Archive for July, 2010

Global Warming “Undeniable,” U.S. Government Report Says

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The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Bernardo O'Higgins National  Park.

The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (file).

Photograph by Maria Stenzel, National Geographic


Christine Dell’Amore

National Geographic News

Published July 28, 2010

Global warming is undeniable,” and it’s happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.

An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s annual “State of the Climate” reports, which was released Wednesday. Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.

(See “Heat Wave: 2010 to Be One of Hottest Years on Record.”) For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an “unmistakable upward trend,” the study says.

And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency “jumps off the page at you,” report co-author Derek Arndt said.

“This is like going to the doctor and getting your respiratory test and circulatory test and your neurosystem test,” said Arndt, head of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

“It’s testing all the parts, and they’re all in agreement that the same thing’s going on.”

Global Warming Sparked Extreme Weather in 2009?

Three hundred scientists analyzed data on 37 climate indicators, but homed in on 10 that the study says are especially revealing.

Those indicators include:

  • humidity,
  • sea-surface temperature,
  • sea ice cover,
  • snow cover,
  • ocean heat content,
  • glacier cover,
  • air temperature in the lower atmosphere,
  • sea level,
  • temperature over land,
  • and temperature over oceans.

As scientists would predict in a hotter world, some of the indicators—such as ocean heat content and temperature over land—are increasing. Others, such as sea ice cover and snow cover, are decreasing.

The influx of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere has also hit oceans particularly hard, the NOAA report says. (See an interactive on the greenhouse effect and global warming.)

New evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of that heat trapped by greenhouses gases over the past 50 years has been absorbed into the oceans.

Because water expands as it warms, the added ocean heat is contributing to sea level rise as well as to the rapid melting of Arctic summer sea ice. That melting in 2010 is on track to be worse than 2007, when Arctic ice cover reached its lowest point on record.

Such climatic shifts are already ushering in extreme weather, which plagued much of the globe in 2009, according to the report. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.) For instance, Australia experienced its third hottest year on record.

On one February 2009 day—labeled “Black Saturday”—in Australia, 400 wildfires swept across the state of Victoria, killing 173 people and destroying 3,500 buildings. (See pictures of the Australian fires.)

NOAA Climate Report Offers Real-World Data

The NOAA report—published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—is different from other climate publications, because it’s based on observed data, not computer models, making it the “climate system’s annual scorecard,” the authors wrote. (Test your global warming knowledge.)

“It’s telling us what’s going on in the real world, rather than the imaginary world,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Even so, the report “does not carry the authority of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] by any means,” Trenberth noted.

That’s partially because IPCC reports—the latest of which came out in 2007 with a similar claim that warming is “unequivocal”—are produced on longer time scales, with more time for review.

And even with real-world data, “the theory with regard to global warming is still incomplete”—especially since the atmosphere is so complex, Trenberth cautioned.

This “can be seen at a glance,” for example, “by looking out of the window at the wondrous, great variety in clouds.”


Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift

April 2009

Fleet Experiences

Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift

Whole Foods received advertising rights for sponsoring Cambridge’s hybrid taxi

Hybrid Taxis Give Fuel Economy a Lift, Clean Cities, Fleet Experiences, April 2009 (Fact Sheet)

Most people recognize the classic yellow-and-black taxicab, but some taxis are adopting a new color—green. Clean Cities helped Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Antonio, Texas, create hybrid taxi programs that cut gasoline use and air pollution while pleasing drivers and passengers alike.

Better Mileage, Cleaner Air

Each year, taxis average 55,000 miles of driving. Most are Ford Crown Victorias, with a city fuel economy of about 16 miles per gallon (mpg). In contrast, the hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) most commonly used as taxis do much better: The Toyota Prius gets 48 mpg in the city, the Ford Escape 34 mpg, and the Toyota Camry 33 mpg. Boston CleanAir CABS founder John Moore estimates that switching the entire Boston fleet of 1,900 taxis to HEVs would save about 5 million gallons of gasoline annually. In addition, hybrid taxis reduce smog-forming and green­house gas emissions, as well as create a green image for a city. “Taxis and taxi drivers are often the first spaces and people visitors see when they come to a city,” says the Boston Environment Department’s Jim Hunt. “They can be your best ambassadors.”

Three Avenues to Success

In addition to an up to $3,000 federal tax credit that helps offset the incremental costs of a hybrid taxi, Boston’s CleanAir CABS program offers two major incentives for operators and owners to run hybrid taxis. HEV drivers get two “front of the line” passes for each airport shift, allowing them to fit in two extra trips daily. Hybrid taxi owners who lease vehicles to drivers can charge drivers $15 more per shift to lease a taxi, enabling an owner to earn more than $5,000 annually. The program calculates that an owner will save $20,000 per HEV over six years. Twenty months after the program started, about 50 hybrid taxis were on Boston’s streets. The voluntary program proved so successful that Boston instituted a mandatory program requiring all taxis to be clean air cabs by 2015. Compressed natural gas taxis also qualify for this program.

Cambridge started its hybrid taxi program in partnership with Whole Foods grocery stores. In exchange for exclu­sive, three-year rights to display advertisements on the taxis, Whole Foods made six donations of $5,000 toward the purchase of six HEVs. The city provided an additional $10,000 per vehicle, using funds from the auction of two taxi medallions. Although Whole Foods is no longer pro­viding grants, the city continues to do so. As of March 2009, the program has resulted in 15 hybrid taxis.

San Antonio’s program issues an additional taxi permit for each conventional vehicle replaced with an HEV. To prevent one fleet from obtaining all the permits, the larg­est company is allowed to replace only 1% of its fleet each year (six vehicles), while smaller companies can replace up to two vehicles. As of 2008, more than 70 of the city’s 843 taxis were HEVs. In fact, the statewide Texas Green & Go Clean Taxi Partnership has built off the San Antonio program’s success.

Lessons Learned

Leaders of the Boston, Cambridge, and San Antonio hybrid taxi programs learned several lessons that can help other cities institute successful programs.

Bring People Together

Creating taxi programs requires cooperation among busi­nesses and government agencies such as the city hackney or licensing division, city public health commission, city environmental department, state energy office, and port authority. Clean Cities coalitions can bring together stakeholder and provide “champions” to coordinate them.

It is important to involve taxi company representatives and drivers from the beginning to earn their buy-in and identify the most appropriate incentives. In San Antonio, even owners who initially opposed the program have adopted HEVs, partly because the program encouraged open dialogue.

Understand the Business

Understanding a city’s taxi structure is essential. Some cit­ies, such as New York and Boston, license taxis via medal­lions, which are limited in number and have significant property value. In contrast, cities with permit systems can easily change the number of taxis, but the permits do not carry the same financial weight. The relationship between drivers and companies also varies. Some companies own vehicles and have drivers rent them, whereas drivers act as independent contractors for other companies.

Know What Drivers Need

Drivers are more likely to buy into incentive programs if they know the benefits of HEVs. For drivers, fuel cost sav­ings are paramount. Some hybrid taxi drivers report cut­ting fuel costs by more than half. Drivers also like that HEVs improve customer satisfaction. “People like it because it’s green,” says James Christie, a Boston HEV driver. Some drivers report receiving larger tips when driving HEVs, and companies receive special customer requests for HEVs.

However, some drivers do find the size of HEVs challeng­ing with the trunk space limiting how much luggage—and thus how many passengers—they can carry. This depends in part on driver experience and vehicle model. Paul Lex, San Antonio’s first hybrid taxi driver, says he can fit as many as five bags in his Prius’ trunk, whereas some other drivers can fit only two. Some HEVs, such as the Escape, have more trunk space than the Prius.

Know What Owners Need

Because drivers pay for fuel, taxi company owners don’t profit from lower gasoline use, but they do benefit from greater driver satisfaction. Companies in Boston and San Antonio report having waiting lists of drivers eager to use HEVs. “If I try to take them away, it’s like pulling teeth,” says Miguel Constancio, operations manager at San Antonio Yellow Cab.

Owners also benefit from the longevity of HEVs. Most Crown Victorias in taxi service are used police vehicles. In Boston, these vehicles can be used for only three years before being replaced, but the city allows hybrid taxis to be used for up to six years. HEVs also can require fewer repairs. Cambridge driver George Fiorenza estimates he had to replace his Crown Victoria every 18 months, compared with the decade he expects to get out of his HEV. Lex says his HEV still had 30% of its brake pads left at 130,000 miles because of the regenerative braking system.

High initial cost is the biggest hurdle for owners. HEVs cost $25,000 to $30,000, compared with $7,000 for the used Crown Victoria with a “police package.” Ongoing costs are also a concern. The CleanAir CABS program estimates that most HEV drivers will replace the $7,000 battery once during the vehicle’s lifetime. Although HEVs might require less maintenance than conventional taxis overall, some repairs can be more costly. They may require expensive parts and servicing at a dealership or special equipment and training for in-house maintenance staff. Collision insurance payments also can increase because HEVs generally are worth more than conventional taxis.

