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37 posts from October 2011

October 13, 2011

Ask Mr. Green: A Prius or a Furnace?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

I'm thinking of replacing my 25-year-old gas furnace. I'm also thinking about getting a Prius, since my old Corolla gets way lower mileage. But my funds are limited. So tell me, which would give the most bang for my buck in terms of shrinking my carbon footprint: the furnace or the Prius?

--Mel in Detroit, Michigan

While the neighbors might be impressed by an eco-correct Prius, an inconspicuous new furnace may be a more cost-effective path to a dainty footprint. This possibility is obviously much stronger in places with very cold winters, like your upper Midwest.

Your old furnace, likely only 65% efficient (or less), might burn 400 more therms of natural gas than a new model that's 95% efficient. So, with natural gas at $1.29 per therm, you'll save $516 per year with a new furnace. Since burning a therm of natural gas emits the equivalent of 11.8 pounds of carbon dioxide, the new furnace would eliminate some 4,700 pounds of emissions per year. Even if you buy a high-end $10,000 furnace, that breaks down to 15 cents a pound to stifle CO2 over its 15-year life span.

Now for the Prius: Driving it 10,000 miles a year for 15 years will generate 75,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent. Your Corolla will emit roughly 150,000 pounds over that distance, so the Prius could save a net of 75,000 pounds (plus $445 a year on fuel). With the Prius's base price of $23,520, that's 31 cents per pound of CO2.

It clearly pays to do a cost-benefit analysis tailored to your situation before making any big energy purchase, be it furnace, car, or solar panels. It's a pain, I know, having spent hours with the numbers above, but it's worth it. If you're not up to the task, tap an energy auditor or buy your geekiest friend a beer-brewing kit in exchange for crunching your numbers.

Got a question for Mr. Green? Submit it here.

Facing the Future: 1,200 Young People for Sustainable Development

Trisha Co Reyes UNEP painting
Facing global climate change and mired in a depressed economy, young people from around the world responded with their solution: green jobs. Delegates ranging in age from 10 to 24 addressed global challenges from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 at UNEP's Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on the Environment. Arriving in Indonesia from 126 countries, the Tunza ambassadors learned how they could create change and promote environmental solutions.

All of the attendees had experience with helping to better the planet. One of them, Cassandra Lin, got her green ticket to Tunza because she started a biodiesel recycling program. At a university expo near her town in Rhode Island, Lin discovered that used cooking oil could be recycled into biodiesel. The 13-year-old then launched a program that now offsets 250 tons of CO2 emissions every year and creates new green jobs.

Another Tunza activist, just 10 years old, is Ta’Kaiya Blaney, from North Vancouver, Canada. Blaney sings to protect her land’s delicate ecosystems. Through her songs (such as “Shallow Waters”), she’s helped oppose destructive projects like the tar-sands pipeline.

Tunza” means “to treat with care or affection” in Kiswahili. And the next generation wants to do that for our planet. Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP's executive director, said, “The youth gathered in Bandung is the best antidote to a world which continues to rationalize mass unemployment, poverty, and environmental destruction in the name of economic progress — and part of the best hope.”

As 13-year-old Trisha Co Reyes' winning painting (pictured above) reveals, a gray and desolate future awaits if we don’t open up to a new approach.

Continue reading "Facing the Future: 1,200 Young People for Sustainable Development" »

Green Your Pets: The Poop

No dog poopPets are such a source of joy, but America’s more than 160 million owned dogs and cats do impact the environment. This week's tips are about how to reduce their environmental pawprint.

Tip #4: Deal with their waste.

One of the biggest hassles of having a pet is dealing with their poop. Not only is it inherently unpleasant, but it also poses environmental hazards such as water pollution, transmitting diseases to other species, and, if left unchecked in public spaces, causing human resentment toward animals. Do your duty by picking up any business your pet leaves behind using a biodegradable bag or a Skooperbox. Other green ways to dispose of the stuff include flushing it, composting it, and burying it. There are also plenty of eco-friendly cat litters out there.

Tell us: How do you deal with your pet's dirty work?

October 12, 2011

Sustainable Slurping: Experts Name the Best Eco-Soups

The ultimate cold-weather food comes in varieties that'll get you warm without steaming up the planet. We asked soup experts to recommend their favorites. 

CHRISTIANNE KLEIN, a former ABC News anchor, now appears on cooking shows such as Emeril Green. Her first cookbook is Christianne's Herbal Kitchen: Fresh Herb Recipes for Body and Soul.

