Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring cleaning! What to do with that little-used bicycle that's collecting cobwebs

And, in honor of Bike Month 2009, go find that old bike, or underused bike, or bike your kid left in your garage when college started, or bike you quit riding and DONATE IT!
The Salvation Army in Salem has started a bicycle repair program to teach our residents some skills. They have also donated the repaired or reused bikes. Anyone interested in volunteering; donating bikes, tools, or money; or finding out more about the program should contact Chaplain Dan Reichman at 503-999-0179.

KEY: Bikes that are broken, in need of repair or no longer being used can be dropped off at The Salvation Army, 1887 Front St. NE, Salem.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

After you hit the Friends of the Library Sale . . .

If you don't find everything on your list at the Friends of the Salem Public Library Spring Sale, or if you want some nice non-book gifty things, or if you just plain haven't visited before, stop by Tea Party Bookshop (corner of Liberty and Ferry) for their Buy Indie sale. Owner JoAnne Kohler sends this word:
May 1st is BUY INDIE DAY!
Support your local independent bookseller (that would be me!) by coming in and buying a book - any book, even a card, journal or CD! This idea started with author Joseph Finder, to get some good publicity and show support for all the hardworking indies around the country. Be a part of this great event - all you have to do is come by the store. Of course I'd love it if you buy something, but stopping in to say hi is also very welcomed.

We love being your independent!
To mark the occasion, JoAnne is running several sales to note:
4-Day Sale to Celebrate Buy Indie Day!

Save up to 40%

Get a great hardcover book at a softcover price! I've got a cart full of books that are 40% off - these are hardcovers that have recently been released in paper, so you can get the nicer format (and most are first editions) at about the same price.

Thursday through Sunday, May 3rd:
20% off all jewelry
15% off all CDs
10% off all Himalayan Salt Lamps
10% off notecards and journals
Plus selected items on sale - come in early for best selection!
Also this one:
Friday Only!
20% off all hardcovers, 10% off all paperbacks!

All day May 1st, we'll offer a discount on your book purchases! Everything included, even the special orders you are waiting to pick up!
Tea Party Bookshop has been very generous by hosting and providing free meeting space for various local groups and also by researching and selecting titles of interest to community groups like the Salem Transition Initiative for Relocalization and others -- the kind of thing that local booksellers do naturally and that chains forgot how to do long ago. So, run down your list of upcoming graduations, weddings, birthdays, vacations, trips, and ideas and pick up something for everyone on your list at these two vital local resources.

Krugman nails it

The brilliant Paul Krugman nails the "we can't afford to prevent climate chaos" numbskulls:

I don’t especially mean to pick on Samuelson, but this column exemplifies a strange thing about the climate change debate. Opponents of a policy change generally believe that market economies are wonderful things, able to adapt to just about anything — anything, that is, except a government policy that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Limits on the world supply of oil, land, water — no problem. Limits on the amount of CO2 we can emit — total disaster.

Funny how that is.

He expands on the theme in his latest column:
Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world’s limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don’t they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land.

Needless to say, people like Newt Gingrich, who says that cap-and-trade would “punish the American people,” aren’t thinking that way. They’re just thinking “capitalism good, government bad.” But if you really believe in the magic of the marketplace, you should also believe that the economy can handle emission limits just fine.

So we can afford a strong climate change policy. And committing ourselves to such a policy might actually help us in our current economic predicament.

Right now, the biggest problem facing our economy is plunging business investment. Businesses see no reason to invest, since they’re awash in excess capacity, thanks to the housing bust and weak consumer demand.

But suppose that Congress were to mandate gradually tightening emission limits, starting two or three years from now. This would have no immediate effect on prices. It would, however, create major incentives for new investment — investment in low-emission power plants, in energy-efficient factories and more.

To put it another way, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction would, in the short-to-medium run, have the same economic effects as a major technological innovation: It would give businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities even in the face of excess capacity. And given the current state of the economy, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

This short-run economic boost isn’t the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly.

So can we afford to save the planet? Yes, we can. And now would be a very good time to get started.
This is vital stuff. The denier/delayer/confusion lobby has cost us precious decades, when responding to climate destabilization would really have been much easier.

We're like the grasshopper in the old grasshopper vs. ant fable now, seeing the impending winter at last -- so, yes, it's going to be harder than it should have been.

But that's water under the bridge now.

The thing to do is begin -- get off coal ASAP -- by 2012, Washington and Oregon can be free of coal plants and making a serious reduction in the amount of coal drawn from the Montana plants.

Anything less is a weird form of suicide -- we use the poison now, but the damage hammers not us, but the people we hope to leave behind us.

Good Resource

In the near future, humanity will be challenged by the converging trends of energy depletion and climate change. It will be necessary for us to transition into a culture that consumes drastically less, and to shift away from the paradigm of perpetual material growth. As part of this transition, the means for securing food, water, energy, and waste management must be re-localized into people's home communities. As currently more than 50% of the world's population lives in urban areas, it will be critical to make our cities more sustainable.

As more and more often the word "sustainability" is being used as a marketing term, we are attempting to bring it back to its truer, original meaning: to live in such a way that the resources available to us today will be available also to an indefinite number of future human generations. This desire led us to create the Rhizome Collective in Austin Texas in 2000. The Rhizome was an old warehouse building that was converted into a demonstration site for urban sustainability, and a home base for numerous social work and activist organizations. On display were numerous ecologically designed systems that the public was invited to come and interact with and learn from.

Drawing from our years of experience at the Rhizome, we've written Toolbox for Sustainable City Living. It is a collection of skills, tools, and technologies usable by urban residents wanting to have more local access and control over life's essential resources. We advocate building sustainable infrastructure using affordable, simple designs that utilize salvaged and recycled materials. We believe sustainability should be something that is accessible to the majority of people in the world, and not just the wealthiest. . . . (more at link above)

Turn out for C.I.T.Y. @ CITY HALL -- May 4, 6:30 p.m.

Chickens in the Yard (C.I.T.Y.) will be giving a presentation at City Hall on Monday, May 4th, and we need to fill council chambers with supporters. This is more important than ever, because as time passes and they hear less about chickens, they have begun to back away.

To affect change, we must keep the pressure on. We have worked too long and too hard to give up now, so I ask you to please come and bring your friends and families. Please stand when I ask all supporters in the room to do so.

They will not be voting on our proposal this night, but we have new information to present since our last presentation 8 weeks ago that could persuade them in the right direction. We also need to show them that we are not going away but have instead, grown stronger and more determined.

Please plan on attending:
May 4th at 6:30 to 8:30 pm – Salem City Hall, 555 Liberty St, Room 240
(this room extends over the parking lot).

If you have a petition with signatures, please email me at so I can make arrangements to pick it up as soon as possible. I would like to present all petitions to the Mayor on Monday night.

Nice website with photo-illustrated guide for building a nice home for some hens.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This weekend -- Friends of Salem Public Library book sale

Friends of the Salem Public Library
Spring Book Sale
Friday, May 1 & Saturday, May 2, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 3 1-4:30 p.m. $3 Bag Day!
In Anderson Rooms A&B at Salem Public Library, 585 Liberty St. SE

Thousands of used books, sorted by genre and topic
Paperbacks – 50 cents
Hardbacks – $1
Children’s – 50 cents
Audio-Visual – 25 cents
Sponsored by: Roth’s Fresh Market & Smith-Barney

Eldertown -- the city as a place for humans

As hellish as life was in the primitive factory towns (see Steven Johnson's fine study of early industrial London, The Ghost Map), cities at last have matured into the most ecologically enlightened habitat for a world that numbers billions of human beings. Urban density compacts population and saves the land, its resources, natural beauties, and human lives. Cities are where ideas are exchanged most rapidly and where medical progress is made. Subtract the cars and freeways, condense the suburbs back into urban centers — some large, some small — mix in a good measure of social justice, and we have the best design for living in a world where over 50 percent of the human race now chooses to reside in cities. Eldertown makes all this more possible.

