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83 posts from August 2011

August 26, 2011

The Real Debbie Downer: An Interview with SNL's Rachel Dratch

Rachel Dratch Debbie Downer Rachel Dratch, best known for her Debbie Downer character on Saturday Night Live, recently volunteered her comedic talents for a televised public-service announcement. In it, she shows up in a woman's house to chastise her for running her dishwasher before it's full. "By 2013, it's estimated that 36 states will face water shortages," she says. But instead of the familiar trombone-and-frown sign-off, she smiles, and viewers get directed to savewatertoday.org. Dratch, 45, took time out of her busy new-mother schedule to answer a few questions.

Q: How did you come up with Debbie Downer?

A: I was in a conversation, and someone said some really downer thing that just screeched the whole group vibe to a halt, and I thought that would make a good character. When I started doing the character, I'd insert environmental issues because I'd think of things that bum me out. In the very first sketch, we were at Disney World, and I was like, "With that costume on, Pluto's probably in the early stages of heatstroke. Speaking of heat, if this greenhouse effect keeps up, we'll all be living underwater."

Q: What's the trick to bringing out the humor in a depressing situation?

A: I don't know — I hate trying to analyze comedy in some deep way. If it gets laughs, it's funny. But people do want some sort of release about depressing topics.

Q: Can environmentalists become Debbie Downers? 

A: Probably. Personally, I don't even read bummer news stories about the environment because it makes me feel helpless to fix anything and reminds me that the general population doesn't treat these issues as an important part of our political life.

Continue reading "The Real Debbie Downer: An Interview with SNL's Rachel Dratch" »

Plan for International Coastal Cleanup Day (Hint: It's Sept. 17)

Beach litter Who hasn’t had this moment? It’s a beautiful summer day. You lay your towel down on the beach, don your sunglasses, sit back, and dig your feet in the sand. Then your toe pushes up against something. Is it a shell? No, too soggy. Some seaweed, perhaps? Unthinkingly, you reach and fish the item in question out of the sand. It’s a sweat-stained old sock. Awesome.

Those beach finds are gross, but their damper on your beach day is the smallest problem they pose: Marine litter kills thousands of animals each year and riddles our waterways with BPA, PCBs, DDE, and so many other pollutants, including plastic pellets

Marine litter is ubiquitous, and nobody quite knows how to clean it up entirely. Aberrations like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are evidence that we don't know the half of the damage we're doing to the ocean. But raising public awareness is a crucial first step. Want to get started? Sept. 17 is International Coastal Cleanup Day, an event spearheaded by the Ocean Conservancy. All over the world, people will gather on beaches to pick up a bit of trash. It's a great way to engage with your community, and can serve as an act of solidarity with environmentalists across the globe. 

Continue reading "Plan for International Coastal Cleanup Day (Hint: It's Sept. 17)" »

Movie Review Friday: Back to the Garden

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

Back to the Garden (2009)

Available on DVD

In 1988, a young Seattle filmmaker took a road trip. In Eastern Washington’s backcountry, he found what seemed like a nearly extinct breed: flower children.

Director Kevin Tomlinson had wandered into a convening of the group Healing Gathering. Twenty years after Woodstock, here was a community of people dedicated to living off the grid, growing their own food, and pursuing values that had little to do with money. They were blissed out, and Tomlinson was smitten. But when he screened the footage with friends back in 1988, it seemed cliché and strangely out of sync. So the idyllic scenes languished in boxes in Tomlinson’s basement. Even though he wasn’t sure where to go with the film, he couldn’t quite let go of the ephemeral images he captured on those sunny, pastoral slopes.

In 2005, contemplating a new project with producer Judy Kaplan, the two revisited the footage and decided to try to find some of Healing Gathering's original members. They wanted to learn what had happened to these hard-core hippies so dedicated that their ethos survived even during the indulgent 1980s. Their message now seemed prescient — the notion of reduced consumerism and investing in a grassroots, holistic lifestyle was top of mind. Did these “hippie” values stand the test of time, or did they just fold right back into the cultural fabric?

Continue reading "Movie Review Friday: Back to the Garden" »

August 25, 2011

Daily Roundup: August 25, 2011

Break North: Forecasters believe that Hurricane Irene will make landfall in North Carolina, then head straight through the Northeast's biggest population centers. National Geographic

Pass the Torch: Rio de Janeiro will use the construction of its 2016 Olympic Park to spark the creation of a new green urban quarter. TreeHugger

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Diplomat: An undercover investigation by a U.S. diplomat at a Chinese tiger farm raised doubts about China's conservation efforts. Guardian

Keeping On: The Keystone XL pipeline protest outside of White House is showing no signs of slowing despite some 300 arrests. ThinkProgress

Traitorous Trout: Biologists in Yellowstone National Park are surgically implanting tracking devices in invasive lake trout, the hope being that they'll show the way to spawning grounds where the species can be eradicated. New York Times

--Colin Griffin

How to Pick a Portable Solar Charger

Do you love heading into the backcountry but have a hard time disconnecting from work, kids, pets, and green-lifestyle blogs? For better or worse, the outdoors world and the electronic one are no longer mutually exclusive. And solar energy has gone portable: Affordable, efficient solar-powered chargers are making their way to stores. But how do you know which to pick? There are an overwhelming amount of different charger choices and, until now, not much of a metric to judge good from bad.

