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Down To Earth

Best of 2008: Features

Thank you for joining us in 2008 - it's been a wild ride.  No year in retrospect is complete without acknowledging the phenomenal victory of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States America – for with that victory it sure seems that anything is possible.  And it is – there’s a real energy growing right now.  For the first time, certainly in the lives of DTE, there is a connectiveness that can be felt between a collective people.  Whether you believe it or not, we’re all in this together.

The role that we have taken is to inform you all of stories, news, events and perspectives that we think are critical to the times and our chosen location.  We sincerely hope that we have succeeded in this role, and just know that it’s a tireless effort.  I guess in the end, all we’re really doing is trying to cut through the BS and explain what’s going on.  Famed author, journalist and environmentalist Thomas Friedman had this to say about that, “In this era of mounting complexity with more people, systems and products entwined in a bewildering web of global networks, explaining is an enormously valuable skill.” 

In 2008, here is where we felt we explained our best – our favorite features of the year.

The most ambitious project we ever undertook turned out to be not only our finest work, but also one of very few things that survived the transition from the old site to the new site.

Our 7 Wonders of Spokane series, grown out of frustration, and nurtured out of love for our great city, was a massive project and best of all a collaborative project.

Off the heels of an un intentionally hilarious KXLY video that counted down the 7 Wonders of Spokane (Dicks, the goat, etc) we enlisted the help of our local friends to identify the 7 Wonders of Spokane, the true wonders that make people proud of this region and would make people want to visit Spokane.

From that initial email we got dozens of suggestions, and then the suggestion to not limit it to seven. With that in mind we create the 7 Natural Wonders of Spokane, the 7 Cultural Wonders of Spokane and the 7 Surrounding Wonders of Spokane. Visit the series HERE.

Unfortunately, due to problems with bringing over our archives from the old site, we don’t have workable links to our old features but what follows are some of our favorite features from the year.

To see all of our past features in their entirety, see our Myspace blog, located HERE.

Take some time, escape the snow and relive some of our writings of 2008.

The stories we have included are our interview with Mary Verner (she was heavily criticized for not being more visible during the horrible snow storm in January, yet the day after it snowed she met DTE in her office to conduct this interview), our trip to Olympia for Environmental Lobby Day, our feature on Bike To Work Week and the state of bicycling in Spokane, and a piece on "greenwashing". Enjoy!

 Mayor Mary Verner and Down To Earth

 This post first appeared on Down To Earth on February, 5.

Last week was an odd time in Spokane. The winter storm that steamrolled through the region left many people scrambling to adapt not to snow and cold– seeing how this is still Spokane–but to LOTS of snow and cold. All the while, it was business as usual and DTE had a sit down interview with Mayor Mary Verner. Roads, schools and businesses may have been closed but Mayor Verner, just over the crest of a bug that was going around and noticeably worn of its effects, combined with the copious stress of digging out a city, graciously followed through with our interview request.

The Mayor spoke diligently about Spokane and its place on the green radar, highlighting her confidence in, "how green we are already." To read the interview

DTE: Talk about your environmental agenda.

Mayor Verner: I will have a coordinated environmental agenda, of which I am compiling now for my State of the City Address on February 8. It incorporates not only the state of all the departments in the city but really where I want to take the city government in my term. I have created a Sustainability Office for the city of Spokane and many of my environmental initiatives will reside in that office and in the office of Environmental Programs which is in the Public Works Division. The Sustainability Office arises out of the Economic Development division and coordinates with the Public Works Division

DTE: Spokane is known for throwing mega events like Hoopfest and Bloomsday, could the city focus on a good environmental event, like the Spokane River Cleanup?

Mayor Verner: The city could support the River Cleanup even more, I would like to highlight that event and give it more visibility. In addition, I have been asked and I agree that I would like to create a day that is really focused on the river. I would like to organize it around what used to be the old Pow Wow Day in late spring. It could incorporate the native tribes.

In regards to phosphorous levels in the Spokane River

Mayor Verner: The collaborate plan to address phosphorous in the river was a good template and a good process. All the many stakeholders need to gather around one table and share perspectives. Ultimately the responsibilities fall to government but government should be informed by the stake holders who are either dischargers or feel passionately about the cleanup. Government is responsible for addressing all of those interests. I'm not about to back down from the commitments that were made for phosphorous. The city of Spokane has tremendous interest in making sure the other stakeholders continue to engage the other dischargers.

DTE: Are groups like the Sierra Club being reasonable with their expectations for the city in regards to the phosphorous levels?

Mayor Verner: Let me say this, it's not helpful to be sued, it really diverts our resources into fighting the courts instead of putting those resources into cleaning up the river.

DTE: Could you address golf courses and their role in all of this?

Mayor Verner: I can only speak on city golf courses but yes. The city is undertaking pilot projects at our own courses for reused water and this is part of our commitment to the team deal for phosphorous and for greater conservation and reuse of water resources. If we have a plentiful supply of reused water we won't need to use as much fertilizer. A dual purpose of addressing chemical application and watering with reused water on city golf courses. Also, the Parks Department is investing, as money allows, in our own irrigation, to make sure they are modern day with timing devices and trying to power those with solar energy, that's a matter of capitol investment that has to be planned.

Mayor Verner discussed parts of her legislative agenda for the city that she will be taking to Olympia

Mayor Verner: I am pursuing renewable energy credit. My sustainability office is going to be a regional leader in looking at climate change and oil depletion which I'm calling Energy Security, it has a better ring. It really has become the positive aspect of a negative factor that we need to take into consideration which is oil depletion and moving us into alternative energy in a very aggressive way. I unabashedly support being a Cool City; it is not something I am reluctant about at all. I will also be looking for great building incentives, looking for the state to support us so I'm not competing with other jurisdictions.

DTE: You mention buildings, and the new Saranac building is a great example. Do you see Spokane accepting this idea?

Mayor Verner: On the building side of things I see it escalating in a great way. At my state of the city address I'm going to be highlighting how green we already are.

I first approached the business community and said that one of my priorities for the city of Spokane was to be the Inland Northwest hub, if not the northwest hub for a green economic sector. (For State of the City Address) What I'm compiling is examples of where we already are leaders in green manufacturing, and environmentally conscious business practices, especially in buildings.

Jim Sheehan has the LEED certified office building with the Saranac. Spokane Falls Community College just built a green education building as their new business building. It is LEED certified. The Convention Center is LEED certified, which is a gathering place and meeting facility. We have the Spokane Home Builders Association with their Green Building program, which is encouraging more residential structures. The Abbey, in the Perry District, is going to be a very cutting edge residential structure, all green residential structure. There is a manufacturing facility that is also a green facility, which is BlueRay Technologies. And Mountain Gear as a warehouse distribution facility, that is LEED certified.

So we already have office, education, convention, residential, distribution and warehouse facilities that we can showcase to people what we are already doing. We have great examples of how we are already pursuing this path. I just want to set us very firmly on the green path, very proudly on the green path.

DTE Does Olympia

This post first appeared on Down To Earth on January, 30.

Even during the Legislative Session on an entire day devoted to what many believe to be the most important issue facing America, Olympia can be a lonely place. That is if you are walking around wearing a name tag that says you are from the 3rd District and everyone knows you are from Spokane.

Last week, DTE headed west over the mountains to Olympia for Environmental Lobby Day. It was a chance to see first hand how citizens of Washington felt about climate change, sustainable living and green jobs. It was a chance to see how congressmen and women, senators and even the Gov. reacted to comments concerning Washington and how good or bad citizens thought the state was doing. And it was a chance to surprise the hell out of people when they found out someone from the eastside of the state showed up.

The idea behind Lobby Day is to get together a bunch of passionate, articulate and energized citizens who will arm themselves with knowledge of particular bills and take that knowledge to their respective represents to make the case for them to support the bill or thank them if they are already in support.

As we've mentioned before on DTE, this year's four Priorities for a Healthy Washington bills are: Local Farms Healthy Kids, Evergreen Cities, Local Solutions to Global Warming, and Climate Action and Green Jobs. The later two deal directly with climate change of course and the other two promote healthy sustainable living. However, all four are deeply rooted in environmental framework.