Buy local! Streetcars made in Oregon

Could Salem have as good a transit service in the 21st Century as it did in the early 20th? Possibly --- one step would be restoring the streetcar network, using Oregon-made streetcars:

Joycelyn Chavez, Manager of Marketing & Business Development for UNITED STREETCAR LLC will be the guest speaker at the Thursday noon meeting of the Salem Downtown Lions Club. UNITED STREETCAR LLC, located in Clackamas, Oregon, is manufacturing the first modern streetcar made in the USA. In a few weeks the first vehicle will roll out of the plant and begin test runs on the Portland Streetcar system. Modern streetcar lines are being developed by many cities in the US to serve growing urban mobility needs.

The Lions lunch meeting will take place at the Blue Pepper Bistro, 241 Commercial Street NE in Downtown Salem, starting at noon.

Bob Krebs
Salem Downtown Lions Club

Below please find links to my Tacoma, Washington Streetcar videos.

Streetcars of Tacoma Video – Part One

Streetcars of Tacoma Video – Part Two

Unsolicited Plug (UP) 2: Coolest new business in Salem

Your Home Harvests. Awesome. Check it out.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Very cool: Vertical potatoes -- high production, small space

Perfect for home gardens in Salem in perilous times.

When you next hear about the third bridge for Salem, remember this (h/t Sightline Daily)

Why big public works projects come in over budget

A professor at Oxford University in England has done a compelling series of studies trying to get at why big public-works projects such as bridges, tunnels and light-rail systems almost always turn out to be far more costly than estimated.

The simple answer: officials lie

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Understanding more of who we are

“The Oregon Nikkei Story: Japanese-Americans in Oregon 1880-1941,”
an exploration of the Japanese-American immigration experience in Oregon will be shown:

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, 2009, Loucks Auditorium at Salem Public Library
Free and open to the public

Salem filmmaker Thomas Coulter will be on hand to introduce his exploration of the history and development of Oregon’s Japanese-American population up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The film intersperses interviews with second and third generation Oregon Nissei with photos of first generation families from Portland and Hood River.

The Oregon Nikkei Story” is part of a two-month series of programs planned in conjunction with Oregon Reads 2009, focusing on the book, “Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese-American Family” by Lauren Kessler.

More information about this event and about all the Oregon Reads 2009 activities at Salem Public Library is available at 503-588-6052 or

Sonja Somerville
Community Relations/Volunteer Coordinator
Salem Public Library Foundation

Phone: 503-588-6083
FAX: 503-589-2011
Address: 585 Liberty St. SE, Salem, OR 97301

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reduce mailbox clutter, wasted energy -- pare your catalogs

Direct mail can be a monster -- but there's a nice site that can help get you off catalog mailing lists.
It has worked pretty well so far; we're seeing a definite reduction in catalog mailings, even beyond the reduction we got from contacting the Direct Marketing Association. Free.

Salem-Keizer Transit Board Candidate Interviews

There's a really important set of races in the election coming up, with ballots being mailed out about May 1 (to be returned by May 19).

But, there is about zero public interest, even though this is a crucial election from the point of view of trying to manage our environmental footprint. Salem and Keizer voters in certain areas will choose four members of the Cherriots board (out of seven).

Candidates who will appear on the ballot in their district are below. Click on highlighted candidate names to see their Statesman-Journal interview.

You can download and read the SJ questionnaires that six of these candidates returned here.

Director, Subdistrict 2, 4 year term (Keizer)
Kelly Hernandez *
Ron Christopher
Hughie Baker

Director, Subdistrict 3, 2 year term (NE/Central Salem) -- SJ Interview
John Gear
Kate Tarter (incumbent by appointment by current board)
Chris Barber *

Director, Subdistrict 4, 4 year term (NE Salem)
Shelley Hanson (incumbent)

Director, Subdistrict 6, 4 year term (South Salem)
Robert “Bob” Krebs -- Krebs candidate website
Libby Barg

(* Both Hernandez and Barber are rumored to have withdrawn and did not participate in the SJ interviews. Hanson, running unopposed, also did not participate.)

The SJ endorsement interview had a weird twist: they had the two candidates for the 6th district split between the two sessions: Bob Krebs attended the first one (with the two remaining active candidates for the 3rd district), while Libby Barg attended the second one. So it may be tougher to compare those two candidates.

The district is making preparations for another round of service changes to try to cope with the failure to pass a levy three times in a row now. You can come to the open house meetings to learn more about the service changes. But you should also consider the candidates very carefully so that you can support the ones whom you think will do the most to preserve the system's viability.

As the budget cuts slice deeper and deeper in Salem and Marion County

Someone notices that it's starting to resemble the Gilded Age again.

Sharon Astyk nails it: What hunger in China means for Salem

Sharon Astyk, author of the excellent "Depletion and Abundance" and the upcoming "A Nation of Farmers" has such a good piece with such importance for Salem that I'm going to shamelessly reprint it too:

Lester Brown has a lead article in _Scientific American_ this month, on the potential unrest caused by growing food insecurity worldwide. The article is appropriately dark about the potential problems in feeding ourselves, and he asks whether it is possible that widespread food insecurity could “bring down civilization” by destroying functioning nation states from the inside. It is a fascinating article, and well worth a read.

What struck me about it was one rather brief point that Brown makes - along with his discussions of soil loss, falling water tables, climate change and population, he very briefly debunks what I think is a prevailing idea - that because the US is a major producer, if things get tough, we’ll simply stop exporting grain. He writes:

“No country is immune to the effects of tightening food supplies, not even the U.S., the world’s breadbasket. If China turns to the world market for massive quantities of grain, as it has recently done for soybeans, it will have to buy from the U.S. For U.S. consumers, that would mean competing for the U.S. grain harvest with 1.3 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes—a nightmare scenario. In such circumstances, it would be tempting for the U.S. to restrict exports, as it did, for instance, with grain and soybeans in the 1970s when domestic prices soared. But that is not an option with China. Chinese investors now hold well over a trillion U.S. dollars, and they have often been the leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities issued to finance the fiscal deficit. Like it or not, U.S. consumers will share their grain with Chinese consumers, no matter how high food prices rise.”

This, I think is an important point, and one that becomes more acute as we become more dependent on buyers for our Treasuries - and we are presently becoming more and more dependent, not less and less. As Bloomberg reported a few days ago, lost tax revenue in the US means that we need to sell dramatically more Treasuries, even as nations have indicated they are inclined to pull back.

Brown predicted this - in _Depletion and Abundance_ I quoted Brown’s Plan B 2.0 (he’s up to 3.0, and I admit, I wish he’d change book titles ;-)) on just this subject:

The first big test of the international community’s capacity to manage scarcity may come with oil or it could come with grain. If the latter is teh case, this could occur when China - whose grain harvest fell by 34 million tons or 9 percent between 1998 and 2005 - turns to the world market for massive imports of 30 million, 50 million or even 100 million tons of grain per year. Demand on this scale could quickly overwhelm world grain markets. When this happens, China will have to look to the United States which controls [over 40 percent of] the world’s grain exports…some 200 million tons.”

