Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:41 AM
A sustainable future means teaching kids about climate change and living in balance with the earth. Green School's "Greenest Student on Earth" contest will reward three environmentally conscious students with a year-long scholarship.
When it comes to saving the
planet, there’s plenty of urgent action to take
right now. But as we struggle to slow the environmental destruction that’s led to
a changing climate, we must also plant the seeds of permanent and profound sustainability.
It makes sense to start with children, for whom a small shift in direction now can
lead to an entirely different path later. An international school in Bali, Indonesia,
aims to do just that.
Aptly titled Green School,
the organization teaches sustainable thinking and practical skills to students
from pre-kindergarten through high school, including kids in their own
sustainable future. “We have to teach the kids that the world is not indestructible,”
says Green School co-founder John Hardy in a 2010 TED
Talk. No one knows exactly what the future holds, and kids need to be
prepared to live on a planet that could be very different than the one we
inhabit. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important, Hardy muses, but
the adults of the future are going to need a broader skill set—from building with
bamboo to planting medicinal gardens.
In 2012, Green School
was recognized by the U.S. Building Council as the “Greenest School
on Earth.” The campus itself is solar-powered and self-sustaining, a product of
Hardy’s three-tiered philosophy, “be local, let the environment lead, and think
about how your grandchildren might build.”
This year, Green
School is looking for environmentally
conscious, action-oriented students to attend classes at the Bali
campus. The school’s “Greenest Student on Earth” competition starts March 5 and
ends on April 22, Earth Day. At the close of the competition, three students—one
each from elementary, middle, and high school—will win a one-year scholarship
to Green School.
To enter, the school asks that students submit a 2-3 minute video answering the
question, “Why are you the greenest student on earth?” The video should
highlight environmental achievements, hopes and goals, as well as how the
student would benefit from a year at Green
Winners will be announced June 5, World Environment Day. For more information watch the video below and visit the Green School
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 10:16 AM
Woody Tasch is the founder and chairman of Slow Money, an organization that urges Americans to invest in small, sustainable, and local food systems. The Slow Money alliance doesn’t maximize investors’ profits regardless of environmental and human costs—which is exactly the point. Instead,
profits are centered around stronger, more stable and sustainable communities. Tasch is the author of Inquiries in the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. He was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 2010.
A few years ago, in Mark Anielski’s book The Economics of Happiness,
I came across the words of Robert F. Kennedy, from the 1968
Presidential campaign. After recovering from the chagrin of not having
heard these words previously, it became my pleasure to share them
occasionally during public events. It was surprising to learn just how
many folks have never heard them and wonderful to see how deeply
audiences resonated with them.
We will find neither national purpose nor
personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in
an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit
by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National
Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and
ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks
for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross
National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death
of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles
and nuclear warheads. … It includes … the broadcasting of television
programs, which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.
And if the Gross National Product
includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does
not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their
education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of
our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include
the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the
intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public
officials … the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our
courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor
our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except
that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about
America—except whether we are proud to be Americans.
Today’s world of sound bytes and fast money has no time for such
discourse. A billion dollars of fast money purchasing TV ads, it seems,
is all too much like hundreds of millions of tons of NPK fertilizer
applied to industrial farm fields—past the point of diminishing returns
we zoom, degrading public discourse and diminishing the fertility of the
soil as we go.
Which brings us around to the leaping earthworm, one Brook Le Van,
who, with his wife Rose, operates Sustainable Settings, a few hundred
acres organic farm near the Crystal River, at the foot of Mt. Sopris, in
Carbondale, Colorado, and who, at the dais of a recent anti-fracking rally in
Denver, displayed considerable imagination and erudition. It takes
considerable reserves of both, when talking about cows and pigs and raw
milk and food sheds and the water resources of Thompson Divide, to leap
all the way to “anthropocene reductionism.” But Brook did it. In public.
In a five-minute talk. I was there.
I’m looking forward to my next conversation with Brook, who is a Slow
Money founding member, so that he can elucidate the relationship
between Slow Money and anthropocene reductionism.
In the meantime, let’s appreciate the
nuanced thinking behind RFK’s rhetoric and the strength of Brook’s
grounded activism and remind ourselves that every time we support a small food
enterprise, we are voting in a powerful, direct way for life after fast
food and fast money.
Image: "Money" by Aaron Patterson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:58 AM
At first, there seems a discrepancy: we hear incessant talk of low job
growth and economic distress, but see people tapping expensive smartphones and
buying the latest social-mobile app. Indeed, the technology and design
industries seem unaffected by the recession, set to continue on the same course
of planned obsolescence they’ve been on for decades. But a second look reveals
that advances in these sectors are helping people adjust to life in a
pared-down economy, in a world where the environment has become a main concern.
Our recession isn’t happening in a vacuum, and advances in design and
technology, paired with an economy in flux, are changing the definition of both
work and the workplace.
From an architectural perspective, office layout has been changing since
before the recession, away from cubicles and toward flexible, open-plan
designs. Companies that depend on innovation have designed headquarters that
encourage play and serendipitous meetings. Pixar’s office drives foot traffic toward
a central area, encouraging impromptu idea sharing. Cisco, inspired by the
use of common space in universities, freed
its employees from traditional desks with wireless technology and
unassigned work stations. The shift encouraged collaboration, increased
employee satisfaction, and reduced infrastructure costs.
More recently, office designs have prioritized environmental efficiency. At Skype’s
headquarters, independent work spaces line the perimeter
of the LEED-certified
building, near natural light and away from noise. Like Pixar, meeting spaces
and break rooms are centralized, encouraging spontaneous collaboration. At
Google’s LEED-certified offices around the world, traditional cubicles and
meeting rooms have been replaced with playful spaces, from egg-shaped
pods to unassigned space-age
seating. Additionally, environmental, community, and employee
wellness are supported with bike-to-work incentives and
local, sustainably produced food in the cafeterias.
From open-plan and environment-centered office design it’s a
short leap to another innovation: coworking. A dearth of steady jobs has
created a new league of freelancers, and the desire to reduce carbon footprints
has made telecommuting more appealing than ever. Sure, there’s the local coffee
shop, but coworking offers a way for freelancers and telecommuters to stay
local and tap in to the perks of an
office by sharing costs, space, and resources. Aside from the benefits of
sharing an eco-friendly printer, coworking offers potential for collaboration
and networking, and can lead to serendipitous partnerships. Shareable has compiled a list
of resources for tapping in to the movement.
Paul McFedries of IEEE
Spectrum reports that sharing is “the driving force behind a new economic
model called collaborative
consumption, where consumers use online or off-line tools to rent, share,
and trade goods and services.” Coworking can also be a manifestation of
collaborative production, found in projects like Longshot!, a magazine that
encourages contributors to work together in satellite offices. From this angle,
it looks like social, mobile, and local have gone way beyond smartphone
applications—they could be the way we work in the future.
Image: Zonaspace coworking in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by коворкинг-пространство Зона действия. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:17 AM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue,
magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Jeremy Faludi spoke with optimist Alex Steffen about what it would take to make a city carbon neutral.
First, let’s talk about transportation. What are your favorite tools or strategies that cities can use?
Well, one thing I’ve learned that’s really shocked me is the degree to which transportation planning in the U.S. is really traffic planning. Even progressive cities like Seattle have a sub-department that is about everything else but cars. They don’t have any integrated strategy at all. The traffic modeling software used by the planning commission for the five-county metropolitan area here doesn’t even account for pedestrian trips or bicycle trips, and only does a one-to-one swap for transit and cars, which we know isn’t the way the real world works.
