Archive for the ‘Planet earth’ Category

Mon 28 Jul 2008 11:48 pm   //   Posted in: Bicycles, Planet earth, Transit

Critical Mass meets Officer Danger

The last Friday of every month in major cities, a pack of cyclists takes over the streets with the Critical Mass demonstration bike rides. By terrible luck, I got caught in San Francisco’s Critical Mass in my rental car last week.

I support Critical Mass; I participated in it once in New York. But it’s not really my thing, since it reminds me too much of 1990s-style anti-globalization protest politics. I’ve said before that the best way to get people riding bikes is to make cycling so mainstream that practically everybody finds it normal and appealing. And as more people ride bikes, the streets will change to accommodate them, and things will get better for all cyclists. That was the initial idea behind Critical Mass, as I understand it.

But one police officer patrolling the Critical Mass ride in New York last Friday had other ideas, as seen in this YouTube video…

The stupid actions of one violent cop put several cyclists at risk of injury, and will doubtlessly fan a lot of negative feelings in the bike community. Not cool. (The 22-year-old rookie officer, meanwhile, has been stripped of his badge and gun, per the Post.)

Sun 22 Jun 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Art, Bicycles, Planet earth, Transit

Haunted by ghost bikes

Ghost Bike

You’ve heard of ghost bikes? They’re the work of a street art collective that collects scrap bikes, paints them white, and chains them up on city streets where cyclists have died in traffic accidents. They’re comparable to the wooden crosses you sometimes see by highways. Usually, ghost bikes are accompanied by a sign with the cyclist’s name and some other basic facts (“Killed by SUV”). I’m a longtime bike commuter and support almost any activity that makes the streets safer. Do I have an opinion about ghost bikes? You bet.

  1. Doesn’t work for me as art. Too literal.
  2. Ghost bikes clog our sidewalks with mechanical junk. It’s an ugly way to memorialize someone.
  3. This is not a politically smart way to support cycling. The people installing these bikes are portraying biking as some kind of underdog subculture fraught with danger. The use of street art reinforces the stereotype that the “bike community” is an insular group of self-righteous freegan hipsters.
  4. In fact, bike transportation is and should be mainstream. As one example, around Sunset Park I’ve noticed a lot of new immigrants have begun using bikes to get around. These guys on their Huffy’s work harder than anybody, keep our city running, consume zero gasoline, and don’t give a crap about ghost bikes.

I am a safe biker and have no plans to challenge any bigger vehicles any time soon. However, if one day I get smooshed by a sanitation truck, do not put up a ghost bike for me! I swear, my real ghost will torment you!

Wed 18 Jun 2008 7:16 am   //   Posted in: Food & drink, Planet earth

Bottled water is probably killing us somehow

My brother’s fiancée Melanie recently shared a scary idea with me. The topic was bottled water. Some people, she noted, don’t finish all the water in a bottle. They put the cap back on and throw the bottle away with water still in it. I’m sure I’ve done this many times, especially at airports.

Big deal, right? Actually, consider what you’ve done. You’ve entombed precious water in a plastic time capsule that will sit in a landfill and won’t break down for hundreds of years. This water has been removed from the hydrogen cycle. One bottle might be just a drop in a pond. But multiply it by a billion and consider the impact this might have on our environment.

My first reaction was one of deep concern. I shall never again throw away a partially-full, sealed plastic bottle. I will empty the bottle or leave the cap off. It’s the right thing to do for the earth.

My second reaction was to snort at the idea that bottled water habits (already not an especially earth-friendly idea) might actually be upsetting the balance of the entire planet. Ha! Now I will chuckle with sadistic delight each time I toss out a half-full water bottle. Take THAT, hydrogen cycle!!

Tue 22 Apr 2008 11:00 am   //   Posted in: Food & drink, Planet earth, The suburbs

Earth Day every day, every few years

For as long as I can remember, kind of like the cycle of cicadas, there are occasional random years when everybody gets in to ecology. New ideas emerge each time. Each time we hope for the bad ideas to go away (water-saving shower heads?) but for the good ideas to stick (like curbside recycling). But what about the good ideas that somehow got forgotten?

Think back before texting, before satellite radio, before Purell, when we were riding around in minivans, playing Duck Hunt, watching Police Academy movies. This was before carbon offsets, before hybrid cars, before An Inconvenient Truth. But a different brand of conservation was in fashion. The suburban tradition of the balloon launch was scrapped out of concern for the birds. We celebrated Earth Day in school assemblies. I remember businesses actually showing an environmental conscience. Supermarkets collected garbage bags for recycling and McDonald’s had recycling bins in its restaurants for paper and styrofoam.

In our town, convenience stores sold insulated plastic mugs for coffee. If you bought one and kept reusing it, you got a discount each time you bought coffee at the store. My mom, who was mainly a tea drinker, had one in the car. So did every other mom I knew. This was a sensible idea and eliminated disposable coffee cups.

Today, this idea has been completely forgotten. Why? Blame Starbucks. Now if you drive up to a Starbucks, you drive away with a hot drink in a paper cup with a plastic lid and a cardboard sleeve, all disposable. The flow at an espresso bar doesn’t allow a customer to hand the barista a reusable cup and have it handed back filled with coffee. It would gum up the works. Plus it would seem so… down-market! And as goes Starbucks, so goes Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, the supermarket, everywhere.

Coffee cups are a needless waste. Lately, Starbucks seems good at solving problems. They should solve this one.

Fri 14 Mar 2008 11:00 am   //   Posted in: Planet earth, TV commericals

General Motors isn’t actually saving the planet

General Motors spends a good chunk of its marketing budget promoting Chevrolet as an environmentally friendly brand. They’re even running ads for the Chevy Volt – an electric car that does not yet exist.


That ad seems awfully cynical and two-faced when you look at how GM promotes its other brands, like Hummers, Cadillacs and GMC Trucks. The message: Ginormous cars are patriotic and sexy.


Once in a while, the two messages collide. The clash of ideals is enough to make your head hurt. Behold: the Tahoe Hybrid!