Sunday, December 31, 2006

In Virginia, It's Still "Thank You for Smoking"

DC's smoking ban is set to take effect Tuesday, to much hand-wringing from DC bar & restaurant owners. The Washington Post follows the pattern of most media coverage of the ban, mentioning bar & restaurant owners' fears of lost business in the sixth paragraph, but waiting until four paragraphs later to mention that New York City and California (among dozens of other communities) have had smoking bans for years now, and from what I hear, people do still go out there.

Another fear -- that smokers will head en masse to Virginia. Luckily for DC, Virginia already discourages people from coming across the Potomac with its 2am last call (which translates to as early as 1:15am at many bars).

A much more likely scenario is that the smoking ban will be a benefit to DC businesses. DC already has the aforementioned 3am last call and the all-important Cool Factor. Now Virginia nonsmokers have another big incentive to head into DC. Montgomery, Prince George's, and Howard Counties in Maryland also have smoking bans.

For Virginia, it's one more area in which we're lagging behind. Virginia not only lacks a statewide smoking ban, it doesn't allow cities or counties to ban smoking on their own. (Because of the Dillon rule, localities only have the powers specifically granted to them by the state [thanks to Vivian for the correction]). You'd think a Democratic governor like Tim Kaine would support a smoking ban, but in fact he opposes it.

If you think Virginia should ban smoking in bars and restaurants (or at least allow communities to make their own choice), email Governor Tim Kaine, your state delegate, and your state senator now.

UPDATE: DCist agrees on the impact of the smoking ban, as do a vast majority of commenters.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Global Warming Makes Finland So Hot, a Quick Swim is the Only Relief

OK, so that's not quite an accurate caption for today's photo, but there is a flood (no pun intended) of global warming news this week, plus a little comic relief from the Clown Prince of Politics ...

* If you're re-landscaping your yard, you might want to re-consider what kind of foliage you're planting. Scientists say 15 years of global warming has made the DC's climate less like Massaschusetts' and more like Texas'. In: the Arizona cypress. Out: spruce trees.

* A massive Canadian ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields is now an iceberg, floating in the Arctic Sea. The money quote: "This is a piece of Canadian geography that no longer exists."

* Swimming is unusually good in the Baltic Sea this year ... since it's not frozen.

* And for a little comedy, check out Robert "I Never Outed Valerie Plame, Unless This is Under Oath, in Which Case I Did" Novak's column on how those dastardly environmentalists are allegedly infiltrating the Bush administration. My favorite part is when he refers to "environmentalists' well-financed propaganda operation." Can even Bob Novak be that delusional to think in the battle of greens vs. industry, it's the tree huggers who are the well-financed ones?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

China Going from Red to Green?

Catching up on some interesting stories that came out while I was in Massachusetts for Christmas ...

* Now even the Bush administration is admitting climate change is already here, finally recognizing the
threat to polar bears.

* China has issued its
first report on the impact of global warming in the world's most populous country. The results are ominous but not unexpected -- higher temperatures along with more rain AND more droughts (the extra rain will evaporate faster in the heat). Meanwhile, some American companies are recognizing China as a huge, untapped market for green products and services.

* Cool story from Forbes about a
guy who figured out how to make big bucks by convincing people to recycle.

* Over at Bacon's Rebellion, Jim points out one reason why Arlington has fewer traffic problems than Fairfax -- it has 38 times as many people working to convince commuters to ditch their cars.

* And as the nation remembers Gerald Ford, I couldn't help remembering this classic 1996 Saturday Night Live skit, with Dana Carvey portraying Tom Brokaw recording some potential breaking news bulletins before leaving on vacation.

UPDATE: Chinese officials suspected of
faking smog data to make clean air targets.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Would You Like Your Air Leaded or Unleaded?

If it's a choice between the health of 300 million Americans or improving the bottom line of battery makers, lead smelters, refiners, the Bush administration will side with industry every time. So here's the choice for you -- would you like your air leaded or unleaded?

Other environmental news & notes ...

* Some great tips from Arlington County on going green over the holidays.

* California is getting ready to spend more than $3.4 billion over the next 10 years to subsidize the installation of 1 million solar roofs, or about 3,000 megawatts of electricity capacity, enough at peak output to match six modern natural-gas-fired power plants. It's the biggest solar energy effort in U.S. history.

* Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) flatly says the era of silent but deadly environmental rollbacks is over.

* Think we humans know everything there is to know about everything on this planet? Here are 52 reasons why not.

* Questions about whether a science association is looking out for students or its oil industry funders.

Railing Against the Rails

Angry, bitter, venomous, it-could-only-happen here, this-is-why-everyone-else-laughs-at-us, what-horrible-mismanagement reaction to proposed public transportation increases.

In DC? No.

And Boston. Oh, and it's a ridiculous joke there, too.

Am I saying DC's Metro is perfect? No.

Am I saying commuting sucks, no matter where you live, where you're going or how you're getting there? Pretty much.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Metro's Fare Increase & Incentive Package: A Good Start

Judging by the hysterical reaction on DCist, you'd think Metro was proposing to extract a pound of flesh at each faregate. But I'm going to make the radical argument that the transit agency's plan to increase some fares and create new rider incentives seems not just reasonable, but overdue.

