Tag Archives: Environment

Mass Localism?

Last month Nesta published its report  “Mass Localism”, which builds on an emerging theme in political and activist circles. Last year John Denham led the charge with “Making Local the Answer” lecture at the RSA, ironically saying after 10 years plus of centralisation “local” is the big idea…

The Nesta report is OK, wishful thinking in places and idealistic perhaps but the application of community led approaches to achieve sustainability goals (“The Big Green Challenge”) may have some lessons for a cash strapped public sector who need to allocate limited funds (but perhaps lets not call it a “challenge” or competition).  It also suggests that the local angle can be delivered in poorer communities as well as the more affluent, where active village leaders are thought to be much easier to find.

Expect to hear a lot of buzzwords like localism and communities over the next four weeks of electioneering, but probably less and less after one of the parties actually gets elected.  The Conservatives are speaking about “big society” instead of “big state” and want to recruit 5,000 “community organisers”, with a new role for government ( “no role for government”  is not what David Cameron is telling the Guardian readership, who unsurprisingly don’t appear to believe him).

But I always thought that centralising and controlling is the default political mode (just see episode 16, “The Challenge” of YesMinister  for a masterful exposition of the ground rules by Sir Humphrey). For my part I am looking to see what the new neighbourhood business model will be when we want to deliver HS2 – perhaps 263 separate sections of track autonomously funded, built and managed by enthusiasts?

Re:Vision

I have just returned from a few days in Little Rock and since I lived there many years ago the city centre, like many US cities, is starting to come back from the loss of confidence in urban living in the 70’s. However apart from the Clinton Library and some regen of the riverside areas (usual makeover aimed at tourists) it appears to me that there is no radical new architecture or cohesive planning being applied – locals please correct me if I have missed something?

There is a US model to follow – Dallas.

With its recent urban regeneration completions under the generic Urban Re:Vision title – the latest is scheme is a design competition for urban living for otherwise uninspiring one city block (see above) – Re:Vision – this gives rise for optimism about urban planning in US cities away from the usual suspects – Portland, etc. As the Urban Vision people say:

“What if one block in Texas became the sustainable model for the world?” 

(of course it would be more relevant if one block in Delhi became the sustainable model for the world, but we get the point…)

Previous competitions include designs for transport, energy, construction. One of those competitions, Re:Route, considered urban transport with a good mix of deliverable schemes and fanciful architects ideas (says the cynical transport planner).

Driving to a better place

I read about Shai Agassi’s plans for electric cars in Wired last summer and while it is high profile, with big name partners including Nissan Renault, I just wondered whether it was another software millionaire playing with cars (see Tesla as exhibit A). His plans are set out in more detail at betterplace.com , including a high minded vision:

  • A world living free from oil.
  • A planet healing and thriving.
  • And our environment and economy brought back into balance with each other.

The video of his speech is found on TED and it is worth watching for the undoubted enthusiasm – oil free nations such as Israel and Denmark by 2020 is the dream – I am still just a bit cynical (surprise). Key aims are affordable and convenient, no new science, using existing battery tech. Charging points everywhere so you can always charge and easy battery swaps, like gas stations.  All good in theory…

What is interesting is the willingness to go with an open source, but standards based infrastructure approach. A lot of the solutions being supported by programmes such as the UK’s Technology Strategy Board  Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Project will play into the hands of monopoly suppliers.

BTW Wired are launching a new UK print version this month – how brave is that? I remember the short lived Wired UK from 1995, but then I was the only subscriber 🙂

19.20.21

New video  for an old project from Jon Kamen (Radical Media) exploring urbanisation and the rise of megacities, on Fora TV.

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The 19.20.21  project draws attention to the way such cities are growing and the problems of mass urbanisation, particularly in developing nations. How do we live in cities and how does that change over time?

“Finding the future first” means sharing data and information, so that better decisions are made, from infrastructure to health to culture.  The benefits of vertical living to save space, energy efficient mass transit systems are cited. 

The section on the largest cities at 1000, 1500,1900, 1950 and 2005 are as expected – the global cities are now mainly in Asia – as Kamen suggests urbanisation driven by water supply and location – well, yes and a few other factors .

Ultimately this is a promotional video for a potentially  interesting information project, so dependent on the audience you probably know this stuff already (or couldn’t care less). The site is OK, although my website designer pals would have plenty to beef about, just need to come back in 12 months time and see if its objectives have been met. As the idea has been kicking around since 2007 I perhaps won’t hold my breath waiting.

MotoGP could be exciting once more

Amongst my reading of learned journals  – “Coach and Bus Weekly” , “Treehugger Monthly”, “Economics World”, “Which Behaviour” – I await the delivery of Performance Bike  magazine each month with great anticipation. They tell me that the new Suzuki GSXR 1000  (“The ultimate evolution of the GSX-R family. Born to be on the track.”) beats the Honda Fireblade (“Stronger Looks. Sharper Performance. Astoundingly Responsive Control.” ) by 0.1 secs. in perfect conditions on a test track. Great.

In Bike magazine, amidst the 600cc race replica shootouts and after a foray into alternative fuels last year ( a Triumph 675 fuelled by apples!) Rupert Paul writes this month about how we could make racing fun again and get great bikes for the next three generations. After describing his vision of the 2016 Estoril GP, with a wide range of competing fuels – methanol, bio-ethanol, batteries, LPG, solar, fuel cell, etc. – he says:

“this is what racing could be like – a feast of competing technologies not seen since the 1920s. All it would take is one rule: to limit every machine to a fixed amount of start-line energy” 

This view of the near future is prompted by a paper by Turner and Pearson of Lotus Engineering, home of the Exige 270E Tri-fuel. They recognise that current racing regs, particularly F1, do not encourage fuel savings or alt tech (or social responsibility). If racing really does improve the breed and we get trickle-down then let it lead the charge to new technology. 

The TTXGP at 2009’s Isle of Man TT should be the first opportunity to test the theory… hopefully I will be there.

The paper, “The Application of Energy-Based Fuel Formulae to Increase the Efficiency Relevance and Reduce the CO2 Emissions of Motor Sport”, is available from SAE.

Why stop at racing – if all new vehicles had a inception and lifetime energy limit, based on a common megajoule measure, then manufacturers would rethink their fuel strategies pretty quick.

Eco transport – before the crash

Ah, yes, time for the reviews of the year, and in our specialist area how does transport – general, green, any mode – fare in the analysis, especially in the economic context where eco innovation is:

  1. Our saviour, or
  2. Too expensive

The US transport top ten trends from Inhabitat includes the death of the SUV, green cars saving the industry, high performance sports cars saving the planet , (pedal) bikes are cool, etc. The view from over there suggests some naivety about what we achieve in Europe, however. Conclusions for 09: more mass transit and greener cars – thanks, I could have guessed that. Although for mainstream US of A that may be still too radical.

And imagine my disappointment when the electric  GM Chevrolet Volt concept car of 2007:

became the boring pre production car shown in 2008 (first deliveries in 2010, kids):

I was not the only one to be disappointed

But before I pour self righteous scorn on my brothers across the sea what have we identified as worthy of mention in the UK and Europe? What Car votes a turbo diesel Ford Focus as its green car of 2008 and Toyota for its technology. The Eden Project and the Co-op sponsored the sexy green car show in summer 2008. ..and er, that’s it, apart from a few comments on the “fuel crisis” in the review of the year in mags such as New Scientist.

PS thanks to Oxtran to alerting me to “Traffic Jam”, the review of the last 10 years of sustainable transport  – which ended up on my xmas shopping list (sad but true).

Cafe racers, cardboard scooters and hybrids

A few images and stories to get my blog back into the biker esoterica:

The Suzuki Crosscage concept bike from 2007 uses hybrid electric hydrogen fuel cell motor and is now a working prototype. Single-sided swing-arm and front fork, superlight and fast enough 100mph speed limited. Just need to perfect the fuel cell technology – nothing on Suzuki’s website to suggest its anywhere near production. (Story from Hell for Leather originally, YouTube video here).

Another YouTube video this time of the NONOBJECT nUCLEUS. Conceptual, yes, insane, yes…

Still no word from the Stonebridge Motor Company or Nick Gale as to when or if their Ace Cafe racer, Little Miss Dynamite, launched in June, will be on sale. With an S&S V twin, plus a featherbed style frame, alloy tank, interesting exhaust plumbing I would be counting out my pools winning  to get an order in…

Click the images for the full picture.

