7/31/2008 10:13:41 AM
It's tempting to succumb to liberal guilt when “everything from melting ice caps to parched croplands threaten an all but certain apocalypse—on our watch,” as we wrote in the March-April issue of Utne Reader, but it turns out there's less to be guilty about than we thought. Tuesday’s New York Times assures us that 10 things we worry about are no cause for concern. From defending the harmlessness of hot dogs and plastic bags to claiming BPA in plastic bottles is not harmful to humans, the list will irk many, even as it frees a few to scarf down a foot-long, take a swig from their Nalgene, and crank up their car’s AC.
7/28/2008 12:27:00 PM
Local foodists have gone too far. I’m all for stalking the wild asparagus, but hunting the urban pigeon? Perhaps we should also dine on Washington, D.C.’s plentiful rats?
Wired’s Alexis Madrigal is “65 percent not-kidding” about eating pigeons. “A food source that lives on our trash that is so reproductively prolific that we can't kill it off? That's green tech at its finest!” writes Madrigal. “Pigeons are direct waste-to-food converters, like edible protein weeds, that leave droppings that could be used as fertilizer as a bonus.” All it would take, suggests Madrigal, is a quick rebranding. “Pigeons can merely reclaim their previous sufficiently arugula-sounding name: squab.”
The squabble over squab continues at Earth First. “Would you be open to eating things not commonly considered appropriate as food? Pigeons? Squirrels?” it asks. The question might be better worded as “things not currently considered appropriate as food.” Pigeon used to be widely consumed in the United States, Madrigal points out, and the same is also true of squirrels. Modern-day squirrel hunter Hank Shaw laments the decline of squirrel consumption in the summer issue of Meatpaper (article not available online).
Twentieth-century cookbooks as common as The Joy of Cooking and Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking included squirrel dishes, writes Shaw, as well they should have—the critters were plentiful, and the flavor is fine, he assures. “Its sweet darkish meat vaguely resembles the dark meat on turkey,” Shaw writes. “When squirrels have been eating acorns or other nuts, their meat is deliciously nutty—not unlike the Spanish bellota hams that gourmands shell out princely sums for.”
Shaw makes a tempting case for the tastiness of squirrels. So why not squab? Well, if we use Shaw’s logic—squirrels taste “deliciously nutty” because they eat nuts—wouldn’t city pigeons taste, um, “deliciously trashy” from feasting on our trash?
Image by Ernesto Andrade, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/24/2008 9:57:01 AM
We’re approaching moving season, which in many cities is marked by overflowing trash cans, rain-soaked mattresses stacked on curbs, and gas-guzzling U-Haul trailers being dragged to and fro. The whole process is hard on the environment—not to mention the pocketbook and the nerves—but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re planning a move, or just gearing up for some belated spring cleaning, here’s a quick guide to keeping your old stuff out of the landfill and finding some new duds on the cheap while you’re at it.
Books, movies, and other media: Eco-blogger Green LA Girl recommends Swaptree, an easy-to-use site that lets you trade your unwanted books, music, movies, and video games for media you’re actually interested in. For example, you send away The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and someone sends you a Little Miss Sunshine DVD. Swaptree even prepares a mailing label for you to print, which means no inconvenient trips to the post office. (Zunafish and BarterBee are similar sites.)
Just books: Try book-swapping sites BookMooch and PaperBackSwap (also courtesy of Green LA Girl).
Clothing: If there’s a Swap-O-Rama-Rama in your neck of the woods, grab a big bag of clothes, a little bit of cash, and head on over. You can swap-and-go, if that’s your preference, or stick around and use a sewing station to turn someone else’s old T-shirt into something you’ll love. (There are artists on-site to help with sewing, embroidering, knitting, etc.) For something a bit less DIY, try Swapstyle.com, which is more of a straight-up online fashion exchange. If you’re just looking to donate to a good cause, Dress for Success will pass along your business attire to low-income women building their careers, and the Glass Slipper Project will give your prom dress to a Chicago high school student who can’t afford her own. “Ready to Rewear,” from our March-April 2007 issue, has additional tips. And the new book Wake Up and Smell the Planet points out that even your holiest socks can be put to good use: Goodwill sends away its rattier stock to be recycled or reused.
Kids’ stuff: At Zwaggle, families earn points by giving clothes, strollers, car seats, and all the other kid stuff you can think of to other members of the site. You earn “zoints” for each item donated, which you can then cash in for new-to-you goods from other families.
Furniture, etc.: If you’re drowning in stuff and just looking to unload, try Throwplace, a site that matches your extra futon or underused toaster oven with charities and nonprofits that need them. For both buying and selling, the old standbys Craigslist and Freecycle rarely disappoint.
Computers: For newish computer equipment, Sierra’s Answer Guy, Bob Schildgen, recommends Share the Technology, which lists schools and nonprofits seeking technology. Grist suggests the National Cristina Foundation, which will find a deserving home for your computer, printer, or software.
Electronics: CollectiveGood may be able to fix up your old-school Nokia and put it to good use; if not, they’ll recycle it, Grist says. GreenDisk will also recycle your old electronics (even cables and cases), and you can now recycle e-waste at select post offices, reports Sustainable Industries—just be sure to check that your post office is one of the 1,500 participating in the program.
Any other suggestions? Chat in the Utne salons.
Images by Matt Seppings and amy_b, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/23/2008 3:00:55 PM
In an exercise in terrifying imagery, more than 400 dead baby penguins have been washing ashore in Rio de Janeiro over the past couple of months.
The Associated Press reported last week that no direct cause for the penguicide has been found yet, though theories abound. Thiago Muniz, a veterinarian at Brazil's Niteroi Zoo, thinks overfishing could be to blame by sending the penguins on longer hunts for fish away from their native shores in Antarctica and Patagonia. "That leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught up in the strong ocean currents," he told the AP.
Erli Costa, a biologist from Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, theorizes that global warming could be the culprit. Costa claims that climate change has caused an increase in cyclones and harsher currents, which make the seas rough on the young birds.
Global warming has already taken a heavy toll on penguins. The UK's Daily Mail reported earlier this month that the Antarctic Peninsula's average temperature has risen by three degrees to an average -14.7 degrees Celsius (about six degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, which in turn has caused freezing rain to be much more common than snow. Baby penguins don't develop water-protective feathers until 40 days after their birth, leaving them susceptible to hypothermia. Estimates are that, with tens of thousands of baby birds freezing to death, Adelie penguins could be extinct within 10 years.
(Thanks, TreeHugger and NYCsceneQueen.)
Image by Aaron Jacobs, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/23/2008 2:05:52 PM
The idea of flushing human waste down the toilet, mixing it with water from the laundry, the shower, and the sink, and then trying to treat the whole effluent sludge using expensive, energy-intensive industrial plants is “totally insane” according to Arno Rosemarin, research and communications manager at the Stockholm Environment Institute, quoted in the Boston Globe. There are plenty of other options that people and governments can pursue for more sane and sustainable sanitation.
A global movement is afoot to harness the “neglected treasure” of human waste, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow writes for the Boston Globe. Low-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and composting toilets are just the starting points. Tuhus-Dubrow also writes about “vacuum toilets”—like the ones found on airplanes—bathrooms designed to give nutrients to plants, and toilets designed to separate urine, feces, and greywater. A number of barriers, including psychological ones, are preventing this kind of technology from being implemented, but any one would be preferable to the “flush and forget” system currently in place.
7/23/2008 11:50:27 AM
A free movie site popped up last week featuring a solid selection of environmental films. SnagFilms lets viewers browse documentaries by category or title, stream them instantly, and add the films to their own sites. Environmental offerings include National Geographic and PBS specials, along with shorts and smaller films like The Future of Food, an exploration of genetically modified foods, and Okie Noodling, a feature-length film about bare-armed catfish-catching. Other doc categories include international, health, and history.
