Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
2/9/2012 10:55:23 AM
The Nature Conservancy is taking a new stripped-down approach to environmental protection: The green group is teaming up with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and online luxury retailer Gilt to raise money for beach preservation in an unholy mashup of sex, commerce, marketing, publishing, and environmentalism.
Why the green tie-in? “Because everyone benefits from pristine tropical beaches. Especially when they’re occupied by gorgeous women in bathing suits.” That’s according to promotional prose about the partnership on the Gilt website, in an announcement that is no longer posted. (Though you can still buy a $1,000 ticket to a New York launch party where you can hang out with the swimsuit supermodels.)
Gilt will be selling Sports Illustrated-themed swimsuits, surfboards, photos, and other merch on its site, with all ecommerce sale proceeds going “to preserve the beaches SI features in its pages,” reports Folio magazine.
Not everyone is sold on the mission. “What’s next for The Nature Conservancy?” wrote a commenter on Folio. “Partnering with porn sites?”
I understand the writer’s sentiment. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has long been an overhyped exercise in sexual objectification and anorexia induction, and I’m not sure why The Nature Conservancy thinks it will benefit from hitching its green message to the marketing machine that cranks out this cheeseball, throwback brand of softcore year after year. The association seems to risk putting off every potential supporter who doesn’t think Mad Men is a look back at the good old days.
Environmental writer Derrick Jensen of Orion already saw this sort of thing coming, having penned a prescient column in the current issue titled “Not in My Name.” Go ahead and call him a killjoy, but I think he pretty much nailed it:
Let me say upfront: I like fun, and I like sex. But I’m sick to death of hearing that we need to make environmentalism fun and sexy. … The fact that so many people routinely call for environmentalism to be more fun and more sexy reveals not only the weakness of our movement but also the utter lack of seriousness with which even many activists approach the problems we face. …
Unfortunately, the notion that activism … has to be fun and sexy pervades the entire environmental movement, from the most self-styled radical to the most mainstream reformist.
Sources: Folio, Gilt Groupe, Orion
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1/25/2012 4:44:27 PM
Europe’s great forests are largely gone, but there’s one often-overlooked country where lynx, wolves, moose, and wild boars still roam under dense tree cover: Latvia. Jeremy Hance reports in Mongabay on the Baltic nation’s richly diverse forests, and how they’re being endangered by an alarming logging spree during these strained economic times:
Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation’s forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
LVM’s lumber used to carry certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, but FSC booted it from the program in 2010, Hance reports. LVM is attempting to regain full certification, but many biologists are worried that its loggers are rapidly chipping away at Latvia’s incredible biological heritage. The country, at the crossroads of western Russia, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, is teeming with more wildlife than many people might realize:
The nation has the highest population densities of lynx and beaver in the European Union, and not long ago the highest density of black storks. The country is also home to wild boar, red fox, capercaillie, black woodpecker, white-backed woodpecker, and moose, and a few resident bears. In fact, unlike much of Europe, Latvia still retains self-sustaining populations of historic top predators, including 500-1,000 Eurasian wolves.
I visited Latvia in 1990, but it was a tumultuous political time preceding the breakup of the USSR, and I didn’t venture far from the tension-filled capital of Riga. I’d like to return one day to roam much deeper into the Latvian wilderness—if it stays wild, that is. Writes Hance:
It may not be long till the great forests of Latvia start to look like those of Western Europe: fragmented and fractured. Some forest species—like the lynx, the bear, the capercaillie, the moose, beaver, black storks, and the wolf—could vanish for good, while others may hang on in a pathetic state. In which case Latvia would have lost not only its splendid wildlife and ecosystems, but also its deep historical and cultural identity.
Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., licensed under Creative Commons.
1/20/2012 2:51:10 PM
The modern wilderness expedition is typically a heavily sponsored, satellite-uplinked, closely tracked affair, with the expeditioners often just a distress call away from rescue. Magazine stories chronicling these canned adventures often rely on dramatic overstatement to punch up their otherwise predictable narratives, so it’s a breath of fresh air to read an expedition account that truly takes you to the edge of adventure and to the limits of human endurance.
“Crossing Kolyma” is the understated title of Russian Life magazine’s incredible story of two men’s 10-month, 2,000-mile trek through remote, far eastern Siberia in 2004-2005. Author Mikael Strandberg and his travel partner Johan Ivarsson set off on their journey with a fair bit of hubris, intending to live off the land by hunting and fishing and, having been “born, bred, and still living in the Scandinavian outback,” to outperform the legions of city-born adventurers who have left the short history of polar travel “a record full of frostbites and death.”
Their main aim for the trip was a cultural one, “to widen the western world’s knowledge about the Russian and Siberian way,” writes Strandberg, who is keenly aware of the region’s history as the site of Stalin’s infamous gulags. Their trip, however, soon turned into a fight for survival and sanity as they endured impenetrable forest, a typhoon-driven flood, menacing bears, frostbite, and frozen stove fuel at temperatures as low as -70 Fahrenheit.
