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20 posts from May 2013

May 31, 2013

Eco-Movies: "A River Changes Course"

Khieu Mok, a river changes course

Today we conclude our weeklong celebration of environmental movies

A River Changes Course (2013)

In select theaters now

A River Changes Course is an eloquent, dispassionate departure from environmental documentaries as polemics against our sins.

The film quietly follows three Cambodian people whose lives are repetitive, physical, and hard. Yet filmmaker Kalyanee Mam seems interested in capturing the perspectives of individuals operating within a developing nation, not steering any conversation that may follow. The film has no voice over, with sparse dialogue translated via subtitles, and a score that yields to the quotidian sounds of winnowing rice or the buzz of a sewing machine.

Mam wordlessly trails Sari Math operating a skiff as he fishes with his father, Khieu Mok, grinning as she learns to operate a sewing machine, and Sav Samourn bathing with her children in a pool of clay-colored water.

Math — often shown sprawled on the floor, scribbling in a notebook — later leaves his family to work on a cassava plantation. Fish catches are dwindling, and Math’s father pushes him to the plantation to earn money for the family.

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May 30, 2013

Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Terra Blight"

Terra Blight dumpsiteThis week on the Green Life, we're celebrating green cinema

Terra Blight (2012)

In select theaters; available on iTunes

Watching the documentary Terra Blight on a laptop (and a few hours after buying a new smartphone) certainly underscored the film’s point that the first world abounds with computers. The film also raises a question we rarely ask — what happens to all these electronic devices when we’re through with them?

The disturbing — but upon reflection, not too surprising — answer: they are often dumped in a country far, far away. In just 55 minutes, the film follows the life cycle of computers, particularly their frequent demise in dumpsites like one profiled in Ghana.

Kids frequent the dumpsites to find materials to sell in order to pay for school. They also go to play. Children frolic amid small heaps of burning electronic debris and hill-size mounds of old computers. Wearing flip-flops, shorts, and T-shirts, they pick through the piles with bare hands.

Among the facts listed between scenes throughout the film: “Soil sampled at the dumpsite had 67 times more lead than the U.S. EPA’s limit for direct residential exposure.”

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May 29, 2013

Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Elemental"

ErielDeranger_During_the_TarSands_HealingWalkThis week, we're reviewing new movies with environmental themes.

Elemental (2012)

In theaters now

The recent documentary Elemental captures the environmental movement in amber — a pretty, present-day artifact of people trying to preserve our planet. The film doesn’t portend doom, nor reassure that good intentions will prevail; it’s more about human interaction than ecological destruction.

Elemental profiles Canadian activist Eriel Deranger in her campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline, Indian government official Rajendra Singh in his nationwide tour to galvanize citizens to clean up the Ganges river, and Australian inventor Jay Harman in his quest to get funding for biomimetic solutions to combatting climate change.

For all three, the biggest hurdle is not any ecological destruction itself (though there are looming aerial shots of the tar sands’ churned earth and yawning gray landscape, and a close-up of trash clotted on the banks of the sludgy brown river), but in rousing people to join their causes.

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May 28, 2013

Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Tiny"

Tiny house for a Tiny filmIt's time to break out the popcorn. This week on the Green Life, we'll review some of our favorite new eco-movies.

Tiny (2013)                                          

In theaters now

Milestone birthdays can trigger the kind of big life decisions that make great fodder for movies. So, almost-30-year-old Christopher Smith stumbled into making a documentary about building a 130-square-foot home and the big-picture ethos behind the tiny house movement: Tiny.

Wrestling with those “Who do I want to be? How do I want to live?” questions on the cusp of his 30th spurred Smith’s impetuous purchase of a wide open space in Colorado. He just needed to put a house on it. In the pursuit of freedom, self-sufficiency, and in the interest of completing a DIY-home without any construction experience, he decided to build a tiny one.

As the project took shape, Smith’s girlfriend and co-builder Merete Mueller suggested they make a mini-movie about it. Two years and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, Tiny is now hitting the film-festival circuit as a full-length feature.

Tiny shows Smith starting and stumbling, learning to build his house from scratch — a smart phone playing an instructional video that directs him as he wires the house for electricity, a laptop playing an instructional video that directs him as he sews curtains for the windows.

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May 23, 2013

Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 4 Energizing Scents

Lavendar and OilCuring that mid-afternoon grogginess doesn't always require you to sip or chew. For those of you looking for an alternative to coffee, tea, or energizing snacks, check out these energy-boosting scents. While working your olfactory sense, many of these natural oils strengthen your immune system, possessing anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that will keep your mind and body productive.

Revitalizing Jasmine: Widely known for its relaxing qualities, this essential oil does more than calm your nerves. Jasmine's therapeutic properties are said to restore energy and produce feelings of confidence, euphoria and optimism. Try adding a few drops to an unscented lotion and keep it on your desk to cure that mid-day slump.

Stimulating Rosemary: Improve your focus and concentration with this all-natural solution. Traditionally referred to as the "herb of remembrance," rosemary is said to improve memory and increase cognitive performance. For a post-lunch pick-me-up, place a few drops of rosemary oil on two or three cotton balls and place them in a bag or container. When you're feeling drained, hold the bag to your nose and take a few deep breaths.

Invigorating Peppermint: According to researchers from the North American Journal of Psychology, peppermint stimulates the brain's reticular activating system, resulting in increased alertness and clear thinking. So if you are feeling a little foggy, regardless of the time of day, dab a few drops of peppermint oil on the nape of your neck and your temples (be sure the oil is diluted with another unscented oil before applying to skin). You can also place a few drops in a small cup of hot water and let the scent permeate the room.

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May 22, 2013

Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 5 Tea Tips

Pick-me-up tea loose leaf tea bagEarlier this week, we suggested some steps you can take toward a more eco-conscious cup of Joe. But we realize that coffee isn’t everyone’s go-to caffeinated beverage. In other words: we hear you, tea people, and today we’ll help you green your brew, too. 

Buy loose-leaf tea: Opt for loose leaf tea over disposable tea bags, which use carbon-intensive packaging materials. Many tea bags also contain polypropylene mesh, which can take several years to degrade. Additionally, bagged tea is often machine processed, producing a larger carbon footprint than loose leaf tea, which tends to be hand-picked. If you do purchase tea bags, make sure they’re biodegradable and unbleached. Avoid bags with staples, strings, or tags.

Minimize your water footprint: Only pour enough water to fill your cup to avoid wasting energy boiling what you won’t drink anyway. If it’s safe, use local tap water to brew your tea.

Cold-brew your iced tea: With summer just around the corner, cool off with some cold-brew iced tea. It not only tastes sweeter and smoother than traditional hot-brewed iced tea, but it spares the energy needed to boil your water, relying mainly on an already-running appliance—your refrigerator. 

To cold-brew your own iced tea, add about 1.5 times the amount of tea you'd normally use to a pitcher. Pour in cold water, add a lid, and let sit in the fridge for about 4-10 hours. White teas, green teas, and flat oolongs need less time to sit, while rolled oolongs require more time. Herbal infusions and black teas usually need to sit the full ten hours. Strain and enjoy.   

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May 21, 2013

Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 5 Energy-Boosting Foods

Pick-me-up natural energy booster food blueberriesWhether you call it the post-lunch slump, afternoon apathy syndrome, or the 4:00 p.m. crash, you know the feeling—an overwhelming grogginess that sends you crawling under your desk for a nap. 

You could chug some coffee, but if caffeine’s not your thing, an afternoon snack might deliver just the jolt you need. But rather than reaching for the candy bar stashed in your drawer, try noshing on these all-natural energy boosters. Look for seasonal, locally grown options for an eco-friendly pick-me-up. We suggest a few specific produce items below, but note that seasonality and availability will vary according to region. Check out Field to Plate's Seasonal Lookup Guide to check the availability of fresh produce where you live. 

