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85 posts from February 2011

February 28, 2011

Daily Roundup: February 28, 2011

Dry Times: The Southwest might be entering a “mega-drought,” the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Pleistocene, new research suggests. “Mega-droughts” in the past have lasted up to 1,000 years. Nature

Going, Going, Gone: Activist Tim DeChristopher appeared in court in Salt Lake City today to answer charges that he won bids on $1.8 million in oil and gas leases (many in areas of environmental concern) at a public auction with no intention to pay the tab. Salt Lake Tribune

The Sweater Solution: Sure, energy-efficient home heating systems are great. But what about putting on a sweater instead of cranking the 'stat? One reporter takes a number-crunching look at the wherefores of insulation that starts on the skin. Low-tech Magazine

Power Up, Windy City: Chicago will open 280 electric-vehicle charging stations by the end of the year in anticipation of an increase in the number of battery-powered cars on the road. Grist

Breeding Biofuel: A biotech company claims it has genetically engineered an organism that emits diesel or ethanol when exposed to sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Huffington Post

--Tim McDonnell

Green Credit Cards: Rewards for the Environment

Wind farm While most banks encourage consumerism with their credit-card rewards programs, some more environmentally responsible credit cards are catching on.

Affinity cards, which have long been popular with charity-minded shoppers, offer cards linked to a favorite organization which then gets a percentage of total yearly spending. However, affinity cards typically donate a very small percentage of spending — often less than 0.5%. 

Alternatively, CapitalOne allows cardholders to donate their tax-deductible rewards, free of transaction charges, through the bank’s Giving Site, which is linked to more than 1 million charities. Brighter Planet, which partnered with Bank of America to offer green credit cards, is also helping people invest in eco-initiatives. For every $1 spent, a pound of CO2 is offset by direct investment in renewable-energy and sustainable forestry projects.

Continue reading "Green Credit Cards: Rewards for the Environment" »

Tracking TrekEast: Week 3

TrekEastWeek3John Davis's TrekEast adventure from Florida's Everglades to Canada's Gaspe Peninsula has as its goal to raise awareness of the East's remaining wild places, and to inspire people to help protect them. We at the Green Life are logging weekly updates of Davis's progress as he completes his 4,500-mile, human-powered trek.

Davis began week 3 of TrekEast with a hot cycle north from Big Cypress National Preserve to Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. He noted good black-bear and panther habitat, but highlighted the need for more highway tunnels and crossing structures for panthers and other animals at key passage points along the way. Dodging a reckless driver while riding at dusk, Davis suggested lowering nighttime speed limits on busy roads such as "Alligator Alley."

Continue reading "Tracking TrekEast: Week 3" »

Green Fashion Monday: Indigenous Soho Wrap

Soho Wrap On Fashion Monday, we highlight a hip, green fashion item. Got a stylish eco-friendly product to recommend? Tell us about it and look for it in an upcoming blog post.

Want a garment that'll warm your body and your heart? The Soho Wrap ($125) from Indigenous is perfect for a winter day, and it's made with low-impact dyes and 100% organic cotton. Like all the company's items, it's made by artisans; according to its mission, taking care of people and the planet is important. The bohemian fringe and casual yet elegant feel makes this shawl a great travel piece.

--Shirley Mak

Green Your RV: Keeping it Warm

Winter RV Driving an RV is never really green (all that fuel), but for those who do have a home on wheels, this week’s tips are about how to minimize its impact.

Tip: Reduce heat waste.

Prepare for chilly winter nights by installing a propane catalytic heater. Unlike your typical RV furnace, it uses no electricity and saves battery power. Make the most of your heat and minimize drafts by checking your RV’s slides, windows, and door seals. At night, an electric blanket can also help you keep the chills down to a minimum.

Tell us: How do you keep warm in your RV?

Correction: It has been brought to our attention that propane catalytic heaters can pose safety hazards in RVs. Any space in which these heaters are used must be properly ventilated, and under no circumstances should propane catalytic heaters be left on at night. Their use should be supervised and the propane should be shut off at the source when the heater is not in use.

