The Most Important Graph in the World

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Should this idea fly? Or at least go to the airport?

Sunlit Holland IImage by Bill Liao via Flickr

Thinking about countries like Holland (and Japan) today, and how they make maximal use of every square inch of land, which they have fought to reclaim from the North Sea for so many centuries. One image that always stays in my mind is the picture of Dutch airports and highways, which seem to be commonly used for agriculture.

Then I thought about the huge footprint of the Salem (McNary) Airport, much of which is essentially idle land right now.

Is there anyone interested in making a run at the airport folks about establishing community gardens and maybe even some small animal husbandry at the airport? It seems like (pending soil testing to ensure pollutants are not an issue) that it would be a great location -- close enough central location so that plenty of people could bike/walk/bus or drive to it, plenty of room for garden sheds/tool storage, lots of sun, etc. No problems with noise, obviously; few close-by neighbors; and a nice way to make productive use of currently not-too-well-used land.

With land being the critical issue for would-be farmers and small growers, what about making better use of land we already have?
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The future of local transport in Salem

Great stuff. And MORE great stuff. Like this serious work bike. Lots more at the links.

Addicted to plastic

One more reminder.

PDX congestion dropped 1/3 in 2008 -- bigger bridge desperately needed!

If they don't build that 12-lane monstrosity, how will they ever get the congestion back to where it should be??? (Meaning the level that justifies endless paving for the Road Gang.)

Of course, the same is true for Salem: Congestion is dropping fast. But we're just too small to measure. But Salem blowing $600M on an unneeded third auto bridge is at least as stupid as Portland blowing $4.2B on unneeded expansion of a bi-state bridge.

Speaking of why these bridges are totally the wrong direction, here's this insightful article on how ODOT is going to have to do a fast about-face once we admit that CO2 is a pollutant:

But if the Obama Administration moves forward to regulate greenhouse gases, that could all change -- whether or not EPA institutes cap-and-trade or any other new sort of climate policy.

How? The key lies in one of the wonkiest of all policy areas: "transportation conformity." The Clean Air Act says that the regional bodies that spend federal transportation dollars must write plans that "conform" to a state's clean air implementation plan (known by the cognoscenti as a "SIP"). So when these regional bodies dole out federal dollars, they must certify that these plans will ensure that the plans won't harm air quality (DOT must sign off after consulting with EPA). Building transportation projects means pollutants, but usually the transportation plans can adopt Transportation Control Measures ("TCM"s) to reduce these pollutants.

So what does that have to do with land use? So far, nothing. But that is only because the pollutants that federal law cares about are so-called "criteria" pollutants: particulates, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, etc.

If, however, EPA decides that carbon dioxide is also a criteria pollutant -- which it probably will -- then that means transportation plans must also fit in under state limits on carbon dioxide emissions. And that might transform federal transportation policy, because reducing carbon dioxide, far more than any other pollutant, means reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled. And reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled means changing land use patterns.

This is all complex and contingent, and the reason why lawyers (some, at least) get paid the big bucks. But to go through the motions again:

1. If EPA regulates carbon dioxide, then state implementation plans will have to show how they will reduce carbon emissions.

2. If state plans aim to reduce carbon emissions, then transportation plans will have to "conform" to them.

3. If transportation plans must conform to them, then these plans will have to show how they will reduce vehicle miles traveled.

4. In order to reduce vehicle miles traveled, land use patterns are going to have to change: they will have to be more compact, and rely more on transit.

What about those local governments that control land use? Why should they care? Because if they don't, then they won't get federal money for their transportation projects. And that will mean a lot to them.

Nine (missed) meals away from anarchy

This is why things like turning lawns into gardens and raising hens in urban areas matter. A lot.

Nine meals from anarchy?

Richard Cornish meets the man known as the Al Gore of food security.

HE LOOKS more like a genial uncle than a harbinger of doom, but the UK Soil Association's Patrick Holden visited Australia recently to deliver a sobering message. . . . Sometimes referred to as the Al Gore of food security, Holden warned that if the west doesn't focus on shoring up food security it could leave itself open to a food crisis.

"Think of the global credit crises," he says. "Well, in 10 to 15 years we could see something similar happen with food, a sort of global food crunch. This would have far worse consequences than this financial crises ... In just a few generations we have burned almost all our reserves of fossil fuel and pumped the gas into the atmosphere."

Holden refers to the fact that almost all the food in the Western world is grown using oil. Tractors and harvesters run on diesel, chemical pesticides are made from oil; fertilisers are either made directly from oil or mined from rapidly diminishing mineral reserves.

He also describes a global food production and distribution system that uses oil to transport food not only around the world but within national borders.

"We rely so much on oil for our food that if something were to disrupt that supply, such as a political incident like we saw recently when Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe this winter, terrorism or war, then our food stocks would run out.

"We must also consider that we have reached peak oil production and it's just going to get more expensive from now on."

A report by the Soil Association refers to the 2000 fuel protest that brought London to within three days of running out of food. The first head of the Blair government Countryside Agency, Lord Cameron of Dillington, came back with a chilling report: "The nation is just nine meals from anarchy."

Holden wants governments around the world to tackle what he calls an "emergency in the wings".

"I look around Sydney and it's obvious. The city has engulfed so much arable land, its farming land and now the food has to come from so much further away. It's the same for all Australian cities."

He says governments should consider putting plans in place to achieve sustainable agriculture that doesn't rely on oil and chemical fertilisers, and to grow staples close to where people live.

He points to organic farming not just as a way of farming sustainably, but also of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. "Our practice of using nitrogen fertilisers is oxidising our soils," he says.

"The nitrogen burns the carbon and this goes up into the atmosphere as CO2."

When asked if his claims might just be a way of scaring people onto the organic bandwagon, he says: "I am not apocalyptic. But yes, I want to see more people farming organically. What is at stake is our health and the future of the next generation."

Holden sees a need for a bottom-up movement where people put pressure on governments to address food security. . . .