1. Berries burst with energizing complex carbohydrates and filling fiber. These plump morsels also pack a punch of vitamin C and other antioxidants, which help protect cells against disease-causing free radicals. In a study published last April, Harvard University researchers found that over time, a high consumption of berries rich in the antioxidant flavonoid—such as strawberries and blueberries—can delay memory decline in older women by up to two and a half years.

For those seeking some food for thought, blueberry season just began and lasts until late summer. Strawberry season runs from January through November, but peak season falls between April and June. Cherry season just started and runs from early May to mid-August.

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May 20, 2013

Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 7 Coffee Tips

Green coffee pick-me-upAmid the workweek frenzy, lethargy is bound to slow even the most productive of us. As our energy dwindles, so can our efforts to live sustainably. This week on Green Life, we’ll offer pick-me-up tips as energizing as they are eco-friendly. First, we list some simple steps you can take toward a guilt-free cup of Joe. 

According to the National Coffee Association's 2013 online survey, about 83 percent of adults nationwide drink coffee. That averages to three cups a day per person, or 587 million cups, making the U.S. the world’s biggest coffee guzzler.

Most of us probably grab our morning Joe without thinking twice—even if we should. Reports of worker exploitation and habitat destruction in the coffee industry can make a humble latte both an environmentally and socially fraught purchase.   

Here’s how you can ensure your beans come from a farm that’s good for workers and the environment. 

Ditch the paper cup: Fifty-eight billion paper cups are thrown away each year, according to BetaCup. Although the cups’ plastic resin coating helps insulate our brew and prevent leaking, it also complicates recycling. Do your part to reduce paper waste, and opt for a reusable mug.  Bonus points if you choose a mug made of ceramic or stainless steel instead of plastic.

Forget paper filters: As long as you’re abandoning paper cups, why not forego paper filters, too? Instead of a traditional coffee pot, consider buying a French press, which doesn’t require a filter.  It’s also cheaper and makes more flavorful drinks. A reusable mesh filter is an option for those who already brew their Joe in a pot. Linda Green Homes offers an array of reusable filters for the gamut of coffee brewer brands.

Look for socially and environmentally responsible labeling: Next time you refill on coffee beans, make sure you choose bags bearing the following labels:

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May 17, 2013

4 Cool Bike Accessories

Wearable Bike PlanterIt's Bike to Work Week, which means you have the perfect excuse to spruce up your bike with these unique accessories!

Wearable Bike Planter:  We've seen an old bike repurposed as a giant flower planter, but what if you could just strap a plant to your bike and take it with you on your daily adventures? Well, now you can! Check out this petite bike planter and other adorable planters that you can wear as accessories.

Bicycle Wine Rack/Beer Holder: We don't advise drinking and biking, but this gadget could come in handy if you're headed to a party or barbeque this spring. Don't bother trying to squeeze these beverages into your purse or bag, just head over to Etsy and get your bicycle wine rack or beer holder for under $30!

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May 16, 2013

5 Weird and Wacky Bikes

BikesWhile biking gains traction in cities across the country, especially as we celebrate Bike to Work Week, you might feel the urge to pedal your own path. While everyone else hops on their ten-speeds, stay ahead of the pack, and get into gear with these head-turning rides.       

Circular Bike:

Sure, the aptly named Circular Bike might not actually be mobile, but it sure makes a sweet statement piece. Artist Robert Wechsler built the canary-yellow, carousel-like contraption from nine salvaged bikes. The modular Circular Bike can be dismantled, moved, or reassembled altogether. It often sits in public places, where its wacky, whimsical appearance invites curious passersby for a giggle-inducing spin.  

Wacky bikes circular bike

Image by Robert Wechsler

Square-wheeled bike

Continue reading "5 Weird and Wacky Bikes" »

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