miércoles, 25 de abril de 2012

Which are the most fuel-efficient hybrid and/or all-electric cars available to consumers today

Dear EarthTalk: Which are the most fuel-efficient hybrid and/or all-electric cars available to consumers today (just the affordable ones, please!)?  - Jack Madison, Chicago, IL

Credit: Mitsubishi, Toyota, General Motors

Given increased environmental awareness, high gas prices and a continually slumping economy, it’s no wonder that more fuel efficient cars are all the rage these days. The best deal going may be Honda’s hybrid, the 42 miles-per-gallon (MPG) Insight ($18,350). Meanwhile, the newest version of Toyota’s flagship hybrid, the Prius ($23,015), garners an impressive 50 MPG. Other solid choices include Toyota’s 41-MPG Camry hybrid ($25,900), Ford’s 39-MPG Fusion hybrid ($28,700), Lexus’ 42-MPG CT 200h ($29,120) and Lincoln’s 39-MPG MKZ Hybrid ($34,755).

For even greater efficiency and lower sticker prices, consider going electric, whereby you can charge your vehicle at ordinary electric outlets at home or work. Mitsubishi’s new MiEV ($29,125) electric is the most fuel efficient car available to U.S. consumers in the 2012 model year, achieving 112 “MPG-equivalent” (the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s rating for electric vehicles that swaps in electricity for gas in its calculations) and a 62 mile range per full charge—not bad considering four adults can fit fairly comfortably inside. Another option is Smart’s FourTwo Electric ($28,752), a two-seater with an 87 MPG-equivalent. And Nissan’s all-electric Leaf ($35,200) achieves 99 MPG efficiency for a range up to 100 miles. 

So-called “plug-in” hybrids also allow drivers to charge their vehicles’ electric batteries via common power outlets, but also can use gasoline as needed for a longer range. Though pricey at $39,145, the Chevy Volt may save you money in the long run because it gets a whopping 94 MPG-equivalent in its preferred all-electric mode. An onboard gas generator produces more electricity as the vehicle is driven, extending the car’s range with a full tank of gas to some 375 miles. Toyota released a plug-in version of its Prius ($32,760) this year, as well. It gets 87 MPG in electric mode (but this will only get you 15 miles without gas assistance) and a respectable 49 MPG in regular hybrid mode.

Another factor to consider when deciding which of these new uber-efficient vehicles may be right for you is the availability of additional incentives. Buyers of a new Volt, MiEV, FourTwo Electric or Leaf, for example, can cash in on a federal tax credit of $7,500—and some states may offer additional incentives—bringing the overall cost of these cars down to within the range of similarly sized traditional car models. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) posts all of the relevant federal tax incentives online at its Fuel Efficient Vehicle Tax Information Center website. For state-by-state incentives, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), a free online resources maintained by the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

Of course, consumers don’t have to go hybrid or electric to enjoy improved fuel efficiency these days. Scion’s iQ ($15,265) and Honda’s CR-Z ($19,545) each get 37 MPG out of sporty little gas-powered internal combustion engines. Kia, Toyota, Chevrolet, Hyundia and Nissan also make smaller traditional cars that get a respectable 33-34 MPG for sticker prices under $15,000.

CONTACTS: DOE’s Fuel Efficient Vehicle Tax Information Center, www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxcenter.shtml; DSIRE, www.dsireusa.org;Edmunds’ “Decoding Electric Car MPG,” www.edmunds.com/fuel-economy/decoding-electric-car-mpg.html.

Are all the commercial messages kids are bombarded with today having any noticeable negative effects?

Dear EarthTalk: Are all the commercial messages kids are bombarded with today having any noticeable negative effects? And if so what can a concerned parent like me do to limit my own kids’exposure to so much advertising and marketing? - Jason Baldino, Somerset, NJ

No doubt, marketers are hard at work targeting our children with their messages and creating young demand for their products. Companies in the U.S. today spend some $17 billion yearly advertising to children, a 150-fold increase from just a few decades ago. Some cash-strapped school districts have even started selling ads on and sometimes in their school buses as a way to bolster sagging education budgets. To be an American kid today is to be bombarded with marketing messages and sales pitches. It’s no wonder that, given the amount of advertising and marketing they endure, young people in our society are experiencing record levels of obesity and problems with credit card debt.