SnagFilms is still in beta, so it has its flaws. It’s difficult to rewind and fast forward, there’s no time tracking, and one film I watched had advertisements haphazardly strewn throughout, without even the strategic placement of TV commercials. Some of SnagFilms’ selections are available on other video-sharing sites, so the company will either have to expand its exclusive offerings or rejigger its ads to placate viewers used to commercial-free content.
7/14/2008 3:39:48 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.
7/14/2008 12:47:24 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.
7/11/2008 3:57:03 PM
For mothers (and fathers) who want more out of a parenting magazine than five ways to feed your child vegetables, the Mother explores natural parenting from pre-birth into adult life. Seeking to create a holistic lifestyle for your children, yourself as a parent, and your larger community, the UK-based magazine is anything but conventional.
The July-August 2008 issue includes “The Activist Parent,” by Dr. Richard House, which emphasizes the importance of finding “ ‘personal power’ to stand up for one’s truth” and details the defining features a parent who embraces that ideal. An “activist parent” is informed and honest and often participates in some form of “principled non-compliance,” such as refusing to subject his or her children to standardized testing, among other avant-garde attributes.
In the same issue, an article by Anton Saxon shows how to turn your city into a Transition Town. A movement founded by environmentalist Rob Hopkins, the Transition Town concept examines how a community can self-organize to decrease the effects of global warming and meet the challenges of peak oil.
If, however, you would like to know how to get your child to eat his or her greens, the Mother is not without its share of practical parenting information. In it, you can find delicious vegan recipes and suggestions for protecting your children from sun damage the nontoxic way.
7/9/2008 11:42:02 AM
Backyard and community gardening is growing like a compost-fed bean shoot, thanks to a spreading green consciousness, a desire to eat local and organic, and high and rising food prices.
In Seattle, more than 1,600 people are on a waiting list for gardening land at one of the city’s “P-Patch” plots, Crosscut reports. And some city officials are pushing for an inventory of public land that could be used to grow food, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, echoing Portland’s “Diggable City” initiative.
In the Bay Area, a new firm called MyFarm helps harried urban dwellers who want a garden in their yard but don’t always have the time or skills to maintain it, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. MyFarm plants, maintains, and harvests veggies for the landowner and sometimes, with larger gardens, for other subscribers in what is basically a backyard CSA (community supported agriculture) operation. Similar outfits already operate in other cities.
Across the pond, the BBC profiles a couple of backyard gardeners in the Midlands region who’ve been driven to exercise their green thumbs in part by a desire to save money.
Altogether, these trends point to a gardening renaissance that recalls the Victory Gardens of World War II—a project that San Francisco is in fact emulating with its Victory Gardens 2008+ project.
7/3/2008 10:59:25 AM
We at Utne Reader were bummed out to hear in May that the Portland-based sustainable apparel maker Nau was shutting down and selling off it stock. Our disappointment wasn’t just because Utne Reader had partnered with Nau on promotional events like a showcase at South by Southwest, or because some of us had grown quite fond of the stylish, eco-friendly clothes in which they outfitted us. It also stemmed from the fact that Nau was a sort of standard bearer for the sustainable business community, and its demise was a symbolic blow that seemed to portend trouble ahead for its peers.
But wait! Save your dire predictions for another day. Sustainable Industries reports that California-based apparel maker Horny Toad has agreed to buy all Nau’s remaining assets. Under the deal Nau will be a part of Horny Toad, though its line of products and brand name will remain independent.
The really great news? Horny Toad CEO Gordon Seabury intends to preserve the best aspects of Nau’s business model, including using organic and recycled textiles, reducing environmental impacts, and donating a percentage of profits to partner nonprofits. This mode of doing business is “an untouchable aspect” of Nau, Seabury tells Sustainable Industries.
Nau will of course be a different company. Only 12 of its 60 headquarters employees remain in the new iteration of the firm, its five stores will stay closed—it will sell products through other retailers—and the product line will be trimmed. But it’s clear that for at least the next three to five years, Seabury’s stated timetable for profitability, Nau’s groundbreaking spirit will live on.
