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75 posts from July 2011

July 27, 2011

Book Review Wednesday: Sense of Place

Books about environmentalism Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books that tell the complex story of the land in a multitude of ways. 

Geology Underfoot in Yellowstone Country (by Marc S. Hendrix, $24, Mountain Press, 2011): The geologic manifesto of Yellowstone’s features should be dust-painted, wrinkled, and worn at the seams, backpacked in for reading with the hot springs and old sea floor literally under your feet. Geology comprehensively explains both the formation of specific sites and the entire region's natural history. Its gems are the extensive illustrative graphics and glossy photos. It's the only hiking guide that could sate the visitor who wants to hug rocks, touch and understand this place.

Like No Other Place: The Sandhills of Nebraska (by David A. Owen, $58, The Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, 2010): The wide arms of Owen’s silver-tinted photographs stretch along the hills and ranches where he briefly lived (Ellsworth, Nebraska, population: 13). Every speck, cow, reservoir, and wheel track fascinates. His accompanying vignettes of the people and their history are largely undistilled from their first voices. This is a land you want to see through a lens, an experience you wouldn't understand looking out a window at 60 mph, or even standing next to a single shrub for a week.

Continue reading "Book Review Wednesday: Sense of Place" »

Green Your Gastronomy: Differentiate Organics

Organic label The days may be long and sweltering, but your meals can still be light on the stomach — and the Earth. This week's tips will help make your summer fare a bit greener.

Tip #3: Investigate!

A popular greenwashing tactic is to manipulate the "organic" label and its language. Companies with earth-friendly images like Horizon Organic and Aurora Organic fall into the category of "industrial organic": farms that still employ many of the same environmentally unsound tactics. To avoid products with labels that sound green but aren't, watch for words like "natural," which mean essentially nothing. Even "made with organic ingredients" means that just 70% of the product's inputs are organic. "Organic" means 95%, and only "100% organic" means what it sounds like. Know, too, that the organic label also allows some pesticides in. For more on this, read Julie Guthman's Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California.

Tell us: Have you fallen for organic-sounding tricks?

Tracking TrekEast: Week 12

High Shoals Falls John 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.

John Davis kicked off Week 12 of TrekEast with a bit of family trekking. Joined by his father, wife, and stepson, he explored the Sandhills of North Carolina before a rainy bike ride to Uwharrie National Forest. While spending time in the Piedmont area (the foothills between the coastal plain and the Appalachians), Davis realized the importance of this land for maintaining habitat connections between the coast and the mountains. 

He also took a moment to celebrate one of the most enjoyable parts of TrekEast: camping. "There are few satisfactions greater than arriving at a safe, secure campsite at the end of a long day of hiking or  paddling or bicycling," he said.

Continue reading "Tracking TrekEast: Week 12" »

July 26, 2011

Daily Roundup: July 26, 2011

Spy vs. Spy: With another monsoon season looming over flood-damaged areas of Pakistan, friction between the CIA and Pakistan's spy service is impeding humanitarian efforts. Guardian

Sweet Home: Now thriving in 10% of its former habitat, Alabama's water-quality-indicating Tulotoma snail has become the first snail species to be reclassified from "endangered" to "threatened." MSNBC

Final Frontier: Myanmar's neighbors are vying for its natural resources, igniting armed conflict and ravaging some of Asia's last pristine ecosystems. Yahoo! News

Man in the Middle: Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is poised to take a stand in the fracking debate, hoping to play the role of mediator as he did in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. New York Times

Best-Laid Plans: Since its rehydration in 2006, California's Lower Owens River has become a murky tangle of reeds instead of an economically revitalizing ecological paradise. Los Angeles Times

--Colin Griffin

For the Long Run

The hardest part of a lengthy trail run is often just getting comfy in your gear. To that end, here's some lightweight support to help you go the distance.


Though its products look like something a toddler might wear, Vibram FiveFingers launched the boom in barefoot-style running. Once you've slipped into their glovelike TREKSPORTS, you'll understand why: They give you a feeling of complete liberation. Lightly padded with EVA foam (for protection from pebbles and sticks) and a rubber Vibram tread, they let feet and body slip into the natural rhythm of our ancestors. At some point, perhaps, today's traditional running shoes will be the ones getting strange looks. $100

The Merrell TRAIL GLOVE is a slipper masquerading as a shoe. Its Vibram outsole is flexible and soft, and its upper holds your foot in place with a gentle embrace. It doesn't have much padding, but it's an ideal bridge to the ultra-minimalist FiveFingers (above) — or to actually going barefoot. $110

If you're curious but not convinced about trying minimalist footwear, the MT101 by New Balance is the way to go. It's very much a traditional trail runner, with widely spaced lugs on the tread, a comfortable upper of mesh and synthetic leather, and a flexible plate in the foot to guard against rocks. But it's stripped of frills to keep the weight down to an extremely light 7.8 ounces. $75


A jacket as silky soft as the LSD LITE II might not seem trail-worthy, but this windproof, water-resistant offering from Brooks is durable and tough enough for extended backcountry runs. The elastic at the cuffs and the drawstring at the waist buffer wind, and the ripstop nylon resists tears from wayward branches. Should the weather really go south, there's protection most running shells lack: a stowaway hood. $75

Continue reading "For the Long Run" »

Power Up: Electric Vehicles for Everyone

ElectriccarGood news is on the way for electric car enthusiasts. Sustainable transportation start-up Better Place is creating an electric vehicle system that requires “no compromise” on the part of the driver; they want their electric cars to be as fast and long-ranging as your current fossil-fuel powered beast. To achieve this goal, Better Place functions as an “ecosystem of services” akin to a cell-phone service provider. First, you buy an electric car with integrated Better Place battery technology. Then, instead of buying minutes for your phone, you buy miles for your ride. And instead of linking up to a satellite tower, you drive to your home charger or battery switch station, power up, then roll on down the highway.  

