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Category Archives: Transportation

  • Malaysia Flight 370: A Movie In The Making, or, Is This The Titanic of the 21st Century?

     

    In case you are wondering why the “My Inner Green” girl is writing about the disappearance of a commercial jetliner, allow me to explain. First, my hobby is flying (I’m working on my twin engine license, in fact). Second, I am a student of the Mideast, both its history and the current conflict. It is certainly possible that the mysterious goings-on surrounding the disappearance of Flight 370 can be traced back to something other than a mechanical failure. And third, you have to assume that there are scriptwriters in L.A. feverishly developing storylines for the next great blockbuster on flights in distress and its consequences as we speak.

    Let’s begin with why I think this may well be a terrorist act. Two guys, an Italian and an Austrian both in their 30s, have their passports stolen, one in 2012 and the other in 2013, respectively. They do not know each other and are not linked, just coincidence that they were both in Thailand and got their passports stolen. Then the passports surface in Pattaya, a city in Thailand that you don’t go to for the thread count. Let’s just say I doubt if these two gentlemen are very happy with being publicly linked to a place that some refer to as the Dante’s inferno of the modern world.

    So if you are still with me, the passports are used by a Mr. Ali to buy one-way plane tickets for two men who are not present at the time. This occurred only last Thursday at Grand Horizon travel agency in Pattaya. So the tickets were from Kuala Lumpur (nobody seems to know how they got from Pattaya, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur) to Beijing to Amsterdam to Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Quite a circuitous route to put it mildly.

    On top of this, five men checked in for the flight, including baggage…then mysteriously were able to reclaim their bags and did not board the flight. This has been kind of buried in the news coverage. Why aren’t the authorities combing the face of the earth to identify these guys (perhaps they are but can’t find them?). The fact that this was not a red flag to Malaysian Air officials, nor did Malaysian passport control catch the fact that the two stolen passports – which are flagged on Interpol – were not detected is nothing short of shocking. It would seem to me that even our own much-maligned TSA agents would have been alerted by the five guys and/or the phony passports.

    Meanwhile, some news agencies, including Reuters, seem to think this was not an act of terrorism because there are indications that the plane had turned back and was headed for Kuala Lumpur at the time of its disappearance. If that was the case, riddle me this: why would the pilots not have sent some sort of distress signal back to the tower in K-L? What if terrorists had commandeered the plane and intentionally turned it around, heading back to K-L to perhaps fly into the Petronas Towers – the world’s tallest and most famous twin towers remaining? Or possibly the terrorists were heading to Beijing to crash into the Chinese city’s downtown? Maybe the pilot is an unrecognized hero for refusing to follow those plans and instead ditched Flight 370 into the drink, nose first? After all, he was 53 years old and had over 18,000 hours of experience. Not an amateur, to be sure. The weather was good so no solace there.

    In any event, why has no wreckage been located? So where art thou, oh jetliner? Again, Hollywood and alien interference comes to mind. Not being a sci-fi enthusiast, I quickly discount that concept. I am not a professional aerodynamicist or ocean scientist, but it would seem that if the pilot intentionally nosed the plane into the water on a friendly angle, it may not have been blown to smithereens and thus it could be resting on the ocean floor a la Titanic, making it much harder to locate. (Bear in mind that the Titanic rests more than 12.000 feet below surface.) This just might explain why 34 airplanes and 40 ships from multiple countries can’t find even a scrap of the Boeing 777-200 — which has a near perfect safety record.

    This is truly an international incident. Countries participating in the search range from the U.S. to Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and others. A total of 239 people are assumed dead, of which 154 were Chinese or Taiwanese. Thirty-eight were from Malaysia. Three Americans were also on the list, two children and one adult, an employee of IBM. All totally MIA (Missing In Action), at least at this time.

    So was it a mechanical failure? Pilot actions? Terrorism? Too many pieces of the puzzle just don’t add up. Given the facts and theories, I am voting for number three until proven otherwise. For now, the saga continues and as we pray for the families that have lost loved ones, Hollywood is sharpening their pencils. If this is anything like the disappearance of the Titanic, it may be 2087 (it took 83 years to find the Titanic) and a blockbuster feature film or two before we get to the bottom of this one?

    by Jennifer Schwab - March 11, 2014
  • Columbia River Crossing: An Alternative Proposal

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    Guest Post and Images by Bill Badrick
    3/12/2013 

    Building a bridge in the 21st century must be done better and differently than it was done in the past. As we develop plans to build a modern bridge over the Columbia River, we must reflect our understanding of global warming and our dedication to salmon preservation. The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Bridge should illustrate our best design response to difficult conditions. It should be green and multi-modal. It should have light rail, bicycle, and pedestrian service to balance the car and truck capacity. The CRC Bridge will have a massive carbon footprint, and we need to mitigate it with green design.

