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Check Out the ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ Trailer!

Monday, December 27th, 2010
By Christa

“Revenge of the Electric Car” is an upcoming documentary about the EV car revolution created by Chris Paine, director of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”. It will be released in spring of 2001, and let me tell you, I can’t wait!

RFID Recycling Bins?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
By Christa

Has your city gotten its recycling bins wired yet? Some areas – e.g., San Francisco, California; Cleveland, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Charlotte, NC; and Laurel, Maryland – have installed radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in their recycling bins to track compliance and the amount of recyclables being collected from specific zones and homes. The tags are coded to serial numbers on the containers and the addresses where they’re being used, and they allow officials to track recycling stats without having to figure out en route which bins belong to which houses.

Advocates for the RFID-equipped bins say they will encourage people to be more aware of what they are throwing out and how their waste is disposed of. They also argue that the technology can be used in conjunction with programs that reward recyclers with incentives like gift certificates to local businesses. Detractors argue that the RFID recycling bins are often paired not with incentive programs, but rather with fees for non-compliance (which can range from putting out bins too early to not putting them out at all). And of course, there are the usual privacy concerns – particularly since in some areas, non-compliance means a trash inspector having a looksee at your cans.

What do you think? Are RFID recycling bins a great way to encourage people to go green or another example of too much government intervention?

Word of the Day: Greenwashing

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
By Christa

In Monday’s post, I briefly touched on how easy it is to shop green but it deserves more than a mention. I can buy everything from organic k-cups to bamboo end tables to fair trade blouses right on Amazon, not to mention in lots and lots of shops. Buying earth-friendly and worker-friendly stuff is pretty easy these days, even if a fair trade or organic label often comes with a higher price tag.

Or is it easier?

There’s obviously nothing wrong with shopping thoughtfully or choosing not to put certain chemicals on or in your body, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying the things you need or want. But if you’re going to be paying a premium for a product because it claims to be green or at the very least greener, it’s a good idea to look into whether it’s actually as green as it says it is.

That’s where greenwashing comes in. A lot of products are advertised as being environmentally-friendly or sustainable or ethical because that sells almost as well as sex these days, but plenty of those products are no better for the planet or for people than anything else. Here are some great examples from Wikipedia:

  • The Comcast ecobill has the slogan of “PaperLESSisMORE” but Comcast uses large amounts of paper for direct marketing.
  • Kimberly Clark’s claim of “Pure and Natural” diapers in green packaging, with the same petrochemical gel on the inside.
  • The Poland Spring ecoshape bottle is touted as “A little natural does a lot of good”, although 80% of beverage containers go to the landfill.
  • The Airbus A380 airliner is described as “A better environment inside and out” even though air travel has a high negative environment cost.
  • Coal is now advertised as a clean, eco option.

My guess? You already know all about greenwashing, but I still thought it was a good idea to toss a little reminder at you. It’s just too easy these days to get swayed by people and companies making all kinds of claims about how their products are better for the planet or better for people. Particularly when the argument seems so logical or you have so many options that things start to get confusing.

Take, for example, home espresso machines, which are often advertised as a greener option than a trip to the coffee shop. Sounds plausible, no? But coffee shops buy in bulk, often use organic fair trade beans, can sometimes return packaging to suppliers, and may use real dishware, plus their overall energy impact is spread over many, many customers. So DIY espresso with a big machine is cheaper in the long run, but not necessarily greener.

But wait! What about espresso makers that don’t use electricity, like the AeroPress or your basic stovetop espresso maker? Then there’s the Presso Espresso, which is apparently entirely recyclable. Wouldn’t one of the those be the truly greenest option – if perhaps the tiniest bit more labor intensive? And so on – you get the idea.

So what examples of greenwashing have you encountered lately?

Is Nuclear a Green Option?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
By Christa

In the wake of last week’s heavy protests and blockades in Germany against a train carrying nuclear waste from France, it seems only fitting to devote a little time to thinking about nuclear power. And it wasn’t just the transportation of nuclear waste to a German storage facility that was under fire. Against strong opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors. In 2001, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder moved to phase out nuclear energy in the country, but Germany’s aging nuclear reactors are now set to do another 12 years of duty. Hmmm.

I think some people see a protest like this and think, “Wait, what?” For better or for worse, nuclear power has been framed as green by a number of people, businesses, and organizations, with the end result of a lot of folks associating nuclear power with two things: Chernobyl and eco-consciousness.

Proponents of nuclear power talk about how it’s a carbon-free energy source, how the amount of waste produced is very small compared to burning fossil fuels to create energy, how it’s cost effective, and the new safety measures in reactors that make it as safe as any other energy source. Opponents talk about how it’s really not carbon-free (nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it from mining, building, and running a plant), the waste storage solutions currently in place are reportedly less than perfect, safety measures won’t matter if terrorists get their hands on a reactor, it’s not a good solution to Global Warming, and it’s not as cost effective as first thought.

Oh good, another ‘paper versus plastic debate.’* Seriously, when I look into all of the statements above, I can find some supposed expert telling me why it’s 100% true. I think this is one of the perils people who’ve chosen to go green face. There’s always someone who can make a pretty compelling argument in favor of one thing or another, which makes it incredibly confusing for the layperson. So what are us laypeople to do? Discuss it amongst ourselves, of course. I’m really curious to know what you think about the relative eco-friendliness of nuclear power, both as compared to other forms of energy production and as its own animal. Is nuclear really a viable option in the short or even the long term?

*The answer? Re-usable grocery bags that last a long, long time!

Georgia Shops for Fleet of Eco-Friendly Cars

Monday, November 8th, 2010
By Christa

No, not that Georgia. You may be surprised to hear it, but I’m talking about Georgia the country. Georgia has announced plans to replace its entire fleet of state-owned cars with electric or hybrid vehicles within four years. It seems the country is leaning toward an electric fleet – it has a rich supply of cheap hydroelectric power from dams in the Caucasus Mountains, which could make it a unique test case for widespread electric car usage.

Georgia is in talks with several companies, including General Motors, about the purchase of about 4,000 vehicles. Trucks and larger cars, including those in the presidential motorcade, will be exempted, since the electric vehicles available today are inadequately powered or armored, Ms. Kobalia said. As part of the sale, manufacturers will be asked to build service and recharging stations, easing the way for ordinary Georgians to switch to electric cars.

Will it happen? Who knows… but if Georgia manages to replace its fleet of vehicles with eco-friendly electric or hybrid alternatives, it’ll be in good company. While Georgia is the first country in the world to make this commitment, the town of Banff boasts Canada’s first all-hybrid bio-diesel/electric bus fleet, Phoenix, AZ has the nation’s second all carbon neutral taxicab service, and cities all over the world have pledged to switch over to all hybrid fleets for their service cars and trucks within the next five years.

Is going electric or hybrid the best choice for every city or country? Not necessarily, but those are the best alternatives we have at the moment, and it seems a lot smarter than chugging out emissions until a better alternative comes along, no?

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