Brown has written an entire book on the subject, _Who Shall Feed China_ as well.

Last week, China Daily and other Chinese papers reported that China has begun a national audit of its grain supplies due to recent speculation that grain reserves have been exaggerated, and due to expressed concern that it may not be able to weather an extended drought. China now imports about 5% of its national grain demand, but because it depends on irrigation for 80% of its grain production, that figure is expected to rise, as soybean imports have already risen.

This is important, not to scapegoat China (I’m always a little wary of the “bad China - poor us” narrative), but to realize that while many peak oil and climate change activists fear an absolute scarcity of food - periods where food is simply not on the shelves - they perhaps should be at least as concerned with dramatic rises in food prices, and an increasing number of everyday Americans who go hungry. This is already the case, of course. But a poor to seriously crappy economy, combined with rising food prices is a recipe for real and serious trouble for all of us.

I think a lot of people express skepticism about the idea that the US, the world’s breadbasket, will have bare shelves. And while I think that is technically possible, it is far more likely that, as in most places with deep endemic hunger, the US will likely have full shelves - and more and more people peering in at them, unable to purchase food.

This is why we need, at every level, from family farms to family gardens, a renewed focus on food security, increased access to food in its cheapest form (the seed), local food trade, a nation of people who can eat grain, rather than processed foods, and a nation of farmers.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

A model for Salem: The Greening of Detroit

Hat tip to The Progressive Review for this pointer to this important piece in the Christian Science Monitor about Greening of Detroit:

. . . As the trio cleared a bed for planting seedlings, Saba said, “I love gardening, It’s cool. It’s nice. And you can get your hands dirty without getting yelled at. You get to plant things and when they grow, you pick them.”

Such interaction between kids and adults is one reason that Ms. Kohn, an urban agriculture apprentice for the Greening of Detroit (, is encouraging families in the neighborhood to come to the garden to work, visit, and harvest fresh produce.

Another reason is that she and others see such urban gardens – 355 of them so far, planted throughout the 139-square-mile city – as vital to the revitalization of Detroit, often called a rusted out industrial city. . . .

Today, with 25 percent of the land in the city vacant due to the removal of many residential and commercial buildings, Ms. Atkinson has been instrumental in developing gardening and youth education programs to help stabilize and redevelop neighborhoods. . . .

“What we’re doing is to start with one block, and we don’t dare move until we take care of that one block,” he says.

Another key ingredient to the city’s gardening success is Earthworks, founded in 1997 by Rick Samyn of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen ( on Detroit’s East Side.

Brother Rick noticed that the poor were buying their food at gas stations, and kids were calling Coke and chips a meal. He began a small garden in a vacant lot and two years later developed six other lots by removing debris and regenerating the soil with compost.

The gardens now supply food for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which prepares 2,000 meals per day, and the Gleaners Community Food Bank (, which distributes 25 million pounds of food each year.

Four years ago, Earthworks added a 1,300-square-foot greenhouse that produces more than 100,000 vegetable seedlings for family, community, and school gardens across the city.

However, gardening is not just an economic or a community-building asset. It’s considered therapeutic and healing, especially for urban children who often live in a violent and unsafe world.

“The toughest children derive a sense of pleasure and accomplishment by growing plants,” says Sister Nancyann Turner, manager of the youth program at the soup kitchen. . . .

The urban garden movement began in Detroit in 1992 when Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, local labor and civil rights activists, envisioned a different future for the city since it was clear that industrialization was gone forever.

They founded Detroit Summer (, a multiracial, intergenerational collective that works to transform citizens and their communities by confronting problems with creativity and critical thinking.

“Actually, it was a blessing that Detroit no longer had the illusion of expansion,” says Mrs. Boggs, now in her 90s. “You can bemoan your fate or, as the African-American elders taught, you can plant gardens.”

As the garden movement caught on in the city, partnerships developed among people and organizations and became known as the Detroit Agricultural Network (DAN).

Each summer for the past 11 years, DAN has held a two-hour bus and bicycle tour to show off the community gardens to the public and to demonstrate how gardens are influencing larger issues such as reducing crime, cleaning up trash-strewn lots, connecting people to nature, nurturing leadership in citizens of all ages, and improving property values.

Rule 1: Don't burn the house down to save a buck

Homemade biofuel makers: burning down the house.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Also sweet! (Must be the Earth Day)

A rooftop CSA! Putting what is normally dead space atop urban buildings to better use.

Sweet! A guide to gas-free travel


Hugely important behavioral study

Crucial study here. If this finding can be generalized---and I see no reason that it should not be---then this is a vital challenge to those of us who are interested in fostering sustainable behavior in Salem (or anywhere else, for that matter). Hat tip to Sightline Institute's blog "The Daily Score:"
Yes, I'd Like Fries With That
New study shows we're our own worst enemy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Sprawling from Grace, Driven to Madness" -- free viewing from 1,000 Friends

A New Documentary: Sprawling From Grace
In honor of Earth Day, in partnership with Cinema Libre Studio and Grapeflix, we would like to offer you the opportunity to view David M. Edwards' powerful new documentary, Sprawling From Grace: The Consequences of Suburbanization, online for free!

The film features Bill Clinton, former governor Michael Dukakis and many other leaders on the issues of suburban sprawl and the need for better public transportation, centralized planning and renewable energy.
For a preview, visit

Or check it out on Facebook.

So check it out -it's free- and once you've viewed the film, we ask that you consider making a secure donation for at least the same amount it might cost you to see the film in a movie theatre! The filmmaker and distribution company are allowing all donations to come directly to us so we can continue our important work.

The free online access starts Monday, April 20 beginning at 8:00am ET through Wednesday, April 22 at 11:59 PT and can be viewed at any time during that period.

So start watching it now – it's easy!
Go to
Click on the green "Play Online" button
Register for Grapeflix VOD (video on demand)

Test your system to make sure you meet the minimum requirements to view the film online. (After the test is complete, click 'Continue' to watch the film. If you get taken back to the Grapeflix homepage, just click on the link in step #1 of these instructions and then click "Play Online".)

A window will pop-up with the embedded video player

The film is viewable in full screen by clicking the full screen button on the video player or by double-clicking the video player in Firefox. To ensure you will not have difficulties viewing the film please –
Disable all pop-up blockers. (Enable Active X)
Use Internet Explorer
Upgrade Windows Media Player to version 11
Confirm that you have a stable high speed internet connection.
Allow time for the film to buffer after the video player pops up.
*Please note: the Grapeflix system work best with a Windows operating system and Windows Media Player 11.

Further help with Grapeflix can be found here:
Contact Grapeflix here:

If you enjoyed the film, click on the orange button on the Grapeflix page to tell your friends about it.

The film will be available on DVD this week at Cinema Libre Store, online at Grapeflix and through other major retailers.

We hope you enjoy it and find it as enlightening and inspiring as we do. Again, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our organization by clicking here.


The Team at 1000 Friends of Oregon

Transition Initiatives in the NY Times

The NY Times Magazine profiles the Transition Initiatives movement -- like the one just beginning to STIR in Salem -- the Salem Transition Initiative for Relocalization.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stupidest corporation of the century so far

Robodialing the people on your "Do Not Call" list -- to tell them that you can't call them so they're missing great offers!

Truly, where are the Darwin Awards for corporations? Should we call them Schumpeter Awards?

