Tesla Model S Named Top-Scoring Car By Consumer Reports

The Tesla fleet of electric cars has hit some bumps along the way toward becoming a mainstream option for drivers. Although no one seriously doubts that the company makes excellent automobiles, there have certainly been questions about the viability of an electric car for certain kinds of commuters. Can they be charged quickly enough to use on long trips? Are they affordable? Will they ever achieve mainstream popularity?

While the answers to these questions will continue to be debated, Consumer Reports has left little doubt that Tesla has produced a fantastic car. They named the Model S, the company's flagship sedan, the top-scoring automobile of all time and one of the best that they've ever tested. They praised the vehicle's handling, the design of the dashboard control system and the increased driving range of 200 miles before needing to recharge, which is considerably better than other competing electric cars such as the Nissan Volt and Ford Focus Electric.

The one reservation Consumer Reports had about the Model S was its practicality for longer trips, given that the battery takes 12 hours to reach a full charge. Tesla has built out a fairly large charging infrastructure throughout California, but it still remains that in certain parts of the country, an electric vehicle may not be a viable option until electric vehicle charging stations become more ubiquitous.

The Model S starts at $59,900. Consumer Reports tested an $89,650 model with a larger battery that increases the range of the vehicle to 200 miles on a full battery. While this may be out of the price range of many drivers, it was only a few years ago that plug-in electric vehicles weren't even available on the consumer market, so it's only a matter of time before someone makes a more affordable model built on the technology pioneered by Tesla.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more developments in the environmentally friendly products sector.

May is National Bike Month

Most environmentalists recognize that a significant amount of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. Although electricity production accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gases, contributing 33 percent in 2011, cars, trains and other modes of traveling accounted for 28 percent.

What is remarkable is how easily we could reduce that number simply by relying more on bicycle travel. Half of all Americans live within 5 miles of their job, which is a reasonable distance for a bike ride. Yet 77 percent of workers commute by driving a car alone, and another 10 percent carpool. This means that only about 13 percent of people get to work using a more environmentally friendly approach such as riding a bike, taking public transportation, or walking.

In an effort to promote ridership, the League of American Bicyclists has declared May as National Bike Month, and the week of May 13-17 is National Bike To Work Week. The goal is to get people off the freeway and onto the bike lane, and prove how easy and convenient this method of commuting can be.

If more people use a bike to travel, the impact on climate change could be substantial. Bicycling emits no greenhouse gases, and provides a great form of exercise, which would have a positive effect on public health as obesity rates would decline, reducing people's risk of problems like heart disease and diabetes.

If you're one of those Americans who live within 5 miles of work and you own a bike, consider riding it to work next week. You'll be doing your part to reduce pollution, and you'll experience the healthy benefits of a green lifestyle as well.

Wildfires In California On The Rise

There are many consequences of man-made climate change, including rising ocean levels and severe weather catastrophes. Another major concern for residents of heavily forested areas is the increased chance of wildfires, which thrive on dried vegetation and threaten lives and property. California is no stranger to this issue given its classically dry climate.

CNN reports that over the past several days, firefighters in the coastal areas just north of Los Angeles, in the Santa Monica Mountains, have been battling a blaze that has burned 28,000 acres and damaged 15 homes, while threatening another 4,000. Fortunately, dry weather gave way to rain which aided the firefighting efforts, but the fact remains that these catastrophes are becoming alarmingly common in the mountainous areas surrounding the Los Angeles basin.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, there have been nearly 850 fires in California since January, a significant increase over the average number of 522 that typically take place through the first four months of the year. 

One of the culprits for the uptick in wildfires is quicker melting of the winter snow pack, which now takes place one to four weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Once the snow melts, forests become much drier and more combustible, making occurrences like lightning strikes and errant camping fires much more likely to set large areas ablaze.

In addition to the immediate danger of damage from fire, these incidents create significant amounts of smoke, creating a health hazard for anyone living nearby, particularly those with asthma.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to report on this situation and other issues related to green living.

Solar Electric Scooter Produces Zero Emissions, Gets You Where You Need To Go

Almost everyone has encountered motorized scooters and bicycles when walking through a city. They're a fairly convenient mode of transportation for someone who wants a quicker commute, but doesn't want to worry about parking. These vehicles have their drawbacks though. They're typically noisy, and they have to be fueled with the same gasoline that goes in cars, which produces pollution, albeit in smaller amounts than an automobile.

However, Solar Electric Scooters, Inc. (SES) has produced a solar-powered scooter, which runs off a photovoltaic panel and a lithium ion battery. The scooter produces zero emissions when running off energy from the sun, and when the weather is cloudy, it can be plugged into a wall outlet. If there isn't an electrical socket nearby, the battery detaches and can be carried anywhere.

On a full charge, the scooter has a range of 20 miles and can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds.

SES is trying to raise money to bring their scooter to the mass market through a crowd-funding campaign on When You Wish. The list price of the vehicle is a little high – purchasing one will set you back $2,100 –  but it's easy to imagine making that money back by saving on gasoline and transportation costs.

The company will give scooters from the first production line to anyone who donates $1,500, which amounts to a pretty steep discount considering the sticker price.

It will be interesting to see if SES is successful in bringing their product to more customers. Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more news about environmentally friendly products.

A Quick Guide To Composting

As spring approaches, many homeowners and apartment dwellers will be putting on their gloves, pulling out their spade and watering can, digging up weeds and old roots and replacing them with their favorite variety of tomato or squash plant.

You've probably heard of composting before, either in grade school or maybe at a party attended by your neighborhood hippy. But you may not realize that this gardening technique is very conducive to a green lifestyle, not just because it helps you grow healthy fruits and vegetables, but because it allows you to recycle a lot of your food waste and scraps which would otherwise go to a landfill.

Composting adds nutrients to soil, allows it to retain water more efficiently, and introduces organisms, including worms and bacteria, that aerate the dirt and bring more oxygen. It improves the texture and makes harder clay usable for gardening. It's also a much healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative to chemical fertilizers.

There are two types of composting: active and passive. Active (also referred to as "hot") composting takes place in a warmer environment, and the compost mixture usually stays above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Active compost will decompose faster, and doesn't smell, but requires aeration and more maintenance. Passive, or cold, composting is exactly what it sounds like, in that the compost is essentially a large pile of food scraps that sits and decomposes by itself. The process takes longer, and tends to stink, but doesn't require any extra effort.

The goal of composting is to produce two elements, carbon and nitrogen, that are essential for plant health. Ideally, your compost will result in a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30:1. There are lists online that will tell you which items of food waste produce more carbon or more nitrogen.

For more tips on green living, check back with LifeIsGreen.com regularly.

Solar-Powered, Zero-Emissions Airplane Begins Cross-Country Journey

Automobile manufacturers aren't the only members of the transportation industry who are trying to develop more environmentally friendly products. One of the biggest stories in aviation of the past few years has been the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was constructed out of composite materials to make it lighter, and consequently more fuel-efficient. Another development in the industry has been the integration of solar power into aircraft technology, which has the massive benefit of producing zero emissions but the drawback of requiring a great deal of surface area to collect sunlight.

While it's still probably many years away from being adopted into the production of passenger and cargo jets, we should celebrate the announcement that a solar-powered airplane, The Solar Impulse, is making its way across the country. Two Swiss aviation experts, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, who helped design the vehicle, will be taking turns flying it from coast to coast.

The trip is broken into four legs, with the first being from San Francisco to Phoenix. That flight was successfully completed on Friday, May 3. The Solar Impulse will now make its way from Phoenix to Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. over the course of about a month.

The aircraft weighs a total of 1.75 tons, with the batteries accounting for about 880 lbs. – or about a quarter of that amount. They allow the aircraft to fly at night. It features 12,000 solar cells which cover the wings and tail stabilizer.

This is not, however, the first flight of a solar plane. That took place in 2010, followed by the first international solar flight in 2011.

It remains to be seen whether this is a viable technology, but it does show that solar cells have come a long way in terms of efficiency and cost if they can be used to power such a heavy object through the air. LifeIsGreen.com will keep you posted on further developments in renewable energy technology.

Colony Collapse Disorder May Be Caused By A Number Of Factors, Says Study

One of the most troubling ecological disasters in recent years has been the staggering decline in the population of honey bees and bee colonies. Bee hives are a critical part of the planet's ecosystem, as pollination is a central process to agricultural production. Put simply, we cannot grow a lot of plants without bees.

There has been widespread speculation on the cause of this destruction, which is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), with guesses ranging from excessive pesticide use to a lack of genetic diversity. But the New York Times reported today on a study, written by the National Honey Bee Health Stakeholder Conference (NHBHSC) Steering Committee and published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which concluded that the of the disorder probably has a number of explanations rather than just one.

The report stated that "despite a remarkably intensive level of research effort towards understanding causes of managed honeybee colony losses in the United States, overall losses continue to be high and pose a serious threat to meeting the pollination service demands for several commercial crops."

