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February 14, 2014

6 Ways to Avoid Valentine’s Day

Happy Un-Valentine's Day!If any mention of Valentine’s Day has you cringing and gagging, we understand. All the fluffy pink, sparkly red, and mushy PDA at this time of the year gets to be a little much. Whether you’re a die-heard anti-Valentine’s Day-er at heart or simply feeling tired of all the hullabaloo, you can still have a nice, normal, non-gag inducing February 14. So grab your tennis shoes and get ready for the best un-Valentine’s Day ever.

1.) Go slow cycling. No weird two-seater bicycle needed for you. Pull out your bike or rent one from a shop nearby, and savor a leisurely ride while keeping an eye out for the invasive species (a.k.a. couples) in your path. They seem to be everywhere, but if you cross them, simply avert your eyes and visit your mental happy place. In the blink of an eye, they’ll have passed and the road will be all yours once again.

2.) Find a hidden treasure. Described by its fans as grown-up hide and seek, geocaching is a great way to get outdoors and feel a bit nostalgic at the same time. To geocache, you need a free basic membership from Geocaching.com and a GPS-enabled device. Then you simply search for geocaches near you and head out on your search. Geocaches can hold a number of objects, ranging from only the traditional log sheet to a full chest of treasures. But remember, if you take anything, you’re expected to leave something of equal or greater value as well. Geocache on!

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February 13, 2014

Momenta: More than a Film

Train cars filled with coalSet in the pristine wilderness and charming communities of the Pacific Northwest, Momenta shows us the potentially catastrophic future for some of America's most treasured real estate. But it also provides hope and shows that a green and sustainable future is not only possible these communities, but that it's already happening. 

Momenta tells the story of the Powder River Basin, an area that straddles the Montana and Wyoming border and is home to one of the biggest coal deposits in the world. Currently, 18 trains, all a mile-and-a-half long, haul coal from these deposits to seaports in Oregon and Washington each day, snaking through National Parks and clogging major arteries in communities throughout the region. These trains pose major environmental and health risks to the cities they pass through, with each train spilling up to 31 tons of coal and coal dust during their journey. And things could get much worse for these communities.

As the U.S. weans itself off coal-fired power plants, demand for coal in Asia continues to rise. Major coal companies are proposing to build new deepwater ports on the Pacific coast in order to reach these Asian markets, significantly increasing production in the Powder River Basin.

Andy Miller, one of Momenta's co-directors, described the pressure that U.S. coal companies face to get their product to market. "The U.S. coal market is flattening, and if they can't find international markets to ship to, it'll close." 

The construction of these seaports will dramatically effect the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, more than doubling train traffic and significantly altering the environment. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Washington, one of the major seaports up for construction, would ravage pristine Washington coastline, as well as be rife for shipping disaster due to the tight turns and congested navigation required.

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February 12, 2014

Ask Mr. Green: Are We Killing Too Many Krill?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

Krill oil is a new health craze because of its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But how will that affect the ocean's krill populations? I’ve heard that some Antarctic krill populations are already down, and krill is a major source of food for sea life. —Amy in Naperville, Illinois

Humans harvest less than 1 percent of the estimated 100 million metric tons of krill in the Antarctic each year, and only about 20 percent of that harvest becomes krill oil. The rest goes into fish food or—in one of the sillier, Rube Goldberg contrivances of agribusiness—into chicken feed to boost eggs’ omega-3 content. 

Not to let the krillionaires off the hook (or out of their trawler nets), but marine biologists warn that the biggest threat to these shrimplike creatures may be climate change, not health nuts. Krill’s major food source is the mass of microscopic plants and tiny sea animals living right below the Antarctic ice cap. So, shrink the ice, and the food supply could diminish. Krill may also be threatened by the rising acidity of the oceans, caused by carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion. And of course, less krill means less food for penguins, seals, and whales.

But I’d lay off krill oil, anyhow. We know that increased demand leads to increased harvest, which was four times higher in the 1980s, before the Soviet fishing fleet collapsed along with the USSR itself. Besides, there are plenty of other omega-3 sources: cheap fish such as mackerel and herring, and, for vegetarians, canola oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, and spinach. —Bob Schildgen


Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


Ask Mr. Green: Paper Towels or Hand Dryers

Ask Mr. Green: How Green Is Bamboo?

Ask Mr. Green: What Are the Best Crops for My Backyard?


 --illustration by Little Friends of Printmaking

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7 Easy Steps to Green Your Valentine's Date

Valentine's Day dateAre you feeling the pressure to plan the perfect date for Valentine's Day? The good news is that a relaxed, wallet-friendly evening is better for the planet. Whether you have a one-on-one, group, or solo date, let these thoughts inspire you to have a more creative, sustainable night. Just read our simple ideas to put a little eco-love into your date.

Step #1: Stay in. The first thing most people do when they realize Valentine's Day is around the corner is frantically search for dinner reservations. However, it can be hard to know how sustainable a restaurant is and whether ingredients are local and organic. So ditch the dining out and turn your date into a fun night at home.

Step #2: Go home-cooked. Resist the urge to buy a pre-cooked meal from a store and try preparing a dish from scratch. You can even make a date out of going to the farmers' market for the best ingredients. For an extra challenge, try a vegetarian or vegan spread, like this sun-dried tomato and spinach pasta with zesty sauteed kale. Once you have everything you need, head home and cook it together — you'll both have lots of fun and get more time together.

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February 11, 2014

9 Sweet DIY Valentine's Day Gifts

DIY Valentine's Day banner
Image by Lauren Kaczmarski

Store aisles have been decked out in pink and red hearts since just after New Year’s, but the Valentine’s Day spirit is only just now beginning to permeate the air. Whether you’re giving treats to a significant other, friends, or family, we know that figuring out the right gifts can be hard. On any holiday, it’s the gifts from the heart that are really special, so we’ve scoured the web to find the best DIY and upcycled crafts to show everyone in your life what they mean to you. So break out your creative mind, some chocolates (hey, it fuels the creativity), and get crafting!

1. Photo banner

This banner can be as simple as a few photos cut into heart shapes or any combination of paper and doilies you have lying around. Using photos allows you to personalize this gift for anyone. Lauren Kaczmarski, the woman behind the lifestyle blog Letters from Lala, crafted the adorable Valentine's Day banner pictured above featuring photos, heart doilies, and a favorite quote.

2. String wall art

String art projects have gone viral on Pinterest and the only tool you need to know how to use is a hammer. Janny of crafting blog Que Linda picked up this idea after seeing it all over the blogosphere and created an easy-to-follow guide to make "love" string wall art. This is the perfect idea if you have any spare or broken wood lying around waiting to be used.

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February 10, 2014

Get Your Chocolate Fix with These 13 Eco-Sweets

Valentine's Day chocolatesWith Valentine's Day just days away, you're likely to be scrambling for last-minute sweets and treats for your loved ones (or just looking for an indulgent snack for yourself). But scramble no more. We gathered Sierra Club staff members together for a massive taste test of some of the best, most sustainable chocolate bars out there. Our not-so-professional tasters — ranging from the chocoholic to the non-enthusiastic — sampled 13 different eco-chocolates from 4 companies. So now you can relax, find out which sweets had everyone reaching for more, and know that Valentine's Day has been saved.

Endangered Species Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate, dark chocolate with raspberriesDark chocolate with raspberries: 3.4

This natural chocolate bar is full of GMO-free, vegan, 72% dark chocolate and bright surprises of raspberry. Senior front end web developer Jesse Browne loved the "peppery, slightly acidic" taste. Mollie Eldemir, calendar program coordinator and online store manager, noted that the dark, rich flavors were reminiscent of raspberry liqueur. This bar is ideal for the fruit lover in your life. Plus, with 10% of the proceeds of every bar purchase going to support species conservation efforts, who can say no?

