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60 posts from December 2008

December 19, 2008

Cyclist Survival

Biking to work in the spring and summer is a joy, but you'd have to be nuts to do it in the winter, right? Not at all, say "icebikers," diehard cyclists who pedal through sleet, snow, and dark of wintry night with a little extra gear and a lot of finesse. Here are some of their strategies:

SMJF09_EN_Booties Mix and Match
Features built into cycling gear are useful in warmer months but can leave you cold and damp in the winter. Enthusiasts at icebike.org recommend turning to items designed for other sports, such as hiking. To keep your toes from going numb on the pedals, opt for lightweight, waterproof boots roomy enough for wool socks. Or try a pair of water-repellent, insulated booties that fit snugly over cleats or regular shoes, available from rei.com and performancebike.com.


Play It Safe
Bright, reflective clothing and lights are so important for winter cyclists they almost go without saying. What else can you do to stay safe on a cold-weather commute? Dressing in layers can limit your range of motion, so opt for a helmet-mounted mirror, which allows you to scope out traffic without craning your neck. Try to brake and turn on drier patches of road, and use only your rear brake to minimize swerving and skidding when forced to stop on slippery ice.


Baby Your Bike
Water, ice, road salt, and mud can accelerate the deterioration of a bike's moving parts and brake pads. For a ride that stays shipshape whatever nature pelts, slams, and splashes your way, ramp up your bike's maintenance. Chicago-based bikewinter.org suggests installing front and back splash guards, cleaning wheel rims as soon as they acquire gunk, and lubing moving parts at least once a week. If batteries or battery-powered lamps detach easily, bring them inside when temperatures drop below freezing to prolong their life.

Green Biz

money "Vote with your dollars" has become a common refrain among proponents of products ranging from renewable energy to all-natural shampoo. But for the average consumer trying to avoid certain chemicals or business practices, finding info can be overwhelming. A new crop of databases packed with information about the social, environmental, and health effects of consumer products--and the rise of mobile devices that allow on-the-spot access--could change that.

For the Web site goodguide.com, academics and technologists have devised an algorithm to rank personal-care and household products based on data from U.S., European Union, and California regulators, as well as nonprofits and research institutions. Tokyo-based start-up Rinen is developing an environmental-load calculator (opentrace.org) based on manufacturing inputs. However brilliant the algorithms, Jeff Hohensee, CEO of the consulting firm Natural Capitalism Incorporated, says the biggest challenge for Web sites like GoodGuide and OpenTrace may be reducing consumer effort to zero. "People are not doing backflips for things that are sustainable," he says, but as these new tools evolve, you may not have to. "If [businesses] are not way out ahead of the curve," Hohensee says, "they're going to be way out of business."

Cocoa Quiz

Which country eats the most chocolate per capita? (a) Belgium (b) France (c) Germany (d) Mexico (e) Switzerland (f) United States

Global demand for cocoa has increased by what annual percentage for the past century?

Answers: (e), 3 percent

December 18, 2008

Daily Roundup

Top Crops: The Bolivian government aims to combat world food shortages by tempting local farmers to grow rice instead of the traditional favorite--coca. BBC

Big Plans: California's EPA has launched the Green Chemistry Initiative, which should help industry reduce the use of toxic chemicals and increase green chemistry's presence in classrooms. Green Biz

Smooth Ride: Bamboo snowboards are greener and lighter so grab an eco-board and hit the slopes. Smart2BeGreen

Royal Remedy: Prince Charles is set to launch his own line of homeopathic goods. The herbal treatment will leave you feeling like a prince. Ecorazzi

Red Light: The auto industry hits the breaks as Chrysler shuts down production lines while GM and Toyota halt construction on Volt and Prius factories. Green Daily

Acorn Shortage Leaves Squirrels Hungry

Hungry squirrel Go easy on the squirrels this winter. Yes, we know they're notoriously pesky creatures who wipe out bird feeders, displace other animals, and destroy gardens, but this year they've got a good reason: Naturalists from the Midwest to the East Coast have reported a curious lack of acorns. It's not that trees produced less this year, "it's a zero year. There's zero production," botanist Rod Simmons told the Washington Post. "I've never seen anything like this before." The potentially long life span of oak trees means that one year without acorns doesn't necessarily spell disaster for the trees. As scientists watch and wait to see if a pattern emerges, the situation remains dire for the squirrels that must look for other food sources to carry them through lean times.