If there is one other purpose of Lobby Day, it would be an unspoken one but a very important one indeed. And that is a chance to recharge ones batteries. Surrounded by scores of people from all over the state who feel the same way about environmental issues and share a sense of motivation and desire for change, it is impossible not to be empowered and driven for more success.

Lobby Day kicked off bright and early on a gorgeous sunny morning at the United Churches of Olympia. Once registered we were unleashed to a breakfast buffet and meet and greet. It was here that it became painstakingly clear that few if anyone from DTE territory was in attendance.

The welcoming address was in the sanctuary of the church and five minutes before the address, a wave of excitement and clamoring ensued as Governor Chris Gregoire approached the podium (this of course being a surprise as it wasn't listed on the agenda).

Gov. Gregoire provided a football coach-like pep talk to the 300 plus eco-warriors in attendance. It's worth mentioning that you could easily split the room 50/50 and one half would be under 30-years old and the other half over 60.

Even before the first words came out of her mouth, the crowd chanted, "Four more years." With that, she spoke about how often people take for granted the hard work and dedication of the people in the environmental community, she hit upon key buzzwords such as, "time is wasting", "moral responsibility to save the planet", a DTE favorite "change" and "keep the pressure on." She spoke very passionately and seemed oddly surprised how well she was being received. It appeared at times that she was taken back by the enthusiasm of the lobbyists.

Governor Gregoire made one thing very clear in her fifteen minute speech. She talked about how the western states and some provinces in Canada and states in Mexico have joined up to fight climate change and curb emissions. She stressed how no one has taken the lead and that Washington is in a prime position to lead. "Forget D.C. for a minute, we in Washington state are going to lead," she said. "We want to provide an agenda to the next president of the United States that America and the west is going to lead the rest of the world on global climate change." As her words echoed through church sanctuary she pulled out her 'win one for the Gipper moment', "There's a generation yet to be born who needs the inspiration and the passion that you show here today."

DTE followed one bill in particular for most of Lobby Day, House Bill 2815 or Climate Action and Green Jobs. This bill as it read in the handout, "creates a structure and timeline for implementing the state's global warming pollution reduction goals, and creates a program to prepare Washington workers for good jobs in the clean energy economy, providing pathways out of poverty for lower-income communities."

Megan Dixon of Climate Solutions stated, "[this bill] not only how to we confront global warming but how do we recognize the economic opportunity." HB2815 was formed in conjunction with the Governor's Climate Advisory team and is Governor sponsored. Senator Craig Pridemore (D) likened the economic opportunity to that of the dot com boom of the 90's, "like Silicon Valley and high tech, Washington state should position itself as a hub for green tech and a green workforce."

After two workshops about HB2815 it was time to see the bill in action. There was a House Committee Hearing on the bill in the John O'Brien Building on Capitol Campus and the hearing played to a full house. The first attempt was in Room E which sat about 25 people. After nearly 50 people crowded the hearing, it was moved to Room C and its 100 person occupancy, which still wasn't quite enough but the show of support was just as effective as the comments to the committee.

Environmental Lobby Day 2008 was a mighty success in many ways. It was quite amazing to see the amount of energy put to use in positive means as it was just as impressive to see the overwhelming support by several members of congress and the senate. Stay tuned to DTE for any and all news concerning the four Priorities for a Healthy Washington and their progress.

The state of bicycling in Spokane

Work to eat. Eat to live. Live to bike. Bike to work

Take a bow Spokane; your participation, enthusiasm, and overall two-wheel hysteria this week is worth an ovation and the best part is, it's quite infectious. In logistical terms, Bike to Work week is a smashing success. Nearly 900 people have registered to bike to work this week, an astonishing obliteration of expectations. That is some 600 or so more than was expected as only 300 shirts were made to give away to participants. Super-bicycle-awareness promoter Barb Chamberlain has been working this event like Don King promoting a fight. In daily emails she has sent out updating everybody on the progress, she never fails to mention how overwhelming the response has been. It's been a while since Spokane has promoted this national event locally but you can guarantee that Barb will be upping the number of T-Shirts for next year. But what will Spokane do in terms of accommodating Bike to Work 2009 participants? By that time will Spokane be a more bicycle friendly city? Judging by the number of passionate riders this week, and some sincere local activists – the odds are in favor of two wheels in Spokane.

