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74 posts from May 2011

May 31, 2011

Daily Roundup: May 31, 2011

Gasp: Too little oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico is causing sexual deformities in fish. National Geographic

Let the Sunshine In: Swiss scientists created the world's most efficient flexible solar cell. Science Daily

Fairweather Friends: People are more likely believe in global warming on an unusually warm day than on an unusually cold one. Good

Epidemic: An outbreak of the Pasteurella bacteria in Kazakhstan has wiped out 440 critically endangered Saiga antelope. TreeHugger

Alternatives Old and New: In the aftermath of Fukushima, Germany announced plans to phase out all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Reuters

--Mimi Dwyer

Delectable Disposable Diapers

Oyster mushroomsThe debate over cloth vs. disposable diapers has been going for more than 20 years. Usually, environmentalists argue that cloth is better, but this conclusion is far from decisive. And you can’t beat the neatness and convenience of disposables.

Americans throw away 18 billion diapers (112 million tons of trash) every year. Once they get to landfills, they don’t biodegrade. The result? An ever-increasing pile of... well, you know.

So what's a greenie to do? Biodegradable diapers are expensive, and people remain squeamish about cloth.

To solve this dilemma, how about the humble oyster mushroom? Researcher Alethia Vázquez-Morillas of Mexico City's Autonomous Metropolitan University devised a way to take soiled diapers and return them to the soil. Her research show that oyster mushrooms have an enzyme that can break down 90% of the average diaper within two months. The resulting mushrooms are, according to Vazquez-Morillas, entirely edible. And it turns out they've got a "sweet, woodsy flavor."

--Mimi Dwyer

Getaround Gives Zipcar a Run for its Money

Trading keys Driving sustainably is never easy. But a new app, Getaround, makes it simpler. The neighborhood car-sharing service allows members to arrange hourly, daily, or weekly rentals at rates decided by the car's owner. Getaround then takes a cut, provides insurance, and assures 24-hour roadside assistance. Membership is free. 

And check this role reversal out: Not only do the renters review the car owners, but the owners actually rate and review the renters too. Filthy car back? The whole Getaround community will know.

Though the company accepts members from all across America, so far it operates only in the San Francisco Bay Area and in San Diego. Its stable of vehicles ranges from Prii to all-electric Tesla roadsters, though having stellar MPG is no requirement for entry.

Matt Willard, a member of the Getaround support team, said that, just this week, Getaround had registered enough vehicles to make their fleet 20% the size of Zipcar’s. Their membership is in the several thousands. Willard added that Getaround shows up Zipcar on several fronts; it connect people in more rural areas and doesn’t purchase more cars to add to the road. Instead of buying a teen a car, parents look over at their neighbor’s and say, “You can just rent that,” Willard imagined. In theory, he added, 1 million Getaround cars could take 10 million active cars off the roads and reduce carbon emissions in equivalence of 1 billion trees.

Continue reading "Getaround Gives Zipcar a Run for its Money" »

Green Habits to Help Animals: Get Buzzed for Birds

Ruby throated hummingbird Your YouTube addiction aside, you may not realize how your daily habits affect wild animals. This week's tips are about how to make minor changes to your routine to help adorable (and not-so-adorable) critters around the globe. 

Tip #1: Get buzzed for birds.

What do the Baltimore oriole, the ruby-throated hummingbird, the Tennessee warbler, and the broad-winged hawk have in common? Their migratory paths take them through Latin American coffee plantations. By opting for shade-grown coffee, you'll help make sure that these birds will always have a place to go. Not sure how to find the best eco-friendly brands? Sierra magazine asked coffee experts to recommend their top picks.

Tip #2: Opt for orangutan-friendly oil.

Tip #3: Take totes for turtles.

Tell us: How do your daily habits help animals?

May 27, 2011

Daily Roundup: May 27, 2011

Eating Animals: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has started slaughtering his own food as a part of a personal challenge to eat more sustainably. He's eating mostly vegetarian fare, but has already killed a goat and a pig in his quest to appreciate his food's origins. Telegraph

No Place Like Home: The recent spate of deadly tornadoes has highlighted the lack of storm shelters and basements in many communities. Only 28% of homes built in 2009 had basements. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Nuclear Shutdown: Environment ministers in Germany recommended that the country's seven nuclear power plants be permanently closed. New York Times

Start Your Engines: Starting next year, the government-mandated fuel-economy labels on cars will be required to include ratings for both greenhouse-gas and smog emissions. Detroit Free Press

Breathless: Cancer is now the number-one killer in China, with lung cancer being most deadly. Pollution from coal plants may be to blame. TreeHugger

--Della Watson

Caravaning For Conservation: Cycling Festivals and Rides Across America

Biking in the countryside People are getting that biking saves trees. So it makes sense that eco-themed bike tours and festivals are popping up across America.