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February 07, 2014

Fresh Face of Activism: Jordan Howard

Jordan Howard

The importance of engaging youth in activism early on is not lost on Jordan Howard. Since attending Environmental Charter High School, a school with a curriculum focused on environmentalism, she has been attuned to those issues and how they connect with her own life. Howard, now 21, has been changing the face of youth engagement one classroom talk at a time.

Perusing her About Me page is enough to make anyone feel like an underachiever. Howard has been involved with 5 Gyres and their Youth Action Tour in India, participated in a Sundance roundtable about green schools and been a part of the TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch event. Let's not forget that she's also been featured in a few books, including Girls Gone Green, and she edited Green My Parents.

While she may be currently taking the world by storm, Howard admits she was reluctant when first exposed to environmental curriculum at her green high school.

"There was resistance in the beginning because I saw no connection between me and environment," said Howard. It was after she saw the holistic benefits of environmentalism in her personal life that she felt empowered.

Howard saw first-hand the benefits of being exposed to environmentalism at a young age and seeks to ignite that same passion in youth across the nation, and even world. She approaches education through making it clear that change isn’t impossible.

“Whenever I heard about global warming or other issues, it was always doom and gloom,” she said. “Give young people solutions to environmental issues.”

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February 06, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Retro Hiking Style

New York Fashion Week starts February 6th, but the Sierra Club has always had a finger on the pulse of chic. Check out these fabulous photos of outdoor fashions from Sierra Club outings from 1896 to 1946.

University Peak 1896
© Joseph N. Leconte

(Above) Have you ever hiked in bloomers? These ladies sported them during an 1896 trip to University Peak near Kings River. Part of the Peak is in Kings Canyon National Parks.

Pictured, from left to right, Helen Gompertz, Estelle Miller, and Belle Miller. 

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February 05, 2014

The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat

Spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you can't live without Quarter Pounders, packaged pastries, or expensive sushi. —Avital Andrews


Bluefin Tuna

We'll let Pulitzer Prize–winning food critic Jonathan Gold get on his soapbox for this one: "People need to stop eating BLUEFIN TUNA. Period. It'll be difficult because bluefin is uncommonly delicious and tends to be served at high-end sushi bars, where the fashion is to say 'omakase' and submit to the chef's will. But the numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast. If we don't stop eating them now, we'll stop in a few years anyway because there won't be any more." Carl Safina, who founded the Blue Ocean Institute, adds, "Because they're long-lived, bluefin populations don't stand up well to heavy fishing pressure—that's why they're so depleted. It's just too sad to eat them. Plus, big fish are high in mercury." To rein in your share of the overfishing disaster currently unfolding—bluefin stock is down by more than 96 percent from unfished levels—order a vegetarian roll instead.

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February 04, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Graywater Reuse

Greywater laundry to landscape irrigation system

So you've decided to install a graywater reuse system at your house, but don't know exactly where to start? Don't worry — these systems can seem intimidating, but we're here to show you just how easy water reuse can be. We consulted with Laura Allen, co-founder of Greywater Action — For a Sustainable Water Culture, to make sure we're bringing you the best information. For those of you reading this and thinking "What's this graywater stuff?" it's the water from sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines, but not from toilets. It can be a great source of nutrients for irrigating plants, but often this water is simply wasted. Whether you've already dedicated yourself to the cause or only just heard of the idea, read on for some expert tips on how to make the installation and use of graywater systems easier.

Keep it simple. Graywater systems don't have to be complicated. Allen recommends using the washing machine, or laundry-to-landscape, system for your first time. "It doesn't involve a permit and it's pretty technically simple to install; it just takes basic handyperson skills," Allen said. Look at these handy step-by-step instructions and photographs from Greywater Action to help you along the way.

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