Monday What's on the Web: National Geographic Environment Blog

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

National Geographic is known for many things: great photography, a high quality monthly magazine, adventure, amazing documentaries and more.  They have also been reporting on climate change for several years, helping to sound the alarm regarding the seriousness of the threat of climate disruption.

They also have a very extensive blog, covering a wide range of topics.  Among the topics they cover are environment and, to a lesser degree, energy.

Recent posts in this category include:
and one of my favorites, because of its clear way of explaining a major concept:
It's always a pleasure to visit National Geographic's web site.  Here's one more reason to spend some time there.

Monday What's on the Web: Climate Signals

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

Climate Signals is an innovative database that uses social media to collect large volumes of very current information and studies related to climate change.  Anyone can participate; there is an instructional video describing how to do so.

What makes Climate Signals such a useful site is that the large network is constantly updating the site with the absolute latest and most current information on climate change.  It's more current and through even than Google or Google News in my opinion.  I use what I find there to help me keep my Twitter account current.  Here is a sample of stories and reports collected from a single day (January 19, 2010).

Growing season now 12 days longer over Northern Hemisphere

Warming due to loss of snow and ice twice as strong as estimated

Open water on Hudson Bay at year’s end for the 1st time on record

As with most well-designed sites, there are good keyword and search functions that help the user drill down to what they are looking for.  Definitely keep this site bookmarked.

SunChips and the compostable chip bag

Last year SunChips® introduced a compostable chip bag. It was noisy and created quite a bit of controversy. They pulled the bag from the market in October except for one flavor. Personally I wish they would have kept it on the market as they continued to try to improve it. For an interesting variety of views--both consistent with and in contrast to mine--read the comments to this Environmental Leader story from last October.

I bought at least a dozen of the bags from last spring through the fall and attempted to compost them in my backyard compost bin.  I don't really have much of an issue with the crinkly noise it makes, but I was disappointed in its compostability.  Here's the Frito-Lay website that discusses the bag, including the video of their ad for when they introduced it. Watching the video was inspiring, and I happily placed my bags in my compost bin.

Many weeks later, they were still there, pretty much the way they were when I started, except dirtier.  The food and yard scraps I put in were all composting as usual, but not the bags.  I separated the bags and took a picture.  In the photo (click to enlarge), they look like they are composting a little, but actually I tore them apart by hand, and some of these bags had been in the bin for five months.

Here's my disclaimer, however: My compost bin does not heat up much if at all.  Even though I've been composting for more than 10 years, I've never had much success getting my bin to heat up.  It's not really a big problem, though, because everything eventually composts anyway--it just takes longer. 

Well, in the case of these bags, longer seemed like pretty much forever.  The SunChips web site says that they will break down in 14 weeks if you can maintain a temperature of 130 degrees or more.  Oh, well; good luck with that.

In the fall instead of putting my leaves out on the street for pickup, I chop them up with my lawnmower and put them in my compost bin.  Here are two photos of the process.  In the closeup photo you can see the colored flecks of the bags.  I threw them in with my leaves, figuring if I chopped them up small, they might compost faster.  I won't really know until spring, though, because my compost is partially frozen and doesn't do much decomposing through the winter.

So I like the idea of the compostable bag, but I think the vast majority of people who actually try to compost them are unlikely to have much luck.  I'm willing to go the extra mile in my efforts, but I'm guessing that the vast majority are not.

I'd love it if my community allowed us to put the compostable bags in with our leaves.  That would be a good option for a lot of people.  However, the county doesn't really compost the leaves, it just mulches them.  So the bags would still probably be visible, although shredded, in the mulch.

I'll post a follow up in the summer.

Monday What's on the Web: Mr. Energy Czar

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Mr. Energy Czar is a YouTube contributor who started posting videos about 10 months ago.  For the last 3-4 years he has been working to prepare his household for what he believes is an upcoming energy crisis that will be spurred by Peak Oil.  Personally I agree with him in the larger sense that there will be large disruptions in our economies as demand for oil outstrips supply during this decade.  Whether or not it will be as severe as he believes it will be only time will tell.

