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A new transmission project—the Atlantic Wind Connection— 

has the potential to transform offshore wind power along the Mid-Atlantic States in the United States. Google and Good Energies, a New York financial and investment firm, have agreed to heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone along the Atlantic seaboard.

Basically, the project involves building a 350-mile undersea water cable system that will carry electricity generated from offshore wind farms to shore. A slightly more technical examination reveals that underwater electricity transmission is different than onshore transmission, notably because it uses direct-current in place of alternating current (what we use when we plug our phone chargers into the wall). Alternating current doesn’t do well in long enclosed cables so the project necessarily has to use direct-current, which makes things slightly more difficult. Direct-current runs point-to-point—or one way only—meaning that the 350-mile cable system is really a series of links between substations build on platforms that sit in the ocean. These substations will need to be hurricane proof and will need to be large enough to moor a boat for technicians arriving to make repairs.

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Over the past two weeks I’ve written blog posts on a new proposed fuel economy standard and on the importance of dynamic national transportation policy. Both blogs briefly touched on the need for alternative forms of transportation—from increasingly relying on electric and hybrid cars to reduce emissions (and increase fuel economy) to strengthening non-highway forms of moving people and capital. But how can it be accomplished?

This video describes the efforts of the municipal government of Malmo, Sweden to increase bike ridership in their city. Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden (population 290,000) and for the past four years has been working to get its population away from their cars and on to their bikes. Their campaign “No Ridiculous Car Trips” aims to point out the ridiculousness of using a car for trips under 5 kilometers.

I’m curious if such a campaign would work in my own city of Washington DC, which has been putting in more bike lanes on busy roads. Of course, Malmo has over 250 miles of dedicated bike paths which makes it easier for the campaign to point out the convenience of biking. Is this a chicken or the egg question? To encourage more biking, do cities have to add bike lanes? Or do more people have to bike to push cities into creating bike lanes?

If bicycling doesn’t seem quiet an alternative enough a mode of transportation to driving, then check out the Human Monorail. It’s a recumbent bicycle encased in plastic tube that would allow people to bicycle along a track high above the traffic. The idea comes from an adventure ride in New Zealand, where two people inside the tubes race against each other along parallel tracks. However, Google has recently invested one million dollars with Schweeb, the company that owns the ride, as a part of its Project 10^100. The project began two years ago when Google asked for submissions for ideas and projects that would change the world by helping as many people as possible. One of the final ideas selected was to “drive innovation in public transportation.” Other winning ideas include “make educational content available online for free”, “enhance science and engineering education”, “make government more transparent”, and “provide quality education to African students”.  The following is a short video announcing the winning ideas and institutions, which includes some great video of the human monorail so make sure to check it out.

There are, of course, questions about how the human monorail would work in the urban environment it’s designed to serve. How would people get up hills without causing a traffic jam? What happens if there’s a slow person in front of you? What kind of capacity could the system really handle? Is it safe? Can the pod derail and fall down onto the street (and into traffic)? Schweeb answers all these questions and more on their FAQ page and seems to have really through their system through.

The only question that remains for me is when can I ride one?

This past Sunday was 10/10/10.  Not only is this date celebrated by people who think the date is cool, by numerologists who think the date holds universal significance, and environmentalists who choose the date for a world wide day of climate action.

7347 events in 188 countries took place on Sunday to take community actions like planting community gardens, installing solar panels, and cleaning up parks.  This year’s event beat 350.org’s record of 5200 events in 181 countries, making it the biggest day of action in history.  Some sites have called the global climate movement the biggest social movement in history.  This comes as a contrast to the heads of state response to climate change, which is tepid at best. Climate change is a unifying theme that affects the entire globe, and this past Sunday showed that.

Bill McKibbon, renowned author and founder of 350.org said of the event “Politicians may still be debating climate change, but citizens are getting to work solving it.” With the upcoming elections in the US, it is more important than ever to recognize the reality of climate change and to demand action from our public officials that matches the commitment of the global community.

Check out some of the amazing photos from all around the world at 350.org!

Here is a clip of Ray from Power of One discussing why joining together for action is important for everyone and youth in particular: 

 

Last week a bipartisan panel of transportation experts, co-chaired by two formed Secretaries of Transportation—Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel K. Skinner—released a report that warned that the United States’ current transportation system is woefully underfunded, which undermines its status in the global economy. The report, issued on behalf of over 80 transportation experts, continued to argue that unless Congress and a the public embrace innovation and increased spending, the United States will continue to lag further and further behind China, Russia, and European nations leading to “a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.”