7/2/2008 5:37:48 PM
Michael Pollan’s a sharp writer, and we generally love his stuff here at Utne when we’re not printing mildly critical pieces like “The Food Police: Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos.” Anybody who can turn sustainable eating into a catchy seven-word slogan (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) and talk about agriculture without sounding like a Farm Report host has a rare talent. But I almost choked on my açaí bubble tea when I read a Q&A with Pollan on the great new website Yale Environment 360 and found him uttering these words:
“You know, eight percent of the American landmass we’ve kind of locked up and thrown away the key. That’s a wonderful achievement and has given us things like the wilderness park.”
Where do I start with this? I suppose by pointing out, as one commenter did, that less than 5 percent of the U.S. land mass is actually federally designated wilderness, and less than 3 percent if you’re talking about the contiguous U.S.
Then I’d point out that such wilderness isn’t “locked up” at all. It’s available for anyone to visit, even New York Times food writers. They can use it for activities ranging from hunting and fishing (the ultimate sustainable food sources) to hiking, camping, rafting, skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching, and many other things. They could even use it simply to look at. To appreciate. To marvel at.
The other problem with the phrase “locked up” is that by employing it Pollan parrots the language of the extractive industries that consider every acre unavailable to them to be “locked up.” Pollan is a master of the soundbite, so it’s natural that he gravitates to catch phrases, but he ought to be aware that this one hits the ear of many environmentalists like an F-bomb and undercuts his credibility with anyone who really knows wilderness issues.
Geez, you’re probably thinking, settle down: He said setting aside wilderness was a “wonderful achievement.” But I read some sarcasm into that statement, especially because he went on to say:
“This is one of our great contributions to world culture, this idea of wilderness. On the other hand, it’s had nothing to say of any value for the ninety-two percent of the landscape that we cannot help but change because this is where we live. This is where we grow our food, this is where we work. Essentially the tendency of the wilderness ethic is to write that all off. Land is either virgin or raped. It’s an all or nothing ethic. It’s either in the realm of pristine, preserved wilderness, or it’s development — parking lot, lawn.”
Pollan has been airing this polarized critique of the wilderness ethic since writing his book Second Nature five years ago, and frankly it seems like it’s time for him to start seeing the nuance in the debate. Certainly there are wilderness lovers who oppose oil drilling in ANWR yet gladly till their yard to plant tomatoes. Certainly there are mall developers who take fly-fishing trips to remote wilderness destinations. To paint backcountry hikers and organic farmers as somehow locked in mortal battle is to vastly oversimplify a complex issue.
Besides, U.S. politicians of all stripes seem to disagree with Pollan that we’ve spent enough time on this silly wilderness designation stuff. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that 12 bipartisan wilderness bills are expected to pass this year, adding as much as 2 million acres of land to the federal system. I suggest Pollan lace up his hiking boots, visit some of these parcels—remember, the door’s open—and from a distant mountaintop ponder just how much organic farmland has been lost to the misguided purveyors of the wilderness ethic.
7/2/2008 12:45:28 PM
Shopping malls, once proud bastions of air-conditioned capitalism, are transforming into less self-contained structures, reports OnEarth, a result of competition from strip malls and big-box retailers.
“In 2006 there was only one new enclosed mall built in this country,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s architecture program. In the 1990s, Durham-Jones says, it was common to see 140 new malls each year. Now, dozens of malls are dead or dying (witness the long list of the deceased at DeadMalls.com). To revitalize struggling malls, developers are converting them into “compact, well-planned, walkable communities with a dense mix of homes and small businesses” in communities from New Jersey to Colorado.
Mall makeovers tips in New Urban News include adding upper-floor housing, outdoor-facing stores, parking ramps in place of parking lots, and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods.
“A lot of bad design practices are being resolved, knitting these malls back into the neighborhoods,” says designer Richard Huffman to New Urban News.
Outdated zoning laws obstruct mall conversions, urban policy specialist Christopher Leinberger tells OnEarth, but he believes increasing demand for "walkable urban living" will provide the necessary momentum to keep malls evolving.
Image by Nate Grigg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!