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April 10, 2014

Public Transportation Surges in Los Angeles

Chinatown station on the LA Metro Gold LineThe American Public Transportation Association is partying like it's 1956. That's because Americans took 10.65 billion trips on public transit systems in 2013 -- numbers not seen since the 1950s. In its annual ridership report, APTA stated that more Americans were using trains, buses, and subways as an alternative to commuting to work by car.

The 2013 numbers narrowly surpassed the post-1950s high of 10.59 billion in 2008, when gas prices ballooned. According to APTA, what makes the 2013 numbers so exciting is that gas prices are lower now than they were in 2008.

Public transit powerhouse New York City saw a 4.2% heavy rail ridership increase. More surprisingly, Los Angeles posted a 4.8% heavy rail increase coupled with a 6% light rail increase for 2013.

The LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is betting big on public transit as the future of the area. "It has to be," said Marc Littman, the LA Metro's deputy executive officer of public relations. "Mobility is the linchpin of the economy."

By the end of 2014, the LA Metro will have started construction on multiple new heavy and light rail projects that will become operational over the next decade. "Voters in LA are so fed up with traffic that in 2008 they voted to tax themselves three times over," said Littman. The taxes he is referring to are all part of Measure R, a 2008 county ballot that will award around $40 billion of taxpayer money to traffic relief and transportation upgrades over the next 30 years.

While traffic reduction was undoubtedly at the forefront of voters' minds, so too was an increasing environmental consciousness. "You can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 20 pounds of COper day," says Littman. "We've tapped into people who are fed up with traffic as well as those that are environmentally conscious."

This green rider is exactly who APTA believes is behind 2013's surge in public transportation ridership. In an interview with the Associated Press, APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy proclaimed, "People are making a fundamental shift to having options for getting around. This is a long term trend. This isn't just a blip."

Quantifying the affect of environmentalism on increased public transit ridership is difficult, but the fact that 2013's levels resemble those of the 1950s can't be ignored. With the rise of the automobile and suburbia, public transit has long been a secondary option for commuters.

Littman believes that Americans, especially Los Angelenos, want a return to a sprawling public transit infrastructure. "In Los Angeles, there were more than 1000 miles of track 100 years ago, and people want it back. It's kind of like that baseball movie [Field of Dreams]. If you build it, they will come."

To get involved with local public transit projects, visit publictransportation.org

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Merkuri2

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

READ MORE:

An Electric Car for Wheelchairs

Pains, Trains, and Automobiles

How to Save the World With Two Wheels

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This Will Make You Ride Your Bike More

Photo (7)Most of you don’t need any convincing that you can save the world with two wheels, and that knowledge alone is doubtless sufficient to make many new bike commuters. Good for you! Please skip ahead to the cute animal posts.

But perhaps there are a few among you who like to ride your bikes, who know that they’re good for your health and that of the planet, but who just don’t get on them very often. (I’m speaking here about commuting, errands, etc. Recreational cyclists are more likely to have the opposite problem--they don’t get off the bike very often.)

If you want to up your mileage, here’s the tool you need: a cheap cycle computer. Sure, you can spend $700 on a Garmin Edge 810 that will track your cadence, calorie consumption, and heart rate while teaching you Swahili (OK, almost), but you can easily find far cheaper yet serviceable models that will give you a speedometer, a clock, and what you need most--an odometer. (As you can see, I use my pre-Garmin Cateye; a similar modern model will set you back about $25. Planet Bike has one for around $35.)

Why is an odometer so important? Because the trick to riding more is to set yourself an ambitious but achievable goal and then use the odometer to track your progress. The goal can be weekly, monthly, or annual; make it large enough to require a change in your present behavior, but not so large that you could never do it. Then let your odometer be your guide.

Last year, for example, I rode about 800 miles on my commuter bike. (OK, 832 but who’s keeping track?) This year I decided to kick my goal up to 1,000. That means (I figured this out while riding along) I need to ride 83.3 miles a month. And so far, so good! I was sidelined for a couple weeks by illness, but that just made me determined to make up the deficit. I started riding to the grocery store regularly, riding to the pool on Saturday morning, riding over to my friend George’s house to borrow a tool. If I’m behind one week, I find excuses the next to get on the bike and catch up.

