The Green Lantern

Thinking about the environment, The New York Times Syndicate brings from the Slate Magazine "The Green Lantern", our biweekly 800-word Q&A column focuses on climate change, pollution and whatever other environmental quandaries readers are wrestling with. Written by renowned columnists, presents sustainable daily solutions, with tips and ideas to changes for a better world. That is a suggestion to discuss the future.


Q: I live in a fairly rural place, and we have an oil furnace, some electric heat, and a wood stove. I've heard that wood burns pretty cleanly, but it doesn't look like it compared with what comes out of the oil-furnace chimney. Of course, wood doesn't have to be refined, and it comes from only a few dozen miles away. It's getting chilly: Should I be heating my home with firewood?

A: It's not just old-timey nostalgics who are mulling this question. Sales of wood stoves are up 55 percent over last season as consumers look for a greener and a cheaper alternative to oil and gas.

So how does the green case for wood stack up? The argument centers on the fact that wood is a renewable resource: When you chop down a tree for firewood, you can easily plant one to replace it. (It would take millions of years to replace spent fossil fuel.) Mile for mile, transporting firewood can be pretty energy-intensive since it's so bulky, but you are far more likely to have wood in your backyard (literally!) than you are to be located in close proximity to natural gas reserves.

By Jacob Leibenluft (Jacob was editor in chief of the Yale Daily News from 2004-2005, and now he is a columnist of Slate Magazine.)

Q: I always idle my engine while stuck in traffic or waiting at the drive-through. My wife insists that the greener move is to turn off the car every time we come to a stop, but I think she's nuts. Doesn't restarting a vehicle waste a whole lot of energy? I remember learning that each restart burns the same amount of gas as idling your car for 30 minutes.

A: The Lantern assumes that you started driving way back in the heyday of the carburetor, when engines started up with a big gush of fuel. But unless you own an automotive dinosaur, your current engine is so efficient that idling would rarely, if ever, be an earth-friendly choice.

Today's cars use electronic fuel injectors, which rigorously control the amount of gas delivered to the engine when you hit the ignition. As a result, virtually no fuel is wasted during startup, and only a thimbleful is burned as the car roars to life.

By Brendan I. Koerner (Brendan is a contributing editor for Wired magazine and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate magazine. He sometimes writes using the pseudonym Mr Roboto.)

Q: I'm thinking of getting a big, new flat-screen TV so that my friends and I can watch the Steelers pummel the Cardinals in this Sunday's Super Bowl. But then I read that the EU wants to ban big plasma televisions because they drain so much energy. How do I choose a TV that won't kill the planet?

A: First off, it's a myth that the EU is "banning" plasmas _ it's working on stricter energy regulations for all TV types. But, yes, TVs are getting thirstier, and the biggest, least-efficient plasmas can potentially use as much electricity as a refrigerator _ traditionally the most power-hungry appliance in your house. But those are the sets at the extreme end of the market. If you shop carefully, you can get any kind of fancy new TV you want without dramatically increasing your energy consumption.

By Nina Shen Rastogi (Nina is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. She writes the Green Lantern column at Slate every Tuesday, and the Explainer column every Thursday.)

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