To rectify that situation, OutdoorGearLab, a gear-review company, took eight bestselling solar panels from GoalZero, Brunton, Sunforce, and PowerFilm, and lugged them into various California wildernesses to see which products hold up best. The GoalZero products categorically swept the contest — they're longlasting, versatile, and can charge multiple devices at once. Their prices range from big money ($600) to somewhat more affordable ($80). This range seems a little steep in comparison to the super-cheap models available from other companies, but in this case, you'll know you're getting what you pay for. And before you ask: OutdoorGearLab has no affiliation with GoalZero and paid for all of the panels it tested.

Continue reading "How to Pick a Portable Solar Charger" »

The Kids Are Outside

Child with flower On Jolyon’s first day of pre-school on a rainy Monday morning, he wore a red raincoat and galoshes. He didn’t take them off all day and came home muddy and gleeful. That's because rain or shine, cold winter mornings or hot summer afternoons, CedarSong Preschool is 100% outdoors.

Cedarsong is one of the growing number of nature-centric preschools at which kids spend all day, every day exploring the earth. Outdoor day cares have been around for decades in Europe, but here the trend is just catching on, from the pine forests outside Portland, Oregon, to the Los Angeles metropolis

Programs vary from school to school, but exploration and independence are always at the core. At Mother Earth School in Portland, Oregon, Waldorf teachers integrate children into the life of a permaculture farm. The city of Richmond, Washington, runs an outdoor preschool in a public park. Whether kids are building mud houses, planting butterfly gardens, or learning how to identify edible plants, they are growing healthier, smarter, and happier.

Continue reading "The Kids Are Outside" »

Green Your Resume: Before You Go . . .

Green chair With green tech on the rise, companies are increasingly looking for environmentally aware new hires. This week's tips tell you how to beef up your eco-credentials to land the job. 

Tip #4: Leave green in your wake. 

The best way to let a future employer know that you're a difference-maker is by putting your money where your mouth is. Show that you care about the environment and your company's financial well-being by improving sustainability at your current workplace. Consider starting a recycling program, having a third party conduct an energy audit, or pursuing one of the many other ways to make a workplace green. When it's finally time to move on, make sure to print your green-fortified resume on recycled paper, and don't forget to turn the lights out when you go.

Tell us: How do you green your job?

August 24, 2011

Daily Roundup: August 24, 2011

Fighting Weather: Researchers found a correlation between El Niño and civil unrest. ScienceNews

Twist of Fate: Seismologists say recent earthquakes in Colorado, Virginia, and California are unrelated. Christian Science Monitor

Mother of Invention: In the wake of the seismic disturbances, the U.S. patent office is asking its Twitter followers to tweet about quake-related products and patents. Los Angeles Times

Who Are You: Experts estimate that 86% of the planet's species are still unknown to science. National Geographic

Walk the Talk: A new technology could use energy generated by walking to power cell phones. CNN

--Della Watson

Book Roundup Wednesday: Sustainable Diets

Book review wed Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about green, vegan, and raw diet lifestyles.

Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted, and Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You (by Margaret Floyd, $17, New Harbinger, June 2011): After suffering from an insatiable appetite as a "junk-food vegetarian," author Margaret Floyd turned to unprocessed, organic, simple foods and found herself feeling full and slimmed down. Floyd shares her tips and recipes for a "naked" diet in this informative book.

The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life: Cruelty-Free Crafts, Recipes, Beauty Secrets, and More (by Melisser Elliott, $17, Skyhorse, 2010): This edgy, all-encompassing guide shows that veganism isn't just a diet, it's a lifestyle. Chock-full of recipes and tips, the hip book provides practical information about which products are or aren't vegan, how to cook for non-vegans, and how to connect with the vegan community. Profiles of vegan chefs, bloggers, lingerie designers, and tattoo artists help inspire readers.

Continue reading "Book Roundup Wednesday: Sustainable Diets" »

Shop Secondhand First

Thrift store Every week on the Green Life, we share a new eco-friendly fashion item. But the most sustainable way to shop is to not to buy anything new at all. Instead, head to your local thrift shop. That's what photojournalist Jenna Isaacson has been doing all summer. In fact, she's visited thrift stores across America, documenting her journey on her All Thrifty States blog. Part anthropology, part art, and part environmental activism, Isaacson's journey aims to raise awareness about the magic and sustainable merits of secondhand shops.

With only 11 states to go, she's driven a fuel-efficient RV named HaRVey from a wind-powered boutique in Colorado to a "mystery thrift" store supporting a no-kill animal shelter in Kentucky. While the project was motivated partly by a desire to understand America via its “collective closet,” Isaacson primarily wanted to bring attention to the under-reported environmental benefit of thrift-store shopping. As she says on her blog, “When we purchase something that’s used, ultimately we’re saving it from a landfill and making a conscious choice to lower the amount of natural resources we collectively demand.”

Continue reading "Shop Secondhand First" »


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