Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Friday, December 02, 2011 4:52 PM
Some fallacies die long, slow, hard deaths, and it appears that’s what’s happening with the happy, comforting, brainless mantra “Growth is good.” The ongoing global economic recession and looming environmental catastrophe have finally caused a significant number of people to question just how we think we’re going to economically grow forever on a crowded planet with finite resources.
British economist Tim Jackson, author of the 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth, explains in a Q&A with OnEarth executive editor George Black that this previously unmentionable notion is gaining currency even among some forward-thinking business leaders:
You say in your book that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists, and revolutionaries.” Is that more true or less true now than when you wrote it in 2009?
Both. It’s more true in the sense that there’s a ferocious backlash against those who question the quasi-religious fervor about getting growth back. But at another level there’s this really interesting thing going on, with a whole spectrum of people beginning to question the assumption that it’s desirable, from ordinary people who have always been uncertain about why things must expand indefinitely to groups that have previously been obsessed with the idea of growth, like the World Economic Forum in Davos. It continues to surprise me that my book has had such resonance among business leaders. I was trying to say that it’s a real dilemma to structurally reorganize your economy. This isn’t an easy thing, and there are no off-the-shelf solutions. But we have to go into that place, no matter how dark and counterintuitive it seems. And I think that’s something the more visionary CEOs respond to, actually enjoy to some extent.
Image by Sunset Parkerpix, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, October 23, 2011 4:53 PM
As I read OnEarth magazine’s no-holds-barred story condemning Canada’s past and present environmental record—billed on the cover as “Blame Canada: Our Rapacious Neighbor to the North”—I thought, wow, Canadians are going to be mad at the American who wrote this. Then I realized that the author, Andrew Nikiforuk, is a Canadian himself, and so are many of the harshest critics quoted in the piece.
Which makes the story a particularly tough pill to swallow for any Canadian who still harbors the illusion that his or her country is a beacon of environmental enlightenment. Sure, Canada has sensible gun laws, universal health care, gay marriage, and a refreshing lack of religious fanaticism—but, writes Nikiforuk:
Although Canada pretends to be a Jolly Green Giant, it is actually a resource-exploiting Jekyll and Hyde. Whenever global demand for metals and minerals booms, Canada takes on a sinister personality. And whenever export markets shrivel, the country temporarily retreats into a kindly figure with memory of the misdeeds of his alter ego. But for most of Canada’s history, the nasty Mr. Hyde has dominated the nation’s economic life as a hewer of wood, a netter of fish, a dammer of rivers, and a miner of metals.
Well, then. Canada’s current earthly plunder is of course the tar sands of Alberta, but Nikiforuk makes the convincing case that this is just the latest in a long line of environmental transgressions, tempered by a brief spell of admirable anti-climate-change moves, as one expert tells him:
“Canada used to be a leader in climate-change policy and action,” says Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria, one of Canada’s leading climate-change researchers. But that was before it became America’s number-one oil supplier. Now, Weaver says, “Canada has an ideological agenda all built around the export of one resource.”
Furthermore, it would be bad enough if Canada were simply destroying its own environment, but the country’s reach extends far beyond its borders thanks to the global nature of 21st century extraction industries, Nikiforuk points out:
When not digging up their own backyard, Canada’s energetic engineers and drillers are busy abroad, with almost half their investments concentrated in Mexico, Chile, and the United States.
It’s easy to take this blame game too far; we Americans are of course culpable in any environmental destruction committed to feed our insatiable needs for energy, food, and products. But perhaps it is time to see Canada in a more nuanced light.
One U.S. green activist, writes Nikiforuk, “ had a benign view of Canada as a forested country with funky rock bands such as the Barenaked Ladies.” This is much too narrow a view; to be fair, she should have remembered that along with Neil Young and Arcade Fire, Canada has also given us Celine Dion and Nickelback.
, licensed under
Thursday, May 19, 2011 5:30 PM
Would you wear a swamp rat around your shoulders? Michael Massimi, the invasive-species coordinator at the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) in southeast Louisiana, hopes swamp rats—properly known as nutrias—will become part of your wardrobe, reports Barry Yeoman in OnEarth.
The scruffy, long-tailed rodents, originally from South America, were brought to Louisiana in the 1930s for their fur. As the demand for pelts decreased, nutrias became a serious threat to the state’s 6,600 square miles of wetlands, which are disappearing at an alarming 25 square miles a year. Yeoman explains:
Nutrias, which reproduce quickly, eat freshwater marsh vegetation down to its roots. “They’re the termites of our coastal wetlands,” Massimi says. “This is an existential issue. The marsh ain’t big enough for the two of us.” Nutrias also eat young cypress trees in Louisiana’s swamps and burrow into hurricane-protection levees, destabilizing them.
With mangy brown fur and long orange teeth, nutrias are not pretty animals. Nonetheless, Massimi and New Orleans designer Cree McCree, of the Righteous Fur project, have staged fashion shows in New Orleans and Brooklyn featuring nutria-fur hats, a nutria bikini, a nutria-lined robe, and a backless nutria teddy to highlight the animal’s potential in the fashion world. Already, high-end designers like Oscar de la Renta and Billy Reid have taken notice, incorporating nutria into their collections.
So what happens in the unlikely event that nutria fever spreads throughout the fashion world? “Massimi knows there’s a paradox in developing a nutria fur market,” Yeoman writes, as Massimi tells him:
We’re defeating the purpose if there’s an economic incentive for people to, say, farm nutria. That’s absolutely not what we want to do. But, frankly, that’s a problem I would love to have.
Image by amboo who?, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 05, 2011 2:05 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best environmental coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
rightly believes that if you care about birds, you care about the environment. The Audubon Society’s magazine is a must-read for nature watchers of all kinds, digging into its subjects with a keen eye for both natural beauty and the forces that threaten it.
Published by the Society for Conservation Biology, Conservation transcends its modest roots with intellectual depth. From exploring “the dark side of green consumerism” to asking, “Can we feed ourselves without destroying the planet?” it gets to the environmental stories that demand our attention.
A publication of the Earth Island Institute, the group founded by legendary activist David Brower, Earth Island Journalreports from the front lines of the environmental crisis. Its global focus and eagerness for stimulating debate make it essential reading for greens.
The footnotes in Environmentmagazine say “academics at work”—but the stories will have you asking, “Why isn’t anyone else writing about this?” This publication covering “science and policy for sustainable development” goes in-depth but never gets out of reach.
covers myriad stories from the forefront of environmentalism, whether it’s the U.S. military’s use of forestry as a counterinsurgency tool or “urban ecology” putting teens to work greening their cities. Published by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the biannual provokes readers to change the way they think about the natural world.
The Western United States is a key battleground for many environmental issues, and High Country News is your experienced and knowledgeable correspondent. Its watchdog coverage of mining, ranching, logging—and simply Western life—is unmatched.
The quarterly journal of the Natural Resources Defense Council, OnEarth monitors what’s happening to our land, air, water, and wildlife. It’s a pretty nature magazine, but it also brings a keenly analytic eye to the societal and political dimensions of environmentalism.
The most literary of environmental magazines, Orion takes a big view, touching on spirituality, philosophy, and the arts in its gorgeous pages. Thoughtfully provocative columnists keep it from drifting off into the rapidly warming atmosphere.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Image by Enokson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 1:34 PM
As the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf approaches we look to some of our most trusted sources to get us up to date on all things BP and the Gulf. Below are some of the nominees for this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards in the environmental and political categories with their most recent coverage of the oil spill, one year later.
Let’s start at Audubon Magazine for a little history on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, by way of an excerpt from A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout by Carl Safina (who also appears in the latest issue of Utne Reader). Even though we know how it all ends, Safina’s build up to the blowout is tense and makes you anxious while reading:
A churning drill bit sent from a world of light and warmth and living beings. More than three miles under the sea surface, more than two miles under the seafloor. Eternal darkness. Unimaginable pressure. The drill bit has met a gas pocket. That tiny pinprick. That pressure. Mere bubbles, a mild fizz from deep within. A sudden influx of gas into the well. Rushing up the pipe. Gas expanding like crazy. Through the open gates on the seafloor. One more mile to the sea surface.
The always feisty Mother Jones doesn’t beat around the bush with their latest blog post about the spill: “10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Oil Disaster.” The all-too-clear-but-all-too-easily-forgotten reasons include, “BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” even though “People are sick” and “Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster.” Meanwhile, “GOP House members want more drilling off all our coasts with less environmental review” and “Congress hasn’t changed a single law on oil and gas drilling in the past year.” As promised, the list of 10 will piss you off. (Also, if you missed Mother Jones’ September/October 2010 issue with the cover story “The BP Cover-Up” it’s worth revisiting now.)
And if that’s not enough to piss you off, add this to the mix from The Nation: “BP’s Oil Spill Tax Credit Matches EPA’s Entire Annual Budget.” While the oil giant’s tax credit claim may be old news, The Nation highlights the protests of US Uncut, a group focused on corporate tax breaks and attacks on the public service sector:
Thousands of young voters rallied at the White House this Tax Day to demand President Obama stand up to Big Polluters and make them pay their fair share. During the day of action, a flash mob, led by US Uncut’s Carl Gibson, successfully shut down a BP gas station in response to the company’s $9.9 billion tax credit from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which nearly matches the EPA’s entire annual operating budget.
Conveniently, OnEarth has all of its coverage of the Gulf oil spill in one spot—Disaster in the Gulf—including the most recent post from Ian Somerhalder (the actor most known for his role as ‘Boone’ on Lost).
A year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, dozens of dead baby dolphins are washing ashore in the Gulf of Mexico; oyster populations are devastated, crippling a multi-billion dollar industry and the tens of thousands of jobs that go with it; and Gulf residents continue to complain of lingering health problems that they believe were caused by the BP oil spill. Despite what you may read in the mainstream media, the oil has not gone away.
Finally, In These Timessums up the situation clearly and succinctly. Simply put, one year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history the “government and media may be moving on from [the] aftermath of the Deepwater disaster, but the scars left behind by the spill are still raw and festering.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention here the story “Fish with the King” that we recently reprinted from the excellent online magazine of politics and arts, Guernica, about the devastation the oil spill has had on the fishing communities in the Gulf.
Source: Audubon Magazine, Mother Jones, The Nation, OnEarth, In These Times, Guernica
Image by lagohsep, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 16, 2010 11:50 AM
As part of Operation Free, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are touring the United States, promoting clean, renewable energy and talking about the connection between national security and our addiction to oil. Read about this intriguing patriots’ project, now in its second year, in the latest issue of OnEarth.
Image by skampy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 22, 2010 3:04 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of environmental coverage.