    SCGH opens up to hear about one simple and powerful way to do this: build a “park roof” on top of the CRC Bridge. The park roof will be a tool to capture the rainfall that would otherwise land on the road surface and mix with the oil and gas that falls off of vehicles. Traditionally, stormwater pollution is expensive to treat—pollution treatment facilities cost in the area of 12 to 15 million. In addition to the facility, a conventional bridge roadway must be made to slope to drains, which fill hundreds of pipes that are routed to the treatment plant. All of these metal drains and pipes cost money and add to the carbon footprint of the bridge. By contrast, the park roof would need only a small gauge recycled plastic pipe sprinkler system that can be powered by solar panels. By capturing the rain fall with the park roof, we can save money—and save the salmon.

    The federal government’s recent studies on green roofs, which had previously been predicted to absorb 75% of rainfall, found that they actually captured nearly 95% of the rainfall. Based on these findings, the park roof will save us a great deal of money and improve the carbon footprint dramatically. The CRC park roof will be about 370,000 square feet, and Portland receives roughly 37.5 inches of rain a year. This amounts to almost 14 million cubic feet of water captured and almost $170,000 saved.

    From a design perspective, the park roof also promises benefits. The roof will be a curved cap to the bridge, making the bridge a good deal more aerodynamic. This efficient design shape will reduce structural stresses, thus reducing cost. It is likely the savings due to better wind performance will account for the cost of the additional park support frame. Plus, as bridges are engineered to be three times stronger than needed, the additional 23 lbs/sq ft load will be absorbed on the base structure with no additional load cost. It is important to note that the park ‘dirt’ is made of very lightweight engineered growing medium, anchored to a matrix net to make it wind and erosion proof—this is not your grandma’s garden.

    The park roof will be a one-of-a-kind, world-class green public facility. It can be the sign and symbol of Green Portland, Green Oregon, and Green Northwest! We love our solar plants and windmill fleets, but they are out of sight, and thus out of mind. The CRC park roof will greet every visitor driving from the north and every airline passenger flying into the airport. The vast arcing park high above the mighty Columbia River will draw green tourists from around the world.

    An eco-tourist business is what we should naturally grow—with our stunning natural landscapes, many outdoor activities, and open, progressive thinking. The final icing on the cake to draw this new enormous green travel business is a powerful symbol that clearly represents our green beliefs. The park roofed, multi-modal CRC Bridge can be our ‘Green Golden Gate’—our ‘Green Gateway’ to the Northwest.

    About the author: Bill Badrick creates park roof proposals in large pastel artworks to educate and inspire politicians and change-agents to think outside the box when it comes to our large and visually prominent bridges and buildings.

    For related articles, see:
    An Underground Eco Park in NYC 
    Park in the Sky: New York’s High Line
    Build A Greener Block Transforms Las Vegas

    © 2013 SCGH, LLC.

    by SCGH - March 12, 2013
  • Cycling through Paris

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    By Courtney Hayden

    Traveling brings joy, challenge, excitement, and cultural understanding to our lives. Unfortunately, whether your plane is taking off for another continent or you are buzzing around in a city taxi, fossil fuels are fueling your experience. Although a staycation is a great environmentally-friendly option, there are also ways to green your long-distance travel! Bicycle tours, for example, allow you to connect with the local culture, stay active, and conserve resources.

    Picture riding your bike through Paris. You breeze by glancing up at the Eiffel Tour and easily reach Le Louvre– all without boarding a crowded bus or burning up petrol in your rental car. Small Bike Tours has made effortless bicycling in Paris a reality. Each tour lasts about four hours, and takes visitors through both well-known attractions and charming hideaways. With Small Bike Tours you will not have to worry about getting lost in a bustling city or having an ho-hum, typical tourist experience. Tours are limited to ten people and knowledgeable Parisian guides lead the adventure. Travelling with the whole family? There is also the option to book private, personalized tours.

    If you are going to Paris, or just around the corner, Sierra Club Green Home encourages you to take your sustainability mindset with you. Look into tours and activities which minimize the environmental impacts of travel, while still giving you the opportunity to get to know a new place.