Here’s a typically bleak scene from mid-journey:
“That’s more frostbite,” Johan despaired through his facemask. “That means I’ve got it on every finger.”
He was having another bout of diarrhea. It was the third time in an hour he’d had to squat and drop his trousers. And his three sets of gloves. On every occasion he had experienced that burning feeling followed by numbness in one of his fingers. The first stage of frostbite. I could barely make him out in the eternal darkness of midwinter and I shivered violently. The way I had every day since we’d left the settlement of Zyranka four weeks before, in the middle of November.
“I think we’d better move on,” I whispered.
I exhaled, coughed and heard the familiar tinkling sound of my breath turning into a shower of ice crystals. In Kolyma they call it “the whispers of the stars.”
Strandberg and Ivarsson ended up spending a month “thawing out” in the Yakut settlement of Srednekolymsk, then forging on to their final destination in Ambarchik Bay.
Amazed by Strandberg’s account of this epic trek, I tried to find out what he’s up to these days. His website reveals far more about the personal aftereffects of the Kolyma trip than he lets on in the magazine story:
Siberia changed my life completely. And it ruined it. It was the best time in my life. It had everything I have ever dreamt about. The enormous taiga and the extreme cold gave me and my partner Johan Ivarsson unlimited freedom. We hunted and fished to survive. We met the best people on earth, the native Siberians. It felt like I had finally understood. Also, I felt like it doesn’t matter one bit if I die now. I have seen all. Returning home was a disaster. It completely ruined my life for the next three years. A tragic divorce with the worst of consequences. I faced bitterness, hatred, shame and personal ruin.
Strandberg wouldn’t be the first high-stakes expeditioner to find the transition back to “normal” life challenging. Perhaps the psychological toll of Kolyma was greater than he ever let on, and perhaps the lingering memory of the Siberian cold is what set him on his next great journey: a camel trip across Yemen.
Source: Russian Life
(article not available online)
Image copyright Mikael Strandberg; used with permission.
9/28/2011 4:13:02 PM
Cash-strapped state parks are forging partnerships with corporations to close their budget gaps, Governing magazine reports:
In New York, for example, Nestle’s Juicy Juice contributed $350,000 to build playgrounds in seven state parks. In California, Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Markets have raised about $1.9 million to support reforestation and other state park preservation efforts. And in Georgia, Verizon Wireless contributed $5,000 to cover the cost of park passes for the state’s annual Free Day at the park. Most of these efforts come with recognition—on a playground sign, on a park pass—of the corporation’s contribution.
The trend has already spawned the creation of a new breed of middleman: A California firm called Government Solutions Group has brokered about $7.5 million in such deal since 2004. Chief executive Shari Boyer tells Governing that this is not philanthropy but business: “These are partnerships. The corporation has to get something out of it.”
Some park managers are ostensibly taking care to hook up with companies that are a good fit—but the parameters seem pretty fuzzy:
Asked how Coke products intersect with California’s state park mission, company spokesman Bob Phillips said Coca-Cola’s support of park restoration is part of its “live positively” platform, in which “sustainability is part of everything we do, particularly in this time of cost cutting and downsizing.” Phillips rejected the idea that Coca-Cola products were not in sync with parks’ health and environmental missions, noting instead that state parks “provide opportunities to be physically active.”
If you’re like me, your B.S. meter is off the charts at this contention, but take heart: Overall, these deals are a small piece of the park funding pie. Governing reminds us that in California in the last five years, corporate sponsorships have raised about $6.5 million for parks, while contributions from nonprofit groups amount to $50 million and volunteer hours stack up at a value of $100 million. Even Boyer holds that corporate sponsorships are “not the solution” to larger park funding woes.
Unfortunately, the situation could change as things get worse: One park director says that in the future, “If a corporate citizen wants to put their name on a park, I think that could happen.”
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8/26/2011 2:30:04 PM
It seems like a brilliant green-power scheme: Capture the unharnessed energy created by people working out in health clubs. But there’s a problem with this plan, contends IEEE Spectrum’s Tom Gibson after crunching the numbers: The actual energy gains are small, especially in relation to the cost of retrofitting existing gym equipment.
Consider, for instance, how long you’d need to pedal a stationary bike to power a clothes drier for an hour, for instance: About 40 hours. You could power a coffee maker with 10 hours of riding, or a laptop computer with about 30 minutes of bike time. Ultimately, Gibson concludes, exercise-generated power wouldn’t offset much of a health club’s energy use, and its long payback time doesn’t make much economic sense either:
So are these electricity-producing exercise machines merely a marketing gimmick, something to make gym patrons feel good about their workouts? At the moment, that would seem to be the case. Gyms that have embraced the technology say that by advertising themselves as greener than regular gyms—and gyms are notorious power hogs—they can attract environmentally conscious consumers. And if enough customers choose that gym rather than another one down the street, the initial investment will pay for itself much faster.
