Dozens of U.S. Cities Join the Bike-Sharing Bandwagon
By Janet Larsen
When New York City opened registration for its much anticipated public bike-sharing program on April 15, more than 5,000 people signed up within 30 hours. Eager for access to a fleet of thousands of bicycles, they became Citi Bike members weeks before bikes were expected to be available. Such pent-up demand for more cycling options is on display in cities across the U.S.—from Buffalo to Boulder, Omaha to Oklahoma City and Long Beach, NY to Long Beach, CA—where shared bicycle programs are taking root.
At the start of 2013, the U.S. was home to 22 modern public bike-sharing programs. By spring 2014, that number will likely double as a flurry of cities joins the more than 500 bike-sharing communities worldwide. With the expansions of current programs and new openings in larger markets like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the nationwide fleet of shared bikes is poised to quadruple in the next couple of years, from nearly 9,000 to more than 36,000. And with a growing list of American communities exploring the possibility of setting up bike shares, this number is expected to continue to climb.
People are fond of quipping that nothing good comes out of Washington, but many of the American cities launching bike-sharing programs got turned on to the idea of bikes-as-transit by watching the nation’s capital. Capital Bikeshare began operation in September of 2010, replacing a smaller short-lived program that started in 2008 but was never expansive enough to be successful. During its reign as the largest bike-sharing program in the U.S., Capital Bikeshare has been enormously popular among residents and visitors alike, who together have logged more than 4 million rides. Now with more than 1,800 bright red bicycles stationed at 200 locking docks within DC and the northern Virginia communities of Arlington and Alexandria, Capital Bikeshare soon will expand into neighboring Montgomery County, MD. The total fleet is expected to reach 3,700 bikes at more than 300 stations by the end of 2013.
As in many of the programs, people can sign up for a short-term or an annual membership with a credit card online or in person at a station kiosk. They then can unlock a bicycle and return it to any station within the system. All rides under 30 minutes are free, after which escalating fees kick in, encouraging people to make short trips and to keep more bikes available for other riders.
After test runs of bike sharing with temporary programs installed for the 2008 national presidential nominating conventions, nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities and in Denver opened programs in 2010. Nice Ride Minnesota covers Minneapolis and St. Paul with 1,550 bikes at 170 stations. Among the nearly 60,000 users in 2012 were more than 200 employees of the Minneapolis city government, who save the city money when they use the bikes to travel to meetings and make inspections. Nice Ride is one of the seasonal bike shares that closes during the coldest months, even though the area’s burgeoning bicycle culture makes it a priority to plow snow from some of the 177 miles of bikeways—a lane-mileage-to-resident ratio that rivals even the bike mecca of Copenhagen. The cycling improvements are paying off: bike commuting in Minneapolis increased from 1.9 percent of trips in 2000 to 3.5 percent in 2011.
Denver’s program of 540 bikes at 53 stations is expecting to have at least 700 bikes and 80 stations in 2013. It is part of the B-cycle family of bike shares covering more than 15 locations, including Fort Lauderdale/Broward County in Florida, Nashville, Houston, and Boulder. Members can use their cards to unlock bikes in any of the other public B-cycle programs. At its Madison and San Antonio operations, B-cycle is testing out a utility tricycle, which could appeal to a wider variety of users by providing increased stability and allowing cargo hauling. Charlotte B-cycle showed how quickly a bike share can get off the ground when it opened in 2012, barely a year after the project’s conception.
Boston started its Hubway bike share to great acclaim in 2011, quickly surpassing ridership projections. The program has since grown from 600 to 1,100 bikes in Boston and neighboring locales. The Boston Public Health Commission provides low-cost annual membership to low-income residents—$5, including a helmet, instead of the regular $85. Another large bike share that opened in 2011 was in Miami Beach. The operator, the private company DecoBike, boasted nearly 1.3 million rides in 2012, making its bikes there the busiest in the country. With a high influx of tourists to this barrier island resort community, more than 300,000 people already use the system each year. The program will soon be expanded to the city of Miami, adding 500 bikes to the current fleet of 1,000.
In the largest of the new wave of 2013 bike-share openings, New York City is poised to roll out some 6,000 bicycles at 330 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn in late May, with the long-term goals of expanding to other parts of the city and growing to 10,000 bikes. This is one of several new programs to be run by Alta, the same company operating schemes in DC, Boston and Chattanooga. While New York’s launch has been delayed several times, first due to software glitches and then because of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, it continues an ongoing series of improvements for bikers in a city where fewer than half of residents own cars. Some 300 miles of lanes have been carved out of New York’s busy streets as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sustainability strategy for the city. Bike commuting has more than tripled since 2000.
Annual membership in Citi Bike costs close to $100—like so many things in Manhattan, higher than in most other cities—but, as Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan points out, this is still less than the price of a monthly subway pass. Members are likely to save money if biking replaces even some bus, subway and especially taxi journeys. DC bike sharers found that annual membership saved them an average $800 in transportation costs. And bike sharing is far, far cheaper than the $7,800 cost that AAA estimates for the average person to own a car and drive it 10,000 miles a year—depreciation and gasoline expenditures included.
Bike shares in Chicago and San Francisco will also be operated by Alta. Chicago’s program, named Divvy, is planning to have 300 stations docking 3,000 bikes by the end of August 2013, hoping to grow to 400 stations and 4,000 bikes in 2014. Meanwhile the city already claims the most bike parking in the country and is expanding its bikeways to span 645 miles, bringing paths and trails to within a half-mile ride of all residents. Mayor Rahm Emanuel explains that his “vision is to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the United States,” attracting energetic tech workers from historically bike-friendly areas like Seattle.
An expansive bike share is being planned in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 700 bikes are planned to roll in August. About half will be in San Francisco proper and the rest in cities along the 50 mile transit corridor south to San Jose. Overseen by the regional air quality control agency, the program aims to get more people out of private vehicles in order to cut tailpipe pollution and reduce crowding on public transportation. The Caltrains that run between San Francisco and San Jose already carry more than 4,000 bikes each month and end up turning away riders when the special bike cars are full. Bike sharing has the potential to free up some of that space by allowing commuters to pick up a bike on either end of their train ride, addressing what is known as the first- and last-mile problem. The long-term goal is to reach a regional fleet of up to 10,000 shared bikes.
Southern California, with its bike-friendly climate, is also riding into the bike-sharing game. DecoBike is planning an 1,800-bike system in San Diego. Another firm, Bike Nation, plans to open a program in Long Beach with 250 bikes by year’s end. The fleet could grow to 2,500 in the next four to five years, capitalizing on the new bike lanes and separated tracks that have helped biking in Long Beach jump 70 percent over the last four years. As more riders have taken to their bikes, both car and bike accidents have fallen precipitously.
Bike Nation is also bringing up to 4,000 bikes to Los Angeles and neighboring communities this year. This sprawling car-centric city has been on a bike improvement crusade since Mayor Villaraigosa was cut off by a taxi cab while cycling and broke his elbow in 2010. In the years since, the city has installed 123 miles of bike lanes and sponsored several CicLAvia’s—one-day events inspired by the ciclovías of Bogotá and Mexico City, when selected major streets are closed off to motor vehicles, allowing bikes and pedestrians to take over in a festival-like atmosphere. The April 2013 event attracted an estimated quarter-million people.
Other cities with large public cycling programs on the horizon include Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Portland, Oregon—America’s quintessential bike town, where bikes are given out to low-income residents, bike lanes are ubiquitous and certain traffic lights are engineered to give priority to cyclists—first got into the sharing game with a “yellow bike” program that started in 1994. Donated bikes were painted bright yellow and scattered around the city for free use. Twenty years later, Portland plans to open a modern bike share with 750 bikes at 75 automatic docking stations. The city hopes that having more bikes readily accessible for spontaneous jaunts could boost cycling even more, from its current six percent of trips.
