An SUV experiment
For those of you in New York, WNYC's Brian Lehrer show is looking for people to participate in a crowdsourcing experiment, By Thursday, they want you to count the SUVs on your block and to report back to them with your findings. In order to use your info, they'll need the following:
1. Your neighborhood
2. Your block (street and cross streets)
3. The number of SUVs parked
4. The total number of cars parked.
I plan on participating myself, though I'm not quite sure what the point is. According to the website:
We’re trying to find out just how much gas-guzzling SUV use there is throughout the New York area, with all the talk of environmental sustainability in the city.
If they think people are hypocritical about driving SUVs while professing a love of the environment, they would do well to read James Surowiecki's column in a recent New Yorker.
As Surowiecki points out, Americans overwhelming support fuel-economy standards, even though they continue to buy gas-guzzling SUVs. But what looks like a contradiction makes sense when you realize that Americans associate big cars with safety (erroneously, but with reason). So while they'd prefer that gas-guzzling tanks not be on the road, they don't want to be dwarfed by these vehicles if they are.
Surowiecki compares the situation to the National Hockey League in the 70s, when hockey players voted for the league to require helmets, even though most players personally chose not to wear them. Helmets protected players from head injuries, but gave them a competitive disadvantage: it was harder to see in them, for example. As long as some players wore helmets and others didn't, the players who didn't had an advantage. But if rules required everyone to wear the helmets (which they eventually did), everyone benefited from greater safety and a level playing field.
So, while owning an SUV in the city may seem to make no sense whatsoever, a healthy percentage of SUV drivers would probably welcome SUVs eradication. (The rest, we can presume, are self-centered, delusional pricks.)
NYT op-ed on Congestion Pricing
Sunday's New York Times had a couple of Op-Eds about Mayor Bloomberg's plan for congestion pricing in New York City. One of them, by Ellen F. Crain, makes almost no sense at all. Crain argues that congestion pricing will inadvertently lead to more traffic in the outer boroughs because "drivers will be looking for parking near subways there to take them to Midtown."
I'd love to ask Ms. Crain where all this presumably free and easy parking in Brooklyn is. I'm in Flatbush and even here free parking is slim pickins. The plumber across the street sometimes sits in his car for an hour just waiting for a space to open up. The idea that swarms of people rich enough to keep a car in the City would drive to another neighborhood, search for a space to park, then board the train for a 35-minute ride to the city just to save $4 (assuming the subway and back is $4) takes some imagination. I don't know about the other boroughs, but I'm going to guess that the closer one gets to the city and the subway, the harder it is to find free parking.
The entire Op-Ed rests on this claim, which is totally unsubstantiated in any way. It also doesn't acknowledge that there's a pretty easy workaround: get rid of free parking!
The Real Costs
Michael Mandiberg's The Real Costs "is a Firefox plug-in that inserts emissions data into travel related e-commerce websites. The first version adds CO2 emissions information to airfare websites such as Orbitz.com, United.com, Delta.com, etc. Following versions will work with car directions, car rental, and shipping websites. Think of it like the nutritional information labeling on the back of food... except for emissions."
I've already used the plugin and learned that, as much as I hate to say it, driving a car can be good*. Only because plane flights release such enormous amounts of carbon. Ok, lesson learned: flying is bad. But this is where The Real Costs gets complicated. The inherent short-term problem is that the flight will likely leave whether you buy a ticket or not. Taking a train or bus on a long trip, while environmentally a better choice, can be just as expensive as a plane (or more) - thanks to government subsidies to the airline industry and cutting funding for rail. Not to mention the US's lack of a high speed rail system. Argh, what to do? Ultimately that difficult choice is for each of us to make. What The Real Costs can do is give a larger picture of how inefficient flying is. Maybe enough New Yorkers will stop flying to Boston, or California residents will understand the urgency of a LA-SF high speed rail line. The first step towards change is understanding that there is a problem. I know I didn't understand just how inefficient plane flight was until faced with the numbers in my browser.
*for long trips. For short trips, you can ride your bike and take public transit.
The Mayor of London: Badass
We've written before about London Mayor Ken Livingstone's ballsy campaign against SUVs and other gas guzzlers in his city, but I didn't fully appreciate how fearless this guy is until reading of his recent expansion of congestion pricing... and this kicker:
Another of [the mayor's] environmental initiatives is to save water. The "Don't Rush to Flush" campaign, in which Livingstone encourages residents to conform to the "if-it's-yellow-let-it-mellow" school of thought.
Perhaps he could take it to the next level and start charging by the flush.
...on second thought, I couldn't with any conscience support legislation that discriminates against frequent poopers.
(Photo via flickr)
For those on the East Coast, Con Edison users can sign up to a new website, Personal-Kyoto.org, that better tracks energy use in your home. You basically sign in and Personal Kyoto creates graphs of your energy use history. Then you try to reduce your annual use by 25% over the course of a year, which is close to what the Kyoto Protocol would require. You can see what turning off your lights, using efficient bulbs, shutting down your computer at night, etc. actually does.