Regardless, his approach to reducing his own personal energy use and what he has learned about reducing one's environmental footprint within our current society and economy is very useful information.  He has done a great job educating himself and--now with these videos--sharing his education with others.

Whether you can take on the comprehensive effort he is undertaking or just start taking some smaller steps toward improving your environmental actions, the information he provides can be very useful.  You don't have to subscribe to his world view to benefit from his knowledge.  And you can use it to improve your own personal circumstances and your contribution towards a cleaner environment.

Chevy Volt spotted in my neighborhood

As I was walking to lunch today I passed a house with a brand new Chevy Volt sitting in the driveway.  It had Maryland temporary plates, so I don't know if it belonged to that house or was visiting.  Here are the two photos I took of it.

Monday What's on the Web: The Daily Climate

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
 The Daily Climate does two things: it collects dozens of stories related to climate change from around the world, and it publishes some of its own reporting on its Newsroom page.  Its collection of news from around the world is quite comprehensive, and its a great site to bookmark for the latest links to articles of all types.  TDC categorizes stories into eleven different categories such as: energy, politics, solutions, acidification and others.  It describes its mission as follows:
The Daily Climate works to increase public understanding of climate disruption, including its scope and scale, potential solutions and the political processes that impede or advance them.
The Daily Climate does not espouse a political point of view on the news but instead reports the truth to the best of our ability. Editorial integrity is the foundation of our mission.
Establishing the trust of our readers is a fundamental editorial objective; all of our reporting, editing and publishing adheres to the highest standards of journalism, including honesty, accuracy, balance and objectivity.
Towards that goal, the Daily Climate offers enterprise reporting on relevant topics alongside a unique daily aggregation of global journalism on climate science.
The Daily Climate's aggregation represents the news of the day, irrespective of the opinion or viewpoint expressed, or whether or not material in the article is consistent with our understanding of current science. We often publish several articles from different newspapers covering the same story, as well as multiple editorials and op-eds about the same subject. We take this approach based on the belief that readers who come to want to see a wide range of how issues are being covered by the mainstream press.
I think it does a pretty good job of meeting this mission.

Its own reporting is less frequent, with new articles appearing every few days from its several climate writers.  Recent articles include:

Fear and loathing in the warming world 

Opinion: Feds fall short in pricing climate disruption 

Climate adaptation: Adding to a tide of worry

You can subscribe to their daily email here.

Crate and Barrel's CFL Lighting Marketing - the Good and Bad

I noticed my wife's Crate & Barrel catalog sitting on her bedside table.  On the back cover was an FSC logo designating that the catalog's paper was sourced from sustainably managed forests (not as good as being sourced from recycled pulp, but better than nothing).  Next to the logo was a picture of their: 

NEW Sadie Table Lamps Ceramic Bases; white poly-cotton shades.  Requires 150W bulb.  $89.95.
I was immediately bugged by the fact that they were marketing this with a dying technology.  Normal 150-watt incandescent bulbs are being rendered obsolete by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  By 2012 they won't even be available to buyers.  Presumably the lamp will still work, but no bulbs will be available.  More importantly, C&B seemed so proud of the FSC certification; they have a whole "Eco Initiatives" section of their site, and links to scores of products they market as sustainable.   Yet here they were selling lamps with information about 150-year-old lighting technology--the most inefficient lighting available.

So I sat down to write this blog and criticize Crate & Barrel for hypocrisy.  However, when I went online to gather images and other information, I encountered this:
Bold, glossy ceramic base is hand-glazed in leaf green tapers inward in cool contrast to a white fabric drum shade.
  • Ceramic base
  • Glazed green finish
  • Polyester-cotton blend shade
  • 42W CFL included; also accommodates 150W max. incandescent bulb (not included)
  • On/off switch
  • Metal chrome finial
  • 7' cord
  • UL listed
  • Made in the USA
 I didn't look at all of the 168 lamps that came up when I did a search on "lamp," but many of them included a CFL like the one above and most of the others said "accommodates compact fluorescent light bulb (not included)."  No lamps that I found included a regular incandescent bulb with the purchase.

