Top 10 Worst Environmental Disasters in the United States

Worst Environmental Disasters in the United States
TVA Coal Ash Spill courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. is a relatively young country, in terms of world history, but its rapid rise as an industrial superpower has not come without consequences. Sheer ignorance, coupled with poor government oversight and pure-old greed, is often a recipe for disaster. Here are some of worst instances of man-made, large-scale pollution in American history. While it’s hard to qualify “the worst,” the ones with the most far-reaching effects on the environment and human health were prioritized. Not included were intense climate events such as Hurricanes Andrew or Katrina, although there is a growing scientific consensus about climate change amplifying storms.

10. Lead Contamination (Picher, Oklahoma) – Picher was a successful lead and zinc mining town in the 1920’s with a population of over 14,000 people. Now it sits abandoned at the base of giant hills of excavated mining waste. The citizens suffered from lead poisoning from the lead dust that covered the land and town’s groundwater was contaminated with acidic water from the mines. The town is now nearly deserted and is part of the Tar Creek Superfund Site. A documentary film called Tar Creek tells more of the story. Continue reading “Top 10 Worst Environmental Disasters in the United States”

Top Green TV Shows: Environmental Issues on Television

It wasn’t that long ago that environmental programming was a rarity on television. Aside from the occasional conservation program or nature documentary, the majority of TV was composed of cop dramas, sports, sitcoms and game shows.

Actually, that’s still the case today, but the large number of channels means there is also room for more diverse shows. Programming executives have noticed the increased desire to see environmental issues hit the airwaves. Whole cable networks have been based on environmental programming and already-existing channels have increased their attention to the environment. Children’s programming, in that regard, has come a long way. Take a look at our picks of the best green TV shows out there.

Top Green TV Shows for Adults & Teens 

Top Green TV Shows
Wild Chronicles on PBS

Wild Chronicles (PBS) – This National Geographic-produced show features host Boyd Matson, as he travels the world reporting on nature, environmental concerns and science. Continue reading “Top Green TV Shows: Environmental Issues on Television”

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.

Coffee and the Environment

coffee plantation

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular commodities. It is traded more than all other commodities, except for crude oil. With such a high demand and so much production going on throughout the world, the coffee industry has the potential to significantly impact our environment. Indeed, in the last several decades, the effects of the coffee industry have been substantial.

Pollution and deforestation have been problems, and recent evidence suggests that deforestation of tropical regions — the primary coffee growing centers — causes more climate change than all of our automobiles combined. This realization is leading to dramatic changes in the way coffee is grown.

A Move to Sustainable Coffee Growing Practices

Not long ago, the demand for coffee was so great that it fueled a frenzy of non-sustainable coffee production. Instead of growing coffee under the forest canopy as it was traditionally grown, coffee plantations began to clear-cut the forests to make way for full sun coffee plantations. Although these full sun plantations required large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, they could produce more coffee than shade grown operations.

Unfortunately, these plantations, which are still the most common type of plantation, led to chemical pollution of delicate ecosystems and the destruction of habitat for countless species. Worse still, the coffee they produced was tainted with residual chemicals, the work conditions were often unethical, and the contribution to global warming unthinkable.

Environmentally conscious farmers began to move toward the proven shade grown coffee plantations, which integrated coffee plants into forests. Clear cut land was reforested to create shade grown operations, and organic, chemical-free coffees became more common. Although these farmers are still in the minority, they are leading the coffee industry in a positive direction.

Carbon Offsets and Coffee Production

The growing climate crisis has made the practice of deforestation in the name of profit an unthinkable thing to do. Yet, without proper incentive, coffee plantations are slow to move to more sustainable systems. Fortunately, carbon offsets provide a much needed motivation.

Organizations like Conservation International have been working with farmers over the last decade to encourage environmentally conscious practices though the sale of carbon offsets. By giving farmers a potential monetary incentive to cultivate forests alongside coffee farms, farmers can still make a profit while helping to combat our climate crisis.

Over the last several years, even Starbucks has joined the cause and begun to promote forest conservation. It is now possible to purchase coffee from major retailers that contributes to reforestation instead of deforestation. This is good news for consumers and for the environment. As consumers, we can help fight deforestation by purchasing sustainable coffees, which encourages shade grown coffee plantations.

For more information on Starbucks conservation program check this link out.

Benefits of Buying Fair Trade Coffee

CC Flickr photo courtesy of nagillum. La Pita coffee plantation in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Ever wonder about fair trade coffee and why it might matter?

Second only to crude oil, coffee is the most traded commodity on earth. Like other booming industries of trade, the potential for abuse is great, and over the years, we have seen a number of unfortunate side effects of the coffee trade. These include a number of environmental effects, human rights violations, risks to consumers, and negative impacts to communities around the world. But we can make a difference by buying fair trade coffee.

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair trade certification promotes healthy work conditions by giving growers an economic incentive for using good practices. For certifications, coffee growers must join a coop, which determines the minimum amount paid to growers and how any excess profits will be spent. These premiums often go back to growers or are spent on education or community development to improve conditions in coffee growing countries.

Fair Trade Benefits Human Rights

When you buy fair trade coffee, you know that you aren’t contributing to human rights violations. Many coffee plantations, which are not fair trade, provide work conditions that aren’t healthy or fair for works. Child labor has been a common problem with coffee plantations. But fair trade agreements allow workers to be paid wages that are appropriate while ensuring that work conditions are reasonable.

Environmental Impact of Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade agreements foster informed growing practices, which lead to more responsible coffee plantations. Often fair trade coffee is grown on full shade plantations, which have a positive impact on the environment, especially compared to the more common full sun plantations, which lead to deforestation. And deforestation of our tropical regions is a major factor in global warming.

Fair trade coffee is often organic, which reduces environmental issues with the potential misuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This theoretically can result in a healthier coffee for consumers, because it hasn’t been sprayed with anything.

Coffee that is grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, has a more positive effect on the surrounding community and on the plantations workers. (And on the pests and weeds too, ha ha.)  In countries where pesticide and fertilizer usage is hardly regulated, heavy chemical use can potentially lead to chemical poisoning of workers and potential negative health consequences of those living in the surrounding area.

Fair Trade Coffee: More Expensive?

If you pay attention to prices when you shop, then you’ve probably noticed that fair trade coffee seems to cost a little more than “regular” coffee. But the fact is, regular coffee comes with hidden costs to farmers and to whole communities around the world.

What’s your favorite fair trade coffee? Leave a comment!

Organic Coffee Facts

CC Flickr photo courtesy of blindedbythebite.

Why drink organic coffee? Consider these facts.
If you’re like most people, then coffee probably plays a prominent role in your life.  Indeed, we collectively consume 2.5 billion cups of coffee each day!  But not all that coffee is good for us or for the environment.
Non organic coffee is grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and its production can wreck havoc on sensitive ecosystems when grown incorrectly.  Although organic coffee is now an alternative available to consumers, most people still don’t drink it.  Here are a few facts on coffee production and how it impacts our environment:
  • Coffee evolved under the rainforest canopy.  Although coffee started out as a shade-loving shrub, the high demand for coffee led to full-sun plantations, which required large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Full-sun coffee plantations lead to deforestation.  37 of the 50 countries with the highest rates of deforestation are coffee producers.  The top 25 coffee exporters lost an average of 27 thousand square miles of forest annually during the end of the twentieth century.
  • Non-organic coffee often leads to habitat loss.   Coffee grown under full sun does not supply adequate habitat for native species.  Indeed, full sun coffee plantations provide habitat  for 90% fewer species than do shade-grown coffee plantations.
  • Organic shade grown coffee combats global warming.  Shade grown coffee plantations include a diverse array of tree species that provide a shade-giving canopy over coffee plants.  These coffee plantations add oxygen to the environment while removing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
  • A study conducted in the late eighties found that coffee plantations in Central America polluted more than 29 million gallons of water daily.  This is the equivalent of a city with 4 million citizens dumping their sewage into the local rivers day after day.  Today’s eco-friendly organic farms use less water and make an effort to dispose of it properly.
  • Despite the effects of non-organic coffee production, the vast majority of coffee is non-organic.  Indeed, in 2006 not even one percent of the total coffee consumed was organic.
  • In Colombia, a coffee supplier which has mostly full sun coffee plantations, more than 440,000 tons of chemical fertilizers are applied to coffee crops.
  • Consumers who buy organic do make a difference.  Although few plantations are organic, shade grown, or fair trade, the higher market value of these coffees  encourages more farmers to revert to environmentally friendly farming.  Even Starbucks has begun to support forest conservation.
The next time you grab a cup of coffee, consider whether it is organic or not.  The  environmental impact of improperly cultivated coffee is simply too great to ignore.  It is likely that most people don’t buy organic coffee because they don’t realize the impact of non-organic coffee.  By educating ourselves we can begin to shift coffee production toward a more positive direction.
For more information on organic coffee and the environmental impact of coffee cultivation, check out these resources:

Organic Trade Association

Best Gas Mileage 2011 Diesel Pickups and SUVs

Looking for a list of the most fuel efficient diesel pickup and SUV models in the US market that get the best gas mileage? You’ve come to the right place.

Americans love their SUVs.

They’re tall, so mom has a commanding view of the road, and they’re big enough to haul a team of soccer players, complete with their gear. (If you’re single, they’re big enough for your dogs/mountain bikes/entire Star Wars collection). Plus, some of them can even go off road (handy if the soccer field gets wet).

Pickup trucks are equally popular with Americans, but usually for more practical reasons. They can go from the jobsite to the football field and still look good. You can go through all sorts of terrain, while carrying massive amounts of…whatever. In fact, those Super-Duper Duty ones can even tow trains and jumbo jets.

But the one thing that neither of these kinds of vehicles are good at is getting good fuel mileage – just look at some scary MPG stats from dedicated truck owners. Until now, that is.

More and more consumers are demanding an alternative to expensive, gas burning engines, which is one reason that hybrids have become so popular. However, some schools of thought suggest that mining for the raw materials used in a hybrid battery can cause even more environmental damage than the emissions from a diesel.

With an eye on US environmental regulations, many European car makers are designing diesel engines that will comply with our strict emission rules.

American automakers are getting on the diesel bandwagon too, by offering more powerful and efficient diesel engines in their most popular trucks.

But sadly, there isn’t much of a selection yet.

For diesel powered SUVs, there’s the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI, the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35d, the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI and the Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC.

Although these are expensive, they are luxury SUVs. Don’t forget, “what you see on today’s luxury car, will be standard on tomorrow’s base model”. So, think of these as a sign of things to come.

2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Sport

Base price: $47,950

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 225-hp – 406 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 19/28

Fuel Tank Capacity: 26.4 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 7.66 (tons)

Highlights: Standard navigation, leather, xeon headlights, rear-view camera, Bluetooth/iPod, 18-inch wheels.

2011 Mercedes Benz ML350 BlueTEC

Base price: $50,490

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 210-hp – 400 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 18/25

Fuel Tank Capacity: 25.1 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 8.02 (tons)

Highlights: The Mercedes doesn’t offer much in the way of standard equipment. So, if you want one that has leather and navigation, you’re going to have to order the Leather Package for $1,780, & the Premium 1 package for $4,000. Otherwise, you’re going to get vinyl seats and a steering wheel…for Fifty-Grand.

2011 Audi Q7 TDI Premium

Base price: $51,450

Engine: 3.0 liter V6 TDI – 225-hp – 406 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 17/25

Fuel Tank Capacity: 26.4 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 8.42 (tons)

Highlights: Standard leather, LED tail lights, parking sensors, heated seats, power tailgate, Bluetooth/iPod, 19-inch wheels & 7-passenger seating.

2011 BMW X5 xDrive35d

Base price: $51,800

Engine: 3.0 liter inline-6 TDI – 265-hp – 425 lb-ft torque – AWD

Fuel Economy: 19/26

Fuel Tank Capacity: 22.5 gallons

Greenhouse Gasses Emitted per Year: 7.66 (tons)

Highlights: Standard navigation, leather, rear-seat TV system, satellite radio, head-up display, parking sensors.

 

Diesel trucks

Diesel powered pickups are limited to the Ford SuperDuty, the Chevrolet HD, and the Dodge 2500/3500. However, these are ¾ ton – 1 ton trucks.

None of the popular ½ ton models are available with a diesel engine. And, none of the ¾ ton (and up) trucks are required to have their fuel mileage certified by the EPA.

This is because they’re considered to be commercial vehicles. Plus, there’s a mind-boggling array of mechanical options (like axle ratios, transmissions, etc.) which can effect the fuel mileage.

Since there are no official MPG numbers for these trucks, the fuel mileages listed below are based on owner accounts, and can vary based on the model, and chosen equipment.

The base prices listed are for a ¾ ton, regular cab, 2WD with an automatic transmission, diesel engine, and standard equipment. Once you start adding on the options, these diesel pickups can eclipse $40,000 real quick.

2011 Ram 2500/3500

Base price: $27,450

Engine: 6.7 liter inline-6 TDI – 350-hp – 650 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 13-15 mpg (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 34 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: The Cummins diesel in these Ram trucks uses special chambers to collect polluting gasses, then the system heats up, burning off the pollutants. Here, some tips for drivers tailored to the Dodge owner.

2011 Ford F250 / F350 / F450 / F550 SuperDuty

Base price: $36,340

Engine: 6.7 liter V8 TDI – 400-hp – 800 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 15/22 (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 37.5 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: Ford’s Power Stroke diesel uses an injector to spray urea into the exhaust. The heat from the exhaust turns the urea to ammonia, which then turns the NOx gasses into nitrogen gas, and water inside of a specially designed catalytic convertor. Drivers are already reporting first-hand on higher MPG here and here.

 

2011 Chevrolet 2500HD / 3500HD

Base price: $37,355

Engine: 6.6 liter V8 TDI – 397-hp – 765 lb-ft torque – RWD

Fuel Economy: 13/19 (est)

Fuel Tank Capacity: 36 gallons

NOx Gas Emitted per Mile: 0.2 grams

Highlights: Chevrolet’s Duramax diesel uses a similar urea injection system as Ford’s Power Stroke diesel.

But regardless of how you look at the high initial cost, you still wind up with a vehicle that gets good fuel mileage for its class, and that’s a real boon with predicted gas hikes what they are. Plus, the long-term reliability of diesel engines is better established and proven than the more complicated hybrid.

Teddy Field got his start in the auto industry at the age of 17. He is a recognized car dealer sales & management consultant, an automotive journalist, and a regular contributor to http://www.bestcardealsnewyork.com.

Types of Organic Coffee, An Overview

CC Flickr photo courtesy of grimmnitz.

If you’re worried about pesticides, there are plenty of organic options for the foods we eat. Organic coffee is no exception.  Organic coffee is grown in a healthy manner that is beneficial to consumers and to our precious ecosystem.  Keep reading to learn about the various coffee certifications and what each one means.

Organic Coffee

Organic coffee is coffee that is grown according to modern organic farming standards.  In order to gain organic certification, farmers must ensure that the land they are using has been free of synthetic pesticides and other prohibited chemicals for at least three years.  This ensures that their organic crops will not contain potentially harmful chemicals from past crops, which may have used pesticides.

In addition to being chemical free, growers must have a plan in place for crop rotation.  Crop rotation provides a way to keep the soil from degrading.  It is also a sufficient means for combating pests without the use of synthetic pesticides.