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March 23, 2014

Women of the Sierra Club: Allison Chin

Allison ChinMarch is Women’s History Month, and Sierra would like to take this time to acknowledge the extraordinary women who have joined the Sierra Club's ranks, both past and present.

When Allison Chin was growing up, she and her family went camping every summer, an experience that has embedded her with a love of nature and the outdoors. She started looking for an organization that showed the same desire to protect national parks that she felt, which led her to the Sierra Club.

Chin described herself as "a paper member" for years and joined the Sierra Club while in graduate school. 

"When I was a grad student I took a fellow grad student camping for her first time, and she was about 23, and it just hit me that I had taken it all for granted," Chin said. "If you don’t know the outdoors, if you don't know these wonderful places, why would you go out there?"

Unfortunately, graduate school doesn't exactly lend itself to free time, and Chin knew that volunteering wouldn't be on the agenda until after she graduated.

"When I did finally get my degree, one of my presents to myself was to volunteer with the Sierra Club," Chin said. "It was through the Inner City Outings program, and I love working with young people and I love hiking, so I could connect those two interests. It was great to give back and get to know a new area where I was living. That was definitely the beginning of a very, very long relationship."

Within a year after Chin's first experience with the San Jose chapter of the Inner City Outings, she became a certified outings leader and went on to lead over 200 trips. In 2008, she became the first person of color to serve as president of the Sierra Club's board, a position she held until 2010 and again from 2012 to 2013. She described her time as president as "humbling," and acknowledged the women who paved her way.

"Women were founding members of the Club too, which is just a testament to the fact that even though we're thought of as an old, male-dominated organization, there have been women as leaders in the Club who have been real critical to the movement," she said.

Chin has been an advocate for increasing diversity in the Club's leadership, and hopes that one day the diversity initiatives in place will no longer be necessary.

"The demographics in our country are shifting; we don’t reflect the communities that we work in and live in," Chin said. "If we want to reach everyone then we’ve got to reflect them in our leadership. It’s essential to building the movement that we really engage people, and one of the best ways to attract people is to make sure that you reflect them and their values."

One of the highlights of her time as president was when the board agreed to support a pathway to citizenship. The Sierra Club has a policy to remain neutral on the subject of immigration, but Chin believes this decision sent an important message.

"We were able to be consistent with both our practices of honoring our immigration policy and our commitment to being a more inclusive and welcoming organization," Chin said. "We found a way to stand up for the values we believe in; that everyone has a right to clean water, clean air."

During Chin's second term as president, she presided over a historic decision for the Club's board to partake in an act of civil disobedience against the Keystone XL pipeline.

"With the president getting his second term, with the Keystone decision, with our ears to the ground hearing people of all walks of life looking for leadership and wanting to take action, we did think that was the right moment."

Chin has continued to stay active in the Sierra Club with Our Wild America and the Diversity Council. She is also working with the Sierra Club and other organizations to increase diversity and inclusion.

--Image courtesy of Sierra Club Archives/Colby Library

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.



Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons

Women's History Month: In The Workplace

Women's History Month: Women In Science

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March 20, 2014

Swap It Like It's Hot

Clothing SwapI had no idea what I was doing, but, scissors in hand, I happily sliced away at what was once a favorite T-shirt during last weekend's Bay Area Swap-O-Rama-Rama. I had never been to a swap before, but organized swapping has been gaining momentum across the country and online.

Swapping is when people trade items, typically giving up things they don’t want for things they do. It can be a thrifty way to makeover a wardrobe, restock a makeup cabinet, or refresh a bookshelf with unread titles, all while keeping unwanted items out of the landfill.

The Swap & Sew I attended took place in a gallery. There were sewing machines, snacks, and tables where swappers could put items that were up for grabs. I had read ahead and brought a bag full of old clothes, intending to combat my hoarder tendencies by culling my closet, but my intentions were thwarted when I found myself wanting to take home as many clothes as I was giving up. Tables quickly became piled with items, and were restocked with each wave of participants.

After perusing the items up for grabs I decided to venture into a DIY Reverse Applique T-Shirt workshop. Some participants (experts?) wielded their own stencils and shirts, while others, me included, were less prepared. The two organizers were more than happy to help.

