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June 16th, 2017 Archives

16Jun/17Off

Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: ‘It’s not if, it’s when’

Human activity is worsening the problem in an already rainy area, and there could be damage worthy of a disaster movie if a storm hits the industrial section

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Houston has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

    Friday 16 June 2017 06.00 EDT

    Sam Brody is not a real estate agent, but when his friends want to move home they get in touch to ask for advice. He is a flood impact expert in Houston – and he has plenty of work to keep him busy.

    The Texas metropolis has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US, according to data stretching back to 1960 that Brody researched with colleagues. And, he said, “Where the built environment is a main force exacerbating the impacts of urban flooding, Houston is number one and it’s not even close.”

    Near the Gulf Coast, Houston is also at annual risk from hurricanes: it is now into the start of the 2017 season, which runs from this month to November. Ike, the last hurricane to hit the Houston region, caused $34bn in damage and killed 112 people across several states in September 2008.

    There is little hope the situation is going to get better any time soon. Earlier this month, days after Donald Donald Trump announced the US will withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, a new report warned that rare US floods will become the norm if emissions are not cut.

    Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus said the requests for help in Houston from people moving homes inspired him to create a forthcoming web tool so that people can type in an address and get a risk score.

    “If you can see your crime statistics, shouldn’t you be able to see your flood risk also? And other risks as well, human-induced risks?” he said. The site will be named Buyers Be-Where.

    In May 2015, eight people, many of them motorists, died in Harris County when a storm dropped 11in of rain in parts of the city in 10 hours.

    Last year, another six lost their lives in an April storm that hurled 240bn gallons of water at the Houston area. An inch of rain fell over the county in only five minutes, with a peak of 16.7in in 12 hours.

    The events damaged thousands of homes, turning major freeways into canals and piling up vehicles as if they were in a junkyard. The 2016 flood cost an estimated $2.7bn in losses and prompted more than 1,800 high water rescues.

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    Homes and property are flooded due to heavy rains in Richmond, Texas in June 2016. Photograph: Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Significant rains have always been a feature of life in south-east Texas. What bothers Brody and local environmentalists is the extent to which human activity is making things worse.

    “Houston is situated in a low-lying coastal area with poorly draining soils and is subject to heavy rainfall events and storm surge events, which makes it very prone to flooding. And the climate is changing. In Galveston Bay the sea level is rising. We know the area is experiencing more heavy downpours,” Brody said.

    “It pales in comparison with the other driving force, which is the built environment. If you’re going to put 4 million people in this flood-vulnerable area in a way which involves ubiquitous application of impervious surfaces, you’re going to get flooding.”

    In other words: there is a lot of concrete in Houston. In 2000, 4.7 million people lived in the Houston metropolitan area. Now the population is about 6.5 million. While efforts are under way to densify and improve public transport in the urban core, much of the growth has been suburban, where houses are big and cheap and commuters drive long distances on some of the world’s widest freeways. The city keeps loosening its belt: a third ring-road cuts through exurbs some 30 miles from downtown, spurring more expansion.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster

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    16Jun/17Off

    Your gas appliance is making climate change worse

    JUNE 15, 2017 1:00 PM

    BY RACHEL GOLDEN

    Special to The Bee

    Rachel Golden is senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club in Oakland. She can be contacted at rachel.golden@sierraclub.org.

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    California leaders have said loud and clear that we won’t back away from our commitment to build clean energy and reduce climate pollution.

    But for California to achieve its goals, it must address a source of climate pollution that is largely unchecked and literally hits close to home: the buildings where we live and work.

    Gas-powered appliances such as space and water heaters produce massive amounts of climate-damaging pollution. In fact, gas burned for heating is responsible for nearly as much carbon pollution as all of the state’s power plants combined.

    A recent investigation by the California Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Commission found that the state’s dirty gas networks leak more methane – 86 times more damaging than carbon – every year than the entire Aliso Canyon gas blowout, which is considered one of the worst man-made environmental disasters ever.

    Our buildings are a major source of pollution because there is a lack of public education and funding. Those who want to do something about climate change are missing one of the easiest ways to act – switch from gas appliances to cleaner, electric ones.

    Communities are already benefiting from doing so. The state is home to several of the nation’s largest all-electric low-income housing developments. Residents in these homes with on-site solar have utility bills about 90 percent lower than residents with gas appliances and no solar. The $1,000 a year in savings is no small change to families that are struggling to make ends meet.

    http://www.sacbee.com/article156381999.html

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    16Jun/17Off

    Pedal-ins and car burials: what happened to America’s forgotten 1970s cycle boom?