    For related articles, see:
    NIHIWATU: DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AT THIS REMOTE ECO-RESORT
    NO NEWS, NO SHOES
    Environmentally Friendly Tokyo Vacation 

     

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC.

    by Courtney Hayden - November 28, 2012
  • Be an Activist in Your Everyday Life

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    By Kristina R. Anderson
    November 5, 2012

    We all have ideas as to how we would like to see society change. But how does one become a doer, a changer, an activist? How do we create change? While many of us dream of influencing large changes, of having a great big voice that triumphs over the rest, that’s not always possible for everyone. Most of us have jobs we must do and people who rely on us, so “activism” comes second to our obligations. But does this mean we cannot affect change at all? Of course not! There are so many ways to be an activist and change the world without making a huge time commitment or taking a radical stance. Often, it’s the small steps that matter the most. With that said, what can you do to make a difference?

    “That’s the number one question: ‘What can I do to help?’” says Charles Hambleton, producer of two acclaimed documentaries, The Cove and The Big Fix, and another about the executives at Britesol, a company committed to changing the world through technology.  “The answer is: look in the mirror. What is it you do in your daily life?”

    Think about it for a few minutes. What are your sustainability shortcomings? Is it the disposable coffee cup from your daily Starbucks run? Do you leave lights on when you are not home? By the same token, what areas of your life are you using to mitigate your impact? Maybe you pick up litter by the side of the road once a week, or perhaps you take public transit to work instead of driving. Take an inventory of your habits. What do you do?

    “Every single time we make a choice, we make a difference,” says famed tree-sitter and activist Julia Butterfly Hill. “Because we do not live in a vacuum, every single choice has an impact and therefore, it is not only spiritually impossible to make no difference, it is scientifically impossible to make no difference! Ever!” she says. “Therefore, seven BILLION of us … are actually ‘activists.’  The difference is are we being conscious or unconscious activists with each and every thought, word, and action.”

    Ready to take control of your power to affect change? Here are 15 simple actions that you can take to be a more conscious activist in your everyday life:

    1. Eat less meat. Producing meat releases more greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere than either industry or transportation. Less meat consumption, less global warming. If you want to be an over-achiever, go veg!
    2. Kick your single-use habit. Disposable goods don’t disappear when we’re done with them. Plus, they require significant resources to manufacture. Something we use for a matter of minutes shouldn’t take up energy, materials, and space in a landfill. Think about all the GHGs we could avoid creating if we replaced single-use with reusable items.
    3. Learn. Watch a documentary about water-use. Read an article about deforestation. Knowledge is power. You can’t fix something you don’t know is broken. Expose and empower yourself to think and form an opinion. (You’re on the right track if you’re reading this article!)
    4. Have conversations. You cannot change other people, but you can be a source of information. Being a body of knowledge, or even simply alternative thinking, is an activist action.
    5. Plant a tree. Trees are a valuable ally in the fight against global warming. They absorb CO2 and release oxygen.  They have super powers. Be a tree-hugger and stand proud.
    6. Go to a beach clean-up. Trash that is swept into the ocean becomes food for the fishes, literally. Or it becomes part of the garbage patch in the Pacific Gyre, which is larger than Texas. When you clean up a beach, you’re helping to keep our oceans safe and beautiful.
    7. Choose organic. Organic produce isn’t just good for your health, it’s good for the planet. Pesticides are highly toxic. Humans end up ingesting these chemicals through food, but they also end up in our water.
    8. Buy local. When you buy locally, you not only support your local economy, you also save fossil fuels from being burned by cutting out the transport of that item. Find out about your local farmers’ market and look for “local” labeling at your neighborhood market.
    9. Reuse. Visit your local thrift stores and look for items you can buy used. If you buy a used flower vase or picture frame, you’ll save money and the raw materials needed to make it new.
    10. Flex your muscles. Ride your bike to work. Walk to the grocery store. Take public transit. All of these alternative transportation methods lower our carbon output.
    11. Use your voice. Write a letter to your senator. Call the White House. Sign petitions. Your representatives are elected and paid to listen to you.  Your voice matters.
    12. Watch what’s happening. Watch the news, check out YouTube videos, and browse articles online (find great material in Sierra Club Green Home’s Learn More section). See what social, cultural, and environmental leaders are up to. Get inspired by current events and people who are doing great things.
    13. Consume less plastic. Plastic is made from oil, which is toxic and takes hundreds of years to fully degrade. In the meantime, plastic that gets lost or thrown away will photo-degrade (be partially broken down by sunlight) and animals that have access will eat it. For more info, watch the documentary Bag It.
    14. Volunteer. Pick a cause you care about and get busy. No matter where you live, there are likely to be plenty of local organizations that you can donate your time to. You’ll not only do good, but you’ll feel good, too.
    15. Let love rule. “You want to know the very best thing you can do for your daily life and for the world?” asks Julia Butterfly Hill. “Ask yourself in each moment and every choice, ‘What would love have me think, say, and do right now?  What would love choose?’ Love always calls forth our greatness, our best and most conscious selves, moving us past and through the limits of our minds, fears, apathy, laziness, and other ways we sell out on our world and ourselves.  And our world, planet, and future desperately need our best from us right now!”

