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Latest Fuel Economy Guide

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
The EPA is much-maligned in tree-hugger circles for being a typically ineffective government agency. But you can’t deny they come out with some handy stuff. To wit: the 2009 fuel economy guide.

It’s got the latest mileage estimates for every vehicle under the sun. If you’re car shopping, surely one of your biggest concerns is how much you’re going to have to pay to fill ‘er up. This site tells you.

And in an exceptionally cool, practical move for the EPA, they have a version for mobile users, so you can access stuff like a car’s annual petroleum use or its carbon footprint as you walk the lots.

Here’s the 2009 fuel economy leaders:

Toyota Prius (hybrid) 48/45
Honda Civic Hybrid 40/45
Nissan Altima Hybrid 35/33
Ford Escape Hybrid FWD 34/31
Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD 34/31
Mercury Mariner Hybrid FWD 34/31
Smart Fortwo Convertible 33/41
Smart Fortwo Coupe 33/41
Toyota Camry Hybrid 33/34
Volkswagon Jetta (manual, diesel) 30/41
Volkswagon Jetta Sportwagon (manual, diesel) 30/41
Volkswagon Jetta (automatic, diesel) 29/40
Volkswagon Jetta Sportwagon (automatic, diesel) 29/40
Toyota Yaris (manual) 29/36
Toyota Yaris (automatic) 29/35

Let us know how much fuel economy plays a role in your car-buying considerations by posting a comment below.

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McCain/Obama’s Green Policies

Friday, October 24, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

I’m not crazy about politicians. I know, you’re not either. Elected officials lie to gain their positions of power then leverage them for as much income as possible. Any good that happens along the way is usually incidental (the argument can be made that this is not a comment on politicians per se but on mankind -- ie, anybody, given the kind of power the average congressman has, will look to ‘cheat’ a bit -- but since we’re focusing on the presidential candidates today, let’s stick with that particular brand of human, um, frailty).

Put it this way: If politicians were an endangered species, there wouldn’t be a whole heck of a lot of protests staged to save them.

But vote we must. And for this blog’s purpose, the only thing we need to consider is where each candidate comes down on protecting the environment. So, let the considering begin with this summary of the facts:

Both McCain and Obama support a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions (though there are differences – read each one carefully and see for yourself).

Palin is the only one among the four who has recently publicly disputed anthropogenic global warming. She has since tempered her remarks.

McCain has consistently voted against, or failed to vote on at all, legislation to promote renewable energy, and doesn’t set any specific goals for solar, wind, geothermal, etc.

McCain wants 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

Obama has voted consistently for legislation to promote renewable energy and sets a goal of 25% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Biden has voted consistently for legislation to promote renewable energy.

McCain has taken more than twice as much campaign money from energy companies this election cycle as Obama.

Obama is for drilling in limited coastal areas.

McCain, once against offshore drilling, now wants to drill off the U.S. coast, but he is against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Biden used to be for offshore drilling, now is against it (I think; tough to keep track).

Palin is for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As Alaska governor, Palin enacted higher state taxes on oil companies.

Todd Palin worked for BP, one of the world’s leading oil companies, as recently as 2007.

McCain has a history of pushing for higher fuel standards and will give $5,000 tax credits to people who buy zero-emission autos and would offer $300 million to the company that comes up with the perfect battery for an electric or plug-in hybrid.

Obama doesn’t have much of a history on it; says he’s for the Endangered Species Act.

Also isn’t much for McCain – he tends to waffle a bit on the subject.

Palin opposed the listing of polar bears as a threatened species, citing scientific data that she claimed supported her position but later was shown to invalidate it.

Palin supported a program to kill predators, including wolves and bears, to leave more game for hunters.

Biden has a history of being animal-friendly.

Both Obama and McCain are for “clean coal,” a technology some call a sham.

Both McCain and Obama say mountaintop mining – in which mountains are blasted to get at coal and whatever is uncovered that isn’t coal gets buried in valleys, where it contaminates streams – needs to stop.

For extensive summaries of each candidates’ environmental views, you’re probably best to check out the League of Conservation Voters’ comparison charts. Of course, you can always go to the candidates themselves: Obama, McCain.

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SEJ Award Winners

Thursday, October 16, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

The vast amount of information – and misinformation – out there about the environment makes it difficult to get a solid understanding of the discussion. What we really need is a collection of clear, pointed, engaging pieces to serve as a primer on the biggest issues. If only we had such a thing …

Wait, what’s this? The Society of Environmental Journalists named the winners of its 7th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment?

