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Umbra on carpooling to a reunion

Dear Umbra, You have told us, in no uncertain terms, that traveling by train is better ecologically than traveling by car. Several members of my family plan to carpool to an upcoming family reunion 600 miles away. I have considered trying to talk them into taking the train instead, but face the following problem: It would cost about $130 each, round-trip, and involve inconvenient hours guaranteed to annoy the elder generation. The car will cost about $40 each, round-trip. I myself, having a very tight budget, am considerably swayed by this, and have no doubt they will be also. Consequently, …

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Pardon Me Boys, Is That the Chattanooga Cough-Cough?

Add diesel locomotives to the list of things killing you Recently, researchers discovered they'd been a little off in their estimates of how much smog-forming pollution diesel locomotives generate. How off? Turns out by 2030 the trains will be producing about twice what was previously estimated -- 800,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 25,000 tons of soot, according to new estimates. Oops. The railroad folks rush to remind us that diesel locomotives are still three times more fuel efficient than trucks and emit only about a third as much pollution; indeed, greens are among the biggest fans of rail (for …

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Switch Getters

Industries pull the switch on mercury switches The steel and auto industries have agreed to pay $2 million each to remove mercury-containing light switches from millions of scrapyard-bound vehicles. The deal will reduce U.S. annual mercury pollution by at least 5 percent over the next 15 years, according to U.S. EPA chief Stephen Johnson. Bully for the U.S., but a wash for the planet: the mercury will be recycled, refined, and likely sold to loosely regulated industries in developing countries. The toxin was phased out of foreign-vehicle lighting systems in 1993 and domestic cars in 2002, but about 67.5 million …

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Yukon Fool Some of the People Some of the Time

GM builds world's first LEED-certified auto plant, slows SUV production If BP went Beyond Petroleum, does that mean GM is Greening Motors? The struggling U.S. automaker recently unveiled two nuggets of eco-friendly news. Its brand-spankin' new Lansing Delta Township assembly plant in Michigan received the U.S. Green Building Council's gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, making it the world's first LEED-certified auto-manufacturing plant. The facility's eco-features -- which include waterless urinals and a lights-out section where robots will work -- are expected to save 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and over 40 million gallons of water during …

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Words Fail Us

Hummer propaganda aimed at kids through McDonald's Happy Meals Sometimes a story comes along that so perfectly captures a culture's pathologies that it should be put in a time capsule, so future generations ... oh, right, there won't be any future generations. It seems that, according to fast-food behemoth McDonald's, this is a "Hummer of a Summer." A new series of TV and radio ads depict happy families on their way to fatten their children and clog their arteries at McDonald's in GM's gas-guzzling Hummer. When they arrive, soon-to-be-obese boys can choose from eight different toy Hummers with their Happy …

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Umbra on car trade-ins

Dear Umbra, I'm the not-so-proud owner of an 18-year-old Honda Civic -- great car in that it gets 39 mpg, has a decent amount of zip, and generally runs well. However, it needs some mechanical work, the paint and some of the upholstery are shot, and the AC runs on Freon. I've reached the point of analysis paralysis in deciding whether to fix this car up or trade it in. At what point do you give up the ghost on an older car? And how bad would it be if I got the old car painted? Driven to distraction, Renee …

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Whole Watta Love

Small automakers roll out electric cars The climate is right for electric cars, and several automakers are rolling out new models. It's "an untapped market that is phenomenal," says the CEO of Zap, which introduced the three-wheel electric Xebra last month (yes, it comes zebra-striped). While low-speed, relatively low-price vehicles like Miles Automotive's ZX40 and the Tomberlin Group's E-Merge E-2 are hitting the road, it's the sports cars that are getting the most attention. The swanky Tesla Roadster is only the start: Wrightspeed Inc. is developing a $100,000 sports car that could go up to 120 mph and run for …

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‘Cane Do Spirit

Hurricane researchers unite in call to curb coastal development The media has made much of the disagreement among hurricane researchers about the effects of global warming on storm strength. So much, in fact, that it's starting to annoy the hurricane researchers. Yesterday, 10 prominent experts in the field -- who have disagreed among themselves about the climate question -- released a statement saying that the media should pay more attention to the real problem, about which there is broad consensus: vulnerable coastal areas of the country are being overdeveloped. Death and financial ruin are sure to follow, they say, and …

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Sprawl bribery is beating smart growth

The following is a guest essay from Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money. He can be reached through sprawlkills.com. ----- When the small town of Warrenton in sprawl-rich northern Virginia received an offer of $22 million in cash from Centex Homes, one of the nation's largest developers and home builders, one reaction of concerned parties was, OK, sounds like an environmentally acceptable plan for nearly 300 new homes. But closer examination reveals a development plan that comes nowhere near meeting smart-growth values. It also illustrates the tactics of large sprawl developers …

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Who Pimped the Electric Car?

Silicon Valley startup unveils sexy electric car As gas prices rise and vehicle emissions nudge the planet toward chaos, a Silicon Valley startup is hyping the electric Tesla Roadster -- which goes from 0 to 60 in four seconds, has a top speed of 135 miles per hour, and costs over $80,000 (built-in satellite navigation technology and iPod dock included). "Most electric cars were designed by and for people who fundamentally don't think we should drive," Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard recently wrote on the company blog. "We at Tesla Motors love cars." Financed in part by big guns from …

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