$6-a-gallon gas? Bring it on

March 19th, 2012

Photo via Flickr: Chris_Samuel

Long before I started writing this blog, a fresh-out-of-college environmentally minded young woman got into a heated political debate with her Republican uncle. It was 2003, the eve of the Iraq war, and gas prices had spiked dramatically. Their argument began when the young woman said she hoped that gas prices would continue to rise; it was the only way, she explained, that Americans would stop driving Hummers, start demanding more fuel-efficient cars, and begin to diminish our thirst for Mideast oil.

That’s insane, said her uncle. Regular people would be really hurt if the price of gas got too high. They wouldn’t be able to drive to work; the cost of food would skyrocket; people wouldn’t be able to feed their families.

Somewhere, there’s going to have to be a sacrifice, said the woman. Change doesn’t happen when people are comfortable.

You’re a crazy tree hugger, he said, and walked off in a huff.

Now, said tree hugger felt the sting of her uncle’s abrupt dismissal. She didn’t think her argument was crazy at all; if anything, it was extremely logical: The price of gas goes up, the market responds with more fuel efficient cars. The price of gas remains artificially subsidized, we never push toward a more sustainable future. What was so radical about that premise?

Nothing, as the passage of nearly a decade has shown. With gas inching toward $6 a gallon in some places, electric/hybrid car sales could triple in the next six years. President Obama is calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Even said uncle is considering a hybrid for his next car.

But it was only this past weekend that the woman felt a moment of true validation. Now shopping for a hybrid car herself, she asked the car salesman how hybrid sales were faring at his dealership. The salesman didn’t hesitate.

Lots and lots of sales right now, he said. When the price of gas goes up, everyone comes in wanting hybrids. When the price of gas goes down, they look at regular cars again. If gas ever gets below $3 a gallon again, you can forget about the hybrids.

Yeah, well, I’m guessing that’s not the direction we’re really headed, said the woman lightheartedly. No, it’s not, said the salesman, chuckling in agreement. It most certainly is not.

–Jennifer Grayson

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WATCH: How to Green Your Move

November 3rd, 2011

If you read my post last week about the large amounts of chemicals about to be pumped through our apartment building, you know that we’re trying to move out of here — and fast. So I though I would post this video I made for HuffPo about my tips for a green move, which I filmed over the course of our last move. The tips are current, since that last relocation was but a mere four months ago.

The only difference this time: I’ll be packing our belongings in boxes from UsedCardboardBoxes.com instead of the Recopacks from Rent A Green Box; we haven’t actually found a new home yet, so I need options in case we have to put those boxes in storage. (You only get the Recopacks on loan for a couple of weeks.) Wish me luck–

–Jennifer Grayson

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This photo was taken during the last gas price hike, in 2008. Photo via Flickr: Karin Dalziel

I got back into Los Angeles last night after working in Mammoth all week and was shocked to see the price of gas at my local cheapo gas spot at $3.31 a gallon. Given what’s going on in Egypt, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised, but since I work mostly from home and try to run all my errands locally and/or on foot, it had been a good three weeks since I filled up my tank.

The $3.31, not surprisingly, is only a harbinger of things to come: ABC7 reported earlier this week that the turmoil in the Middle East could push gas prices well over the $4 mark by summer.

The Egyptian people ending decades of oppression and injustice, of course, is the more important story here; but the climbing costs at the pump here at home should only be a reminder to Americans why now, more than ever, we need our own (energy) independence.

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on PlugInAmerica.org]

Those who read me regularly know that I would be first in line for the new all-electric Nissan Leaf, were it not for the three years of payments still left on my what-was-I thinking-with-the-manual-transmission-in-trafficky-Los-Angeles Volkswagen Jetta.

I, however, am an early adopter when it comes to all things green; what will the rest of America think of these new plug-in vehicles when they hit the mass market in just a few short weeks? Will electric be the new hybrid?

Plug In America hopes so. The nonprofit organization is releasing a series of witty public service announcements over the next few months, aimed at easing Americans’ anxieties about electric. Spearheading the Mac-v.-PC spoof spots? Alexandra Paul, of Baywatch fame. (She also happens to be a founding Plug In America board member.) My favorite of the PSAs, so far, is “Ocean Crude” (watch, above; and wait for the last line).

If these 30-second spots don’t work their magic, then maybe the bad economy will: It costs a mere penny a mile to drive an electric car.