(Hat tip to Oregon Media Insiders blog.)

A life and death reminder

Your support means so much!

Thanks to you and your generous blood donations, our community will be able to help our victims of tragedy and ill health.

You are someone who cares enough about our community to give life-giving blood. Our neighbors depend on us for life... and we depend on you for continued loyalty. Your continued support is greatly appreciated by us as well as the many people you help with your donations. Have a good day!

Visit our website or call 1-800-GIVE LIFE (448-3543) for more information.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The American Red Cross
Pacific Northwest Blood Services Region
3131 N. Vancouver Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 284-1234

Happens every year. Weather improves. Sun-starved Salemites seek sensuous, salubrious solar sensations. So they get outdoors. :^)

But accidents go up. While blood donations go down. :^(

It's important: if you are eligible to give blood -- and most people are -- do it. The life you save may be someone you know. And, even if not, it's someone important to someone.

Backyard hens gaining ground

Everywhere but here. Yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Starts Tomorrow! Be there, aloha!

click on image for link to Festival schedule, descriptions, etc.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great short video on a great idea: The "Idaho Stop" law for bikes

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Brave man seeks to strike at the root of a problem

Former Salem City Councilor Bill Smaldone has an interesting op-ed in the SJ today. Reminds me of the old Thoreau saying: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."

I appreciate his willingness to tackle the issue, but differ greatly here:

For restoring services and preparing for the future, property taxes are inadequate and unfair. Flat and regressive, they hit all residential property owners at the same rate, regardless of income. New fees or targeted sales taxes also won't suffice. One must get to the root and change the system. Options include replacing the residential property tax with a graduated income tax for those who live and work in the city.
The idea of increasing our dependence on the income tax is really, really bad, no matter how well-intentioned. Salem is already the epicenter of destruction from Oregon's foolish over-reliance on income taxes now -- at the state level, just when the economic cycle turns down and we could use a stable source of funds to make counter-cyclical investments, our tax revenues plummet.

Moreover, the problem with income taxes is that they discourage exactly what we spend a lot of money and energy trying to encourage. Relying on income taxes is like driving a car with your foot jammed on the accelerator and brakes at the same time. You wind up working against yourself and damaging the vehicle at the same time.

Much better is the afterthought idea he tosses in: "Or one could consider other choices such as taxing underutilized land." Now, that is a good idea. Undeveloped land in the urban growth area should be taxed as if it were developed at the highest economic use value. Instead of rewarding speculators who hold land off the market with low taxes, we should tax the land as if they made the maximum investment that the zoning allows, so that they will either develop the land or sell it to someone who will. This has the effect of bringing a lot of idle land onto the market (reducing prices), promoting investment while reducing sprawl. Best of all, it puts the taxes in alignment with the economic development policies we're trying to promote, instead of making them work in opposition to each other.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It doesn't make sense, it's just how we are

Last year, Americans took more than 10 billion rides on public transportation, the highest level in more than 50 years. But despite the increases, public transit systems are being forced to cut back service, risking losing many of the riders they gained due to high gas prices and a bad economy. In New York, for example, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is moving forward with plans to drastically raise fares and totally eliminate some subway and bus lines. Our latest Transparency is a look at the 15 most popular public transit systems in America that have made or are planning to make cuts. You can see the full list of all cuts and potential cuts at Transportation for America.

(h/t Good magazine)

If you have ever gone to Portland or Eugene for a movie or show

Then make sure you turn out to support the amazing Salem Film Festival. Here. In Salem.

(image from "Blue Gold: World Water Wars," which is having its Oregon premiere at the Salem Film Festival 2009)

Land-sharing: A very LOVEing idea

Story about land-sharing -- people with front and back yards that they want gardened and the people who want to garden but don't have the yards. A great idea for living our values, environmentally speaking, and for responding to the shortage of community garden plots:
With too many gardeners filling up the waiting list for community gardens, it's taking as long as 5 years to finally get a plot of dirt to grow veggies. So gardeners and city officials started a registry to connect homeowners willing to have their yards turned into gardens with the people who are willing to do the gardening. An excellent land-sharing solution, and in sync with the urban homesteading movement.

A most important graphic

Click to enlarge. Note that, of the roughly 98 quads of energy we start with, we only use about 43, with 55 going to entropic and distribution losses. Also note the tiny, almost microscopic scale of renewables next to polluting/depleting sources like coal (which also form nearly all the energy loss, since entropic losses are caused by high-temp energy transformations).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring FSELC Calendar

2008-09 Amateur Naturalist Series: Geology of the Columbia River Gorge
Thursday, April 16th, 7:00 p.m. (Optional field trip Sunday, April 19th)
Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street, Salem
$5 per person; RSVP required (Call 503-391-4145 or email
2009 Sustainability Workshops: Green Investment
Tuesday, April 14th, 7:00 p.m.
Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street, Salem
Coordinated and co-hosted by Willamette University. Free and open to the public.
10th Annual Earth Day Celebration at Oregon Garden
Saturday, April 18th, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The Oregon Garden Earth Day has become a focal point for the Mid-Willamette Valley . Families can enjoy kid's activities, plant and garden sales and educational demonstrations. Local Oregon musicians will be featured throughout the day along with 35 indoor exhibitors and food. Earth Day will continue to be a free event to encourage people to learn about stewardship of the Earth. For more information
Nature Kids: Youth Naturalist Classes
Tree Time! The Importance of Trees
Grades 4 and 5 – Wednesday, April 22nd, 4 – 5:30 p.m.
Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street, Salem
Class is free, RSVP REQUIRED. Call or email Lisa at 503-391-4145 or for more information.
2009 Sustainability Workshops
Green Landscape: Tuesday, April 21st, 7:00 p.m.
Green Cuisine: Tuesday, April 28th, 7:00 p.m.
Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street, Salem
Coordinated and co-hosted by Willamette University. Free and open to the public.
2008-09 Amateur Naturalist Series: Wildflower Identification
Tuesday and Wednesday, April 21st and 22nd (Optional field trip April 25th)
Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street, Salem
$5 per person; RSVP required (Call 503-391-4145 or email
**Please note: this is a two-night class. Payment is $5 for both sessions and payment is due on the first night.

JUNKride 2009: Spotlighting Environmental and Human Health Impact of Plastic Marine Debris
Wednesday, April 22nd, 7:00 p.m.
Kaneko Auditorium, Willamette University, 1300 Mill St. SE

Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, who have brought world attention to the “plastic soup” fouling our oceans, are embarking on a 2,000-mile bicycle ride/speaking tour from Vancouver to Tijuana in a quest to end the age of disposable plastics. Join us for their stop in Salem! Sponsored by FSELC and Willamette University Center for Sustainability. Free and open to the public. Note: Parking is located west of Sparks Field on the North side of Bellvue Street – no permit needed at 7:00 p.m. There is a pedestrian sky bridge over 12th Street to reach Tokyo International University of America, where Kaneko Auditorium is located.
2008-09 FSELC Lecture Series: Martin LeBlanc
Working Together to “Leave No Child Inside”
Thursday, April 23rd, 7:00 p.m.
Loucks Auditorium, Salem Public Library, 585 Liberty Street SE, Salem
Free and open to the public
Lisa Olivares
Environmental Education Coordinator
Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center
Mailing Address: 765 14th Street NE, Salem, OR 97301
Physical Address: 1320 A Street NE, Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 391-4145

The future of freight in Salem

This OPB story reminds me of a great line someone came up with:

The stages of grief

A comment on the prior post about the CBC video introduction to peak oil went:
"We read a story in Wired a while back about Peak Oil. My husband was so down that he didn't read another newspaper or newsmag for months!"
A lot of people go through the stages of grief (Kubler-Ross) when they first realize that the life that abundant cheap oil has given the rich countries cannot survive when oil is no longer cheap: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance.

