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18 posts from January 2014

January 31, 2014

Mr. Green: What Can We Learn from Other Nations?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

In your recent magazine column (Sierra, January/February 2014) you noted Americans emit about twice the rate of carbon dioxide per person per year as our friends in Italy, Japan, and the U.K. What are they doing smarter and less consumptive that we could replicate here?

Ann, in Westlake Village, California

Thank you for reading that fine excursion into the realm of truth. Mainly it’s what these furriners don’t do that lowers their CO2 emissions, since they’re not so burdened by our all-American obsession with big cars, big houses, and Big Gulps in general. Not that they’re one bit more virtuous than us. They just started out with a lot less land and natural resources, so they didn’t have the wherewithal to sprawl and splurge on the hyper-consumptive U.S. scale. For example, despite the fact that we’ve already burned through trillions of gallons of oil, we still have about 40 times more proven petroleum reserves than Italy and way more than 400 times those of Japan. So, back when us Yanks were all laughing at movies and cartoons featuring oil-drenched dudes blasted into the stratosphere by stupendous oil gushers, the furriners had to make cars with much better gas mileage and drive them less. The Italians’ gasoline-powered cars were already exceeding 35 miles per gallon when we were stuck down around 22. Hence, to have any hope of matching them, it’s obvious that we must keep up the pressure to get U.S. fuel economy up to President Obama’s target of 35.5 mpg by 2016, and then go for broke to meet his goal of 54.5 by 2025.  

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3 Wild Weather Activities

stormy weatherIf you happen to be experiencing inclement weather right now then it's probably hard to see a bright side to the endless rain or snow. Fear not, however, there are still plenty of creative ways to enjoy the winter wonderland that has befallen your area.

In The Wild Weather Book (Frances Lincoln, 2013), by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield, there are a multitude of innovative activities that will get you, and your family, outside and ward off signs of cabin fever.*

1. Snowy days can seem more like a hindrance than anything else, but once the cold winds have died down there’s plenty to enjoy. We’ve all made snowmen and instigated snowball fights, but these authors offer up an idea for the birds. Snow can sometimes prevent our feathery friends from getting the food they need. Lend them a helping hand with this recipe for fun.

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January 30, 2014

4 Ways to Host a Green Super Bowl Party

Rowdy Super Bowl PartyThe Super Bowl, essentially an American holiday, is an excuse to scream at a TV and eat and drink more than the average human should. More than 100 million Americans are expected to tune in Sunday to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos. But like all large sporting events, the Super Bowl, and all the fanfare that goes along with it, carries a rather hefty environmental impact. To its credit, the National Football league has stepped up its efforts to host a greener event, making this year's event the greenest Super Bowl ever. But there are plenty of ways for those of us not privileged enough to watch the game in person to do our part as we watch at home. Here are a few ways to make sure your Super Bowl party is as green as possible.


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January 27, 2014

Why You Should Remember the Passenger Pigeon

A young girl examines folded origami birdsAn estimated 2 billion birds darkened the sky above John James Audubon's head in the autumn of 1813, a flock of passenger pigeons more than 50 miles long that would take three full days to pass out of view. "The birds poured in in countless multitudes," Audubon wrote. "The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose."

When Dr. Andrew Stern visits schools to teach children about the now-extinct passenger pigeon, he slowly dims the lights, turning up a radio until the sound of white noise shakes the building.

"It's a little scary," Stern said. "That’s what it was supposed to be like. More [birds] than is imaginable. The fact that they were gone in a little over 50 years is astounding."

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January 24, 2014

3 Futuristic, and Realistic, Green Gadgets

Nest Thermostat Auto-AwaySometimes it feels like thousands of fantastic new devices are created every single day. From revolutionary solar and electric vehicles to aquafarms where the fish grow your food, we've been trying to keep up with all the the latest inventions. Now we've discovered three cool gizmos that would impress even the Jetsons. You may notice these innovative objects are rather independent, making your life greener and easier at the same time. While they're not all available for purchase currently, we're confident this will change in the not-so-distant future. Check out our list to see what's on the horizon.