    You are an activist. You make a difference. What conscious actions will you take or are you already taking to steer your world in the right direction? Comment below.

    For related article, see:
    Sundance 2012 Environmental Films
    Sustainable Seafood Guide: How to Save the Seas with Your Diet
    The Best Green Home Books and DVDs
    Global Warming is Now

     © 2012 SCGH, LLC.

    by Kristina Anderson - November 05, 2012
  • Economy of Sharing Helps Environment, Builds Community

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    By Debbie Van Der Hyde
    May 28, 2012

    Do you remember your parents telling you to share your toys?

    Today, there is a grown-up version of sharing taking root. It is an economy in which people borrow everything from camping gear to wedding decorations to kitchen appliances and tools from their friends and neighbors.

    Some call the phenomenon the sharing society. Others call it collaborative consumption or the sharing economy. No matter what you call it, sharing has its roots in the reduce, reuse, and recycle movement.  It is also a reflection of the economic times, as people are looking for ways to do more with less.

    Depending on who you talk to, sharing society may be trending toward something even bigger. Author Lisa Gansky in her book The Mesh and accompanying manifesto sums it up as a fundamental realization: “Maybe the collection of more stuff, bigger houses for storing it, and more debt wasn’t the all there was to life.”

    On her companion Mesh Web site, Gansky describes the mesh as “a world community and economy where access trumps ownership.” The site includes a directory of companies that are spurring the sharing economy—from Book Swim, a book rental library that ships to you in a model similar to Netflix, to 2Good2Toss, an online exchange for reusable building materials for do-it-yourself home projects—a useful option for Sierra Club Green Home readers!

    The Psychology of Sharing

    To many people, sharing just makes sense. Not surprisingly, the sharing society is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance, as evidenced by the success of ZipCar, a car-sharing service, or AirBnB, which helps people rent or trade usage of their homes with others around the globe.

    Cars, which sit idle for long periods of time, are an especially good example. “People think cars give us freedom. But you have to buy, park, insure, and gas it,” says Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, Inc.

    “Freedom is actually mobility. You want to get from place to place, on demand, efficiently and affordably,” he explains. This shift in thinking has resulted in business model experimentation as companies expand the collaborative consumption idea to clothing, computers, furnishings, travel and more.

    “It’s less about product and ownership, and more about relationship and better experiences,” Makower says.

    The peer-to-peer sharing society is being enabled by the connecting technologies of the Internet and social media. Web sites and mobile apps dedicated to sharing, such as Sharable, Collaborative Consumption or NeighborGoods, are a just a click or download away.

    Although efficient, sharing things that you own requires a certain level of trust. Social media can help build levels of trust within your network, as it is easiest to lend to friends and neighbors. Social media can also help people work up to sharing with friends of friends or the general public by providing rating systems that expose those who do not honor a sharing contract.

    According to a survey by Latitude Research and Sharable Magazine, “75 percent of respondents predicted their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next five years.” Likewise, “78 percent of participants felt their online interactions with people have made them more open to the idea of sharing with strangers, suggesting that the social media revolution has broken down trust barriers.”

    Cities take charge

    Some urban areas are leading the way with sharing, most notably New York, which is launching a citywide bike share system this summer, Seattle, and San Francisco.

    Patrick Dunn, a Seattle resident, organized a local Share Fair in February of this year, bringing together a number of Seattle-based sharing society organizations.

    “We figured it was high time to make sure our community knows the programs exist, and allow everyone a chance to explore some opportunities for collaboration,” says Dunn.

    Dunn is a former shipwright who often completed jobs with tools borrowed from friends. Recognizing the need for sharing systems, he and a core group of other community members founded the West Seattle Tool Library, a nonprofit lending organization with donated tools.

    “We started from scratch, modeling it after other tool libraries across the nation. It turned it into a tremendously value community asset with 620+ members using it today,” says Dunn. He adds that lending libraries have an advantage in that people don’t have to wait for peer-to-peer trust to develop.