Chris Gilmour, Brit artist based in northern Italy,  uses only cardboard and glue to make his life size sculptures/ models and the artworld loves them.

Buy Nothing Day 08

From the wonderful disassemblers at Adbusters is this year’s Buy Nothing Day campaign – one week to go – on Saturday 29th November say no to the corporate world. The events proposed include the zombie walk through malls and credit card destruction:

Credit card cut up – Volunteers stand in a shopping mall with a pair of scissors and a sign offering a simple service: to put an end to extortionate interest rates and mounting debt with one considerate cut. Be careful though: in some first-world countries, carrying scissors in public can get you arrested as a “terrorist”.

Three weeks before Christmas seems to be perfect timing for this, but apart from a few liberal pockets of the western world (Berkeley, Greenwich Village, Brighton, Totnes, Freiburg perhaps) I can’t imagine anyone is going to notice – maybe in this credit crunch year it will have more resonance? or will the Chancellors exhortations for us all to spend our way out of recession underline the reality gap between consumerism and (non economic) well being?

While you are on the Adbusters site and taking out a subscription to the magazine (well I did) their view on the financial crisis is well worth reading as well…

The UK site for my “fellow activists” is here – it includes a scratchy FOE video (thanks to Polyp) which seems almost a throwback to the sixties – is it suddenly contemporary, ironic or just naive?:

PopTech 2008

Just like TED there are so many opportunities to enjoy the presentations at the big US “ideas” conferences without putting your name on waiting lists and spending thousands of pounds.

Names at this October’s PopTech include Dawkins, Stephen Pinker, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly and one of my favourites, Stewart Brand (of LongNow fame)- watch his predictions for the next 30 years of environmental action and how cities will develop – the video is here.

“3 kinds of environmentalists – Romantics, Scientists and Engineers.”

“Jesus People against Pollution” an example from over 1 million environmental organisations in the world…

“squatters are the dominant builders in the world today” – one billion live in squatter cities, two billion expected – these are the real green cities because of recycle and reuse, ecological footprint small.

And he is pro nuclear power…

also have a look at Christian Nolds bio mapping  presentation – actually watch as many as you can, just choose at random! and start thinking 🙂

PS best geek joke – Bruce Sterling “we need a new word for neologism”

Passengers wanted

The first Motorway High Occupancy Vehicles Lane launched today by Ruth Kelly, following considerable buildup. There have been HOV lanes before in the UK, notably in and around Bristol, but this is perhaps the first high level commitment to the concept. Whether saving 6 – 8 minutes per morning commute is enough to get commuters to car share is questionable, but for existing car sharers, buses, etc. will get them into the HOV lane and release some capacity for the rest. The better use of existing assets is very much the flavour of the month with government and HA, but of course without medium to long term substantial behaviour change we are only buying time at huge expense (green points made, now back to normal service)

Nice touch – “motorcyclists will also be able to use it whether carrying passengers or not”

(And have a look at the M606 review on “pathetic Motorways” – one of my favourite sites!)

Maglev Bus?

From Engadget:

Japan’s world’s fastest maglev train may still be quite a few years away from becoming a reality, but it looks like the country can now brag about another slightly smaller but similarly contactless vehicle, with a new suitably futuristic bus now making its debut at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. As if that bit of technology wasn’t enough, the bus is also a hybrid vehicle, and promises a sixty percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to those old 20th century-style buses. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of other details at the moment (and what is available is subject to the wonders of machine translation), but it looks like the first bus is already in service, and covering a 4.2 kilometer area around the airport.

White elephant or emerging technology? Airports are the usual proving ground for Maglevs – enclosed environment, cash to spend. From the article I am not convinced but would like to see more 🙂

low cost cars – the global challenge

I found this interesting Business Week article on the development of really cheap cars by chance, but it raises some fundamental questions, albeit from an American perspective:

Link

Some further thoughts:

  • the comparison with no frill airlines and cheap clothes retailers (H&M, etc) is right in this context – if the western consumers can go low cost the emerging markets can start at low cost and the global market for very cheap products increases
  • Imagine a $2,500 (£1,250) car’s impact on developing countries traffic levels, when India and China’s emerging middle and upper working class can join in (or as the article suggests we are already seeing a $7,000 car impacting on poorer populations in eastern Europe and increasingly on the west…like the Dacia/Renaut Logan)
  • You can hear the complaint from the emerging nations – “why shouldn’t we have personal individual mobility like you have had for the last 100 years, to cover for your guilt about environmental damage and climate change” (Thanks, Gottfried Daimler, btw)
  • From my personal perspective I muse – what does this do to the motorcycle and scooter market – will Japanese, Korean, even the Chinese and Indian manufacturers who are currently growing, go the way of Triumph, BSA, Ariel – all world dominating businesses when a motorcycle was the first step on the mobility ladder. Better go for plan b, Honda… and dont even start to think about what China’s bicycle manufacturers will turn to next (the usual reference point in discussions about developing countries and cars)
  • I recall a similar article in Car magazine some 15 years ago and its predictions certainly came true – your European car is likely to be assembled anywhere labour is cheap (uh…Derby, Sunderland, Swindon? OK, but point taken) out of bits from Brazil, Indonesia and for all I know Chad, and finally discounted to get the metal out of the the fields near the ports and onto your drive
  • can a developing world cheap car achieve the same role in society again as the original VW, Fiat Cinquecento, Citroen 2CV or even Mini – and will these new ugly boxes on wheels become anti-fashion statements – they may become the first teenage car of choice for cash strapped parents, but I can’t see the Chery, Geely, Great Wall Motor, Nanjing, Hafei, Zhongxing, or Brilliance China (all rising Chinese brands) capturing the Fiesta, Saxo or Corsa market.

Bold CSR

  

Either the ad men have got hold of the Marks & Spencer CSR account or someone is doing something different on the high street:

Climate Change – We want to become carbon neutral and help customers, and our suppliers, cut carbon emissions too.

Pretty impressive targets, £200m budget, reducing food miles might be difficult for a store that has prided itself on the exotic fruits of air freight in the past – we shall see.

Eco warriors? Treehuggers?

 

The guy on the right? sure, but what about Alex?

The Guardian’s coverage of Al Gore’s latest visit  mission to the UK tells us that Sir Alex Ferguson has committed to spreading the climate change message. The delegates to the conference were given the Inconvenient Truth slide show and told to come back in 12 months with stories of their success (“sorry, need to secure the Treble first, Al…”) .

Having studied the 70,000 fans leaving Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon I agree that a lecture from the top man should help when MUFC “think globally and act locally”. I am not usually a fan of celebrity endorsement in environmental debates (Think of the Hollywood Prius fan club), but a man known for his no nonsence approach could be pretty effective.

Streetscape

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Just read for the first time the Wired 2004 article on the “less is more” approach to traffic management, as interpreted for the US audience. The Dutch, as always, credited with innovation in this area.

Like a lot of transport people I went to look at the Kensington High Street scheme (above) when the Borough dramatically changed the streetscape and also removed a significant % of the street furniture. Not being an engineer I liked what I saw of the £5m project but could see how it would upset the highway standards based approach.  A recent LTT article reminded me to go back and see what it is like now, after a few years to bed in.  

Pedestrian behaviour was interesting, with people who I presumed to be visitors still not certain where their territory starts and the car rules. (I would have though the Italian tourists would have felt at home, having sampled their “freeform” approach to traffic management.)

Since 2003 a number of other UK cities have looked at similar treatments, although it has to be recognised it isn’t going to be deliverable everywhere. CABE and Transport  2000 are promoting such schemes to “reclaim main roads from traffic”, but plenty of engineers rightly question the safety impacts of removing all guardrails, for example. Others where I work can say whether or not I am taking a too simplistic view.

The Day After Tomorrow

24 hours after the Climate Change Bill consultation gets published and it’s business as usual – the “rejectionists” are blogging, commenting on blogs, putting out their own videos and speaking on Radio 5. The green voices are welcoming but saying it doesn’t go far enough.

No doubt climate change will be the key topic over the dinner table and in the saloon bar for a few days… well perhaps not, but David Milliband has done a video on Youtube – surely the first time major policy change is announced alongside singing Chinese kids and car crash footage (oh the irony).