Better Place works with the progressive Renault-Nissan Alliance to design standardized EV batteries that will plug into their cutting-edge power-up network. Batteries are the most challenging part of the electric car, partially because consumers feel what the industry calls "range anxiety;" they are afraid of running out of charge. This is the problem Better Place hopes to solve.

“If you’re just going to work then heading back home, charging overnight at home is going to get you where you need to go,” says Elaine Chang, battery strategy analyst for the Israel-based company, “The new Better Place cars will have a 22-23 kilowatt-hour battery, with a range of something like 100-120 miles. That’s totally adequate for most days.”

Continue reading "Power Up: Electric Vehicles for Everyone" »

Green Your Gastronomy: Cut the Meat

Caged chicken The days may be long and sweltering, but your meals can still be light on the stomach — and the Earth. This week's tips will help make your summer fare a bit greener.

Tip #2: Limit your meat intake.

The clean, packaged piece of meat you buy for the grill likely has a dirty history. From immense carbon emissions to inhumane treatment of animals, factory farming is one of the least sustainable industries. And unfortunately, meat that's labeled organic isn't always better. So consider some meatless items the next time you grill, like DIY quinoa burgers or these expert recommendations. If you can't fully commit to vegetarianism, consider participating in Meatless Mondays — you'll be surprised at how easy the one-day switch is. Alternatively, consider slaughtering your own meat to better understand where your food comes from.

Tell us: What are your favorite meat alternatives?

July 25, 2011

Daily Roundup: July 25, 2011

Maize Mow: Hungarian farmers received genetically modified corn seeds from distributors without knowing. Since GMOs are illegal in Hungary, the government has destroyed 1,000 acres of crop. Planetsave

Evolving Underfoot: Manhattan's small creatures have evolved, in short periods of time, to survive amid chemicals, concrete, and the rest of man’s urban works, producing a radically changed biological face of the island. New York Times

Breaking Dam: Four dams on the Klamath River may be destroyed in hopes of saving the waterway's salmon. National Geographic

Carnivorous Clouds? Scientists have found that the relationship between clouds and rain mirrors that of the lion and gazelle — which should help experts predict climate behavior. ScienceDaily

Extraterrestrial Well: The largest mass of water ever has been discovered, near a black hole 12 billion light years away. TreeHugger

--Juliana Hanle

Soul Kitchen

You've read The Omnivore's Dilemma, joined a community-supported-agriculture program, and started steering clear of drive-throughs. The only problem? Your kitchenware consists of a toxic Teflon pan, a rusty baking dish, and several warped Tupperware pieces. Fear not: Here's a recipe for a better-stocked eco-kitchen. 

(listed from left to right)

PRESERVE figured out what to do with those pesky No. 5 plastics (think yogurt containers) that most cities can't be bothered to recycle. The Massachusetts company morphs 'em into attractive — and BPA-free — colanders ($9), measuring cups ($8), and cutting boards ($15).

What's more impressive than the perfectly shaped, I-can't-believe-they're-vegan pancakes you're flipping? Your GREEN STREET spatula and spoon, made from recycled water bottles at a wind-powered plant in Rochester, New York, and delivered via biodiesel-powered truck. $4 each

Print journalism isn't dying, it's just reincarnating. Protect your tabletop from the heat with this recycled-paper trivet, made by artisans at the WOMEN'S MULTIPURPOSE COOPERATIVE in the Philippines. Yesterday's news is tomorrow's kitchen accessory. $12

No drought about it, the four-quart stainless steel sauté pan by Wisconsin's 360 COOKWARE takes conservation to the next level. Its Vapor cooking system saves energy and water. And rule-followers can rejoice: It comes with an informational DVD. (Everyone else, prepare for some trial and error.) Bonus: Its manufacturing facility is wind powered. $220

Continue reading "Soul Kitchen" »

Green Fashion Monday: A 5-in-1 Interchangable Shoe

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.

We love the idea of a single pair of shoes that can be magically transformed into five different styles, requiring fewer resources for a lighter environmental impact at every stage of the product's life cycle. And it's not something from Harry Potter, either. The Ze o Ze shoe is the brainchild of Israeli designer Daniela Bekerman. The name means "this or this" in Hebrew, and the basic flat comes with four different heels that can be attached to achieve a variety of looks. The footwear has been an instant hit in the fashion blogosphere, but it appears to be only a prototype at this point. Bekerman's bio says she's a "freshly graduated industrial designer," so we hope this innovatively green shoe is only the beginning for her.

--Della Watson

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