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31 posts from December 2011

December 19, 2011

Music Under the Stars

Dancers dance while purists weep: Today's sturdy, portable audio gear lets you bring your playlist into the wild without straining your back or your budget.

Tiny and ubiquitous, the iPod nano is a marvel of musical portability. Beyond its 16-gig capacity, the player seduces with extras like a built-in pedometer (how many steps did it take to summit Whitney?) and its capacity to sync with the Nike+ training system to track miles hiked and calories burned. APPLE is no sustainability leader, but the nano inches in the right direction: It contains no mercury or PVC (often called the "poison plastic"), its glass is arsenic-free, and its packing materials have been reduced by about 50%. $149

The headset that comes with your phone has the sound quality of a Victrola player, so the question isn't whether to upgrade but how much. ETYMOTIC's hf3s (for the iPhone) and hf2s (for all other smart phones) are moderately high-end and deliver a clarity that's worth every dollar. Whether you're listening to voice mail or the new Jay-Z drop, sounds are crisp and perfect. What you don't get is a deep bass or remarkably bright highs — these headphones live in a safe, pleasant middle ground. $179 for the hf3s, $159 for the hf2s

Underwater music is an underappreciated pleasure, and once you've jumped into a lake wearing the SwiMP3 from FINIS, you may never want to go without. It's a player and headphones in one, but rather than sitting in your ear canal, the SwiMP3 conducts sound through bone: The "speakers" rest against your jaw and broadcast Jack Johnson or U2 into your head as if by osmosis. The fidelity is terrific, the simplicity a joy. $150

Though Apple grabs the spotlight, SANDISK's Sansa Clip Zip player is a worthy understudy. The diminutive device plays more formats than the nano and can hold more songs. A memory card adds 32 gigabytes. It records, too, and the price — are you sitting? — is only $50.

If stronger highs and lows are honey to your ears, the SHURE SE425s are a good bet. Their sound won't be confused with, say, Beats headphones' molasses-thick bass, but they give more bottom-end bounce, a similar middle range, and slightly cleaner highs — all around, a rich, warm sound. These are a great choice for rugged use: The cable detaches from the ear buds, so if you damage it during an outing, it's easily replaced. $350

Everything's cuter when it's smaller . . . except sound. But the expandable iHOME iHM78 mini-speakers pump out music stout enough to fuel a wilderness dance party — which, of course, should only ensue if no other campers are within earshot. The power surprises, given their compactness: Fully expanded, they're each about the size of an espresso cup. The bass end of the frequency range won't blow you off your picnic table (there's no thump to speak of), but iHome makes up for it in portability, convenience (the battery's rechargeable), and great design. $50

Travel guitars tend to sound tinny and cheap, but CORDOBA's La Playa Travel acoustic has a tone so resonant that you'll forget it's only half size. If your hands have struggled with a traditional classical guitar's wide fingerboard, the narrower Cordoba is a relief. It comes with a battery-powered amp and a hip-looking gig bag. $279

Um, wow. At a street price well under $200, SONY's RDP-XF100iP Speaker Dock cranks out an impressive bottom end — unusual for compact speakers. The sleek black unit transitions easily from bedroom to campground. The dock fits iPods and iPhones, and there's a port for other players. And the rechargeable battery keeps rocking for about seven hours. $250

--Steve Casimiro / photos: Lori Eanes

Green Holiday Gatherings: The Office Grinch?

Office holiday party istock swilmor'Tis the season for calendars filled with parties. This week, we're showing you how to green your holiday gatherings. 

Tip #1: Green your office party.

Every workplace has its own culture when it comes to holiday shindigs. If you're on the party-planning committee, pick your strategy accordingly: An eco-conscious workplace will be primed for an organic or vegetarian menu or a rule that guests come equipped with their own mugs to avoid disposable-cup waste. But if you're finding it difficult to green your office, focus on contributions that'll prove enviros aren't grinches, like making recycled-paper ornaments and decorating the recycling bins to encourage people to toss paper, cans, and bottles in the right places. 

