Think Electric Cars Are Too Different for You? Read This.

tesla roadster

The Tesla Roadster: Opting out of fake noises. (Flickr/e-connected)

I wrote a New York Times story yesterday about the idea of having very quiet plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars emit special sounds to let blind and other pedestrians know that they’re approaching. It made the front page, which was gratifying.

As soon as people start talking about issues like this, it unleashes the imagination: Soon carmakers are talking about emulating starships and Blade Runner cars, and consumers want to be able to download their own individual signature sounds. The result, of course, would be cacophony on the roads, which probably wouldn’t advance the original aim very much (but would be fun for some and make money for the “car-tone” vendors one imagines springing up.

The automakers are split on this. Fisker and Nissan are working up sounds, working with sound-effects people from the movie industry. But Tesla Motors, whose Roadster is a super-fast EV, is opting out: “We have been monitoring this issue very closely and do not plan to introduce fake noises into our cars at this time,” said spokeswoman Rachel Konrad. “In fact, one of the Roadster attributes that customers esteem most is the lack of over-the-top obnoxious noise.”

The fact is that EVs and plug-ins are a new paradigm for everybody, and will change society in ways we don’t anticipate yet. Just consider the issue of charging battery EVS: It’s my opinion that this will create its own momentum. As the cars start appearing, businesses will recognize the competitive advantage of offering fast charging in their parking lots. Nancy Gioia, the new director of global electrification at Ford, agreed with me that businesses might actually offer a 20-minute charge free to their preferred customers. Value added, indeed.

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Eco-Beat, 10/14

Do Adrian Grenier, Mark Whalberg, and Ashton Kutcher really qualify as “ordinary” guys? Can Jessica Biel’s and Pete Wentz’s personal trainers get them in shape for a grueling 6km run/walk by April? Does PETA understand that vegetarians are susceptible to the swine flu? Today’s Eco-Beat has the scoop on all the latest green news and tips.

Adrian Grenier, credit: Stephen Lovekin, Getty ImagesAdrian Grenier Supports the GQ Gentlemen’s Fund
Contrary to what you might expect, the Gentlemen’s Fund isn’t designed to send beautiful women to bikini modeling school (it’s GQ not Maxim). The GF is about “ordinary superstars men doing extraordinary things.: Adrian is leading the fund’s ocean conservation efforts.
Pete Wentz and Jessica Biel, credit: Emmanuel Dunand, Getty ImagesJessica Biel and Pete Wentz Run For Clean Water
LiveEarth, yes, that Live Earth, is sponsoring The Run For Water, a 6km run/walk (roughly the distance that women and children walk to access water in the developing world) that will be going on in cities across the planet on April 18th. Jessica Biel and Pete Wentz are in.
banned peta advertisment, credit: screenshotPETA’s Confused About What Causes Swine Flu
A broad consensus of the scientific community has accepted the idea that the H1N1 “swine flu” is spread through microscopic pathogens called viruses. PETA, on the other hand, apparently thinks that it’s spread by eating meat. At least, that’s what their ad suggested.
carbon offset kiosk, credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty ImagesAre Carbon Offsets Counterproductive?
Is the act of buying “offsets” simply an expensive way to feel better about our eco-sins, while not making any real positive impact? In a word: No. Not unless you consider the fact that you’re funding new renewable energy projects and rainforest conservation counter-productive.
biker in Copenhagen, credit: Daviddennisphotos.com, FlickrCan Cyclists and Drivers Coexist?
As journalist Gary Mason studies Copenhagen’s bike-friendly transportation system, he’s discovered the secret: Make life easier for cyclists, even at the expense of drivers. They actually take space away from drivers and give it to cyclists. Could this ever happen in the US?

Green in a Flash:

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Author:Josh Loposer

Big Oil Gag Order Against Newspaper Thwarted by Twitter Users

twitter trafigura scandal trending map

“Trying to suppress information in the age of social media is like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose,” Catherine Mayer writes in Time. That seems to be more true than ever, if this latest bizarre case to hit the UK is any indication.

In an aggressive power play, representatives of the oil trader Trafigura, the London-based law firm Carter-Ruck, had obtained a secret injunction in September to prevent the country’s Guardian newspaper from revealing the existence of a report commissioned by Trafigura on an alleged dumping of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast in 2006. The corporate lawyers also tried to block the Guardian from covering a written question about the case that was submitted to Parliament this week by MP Paul Farrelly.

Twitter users began a heated debate about the actions of Trafigura, pushing the company name high into trending topics. Big-time Twitterer Stephen Fry posted there: “Outrageous gagging order. It’s in reference to the Trafigura oil dumping scandal. Grotesque and squalid.” While the buzz built, the Guardian met with Carter-Ruck. Soon the name of the MP and his question were out on Twitter, and Carter-Ruck responded by backing off the injunction.

Stephen Shotnes, a media-law specialist with the London law firm Simons Muirhead & Burton, then told Time, “It’s been enshrined in our law for 300 years that there’s freedom of reporting of parliamentary proceedings. I would like to think that what would have happened is that the Guardian would have trotted off to court today and the injunction would have been lifted anyway. The likely impact of Twitter was to speed up that process.”

This case of mobilizing social media to exert pressure on companies and get the truth out, despite opposition, is one more example of the power of the people, amplified by technology. From Jeff Jarvis’ Dell Hell to outrage over Facebook Beacon, it’s clear that everyone is increasingly under scrutiny, especially big companies and institutions. It’s getting harder and harder to stop news from spreading around the globe — which will hopefully help bring about more transparency and responsibility, and freedom for all.

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