so exclusive to the private use of car owners?

By now, you can probably see where I'm going here. Could it be then that parking is also subsidized by our hotel guests? Our hotel's average daily rate for a room is about $250 per night. Our average room is about 450 square feet. That equates to 55 cents per square foot. So you can see right off that $50 per night for a parking space is one third the going rate. Albeit, there is minimal maintenance, no maid service, and little in the way of utilities involved in keeping a parking space. However, there is overhead involved – there are parking attendants and there is a valet parking service. I dare say, a more equitable rate would be $80 per night, and I figure that conservatively. So to a certain degree, our guests who choose not to use our parking facility are subsidizing our guests who do utilize the parking facility.

As long as car ownership is considered a right in this country, and as long as we continue to subsidize its use, attitudes will likely never change. Yet when you begin to consider the actual cost of the automobile, the alternatives begin to look quite appealing indeed. The less we rely on our cars within urban environments, the more we can begin to invest in attractive alternatives. There are infinite possibilities out there. There is no particular reason why we cannot fathom cities with carfree zones, or carfree cities, for that matter. I for one, hope that someday I will be able to live in my city as a free citizen, stripped from the burdens of autocentric culture, where children are free to play in the streets, where citizens can gather in public spaces without fear of being hit by a car, and where there is less noise and pollution.

Now its your turn to imagine the possibilities.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Ivan Illich: Social effects of motorized transport

This man is the one who got me thinking about alternatives to the automobile:

The United States puts between 25 and 45 per cent of its total energy (depending upon how one calculates this) into vehicles: to make them, run them, and clear a right of way for them when they roll, when they fly, and when they park. For the sole purpose of transporting people, 250 million Americans allocate more fuel than is used by 1.3 billion Chinese and Indians for all purposes.

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy.

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society's time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.
Man, unaided by any tool, gets around quite efficiently. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer in ten minutes by expending 0.75 calories. Man on his feet is thermodynamically more efficient than any motorized vehicle and most animals. For his weight, he performs more work in locomotion than rats or oxen, less than horses or sturgeon. At this rate of efficiency man settled the world and made its history. At this rate peasant societies spend less than 5 per cent and nomads less than 8 per cent of their respective social time budgets outside the home or the encampment.
Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems. In the bicycle system, engineered roads are necessary only at certain points of dense traffic, and people who live far from the surfaced path are not thereby automatically isolated as they would be if they depended on cars or trains. The bicycle has extended man's radius without shunting him onto roads he cannot walk. Where he cannot ride his bike, he can usually push it.

The bicycle also uses little space. Eighteen bikes can be parked in the place of one car, thirty of them can move along in the space devoured by a single automobile. It takes three lanes of a given size to move 40,000 people across a bridge in one hour by using automated trains, four to move them on buses, twelve to move them in their cars, and only two lanes for them to pedal across on bicycles. Of all these vehicles, only the bicycle really allows people to go from door to door without walking. The cyclist can reach new destinations of his choice without his tool creating new locations from which he is barred.

Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim.

[from: Energy and Equity. In Ivan Illich: Toward a History of Needs. New York: Pantheon, 1978.]

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Cars Are Driving Us Nuts

We drive ever longer distances in order to satisfy the same needs

An interview with Hermann Knoflacher

Martin Hablesreiter and Sonja Stummerer recently interviewed one of the leading traffic scientists, Professor Hermann Knoflacher. He has taught at the Institut fuer Verkehrsplanung und Verkehrstechnik at the Technische Universitaet in Vienna for more than 30 years. The 67-year-old professor became well known in Vienna for his innovative thinking on traffic issues. He developed pedestrian areas, put trams on separate roadways, and advocated a separate network of bicycle paths.
Translated by Ulrich Nehls with help from Sarah Whelan in Galway, Ireland.
Q: Are you opposed to the car?

HK: I am not opposed to the car. But I am aware of its impact on our society.

Q: Do you drive?

HK: I don't own a car, but I drive occasionally.

Q: So, what impact does motorization have on our society?

HK: An incredible one. The car is like a virus that beds in your brain and totally subverts behaviour, values, and perception. A normal person would call our present living space completely insane. We move into sealed houses more or less voluntarily, with noise-protected windows and leave the outside to the noise, dust, and exhaust of the cars. That is a full reversal of values, and we don't even notice it any more.

Q: In your opinion how did it come this far ?

HK: Our problem is upright walking. We consume a considerable amount of muscle and navigation energy in order to stabilize our body. Just think of the coordination problems when under the influence of alcohol. When driving we use only one sixth of our energy and feel incredibly fast and powerful. That is one part. The other one is urban planning that requires cars to be as close as possible to all of our social activities. That's how you destroy the natural habitat, public transit, local supply, and eventually the social network that humans have established in millennia.

Q: So the car destroys evolution?

HK: No, but the human accomplishments of past generations have been degraded by the car.

Q: Does the car era mean our cultural doom?

HK: I wouldn't say that, since a cultural doom is not the real problem in my eyes. It's only the latest layer of evolution to get lost. The permanent structural devastation caused by the car is much worse.

Q: Is driving addictive?

HK: Definitely! The car takes possession of people. The driver is more distinguished from a human than any insect.

Q: What do you mean by that?

HK: Mobility with the own body is something common between humans and insects. However, a driver does not need this. And no insects destroy the living space of their successors for their own convenience, or move so fast that it could kill themselves.

Q: In your opinion what should mobility in our society look like then?

HK: Every society needs mobility to satisfy its needs. If we could meet our needs locally we would be plants, not humans. Human mobility always emerges from local shortcomings.

Q: Why are we so proud of our mobility?

HK: You are talking about technical mobility. In historic terms we never were especially proud of mobility. On the contrary: mobility has always been a ballast. Settling down means getting rid of enforced mobility. Our mental mobility was enough to allow us to cultivate plants or domesticate animals.

Q: Is this why words such as gypsy or tramp are offensive?

HK: It's clear: The settled community have claimed their territory and refuse access to anybody else. Settled residences are seen as exclusive. Travellers challenge the ownership of the land of the settled people and are thus hated for doing so.

Q: You are both a critic of our traffic system and a planner. How does that work?

HK: At the start of my career I discovered that traditional traffic planning is merely based on assumptions. For a long time there was no consideration for the consequences for the society or the environment. Nobody cared about noise or pollution, about fatalities, about the economy being altered or unemployment being created. My goal is traffic planning on a scientific basis. Under this aspect it is my opinion that transportation is one of the most fascinating scientific areas.

Q: You criticize the lack of networking traffic planning with other scientific fields.

HK: Yes. Core statements in transportation are completely wrong from my point of view! The idea of mobility growth depends on an inchoate reflection of the system. There was the assumption of rising mobility by rising motorization. Today we know that only the number of car trips rises, while the overall amount of trips remains the same, because the use of public transportation and walking decrease at the same time. The other false assumption is that of saving time by higher speed. There are many evaluations of economic efficiency in traffic planning based on this assumption. In fact there is no such thing as saving time by higher speed. You only travel longer distances in the same period of time.

Q: How do you provide evidence for that?

HK: By critically watching the human time budget. It's interesting how the period of time for daily mobility is almost the same around the globe. But distances travelled are different. In the Sixties the philosopher Ivan Illich showed that the amount of energy invested into cars and road infrastructure would be sufficient to cover the distance by foot - and in a considerably more beautiful and peaceful environment.

Q: Doesn't social mobility increase when travelled distances increase?

HK: No. Quite the contrary. The additional distance is useless. Man covers greater distances for the same purposes as before. He does what he has always done, but travels farther.

Q: But we broaden our mind.

HK: How can I broaden my mind when I rush through the environment at 100 km/hr? You are really constricting your mind due to the speed.

Q: One experiences different things when travelling to India than to Bavaria.

HK: It does not depend on where you travel, but what you discover there. You won't experience more on a worn-out tourist trail in India than in Bavaria. Quite the contrary, with watchfulness and curiosity you may discover things in Bavaria you won't find in India. Speeds that exceed our evolutionary grown capabilities also exceed our perception. Mentally we cannot cope with the distances we have learnt to cover using technology.

Q: But we feel powerful.

HK: Of course. Mobility always equals power. By the way, studies have revealed that parents don't even consider their own children when it comes to opting for a parking space close to their front door or a low traffic zone. Restricted mobility, even at the risk of ones own offspring are accepted in favour of a convenient parking space.

Q: Is driving entirely insane?

HK: Considering the prerequisites man has created for his car driving, it is clearly the most convenient form of travelling, and thus quite rational. Look at the pedestrian infrastructure in comparison. Footpaths in their present shape are a joke! In earlier days the pedestrian was allowed to use the entire expanse of a street - for more than 7.000 years! We have pushed the pedestrians aside on the edge in last 50 years and now ask ourselves why this kind of mobility vanishes. The structures we have created forces people to drive!

Q: Are we living in a dictatorship of automobiles?

HK: Absolutely!

Q: Can this be changed?

HK: Certainly. Changing the way of organizing parking space would be sufficient. If you would pass a public transport stop, or a store - which would establish by itself - on your way to a parking lot, the demand for driving would decrease. Now a days people are taunted by fiddling with symptoms. They tack on a little parking fee here and a little congestion charge there. That is completely unfair. At first they establish conditions requiring people to use a car, and then they make them pay for it. As a traffic planner you ought to create arrangements that unburden people from the necessity to drive!

Q: That sounds like a conflict-laden job.

HK: At that time, my proposal of turning the Viennese Kartnerstrasse into a pedestrian zone was predicted to lead to its economical death. Later I was told that cycling was totally unwanted by the Viennese and that speeding up public transit by laying cobblestones near the stops would cause motorist uproar. All that was allegedly unpopular. Yet the Viennese have embraced these ideas and the city's living standard rose in international rankings. You can't only satisfy voters wishes. You don't give drug addicts tax-free drugs, even though the desire certainly exists.

Q: Could this problem, in your opinion, be solved with the gas price?

HK: No! Every gas price rise is a purely symbolic action and automatically leads into a social trap. When only the wealthy can afford filling up and the poor don't, there is still an unsolved traffic problem, with a social injustice added to it. The approach must be parking and the way to it. When you organise parking space properly, carfree spaces with a high value of living will be created. Who wants to sleep quietly must accept a longer walk to his car. And who prefers the car must live in noisy and stinky environment. Parking lots should be organised the same way as transit stops.

Q: Do you advocate more parking restriction?

HK: Look how auto-centric you think! When a pedestrian is interdicted to cross a street where he likes that's seen as pretty normal. Rearranging traffic in motor streets and pedestrian streets is demonised as anti-car, without considering that dividing the streets offers the best solution.

Q: What about the often-quoted freedom of the driver?

HK: This freedom is purely virtual, merchandised by advertisement. They show an empty road in a beautiful landscape, with one single car running on it. Would they show the reality with gridlock, nobody would be dumb enough to buy a car.

Q: Cars still sell very well.

HK: Yes, because drivers enjoy yet another form of freedom, a freedom of lawlessness. Unlike other people, they are allowed to be noisy, pollute the environment, and jeopardise public safety unpunished. A rampaging drunk may be arrested due to disturbance; motorists annoying us with noise day and night are accepted. If I as a pedestrian would spray cancerous substances from a can that would be against the law. Motorists are doing just that, unresisted every day, shortening our life span on average by 12 months.

Q: The car driver is a killer?

HK: Yes, in good faith. The car shifts us into a space-time arrangement of irresponsibility that we cannot comprehend nor handle. And there is strong lobbying: the auto industry, the construction industry, and banks that give credits for purchasing cars, who at all costs take care that studies, like the one mentioned by the WHO, are not published.

Q: Even teenagers are dreaming of cars.

HK: Because they experienced bondage in cars for years. In a car a child is radically restricted in its mobility. He is forbidden to walk to or cross a street, he must not play everywhere, he is caged for hours in the rear of a car and is even belted. That's clearly why teenagers are looking forward to regain their freedom with a licence and a car of their own.

Q: Do you think that cars are the cause of wars?

HK: Absolutely! And you don't have to look at Iraq. There is a permanent war on our streets. Every single day two people are killed on Austrian streets. Traffic physically injures 40.000 people a year. And those dying from the exhausts, as reported by the WHO, aren't even counted in this figure.

