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15 posts from July 2006

July 31, 2006

We'd Bet on Al and Oprah Too

Though the cost of my monthly bus pass thankfully doesn't vary along with the price of fuel, I loved David Letterman's timely "Top Ten" list on July 28:

Top Ten Dumb Guy Ideas For Lowering Gas Prices

10. Make all roads downhill.
9. Cheaper self-service price if you pump the oil and refine it yourself.
8. Gas comes from dinosaurs, so all we need are more dinosaurs.
7. Invade Iraq.
6. Give Cheney a sawed-off shotgun and have him stick up an Exxon.
5. Tax cuts for the rich.
4. Get Bush and the middle east to straighten everything out on Oprah.
3. Jet packs for everyone.
2. Gas only costs 12 cents a gallon in Venezuela; drive to Venezuela for gas.
1. Get tubby genius Al Gore to figure it out.

While you're waiting for those jet packs to show up, why not try out these simple tips for increasing your mileage? Less money to Exxon means more left over for you.

July 18, 2006

Sowing Seeds, and Community

Bayview GardenThere's an inspiring article in today's San Francisco Chronicle about a group of Bayview district residents who revitalized their low-income neighborhood by turning a median strip into a community garden. The project, which started with two people toting buckets of borrowed water, recently received a grant for a drip irrigation system, and draws volunteers from throughout the neighborhood--and a Stanford University fraternity. "[People] always say, 'I can't do it by myself,'" resident James Ross told the Chronicle. "That's true, but somebody has to start. All it takes is two, three people who want to do it. If nobody gets started, won't nothing happen." What spaces in your neighborhood are ripe for transformation?

July 09, 2006

My Other House is Made of Straw

Solar Home in VermontI just got around to reading an article from last month's New York Times about a recent trend among (presumably rich) folks: incorporating environmentally friendly features into weekend houses. The story, "Second Homes That Put Ecology First," is a bit more even-handed than that title might suggest. While touting the benefits of blue-jean insulation, recycled-concrete flooring (which is also "completely indestructible for the dogs and the kids"), and photovoltaic systems, the author makes room for concerns about the size of some of these homes and the fuel used to get to them. Says one critic, "The greenest second home is one that is never built." What do you think? Is a "green second home" an oxymoron?

July 06, 2006

Mobile Parks

Grass Wheel Four architecture students from Halifax, Nova Scotia, spent the day yesterday walking around town in a grassy wheel to make a statement about the lack of green space in the city. Their clever approach was reminiscent of a project carried out in Sierra's neck of the woods late last year, when the San Francisco-based art collective Rebar turned a downtown parking space into a temporary park. What do you think about art as activism? Can it make a difference?

(Photograph by Andre Forget)

July 01, 2006


Mark EllinghamMark Ellingham, founder and publisher, Rough Guides

He's spent 20 years encouraging people to see the world, but guidebook guru Mark Ellingham is no longer so keen on air travel. After announcing plans to "fly less often and stay longer," the British publisher is adding sections to his Rough Guides that spell out alternatives to fuel-intensive flying, setting up an online carbon calculator, and funding energy-saving initiatives to "offset" the impact of staff and author travel.

Q: Do carbon-offsetting programs like Climate Care really help the environment?

A: It's clearly better not to create carbon dioxide emissions. But when you calculate your emissions to offset them, it's impossible not to be shocked and not to change your habits.

Q: How will the issue of climate change affect the travel and guidebook industries?

A: I'd like to see travelers take fewer weekend breaks and more long ones. And by producing good local guidebooks, we can help people take satisfying vacations close to home.

Q: How do alternate modes of transportation enrich the travel experience?

A: Traveling slower gives you a sense of place. Trains give you the chance to talk to people, to see a landscape unfold.

--interview by Jennifer Hattam

(Photograph by Tom Miller)

Singlecircle_burgundy_whitearrow_2 UPDATE (5/10/07): Check out the latest on Ellingham's campaign over at Compass.

Fast Fact

For a family of four, a round-trip transatlantic flight creates as much greenhouse gas as driving for a year.

The Kindest Cut

Urban Hardwoods coffee table When a house was built recently in the Seattle area, some of the cleared trees ended up back on the property--as furniture, doors, and flooring in the new home. Urban Hardwoods specializes in turning the dead, decaying, or in-the-way city trees cut down by the thousands each year into distinctive contemporary furniture. Defects in the wood likewise become assets. "Rot can be quite beautiful if you catch it at the right time," says lead designer John Wells. "It leaves incredible patterns."

(Photograph by John Granen)

Fast Fact

Each year, 100 million trees are used to produce junk mail. Find out how to get off marketers' lists at newdream.org/junkmail.

Media Lounge

Come on in and feed your mind

Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks PILGRIM ON THE GREAT BIRD CONTINENT
a book by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Less concerned with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution than his evolution as a naturalist, Lyanda Lynn Haupt plumbs the experiences that turned a seasick amateur into one of the most famous scientists of all time. Haupt argues convincingly that Darwin's naive but observant eye let him see elegance in birds others described as gawky--and then helped him make the important scientific connections no one else had.

Sierra Club Chronicles: Rats to Roses RATS TO ROSES
a television program by Tamra Raven
Public gardens can be community oases in a concrete world. In New York City, they also became ideological battlegrounds, pitting feisty neighbors against developers who want to turn leafy meccas into more concrete. Part of the Sierra Club Chronicles series, the story of this showdown airs on Link TV on July 13 and 27. You can also order a DVD or download the episode at sierraclub.org/tv.

Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea UNDERWATER TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN
a book by Trevor Norton
A marine biologist whose "love affair with the sea" began as boyhood admiration for an adventurous television diver with an attractive wife, Trevor Norton shares his passion with humor and charm. His easygoing prose embraces both the eccentrics who study the ocean and the unpretentious sponges, amorous dolphins, bisexual barnacles, and "Einsteins among invertebrates" (octopuses) that dwell in it.

a film by Davis Guggenheim
Who knew a PowerPoint presentation could be so, well, powerful? In this film version of his oft-given speeches on global warming, former vice president Al Gore makes line graphs funny and shocking as he explains how carbon dioxide emissions are leading up to a deadly "collision between our civilization and the earth." Though much of the news is dire, Gore deftly uses the metaphor of Earth as seen from space to show that our planet is small enough for us both to harm and save. climatecrisis.net
Let's Talk Let's Talk: Discuss this selection with your friends and neighbors.

a radio show by Josh Dorfman
As a meat-loving, hot-water-hogging, MBA-holding New Yorker, host Josh Dorfman brings a guilt-free, pro-market bent to his weekly Internet radio show. Dorfman's interviews spotlight ecofriendly entrepreneurs who have found creative ways to turn a profit with products that appeal to hippies and yuppies alike. Tune in at lazyenvironmentalist.com.

Drives Like Teen Spirit

EV Team with the K1 Attack What would it take to make a car that drives like a Porsche but sips gas like a Prius? Apparently, the smarts and engineering acumen of ... a bunch of teenagers. Students at West Philadelphia High School have been building green-powered cars since 2001. They made a splash at the city's annual auto show with their latest innovation, a sleek hybrid-electric sports car (right) that gets 50 to 60 miles per gallon and runs on soybean-based biodiesel made at the school. penn-partners.org/evteam

(Photograph by Cindy Hauger)

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