    To make the lessons learned from the West Seattle Tool Library universally available, Patrick also launched Share Starter, a website that covers the process of setting up lending library.

    “We needed a way to efficiently pass along the help we’d gotten and make it easier for others to do,” explains Dunn.

    Share Starter also has information about getting people involved, soliciting tool donations, and managing issues like liability and insurance. The site includes standard legal documents to complete a community lending program of any type, such as a borrowers’ agreement and waiver forms.

    For more ways to join in the sharing society, visit Sharable.net, a nonprofit online magazine that includes Top 20 How-to Share Posts.

    For related stories, see:
    Build A Greener Block Transforms Las Vegas
    Community Solar: Bringing People Together for Clean Energy
    Share Cars, Help the Planet

     

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

    by Debbie Van Der Hyde - May 28, 2012
  • New Electric Car Incentives in Northern Indiana

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    By Kara A. DiCamillo
    May 13, 2012

    Electric car owners (or future owners), Sierra Club Green Home has great news for you! You can get a credit of over $1,000 for installing an electric car charger in your home, among other incentives now offered in Northern Indiana.

    If you live in the northern part of Indiana, you may be a customer of NIPSCO, an energy distribution company that supplies both gas and electricity. The company has taken a number of measures to work towards a cleaner environment, including a new electric car charger incentive.

    Through the IN-Charge Electric Vehicle Program, NIPSCO is offering its customers an instant credit of up to $1,650 toward the installation of a residential “Level 2″ charger for electric cars.  The charging time is just 4-6 hours, which is ideal for those who want to charge their vehicle overnight. If you already own an electric vehicle and want to install a charger through NIPSCO, the company is offering their customers a chance to charge up without racking up any electricity fees between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

    “The IN-Charge Program makes it more cost effective and convenient for prospective electric car buyers to install a home charger,” says Karl Stanley, vice president of commercial operations for NIPSCO. “Our investment in this program is part of our overall commitment to sustainability and developing a larger charging network in the region.”

    With electric vehicles currently getting 60 to 100 miles on a single charge, this is a great opportunity for Northern Indiana residents. Sierra Club Green Home is anxious to hear how many people take advantage of this pilot program, which ends in 2015.

    For related articles, see:
    Charge It Up: Installing an EV Charging Station at Home
    Electric Vehicle Power–In an Instant
    CODA’s Electric Vehicle: Shorter Charge, More Miles

     

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

    by Kara A. DiCamillo - May 13, 2012
  • Soy Foam: Green Hoax or Real Solution?

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    By Mike Brandolino
    May 2, 2012
     

    Did you know that soy is being used for some surprising new purposes, including home insulation and car seats?

    Although Sierra Club Green Home was excited to learn that some companies were exploring greener materials, a closer look at these products shows that their sustainability merits are questionable.

    Before embracing or rejecting the soybean wholesale, read SCGH’s investigation into soy foam products. Let’s start with the seed that has grown, grown, grown.

    Soybean Production is Big Business                                                                    

    While soy might have started out as a niche market in the United States, embraced primarily by mom and pop natural food stores, it has moved on to bigger (although not necessarily better) things.

    Our country is now home to millions of acres of soy. It is one of the five most heavily subsidized U.S. crops, according to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What is more, the vast majority of the soy crops we grow are genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

    Between 1995-2010, the federal government paid soy subsidies to farmers to the tune of over $24 billion, providing a huge incentive to grow the crop in excess. Last year, nearly 74 million acres of soy were planted and harvested. The majority of soybeans we grow are then processed and the isolated soy protein is used for livestock feed, despite the fact that they are not a natural part of many livestock species’ diets (particularly cows, who eat grasses). Approximately 94% of our soy acreage is now GMO, according to the USDA.

    The USDA also states that approximately 117,000 square miles of soybeans were planted this year. By comparison, the state of Arizona has an area of 114,000 square miles. Soybean crops now blanket a full 25 percent of U.S. Farmland, according to The National Corn Growers Association, cited by Grist.

    While there is organic, non-GMO soy on the market, it is unfortunately not the majority of soy grown in the United States. Due to the way soy is typically grown, it is not a very sustainable choice.

    This assessment comes with one caveat: as soy still requires less water, land, and resources to produce than meat, SCGH does recognize soy’s sustainability merits as a meat substitute.

    Soy in the Walls, Soy in the Car

    So what are we to do with these acres and acres of soy? As the soybean is both grown in excess and can be marketed as environmentally friendly, some companies have found new and interesting uses for soy. Unfortunately, these uses are often not as sustainable as they look.

