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29 posts from January 2012

January 31, 2012

What the Frack?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

In your recent blog about the best clothes dryer options, why didn’t you talk about the environmental damage from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract natural gas from shale, instead of pushing natural gas. Fracking poisons people and their water.

Tyler, in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Thanks to you—and other smart readers—who have reprimanded me for failing to note the downside of fracking for natural gas. For those unfamiliar with the fracking process, it involves drilling way down—sometimes two miles or more—and injecting massive amounts of water along with chemicals to bust up layers of shale rock to release natural gas (methane) trapped by it. This technique has raised a number of serious concerns, because it requires massive amounts of water; may pollute groundwater with the chemicals; damages the surface environment; and leaks methane, a major global warming gas. Consequently, bans on fracking have been debated or enacted in places as disparate as New Jersey and Bulgaria, while a number of regulations have been proposed in different states to address these issues—so many, that the Sierra Club has a list of them  so you can track what’s going in your own location, and get involved if you wish.

Among the common chemicals the industry admits using are hydrochloric acid, glutaraldehyde N,n-dimethyl formamide, petroleum distillates, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), and naphthalene (mothballs). They don’t tell us what else is in the fracking stew, and claim that chemicals are safely stashed way below the water table. But water still containing the chemicals after recovery from drilling sits in giant open ponds that hold millions of gallons too toxic to release.

Continue reading "What the Frack?" »

Green Your Ski Adventure: Bite This Bar

Granola on slopesRecent snowfall in some parts of the country has skiers rejoicing. This week's tips will help you carve the slopes in eco-conscious style.  

Tip # 2: Bring a Sustainable Energy Bar 

Before you're tempted to gorge on unhealthy cafeteria snacks, pack some homemade trail mix or a few energy bars to sate hunger while you're navigating the powder. A number of eco-friendly brands, like Olympic Granola, are tastier than they look and will likely keep you going longer than chili nachos. For more sustainable snack ideas, check out the results of our energy-bar taste test

Tell us: What's your favorite snack on the slopes? 

January 30, 2012

Snowy Owls Swoop into the U.S.

Snowy owl huntingBirders, grab your binoculars — 2012 may be the year of the snowy owl. This winter, increased numbers of these birds of prey have ventured farther south than usual, say researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

After summers spent hunting and nesting in the northern tundra of the Arctic, snowy owls normally migrate through Canada and the northern U.S. during the winter months to search for food. An abundance of lemmings and small rodents last summer may allow the snowy owl population to grow; now facing greater competition for food, the birds have to travel farther from their usual habitat, which is lucky for bird-watchers.

Snowy owls are impressive hunters, snatching their prey from the ground in open fields or occasionally grabbing fish from the water. They have even been known to catch other birds in mid-flight. One of the largest owls on the planet, they can often be seen perched motionless on outbuildings or telephone posts overlooking open fields. Keep an eye out for them through late April as far south as Texas.

--Cyndy Patrick / image by rpbirdman/istock

Watch a snowy-owl video below the fold.

Continue reading "Snowy Owls Swoop into the U.S. " »

Green Your Ski Adventure: Responsible Resorts

Green resortsRecent snowfall in some parts of the country has skiers rejoicing. This week's tips will help you carve the slopes in eco-conscious style.  

Tip # 1: Check the Ski Area Environmental Scorecard. 

The Ski Area Citizens' Coalition produces an annual Ski Area Environmental Scorecard, which grades western U.S. ski resorts on habitat and watershed protection, efforts to address global climate change, and environmental policies. The goal is to differentiate between resorts that merely pay lip service to ecological stewardship and those that make the protection of the mountain environment their top priority. The latest report rates Squaw Valley in California with the highest score

Tip #2: Sustainable Energy Bars

Tip #3: Eco-Friendly Equipment.

Tip #4:Offset Emissions.

Tell us: Which ski resorts do you think should make the grade? 

January 25, 2012

"We Miss You," Love, Nature

WE MISS YOU from fireapple films on Vimeo.

 "We Miss You" is a beautifully-shot short film and social campaign by three German film students that was launched in 2010. The urgent message to reconnect with nature may be a bit gruesomely displayed; nevertheless, "We Miss You" has now garnered over a million hits throughout the web, not to mention it has won several young filmmaker awards, including three from Cannes. We suggest you check it out for yourself.

 --Justin Cohn

Book Review: The Insatiable Bark Beetle

Insatiable_Bark_BeetleDr. Reese Halter’s The Insatiable Bark Beetle (Rocky Mountain Books, 2011) concerns yet another terrible consequence of global warming. The bark beetle — an umbrella term for several species of beetle that are killing coniferous trees by the millions — used to die in winter, but recently the mercury hasn’t dipped low enough to significantly dent its populations.

Dense swarms are wiping out the forests of western North America, sending the landscape from green to red in the way cold and shadow spread when a cloud covers the sun. Half of commercial woodlands in British Columbia have died, along with millions of acres in the contiguous US. The beetles are encroaching on the 4,000-year-old bristlecone pines of the high Sierra.

This would be a dreary read if it weren’t for Halter’s timeless, awestruck vision of nature. At his best moments he enlivens the dying forests, presenting them at the level of the animals. Jays swoop through the canopy, their elastic esophagi full of nuts. A dinosaur reposes in the shade. Woodrats commune in their midden, a burrow with designated latrine. And he describes how climate change gives delicate evolutionary relationships a case of the hiccups. Lillies in the Rocky Mountains are blooming two weeks early, and the bumble bees that pollinate them are stuck on the pre-warming schedule. Arctic phytoplankton is blooming early, too. The blue whales that migrate 4,000 miles to feast on it are struggling to catch up. We are surprised by these creatures, and worried for them.

Continue reading "Book Review: The Insatiable Bark Beetle" »

January 24, 2012

The Victory Garden of Tomorrow: Produce Propaganda for the Modern Era

Eat Real FoodPortland, Oregon-based graphic designer Joe Wirtheim is quite the American history buff. When pressed on the World War II era, he is a bottomless pit of information. One gets the sense his annual stint as a Washington, D.C. tour guide might have something to do with it. The historical angle pervades his art as well. Case in point: his series of World War II-era propaganda posters, The Victory Garden of Tomorrow

The idea comes from WPA posters that were printed near the end of World War II, commanding citizens to plant "victory gardens" to help supply produce during rationing and to get involved in the war effort on a day-to-day basis. The bold posters pronounced active encouragements a la "Grow More in '44," "Grow it Yourself," or "Grow Vitamins at Your Kitchen Door." 

Wirtheim's posters channel the style and the "active-voice
propaganda," but update the general message. They encourage
buying local produce, lowering carbon emissions, composting, and Break New Ground recycling, among other things. Wirtheim feels that the idea is just as important now as it was almost 70 years ago. "This generation has something in common with the generation that went through World War II," he said. "They're excited to get out there and do something."

The underlying principle is what Wirtheim calls "a mobilized effort for the home front." Fittingly, The
Victory Garden of Tomorrow
has taken its hold in Portland, Wirtheim's home front. The posters have been shown in many local cafes as well as the mayor's office. But the series has steadily been gaining national exposure. Most recently, Wirtheim's work has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

Entering his sixth year working on The Victory Garden, Wirtheim shows no signs of letting up.  He is currently at work on posters for 2012, which are expected to be released in March. You can take a look at the entire series here, and watch for updates as the new year rolls along.

--Justin Cohn / posters by Joe Wirtheim

January 20, 2012

Dan Rather vs. Shark-Finning

Though the environmental cost and cruelty of shark-finning has been well-publicized in recent years, and though the House and Senate both passed the Shark Conservation Act in December 2010, the demand for shark-fin soup still seems to have no end in sight. 

California governor Jerry Brown signed AB 376 in October, which forbids the importation, possession, and distribution of shark fins in California. After Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii, California is the fourth state to forbid the practice, theoretically making the entire West Coast shark-fin-free by 2013. 

But new undercover videos and an upcoming exposé by Dan Rather will reveal the true scope of a problem that could rapidly make an entire species extinct. The footage brings home the devastating reality: Viewers watch as a shark with its fins cut off lies on the bottom of the ocean in a marine sanctuary off Indonesia's coast. Unable to move, the shark continues to suck oxygen through its gills, taking weeks to finally die. As the videographer pans the scene, we see that this shark is just one of hundreds littering the ocean floor, an endless watery graveyard for magnificent creatures.

Dan Rather Reports airs on Tuesday, January 24, 8 p.m. ET.

--Cyndy Patrick

January 19, 2012

Surfers Establish New Reserve in Santa Cruz

Natural BridgesLongtime surfer and coastal-protection advocate Dean LaTourrette likes to joke that his job compensates him, in part, with waves. As executive director of Save the Waves Coalition, a nonprofit focused on protecting threatened surf spots around the world, he usually has a schedule flexible enough to accommodate regular payments in the icy waters off San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

Lately, prime weather conditions have allowed him to carve into surging bonuses even more frequently: "It's a season for the ages, really, for Northern California," he said, reflecting on a recent Saturday session. "All this dry weather is paticularly good. We've still gotten plenty of swell, but the weather's been phenomenonal."

When off the board, LaTourrette is preparing for the April 28 enshrinement of the Santa Cruz-based organization's third World Surfing Reserve on a seven-mile coastal stretch of its home turf. The designation already graces iconic breaks in Ericeira, Portugual, and Malibu, California, recognizing the rare recreational, historic, and environmental qualities associated with each place. The group hopes the reserves will educate locals about the importance of protecting the sites from the threats of development and pollution, as well as inspire others to initiate their own coastal-protection projects.

The site slated for dedication is on the coastline of Santa Cruz, a place credited as the birthplace of surfing in North America and home to the celebrated right-hand point breaks at Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. It's in the heart of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where a diverse ecosystem flourishes.

Continue reading "Surfers Establish New Reserve in Santa Cruz " »

Best Clothes Dryer, Gas or Electric?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

Considering I live in the Pacific Northwest and it's not always feasible to hang laundry outside to dry, is it better to have a gas or electric dryer? I have hookups for both.

—Craig in Tigard, Oregon

If you must have a clothes dryer, a gas model makes the most efficient overall use of energy, and will cost about half as much to operate, roughly 15 to 20 cents per load compared to 30 to 40 for electric dryers, depending on local rates.

Why the difference? Well, the gas dryer gets its heat energy directly from combusting gas, while the electric dryer’s heat comes from electrical energy created at a power plant. But when a power plant burns gas or coal to generate electricity, roughly two-thirds of that fossil-fuel energy is lost as heat and is not available to your dryer. There are 3414 British thermal units (Btus) in a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, but it can take more than 10,000 Btus worth of coal or gas to make that kWh.

Continue reading "Best Clothes Dryer, Gas or Electric?" »

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