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Greener In Texas

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by Worldchanging Austin local blogger, Luke Iseman:

There’s a saying: “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Usually applied to SUVs, exurb-dwelling women’s hair, and tex-mex dishes, it’s starting to look like a lot of the biggest initiatives to green a metropolis are being born in Austin, Texas.

Will Wynn is not just Austin’s mayor with a politically auspicious name: he’s also Al Gore with a Texas twang. A Worldchanger much more literate than I has already provided an excellent summary of Wynn’s speaking points , to which I have nothing substantive to add. The truly curious can also read the full current version of the Austin Climate Protection Plan .

A short list of not-so-little ways in which Austin, the capital of the most polluting state in the most polluting country in the world, is giving most other locales a run for their money at the slowly starting race to think big about being green:

1. Transportation Is Becoming Less Insane
Yes, our highways are still as clogged as last time you visited. However, the vehicle in front of you seems increasingly likely to be practical in size, maybe even a scooter, perhaps even an electric one . If you’re really lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the increasing number of electric vehicles . With a small new subsidy on electric vehicle purchases or conversions and a campaign to encourage automakers to create plug-in hybrids , Austin’s air will begin to smell more like barbecue and less like smog. Add in plans for an expansive light rail system and Austinites just might stop thinking Hummers are cool rides.

2. Local Conservation Alive and Well
What good a little salamander can do! The endangered Barton Springs Salamander serves as a mascot for Austin’s efforts to protect our natural resources, with groups like Save Our Springs Alliance serving as watchdogs on even the largest companies that want to build in our backyards . From Whole Foods to Alamo DraftHouse , Keeping Austin Weird entails buying local for both better experiences and less carbon.

3. Energy Policy Approaching Sensibility
Austin currently gets about 35% of our electricity from coal, 30% from natural gas, 29% nuclear, and 6% wind. Wynn showed intellectual honesty during his presentation by mentioning the need to think about more nuclear capacity for long-term energy needs.
The city’s wholly-owned utility, Austin Energy, is putting its money where the (other) green is: Austin Energy customers can get free fancy thermostats that help prevent brownouts , rebates on energy efficient appliances and solar cells , and sell back any excess energy generated to Austin Energy .

Lastly and probably most importantly:

4. Embracing Clean Tech Capitalism
To quote Austinite and Worldchanger Bruce Sterling: “It’s about a bunch of start-up companies asking rich people for money” . Love it or hate it, capitalism is getting the innovation job done slowly but surely in Austin. We’ve got an established innovator or two around town, and the city is trying to attract as many fresh innovations as possible . Wynn’s roadmap plan to allow local spend and purchase of carbon credits just might let Joe Sixpack join in on the fun.

It’s said that Janis Joplin first took the stage at Threadgill’s, an Austin restaurant with enough grease per chicken-fried steak to power a biodiesel from here to Big Bend .

It’s also rumored that Joplin had some wisdom about this big old state: “Texas is OK if you want to settle down and do your own thing quietly, but it’s not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous.”

Janis would be surprised by Austin today, and her wisdom should serve as a big, cowboy-booted kick in the derrière to the rest of the country to giddy on up at green innovation. Start thinking Texas-sized or bigger.

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I had no idea that Austin had rail coming in. I moved from there a few months before the 2004 vote, so I thought that the 2000 defeat was the last word.

I rode a train last week from Antwerp to Amsterdam and found it a good experience overall. If Austin's is at all like the one I found in Europe (which was much smoother & more comfortable than, say BART), then it should easily find ridership.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 18 Jun 07



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