Cars News and Reviews Leaping Into the Year of the Horse- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday


Welcome to the January 2014 Natural Living Blog Carnival: Starting the New Year Off Green.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month, our members are reflecting on the successes they had from last year, and setting goals for themselves this year. Check out all of the posts to get ideas on how you can start your New Year off green!


A new year! And not just any year: the coming Chinese new year rings in the year of the Horse. And not just any horse: 2014 is the year of the Yang Wood Horse.

Yeah. I didn't know what that meant, either, until I read this article by Karen Abler Carrasco of the Western School of Feng Shui, which starts with the following words:

"There might not be a bigger shift of energies in the entire 60 year wheel of Chinese astrology than this one coming up – the shift from two Water years of deep introspection to the fast-paced spurt of extroverted forward propulsion that the Wood Horse brings. Hold on to your hats, folks, and realize that you won’t be able to, nor will you want to, slow your horses in the New Year ahead!"

I guess "deep introspection" is one way to name what has been basically a near-complete withdrawal into a cave. My own body getting into the Change was part of that. But mostly it was because I started seriously learning about the other change, the one that affects climate planet-wide.

And discovered why so many people just turn away from all that.

Learning about climate change is hard. Not that the science is hard: the mechanism of global warming is actually pretty straightforward. It's hard the way it's so hard to learn that someone you love is gravely ill. You read up on the illness. You try to keep abreast of the latest research. You look for remedies, both mainstream and alternative. And all the time you have to deal with the possibility that this person you love may be changed for life, or may die before his or her time. If you are a caregiver, you watch the illness progress. It's heart rending.

So that's what's been happening this past year for me. It's not that I've been a climate change denier before. But this year I have really started to read up on it, and the more I read the more the urgency of this planetary crisis becomes clear.

Downer, dude.

Because now it colours everything for me. I see the signs of global warming everywhere: in the wild weather, the news of droughts, floods and wildfires. The snow falling on daffodils pushing out of the ground in January. The rising food prices. The dearth of local apple cider last fall. I could go on and on.

I used to refer to this kind of perception shift rather flippantly as the "Sex, Drugs and Quantum Mechanics" effect, meaning once you've experienced these you'll never look at the world the same way again. Learning about quantum mechanics profoundly changed the way I looked at the world - and none of it is even visible in everyday life.

The same cannot be said of global warming: once you open your eyes to it, you almost can't get away from the evidence even in your daily life. By November I was, to be honest about it, a wreck. The fetal position is pretty athletic compared to where I really wanted to be.

But the fetal position is not exactly an option for a mom.

Besides, I can't stand by and do nothing while climate change is proceeding apace: how would I face my children? If they or their friends ever ask me what I've done to safeguard their future, I don't want to be caught going "Uh, errm...."

I need to get up and get going. Or, as Ida Auken, Denmark's environmental minister, would say: "Don't get scared, get ready."

For me, the watershed moment came when I read a piece by Sarah van Gelder, which points out that there is actually plenty of progress in our fight against climate change: but they tend to not get covered in the media. So we have a mistaken impression of unending gloom and doom which is not necessarily correct - it's certainly not helpful.

Inspired by the article, I started to collect pieces of good news about global warming. They come in all shapes and sizes, and stories come from all over the world.

I started reading stories about and by the people who made the changes happen. I found two things that many of them have in common. In the first place, climate change leaders aren't necessarily heroes because they are fearless. In fact, for many it is precisely being scared out of their pants that has spurred them to action. Rhian Salmon has put that in words in a marvelous (and very inspiring) way in a 13-minute talk called "Sailing, tsunami and climate change". You need to be scared enough to spring into action, but not too scared that you're paralysed. And to have a friend by your side.

Which gets me to the second point: none of these climate activists stand alone. They build a network, they reach out to allies both likely and less so. They collaborate with the willing, and cajole the not-quite-convinced. They go for solutions which represent a win to all parties concerned. Above all, they listen. In an eye-opening article, "Speaking About The Unspeakable", the amazing Joanna Macy talks about how it is exactly the act of listening to the person with whom you are having the conversation, that opens up that person to your thoughts and ideas.