(the government is also responsible for some really scary stuff – not the content, but the overwrought style)

Initial reactions from where I sit (based on a quick read and press comment) are that:

  • Setting legally binding limits to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26% to 32% by 2020 and 60% by 2050 certainly is a world first, but difficult to see how it can be enforced
  • There is still high reliance on new technology to convince individuals they won’t have to change
  • Companies may not like the small print
  • Carbon trading – a business opportunity or a bureaucratic dead end?
  • What about the rest of the world, setting a good example may not be enough

East>West

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Another positive report for the East West rail link, bringing together the outer London orbital rail corridor that’s been discussed for as long as I can remember. The consortium’s latest report says the £134m project could be running 2 trains per hour between Oxford and Milton Keynes, also £64m secures Aylesbury to MK, by 2012.

Last year Government made positive noises, although public cash may be a long way away the report does suggest that £100k could come from developers – would be interesting to know where that figure came from, probably based on the overall sub regional growth, will read the detailed reports later.

And an update on the Stewart Brand post last week – the “How Buildings Learn…” book has arrived from the states already – its hard for an environmentalist when air freight gets your products into consumers hands so quickly.

Whole Earth pt. 2

wec.jpg

Stewart Brand is a name not often recognised in the UK, but his imprint on the history of environmentalism and technology is massive, from the Whole Earth Catalog, the Well, to hackers and Wired.  A recent article in the New York Times reminded me not only of his achievements but also his current contrary take on eco and green issues. Pro nuclear power, plant genetics and mega cities, his arguments are persuasive and strong scientific counterpoint to the “romantic” environmentalist view. 

And I have finally ordered a copy of his book, “How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built”, long out of print in the UK, but thanks to Amazon USA on its way to me. Will review it later… 

What are you optimistic about? Why?

Different to all the New Years resolutions and reviews of 2006 is The Edge “World Question”, What are you optimistic about? Why? 

John Brockman again pulls together an eclectic group of academics, thinkers, tech gurus, etc. – often called the “digerati”:

“Who are the “digerati” and why are they “the cyber elite”? They are the doers, thinkers, and writers who have tremendous influence on the emerging communication revolution. They are not on the frontier, they are the frontier.

Ray Kurzweil, Brian Eno, Jason Calacanis, Esther Dyson, Chris Anderson, – My sort of people!

The 160 responses to the question include many refences to sustainability and preserving the planet, with a few obliquely commenting on transport (I particularly liked the return of commercial sail by George Dyson, for example).

“Fantastically stimulating…It’s like the crack cocaine of the thinking world…. Once you start, you can’t stop thinking about that question.”
— BBC Radio 4

Time to save the planet – with economics

Eddington report finally released and initial reporting mixed – politicians generally supportive, the business community perhaps more positive than they expected to be, Roadblock was far from enraged – worth reprinting their comments:

The implications for those campaigning for less roadbuilding and more traffic reduction are great. This report will shape future transport policy for many years. The media spin on the report was that Eddington was recommending a national road pricing scheme, and not recommending a major roadbuilding programme. This is unfortunately only partially true.

What Eddington actually said was that the current roads programme is justified in the meantime (up to 2015), in the absence of road pricing. He also strongly said that without road pricing there was an economic case for roadbuilding even when the environmental impacts are costed, and specifically recommended another 2,900 – 3,500 lane kilometres of extra roadbuilding between 2015 and 2025. Only when road pricing is brought in, might the need for roadbuilding fall to around 500 – 850 lane kilometres (an 80 per cent reduction). However the report was very helpful in some respects as it also strongly supports and recognises the economic benefits of cycling and walking schemes.

However soon “experts” were being wheeled out to say that the detailed forecasting was flawed, etc. etc. (just like with the Stern report) While the academics will argue the Government is keen to build this and the Barker report (and of course Stern) into new legislation on planning and transport in spring 2007.

Its a small step

OK moving from testing the blog privately to making it more widely available.

Finally got around to read some of the critiques of the Stern Report, its hard not to be suspicious of the reaction of the experts wheeled out to say we can survive with “business as usual” – not surprisingly he responds in the FT…”This review is offered as a contribution to the discussion, not as a final word”

All of which won’t help me reduce my carbon foot print, two round trips to Brighton on Friday and Saturday, one work, one to return Jessica to Sussex Uni in time for Swedenmademe

and the Buell hasn’t been out of the garage for two weeks, which at 25 mpg is probably good for the planet