American environmentalists would be wise to look to Canada’s Alternatives Journal for cogent, well-informed reporting and commentary on green issues. The official publication of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada puts topics from climate change to local food into clear-eyed perspective. www.alternativesjournal.ca
Audubon rightly believes that if you care about birds, you care about the environment. The Audubon Society’s magazine is a must-read for nature watchers of all kinds, digging into its subjects with a keen eye for both natural beauty and the forces that threaten it. www.audubonmagazine.org
Published by the Society for Conservation Biology, Conservation transcends its modest roots with intellectual depth. From profiling “the mushroom messiah” to asking “Is a warmer world a sicker world?” it gets to the environmental stories that demand our attention. www.conservationmagazine.org
A publication of the Earth Island Institute, the group founded by activist legend David Brower, Earth Island Journal reports from the front lines of the environmental crisis. Its global focus and eagerness for stimulating debate make it a must-read for greens. www.earthisland.org/journal
The footnotes in Environment magazine say “academics at work”—but the stories will have you asking “Why isn’t anyone else writing about this?” This publication covering “science and policy for sustainable development” goes in-depth but never gets out of reach. www.environmentmagazine.org
The Western United States is a key battleground for many environmental issues, and High Country News is your experienced and knowledgeable correspondent from the front lines. Its watchdog coverage of mining, ranching, logging—and simply Western life—is unmatched. www.hcn.org
The quarterly journal of the Natural Resources Defense Council, OnEarth keeps tabs on what’s happening to our land, air, water, and wildlife. It’s a pretty nature magazine, but it also brings a keenly analytic eye to the societal and political dimensions of environmentalism. www.onearth.org
The most literary of environmental magazines, Orion takes a big view, touching on spirituality, philosophy, and the arts in its gorgeous pages. Thoughtfully provocative columnists keep it from drifting off into the rapidly warming atmosphere. www.orionmagazine.org
Friday, March 05, 2010 5:13 PM
A writer walks into London’s Natural History Museum, and leaves determined to transform herself from a “rank amateur” into a specimen-collecting, data-analyzing, jar-labeling citizen scientist. That’s because a veteran entomologist tells her something she can’t shake: “There is so much we don’t know! You could spend a week studying some obscure insect and you would then know more than anyone else on the planet.”
As she writes in the new issue of OnEarth, Sharman Apt Russell takes the comment as a challenge, setting out to become “a leading world authority” on Calligrapha serpentina, a beetle that’s taken up residence right in her backyard.
“This leaf beetle is a stunner,” Russell writes, “with shiny green-gold wings marked by a sinuous, symmetrical pattern of black dashes, swirls, and fillips. Even the name is beautiful, the name of the lover in a poem, “Oh, Calligrapha! Oh, Serpentina!”
Ultimately, she doesn’t make any earth-shattering discoveries about her beautiful beetle, but she does offer some hopeful observations about the promise and potential of citizen scientists, both in the scientific realm and in our personal relationships with nature:
The further job of the citizen scientist is to mesh the world of science with, well, the world of citizenry. We trumpet the beauty of Calligrapha serpentina to friends, co-workers, relatives, real estate developers, and politicians. The more we fall in love with our own backyard—with the marvel and complexity of life—the more committed we are to protecting its diversity.
In my case, once I started looking for one beautiful green and black beetle, I found so much more: many more eggs, brown or white, red or yellow, and many more larvae, some that deceive by looking like bird droppings and some that hide by rolling up in leaves. In a single morning, I might find a marbled orb weaver like some aproned, plump grandma, 1,675 ants, and the grace of a pipevine swallowtail. I saw that Dick Vane-Wright was truly right when he said, “There is so much we don't know,” and that lots of things I don't know are outside my front door, the theater of insects playing all summer long.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 12:45 PM
Shopping malls, once proud bastions of air-conditioned capitalism, are transforming into less self-contained structures, reports OnEarth, a result of competition from strip malls and big-box retailers.
“In 2006 there was only one new enclosed mall built in this country,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s architecture program. In the 1990s, Durham-Jones says, it was common to see 140 new malls each year. Now, dozens of malls are dead or dying (witness the long list of the deceased at DeadMalls.com). To revitalize struggling malls, developers are converting them into “compact, well-planned, walkable communities with a dense mix of homes and small businesses” in communities from New Jersey to Colorado.
Mall makeovers tips in New Urban News include adding upper-floor housing, outdoor-facing stores, parking ramps in place of parking lots, and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods.
“A lot of bad design practices are being resolved, knitting these malls back into the neighborhoods,” says designer Richard Huffman to New Urban News.
Outdated zoning laws obstruct mall conversions, urban policy specialist Christopher Leinberger tells OnEarth, but he believes increasing demand for "walkable urban living" will provide the necessary momentum to keep malls evolving.
Image by Nate Grigg, licensed under Creative Commons.
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