The annual Brita Climate Ride takes cyclists, over a five-day course, from the banks of Manhattan to a D.C. rally via the lush countryside. Food and lodging are provided for, and in the evening, riders hear experts discussing sustainability issues; each cyclist raises at least $2,400. Though this event already happened in 2011 (May 13-17), now's a good time to start training for 2012.

The Tour de Fat, a traveling bike festival organized by New Belgium Brewing Co., is in its fourth year. The event encourages attendees to sign away their car for a year in exchange for a new commuter bike. As they say, “It’s about weaning yourself off the petroleum teat.” The Tour kicks off in Durham, North Carolina, on June 25 and ends on Oct. 22 in Austin, Texas.

Continue reading "Caravaning For Conservation: Cycling Festivals and Rides Across America" »

What to Make of EPA's Label Makeover

Electric car This week the EPA and DOT took a small but important step toward reducing U.S. dependence on oil. The agencies announced new a fuel-efficiency labeling system for all cars manufactured after this summer. According to an EPA press release, label updates will include:

• Energy comparisons between different kinds of electric, hybrid, and conventional cars
• Five-year projections of the vehicle’s fuel usage compared to the average new car
• The amount of fuel the vehicle uses to drive 100 miles
• The charging time and range of each new electric vehicle
• And, in an apparent attempt at tech savvy, QR codes on each label will let smartphone users compare cars and find more information about them online.

While these updates will make information more accessible, they falter in a few key areas. Disappointingly, the EPA caved to industry pressure to eliminate the efficiency grading system, which allowed for quick, easy car comparisons. The proposed system's huge, glaring A+ through D grades would have been difficult to ignore. Without such a cleawr metric,the new label might bog consumers down with too much information.

Continue reading "What to Make of EPA's Label Makeover" »

Movie Review Friday: The Genius of Charles Darwin

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film or television event with an environmental theme. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

The Genius of Charles Darwin (2008)

Watch online for free, or buy the DVD

Imagine this: You're holding your mother’s hand. She's holding her mother’s hand, and on back to the last common ancestor with modern apes. The family line would only stretch 300 miles. In other words, you could drive four hours and see the ancestral human. Pretty incredible, right? The Genius of Charles Darwin, an award-winning documentary series about evolution and its implications, is packed with information like this because, as Darwin himself said, “There is grandeur in this view of life.”

But according to a recent global poll, only 41% of people believe in evolution, even though most scientists regard it as fact. Richard Dawkins, the controversial and brilliant writer of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, wants to up that percentage with The Genius of Charles Darwin. His three-part TV series first addresses Darwin’s revolutionary theory, second, Dawkins's own theory of the evolution of human altruism, and third, the conflict between religion and evolution.

Continue reading "Movie Review Friday: The Genius of Charles Darwin" »

May 26, 2011

Daily Roundup: May 26, 2010

Fishy Business: Up to 25% of seafood sold in markets is labeled as the wrong species, new research shows. New York Times

No Delay: The federal government denied requests to postpone the date on which to start building California's $43-billion bullet train. Los Angeles Times

Lenient Leader: The Obama administration plans to get rid of some federal regulations, including environmental ones. The move is meant to ease industry burdens. Washington Post

Get Out of Jail Free: BP's lawyers asked a federal judge to throw out hundreds of lawsuits related to the company's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. San Francisco Chronicle

Meh: Governmental leaders tried to convince Congress that the U.S. should be helping the countries hit hardest by climate change. Response was lukewarm. AFP

--Avital Binshtock

E-Waste for Cheapskates

E-waste Got a computer older than dirt taking up space in your basement? Resist the urge to plop it on the curb. Trash companies (and even some recyclers) have a long and nasty history of dumping discarded electronics in landfills all over the developing world, polluting countries' ecosystems with toxics like lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic. Fortunately, the EPA and other agencies are responding to this problem by developing databases of responsible and convenient e-waste donation sites in neighborhoods across America. 

But what about electronics that haven’t quite gone the way of the 10-pound cell phone? If you’re having a hard time parting with that glitter-covered TI-83, check out Amazon’s new e-waste trade-in program

Continue reading "E-Waste for Cheapskates" »

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