Would I have ridden 250 miles by now without a goal and a way to track it? Possibly, but not likely. As anyone who’s ever played a video game knows, computers are great enablers of obsessive fixations. A simple computer on your bike can harness your completion drive to change the way you get around. Onward to 1,000.

Photo by the author 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

READ MORE:

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

Green Your Community: (Almost) Free Rides

Test Your Bike IQ: How Much Does It Cost?

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April 07, 2014

A Vegan Meal Made from Spring

Spring is upon us, and with it come asparagus, beets, artichokes, and citrus fruits. Here are three fantastic dishes using the best that spring has to offer. Try them together for a vegan meal that’ll even have carnivores begging for seconds.

Starter: Shaved asparagus salad

This spring-inspired salad from Sunny Vegan blogger Amanda is crisp, light, and quick (no cooking required).

Shaved spring asparagus saladMakes 4 servings

Base:

1 pound large stalk asparagus 
8 ounces firm tofu- crumbled 
1/4 cup Italian parsley - roughly chopped

Dressing: 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1/2 cup olive oil 
1 1/2 teaspoon light agave 
1 teaspoon dijon mustard 
salt and pepper

Directions: 

With a mandoline, knife, or vegetable peeler, shave off long lengths of asparagus. In a jar or bowl with whisk, combine dressing ingredients and mix well. Pour dressing over shaved asparagus, add tofu and parsley and toss together. Serve immediately.

Main: Creamy penne pasta bake with zucchini

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves 6

While zucchini isn't officially in season until late spring or early summer, this creamy pasta from Gluten-Free Goddess lends itself perfectly to be used with any of your favorite spring veggies. We suggest substituting artichoke hearts, arugula, peas, or spinach until zucchini begins to bloom.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly oil the bottom of a large gratin dish or casserole and set aside. 

Creamy penne pasta bake with zucchiniBase:

12 ounces gluten-free brown rice penne pasta
1 medium zucchini
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
Sprinkle of dried dill or Italian herbs, to taste

Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegan butter such as Smart Balance
4 tablespoons brown rice flour
2 1/2 cups organic soy milk* see notes
1/4 cup gluten-free nutritional yeast* see notes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon mild rice vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, optional

Garnish:

Chopped fresh chives

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and partially cook the brown rice penne, till just this side of al dente. You don't want to cook it completely, or you'll end up with mushy pasta, after it bakes.

Meanwhile, wash, trim, and slice the zucchini into half moons. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Add the zucchini and minced garlic, season with sea salt, ground pepper, and a dash or two of dried dill or Italian herbs. Stir to coat, and quickly stir-fry, just until the zucchini is tender-crisp. Don't overcook it. It will continue to cook in the oven.

Start making the creamy pasta sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the vegan butter. When the "butter" melts, add in the brown rice flour and stir with a whisk to make a paste. Heat it through, stirring and cooking the paste for a minute. Slowly add in the soy milk (or your milk of choice) and whisk the milk with the paste to combine. Add in the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, sea salt, nutmeg, rice vinegar and mustard (if using). Stir the sauce until it thickens and turn down the heat. If it gets too thick you can thin it with a dash of white wine, or more soy milk.

When the pasta is done, drain it well, and drizzle it with a touch of good olive oil. Pour the cooked penne into a large gratin dish or casserole. Add in the zucchini. Pour the sauce in and gently, very gently, combine the penne, zucchini, and sauce until the penne is coated. Sprinkle the top with fresh snipped chives.

Cover the dish with foil. Bake the penne in the center of a preheated oven for 20 minutes, until heated through and bubbling.

Recipe Notes:

I used organic soy milk in this sauce- and it helps make the sauce rich and creamy. If you cannot tolerate soy, try unsweetened, clean tasting hemp milk, almond milk, or light coconut milk (like So Delicious).

If you do not care for nutritional yeast, omit it and add one to two tablespoons 

Dessert: Triple chocolate beet Bundt cake

Makes one 10" Bundt cake

Serves 12-16

It's true -- you can have your cake and eat your veggies, too. Or at least with this fabulous Bundt cake by Sarah of The Sweet Life you can. All your guests will be begging to know what the secret ingredient is.

Vegan triple chocolate beet bundt cake

3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups beet puree (6-7 small beets)
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup apple sauce
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

Chocolate Ganache:

1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Place beets in a large pot and cover with about 2 inches of water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until beets are soft and can be easily pierced with a knife. Remove from heat, drain, and allow beets to cool for 15-20 minutes. Once cool enough to touch, remove skins and place in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 10" Bundt pan and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl whisk together beet puree, apple sauce, water, canola oil, and vanilla extract. Add the wets to the dries and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Transfer to prepared Bundt pan and bake for about 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Flip out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make the chocolate ganache, place chocolate chips in a small, shallow bowl. Heat coconut milk to a scald (you should see a skin form over the surface). Pour over chocolate chips and cover for 5 minutes. Gently stir together until the ganache is well combined and thickened. Pour over cooled cake and serve.

--all recipes used with permission by the respective blog

--first image courtesy of Sunny Vegan, second image courtesy of Gluten-Free Goddess, third image courtesy of The Sweet Life

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is a former editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as an editor of Dartbeat, the blog of the student-run newspaper The Dartmouth.

 

READ MORE:

7 Gluten-Free Bread Bowl Alternatives

Vegan Barbecue: Burgers, Hot Dogs, and Steaks

Vegan This: Strawberry Shortcake

 

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April 03, 2014

Sorry Wired, Coal Isn’t the “Future of Clean Energy”

Wired CoverOuch! Here comes the April Wired poking its finger in environmentalists’ eyes with its provocative headline, “Coal: It’s Dangerous, It’s Dirty, and It’s the Future of Clean Energy.” (Last time it was James Fallows in the Atlantic with “Dirty Coal, Clean Future,” which I discussed here.) Both features are well written, compelling, but absolutely wrong--and for the same reason.

To be fair to Wired contributing editor Charles C. Mann, his article is far more nuanced than its contrarian cover line might suggest. In fact, much of it details the environmental evils of coal, particularly in China, which gets three quarters of its energy by burning nearly as much coal as the entire rest of the world:

According to one major research project involving almost 500 scientists in 50 nations, outdoor air pollution annually contributes to about 1.2 million premature deaths in China. Another study argued that eliminating coal pollution in northern China would raise average life expectancy there by nearly five years.

That’s in addition to the horrific climate effects: 

China already emits one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, more than any other country. The International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-based think tank sponsored by 28 developed nations, estimates that Beijing will double its ranks of coal-fired power plants by 2040. If that happens, China’s carbon dioxide figures could double or even triple.

Like Fallows before him, Mann goes on to note that China is making tremendous efforts to harness clean energy, deploying solar and wind faster than any other country. But, he argues, as much as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace may scoff, renewables can’t do the trick.

No one has ever powered a nation solely, or even mostly, with sun and wind over the long term . . . . [T]he process of replacing the present coal-and-gas grid with a new, sun-and-wind grid—all the while keeping the old grid running—will be long, expensive, and risky.

So to recap: Coal is awful. Renewables would be better, but scaling them up would be hard and cost a lot of money. Therefore, conclude both Fallows and Mann, the solution must be “carbon capture and storage” (CCS)--stripping out the carbon dioxide from the burning coal and pumping it away for storage in deep underground caverns. China has a number of such facilities (although it turns out that GreenGen’s billion-dollar CCS plant in Tianjin just sells its CO2 to soft drink companies).

Mann acknowledges that there are some major problems with CCS, though--it uses a tremendous amount of energy (“20 to 30 percent of a power plant’s output”), costs a fortune (“as much as $100 per ton of stored CO2”), and is still largely experimental.

[T]he world has just 12 fully operational large-scale carbon-capture projects, most in the United States. Not one of them is what is most needed: a facility that traps and stores emissions from a big coal-fired power plant.

