Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arctic Blast 2008

There is nothing like a big snow storm to remind a person the power of the weather. This is the first Christmas I will spend away from my family. After spending six hour fruitlessly waiting in a train which was delayed, because another train was frozen to the tracks, I have decided to settle down and spend Christmas in Portland.
Blanketed in snow the city has for a few days radically changed. There are very few cars on the roads, most people have chosen instead to walk. The street, instead of being dangerous dividers, have opened up into a new community space. So far I have hitched two rides downtown, I've meet and talked with more people than I would have if there had not been any snow. I strangely feel united with my Portland comrades, we are all having to change our habits to confront this change. Instead of waiting for the bus with a few drunken hobos the bus stops are filled with every Portlander, many of who have never ridden the bus before. Instead of traveling around the city I have been forced to remain close to home and discover the places around me. It has been a truly local experience. Many of the assumptions that I had made about Portland seem to have been false. People don't need cars to go everywhere, and we can use spaces in our community to benefit the community. The city is relatively quiet, instead of rushing around people seem to be taking it easy.
In a couple of days the snow will melt away and things will return to the way they were before the Arctic Blast of 2008. The most inspiring thing for me was watching how it is possible for people to change their habits and the way we see our city. While it took a snow storm for this to happen, perhaps someday we might be able to make this change happen without a storm. Seeing the city differently gave me hope that we can make a city that works for people instead of working for the sake of working.

Friday, December 12, 2008

new LC bike coordinator position!

The idea behind this position is to pay someone to support a bike culture at Lewis and Clark. While many students are interested in biking, have bikes on campus, or bike to school, there is no one person who helps to promote this alternative form of transportation. The key focus of the bike coordinator for this year would be to reinvigorate the bike room and make it a functional space. There are many knowledgeable students on campus who are passionate about biking and are interested in helping students learn to use their bikes. The bike coordinator would be responsible for finding and organizing these people by setting up bike room rules and hours.

The bike coordinator is a non work study position and you will get paid $600 over the course of the semester through the sustainability council. There are 15 weeks in the semester so this equals working 4 hours a week at 10 dollars an hour. You would be responsible for either attending the monthly sustainability council meetings or submitting a report on what you have accomplished before the meetings. If you have any more questions please do not hesitate to write to me, kielj@lclark.edu.

All application will be due by January 25th. Depending on the number of applicants we receive we may ask you to set up a time for an interview. We will announce who is receiving the position shortly after January 25th.

if you are interested please email me (kielj@) and i'll send you the questions

Monday, December 1, 2008

Town in Pakistan bans motorized four wheeled vehicles

here is an interesting example of a town banning cars in order to improve the general well-being of the population and fight global warming


some final notes about sustainability at the end of the semester

Historians figure that about 80 billion humans have inhabited the planet over the course of human history. This totals out to about 2.16 trillion years. Due to rapidly increasing population humans over the last 100 years, one fifth of all those years has taken place in the twentieth century. One fifth of all the experiences humans have ever gone through occurred between 1900 and 2000. At the same time our economy and ability to consume has increased dramatically. The world economy is 120 times larger than it was in 1500. Our per capita income has increased 9 fold. Technology has allowed us unprecedented freedom to travel and experience people and places. As the world has increased in size our individualism and freedom have surprisingly increased as well. However the question is at what long-term cost?

The most interesting thing I have ever read about sustainability was in a book called Something New Under the Sun, in it author John McNeill said, “It is impossible to know whether humankind has entered a genuine ecological crisis. It is clear enough that our current ways are ecologically unsustainable, but we cannot know for how long we may yet sustain them, or what might happen if we do. In any case, human history since the dawn of agriculture is replete with unsustainable societies, some of which vanished but many of which changed their ways and survived. They changed not to sustainability but to some new and different kind of unsustainable. Perhaps we can, as it were, pile one unsustainable regime upon another indefinitely, making adjustments large and small but avoiding collapse.” These adjustments have become what sustainability means, simply avoiding collapse. However I am not satisfied with this answer.

Looking toward the future it would seem like at some point in our lives we will get the chance to own an electric car. The incentive for the development of electric cars is based on the assumption that gas prices will at some point go up again. However if enough people start buying electric cars the price of gas will go down causing people to return to buying gasoline powered cars. Perhaps through tax incentives we could prevent this trend but passing gas taxes is a difficult thing to do.

Sustainability has to be about a historical reexamination of what we view as “rational decisions” and place those decisions in a long-term perspective. It cannot be a simple rationality, market driven replacement scheme, but a conscious effort to improve society that is based on knowledge. If we remove our agency and leave ourselves prey to our rational decisions I don’t think we stand much chance of becoming either sustainable or sexy. As our school and society continues to seek ways to “green” itself I hope we begin to see the ways in which our current system is preventing us from saving ourselves. Sustainability needs to be about seeing past our ideological assumptions to develop new ways of how our society could be structured that is both sustainable and increases the individualism and freedom we have enjoyed over the past century.