    Take for example soy foam. Typically, only a small amount of soybean oil is added to the petroleum-based foam, and it is then labeled “soy.” In the case of one car company’s soy foam seats, sometimes as little as 5% of the cushion is actually from soybean oil, according to company scientists. The vast majority of the product is from petroleum—also known as oil, fossil fuels, or one of our most problematic non-renewable energy sources.

    The addition of a small amount of natural plant oil does not transform a petroleum-based product into a sustainable product, and labeling these products as “soy-based” is misleading.

    Using soybean oil in place of petroleum has significant environmental advantages, to be sure. Soybean oil is a renewable resource that does not need to be shipped internationally, and it would be great to have it replace environmentally destructive fossil fuels. However, the soybean content has to be much higher for it to have a significant impact.

    To Soy or Not to Soy?

    In conclusion, the fact that a product contains some soy (or is labeled soy) does not necessarily make it safer for you or the environment. Sometimes the label “soy-based” amounts to nothing more than greenwashing.

    Sierra Club Green Home suggests that you neither shun the bean nor embrace it unquestioningly. Rather, look into whether the soy source is organic and non-GMO, what percentage of the product is actually soy, and if there is an even lower-impact alternative.

    In the case of insulation, we have cellulose and recycled denim as truly sustainable options. There is even 100% biodegradable insulation created from agricultural waste and mushrooms in the works!

    Here is to hoping that we can drive electric cars with fungus foam seats soon.

    For related articles, see:
    Styrofoam’s New Competitor: Mushrooms
    Plastic Bottles from Plants: Step Forward or Spin Marketing?


    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

    by Mike Brandolino - May 02, 2012
  • Walking for The Environment and Your Health

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    By Kara A. DiCamillo

    It seems like everyone is in a hurry these days. Look around while doing your daily errands. All of us have some place to be with not a minute to spare. Due to the pressure to keep a fast-paced lifestyle and the lack of reliable public transit, most Americans drive everywhere. Even if it is just to the store down the road, cars equal convenience.

    The U.S. is home to the largest number of cars in the world, and the number of motor vehicles has been rising by an estimated 3.69 million each year since 1960. As we know, this increase in cars leads to an increase in carbon emissions and pollution. While driving efficiently, participating in a carshare, and investing in fuel-efficient vehicles are all important ways to help, much of the problem is how dependent we are on driving itself.

    In a recent NPR article, writer Tom Vanderbilt explores pedestrian life in America and says that many parts of the U.S. are now designed specifically for cars, not pedestrians. He has been looking at the way towns are built, how Americans view walking and, most importantly, how to get them moving. Nonprofit organization America Walks says that 41 percent of all trips made in the United States are one mile or less, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by walking and biking.

    “We’ve engineered walking out of our existence and everyday life,” Vanderbilt says. “I even tried to examine the word ‘pedestrian,’ and it’s always had sort of this negative connotation.”

    There are many benefits to incorporating walking into our lives. Take the example of walking kids to school. It is a great way to get kids moving, and makes kids and adults alike feel more connected to their surroundings. According to America Walks, parents driving children to school comprises 20-30 percent of morning traffic congestion in urban areas. So organizing a “walk your kids to school” program would improve morning traffic, ensure that kids get their exercise for the day, and help people get to know their neighborhoods better.

    Walking is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation. It does not produce any pollution, and it requires no supplies or maintenance (except shoes). In fact, walking contributes to your maintenance of you.

    NPR reports that about 35 percent of adult Americans are obese, which equals more than 78 million adults. Add to that the estimated 12 million children who are obese. Walking is great exercise, and walking outdoors has been shown to positively affect mental health as well.

    While we cannot necessarily walk everywhere we want to go, we can take the time to walk within our neighborhood and to appreciate using our own two feet. After all, when you are stressed out, how good does it feel to get out of the house and clear your head? It is, literally, a breath of fresh air.

    Campaigns such as Every Body Walk and America Walks are aimed at getting us up and moving while Walker Tracker is a program designed to encourage companies and organizations to do the same. Explore some of their resources, and then let Sierra Club Green Home know how you increase your walking time.