For more information about Clean Cities visit

For More Information

Visit the Boston CleanAir CABS Web site at, and contact George Fiorenza of Cambridge’s Ambassador Brattle Cab Company (

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Vehicle Technologies Program

Green Taxi Cabs Gaining Ground Coast to Coast

Green Taxi Cabs Gaining Ground Coast to Coast
News by Sierra Club
(February 23, 2009) in Money / The Recession
I don’t take a lot of taxis, but I admit that when I do hop in a cab, speed and convenience are my motivation, not my carbon footprint. So I perked up while walking through downtown San Francisco this week when a Green Cab zipped by, sporting a spiffy green-and-white paint job and a checkered logo.

The company was founded in 2007 by eight veteran cabbies who were tired of getting pathetically low gas mileage in their company-issued cars. Green Cab is still a small outfit but the hybrids comprising the worker-owned company’s modest fleet get 40-plus miles to the gallon.

“The gas savings could put a lot more in your pocket,” Green Cab co-founder Mark Gruberg told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There are two principles we feel most strongly about—having a driver-run company and having an environmentally responsible company. It seems like this is really coming together at the right moment.”

San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have all been pursuing measures to green their taxi fleets, such as requiring that taxi companies purchase only alternative-fuel, hybrid, or high-mileage vehicles when replacing retired cabs. Chicago and Boston have also announced plans to green their fleets in the near future. Every three years, San Francisco’s entire fleet of cabs—which numbered 1,350 when Green Cab was founded—turns over.

According to the Cleantech Venture Network, North America’s nearly 200,000 taxis drive about 10 times more than regular passenger cars. Switching to hybrids will save cab drivers an average $1,200 to $1,500 per month on fuel. Cleantech has launched an initiative to convert taxis to hybrids, which could save $50 billion in fuel costs over a decade.

A little web surfing reveals that green cab companies are sprouting like spring wildflowers. Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit all have green taxi companies, as do many smaller cities like Burlington, Vt., Arlington, Va., and Charleston, S.C. Google “green cab,” plus the name of your city, to find out whether there’s an environmentally friendly taxi outfit where you live or are traveling to.
— Tom Valtin

Taxis Go From Yellow to Green

Intelligent Travel

Taxis Go From Yellow to Green



on October 24, 2008 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

Photo: Hybrid Taxis

Toyota Prius hybrids from Iowa City’s Black and Gold Cab Company

Cities across the U.S. are making a fashion statement that seems to be catching on–green is the new yellow. Taxis in many major cities are becoming more environmentally friendly by switching to low-emission vehicles. By taking this leap, taxis, which are the ultimate offenders of continuous stop-and-go traffic, will vastly decrease their contribution of carbon emissions on the road.

After reading a post from our friends at Inhabitat about Boston taxis recently taking the initiative to go green, we decided to see what other cities were making the same effort to decrease their carbon tire track.  What we found was a spread of cities and individuals offering green transportation to those in need, including locals and travelers abroad.

Arlington, VA – Introduced to the greater Washington area as  “the first carbon-neutral [taxi] fleet in the U.S.” earlier this year, EnviroCab offers only environmentally friendly vehicles to its customers. They even go the extra mile by offsetting their carbon emissions and then some in an effort to be the first carbon-negative taxi service in the world.

Boston – A major part of the overall plan to improve the city’s taxi system, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino calls for all taxis to be replaced by hybrids within seven years.  Along with these efforts to go green, the plan also requires drivers to install credit card machines and bars the wearing of sweatpants and T-shirts on the job (which isn’t exactly green, but hey, it’s something).

Chicago – Here, the transition to hybrids started with the help of a little green friend, Kermit the Frog. In an energy campaign launched by Ford Motor Company, a fleet of Ford Escape Hybrids, featuring the car’s spokesfrog Kermit, are providing green taxi services in Chicago.

Denver – Metro Taxi, Denver’s largest taxi service, offers a number of Toyota Prius hybrids to its customers.  Taking the term quite literally, these taxis are identifiable by their green paint jobs. But you shouldn’t take the green for granted, as more recently, the Yellow Cab Company of Denver also started to
offer hybrid cabs.