Share your observations: Have you noticed a shortage of hickory nuts or acorns in your region?

Bush Tracking At Midnight

Midnight ProPublica, an investigative-journalism organization, has put up a useful website that tracks Bush's midnight rulings, many of which will have devastating effects on the environment. Expect to see, among many other eco-hostile changes, a weakened Endangered Species Act, permission for public lands to be used for oil shale, and an allowance that enables mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop removal into rivers.

--Avital Binshtock

Green Your Good Deed: Get Kids Outdoors

Winter sport The tradition of giving is a fundamental part of the holiday season, even in cash-strapped times. This week we'll offer ways to get more green mileage from your generosity.

Tip #4: Play in the Snow

Give the kids in your life (and yourself) a healthy, stress-reducing gift by planning a day of winter fun: Build a snow fort, take a nature walk (fresh snow is a great place to spot animal tracks), or participate in cold-weather sports (Sierra magazine has a few suggestions). Don't have children? Volunteer with a local charity to teach young people about the outdoors or donate a coat to a winter clothing drive.

Share your tips: How do you share your favorite cold-weather activities?
The Green Life will take a holiday break starting on Dec. 24, but we'll be back with new posts on Jan. 2. In the meantime, peruse our archives for a wealth of green-living tips.

December 17, 2008

Daily Roundup

SUV Lane? The concept of "sharing the road" with bikes has not quite permeated the Big Apple.  As this YouTube video shows, "Bike Lane" is not a recognizable traffic symbol to these drivers.  Treehugger

Butchering Bunnies: PETA and associates have decided to attack, verbally and physically, Donna Karan's use of animal fur in her designs. Fashionable as fur is and as horrible using it is, spray painting houses and disrupting fashion shows may not be the best way to get your point across. Ecorazzi

Wind Worries: The winds may be blowing turbines in a different direction as environmental impacts are revealed. Can the butterfly effect be avoided as energy demand increases, or will we create more problems trying to solve the already existing ones? ENN

Green Car Blues: Think producers find out that great ideas fall short without financial support. Despite aspirations to become the leader in electric vehicles, an increase in production will be difficult with recent layoffs. Grist

New Age Viking: Eat like the Vikings ate this holiday season.  Well, OK, so substitute some yogurt for butter and a stove for an open fire, you can still wear the helmet.  The Daily Green

Calculating the Value of Urban Trees

Urban trees in central park Urban trees are a hardworking lot: They keep buildings cool, clean the air, and improve our quality of life. In exchange, these leafy urbanites often suffer a reduced life span. The USDA Forest Service reports that in most cities, more trees are removed than planted. In a rapidly warming world, however, planting and keeping urban trees alive should be a priority. Urban forests can reduce the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Want to know exactly how important a tree can be? The Center for Urban Forest Research has created a new carbon calculator that can measure the effect of a single tree.

2008's Top Science Stories

Top ten Shopping lists and New Year's resolutions tend to dominate the holiday season, but what about those infamous top-ten lists? Luckily, well-established writers tend to do the legwork for us. Scientific American announces its list with a beautiful slide show highlighting the top 10 science stories of 2008. Not surprisingly, the ubiquitous presidential election and its consequences for science and the environment ranks first. Below it are the discovery of snow and glaciers on Mars, the mainstreaming of concerns over the plastic in your Nalgene, and humanitarian worries about the world's food supply.

China gets a couple of nods, both good, for cleaning up during the Olympics, and bad, for producing unsafe products. Check out the full list here.

Before you forget, weigh in! Which science headlines caught your eye this year?

-- Mario Aguilar

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