And yet, he argues, CCS is the future of clean energy. Unexplained is why China would apply this fantastically expensive fix to its coal plants when it doesn't even provide simple scrubbers that would prevent the horrendous particle pollution Mann previously cited. China burns coal because it's as cheap as dirt, but if it’s suddenly going to cost $2 trillion a year to bury that carbon in the ground (Mann’s figure), the entire rationale for coal disappears. And even if CCS did become widespread, it would do nothing to lessen the environmental horrors of coal extraction, transportation, and coal-ash pollution

If you’re going to spend billions--or trillions!--to prevent climate disaster, why spend it on an experimental scheme to clean up coal instead of proven, zero-carbon, renewable technology? The only reason to keep talking about “clean coal” and CCS is what it has always been--to maintain the pretense that someday, somehow, the coal industry will clean up after itself, and to delay the inevitable switch to truly clean energy.

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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April 01, 2014

Mission Compostable: Is Eco-Comedy Funny?

EcoComedyFilmCompetitionWhy aren’t environmentalists funny? Because they recycle all their jokes.

Luckily this year’s Eco-Comedy Film Competition winners have better jokes than I do. Started by Professor Chris Palmer of American University, the competition is now in its fifth year and receives around 50 submissions annually. They are judged on multiple criteria and being funny is only one of them. The winning video receives $1,000.

Palmer, an environmental filmmaker and one-time stand up comedian, came up with the idea to combine his interests.

“[Participants] gain a renewed appreciation of how using comedy and humor can help convey the message of conservation more powerfully,” Palmer said. He hopes comedy can encourage people to act on environmental problems.

“Comedy has so much potential, and as advocates for our planet, we must learn to harness this potential to do good,” Palmer said at the DC Environmental Film Fest.

The winners were announced at American University. See this year’s top picks below.

First Place: Be a Better Roommate 

Second Place: Joe Wakes Up

Second Place: Go Green with Eloise

Third Place: Earth Copz  

 

 

--Cover image courtesy of iStock/

 

Bianca Hernandezis an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

 

Read More: 

Green Your Humor: Irreverant News

Eco-Friendly Flicks

The Real Debbie Downer: An Interview with SNL's Rachel Dratch

 

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March 31, 2014

Avocado-less Guacamole

AvocadolessGuacamole

Imagine guacamole without the avocado. That may be a reality we face in the coming years, either because of scarcity or high costs. Some scientists are warning that climate change and Ambrosia beetles could cause a decline in avocado yields in the US.

There is no true substitute for avocado in my favorite dip, but I thought I’d at least prepare to use less of this tasty green fruit. I scoured the internet and found three recipes that seemed worth a taste test, so we sampled them. While there was no clear winner, there was a distinct loser.

Edamame base/ Edamole: This dip was a much brighter green than the real thing, with a "bean-y" flavor and "homemade peanut butter" consistency. Several tasters noted its “smokiness,” possibly imparted by the spices and soy. It would do well smeared—or, um, crumbled—on a veggie burger.

Asparagus base: This dip was "much less attractive" appearance, with a dark color and soupy texture akin to those of “real guacamole that’s been left out overnight." Still, it was the most "convincing" guacamole substitute.

Green pea base: Remember that distinct loser I mentioned? A few people liked this as a spread for baguettes, but it's certainly no guacamole substitute, and one taster said this "just horrible" dip brought forth childhood memories of being forced to eat peas. Most considered it “too sweet” to pass as a guac alternative, but the addition of more seasonings and sour cream could even it out.

Try the recipes yourself and see if they're tasty enough to replace this iconic dip.

Edamame Dip/Edamole

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic 

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 cup frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans), thawed

1 tablespoon water, or as needed

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the garlic cloves, chipotle pepper, olive oil, hot sauce and cumin into a blender. Puree until smooth, then add the edamame and continue to puree until smooth. Add water as needed to achieve your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. 

Recipe reprinted with permission from AllRecipes.com/HealthyFoodLover.

 

Asparagus Guacamole

Ingredients 

1 lb asparagus spears, cut into 1 inch lengths

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons plain yogurt (or low fat) 

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped (1 cup) 

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 garlic clove, minced (add more if you so desire!)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Directions

Combine asparagus and water in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to boil over medium high heat, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water; drain. Blot asaparagus with a power towel to remove excess moisture. Combine asparagus, yogurt and lemon juice in food processor or blender. Process until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, combine asparagus mixture and remaining ingredients. Chill if desired. 

Recipe reprinted with permission from Food.com/Sharon123

 

Green Pea "Guacamole"

Ingredients

1/3 medium red onion, finely chopped 

4 tbs. olive oil

juice of 1 lime (about 4 tbs.) 

1/2 bunch cilanto, stems removed

1/2-1 tsp. chipotle chilis in adobo sauce or 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded

10 oz frozen peas

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. salt

Directions

Chop onion in food processor until finely chopped. Place onion in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine oil, lime juice and cilantro in a food processor until roughly pureed. Add chili, peas, cumin, salt and blend until almost smooth (should be some chunks left). Stir in red onion. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a bit of chopped red onion. Serve with tortilla chips or toasted pita.

*You don't need to defrost or cook the frozen peas before pureeing them, but I do let the dip sit at room temperature for about a half hour before serving. 

Recipe reprinted with permission from stylishspoon.com/Ilana

 

--top image by iStockphoto/billyfoto

 

Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

 

Read More: 

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Spoil No More: Avocados

7 Gluten-Free Bread Bowl Alternatives

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March 27, 2014

An Electric Car for Wheelchairs

Kenguru, electric car designed for people in wheelchairsIstvan Kissaroslaki was working in finance in Germany when he became sick -- sick enough that he had to stop working for six months. During his convalescence, his perspective on life changed: the finance world just didn't seem right anymore.

"I felt like I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life than making as much money as possible and trying to increase the yield of a financial institution," he said.

Now, Kissaroslaki is the co-founder of Kenguru (Hungarian for "kangaroo"), a company that's designed an eponymous electric car for people who use wheelchairs.

"I was thinking about teenagers in wheelchairs. What do they do when they’re sitting at home and their friends are getting driver's licenses?" Kissaroslaki said. "They hope to have public transportation or someone who can drive them. That was my motivation, to give these teenagers mobility." Between 2006 and 2008, Kissaroslaki worked on this car (which was originally designed by a company he worked for) as a side project. But in the middle of 2008 he realized that Kenguru needed more of his time and attention, so he quit his full-time job to work on the car instead.

In 2009, when the project was in limbo because of financial problems, Stacy Zoern, a Texas lawyer disabled by a muscle disease, happened upon Kenguru online and reached out to Kissaroslaki.

"I told her what happened and that we’re not building them and I’m back fundraising. This answer didn’t make her happy, and she kept calling." Kissaroslaki said.

He went to visit her in Austin a few months later, when he decided to give her a piece of the company and they started working on Kenguru together. A year later, Kissaroslaki moved from Hungary to Austin. Now, they're even earning shout-outs from President Obama.

Kenguru decided to make the car electric for practicality's sake. "It’s more comfortable to ride in a small vehicle that's electric than a small one with a combustion engine," Kissaroslaki said. "Plus, subsidies are more likely to be given by governments if the product is green."

Kenguru steering wheelThe Kenguru is definitely small -- smaller than a Smart Car in fact. It can travel up to 25-35 miles per hour (depending on the regulations in your state) and around 60 miles a day. The first vehicles will be rolling off the assembly line sometime in 2015. 

"The first generation vehicle will have a retail price around $25,000," Kissaroslaki said. "Our goal internally is to dramatically reduce this price over the first three years, to somewhere under $15,000."

Most customers, he adds, are paying a fraction of the cost, and many pay nothing. This is due in part to subsidies for eco-friendly vehicles, but the biggest deduction available in the US and western Europe is if someone needs the vehicle to go to school, work, or otherwise engage in a way that's beneficial to their country. Some agencies or vocational rehab programs will pick up 95-100 percent of the cost in this case.

"For any city, for any government, it makes sense to invest $50,000 to $100,000 in someone in a wheelchair who’s eager to go to school or work," Kissaroslaki said.

Kissaroslaki, Zoern, and the others at Kenguru are planning to come up with more ideas to increase accessibility and independence of those in wheelchairs, but the first generation vehicle is taking the front seat in priority.

"We will have other products out that will address the same market, but for now I would like to focus on the task in front of us," Kissaroslaki said.

--All images courtesy of Kenguru

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.

 

READ MORE:

Solar Taxi Circumnavigates the Globe

What Should Electric Cars Sound Like?

Power Up: Electric Vehicles for Everyone

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March 26, 2014

Ask Mr. Green: Paper Towels or Rags?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

During a drought, is it better to clean the house with paper towels or with cloth rags that need to be washed? We have a Kenmore front-loading washer, which the Internet says uses 17.28 gallons per load. —Heather, in Redwood City, California

Because of the extreme variability in the personal use of rags and paper towels, and the many kinds of paper towels available, this question is impossible to answer definitely. But undaunted by impossibility, I forge on in search of ever-elusive truths.

Your washer has a capacity of 3.1 cubic feet. So I first selected a rag that was about 3 feet square (18 by 26 inches), loosely balled it up, and calculated its volume by the time-honored formula of V = 4/3 πr3. Allowing for space around each rumpled rag of this size, I figured that you could fit about 24 in a 3-cubic-foot washer. I then filled up my own 3-cubic-foot washer with a collection of these rags, and to my immense delight, I found that it could hold about the same number as indicated by my computation—not exactly as big a deal as finding the Higgs boson or calculating the gravitational force of dark matter at the birth of the universe, but gratifying nonetheless. So, dividing the 17.28 gallons by 72 square feet, I concluded that your machine would use about a quarter of a gallon of water per square foot of rag.

I then obtained a roll of paper towels that contained 53.2 square feet, put it on a kitchen scale, and found that it weighed a half pound. I consulted the American Forestry and Paper Association’s Sustainability Report which states that it takes 5 gallons to make a pound of paper, so my half pound of paper towels would’ve required 2.5 gallons, meaning that each square foot would’ve required about .05 gallons, or only one-fifth the amount of water as washing the rags.

But since it probably takes about five times as much footage of paper towels as rags to cope with the equivalent messes, the two are probably tied as far as water consumption is concerned. Which is to say, it looks like an, um, wash.

Far more important in the grand scheme of things is the fact that you have a relatively efficient modern washing machine. Washers that were made before 1998 use twice as much water as newer brands that meet federal standards, and three times as much water as today’s Energy Star models, which take 15 gallons or less per cycle, or 8 gallons less than non–Energy Star models. An Energy Star washer will use 27,000 fewer gallons over its lifetime than other machines and also consume far less gas and electricity.

Finally, if you do use paper towels, opt for recycled ones, because every ton of recycled paper saves an estimated 7,000 gallons of water, according to a report from Green Seal, an organization that certifies the sustainability of various products. —Bob Schildgen

 

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


READ MORE:

Ask Mr. Green: Paper Towels or Hand Dryers?

Ask Mr. Green: Garbage Disposal or Compost Heap?

Ask Mr. Green: What Are the Best Crops for My Backyard?

 

 --illustration by Little Friends of Printmaking

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Spring Cleaning, Homemade and Detoxified

Non-toxic homemade cleaning recipesIt's time for spring cleaning. Attempting to spiff up every nook and cranny in your home can be stressful, but did you also know it can expose you and your loved ones to dozens of harmful toxins? Just thinking of the harsh fumes and neon hues must have you wondering if there's a better, safer way.

You may already have ditched the phosphate-heavy cleaning agents for more eco-friendly options, but you can even opt to make your own cleaning products. Make sure you have the following common ingredients on hand (you'll save multiple trips to the store): white vinegar, baking soda, citrus, hydrogen peroxide, washing soda, rubbing alcohol, essential oils, and castile soap. These cleaning recipes will save you money and help you take control over what you put in your home!

For the laundry room. Using just three ingredients, Rebekah of Potholes and Pantyhose fixed up the only laundry soap you'll ever need. Her recipe will last you through 50 to 100 loads of laundry (depending on the efficiency of your washer), and only costs three to five cents each time.

For the kitchen. Now that you have the perfect laundry soap, it's time to detoxify your dish-washing products. Erin, the mom behind the blog The Humbled Homemaker, created this great liquid dish soap.. If you prefer a dishwasher (which may be a more efficient option), check out Wellness Mama's homemade detergent.

For the bathroom. Kresha from Nourishing Joy, a self-described bathtub scrub snob, found the recipe for success with her homemade bathtub scrub. The secret ingredient? Eggshells! The calcium and rough texture from the crushed shells are perfect to get your tub, sink, and counters gleaming.

For the windows. Leslie, the blogger of Crunchy Betty, is a home remedy master, and her homemade glass cleaner may be one of her all-time favorite recipes. The four magical ingredients will work together to leave your windows streak-free. Plus, with a nickname like Alvin Corn, how can you resist this cleaner?

For everywhere else. Want something that works for all over the house? We've got you covered. Live Renewed blogger Emily came up with two fabulous recipes for disinfecting wipes that you can use for quick cleaning in any room. Frugal Granola also has a 3-in-1 household cleaner that will save you time and money. Even though it only says 3-in-1, we're pretty sure this cleaner could take care of just about anything in your house.

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/perkmeup

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.

 

READ MORE:

Green Spring Cleaning: Save the Paper Towels

Book Review Wednesday: Home Cleaning

Green Spring Cleaning: Clean Slate, New Habits

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March 25, 2014

This Bird Flies Underwater

 

KfThe "critter" in Sierra's current issue is the Kingfisher, a prodigious fishing bird that must provide its young with 2,000 little happy meals before they fledge. Exactly how they do this can be seen in this amazing slo-mo video (see below) shot on the River Shannon in Ireland by Colin Stafford-Johnson for the PBS documentary, Ireland's Wild River --they fly underwater. Kingfishers don't swim great distances or for long periods like penguins or cormorants, as you can see in the underwater footage toward the end, but instead pinpoint their tiny prey from above and dive straight down like multi-colored missiles to nab their lunch. 

As we noted in the magazine, the kingfisher is also known as the "halcyon" (from its Linnaean name, Alcedo atthis), and is associated with fine weather: 

In ancient times, the kingfisher was believed to build floating nests on the open sea at the winter solstice, during which time the waters would miraculously become clam and navigable. Pliny the Elder cites this story as the origin of the term "halcyon days."

Now come Christina Chronopoulou and A. Mavrakis in the journal Weather with an article entitled "Ancient Greek drama as an eyewitness of a specific meteorological phenomenon: indication of stability of the Halcyon days." Their study of weather references in classical Greek plays shows that the 5th Century BCE was pretty darn halcyon--so much so that audiences of the time could expect to watch open-air performances in amphitheaters in mid-winter. In fact, says Tim Radford at Climate News NetworkGreek dramas of the time were replete with halcyon references:

Euripides in Medea in 431 BC mentions "the temperate and sweet breezes" while Aristophanes in The Frogs in 405 BC actually addresses "you halcyons who chatter by the ever-flowing waves."

"Combining the fact that dramatic contests were held in mid-winter without any indication of postponement, and references from the drama about clear weather and mild winters, we can assume that those particular days of almost every January were summery in the 5th and maybe the 4th centuries BC," said Chronopoulou. 

Thus the kingfisher provides paleoclimatologists new clues for unravelling the fluctuations of weather, the better to chart our own drastic effects on the world's climate.

 

 Image: Colin Stafford-Johnson

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

READ MORE:

Critter: Fish-hunting Cat

Critter: Tasselled Wobbegong 

The Tardigrade: Tiny, Cute, and Indestructible

 

 

 

 

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