5/29/2009 5:16:10 PM
In a gripping and suspenseful tale, an intrepid, dashing explorer in a brimmed hat journeys into the Russian, Armenian, and Georgian areas of the Caucasus, descending rugged canyons and risking life and limb to find the wild, wonderful, and rare … Caucasian spinach. Yes, it’s a yarn that could only come from the pages of Permaculture Activist magazine (article not available online), wherein our hero, Justin West, traces the Old World roots—literally—of some of humankind’s favorite foods.
West points out that “the Caucasus has for me become synonymous with wild edible plant origins,” harboring species of almond, chestnuts, walnuts, hazel, pomegranate, grape, hawthorns plum, apples, and pears. But how many of us would set off on a five-week trek to find a specimen of the vinelike Hablitzia tamnoides, which to hear him tell it is a holy grail for permaculturists? He does, and tells us all about his trip through village and vale. At times it sounds better than any Fodor’s-guided trek across Provence:
Through it all we were continually inspired by the sheer diversity of landscapes, and the equal diversity of fresh, organic fruit and nuts in the markets of the cities and in the villages. In people’s private gardens, the pears, apples, plums persimmons, apricots, peaches, and Cornelian cherries were seemingly woven together with streamers of grape vines, and under-planted with patches with corn, beans, and other vegetables. The streets were lined with rows of walnuts and chestnuts. It often felt as though we had stepped not into the past, but rather into a future realm, a post-oil era, where the lack of cheap consumer goods was all but forgotten amid daily rituals of food production and celebration.
Along the way, West drinks homemade vodka out of sheep horns with animist herders, has a run-in with a bunch of young boars, camps in a cave—and yes, finds his precious quarry with its “green tissue-paper thin caps, almost like moss operculum’s, falling away from the center of the flower and revealing shiny black seeds.”
He ends up steaming some Hablitzia leaves over a campfire and gathering a few precious seeds, a lucky break since the specimen he found had coincidentally just “set” its seed. Yet he never describes the actual taste of the plant, which others have characterized as being much like our more familiar spinach. It’s clear that for West, the wonder was as much in the journey as in the destination.
Source: Permaculture Activist
Image by Li An Phoa, courtesy of Justin West.
5/29/2009 5:04:55 PM
If you’ve ever traveled in Central America, you’ve seen the “chicken buses”: They’re old U.S. school buses, decorated to varying degrees of flamboyance, slightly repurposed to transport people, goods, and in some rural areas, chickens (and other live animals).
“At first glance, it seems like an environmental victory to squeeze the maximum life out of such equipment, the automotive equivalent of sending old sweaters to Goodwill,” writes Terri Peterson Smith in E Magazine. But these buses’ emissions—nitrogen oxide, soot, and other contaminates—pollute the air and can cause health problems.
The problem is worst with the oldest buses, according to the article, which cites an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finding that "pre-1990 buses may emit up to six times more pollution than newer models."
Source: E Magazine
Image by DavidDennisPhotos.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/29/2009 10:01:41 AM
In a beautiful, troubling photo essay for Search magazine, photojournalist Stephen Voss documents the effects of pollution on inhabitants of China’s Huai River Basin. Most people in the region, Voss notes, must rely on the river—even though they’re well aware that it’s polluted—as a source of drinking water and for crop irrigation. As a result, rates of cancer and other diseases are appallingly high in some villages.
Zi Qing lifts his shirt to reveal a thick red scar on his stomach from a recent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. His older and younger brother died of cancer within a month of each other. He has been a fisherman for most of his sixty years, but is no longer able to make a living or even feed himself from the river. The last time he went fishing, he was able to catch only a few, small fish, their bodies covered in blisters. In front of Zi Qing’s house is a small well that he has dug deeper five times in search of clean water, but still feels the water he drinks is polluted.
Above image: "Waste water comes out of a pipe at a state-owned MSG factory, Linhua Gourmet Powder Company. Linhua (meaning "lotus flower") is the largest producer of MSG in China, and the largest polluter in the Huai River Basin."
The photo essay is here, and Voss has additional photos from the region on his website.
Image courtesy of Stephen Voss.
5/26/2009 11:51:54 AM
You can—but should you? In 2007 the global ecotourism industry ferried 55 million U.S. vacationers around the world on better, greener holidays. And every one of them should have been asking themselves that question. The editor in chief of Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall, eloquently broaches ecotourism’s ethical dilemma in a candid, even haunting editorial.
“The polar bear alongside the boat makes a low chuffing sound,” Theall writes. “He dives to escape us. Each time he surfaces, he moves farther into open water, farther from land. A few passengers ask our guide, Wally, if we’re stressing the bear. I don’t hear his answer. I’m too busy kneeling low on the deck with my Canon. I stretch out one hand. The bear swims just beneath it, and he’s magnificent. . . .Only after I’ve clicked off about 100 images does it occur to me that Wally might be chasing this bear because of me. I’m with a travel magazine. I’m worse than global warming. I’m a journalist.”
“Guilt’s a heavy souvenir,” writes Theall, who last saw the polar bear, confused and agitated, swimming out toward open water. Although Wally later reassures her that the bear most likely made it back to land, she finds a sobering ecotourism parable in the experience—what is legal is not always what is right.
Source: Women’s Adventure
Image by suneko, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/22/2009 3:57:31 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
5/21/2009 5:31:44 PM
I’ve been coveting a lot of my neighbors’ houses while browsing Builders of the Pacific Coast (Shelter Publications) by Lloyd Kahn, a photo-splashed book full of amazing, rustic, wood-built dwellings and shelters on islands and in other remote seaside locations in the Pacific Northwest.
The area’s huge trees and ubiquitous driftwood lend themselves to curvaceous, organic design, and these builders take full advantage of these qualities in structures that range from a Hobbit-like gazebo to a spherical treehouse to grand but still-earthy luxury homes and spas. Many of the homes are reachable only by boat and perched in impossibly beautiful settings.
There’s a strong countercultural thread to these builders, many of whom were inspired by Kahn’s 1973 book Shelter, a bible of sorts for that decade’s back-to-the-land movement. And Kahn’s laid-back writing style is full of metaphysical allusions and meandering asides about his travels, giving it a whiff of patchouli and B.C. bud. But looking at these homes, it’s hard to doubt that there’s “a vortex of creative carpentry energy in this part of the world,” as the book states. Moss roofs, bentwood railings, hand-carved details, natural motifs, and Native influences complement the area’s mossy, foggy splendor and speak to its natural and human history.
See Kahn’s recent story about his book in our sister publication, Mother Earth News, complete with a slideshow.
Sources: Shelter Publications, Mother Earth News
Image by Lloyd Kahn, courtesy of Lloyd Kahn.
5/21/2009 4:35:51 PM
Last winter when we named Tzeporah Berman one of Utne Reader’s 50 Visionaries, we spoke to the Canadian activist about her latest project, PowerUp Canada, which challenges citizens to take the “next step” in addressing climate change—that is, pushing for greener legislation. Private actions, like switching to CFLs, still matter, Berman said, but it’s critical to extend that greenwill to the public level and start changing laws too.
Guess Chevron didn’t get the message. The May-June issue of World Watch contains a biting spoof of the energy company’s “I will” ad campaign, which depicts earnest, average-looking folks alongside statements such as “I will finally get a programmable thermostat.” The spoofs—brought to you by the League of Conservation Voters—pair Chevron execs with their own “I will” statements, such as, “I will think about cleaning up one or two of Chevron’s 94 Superfund toxic waste sites.”
Putting the focus on large-scale regulation doesn’t give individuals a pass on small-scale green choices, of course. The ads, writes World Watch, merely “suggest that the company could also do well to embrace greater corporate responsibility.”
Source: World Watch
Image by philosophygeek, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/19/2009 5:03:58 PM
Organic Gardening just made this bicycle geek smile: The May 2009 issue includes simple instructions on how to convert old bike wheel rims into a support for climbing garden plants, like beans. All the nailing and stringing necessary (which isn’t much), happens through the holes already there for spokes. Brilliant!
Source: Organic Gardening
5/15/2009 3:16:07 PM
Fans of John O’Connor’s brilliant travel account “The Boil,” which appeared in Utne’s Jan.-Feb. issue, should check out this other lovely—and somewhat cringe-inducing—tale he penned for The Believer.
In “Avian,” O’Connor discovers the handiwork of the loggerhead shrike, a.k.a. the Butcher Bird, which spends its days skillfully filleting prey on thorn bushes and then disemboweling their carcasses. The measures are gruesome, but necessary, because it lacks the talon-power of other predatory birds. It’s also facing declining numbers in North America.
O’Connor was particularly transformed by the chilling death of a tiny green lizard. After staring down the author, the bird made quick business of crucifying its tiny meal. O’Connor writes of the slain creature, “Its intestines, naked to the world, shone like cooked spaghetti…. I began to feel a grudging respect for the Butcher Bird. To see an animal overcome its genetic shortcomings in such dramatic fashion, supported by a brain the size of a lentil, well, it gives a man hope.”
The Believer was nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for its arts coverage.
Source: The Believer
Image by Henry McLin, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/15/2009 1:53:49 PM
What reasonable person wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to build a small island nation all their own? Good news: According to The Futurist, “Modern land-moving technology makes it easier than ever.”
Three experts on the subject—yes, there are experts on the subject—weigh in:
McKinley Conway, engineer:
Many micro-nations, Conway explains, “have been launched by people trying to establish modern utopias, seeking total freedom from the pressures of government or society. Others of a more practical nature have sought to set up tax havens that would attract investors. Some have looked for sites to base lotteries and gambling casinos or pirate radio transmitters.
Erwin S. Strauss, author of How to Start Your Own Country:
"Currently, international agreements generally recognize a territorial limit of 12 nautical miles from land, and an 'exclusive economic zone' extending to 200 nautical miles. The zone provision is focused on securing rights to fishing as well as oil and gas exploitation while allowing a “right of innocent passage” to all nations’ ships; however, it’s clear that most nations would interpret this as precluding the establishment of any independent entity in those waters. This leaves a substantial amount of water unaccounted for, including some that is quite shallow."
George Dunford, micro-nation documentarian:
"The best micronationalists know there’s some fun to be had. Segway inventor Dean Kamen refers to the New York state island he bought as the Kingdom of North Dumpling Island. His reason for seceding came when local authorities refused to let him build his own turbine, and he got his buddy, then-President George Herbert Walker Bush, in on the joke by signing a nonaggression pact with the kingdom. Kamen made several appointments to his court, including ministers of Nepotism, Brunch and Ice Cream (the latter officers were the founders of Ben & Jerry’s). He reputedly carries his own made-up currency in his wallet, which he has attempted to use as payment on the mainland."
Dunford quotes the infinite wisdom of the infinitely wise Frank Zappa: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline — it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
Source: The Futurist
5/14/2009 7:21:59 PM
In the age of sustainable seafood, sushi can be a decidedly guilty pleasure—if a permissible pleasure at all. Those glistening slices of hamachi? Most likely not what you’d call earth-friendly fare. The latest issue of Edible San Francisco, however, profiles two restaurateurs out to prove that sushi can be served without a side of environmental destruction.
At Tataki, Raymond Ho and Kin Lui exclusively serve sustainable seafood. It’s a substantial commitment, considering that the five most popular sushi items—salmon, hamachi, shrimp, uangi, and tuna—are rarely ocean friendly. But with some help from FishWise business director Casson Trenor, the chefs have found some creative ways to proceed. They skip salmon in favor of farmed arctic char. Instead of eel (nagi), they offer delicately blow-torched strips of Canadian black cod.
“Faux-nagi asks for a certain willing suspension of disbelief, heavy emphasis on the willing,” Edible San Francisco reports. But the alternative—“rolling the [most popular] five until fisheries crash and sushi as we know it drifts off into extinction, like a polar bear on an ice floe”—doesn’t exactly whet the appetite.
For those of us who don’t live in the Bay Area, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a special sushi edition of its trusty seafood guide. And for fun additional reading about sustainable seafood, visit Utne Reader’s Sustainable Seafood Project, which includes excerpts from the exquisite book Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.
Source: Edible San Francisco
5/12/2009 2:59:09 PM
By snapping up rack after rack of cheap, mass-made clothing, we’re making ourselves all look alike, trashing the planet, and mistreating our fellow humans, writes Charty Durrant in “The Tyranny of Trends” in the May-June issue of the British magazine Resurgence. What makes her case especially compelling is that Durrant is not a radical outside observer but a co-creator of the very culture she derides: She is a former fashion editor of the Sunday Times, the Observer, and British Vogue and a lecturer at the London College of Fashion.
“As a fashion editor of twenty years’ standing,” she writes, “I have found it extremely uncomfortable to admit that the seemingly harmless fashion industry is actually driving our demise. It is at the heart of all that ails us; pull at any social or environmental thread, and it will lead you back to the fashion industry.”
Durrants singles out “fast fashion,” which cops leading designers’ styles with cheap sweatshop-made knockoffs, as especially unethical and urges a return to “built to last” thinking in apparel.
While many of Durrant’s brand and store references are British, stateside shoppers inspired by her message can clean up their fashion purchases by seeking out green- and ethical-minded clothing makers like Patagonia, Nau, and Linda Loudermilk and using online resources like the Autonomie Project and Artfire to find fashionable apparel and accessories that don’t leave a big ugly footprint on the other side of the world.
Also, to keep up with the latest in green women’s fashion, check out blogs like Sprig, Eco-Chick and, for a more global perspective, Eco Fashion World.
Sources: Resurgence, Patagonia, Nau, Linda Loudermilk, Autonomie Project, Artfire, Sprig, Eco-Chick, Eco Fashion World
Image of Linda Loudermilk courtesy of Linda Loudermilk.
5/12/2009 11:08:44 AM
The majestic whooping crane and the adorable polar bear tend to get plenty of attention from conservationists. Less charismatic animals, like the Choctawhatchee beach mouse (pictured left), need attention, too. In a photo essay for Audubon magazine, photographer Joel Sartore calls attention to the neglected endangered species, including insects, ugly fish, and the American crocodile. “At the heart of the story is this,” Sartore told Audubon, “Do we as a society treat the least among us with dignity and respect?”
Photo courtesy of Joel Sartore.
5/11/2009 2:50:59 PM
The world’s insatiable hunger for soy products, including biofuels and cattle feed, is creating an environmental and social disaster in South America. Workers in Paraguay are plagued by the rampant use of pesticides and are being forced off their land and to make way for more soy plants, many of which are genetically modified. In response, locals have begun to forcibly occupy the farms, causing court-ordered evictions and fueling greater use of private security forces in the region.
The plight of the Paraguayan farmers and the desolate monoculture created by multinational food corporations like Cargil are beautifully captured in a recent photo essay by Evan Abramson in NACLA Report on the Americas. Abramson reports that some 6 million gallons of pesticides, including some classified as extremely dangerous by the World Health Organization, are being dumped on Paraguayan soil every year. This creates serious health problems and some birth defects for the surrounding population.
The environmental argument for soy-based biodiesel is canceled out by the destruction being caused by the crop, April Howard and Benjamin Dangl wrote in the July-August 2007 issue of Utne Reader. Yet the land being devoted to biofuels continues to rise. Howard and Dangl quoted a local farmer Meriton Ramírez who explained the problem:
"I didn't want to leave. I built my farm and raised my children here. I planted fruit trees. For the first time in my life I had good land," Ramírez says, motioning to the vacant space that used to be his home. "Then the soy farmers arrived and we couldn't stand the fumigation. We had terrible headaches, nausea and skin rashes, problems seeing, respiratory infections. The chickens died. The cows aborted their calves and their milk dried up."
Photo courtesy of Evan Abramson.
Sources: NACLA Report on the Americas, Utne Reader
5/8/2009 4:05:27 PM
Discussing the effects of a rising human population on the environment tends to bring out heated opinions here at Utne Reader. “I’ve been accused of a variety of moral failings that range from supporting eugenics to hating babies,” wrote our publisher, Bryan Welch, in his commentary “It’s the Population, Kids.” And blog posts about population by Julie Hanus and Morgan Winters have kicked up a fair amount of dust.
The passions burn even hotter in the pages of the radical environmental journal Earth First!, which bravely addressed the issue head-on in “Rad Babies” in its March-April 2009 issue (article not available online).
“Does the decision to bear a child contradict a life in defense of the wild?” wrote “Leah” in her introduction to a host of mini-essays by fellow radicals. (Many Earth First! correspondents use pseudonyms.) Some of them had the temerity to answer “no.
“Chrysta” said shunning or isolating radical parents is exactly the wrong approach, and that children raised with an environmental consciousness can become “vehicles of change. “Erika” wrote that “resistance to parents is what keeps us from staying in the community” and suggested a greater tolerance for those who’ve chosen to procreate. And “Mike Robe” took a bigger-picture view, suggesting that “green fascism” and “a right to reproduce as much as one wants” are both flawed extremist positions.
A couple of letter writers in the May-June issue didn’t just beg to differ. They sputtered, they ranted, they fumed.
“I was horrified at the blatant justification to further increase the already metastasizing human population on this bloated, besieged, and dying planet,” wrote one.
“It is sad when an environmental magazine publishes an article that extols the virtues of an environmentally devastating and incredibly selfish act,” wrote another. “No one’s genes are that special, and it is an almost unfathomable level of arrogance to think that your child will somehow be different than the huddled masses of Earth-trampling shit machines.”
Luckily, “Ash” stepped in to stop the self-hate. Describing herself as “a rad mama to an unplanned but not unloved vegan niblet,” she says she used to be an anti-breeder but nows sees “the universal purpose in my destiny. My daughter has added a lot of chutzpah to my eco and animal activism.”
Good luck, Ash. From what I can see, you’re going to need a lot of it.
Source: Earth First!
5/8/2009 3:49:02 PM
When Bambi’s mother said, “Man is in the forest,” viewers knew trouble was coming. All the rollercoaster rides, funnel cakes, and plastic tchotchkes at Disney’s theme parks continue to wreak havoc on the environment in ways that Bambi, Thumper, and Mrs. Rabbit couldn’t have imagined.
Estimating conservatively, the average daily consumption of a day at Disneyland is about three times that of a normal day, according to numbers crunched by David Ng on his blog. In terms of eco-footprint, Ng estimates that, “a person attending Disneyland may be going 12 fold his or her fair earthshare.”
Lately, Disney has been trying to green up their image. They’ve switched their theme park trains to biodiesel, they’ve created a less environmentally destructive kind of firework, and they’re working on cutting down on their carbon footprint. Even with those green innovations, the company has a long way to go before Bambi and his woodland friends can really feel safe.
Image by M.Minderhoud, licensed under Gnu.
Source: The World’s Fair
5/8/2009 12:57:19 PM
If you’re looking to beef up—and green up—your summer reading list, the new issue of Alternatives Journal is a good place to start. It’s the Canadian environmental magazine’s second annual books issue, and it reads like a compendium of important contemporary eco-writing: There’s an excerpt from Vandana Shiva’s new book, Soil Not Oil; another from FUEL, a project of Alphabet City Media and the MIT Press in which writers and artists investigate the future of energy; and a reprint of Brian Doyle’s beautiful piece “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever,” which originally appeared in Orion.
Reviews abound, of course, with pretty solid representation from indie publishers like Island Press, South End Press, and New Society Publishers (to name just a few). There’s also a scary but fascinating review essay on four books that address the manipulation of science, particularly in the realms of mercury (Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics, and Poison, by Jane M. Hightower) and cancer research (The Secret History of the War on Cancer, by Devra Davis).
I also love the editors’ picks (unfortunately not available online), which single out “environmental classics” like George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability (1993), and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1989).
(And, for additional fodder for your summer eco-reading list, check out the eight publications recognized for ourstanding environmental coverage in the 2009 Utne Independent Press Awards.)
Source: Alternatives Journal
5/6/2009 3:58:43 PM
Companies pollute, and when they do, that pollution disproportionately hurts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. A new report by the Political Economy Research Institute quantified the inequality and found that nationwide, “the most polluted locations have significantly higher-than-average percentages of blacks, Latinos, and Asian-American residents.”
Certain communities are worse than others. Birmingham, Alabama, topped the list of the worst offenders, a city where minorities make up about 33.5 percent of the population, but shoulder 64.7 percent of toxic exposure to humans. Low income residents in Birmingham comprise about 13.1 percent of the population, but shoulder 23.8 percent of the toxic exposure.
The worst corporate polluters were also called out in the report, with special attention paid to the burden they placed on minorities. The research showed that 69.1 percent of the health risk from Exxon Mobil, for example, fell on minority communities.
Considering the inequalities exposed by the report, Nina Jacinto wrote for Wiretap that “An effective environmental justice movement will consider the intersections of race, culture, class and geography in its creation and implementation of laws, regulations and policies.”
For more on the issue, read Environmental Justice for All from the March-April 2008 issue of Utne Reader.
Sources: Political Economy Research Institute, Wiretap, Utne Reader
5/4/2009 1:57:56 PM
The Toyota Prius is the best-selling hybrid car in the world, a status fueled by celebrity supporters, rabid consumer fans, and the Japanese auto giant’s own savvy marketing. But there's a problem: a growing number of Prius owners claim that they’ve experienced “unintended acceleration” while driving—their cars take off suddenly and won’t stop, even if they slam on the brakes.
Reporter Paul Knight at Westword has tracked this dark side of Prius ownership “as owners share horror stories on blogs and message boards of crashing their cars through forests, garage doors and gas stations from Washington to Michigan to New York.”
Toyota’s response to these claims has included a feeble recall of “faulty floor mats” (which they say cause the gas pedal to stick), and a blame-the-consumer attitude:
“You get these customers that say, ‘I stood on the brake with all my might and the car just kept on accelerating,’” Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong explains. “They’re not stepping on the brake. People are so under stress right now, people have so much on their minds...you’re driving along, and the next thing you know, you’re two miles down the road and you don’t remember driving.”
Barbara Sherman, a retiree from North Carolina whose Prius sped her through a stoplight, responds to such allegations with, “Garbage—I was driving it, and I know what happened. There is definitely a problem.”
Image by xrrr, licensed under Creative Commons
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