Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

One of our local alternative newspapers has an interesting story in their Earth Day edition. Living in Portland, Oregon I have often felt pride in our green city. This story says we are not doing enough. The author, Corey Pein, suggests "seven things Portland should do if we're serious about being green."

Here are the seven suggestions with a little commentary:
1) Do something about plastic bags.
States and countries worldwide are starting to ban or tax plastic bags. These bags don't break down easily and often end up as persistent trash. Our local grocery store doesn't even offer plastic grocery bags although most stoes in Portland do. Live in Portland and want to encourage a ban on plastic bags? Contact Commissioner Sam Adams and let him know that you want plastic bags to go (or whatever you want to happen). Oh, and don't forget to do your own personal plastic bag ban by using your own reusable bag.

2) Enact a "carbon tax" on consumption.
Canada has a carbon tax that is going into effect in June. It is a two step process with a reduction in income tax and an increase in taxes on pollution. These two tax moves are designed to make polluting more expensive. Choose a lesser polluting option like propane? Taxed less. Choose a more polluting option like diesel? Taxed more. Choose an alternative fuel like a biofuel? Exempt.

3) Use "congestion taxing".
In 2003, London created a congestion tax around its city center. Cars that travel into the city center during prime driving hours are taxed $16. Guess what? According to the article doing reduced traffic during peak driving times by 37 percent. An added benefit? Bicycle commuting increased by 43 percent. The best thing about this tax? All the money is spent on improving transportation - all forms including buses, cycling, pedestrians and drivers.

One of the comments for the online article says that the improvement to London's traffic issues were only temporary and after 4 years, traffic is just as bad. A friend also wonders how our downtown area would respond to congestion taxing. Interesting things to ponder.

We have some friends who live in downtown Vancouver. As much as we love them, we hate trying to drive to their house during rush hour (especially with a car full of cranky kids since rush hour is around dinner time). While it is not a monetary tax, the congestion itself is a tax on our time and turns out to be a great deterrent.

4) Use city's credit to fund home owner's green updates.
The city of Berkley, California is rolling out a new program whereby a homeowner can borrow from the city and the money is payed back over 20 years "through an increased assessment on his property tax bill." A great thing about this program is that because the loan is associated with property taxes they can be deducted from state and federal taxes. This may help decrease the return on investment for long payback items such as a solar installation, especially in combination with rebates, tax credits and a lower energy bill. According to the notes in the article, Portland's Office of Sustainable Development can help you navigate your way through paperwork that can reduce a $18,00 solar installation to $5,500.

5) Use money for buses instead of streetcars.
Curitiba, Brazil is a city known for getting buses right. You pay ahead of time, the bus arrives on time, the entire side of the bus opens facilitating getting on and off and buses are frequent enough and fast enough to be meaningful transportation. Where is Portland planning to spend its transportation dollars? On a streetcar which with a "6.7 mile loop on the inner east side." Is that smart? Would Portland's Tri-Met be better off putting that money toward a better bus system?

6) "Market rate" parking zones.
Examples of this item range from jacking up parking spot prices in Washington, DC to $18 per hour near ballparks to Redwood City's location dependent parking (the farther you get from main street, the cheaper it gets). This issue here is that if people are driving around and around looking for parking (ever been to the Pearl? ever been to NW?) they are wasting gas. The thing I can't figure out is how this helps. Does it just discourage you from driving?

7) Increase bottle deposit (and go a step further and fund glass recycling).
Increasing bottle deposits make it more financially attractive to return your bottles and recycling rates go up. In Michigan, where the bottle deposit is 10 cents, their recycling rate is 14 percent higher than Portland's recycling rate. The author suggests increasing the bottle deposit to 25 cents which would turn bottles into a commodity. But here's the problem, according to my work place, which now sports "glass is trash" signs on our recycling bins, we are too good at recycling. So good, in fact, that all the local glass recycling facilities are overcapacity. Instead of trucking the glass hundreds of miles (with a cost of dollars, pollution and added gas consumption), our company decided that for now, they will not recycle glass.

When I first read this item, I thought, hey, we can use some of the money to fund glass recyclers. But there is no money...you pay a deposit and then you bring the bottle back and get your money back. I did think of a way to really help this problem though, make your own beer and then reuse the bottles! What do you think? Or better yet, this idea from W, why have your soda or beer bottled at the grocery store? Of course this brings to mind the fact that you can bring a mason jar to any McMenamin's brew pub and they will fill it with beer. Don't forget about that!

So here is my question to you...what do you think of these ideas? Have you experienced any of them? Which one do you like best?

Happy Earth Day everyone...do something green!


William Hertling said...

I love Brazil's approach to buses. I would like to take the bus to work, I really would: that would be an hour a day that I commuted that I could read or do almost anything I wanted. But when the car takes 20 minutes and the bus takes 1 hour and 20 minutes with careful planning, the two just aren't comparable.

ering said...

Our bus systems (WA and OR) don't make it easy for us, that is for sure. Just another reason to work from home.