So enough skulking in corners. I'm going to get out there again, if not at a gallop, at least at a brisk trot. I miss my friends. I'm going to hang out with them again, see movies with them, dance, share a cup of coffee, and (in one case) play the cello together.

Photo Morten B�tbukt

And, as advocated by Margaret Klein of The Climate Psychologist, I'm going to bring up climate change with them, even though they may not want to think about it. Because they may not want to think about it. This is too serious an issue and can't be left to only the documentaries and the newspapers. This is something over which we need to support each other, hug each other, hold each other. Because this is how we'll get through this: together.

I'm going to sign petitions, advocate for climate-friendly legislation, work to get more road space for slow traffic in my town. It is not enough for each of us to do our bit: we also need systemic change to enable those individual changes.

I'm scheduled to give a talk on climate change at CelloPlayer's school later this winter, and am fishing for an opportunity to speak at the town's public library. Gathering information for these talks, I'm happy to find that both the school and the town are already doing many things toward becoming truly sustainable, and I am proud to be part of those communities.

Later this month, I'm going to a sustainability meeting where I'm to propose introducing a pay-per-throw scheme for garbage collection in my town. If you have to pay for trash pickup by the bag, you become very mindful of the trash you generate, and many towns see their trash bill get cut drastically, and their recycling rise hugely as well.

I'm going to talk to the ladies in the local yarn store and ask if they run a repair caf�. And if not, whether they are interested in starting one: a friend of mine is a fiber artist and is willing to lead that.

And this will just have to be the year I upgrade the insulation in our attic so it's up to the current code, it's way too thin right now. That should cut the carbon footprint of our house significantly.

Meanwhile, I'm going to take in more information the science way. I'm signed up for two free MOOCs (massively open online courses), a policy-oriented one offered by the World Bank, and a science-only course at MIT.

And wherever I go with this, I am determined to listen as well as speak. Starting with you. How do you react to climate change? How do you cope, emotionally and practically? Please share your thoughts, either here in the comments, or privately through Email. I pledge to listen to you.



Note added 24JAN2014: If you are interested in getting involved, even if to participate in click-to-sign petitions and campaigns for a safer climate, consider following either Climate Parents or the Moms' Clean Air Force.


Visit Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project to learn more about participating in next month�s Natural Living Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to enjoy the posts our other carnival participants have contributed:

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Cars News and Reviews Review: 2014 Nissan Note / Nissan Versa Note- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Here's a car I would drive: the Nissan Note. To be precise, one with that defiantly aubergine body. And the 1.5L diesel that I estimate will get around 60 mpg.

It's a good-looking hatchback with nice lines, room for five, and decent space in the back, although it will certainly not fit a full-size cello across the trunk, indeed not even a 3/4 cello. You can fold down the back seat in a 40-60 configuration; the seats don't fold flat: that's okay to move two cellos, but maybe not a large flat pack from Ikea.

The dashboard also has reasonably clean lines, although in the 2010's you almost can't avoid the cluttered feeling brought on by the touch screen and the various buttons on the steering wheel. In a cute detail, the vents, when closed, remind you of sleeping eyes. One cool thing on the dashboard is an easy-to-see efficiency graphic that gives real-time feedback on how you're doing, as well as a trip-wide eco-score.

"Metallic peacock" is the most interesting body colour for sale in the US. It is not available in the UK, despite the "Dare To Differ" slogan: there the spectrum is restricted to the usual red white & blue plus black. For chromatic exuberance, try the Note in Japan, where you can buy it in that aubergine, or else in an adorable metallic pink. The Medalist version comes in gold; talk about daring to differ.

The choice of engines follows the usual story: in the US the Nissan Versa Note comes with the 1.6L gasoline engine only (up to 35 mpg or CVT transmission, less for manual). In Japan, the 1.2L gasoline engine only (choice of manual / CVT auto transmission, and optional four-wheel drive), in the UK (and mainland Europe) a choice of the 1.2L gasoline engine or a 1.5L diesel with comparable power but significantly higher torque and fuel efficiency: this one is specified at 65 mpg. It is too early for on the road data from real-life, but I think 60 mpg is not an unreasonable expectation. Obviously, this engine, able to take the Note to a maximum speed of 111 mph, is really too large.

The US Note does not have a Stop/Start system, everywhere else it does. At least it retains the speed-sensitive power steering that comes on strong when you need it (like when you're parking) and discreetly fades into the background at highway speeds so you keep the response.

This would be a tight fit for our family of four and one cello (the second one would have to go over the children's laps on the back seat), but the 60 mpg average fuel efficiency would make it worth my while. Can't wait to see that reach the US.


Nissan Note

Type S-Plus X DIG-S Visia
Year 2014 2014 2014
Emissions rating LEV2-ULEV   EURO 5 "A"
MSRP $ 15,240 ¥ 1,620,150

(US $16,650)
£ 14,100 

(US $ 22,800)
CelloMom Rating 3 4 5
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 31 / 40 mpg   4.2 / 3.2 L/100km (56 / 73 mpg_US)
Avg. quoted 35 mpg 24.0 km/L

(56 mpg)
3.6 L/100km

(65 mpg_US)
Avg. actual ~35 mpg Est. 48 mpg Est. 60 mpg
Carbon emissions, quoted     92 g/km
Engine 1.6L DOCH

4-cyl 16-vlv
1.2L 1.5L dCi
Power 109 HP

@ 6000rpm

(97 HP)
90 PS

(89 HP)
Torque 107 lb-ft

@ 4400rpm

(105 lb-ft)

(147 lb-ft)
Transmission CVT Auto 5-spd man 5-spd man
Fuel Unleaded Unleaded Diesel
Length, mm(in) 163.7 in   4100 mm
Width, mm(in) 66.7 in   1695 mm
Height, mm(in) 60.5in   1530 mm
Weight, kg(lbs) 2460 lbs 1090 kg  
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 18.8 / 38.3 cuft    
Turning radius, m(ft)   4.7m  
Top speed, kph(mph)     111 mph



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Cars News and Reviews The Nitty-Gritty on Road Salt- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

Ah, winter. The season when all cars turn white, regardless of what colour they had when they left the factory.

Could it be chromatic sympathy with the hoary landscape? Ach no, it's more to do with the reality of driving on icy roads. As soon as the first snow falls, out come the trucks piled high with road salt. The spreader gets activated, and the roads are covered with a sprinkling of coarse rock salt, sometimes mixed with sand for added grit, sometimes with more unexpected ingredients like beet juice.

Wait: beet juice?

Okay, hold your Vitamix. Before you start experimenting with spreading veggie juices on your driveway, let's step back a bit. Let's go back to rock salt and ask how that helps snowy or icy roads in the first place.

Ice and packed snow make roads very slippery, so public works engineers are keen to keep that from accumulating on road surfaces. Rock salt helps because it lowers the freezing point of water. Pure water freezes at 0C or 32F. [You could argue about just how pure rainwater is (or its frozen equivalent, snow), but compared to the amounts of salt added on the road, you can forget about any impurities in the water that falls from the sky].

On the diagram below, pure water is way on the left, with zero salt (NaCl) added, and pure salt is way on the right. For water without salt, the freezing point is at T=0C. As you add salt into the water, you move towards the right in the phase diagram, and the freezing point goes down, following the red line.

This phase diagrams tells you a few things. First of all, it takes quite a bit of salt to depress the freezing point: 10% salt will only win you a few degrees. That's why it takes trucksful of salt to get the job done.

Secondly, salting the road can only take you so far: to be precise, –21.1 degrees centigrade at the utmost, in ideal lab conditions. In practice salting roads is only effective for temperatures down to –5C or so. So in a Deep Freeze, like that experienced in the US in early 2014, when temperatures reached –40C and even lower, putting any amount of salt on the road will not help at all.

And then there's the aftermath: whatever doesn't get spread over car bodies where it goes to work making rust, or flows away with the meltwater, can be seen as a white residue on the road, once the snow and ice is gone. Rains wash it away to follow the meltwater, and ends up in the soil next to the road and in streams and waterways.

That's a problem: salt does terrible things to soil. In fact, in the old days salting the fields belonging to criminals and conquered peoples was a popular and effective method of punishment, because nothing would grow on those fields for years. And freshwater streams are, if anything, even more sensitive to salinisation. So putting too much salt on the road is not a good thing.

This is where beet juice comes in. As in, sugar beets.