Iowa City Chris Griffin initially bought two Toyota Prius hybrids this year because of their impressive gas mileage. An added bonus: they have more legroom than his older taxis. Now he is happy to note that customers and drivers alike are glad to go green. The Black and Gold Cab Company, although operating on a smaller level than our other major cities, is proud to be a part of the green auto movement.

Key West, FL – Forget yellow and green, Five Sixes Taxi Dispatch switched to hybrid vehicles while keeping its signature pink paint job. The company plans to make its entire pink fleet green by March 2009.

New York City Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to make all New York City taxis green by 2012.  The five-year move to fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles is a part of his overall plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the city. The plan is well on its way for the approximately 13,000 taxis who call New York streets their home, athough the city recently hit a bump in its acquisition of hybrids.

San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas – Several taxi companies in these cities are taking part in the Green & Go Green Taxi Partnership established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The partnership promotes and assists the conversion to cleaner emissions technology. Look for taxis featuring a Green & Go logo.

San Francisco – A pioneer in the switch to low-emission vehicles, the Bay City has offered green taxis to its visitors and residents for several years now. Green Cab, at the forefront of this movement, is a worker-owned company providing a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles and high-mileage hybrids.

Seattle – The city council of Seattle took steps to help the environment by requiring all new taxis to get 30 miles to the gallon by 2013.

Outside the U.S., taxi services in cities like Dubai, London, Sydney, and Vancouver are also transitioning to hybrids. The changeover seems to be more than a temporary trend. Both drivers and customers seem to enjoy the environmental benefits and long-term financial advantages of low-emission vehicles.

Know of any other cities or taxicab services going green? Let us know.

Photo: courtesy of Chris Griffin

Hoboken, N.J. sets up low-cost car-sharing program

City Critic

Cars at Curbside, Available to Share

Tom White for The New York Times

CORNER CAR After making a reservation, the City Critic waved her card by a device on her rental to open the door and get the key.

Published: July 16, 2010


In a city blessed with every variety of public transportation, car traffic is awful and parking is even worse. Yet some people still insist, against all logic, on owning a car.

Tom White for The New York Times

Tom Vanderbilt, a traffic expert, along for the ride.

Tom White for The New York Times

Each car has its own parking space, and a GPS device.

That may sound familiar, but the city in question is not New York; it’s Hoboken, N.J., just a short swim to the west — the land of “restaurants, bars and double-parked cars.” To ease that congestion, the city has initiated a bold new experiment: It has scattered a few dozen stylish new cars around town, and left them there for residents to share. Anyone who needs a set of wheels can more or less help himself.

Putting more cars on the street might seem like an odd way to reduce congestion, but the hope is that once Hobokenites try car sharing, they will decide against car owning. It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.

The program, called Corner Cars, is based on the rent-by-the-hour model that companies like Zipcar and Hertz have been offering for years. In other cities, however, those cars are stored deep in parking garages or clustered in a few neighborhoods. Hoboken’s shared cars are parked on the street, in special bright green spots that appear every few blocks so they are never far out of sight or mind.

Connect by Hertz, which offered the winning bid to run the program, charges drivers $5 to $16 an hour to use the cars (plus 7 percent sales tax and a $5 New Jersey “domestic security fee”; gas is included). But it charges Hoboken nothing. In fact, it pays the city for the opportunity.

If you’ve ever used one of these rent-by-the-hour services, the basics will be familiar. Sign up online to get an electronic card in the mail. Then make your reservation, find your car in its assigned space, wave your card by a reader mounted inside the windshield and head off to Ikea.

I found lots of available rentals, even just a few days before the Fourth of July weekend. Setting out with Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us),” my first stop was a Toyota Yaris, at Adams and Eighth Streets. There’s something a little strange about walking up to a car you’ve never seen before and simply letting yourself in. But we got over it. Next up was a Toyota Prius, at Monroe and Eighth, which we drove up by Frank Sinatra Park to admire the view. Later we zipped around in a Mini Cooper. When we were done with each car, we just parked it in the same spot where we’d found it and walked away.

All in all, it’s about as convenient as car rental could ever be.

Corner Cars, the brainchild of Ian Sacs, Hoboken’s enthusiastic director of parking and transportation, is only a few weeks old, with just a couple of hundred users so far. It’s too soon to measure any impact. But in other communities, studies have shown that for every car that can be rented by the hour, 6 to 20 drivers have liked the experience so much, they’ve given up the car they owned. Across the country there is even a growing market in peer-to-peer car sharing — informal networks of car owners and car needers with no corporation to mediate.