Q: What do you feel when you pass by suburban shopping centres, big box retailers, and the like?

HK: These are parasites! I feel sorry for any city with such structures. The traffic problem is in part a child of these shopping malls and outlet stores on the edge of cities. The main problem is free parking. This ought to be taxed so massively that parking there would cost as much as in the city centre. Everybody should be allowed to build where they like, but in-town businesses struggling with parking fees while everything is free in the suburbs is unacceptable.

Q: Do you expect European cities to look like those much ridiculed US cities, with sprawling suburban homes, giant shopping centres, and poor public transit?

HK: No, since there is a re-urbanisation taking place in many European cities. That is related to an ageing society. Elderly people just cannot get the needed services on the edge of a city. They simply have to move back into the city. Apart from that it's the energy issue that will make people move back into the cities.

Q: You mean gas prices?

HK: No, I mean energy prices in general. They will definitely rise and affect all areas of life. This means heating, electricity, transport - and all that carries more weight in the isolation of a suburban home than in a city centre. And elderly people need a lot of energy-rich services that become very expensive at price hikes. I don't just think of "meals-on-wheels" and the like. The more scattered people live, the more energy is needed. And we won't be able to afford that any more within a short period of time. This means we will have to create sustainable urban structures in order to be able to pay for them in the future. The actual cities with their suburbs aren't like this.

Q: Is it true that societal expenses of mobility are higher than the revenues, including employment in the car industry?

HK: That's absolutely correct. And the bill for consumers will become worse, since at the moment mobility is more or less free, and that is soon going to change drastically.

Q: Why is air travel so strongly criticized these days, in regards to climate protection and mobility, and not motorists?

HK: First of all, the damaging impact of air travel is serious and criticism is justified. No-frills airlines are activating groups of passengers that would not fly otherwise. Flying basically is the most degrading mode of travelling. Flying always reminds me of mass animal farming: Like chickens, fed like in battery farming. But unlike the humans in an aircraft chickens are not belted.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Where the Economy is Headed


Saturday, 24 May 2008

San Jose High Speed Rail Station

This is for my family in San Jose. Check out your future!

Shanghai Maglev Train: Complete Ride

A train like this could get you from San Francisco to San Jose in about a quarter of an hour. That's a pretty easy commute. Imagine how many cars that would take of the streets! I'm astounded that China has progressed so far ahead of this country.

Friday, 23 May 2008

"Real Price Of Gasoline" Report Reveals Actual Cost of Gas to Consumers Is as High as $15.14 per Gallon

A while back I mentioned that I had calculated the actual price of gas at around $10 per gallon. I estimated that rather conservatively. Since gas prices are in the news as of late, I thought this report might be of interest. Note that the date is almost ten years old! If you simply adjust to the Consumer Price Index, that amount today would be $20 per gallon. Crude oil is now $132 per barrel as opposed to $60 per barrel last year. Now is not the time to rethink driving habits. Now is the time to consider not driving at all!




Washington D.C. -- A report released today by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) calculates that the actual cost of a gallon of gas to the American consumer could be as high as $15.14. The report "The Real Price of Gas" identifies and quantifies the many external costs of using gas that consumers pay indirectly by way of taxes, insurance costs and retail prices in other sectors. Established in 1994, the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), is a Washington-based research organization that analyzes how technology affects society.

The CTA study examines more than 40 separate cost factors associated with gasoline production and consumption. These include subsidies for the petroleum industry such as the percentage depletion allowance; tax-funded programs that directly subsidize oil production and consumption, like government-sponsored R&D for the oil industry; the costs of protecting oil supplies, shipments and motor vehicle usage, including military expenditures for protecting the Middle East and other oil rich regions; and environmental, health and social costs including those for global warming. Together these subsidies for gas paid by consumers total up to $1.68 trillion per year.

The Report will be released at a news conference today, Tuesday, November 17, 1998, at 10 a.m. The conference will be held at the offices of the Communications Consortium at 1200 New York Avenue, N.W. (AAAS Building, 1 block from Metro Center), Second Floor, Revelle Conference Room. Scheduled panelists include Andrew Kimbrell, and Joseph Mendelson of CTA, Ann Mesnikoff of the Sierra Club and Gawain Kripke of Friends of the Earth.

According to CTA Director Andrew Kimbrell, "The real price of gas has been hidden from the consumer for far too long. Some of these costs including those associated with military actions in the Middle East and global warming could skyrocket in the coming years. Once the public understands how much they are really paying for gas we should see a tremendous increase in political pressure for alternatives."

Joseph Mendelson III, CTA legal director commented, "This Report has major policy implications. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently drafting standards for the next generation of automobiles through the "Tier II" process. This Report indicates that the EPA should encourage a significant move away from gas-powered vehicles."

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Right Wing, Left Wing…Why are they so much alike?

Fundamentalism and extreme progressivism both harbor the very same penchant for intolerance. The more I live, the more I have witnessed this tendency. What I find fascinating, is that many people who remain at these outer edges of political, scientific, philosophical and religious discourse are so very much alike. It is as though they were the same people, yet they froth at each other spewing extreme vitriol, and their intolerance borders on the sociopathic. Even more illuminating is the observation that many of these people more often than not have had their formative years spent in a fundamentalist upbringing, only to reject such notions fully and find themselves at the polar opposite those teachings. It can work the other way round, but there are far fewer examples. Yet the same behavior is continuously exhibited, and the main trait can be summed up as intolerance for divergent views. I believe much of what passes for democratic discourse today in this country is simply people on the fringes yelling at each other across the masses of moderates and centrists, hoping to capture our attention or distract us with "sound bites".

Clearly, there is something going on that is damaging to the soul, or intellect, if you prefer among people who fall into these groups. I believe the problem is essentially the fact that the act of questioning has never been instilled in them. Or better said, from a young and formative age, the natural tendency to ask questions has been denied, and its growth stunted. Within such a fanatical framework skepticism is seen as an intellectual weakness. Later on, such becomes a real barrier to achieving experiential knowledge and maintaining a healthy skepticism. It's as if these people are forever stunted from becoming who they really are, and instead, they grasp onto ideologies clinging desperately and defending them to the bitter end, even when they prove to be less than correct. It is like a scientist that is so convinced of a theory, that he'll formulate the most absurd conditions to prove it. It's like science's obsession with the "ether", until finally one day, somebody said, "hey!, maybe there's no such thing as the ether!".

Let's keep the Socratic method alive, and burn our idols!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Obama 2008

Those of you who read this blog know that I have lent my support to a number of politicians running for the presidency of the United States. I have spoken highly of Congressman Denis Kucinich, Congressman Dr. Ron Paul, and former Senator Mike Gravel. During this time, all three of these men have dropped out of the race, or their campaigns are no longer viable. I must express extreme disappointment in regards to Ron Paul, who simply chose not to spend enough during his campaign regardless of numerous campaign contributions driven mainly by grassroots organization. Dr. Ron Paul apparently was not all that serious about running for the presidency, since he switched gears to run a re-election campaign for his seat in Congress. Dr. Ron Paul has continually pronounced his belief that his campaign was not about "him" or any particular individual, and instead about the ideals expressed, namely "freedom".

That's fine by me, if you want to wax poetic. I love philosophical ramblings as much as any quasi-intellectual. But Ron Paul's musing is a cop-out. Leadership is still necessary to effect change. Anthropologically speaking, mankind is not yet a "collective" that works towards a common goal. We still behave as egoistic creatures regardless of our innate sense of love for our fellow man. And we still look for leaders to move us forward. Unfortunately, what we seem to get time and time again, are the least qualified and worst intentioned individuals that do not represent our best interests.

I have decided to lend my support to Senator Barack Obama. I have made a few contributions to his campaign and I have voiced my support for him whenever the topic is brought up. I must admit that I was not initially taken by the man, but the more I listen to him, the more I like him. I do not agree with his entire platform, but I do believe that Senator Obama will represent the average American's best interests. I also can see that his campaign is by far the more "populist" of all the rest. Neither McCain nor Clinton are viable options in my opinion. If in fact, Clinton manages to steal the show, I cannot see myself voting for her. Frankly, I'd prefer to see McCain win, because nothing will feed revolutionary change quicker than another four years of the same Bush & Co. policies!