On the other hand, peak oil doesn't mean we're running out of oil -- the exact opposite in fact. Peak Oil is the moment of maximum global oil availability. So if there's ever a moment when we ought to be able to afford to prepare for the transition, it's at the peak.

And we better do it, because we will have to invest lots of energy now in the things we will want to rely on later, when oil (and thus all forms of energy) is much less abundant. Even a 2% per year decline in oil flows means that it only takes 36 years to put the world on half-rations for oil. And 2% decline rate is about the lowest that anyone suggests we'll see -- Cantarell in Mexico, the world's second largest field, is plunging at 15% a year or more. Sometimes all the glorious technology people think will save us is only making things worse, faster.

If you or your husband are ready to think about preparing for the coming transition to a post-oil world, you can check out the Salem Transition Initiative for Relocalization (STIR), a group that is just starting to organize around building the social resiliency we'll need to meet the challenge of a future that is likely to look so different from the immediate past.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Interesting video intro to peak oil

The CBC does a nice job with "Preparing for the Worst,"an introduction to peak oil, despite the media's need to constantly portray people preparing for the obviously inevitable as 'extreme' and 'doomers.'

Funny, you never hear firefighters called "doomers" because they think there is a need to be ready to fight fires. The only people who get the disparaging term "doomer" applied to them are the ones who keep insisting that resources are finite on a finite planet. Strange that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

10,000 word pictures -- think carefully on these

(h/t to Soot and Ashes for the pix/nice juxtaposition)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peak Oil, transit options and community health


The presence of mass transit, whether local or long haul, simply makes towns and cities livable. That is going to become increasingly important, as we're in a time where a recent prophecy is going to come to pass.

I don't speak of any supernatural explanation of world events, but rather petroleum geologist Marion King Hubbert's 1956 pronouncement than U.S. oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970, with "the global peak coming about half a century from now". Hubbert was a tad optimistic [pessimistic, actually] about his predictions; the U.S. peak was in the spring of 1971 and the apparent global peak in May of 2005 might have been eclipsed by production in the winter of 2008.

Even if we did dodge the peak oil bullet for a full three years the fate of the world's five largest supergiant oil fields is certain. Ghawar, Saudi Arabia's four million barrel a day cash cow, is over 90% consumed and seawater forms an ever increasing percentage of the output as the field nears the time when it will "water out".

The nitrogen pressurized field of Cantarell in the Bay of Campeche has declined from its 2.2 million barrel a day peak to perhaps a third of that and the Mexican government will soon begin capping depleted wells. The Kuwaitis have responsibly managed Burgan and information is spotty on China's Da Qing, but these two fields, at million barrels a day each are geological resources rather than fossil fuel cornucopias and their life spans are not infinite. The [X] field of northern Iraq is largely untouched but due to above ground concerns there it may never be exploited. The condition of these five, once responsible 10% of the global total production, are a good proxy for what is happening with the rest.

This peak oil business is going to be as wrenching a change for us as the industrial revolution was for our ancestors three centuries ago. Many careers from the 20th century are going to fall by the wayside. Rising heating costs will make larger homes less desirable and that goes double for the distant, poorly constructed suburbs that sprang up everywhere during the last decade's bubble. . . .

There are a few bright spots out there and engineer, accountant, New Orleans resident, Katrina survivor, and rail electrification activist Alan Drake is the keeper of a happier vision of our future.

The United States has about 180,000 miles of rail and 36,000 of those miles are good candidates for double or triple tracking coupled with rail electrification. If we undertake this technologically simple duplication of systems already in use in Europe we'll cut our oil consumption by 10%, put millions back to work in new, peak oil proof
careers, and amazingly enough our economy ought to grow 25% during the process.


Well said:

On the transportation side, I look at our history of investing in infrastructure.

We spent (and are spending) billions and billions of dollars creating the interstate-highway system, and increasing the size of our airports and ports.

There is this default assumption that we are going to keep growing those things bigger and bigger, off into whatever kind of future we imagine. I protest that sort of assumption—that everything we are doing is about getting bigger and bigger.

Ultimately, sustainability means coming to terms with natural biophysical limits.

So we have to get past this idea of planning around extrapolation of past trends.

That the future may be different than the past is the first thing that we need to come to terms with. This is where the idea of peak roads comes in: If we can say to ourselves, “We have as much road capacity today as we will ever need,” then we can start to ask what that means in terms of how we should actually start designing our cities.

This shouldn’t be thought of as a default “anti-roads” statement. But our numerical models show that we simply may not have enough fuel (and biofuel, and electric cars) to use more road capacity than what we have today.

If we can start to grapple with the fact that we can actually get better instead of getting bigger, then we have started on the path towards sustainability. And I think until we can really wrap our heads around that we are fighting an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, bad ideas continue to percolate in background

The sales job to justify the already made (but, thankfully, far from funded) decision to destroy great chunks of minority-dominated housing areas of Northeast Salem and a big piece of West Salem for the convenience of motorized, nearly all-white commuters in Polk County with a third bridge over the Willamette in Salem proceeds apace.

"EIS" -- for those of you who don't speak the weird dialect of proto-English called Transjargon -- means "environmental impact statement." Originally intended to force governments to consider the environmental costs of proposed actions, they have become a cottage industry for consultants and a way to obscure the actual effects in a blizzard of mind-numbing jargon and hopeful assumptions totally unjustified by experience in other settings. Rather than being open-minded assessments, they are typically run as psuedo-studies where the inputs are carefully controlled to obtain the desired output decision. Here's some very telling language from a memo from the team working on this one:
First, the Draft EIS will assume that the future demand (year 2031) for vehicle trips across the river is 8% less than otherwise forecast. Basing the project design on a reduced traffic volume anticipates a high degree of success in increasing non-auto travel across the river and also helps prevent the project from being overbuilt.
So, note -- the selection of an entirely arbitrary figure for reduced vehicle trips that fails to account for the universal worldwide experience that paving drives driving -- that when you build more capacity, driving increases.
In short, taking this approach will enable us to (1) demonstrate fairly and conservatively the independent need for highway improvements even assuming a significant increase in the use of non-auto modes in the peak hours of operation;
In other words, we know we need a third bridge because we decided that a long time ago --- all that remains is jiggering the assumptions as needed to show "the independent need for highway improvements."

Note the one thing that none of the models used in these studies include: The price of gasoline and the global carbon dioxide concentration (which will, as it increases, necessititate ever more difficult measures to ameliorate all the prior investments in "business as usual" by the Highway Department").

And that's the key here, and the reason that this project will likely be derailed by a lawsuit if it keeps going down the path it's on now: the project team has refused to consider the effect of this spectactular and wasteful greenhouse generating project on the state's climate emission reduction goals.

Since the federal government is tiptoeing up to the unpleasant realization that CO2 is actually a pollutant that puts the environment at risk, one of these auto-bridge projects (the Columbia River Crossing megabridge or this one in Salem) is likely to serve as a perfect test case to force the State Highway Department to stop ignoring the rapidly mounting evidence that emissions have to come down radically.

