From the 2011 Republican debates (noticed by Slate) when Mitt Romney was asked about federal disaster relief to the then recent tornado and flood victims (this was in June of 2011 after a disaster plagued season) and called such spending "immoral".. Note that FEMA was considered one of the best run federal agencies until Bush got ahold of it in 2000 and beyond.
If we really had to move people around and energy was a critical issue we could easily make enormous improvements. Probably the largest "easy" improvement would be an electrically assisted velomobile for as much travel as possible. But there are legal, social and infrastructure issues in the US. Velomobiles are a much more difficult sell than bikes. I imagine things might happen with $20 gallon gasoline, but short of that...
There are niches - the Lowlands of Europe seem to be a relative hotbed and many smallish American towns would probably be good places to use them - motor assisted or not. My home town of Great Falls, Montana would probably work about 80% of the time and most of the roads are level with 25 mph speed limits and only light traffic. Bikes are also practical much of the time there, but a velomobile would give more protection from the elements.
I've written about them here every now and again. Low-Tech Magazine just came out with an article that is worth the read. They focus on one type - the WAW. It turns out there are a variety of units with many being very low production and most of the work being done in the lowlands in Europe. The velomobile wikipedia page has several links - development is still very much a DIY thing and this would make a great project for those of you who are mechanically inclined.
One of the most sophisticated, and expensive, exams is (was? I don't know if it is still being produced) Greenspeed Glyde. Costs for this sort of thing would come way down with production and it would be an interesting project for mechanical engineering students. A competitive event involving many schools aiming at something more practical than what currently exists would be very interesting. Make a more practical version for under $4000 or so and there is probably a reasonable market for a small manufacturer.
"I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time--when the Unites States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness."
We're getting ready for the multi-storm event with Hurricane Sandy as the star performer. This area of NJ is notorious for storm related electric power issues and our utility has issued a warning that we should prepare to be without power for at least one to two weeks. If we lose power I won't be blogging, so in case you see the posts stop...
At about 6:30AM the local weather station a few miles from here is showing winds at 28 mph gusting to 44.
(image from the NASA Suomi NPP saatellite at 02:42 EDT Sunday morning. You can clearly make out sities in the Southeast and the cloudtops are nicely illuminated by an almost full moon)
In the early days of cycling bikes like penny farthings had an enormous wheel, but the advent of the safety bicycle gave us something close to current sizes. Most bicycles have tires with an outside diameter in the 26 to 28" range. In the past decade a class of off road bikes known as 29ers have wheel outside diameters up to about 29" - sometimes a bit more (it turns out the rim size is specified and then you add the tire - it can get a bit messy)
As a bike wheel spins some energy is put into its spinning - a rotational kinetic energy. While it takes extra energy to get a big and heavy wheel moving, once it is moving it wants to keep moving. This can be very useful when you are on uneven territory, plus the extra size can "flatten" out the rocks.
A few people have played with larger tires. This probably started when specialty tire company Coker made a 36" wheel and tire for unicycles (!) They followed this with a monster "cruiser" bike. Other than their size, they aren't terribly inspiring. The wheels and tires are very heavy, the frame is heavy and so on... But for $700 (and shopping will find lower prices) you will become something of a celebrity with lots of curious questions.
A couple of other tires and wheels have become available and a few people have built their own - some of them are interesting. And now there is a blog.
Probably the sweetest example I've seen in the ZAMer form Black Sheep Bikes. Seriously spendy. Interesting comments on this page (scroll down a bit).
I'd like to see a 30" or so in road or commuter bike with reasonably thin road tires. If someone made a single speed "fixie" at this scale it would probably sell well just because it is so different:-) Unfortunatley it costs about $100k to tool up for a new tire.
I found it remarkable that climate change didn't come up in the debates. The Republican/Romney position has been to ignore it and focus on development of fossil fuel resources while eliminating progras that support clearer alternate energies. Obama supports the broad range, but at least he is pushing alternate energies.
Incredibly important stuff... but something that was almost completely absent from the campaigns.
It did come up in an MTV interview with Obama (hat tip to Sarah).
MTV also provided a transcript:
SWAY: Until this year global climate change has been discussed in every presidential debate since 1988. It was a big part of your previous campaign but pushed back on the back burner. Given the urgency of the threat, do you feel that we're moving quickly enough on this issue, number one, and Samantha from New Jersey wants to know what will you do to make it a priority?
OBAMA: The answer is number one, we're not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue.
And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn't come up in one of the debates. Gov. Romney says he believes in climate change. That's different than a lot of members of his own party that deny it completely. But he's not sure that man-made causes are the reason. I believe scientists who say we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it's heating the planet and it's going to have a severe effect.
There are a lot of things we have done a lot of things in the last four years. We have already doubled the fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That's the first increase in 30 years in the fuel mileage standards. As a consequence we will be taking huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, even as we're also saving folks money at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
We have doubled clean energy production -- wind, solar, biofuels -- and that means that increasingly people are getting electricity, companies are generating power, without the use of carbon-producing fuels. And that's helping as well.
The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings. If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent, and that means we'd be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.
And if we do those things, we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen, to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent, even as we're creating good jobs in these industries.
In order for us to solve the whole problem though, we're gonna have to have some technological breakthroughs. Because countries like China and India, they're building coal-power plants and they feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference.