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Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

By Susan Kelleher, Seattle Times consumer affairs reporter

seattlesnowstreetsTo hear the city’s spin, Seattle’s road crews are making “great progress” in clearing the ice-caked streets.

But it turns out “plowed streets” in Seattle actually means “snow-packed,” as in there’s snow and ice left on major arterials by design.

“We’re trying to create a hard-packed surface,” said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “It doesn’t look like anything you’d find in Chicago or New York.”

The city’s approach means crews clear the roads enough for all-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles, or those with front-wheel drive cars as long as they are using chains, Wiggins said.

The icy streets are the result of Seattle’s refusal to use salt, an effective ice-buster used by the state Department of Transportation and cities accustomed to dealing with heavy winter snows.

“If we were using salt, you’d see patches of bare road because salt is very effective,” Wiggins said. “We decided not to utilize salt because it’s not a healthy addition to Puget Sound.”

By ruling out salt and some of the chemicals routinely used by snowbound cities, Seattle has embraced a less-effective strategy for clearing roads, namely sand sprinkled on top of snowpack along major arterials, and a chemical de-icer that is effective when temperatures are below 32 degrees.

Seattle also equips its plows with rubber-edged blades. That minimizes the damage to roads and manhole covers, but it doesn’t scrape off the ice, Wiggins said.

That leaves many drivers, including Seattle police, pretty much on their own until nature does to the snow what the sand can’t: melt it.

The city’s patrol cars are rear-wheel drive. And even with tire chains, officers are avoiding hills and responding on foot, according to a West Precinct officer.

Between Thursday and Monday, the city spread about 6,000 tons of sand on 1,531 miles of streets it considers major arterials.

The tonnage, sprinkled atop the packed snow, amounts to 1.4 pounds of sand per linear foot of roadway, an amount one expert said might be too little to provide effective traction.

“Hmmm. Six thousand tons of sand for that length of road doesn’t seem like it’s enough,” said Diane Spector, a water-resources planner for Wenck Associates, which evaluated snow and ice clearance for nine cities in the Midwest.

Spector and snow-control experts in four cities said sand is typically mixed with salt and used for trouble spots.

“The occasional application of salt is probably not going to have a lasting effect” on the environment, Spector said. But she cautioned it’s highly dependent on where it’s used, how often and how much is applied.

Seattle’s stand against using salt is not shared by the state Department of Transportation, which has battled the latest storms in Western Washington with de-icer, 5,800 tons of salt and 11,500 cubic yards of salt and sand mix, said spokesman Travis Phelps.

Many cities are moving away from sand because it clogs the sewers, runs into waterways, creates air pollution and costs more to clean up.

Its main attraction is that it typically costs less than one-fifth the price of salt, according to Spector.

“We never use sand,” said Ann Williams, spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Public Works. “Sand causes dust, and there’s also water-quality issues where it goes into streets and into our rivers.”

Instead, it sprays an “anti-icing” agent on dry roads before the snow falls and then a combination of chemicals to melt the ice.

Cheryl Kuck, spokeswoman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said her city prepared the streets last week with the “anti-icing” spray. Once the snow started, Portland used chemical de-icers, followed by plowing with 55 plows and treating trouble spots with sand and gravel.

Although the city had plowed 29 of its 36 major routes, “nothing is clear,” Kuck said late Monday afternoon. “This is a difficult and challenging situation that’s going to take us a long time to recover from.”

Wiggins, of Seattle’s transportation department, said the city’s 27 trucks had plowed and sanded 100 percent of Seattle’s main roads, and were going back for second and third passes.

“It’s tough going. I won’t argue with you on that,” he said. But here in Seattle, “we’re sensitive about everything we do that impacts the environment.”

Reporters Sara Jean Green and Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.

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In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source; MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

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‘We thought we’d be at that threshold within about a decade,” said Australian of the Year and scientists Tim Flannery.  ”We thought we had that much time, but the new data indicates that in about mid-2005, we crossed that threshold.”

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By Jill

Think You’re Making a Difference?

There are 151 new conventional coal-fired power plants in various stages of development in the US today.

HOME DEPOT
Home Depot is funding the planting of 300,000 trees in cities across the US to help absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions… The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, will negate this entire effort.

WAL-MART
Wal-Mart is investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next seven years. If every Wal-Mart Supercenter met this target…The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of operation each year, would negate this entire effort.

CALIFORNIA

California passed legislation to cut CO2 emissions in new cars by 25% and in SUVs by 18%, starting in 2009. If every car and SUV sold in California in 2009 met this standard…The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just eight months of operation each year, would negate this entire effort.

EVERY HOUSEHOLD
If every household in the US changed a 60-watt incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent…The CO2 emissions from just two medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate this entire effort.

pollution, coal power plant, electricity, stop, no, more, coal, dirty, power, plants, emissions, wal-mart, california, home depot

Without coal, all the positive efforts underway can make a difference.

Over an 11-year period (1973–1983), the US built approx. 30 billion square feet of new buildings, added approx. 35 million new vehicles and increased real GDP by one trillion dollars while decreasing its energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

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By the Onion 😉

onion_news3244.jpgFENGHUA, CHINA—Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of crap Americans will buy.”

Chen makes yet more stupid crap for consumers overseas.

“Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,'” Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. “One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless crap?”

Chen, 23, who has worked as an injection-mold operator at the factory since it opened in 1996, said he frequently asks himself these questions during his workweek, which exceeds 60 hours and earns him the equivalent of $21.

“I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”

Among the items that Chen has helped create are plastic-bag dispensers, microwave omelet cookers, glow-in-the-dark page magnifiers, Christmas-themed file baskets, animal-shaped contact-lens cases, and adhesive-backed wall hooks.

“Sometimes, an item the factory produces resembles nothing I’ve ever seen,” Chen said. “One time, we made something that looked like a ladle, but it had holes in its cup and a handle that bent down 90 degrees. The foreman told us that it was a soda-can holder for an automobile. If you are lucky enough to own a car, sit back and enjoy the journey. Save the soda beverage for later.”

Chen added: “A cup holder is not a necessary thing to own.”

Chen expressed similar confusion over the tens of thousands of pineapple corers, plastic eye shades, toothpick dispensers, and dog pull-toys that he has helped manufacture.

“Why the demand for so many kitchen gadgets?” Chen said. “I can understand having a good wok, a rice cooker, a tea kettle, a hot plate, some utensils, good china, a teapot with a strainer, and maybe a thermos. But all these extra things—where do the Americans put them? How many times will you use a taco-shell holder? ‘Oh, I really need this silverware-drawer sorter or I will have fits.'”

Chen added that many of the items break after only a few uses.

“None are built to last very long,” Chen said. “That is probably so the Americans can return to buy more. Not even the badly translated assembly instructions deter them. If I bought a kitchen item that came with such poor Mandarin instructions, I would return the item immediately.”

May Gao of the Hong Kong-based labor-advocacy group China Labour Bulletin said complaints like Chen’s are common among workers in China’s bustling industrial cities.

“Last week, I took testimony from several young female workers from Shenzhen who said they were locked in a work room for 18 straight hours making inflatable Frisbees,” Gao said. “Finally, the girls joined hands on the factory floor and began to chant, ‘No more insane flying toys for Western pigs!’ They quickly lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families, but the incident was a testament to China’s growing disillusionment with producing needless crap for fat foreigners.”

Continued Gao: “As Chinese manufacturing and foreign investment continue to grow, and more silly novelty products are invented, we can expect to see more of these protests.”

In the meantime, Chen continues to stew in bitterness. Though he dislikes his work, competition for manufacturing jobs in Fenghua is stiff and he must support his wife, mother, and 2-year-old son.

“My cousin Yuen is self-employed,” Chen said. “He disassembles old computers that are acquired from overseas and extracts the traces of valuable gold and silver from the circuit boards. He asked me to join him. The work is very toxic, but at least I would not be looking at suction-cup razor holders and jumbo-dice key chains all day.”

Chen added: “For now, I must refuse the job. Somehow, the only thing more depressing than making plastic crap for Americans is destroying the plastic crap they send back.”

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Thomas and I hiked/climbed Guye Peak today with a good friend and his three boys. It was a gorgeous day and an awesome way to spend the 4th of July!!!

Guye Peak Climb

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