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A Living, Breathing Air Purifier

Friday, November 12th, 2010
By Christa

Who hasn’t browsed the air purifiers at Sharper Image or Brookstone and wondered if indoor air might actually be kind of gross. Whether the high-end air purifiers really do anything to help us breathe is up for debate, according to consumer advocates, but the good ones certainly do remove spores, dust particles, other particulates, and allergens from the air around us. That’s the good – the bad and the ugly is that some air purifiers create ozone in the process.

So why do Americans spend something like $250 million annually on air purifiers if people in the scientific community aren’t really sold on the benefits? Easy: Gas stoves, oil heaters, smoke, deteriorating insulation, off gassing from carpets and mattresses, pets shedding, pollen, mold growth, circulating dust, etc. In newer structures built to be airtight for heating and cooling efficiency, all that stuff stays put inside instead of potentially flowing out with drafts. And in older structures, you end up with more of the dust and particulates. Either way, your indoor air – especially in the wintertime – may not be all that great.

If you think it’s starting to sound like there’s not much any of us can do to improve indoor air quality, you might be right. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, as long as trying doesn’t mean spending gobs of money on air purifiers that are actually putting more pollutants into the air or air purifiers that have been shown in tests to do absolutely nothing to the air. One interesting (and green, in the literal sense) solution I’ve seen is Paris-based LaboGroup’s ANDREA air purifier.

A small fan constantly draws polluted indoor air through the ANDREA, across the plant leaves and through the soil, where active microbes live, effectively cleaning certain yucky things out of the air. According to LaboGroup, just about any plant can thrive inside the clear bubble, and the company’s tests show that the ANDREA is 44 times better at picking up a molecule of formaldehyde than a standard HEPA filter.

Me? I like spider plants, and not just inside of fancy plant-based air purifiers, either. They might not filter out particulates, but they’re apparently good at removing volatile organic chemicals from the air and there’s no need to spend money on more if you love them. I started with one free spider plant baby about the side of a deck of cards and now have three giant spider plants, all of which are producing more and more babies.

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?

New England’s Extended Autumn? Lovely to Look At, But Maybe a Little Scary

Saturday, November 6th, 2010
By Christa

Ah, autumn. Here in New England when the weather starts to change signaling the imminent arrival of an unending skin biting winter, there are two things that make the chill bearable. First, new boots and coats! For chilly weather sans snow, I like toasty warm organic and partially recycled cable knit ankle boots from Simple paired with an organic cotton trench from Vicarious by Nature.

And second, the beautiful New England foliage. While I’m not exactly a tree hugger when it comes time to rake… again… I do love the look of the fall foliage. Around here, it tends to blow up in an explosion of deep reds and purples, bright oranges, sharp yellows, and the growing hint of brown that reminds you to grab a good look while you still can.

Except this year? The colors are apparently sticking around a little longer than usual, and one suspected culprit is climate change.

Foliage is affected by soil moisture and declining temperatures, said Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University. Because the summer didn’t see much rainfall, colors started changing earlier. And with a killing frost yet to hit Boston the colorful leaves are lasting longer, he said. While one year’s events cannot be definitively linked to climate change, some scientists’ project first frosts will take place later in the fall season over time because of the release of heat-trapping gases from cars, power plants and factories.

Eek! Don’t you just hate that? The fall foliage is supposed to be pretty, not scary, but the notion of lovely leaves caused by climate change is just as worrisome as striking sunsets caused by air pollution. Personally, I’d much rather the colors be fleeting and the sunsets a tiny bit less beautiful in return for an atmosphere that’s a little healthier.

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