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Tailpipe Spin

NASCAR plans switch to unleaded racing fuel Mechanics, crews, and NASCAR dads will be able to wheeze a little easier beginning in 2008 -- that's when the racing body plans to switch its cars and trucks from leaded to unleaded fuel. Though it's exempt from the Clean Air Act's unleaded requirement, NASCAR's nonetheless been looking for a high-performance alternative that lubricates the engine while getting the lead out. It says its new fuel does it without using MTBE, the health-hazardous fuel additive barred by some states. Clean Air Watch has been after NASCAR to clean up its exhaust; just this …

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Gardeners: Man the green barricades in LA

Why greens should join forces with gardeners to face down the bull dozers in LA.

Even though I abandoned Brooklyn for the Appalachians, I'm no sentimental pastoralist. I'm a long-term disciple of the great urban theorist (and champion of cities) Jane Jacobs. Human history since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago has been a history of cities. Cities are the future; as David Owen's superb article "Green Manhattan" (PDF) shows, they may be our only hope. The trick is to create agricultural systems within and just outside of cities, minimizing the ruinous effects of long-haul freight transit, slashing the fossil-fuel inputs embedded in food production, maximizing availability of fresh delicious food, and boosting local …

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The Green Mileage

Mileage estimates likely to decline under EPA's proposed new system The U.S. EPA has proposed new standards for calculating auto fuel-economy ratings, expected to reduce by 5 to 30 percent the mileage estimates in window stickers on new cars and trucks. Ouch. It's the first ratings overhaul since 1985, intended to reflect changes in driving conditions (e.g., more stop-and-go traffic) and technology (e.g., more fuel-eating air-conditioners). The city-driving mileage estimates for hybrids -- including Toyota's hot-selling Prius, which gets a 60-mile-per-gallon estimate under the current system -- are likely to shrink an especially dramatic 20 to 30 percent. Environmental groups …

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Stockholm-ward Bound

Stockholm is second Euro capital to charge for driving into the city All the cool cities are doing it! (Wait, is Stockholm cool?) This week, Sweden's capital began a trial run of a new system that will charge for the privilege of driving into the city, and officials have declared it a success so far. On the first day of the new fees -- which can run up to $7.50 a day -- the number of cars traveling into central Stockholm fell by a quarter, and commuters reported bigger crowds on public transit. The government hopes the congestion-charge system will …

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Umbra on co-housing

Dear Umbra, How does one begin to gather a group of people to live in a modern city commune? My dream is to own in common an energy-efficient and sustainable house or apartment building inhabited by 10 or so people who are neighbors but also share the duties of the house (cooking, laundry, gardening), much like an extended family. I think this setup would be far superior to the current situation, where my spouse and I live in a large apartment building completely isolated from our neighbors, and I suspect there are other people living in relative isolation who have …

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Two new books on nature reveal three writers’ ways of seeing

"It was on Cape Cod during fall a few years back, after the century fell but before the towers did, that I began paying a series of visits to the writer John Hay." With this opening line in The Prophet of Dry Hill, David Gessner sets the tone for a quest that is both personal and transcendent. Like "Call me Ishmael," this sentence also lets us know that we are in the hands of a writer with a strong grip on the helm. It's safe to lean back and relax into the journey. Someone to look up to. Photo: iStockphoto. …

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Enviros need to get social, says activist-turned-sociologist Marshall Ganz

Most of us can probably name a grandfather or great-aunt who was active in a chapter of a national association. My own uncle was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Yet how many of us can say the same about ourselves? Marshall Ganz. Photo: Harvard University/Justin Ide. As voluntary associations fade from our cultural landscape, political participation is threatened, especially on the left, says sociologist Marshall Ganz. And, he says, that trend is undermining the environmental movement, which has long depended on engaged members to carry its banner. That's why Sierra Club leaders recently turned to …

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Small Wonder

Sales of some big SUVs drop by half It's an early Christmahanukwanzakah present for the planet, and a chunk of coal in the stocking of Detroit's Big Three automakers: The American love affair with huge SUVs seems finally to be on the wane. Really this time! Sales of once-hot vehicles like the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Suburban are about half what they were a year ago. Auto-industry watchers blame plummeting SUV demand for much of Detroit's financial woes, saying consumers have woken up to the volatility of fuel costs. Auto execs, on the other hand, blame ... anyone but themselves, …

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Character Building

Sierra Club celebrates eco-friendly building projects in new report The Sierra Club has often gone to court to stop bad development schemes, but now the venerable green group is trying the carrot instead of the stick. The group has released its first "Guide to America's Best New Development Projects," which gives kudos to builders putting up environmentally sound mixed-use projects around the country. Most of the developments singled out for praise, like the Pearl District in Portland, Ore., have been built on the sites of old or abandoned stores, factories, or other properties instead of undeveloped land. The Sierra Club …

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I Wish They All Could Be California Copycats

New York, Massachusetts to adopt tougher auto-emissions standards The New York State Environmental Board voted unanimously this month to adopt California's toughest-in-the-nation rules for cutting automotive greenhouse-gassiness. The new rules, which will be phased in with 2009 model-year cars, aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions about 30 percent by 2016 -- effectively improving auto fuel economy by roughly 40 percent. Massachusetts is set to adopt the same standards by the end of the year. The stricter standards are expected to eventually sweep the Northeast and the entire West Coast, which together comprise about a third of auto sales in the …

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