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July 29, 2015

Mark your calendar for People's Climate March 2015

The date is 29 November, 2015. It's a Sunday. Mark your calendars.

This is the day of the 2015 People's Climate March, the day before the COP21 climate talks start in Paris.

Here is our chance to tell world leaders that we care about our planet's climate, that we need it to remain livable, for us, for our children, for all who come after us, and for all creatures with whom we share this blue marble.

400,000 people walked in last year's Climate March. We stunned the world. In New York, so many people showed up that there was literally no end to the march: the organisers had to cancel the closing ceremonies because there was no time, and no space, for all of us to attend it.

The 2015 People's Climate March can be bigger than that.

July 24, 2015

Urban Design and Traffic

My kinswoman Danielle (I like her too much to think of her as my step-grandniece twice removed), knowing my interest in sustainable transportation, loaned me one of the books she used for the urban design studies which she recently completed.

I took it home and, as often happens with loaned books, spent a few days admiring the cover photo, and the heft of the book.


Then one day last week, I actually opened it. It hasn't let me go since. The very first random page I landed on had diagrams of residential neighbourhoods showing the layout of homes and roads, specifically designed so that there was a safe route to school from nearly each home, requiring at most one or two road crossings.

July 11, 2015

The Melon

The other evening, I came home in my aunt's old car, and fished a large melon from the passenger seat before carefully locking the car. The melon was football shaped with a nice heft and a beautiful pattern on its skin; my aunt had given it to me as part of a string of exchanges that would have impressed David Graeber, the anthropologist author of "Debt: the first 5,000 years", in which he describes various forms of social, non-monetary debt.

Here's the story.

Earlier this spring, my ancient dad had a small car accident. Nobody was hurt: he had caused his car to scrape by a sidewalk pole. I think the pole, a sturdy concrete thing, wasn't even hurt. Only the car needed body work.

June 26, 2015

Micromobility

"Crossover" is a car that's neither a sedan nor an SUV. The push for higher fuel efficiency has spawned a generation of vehicular mutts intended to look not as sedan-tary as a sedan, without the full frontal area that messes up the fuel efficiency.

Never mind that: for most families crossovers are still unnecessarily over-sized. I mean, my family of four fits, together with two cellos, in a Volkswagen Golf. With all doors and windows closed.

On the other side of the range, crossovers are also happening. The elderly and handicapped had long enjoyed mobility aids that are hybrids between bicycles and golf carts. Electric motorcycles are becoming increasingly popular among the well-heeled young.

And now there is a push for micro-cars. These are for getting yourself (and one friend; and perhaps one cello) from A to B, while keeping you dry. Some are barely more than golf carts, dressed up more nicely than what you need for 18 holes. Some are smaller, at the intersection of a golf cart, a minicar, and a motorcycle. Many are not highway worthy, but perfect for negotiating crowded cities. And charging is fast. Because of course they're electric.


If it's just you and one friend, why drive a bungalow with a windshield?

 

 

You may also like:
1. Drive like your life depends on it - it does.
2. Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving
3. How to Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road (and Live to Tell the Tale)

 


May 21, 2015

Rise of Self-Driving Car Set to Make My Dream Come True

A while ago, I wrote about my ideal Car of the Future: it would be self-driving, not owned by me but available at my beck and call.

It seems that I am not the only one thinking of the ideal car that way. In fact, an analysis by Barclays indicates that the demand for such transportation will be high enough that the self-driving car will largely displace the privately owned car, and that within the next 25 years.


The report, quoted in a Financial Review article, "foresees four vehicle categories -- traditional cars and trucks driven by individuals for work or in rural areas; "family autonomous vehicles," owned by individuals and shared by a single family; "shared autonomous vehicles" that would be "robot taxis" summoned by smartphone; and "pooled shared autonomous vehicles" that accommodate multiple riders, like a bus or a van."

And get this: "Every shared vehicle on the road would displace nine traditional autos, and each pooled shared vehicle would take the place of as many as 18."

With this, the cost of mobility will go down drastically from what it is today, contributing to the popularity of driverless cars in a nice feedback loop.

CelloDad is totally ready for this. There are days that I suspect his dislike of driving is what made him marry his chauffeur - that was me. He's so looking forward to the day that he can be mobile without relying on me, or having to wrangle the shift stick I insist on having. So when the self-driving car comes into its own he will be one happy fellow.

But he is not the only one who will benefit from this new mode of transportation: Children too young to drive, the elderly who are starting to feel uncertain behind the wheel, especially at night, or the occasional car user will all be helped by the self-driving car.

Oh brave new world that hath such vehicles in it!

 

 

You may also like:
1. The Car of the Future
2. The Car of the Future Comes to Singapore
3. Teaching Your Teen to Drive a Stick

 


May 20, 2015

Learning HOW to Talk About Climate Change

My friends, it is a wonderful time to be a life-long student! Right as my children are transitioning into independence and I'm past changing diapers or even providing for their every meal, massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are coming into their own. Not only that, they are being ofered for free by the best educational institutions partly as a public service, and partly to showcase their best professors.

You can find excellent online courses on statistics, Dante's Inferno, Python programming, growing award winning orchids - and climate change.

I've so far taken four courses on the science of climate change and climate policy. It wasn't always a piece of cake - I did sweat the problem sets on that MITx course given by Kerry Emanuel - but these came naturally to me as I am, at heart, a science geek.

But if I also want to be an effective climate communicator, I'd better get a handle on how to bring the message that we need climate action. There are online courses for that too! Right now, there are two ongoing, each with a different perspective.

One is "Making Sense of Climate Science Denial" at edX, given by a team led by John Cook of the University of Queensland (Australia), a premier climate communicator and the founder of the Skeptical Science website that offers climate science to the general public, as well as pointers on how to debunk the climate myths that are promulgated by the fossil-fuel funded deniers.

The course goes over the psychological barriers (in the minds of the audience) that climate communicators have to overcome before their message can be heard, and lays out the tricks used by the merchants of doubt to discredit climate scientists and to dampen public will for action.

It's a lively course, well produced and well presented, and the feedback so far has been very positive.

May 9, 2015

A Tesla on Your Wall?

Want a Tesla in your garage but can't afford the Model S? Don't despair. You can still own a piece of Tesla, in the form of its new Powerwall battery backup system.

You'd have to wait, though: Demand has taken even Tesla by surprise. The first 38,000 units have been reserved. That's the company's output until the middle of 2016. Seems like Tesla is fast establishing itself as the new Apple: They have the vision for introducing disruptive technology, and the industrial design talent that turns every Tesla product into an object of desire.

I mean, this thing is almost too pretty to be consigned to your garage. I don't even have a garage, but I would not at all mind having it on my living room wall. It would certainly make a statement.

April 5, 2015

Parking Craters

You might think a parking crater is a particularly large pothole in a parking lot. Or it could be a high-tech robotic device that puts you car in a box - a crate - and stores it neatly stacked among other cars.

But it's neither. According to Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog USA, who coined the term (so she would know), "a parking crater is a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings" usually because there is a parking lot.

Because there are 3.5 parking spots for every car in the United States.


This is Milwaukee's parking crater

March 31, 2015

Make Your Children Vote

I've a confession to make: I'm not the helicopter kind of parent. I believe that if you don't fall, you don't learn to walk properly, never mind running, dancing and skiing. I'm the kind of mom who, when one of my children bangs their head against the table, would rush over and go, "Poor table! I hope it didn't get a dent." Everybody laughs, and the child with the banged head forgets to cry.

Similarly, I don't hound them about their homework, other than checking that it's done before, say, letting them hang out with a friend after school. But I stick by the bedtime routine, forgotten homework or not. They only miss handing in homework a few times before they learn.

However, I will hound them about this one thing: I will do what I can to get them to that voting booth come election day. Because voting is not a privilege: it is a civic duty. Besides, it's the smart thing to do.


In all US states, under the "Motor Voter" Act, you can register to vote as you get your driver's license (or get it renewed). So when your teen passes the driver's test and acquires that wallet card, they actually have to do something extra in order to NOT register to vote.

March 22, 2015

Why is Diesel More Expensive Than Gasoline?

If you drive a diesel car in the US like I do, you often find that diesel commands a higher per-gallon price than regular gasoline. You may also notice that in winter the price difference is higher than in summer, with the largest difference occurring in March.

This is because diesel is similar to home heating oil. Demand for heating fuel peaks around February; it is this competition that drives up the price for automotive diesel as well. This chart from FactCheck.org illustrates very nicely how in the summer of 2000 diesel was quite a bit less expensive than gas, while in March of 2008 it was more expensive.

That's for the general picture. But there are usually regional differences.

March 13, 2015

How to Spread the Word about Climate Change - Even if You're Not a Climate Scientist

When a large asteroid hit the earth, sixty-five million years ago, it kicked up a huge amount of dust. The dust dimmed the sun for so long that the surface of the earth cooled sufficiently to wipe out the dinosaurs (incidentally giving mammals a chance to develop into the rich variety we see today).

If such a threat were in our near future, CNN and all the other news channels would be screaming about it. There would be non-stop coverage, on what we could do to avert the disaster, and how to cope should it strike anyway, and how each of us would be affected. You couldn't get away from this news.

A similar threat is actually upon us, but going the other way: the earth is steadily warming. If we keep burning fossil fuels at today's rate, the average global temperature may rise by 4 degrees C by 2100. That doesn't sound like much, but the last time the world was 4C cooler on average, we were in an ice age, and life looked very different from the way it is today.


Global Warming from 1880 to 2013.

And it will keep warming past the year 2100. We don't know what life will look like when it's more than 4C warmer: it hasn't been that warm for millions of years.

This is an astonishing thought: the planet, our home, would be altogether a different place from what it is today. And while the changes appear slow on a human time scale, the warming is occurring at an unprecedented rate. Already species are feeling the pressure, and it is not clear how many will survive the changes that are very rapid on an evolutionary time scale. It's clear: we must do what we can to keep the warming below 2C.

You would think that would make the news.

March 9, 2015

Climate Change Achieves Voldemort Status

I've written before on the importance of names. Names are so powerful, that when they are attached to powerful beings, you must use the names with great care. In fact, you're better off not using their name at all, lest you incur their terrible wrath.

So what to do, if a powerful Thing is about to wreak havoc on your constituents?

As any Harry Potter fan can tell you, the easiest way for a government to insist that an existential threat doesn't exist is to ban all mention of its existence. Thus in the magic world Voldemort is referred to as the "Dark Lord", or "He Who Must Not Be Named", or simply "You Know Who". Because of course everyone knows who is it you're talking about.

It seems that the state of Florida has adopted the same tack when faced with the existential threat of climate change, which is slated to wipe out most of its celebrated coastline: Officials in Florida's Department of Environmental Protection have been ordered not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in official documents.