At the beginning of every year, the car shows in Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles premiere their brand new models.  The shiny sportscar used to be the highlight, followed by the family sized comfort SUVS, but these days a new kid on the block is getting all the attention.  The greenest cars on the market are what everyone is talking about come the new year. 

Since the advent of the hybrid, more and more companies are offering their versions as well as electric, biodiesel, and natural gas  cars. This year was no different. The big news was that VW announced they will be making an electric Beetle! This is exciting news for VW lovers, as the Beetle is a very popular model. Unfortunately, the introduction was just a concept and they won’t be out until 2013 or later.

But the good news is there are some exciting cars on the market! For instance, Ford is producing a Focus completely electric. Also, making an appearance was a natural gas powered Honda Civic, a newly improved Toyota Prius, a plug in electric Mitsubishi, and a diesel (which can run on bio diesel) VW Passat . The later which one the 2012 Motor Trend of the Year Award.

All five of these models make up the Top 5 Finalists for Greenest Car of the Year. The 2011 reward went to none other than the Chevy Volt. All these new technologies and greener cars is very encouraging, however it is important to remember they are not a perfect solution to the energy crisis. They are one step closer to cleaner travel. Either way, we are excited that there are greener options out there, than just plain old gasoline car. It is also great to see  more and more manufacturers produce green models.

Now, which one drives better? And which one is truly greener? That we will have to save for another post, perhaps when we have the chance to test drive a few models!

 

Different cultures around the world have celebrated the start of a new year at different times. The current Gregorian calendar, which we follow here in the States, marks the New Year in January to honor the Roman god Janus. Janus is the god of gates or doorways, always facing forward and backward. The symbolic nature of looking forward as you look back is never more relevant than the start of the new year. Thus, many cultures today, including our own, reflect in the month of January as they simultaneously start a new year.

With that idea in mind, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on the triumphs and setbacks for the environment during 2010. Last year was filled with great strides and environmental disasters. As we look over what was accomplished or hindered during the last year, it is important to see where these events may take us in the next year and decade.

Worst Environmental Losses of 2010:

Gulf Oil Spill: Obviously the biggest and worst environmental story of the year was the Gulf Oil Spill, which not only claimed the lives of workers, countless flora and fauna, but lasted for several months. The spill came on the tails of President Obama announcing a move to increase offshore drilling. The devastating spill, whose true effects will only be measured in the coming years, temporarily halted further offshore drilling. However, an entire region and eco-system was ravaged by this irresponsibility. Hopefully, this disaster as well as the spill in Michigan will encourage our leaders to re-think offshore drilling and invest their efforts in more renewable sources.

Hottest Year on Record: 2010 was certainly a scorcher! It wasn’t just in your mind that the summer felt hot. In fact, 2010 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures at an all time high.  Not only was it hot, but intense storms in places such as DC and London had everyone feeling the weather was, for lack of a better term, whacked out. Seventeen countries total reported record high heats and rising temperatures in the oceans led to irreversible coral bleaching. To make matters worse, 2010 also set a record as the year with the highest CO2 levels ever. This is scary stuff.

The Climate Bill is Killed: Congress failed to pass the Climate Bill, which would have regulated pollution as well as offshore drilling. The bill failed to pass during the summer on the heels of the oil spill. With the midterm elections giving the Republicans power in the House, it seems unlikely the bill will see the light in the coming year. However, we can hope that the effects of the weather and last year’s oil spill will make them spring into action.

 

Best Environmental Wins of 2010:

First US Offshore Wind Farm: 2010 wasn’t all bad weather and devastation. In April of last year, the very first offshore wind farm in the US gained approval. Cape Wind, which is proposed to be built off of Cape Code in Massachusetts, battled with opponents for years, including the all powerful Kennedys. However, the state received approval and federal funding to begin the project. New renewable energy is on the horizon, quite literally.

Child Nutrition Act Passed: It had been thirty long years (that’s right: thirty), since any upgrade had been made to school nutrition! With the urgings of Michelle Obama, those thirty years came to an end and the Child Nutrition Act was passed late last year. The act makes it more difficult for students to purchase junk food on public school campuses, regulates nutrition of food, including healthier lunches, increases school food purchasing from local farms, and provides more free school lunches for the disadvantaged. With childhood obesity numbers soaring, it is out with the soda and in with the carrots!

 

First Mass Marketed Electric Car: After decades of setbacks and hybrids stealing the scene it was encouraging to finally see a true electric car on the market! Nissan finally released their much anticipated Leaf, their 100% electric car.  Technically this is the first mainstream-oriented electric vehicle in history (not counting the prematurely discontinued GM EV1) , even though it still costs over $25,000 to have one. The introduction of this vehicle is very hopeful for the advent of more electric cars as well as other green technologies.

This summer a wave of electricity has been generating regarding the future of personal transportation. What new and exciting developments have come to light, might you ask? Well, Earlier this summer the state of Washington announced a plan which lays the groundwork for the nations first electric highway. Stretching from Vancouver, BC through the length of Washington to Portland OR. Drivers of Electric Vehicles will have the ability to drive nearly the nearly 300 miles without worries of the juice running out. Not only does this set up the makings for some epic northwest road trips, but the nearly 2,000 charging stations planned for Seattle alone will make the Emerald city’s eco-conscious commuter able to breath a sigh of fresh air. This is all part of of the Nations EV project targeting other places such as Washington D.C., Tennessee, Arizona and linking up with projects in Oregon and California to create a 1350 mile electric friendly thoroughfare from Canada to the Mexican border!

With such massive investment in electric vehicle infrastructure it is fair to ask some questions about electric vehicles. Ever since the mid 1800′s people have been intrigued with the possibility of electric powered vehicles. Many people hoped for the potential of GM’s early trials with the EV1. But for many reasons political, and practical those hopes fizzled away until recently. There has been a frenzy of engineers as of late with major auto companies such as Nissan, Ford, GM and smaller companies like Tesla motors pouring their minds in to making reliable, efficient and high performing automobiles. The main area which is improving is battery technology. Current ranges are around 200 miles, but VW’s engineers are projecting a range of 500 miles on one charge within the next 10 years. This development and the fact that Tesla has been exhibiting race level performance out of its Roadster models clearly points to the potential of Total Electric Vehicle Domination within the very near future.

So what does this mean? And is there any downside to the seemingly perfect world of ZERO Emission Vehicles? How could there be? Well one must point out that in today’s energy realities, Zero Emission Vehicles are not exactly Zero Emission. Electric Vehicles must be charged and powered by electricity. Depending where you are, a lot of that electricity might come from “dirty” or otherwise marginally environmentally friendly sources. The Northwest, where this project is to be implemented gets most of their energy from hydroelectric plants such as the massive works on the Columbia river which have definite impacts on native wildlife habitats and indigenous populations. Many other states have varying sources of electricity ranging from natural gas to nuclear to the oft despised dirty coal industry. With the national electric power grid such as it is, one is never quite sure where ones power is actually being produced.

So, the benefits of zero exhaust from your tail pipe in Tacoma might mean Montana is belching out more dirty air and mercury in to the atmosphere. One good way around this would be the more widespread use of smaller local solar and wind energy projects tied in with this Electric vehicle grid. By outfitting parking garages and private residences with solar panels and cities capturing available wind power, we can actually make these cars as close to emission free as possible. Imagine, recharging your Telsa sports car from solar energy captured from your own rooftop!
Another factor not to be overlooked is the impact the increased demand for high grade precious metals will have on the planet. Previous AP blogs have highlighted the impact on the people and environments of third world mineral rich nations. The battery technology used in these vehicles is based on and uses the same elements as laptop batteries and it will be unavoidable that more demand on these elements will create more exploitation. The recent reports on the mineral deposits of Afghanistan are another example of the real sociopolitical impacts of technology on the  world. While there is massive potential of this new technology for unimagined good, we must still be vigilant of the hidden costs within.

By keeping pressure on more socially and environmentally responsible mining and resource extraction, by promoting energy independence, by insisting on cleaner coal technology, we will be able to jump start our flux capacitors back to the future.

-Micah Nisito

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