I quickly got to hacking away at my old t-shirt and struck up conversations with the people around me. Most had never been to a swap, but they had all brought items to give away and found items they wanted to take home. Though some had never done a DIY project like the reverse applique technique, they were encouraged by the organizers. Anytime anyone said, “I think I did this wrong” they were told that there was no “wrong” way, and that doing it wrong was actually perfect.

At the end of the day I left with a bag full of "new" clothes, a shirt I had resigned to never wear again, and a headful of ideas for revamping my closet. I was also pretty excited at the prospect of another sewing circle full of impromptu conversation.

How you can swap

The Swap-O-Rama-Rama is an international organization, so check out one of their meetings in your area, or start your own.

If joining an online swap forum, make sure you read the guidelines. Many of these online communities have rules and regulations. There are often rigorous verification processes in place to ensure the safety and security of members and transactions. On Reddit there are communities for clothes, nail polish, bras, makeup, books and more. Some are more stringent in their screening process than others. Always use caution when sharing personal information online.

If you want to give stuff away but don't want anything in return, check out Freecycle.org. The site has a list of freecycling groups by location. You must ask to join the groups, but after you're approved, you can post and browse freely.

Go to a clothing swap Meetup


--Cover image courtesy of iStock/gemenacon


Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.


Read More: 

Green Your City: Organize a Swap

Swapping Your Way to a Greener Life

Swapping Smartly

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March 19, 2014

The Gangsta Gardener of South Los Angeles

Ron Finley

23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, regions that lack access to fresh food. Ron Finley saw a need for produce in the food desert he called home and took action, sparking interest around the world, but more importantly, bringing his community together. The South Los Angeles resident taught us a few things about renegade gardening, and the importance of fresh food in his community's schools.

Bianca Hernandez: What led you to start guerrilla gardening?

Ron Finley: I’m not a “guerrilla gardener.” I’m a renegade gardener. A gangsta gardener. Guerrilla gardeners plant and then they bounce. My thing is to have ownership. I bring healthy food into a community that has none. Show people how easy it is. Help people to be able to design their own lives.

BH: Why is that important to South Los Angeles?

RF: This is a small section of the populace that has more disease and sickness than the larger population, and it’s by design. My thing is to self-empower the neighborhood, take matters into your own hands. Grow your own damn food.

BH: How can this be applied to marginalized communities beyond those in Los Angeles?

RF: Already has been -- healthy food is a basic need. Why should your food make you sick? For me, planting a seed in South Central [Los Angeles] has turned into a planet-wide movement. Kids in India are calling themselves gansta gardeners. I get calls from The Netherlands to London and everywhere in between. A lot of people are realizing food is our medicine. It doesn’t kill you right off, but it does eventually.

BH: Any current projects?

RF: Rooftop gardens are being put up in downtown Los Angeles to help feed the homeless. I’m doing consulting work with Los Angeles Unified School District. Kids are eating garbage and you expect their minds and bodies to develop? Grade school kids are having heart attacks, and it’s not from a lack of food, it’s from a lack of real food.

BH: What can someone do today in their community?

RF: Get a shovel, a pitchfork, and get your community together and grow your own food. You save money on food and health bills. Gardens don’t cost - they pay, and in more than one way. Build communities, build healthy bodies.

-- top photo used with permission from Ron Finley


Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.


Read More:

Green Your Town: Community Gardening

Profile: Gentle Gardener George Gibbs

Got a Lawn? Make it a Garden

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March 18, 2014

Ask Mr. Green: What to Do About Feral Cats

Mr. Green is Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green, 

What are the preferred method(s) of reducing feral cats populations if not eliminating them altogether? —Donald in Burtonsville, Maryland

The feral cat is an invasive, non-native species that kills amphibians, reptiles, and 1.5 billion birds and 11 billion mammals a year, according to a study by the Smithsonian Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 50 million wild felines that the Humane Society estimates roam the landscape also deprive native predators of food. Extermination is obviously out of the question, because millions of cat lovers and animal rights advocates simply wouldn’t stand for it. We favor warm, fuzzy, flattering creatures to birds or lizards that usually get the hell out when humans show up.

Trap-neuter-and-return (TNR) programs are advocated by most major animal-protection organizations but opposed by wildlife biologists and bird-protection groups such as the American Bird Conservancy. Even some animal rights groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, oppose TNR: PETA says the programs “are not usually in cats’ best interests,” because the “altered” cat still must struggle to survive. The feral life span averages two years, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal—one-ninth a life instead of the proverbial nine. There is some evidence that feral populations can be reduced if the cats get diligent, long-term management: For more on this point, visit the ASPCA or Alley Cat Allies.

So, there’s no simple solution, but one policy all parties agree on is this: Cats should be kept indoors and never allowed outside unless they’re under strict supervision. Domestic cats do kill, and when let outside become vulnerable to diseases, brawls, and fatal encounters with wildlife. Indoor cats live longer—and arguably are happier. Gazing out the window at prey might actually be TV for tabby, and not an oppressive form of house arrest. —Bob Schildgen

--illustation by Little Friends of Printmaking


Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


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March 17, 2014

Easy (and Delicious) Coconut Planting Pots

Coconuts turned into plantersWant to make your own natural planting pots? All you need to make a gift for someone (or yourself) is a nice young tropical coconut -- plus you can enjoy a healthy drink at the same time.

What's the difference between a young coconut and an old one, you ask? Young coconuts are covered in a soft husk, their milk is amazingly sweet, and their meat is creamy, almost like a light cheese.

The great part is that their soft shell can easily be turned into an extremely cute mini-pot for a plant.

To start this project, get your hands on some young coconuts. You can find them at an Asian market, a health food store, or maybe tucked away in the corner of the produce section of your supermarket.

Next, you need to open the coconut. There are tons of videos online showing multitudes of ways to do this, but here is a tried and true method


Once it's open, you can decide what to do with the milk and the inner meat. How about making a nice tropical drink by adding eco-friendly rum and a splash of lime juice? Or just have a refreshing glass of coco-water and eat the inner meat with a spoon, or use the meat and the water for some healthy smoothies. I typically go for a drink right out of the coconut and carve it like this for a flat-bottomed goblet:

A classy coconut drink
Regardless of how you decide to consume your coconut, for your planting pot you'll want to remove all the inner flesh and the husk. A serrated blade works best for getting rid of the husk, while a spoon is a good tool for scraping out the coconut meat.

At the bottom of the coconut are three little eyelets. At least one of them should be loose. Use a knife to poke it out. Then wash the coconut with water and let it dry.

Once the coconut shell is completely dry, plug the eyelet hole with some cork and fill the coconut with potting soil or soil from your garden.

Now you have an awesome little pot for flowers, herbs, or even cacti.

Cacti coconut

--Photos courtesy of Emily Fromm and iStockphoto/Design56 

James RogersJames Rogers is a former editorial intern at Sierra. He graduated from Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment, where he studied a combination of environmental studies and journalism. While at Western, he was the editor in chief of The Planet magazine, and he has written for Conservation Northwest QuarterlyPublic Eye Northwestand The Western Front.

Read More:

Start a Green Band with Sustainable Gear

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

Another One Bites the Dust

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March 16, 2014

What're the Least Bad Palm Oil Products?

Palm oil plantations often require deforestationThanks to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greens now have a resource for avoiding foods and products that contribute to palm oil-related deforestation. The UCS' report, whimsically titled "Donuts, Deoderant, Deforestation," scores the palm oil sourcing of a few dozen companies in categories like "peat-free," "transparency," and "traceability," to name a few.

The UCS study, released this month, argues that brands like Kraft, Starbucks, Wendy's, and Dunkin' Donuts show "no commitment" in ensuring that the palm oil they use is deforestation-free. The UCS does however give credit to other brands like Nestlé, L'Oréal, and Subway for their efforts to prevent such deforestation. "Multinational companies really hold the world's tropical rain forests in their hands," says Calen May-Tobin, the UCS's lead analyst for their Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

Palm oil is used in thousands of foods and personal care products that Americans consume on a daily basis. Unfortunately, palm oil production often requires mass deforestation and peatland clearing. Indonesia and Malaysia are the nations most directly hit by this wave of palm oil deforestation. Their forests are home to elephants, tigers, and Sumatran orangutans, all of which are critically endangered. Many of these forests grow from tropical peat soils that contain massive carbon reserves. When the trees are cleared, that carbon is released, exacerbating climate change.

While the UCS's list provides a damning indictment of many American brands, it's also a useful tool for choosing between products. May-Tobin hopes the UCS scorecard will encourage environmentally irresponsible companies to change their course and practice the ethical messages they spout. "These corporations should live up to the their 'wholesome' branding by demanding sustainable palm oil. To do so would save tropical forests, rich with biodiversity, and help limit the severity of climate change."

--Image by iStockphoto/prill

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. he recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.


The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat

Ask Mr. Green: Palm Oil

Greenpeace Video Points at Shoemakers Role in Deforestation



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March 13, 2014

Yao Ming: A Towering Figure Against Ivory

Yao Ming is a towering figure in China Yao Ming is perhaps the most famous athlete in China. He towered over defenders at 7'6" during his playing days, and now he hopes he can emulate that dominance off the court. That's because Yao has become one of the most outspoken advocates against the illegal Ivory trade.

On March 4, Yao, now a member of China's parliament, delivered a petition to the government with the objective of completely banning the ivory trade. When Yao addressed the press, he promoted his two-part solution. "The first thing is to pass a law making it clear that trading in ivory and ivory products is illegal," said Yao. "The second is to make every consumer understand that purchasing ivory encourages poaching and that when you buy a piece of ivory it's like buying a bullet."

China imports more trafficked ivory than any other country in the world. It has long been a status symbol, and rising incomes throughout the country have enhanced demand. It is therefore even more important that a figure as prominent as Yao should speak out against its trade.

In 2012, Yao spent 12 days in Kenya and South Africa on a fact-finding mission for The End of Wild, a documentary aimed at curbing international ivory demand. Yao partnered with Save the Elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation to produce the film which features powerful and grotesque images of the ivory trade.

After his trip to Africa, Yao wrote an article for The Guardian about his experience, proclaiming that, "an ivory carving is far removed from the sad carcass of a poached elephant, but China must make this connection."

During his time in the NBA, Yao was a formidable presence for the Houston Rockets while also having an immense impact on the growth of basketball in China. Nevertheless, Yao's impact on basketball could be dwarfed by his potential impact on hundreds of thousands of rhinos and elephants.

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/KreangchaiRungfamai

HA_CallumBealsCallum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.



Crackdown on Africa's Illegal Ivory Trade

First Steps: On-Campus Environmentalism in China

Amazing Ways the NBA is Going Green

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March 10, 2014

Don't Wash These Pants: The Skinny on Raw Denim

Raw Jeans are not meant to be washedRaw denim has been around for a while, but this season it made a splash on the runways. Now that spring is upon us, more designers are releasing styles made from the material. Check out how this fashion trend could help out the earth.

What makes raw denim different from all the rest?

“Raw” implies that is hasn't been washed, treated, or distressed, making it a lot stiffer and sturdier than the washed denim most frequently found in stores. Raw denim is typically 100% cotton and can still be made into various shapes and styles. Clothing made from “selvage” fabric is known to last longer because it's produced on a shuttle loom, which creates a tighter weave than the modern looms used for mass-manufactured denim.

How is raw denim a better investment?

Though one pair of pants made from raw denim can cost a lot more than regular denim jeans, there is a bigger payoff over time. Designed not to be washed, raw denim doesn’t fade or wear out. Instead, these jeans should be soaked and hung to dry every four to six months, depending on how often you wear them. (If you can’t stand the idea of not washing your jeans for hygienic purposes, remember that putting them in the freezer can kill bacteria.) This means a major reduction in the amount of energy and water you use over time, as well as that used by their manufacturers, which have vastly reduced their carbon emissions

How is it more ethical?

Because it isn't predistressed, raw denim doesn't people in positions where they may be injured by or develop illnesses from working with harsh chemicals and sand-blasters.