    For related articles, see:
    Maryland Bicycle Symposium: Greening Our Cities 

    Classes Make Bicycling in Los Angeles Easier 
    San Francisco Wins Public Transportation Award  

     

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

    by Kara A. DiCamillo - April 29, 2012
  • Environmentally Friendly Tokyo Vacation

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    By Roland Oehme
    April 24, 2012 

    TOKYO — Tokyo may be known as a worldwide culture and technology capital, but it has also been quietly making strides to embrace green and sustainable living. If you are visiting Tokyo, Sierra Club Green Home has some suggestions for how to have a green vacation in this fast-paced megalopolis of 35 million.

    Let’s say you have just arrived at Narita Airport, and want to be whisked away to a beautiful green hotel. One of the greenest hotels is Hotel Grand Fresa Akasaka. This three-star hotel holds a Green Globe Certification, and offers modern amenities, a restaurant, and a full service spa. It is centrally located in the Akasaka neighborhood near Tokyo Tower, within walking distance of many sites. The hotel even rents out bicycles to guests.

    For other green hotels in Tokyo, try a Web site like Travelocity, and select the “Green/EcoFriendly” option under “Accommodation Type.” The first hotel on the list, Hotel New Otani Tokyo, underwent a major renovation in 2004 to bring up its modern safety and comfort standards. The owners also added many green features like a roof garden, a water recycling plant, a composting plant, and local organic produce.

    For the nature enthusiast, take a trip far away from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo and stay instead at the Farm City Hotel. This green spa hotel is located on a hilltop overlooking Chichibu, a small city about a two hour train ride northwest of Tokyo. This hotel serves its own organic produce grown on its nearby farm, while the hotel’s restaurants also serve locally-grown produce. The main dining room serves a tantalizing blend of Japanese and Western cuisines buffet-style. Leftover produce is composted. The highlight of this hotel is its natural hot springs spa, or Onsen, where you can go to relax in the warm waters. Traditional Japanese style rooms with tatami (rice fiber) mats and Western-style rooms are available. There are many nature-oriented activities in the area, including visiting massive flower gardens in bloom, picking your own strawberries or peaches, or hiking in the hills. You can also take the train to Nagatoro, where you can take a cable car up the mountain to visit the Wintersweet and Ume Plum Trees and hike down to the village, or rent a bike, or go white water rafting.

    Back in central Tokyo, there are plenty of places to do some green shopping. The interest in organic products has skyrocketed since the nuclear accident a year ago that spurred the Japanese public’s awareness about the toxins in what they consume. This means that organic options, especially baby products, clothing, and foods, are growing quickly in Japan, making it easy to be an environmentally friendly traveler.

    First up is the Yoyogi Village, a new environmentally-focused shopping mall with restaurants, shops, clubs, and more, all located around a central garden courtyard. There is a clothing shop, One Mile Wear, which sells organic cotton from India. Also, there is the affordable Code Kurkku, an organic Italian restaurant.

    People Tree manufactures fair trade, organic clothing in Bangladesh and organic chocolate which is available in various stores in Tokyo, such as the Mosaic Ginza Hankyu Department Store located in the central Ginza area.

    There are three Bio Marche stores in the greater Tokyo area: two in the Tokyo suburbs of Saitama and Omiya, and one in Chiba, east of Tokyo. They sell primarily organic foods, but also some organic clothing, cosmetics, toiletries, and baby supplies.

    By now you must have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are many choices for healthy dining in Tokyo. One of my favorite cafes is the Brown Rice Café, a well-designed, serene, Zen-like restaurant with delicious organic, vegan, and macrobiotic Japanese foods. Located near the Harajuku train station, this café is hidden in a sunken level with indoor and outdoor seating and also sells organic groceries.

    Almost right across the street is the Crayon House. It has an organic shop upstairs and a restaurant (with indoor and outdoor dining) and food store on the lower level. The restaurant serves Japanese-style, organic-focused meals with vegan and vegetarian options.

    Rainbow Raw Food Café is a small, delightful, diner-like café located in the central area of Tokyo, just a few minutes’ walk from the Hamamatsu-cho train station. The western style, exclusively raw, vegan food served here is delicious and well-presented. Get here early, as the café is very popular at lunchtime!

    If you are more adventurous, you can head northwest by train to Komagawa to visit the organic, vegetarian restaurant and store called Alishan Organic Center. One can relax at the café’s beautiful setting of large trees and the indoor and outdoor seating areas overlook a river below.

    Tokyo is one of the easiest cities to get around as a tourist. Virtually all parts of Tokyo are accessible via subway, train, or bus. The only issue when taking the mass transit is the language barrier, but your hotel, tourist offices, and the staff at the train stations can help. There is even a rechargeable smart card available that can be used on all the mass transit in Tokyo. Simply purchase the card, add however much you need, and use it for any bus or subway. There are also taxis in Tokyo that offer the best service I have seen anywhere.