In fact, the beet juice used for roads is a by-product of the sugar industry. The phase diagram for a sugar solution is very similar to that of a salt solution: as you add sugar to water, the freezing temperature is lowered (to –9.5C for the case of sucrose).

But here's the really cool thing: when you add both salt and sugar to water, they reinforce each others tendency to lower the freezing point. It can be effective down to –18C (or 0F). So adding beet juice to a salty brine and spraying that on the road, preferrably just before snowfall, is super effective at keeping ice from forming on the road, and can reduce salt use by a third. Added bonus: beet juice reduces the corrosive tendency of salt brine.

(Do roads sprayed with beet juice turn a nice fuchsia colour? --Sorry, no: sugar beets are off white inside. Too bad, the melting and drying patterns of red beet juice could produce some nice psychedelic road art).

For your own driveway, how about this experiment: After removing as much snow as you can, try spreading a layer of pulp leftover from your juicing, especially if you use a lot of fruit. The sugars left in the pulp may help lower the freezing point. At the least, the pulp will provide extra traction, and it's not nearly as abrasive as sand if you track it indoors. And after the snow is gone, you can just sweep it onto your lawn where it will benefit the grass rather than killing it. I'm not a juicer; if you decide to try this, please let me know how it worked out.

To minimise rusting and corrosion on your car, try to get to a car wash before the temperatures rise: while it's cold, the chemical reactions are slowed way down. Give the attendant a nice tip and ask them to put extra care into rinsing the underside of your car. And hope it doesn't start to snow again too soon.



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Cars News and Reviews Save The .... Tennis Players?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Who is your favourite for the Australian Open this week? Williams? Azarenka? Nadal? Djokovic? Enjoy them while they last. --Better yet, implore them to stop playing. Before real tragedies happen.

Photo by Vladsinger.

The 2014 Australian Open started under impossible conditions: temperatures have soared all over Australia, and in Melbourne it was 42C today, or 108F. At least it's not humid. But it is, shall we say, non-optimal for athletes to perform at their top. This tournament has been marked with players (and one ball boy) collapsing on the court.

Australia's wild weather has been in the news often in the past few years; and all those droughts and floods, like the current heatwave, have been linked to man-made climate change. One episode of excessive heat has prompted the Australian Bureau of Metereology to add a new colour to its temperature maps - for the range 52-54C (126-129F). No wonder even kangaroos are collapsing.

I hope the tennis players all walk out of that tournament together. They don't deserve to be exposed to this kind of health risk. I don't pretend to know why the organisers of the Open refuse to close the games, but I do have a guess at one of the reasons: As usual, follow the money. There are heaps of money swirling around world-class tournaments like this: money flows to the city of Melbourne, the Australian tourism board, the advertising income for the channels broadcasting the event, and who knows who else.

I love to watch a good tennis match. (Almost as much as snooker). It makes me mad to see top players wasted on the court just because some official doesn't have the spine to stand up to whatever pressure may surround him to make the games go on.

I hope the players walk out of the Australian Open. I hope the void in the tv programming of popular channels like ESPN and Eurosport will be filled with their interviews, and that they will tell just how brutal it was out there. I hope they will make a connection to global warming in front of an audience of millions. I hope their managers allow them to. How can you play world-class sport in an age of wild weather?

The soccer world championships are played in Brazil this July: it will be winter then, and cooler than the current heatwave blistering Brazil and Argentina. You can't play soccer at three-digit temperatures, either.

Global warming has got to stop. Or soon all the world-class sports left will be things like snooker, chess, and games played in a swimming pool.


Shared at Tuesday Greens



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Cars News and Reviews Wedding on a Wind Farm- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

We hear a lot about how bad the pollution is in China: how you can't see across Tiananmen Square; how children can't play outside; how measurements of particle pollution are off scale.

But change is coming, and like so many things in China, it does so in a big way. China is becoming a leader in renewable energy generation. The massive scale at which they deploy wind and solar energy farms play no small role in the precipitous drop of the cost of clean energy worldwide.

It's a transition. A good transition. And the people working to make that transition happen are fiercely proud of their work. Why not? I would be, too.