Aside from the obvious national trends like soaring gas prices and a frightening economy, there are local factors that could contribute to a larger bicycle commuting/recreating community. The City of Spokane is currently updating the City's Master Bike Plan as part of the transportation section of the City's Comprehensive Plan. The Master Bike Plan hasn't been updated in over 20 years. Possible solutions from this could be added infrastructures, signage, bicycle facilities and an overall increase in the bicycle riding experience. Last January we had the pleasure of interviewing Liza Mattana from Pedals2People.

We talked about how riding in Spokane can be daunting and she said "if there were more bike racks, bike lanes, bike boulevards, or signage simply stating 'Share the Road' more people would do it." She added, "if you have those facilities that make it easier, people will do, like recycling." Citizens are encouraged to participate in the updating of the Master Bike Plan and are urged to complete a survey responding to how the city can better accommodate riders. Additionally, the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board meets the third Tuesday of every month. The Bicycle Advisory Board's goal (as stated on their site), To make Spokane a more bicycle-friendly community. We want to increase opportunities for all citizens to enjoy the benefits of bicycling. Cities that are more favorable to cycling have healthier citizens, offer a better quality of life, and offer a richer economic foundation for businesses that locate within the "bikeable" areas of urban boundaries."

Safety is probably the most common reason people give for not bike commuting. People don't feel safe leaving their bikes downtown, people don't feel safe not riding on the sidewalk and overall, cars make people feel unsafe. In a recent editorial in Out There Monthly, the czar of Spokane bicycle riding, and fellow blogger John Speare said "When we're kids, we're taught to stay out of the way of cars. We are taught to ride on the sidewalks and stay out of the way. Yet, as adults, if we read up on cycling in traffic, we find the recommendation to "be a vehicle" is the safest, to "take the lane!" Going back to our January interview with Liza Mattana here advice was, "Any new thing you are leaning is scary and daunting, finding a support system helps. Try finding people on bikes and talk to them. Try it once a week, once a month, try to be bold. Just get out there and be seen, that is the best thing to do." One "support" group to look into is the Spokane County Commute Trip Reduction program which encourages alternatives to driving oneself to work through participation with your employer. Through this program you could meet other bicycle commuters and learn more about their experience.

As for services that meet the demands of bicycle commuters, aside from individual companies who may offer secure bike storage, locker rooms or showers, the amenities available aren't congruent with the growing needs. DTE has heard several times that riders avoid downtown simply because it's not safe to leave one's bike. With the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza being nicely located yet inadequately accommodating to bicycle commuters, it only seems logical that Molly Myers, the communications director for the STA recently discussed STA's interest in reconfiguring the Plaza and its services to make it more user friendly for bicyclists. One thing she talked about was including secure bicycle storage as well as looking to add a bicycle retailer to the Plaza's space. Currently seven of the twelve Park & Ride lots operated by the STA have bicycle lockers.

Myers talked about the desire to add more and improve on current ones. One complaint toward the STA and their bicycle friendliness is the lack of service on the actual buses. There are only two bike racks on the front of buses, a growing bicycle community would require more. Myers is open to suggestions and encourages the public to attend open public meetings.

It's possible that in ten years we will look back at Bike to Work week 2008 and remember it for the push that Spokane needed for bicycle acceptance and change, maybe the push that got the proverbial ball rolling. While we often times don't like to over-think or over-conceptualize, something feels right about this week. From the huge turnout at the kickoff breakfast in Riverfront Park on Monday to the seemingly parade of bicyclists in and out of workplaces, Bike to Work week is surely an event that Spokane will hang onto, and we all know how much Spokane loves its events. Though Bike to Work week will end this Friday in a blowout at the Steamplant Grill.

DTE fully expects two wheels to ride on as Spokane makes biking to work a new Lilac City tradition.

Car-less

Last April, Barb Chamberlain told the Spokesman-Review, "I think people would be scared off if they had to change their whole life all at once. But it's so doable, once it's part of your routine."

