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Umbra on bicycle commuting

Dear Umbra, My question regards my daily half-hour (each way) bicycle commute through fairly heavy city traffic. I've been wondering if the benefits (exercise, sunshine, free and fast transport) are outweighed by the negatives (primarily breathing in diesel and other exhaust, but I'd also throw in the risk of almost getting run over, despite the cheap thrills). I am fortunate enough that my alternative would be to take the subway, not drive. Perhaps you could comment on the personal and environmental health effects of different types of commutes. IndieWashington, D.C. Dearest Indie, Spoke truth to power. Biking, biking, we love …

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Sacrificial Sham

Bush asks Americans to avoid unnecessary car trips and save energy President Bush yesterday called on Americans to drive less and conserve gas. "We can all pitch in," he said. Of course, "all" is relative: Though the president directed federal agencies to reduce energy use, Republican congressional leaders were meeting even as he spoke to push for more energy-industry subsidies and weaker environmental laws governing fuel production and distribution. This has activists gearing up for a fight. Republican leaders are "racing faster than a hurricane to smash through alleged environmental barriers before anyone realizes what they are up to," said …

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Martin Melaver, eco-friendly real-estate entrepreneur, answers questions

Martin Melaver. What work do you do? I'm CEO of Melaver, Inc., which is a third-generation, family-owned real-estate company based in Savannah, Ga. What does your organization do? We really do a bit of everything in real estate, which I guess is typical for a business with roots in a smallish town. We develop, acquire, renovate, manage, broker, and own commercial and residential properties. And we're trying to do it all sustainably, which is a mouthful. What, in a perfect world, would constitute "mission accomplished"? It's easy enough to develop, manage, acquire, and rehab sustainably (if you're committed to the …

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Central Dark

New York City dims skyscraper lights to help save birds Love cities? Love birds? Wish the former would stop killing the latter? Audubon wants to help. Its "Lights Out New York" effort is encouraging Big Apple building owners to turn lights down or off above the 40th floor, from midnight to daylight, during spring and fall migrations. Not only will dimming prevent light-mesmerized birds from smashing into skyscrapers -- a similar effort in Chicago saves an estimated 10,000 of our feathered friends a year -- but it'll cut energy use in the bargain. White-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and yellowthroats are …

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Hybrid Anxiety

Ford plans to hybridize half its models by 2010 Reeling from recent profit declines and concerned about stiff competition from Japanese automakers, Ford Motor Co. today announced a big expansion of its hybrid strategy, including plans to offer gas-electric hybrid versions of half its models by 2010. Its current hybrid offerings are limited to SUVs -- the Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape. Ford plans to ramp up production of hybrids to about 250,000 a year by 2010, up from about 24,000 now. And though Toyota is still expected to dominate the hybrid market in the near future, churning out up …

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Off by a Mileage

EPA to revise tests of new cars' gas mileage The U.S. EPA has announced plans to overhaul its current method for estimating the fuel economy of new automobiles -- the miles-per-gallon numbers stuck on the windows of every new car. The method now in use has changed little since the mid-1970s, even though driving conditions have changed substantially -- including more traffic, higher highway speeds, and the proliferation of fuel-consuming add-ons like air conditioners. Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, strongly supports EPA's move. Its independent testing has found that vehicles often fall below their official fuel-economy ratings, sometimes by …

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Umbra on speed limits

Dear Umbra, I was babbling about the '70s energy crisis, gas rationing, and the nationwide 55 mile-per-hour speed limit at work the other day, and found myself explaining to a group of younger people how you save gas if you drive slower. They had never heard such a thing! Could you refresh my memory about why 55 is the magic number for saving fuel? They need to hear it in scientificese. RuthDenton, Texas Dearest Ruth, As you well remember, 55 mph was decreed the national speed limit in 1973. It was lifted in rural areas in 1987, but stuck around …

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What New Orleans could look like the second time around

I heard that George Bush told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin the city could be remade into "a shining example for the whole world." If Bush did say that, it surely wasn't an environmentally sound renaissance he had in mind. But that is precisely what is needed. Call it Eco New Orleans. It should encompass not just the city, but the other places blasted by Katrina and by FEMA's impressively incompetent response. The Eco New Orleans I'm talking about should extend scores of miles in every direction. It should be a place attuned to the definition of sustainable development put …

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Feline Groovy

German inventor denies using dead cats to make biodiesel German inventor Christian Koch says he's patented a way to convert trash into eco-friendly, high-quality biodiesel fuel that costs one-fifth the going price of diesel in his home country. To produce the alternative fuel, Koch claims he uses waste including paper, textiles, and plastics -- but no dead cats. Got that? Koch is trying to set the record straight after the German paper Bild ran a story claiming he used run-over cats as raw material -- "for a tank he needs 20 pussies," read Tuesday's headline. On Wednesday, the paper asked, …

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Go Truck Yourself

Bush admin unveils weak new fuel-economy rules for light trucks The Bush administration surveyed the landscape -- gas prices rising, fears of oil dependence spreading -- and concluded that bold leadership was required. So it invaded an oil-rich country. Heh, well ... on to Plan B! Yesterday, the administration proposed a new set of auto fuel-economy rules. Tightening the standard for passenger cars? Uh, no, that would stay at an average of 27.5 miles per gallon. Finally imposing some requirements on mega-SUVs like the Hummer H2? Wrong again. Instead, most SUVs, pickups, and minivans would be divided into six categories …

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