A big list this week.
The Center for Progressive Reform mounts a spirited defense of regulation, showing that the US economy delivers much greater benefits thanks to rules democratically established to reduce pollution, protect workers, and prevent fraud and abuse in financial markets.
Two Texas chemists have developed a nanometer-thick coating that’s an effective nontoxic flame retardant, reports Science News. Made of alternating layers of clay and an extract of seashells, it slows fire well on polyurethane foam or cotton fabrics. Good news (including for pets)!
Our friends at Shareable.net have launched a fascinating new series on public policies cities can establish to welcome local food, car sharing, co-housing, and other forms of green, community-supporting economics.
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A gas station chain in Denmark has expanded its offerings to bike repair facilities.
Citizens in Copenhagen are making their city even more bike-friendly by installing bike “love handles” and cycling-oriented trash bins. Copenhagenize has a video.
Juliet Schor and the Center for a New American Dream (full disclosure: I was a founding board member) have done one of those clever, sketch-along videos summarizing her vision of Plenitude. She’s also done a book of the same name, which I look forward to reading.
Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports on the US Postal Service’s somewhat desperate attempts to convince businesses to send more junk mail. It’s actually advertising on behalf of junk mail. Mail volume is down by about 30% in the Great Recession, which has pushed the post office toward insolvency. As the article points out, first-class mail is less than half of the pieces mailed but $50 billion of revenue. Junk mail is more than half of the pieces mailed but only $17 billion of revenue. Still, it’s a profit center for the USPS.
I suspect the postal service is nearing a tipping point, where the whole system will change drastically. Declining ad-mail volumes are undercutting economies of scale. Information technology and generational change are eating away at mail in general. And competitors in the package market have long since taken away most of the premium customers.
A radical downsizing of the post office may be inevitable, with big cuts in employment, delivery frequency, and fuel consumption. Once businesses and consumers digitize a form of communication (whether letters, bills, gifts, catalogs, or legal documents), I doubt they’ll ever go back.
I see both sustainability benefits and substantial reasons for public concern. Clearly, digitizing the post would be a massive resource saver. At the same time, the internet does not currently provide universal service, leaving out many low-income families and seniors, for example. A shrunken post office with, perhaps, delivery half as often and higher prices per envelope, might have a hard time justifying delivery to remote and rural locales. I’m left pondering whether alternate-day delivery would just trigger a faster death spiral? Or would it stabilize the system to shed losing functions and shrink by half, the way that General Motors saved itself through wholesale (publically supported) downsizing? Is there a valid justification for public subsidy of mail service, as there was in the USPS’s early decades? Does the digital divide become dramatically more important in the absence of 6-day-a-week mail delivery?
I wish I could write a well as Michael van Baker. He does his usual great work describing pedestrian fatalities in Seattle in his post at SunBreak, “The War on Running People Down In the Street.”
On the same subject, at Crosscut, <a href="http://crosscut.com/2011/10/24/transportation/21466/How-safe-are-Seattle-s-roads-/#commentsDoug MacDonald digs into the city’s recent traffic report to provide a thoughtful look at the data on local auto fatalities.
Still on my Occupy kick. And shouldn’t we all be? Here’s Chris Hedges on the Occupy movement.
And, this is a must read: “Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance.” It includes many gems like this one: “If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.” (h/t SL).
And here’s Yours Truly (and others) on what the climate movement could learn from the Occupy movement.
A friend and contemporary of my grandfather’s passed away this week. Vic Scheffer was a Northwesterner who devoted his life to preservation. According to his obituary, he was a co-founder of the Nature Conservancy’s Washington chapter and one of the longest active members of the Seattle Audubon Society. He was science adviser to BirdNote, the popular radio program. He had a PhD in zoology from the University of Washington, where he also taught. He was the author of 15 books, “including The Year of the Whale, which received the John Burrough’s medal for best natural history book in 1969, and is credited by many in helping to spark the worldwide effort to ban whale hunting.” He spent most of his career—33 years—at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Along with Frank Richardson and Arthur Kruckeberg, he catalogued the many features—some unusual or unique—of flora, fauna, and geology on Cypress Island, laying the groundwork for its eventual preservation by the State of Washington as the last largely undeveloped island in the San Juan archipelago. As my grandfather would have said with intentional awed understatement, “Scheffer was no slouch.” And, by all accounts, he was also an all-around wonderful, warm, funny, and friendly guy.
One of the better pieces I’ve read describing my generation. While I count myself as one of the “lucky” ones—employed throughout the downturn, relatively stable in a period of increasing instability—many of my peers who are equally (or more) competent and capable haven’t had the same good fortune. The effect of coming of age in this atmosphere, and having been raised to believe we’d have the world at our fingertips, will likely follow us throughout our lives. But I might disagree with the author’s conclusion that by managing (and lowering) our expectations, we’ll be alright.
And lastly, some eye candy: Mt. Rainier casts shadows on the sky.