–Jennifer Grayson

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I’m heading to Chicago later this week, and one thing will be new about my traveling experience: Since the last time I’ve flown, full-body scanners have made their way to Los Angeles International Airport. Haven’t seen one yet? These hotly debated new security fixtures act like a virtual strip search, using X-rays to produce images of everything from your boxers to your kidneys.

The first point of contention is that this new technology is an invasion of privacy; the second — and the one that’s more relevant to this blog — that it may be hazardous to your health. The TSA and FDA are saying that the low dose of radiation doesn’t pose a threat; some scientists are now calling that into question.

From Time Magazine:

After studying the degree of detail obtained in the seconds-long scans, the scientists wondered how the radiation exposure could be so low. The answer, they concluded, lay in how the manufacturer and government officials measured the dose: by averaging the exposure from the beam over the volume of the entire body. This is how scientists measure exposure from medical X-rays, which are designed to zap straight through bone and tissue. But backscatter beams skim the body’s surface…if the dose were based only on skin exposure, the result would be 10 to 20 times the manufacturer’s calculations.

Even if it is the amount of exposure that government officials say it is, I refuse to be a guinea pig for an experiment on the cumulative effects of low-dose radiation. (Remember shoe-fitting fluoroscopes?) I’ll be requesting a frisking instead.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Dierk Schaefer

Photo via Flickr: Dierk Schaefer

This time next year, you could be saving gobs on gas money — not to mention cutting your carbon footprint — on your summer road trip: Rental car company Hertz will be adding the new, all-electric Nissan Leaf to its offerings in early 2011, along with plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and Prius PHV.

While the electric vehicles won’t be available everywhere — major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, will get first dibs — my guess is that Hertz and other rental car companies will be quickly expanding their EV offerings to other markets. Provided that the rental rates aren’t significantly higher than for a standard car, who wouldn’t want to fuel up for practically free?

When my husband and I rented a car for a one-way road trip up the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle last fall, we were upgraded to a Prius, and it was almost magical: We spent about $75 on gas for the entire trip, and we only had to refuel twice. Sure, it may have felt more festive to cruise the coast in a Ford Mustang convertible, but it would have also cost us $100 more in gas (according to the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator) — not to mention 600 extra pounds of CO2.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Before I tell you about my test drive this week of the new, all-electric Nissan Leaf, a disclaimer: If you’re looking for a review packed with performance stats (or any mention of the word torque), you’re out of luck; my experience with cars consists of putting about 4,000 miles a year on a fairly battered 2004 manual transmission Volkswagen Jetta that my husband refers to as Robocar.

(Before that, I lived for eight years sans car in Philadelphia, then Boston, then New York City; before that, I had a 1985 VW Cabriolet that spent more time on a AAA tow truck than it did on the road.)

OK, now the test drive results. Here’s what I can tell you about the Nissan Leaf:

It’s a real car. This may sound silly, but I think people expect electric cars to feel more like a toy than an all-purpose vehicle that you could take on the highway, on a road trip, and up in the mountains to go camping. The Nissan Leaf is not a novelty; when you’re in it, you would never know that it’s an “alternative” vehicle, save for the ultra-quiet driving experience and the fact that you’re fueling it for practically free.

It’s really quiet. About that pin-drop driving experience: With the absence of that familiar engine noise, it’s amazing how little sounds you would never otherwise notice seem really loud. So much so that Nissan had to actually go back and redesign the Leaf’s antenna and side mirrors to make them more aerodynamic, after they were resulting in too much perceptible “wind noise” to the car’s passengers. The turn signal clicker, to me, sounded way louder than usual; something I could totally get used to, but it took me by surprise at first.

It’s comfortable. Take it from someone who’s nearly nine months pregnant: This car has great lumbar support. I got to ride as a passenger in the back, as well as drive the car myself, and both seats were very comfy and offered a surprising amount of legroom (I’m a leggy 5’8″) for a compact hatchback. I also dug the recycled-soda-bottle fabric, though I would like to see an eco-leather option as well.

It’s zippy. I’ve always loved small, sprightly cars, and the Nissan Leaf fits the bill: It’s quick to the start, hugs the turns really nicely, and the brakes are responsive. In “eco mode,” which ups the amount of mileage you get per charge, the car does feel relatively heavier, though it’s still fine for tooling around town (not to mention being stuck in LA traffic).

