Thoughtful: A (hopefully) motivational new-year message

Bluer skies, greener grass

One thing we humans can’t seem to divorce ourselves from is waste. It would be nice if we could.

And that there is waste, there must be places to put it. The air shouldn’t be one of those, yet, it is, unfortunately.

To lessen waste’s impact, there could be less of it and people could be less wasteful. I know I sure could. But, to do this takes diligence.

One idea is to create a waste inventory. Think about all the types of waste one creates and about the various ways one can reduce one’s waste. In doing so, this, in a sense, produces savings; savings that can be quantified. But, don’t confuse such savings with hoarding.

Let’s look at an example – air pollution. At the individual level, what air-pollution triggers can be completely eliminated?

In my neighborhood, each and every week gardeners make their rounds sprucing up lawns and gardens. As a home owner, the first question I would ask is: Does the lawn need tending to in this manner every week? By “in this manner,” I mean lawn mowing, edging, plant, shrub and tree pruning, all capped off with the infamous leaf/dust-blowing that seems part and parcel of the entire yard-grooming experience.

I, for one, do such yard work myself, using a cordless electric mower in place of the internal-combustion-engine-powered model I once used, which, by the way, was traded-in on the new model. Secondly, I put off doing the work until it’s necessary, usually at a time when the temperature is more conducive to doing so which means the outside air is typically much cleaner too. This translates into a reduced number of lawn manicures compared with weekly lawn-care treatments. By reducing the number of times the yard gets a makeover, this coupled with adopting sensible and sustainable lawn-care practices – using the electric mower and sweeping up with a broom instead of leaf/dust-blowing – money is being saved while the air is being helped. If exercise can be counted as part of the process, there is that benefit too.

My next question would be: How many people, though, are willing to go to those same lengths? It would depend on the person and situation. I think much of it has to do with what’s important or the perception of what is important.

Getting on board

And then there is the matter of personal mobility and how people choose to get around. People have choices and depending on place lived determines what is available mode-wise.

I drive a car. But, I don’t have to. When I do drive, I frequently run more than one errand at a time. This way I am driving less. That means more money saved by not having to gas up as often and air is spared too.

However, where I reside – Fresno, California – if there was far better access to public transportation with more transit options offered, I would certainly opt to not drive or drive as much. But, public transit where I live has much to be desired.

Understanding this, citizens could rally for more and better options. I suspect public transit here is what it is because this has yet to happen. If high-speed rail service in California gets instituted, then there will at least be one more mode available for use.

Something else to think about: The International Union of Railways (UIC) in its Nov. 2011 High Speed Rail and Sustainability report, reported: “Transport has a key role to play within solutions to climate change as current transport structures are responsible for extreme pressures on energy resources and ecosystems through a high dependence on fossil fuels (80% of energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels). Producing 23% of all worldwide CO2 emissions, transport is the second largest source of man-made CO2, after energy production.”1

The UIC further stated, “In addition, transport energy-related CO2 emissions are predicted to increase by 1.7% a year from 2004 to 2030.”2

Those whose jobs it is to find viable solutions to reduce carbon from transport will have their work cut out.

Ultimately, mode-choice is made based on a number of factors, such as:

  • Accessibility – How available is mode for use?
  • Application – Intercity, commuter, intra-city?
  • Configuration – How is mode configured: End-to-end or loop?
  • Connectivity – How connected is mode to others?
  • Costs – What are mode’s construction-based, operations-based and user-based costs?
  • Energy, environmental considerations – What are those?
  • Versatility, reach – Where does mode go?

Then there are the safety, reliability, frequency, comfort level, convenience, efficiency, speed considerations. How will these factor into the selection process?

The decision to use what mode may be made based not on many considerations, but one or a few of the more important ones.

Remember the Clean Air Act

The foundation of this entire discourse is the environmental movement: How did it come about?

From the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) there is this:

“First Federal Clean Air Act of 1963 was enacted. Empowered the Secretary of the federal Health, Education, and Welfare to define air quality criteria based on scientific studies. Provided grants to state and local air pollution control districts.”

“Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 were enacted. They served as the principal source of statutory authority for controlling air pollution. Established the basic U.S. program for controlling air pollution.”

Bottom line: How we move ahead can be done thoughtlessly or thoughtfully. The choice is ours.

Related: “Cutting transportation emissions – Seriously? Action speaks louder than words.”


  1. High Speed Rail and Sustainability, International Union of Railways (UIC), Nov. 2011, p. 14.
  2. Ibid. p. 13.


Image in center above: NASA