The report followed from a 2009 conference titled “Beyond Stimulus: Toward a New Transportation Agenda for America.” The conference, also co-chaired by Secretaries Mineta and Skinner, gathered to facilitate original and necessary thinking about the financing, governance, and management of the United States’ transportation infrastructure. The authors of the report point to the recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Interstate Highway System, an achievement that revolutionized the nation, as a stark contrast to the current state of the nation’s ability to support economic growth. Without a vital and fully functioning transportation system, moving goods—a necessary part of economic activity—cannot occur.

The authors argue that before the recession, bottlenecks in all transportation modes were beginning to compromise America’s global competitiveness. This problem has not be solved in the intervening years and can only hinder recovery efforts. However, these problems cannot be solved with traditional methods of transportation funding. While revenue from federal and state gas taxes mostly paid for the construction and expansion of the Interstate Highway System, new methods are required. To truly create an efficient, scalable, and state-of-the-art transportation system, a fundamental overhaul of America’s transportation policies and programs is needed.

In a Washington Post article, Secretary Skinner argued new funding for infrastructure should be looked at as “an investment, not an expense.”

The makes several recommendations for policies and programs to improve infrastructure:

  • Increasing the federal gas tax, which has remained at 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993 (revenues have decreased as fuel efficiency has increased).
  • Taxing Americans per mile they drive
  • Empower state and local governments with the authority to make more decisions
  • Continue the development of high-speed rail systems and better integrate them with freight rail
  • Expand alternative transportation policies rather than rely on highways alone for the transportation of people and goods
  • Encourage “livable communities” by encouraging good land-use practices that discourage single-occupant commuters. These “livable communities” would be conductive to walking and other forms of transportation, such as biking and public transportation, to reduce congestion and other traffic problems.

However, the report notes that good transportation policy does not have high priority in Congress or in local politics. The most recent authorization for the Department of Transportation’s surface transportation programs was signed into law two years late. Congress is currently a year and a half late in reauthorizing aviation programs. And efforts to move a new six-year federal transportation plan stalled recently after the previous one expired last year.

What do you think—for something so important to our everyday lives, why hasn’t transportation policy taken front and center in the political arena?

 By José Reymondez
José is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about José below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Climate change is everyone’s problem. Natural disasters or subtle shifts in season can ruin lives. Even for those whose lives aren’t ruined, the domino effect of globalization can bring harm into their lives too. Young people should care more; they have the most chance of seeing its harmful effects. Of course some still distance themselves from the issue. Apathy and denial are easy.
 
The student is a young person with an advantage. They’re rational adults who don’t have to work yet. They can educate themselves about and then dedicate their time to climate change where perhaps others their age don’t understand, have time or care. Students have the time and knowledge to transcend self-interest and find the nobility in working on a cause that the randomness of life may not have brought in to their personal lives.
 
People in power can deny climate change, be wrong and then get away with it because they will be dead before a rise in sea level or slew of hurricanes razes their vacation homes. Students need to pressure their governments. Climate change needs to be dealt with multilaterally. States, especially the US, have the most leverage to push carbon emissions standards or encourage alternate energy sources. If the US feels the will of their youth from within, that an active voting block wants regulation, then they will be more willing to lobby the rest of the world.
 
At more of a grassroots level, young people can normalize energy-saving behavior in to their culture. Shutting off lights when they’re not being used can be made as taboo as not washing one’s hands was made when modern sanitation was introduced.
 
Most of all students can tell the truth, join the debate and tell people climate change is real, don’t let the deniers win.

José Reymóndez is a candidate for, an M.A. candidate for a degree in International Affairs with a concentration in development. He is fascinated by the political economic issues surrounding and hopefully solutions to climate change. He often wonders why something as simple as maintaining the one thing every living thing needs, the earth and its environment, somehow doesn’t seem to be going as well as it could. He is a native New Yorker and pack leader of two adopted dogs, one black and one brown.

By Nadia Elkaddi
Nadia is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Nadia below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Dick York: Betty, the next time you remove the pages from my calendar, don’t throw them away.

Betty: What should I do with them?