According to the non-profit Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), a leading proponent for more ecologically sustainable and community-oriented lifestyles in the United States, this incessant marketing is turning our children “into little consumers, alienating them from nature, getting them used to unhealthy diets filled with junk foods, and making them want ever more stuff.” The group points to several disturbing studies, such as one that showed how U.S. children could recognize more Pokemon characters than common wildlife species, while another found that the average American kid is exposed to more than 25,000 television ads spanning some 10,700 minutes over the course of just one year.


The result of all this aggressive marketing to kids is not just excessive materialism and obesity, but also a host of other problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, increased violence, and family stress. “Economically, societally and ecologically,” CNAD reports, “this is unsustainable and not the best path for children.”


Against this backdrop of media and marketing saturation, what can be done to help steer our kids in a more healthy direction? Given that shielding American kids from these messages would be nearly impossible, the next best thing is teaching them how to parse through the different come-ons and solicitations they are exposed to these days at nearly every turn. CNAD’s free, downloadable 32-page booklet “Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture” offers loads of useful information on how to limit kids’ exposure to commercial influences that come via the television, computer or mail slot, and replacing those lost hours with new opportunities for more beneficial activities. Examples abound: playing board or card games, going on a walk or hike, riding bikes, and much more. The booklet also elaborates on how to limit or rid commercial influences in schools and other places where kids spend time away from home.


Another great resource for parents and teachers looking to reduce commercial influences on kids is the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a coalition of more than two dozen other groups started by consumer advocate and author Susan Linn. The coalition advocates for the adoption of government policies that limit corporate marketers’ access to kids and works to mobilize parents, educators and health care providers to stop the commercial exploitation of children. Teachers love the coalition’s free downloadable Guide to Commercial-Free Book Fairs while concerned parents can download the Guide to Commercial-Free Holidays in order to help themselves and their kids resist the hype.


CONTACTS: Center for a New American Dream, www.newdream.orgCampaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood,www.commercialfreechildhood.org

American farmers aging - Are younger people joining this profession?

Dear EarthTalk: American farmers are an aging population. Is anyone doing anything to make sure younger people are taking up this profession in large enough numbers to keep at least some of our food production domestic?   - Beverly Smith, Milwaukee, WI

Credit: iStockPhoto

Indeed American farmers as a whole are an aging group today as young people gravitate more towards virtual realities than tilling in the soil. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) reports that the total number of American farmers has declined from over six million in 1910 to just over two million today, and that for each farmer under the age of 35 there are now six over 65. With the average age of U.S. farmers now at 57, one quarter (500,000) of all American farmers will retire over the next two decades. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers nationwide, but convincing young people to take up farming remains a hard sell.

NYFC would like to see action at the local, state and federal levels to help beginning farmers. “At the local level, communities can create market opportunities for farmers by starting Community Supported Agriculture groups and shopping at farmers markets, as well as protecting existing farmland through zoning and the purchase of development rights.” States can be helpful, the group adds, by offering incentives to preserve farmland and giving tax credits for farmers who sell their land to new practitioners.

But real change has to come from the top down. NYFC and others are pinning their hopes on the inclusion of the “Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act” in Congress’ next Farm Bill. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to invest in the next generation of American agricultural and livestock producers by enabling access to land, credit and crop insurance to help new farmers and ranchers launch or strengthen their businesses and become better stewards of their land.

“The future of family farming and ranching in America—and the viability of our nation’s food supply—depends upon removing existing obstacles to entry into farming so that more people can start to farm,” says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, another backer of the proposed legislation. “This bill encompasses a national strategy for addressing those barriers, focusing on the issues that consistently rank as the greatest challenges for beginning producers.” Backers of the bill warn that, at a cost of just a fraction of one percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) budget, the nation can’t afford not to pass the bill given its potential long term benefits to both our food supply and trade deficit.

The good news is that interest in healthier, greener food is driving a resurgence in organic agriculture. As such, many of the new farmers cropping up to replace their retired forebears are eschewing genetically modified crops and harsh chemicals, thus improving the quality of our agricultural land base overall.

Tierney Creech of the Washington Young Farmers’ Coalition (WYFC) calls this influx of green enthusiasm an agrarian revival. “We’re not just a few people spread across the country, we’re a well organized, politically active group that can be documented,” she says. “We know who our senators and representatives are, we vote, and our friends and families vote.  We need USDA and government support to succeed and we’re going to let the nation know that.”

CONTACTS: NYFC, www.youngfarmers.org; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, www.sustainableagriculture.net; WYFC,www.washingtonyoungfarmers.org; Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act, thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.3236: