The Most Important Graph in the World

Friday, August 1, 2008

Welcome Salem Monthly readers

We're lucky to have an (apparently) thriving alt-monthly in Salem, in these days of one newspaper towns and total media consolidation.

If you're here because you saw this story, welcome (and welcome if you didn't see it too).

A few other items in this month's Salem Monthly also merit notice:

1) The Carbon Offsets story: actually, despite the best of intentions, carbon offsets do not work and, in fact, only persuade those with means that they can continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while outsourcing (and, often, offshoring) the difficult task of trying to get our climate problems under control.

The best thing you can do with your sense of urgency -- or guilt -- about your effect on the climate is to reduce that effect. Reduce your consumption. Start walking, biking, and using transit. Move so that your most frequent trips are on foot. Eat less meat. Insulate your house or apartment. Stuff like that. See "The Consumer Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" at that link or at a local bookstore (e.g., The Book Bin) for the details.

And, if you still have money left over after the solar hot water heater goes in, then don't offset carbon, RETIRE IT.

2. The "Sprint Boat" story -- obscene.

Truly a pitiful last gasp of the cheap energy party, a Roman "bread and circuses" thing. Those engines pump an incredible volume of greenhouse gas, ozone, and other pollutants into the air and for what -- to demonstrate the manhood of the drivers. Wouldn't kayaking or logrolling or some other testosterone-fueled but non-motorized activity be just as good at letting guys get their competitive jones on? Do we really have to have jet boats to appreciate the skills of the drivers and let them compete for status, in the same way the Roman chariot drivers did?

As long as those things are running, oil (and, hence, gasoline) prices aren't high enough.

3. The "Oil Prices to Cause Winter Heating Woes" story.

This is what our future looks like, with the end of cheap energy causing a permanent change in our relationship to the physical world and the end to the "cheap energy party." Too bad we have to rely on an alt-monthly to be warning folks about this--preparing for Peak Oil and for the changes needed to STOP the increase in greenhouse gas levels and then to reverse those levels, bringing them down to 350 ppm is urgent. If you need some help understanding this, contact the folks at Oregon Peaceworks and ask for a presentation of their "The 5% Solution to the Climate Crisis" talk. The planet you save may be your own.

4. Finally, in case the story in the Salem Monthly left you wanting more, here's the complete text of the interview that served as the basis for the piece:
What is the purpose of the LOVESalem blog? Can you explain the name a bit?

It's an acronym -- Living Our Values Environmentally in Salem (LOVESalem) -- because Salem can be a fantastic place to live if we stop trying to become Anywhere USA and instead start recognizing the great assets that we have here, assets that position us beautifully to live through "The Long Emergency" period that we're entering in about as good shape as anyplace. It also points out to people that we really do need to love Salem and stop letting developers and city officials turn it into another Sprawlville, yet another place dominated by "Carhead" thinking. In other words, as it says, we need to Oregon-ize in Salem so that we put people first, not cars.

What's the main reason behind wanting to stay anonymous? (I'll need to explain to our readers why we aren't using your name.)

I work in a job where challenging "Carhead" is not very welcome, although I only deal with the blog from home, on my own time. The kinds of radical changes that we are going to be experiencing here soon (and already are experiencing) are going to make some people very, very unhappy. There are a lot of people who get quite angry when their paradigms are abruptly changed on them, and the end of the cheap energy party and the need to take really super-aggressive action to deal with the climate crisis is going to hit these people like a 2x4 to the skull, and that generates a lot of anger --- anger that often gets expressed at the first person that they can find whom they identify as causing the problem, even if it's only to write something in a blog. By identifying the problems with business-as-usual and the fantasies of substitutes (business-as-usual with some other kind of fuel), you paint a big target on your self.

By blogging behind a functional name -- Walker -- I remove the personality aspect of things. People are free to show up and dispute the ideas on the site. I moderate the comments only to weed out the trash---people are free to say I'm wrong if they provide an argument or a link to something that sheds more light on it. I just don't want it to devolve into the kind of junk that so many websites do, flaming and attacks on people rather than looking at the problems we're all going to face together, like it or not.

What can a regular citizen do to prevent the "Sprawl Machine"?

The first thing is to become aware -- consciousness of it.

Notice how much of this beautiful area -- in the No. 1 agriculture county in Oregon, a bountiful state, is devoted to the care, feeding, and storage of autos.

Notice the city council, already cutting the bookmobile and the library computer lab hours and other services and amenities, in a city where the buses don't run on Sunday, [and] is dreaming of a $670 million dollar godzilla-size third bridge over the Willamette so that people who live far from their jobs can drive even more.

Notice that the same city is proposing to drop $4.75 million on upgrading the runway and the baggage services at the airport even after we've just got word that the only scheduled air service is stopping soon.

Notice that the city totally dropped the ball on sidewalks, dumping them back in the laps of the homeowners as if they weren't an important piece of our transportation network. Ask yourself why the fronting property owner is expected to maintain the sidewalk but not the roadway.

The next thing is to join your neighborhood association and also groups like 1,000 Friends of Oregon and Friends of Marion County so that you have a voice. That's the start.

Why do you think that Salem is behind Lincoln City and Corvallis and other OR cities in developing earth-friendly practices?

I can't say I know for sure. I've got some theories:

I think a lot of it is that Salem has set itself up to be the city that lots of people don't care about because they don't live here. An astonishing number of people drive here from Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene (and Stayton, and Independence, and Silverton) and work for the state. They see Salem as a parking lot -- a place to blow through as fast as possible in their car to get to work and to get home. The only thing they want from Salem is free parking.

Every city in America has problems getting its planning and permitting departments out from under the thumb of the sprawl lobby --- the builders and the developers and folks who want to pour concrete over everything. So Salem is not unique in suffering from pro-sprawl and carhead thinking. But we've definitely got a terrible case of it.

And Salem's connection to Willamette is about zero, from what I can tell. Universities normally function as places that provide the host city with a base of people who are willing to think independently and consider the future, and who are scientifically minded --- the kind of people you need if you're going to anticipate future problems and avoid them. Somehow we don't seem to get that benefit from Willamette. And I would guess that very few Willamette Students plan to stay, so we lose that fountain of youthful enthusiasm and energy; these aren't kids who want to make Salem a cool place, they're more worried about their internships elsewhere and getting jobs after they leave.

Q: There's a lot of information on the blog about the Salem airport. What are your thoughts on the airport expansion continuing, despite Delta pulling out in October?

A: The airport expansion at this point in time -- when airlines are dropping like flies -- is the perfect symbol of how Salem officials see the city and how they fail to give even a moment's thought to the fundamental physical realities that will become increasingly insistent and present in our lives. In City Hall, there's a "consensus trance" that $4 gas is temporary thing. In a way that's true, but it's because we'll soon look back fondly at $4 gas.

The airlines are just about dead. The odds of Salem getting scheduled service again are so low as to be laughable. But the city plans to plow ahead with an expansion, trying to palm it off as OK because most of the dollars won't be from the city --- as if wasting state and federal money is OK. It's utter nonsense, and very revealing of how city officials and especially transportation officials are in denial about our energy and climate problems.

The people of Salem would get more benefit from that $4.75 million if they converted it to $1 bills and took them up to Brooks in and burned them in the waste-to-energy plant. That's how stupid the expansion is.