If we’re talking about transportation, the best thing a city can do is densify as quickly as it can. That needs to be said every time this issue comes up, because it’s the only universal strategy that works. That’s the best-documented finding in urban planning—that as density goes up, trip length goes down and transportation energy use goes down. The main question that nearly every city in North America needs to address is how to densify quickly. Once people are grappling with that, though, there are other things people need to do to make that work: making neighborhoods walkable, with green spaces, street life, mixed-use zoning and other qualities that make a place livable. If you have density without that, you just have vertical suburbs.
How you get density is different depending on whether your city is growing or declining. Most cities in the U.S. are growing because the country is having one last population boom. The biggest thing growing cities need to do is minimize barriers to development so that as long as someone is doing good urbanism, they can get permitted quickly and get building quickly. In a lot of places, one of the most expensive parts of building a new building is the delay caused by permitting, public process, etc. Places that have done a really good job, like Vancouver, basically set a high bar for what will get passed, but once you’ve passed you’re good to go, there aren’t delays. I think that’s one of the most important things, because we know there’s already a giant pent-up demand for urban living space. We want to provide that urban living space—but that requires building on a scale we haven't seen in 40 or 50 years.
What are the best strategies to fill cities with carbon-neutral buildings?
In most places, the process of land use planning and infrastructure planning is broken—even if it’s working well in most ways, it’s broken in the slowness with which it grapples with change. In quite a few cities, most civic engagement is mostly a matter of fighting development, people saying, “not in my backyard.” Even in cities that are doing good planning, it tends to be marginal and incremental and take decades to come to fruition. There are a number of cities that have fast-track permitting for green buildings.
Vancouver has explicit policies about setting ambitious policy goals and strict building standards, but then really expediting any projects that exceed it. A lot of cities will need to embrace that. We have a lot more to lose by changing too slowly than by changing too quickly. We know enough about how to legislate good urban design that there’s no excuse for not picking up the pace.
I think people are frustrated because all these things are such large-scale issues that people feel they can only be solved through complicated bureaucratic processes of city governments, which have glacial paces. What can we do about that?
One of the most unfortunate side effects of the urban activism of the ’60s and ’70s is the belief that development is wrong and that fighting it makes you an environmentalist. We know that dense cities are both environmentally better and dramatically more equitable places. Walkable neighborhoods are better than the suburbs for people with a wide range of incomes, and what happens in cities that don't grow is that they gentrify and poor people are pushed out. Trying to fight change makes you less sustainable and more unfair.
I think we need to acknowledge that not everyone will be happy with the results. But you need to be able to charge ahead anyway. I really admire Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. One of the things she’s great at is that when there’s an idea that’s understood to be workable and good because it’s worked elsewhere, and with the amount of basic vetting needed to show it won’t have unintended consequences, she goes ahead. She just makes changes, rather than submitting things to lengthy process. The most famous thing she did was Times Square, making it a pedestrian plaza. She didn’t put it through a five-year plan, she just did it. Same thing with a ton of bike lanes, bus rapid transit, etc. She doesn’t get bogged down in debate about things. We need more leadership like that. She’s had opposition—some people haven’t liked what she’s done. But most people really do like it, because it works.
In almost all city governments in America, the small group of people who don’t want change are able to block change. Sometimes these people block change for good reasons, but much of the changes we need, that will improve cities, also get blocked—which is a loss for everyone involved.
How do you streamline the hearing process but still allow people’s voices to be heard? For instance, when the big-box store wants to move in that would kill local businesses, how do people have recourse against that?
My experience is that, in most cities, the planning process isn’t used primarily to block things like that. It’s used primarily to block things like extensions of transit, affordable housing, large residential projects, etc. There are bad projects, and people have every right and duty to block them, but most NIMBY opposition isn’t to stuff that’s actually bad, it’s just to stuff people don’t like because it’s different. And I don’t think the public has a duty to listen to the same arguments again and again and again. I think once officials are elected who have a clearly articulated agenda, they should just go do them. There are converging approaches that are designed to involve more people in the process, change the process itself. Some of this is in the Government 2.0 movement of better data transparency; some of this is in open-source planning, etc. Most of the process in most cities I’m aware of is de facto exclusionary because you can’t participate unless you can take time off in the middle of your workday to go to the hearings. So you end up with wealthy NIMBYs, public officials and developers, which isn’t a very good mix. Putting pressure to change those systems, for civic revival, would greatly help.
So you’re arguing not for shutting down public hearing process, but for letting cities decide on projects by whole classes of projects rather than individual cases?
Yes, exactly. You don’t get the pace of change that’s needed out of case-by-case evaluations. If you’re willing to make tough choices right up front, we know it’s possible to do a lot of this stuff without taking away anything that people love about their cities. In fact, we can add value to people's neighborhoods.
There’s a great plan for the city of Melbourne, which they presented at TEDx Sydney. The city’s growing quickly, needs to add a million people over the next decade or two, but they don’t want that to be sprawl. So they took a digital map of the city and blocked off everything that’s currently single-family residences, everything that’s a historical building, everything that’s green space, working industrial land, and other things people are vociferous about valuing. That left a fairly small percentage of land. But they showed that if they concentrated density in those corridors, they could add a million people without expanding the city at all, and it would add all these benefits, like better public transit and such. You can dramatically increase the density of places without taking away things people want—and actually adding things they want but couldn’t afford today—because the average suburb isn’t dense enough to financially support a tram or the like. But if you add a dense core that can support that, suddenly even the people around it, in their single-family homes, get the benefit, too. I call that “tent-pole density,” where extremely high density in a small area brings up the average for a whole neighborhood, even when the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t change. I think it’s a really important concept, one that most people don’t get.
We’ve run out of time for incremental approaches. For carbon-neutral cities, there are things worth talking about in how our consumption patterns can change—sharing goods, etc.—but those are a fraction of the impacts of transportation and building energy use. If we need to choose priority actions, the most important things are to densify, provide transit, and green the buildings.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
Image by Mikael Colville-Anderson / Copenhagenize.com.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 9:30 AM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue,
magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Wendee Holtcamp spoke with ocean advocate Alexandra Cousteau, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, about how to create sustainable ocean fisheries.
What would it take to create sustainable ocean fisheries?
It is going to take coordination at the highest levels, coordination between different government entities responsible for managing resources. Nations are struggling to set catch limits and quotas, while still trying to figure out how many fish are there. We don’t know enough about the oceans, yet we’re reducing the amount of money we’re spending on research. A lot of very smart people around the world are working on the problem of sustainable fisheries, but we need to invest more in science. We also need to get the fishermen on board. We need to get them to embrace devices like the Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), and to use nets with wider filaments so they’re catching their target species, rather than tighter nets that catch everything. It will take fishermen staying out of marine protected areas and catching the species they’re allowed to fish and not overexploited species. If we’re able to get everyone on the same page, we still can achieve sustainability. But we are running out of time.
How are we doing so far?
Right now we are failing miserably. It’s a free-for-all out in the ocean. There’s no ownership of common spaces, and there’s a “get it before the next guy gets it” mentality.
What can consumers do to help?
People should avoid fish that are overexploited, such as Chilean sea bass, swordfish, shark, irresponsibly caught shrimp and all sorts of other species on the brink. In the U.S. alone we have almost 700 different species that are not only safe to eat but also tasty, but we eat the same dozen species every time because we know what they look like, we know our family will eat them. We need to make different choices. If it continues to go on as now, we’re going to see some major collapses.
How does your organization, Blue Legacy, work with sustainable water issues?
