Best diesel cars of 2011, served up

Remixed CC Flickr photo courtesy of culinaryfool.

Wondering about the best diesel cars in the US?

In America, diesel powered cars have always been like…eating a boiled egg & plain toast for breakfast. You get everything that you need, but there’s no exciting bacon, or soul-warming sausage gravy.

But now, car makers are really starting to expand their, uh…menus.

Now, you can have a Mercedes E350 BlueTEC with a big serving of German-luxury strudel. Or you could get a plate of VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI, with a side-order of practicality.

The choices really are amazing. But, what are the best dishes on the menu? What do the critics really order, when they’re paying for the meal?

Let’s find out…

 

Best Luxury Diesel Car of 2011

So today’s most expensive diesel luxury vehicle is the Mercedes GL350 BlueTEC, but does that mean it’s also the best? It does have a trick 4WD system, and all of the leather, wood and toys that you would expect in a Mercedes Benz. (And what ever happened to the promised Mercedes S350 4MATIC BlueTEC diesel car, anyway?)  Think of it as a Denny’s skillet special: heaps of potato, sausage, mushrooms, onions, Canadian bacon, and cheese. Lots of cheese.

While that would be a great way to start the day, you’re going to need a nap by 10:30.

No, to find the best oil-burning luxury car of 2011, you’re going to have to look at the back of the menu: down at the bottom, next to the a-la-cart list, you’ll find the Audi A3 TDI:

Audi A3 clean diesel TDI 2011

This hip little wagon features a perfect blend of luxury and sport. Its torquey little TDI provides just enough oomph for those occasionally spirited drives. And the interior is typical Audi – which is to say; it’s niiiice.

Plus, it’s a wagon, so you can carry stuff. And with a starting price of $30,250, it’s a luxury bargain.

MPG: 30 city / 42 highway.

The 2011 Audi A3 TDI breakfast comparison: a Monte Cristo

 

Best Fuel Efficient Diesel Car of 2011

This year, the economy trophy goes to the Volkswagen Group and their 2.0 liter Turbo Diesel powerplant, the TDI, which can achieve 30 MPG in the city, and 42 on the highway…no matter what car it’s propelling. And by the way, that’s the crappy EPA estimate of their gas mileage. Check out the eye-popping real life mileage people are getting.

You’ll find this thrifty little gem under the hood of four cars, ranging from compact to wagon:

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI ($23,225),

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI ($22,995),

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI ($24,995)

…and the just mentioned 2011 Audi A3 TDI ($30,250).

We covered the Volkswagen diesel models together in depth here.

Sorry, I can’t think of a breakfast comparison for this one.

Wait!

The Golf is like a Rootie Tootie Fresh & Fruity combo; the Jetta is like a sausage, egg & cheese croissant; the Jetta Wagon is like maple and brown sugar oatmeal, with some warm Vermont maple syrup on top. And of course, the A3 TDI is our Monte Cristo.

Hungry yet?

 

Best Looking Diesel Car of 2011

2011 clean diesel Jetta TDI car

There’s actually several 2011 diesel cars that look nice. But the winner is the redesigned 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Clean Diesel TDI.

VW’s aggressive new front end blends well with the Jetta’s clean body lines, making it look (slightly) aggressive, yet civilized. It’s the kind of car that mom can drive everyday, but when she parks behind dad, he might actually want to take her car.

Like our choices? Disagree? Are you driving one of these? Leave a comment!

Hand Dryers versus Paper Towels

hand dryer
CC Flickr photo courtesy of sabotrax.

Hand dryers versus paper towels. What’s more environmentally friendly?

It’s a question that you have probably asked yourself in a public restroom of some sort.

I was curious too, so I decided to do a little research and see what the pros and cons of each option are. Here’s what I found.

Slate.com covered the issue in detail, back in 2008.

Their conclusion is that hand dryers win in almost every scenario:

The bottom line is that hand dryers will be the greener choice in about 95 percent of circumstances. If the choice is between using a tiny corner of recycled towel versus a 2,400-watt dryer, then the Lantern can see how the towel will win. But dryers get the nod in most other scenarios, particularly if the dryer is rated at less than 1,600 watts.

Treehugger.com looks at some of the same original data, and comes to a similar conclusion.

This also provides more evidence that one of the biggest keys to more sustainable products is greener and cleaner electricity sources. Additionally, the study notes that the use of paper towels has double the global warming burden of the hand dryer. I will probably keep drip drying my hands or wiping them on my pants, but in the event that I have to choose between paper towels or a hand dryer (based on this report at least) I’ll pick the blowier, greener choice of the hand dryer.

But there’s also the hygiene, cleanliness and health angle of paper towels versus hand dryers. And in this contest, it appears that paper towels come out ahead, at least compared to the Dyson Air Blade.

Paper towels were found to reduce the number of all types of bacteria on the fingerpads by up to 76% and on the palms by up to 77%. By comparison, the Dyson Airblade increased the numbers of most types of bacteria on the fingerpads by 42% and on the palms by 15%. However, after washing and drying hands under the warm air dryer, the total number of bacteria increased by 194% on the fingerpads and on the palms by 254%.

But that’s not an accurate assessment, according to the About.com Infectious Diseases curator.

After coming home, I looked up medical research papers on the use of hand dryers vs. paper towels and found that the vast majority of research has shown that there is no difference between using paper towels and warm air dryers in terms of removing bacteria!

A Mayo Clinic study supports the About.com guy, saying that hand dryers are clean. Although to be fair, that other study was only talking about the Dyson Airblade and not commercial hand dryers in general.

The difference was determined between the amounts of bacteria on hands artificially contaminated with the bacterium Micrococcus luteus before washing with a nonantibacterial soap and after drying by 4 different methods (cloth towels accessed by a rotary dispenser, paper towels from a stack on the hand-washing sink, warm forced air from a mechanical hand-activated dryer, and spontaneous room air evaporation). The results were analyzed using a nonparametric analysis (the Friedman test). By this method, changes in bacterial colony-forming unit values for each drying method were ranked for each subject.

RESULTS: The results for 99 subjects were evaluable. No statistically significant differences were noted in the numbers of colony-forming units for each drying method (P = .72).

So whether it is energy savings and eco friendliness, keeping trash out of the landfill, keeping bathroom trash cans emptier and keeping your hands clean, it appears that hand dryers are the clear winner. Hand dryers are green.

How to Conserve Energy at School

Wondering how to conserve energy at your school? Here’s an overview of what you can do to make a difference, and what some other schools are currently doing.

Energy conservation programs are a great way for schools  to foster an environmentally-responsible culture. From official policies, to grassroots educational efforts in the classroom, there are so many way to be sustainable at school.

Conserve Energy in School
CC flickr photo courtesy of Rex Libris

Solar Lights for Gardens

If you like entertaining in your garden at night, or don’t want to step on your flowers in the dark, and you crave sustainable energy in solving this problem, you need to consider solar LED garden lights.

Solar Lights for Gardens
CC flickr photo courtesy of lozwilkes

Solar lights for gardens come in a variety of styles:

  • stake lights
  • hanging lights
  • rope lights
  • spotlights
  • pond lights

Environmental Problems: Top 10 Facing the Planet

Ever wonder about which current environmental problems are the big ones? Here’s an article to sum them up.

Our planet has its share of challenges. Delicate and valuable ecosystems are being polluted and destroyed. Our transportation and industrial systems are fed by fossil fuels that are finite and produce greenhouse gasses. While home-scale conservation solutions exist, our leaders are having a hard time adopting a unified strategy for  solutions to environmental problems.

Top 10 Environmental Problems
photo courtesy of click

Here’s a top ten list of current environmental problems. The entries were prioritized for their far-reaching nature and potential consequences. We want this to be a list that you can use get informed and to take action. Don’t forget, many people are doing just that.

10. Invasive Species: If you’ve ever driven in the American south and seen Japanese kudzu vines clinging to trees and telephone poles, then you’ve had a run-in with an invasive species. Invasive species are plants and animals that are released into ecosystems that they quickly exploit, causing severe impacts. A famous example are rats. Native to tropical Asia, rats stowed away on ships in the first century and were carried all over the world. Their plague-carrying fleas helped spread the Black Death in 14th-century Europe. Rats have also led to declines in seabird species worldwide. Here is a list from the Nature Conservancy on the steps you can take to stop the spread of invasive species.

9. Oceanic Pollution: Below the ocean’s surface are vast and incredible ecosystems. Many people depend on the ocean’s health for food and a livelihood. Unfortunately, industrial accidents, like oil spills from tankers or off-shore rigs and garbage dumping have depleted important habitats and threatened ocean life. Here’s a short documentary about a Texas-sized patch of degraded plastic and other pollutants floating in the Pacific Ocean.

8. Overfishing: Fish and fish-products are a vital and lucrative industry. But overfishing disrupts fragile ecological systems that oceanic life depend on for survival. Some overfishing occurs in catches of predatory fish that we eat. Thirteen American coastal states have barred the capture of menhaden, a forage fish commonly used in fish oils, because of the impact that the loss of this fish has on the oceanic food web. Overfishing.org is a great place to start learning more.

7. Rapid Urbanization: Cities, in their modern form, are unsustainable. Cities import much of what they need and have to export their waste. Globally, there are many examples of rural populations being displaced and having to move to cities, where health crises and crime are exacerbated by poor living conditions and poverty. When the dramatic world population rise is considered, the problem gets worse. A UN report from 2005, estimates that 49% of the world’s population (about 3.4 billion people), live in cities, up from 13% in 1900. For more information on global urbanization, read Planet of Slums by Mike Davis.

6. Water Scarcity: Access to potable drinking water is becoming an increasing problem. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to improved drinking water. Human beings need water to survive. But drought diminishes available water and waste-water from industrial processes and agriculture contaminates aquifers. The WHO is currently campaigning to address these problems. They have also declared March 22 World Water Day.

5. Industrial Farming: From its dependence on fossil fuels, to its insistence on using genetically-modified organisms, and its reliance on chemical herbicides and pesticides, industrial agriculture is problematic for the planet in many ways. It has supplanted the traditional family farmer to produce vast quantities of corn, grain and soya, most of which is used for feeding livestock. Industrial farming also contributes to deforestation when landowners slash and burn forests to grow crops or graze cattle. To learn more about our food system, watch Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. For examples of small, community-based agriculture solutions, check out Farm Together Now by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker.

4. Deforestation: National Geographic states that, at current rates of deforestation, all forests would disappear in 100 years. Forests filter the Earth’s air. Trees breathe in CO2 and release oxygen. Trees help store carbon and retain atmospheric water. Forests are also vital habitat for many species. The Rainforest Action Network is an organization that seeks to prevent the loss of our rainforests. Sustainable forestry groups like the Forest Stewardship Council offer certification for sustainably-sourced lumber. I’m also a huge fan of Trees for the Future, a non profit that plants useful trees and promotes agroforestry around the world. My company has donated enough to plant more than 250,000 trees over the past several years. Please click through and make a small donation of at least $5 right now, and you can plant 50 trees.

3. Fossil fuels: Fossil fuels are composed of vast, decomposed deposits of organic matter buried deep below the earth. They are rich in carbon, which is burned as a fuel source. They are a part of almost everything we can buy, use, or consume. The cars we drive and the ways in which we generate energy depend on fossil fuels. Plastics are petroleum products. The food we eat and the products we buy are transported in trucks and ships that burn diesel fuel.

When fossil fuels are burned, they produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. Natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel, still creates toxic leakage during extraction that contaminates groundwater. To learn more about the oil industry, how it works and the influence on energy policy that it exerts, read Antonia Juhasz’s The Tyranny of Oil. For what you can do to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels, check out Climate Culture.

2. Climate Change: This can be understood as the end result of many of the problems we’ve mentioned. Through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, by-product greenhouse gasses are trapping the sun’s heat in our atmosphere. The overall temperature of the earth is rising. This is causing the melting of glaciers and the disruption or amplification of global weather and will cause long-lasting, hard-to-predict impacts. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great wealth of information about climate change.

1. Political Inaction: While there are numerous and encouraging examples of community, grassroots efforts to remedy many of these problems, governments need to adopt comprehensive strategies to reduce their carbon footprints and make the necessary changes to industries that are the biggest polluters. Some headway was made at the 2009 United Nations summit in Copenhagen, but more needs to be done to achieve an international agreement on combating climate change. For further reading about climate change and the global campaign to halt it, visit 350.org.

What do you think of our choices for the top 10? Did we miss anything? Leave a comment!