Sustainability: November 2008 Archives

This Thanksgiving I participated in a hallowed tradition with hundreds of others here in Marin County, California. I'm talking about The Turkey Day Mountain Bike Ride on Pine Mountain, or the "Appetite Seminar." 

Since 1975, the ride annually covers 17 miles and about 3,000 vertical feet, Joe Breeze told me as we hit the first grade with our sons and rolling clusters of other mountain bikers. Breeze explained how he, Charlie Kelly, Chris Lang and nine other locals made up the ride as a way to work up their hunger for the afternoon turkey feed.

Joe recently sold his company, Breezer Bikes, to Advanced Sports inc. in Philadelphia, which marks the end of an era. Both Breeze and Gary Fisher started their mountin bike businesses in Marin's San Anselmo during the '70s, back before most of the world even heard of a mountain bike. They and a heady roster of the sport's old school still live, work and ride in either San Anselmo or Fairfax.

Today central Marin County remains a US nexus of cycling, whther it's road, mountain or cyclo-cross. The towns of San Anselmo and Farifax (combined population 20,000) alone have six bicycle stores and additional high-end custom-fitting operations.

While the mountain bike had its roots in many places including Colorado, it was off the slopes of Pine Mountain where the first timed mountain bike races were run in the late seventies, with Joe bested by Gary Fisher down the Repack course.

Think of the amount of carbon and air pollution the invention of the mountain bike has reduced worldwide. From the early days of Breeze and Fisher with 10 gears (or less) on junkyard bikes, mountain bikes have also spawned hybrids and "comfort bikes." These now have up to 30 gears, shocks and wide knobby tires, allowing easier and safer travel on everything from country roads to cobblestone or potholed city streets.

These categories of bikes collectively also comprise about 60 pecent of the 100 million unit worldwide bike sales.

Such contributions to the US economy and now Asia's economy should be kept in mind as the nation comes up with ways to bust carbon. It's not just capital-intensive venture-funded solar technologies or biofuels made from algae, but also tinkerers in America's garages who are building the proverbial better mousetrap.

Our ride Thursday ended on the Repack downhill: many congratulated 13-year-old Jackson as "rider of the day" for being the youngest to complete the grueling course. Conditions were spectacular--packed but not muddy, very few loose small rocks and unearthy views of the Marin County Municipal Water District land north of Mount Tam.



After New York City failed to pass a congestion pricing scheme last year, San Francisco is considering tomorrow a way to charge incoming traffic a fee to reduce congestion and address climate change

San Francisco was ranked the fourth most-congested US city in 2008 by the Texas Transportation Institute, after #1 Washington DC. Besides the city's concern with reducing downtown traffic congestion by trying to get more commuters into the city on public transit, congestion pricing can reduce local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Other cities that have successfully implemented congestion pricing include London, Stockholm, and Singapore.  Since London's program went into effect in 2005, downtown congestion has decreased 26% while local CO2 air pollution has decreased 16%.

It's a tough time for any US city to be considering such a measure (London visitors pay a flat eight British Pounds, or about $13, when they enter the city), but the price of congestion alone can have signficant negative impacts on local economies: estimates for NYC's congestion annual economic impacts on lost time, fuel and revenue were $13 billion.  

On top of congestion, when one considers public health costs from air pollution and compliance risks to upcoming greenhouse gas regulations, congestion pricing seems like a much better deal than business as usual. 

Despite the plastic kitsch and manufactured costumes that have overtaken Halloween, the celebration still retains its roots as a community celebration that requires little driving in many towns and cities.

This came to me as we went trick or treating in our Northern California town on Friday night. There were droves of trick or treaters ranging in age from babes in arms to grown-ups accompanying their children. 



They walked in the warm night in excited clusters, with few cars in sight except police cruisers. No one wants to drive when going house to house meeting the neighbors on foot in the pungent candlelit fall air is what creates the real magic. 

We sat on the porch of our son's soccer coach handing out treats to scores of kids, the coach's wife grilling each kid on their costume after the coach made each one shout "Trick or Treat!"  "What are you?" "A guy with a top hat" "You should do better job next year," she laughed, as we sipped wine. "How about you two?" "Salt and Pepper," "Perfect!"  "A fairy, right?"

There were haunted garages, umm "haunted houses," constructed of stuff found laying around the house, a video image of a talking head, pumpkin carvings of the presidential candidates, and lots of candy, hopefully not containing melamine from China.

Sure Halloween produces lots of plastic and packaging, but it doesn't have to, and compared to other American holidays, it lets people get together in their community on spontaneous and creative ground, without having to drive or fly on airplanes.

In fact the economic downturn seemed to have little dampening effect on this ritual night, first observed as Celtic Ireland's Samhain.

In times like these, we need to know our neighbors and have a good time bringing our creative spirts and commonalities to the fore.    


About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Sustainability category from November 2008.

Sustainability: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Sustainability: December 2008 is the next archive.

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