EarthTalk: Celebrities and billionaires are
shelling out big bucks for cutting edge green-friendly cars
like the Tesla Roadster. But what are the rest of us—who
live in the budget-constrained real world—to do about
buying a new car that does right by the environment?
-- M.G., Stroudsburg, PA
growing selection of fuel efficient and low-emissions
vehicles -- including hybrids and those with conventional
and lower-emission diesel engines -- are available
to consumers today, including many that those of us
on tight budgets can afford.
so many new energy efficient cars in showrooms today, there’s
never been a better time to go green with your next car
purchase. A few years ago the Toyota Prius was the go-to
model for those with an environmental conscience and up
to $30,000 to pay for the privilege of getting 35-40 miles
per gallon (mpg) in the city and 45-55 on the highway. But
today there is such a wide selection of fuel efficient and
low-emissions vehicles that even those on a budget can afford
to go green.
wit, Honda’s new Insight is the first hybrid gasoline-electric
car available new for less than $20,000 (starting at $19,800).
With fuel efficiency ratings of 40 miles per gallon (mpg)
in the city and 43 on the highway, the Insight surely won’t
cost much to operate either.
are plenty of other hybrids to choose from today, too, though
most cost at least a few thousand dollars more than equivalent
non-hybrid models. Toyota’s Prius, which is only available
as a hybrid, still leads the pack as the world’s top
selling and most fuel efficient hybrid. Its cost has dropped
some, now starting at $22,400, and the “3rd generation”
Prius 10 now claims an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
combined city/highway rating of 50 mpg. This most recent
edition even features a whimsical solar panel on the roof
to power a ventilation system that keeps the interior of
the car cool even on scorching hot days. Hybrid versions
of Honda’s Civic ($23,800), Nissan’s Altima
($26,780), Ford’s Fusion ($27,625) and Escape SUV
($31,500), Mercury’s Milan ($31,590) and Mariner SUV
($29,995), Toyota’s Camry ($26,150) and Highlander
SUV ($34,700) are also in showrooms in dealerships across
smaller cars with regular gasoline engines also get great
mileage with low emissions for even less money. Some examples
include the Corolla ($15,350), Matrix ($16,550) and Yaris
($12,355) from Toyota, Honda’s Fit ($14,900), the
Mazda 3 ($16,045), Chevy’s Aveo ($11,965) and Cobalt
($14,990), the Hyundai’s Accent ($9,970) and Elantra
($14,145), Pontiac’s G3 ($14,335), the Kia Rio ($11,495),
the MINI Cooper ($19,500), Ford’s Focus ($15,995),
and the Smart Car ForTwo ($11,990).
fuel is now cleaner than ever, and a few automakers are
going down that road. Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI ($22,660),
Audi’s A3 TDI ($29,950) and BMW’s 335d ($43,900)
are three examples of high performance vehicles with solid
green credentials regarding fuel efficiency and emissions.
An added bonus is that such cars can run on carbon-neutral
biodiesel as well as petroleum-based diesel fuel.
just starting their search for a new ride should check out
GreenCar.com, which provides detailed information on the
many greener vehicles available today as well as those on
the horizon. Also, the federal government’s website
FuelEconomy.gov provides detailed mileage and emissions
information on dozens of new cars every year, and provides
users with an easy and free way to compare different vehicles
along the lines of environmental impact.
is the plankton in the oceans dying? And what does this
mean for the health of the oceans and marine life?
-- Marilynn Block, Portland, OR
environmental factors are taking their toll on plankton
the world over. This is bad news because, besides
serving as a primary food source for many fish and
whales, plankton plays a crucial role in mitigating
global warming. Pictured: Microscopic phytoplankton
from McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.
© Professor Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University,
lowest link on the marine food chain, plankton—that
tiny aquatic plant, animal and bacterial matter floating
throughout the world’s oceans—is a vital building
block for life on Earth. Besides serving as a primary food
source for many fish and whales, plankton plays a crucial
role in mitigating global warming.
the ocean is the world’s largest “carbon sink”:
As much as one-third of man-made CO2 emissions are stored
in the oceans and therefore do not contribute to global
warming. This is because its plant component, phytoplankton
(its animal component is called zooplankton), pulls massive
amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere as
various environmental factors are taking their toll on plankton
the world over. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) reported recently that marine phytoplankton
is declining across the oceans. Even Canadian cod fishermen
are noticing that the plankton-feeding fish they catch are
often nearly starving as a result of lack of this crucial
study published in the scientific journal Nature found that
human-caused increase in CO2 pollution is altering the pH
(acidity) levels in the oceans. This change in chemistry
is expected to have adverse effects on the entire ecosystem.
More acidic ocean water inhibits the ability of shell-forming
marine organisms—from plankton to mollusks to corals—to
form properly. Smaller and less healthy populations of plankton
would be bad news for all the other creatures above it on
the ocean’s food chain.
water temperatures, also attributable to our fossil fuel
addiction, can also have a devastating effect on plankton.
A recent report in the Journal of the Marine Biological
Association of the United Kingdom noted that, in the Adriatic
Sea cooler winter conditions—which are less frequent
in a warmer world—are needed for plankton production
and nutrient availability. Furthermore, warmer sea temperatures
can cause “blooms” of other sea life (such as
happens with algae), resulting in oxygen starvation in the
water, a condition that is devastating to plankton and other
marine creatures and organisms.
situations, blooms of phytoplankton themselves—the
tiny plants can gorge on the nutrients from the run-off
from farms and lawns on land—can lead to oxygen starvation
in the water. “The decomposition of these multitudes
of phytoplankton removes oxygen from seawater, creating
oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’ where fish cannot live,”
reports Carly Buchwald, a researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic
imagery shows that these “dead zones” are expanding.
Some scientists are advocating “iron fertilization”—the
spreading of large amounts of iron across the world’s
seas—to spur plankton growth. But others worry that
such tinkering with complex ecosystems could have potentially
of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom;
Woods Hole Oceanographic
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