Gibson goes a bit overboard in his zeal to debunk the green-gym folks—did he really need to include charts showing that exercise bikes cannot in fact power the nation?—but at least he lets supporters have their say. Three U.S. companies are working to market the technology, and to defend themselves from doubters like Gibson:
Backers of the technology respond by comparing the current cost of these machines with that of technologies like compact fluorescent bulbs or solar and wind power, which many people doubted would ever take off. They claim it’s only a matter of time until every exercise machine comes equipped with a generator. And with some 30,000 gyms in the United States, that would mean millions of machines—and many more in people’s homes—whose combined energy would then be appreciable.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
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7/13/2011 1:48:13 PM
Public golf courses, whose audience has gone the way of plaid slacks, are being remade by more cities into parks and other more in-demand amenities. Peter Harnik and Ryan Donahue report in Landscape Architecture Magazine that idle fairways are increasingly attractive to urban planners, asking, “What is the future of golf in crowded, park-hungry cities?”:
The game of golf has never been an efficient use of space (hence the development of mini golf) but in the past it could be argued that it was still worthwhile public investment that subsidized a system’s other parks through green fees. No longer. Golf’s popularity is not keeping up with population growth nor the explosion in the number of private golf venues; it’s also losing out to other self-directed activities like running and cycling.
The repurposing of golf courses has been happening for a few years, but the trend shows no signs of waning. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans repurposed some of the land that formerly held four golf courses covering 520 acres. The area now features a boardwalk, a dock, a meadow concert venue, a nature trail, and a very popular walking and jogging trail. National City, California, is considering turning a golf course into a park that has a soccer field, a restored creek, a community farm, and biking and walking paths. And in San Francisco, one landscape architecture instructor at the University of California at Berkeley assigns his students to remake the city’s Lincoln Park Golf Course for other public uses that include a profit-generating feature: “Among the proposals that have emerged,” Landscape Architecture Magazine reports, “are urban farms, bamboo forests, green cemeteries, aquifer recharge facilities, abalone farms, and municipal-scale composting facilities.”
It’s not always about ripping up the greens, though, according to Harnik and Donahue, whose research was supported by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. Pressure for other uses has led some golf courses to incorporate features that appeal to the non-golfing public. In Houston, runners advocated for and got a trail around a city course. In a Washington, D.C., suburb, golfers under fire for a driving-range expansion responded by agreeing to make the facility more friendly to the environment and to wildlife.
And some cities are simply letting ordinary people, those common folk who know nothing about bogies or mulligans, use the greens at certain times. This is anything but a new idea in the golf world, LAM reminds us:
The idea has an eminent precedent—St. Andrews in Scotland, hallowed ground for golfers everywhere, has traditionally opened up as a regular park for the townspeople on Sundays.
Source: Landscape Architecture Magazine
(article not available online), Governing
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7/11/2011 10:19:01 AM
A canoeist is headed to court for defying a “No Trespassing” sign on a creek in New York’s Adirondack State Park that passes through private property. Matthew Sturdevant writes in Canoe & Kayak magazine about the principled stand taken by paddler Phil Brown, whose case “is one of many potentially precedent-setting lawsuits and legislative battles pitting the rights of landowners against those of paddlers.”
It’s not just these narrow interest groups that have a stake in the matter, though: Such cases are important to anyone who values public access to public resources.
Brown, who as the editor of the Adirondack Explorer has previously covered navigation-rights issues, paddled straight into controversy when he skirted the sign during a 15-mile canoe trip in 2009. Staying on the water saved him from slogging through a three-quarter-mile portage, Sturdevant reports:
By paddling across Mud Pond and down a section of Shingle Shanty Brook, both of which pass through private land, Brown could avoid the carry. More importantly, he could show that the waterway is “navigable in fact,” meaning that it should be open to the public. Brown blazed by the “No Trespassing” signs and continued on to Lake Lila. The landowners sued him for trespassing.
Navigability is the linchpin in this case, with the landowner’s attorney arguing that the creek is typically nonnavigable. However, Brown’s trip down the river, which he wrote about in the Adirondack Explorer, may speak louder than words. And he has some welcome allies in state agencies, writes Sturdevant:
Attorneys for New York’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation are trying to intervene in the case on behalf of paddlers and the public. “The public has a right to travel and enjoy this beautiful waterway without being stopped or harassed,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says.
As a canoeist and a public-access advocate, I cheer Brown and the agencies for standing up to landowners who attempt to take over public resources as their own. I’m lucky to live in a city, Minneapolis, where urban park pioneer Theodore Wirth had the uncommonly good sense to make the shorelines of nearly all of our city lakes public—but I also live near one, Cedar Lake, where landowners have essentially taken over a public shoreline with their docks and fences. So I’m reminded every time I paddle there that constant vigilance is required to keep access—to both land and water—open.
Besides, I’m kind of inspired by Brown’s example. Perhaps the next time I canoe on Cedar, I’ll stop for a picnic on the shore, and if a landowner asks me to leave, I’ll politely say, “Sue me.”
Source: Canoe & Kayak, Adirondack Explorer, Star Tribune
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