Hmmm. Let’s see what we find …

How corruption and self-interest can ruin seemingly noble green initiatives

Why it’s inherently difficult to ‘go green’ and the lies we tell to convince ourselves it’s working …

How carbon offsets work (or don’t) …

Just how damaging a contributor to greenhouse gases coal is …

Why warming warnings have been ignored or hushed up by our leaders …

What exactly climate change is and the role of carbon emissions and biofuels in it …

The role of China's economic boom

How our unquenchable thirst for convenient products ends up impacting our oceans

Whether ethanol is part of the cure or the disease …

How to recapture the vigor of youth by investigating vernal pools

(OK, that last one didn’t really win any awards. In fact, it was probably only read by about five people. But, dammit, it’s hard-hitting stuff!)

So whether you’re just starting to learn about the issues or you’re an environment-news junkie itchin’ for a fix, click on any of the above and dive into some of the best information out there. Give ‘em a read, then come back to let us know what you think by commenting below.

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Take A Hike

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Knife Edge, at the north end of the Appalachian Trail
The National Trails System marked its 40th anniversary this month. If you haven’t hiked in a while, now is a great time to take that walk, with – depending on where you live – beautiful foliage, comfortable temperatures and more trails than ever to choose from (9,000 miles of trails have been added around the U.S. just since 2000).

Here’s a list of trails that pass near Captivate cities:

Appalachian National Scenic Trail – The nation’s first, it’s also said to be the most used, with 4 million people stomping somewhere along its 2,175-mile-long path each year. It was conceived in 1921 as a “retreat from urban life.” Precisely what I’m talkin’ about. Pick it up NW of town, at Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee Forest.

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail – One of the newer additions to the system, this trail can be picked up just outside town.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Just head west, and pick it up anywhere in the Berkshires, or north, and enjoy New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Los Angeles
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail – 1,200 miles stretch from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco in salute to the Spanish explorer. Start at the Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.
The Old Spanish National Historic Trail – This relatively new trail, which goes east all the way to Santa Fe, can be picked up at the plaza in L.A.

New York
Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Head way out past White Plains, past Nyack, until you get to Harriman State Park, which the trail bisects.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Pick it up west of town, at Port Clinton.

San Francisco
California National Historic Trail – Feel like you need some Independence? Well get going on this 2,000 mile trail, which runs all the way to the neatly named Missouri city. Pick it up in Sacramento.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail – Pick it up at the Presidio.

Washington, D.C.
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail – This mishmash of smaller trails can be picked up a variety of places. Try starting at the Georgetown Visitors Center.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Pick it up at Harpers Ferry.

If you’ve hit any trails recently, let us know by posting a comment below.

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Endangered Animals

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Man, is it easy to get caught up in the tedium of day-to-day life. My days, in three words?

Drive. Type. Eat.

The key to breaking out of that monosyllabic monotony is to have something else, a passion that distances you from the daily grind, if only for a few minutes a day. It can be as simple as quality time with family or friends or as nutty as collecting handcuffs, but you gotta have something. If you happen to be somebody who’s not sure what that “something,” that passion, should be, allow me to suggest one: Getting back to nature.

There are studies suggesting we feel better when we’re surrounded by nature, such as this one that even specifies which aspects of the natural world are most restorative (water bodies and flowers). But the surest proof of it can be found within – I defy you to stroll through your nearest park, paying attention to your surroundings instead of the little nags in your brain, and not feel better.

I previously wrote about a study that said most of us would like to get out to nature but just don’t find the time. But when is there ever time for anything, unless you make time for it?

For me, the real invigoration comes not from the land itself so much as from what lives there. Observing wild animals – whether spying on a hairy woodpecker as it knocks around a maple tree for bugs to snack on, or catching a glimpse of a red fox slinking across a forest trail – focuses my perspective, somehow making me feel smaller and affirming my place in this world all at once. It just makes you feel good.

And it’s now more pressing than ever to get out there, to learn and to maybe somehow help, with a new study saying we are on the verge of an “extinction crisis.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List names 1,141 of the world’s 5,487 mammals – more than 20% – that are at risk of disappearing, largely due to loss of habitat.

The trouble with these lists is that many of the most highly touted animals are exotic, making it less likely to hit home for Americans. But there are plenty of U.S.-indigenous mammals on there too, from Nelson's Antelope Squirrel in California to the Red Wolf in North Carolina.

The point is we take it for granted, this immense diversity all around us, and we ignore it. And in so doing we’re complicitly saying to the developers and the polluters that eradicating habitats and poisoning the water is OK.