    ‘Bicycle madness’ once saw US bike sales outstrip cars, and spawned ambitious plans for 100,000 miles of cycle paths. Then the music stopped

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    Democrats and Republicans addressed a pro-bicycle rally at Denver Civic Center in October 1972. Photograph: John Sunderland/Denver Post via Getty Images

    Friday 16 June 2017 02.00 EDT

    “The bicycle’s biggest wave of popularity in its 154-year history,” gushed Time magazine in 1970 at the start of America’s five-year love affair with the bike. “Some 64 million fellow travellers are taking regularly to bikes these days, more than ever before,” the report continued, “and more than ever [they are] convinced that two wheels are better than four.”

    US bicycle sales, which had been rolling along at 6 million a year, shot up to 9 million in 1971, 14 million in 1972 and 15.3 million the following year, according to a Bank of America report. While most pre-boom bikes had been sold for children, suddenly 60% were destined for adults.

    Highly placed politicians – a few of whom were cyclists – told planners to get on and build miles and miles of urban bikeways. “Both national and local governments have recognised the phenomenal growth of bicycling,” reported Time, “and the Department of the Interior has plans for nearly 100,000 miles of bicycle paths to be constructed in the next 10 years.”

    In 1973, 252 bicycle-oriented bills were introduced in 42 states. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of the same year provided $120m for bikeways over three years.

    “Bikes are back,” claimed National Geographic writer Noel Grove in the magazine’s May 1973 edition. “Glutted roadways, ecological concern, the quest for healthful recreation, and the sophistication of geared machines have all contributed to a flood of cycling activity,” he explained, adding that “legislators are beginning to think bikeway as well as highway”. He concluded that “with bikeway construction and ecological concern marching hand in hand, America’s bicycling boom could harbinger a whole new era in transportation”. What went wrong?

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    A 1970 anti-automobile cartoon by Richard Hedman. It originally appeared in Autokind V Mankind by Kenneth R Schneider. Photograph: Richard Hedman

    Ecological concern was certainly one of the drivers of the boom. During the 1967 Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco reeked of patchouli oil, weed and incense. With flowers in their hair, some of the area’s self-styled “freaks” protested not just against the Vietnam war but also against waste.

    We’re at the final stages of the climax of the automobile era … We’ve gone as far as we can go

    US interior secretary Stewart Udall in 1972

    The automobile became a potent symbol of everything that was wrong with the “military–industrial complex”. In February 1970, 19 humanities students at the San Jose State College bought a brand new Ford Maverick and, with the blessing of their professor, buried it in a 12 ft-deep hole dug in front of the campus’ cafeteria. This crowdfunded destruction of the hated motor car made news around the world.

    Chicago-based Edward Aramaic explicitly linked cycling with environmentalism when he founded the Bicycle Ecology group and organised a “pedal-in” in October 1970. This was the era of “-in” demos – which started in the 1960s with “sit-ins” protesting against racial segregation at American colleges and universities. Later, there were “teach-ins”, “love-ins” and, in 1969, the famous “bed-in” with Yoko Ono and John Lennon who espoused world peace from the presidential suite of Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel, and who were gifted a White Bicycle by the city’s Provo anarchist group.

    “Bicycle Ecology … want to ban trucks, buses and automobiles from [downtown] and replace them with bikes,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “1,500 to 2,000 enthusiastic riders of all ages … braved a stiff north wind and temperatures in the 40s to wheel down major arteries to the civic centre, where speeches extolled the bicycle as good for the individual and for the environment.”

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    A Bicycle and Equestrian Day in Los Angeles in September 1971. Photograph: AP

    New York urban planner David Gurin joined with other activists to form a Triple-A with a difference. An Action Against Automobiles demo in November 1972 called for an end to highway spending, and for cars to be barred from downtown Manhattan. Riders met in Central Park and rolled past the Greater New York Automobile Show, chanting “Cars must go! Cars must go!”

    Speaking to a crowd of cyclists, Gurin applauded the radical bicycle activism of the Provo anarchists, and urged New Yorkers to adopt similar “eco-tactics”. One of the posters he designed to promote the AAA protest rides promised “massive demonstrations … until the streets are cleared of the auto gangrene.”