Self-cleaning dish

This dish was created by Hanna Billqvist and Anna Glansén of the Swedish design studio Tomorrow Machine in collaboration with the Swedish Forest Industries Federation and the research firm Innventia. The dish is made out of nanocellulose, which is primarily made of cellulose, the same organic compound that is the primary component in plant cell walls. Glansén described the super-hydrophobic coating as all-natural and engineered to mimic the lotus leaf's ability to wick away moisture. According to their website, the dish saves resources during the manufacturing process and during use since it doesn't need water or chemicals to be cleaned. Currently, the dishes are not available for purchase because the water-repellent coating hasn't been approved for food consumption, but we like the idea of less water-intensive dishes (and less having to wash them).

Self-programming thermostat

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January 23, 2014

Ask Mr. Green: The Best Crops for My Backyard?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

I’m looking for optimal use of my backyard space, so I need to know the easiest to grow—least water usage, most drought tolerant, most productive per plant, that can be stored dry without freezers, electricity, or a lot of plastics (maybe grains or beans for example), least land damage, least pests, most butterfly/bee- and beneficial-insect-friendly food plant that will help save on grocery costs while being environmentally friendly and totally organic. I’m wondering if rice, beans, or amaranth would fit the bill as the greenest way to grow the most dry, storable food.

 —Connie, in Springfield, Missouri

I’d love to give you a nice, easy answer, but there isn't one, simply because of the hundreds of crop possibilities, the huge variety of local conditions, differing nutrient contents and fertilizer requirements. This sheer complexity is why I distrust most generalizations about food production put forth as gospel by foodies and armchair farmers whose knowledge of agronomy and nutrition is often very limited if not downright suspect.

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January 22, 2014

The Art of the Reusable Bag

Most Sierra readers have been toting their own totes for years. Now that more than 100 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, forbid stores from doling out single-use plastic bags (and levy fees on paper ones), it's time for the slackers to sack up as well. —Avital Andrews

Cargo Shoulder Tote


Evoke jet-setter nostalgia with this zipper-top Cargo Shoulder Tote from BLUE Q, which donates 1 percent of the proceeds from every purchase to the Nature Conservancy. Each piece Blue Q sells, including this travel-themed looker, is made from 95 percent postconsumer recycled materials—mostly melted-down grain sacks and water bottles. $15



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January 21, 2014

A Pet Fish That Grows Your Herbs

Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez

Nikhil Arora (left) and Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots | Photo courtesy of Back to the Roots


Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez didn't know each other when they enrolled in the same business ethics class at UC Berkeley. After their professor, Alan Ross, mentioned during a lecture that mushrooms can grow in coffee grounds, they approached him separately to learn more. Ross didn't have much to add about fungi, but he did introduce the curious students to each other.

"We turned Alex's fraternity into a test kitchen," Arora says, "and couldn't believe that one of the buckets actually started growing oyster mushrooms." After much research—including carting the 'shrooms to legendary Chez Panisse and asking chef-owner Alice Waters to taste them ("It was a good thing we didn't know who she was," Arora says)—they had a grow-it-yourself mushroom kit ready for market.

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January 16, 2014

Quiz: Which Penguin Species Are You?

Adelie penguinsHow will you celebrate National Penguin Awareness Day on January 20? Whether or not you achieve your dream of trekking to see penguins or hosting a perfect penguin-themed bash, you can still have a festive (although flightless) day. To honor our feathered friends, we've picked five species — the Emperor Penguins, Galápagos Penguins, Adelie Penguins, Little Penguins, and Snares Penguins — to highlight. Take our quiz to find out your penguin personality!

Quiz: Which Penguin Species Are You?

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The Good Food Awards, Office-Style

Image_“Jelly is a very happy product” Texas jelly-maker Donna Collins-Yamini told Sierra in an interview for the March/April 2014 issue.

Her creation is among a handful of jellies, jams, marmalades, and fruit shrubs — all different kinds of preserves, or fruit cooked with sugar — to be featured in next month’s revamped Taste section, where we’ve partnered with the Good Food Awards to learn about foods that can ace a blind tasting and still pass a strict vetting for sustainable practices.

For weeks, four jars of fruit that are among the Awards’ crop of 24 preserves finalists have sat on an editorial office shelf, enticing us. . .

So in a nod to the annual Good Food Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception, which takes place from 6:15 to 10 p.m. today at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco, we carved a 20-minute sanctuary amid our scramble to wrap up the March/April issue to pop the jars open and conduct a very unofficial taste test.

The scores on a stack of sticky sheets were tallied and averaged — with ratings on a scale of 1 to 5, from discreetly spitting into a napkin to going back for fourths — and the results are in.

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