One of the communities with a smaller program opening in 2013, Hoboken, NJ, plans to begin a unique hybrid bike-sharing and bike rental scheme in June, less than two months after achieving unanimous city council approval. Bike and Roll, which currently rents out 2,000 bikes in New York City—the nation’s largest traditional bike rental fleet—will open a pilot scheme in Hoboken with 25 rental bikes for longer-term usage and 25 bike-share bikes for short trips. The goal is to develop a synergy between bicycles and the ferries that efficiently move commuters and tourists between New Jersey and New York.
Hoboken’s bike-share bikes are from Social Bicycles (SoBi), one of a few startup companies that have removed the requirements for electronic docking stations by integrating the locking component and GPS tracking into the bicycle itself. While users are still encouraged to leave the bikes at specified hubs, they also can lock them to regular bike racks or other street fixtures, a feature that is common in bike-sharing schemes in Germany, for example, but not so far in the U.S. For its first public initiative, SoBi delivered a set of bikes to Buffalo for a venture connected with a car-sharing company. It plans to take this technology to Tampa for a 300-bike system at the end of 2013.
Another smart-lock bike share is scheduled to open later in 2013 as part of a downtown revitalization initiative in Las Vegas. The initial pilot program will involve 50 to 150 high-tech bikes from ViaCycle, which currently operates smart-lock bike shares on the campuses of Georgia Tech and George Mason University, two of the handful of American campuses that have gone beyond traditional bike rentals and bike libraries into the world of modern bike sharing.
Forgoing the electronic docking stations in favor of smart-locking bikes can theoretically drop the pro-rated capital cost of a bike-share bicycle from in the neighborhood of $6,000 to closer to $1,500. Either way, bike shares and bicycling infrastructure give a big bang for the buck. For example, Capital Bikeshare in Washington could double its bikes and docking stations at the same cost of constructing just one mile of one lane of highway. While cars have brought pollution, congestion and road rage to cities, bicycles can lead to cost savings from improved mobility, reduced wear and tear on roads and less valuable real estate devoted to parking.
Bike shares can also boost business. Each ride in the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride system was found to bring $7–14 to the local economy. Forty-four percent of Capital Bikeshare riders surveyed used bike share to make a trip they otherwise would have skipped, largely for entertainment, socializing and dining out. A bicycle places people within a city landscape, allowing them to easily make stops, as opposed to merely shuttling through, sequestered inside a private car. Shops and restaurants often report a surge in business after the creation of a bike lane on their street. On a given weekend afternoon in vibrant downtown Long Beach, CA, there are often more bikes parked than there are spaces for cars.
Nationwide data from the National Sporting Goods Association indicate that over the last 20 years the number of bikers has fallen from more than 50 million to below 40 million. Yet while there are fewer people who climb on a bicycle in a given year, the number who ride frequently, like for commuting or regular activities, has actually risen over the past decade. Bike sharing can help facilitate this increase and put more folks back on two wheels. The high visibility that comes with a bike-share system reminds people that biking is a viable transit option and encourages more riding overall. In San Antonio and Washington, DC, for instance, retail bike sales have increased since the start of bike sharing.
Furthermore, as cities are improving their cycling infrastructure, the health benefits of the bicycle are becoming more obvious. Studies show that regular utilitarian cycling to get to work can beat out the gym for improving fitness. During the first year that people abandon regular driving to become a bike commuter, they can lose 10 pounds or more. Such health benefits are part of the reason why the health care company Humana houses a bike share for its employees in Louisville and was one of a trio of businesses (along with bicycle manufacturer Trek and advertising firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky) that came together to develop B-cycle. Blue Cross Blue Shield, another health insurer, is a major sponsor for several bike-sharing programs, including those in Charlotte, Houston, Omaha and the Twin Cities.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1,300 cities across the country, noted at its 2012 meeting that: “communities that have invested in pedestrian and bicycle projects have benefited from improved quality of life, a healthier population, greater local real estate values, more local travel choices and reduced air pollution.”
The group passed a resolution “in support of alternative modes of transportation, such as bikesharing programs, as a means to increase transportation mobility and mode choice.”
Along with these benefits, bike shares can bring the freedom, convenience and joy of cycling to people who may not have ridden a bike since childhood. As programs mature and new ones are added, bike-sharing could become a standard feature of the urban habitat, a must-have for any forward-thinking community.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
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