Special Online Project: Mother Earth’s Big Comeback

Tired of the doom and gloom? So are we. Our world may be in crisis, but it’s a world teeming with bright, hopeful ideas. And it’s about time they found an audience.

We filled the September-October issue of Utne Reader with good green news, spotlighting the designers, artists, inventors, attorneys, investors, academics, and citizens who are working to fix the planet’s problems. We’ve added others here (use the menu below to navigate) and we’ll keep discussing fresh ideas and innovations in the Utne Salon.

Eco-Design for Green Cities and Structures
Ecosystem Services
More Environmental Innovations To Give You Hope

Eco-Design for Green Cities and Structures

Urban Re:Vision’s eco-smart urban design competition turns “what ifs” into “what is.” Read about some of the brilliant designs the judges have seen so far, and learn how to enter at the Urban Re:Vision website.

The next era of green architecture isn’t just about buildings that use less energy. It’s about structures that can be labeled “net-zero” and “energy positive”—those that use no energy, or those that might even generate a little extra for others to use. The August-September issue of Plenty reports on the architects behind these bold new designs (article not available online).

Boston architecture firm Moskow Architects has designed a Pez-like Zipcar Dispenser, which could boost car-sharing by making pickups and dropoffs much simpler. The tall, thin edifice, designed for dense cities like Boston and New York, could be squeezed into tight spots, spitting out Zipcars instead of candy.

Toilet-to-tap recycled water is whooshing into our drier cities, reports Governing, but getting the PR right is even trickier than turning sewage into drinking water. So far so good in Orange County, where a new groundwater replenishment system produces 70 million gallons of recycled water per day, writes Elizabeth Royte for the New York Times Magazine.

Check out Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide, by Stacy Pettigrew and Scott Kellogg of the Rhizome Collective, just out on South End Press, and the handy Utne Reader Online Guide to Green Building.

Image by Joe Shlabotnik, licensed under Creative Commons.

Ecosystem Services

Are capitalists the new conservationists? The burgeoning field of ecosystem services puts Mother Earth to work at what she does best.

A team of economists evaluated the value of the “natural capital” in Washington’s Puget Sound region—its forests, wetlands, mountains, etc.—and estimated that it’s worth at least $243 billion, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

As resorts and other development projects have popped up along Mexico’s Gulf of California coastline, the area’s mangrove forests have taken a hit—as have the snapper, mullet, and other fish that dwell in these underwater forests. That’s bad news for the region’s commercial fishing industry, reports National Geographic News: The government has overestimated the economic value of coastal development, and “grossly undervalued” the economic benefits of mangroves to local fisheries.  

Countries like Portugal, New Zealand, and the UK are dipping their toes into ocean power, says IEEE Spectrum, but there’s still not much tidal talk in the States. World Watch takes a broad, skeptical look at the technology behind ocean-generated energy, which still has quite a few kinks to work out—including dispatchability, or the ability to transfer the energy, once harnessed, to a site that needs it.   

Poison that’s meant to kill mice and gophers often finds other victims, including birds and household pets. The Hungry Owl Project encourages people to enlist natural predators to wipe out their rodent problems, by putting out owl boxes instead of nasty chemical pesticides (via Sierra).

Image by tlindenbaum, licensed under Creative Commons.

More Environmental Innovations To Give You Hope

Scientists and conservationists around the globe are using satellite technology to catch poachers and keep an eye on natural resources, according to Environment: Yale.

European hotels are getting greener, says Green Futures, upping water and energy efficiency and, in some spots, composting kitchen waste. In the United States, progress is a bit slower, argues Mother Jones, but change is on the horizon: at hospitality-management schools, eco-themed classes are filling up.  

Plenty has a fun map showing all the countries that have enacted plastic-bag bans.

The Aquaduct, a tricked-out, three-wheeled bicycle, uses pedal power to filter water. More info (and a very helpful image) at Stanford magazine.

Ten reasons why organic foods can feed the world, from Ecologist.

A campaign to keep Louisiana’s threatened cypress trees out of your garden mulch has been largely successful, according to Audubon—environmental groups have convinced major retailers like Wal-Mart and Lowe’s to avoid stocking cypress mulch. (Mother Jones reported on the issue back in March.)

Can a machine step in to help trees do what they do best? Conservation checks out a new CO2-absorbing gadget, which could be “planted” just about anywhere.

Removing toxins from groundwater is as easy as . . . gold? Michael Wong explains why to Smithsonian.

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation delivers fruit and nut trees to communities with fresh-fruit shortages (via Plenty).

Ecolabels offer a deeper awareness of a product’s total footprint, explaining how many pollutants were released to create it, from start to finish—including packaging and transportation. Timberland already uses ecolabels, and we may start seeing them elsewhere, suggests California.

Do you know how much water it takes to produce a slice of wheat bread? Or a sheet of paper? Check it out at Waterfootprint.org. (One beer = 75 liters of water!)

In California, truck drivers have teamed up with residents to fight for cleaner air and a more sustainable trucking system. In These Times reports on this unlikely coalition.

IBM, Sony, Nokia, and other tech companies are taking part in the Eco-Patent Commons, an initiative that aims to share, rather than horde, innovations in ecofriendly technology (via CNET News).

Read about other environmental innovations here.

Image by krymorg, licensed under Creative Commons.

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