So, as you're enjoying your $5 million budget cuts in Salem in 2009/10, take a moment to appreciate the high-priced consulting you're helping buy, to design a project that can never be built.
Dear Task Force and Oversight Team:

As we continue to work on the Salem River Crossing Draft EIS, we want to keep you apprised of recent developments and schedule highlights.

1. The Draft EIS is currently in the impacts analysis phase, which will result in a series of detailed technical reports. Over the summer and into the fall, we will write the Draft EIS itself, with agency review taking place during the remainder of the year. We are hoping to publish the Draft EIS in January next year (2010).

2. We expect to have at least one meeting each with the Task Force and Oversight Team in late summer or early fall to give you a summary of the technical reports and a preview of the Draft EIS. In the mean time, please watch for periodic email updates on the progress of the Draft EIS. (These will go to the general public too.)

3. We have finalized the approach to transit/TSM/TDM in the Draft EIS and would like to share that with you. Please see the attached memo from Dan Fricke and Julie Warncke, as well as the two background memos with further details.

4. We have made some minor updates to the project web site (including updating the information on schedule and the transit/TSM/TDM approach). We are currently making some minor adjustments to the graphics of the alternatives and will post those within the next month.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. Thank you.

A distorted view of population declines

Prof. Bob Park of the U. of Maryland and former president of the professional physicists' group, the American Physical Society, makes a good point about the hysteria that growth-is-good advocates are trying to whip up about population stabilization and (horrors!) declines:
Demographic experts warn that population decline in Russia could have serious economic consequences. It’s the same growth-is-good bullshit that always comes from the Chamber of Commerce. Russia's neighbors, Norway, Finland and Sweden, have the highest standards of living in the world and small populations. Afghanistan, on the other hand, which is not exactly a tourist Mecca, has a fertility rate above 7, the highest in the world.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gone fishin' is just a phrase -- now they go phishing for your data

Are you aware of how sophisticated phishing has become? Phishing is a play on the word "fishing" of course, only these predators don't just bait a hook and wait -- they use incredibly good technique to bring the fish (that's you, or your spouse, or kids, or . . . ) to them and to tease out some private data.

Check out this test from Consumer Reports to help you learn to spot phishermen trying to clean you out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The phases of all boondoggle projects

Seen here, aimed at Portland's decision to use public money to build sports stadia, but certainly applicable to many other projects, such as the "Willamette River Crossing" (3rd bridge fantasy):
There are two phases to any project:
Phase 1 - It's too early to tell.
Phase 2 - It's too late to stop.

Should be part of every school year

Starting at Kindergarten and continuing through post-grad.

Probably too little, too late, but it's immoral to give up without trying

I just sent an email to my state legislators letting them know we can't afford to compromise on establishing a legal limit on global warming pollution this year. Would you take a minute to do the same thing?

Just point your web browser to and fill out the form!

By the way, here's where your health care money goes

(click to enlarge)


Nice column in the Statesman-Journal noting Finland's success in education, which shows the bankruptcy of the standardized test model that the USA has been inflicting since the corporations seized the opportunity presented by "The Nation at Risk" hysteria during the Reagan years. Quantcast

Visitors to Finland in search of its educational secrets discover relaxed, cooperative classrooms, strong early emphasis on math, science and languages — physics and chemistry in middle school, and proficiency in Finnish, English and Swedish by the seventh grade — and high-quality, creative teaching.

Americans notice particularly the absence of some favorite [US] strategies: early childhood education (Finnish kids start school at age 7), restrictive rules (no tardy bells, no school uniforms), continuous standardized testing (high school students don't even experience standardized tests until they take exit exams at age 18.)

Salem--like everywhere in the US--desperately needs to rethink our educational approach. Instead, we apply the same approach to our collapsing educational institutions that we do to dealing with sprawl, thinking that, if we just do it more, this time we'll get a different result.

Nice timing for this column to get us thinking about education: Coming up at Salem Cinema, starting Friday, April 10.

Memo to Salem's Downtown Redevelopment folks

You're doing it wrong. The only groceries available near all Salem's new condos and apartments are beer and cigarettes. As a public health matter, Salem needs to focus on bringing a greengrocer downtown. We subsidize parking for cars like crazy, building them entire multi-story buildings. Why shouldn't we take some of that money and spend it on improving public health instead?

VICTORIA — Want to lose weight? Move closer to a grocery store.

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows people who live within a kilometre of a grocery store are half as likely to be overweight, compared to those living in neighbourhoods without grocery stores.

The study shows that old-style urban planning that mixes retail with residential zones gets people out of their cars, onto the sidewalks, and helps them keep their weight down.

And if one grocery store is good, two or more is even better, the report released Monday showed.

Researchers found that every additional store within a kilometre translated into an 11 per cent reduction in the likelihood of being overweight.

"People have to access food," said study author Lawrence Frank. "It's a marker for other commercial uses, as well, so it's not just grocery stores that matter."

About 620 people over the age of 15 participated in the study: 576 from the Lower Mainland and 131 from Vancouver Island.

The study measured physical activity and body mass, along with proximity to retail and commercial buildings.

The research found that people walked more often when they lived in neighbourhoods with good street lighting, continuous sidewalks, and a variety of shops, services, schools, parks and workplaces within walking distance.

The study also linked body mass to urban design, showing that people who live in suburb-style neighbourhoods that force them to drive to the store makes them more likely to be overweight.

"None of this is new," Frank said. "What is new is we have a better understanding of how much (urban-development patterns) are affecting us, and the results support more of the traditional approach to building communities."

The study found that people whose neighbourhoods includes stores that front directly onto a sidewalk — rather than those where a parking lot separates the store from the sidewalk — were half as likely to be overweight as those living in neighbourhoods without sidewalk-front stores.

"People don't like walking through a sea of cars," Frank said. "It's not a friendly space."

Book on building community from the ground up

THE GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD BOOK: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Placemaking

by Jay Walljasper and the Project for Public Places
2007; 192 pages; 8.5" x 7.5"; paperback; ISBN: 0-86571-581-5

Catherine Nicosia, Community Bookshelf Manager (Fellowship for Intentional Communities):

The willful destruction of public life in modern times has been so stupendous that real effort must be made to restore it. This includes especially the actual places where it might thrive. It is not unusual to find streets, roads, parks, and other common spaces where there is no one out and about at all, except in automobiles. This is true in both both urban and rural areas.

The Great Neighborhood Book offers realistic ways to change this situation. It is a how-to guide for individuals, groups and local communities on how to improve the quality of life through building shared bonds. It is also full of ideas for creating great places to hang out, fostering economic vitality by creating local marketplaces, supporting social networks and much more. Drawing heavily upon real-life examples in both large and small communities that made a measurable positive difference, the authors blend practicality and inspiration.

I was particularly impressed in reading this book by how many of the examples and suggestions could be incorporated into thinking about the design of new places as well the remaking of existing ones. This makes The Great Neighborhood Book a valuable resource for those crafting new common spaces, wherever they might be. Highly recommended for everyone wanting to live in great places that are created from the community up, not top down.

Another good argument for creating a public utility district for Salem

From Citizens Utility Board of Oregon:
Executive Compensation and Corporate Bailouts have been in the national news recently, but they are also a local issue. Many folks may have seen Steve Duin's column in the Oregonian concerning recent controversy over PGE's Executive Compensation. What many readers may not be aware of is that PGE hopes to be bailed out for its lost profits during the current recession. And this bail out is going to come from ratepayers, in the form of a surcharge on our electric bills, not the government.