“I think the part that’s really fascinating,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “is the behavioral response of users.”

“What is it about car sharing that causes people to sell their cars or forfeit a car?” she said.

The expense of car ownership is part of it, but she also sees a connection to larger social forces — “a growing culture of sharing,” of “social networks and the creation of communities through instant information.”

Mr. Vanderbilt likened it to the difference between paying to acquire and “park” a huge collection of CDs and simply streaming the music you want, when you want it, from the Internet.

So could something like Corner Cars work in New York? Well, it’s complicated.

Alternate side of the street parking would be one obstacle. So would the great variety in New York’s neighborhoods, not all of which are good candidates for this service.

The most obvious obstacle is that in New York, space comes at a premium. Hoboken lets Hertz have those curbside parking spots for $100 a month each. But in New York? Please, that’s less than the cost of some pedicures.

How much more would a rental company be willing to pay? Or would someone else with an interest in seeing fewer cars on the street — like real estate developers, who might like to build smaller garages in their buildings — agree to kick in the difference?

There is another obstacle to car sharing in New York, perhaps the biggest of all. Given the paucity of street parking, the expense of garage parking, the traffic, the insurance costs and the toll to vehicle and psyche, New York car owners who aren’t motivated by true need must be motivated by some very strong force of will. So strong, perhaps, that it is impervious to reason. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?

“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”

Perhaps New York will try an experiment like Hoboken’s. Or maybe New Yorkers get the traffic problems they deserve.

Migratory birds flying right into oily morass

// // By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

The piping plovers already are flying toward peril. The endangered birds are among the first of millions that will migrate this fall to the Gulf of Mexico — and the oil leak that could kill them.

Some birds, including the common loon and lesser scaup, spend winters along the Gulf Coast. Others, such as the blue-winged teal, use the Gulf as a staging area where they stock up on food before flying to Latin America.

“There are millions of birds at risk,” says Ken Rosenberg, conservation science director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “It’s safe to say thousands will die.”

He fears the BP oil spill, which began April 20, “could erupt into a much bigger disaster as oil continues to come to the surface.”

Hundreds of birds have died, and some drawn to the Gulf by migratory instincts will be affected starting this month, says Paul Schmidt, assistant director for migratory birds at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

He says the agency’s “biggest concern is the long-term degradation of the habitat.” Oil can kill plants and other food sources on beaches and in tidal and marshy areas, making them inhospitable for years, Schmidt says.

Migrating birds, like those that live year-round near the Gulf of Mexico, can introduce oil into their systems by preening oil-soaked feathers, says Greg Butcher, bird conservation director for the National Audubon Society. “If they get oil on their feathers, they lose their ability to regulate their temperature. If they swallow oil, they’re going to get sick.” Some birds that ingest oil might lose their ability to reproduce.

Scientists say hundreds of species could be affected by the spill:

• The sparrow-size piping plover, an endangered species, will show up on Gulf Coast beaches this month. They breed on the Atlantic Coast, the Northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and they winter in the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas.

• Water birds such as terns and black skimmers are affected, and more will arrive this fall. They feed in open water, putting them at risk of eating fish contaminated with oil.

• Blue-winged teal, gadwall, northern pintails and other “dabbling” ducks will arrive in September and October. Most use marshes as habitats, so there are untouched areas for them — unless a hurricane stirs up the oil and pushes it into those areas.

• Diving ducks such as redheads eat submerged vegetation that might be inundated with oil, and scaup eat surf clams that are easily contaminated with oil.

• Shorebirds such as red knot — an endangered species candidate — live on beaches and will be affected by oil washing ashore. Other species that feed on tidal flats, including the short-billed dowitcher, could be harmed if oil moves inland.

• Songbirds, including the Baltimore oriole, might gather in oiled vegetation along the coast.

It’s almost impossible to steer migrating birds away from instinctive destinations. “Birds are pretty hard-wired to their habitat,” Schmidt says. If there’s a lot of human activity in their traditional locations — boats, helicopters or airplanes — they will seek quieter areas nearby, he says, but oiled water or vegetation won’t prevent them from landing.

Scaring birds away with loud noises and using tarp to prevent them from landing in oily areas wouldn’t be effective because the spill affects such a large swath of the coast, Schmidt says.

Even so, conservationists are doing what they can to save birds.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is paying landowners in eight states $20 million to idle farmland and restore wetland to create habitats for migrating birds.

Butcher says talks underway about creating barrier islands and marshes are key to restoring bird populations.