    (In 1978 Gurin, who had been writing anti-car polemics in Village Voice since the mid-60s and was a friend of Jane Jacobs, became NYC’s deputy commissioner for transport, a post he held for 12 years. In the late 1980s the city banned not cars but bikes. Action Against Automobiles continues as Transportation Alternatives.)

    Congressman Ed Koch – who would become New York’s mayor in 1977 – rode on some the early 1970s protest bike rides, and in 1971 he stressed: “The only way to ensure safety for the many thousands of New Yorkers who want to bicycle is to designate official and exclusive bike lanes.” Koch installed bikeways when he became mayor – but he also ripped them out again.

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    Bike Boom is published by Island Press

    In Portland, Oregon, the bike lanes stuck. Sam Oakland, a Portland State University professor who led a group known as the Bicycle Lobby, told the Associated Press in 1971: “We want to redesign Portland to make it a city for people … instead of what it now is: a giant, smelly parking garage for commuters.” His lobbying for funds worked and a bill was passed which set aside 1% of state transportation spending for bike-specific facilities – the first designated state funding for cycling in the US.

    A citizen Bicycle Path Task Force was appointed to oversee the programme, and Oakland was appointed chair. The Task Force met with resistance from the city’s car-centric engineers who had little interest in the use of bicycles for transportation and instead wanted to use money from the highway pot to build recreational trails. “As long as the bicycle continues to be considered a toy for recreational use only, we’re not going to get anywhere with paths in the city,” complained Oakland. After many struggles with city officials, the Task Force was able to push through a plan in April 1973. By the following year, 60 miles of bikeways had been striped statewide, with another 50 miles under construction and 70 miles to be delivered. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow; Portland is now one of America’s most cycle-friendly cities.

    In March 1972, interior secretary Stewart Udall – one of the greenest US politicians of his generation – told the New York Times: “We’ve got to get away from the pretence that there is some easy painless way that we can save energy. We’re at the final stages of the climax of the automobile era … We’ve gone as far as we can go.” Give people a choice, he said, build more bikeways. “People cling to their cars because there is no alternative.”

    Students, too, were keen on cycling. In 1972, University of Montana students could choose from geology, psychology, biology or – new for that year – bikeology, a combination of bikes and ecology.

    And hundreds of articles in the mainstream press demonstrated that there was an alternative. If National Geographic was to publish a spread today similar to the one from 1973 it would likely have glossy adverts from the likes of Cannondale, Specialized and Trek, America’s leading homegrown bicycle brands. The three were founded during the boom years.

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    A cyclist marks Earth Day 1970 on 5th Avenue in New York. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

    In Washington DC, there was a young Post staff reporter called Carl Bernstein – later to become half of the Pulitzer Prize-winning pair – known as the “office hippie” and a “long-haired freak who rode a bicycle …”

    “Many cyclists harbour fierce antipathy for what they regard as an automobile culture that is choking the nation with fumes, speed, noise and concrete,” he wrote in the Post in 1970. He went on to describe a “growing group of cyclists who regard pedalling as an almost political act and inevitably flash the two-finger peace symbol upon encountering another person on a bike”.

    The facilities for DC cycle commuters had been poor, but improved by the early 70s, partly because of John A Volpe, President Nixon’s secretary of transportation. In 1969, Volpe – who routinely rode a fold-up bicycle to work – told the city council chairman to build bikeways for the growing number of cyclists who, like him, were not all long-haired hippies. As Bernstein wrote in the Post, bike-boom cyclists were just as likely to be “stockbrokers and congressmen, secretaries and lawyers, students and government clerks, librarians and teachers, youngsters and oldsters”.

    At the first bike-in I burned someone’s driver’s licence on network TV. Heady times

    Marchant Wentworth

    Hundreds of cyclists staged a “bike-in” in 1971, demanding more space on the key commuter route of Beach Drive. “At the first bike-in I burned someone’s driver’s licence on network TV,” bicycle advocate Marchant Wentworth remembers. “Heady times.”

    In 1974, DC cyclists started to take direct action to improve streets. Cary Shaw installed an asphalt bike-ramp where the city Highway Department had refused. When a container of asphalt appeared on his street for a road-mending task, he decided to “borrow” some, adding a big traffic stripe leading to the ramp. “When it was finished, I turned around and almost immediately someone was wheeling her baby carriage up the ramp,” recalled Shaw. “A couple of minutes after that someone whizzed along on a bicycle, saw the thing, zipped up on the ramp, and away he went.” The ramp Shaw built was later adopted by the city, and is still there. Direct action works – sometimes.

    Blame it on the baby boomers

    Shaw, like other cycle advocates, was a baby boomer. The post-second world war birth spike resulted in a glut of teens and 20-somethings at the beginning of the 1970s. Many had cash, were eager for novelty, wanted independent mobility, and were desperate to throw off the shackles of their elders.

    These consumerist kids, who came of age at the end of the 1960s, kept on buying, and despite the bulge predicted in the 1950s, the bike industry was caught off guard when the demographic alighted on their products. It was a perfect storm, with drop-out baby boomers attracted to cycling for its anti-motoring environmentalism; suburban-conformist baby boomers latched on to cycling because it was healthy and “outdoorsy”; and pre-motoring teens upgraded to lightweight 10-speed bikes after having been attracted to cycling because of bikes like the Schwinn Stingray, the cycle that inspired Raleigh to make the iconic Chopper.

    Thanks to the 45 million bicycles sold at the height of the US boom, cycle ownership was higher than ever. The US was on the cusp of building a whole bunch of bikeways, with high-level support from the US Department of Transportation.

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    Davis, California – the American city which fell in love with the bicycle

    Read more

    David Rowlands, writing for Britain’s influential Design magazine, was impressed that the Department of Transportation organised a key 1974 conference, Bicycles USA. “What emerged from [this conference] was a far more comprehensive response to an expanding population of cyclists than any other country at present offers. Government assistance has been a major factor in this new awareness of the bike’s potential as a means of transportation in the developed world. It is an example that deserves much wider imitation.”

    A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency, also published in 1974, came to the same conclusion. And the Department of Transportation published its first ever cycle infrastructure style guide, Bikeways: State of the Art 1974.

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/16/pedal-ins-patchouli-bikeology-americas-forgotten-1970s-cycle-boom

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    16Jun/17Off

    Ignore the toxic myth about bike lanes and pollution – the facts utterly debunk it

    Peter Walker

    A series of articles in conservative media are pushing the bizarre argument that separated bike lanes worsen air quality. Here’s why it’s rubbish

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    ‘Separated cycle lanes are vital for modern cities’ ... a cycle superhighway on London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Photograph: Alamy


    Friday 16 June 2017 07.00 EDT

    Juliet Samuel is a regular columnist for the Telegraph, who opines authoritatively about politics, society and business. And yet last month she wrote something which was very obviously incorrect.

    Something needed to be done, Samuel said, about the “epidemic of bike lanes taking over otherwise useable roads all across London”. She continued:

    I cycle and drive, but these lanes go far beyond the measures needed to improve safety and instead just make it almost unbearable to get in a car. It takes a minimum of one hour to get out of town, half of which is spent churning out extra exhaust as you sit on clogged roads and roundabouts that were flowing perfectly well until now.

    Even if you ignore the idea that London’s roads used to flow “perfectly well” (perhaps all Samuel’s previous London driving and cycling took place at 5am on Sundays), there is a very obvious error here.

    It’s the peculiarly tenacious, if easily disproved myth that building separated cycle lanes causes greater traffic congestion, and thus more pollution.

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    Can you guess the city from its bike lane maps?

    Read more

    In Samuel’s very minor defence, she is merely repeating what she has probably read elsewhere. The previous month, James Salmon, the Daily Mail’s transport correspondent, wrote a hugely odd story noting that Cambridge and London had among the slowest average traffic speeds in the country.

    The paper put this down largely to cycle lanes, despite the fact other places in the list included Wolverhampton and Hereford, neither of which are known for their Dutch-style levels of cycling infrastructure. (As if in unconscious acknowledgment of the article’s essential absurdity, the story was illustrated with a photo of a bike lane in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

    Unbowed, the Mail used a story last month about the College of Paramedics raising concerns about separated bike lanes (a story that, it is worth noting, misquoted the college’s views) in an editorial column:

    Segregated cycle lanes have increased congestion and worsened pollution ... Isn’t it time to abandon this cycle ‘superhighway’ experiment and admit that it was a stupid mistake?

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    London’s cycle superhighway along the Embankment. Just 3% of central London roads have any segregated cycle lanes. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

    There are two elements to unpick this statement: firstly to debunk the myth; and then to try to understand why it is so persistent.

