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Umbra on eco-friendly roofs

Dear Umbra, Our roof is getting pretty old and starting to fall apart. It's one of those asphalt-shingle roofs that most houses have these days. Before we call the roofing company, I'd like to know what's the greenest kind of roofing material to use. Metal? Cedar? More asphalt? I'm sure lots of other readers would like to know, too! Thanks, Wally Bubelis Seattle, Wash. Dearest Wally, Like other readers, you may need a drink or two to wade through the perplexing nexus of budgetary, aesthetic, and environmental concerns involved in making sustainable-building decisions. It sounds to me like you're looking …

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What can we learn from Bush’s FreedomCar Plan?

Following the State of the Union address in which President Bush laid out his new FreedomCAR and Fuel Initiative, which was cheered by automakers and jeered by environmentalists, hydrogen fever swept from the Beltway into the printing presses and airwaves of mainstream media. CNN, Business Week, the New York Times, and U.S. News and World Report, among others, ran stories that, although sometimes skeptical of the Bush plan, trumpeted the promise of a hydrogen economy, calling it the antidote to both our dependence on foreign oil and the mounting threat of global warming. Bush delivering the State of the Union. …

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Oinks Per Gallon

The waste from hundreds of thousands of hogs will soon be powering vehicle diesel engines if Smithfield Farms follows through on a plan announced Friday. Smithfield, the world's largest hog producer, intends to build a $20 million waste-to-energy facility in southwestern Utah that will convert swine manure into biodiesel fuel, which burns more cleanly than standard diesel. Smithfield currently runs a huge hog farming operation in Utah, where 1 million hogs are raised and slaughtered each year and 500,000 pounds of solid hog doo-doo are produced each day (yes, we said each day -- egads!). Currently the hog waste is …

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Nobody Expected This Spanish Inquisition

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens hit the streets of Madrid on Sunday to protest the national government's poor handling of the Prestige oil tanker spill, which has been labeled the worst environmental disaster in the country's history. Hundreds of chartered buses brought in protesters from Galicia, the region whose environment and economy have been devastated by the November spill off the country's northwestern coast. Protesters, many with black tears painted on their faces and mock oil stains on their clothes, demanded the resignation of government officials whom they accused of failing to coordinate effective cleanup efforts and misleading the …

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Elizabeth Grossman reviews High and Mighty by Keith Bradsher

You see them poised astride rocky crevasses, fording forest streams, or rising huge and solitary in the shadow of a mountain peak. No, we're not talking about grizzly bears; we're talking about sport utility vehicles. Spoiling the view. "Jawbone Chatters. Spine Shivers. Engine Roars. Everest at -11 degrees," proclaims one ad for the Toyota 4Runner. "If you really want to put your life on the line, the new V8-powered GX is more than capable of taking you to the kinds of places where danger lurks at every corner," promises an ad for a new Lexus SUV. SUVs are sold on …

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Maple Syrup

Canada yesterday set aside $1.3 billion over five years to slash its greenhouse gas emissions and another $660 million for other environmental initiatives, as part of what Environment Minister David Anderson called "the greenest budget this country has ever seen." The government also approved a tax break for cleaner diesel and agreed to prioritize infrastructure projects that will help reduce pollution. Ottawa has not yet decided how to spend most of the $1.3 billion earmarked to help the country meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Options on the table include pumping money into alternative-energy projects and …

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Who Ya Gonna Call? Coast Busters!

The California legislature has passed a bill to alter the structure of the California Coastal Commission, thereby enabling the powerful board to continue regulating development along the state's coast. Seven weeks ago, a state appeals court ruled that allowing the legislature to remove commissioners at will violated the state constitution's mandate to maintain separation of the legislative and executive branches of government. Under the new structure, commissioners appointed by the legislature would serve fixed four-year terms; those appointed by the governor could still be removed at her or his will. Gov. Gray Davis (D) is expected to sign the bill, …

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London Bridge Is Clearing Up

Traffic in central London fell by roughly 25 percent Monday, the first day of a congestion-mitigation plan that was the controversial brainchild of Mayor Ken Livingstone. Under the plan, it costs about $8 per car to enter central London from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with steep penalties for those who don't pay. About 80,000 people ponied up the money yesterday, while the rest took alternate routes or public transportation, leaving quiet roads and no gridlock, even during rush hours. Some of the reduced traffic was the result of the beginning of school holidays, but Livingstone and others still hailed …

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Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Polluting List

No surprise: Pickup trucks and oversized SUVs scored the lowest on the U.S. EPA's latest ranking of vehicles based on tailpipe emissions. The list graded vehicles on a scale of 0 to 10. Large SUVs like BMW's X5 and General Motors' Hummer H2 earned a 0 and a 2, respectively, while most small and medium SUVs earned between 2s and 5s; cars were more likely to fall in the 6 to 7 range. The SUVs and light trucks on the list emitted anywhere from two to 10 times the pollutants of an average Honda Civic. (Honda's cars ranked high on …

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Umbra on homegrown activism

Dear Umbra, I have been changing my way of living in the past year or so to become more environmentally friendly. I have been recycling (my city recycles almost everything) and I started composting. I have been cutting meat out of my life, and I have been surrounding my home with plants and herbs. I buy biodegradable, organic products that haven't been tested on animals. I've also signed online petitions and became a member of Greenpeace. I carpool with someone and reuse everything. I even make art from recyclable items. I am planning to build an environmentally friendly home, too. …

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