The Aubudon Society is training volunteers to monitor bird populations and habitat conditions. Its Christmas bird count will provide an early warning about what species are in trouble because of the spill.

The most effective way to protect birds is to clean affected beaches, Butcher says. “They’re putting out a tremendous effort, but you can’t keep all the beaches clean all the time.”

Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited’s southern region, says 9.2 million ducks and geese winter in Louisiana. Most settle in marshes where salt and fresh water merge, and those areas are protected from oil for now by beaches and salt water, he says.

He’s worried about the fates of shorebirds that use beach habitats, and he’s concerned about what might happen next. If the leak isn’t shut off, Moorman says, 1 million diving ducks in the open waters of the Gulf could get hit by an oil slick, leading to “a pretty big mortality event.”

If BP doesn’t contain the spill soon, Rosenberg says, the outlook for birds could worsen. If the oil moves into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream, he says, “a number of other endangered seabirds could be affected.” And if oil expands along the Texas coast, he says, whooping cranes that arrive there in late September “could be threatened.”

Butcher says the spill’s effects on birds will be felt for years. It is changing the food supply at the bottom of the Gulf in ways scientists don’t understand yet, he says, and could result in smaller bird populations and, eventually, changes in migratory patterns.

“Oil and life,” he says, “don’t mix.”

San Francisco: Yellow taxis turn green

The taxi cabs in San Francisco, USA, take the lead in the struggle for a better environment. Today, more than half of the city’s taxis are hybrid vehicles or run on compressed natural gas. The objective is clear: by 2012, the city’s taxi operators must reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% in relation to 1990 levels. And the proportion of environment-friendly taxis is rapidly increasing. The initiative is not just good for the environment, but also for the drivers’ purses.

The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, praises the city’s green taxi programme, which has been a great success so far. A new milestone has been reached: 57% of the city’s taxis are now hybrid vehicles or run on CNG (compressed natural gas). The city passed legislation in 2008, giving the taxi companies four years to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% in relation to 1990 levels. They have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12%.

Many people expressed concern when the legislation was presented. Wouldn’t maintenance costs be high, wouldn’t passengers have to suffer limited leg space and would the batteries last for the vehicles’ lifespan? But San Francisco has already more than 700 hybrid taxis on its streets and until now, none of the above problems have arisen. In 2005, 15 hybrid taxis, all of them Ford Escapes, began operating on trial in San Francisco. The cars have now driven around 300,000 km. They are fast approaching the pension age for taxis and will soon be taken off the road – but not because they cannot run any more. Their lifespan demonstrates that hybrid technology is much more tenable than previously assumed.

The new hybrid taxi in San Francisco, Ford Escape. Otzberg, July 30  2006, Flickr Creative Commons.

The new hybrid taxi in San Francisco, Ford Escape. Otzberg, July 30 2006, Flickr Creative Commons.

Hybrid cars are ideal for the environment. Not only do they go further on a litre of gasoline/petrol than ordinary gas vehicles, they also emit far less CO2. The cars do especially well at low speeds and when standing still, which makes them especially relevant as city taxis. The most common taxi in San Francisco, the Ford Crown Victoria, only does about 5-6 km on a litre (12-14 mpg) in the city, says Taxi and Limousine Organisation spokesman Allan Fromberg. “It certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being fuel-efficient,” he says. A hybrid taxi like the Ford Escape, which runs on a combination of gasoline/petrol and battery power, does about 14-15 km on a litre (34 mpg).

The green vehicles do not just benefit the environment but the taxi companies’ bottom line as well. The experimental cars in San Francisco have saved their drivers/owners about USD 9000 a year in gasoline/petrol, depending to some extent on fuel prices and the number of shifts.
In addition to this, the cars’ brakes require less maintenance and some of the hybrid models are cheaper to buy than the traditional Crown Victoria.

“For the taxi drivers it is just as much a question of the money in their pocket as the green and the environment,”

Fromberg adds.

And the future looks bright for San Francisco’s environment-friendly taxis. Car manufacturers Ford, Nissan and General Motors have all promised to make a larger number of hybrid cars specially designed for use as taxis. Together with New York’s taxi drivers, who have introduced a similar programme, the companies have had to fight for those cars that are manufactured. The Mayor of San Francisco also has a new demonstration project on the drawing board which, in addition to hybrid cars, will also promote electric taxis. The warm reception that has been given to the environment-friendly taxis seems to indicate that they are an advantage to the taxi drivers, the people of San Francisco as well as the environment.