Dear EarthTalk: What are some cool apps that work with a mobile phone that can help me get in better touch with the environment? -- Mitchell Brown, Troy, Mich.
Not surprisingly, there are thousands of "green" apps out there that make it easier for people to find and share information to help us all become better stewards of the natural environment.
The American Lung Association's State of the Air app shows live color-coded air quality maps for any U.S. location and includes both ozone and particulate pollution counts. The app also provides air quality alerts, short-term forecasts and opportunities to learn more about air quality risks and to contact lawmakers to push for more stringent pollution regulations.
Another way to find out who's emitting what nearby is via aMobileFuture's Pollution, a free app that compiles information from various pollution databases around the world and then shows users which big polluters are emitting what near them. Coverage includes 1,380 cities, mostly in Europe and the U.S.
Ethical shoppers will appreciate the GoodGuide, a free app that shows how any of 120,000 food, personal care and household products stack up in terms of sustainability, fair wages and even health risks. Users just snap a picture of an item's bar code to get the low-down on whether or not it's a "good" buy. And the free JouleBug app turns living greener into a game, taking specific sustainability-oriented steps such as reducing energy use, recycling more or buying local and translating these small acts into positive "units of impact." Embedded videos demonstrate ways once can green up daily life.
Adair Systems' 99 cents GasHog app makes it easy to track a car's fuel efficiency. Enter the odometer reading and amount of fuel added each time you refill the tank and the app calculates the fuel economy of the previous tank and compares it to historical averages. The app also offers tips for improving fuel economy. And Avego's free CarmaCarpooling app matches nearby drivers with riders to share the commute and the expense. At the end of the trip, the rider can send a payment through the system to the driver to cover a share of gas and wear-and-tear.
PaperKarma is a free app to help reduce junk mail. Users input their address information once and then snap a picture through the app of any unwanted junk mail. Behind the scenes, PaperKarma's automated system notifies the publisher to take the user's name and address off their list.
Another popular app is Light Bulb Finder, a free app designed to help ease the transition from older incandescent bulbs to more energy efficient replacements. Users enter in their zip code -- the app automatically inputs average regional electricity rates accordingly -- and then choose which type of fixture, size/shape and wattage bulb(s) they are looking to replace. The app then suggests options that use less energy and shows how much money the user can expect to save with the newer bulb(s).
It's nice to know that the little screens we've become increasingly dependent upon -- and which otherwise tend to distract us from nature and the outdoors -- can also be used for the betterment of the environment.
Contacts: State of the Air App, www.lung.org/healthy-air/outdoor/state-of-the-air/app.html;
EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.