That's the ethic of the environmental movement and our daily tips. We are all creatures of habit, and it takes a simple event like Bike To Work week to make us realize change is easily within our reach. And the impact is huge. Riding a bike for an hour not only leads to physical fitness—eating 408 calories in a 160-pound person—and if you commuted to work on a bike at least four days a week (presumably eight miles, round trip), you would save yourself 54 gallons of gas annually and 1,140 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

In Spokane, ground transportation contributes more than half of the carbon emissions generated within Spokane's city limits, while The American West at large has heated up faster than the world as a whole. Every little bit now makes a difference. Unfortunately, the California Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving bicycle conditions in the state, cites statistics that show only 1.67 percent of Americans commute by bicycle. Another frightening statistic from that state: more than half of all commutes and 75 percent of shopping trips are less than five miles, distances that are perfect for bicycling. This is the sort of idle mentality that needs to be overcome.

Besides, riding a bike is fun; there's something intrinsically thrilling, especially when traffic is bumper to bumper, and you're passing stressed out commuters. "It's like being a kid again," Chamberlain told the S-R, "if you remember when having a bike meant freedom

Below are twelve tips to consider from National Geographic's Green Guide before pushing the pedal. Spandex optional.

Daily Tip 244

1) Check your local air quality. Before heading out, visit the EPA's AIRNow air quality index at www.airnow.gov. If your city's air quality index exceeds 151, consider taking public transportation or driving, since air pollution at that level can affect all individuals. To reduce harm to developing lungs, children should avoid riding bikes to school when the AQI is above 100. Regardless of air quality, avoid routes heavily trafficked by big, diesel-powered trucks and busses, which spew particulate matter that not only triggers respiratory problems like asthma and lung disease but has also been found to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And while you're at it, check the weather to see if rain is in the forecast for your ride home.


2) Pump it up. To avoid untimely flats, make sure your tires are properly inflated to the recommended air pressure, which is typically located on the side of the tire and listed in pounds per inch, or ppi. All floor pumps have an air pressure gauge built in, but if you've only got a hand pump, use a separate handheld gauge.


3) Check the brakes. Always, always check your bike's brakes before every ride. Lift the front wheel off the ground, give it a spin and squeeze the brake lever; the wheel should halt instantly. Repeat for rear wheel (spinning the top of the tire backwards, so as not to engage the cranks and pedals and ding your shin!).


4) Don a decent helmet every time you ride, no matter how short the trip! Choose one made for cycling—Bell (www.bellbikehelmets.com) and Giro (www.giro.com) are both reliable brands—that fits snugly on your head without wiggling around. Adjust the straps to wrap securely under your chin, without choking you, of course. Replace any helmet that's taken a good pounding, as it may have been weakened in the crash.


5) Find the right fit. Adjust your bike's saddle, or seat, so that your knee is just slightly flexed when the pedal reaches the lowest point of its orbit. This saves your knees and maximizes efficiency.


6) Dress smart. Wear brightly colored, reflective clothing, especially if you'll be riding at dust or after dark. During cooler weather, cover up with light, breathable layers; Ibex's Echo T, made from breathable, lightweight merino wool ($69; www.rootedtonature.com, 866-766-8332) and Nau's Cleanline jackets, made from recycled polyester ($220; www.nau.com, 877-454-5628), both come in men's and women's fits.

On the road:


7) Your bike is a vehicle. As such, you must obey all local traffic laws and rules of the road. Ride with traffic, never against it—even on one-way roads. Heed stop signs, red lights and all other traffic signals, and always use hand signals to change lanes and turn. Hand signal definitions can be found at www.grand-island.com

8) Stick to bike lanes and bike paths whenever possible; there's no safer place to ride. If there aren't any designated lanes or paths in your city, contact the local Department of Transportation or Department of City Planning and find out if there's a bike master plan, which basically outlines a city's plans for future bike infrastructure. Transportation Alternative's Simons recommends an even more hands-on approach: "Invite your local elected officials out for a bike ride and show them what the local conditions are." You might inspire improvements.

9) Show some respect. Out-of-control cyclists give us all a bad name, so be sure to yield to pedestrians and stay off the sidewalk. Nearly everywhere in the country, pedestrians always have the right of way, regardless of street signs and signals, so stay alert.