Monday, 28 April 2008

NOVA Disappoints

Last night I was in a rather vegetative mode, so I was channel surfing on television and I happened to stop at a PBS presentation of NOVA. I generally enjoy that show, since it tends to be intelligent, informative and evocative.

Not last night.

I could barely suffer through the first quarter of an hour. The show was entitled "The Car of the Future". I sent the comment to the NOVA folk at their website. Let's see if I get a reply:

Might I be so bold to suggest that the "car of the future" is indeed, no car at all? Why was the most obvious solution to our dependence upon petroleum altogether ignored? I was very disappointed in this program's complete lack of vision and denial of the myriad problems that automobile-centric culture has created. We don't need cars that burn other fuels, what humanity needs are cities and transit networks that negate the need for automobiles entirely, and give back mankind the independence he enjoyed for millennia.

We have evolved over millions of years as bipedal creatures, and civilization has existed for tens of thousands of years based essentially on pedestrian transportation; indeed, man covered the entire globe by walking to his next destination! We are also social beings that require contact with our fellow neighbors in an environment that fosters such on a human scale. The automobile just further isolates one person from another and creates a scale that is unfriendly to social interaction. In the suburbs, the only place you can see people gather is in a shopping mall!

Suburban sprawl is not only unnecessary and resource intensive, but it also paves over land better used for farming or simply left in its natural state. The automobile has its place in the countryside. Yet this incessant love affair with the automobile must come to an end, if we are to live in a just, harmonious and sensible world that values a clean environment. All this program accomplishes is to further the illusion that automobiles are necessary in urban areas, and by not addressing this fundamental question, it does a tremendous disservice to us all.

I also left my website address. I'd love to see NOVA do a report on Car-Free Cities. That would make an interesting show.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Air Car

Here are some wonderful ideas for service vehicles, buses and cars that don't pollute. There is some electricity required for the compressors however, but it is negligible when compared to what we are currently using. Imagine buses, service vehicles and the lot without the toxic fumes!

Norway says cars neither "green" nor "clean"

Thu Sep 6, 2007 9:49am EDT

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - No car can be "green," "clean" or
"environmentally friendly," according to some of the world's
strictest advertising guidelines set to enter into force in
Norway next month.

"Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except
less damage than others," Bente Oeverli, a senior official at
the office of the state-run Consumer Ombudsman, told Reuters on

Carmakers such as Toyota, General Motor's Opel, Mitsubishi,
Peugeot Citroen, Saab and Suzuki had all used phrases this year
in advertisements that the watchdog judged misleading, she

One Toyota advertisement for a Prius, for instance,
described the gasoline-electric hybrid as "the world's most
environmentally friendly car."

"If someone says their car is more 'green' or
'environmentally friendly' than others then they would have to
be able to document it in every aspect from production, to
emissions, to energy use, to recycling," she said.

"In practice that can't be done," she said of tougher
guidelines entering into force in Norway from October 15.

The guidelines distributed to carmakers said: "We ask that
... phrases such as 'environmentally friendly', 'green',
'clean', 'environmental car', 'natural' or similar descriptions
not be used in marketing cars."

Carmakers would risk fines if they failed to drop the
words. Oeverli said she did not know of other countries going
so far in cracking down on cars and the environment.


In one ruling abroad, for instance, Britain's advertising
watchdog said that Volvo advertisements should not repeat a
claim that its C30 car was "designed with the utmost respect
for the environment in mind."

Oeverli said carmakers, who are making huge investments in
cleaning up emissions, seemed happy to get clearer rules about
advertising. In future in Norway, they could only give
information that could be firmly documented.

That meant that even phrases such as "Car X has low
emissions of carbon dioxide," the main greenhouse gas released
by burning oil, should be avoided.

The watchdog argued that mentioning carbon dioxide alone
could mislead buyers into believing that the car also had low
emissions of toxic nitrous oxide or other polluting particles.

Transport, mainly trucks and cars, accounts for about a
fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions from human sources,
widely blamed for stoking a warming that could bring more
floods, desertification, heatwaves and rising seas.

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