Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli is editor of E: The Environmental Magazine, a regular contributor to the New York Times, and author of Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth.

In Garbage Land, Elizabeth Royte talks dirty

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte, Little Brown and Co., 320 pgs., 2005. Our soda man delivers. He comes bounding up the steps, easily cradling an ancient-looking wooden crate under one arm. The contents are 24 seven-ounce bottles of cola and birch beer, for which we hand him $7, and last month’s crate. The thick, wavy glass bottles bear an old-fashioned logo that reads, “Castle Soda: Food for Thirst.” Bottled in a declining industrial town in Connecticut, Castle is like some visitor from another time. The idea of returnable, refillable bottles seems quaint and archaic …

Doctors, vets, and scientists unite in brave new world of conservation medicine

Mosquitoes have Hawaii all abuzz. Photo: WHO/TDR/Stammers. On an airport runway in Hawaii last fall, a sparrow nearly became a canary. State officials testing captured birds got one positive result for the West Nile virus, which had yet to arrive from the mainland. Hawaii and Alaska remain the only states in the U.S. that haven’t had cases of this rapidly spreading global disease — which has infected more than 16,000 people and killed more than 650 in the U.S. since it first appeared in New York City in 1999 — and they’re anxious to keep it that way. When further …

Death, Be Not Cloud

An excerpt from Feeling the Heat sizes up the ominous Asian Cloud

The Indian city of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is home to one of Asia's largest slums and endures among the worst air quality on earth. Half the city's population lacks running water or electricity, and the smoke from countless wood-burning cooking fires joins with the acrid haze from two-stroke auto rickshaws, diesel buses, and coal-fired power plants to all but choke the city. Breathing Mumbai's air, reports the Lonely Planet travel guide, is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Comparable air quality wraps New Delhi, Bangalore, and 69 of India's 70 principal cities year-round, according to a 1997 study by India's Central Pollution Control Board.

The word on relatively green cars and positively green bicycles

Hy-wire act. Photo: DOE. My daughter Maya, who is 9, saw a picture of the General Motors Hy-wire, the company’s super-sleek experimental fuel-cell car, and immediately decided we should have one. Unfortunately, I had to explain to her that the hydrogen-powered, zero-emission, fossil-fuel-free car would be perfect for us in all respects except one: It’s not available. So it goes with U.S. manufacturers and innovative, efficient automotive technology — all promise, no delivery. So what’s an environmentally minded would-be car owner to do? First, make sure you really need a car. Motor vehicles take a heavy toll on the environment, …


214,000,000 — number of vehicles in the U.S.1 290,000,000 — number of people in the U.S.2 2 — number of American cars on the Top 20 list in “The Greenest Vehicles of 2003,” produced by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (the other 18 are Japanese)3 22,802 — miles per year driven by the average family in 19834 34,459 — miles per year driven by the average family in 19955 24,902 — circumference of the Earth, in miles6 19 — percentage of the average U.S. household budget devoted to transportation7 50 — percentage increase in cars and trucks on …

Reinventing the Wheels

How far can clean cars take us?

I loved cars long before I knew there was any reason to worry about their effect on the environment or be concerned about the smoke that poured from their tailpipes. In the 1960s, ignorance like mine was widespread in the United States, maintained by a powerful automotive lobby and a complacent federal government. Highway congestion, though already bad, was somewhat masked by an expanding national highway grid, and most people celebrated the migration to the suburbs that the new roads aided and abetted. Cars were equated with freedom, and ads of the period showed happy vacationing families riding in roomy sedans, with the uncrowded interstate stretching out in front of them.

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.