10) Illuminate. Mount lights on the front and rear of your bike. Use them even at the first hint of dusk, as low light makes you and your bike much less visible through a windshield; battery-operated Beamer 3LED headlights ($24.99) and Blinky 3 LED tail lights ($14.99; www.planetbike.com, 866-256-8510). If you're willing to spend more, CatEye makes rechargeable LED lights from $130 (www.cateye.com/store).

After the ride:


11) Secure a spot. If at all possible, bring your bike indoors to a safe spot. Ask around if there's any place convenient to store it at work. If your boss or building manager won't allow bikes indoors, try to figure out why and work with that, says Simons. She also suggests that you ask to use the freight elevator, if one exists, and to store your bike by your desk if you have room (and if your employer or building manager hasn't provided storage space). Otherwise, she says, "write to your employer or building manager to convince them to allow bikes inside. A lot of companies are trying to promote their environmental image and their commitment to these values. This is an easy way for companies to show they're really walking the walk." For more tips, check out Transportation Alternative's "Gaining Indoor Bicycle Access" blueprint.


At home, keep bikes inside your garage, house, or apartment. (Wall-mounted bike racks can help save space.) If you must keep it outside, be absolutely sure to lock your bike securely to a rack or other strong, sturdy object using a high-quality lock, like the Kryptonite NY Fahgettaboutit 3-foot chain lock ($72; www.amazon.com). Avoid locking to posts or parking meters—:thieves may be able to lift your bike off them. Chaining both tires and removing the seat is another good way to deter bike robbers.


12) Keep it clean. Enormously helpful but often neglected, wiping your bike down after a ride will keep it running smoothly. Dirty gears, chains and brake pads will make you work harder to go just as fast and far. Also, lube the chain after every few trips for the easiest ride. While most bike cleansers, degreasers and lubricants are petroleum-based, there are some great plant- and vegetable-oil-based alternatives.


For even more local info, punch in your city or town on the League of American Bicyclists' directory to find everything from regional advocacy groups and event listings to repair shops and safety courses—all of which should help get you out of the auto and onto a bicycle for Bike-to-Work Week.


Going green with skepticism

The new entrepreneurial dream, "going green" uses the environment to save the environment, reduces human impact, and last but not least, turns a profit.

In the 2008 presidential election, candidates boast of plans for saving the planet and the economy via green collar jobs; Al Gore has a part time position with a Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm; "green is the new gold" has become an ambiguous mantra amongst eager business leaders. We're not shaking our stick at innovation but let's not be overly optimistic. Business is not an automatic solution.

Part of it is the inherent problems of globalization.

Greensumption separated real solutions through fake ones like why buying a used car is greener than buying a new Hybrid because of the latter's manufacturing effects. Going green can be such a savvy PR move. Wal-Mart is every environmentalists favorite punching bag but it's like they're saying, "hey, we really got you in this mess and now we're kind of gonna get you out." Their promotion of green products is desperate at best when the company creates more than forty times the emissions it's trying to eliminate. Annually, that's half as much as France.

The recent study in Science about biofuel enterprises doing more harm than good for the environment was especially depressing. The original viewpoint was biofuels promised a way out of our trappings. They would moderate climate change, end our dependence on foreign oil, and provide income for farmers. For biofuel production, Science calculated the "carbon debt"—the amount of carbon released in the process of converting natural landscapes into cropland. U.S. produced corn ethanol had a carbon debt of 93 years. In other words, it takes nearly a century for ethanol to make up for the carbon released in the first landscape conversion. Soybean biodiesel in the Amazon had a 320 year debt.

In an interview with the NYT, the Greensumption creators stressed local solutions are obviously not as harmful to the environment because of less transportation and long distance trade. A localized renewable energy model is better than a mega model because of the greater democratic engagement and control. On a larger scale, they believe an Oil Depletion Protocol as a global treaty is necessary, but live by "less and local." This means "working to create institutions toward the regional and local in materials supply, manufactures, distribution, ownership, and political systems."

Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, also advertised localized economies as an adjustment to make lower profits good enough. He wrote, "growth is always the final answer, the untrumpable hand."

Like the 1988 Public Enemy song that becomes more relevant each passing year, don't believe the hype.

 




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Down To Earth

The DTE blog is committed to reporting and sharing environmental news and sustainability information from across the Inland Northwest.