One young man working in a factory that produces wind generators decided to skip the traditional bridal photos at the park or the temple, and instead took his new bride to a wind farm installed by his company. In their wedding pictures, she is in his arms, radiant, and her frothy wedding dress is trilling to the breeze that powers the turbines. It's hard to find a more auspicious image of a new beginning.

[Click on photo for BBC segment on wind energy generation in China].

As they say, shift happens.



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Cars News and Reviews Freeze Your Animals- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Freeze especially your children's animals.

Before you call the SPCA on me, understand that I'm talking about stuffed animals. Those who get loved so much. Who get carried around, petted and hugged. And - sometimes - left behind in dusty corners. Or get loved by the dog or cat (or, for that matter, serve as a nice comfy pillow for dads).

All that loving makes a stuffed animal collect dander, and therefore dust mites. Pretty soon, the beloved animal turns into a fearsome source of allergens.

While the preferred way to get rid of dust mites is by laundering in hot water, you can't very well do that with stuffed animals - even if you did get permission for such a dastardly deed as drowning them in the washing machine.

But there's another way: dust mites don't survive freezing.

So every winter, I wait for a good hard freeze. Then I organize a "camping trip" for the stuffed animals. It's a grand party: they all get to come and spend the night outside. Blankets are welcome too (it will all get frozen by the morning, anyway).

How to prevent real animals from kidnapping your children's beloved stuffed ones? Why, put the camping trip in the car.

Arrange the animals according to their preferences, each close to its favourite buddies. Admonish them not to make a ruckus. Then wish them goodnight, and close the car door (No, this is the animals' private camping trip, children get to sleep in their own beds. Inside the house).

In the morning, enjoy the reunion. Then warm the animals in the room before putting them in the drier (on hot) to get rid of all the dander and dust mite droppings that are the cause of allergies. Unlike drowning in the washer, tumbling is fun.

I do the same with our bedding, which also doesn't fit in the washing machine: this has to happen during the day unless you camp out on sleeping mats for the night. Haul your mattresses / futons, pillows, wool blankets and rugs outside into a good hard freeze. (This stuff is too large to fit in my car, I drape it over our patio furniture). Chill thoroughly. Then beat with a mattress beater, those things that look like a tennis racket and give a satisfying whack! and cause dust to billow out. You can vacuum clean it for good measure, but by this stage I'm usually pretty beat, and leave the vacuuming to another day.

Very important: Remember to bring it all back in several hours before you plan to have anyone sleep in it. It takes a mattress a long time to warm up!


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Cars News and Reviews A Pocket Full of New Year's Resolutions- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

A die-hard nerd like me isn't typically into "community". The image of the solitary scientist working late nights in the lab on a world-changing idea is iconic in my field, sort of the geek version of the lone ranger.

But in my middle age, I am waking up to the possibility that there is enormous value in community. Even, that community may make the difference between perdition and resilience.

If you look at stories of disasters - the real, on-the-ground stories, not what you see on the evening news which follows a mythical storyline - you find that what makes a real difference in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake or a hurricane is the community that springs up to help neighbours.

Rebecca Solnit's book "A Paradise Built in Hell" shows that amazing feats of altruism are accomplished in the wake of disasters, and supports sociological research that finds that, unlike the Hollywood stereotype, people hit by disaster as resourceful, kind, and very, very generous to neighbours and even total strangers.

Still, even though community will flower in the aftermath of a disaster, recovery is much easier if community is already in place.


Because of climate-change we can expect formerly "freak" weather events to occur more frequently. We will get to deal with frigid weeks as well as more hurricanes that make landfall with greater strength and, increasingly, drought and fire hazard.

Resilience is the name of the game if a series of extremes is the new normal. And what made our species thrive in the first place is our gregarious nature, our ability to form communities that form a source of support in uncertain and unpredictable times.

We need to get back to living that way.

Surprisingly, it doesn't take a whole lot. A few neighbours. A circle of friends. We're all probably doing a bit of it already, most of you probably more than me! We all just need to turn it up. I found a huge amount of inspiration in this video that's just stuffed with ideas. Showcasing the ideas and accomplishments of Transition Towns around the world, it's like a ready-made menu of resolutions and good intentions for the new year.


In Transition 2.0: a story of resilience and hope in extraordinary times


"If we wait for goverments, It will be too little too late.

If we act as individuals, it'll be too little.

But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time."


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