Archive for the ‘Pennsylvania’ Category

A Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax?

May 17th, 2007 by David
David's friend Aaron Swoboda at his Pittsburgh house

While in Pittsburgh, in addition to staying with cyclist Tim Kelly, Bill and I visited some our friends in town, and I stayed with my friends Kip and Aaron (meanwhile, Bill stayed with his friends, April and John Paul) . My friend Aaron, shown on the right in his Pittsburgh apartment, recently finished his PhD in environmental economics (you can call him ‘Dr. Swoboda’ if you like) and is now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh (here is his blog). Over a drink, I asked Aaron how he would make us reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

“A revenue neutral carbon tax,” he told me.

The idea is to put a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, so that we have incentives to reduce our use of fossil fuels. This means energy from coal would cost more, as would gasoline. To make a difference, Aaron suggested that each gallon of gasoline might cost 50 cents to a dollar more. Aaron liked this solution because people who reduce their use of fossil fuel would be rewarded.

The revenue neutral part means that taxes elsewhere would be cut. For instance, income tax might be reduced. (The tricky part is that poorer people spend a much higher percentage of their paycheck on energy and gasoline, so they would be hurt more by a carbon tax – thus, their taxes would have to be cut much more). If done correctly, everyone would pay about the same amount of taxes, only now we would have a bigger incentive to pollute less and switch to non-greenhouse gas producing energy. Ok – yes, gas prices are already high, but this tax would be different, becuase instead of the money going to oil companies, the money would go towards lowering your taxes elsewhere.

Crossing over a freeway

I will admit that we got into a bit of an argument, as I argued that we should also have higher efficiency standards, and that we need more policies than just a tax to encourage us to be more efficient, to which Aaron replied that such efficiency standards were government interference when a carbon tax would be much simpler and have the same result.

I still believe in efficiency standards (as they are more politically viable as well), but why shouldn’t we take some of Aaron’s advice? Why not put a tax on things we should consume less of? Doesn’t a tax on gas and fossil fuels make some sense, especially if it is balanced with tax cuts elsewhere?

Three Days in Pittsburgh

May 16th, 2007 by David
Pittsburgh - who knew it was such a nice city?

I was surprised biking into Pittsburgh. As a former center of steel production, I had low expectations for the city, and was surprised to find a scenic, clean city. Indeed, Pittsburgh, which sits between where two rivers meet to create the Ohio River, was recently voted America’s most livable. Tim Kelly, the cyclist who led us into the city, also pointed out, with pride, the city’s bikeways along the rivers. A new trail connects Pittsburgh with Washington DC and is helping promote bicycle tourism and economic growth in many towns along the route.

To be sure, Pittsburgh’s economy has suffered in recent decades, as overseas competition has closed local steel mills. As we cycled in, Tim pointed out site after site where a former steel mill had operated, and explained that the population of Pittsburgh has shrunk as people have left to look for work elsewhere. On the other hand, without the steel mills, the air and water are far cleaner (I wonder what the pollution is like in the places where our steel is now made), and, because the population is shrinking, you can get a house in pleasant neighborhoods at a very affordable price.

Cyclists join us for ride to Allegheny commons and a tree planting.
Tree planting to commemorate 100th birthday of Rachel Carson (Kentucky Coffee tree, on Allegheny commons)

For our first event in Pittsburgh, we led a group of cyclists to the Allegeny Commons, one of the city’s many parks, to plant a tree to commemorate the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson. (Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring, which is credited with helping to begin the environmental movement – we were pretty honored to be at an event for her). A pastor from a local church gave an interfaith blessing, a representative from the mayor’s office attended, and we planted a Kentucky coffee tree.

Ride for Climate table at REI Pittsburgh
REI Pittsburgh - a silver certified LEED building (that means it is a 'green building' and very energy efficient

After the tree planting, we went back to the REI store where we began the ride and talked with shoppers and signed people up for our email list. We also found that the REI store is LEED certified — this is certification that indicates that a building energy efficient in it’s design and construction.

The following two days, we gave presentations at Chatham University and Robert Morris University and two radio interviews. At our presentations that are open to the public, most of the attendees already know a good deal about global warming, and we hope that we can inspire the attendees to take more action. At the talks we give to classes – where the students are required to be there – I am again surprised how little people know about global warming, and we try our best to make sure people understand that carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels, is the biggest problem.

Tim Kelly, about to lead us into the rain

After three full days, we left Pittsburgh, once again following cyclist Tim Kelly, who took a day off of work to help us navigate out of the city and help us start the ride into Ohio.

Across Pennsylvania

May 12th, 2007 by David
Bill pushing bike up 17% grade
Bill passes a horse drawn carriage in Amish country

Leaving Bill’s hometown of Chester Springs, Bill and I started our 6-day bike across Pennsylvania to reach Pittsburgh. The first two days we crossed scenic farmland (check out Bill passing an Amish horse drawn carriage on the right) before butting into the Appalachian Mountains.

We were warned by another cyclist that the Appalachians would ‘break your heart’ because of their steep grades. And yes, the hills were steep – on the right Bill is pushing his bike up a 17% grade. Over the six days crossing Pennsylvania, we stayed at two cheap hotels, camped in one backyard, camped at one campground, and stayed on the floor of two people’s houses (thanks to both Bill and Rob). We also had a story and photo in the Daily American of Somerset County. When we arrived in Confluence, PA two people eating ice cream at a roadside stand asked if we were the cyclists riding to talk about global warming.

Bill, farms

My favorite part about bicycle touring is that it is easy to meet people along the roadsides (the conversations usually start by someone staring at our loaded touring bikes and asking us what the hell we are doing). If we tell people we are riding to riding to “promote action on global warming” we often receive strange looks and few questions – especially in the countryside. One man who said he did not believe in global warming (more accurately, said he thought it was ‘horse crap’) suggested we begin by talking more about energy efficiency. Taking his advice, Bill and I have started to say we are riding to “promote energy efficiency and other solutions to global warming,” which has then led to conversations over energy efficiency, even with people who may not agree about global warming.

Dwane and Bonnie

Nearly everyone we talk to agrees that Pennsylvania is warmer than it once was, but only a few make the direct connection to burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal. I talked to Dwane and Bonnie, who we passed on a bike trail (photo right). Dwane is a beekeeper (has 800 hives), and told me that the winters have been getting much warmer. “Most people think that warmer winter would be good for the bees, but it isn’t.” Dwane told me. “They don’t hibernate if it is too warm, so they need more food to survive, yet there isn’t enough food for them in the winter — it’s a big problem.” Dwane thought that it was getting warmer because of “all the chemicals we are putting into the atmosphere,” but also, surprisingly, argued that global warming is “Just a theory – you can’t prove it.”

David giving talk for boy scouts at our campground

The end of our trip to Pittsburgh followed a bike trail along Youghiogheny River. The last night we shared a campground along the river with a group of boy scouts on a canoe trip, and, using my laptop, we gave a short presentation. The following morning, Tim Kelly, a cyclist who helped to coordinate all of our Pittsburgh events, met us and led us into the city, where we will be staying and giving talks for the next few days.

Into My Hometown

May 7th, 2007 by Bill

David stayed behind in NYC to do two television interviews for Spanish news stations. I headed off via train from Manhattan over to Somerville, NJ, and then biked two days to my hometown of of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

Entering Pennsylvania

Biking slowly to allow David to catch up, I took the time to snap more photos. I stopped alongside a maze of electrical transformers and took a few photos that I thought might be useful in presentations.

Electrical Wires - the police pulled Bill over for taking this picture

Apparently someone considered this suspicious because a few minutes later two police cars pulled me over. The police couldn’t quite understand what I was doing and didn’t like my answer of “nowhere really” when they asked where I lived. I certainly understood their concern in this post 9-11 world, but this also brings up the issue of energy security. Are there new ways to supply energy that will not contribute to global warming and will also provide less of a target to terrorists? Could less centralized systems of wind, solar and other forms of energy also offer other important benefits?

David caught up by the time we reached Valley Forge National Park and we pedaled the last 20 miles into Chester Springs. (The house below is where I grew up. I learned to ride a bicycle in that very driveway.)

Bill, in front of the house he grew up in, in Chester Springs, PA

Some roads became noticeably less comfortable to ride as cars passed by at high speeds with little concern for bicyclists and many roads and intersections simply had no thought of bicyclists or pedestrians in their design. The rolling farmland that I knew growing up has been largely replaced by massive houses on large lots.

Large Houses in Suburban Pennsylvania

This makes it difficult for people who want to be more energy efficient since they often have no options for public transportation and large houses also require more energy to heat and cool. On the other hand, there are big savings to be made by even small steps such as weather stripping doors and windows, changing to energy efficient light bulbs and insulating the hot water heater.

We stayed with some of my family in Chester Springs.

Bill's brother, Jon, tracks us down because we left this sandwich at his house.

It was great to see them, but also good to hear their perspective on global warming. We have very different views on some things but find a lot of common ground on the need to address global warming. On Saturday we biked to a nearby festival that was coordinated by a Green Valleys Association, a local organization. There were booths with people talking about locally grown produce, more fuel efficient vehicles, and energy efficient products for building homes.

The Envirofest in Chester Springs - we gave a talk here

We gave a short talk there and another that evening to a large group that my friends had gathered around a dinner at their house. On Sunday we gave a talk to local 6th grade students. My sister-in-law coordinated the event (and did a great job!) and we spoke with about 20 kids as well as some parents.

A talk for a 6th graders in Chester Springs