    Tokyo is also very much a walking city. Be prepared and bring your backpack! There are also bicycle rentals available. However, it is easy to get lost, since there are virtually no street signs. If you can go further out of the city, one can bicycle on the greenway along the Arakawa River going north from central Tokyo for hours.

    Here is a suggestion for a fun day. Eat lunch at the Rainbow Raw Food Café, and then walk over to the nearby Hama-rikyu Gardens, a former feudal lord’s residence during the Edo Period. This park is nice for strolling through the grounds with big trees, ponds, bridges, a teahouse, and flowering fields. It sits right on the waterfront, so next you can take a sightseeing boat up the river passing by multi-colored bridges to the center of Tokyo. Disembark here and then you can walk to the Lantern Temple to experiences some of Tokyo’s history.

    Another fun idea is to visit the Yumenoshima Tropical Plant Dome, a tropical plants glass conservatory. Here you will marvel at the many spectacular flowers, like orchids, and the lush green growth, like tall bamboo. Children can play games of stacking blocks, and there is a small café overlooking the garden through windows.

    Tokyo is such an immense city that visiting it can feel intimidating. However, with some thoughtful research and planning before the trip, you can enjoy a planet-friendly vacation of your own choosing. Also, do not be afraid to ask for a bicycle rental shop or a vegetarian café, etc. at the tourist centers or your hotel. Tokyo’s green movement will be encouraged if visitors to Tokyo ask about and visit the environmentally friendly places and activities.

    Traveler Resources:
    Travelocity: select the “Green/EcoFriendly” option under Accommodation Type
    Article:A Brand New Village in the Heart of Tokyo
    Survival Guide for Vegetarians in Tokyo
    Tokyo Vegetarian Guide
    Regional Veg Guide

    For related articles, see:
    NO NEWS, NO SHOES
    Changi Airport, Singapore’s Green Gateway
    NIHIWATU: DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AT THIS REMOTE ECO-RESORT

    Roland Oehme is a green and healthy living landscape architect and writer. Check out his blogs Green Harmony Design and We Love Raw Food.

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

    by Roland Oehme - April 24, 2012
  • 7 Simple Celebrations for Earth Day

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    By Kara A. DiCamillio
    April 21, 2012

    Earth Day is a great opportunity to appreciate the planet that provides for us all year long. Sierra Club Green Home has seven simple things you can do for the environment this weekend, and hopefully you will incorporate them into your daily life as well!

    1)    Attend a clean-up in your community. This weekend there are clean-ups going on all around the country. A simple Web search can help you find one in your city or town. If by chance you cannot find one, don’t hesitate to pick up that stray piece of trash that might be blowing down the road.

    2)    Conserve water. We use a good amount of water through simple everyday tasks such as brushing our teeth, taking showers, and washing the dishes. There is also the amount of water used to produce our food and other products. Try to track how much water you use in one day, and look for areas where you can reduce your water footprint.

    3)    Green your transportation. Do you live in a community where you could walk or ride your bike for some of your commuting and errands? This weekend, try at least once to make use your bike, your feet, or public transit. In fact, you can earn some bucks by skipping driving some days and renting your car out using GetAround or RelayRides.

    4)    Hang your laundry out to dry. While washing machines and dryers are now being manufactured to conserve energy, they are still to blame for high energy bills. Hanging your laundry on the line as opposed to tossing it in the dryer can conserve a huge amount of energy. Besides, there is nothing like the smell of freshly laundered sheets that have been hanging on the line for the day.

    5)    Purchase local food. With the warm weather setting in, there are tons of vegetables available at farmers markets around the country. At some farmers markets, you can even find meat, cheese, honey, and just about anything else you need for a delicious, local meal. This weekend, try and support your farmers by purchasing food grown in your area. Even some grocery stores carry local goods, so ask around and see what you can find.

    6)    Bring your own mug. Are you the person that hits up the local coffee shop each day? Next time, bring your own mug and prevent some waste. If you keep it in the car (or bike basket) along with your reusable bags, you will not have a problem remembering it. Many coffee shops also offer a discount if you bring your own mug.

    7)    Get outside. What better way to appreciate your surroundings than to get outside? This weekend is the perfect time to start a garden for the summer months. Or maybe take your family hiking, biking, or bird-watching to breathe some fresh air!

    For related article, see:
    Five Tips for Living Local 

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC.

    by Kara A. DiCamillo - April 21, 2012
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