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Arup and at ‘Em

China hires British engineers to create self-sufficient urban centers Remember Logan's Run, the futuristic 1970s sci-fi flick where sex-crazed twentysomethings lived in a self-contained city sealed off from the ravages of a devastated environment? Seems reality might be catching up with fiction: China's hiring British firm Arup to design and build up to five "eco-cities" that will be self-sufficient in water, energy, and much of their food supplies, with climate-neutral transportation systems. They're envisioned as prototypes for eco-correct urban living in overpopulated and polluted environments -- and also as catnip to attract more investment in China's booming economy. The first …

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Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na — Batwing!

Radical design might help curb greenhouse-gas emissions from aircraft Under pressure to reduce fuel use and greenhouse-gas emissions, the airline industry may turn to a futuristic airplane design sketched by Sir Frederick Handley Page in the 1960s. The delightfully dubbed "batwing" would be built of plastic rather than today's heavy aluminum, and would be covered in tiny, laser-drilled holes to reduce fuel-consuming drag. Industry group Greener by Design is using the batwing design in its plans for jets that would consume two-thirds less fuel than current aircraft, which combined with other changes in flying practices could bring total aircraft emissions …

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Umbra on diesel vs. standard gasoline cars

Dear Umbra, I've always heard bad things about diesel fuel. However, I know someone who has a diesel VW that gets 50 miles to the gallon. I'm wondering if you could do a cost-benefit analysis for me. I know I can't afford a hybrid anytime soon, and was wondering if it would be better to buy a used diesel car that gets excellent gas mileage or a regular used car that gets in the 30 to 40 mpg range. AnneNelson, N.H. Dearest Anne, Unless you can get alternative diesel fuel, stick with a standard gasoline car. Is it worth it? …

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Umbra on bicycle commuting, again

Dear Umbra, So what about bike commuting? Is it safe? Is it good? Is it encouraged? P.K. BorzoSt. Paul, Minn. Dearest P.K., Yes, yes, yes. Lungwise, biking is at least as safe as driving, if not more so. It's true, as many readers pointed out after my previous column, that we breathe more heavily when bicycling than driving. But the scientists thought of that. In general, we are not worse off biking in regular old city traffic, especially if we are able to stay to the side of the pollutant slipstream. Of course, there are a lot of variables -- …

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Put a Turkey in Your Tank

Biofuels from odd sources gain new fans Just about anything organic, from turkey entrails to cow dung, can be used to make biofuel, and with oil over $60 a barrel, just about everything is. Changing World Technologies' refinery uses the feathers, bones, fat, and other bits from a nearby turkey-processing plant to make up to 500 barrels daily of bird diesel, which it sells to a nearby industrial facility. CEO Brian Appel says turkey oil is competitive with petroleum, thanks to recent U.S. tax incentives for renewables. U.K.-based Green Fuels makes machines that turn used restaurant fryer oil into biodiesel, …

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Top green-building system is in desperate need of repair

This piece is excerpted from the essay "LEED Is Broken; Let's Fix It." The full essay can be found here. Pan of green gables. Once the narrow province of hippies in beads and Birkenstocks, the green-building world has in the last five years blossomed and taken on a professional sheen. That's thanks in large part to the U.S. Green Building Council and its flagship program for rating commercial buildings' environmental performance -- LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. "Green building" was once all in the eye of the claimant, but LEED changed that, creating a national standard for …

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LEED green-building program confronts critics and growing pains

"I didn't like the 'LEED is broken' part, but I did like the 'Let's fix it' part," said U.S. Green Building Council President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, referring to a critique of his organization's building-certification program that has been much discussed in green-building circles. Green building is growing up. Published this spring by somewhat sympathetic sustainable-business advocates Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Company and Randy Udall of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, Colo., the not-quite-broadside comes as the five-year-old LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program is becoming the default green-building standard in the U.S. …

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Fallen Idles

Electrified truck stops let tired drivers turn off their diesel engines Long-haul trucking, however much our economy depends on it, is an environmental nightmare. For one thing, there's all the gasoline burned. For another, as a recent episode of The Daily Show revealed, there are the sealed bottles of pee truckers throw out their windows on the fly. As much as we'd like to write about that, in fact it's a third eco-sin -- long periods that diesel trucks spend idling, spewing particulate pollution into the air -- that's increasingly being addressed. In the Northeast, a growing network of electrified …

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Let My People Slow

Katrina revealed longstanding "automobile apartheid" One of Hurricane Katrina's many lessons is that those who walk, cycle, or ride public transit instead of owning a car get treated like second-class citizens. Getting stranded during a natural disaster is an extreme example, but it's of a piece with public-policy decisions across the country that prioritize the safety and convenience of car owners over that of nondrivers. Joel S. Hirschhorn calls for an end to the discrimination.

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Brian Hayes’ Infrastructure offers a tour of the “unnatural” side of America

Transmission accomplished. The unprecedented hurricane season that flooded New Orleans and flattened much of the Gulf Coast this summer brought both catastrophe and an historic opportunity: building more-sustainable cities and infrastructure has suddenly become a hot topic. New Orleans doesn't need only restored wetlands and stronger levees to offer protection from future hurricanes and rising sea levels. Homes and streets, highway overpasses and water pipes and power lines -- all must be rebuilt. The city is fast becoming a radical experiment in redesigning infrastructure on a landscape-wide scale. In other words, the timing for Infrastructure couldn't be better. Brian Hayes, …

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