Last year, we converted John McCain’s Straight Talk Express into a biodiesel mobile workstation, and then went on a 17,100-mile expedition across North America, stopping on many spots along the way to tell the water stories of local communities and local water-keepers. Through film and expeditionary filmmaking, we work to reconnect people with the water in their life, water that shapes the land they live on, shapes the places they live, the communities they have and the quality of life they depend on. The short films are distributed primarily online to media partners, schools, nonprofits and all sorts of organizations so they can tell their stories online to advance their objectives in the communities they serve. When we stopped in a community, we made that day all about them.
Has having a baby affected your outlook?
When I think about projections on what we’ll have in 5, 10, 50 years, all of a sudden that’s a time frame of Clémentine’s life, and those milestones are very poignant. When I was young, I had great opportunity to see a lot of extraordinary places, but now they’re gone or fundamentally different from how I knew them. That grieves me. There were places that broadened my view of the world, and as we lose those places we impoverish ourselves. I want there to be places she can spend weeks exploring tide pools, and pristine creeks where she can catch tadpoles. I want her to know those things. Our generation is the last generation to be able to save some of these treasures we have. It’s our “space race” to protect the quantity and quality of water systems. If we fail, her generation will have lost some really irreplaceable natural places and species.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Image by Bil Zelman.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 10:45 AM
The tiny house movement is undeniably romantic. Toss out your nonessential belongings, leave the responsibilities of your sprawling suburban home, and embrace the freedom and clarity of an unfettered life. Need more romance than that? Make your tiny home a real-life gypsy caravan.
In nineteenth-century Europe, elaborately painted wooden wagons, or vardos, were used by the Roma people (pejoratively called “gypsies”) as living quarters and work spaces. Several companies today, including Gypsy Vans, Windy Smithy, and Ingham & Fallon, produce modernized or replica wagons for sale.
Perhaps most appealing is Roulottes de Campagne, who offers caravans for rent in more than 75 windblown and wildflower-thick locations throughout the French countryside. “Roulotte de Campagne has redesigned the circus caravan, country caravan, or so-called gypsy caravan as a high-comfort way for city-dwellers to get away from it all and tap into their Bohemian spirit,” writes Kirsten Dirksen for *faircompanies.
“The Bohemian spirit is definitely a growing trend,” concurs Roulottes de Campagne. “More than ever before, caravans are the symbol of freedom without frontiers.”
Watch a video tour of one of their diminutive 10-foot by 26-foot dwellings below, and start cultivating your own bohemian dreams:
Images via Roulottes de Campagne.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 4:45 PM
From Brooklyn to Portland, Minneapolis to Austin, people are sharing the love and their homemade, homegrown, or foraged edibles at modern-day food swaps. Too many pickled beets in your pantry? Trade a few jars for a dozen duck eggs. An overabundance of hand-foraged mushrooms? Swap them for lavender-infused vodka.
This week, a circle of cooks, canners, bakers, and urban farmers launched the Food Swap Network, a new online community for those who want to trade their wares and connect with likeminded DIYers. The site is a good stop for first-timers, giving tips on how host a food swap, attend a food swap, and find a food swap in your area, and also offers glimpses into thriving food swaps around the country.
Emily Ho, food writer and founder of the LA Food Swap explains the growing popularity of the nouvelle food sharing movement to LAist:
I think people are eager for the sense of community that a food swap provides. A food swap not only gives members a chance to share delicious handmade foods but also is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are interested in gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, and other sustainable, DIY activities. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from and start activities like making their own condiments, baking bread, etc., it’s fun to share this experience with others. (Plus, who needs 20 jars of homemade ketchup?)
Sources: LAist, Food Swap Network
Image by Dennis Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 08, 2011 4:03 PM
An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population considers insects a commonplace food source, and soon—as eating meat becomes increasingly costly to wallets and the environment—bugs may hit Western dinner tables, too.
In the Netherlands, the company Bugs Originals recently developed pesto-flavored bug nuggets and chocolate-covered muesli bars made from crushed mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, reports Daniel Fromson for The Atlantic. Bugs Originals has also been successful in selling freeze-dried locusts and mealworms to local outlets. Fromson writes:
The company’s goal is to get consumers to embrace bugs as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional meat. With worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock. Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.
Here in the states, in an innovation and entrepreneurship competition this spring, the University of Chicago awarded $10,000 to student-conceived Entom Foods, reports Carrie Golus in The Core. The team, which won with their well-received grasshopper cookies, plans to start a for-profit business that produces insect meat as a sustainable food source. But implementation will require clearing some hurdles, Golus says:
For Western consumers, the team admitted in its proposal, “the multiple wings, the beady eyes, the slimy legs . . . all contribute to an overall ‘ick’ factor.” Entom’s brilliant solution: food processing. The shelling machines currently used for lobsters and other crustaceans could be adapted for insects, the team proposes. The wings, legs, eyes, and other gross parts would be whisked away, leaving the thorax meat, “which is nutritious and has the same consistency as more traditional meats.”
Entom has yet to decide which insect will be the focus of their venture. “One possibility is the long-horned grasshopper, which reportedly tastes like a hybrid of butter, bacon, and chicken,” Goluswrites. “Another is the giant prickly stick insect; at eight inches long, this creature could supply a lot of meat.”
But Entom is keeping American tastes in mind. “We’re obviously going to avoid the super-stigmatized insects, like cockroaches and flies,” team leader Matthew Krisiloff tells Golus. Those bugs “wouldn’t have substantive meat on them anyway.”
Sources: The Atlantic, The Core
Image by diverevan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 12, 2011 2:54 PM
We at Utne Reader have been fascinated with the tiny house movement since its inception, tracking micro home enthusiasts on their quest for simple, nonconsumerist living.
Now Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller are giving us an inside look into the tiny-house experience. The two are making a short film called Tiny: A Story about Living Small, which documents Smith’s adventures building a micro home from scratch in the mountains of Colorado. Construction is underway, writes Mueller in elephant journal, but between raising walls and pounding nails, they are talking with people already living in homes the size of some peoples’ bathrooms.
Near Telluride, for example, Daniel Aragon resides in a 110-square-foot polyhedral structure he calls Ico, short for icosahedron, a 20-sided dome. “This is a laboratory for what’s essential, what’s not essential, what’s beautiful, what inspires me . . . what’s sustainable,” he says of the home that is made from at least 50 percent recycled and reclaimed materials. Watch a video tour of Ico here:
The space is minimalist, to be sure, but Aragon seems to have everything he needs. “I don’t have running water, but I like to say I have ‘walking water,’” he jokes, “as I do have a well on the property.”
Sources: elephant journal, Tiny: A Story About Living Small
Monday, July 25, 2011 10:08 AM
For most, death is followed by one of two options: burial or cremation. But both of those options pose serious environmental risks to the living. Burial is preceded by embalming, and the main chemical used to embalm a body is the known-carcinogen formaldehyde. Cremation is energy intensive and releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases and heavy metals into the atmosphere. Visual artist and human-environment researcher Jae Rhim Lee imagines a third way to rest in peace that is more in harmony with our planet: donning a fungi-laced death shroud that consumes corpses.
Lee calls her outré idea The Infinity Burial Project. (Or, “A Modest Proposal for the Postmortem Body.”) Here’s how it works. Lee has been cultivating shiitake and oyster mushrooms on her own fingernail clippings and strands of hair, hoping to find a strain of fungi that is quick to grow on decaying human tissue. When she finds a suitable strain, she plans to embroider a “Mushroom Death Suit” with spore-infused threads. The spores may be added to a “decompiculture kit” that can be used in funeral make-up and non-toxic embalming fluids—speeding the process along. Next, when Lee (or whoever) is buried, the fungi get to work—Lee also chose mushrooms for their innate ability to break down industrial toxins in bodies and the surrounding soil. Not only does the Infinity Mushroom prevent further damage to the environment from burial practices, it also helps clean up existing pollution.
Environmental stewardship isn’t Lee’s only motivation. Learning to accept death is psychologically and socially healthy, and modern people can use a little help in that department, she argues. “I am interested in cultural death denial,” Lee told New Scientist’s CultureLab blog after a recent talk at TED Global,
and why we are so distanced from our bodies, and especially how death denial leads to funeral practices that harm the environment—using formaldehyde and pink make-up and all that to make your loved one look vibrant and alive, so that you can imagine they’re just sleeping rather than actually dead . . . So I was thinking, what is the antidote to that? For me the answer was this mushroom.
Source: New Scientist
Images courtesy of
Jae Rhim Lee
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 5:29 PM
“All meat is not created equal,” reads a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” evaluates 20 common protein-rich foods to determine the healthiest picks for the planet and for our bodies.
The best bet is the friendly lentil. The worst offenders? Lamb, beef, and (say it ain’t so!) cheese. The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) they generate—from feed production, ruminant digestion, and manure—along with their fat contents and cradle-to-grave carbon footprints put them at the bottom of EWG’s impact chart:
Eating less meat and cheese can make an astonishing reduction in GHG emissions, says political food blog Civil Eats:
Just like reducing home energy use or driving less, skipping meat once a week can make a meaningful difference in GHG emissions if we all do it. According to EWG’s calculations, if everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles. To present a likelier option, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles–or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
That said, not all lamb chops are evil. On the farm where I grew up, for example, we had a modest flock of fifty sheep and, although they were raised for meat, the cycle was about as humane and environmentally responsible as it comes: We gently moved them from pasture to pasture, where they grazed on grass and alfalfa; we lovingly sheared them onsite, selling the lanolin-soft wool; we lambed them in the spring, midwifing the hardest births; and, finally, we took the lambs to a small processor just eight miles up the road.
If you’re in search of ethical, eco-friendly, health-smart meat, look for local, lean, pasture-raised cuts, given no antibiotics or hormones and, preferably, certified “organic” and “humane.” Want help losing your appetite for meat instead? Read Will Wlizlo’s soberingly graphic Utne Reader post “Inside the Meat Processing Plant.” (Shudder.)
Sources: Environmental Working Group, Civil Eats
Infographic by Environmental Working Group.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:14 AM
Happiness. Well being. Living fully. The good life. If you’re an Utne reader you might call it mindful living. But what does it all really mean? And how do we find it?
The summer issue of ARCADE tries to tackle those questions from a design perspective. Guest editor Ray Gastil introduces a section called “The Good Life Reconsidered” with a short essay pondering what role design can and will play on the road to a sustainable future and a good life. “Design is a way of thinking,” Gastil writes, “and it has an extraordinarily powerful ability to shape the way we live, and in particular, the way we choose to live.”
Sustainability advocates know that they have to present a future that is desired and chosen, not mandated and enforced. If we are open to it, design can harness the power of aspiration and choice, leading to diverse new ways of thinking, whether from the corporate suite or down the street. We can design a smart, green life, but it needs to have rewards.
Following that introduction we get opinions on the matter from a range of voices, like a reminder from Jessica Geenen, program manager for the Energy Efficient Communities program at Puget Sound Energy, that the “word ‘community’ comes from the Latin roots cum, meaning ‘with,’ and munus, meaning ‘responsibility.’”
There’s also a call for “biophilic neighborhoods” from Tim Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities:
I would like to propose…that we significantly update the neighborhood concept to better take into account our growing appreciation for the value and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems, building on the insights of “biophilia,” a concept popularized by E. O. Wilson. In Biophila, Wilson defines the term as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms,” something essential for healthy, happy, productive humans and an essential quality of urban life.” Nature, we increasingly understand, is not something optional, but absolutely essential to modern daily life, and not something to be relegated to the occasional visit to some mostly remote place we think of as “nature”—something “over there.”
Those and many more take on the issue of how where and how we live can lead to “the good life,” whatever that may be. What’s your definition of that tricky phrase? And how does your neighborhood, community, and work life lead you toward achieving that definition?
Image by blhphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 3:54 PM
And you thought the stacks of vacuum-packed pork chops sold at Costco were creepy. At the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, scientists are growing meat in petri dishes, reports Nicola Jones in Conservation.
Utne Reader has been following the in-vitro meat discussion for several years and was interested to read Eindhoven University’s progress. There, researchers like Mark Post harvest myosatellite cells (stem cells responsible for muscle growth and repair) from living pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys, or chickens and turn them into thin strips of animal muscle, only about 200 micrometers thick, through a series of cell division and bundling.
Unsettling as the idea of manufactured meat sounds, the field’s leaders have the best intentions. Post hopes to end the “wasteful production of farm animals for food by helping to develop life-like steaks.” Like vegetarianism and veganism, the prospect could benefit the environment, Jones writes:
Largely because of the inefficiency of growing crops to feed livestock, a vegetarian diet requires only 35 percent as much water and 40 percent as much energy as that of a meat-eater. Future “in-vitrotarians” should be able to claim similar savings.
So, how does it taste? Don’t ask Post—he hasn’t eaten the pork grown in his lab. Jones explains:
The thing that enthusiasts for fake meat talk least about is its taste, perhaps because they haven’t tried it. In the U.S., researchers have largely avoided eating anything grown in the lab for fear of violating a Food and Drug Administration regulation . . . or of being seen as publicity hounds. Researchers generally believe that, if they can get the texture right, taste will follow—particularly once flavoring is added.
As far as [Post] knows, the only person who has swallowed a strip of the pale, limp muscle tissue is a Russian TV journalist who visited the lab this year to film its work. “He just took it with tweezers out of the culture dish and stuffed it in his mouth before I could say anything,” says Post.
Image by cbertel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011 1:13 PM
Chances are you know someone whose home has been foreclosed or is struggling to keep up with their mortgage. The sub-prime bubble dotted American suburbia with massive, empty husks—cookie-cutter houses infamously dubbed McMansions. It’s unsurprising that many, spurned by the American Dream, turned away from this grandiose model of domesticity and sought a smaller way of life. “A hundred feet of space may make some people claustrophobic, but so too can mountains of debt,” writes New Haven Advocate’s Tara Lohan. “For people struggling to pay expensive home loans, the idea of getting a house for only $20,000 or getting the plans for only a few hundred may seem like a breath of fresh air.” The tiny house movement was reborn.
Consumers have many options when downsizing from a Fortress of Solitude to a Bunker of Solitude. Consulting firm Rightsize by Design will help you transition to a space more gazebo-esque. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, established by Jay Shafer after he found his own 89-square-foot slice of heaven, builds and provides kits for homes with areas less than 500 square feet—and one as small as 65 square feet. Numerous blogs and online message boards are devoted to the movement.
Greg Beato sees a distinctly American moral underpinning to the tiny house movement as well. Not individuality, economic resilience, or frugality, as Shafer or Lohan might maintain, but gross consumerism. “Ever since Henry Thoreau built a 150-square-foot shack for himself at Walden Pond to escape the clutter and distractions of 19th-century America, small homes have been equated with economy and simplicity,” Beato writes for The Smart Set, and claims that they wrongly “seem to provide an escape from the hamster wheel of consumerism.” He’s got some shack-bashing stats to back up his argument, too.
Build [a Tumbleweed] XS-House yourself and it will cost you around $16,000 for the plans and necessary materials. Buy one ready-made, and the cost escalates to $38,997. That puts it at a luxury-priced $599 per square foot, or more than four times the cost of your average Vegas McMansion! Better yet, it’s an instant house, a house to go, and what’s more American than that? Like a 100-calorie snack pack, a tiny house encourages you to splurge.
But if you have less space, you’ll spend less on gizmos, tools, furniture, and cookware, right? Beato speculates that less space actually brings out our most decadent spending habits. “[I]n a tiny house,” he writes,
everything you own is on display and within reach. If you’re looking at your kitchen appliances all day, you have a legitimate need for the most gorgeous kitchen appliances known to man, and a legitimate rationale for purchasing new ones often. If space is at a premium, you can be forgiven for constantly upgrading to the flattest flat-screen TVs, the most compact washer/dryer combos.
So much for guilt-free, sustainable living.
Sources: New Haven Advocate, The Smart Set
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011 11:48 AM
Many craft beer brewers are taking measures to be more sustainable, but few of them have taken things as far as the Alaskan Brewing Company. The company makes its beers, including its flagship Alaskan Amber Ale, in the fogbound southeastern Alaska city of Juneau, which is accessible only by sea or air, and sells them in 10 western states. Plant manager Curtis Holmes tells Triple Pundit that being way off the road has pushed the brewery to hone efficiency and cut waste:
Rural Alaska isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a test market for new technology, but brewing in Alaska’s remote location creates new challenges which can make sustainable practices become more cost effective, compared to living somewhere else. When you consider that all of our raw materials (except for water) have to be shipped over 900 miles by barge from Seattle, it can seem like a crazy idea to operate a packaging brewery in Juneau, Alaska. But we’ve found some innovative ways to mitigate our operating costs, reduce waste and decrease our local and global footprint.
Among the brewmeisters’ green moves: They recycle everything they can, including the carbon dioxide from their fermentation process, which keeps it from being released into the atmosphere and cuts down on the CO2 they ship from Seattle. They got a new mash press that helps them save a million gallons of water a year. And they are installing a new biomass steam boiler, which will be fueled entirely by waste grain and will supply 70 percent of the entire brewery’s energy needs.
It’s getting to be a pretty tight loop—except for the beer itself, of course, which goes out to beer lovers’appreciative palates and then takes a different path into the waste stream. But as my colleague Brad Zellar recently wrote, some scientists are even working on a way to recycle that into hydrogen fuel.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010 2:59 PM
Have you ever been sipping on a glass of merlot, thinking to yourself with vague anxiety, “God, I wonder if this wine was filtered with tropical fish bladders?” Sure you have. Now, thanks to Ethical Consumer, you can find out whether or not your favorite winery uses isinglass—a fining agent derived from fish swim bladders used to remove organic compounds in wine—along with various other ethical lapses committed by dozens of beer, wine, and spirit brands.
The survey depends on a rigorous rating system of 19 categories complete with charts so packed with information they kind of make your head spin: environmental impact, workers’ rights, animal testing, and irresponsible marketing are just a few of the factors taken into account to produce the given brand's overall Ethiscore.
Not surprisingly, the better-known brands tended to receive a lower Ethiscore than the more obscure ones: Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and ASDA (Wal-mart’s brand of wine…gross) all scored at the bottom of their respective categories. Steller wine, Tennents beer, and Highland Harvest whiskey boasted the top rankings.
While this latest report requires a subscription to access, Ethical Consumer’s website offers free buyers’ guides on tons of brands of alcohol to ease your mind this holiday season and help you get your extended family liquored up while simultaneously saving the whales. Or something.
Source: Ethical Consumer(subscription required)
Image by Tommy Gooch, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, September 09, 2010 5:13 PM
On a planet with a changing climate and dwindling resources, we need a lot more sustainability experts and a lot fewer legal experts, David A. Bainbridge suggests at Triple Pundit. Bainbridge notes that there are more than a million lawyers in America and only about 10,000 professionally trained ecologists:
If our priorities were more properly ordered to promote sustained abundance, the balance between new ecology graduates and lawyers would be reversed. I can envision a day where 30,000 ecologists and sustainability specialists will graduate each year—and only 100 lawyers. This sounds outrageous, I know, but unraveling the complexities of America’s many varied ecosystems and developing cradle-to-cradle industrial ecosystems that will be good for people and the environment could easily absorb this many green-tech specialists and scientists.
Sustainability programs need the same priority as the “Man on the Moon” push in the 1960s (project Apollo $25 billion) or the National Institute of Health ($31 billon per year). With adequate funding much needed progress could be made ... .
Of course, lawyers are always an easy target, ranking right down there with journalists (ouch) among the lowest-regarded professions. And new multibillion-dollar government expenditures are not exactly commanding widespread support these days. But Bainbridge may be on to something here: He points out that every corporation should have a sustainability specialist, and just staffing the U.S. companies that have annual sales of more than $1 billion would take more than 250,000 such specialists. That's a lot of green jobs.
Laid-off lawyers, your new career awaits.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by AlfredLow, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 14, 2010 5:13 PM
“The term has become so widely used that it is in danger of meaning nothing. It has been applied to all manner of activities in an effort to give those activities the gloss of moral imperative, the cachet of environmental enlightenment,” Eric Zencey writes in Orion. But the writer doesn’t stop there, no, not nearly: Behold his fantastic essay “Theses on Sustainability,” an 18-point primer and philosophical romp through the meaning(s) of the word.
Friday, May 28, 2010 3:14 PM
There’s a lot of talk about sustainable architecture—but one day in the not-too-distant future, sustainability will be an integral part of the practice rather than a special feature. And as usual in green thinking, Europe is leading the way. Both points are the contention of Robert Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, speaking to Environment: Yale magazine:
“I don’t think sustainability is a design aesthetic, any more than having electricity in your building, or telephones, or anything else,” says Stern. “It’s an ethic, a basic consideration that we have to have as architects designing buildings.” American architects, designers and builders are “in an early, slightly naive phase” in coming to terms with sustainability, he says, and “we have to get everybody’s attention.” But they will catch up fast enough, Stern argues, so that “in 10 years we’re not going to talk about sustainability anymore, because it’s going to be built into the core processes of architecture.” Advertising sustainability, he says, will be like an architect getting up in front of a room to “proudly proclaim how his buildings didn’t fall down.”
Source: Environment: Yale
Image by Schlüsselbein2007, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010 3:54 PM
In These Times has a great interview in which lifelong social activist Joanna Macy shares her four-step process for creating a sustainable future. Macy teaches workshops on “The Work that Reconnects” to show people how acknowledging gratitude and grief can lead to a new way of seeing the world and moving forward. She feels we’re at the crossroads of a third revolution (akin to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions), and there’s a great opportunity to unite and push our industrial society into a “life-sustaining” one. I like her observations about recognizing our collective “grief for the world.”
People aren’t thrilled to have you tell them how terrible things are. At first I thought there was this big public apathy, but I learned that it was not that people were indifferent and it’s not that they didn’t care and it’s not that they didn’t know—they did know and they did care but it seemed too painful and too enormous to do anything about.
The repression of painful information is particularly widespread in the United States. We don’t want to look at the inequalities that our lifestyle has generated. We don’t want to look at the ways that we’re endangering the future of life on earth. This is a phenomenon that some people call “psychic numbing” and others call denial.
For life to continue, we must invent a whole new way of supporting human life on earth. That change is coming. It’s not visible to many people because it is not being reported by mainstream media—written press or electronic. But it’s happening and that’s what I see as the third revolution.
Source: In These Times
Monday, March 29, 2010 2:42 PM
Producing beer or wine can leave a significant eco-footprint: Both require water-intensive processes and, as the Berkeley-based environmental magazine Terrain reports, “even mid-size breweries can generate tens of thousands of tons of solid waste each year.” But Terrain brings good tidings, too, of a handful of Northern California breweries and wine companies making sustainable strides, harnessing their waste and byproducts to power their own production processes. Here's just one example:
The view from atop Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Company roof is breathtaking. Blue skies and sun—the first clear day the region has seen in weeks—shine on a dizzying quilt of 10,000 rectangular solar panels. The brewery’s 200,000 square feet of blue silicon plates make it one of the country’s largest private solar arrays, but a row of large silos off to the left offers another glimpse of the company’s attempts to operate off the grid.
Each of those silos contains almost 25,000 gallons of beer. To craft that beer, brewers boil the grains, filter out the solids, cool the product, then add yeast to the liquid. That slurry sits in fermenters—the silos—for ten to fourteen days. Yeast, a single-celled organism, eats sugars from the malt and hops. As it digests its food, the yeast exhales carbon dioxide and produces alcohol. But instead of releasing the greenhouse gas into the air, Sierra Nevada diverts it to a storage tank, where it is cleaned and pressurized. It later plays a vital role in the brewery’s operations, adding carbonation to some of the brews and pushing beer from one boiler to another via a labyrinthine series of tubes and pipes. “Our philosophy is a closed-loop approach,” says Cheri Chastain, Sierra Nevada’s sustainability coordinator. “We take the byproducts of brewing and use them for something we need.”
This both saves money and reduces greenhouse gasses, she says. “Carbon dioxide is usually a big purchase for carbonation and dispensing,” Chastain explains. “With the recovery system in place, we’re not releasing carbon dioxide and we’re supplying a hundred percent of what we need. It’s a free fuel source and we have it on-site, so we might as well use it.”
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 9:46 AM
There's a new concept infiltrating the climate change conversation (pdf), and it has the potential to change the conversation altogether. It’s time to give sustainability a rest and start talking about resilience, Rob Hopkins writes in Resurgence.
“The term ‘resilience’ is appearing more frequently in discussions about environmental concerns, and it has a strong claim to actually being a more successful concept than that of sustainability. Sustainability and its oxymoronic offspring sustainable development are commonly held to be a sufficient response to the scale of the climate challenge we face: to reduce the inputs at one end of the globalised economic growth model (energy, resources, and so on) while reducing the outputs at the other end (pollution, carbon emissions, etc.). However, responses to climate change that do not also address the imminent, or quite possibly already passed, peak in world oil production do not adequately address the nature of the challenge we face.”
The concept takes into account how systems can survive disturbances intact, and Hopkins says the framework is crucial to communities’ chances of thriving “beyond the current economic turmoil the world is seeing.” A supermarket is a good example of how to explain this new kind of thinking, he says:
“It may be possible to increase its sustainability and to reduce its carbon emissions by using less packaging, putting photovoltaics on the roof and installing more energy-efficient fridges. However, resilience thinking would argue that the closure of local food shops and networks that resulted from the opening of the supermarket, as well as the fact that the store itself only contains two days’ worth of food at any moment – the majority of which has been transported great distances to get there – has massively reduced the resilience of community food security, as well as increasing its oil vulnerability.”
Friday, November 27, 2009 3:18 PM
The current issue of Mother Jones offers a handy guide to the eco-labels that get slapped on food, flowers, and other products, parsing overly broad claims like “free range” and “fragrance free” (practically meaningless) and pointing to trustworthy labels that have sets of standards to back them up (official “Certified Biodegradable” label, yes; plain old “Biodegradable,” no). Labels from the Forest Stewardship Council, Humane Society, and Marine Stewardship Council get high marks; ubiquitous declarations like “hypoallergenic” and “cruelty-free” are exposed for the standard-less shams that they are. It’s a great cheat-sheet (compiled by Rebecca Clarren, a savvy environmental reporter) for savvy shoppers.
Source: Mother Jones
Monday, October 19, 2009 9:01 AM
“For environmental, business, and political organizations alike, the term that has come to stand for the hope of the natural world is ‘sustainable,’ ” Curtis White writes in Tin House. “But you would be mistaken if you assumed that the point of sustainability was to change our ways.” In the essay that follows, an excerpt from his latest book The Barbaric Heart, White offers a vivid critique of the mainstream response to the environmental crisis.
At the core of our problems, White argues, is something he calls the Barbaric Heart—visible in the ways that our culture considers violence a virtue—and its fundamental discord with the professed values of sustainability. He writes:
The artful (if ruthless) use of violence is obviously something that we admire in those sectors of the culture that we most associate with success: athletics, the military, entertainment (especially that arena of the armchair warrior, Grand Theft Auto), the frightening world of financial markets (where, as the Economist put it, there are “barbarians at the vaults”), and the rapacious world we blandly call real estate development. . . .
The idea that we can “move mountains” is an expression of admiration. When it is done with mammoth machines provided by the Caterpillar Company of Peoria, Illinois, it is also a form of violence (as the sheered mountain tops of West Virginia confirm).
To any complaints about the disheartening destruction and injustice that comes with such power, the Barbaric Heart need only reply: the strong have always dominated the weak and then instructed them. That is how great civilizations have always been made, from the ancient Egyptians to the British in India to Karl Rove and George Bush.
It’s a whirling, complicated critique—but wholly worth reading. Tin House also followed up with White in a delightful e-mail interview.
Source: Tin House
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 3:18 PM
Wind turbines don’t just collect energy. They collect attention. Environmental Building News writes in its May issue about the ways that many big green structures nowadays are incorporating “building integrated” wind power into their designs—and not always to generate much power but rather to make a loud and public statement about their greenness. EBN’s headline calls it “The Folly of Building Integrated Wind,” and for this rather staid publication that’s a pretty damning indictment.
Editor Alex Wilson, who reported the piece, doesn’t arrive at his conclusion lightly, however. In typical EBN style he come at the issue from an objective, information-driven approach that parses the pros and cons of wind turbines on buildings before concluding that “it’s usually a bad idea.”
“A green building is not green because it has [solar panels] on the roof—or a ground-source heat pump or a vegetated roof or integrated wind,” writes Wilson in his editor’s column in the same issue. “It’s green because it has an energy-conserving envelope, because it relies on natural daylighting, because it effectively controls unwanted heat gain, because it reduces dependence on automobiles, because it’s compact and resource-efficient, because it’s healthy, and because it’s stingy on water use. The heavy lifting in green design has to come from these measures, not from the window dressing. … Construction budgets are tight these days. Let’s not squander these limited budgets on high-profile visual statements.”
Image of Bahrain World Trade Center by Ahmed Rabea, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 22, 2009 3:57 PM
When an author comes out with a book called The Vegetarian Myth (Flashpoint Press), as Lierre Keith has, you know she’s not treading lightly, and the book is every bit as hell-raising as its name suggests. Keith comes from an ex-vegan perspective in this takedown of vegetarianism and veganism, and she acknowledges right away that she’s in for some pushback:
It’s not just the amount of information that makes the discussion hard. Often the listener doesn’t want to hear it, and the resistance can be extreme. “Vegetarian” isn’t just what you eat or even what you believe. It’s who you are, and it’s a totalizing identity. In presenting a fuller picture of food politics, I’m not just questioning a philosophy or a set of dietary habits. I’m threatening a vegetarian’s sense of self. And most of you will react with defensiveness and anger. I got hate mail before I’d barely started this book. And no, thank you, I don’t need any more.
Keith goes on to make her case, which basically is this: 1) Vegetarianism will damage your body. It damaged mine. 2) Our bodies are made to eat meat. 3) Converting to a vegetarian or vegan diet isn’t healing the planet if all you’re doing is eating veggies, fruit, and annual grains grown by large and distant megafarms, as most food is—even the stuff at the “natural” food store.
She is ultimately a radical environmentalist, which isn’t surprising since the book is published by Flashpoint, the imprint run by radical green author Derrick Jensen, who is quoted on the jacket front saying, “This book saved my life.” Keith suggests that as important as food choices are, bigger steps are needed to stave off environmental collapse. Namely, refrain from having children; stop driving a car; and grow your own food.
Oh, and by the way:
“Agriculture has to stop. It’s about to run out anyway—of soil, of water, of ecosystems—but it would go easier on us all if we faced that collectively, and then developed cultural constraints that would stop us from ever doing it again.
“Where I live, the wetlands need to return to cover the land in a soft, slow blanket of water. … The rivers need to be undimmed. And the suburbs and roads need to be abandoned. I have no great solution for how to make that economically feasible: I sincerely doubt it’s possible. I only know it has to happen, no matter how much we resist.”
Source: Flashpoint Press
Friday, March 27, 2009 3:37 PM
Far from the mall-pocked, highway-scarred backwaters they’re made out to be, small cities should be a cornerstone of America’s sustainable future. Renewable energy sources like geothermal and solar often require abundant, cheap land, making small towns ideally situated to take advantage of a green revolution.
Urban planners and policy makers are making a mistake by neglecting small towns, Catherine Tumber writes for the Boston Review. Many people suffer from a kind of “metropolitan bias,” giving disproportionate funds and attention to big cities. “Smaller cities located in the heartland could one day anchor a regional agricultural shift from industrial monoculture to more localized biodiversity,” Tumber writes, and could show the way toward a more sustainable future.
Gainsville, Florida, (population 120,000) for example, is “gearing up for a solar power boom,” Mariah Blake writes for the Washington Monthly, “fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.”
The key to Gainsville’s success is a “feed-in-tariff” policy that requires local power companies to buy renewable energy from independent producers. The policy, pioneered in Germany, is fueling investment in green technology at a time when much of the corporate investment for renewable energy has dried up.
, licensed under
Sources: Boston Review, Washington Monthly
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:37 PM
Green buildings are needed to move the country toward sustainability, but if the buildings aren’t beautiful, they won’t be green for long. Architecture professor James Vines asked Kriston Capps in the American Prospect, “If it isn't art, it's not sustainable, because who's going to keep ugly buildings around?”
Green building design isn’t advancing as quickly as green technology, according to Capps, in part because the top-tier architects like Frank Gehry aren’t trying. Some just don’t like working in local or sustainable materials. Instead, green buildings are often built by younger architects with fewer resources. So far, the great design hasn’t been forthcoming.
Image by Payton Chung, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: The American Prospect
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 9:56 AM
Like a cap-and-trade system for fishing, individual fishing quotas (IFQs) are an innovative way that ocean conservationists are fighting overfishing.
Current fishing seasons tend to encourage a zero-sum view of fishing, where fishermen try to catch as much as they can in the shortest time possible. This depletes fish stocks, and threatens biodiversity. In an IFQ system, the government would regulate how much fish—including the nasty bycatch of unwanted animals—that fishermen could haul in. The latest issue of Earth Island Journal explores the strategy, and finds that IFQs give fishermen a stake in the long-term sustainability of fish, because the more fish there are in the sea, the more wealth there is for everyone.
Image by Philippe Gabriel, licensed under Creative Commons.
: Earth Island Journal
Friday, January 30, 2009 1:06 PM
In such depressing economic times, the phrase “money can't buy happiness” is at once wishful and trite. But it's worth a shot to at least try to let go of our national money obsession and instead focus on quality of life, isn’t it? That's why Yes! magazine has devoted their entire Winter 2009 issue to “Sustainable Happiness,” the balance between happiness for humans and the planet they inhabit.
Articles include one family’s success with a “no-buy” Christmas and a list of “10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy” with basic-but-true ideas like “Savor Everyday Moments” and “Avoid Comparisons.”
Image by Sabrina Campagna, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, October 12, 2008 7:11 PM
Phil Werst knows a lot about sustainable cuisine. As the general manager of Minneapolis’ Common Roots Café, Werst is charged with designing made-from-scratch menus that make flavorful use of local bounty and organic ingredients. Several times a week, you can find the eco-minded chef cycling back from the farmers market, his bike trailer loaded down with the season’s goodies.
We told Werst about our Sustainable Seafood special project—an online repository of recipes, news, and resources inspired by our recent excerpt of Bottomfeeder: How to eat ethically in a world of vanishing seafood—and the chef agreed to dream up something delicious for Utne.com’s readers. This past Saturday, he showed Utne librarian Danielle Maestretti and me how to prepare Baked Trout with Roasted Root Vegetable Farro Risotto and Butternut Squash Puree.
A word of warning: I nearly died of happiness when I shoveled the first bite of Werst’s dish into my mouth. The roasted root vegetables heartily stood up against the dense, nutty warmth of the farro risotto, and the butternut squash puree, a food too often prepared overly sweet, was refreshingly spiked with apple cider vinegar and a hint of cayenne. And the fish, well. Fresh from Star Prairie Trout Farm, the trout wasn’t just amazingly tasty—it was surprisingly easy to prepare. (If you’ve never removed pinbones before, Werst demonstrates the technique in a video below.)
Baked Trout with Roasted Root Vegetable Farro Risotto and Butternut Squash Puree
Trout and Farro Risotto: 4 medium carrots; 2 bulbs celery root; 4 medium parsnips; 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus some for drizzling); 1 medium yellow onion, diced; 2 cloves of garlic, chopped; ½ teaspoon chili flakes; ½ teaspoon fennel seed; 2 cups organic farro, dry; 1 cup mild white wine; 1 quart vegetable stock; 3 cups arugula; 1 tablespoon unsalted butter; 3 whole trout; Salt and pepper
Butternut Squash Puree: 1 medium butternut squash; 1 cup vegetable stock (plus some for thinning); ¼ cup apple cider vinegar; Pinch cayenne; 2 tablespoons maple syrup; Salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
The butternut squash will take the most time in the oven, so begin by chopping the squash in half and laying it face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put the squash in the oven. You’ll roast it until a knife inserted offers little resistance, 45 minutes to an hour.
Peel the carrots, parsnips, and celery root bulbs. Slice the parsnips in half lengthwise, and then again; remove the woody core. Chop all the vegetables into quarter-inch cubes. Toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and some fresh-cracked pepper. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them in the oven. They’ll roast for 15-20 minutes, but keep an eye on them. The cubes should be tender but not crispy.
While your vegetables are roasting, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. As the stock warms, place a large pot over medium heat—this is where you will cook the risotto. When the large pot is hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and garlic, stirring until translucent. Add the chili flakes, fennel seed, one tablespoon salt, and farro. Stir for two minutes and then add the white wine. Stir until the wine is almost completely dissolved. Ladle in warm vegetable stock 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Remove from heat when the grain is cooked but still slightly chewy. Stir in the unsalted butter and set to the side.
Provided they’re done cooking, pull the squash and the roasted root vegetables out of the oven and set aside to cool—it’s time to prepare your trout. You can purchase trout fillets with the pinbones already removed, but it’s really quite easy to prepare your own. Werst demonstrates the technique:
Place the trout fillets skin-side-down on a parchment lined baking tray. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and season lightly with salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Depending on the idiosyncrasies of your oven, the fillets will take 8 to 12 minutes to bake. When they are done, the flesh will be opaque pink and firm to the touch. Bake until cooked through and remove from the oven.
While the trout is in the oven, remove the seeds from the cooled squash. Scoop out the squash meat and put it in a food processor. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and apple cider vinegar. Puree for 30 seconds. Add cayenne and maple syrup. Puree again. The squash should be silky smooth and slide easily off of a spoon; add additional stock as needed. Salt to taste.
Stir the roasted vegetables, arugula, and ½ cup butternut squash puree into the farro risotto. Salt and pepper to taste.
In large pasta bowls, place one cup farro risotto in the center, and gently transfer a trout filet on top of the grain. Drizzle generously with butternut squash puree. Note: Excess puree, thinned with additional stock, will make a delicious soup.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:40 AM
Launching today, the Green Report Card website promises to rank 300 colleges in terms of their sustainability, helping eco-conscious high school seniors make the right choice.
Green Report Card was created by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The college rankings are formulated using information gathered from the College Sustainability Report Card 2009, which evaluates schools in nine key categories: Administration, Climate Change and Energy, Food and Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement.
Factors affecting a school’s grade range from the presence of “green dorms and car sharing,” according to the program’s press release, to “shareholder advisory committees and renewable energy investments.” Small liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Oberlin were among the 15 schools that got A grades, joining the ranks of such state schools as the University of Washington and the University of New Hampshire, and Ivies like Harvard and Brown.
Peruse the Report Card to see how your current or former institution fared. (I’m embarrassed to say where I went to college, since my alma mater got a D-minus. Ouch!)
Image by redjar, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, August 29, 2008 3:24 PM
One of the most influential actors in the mainstream environmental movement has taken a radical turn in his views on the subject. James Gustave “Gus” Speth—whose contributions to environmental causes include cofounding the Natural Resources Defense Council, serving as a policy advisor to the Carter administration, and founding the environmental think tank World Resources Institute—is now pushing for a take-to-the-streets approach to the environmental crisis.
A dean at Yale University is not the most likely of candidates to call for civic upheaval, but Speth’s passion for the environment and his unyielding desire to save our planet from destruction leads him to a conclusion that is slowly becoming more prevalent in the mainstream movement. In an interview with Jeff Goodell in the Sept.-Oct. Orion (not yet available online), Speth shared his vision for a citizen-led movement that reimagines our current economy and state of mind in favor of environmental sustainability. This vision is spelled out in his new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World (Yale University Press, 2008).
“The fundamental thing that’s happened is that our efforts to clean up the environment are being overwhelmed by the sheer increase in the size of the economy,” Speth tells Goodell. “And there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. So we have to ask, what is it about our society that puts such an extraordinary premium on growth? Is it justified? Why is that growth so destructive? And what do we do about it?
“Capitalism is a growth machine. What it really cares about is earning a profit and reinvesting a large share of that and growing continually … . And so all of these things combine to produce a type of capitalism that really doesn’t care about the environment, and doesn’t really care about people much either. What it really cares about is profits and growth, and the rest is more or less incidental. And until we change that system, my conclusion is that it will continue to be fundamentally destructive.”
Speth proposes we look for a “nonsocialist alternative” to capitalism. This revised capitalist system would require a series of transformations:
“The first would be a transformation in the market. There would be a real revolution in pricing. Things that are environmentally destructive would be—if they were really destructive—almost out of reach, prohibitively expensive.
“A second would be a transformation to a postgrowth society where what you really want is to grow very specific things that are desperately needed in a very targeted way—you know, care for the mentally ill, health-care accessibility, high-tech green-collar industries.
“A third would be a move to a wider variety of ownership patterns in the private sector. More co-ops, more employee ownership plans, and less rigid lines between the profit and the not-for-profit sectors.”
To get there, though, requires more than just policy orchestrated by the people on the top. Beyond his call for a serious bottom-up grassroots effort that “shakes up people’s consciousness and forces us to rethink what’s really important,” Speth also believes that a fundamental shift both in environmental groups’ focus and in our society’s values are crucial to saving the planet.
“I think that the environmental community needs to see political reform as central to its agenda, and it doesn’t now…the other thing that needs to happen is that there needs to be some fundamental challenge to our dominant values. It’s been addressed by religious organizations and psychologists and philosophers and countless others for a long time. But until we reconnect in a more profound way with ourselves and our communities and the natural world, it seems unlikely that we will deal successfully with our problems.”
Image by scottfeldstein, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 14, 2008 3:39 PM
The Prix Pictet is a heck of a photography prize. In its first year, the award promises a purse of 100,000 Swiss francs to the winner, and for all shortlisted photographers, an exhibition at the Palais de Toyko in Paris. The prize is for work that communicates urgent messages about sustainability, what the Prix Pictet website calls “perhaps the greatest single issue of the twenty-first century.” Indeed.
Over here at the Palais de Utne in Minneapolis, we weren’t surprised at all to see two of our favorite environmentally conscious photographers make the cut. Chris Jordan and David Maisel were shortlisted for the prize last Friday, with 16 other photographers, selected from a field of more than 200 nominated artists hailing from 43 countries.
Jordan is a Seattle-based photographer and artist whose series, “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” we featured in our Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue. In that series, Jordan makes numbing statistics visible, shrinking an emblematic image and reproducing it thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times. (Stretched across a 60 by 80 inch panel, for example,1.14 million tiny folded paper bags represent the number used in the United States every hour.) The work that earned him a spot on the Prix Pictet shortlist is his book In Katrina’s Wake: Potraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006). The inaugural Prix Pictet theme is water.
Maisel landed his shortlist position with pieces from “The Lake Project” and “Terminal Mirage,” part of his “Black Maps” series—surreal aerial photography of environmentally impacted landscapes. Utne’s readers will recognize one of his nominated photographs; Terminal Mirage 19 ran on the back page of our May-June 2006 issue. Later that same year, we did a story about Maisel’s evocative “Library of Dust” project, photographs of urns housing the unclaimed cremains of patients of the Oregon State Insane Asylum. The decaying copper canisters bloomed with otherworldly color.
The winner of the Prix Pictet, sponsored by Swiss bank Pictet & Cie in association with the Financial Times, will be announced on October 30, 2008.
Monday, July 14, 2008 12:47 PM
Developing nations will soon benefit from personal stoves that combine energy efficiency and sustainable business models. Triple Pundit highlights efforts by EnviroFit and the Shell Foundation to distribute clean-burning biomass stoves in India.
EnviroFit, a Colorado-based nonprofit manufacturer, first became known for retrofitting two-stroke engines in Southeast Asia. Its stoves are designed to harness the power of “wood, crop waste, or animal dung” and produce nontoxic exhaust. This is valuable to India and other developing countries, where toxic indoor air pollution claims millions of lives every year. EnviroFit and Shell hope to subsidize the $12 to $50 cost of the stoves for families in need and eventually expand the program to Latin America and Africa.
Biomass stoves are part of an alternative-cooking trend that harnesses old technologies in new ways. Utne blogger Erik Helin pointed me to a spread in BackHome (article not available online) featuring the latest solar cooking technology, ranging from expensive high-tech cookers to do-it-yourself contraptions made from windshield shades and other materials. We’ve come a long way from the lukewarm hot dogs yielded up by the tin-foil-and-shoebox cookers my sixth-grade science class constructed.
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