Like nearly all businesses in the country, PGE is seeing its retail sales fall. Unlike nearly all other businesses, however, PGE may get to make up its lost profits during this recession by tacking them onto our future electric bills. But that is not all - because of the design of the bail out, PGE will actually get to recover more than its lost profits.

This means that when a small business lays off an employee, PGE sees its profits increase. A house that is vacant and on the market for months also increases PGE's profits.

These are the results of a little-noticed PUC decision in January that granted PGE a decoupling mechanism. The theory behind decoupling is to "decouple" the link between a utility's profits and the volume of electricity the utility sells. According to the theory, by eliminating this link, utilities should be more interested in investing in energy efficiency. Because energy efficiency is a cheaper resource than investing in new power plants and reduces electric bills, decoupling should lead to lower costs for customers.

In theory, decoupling sounds good, and the amount of lost profits due to energy efficiency improvements is relatively small. But because decoupling looks at the lost profits due to a reduction in load, it has a much bigger impact during a recession. During a recession, as economic activity falls, demand for electricity falls at a rate that is greater than can be caused by even the most aggressive energy efficiency programs. In the last recession, PGE's one-year reduction in load was more than 8 times greater than we would expect from energy efficiency programs.

The PUC established this new mechanism for PGE's residential and commercial customers with a two-year trial period. The PUC also ruled that any surcharge to make up for lost profits should be no more than 2% per year. But if the lost profits exceed this cap, that excess amount will simply roll over and be charged to customers in the following year. PGE calls this practice a "circuit breaker"; we call it an installment loan.

The current recession is proving to be much worse than the last recession. Unemployment in Oregon reached 11.9% in February, more than double where it was a few months ago. This is much worse than the 8.8% peak unemployment during the last recession in 2002-03. And few economists believe that we have reached bottom yet.

With the decoupling roll-over provision in place, PGE customers are going to be paying for this mechanism for several years. If small commercial customers see load decreases similar to the 2002-03 recession, there will be a surcharge for 3 years. But we know this recession is worse. Based on the strength of this recession, the surcharge could last 5 or more years.

The problem with this decoupling mechanism isn't limited to the number of years that we will be paying for it; we will also be overpaying PGE for their lost profits under this mechanism. When a customer uses less electricity than PGE forecasted, PGE gets to sell that saved electricity into the wholesale market. So, the financial loss to PGE can never be more than the difference between the wholesale electricity price (which PGE gets from selling the saved power) and the retail rate (which PGE would not get because the customer did not use the forecasted amount of electricity).

In recent years, the difference between the price of wholesale electricity and PGE's retail rates has been has been about 3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). This means that PGE loses 3 cents for every kWh that its customers do not purchase. PGE's decoupling mechanism, however, pays them 4.6 cents/kWh. Next time you drive by a vacant house or vacant storefront, consider this: PGE is losing about 3 cents for every kWh that would have been used in that house or store, but customers will have to reimburse the company 4.6 cents (plus interest) for each kWh.

Decoupling is not a terrible idea. CUB supported decoupling experiments for electric utilities in the 1990s, but found that decoupling mechanisms had no positive effect on a utility's level of support for energy efficiency programs. Utility investment in energy efficiency actually declined while the utilities were decoupled.

More recently, decoupling proved to be successful for natural gas utilities in Oregon during the 1990s. CUB learned from these experiments, and when natural gas utilities wanted decoupling, we demanded that the decoupling mechanism be directly tied to additional energy efficiency investments. Our proposal was the basis for decoupling mechanism for NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas. If these utilities cut their energy efficiency investment, they will automatically lose their decoupling mechanisms. In addition, it should be noted that a recession doesn't have the same impact on a natural gas utility that it has on an electric utility.

Last week, CUB made a filing with the PUC asking them to suspend PGE's decoupling mechanism until the current recession is over. We are asking the PUC to fix the mechanism so customers aren't required to overpay PGE for reductions in load when it resumes after the recession. Finally, if the Commission is unwilling to suspend decoupling until the end of the recession, we are asking them to make the 2% rate cap, a hard cap with no roll-over. Under this scenario, PGE would still make about $35 million off this mechanism, without having to commit a dime to additional energy efficiency. (That's bad policy, but better than allowing them to make $50 or $70 or $100 million off of decoupling with no energy efficiency investments).

Finally, we note that decoupling was implemented for an electric utility just as the economy was heading into a recession once before. It was in Maine in the early 1990s. The Maine PUC implemented decoupling for Central Maine Power, and within two years customers owed the utility $52 million. Because of this experience, decoupling is no longer seen as a useful tool in Maine.

Is Oregon going to make the same mistake as Maine, or are we wise enough to correct this mistake before ratepayers spend millions to bail out PGE.
Decoupling -- removing the utility incentive to sell more power as the way to make more money -- is fine, but the devil is in the details. Allowing the utility to reap extra profit from the drop in power sales due to the Great Recession is like giving the Rooster extra chow for the brilliant sunrise -- it's rewarding someone for something they had nothing to do with bringing about.

The bottom line is that Oregon suffers greatly compared to its neighbor to the north, where public power districts -- citizen-owned nonprofit power companies -- are much more prevalent. PGE's latest shenanigans (a sweet multimillion dollar sendoff for a 57-year old CEO while plenty of people in Oregon are facing utility shutoff notices) only points out again that we should never expect anything better from a private power company until we take them over and run them for everyone's benefit, rather than just the benefit of the stockholders.

Public power really took off in the Great Depression -- the current return of those hard times would be an excellent time to finish the job and get rid of private power entirely. We are going to be faced with some very difficult challenges in the next few years; getting a grip on climate is going to require a lot more than most people realize. The only way we're going to get through these times successfully is if the power companies can forget the profits of stockholders and worry about the well-being of Oregon, rather than paying lip service to the well-being of Oregon and actually only caring about the profits of stockholders.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Warning: We will get the future we've prepared for

Rather than the one we simply hope for. Dmitry Orlov says it well:

It seems commonsense to accept this reversion to norm as natural, and to strive to have enough of whatever we are going to need, be it tools for working leather, a stock of paraffin, seeds, fishing tackle, and a myriad of other similar items that comprised the pre-industrial survival kit. The last thing we should want to do is to throw these things away at first sign of economic distress and for trivial reasons. And yet that seems to be the prevailing pattern. . . .

[I]n general, there is a lack of effort to save things. We are making an effort to save financial institutions, which are the ultimate ephemera of industrial civilization, and are absolutely guaranteed to have no reason to continue into a future in which debt, denominated in future earnings that will be meager at best, and money, which will only hold its value for as long as it guarantees access to sources of pure, concentrated energy, all steadily dwindle to nothing. It is as if the doctors decided to only try to save persistent vegetative quadriplegics with terminal cancer, or if the environmentalists decided that the endangered species list only has room for one animal: the vampire bat. It would make much more sense to try to save small businesses, such as family businesses that serve local communities, because there is a good chance that they will find a use in the future, or at least facilitate the transition. Instead, we are squandering the remaining resources on the various dinosaurs of the industrial age.

Excellent blog: The Infrastructurist

If you want to understand the (often self-inflicted) challenges Salem will face in the new reality of scarce energy and economic woe, there's a great blog for you: The Infrastructurist.

Here are two great sample items to start you off:

James Howard Kunstler: Investing in Infrastructure for An Age of Scarcity

Christopher Leinberger: How to Save the Suburbs: Solutions from the man who saw the whole thing coming

Great argument for killing your TV

The amazingly good Joe Bageant, author of "Deer Hunting with Jesus."