So, okay then.  Not so bad after all.  I would encourage them to make this information more obvious in their printed catalogs, but it's good to see that they are encouraging and even including more efficient technololgy with their products.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Carsharing

As a long time user of ZipCar/Flexcar in the Washington DC area (I originally joined Flexcar in 2004 and was absorbed into ZipCar when they merged), I have a few tips I can share with others.  If you have some tips you've learned, please add them to the comments.

14 minutes - Sometimes you need a car for just slightly longer than an hour.  Zipcar allows you to take the car up to 14 minutes early without additional charge.  If you take it 15 minutes early, though, you'll get charged for an extra 1/2 hour.  I will often reserve a car that is unreserved for the immediately preceding time period, knowing that I can then take it for an extra 14 minutes.

I've never tested the grace period on the back end, because the fine for a late return is $50 (see next tip).  I think I've gotten away with a minute or two, but I've never tried to stretch it more than that.

Text messaging and extensions - Sometimes the problem is on the back end, you're not sure you can make it back on time.  You can always reserve for an extra 1/2 hour, but then if you return it more than 30 minutes before the end of the reservation, you feel slightly cheated.

Here's what to do.  Sign up for text alerts (under the "help" tab, select Zipcar mobile).  Your car will text you about 20-30 minutes before your reservation ends.  You can text back (not while driving, though!!) right up to the very last second.  Suppose traffic is tricky and you're not sure you are going to make it in time, but you might OR say you are picking someone up at the airport, and you don't know how long you'll have to wait for them to come out.  You can wait right up until :59 and then send the extension txt message; your reservation will be instantly extended.

Of course, this only works if the car is not reserved after you, Which brings us to. . .

Before and after strategies - If you are going to use either of the preceding tips, then you'll want to manage your reservation timing.  Perfect would be a car that had a 1/2 hour gap on both ends, because no one can reserve it in those gaps.  Then you would know it was available 14 minutes early and also available for a last-second extension if needed.  Longer gaps will work, too, since other drivers aren't likely to try to squeeze a reservation in between two other drivers--especially if there are other cars available.

In the scenario above, I can pick up the car as early as 11:16 for no additional charge.  I can then keep it until 12:30.  As late as 12:29 I can txt for an extension and keep the car until 1:00 if needed, obviously being charged for the additional 30 minutes if I request the extension.  This gives me the flexibility to use the car for up to 1:44 with an original 1-hour reservation.

Walk around the car first - Speaking from personal experience, make sure you look for damage before you get in.  I had a long, painful battle with Zipcar over pre-existing damage, because I did not report it until a few minutes into my reservation.

Drive a hybrid! - Many hybrids and some other cars are often only $7/hour.  Check the pricing when reserving and save yourself a few dollars.

Retrieving forgotten items - If you leave something in the car, you can retrieve it for up to three hours without charge.  Your ZipCard will still unlock the vehicle--unless someone else has opened the vehicle since.  If you don't drive anywhere, then there is no additional charge.  Hopefully the car is still there when you realize you left your phone in it.
(cross posted on CommuterPage blog)

Monday What's on the Web: Denial Depot

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Denial Depot
Blog Science for Real People

Denial Depot is a satire blog, written  by a satirical genius. Joe Romm finds the only flaw with this blog to be that he doesn't post enough--just a couple of posts per month on average.

This from his description of the blog:
We stand unimpressed by "textbooks", "peer review journals" and so-called "facts". There are no facts, just dissenting opinion. We are infinitely small compared to nature and can't grasp anything as certain as a fact.
If you have a sense of humor and a basic understanding of climate change science and politics, you should find this blog exceptionally entertaining.  Here are a couple post links.  Enjoy.

CO2 Prevents Heart Attacks 

How To Cook A Graph Style