Monday What's on the Web: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

One of the most observable effects of climate disruption is its affect on ice. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a web site that contains a lot of excellent data and easy to understand graphics that can shed light and help see the trends in snow and ice cover. A lot of the site is intended for use by scientists, which I am not, so sometimes it takes a little while to find the more easily accessible information. Here's some links to some of that:

Glacier Photograph Collection - Just what it says, a collection of photographs of glaciers, including a special collection of comparative photos taken years apart. These photos may be used by the public as long as credit is given to NSIDC.

The Sea Ice Index - Shows a daily picture of sea ice extent with comparison lines against the long-term average. By clicking on the "Sea Ice Trends in Extent" graph on the right (be sure to also change to daily view), you can get excellent graphics like this one.

Education Resources - For those who are wanting to learn more about snow and ice, there are some useful resources here, much of it available on the Internet for free.

Monthly Highlights - A good way to keep up with what is going on at NSIDC and with the sciences associated with ice and snow, is to follow their monthly highlights.

The NSIDC website is truly enormous, with way more information than I have had the time to investigate. Hopefully you will have fun finding some interesting things for yourself.

Rush Hour the Way It Should Be!

If we could make the transformation the way they have in the Netherlands, perhaps our rush hour would look more like this:

Environmental Refugees - Not In the Future; Not Over There, But Here and Now

One of the outcomes predicted as climate disruption accelerates is that there will be millions of environmental refugees from countries like Bangladesh, which is likely to lose much of its land area, and Tuvalu, which is likely to lose ALL of its land area.

But all that's a few decades in the future, when sea level rises a lot. Prior to that we might see environmental refugees from changes in climate that cause drought and desertification--particularly in Africa. Some have suggested that changes in climate are at least part of the problems being experienced in Sudan today.

So it all seems far away in the distant future, or far away on a distant continent. But right now, right here in the U. S., we are creating our own environmental refugees. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is almost certain to push fishers and people from other businesses that rely on the health of the Gulf to move on. Thousands of them. They are our own environmental refugees. We already saw it once before with Katrina: tens of thousands of New Orleans residents left and are never coming back (whether you want to call them environmental refugees or not is debatable, but they are at least calamity refugees).

These oil spill refugees are a small example of the effects that will be seen when climate disruption gets worse. Here in the United States our economy is resilient enough to absorb them elsewhere for the most part. But when millions of refugees start pouring across international borders in a few decades, that is unlikely to be the case.

This kind of problem is going to happen again right here in the United States--not just in faraway places. Parts of our country are going to become uninhabitable. . .or too expensive to insure--and those people will start moving to other places. Some of those new places will welcome them and some won't. Tensions will mount, particularly as charity fatigue sets in. And what if we are also trying to deal with Mexican refugees fleeing into the U. S. It's not a pretty picture.

So let's get moving on everything it takes to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Right away, before the trickle of refugees becomes a flood.

Monday What's on the Web: The Transport Politic

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
----------------------------The Transport Politic is written by the prolific Yonah Freemark, an independent researcher currently living in France. Where he lives seems to be irrelevant, however, since he covers transportation issues all over the world, including significant coverage in the United States.

The blog focuses pretty strongly on public transit, rail systems, policy and politics of transportation. Yonah does extensive research, and the posts are very thorough and often include impressive technical detail. He clearly promotes the viewpoint that our transportation systems need to move away from road-based policies to something more sustainable.

Examples of recent posts include:

Merging Transportation and Land Use Planning at the Federal Level

Sydney Looks at Closing Downtown Streets to Traffic, Considers Light Rail Expansion

U.S. FTA Head Rogoff Paints Grim Picture of Nation's Transit Priorities

China Expands Its Investment in Rapid Transit, Paving Way for Future Urban Growth

How Viable is Commuter Rail for North Carolina's Triangle?

BP Says They'll Pay. Why Not Get a Down Payment?

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may end up being the biggest environmental catastrophe the United States has ever experienced (not withstanding the future impacts of climate change, of course). BP has said they will pay for all legitimate clean-up expenses.

I have a friend who works in the finance department at EPA's Energency Response Center. He told me that figuring out how to pay for the response so far has been a challenge.

I think President Obama should ask BP for a $500 million good faith check in advance, which could then be allocated more easily than trying to find funds within existing budgets. If BP is really intent on paying these costs, then why would they not agree to make a significant down payment now to show their good intentions? That would help the whole system work better.
The National Park Police had a large, disruptive and unnecessary presence at the Earth Day rally held on Sunday, April 25. A couple of contributors who attended the rally felt the Park Police's actions seemed at best silly or, at worst, oppressive. (This post was originally posted on Greater Greater Washington)

The rally was held on the National Mall between Madison and Jefferson Streets just a little bit east of the carousel. I arrived early in the afternoon and was able to ride my bike to within 40-50 yards of the stage, where I locked it up. (I later noticed the valet bike parking area and moved my bike there.)