Metro faces two major problems, one financial, and one social. While the causes are beyond the reach of 15 cent fare hikes and such, this package seeks to address the effects of both.

There is only one major transit system in the country that lacks a dedicated government revenue stream. There is only one major transit system in the country that serves three states/districts in very similar proportions. Metro.

This year, Congress, DC, Maryland, and Virginia came closer than ever to agreeing on a dedicated funding source, but
Virginia Republicans killed the deal. Lacking that funding source, fare hikes are Metro's quickest way to balance its budget is to raise fares. It's not necessarily the easiest, as the public backlash shows, but that Metro is willing to take that heat shows how tight its budget is.

More radical are the financial incentives for commuters to avoid riding during peak hours (5-9:30am or 3-7pm). I do agree with critics who say commuters are at the mercy of their bosses, and that the fare incentives target the thousands of ants marching and not The Man who decides when they work. But the suggested fare incentives are a nudge, not a shove, and hopefully employers and the federal government will take notice.

The overcrowding issues on both Metro and our region's roads are frequently and wrongly labeled as capacity problems. They're not. Metro is half-empty for 18 hours a day, as are all but the most congested local roads like I66 or the Beltway.

The traffic is a result of a social problem -- every employer asking all of their workers to come in at the same time, then telling all of their workers to leave at the same time. As a result, we make extremely inefficient use of our transportation systems.

Aside from high-tech companies, both private employers and government agencies have resisted telecommuting, and individual commuters are left to arrange their own lives around a reverse commute or fight their bosses to let them work a 7-3pm or 11-7pm shift. I pitched something similar to my boss once and was quickly shot down with, "I need you here when I'm here." Nice to know I'm wanted, but what am I, her favorite teddy bear?

It's sad that it's fallen to Metro to try to address decades of short-sighted choices, shirked responsibilies, and failed leadership. But as DC's growth continues, commuters are going to have to let go of the idea that one lane of highway or one rail car should be exclusively theirs to zip straight to work at their chosen time.

And before you accuse me of being a Metro apologist, don't forget Festivus came early this year when I aired my grievances against the system back in July.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Just in Time for Christmas: Green Dimes & Red-Hot Car Sharing

I've discovered that this blog has become a clearing house for my friends' environmental news. They send me the articles and I post them here. It's a pretty sweet deal ... they spread the word on cool environmental tidbits, and I don't have to come up with a topic for that week's blog! If you have any articles you'd like me to feature, please post them in the comments section.

* General Motors has put together a futuristic green concept car called the "Hummer O2." Never mind that it looks nothing like an actual Hummer ... or that the current H2 gets around 10 miles to the gallon of gas ... GM thinks this proves they care about being environmentally friendly. Right.

* It takes the equivalent of 100 million trees to create the paper to print a year's worth of America's junk mail, but a new organization is pledging to cut down drastically on your junk mail for about $3 a month. It's called Green Dimes, and I don't know if it works, but it's worth checking out!

* According to the Washington Post, car sharing is catching on fast:
[November 29th], one of the two major car-sharing companies that operate in the Washington region, Zipcar, announced a $25 million investment that will allow it to possibly double the 350 vehicles it already puts on area streets.

In June, Zipcar's rival, District-based Flexcar, announced a major investment by a company started by AOL co-founder Steve Case. That could set up the Washington area -- one of only two major markets where the two companies compete -- as a testing ground to see just how far car sharing can go in reducing congestion, pollution and parking woes.

"Some of the highest adoption neighborhoods in the country are in D.C.," said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar, based in Cambridge, Mass. He said that in the Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, where parking can be difficult to find, more than 10 percent of residents older than 21 use the service.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Good News on Green Buildings

The DC Council has given final approval to landmark new law requiring private developers to adhere to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council:

Environmentally friendly buildings can include simple design elements such as abundant natural light -- which can save energy by minimizing the need for artificial light. They can feature windows that open to allow in fresh air, unlike those in most office buildings. Low-emitting carpet and paint can be used to improve indoor air quality.

Green buildings are likely to be equipped with low-flow water fixtures and even, perhaps, no-flush urinals, which use a chemical trap instead of water, Moore said.

Builders can also earn points by recycling materials. Carpet, for instance, is typically replaced in a building every seven years and lasts 20,000 years in a landfill, Moore said. But it can be recycled by shaving the nylon off the top and reusing the backing, she said.

Mayor Williams is expected to sign the bill. You can learn more by visiting the U.S. Green Building Council.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Let's Play "If You Ran VRE"

OK, so you're running Virginia Railway Express. Service is so unreliable, ridership is falling. Passengers would rather sit in gridlocked traffic than ride your rail system. So what do you do?

According to today's Washington Post, if you're the VRE board, you jack up fares for the fifth time in five years, stop compensating people for late trains, make the cars dirtier, and slash the marketing budget.

There! That oughta lure 'em back!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Green Party = Pinko Commies

One of my favorite recent editions of Get Fuzzy (arguably the best comic strip around now that Aaron McGruder has said he won't resume the print version of The Boondocks).