Friday, August 26, 2005

Nine States Unite to Cut Greenhouse Gases

Officials in nine Northeastern states have reached a preliminary agreement to cap and then cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 10% by 2020, a Delaware official said Wednesday. If the agreement is made final, it would be the first of its kind in the United States.

I learned about this topic when I attended the CERES Building Equity, Reducing Risk conference in April of this year while still a member of Beacon Power. The session on theRegional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is listed below. It all started in 2003 with a letter from NY Governor George Pataki to eleven governors from Maine to Maryland. The concept was to join the states together to investigate the implementation of a regional cap-and-trade CO2 emissions trading scheme to reduce CO2 emissions. If the past is any indication of the future, states lead the way when it comes to regulations. With some energy companies lobbying for a national policy on CO2 emissions, to reduce uncertainty and therefore risk as they seek to build new electricity generation assets, this regional effort may be a national public policy trendsetter.
Northeast Regional Climate Action: What Does it mean for Businesses and Investors?
As eight states in the northeast work collaboratively to develop a greenhouse gas cap and trade program, this workshop will explore the implications for businesses and investors. How will the program be implemented? Which companies stand to gain and lose? What will it mean for the region's economy?

Ashok Gupta, Director, Air/Energy Program, Natural Resources Defense Council
Sonia Hamel, Special Assistant, Massachusetts Office for Commonwealth Development
Seth Kaplan, Director, Clean Energy/Climate Change Program, Conservation Law Foundation
Adam Markham, Executive Director, Clean Air-Cool Planet
Robert Teetz, Keyspan
It is appropriate that I started reading Michael Crichton's State of Fear a few weeks ago. I am not much of a fan of these types of books, but the writer's subject matter, climate change/global warming, is of interest to me. Public opinion is affected by information from all media sources, whether they be fiction, non-fiction, or somewhere in between. I would not go as far as saying that Mr. Crichton is completely panning climate change, but it is clear that he intends to cast some doubt on the scientific foundation of "global warming". I am interested to see how the novel plays out

A Week Without Riding

I have been off the bike since the weekend and it's killing me. Part of the health benefits I glean from riding are of the mental variety. When I have not turned the cranks a few hundred times to get my chubby self around, I suffer. I get pessimistic and moody, and generally am not a nice guy to be around. I also tend to have a hankering for beer or wine when I haven't burned off the day's excess energy with a bike ride. My body rebels. I get strange leg cramps when walking down stairs that surface after a few days of inactivity. They are not so much cramps as they are a burning tightening in the quads. No one has ever been able to explain what causes is, so I must assume that it is an allergic reaction to a lack or riding.

Preparing to move this weekend certainly does not help the riding equation. On top of that, I've been nursing some form of a strain on the front of my right foot that has been keeping me off the bike. Man! I am complaining...

With issues like this to clog up the recesses of my brain, how can cycling be such a concern? Because I do not want to end up looking like that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the Lighter Side...

Most of my ramblings have been on the serious side, after all, saving the world by riding and selling bikes is not something to be taken lightly. A racing and riding friend of mine sent this along and I got a chuckle out of it.
Porquoi non?

Paris, August 22, 2070 The French newspaper L'Equipe announced today that it had won its lawsuit against the estate of Lance Armstrong and will have his body exhumed to search for evidence of illegal drug use. "This is a major step forward in cleaning up the sport of cycling, and establishing once and for all that Armstrong won seven consecutive General Classification titles in the world's greatest cycling race by cheating," gushed L'Equipe editor Liqui Lepew. Armstrong dominated the once famous Tour de France in the late 20th and early 21st century Editor's note: The race was moved to the U.S. in 2049 after fifteen consecutive years of no Frenchman making their respective teams. It is now called the Tour De USA, but is unofficially known as the Tour De Lance). Newspaper officials plan to reveal their findings at the revered but controversial site known as Virenque's Tomb, where the former French champion climber from Armstrong's time lies in perpetual repose. Most Frenchmen cite the lack of decomposition of Virenque's body since his death in 2054 as a Holy Miracle and clamor for his ascension to Sainthood, but this remains unlikely as evidence indicates that heavy drug use during his professional career left him, as one scientist from England's Cadaver Institute for Medical Studies bluntly said, "basically pickled while he was alive. It's quite remarkable really."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back when I was a child...

