The Rise of the Bicycle as Urban Transportation

By Liam Moriarty

In most cities, the automobile has ruled unchallenged for decades.  Now – in the age of global warming – the humble bicycle is increasingly seen as a cheap, healthy and green alternative for getting around.  In Part One of our series “Europe and Us: Growing a Green Future,” KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty looks at how bikes are challenging the fossil-fueled Goliath.

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A Paris commuter on a Velib bike.

In most cities, the automobile has ruled unchallenged for decades. Now – in the age of global warming – the humble bicycle is increasingly seen as a cheap, healthy and green alternative for getting around. I wanted to see how bikes are challenging the fossil-fueled Goliath. My first stop was Paris.

Mid-morning, I stand at a five-way intersection near the Gare du Nord, Paris’ northern rail station. Cars, trucks, taxis and motor scooters jockey for position. Commuters on bicycles cruise along green-painted bike paths. A lot of them are riding bikes from Paris’s public bike-sharing system, called Velib. I ask a few how they like Velib.

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Paris’ Velib public bike sharing
program is very popular.

One guy in his twenties is a big fan.
“Yes, a lot, because when the weather’s nice it’s much better than the subway and you can get a little workout, as well.”

A woman dressed for office work says, “I like to bike, a little bit for health, and also for the pleasure of cycling in Paris and above all to avoid the subway.”

Another fellow picks up on my English-accented French switches to English.
“Yeah, it works very well, yes, to go across the city very easily. I go to work with it, actually.” (more…)

October 7, 2009 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Getting Solar Energy On Line

For the past decade, Germany has been weaning itself off nuclear energy and investing heavily in wind and solar power. While it’s still well short of replacing its nukes with renewables, Germany now has more solar power than any other country in the world. This, in a region with even less sunshine than the cloudy Pacific Northwest. How did they do it? And are there lessons there for us? KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty examines these questions in Part Two of his series “Europe and Us: Growing a Green Future.”

By Liam Moriarty

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Solar hot water collectors and a “green roof” are among the energy-saving features of this apartment complex in Dusseldorf.

In Dusseldorf, Germany, I get a tour of an energy-efficient apartment complex. My tour guide is Andreas Gries. He works for a government agency that helps develop a wide range of energy projects. Gries shows me how these apartments are highly insulated, with a super-efficient ventilation system.

Between the two he says, “it reduces the demand for heat energy considerably – basically, by about 50 percent, compared to what’s currently required by law.”

This building is one of 50 so-called “solar communities” the agency is helping build. The government – working with private investors – subsidizes these developments to boost energy conservation, reduce greenhouse gases – and to build markets for German energy technology companies. (more…)

October 7, 2009 at 10:34 am 4 comments

Dealing with the Nasty Waste

By Liam Moriarty

It used to be that when a company sold you a widget, they got your money, you got the widget, and that was the end of it. Now – as concern about the volume and toxicity of our waste increases — that way of doing business is changing. In Europe – and in the Pacific Northwest — more businesses are being required to take responsibility for their products in new ways, as KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty tells us in Part Three of our series “Europe and Us: Growing a Green Future.”

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These computer components will be ground up and recycled.

My look at the shifting landscape of recycling and toxic chemicals first takes me to a huge industrial building in South Seattle. There, forklift-loads of TVs and computer monitors are being heaved onto conveyor belts. Workers are taking screw guns and hammers to the discarded electronics, disassembling them down to their component parts.

Craig Lorch is co-owner here at Total Reclaim. His company is one of several certified to recycle electronic waste under Washington’s new e-waste law. Among other things, the law requires that these old machines – and their toxic chemicals – don’t end up being dumped overseas, where they can poison humans and the environment. (more…)

October 7, 2009 at 10:33 am 2 comments

Fast Train in the Fast Lane?

The Thalys high speed train arrives at the rail station in Cologne, Germany.

By Liam Moriarty

For several decades, passengers have been zipping between European cities on sleek, comfortable trains that go upwards of 150 miles an hour. Now, the vision of fast, frequent train travel is taking hold in the Pacific Northwest. So, KPLU’s Liam Moriarty decided to take a ride and see what all the fuss was about.

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Thalys trains in the Gare du Nord in Paris

Starting at the Gare du Midi, the train station in Brussels, I took a morning train to Paris. I travelled on Thalys, the Belgian fast train. We covered the 162 miles from Brussels to Paris in about an hour and 15 minutes. It’s about the same distance between Seattle and Portland. That train ride takes about 3 and a half hours.

If you’ve never been outside the US you’ve never ridden on a train like the Thalys, or the TGV in France or the ICE in Germany. We don’t have anything like them in the states. If you haven’t ridden one of these trains before, the first thing you notice is that they’re very smooth, they’re very quiet and they’re very fast … (more…)

October 7, 2009 at 10:32 am 1 comment

Tackling Climate Change

By Liam Moriarty

Climate scientists tell us we’ve got to cut way back on the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere, and fast. Trouble is, just about everything we do creates carbon dioxide. And slashing greenhouse gas emissions is hard. That’s because our industries and transportation are all powered by fossil fuels. For several years, Europe has been trying to use market forces to curb carbon emissions. Now, the U.S. is weighing that approach, too.

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Alan Durning is executive director at the Sightline Institute, a sustainability-oriented think tank in Seattle

To get a handle on this whole carbon cap and trade business, I turned to Alan Durning. Alan heads the Sightline Institute. That’s a think tank in Seattle that does things like track energy consumption and analyze climate policy. Alan lives and breathes this stuff, but I want to see if we can simplify this a bit, so I ask him if we can find a kitchen-table metaphor. We settle … on marshmallows.

ALAN: We’re consuming too many marshmallows and we’re all getting overweight, so we’re gonna start cutting down on the quantity of marshmallows. Once a week when Dad goes grocery shopping, we’re gonna check in the bag and see how many marshmallows there are. So we say, OK, this year we’re gonna have 100 marshmallows a week and next years it’s gonna go down to 98 and we’re gonna gradually reduce. And then we’ll give people marshmallow coupons. And you turn in a coupon whenever you eat a marshmallow. And the number of coupons you get will diminish over time, the same way as the marshmallow supply diminishes. And if you don’t need your marshmallow coupons, you can sell ‘em.

October 7, 2009 at 10:31 am 1 comment

About the Series

By Liam Moriarty


KPLU environment reporter
Liam Moriarty

I’ve long been interested in how Europeans look at things differently than we do here in the States. And as KPLU’s environment reporter, I’ve seen how the European Union has gotten out in front on key environmental issues such as global climate change. So when I had the chance to apply for an EU fellowship to go to Brussels and get a close-up look, I jumped on it.

I got to ride bikes in Paris and visit solar apartments in Germany and zip through the Belgian countryside on high-speed trains and much more. I spoke with folks from EU technocrats to people on the street.

“Europe and Us: Growing a Green Future” came out of that trip and a lot of reporting before and since. I learned so much and came to see the many ways in which Europeans, and we in the Pacific Northwest, are dealing with the important issues of how we live on this planet in a way that leaves it green and prosperous for our grandchildren. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to join the conversation about these topics, I’d love to hear your comments.

October 7, 2009 at 10:30 am 1 comment