It looks great. Before I saw the Nissan Leaf in person, I was expecting a Ford Focus-esque, run-of-the-mill hatchback. But in real life, the ride has style; the silhouette is sleek, the front of the car is gracefully curved, and the small rear spoiler detail gives it just a bit of edge. I saw it in that “earth blue” color that seems to be all the rage these days, but in black (see above) I think it would be a real beaut.

Let’s face it though; while it is nice to know that the Nissan Leaf stands out for all of the above, there are really two reasons you’ll want to buy or lease the Leaf: #1 It costs about 3 bucks to “fill it up” (a hefty 100 miles per charge), and #2 you’ll never again have to give a dime to dirty oil companies like BP.

–Jennifer Grayson

Related post:
Tax credits put Nissan Leaf within reach

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When I asked Fuel director Josh Tickell at the recent LA Get Off Oil Day what Angelenos could do to help the biggest gas guzzling city in the nation curb its crude consumption, his answer was simple: “Do not buy another car, do not trade in your car, do not take another car unless it has a plug on it.”

OK Josh, you’ve got it! Can I please have the new Fisker Karma?

Unless you’ve been living off the grid for the past three years, you’ve no doubt by now caught a glimpse of the Tesla Roadster, the eco-extravagant all-electric sports car that retails for about the price of a two-bedroom home in Phoenix. Well, the new made-in-California Karma is the first luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicle — packing the same zero-emissions punch of the Tesla (or any all-electric car, for that matter), but with the driving range of a conventional car.

Check out this green monster:




Boasting 100 mpg (that’s about 2 cents a mile FYI; though at $87,900 retail it could take a while to realize those savings), the Karma has a total range of 300 miles, an all-electric range of 50 miles, and can be fully charged in as little as six hours from any 110-, 220-, or 240-volt outlet. Oh, and did I mention it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds?

It’s also loaded with sustainable design features, including recyclable aluminum wheels, a solar panel roof, wood trim sourced from reclaimed California forest fire timber, and an animal-free interior option that replaces leather with bamboo viscose.

Word on the street is that LACarGuy, which will be opening the first Fisker dealership in Los Angeles in early 2011, will also be the first automotive dealer in the United States to offer Level 2 SAE J-1772 electric vehicle charging stations to the public at all of the LACarGuy locations. Good news for those of us who will probably be pulling up in a Leaf and not a Karma.

–Jennifer Grayson

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One of the paradoxes of modern life is that we think we’re so connected to everything via iPhones and Twitter and a blindingly paced 24/7 news cycle, but the amount of information is so vast that it’s sometimes hard to really feel connected.

Since the BP oil spill, I’ve been busy signing petitions to President Obama and writing relevant blog posts and sharing the latest Tony Hayward gaffe on Facebook, but at my core I feel wholly unsatisfied. I don’t feel like I’m really doing anything.

Evidently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. It wasn’t until I saw Rebecca Tickell speak at the Women of the Green Generation Conference and share her and her husband’s (Fuel director Josh Tickell) plans for oil spill protest rallies both here in Los Angeles and later this month in New Orleans that I realized: Oh, yeah. There are some issues that warrant more of a response than a Tweet from the comfort of my own couch.

And if the BP oil spill isn’t one of them, I don’t know what is.

So if you’re in Los Angeles tomorrow, consider stepping away from your laptop for a few hours and making your voice heard at LA Get Off Oil Day. And if you can travel (preferably in an eco-friendly way) to the June 29 protest in New Orleans, more green power to you.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Respres

Photo via Flickr: Respres

This has been a week of some seriously heavy environmental news, what with the BP oil spill showing no signs of slowing down and the introduction of the new climate bill to the Senate, and I know I should be offering some astute analysis of either; but the truth is, I’m fried. It’s Thursday night as I write this, and I’m already dreaming about the weekend.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we only had to work four days a week?

As it turns out, embracing the Friday fatigues could actually be good for the environment. According to a new article in Whole Life Times, if the entire California workforce bypassed its Friday commute, the state could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 million tons a year. Utah implemented a four-day workweek for its government workers last year, and cut the state’s energy use by 13 percent.

How to ditch a day without reducing productivity? Simple: Add an extra two hours to each of those four days — something a lot of us do for the five-plus days we work, anyway.

Of course, avoiding the Friday commute doesn’t curb carbon emissions when that commute consists of making your way from the bedroom to your laptop at the kitchen table. Would a power-down day be too much to ask for, too?

–Jennifer Grayson

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