"For a fantastic soup, I turn to TRADER JOE's Organic Butternut Squash Soup. It's gluten-free, fat-free, low sodium, and still packs a flavor punch. It's the perfect well-rounded dish: creamy and light, savory, and a touch sweet. You can serve it right out of the container or dress it up for a dinner party: Top it with pan-crisped fresh sage, a dash of herb-infused oil, or a dollop of herbed sour cream." $2.79 for 32 ounces
TODD ENGLISH started more than a dozen restaurants, including NYC's Plaza Food Hall. He hosts the PBS show Food Trip With Todd English and has written three cookbooks. (For one of his soup recipes, click here.)

"A staple in my pantry is always a good organic free-range-chicken broth, because it's the perfect base for so many of my organically driven soups. One of my favorites is from PACIFIC NATURAL FOODS. It's low in sodium, which is important because you always want to be able to control the salt. And it comes in recyclable Tetra Paks as well." $3.39 for 32 ounces

YVETTE GARFIELD created Handstand Kids, a globally minded cookbook company for children. Each of her books features a soup recipe from a different country, including albondigas soup from Mexico, minestrone from Italy, and wonton soup from China.

"The Tortilla Soup With Baked Chips from DR. McDOUGALL'S RIGHT FOODS has a fresh, spicy corn-and-tomato flavor with tortilla pieces that provide a great crunch. The hearty brown rice and pinto beans make it seem homemade. The packaging is made from biodegradable paper, none of the ingredients are genetically modified, and the brand never uses animal products." $1.59 for 2 ounces of dry soup mix

IAN RITCHIE is the "chief soup operator" at SoupBycycle, a Louisville, Kentucky, "soupscription" service that combines his loves of cooking and cycling. Each week, he delivers vegan, vegetarian, and meaty offerings to his clients via bicycle.

"I am a big fan of AMY'S KITCHEN organic soups, with the deliciously rich and hearty Indian Dal Curried Lentil topping my list. Its robust, earthy flavor reminds me of my favorite local Indian spot. Add a scoop of quinoa and one can turns into a quick dinner for two. Amy's commitment to organic and whole-food ingredients inspires me as a soup maker and gives me the warm fuzzies." $3.39 for 14.5 ounces

NAVA ATLAS is the author of Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, as well as eight other vegetarian cookbooks. Her site, Veg Kitchen, lists hundreds of easy, seasonal recipes, including a slew of soups.

"I have a penchant for making vegan soups from scratch, but I do indulge in one or two culinary subterfuges to add flavor to a soup's base. A box of Vegan Vegetable Bouillon cubes from RAPUNZEL is always in my pantry. They come in three varieties, all organic and kosher, and infuse soups with a symphony of subtle herbal notes. It's an economical way to add extra flavor to soup." About $3 for a box of eight

--reported by Avital Binshtock

Green Your Pets: Get 'Em Fixed

Pet overpopulationPets are such a source of joy, but America’s more than 160 million owned dogs and cats do impact the environment. This week's tips are about how to reduce their environmental pawprint.

Tip #3: Spay and neuter.

Animal overpopulation is an issue not only because up to 4 million U.S. shelter animals are euthanized each year, but also because of the environmental impact of too many stray and abandoned animals: They can harm local wildlife and spread waste and trash. You can help curb the problem by having your pet spayed or neutered.

Tell us: Have you had your furry friends fixed?

October 11, 2011

Movie Review: Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time

 Seen a good eco-themed film  lately? Send us a short review and we might publish it.

Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time (2011)

Available on DVD and at select screenings. The film will be shown on PBS in 2012.

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” —Aldo Leopold

Writer Aldo Leopold has influenced environmentalists and scientists for decades. Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time is the first feature-length film about Leopold. It centers around the evolution of his thinking, starting from his childhood, heading into his years as an early graduate of Yale's Forestry Management program, and finally, profiles him as a mature conservationist.

Produced with alacrity and a Wisconsonian lack of fanfare, this 72-minute documentary is narrated by Curt Meine, a conservation biologist who helped create the film by partnering with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the Center for Humans and Nature, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Meine brings Leopold's words into the context of his life and times with historical photos, event chronology, and interviews with his progeny. Even Leopold experts may find new inspiration in seeing the destroyed, fallow land he acquired and made into a family project. Today, the thousands of trees he and his children planted sway in gentle breezes as busloads travel to Sand County, Wisconsin, from around the world to pay homage to the quiet revolutionary.

As Buddy Huffaker, the executive director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, said, “What is exciting about Green Fire is that it is more than just a documentary about Aldo Leopold. It also explores the influence his ideas have had in shaping the conservation movement as we know it by highlighting some really inspiring people and organizations doing great work to connect people and the natural world in ways that even Leopold might not have imagined.”

Seeing this film brings Leopold’s seminal work, A Sand County Almanac, and remarkable essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” to a new level of experience. It takes viewers to the places that inspired, transformed, and nudged the author’s doctrine into something that ties the concept of a land ethic to each of us. And into something that still offers hope and invites action.

--Pamela Biery

Green Your Pets: Watch What You Buy Them

Dog toy

Pets are such a source of joy, but America’s more than 160 million owned dogs and cats do impact the environment. This week's tips are about how to reduce their environmental pawprint.

Tip #2: Choose the greenest pet products.

The U.S. pet-product industry rakes in more than $40 billion per year, only $1 billion of which goes to eco-friendly items. Do your part to pump up that number by opting for organic pet food, as well as gear and toys made by eco-minded manufacturers like Scutte, Molly Mutt, and World’s Best Cat Litter; a Google search reveals many more. But buying greener doesn’t mean you have to buy more. The best way to reduce waste is to ask yourself whether your pet really needs the item you’re considering buying.

Tell us: What's your favorite eco-friendly pet product?

October 10, 2011

Cool Places to Charge Electric Vehicles

Electric car charging station Charging electric vehicles just got a bit cooler, thanks to Ford's new list, called “20 Cool Places to Charge in the U.S.”

Locations on the list include Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, NFL stadiums in Seattle and Baltimore, a beach resort in Hawaii, and a Napa Valley winery. Among the criteria involved in ending up on the list: “proximity to a scenic view, landmark/attraction, or dining and shopping centers.”

There's also a Ford-led campaign to encourage people to name places where they’d like to see charging stations installed.

Though no airports made the list, there are a number of them around the country that have charging stations. These seem like smart locations to plug in: You drive to the airport, park in long-term parking, come back from your trip, and return to a fully charged car.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are more than 3,300 electric-car charging stations across the country, with the West Coast leading the way. California has the most by far (992 stations), followed by Washington (322) and Oregon (303). But in terms of the number of stations per capita, Washington, D.C., with its 35 stations, tops the list.

Unfortunately, 11 states share the dubious distinction of not having a single charging station: Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

--Josh Marx

Green Your Pets: Adopt from Shelters

Adopt me Pets are such a source of joy, but America’s more than 160 million owned dogs and cats do impact the environment. This week's tips are about how to reduce their environmental pawprint.

Tip #1: Head to the pound.

When you’re looking for a furry pal, skip the pet stores and breeders and visit the pounds and shelters instead. The commercial pet trade creates an excess of animals when millions are already in need of adoption. Plus, the business of selling animals harms rainforests, from which 38 million creatures are removed every year for the retail-pet industry. Shelters stock an excellent selection of breeds (and charming mutts) that need “recycling” into a new home. Some shelters have even gone green!

Tip #2: Watch what you buy. 

Tip #3: Get 'em fixed.

Tip #4: Deal with their dirty work.

Tell us: How did you find your pet?

October 06, 2011

A Woodsman With a Sense of (Re)purpose

Sequoia trees A piece of bark, a propane torch, and a butter knife. That’s all Peter Hickey needs to show people the fire resistance of the sequoia tree.

He burns the bark for a couple of minutes, scrapes the carbon out of the hole with the butter knife, and puts his finger into the hole to show that it’s only warm, not hot. And if he can get brave members of the audience to do it, especially children, then, he reckons, “You’ve got yourself a conservationist for life.”

Hickey’s connection to the ancient trees run deep. He lives in a small town about 50 miles from Sequoia National Park, an area his ancestors have lived in for five generations.

Talking with Hickey, his love of and connection to the giant sequoia is palpable. He hopes his fire-resistance demonstration makes people appreciate the species' amazing beauty, and helps nature lovers form their own lasting bond.

The giant sequoias are the largest trees in the world — they can grow as tall as a 26-story building. And according to the National Park Service, the diameter at the base of some of the largest sequoias is wider than many city streets.

As Hickey tells it, before the giant sequoia was a protected species, many of the mature trees were cut down and used for logging. The majority weren't even adequate for the mill, so the logging companies just left them on the ground. Hickey's ancestors then used this discarded wood to make shingles, grape stakes, and fence posts.

Nearly every summer weekend, Hickey heads up to Sequoia Crest, a 785-acre grove of sequoias at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, to sell woodwork — from candle holders to birdhouses to pencil holders — that he’s repurposed from the old grape stakes and fence posts, selling these wares on his website.

Hickey says that in summer, he gets about 25 to 50 visitors each day up at Sequoia Crest. But he adds that his major contact with people is not through the selling of his gifts, but through teaching them about the sequoia, a subject he’s spent a lifetime learning about.

--Josh Marx

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