    To use London as a good example, there is zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion. Quite the contrary. Transport for London statistics show that just two weeks after the capital’s two new cycle “superhighways” were open, both routes were carrying 5% per hour more people than previously, a figure set to rise as more cyclists use them. Having given 30% of the space to bikes, these now comprised 46% of people using the roads.

    This makes sense when you realise that the standard traffic engineers’ rule of thumb is that a road that can carry 2,000 cars per hour on average can carry 14,000 bikes.

    There is precisely zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/16/myth-bike-lanes-congestion-pollution-debunked

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    16Jun/17Off

    Diesel Was Supposed to Be the Future

    Is the highly efficient fuel doomed?

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    On a smoggy day in Paris, police enforce an anti-pollution measure temporarily banning cars with even-numbered license plates.

    Michael Euler / AP

    1. NICHOLAS CLAIRMONT 6:00 AM ET BUSINESS
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    Once upon a time, diesel fuel was going to be the future. It was seen as more efficient, on a mileage-per-gallon basis, than other fossil fuels, and for that reason was also thought to be less polluting. About two decades ago, acting on those beliefs, policy makers in Europe—where high energy prices already made mileage a more-pressing issue than in the U.S.—made a number of rules that incentivized the growth of diesel over gasoline for use in passenger cars, moving past its traditional role in trucking and construction.

    These policies were remarkably successful at meeting their goals, and diesel-powered cars soon accounted for half of the cars sold on the continent. Car companies poured resources into developing diesel-related technology. But the result of this success has been not greener, friendlier, cheaper motoring, but the creation of toxic clouds over major European cities. At the end of 2016, Paris was choked by its worst episode of smog in more than a decade, lasting longer than two weeks, according to the city’s pollution-watching agency Airparif, and prompting the city to enact emergency measures that included restricting car use. It was not the first time. During a March 2015 pollution event, Paris was briefly the most polluted city in the world, surpassing famously smoggy Beijing. London shared in the ignominy when it too beat out Beijing for the first time in January of this year.

    Diesels have played the main role in this. Since the 1960s, advances in technology that treats and filters gasoline engines’ exhaust, like the widespread use of catalytic converters, have cut down on the amount of dirty, unhealthy, and smog-producing emissions these engines spew out into the surrounding environment. But while diesels get better mileage and so contribute less to global climate change, the local effects of diesel pollution are much worse than those of gasoline. Diesel is a less refined fuel, and so it contains more of the particulate matter that can have deadly health effects when spewed into the surrounding environment. And burning diesel produces, among other noxious gases, nitrogen dioxide, the main cause of smog.

    In many cases the same regulatory bodies that were trying to get citizens into diesels only a few years ago are now working to get the engines off the road entirely, instituting additional, diesel-specific congestion-charging and other disincentives in cities, in recognition of the fact that their green-friendliness was mistaken. During particularly bad bouts of smog, several European cities have temporarily banned driving outright, or instituted restriction schemes where, for example, cars with odd and even number plates are allowed in on alternate days. The mayors of Athens, Mexico City, and Madrid have committed to ridding their cities of diesel cars altogether by 2025, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said “there will be no diesel vehicles in Paris in 2020.” Other cities around the continent and world are implementing smaller-scale efforts to discourage diesel too.

    But lately, the biggest story when it comes to diesel remains Volkswagen’s ongoing “Dieselgate” scandal, in which the company installed “defeat devices” that allowed its diesel cars to put out dramatically higher levels of toxic emissions on the road than show up during regulators’ lab tests. A year and a half after the cheating was discovered, the full results of the scandal are still uncertain: The U.S. has levied more than $22 billion in fines against the company, the world’s largest automaker, and more may still be coming. Meanwhile, millions of the deceptive VWs are still on roads around the world, with consequential EU action on the matter minimal.

    Much worse for diesel at large, rumors that the offending practice was not limited to Volkswagen Group, which have been floating around since the scandal first broke, seem to be turning out to be true. The Environmental Protection Agency recently moved against the trans-Atlantic auto giant Fiat Chrysler for using similar devices, and General Motors is being sued in a class action for cheating in its diesel pickup trucks, which outnumber the offending VWs on American roads by several hundred thousand. The EU also started legal action against Italy for failing to meet its obligations as a member state to enforce regulations on Fiat Chrysler.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/06/diesel-smog-pollution-europe/528990/

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