February 25, 2011

Daily Roundup: February 25, 2011

Great Green Wall: A living green wall spanning nearly 5,000 miles is slated to be built across Africa to prevent the encroaching desertification of the Sahel Desert. Guardian

Soundness of Science: Results of a formal inquiry into 2009's "climate-gate" scandal exonerated NOAA scientists, stating they did not alter data to support evidence of global warming. New York Times

Health Matters: In response to hundreds of lawsuits and allegations of poisoning, coal company Massey Energy agreed to set up a medical monitoring program to screen the health of West Virginia residents. AP

Other Fish in the Sea: After a similar announcement by Trader Joe's, Costco agreed to adhere to Greenpeace's seafood guidelines and removed 12 red-listed species from shelves. Grist

Not So Fast: Thai customs officials thwarted an attempt to smuggle vast amounts of African ivory into Bangkok, crediting the victory to increased intelligence-sharing among wildlife officials. Huffington Post

--Rosie Spinks

Green Washing — the Good Kind

Hate germs but love the planet? Fortunately, a growing array of greener cleaning products lines stores' shelves these days. We asked sanitation experts of all ilk to name their favorite planet-preserving solutions, emphasizing that they couldn't be financially tied to their chosen brand. The result is a list that can comfort even the most neurotic germophobe.

NICOLE CRONIN co-owns Mas Sake, a popular San Francisco restaurant that serves Japanese-Mexican fusion cuisine. She replaced her business's bleach products with greener cleaners, purchased renewable energy via a partnership with Village Green Energy, and added a 25-cent surcharge to each table's bill to help pay for the green measures.

"My favorite products for the kitchen are the countertop sprays from Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. They have essential oils, and their scents are refreshing. Also, none of Mrs. Meyer's products are antibacterial; they believe good soap and water are all that's necessary. This is how my mom raised me — she'd use just vinegar and water to clean before these brands were around. Mrs. Meyer's does the job just as well as brands that aren't environmentally friendly, and their products aren't tested on animals. They also don't contain bleach, petroleum distillates, phosphates, or anything else that could emit harsh fumes."

MARK NEWMAN-KUZEL is the founder and CEO of Maid in the U.S.A., a 20-year-old housekeeping company in Los Angeles that cleans movie studios, the homes of Hollywood celebrities, and retail stores including Gap and Patagonia.

"Our team prefers to use Clorox Green Works products, which are both green and effective. They have a light, fresh smell that reminds me of being outdoors. The plant- and mineral-based biodegradable ingredients are chosen for their natural abilities to dissolve and remove dirt, oil, and grease. None of the products are tested on animals, which is very important to me. Also, you can buy it as a concentrate to mix in your own bottles, thus extending the reach of your purchase." [editor's note: The Sierra Club is a partner of the Green Works brand.]

As vice president of rooms for Fairmont, ANDREA TORRANCE oversees all aspects of housekeeping for 61 upscale hotels and resorts worldwide. The Toronto-based chain has created a stewardship program to lessen its properties' environmental footprint.

"I like to use the stainless-steel cleaner from Eco Mist Solutions. It's outstanding for removing fingerprints, smudges, and food stains and won't damage finishes. Eco Mist products are derived from 100% toxin-free renewable resources, keeping my home safe from allergens, carcinogens, skin irritants, and unwanted scents. And I feel better knowing that my family has less exposure to toxins."

Spectrasan 24 SPECTRASAN 24
JOHN WYCHE is the founder and CEO of TrashCo, a Miami-based waste-management company that sanitizes dumpsters and responds to hazardous-waste spills. A police sergeant, Wyche got the idea for TrashCo while searching for criminal evidence in trash cans.

"TrashCo is committed to sustainable environmental practices, so I tried a lot of products in my search for a nontoxic, biodegradable cleaner that would kill all the germs in garbage containers. I settled on SpectraSan 24 after a test that included a random sampling of garbage cans and dumpsters that were found to contain seven different bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. Post-test results were 100% free of bacteria and fungi. SpectraSan 24 truly exceeded my expectations."

BETHANY BUCHANAN owns an eco-conscious nursing home, Grace Homes, in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Buchanan, a registered nurse, has been a healthcare professional for 16 years, including eight years in hospitals.

"I use Young Living Essential Oils' Thieves Household Cleaner in my care home. I love its warm cinnamon-and-clove scent — my home never has the bleachy disinfectant smell other facilities have. I also appreciate that it's highly concentrated, so it comes in a smaller bottle that's also recyclable. Some studies I've read show that it kills more than 99% of bacteria and viruses, so I feel confident in it from an infection-control standpoint. It cuts the daily grease and grime effectively and leaves behind a pretty shine on wood surfaces. It contains 100% plant and mineral ingredients, so I don't worry about my staff's lungs being harmed from inhaling fumes."