The site also allows you to compare your energy use to others in your borrough, New York City, and against the national average. One of the encouraging/scary things is that New York residential energy use is close to half the national average.
The site was developed in the OpenLab at Eyebeam by Ben Englebreth. Ben is planning a round of improvements to the current site, as well as expanding it out to other major energy providers. He's very accessable, so if you have ideas or can offer assistance, let him know through the site.
Amateur anti-Gore video is by no amateur
The Wall Street Journal reports today that a spoof of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth circulating via YouTube.com is not, in fact, by some moronic amateur but by Exxon's public relations firm. The astroturfing of YouTube is bound to get more insidious, but I can't help but see this particular attempt as pretty pathetic.... if only because it's hard to take anything like this seriously in 100+ degree weather. (Yeah, the heat sucks, but I prefer to think of it as great PR for foes of global warming.)
Full article below the fold.
August 3, 2006
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Where Did That Video Spoofing Gore's Film Come From?
By ANTONIO REGALADO and DIONNE SEARCEY
August 3, 2006; Page B1
Everyone knows Al Gore stars in the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." But who created "Al Gore's Penguin Army," a two-minute video now playing on YouTube.com?
A frame from "Al Gore's Penguin Army," a video on YouTube lampooning the former vice president.
In the video, Mr. Gore appears as a sinister figure who brainwashes penguins and bores movie audiences by blaming the Mideast crisis and starlet Lindsay Lohan's shrinking waist size on global warming. Like other videos on the popular YouTube site, it has a home-made, humorous quality. The video's maker is listed as "Toutsmith," a 29-year-old who identifies himself as being from Beverly Hills in an Internet profile.
In an email exchange with The Wall Street Journal, Toutsmith didn't answer when asked who he was or why he made the video, which has just over 59,000 views on YouTube. However, computer routing information contained in an email sent from Toutsmith's Yahoo account indicate it didn't come from an amateur working out of his basement.
[See the video]1 • See the "Al Gore's Penguin Army" clip.2
Instead, the email originated from a computer registered to DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp.
A DCI Group spokesman declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video, or to explain why Toutsmith appeared to be sending email from DCI's computers. "DCI Group does not disclose the names of its clients, nor do we discuss the work that we do on our clients' behalf," says Matt Triaca, who heads DCI's media relations shop.
Dave Gardner, an Exxon spokesman, confirms that Exxon is a client of DCI. But he says Exxon had no role in creating the "Inconvenient Truth" spoof. "We, like everyone else on the planet, have seen it, but did not fund it, did not approve it, and did not know what its source was," Mr. Gardner says.
The anti-Gore video represents a less well-known side of YouTube. As its popularity has exploded, the public video-sharing site has drawn marketers looking to build buzz for new music releases and summer blockbusters. Now, it's being tapped by political operatives, public relations experts and ad agencies to sway opinions.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
[question] • Vote: How often do you watch video on your computer?3
Ogilvy & Mather, for example, says it plans to post amateur-looking videos on Web sites to spark word-of-mouth buzz about Foster's beer. (See related article4.)
For marketers and pranksters of all sorts, online video is the latest venue for tactics "they've been doing for years," says Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21. "What we don't know is will this have any impact. In the political arena it's the great experiment right now."
Politicians and marketers already make wide use of email lists and blogs, and it has long been possible to distribute information over the Internet while disguising its origins. But Web video operates on a different level, stimulating viewers' emotions powerfully and directly. And because amusing animations with a homespun feel can be created just as easily by highly paid professionals to promote agendas as by talented amateurs, caveat emptor is more relevant than ever.
One politically charged issue has drawn dueling YouTube videos recently: whether phone giants should be able to charge Internet companies for speedier delivery of their content. One of the videos features a slide show and tinny voiceover, and takes the side of phone companies. At the end, it directs viewers to go to www.netcompetition.org, a Web site backed by AT&T Inc. and other phone and cable companies with a stake in the issue. On the other side are consumer groups, one of whose YouTube videos features musician Moby warning of the dangers of a two-tier Internet.
Mr. Wertheimer thinks videos like the Gore spoof, whose sponsorship is vague, can be disingenuous. "They're coming in under false pretenses -- under the guise of being a clever video you might be interested in," he says. For its part, AT&T says its affiliation with the group is clearly listed on netcompetition.org, just a few clicks away.
DCI is no stranger to the debate over global warming. Partly through Tech Central Station, an opinion Web site it operates, DCI has sought to raise doubts about the science of global warming and about Mr. Gore's film, placing skeptical scientists on talk-radio shows and paying them to write editorials.
Of course, Mr. Gore and his allies have also used the Internet to great advantage. To stoke interest in his film, the distributor of "An Inconvenient Truth," Paramount Classics, created its own YouTube video by cartoonist Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons." Called "Al Gore's Terrifying Message," the video, which features a cartoon version of Mr. Gore arguing with a robot, has had more than a million views. Paramount is identified as the source next to the video.
Meanwhile, critics of Mr. Gore have frequently sought to get their message out through conservative bloggers, talk radio and Internet news services. Marc Morano, communications chief for Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has led opposition to climate legislation on Capitol Hill, says an Internet strategy is both effective and necessary because mainstream news organizations are "promoting the message of Gore uncritically."
Internet videos could prove particularly potent, because they may influence watchers in ways they don't realize. Nancy Snow, a communications professor at California State University, Fullerton, viewed the penguin video and calls it a lesson in "Propaganda 101." It contains no factual information, but presents a highly negative image of the former vice president, she says. The purpose of such images is to harden the views of those who already view Mr. Gore negatively, Dr. Snow says.
YouTube has an estimated 20 million viewers daily, but with thousands of videos on the site, it can be difficult for marketers to reach their audience, says Brian Reich, a consultant for Mindshare Interactive Campaigns, who helps nonprofits and political candidates learn to use YouTube and other video sites effectively. "You still have to micro-target your information and make it compelling and relevant and timely to get people to pay attention," he says.
Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on YouTube.com in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday.
Diana Adair, a spokeswoman for Google, says the search giant doesn't allow advertising text that "advocates against any individual, group or organization." However, the policy doesn't apply to the Web sites or videos that such ads point to. Although most advertisers want their identities known, Ms. Adair says Google will protect the identity of advertisers who want to remain anonymous, only releasing that information under a subpoena or court order.
--Jeffrey Ball contributed to this article.
Write to Antonio Regalado at firstname.lastname@example.org and Dionne Searcey at email@example.com
Rebar, a group from San Francisco, has done what I have wanted to do for years - turn a downtown parking spot into a park. It's like Reclaim the Streets, but not as loud. I say I've wanted to turn a parking spot into a park (but I guess I didn't want it enough to actually get it done). So, Kudos to Rebar. Even if it only existed for 2 hours. Now who's going to do the permanent guerilla install?
Cancer costs $1
Maybe I'm too cynical. And maybe big corporations just love kids and hate money. Either way I still can't shake the feeling that when New York City paid $1 to Keyspan for the former site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks to convert it into a public park, the City got ripped off.
KeySpan has worked extensively with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination, to clean up the property and prepare it for public use.
If you say so, Bloomie. But it still feels like the City just bought a Superfund site and absolved Keyspan of any liability if the remediation isn't quite as complete as everyone thought it was. Elmhurst isn't midtown Manhattan, but even real estate in Queens is worth a lot of money. (Don't get snippy with me in the comments; I spent over 20 years receiving mail in 11366. I know my Queens.)
If Keyspan sold it for a buck, that ground is poison.
This Land is Your Land
In the midst of some research I stumbled across the website of The Center for Land Use Interpretation. Most interesting is their Land Use Database. Pick a state and it will show you "unusual and exemplary sites" catagorized by everything from cultural, to nuclear, to transporation, and more. Selections from California include an abandonded solar power plant, the now abandonded Ambassador Hotel, the world's largest parking lot, assorted military bases, power plants, mines, environmental disasters, and Jonnies Coffee Shop... I swear I can't stop looking at this. Oh man, Tinkertown!?! For planning cross-country trips or scouting locations for sci-fi movies, this site is like one-stop shopping.
The CLUI site warmed that special place in my heart for ruins. Perhaps it plays on my obsession with post-apocolyptic stories, but I don't think I'm the only one. Apparently this photographer from Modern Ruins is pretty into them as well. Who doesn't want to see what's left of the '64 World's Fair? And when that doesn't satisfy you, there's always the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.
And did someone say abandoned bunkers? How about a VR tour of West Virginia's Greenbrier Bunker, designed to house the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in case of nuclear attack? Why not? But that doesn't give you half the taste of luxury bunker living that photographer Andreas Magdanz gives you in Dienststelle Marienthal. Creeeeepy.
Great, a new environmental problem to worry about
From "The Power of Darkness" in The Guardian:
"A number of health and environmental problems are due to a loss of darkness," says Dr David Crawford, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, a group that campaigns against light pollution. "And it will get worse as we creep -- or rush -- to a 24/7 world. All of life, all of it, has evolved with a day/night cycle -- the circadian rhythm. It's essential to good health. Many studies are now showing that those who go without a true day/night cycle are adversely impacting their immune systems, and that's not good..."
Once at work, overriding the craving for dark and sleep comes at a price. 'They activate the 'fight or flight' stress mechanism,' says Foster, 'and we know that stress in turn can suppress the immune system.' Bright lights, caffeine and nicotine artificially maintain stimulation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, studies show that nightshift workers are at increased risk of a range of health problems, from stress, constipation and stomach ulcers to depression, heart disease and cancer. For example, a 2001 study in Seattle, based on interviews with 800 women, found that females who worked the graveyard shift could face a 60 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer."
(Via Boing Boing)