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  Sierra Magazine
  May/June 2005
Table of Contents
Dangerous Liaisons
Above It All
Interview: Jared Diamond
Ten Steps to Better Elections
Let's Talk
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Hey Mr. Green
Good Going
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Sierra Magazine
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Hey Mr. Green
Advice on Driving, Heating, and Eating
by Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green,
What's best for the environment, continuing to drive my perfectly fine 1990 Honda Accord, or trading it in for a new gas-sipping Prius? — Heath in Los Angeles

Well, Mr. Green hates to say this because you might be bonded to your trusty old Accord, but she burns twice the petrol and wheezes out twice the global-warming gas of a Prius or similar hybrid model. Being a conscientious environmentalist, though, you're also worried about the energy and pollution involved in building a new car — the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gas. But by the time the Prius hits 50,000 miles, its energy savings will have made up for its own construction. So unless you drive very little, a new hybrid is the way to go.

Hey Mr. Green,
Does it use more energy to maintain a constant temperature in the house, or to rev up the heat each morning after keeping it colder at night? — Eric in Santa Rosa, California

Keep that thermostat down at 55 or 60 unless you're at home, awake, and chilly. It can require as much as 50 percent more energy to hold the temperature at 70 degrees than at 60.

Hey Mr. Green,
The reason I drive a small SUV (don't hit delete) is that my doctor said my sedan created a safety hazard for me and my artificial hip. To enter my Honda CR-V, I need only back in, sit down, and swing into the driver's seat. Are we rotten SOBs, me n' my CR-V? — Mary in Loma Linda, California

Your situation is understandable. Perhaps we should require doctors' excuses for all SUV owners. Seriously, though, while SUVs are appropriate for certain circumstances, Mr. Green recommends that anybody considering one take a look at Car Talk's Web site for some other options. It's surprising how many vehicles offer ruggedness, four-wheel drive, roominess, visibility — and better gas mileage.

Lots of readers ripped Mr. Green for cold-hearted advice about air-conditioning (January/February). "You really ticked me off with your condescending attitude," said David from St. Louis. It's easy for someone who lives in San Francisco to tell us in the heartland to suck it up and turn off our air conditioners." Now, Mr. Green's no weather wimp, having logged 30 years of heartland summers without AC. But go ahead, use the AC if you absolutely can't live without it. Just please don't crank it down so cold inside that you have to grab a sweater. If you let your indoor temperature rise just 10 degrees, from 68 to a still-comfy 78, you consume as much as 80 percent less energy, depending on the outside temperature.

...And Unclean
Hold on, vegetarians! Read to the end before you demand poor old Mr. Green's head on a platter for suggesting that eating beef could be OK. It's not like you were commanded to go forth and hold a burger-eatin' contest on a festering feedlot. The column simply warned people not to eat beef unless it was sustainably or organically grown. Since this describes only a fraction of cowdom, it's darn near a proposal for a beef-free diet.

Read more advice from Mr. Green, including his Web-only mailbag, and submit your own environmental questions at

Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.

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