But if we take time to appreciate nature, to get involved even just a little, we’re saying it’s not OK that we’re losing this diversity (at least 76 mammals have gone extinct since 1500, the IUCN says) and we learn to cope better with our everyday hassles while helping ensure our kids get to do the same.

Here are some places in Captivate markets where you can reignite a passion for nature. (In case you absolutely cannot get outside, the next best thing is The Encyclopedia of Life, the brainchild of renowned naturalist Edward O. Wilson.)

Locals please suggest more places by submitting a comment below.

Atlanta Cascade Spring Nature Preserve (it’s big and relatively unmonitored so it’s probably best, if you’re a novice, to go with friends), Olmsted Linear Park (especially the Deepdene segment)

Boston Allandale Woods, Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, Boston Nature Center

Chicago Gompers Park Wetland

New York Central Park Ramble, Queens' Cunningham Park, Staten Island’s Long Pond Park Preserve

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Joel Makower: The Complexities of Going Green

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Joel Makower's new book
We’ve looked at businesses going green from a couple different angles, covering things like what employees can do, eco-friendly buildings, and workplaces’ roles in helping us be environmentally conscious.

But today we’re delving into the issue with none other than Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of Greener World Media and one of the world’s leading experts on green business. His new book, "STRATEGIES FOR THE GREEN ECONOMY: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business," gives an in-depth look at the complications of going green and the revolutionary things being done to overcome the hurdles.

Makower says companies often have trouble going green not just due to the complications of implementing what he calls “the growing toolkit of technologies, materials, business models, and other innovations,” but because implementing change of any kind is difficult in the corporate world.

“Change is hard,” Makower explained, “whether big companies or small, and whether in one business unit of a large company or companywide. The stories are legend about how much time and effort it takes to implement what, to most people, seems a relatively minor tweak. Example: Starbucks' effort to put a mere 10% postconsumer recycled content in its coffee cups – 10%! – took fully two years of working with suppliers, getting FDA approval (even though it wasn't technically needed) and testing with consumers. Imagine how much harder it is to do more ambitious things.”

But ambitious things are indeed being done. Makower points to two revolutionary strategies, green chemistry and biomimicry, as the most exciting.

Defined by pioneers Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner, green chemistry is
“the utilization of a set of principles that reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture, and application of chemical products.”

What the concept boils down to is that there are identified ways to create the products we have grown to rely on without using chemicals that damage the environment. California has taken the lead, with its state EPA issuing 38 recommendations on how to make green chemistry a reality (BIG pdf). But, of course – and this speaks to Makower’s point about change in industry – the chemical companies are doing their best to make it difficult to implement the changes. Despite that, a chemical regulation overhaul was just signed into law by Calif. Gov. Schwarzenegger, promising hope for the future of green chemistry.

And then there’s biomimicry, perhaps the coolest, most sci-fi of the green strategies. It espouses the concept of copying nature’s designs to create manmade products. Or, on a larger scale, the science of biomimicry is “a means of transforming industrial systems, creating efficient means of energy production and use, and solving problems on the scale of global climate change,” according to Makower.

The prototypical example is Eastgate, a shopping/business complex in Zimbabwe designed by renowned “responsible” architect Mick Pearce. The building is heated and cooled only through natural means, based on the structure found in termite mounds.

Makower lists many other examples of practical use of biomimicry, including a Moen showerhead with spray holes inspired by the “whorls of seeds in a sunflower” and an Atlanta company with “’self-cleaning’ exterior paint modeled on the lotus plant, whose leaves are covered with tiny points that hold dirt and moisture away from the leaf's surface, cleaning buildings whenever it rains.”

I told you; pretty cool, huh? The implications are fun to consider. How about an adhesive that sticks to everything but your fingers (mimicking how a spider glides across its own web) or a flashlight powered by the same chemical process that sets a firefly alight (no more batteries!) (There are limitless other possibilities. Let us know what you come up with by commenting below).

So there are these strategies out there being used by big corporations. But how does the average office worker contribute?

“Employees often drive company performance,” Makower told me, “for two reasons: they are closest to the waste and inefficiency, so often have the best ideas on how to reduce or eliminate it; and employers understand that being seen as green can be a powerful way to attract and retain talent, especially in competitive job markets. In addition, some companies -- Wal-Mart, for example -- are finding that when they play a role in helping employees be greener in their personal lives, the employees often bring that newfound environmental commitment to work, helping to identify efficiency opportunities and reducing resistance to change.”

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.