Access to the area in front of the stage was open to anyone on the Mall. Barriers surrounded the sound and video towers, The area fenced off seemed excessively large, but they did not present any problems.

People were standing up close to the stage enjoying the music. Others had found space to spread a blanket. Others were taking advantage of the shade under the trees on the north side of the Mall. A couple blocks to the west were a number of booths and exhibits related to Earth Day, and many people would walk from the stage area to the booths and back as their interests guided them.

Everything worked great until about 3 o'clock, when the Park Police started erecting barriers in a long line running north and south between Jefferson and Madison Streets. The barrier was about 50 yards back from the stage and included three small openings guarded by officers and limited to people exiting.

Monday What's on the Web: Greater Greater Washington

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Greater Greater Washington is a regional blog focused on the Washington DC area. In just a couple of years it has grown to become a highly respected and widely read resource for people interested in issues that affect the current and future Washington DC metro area. Many days it garners over 20,000 page views.

Issues run the gamut, but often focus on transportation and development as drivers for the future. The blog takes a very new urbanist angle on these issues--tending to suggest ideas like complete streets, increased and improved transit, increased costs for driving and parking, better bike facilities, mixed-use and transit-oriented development, etc. It reflects the goals of this blog in that it is working towards positive transformation that will improve our environment and quality of life.

David Alpert runs the blog and has actually become a known person to some in the local media (some like him; some don't). It is clear that some staff at Metro and local jurisdictions read the blog and may actually be taking ideas from it. There are several dozen contributors, and the blog runs several posts a day--so the content is always changing as well as substantial. I am one of those contributors, and you may see my posts here.

Security Barriers: A Little More Thought

The concrete planters around the Hirshhorn Museum helped slow a wayward truck that crashed into the museum Monday night. This incident was not a deliberate attempt to attack the building; it was a totally freak incident which had never happened before. Although this will probably spur efforts to increase the security measures around the building, it really should be a catalyst for rethinking the purpose and even the need for these ugly and ineffective barriers entirely. Not just here, but in most locations in DC.

Post 9/11, jersey barriers, concrete planters, bollards and other "security" measures sprung up like weeds everywhere in Washington, DC. First they were located around places like the White House and Capitol, but before long they started surrounding virtually every building that housed a federal worker or was owned by some level of government. By now, the totality of those barriers must cover scores of acres of valuable sidewalk real estate. They create an unwelcome atmosphere to pedestrians, forcing them to weave and sometimes wait for others to make room just to walk to and from their destinations. Most of them are unsightly at best and downright ugly at worst. The open space and welcomeness of virtually every outdoor space in the core of DC has been degraded.

It's understandable that we put measures in place to protect the White House, Capitol and other key potential targets. But, HELLO!, the Hirshhorn is not a target. It is not on any terrorist's list of buildings. Shoot, most people have never even heard of it. When out-of-towners come visit, and I recommend it to them, never once has anyone heard of it before. I even know people who live here in DC who haven't heard of it. It's not on the list. Neither is the Renwick, the Phillips Collection, the Freer Gallery, etc.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is much more iconic than the Hirshhorn. A quick check of street view in Google shows no barriers protecting the museum entrance from the street. Pedestrians may walk easily and directly into the building without any impedance from barriers of some sort. Likewise with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, for that matter, the most famous art museum in the world--the Louvre in Paris. What are we afraid of that they are not?

Washington DC is the capital of the United States, supposedly the beacon of freedom in the world. Yet in our capital, the simple freedom of being able to walk on sidewalks and enter public buildings unaccosted has been taken away. Each little step in this direction chips away at the free society that supposedly reflect our nation's fundamental values (see recent post re: overhyped security on Earth Day).

Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokesperson said that the planters did what they were supposed to do. What?!? What exactly is it they are supposed to do? Were they supposed to "slow" an out-of-control truck so that it still struck the building, causing damage, but maybe not as much? Was that their intent when they put them in? That's laughable. No, they were put there to protect the building from intentional attack; it's just coincidental that they happened to slow the truck down a bit--not the intention of the barriers at all. In fact, now it's obvious that these barriers all around town are just a charade, because they wouldn't stop a determined terrorist anyway--they can just be pushed aside by a medium-sized truck. The point, though, is not that we need to bolt them down or make them heavier. It's that they don't really need to be there at all, because they are an illusion--protecting against an imaginary threat.

Here's a thought experiment. Imagine the truck had its accident a mile or two away in a commercial corridor--running into a storefront. Would the reaction be to suddenly install some sort of barriers along the street to protect against the rare wayward vehicle? Would we put up bollards or barriers along every street? No. The owner would file a claim with its insurance company, fix up the store, and life would go on as before, with the sidewalks adjoining the street as always.

The Hirshhorn is an art and sculpture museum. It celebrates the aesthetic of the visual. The building itself--love it or hate it--is a piece of visual art. It is surrounded by sculptures. If anyone should understand the negative visual impact of these ridiculous planters (even worse are the jersey barriers on the Jefferson Dr. side of the museum), it should be the curators at this museum.

Ms. St. Thomas also said (as reported in the Washington Post), "Maybe one piece of good that could come out of this is a little more funding and little more thought into where we really do need security and how we do that correctly and appropriately,"

Yes, a little more thought, thank you. And perhaps a little less funding. Like let's get rid of them entirely in about 90% of their locations around DC. They are unnecessary; evidently they don't even function to protect the buildings as intended; they rob us all of valuable space; they are ugly, visual clutter; they run counter to our nation's values; and they degrade the experience of citizens of and visitors to our nation's capital.

(Louvre photo attribution: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Market-based permeable surface

Last year I presented an idea I had for increasing tree canopy in urban areas on this blog and for the 2009 Policy Greenhouse held at George Washington University. You can read my complete blog post here.

Another factor in the environmental performance of urban areas is the amount of impermeable surface that exists. More impermeable surface creates more and faster runoff, increases pollution in waterways, can cause localized flooding and can also contribute to the urban heat-island effect. Reducing the amount of impermeable surface can be achieved using a similar cap-and-trade approach as I recommended in the tree canopy post.

The idea is straightforward:
- Require all landowners to reduce their impermeable surface to below a certain percentage--say 30%
- Landowners who reduce their impermeable space below the limit earn credits for each square foot of area that is additionally permeable
- Landowners who do not reduce the required amount may purchase credits from those who have them in order to meet the requirement.

1) A homeowner on a 6000 square foot lot needs to have less than 1800 square feet of impermeable surface to meet the requirements. She takes out her driveway and reduces her impermeable surface to 1000 square feet, giving her 800 square feet of credits. (There are lots of ways to reduce impermeable surface.)
2) A parking lot property of 10,000 square feet has 9000 square feet of impermeable surface--6,000 square feet above the requirement. This parking lot owner buys the credits from the homeowner and other homeowners who have credits to sell until he meets the requirement.

The beauty of a system like this is that the government sets the goal, but the market delivers the results. Simple supply and demand will control the price, and people will respond by increasing their impermeable space when the price is high enough to make it worth their while to do so.

Monday What's on the Web: DeSmog Blog

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
This week's featured web resource is the blog DeSmogBlog. This blog was started in 2006 specifically to attack and debunk misleading and false claims from global warming skeptics, delayers and deniers. As they state on their site: "DeSmogBlog exists to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change."

There are a lot of blogs out there--including mine right here--that address a broad spectrum of environmental and climate issues. What I like about DeSmogBlog is that it focuses on the specific topic of countering the claims from the skeptics. Because this is their focus, they do an excellent job of it. Recent posts include:

- Conservative Talk Show Host Brian Sussman Adds 'Climategate' to His List of Favorite Conspiracy Theories

- Unnamed Physicist Sponsors Global Warming Denial Video Targeting High Schoolers

- Tim (C-A-B-A-L) Ball: Climate Science is All a Conspiracy!

In addition, James Hoggan, a cofounder of the site, authored the 2009 book Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, which documents the deliberate and devious efforts of the oil and gas industries, along with others, to create doubt and delay efforts to address climate change.

You can also follow DeSmogBlog on Twitter @desmogblog

Climate Decade in Review - Post 35: Bush Administration Links Emissions With Atmospheric Buildup (Later Recants)

On May 28, 2002, the State Department issued its Third US Climate Action Report (mostly written by EPA), as required by the UNFCCC. The report clearly linked the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere with human emissions, documented potential impacts and--all in all--gave a relatively balanced assessment of the current understanding of climate change. This despite the fact that Phillip Cooney, who had recently joined Bush's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), did his best to water down the language. His effort failed, and the New York Times published a story about the report.

Cooney turned to the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute for help to undo the damage he had done. The head of CEI, Myron Ebell, replied, "I want to help you cool things down, but after consulting with the team, I think that what we can do is limited until there is an official statement from the administration repudiating the report."

Voila! On June 4, President Bush made his famous remark that the report was "put out by the bureaucracy."

(For lots more on this and other aspects of the Bush effort to delay action on global warming, click here.)

This is one in the series of "Decade in Review" posts on this blog that began in January 2010. These posts present climate-change-related events that occurred during the 00's, the warmest decade in recorded history.

Monday What's on the Web: WonderingMind42

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
This week I highlight Greg Craven and his video blog, which he publishes under the YouTube name WonderingMind42. Greg Craven created the video, "The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See," and the follow-on (and better) video, "How it All Ends." Greg's most important contribution to the climate change argument was to ask a totally different question than the usual argument about whether or not climate change is real and if humans are causing it. Instead, he asks the question, "What do we do, given the uncertainty?" If you have never seen his videos before, I highly recommend them. Here is the "How it All Ends" video. Click on the title above for the other one.