Richard Fries' biting editorials entitled "Attack at the Gun" from The Ride Magazine always serve as a kick in the pants when I am feeling particularly lazy. He has a way of addressing an issue related to cycling in a confrontational yet rational way. The latest issue of The Ride includes the column, "Arlington Schools: Making Kids Dumb, Dumpier, and Depressed". Ouch! Are the town mothers and fathers aware of this slander, from another Arlington resident no less? Some of the schools in the town prohibit the use of bicycles as a means of transportation for students. This is a symptom of a culture addicted to fossil fuels and organized children's activities. We learn this as Richard quotes from Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods.

There are compelling points:
1) American children aged six-11 spend ~30 hours/week in front of a TV or computer monitor [what I am doing now].
2) The number of overweight adult Americans increased over 60% between 1991 and 2000 [depending on the measurement you use].
3) Between 1970 and 1990 the radius around their home that children were allowed to roam shrunk by 89%. Instead of a half of a mile, it was less than a 10th of a mile.
The distance children are allowed to explore is important for many reasons, it fosters an independent spirit, sharpens minds, and keeps them moving. With my rural upbringing, perhaps I am idealizing a child's ability and willingness to roam their neighborhoods and its impact on their lives.

The one overarching factor that limited children's spatial range; arterial and residential vehicular traffic. Traffic!? Where is Steve Winwood when we need him?

The youngsters suffering from clogged roads have parents suffering from clogged roads. The term "Rush Hour" can now be called "Rush Days" in some metropolitan areas. Traffic congestion, contributed to by many factors including immigration and population growth, land use patterns, and economic activity, is steadily increasing. The average commute time for working adults increased 14% between 1990 and 2000. Combine this with more automobiles on the road with a collective fuel efficiency LOWER than the mid 80's and we're burning some serious fossil fuel.

Let me get this straight. Our dependence on the automobile yields:
1) Dependence on a resource that is unsustainable, non-renewable and inciting global instability.
2) Poor health
3) Massive spending on infrastructure instead of things like education
4) More time driving and less time with friends and family
Let the protectionists rail and the enviros wail. Will disparate groups see eye-to-eye? With headlines like this China Ups the Ante in Its Bid for Oil, The Sierra Club and ExxonMobil they will be buddies in no time.

It is all about energy.

Monday, August 15, 2005

First Day with Seven Cycles

Today was my first day at Seven Cycles. First Days are always anti-climactic. I built up some expectation that walking into Seven on my first day of work would be some life-altering experience, that the passion I feel for cycling would now be allowed to ooze out of my actions without repression. Yeah.

I am excited, don't get me wrong. Seven has a reputation as an innovator in product design and manufacturing, as well as the way Seven chooses to pursue business relationships with their suppliers and retailers. The reason I decided to accept a position with Seven Cycles was their entrepreneurial business model.

The fact that I love to ride, race, and work on bikes had absolutely nothing to do with my decision. Did I mention the bridge I have for sale?

The following weeks and months will be a study of the integration of a cynical 80-year-old man stuck in the mind and body of a 33-year-old idealist that considers cycling one of the simplest and easiest things we can participate in to save the planet. Oh, and I'd like to make a decent living along the way. How's that sound?

Monday, August 01, 2005

DestiNY Greening?

As a follow on to my post from July 22nd on Wal*mart's efforts to include renewable energy and sustainable design in its McKinney, TX Supercenter, the effort to create a "Green Mega-Mall" in upstate NY merits some attention.

I first learned of Robert Congel's DestiNY project a few years ago as I started reading about real estate development and land use impact on transportation and energy use. Soon after, I visited the Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass, CO while visiting family in Aspen. I was fortunate enough to receive a tour of their facility by Huston Eubank. I contacted Mr Eubank some months later about the DestiNY project, raising questions about projects of this scale being "sustainable" by definition. After all, one of his co-workers at the time, Joel Swisher, is the co-author of Small is Profitable. He was kind enough to send me a short note with a copy of the design charrette review booklet from the DestiNY planning meetings. His remarks, drawn from experience I someday hope to have, helped me understand the compromises needed to make the incremental changes that lead to a sustainable project. In a nutshell, if we are not at the table (or in the room for that matter) for a project, we have no chance to make an impact.

The concept is fascinating; take a under-utilized and partially contaminated site in Syracuse, NY and build a tourist and business development mega-center that strives to integrate renewable energy from demolition (the bulldozers will run on biodiesel) to construction to use. The vision is grand, and on the scale that appeals to politicians' and developers' desire for legacy creation through economic development. What will happen when it opens? Will it work? Will it be the economic driver for the region? Will people frolic around it as shown in the artists' renderings?

Grist Magazine (carried by as well) covered an investor symposium hosted by the Congels back in February. With grounded skepticism, the article offers some good insights into the sky high "market moving" goals of the project. As Thomas Leyden from Powerlight Corporation was quick to point out, "It may be the biggest solar installation and renewables project in the world, but there's no way DestiNY will move markets to that extent within a decade, or even move markets in any substantial way." Leyden pointed out that Germany is adding 600 to 800 MW of solar a year and Japan is in the same ballpark -- meaning that DestiNY is a drop in the bucket in terms of global economies of scale. "Nevertheless," he quickly added, "I applaud Congel's vision, and want to be a part of it."

I have a fundamental problem with large scale projects like this. Is it thorough in its analysis of transportation access, costs, and environmental impact over the long term? What is the life cycle of this structure? How will communities around the development fare? Many of these questions can not be answered definitively, and only the execution of the project will reveal the successes and failures that I am sure will come along with the project.

Bicycle Racer/Urban Planner Wanted to Enforce SAFETEA-LU

John Lieswyn sounds off on one community's choice of automobiles over people.

I am continually amazed at the level of knowledge bicycle folk have about urban planning and land use issue. It makes sense; cyclists spend hour upon hour navigating streets that may or may not be hospitable to our preferred mode of transportation.

Look what was signed over the weekend! The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users.

I found the good news reported in BRAIN about the inclusion of bicycle related project funding in the Bill. Some highlights:

-$612 million for a National Safe Routes to Schools program (new)
-$350 million for recreational trails program, a $20 million per year
-$100 million to non-motorized transportation pilot programs four states
-hundreds of millions of dollars from Transportation Enhancements and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality

“In the last five or six years, about $400 million a year has been spent on bike projects, and almost all of that has been from TE and CMAQ,” [Bikes Belong Executive Director Tim] Blumenthal said. “Each of those will go up between $75 and $100 million a year a piece.”

There is another piece of good news tucked away in the bill, as I read on Earl Blumenauer, (D) Oregon, a bicycling as transportation proponent, managed to get $6.2 million earmarked for a pilot program to help transform short automobile trips to bike trips. The project must measure the energy savings of any programs and report to the Secretary of Transportation within two years. Yes, this is called pork, but is it good pork?

From another perspective, while the bill does provide funding for cycling related projects, spending on traditional road building and automobile-centric projects far outstrips that for cycling and public transportation.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institute, a bastion of unbiased and non-partisan research, puts it this way in the newsletter I received today,
The federal transportation bill awaiting the president's signature represents not a triumph, but a tremendous lost opportunity. Instead of building upon previous reforms, the new $286 billion bill, two years in the making, maintains the status quo while, at the same time, dedicating $24 billion to over 6,000 congressional earmarks [pork!] and special projects.
I find the Brookings reports to be great reading and recommend a tour through the Federal Transportation Reform series. For cyclists and concerned citizens alike, there is much to learn about the challenges facing transportation policies that encourage pedestrian and cycling activity and development.

Back in the Bike Business

I never thought I would return to the bike biz after leaving it in June of 2004 to join the team at Beacon Power. I spent about two and a half years in bicycle retail; the 2002 summer season with the great crew of The Cycle Loft in Burlington, MA, followed by almost two years at Harris Cyclery in W. Newton, MA.

Passion for one's vocation...isn't that what we all strive for? In the end, that's what brought me back. I did not feel the fire burning for renewable energy, despite it's critical importance to the future health of our planet.

The opportunity for me to leap back into the bike industry presented itself unexpectedly. It was clear that my reasons for joining the Beacon Power team were not as well researched and thought out as they should have been. My expectations were not being met. It was also clear to me that my affinity for cycling was not going away. It is appealing, isn't it; surrounded by the things that one is truly passionate about. As with any vocation, it is not all fun and games as we may like to idealize. The same challenges that face businesses in any industry surface in the bike business as well. I suppose there is something to be said for working the extra hours to solve problems and innovate within an industry that one cares about.