Dick York: Use them. [showing a calendar page]. See makes perfectly good scratch paper. [Laughter]

Betty: No! I won’t cry. He’ll say I’m wasting water!

For those who were never informed by their baby-boomer parents, Dick York was stars of the hit show Bewitched. This particular episode, filmed in 1967, shows the crazy antics of Dick York who was bewitched to be cheap. Now, 43 years later, his words would not be laughed at and his actions would not be considered “cheap.” Oh how the tides have changed! We should thank our parents for that! 

But, on second thought, what have we, as their offspring’s, done?  Yes, perhaps some of us, who could afford them, are buying those Priuses instead of the Hummers- probably because these are bankrupting us at the gas stations. We’ve also started those chapters of SEA, but the question remains: are we really making progress?  I still know people who take their car all of three blocks to go food shopping, and others who walk out of the room without turning the lights off.  We have been advised it’s better to obey the energy saving tips of our elders, but we’re still uncreative in our attempts to come up with innovative ideas of our own. Maybe it is because we are still unaware of how destructive our current ways to the environment. Coal, the fuel for most power plants, is burning at an alarming rate, generating the second largest stream of industrial waste, and churning out heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Freon, the cooling liquid found in refrigerators and car air conditioning units releases chemicals into the air that have found to be an agent in the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere. Dwindling fossil fuels, notwithstanding, where are then the protests? Where is the uproar needed to prod the creative minds to come up with a renewable and safer energy? Are you there Rachel Carson? It’s us, the new generation still dozing.

My name is Nadia Elkaddi. I am a pre-medical student currently attending Temple University, pursuing a degree in bioengineering, a biology minor and a certificate of specialization in Arabic. I became interested in climate change and alternative energies because of it’s basis in science, and truly believe in the power of the people. In 1968,  the students at the University of Paris launched a series of protests that launched a series of protests across the country; if they can do it, so can we!

By Moustafa Hassab-Allah
Moustafa is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Moustafa below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I dream of seeing my generation changing the world, I envision them as change makers rather than conformers. Climate change is not just a hot month in the summer, it is more catastrophic than we can imagine, probably because nature did not provide its final kick. Tsunamis, floods, iceberg meltdown are just cautionary events for what is bigger.

We – young people – should not wait for the disaster to happen then fight it, instead we can better avoid it. As some countries may declare a war on terrorism, Youth can also fight for a greater cause against the threat of climate change. Each young man and woman has the will and the power to change the environment around them , interest groups and organized target campaigns became classic.

Today is the time for online technology and social media to produce a great impact. Today has never been a better time for global collaboration against climate change; I noticed Canadian & Australian youth coalition against climate change. I believe that now it is time for world youth to put hands together and communicate globally against this serious challenge. Students can reach both elders and children, helping them to realize their responsibility towards the future of this planet. We can teach the elders about how to combat floods in case of emergency; this can be done virtually across the world. Through electronic media, we can launch radio and YouTube, channels, who knows what is next, through this, we can nurture our younger brothers and sisters to grow in a green society, the one who cares about the environment and has a belief that negative human activity harms our planet and will eventually harm organisms living on it.

My name is Moustafa Hassab-Allah. I go to Cairo University in Egypt (Engineering). I believe that we – Students- are able to fulfill a promise of clean sustainable energy. We are the biggest and the most impactful group of people around the globe. This is our time to change the world.

By David Klayton
David is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about David below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

How many times have you heard someone say that 20th century wars were fought over oil, but 21st century wars will be fought over water? Once should be enough—you’d better believe it.

Sure, it may be ten years into the 21st century. You could say that we’re still fighting wars over oil. But picture yourself—picture the world—in just fifteen years, when it is estimated that the world population hits 8 billion. Now picture yourself just twenty or so years beyond then, when we hit 9 billion. Fuse these images with images of populations all over the world with already extremely limited water sources, with images of industries sucking up water like the universe is made of it, with images of how much water you, personally, waste on a daily basis.

We, not only the youth of the United States of America, but the youth of the world, are the next politicians. We are the next congressmen and congresswomen, the next presidents of the United States, the next foreign heads of state. We are the next policymakers, those with the ability to protect our planet’s water.

We are the next diplomats. We are the next generation of those who will represent our nations. We will be communicating with others like ourselves from various nations about the global issue of water. We are the next scientists. We are those who will find ways to desalinate ocean water efficiently, those who will discover new ways to recycle water, those who will introduce and implement entirely new ways of even thinking about water.