What's this got to do with Salem? Everything -- escaping the hive mind fashioned by corporate controlled TV (and don't kid yourself for a second that PBS is some big exception) is the first step to recognizing the importance of making your own place the place you truly inhabit, rather than merely occupy while you received coded messages about what to think from the corporate programmers.

Remember, why do you think they call it "programming"? Or, as Joe puts it,

Television is the software, the operating instructions for our society.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Monday, April 6: Speak out against foolish development

THIS IS IT FOLKS--this is where the rubber hits the road -- WE NEED YOU to come to the hearing on Monday.

First and most important, we need a great showing next Monday, April 6 -- the more people who can come and fill up the audience the better. Please bring a friend.

I posted the wrong time we need everyone to arrive between 6 and 6:30 p.m. So note NEW TIME: 6-6:30 p.m.

Anyone who has sent an email or written a letter to the Mayor and Council please send a copy to me so we can have it for the record.

Those who have not yet written their emails or letters of support, please do so ASAP and email or send it to me before Monday.

Lora Meisner 1347 Spyglass Court SE Salem, OR 97306 503-588-6924

Vital Knowledge

The Oregon State University Ag Extension Service provides you this important -- maybe lifesaving -- information. From that main page are a bunch of others with more great stuff. Here's a nice example of good service to the community:
Container Gardening

If you lack space for a garden, consider raising vegetables in containers. You can grow any vegetable in a container with enough preparation and care.

Start by finding a container large enough to support fully grown plants and with adequate soil-holding capacity to accommodate the plant's root system. The container must have drainage holes.

You can grow vegetables in almost anything, including barrels, flower pots, milk jugs, bleach bottles, window boxes, baskets, tile pipes and cinder blocks. For most plants, containers should be at least 6 inches deep

A fairly lightweight potting soil is the best growing medium for container plants. Garden soil is too heavy for container growing. Most commercially sold potting mixes are too lightweight for garden plants because they don't offer adequate support for plant roots.

If you buy a potting mix, add soil or compost to provide bulk and weight. Or mix your own with equal parts peat moss or well-rotted compost; loamy garden soil; and clean, coarse builder's sand. Add a slow-acting, balanced fertilizer (slow-release synthetic or organic fertilizers work best) according to container size. Add lime to bring the mixture's pH to around 6.5.

The ideal vegetables for containers are those that take little space, such as carrots, radishes, lettuce, and parsley or those that yield produce over a long period of time such as tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and eggplants.

When planting, first carefully clean out the container, then fill it to within 12 inch of the top with slightly dampened soil mix. Sow the seeds or set transplants. Gently water the soil with warm water, taking care not to wash out the seeds. Label each container with the name and variety of plant and planting date. When seedlings have two or three leaves, thin them for proper spacing between plants.

Water container plants whenever the soil feels dry. Apply water until it begins to run out of the container's drain holes.

Container plants need more fertilizer than plants in regular gardens because the frequent watering constantly leaches fertilizer minerals out of the soil. For best results, start a feeding program for container plants 2 months after planting. Use a water-soluble fertilizer at its recommended rate of application every 2 to 3 weeks.

An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to container soil. Do not add more than the recommended rate of any fertilizer. Too much can harm plant roots.

Watch for and control plant insect pests. (See story on insect pests.) Place containers where they will receive maximum sunlight and good ventilation. During periods of high temperatures and bright sunshine, move the containers into shade during the hottest part of the day. Shelter plants from severe rain, hail, and wind storms.

The versatility and mobility of a container garden allow you to grow a wider variety of vegetable plants over a longer time span than the usual spring/summer/fall growing period. By starting your garden indoors in the spring, moving it outdoors for the summer and then back indoors in the fall for frost protection, you can use nearly every growing day.

And this great book -- available at Tea Party Bookstore in Salem! -- has great instructions for making Self-Watering Containers, for the busy, the absent-minded (and for those of us who are just lazy and want to grow more food with less work)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Two important films @ Salem Progressive Film Series for April 2009

The Salem Progressive Film Series presents a double feature: Contaminated Without Consent and Toxic Bust

Thursday, April 9, 2009
Doors Open at 6:15 PM
Film Starts at 7 PM
$3. Adults/$2. Students
At The Grand Theater in Downtown Salem-191 High Street NE

Contaminated Without Consent

examines the scientific foundations for concern and the implications for human health from widespread contamination of toxic chemicals. Scientific studies link chemicals frequently found in consumer products to obesity, diabetes, birth defects, asthma, cancer, learning disabilities, and other health impacts. The video empowers viewers to take action in support of common- sense solutions and urgently needed government reforms that will protect families, homes, and the environment from toxic chemicals.

Toxic Bust

is a thought-provoking documentary that explores the relationship between breast cancer and exposure to toxic chemicals. The film focuses on three breast cancer "hot spots," (Cape Cod MA, The SF bay area, and workers in Silicon Valley) to explore more fully the connection between cancer and chemical exposure in the household, community, and workplace.

Guest Speakers & Audience Q & A to Follow

Dr. Sue Koger is a professor at Willamette University. Her scholarship focuses on the effects of toxicants such as pesticides on brain development and function, and the role of psychology in environmental studies. She is also a member of Salem Citizen’s for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Dr. Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis is the environmental health program director for the Oregon Environmental Council where she works to develop and promote policies and projects that protect children from toxic pollution, and to strengthen collaborative relationships with health professionals.

For more information:

Feed a car, starve a person

Given this reality:
Sharon Astyk: The only way we are likely to avoid massive world hunger in the coming decades is to cease having human beings, their pets and their cars compete with the world’s poor for human food - more than half the world’s population mostly eats grains in their most basic form. The same half of the world’s population spends 50-90% of their income on food - so while increased demand for meat or biofuels may merely inconvenience, as the price of food goes up, for other people it is the difference between life and death. And human life is not something you play games with. As much as we like meat, eating meat that has eaten 8 lbs of human-edible grain and helped increase the price is not ok. Milk and eggs raise the same difficulties.

Salem's efforts to help force biofuels into gas tanks -- to help turn land away from growing food for people and toward growing food for cars -- are immoral.

Protip: Using tags

By the way, in case you haven't tried it, if you find a post you particularly like (or, I suppose, hate) you can find more like it by clicking on any of the tag words (labels) at the bottom of the post -- that will instantly call up a list of other posts that have that same tag.

The Salem Funky Chicken

Only funky because the City Council is making this "chicken dance" all much harder than necessary.

Since hens were legal in Salem until the 70s, logic suggests that someone in the City ought to be able to explain what problems caused them to be banned -- except that logic had nothing to do with it. The hens got caught up in an ordinance change intended to ban real livestock -- like cows and horses -- from Salem residential areas, where they were present in the first place because Salem went on an annexation craze and brought some pretty rural areas into the city limits.

Ah well, seems like we'll eventually get there. After all, the City Manager touted the City's habit of "benchmarking" against other cities policies and procedures when responding to a citizen question at the budget "town hall meetings" recently. And any serious benchmarking effort would show that urban hens are both very successful and very popular in countless cities, from small, pretty rural towns to large, urban hypercities like New York and Chicago, and in many mid-sized cities very much like Salem. Eventually the City Council will have to stop giving a veto over this benign practice to the handful of fearmongers who imagine a parade of horrible consequences from hens while ignoring all the evidence of successful urban hens in all those other cities.