Tip #2: Drink wisely.

Tip #3: Choose eco-candles.

Tip #4: Get online.

Tell us: How do you plan to green your holiday gatherings this year?

December 18, 2011

Seven Examples of Green Graffiti

We asked Eddie Colla, Sierra's January/February cover artist, to recommend some of his favorite examples of green graffiti. Here are seven street artists you should know.

JetsonoramaJetsonorama: The image to the right was part of a 350.org campaign to raise awareness about the carbon emissions that cause climate disruption. And yes, that's a lump of coal floating above a baby's head: a sign of bad things to come.

Jetsonorama's work is largely focused on the Navajo. For this project, he took an informal survey of 16 coworkers to gauge his community's feelings about coal, which is mined on the reservation, and climate change, which only one of the 16 colleages associated with CO2 emissions. On his blog, Jetsonorama explained that "if the Navajo people and coal were to declare their relationship status on Facebook, they'd have to chose the 'it's complicated' option."

Anna Garforth: British artist Anna Garforth combines typography with horticulture to make stunning moss graffiti. Garforth is part of a growing movement (pun intended) to use plants and other natural materials in urban art.

Moose: For more than 10 years, British artist Paul "Moose" Curtis has been perfecting the art of reverse graffiti (a.k.a. "clean graffiti"), a process that involves scrubbing dirty walls to reveal a pattern, often created with the use of stencils. Curtis explains: "I tell people I make pictures by cleaning." Because the urban landscape ineveitably collects new layers of grime, Moose's designs are inherently temporary. In addition to his personal work, he's created designs for Greenpeace, Water Aid, Greenworks, and the Discovery Channel, among others. To watch a video of Moose at work, scroll down.

Insert_Here-by Eve MosherEve Mosher: A 2006 issue of Sierra magazine inspired Eve Mosher to combine art with activism. Though she'd been "an environmental advocate for quite some time," our articles about governmental climate cover-ups, melting glaciers, and the Galapagos' fragile beauty inspired the Brooklyn artist to create installations that raise awareness about social, political, and environmental issues. Her interactive "Insert Here" project (left), made in collaboration with 350.org, asked people to imagine a greener future for their communities.

Shepard Fairey: His work may have earned him national recognition in 2008 with that uncommissioned "HOPE" portrait of Barack Obama, but Shepard Fairey has a long history of using guerrilla-style art as a vehicle for political and social commentary. He has created eco-themed posters for Urban Roots, WWF's Earth Hour, and the Save My Oceans Tour. The prolific street artist has been arrested many times for illegally posting his images.

Banksy: The mysterious, prolific, and controversial street artist known as Banksy has a global following, and his art is in high demand. Though he's based in England (that much we know), his North American tour left several cities stencilled with some of his poignant enviro-graffiti.

John Fekner: Since the '70s, John Fekner has commented on the urban landscape by stencilling words like "DECAY," "TOXIC," and "THE REMAINS OF INDUSTRY" on things like abandonded buildings and rusty cars in hopes that his labels would attract attention and get people to take action. His street art, he said, "succeeded when the existing condition was removed or remedied."

--Della Watson / images courtesy Jetsonorama and Eve Mosher

Click below to watch a video of Moose's reverse graffiti:

Continue reading "Seven Examples of Green Graffiti" »

December 15, 2011

(Seed) Bombs Away!

Seed bombersCity buildings block the sunlight. Paved streets come in gray and grayer. In upscale neighborhoods, lawns lie exquisitely landscaped. On another side of town, empty lots ache for cultivation. Somewhere in between, a grandmother's tiny corner plot delights passersby with sunflowers and geraniums. In any part of a city, plant life softens the hard edges of structures.

Greening a city doesn’t require gardening skills, tools, gloves — or even a garden. The old Japanese farming technique of tsuchi dango (literally “earth dumplings”) has evolved over a century and across continents into today's "seed bombs." Eco-activists can buy them online or from a gumball machine or roll up a homemade batch themselves. One Japanese farmer went so far as to patent his formula.

These grenades of Gaia consist of clay soil, compost, and seeds. Sometimes paper is added to reinforce the eco-weapons' armor shell. Mix the ingredients together with some water and roll them by hand into spheres — or mold any shapes you like. Leave them to dry; then pile up a seed-bomb arsenal.

The hardened clay protects the seeds inside from heat, birds, and insects until the weather supports sprouting. As rain and moisture wear away the clay, the seeds start to germinate. The type of seed matters: Drought-tolerant ones last longer, and only native plants should be used. Even in the grayest metropolis, introducing nonnative plants can disrupt an ecosystem’s balance.

"Bombers" spread their seeds all over the world, across the fields of India and Tanzania and the fenced-in streetscapes of Brooklyn and London. A few causes move beyond mere urban greening to help the homeless and developmentally challenged. Not surprisingly, the Occupy movement is scattering seed bombs too.

And with each small sphere, cities get greener, seed by guerrilla seed.

--Carolyn Cotney / image: One Green Street

Hey Mr. Green, What's Better: A Vegetable Garden or Trees?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

I live on a very wooded 12 acres in northern Minnesota and want to create a vegetable garden. However, I have about 20 seedlings that I'd need to remove to be able to prepare the ground. Is a vegetable garden worth the impact of removing a few trees?

—Shannon in Laporte, Minnesota

You probably wonder if surrendering these baby trees to a garden would reduce your acreage's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. If you’re a diligent gardener, I seriously doubt that uprooting the trees will do any harm. Besides, even lousy gardeners are infinitely less dangerous than the real culprits: fossil-fuel corporations, industrial plutocrats, and their political accomplices who chill in their office towers while the planet roasts. And of course, any home garden will drastically reduce the "food miles" and fuel burned to transport food.

Even something as modest as a 50-by-50-foot tomato patch might offset the trees' loss, though I hasten to add this is by no means an endorsement of wanton logging. To figure out why, I created a model assuming just a crop of tomatoes. Next, using your state tree, the red pine, as our standard, by applying Department of Energy calculations for arborial ability to absorb CO2, I found that 20 red pines typically sequester about 3,000 pounds of CO2 in 10 years. (If you’re less Minnesota-centric and plant a slower-growing conifer instead, you might only sequester two-thirds as much.)

Next, supposing that you and yours consume a lot of tomatoes, but they come from 2,000 miles away, I calculated the amount of CO2 that'd be emitted hauling tomatoes that far each year. A semi truck getting its typical 6 mpg and pulling a 60,000-pound load 2,000 miles would use 333 gallons of diesel fuel. Burning diesel emits about 22.4 pounds of CO2 per gallon, so each pound of tomatoes creates around .124 pounds of CO2 for shipping.

Continue reading "Hey Mr. Green, What's Better: A Vegetable Garden or Trees?" »

Green Your Holiday Shopping: Bag the Bag

Reusable bag happiness‘Tis the season for consumption. This week’s tips are about how to be generous while staying green.

Tip #4: Decline the bag. 

At big-box-type stores (think Target, Walmart, Borders), it’s all but automatic for the cashier to throw your plastic-wrapped purchases into a flimsy plastic bag after sliding your credit card and before thrusting your new possessions into your waiting hand. Be alert enough to interject before the bag’s whipped out and, with a wink and a smile, tell the cashier you’d prefer to save the plastic by using your own reusable bag. Then hand over your own reusable bag — you did remember to bring your own reusable bag . . . right?

Tell us: How do you prevent waste while holiday shopping?

December 14, 2011

Green Your Holiday Shopping: That's a Wrap

Unwrapped gift‘Tis the season for consumption. This week’s tips are about how to be generous while staying green.

Tip #3: Skip the wrapping aisle.