Pardon the cliché, but we are the future.

My Name is David Klayton. I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia and I am now a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis. I went to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology with a particular interest in chemistry, but now I am majoring in anthropology and international studies. I switched from studying the hard sciences to humanities because I thought I’d be able to make more of an impact on the world by doing so, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so by analyzing the global issue of water.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation recently gave notice of upcoming joint rulemaking to establish 2017 and later model year light duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and CAFE standards. Though President Obama had previously announced an increase to an average fleet fuel efficiency standard of 35.5 mpg by 2016 in May 2009, the new standards aim to increase fleet fuel efficiency even higher – between 3% to 6% annually from 2017 to 2025. This annual increase would result in a fleet average of between 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.

If the most ambitious standard went forward (6% increase per year), the US could save up to 1.3 billion barrels of oil—more than two times as much oil as the US currently imports from Saudi Arabia each year. The higher standard would also save up to 580 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of 153 coal-fired power plants. Interestingly, only the 6% path (i.e. the possible future envisioned by the EPA with an annual 6% increase in fuel efficiency) depends on increased usage of electric cars, increased usage of hybrid vehicles, or other battery-dependent cars. With other nations—namely Japan, Germany, and China—heavily investing in hybrid vehicles, using a 3-5% increase in fuel millage could prove detrimental in American car sales in the future. Without the policy incentive for innovation, will American manufacturers be able to compete in an increasingly competitive market?

However, this increase in fuel standards will cost consumers. The EPA estimates that the per-vehicle cost increase for a 2025 vehicle will be between $770 (with a 3% annual increase) to $3,500 (with a 6% annual increase). However, they estimate that the improved fuel efficiency of the vehicles will lead to a relatively quick payback period to owners from savings on gasoline, between 1.4 and 4.2 years. While these costs and time periods may seem discouraging, a poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that 83% supported a 60 mpg fuel efficiency standard that cost $3000 with a payback period of four years.

It’s still too early to tell what will eventually make its way into law. This is, after all, only a notice of upcoming rulemaking. Next in the process is issuing a supplemental Notice of Intent in November, which will include an updated analysis of possible future standards. Before then, however, the EPA and Department of Transportation will be accepting comments—either in support of the new fuel standards or against. If you’d like to make your voice heard, submit any comments (making sure you identify your comments in regards to Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-0799 and/or NHTSA-2010-0131) by:

EPA:

Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460, AttentionDocket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0799.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration):

Docket Management Facility, M-30, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Rm. W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.

Below is from  Julia Rotondo:

Hi! This is Julia, the new Development and Environment Intern, writing. I’m a graduate student at American University studying global environmental policy with a focus on climate change. Because climate change is such an all-encompassing topic, I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me on it again, but I wanted to use today’s blog post to talk a bit about the connection between climate change and cities.

A first thought, it might seem that cities are the antithesis of everything environmentalists fight for; after all, most cities have few green spaces, have so much concrete that they’re often hotter than surrounding rural spaces, and consume massive amounts of resources and energy. However, a recent article from Michael Coren in The Guardian argues that cities are leading the way to a “low-carbon future.”

Coren writes:

“Cities have a unique power to drive immediate change involving issues such as public transportation, but they also can help influence prosaic long-term land use planning (think about all those interminable city council meetings) to realize truly sustainable cities. No futuristic visions of cities are needed. For now, the reality is more mundane: asphalt recycling and better insulation in buildings, timers for coffee makers and telecommuting, light sensors, and water conservation.”

The article also mentions that over 1,000 cities in the United State are working together to adopt greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Coren highlights the actions of Boston, MA (instituting a green building code for private projects), Gainsville, FL (the city pays a premium for solar power fed from private properties back into the grid), and Babylon, NY (where homeowners are eligible for loans to make their homes more energy efficient).

Curious to see what steps my own city (Washington, D.C) has made, I visited DC’s municipal website. After a bit of internet sleuthing, I foundgreen.dc.gov, a great resource for a comprehensive list of environmental issues and services in DC. The site features a mix of the small projects (a five cent tax on plastic bags to help fund the clean-up of the Potomac River) to large-scale climate change goals (Mayor Fenty’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020). Have you looked at what your town is doing?

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