Some of the factors listed in the report that could be contributing to CCD are:

  • A parasitic mite referred to as Varroa destructor that "remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees".
  • Malnutrition
  • Pesticide use, which needs to be further researched to determine which chemicals in particular are contributing
  • Viral infections

Because there is no one pesticide that has been identified as a principle cause of CCD, agriculture officials and policy makers have stopped short of limiting use of any particular chemical, but that could change as more studies and research are carried out. LifeIsGreen.com will continue to report on this issue, which has important consequences for the environmentally conscious and anyone pursuing a green lifestyle.

New Study Says Fracking Could Have Significant Impact On Water Supplies In Western States

Most environmentalists are probably familiar with the oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic induced fracturing, or fracking, which uses highly pressurized water to remove oil and gas deposits from rocks deep beneath the earth's surface. The procedure involves creating fractures in the rocks, which releases the natural gas and crude oil trapped inside.

Proponents of fracking say the process unlocks the enormous energy-producing potential of U.S. oil and gas wells that had previously been inaccessible. On the other hand, critics have raised serious concerns about the effect fracking will have on water supplies, the environment and public health.

The New York Times reported recently that a new study published by Ceres, a nonprofit advocacy organization that encourages businesses and investors to focus on creating a sustainable global economy, says that fracking could present significant problems for water supplies in western states such as Texas and Colorado, where the process has been widely adopted.

Although the total amount of water used for fracking is relatively small, the study says the problem needs to be looked at geographically. Monika Freyman, the study's author, said in an interview with the source that, "you have to look at a county-by-county scale to capture the intense and short-term impact on water supplies." Freyman said that the process typically requires one million to five million gallons of water over a short period of time.

Water used for fracking can be recycled, but the process is expensive as the used water contains lots of chemicals, sand and even radioactive material that needs to be removed before it can either be reused for fracking or added back into the water supply.

Check back with LifeisGreen.com as we continue to report on the fracking controversy and bring you the latest news on oil, gas and renewable energy production.

George W. Bush Library Achieves LEED Platinum Status

Previously on this blog, we've looked at schools, power plants and even retail pharmacies that have been bestowed with the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award. This designation means that the architects and builders of a particular structure employed a range of eco-friendly practices and methods during the construction period. This week, yet another American building joined the list of prestigious sites through the nation, although this one is notable because it's the first presidential library to receive the Platinum certification, the USGBC's highest honor.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas on the Southern Methodist University campus, which was formally opened last week, includes a wide range of features that earned it the award. Providing it with electricity is an array of photovoltaic (PV) panels that deliver 9.5 percent of the building's power needs. Additionally, secondary cells help to heat up the library's water supply while a revitalized field of trees and flowers absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced by the building.

"As we approach the Bush Center's April 25 dedication, we are proud to be recognized for our emphasis on sustainable building design," Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, told The Dallas Morning News, a regional news source, in an interview.

The newspaper reported that a majority of the construction materials were brought in from supplies within 500 miles, making the actual building process green-friendly as well.

This development highlights the eco-conscious approach that today's architects are using when designing next-generation buildings. Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com blog for updates on the latest LEED certifications from around the United States. 

Solar-Powered Portable Electrical Outlet Sticks To Windows

As environmentally conscious consumers integrate more electronics into their daily lives, they face a challenge in trying to enjoy the benefits of these devices without increasing their energy consumption and contributing to global warming. One of the ways they can avoid this conundrum is by finding ways to derive some of the electricity their gadgets need from solar energy.

Yanko Design, an online visual arts magazine, has details on a new product available overseas that make virtually all electronics and appliances into solar-powered devices. The Window Socket, by designers Kyuho Song & Boa Oh, uses a suction cup to stick to a window, and features small photovoltaic cells that draw energy from the sun and convert it to electricity.

Users can then plug their phones, iPods and other electronics into the standard electrical outlet provided to run off of the Window Socket.

It also contains a small battery that can be charged when nothing is plugged in, so that you always have a supply of electricity when there are no outlets available.

The device isn't for sale in the United States yet, but it's easy to imagine this becoming a popular choice for just about any user, especially people who travel frequently and find themselves with dead batteries on airplane flights. A traveler armed with the Window Socket could attach it to their plane window and get more life out of their mobile devices.

LifeIsGreen.com will keep an eye out for the Window Socket to show up in U.S. markets. Check back with us often for more information and news about environmentally friendly products.