Fully half of the paper America uses goes toward wrapping and decorating consumer products. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year could fill a football field 10 stories high. And if every family reused 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the amount of gift-related tinsel saved could wrap around the Earth (source: RecycleWorks). So steer clear of the wrapping aisle and opt instead for reusable, creative ways to package your gifts. As for cards, choose the recycled kind, make your own out of 2011 wall calendars (you won’t be needing ‘em much longer), or send e-greetings.

Tell us: How do you plan to cut down on holiday waste this year?

December 13, 2011

Green Your Holiday Shopping: Plan Your Transit

Shop with a friend‘Tis the season for consumption. This week’s tips are about how to be generous while staying green.

Tip #2: Plan your transit. 

Instead of heading out on a one-off shopping trip every time you think of something to buy for someone, compile your gift ideas and plan to get ‘em all in one fell swoop — and one smart drive. Better yet, combine your shopping chores with a friend and carpool to conquer your lists together. Other ways to minimize driving during the shopping season include using public transit or using your own power, if possible. Ordering online can be greener as well. As a bonus, you’ll spend less time gritting your teeth while angling — and idling — for a hotly contested parking spot at the mall.

Tell us: How are you getting around this holiday season?

December 12, 2011

Green Your Holiday Shopping: Give Life

Child with butterfly‘Tis the season for consumption. This week’s tips are about how to be generous while staying green.

Tip #1: Give life.

As Jacques-Yves Cousteau said, “People protect what they love.”

Assuming that’s true, how do you instill a love of nature in the children whose job it will soon be to protect the planet they stand to inherit? Attach joy and wonder to natural phenomena, that’s how.

The holidays present an excellent opportunity to give something that helps kids morph into lifelong biology enthusiasts. Sierra magazine’s 2011 gift guide, called “Gifts That Keep on Living,” lists great ideas for delighting gift-getters with the miracles of nature. Rather than wrapping up the plastic or plush toy du jour, which is likely to get played with for mere months before being doomed to the depths of the toy chest, give something they’ll carry forever.

Tip #2: Plan your transit.

Tip #3: That's a wrap.

Tip #4: Bag the bag.

Tell us: How are you greening your holiday shopping?

December 09, 2011

Graffiti Goes Green

Mosstika Living ArtThe word “graffiti” may conjure up images of lawless teenagers scrawling obscenities in spray paint under the darkness of night. But graffiti evolved into an art form decades ago. As artists pushed their creative boundaries, urban street art grew . . . organic. Their innovation revealed that even graffiti can be eco-friendly. 

Mosstika Living Art detail 1In the past few years, more and more public art began to incorporate flora as a medium. One artist exploring this realm is Edina Tokodi who prefers working with organic, natural materials. Trained at Budapest's Academy of Fine Arts, she has no background in actual graffiti. She creates green graffiti to give back. Her original inspiration came during a trip to Japan where she saw zen gardens for the first time. Bothered by the lack of plant life in her own city, she decided to introduce nature in a way that might help urban dwellers achieve a more Zen outlook.

After finding her first organic medium, moss, Tokodi brightened up dark street corners with her verdant works. She explains, “It’s interactive too. People can get up close to see and touch the plants.” Her pieces are often commissioned, privately or publicly, indoors and out, but occasionally she engages in the subterfuge of graffiti by green thumb. Why? She likes to see the reaction.

Mosstika Metro Moss detailTokodi has also come to appreciate the challenges of living art: Paint and plaster don’t require sunlight or humidity. The conditions need to be just right for her exhibits. So she explores constantly, educating herself about new plant varieties that might lend themselves to her canvases.

In her most recent work, she stepped away from moss and grass to explore soil, sand, and sod in her “Permaculture” exhibit for the NeuroTitan gallery in Berlin. Organic art means less waste — the gallery made a point of reusing her materials in the garden after the exhibit ended.

So what does the future hold for Edina Tokodi? From her perspective, bigger is better when it comes to having nature around. She sees larger scale versions of her mosstika on the horizon.

Carolyn Cotney / photos: Mosstika Urban Greenery and Carlos Fresneda

Click below for more Mosstika photos:

Continue reading "Graffiti Goes Green" »

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