Given that the bulk of the world's dwindling oil supplies are being consumed for transportation, if we ever are to prepare for the day when oil and its byproducts become prohibitively expensive, then we will need to drastically overhaul our methods of moving people and goods. Electric cars are often touted as the best realistic option, but that approach begs the question, how are we to obtain the electricity to recharge the cars' batteries every night? Much of the electricity generated in the United States is sourced from power plants that burn natural gas, which brings us right back to the problem of declining hydrocarbon resources — but the opposite side of the coin, namely, natural gas. Mass transit can greatly alleviate this problem, because it transports far more people and goods per unit of energy, versus individual cars and trucks. Unfortunately, urban sprawl in America — exacerbated by our mindless zoning laws — makes it nearly impossible for current mass transit systems to connect any desired two points in a city — especially since most Americans have become spoiled by individual cars, and will do anything to avoid walking a few blocks, to a mass transit station.
However, a workable compromise may be found in personal rapid transit (PRT) systems, each of which consists of a network of automated electric vehicles, often referred to as pods. The pods are basically self-service electric vehicles that run on guideways, using sensors in the ground or other vehicle location technologies. The exact specifications of each pod varies depending upon the manufacturer and the model, but essentially they are designed to hold four to six individuals. In a PRT system, each station has one or more pods waiting to be used. Anyone can get into a pod and, using a touch pad system, indicate where in the system they would like to go. Advocates of PRT systems argue that they combine the ecological benefits of mass transit with the convenience and privacy of small vehicles. There certainly are advantages to each pod not having its own engine — especially one burning hydrocarbon liquid fuel — and not involving the weight and cost of private navigation by the individual, and the consequent extensive safety requirements.
The concept of PRT systems originated in the 1950s, but has unfortunately seen little adoption worldwide. This is partly a result of the high setup costs, as well as the challenges of integrating a PRT system into the existing transportation networks of the typical modern city. (This points up the significant long-term costs of poor city planning, characteristic of most American metropolitan areas.) One of the earliest attempts at a PRT-like network is the Morgantown GRT (Group Rapid Transit) system, located in Morgantown, West Virginia. Opening for service in 1975, it currently connects the main university campus, located downtown, with two satellite campuses, as well as the city's central business district.
The concept of personal rapid transit should gain greater attention in the future, with the planned deployment of a new system at a major airport. Heathrow International Airport, the world's busiest international airport, is planning to implement in 2009 an extensive PRT system to transport passengers and their luggage around the huge airport. It will cut in half the amount of carbon emissions, compared to the previously used buses and trains. The plan is to start with at least 400 pods, connecting car parks, car rental centers, terminals, and even airport hotels.
We can only hope that other airports, and entire cities, will consider PRT systems as a transportation alternative in the future.
There are signs everywhere in our culture of people focusing more on what is sustainable and what is truly important — including some decisions that are clearly life-changing, as well as others that at a cursory glance may seem inconsequential, but add up to Earth-changing trends. For instance, more professionals nowadays are leaving corporate jobs — for whatever reason — to spend more time with their families and to develop home-based businesses to sustain those families. Secondly, eco-conscious consumers are opting for reusable packaging and carry gear. These trends and other related ones came together in the life of Divya Mahajan, when she left her position as a financial advisor at a national bank, in order to be more accessible to her children, to gain greater control of her own time, and to pursue her entrepreneurial interests. Specifically, she began designing reusable bags made from biodegradable materials, with the idea that they would be unique as well as affordable — a rare combination. In 2006, she realized her goal when her new business, Green Aura, opened up online, and began offering a variety of environmentally friendly bags made of natural fibers, such as canvas and jute. These include handbags, lunch bags, gift/wine bags, and hand-painted bags, as well as tote bags for shopping and other carrying needs. All of these items are handcrafted by villagers in India, and most of the screen-printing and handwork is done by women, which empowers them financially and helps their families. Green Aura is another welcome sign that people are gradually learning that "We do not inherit the Earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children."
Starting and running a commercial venture — particularly in the current tough economic climate — is just as difficult for green businesses as the non-green variety. A key factor in the success of such an enterprise, is when the people running the business are not just "selling green", but are truly "living green". A terrific example of this is Green Girls Products, which is run by three women — Elizabeth, Pam, and Shelley — all of whom are not only good friends, but good examples of ecological integrity: Elizabeth is a vegetarian and busy mother, who altered her lifestyle to successfully help deal with severe personal illnesses. Pam and her husband have also been making the transition to a greater way of life. Shelley has lived green through most of her adult life, and enjoys passing along her knowledge to others. These three individuals, located in Centerville, Ohio, teamed up in 2007 to create a central source for eco-friendly products and equally friendly discussion among people who care. Their online store offers well over a hundred different products, such as organic lotions and oils for babies and adults; candles and incense; green home-cleaning products; body care items; pet supplies; and a variety of gifts and gift baskets. Elizabeth, Pam, and Shelley are actively involved not only in the business itself, but in the forum that visitors will find on their website. Join in the discussion, and share in the ideas and tips, as we all learn to help one another "live green".
When eco-entrepreneurs begin to get the ideas for their new businesses, sources of inspiration and guidance can come from a wide range of sources — such as a child having an adverse reaction to toxic chemicals, a first-hand experience with the advantages of organic foods, a newfound passion for recycling and reusing, or burgeoning knowledge of a particular industry's impact on the environment. In the case of New York resident Robin Kupersmith, her moment of epiphany came while dining with some girlfriends, several of whom are small-business owners. Robin came up with the idea for Organic Pure Life, and founded the company in January 2007. Her idea was to provide a convenient one-stop shop for all of our organic needs in a busy world: clothing, toys, shampoos, and lotions for babies; organic soaps, lip balms, cleansers, lotions, bath salts, conditioners, and deodorants for the body; organic candles, sponges, and other kitchen accessories for the home; and toys and cleansers for pets. Organic Pure Life offers a signature gift basket, made using authentic African baskets. A portion of the company's proceeds are donated to Sanctuary for Families. Visit Robin's site today, sign up for her blog, and perhaps discover your own inspiration for a new green business.
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