Continue reading "Green Washing — the Good Kind" »

Andrew Zimmern: Interview With a Bug-Eater

Andrew Zimmern Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, roams the planet to taste things like dung beetles (Thailand), tarantulas (Cambodia), pickled bull's heart (Russia), and rooster-testicle soup (Taiwan). But Zimmern's goal isn't just to gross us out — there's a message in his madness. 

Q: You eat a lot of bizarre foods that you say aren't just tasty but also affordable and sustainable. What are some of your favorites?

A: It's funny, you can paint a thousand pictures, and people still might not call you an artist. But if you eat one bug, then you're the bug-eater for life. On my show, we've done more segments on three-star restaurants in Europe than we have bug-eating scenes, but everyone remembers the bug scenes.

Really, it's all the stuff in between that I want people to pay attention to. For instance, I love the night markets in Taiwan and all over Asia, where you find chicken vendors with skewers of skin and feet and the pope's nose — the little tushy where the tail feathers are — and the neck and all these wonderful parts. And they grill it all and toss it with soy sauce and scallions and rice wine vinegar and chillies, and you just can't stop eating it. It's all the charred little bits of the chicken, and absolutely nothing goes to waste. Every time I turn someone on to it — cameramen, producers — they just light up when they eat it. It's so much better than grilled white-meat chicken breast.Andrew Zimmern  

When I was in Bolivia, a very, very poor country, we waited in line at a woman's — I want to say "stand," but really she just has an old oil can that she puts a grill on top of, and she has a bucket with about 20 pounds of paper-thin slices of calves' hearts. She touches the slices on this really hot grill so they're kind of medium-rare, and then she adds a homemade sauce: peanuts, chili, garlic, vinegar. It's only like a nickel for a bowl of this stuff, so you get all these different kinds of people in line together — people who are headed off to the opera standing next to beggars. You watch people, and after the first bite, they almost do this dance; it's so ridiculously good. These are things that everybody in our country runs away from. Don't be afraid of eating calves' hearts, or pig livers, or small little fish with the heads on them that come out of the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon and are deep-fried and served in little wine bars. 

Andrew Zimmern Q: How do you define sustainable eating?

A: I was with a small hunting-and-gathering tribe of Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, maybe 24 people, and one of the shamans told me they never kill any animal bigger than what would feed their group for one day. While I was there, they killed a porcupine. It was huge, maybe 60 pounds. They had enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. And by evening, they were turning the porcupine quills into jewelry.

Continue reading "Andrew Zimmern: Interview With a Bug-Eater" »

Obama Wants "Kids off the Couch and out the Door"

Hiking_outdoors We know that young Americans like to tweet and text, but do they like to to hike and camp too?

Last week, the federal government released the results of its America's Great Outdoors (AGO) feedback tour. Its purpose was to ask more than 2,000 young Americans ages 16 to 25 what their government can do to help them forge a stronger connection to nature. Obama launched the AGO initiative last April to improve access to the outdoors for Americans of all ages and to increase funding for public land and water conservation.

The effort comes at an opportune time; last week's White House Report showed that young people spend seven hours per day tethered to screens. Despite that statistic, the tour's feedback indicated that teens do in fact want to spend more time exploring, fishing, climbing, and swimming. They just might need some help doing so.

For some participants, the cost of transportation or outdoor gear is the major barrier. For others, it's a matter of safety stemming from a lack of environmental education. Enthusiasm for jobs with federal land-management agencies (and other outdoor careers) is high, but respondents said that these jobs are hard to find.

Continue reading "Obama Wants "Kids off the Couch and out the Door"" »

Movie Review Friday: Whale Rider

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that's currently in theaters or on DVD.

Available on DVD

Based on Witi Ihimaera's novel, Whale Rider follows 12-year-old Paikea (wonderfully acted by Keisha Castle-Hughes), the only living child in a long line of Maori chiefs. Following the death of her mother and twin brother during her birth, Pai struggles to find acceptance from her family and tribe. Her grandfather, Koro, is a proud and stubborn figure who refuses to believe that the new leader can be female.

Though family drama and feminism are pervasive themes, Whale Rider also has a strong environmental premise. Pai, named for the venerated figure who embodies the tribe’s ancient ties to whales, feels such a deep connection to her surroundings and their inhabitants that when she leaves for Germany to be with her father, something pulls her back and keeps her rooted to her home.

The film climaxes when dying whales mysteriously drift ashore, rallying Pai’s village to save them. The exceptional scene in which she finally cements her legacy as the tribe's next whale rider is touchingly symbolic of the bond between the Maoris and nature.

Continue reading "Movie Review Friday: Whale Rider" »

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