Will it be stylish in seasons to come?

When you invest in a pair of raw denim jeans, you should buy them to fit tightly, because they will mold to your body -- essentially becoming a custom pair, fit specifically to your shape and the way you move. On top of that, these jeans have a long enough shelf life to keep you looking your best for years to come if you take proper care of them.

But how green is raw denim, really?

Raw denim is more sustainable than the pre-washed denims on the market because it is durable, doesn't need to be washed frequently, and isn't sand-blasted. But there are still issues with cotton as a crop. Organic cotton doesn't use harsh chemicals, but growing the plant is a very water-intensive process. Conscious consumption is important, and while innovations in production are fantastic, there's always more that can be done. 


-- top photo from iStock/Teamarbeit


Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.


Read More:

Green Your Crafting: Earth-Friendly Fiber

Green Your Wardrobe: Buy Vintage

Green Your Wardrobe: Long-Lived Clothing

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March 07, 2014

4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands

Sustainably uninhabited islandBecause of their isolated nature, islands are ideal communities for sustainable living. The environmental and economic impact of shipping in fossil fuels and other costly imports is vast, both in its use and transportation. Because of this, islands void of natural resources have unique incentive to seek green and sustainable solutions at home. Here is a list of four islands using green solutions to live within their means.

Eigg, Scotland

If you frequent the Sierra blogs, you'll know that we're fond of Scottish islands, and Eigg is our new favorite. This small island in the Inner Hebrides is home to under 100 souls, but what it lacks in size and population, it makes up for in sustainable impact. Since 2008, Eigg has relied upon a combination of hydro-electric, solar, and wind power to provide around 95% of all electricity needs for its residents. The island used to rely on dirty diesel generators for its electricity, but is now able to provide reliable 24-hour clean energy for the first time in its history. Eigg Electric, the company that manages the island's power supply, is run by trained residents and is completely separate from the rest of the UK's electrical grid. A cottage on Eigg, Scotland's most sustainable island Eigg was able to achieve this green status after its sustainably minded residents bought the island from their feudal landlord in the late 1990s. After Eigg Electric turned on the lights, the isle won a £300,000 prize from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts, who proclaimed, "The Isle of Eigg has exceeded our expectations for what communities can achieve in reducing carbon emissions, and for this they should be congratulated."

Samso, Denmark

Continue reading "4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands" »

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March 06, 2014

How to Save the World with Two Wheels

Bikenomics by Elly BlueIf you haven’t already been convinced to start biking to work, then prepare to be converted to the Tao of alternative transportation. Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (Microcosm Publishing, 2013) by Elly Blue is both a study and a call to action. The book provides readers with examples of cities, companies, and communities that have become bike-centric and explores how these changes reverberate beyond a single person’s actions into a bigger boost to the overall economy. Blue shares some insights into her motives for writing the book and gives us five reasons to hop on a bike today.

What led you to write this book?

A few years ago, as the bicycle movement was starting to gain traction in a big way in the U.S., I noticed something: A lot of the arguments being made against bicycling were economic. Things like bicyclists are freeloaders, they're all rich, they're all poor, they don't pay for the roads, bike lanes and parking are bad for business. What these arguments all have in common is that they are wrong. But at the time, few bike advocates had the tools to effectively set the story straight. I thought I'd see if I could come up with some decent counterarguments -- and I ended up being surprised by just how strong the economic case for bicycling really is.

What outcome do you hope to see?

I'd like to see more commonsense transportation and development policy decisions become the norm in the U.S. Americans are really hungry for options -- anything but driving, which is extraordinarily expensive and stressful. In every place where bicycling has become a comfortable or even feasible option, it has just boomed. Sometimes that's a result of infrastructure, sometimes it's a result of development -- almost always it's the result of a popular movement. My goal with the book is to empower people to spread that movement.

What are five things people should know today about your book or biking?

  1. Bicycling is unbelievably fun. And there are studies that suggest it makes you happier to get around by bike.
  2. You can carry truly anything by bike, with the right setup. Or anyone.
  3. Bicycling is something that has a disproportionately large impact on the economy and your own finances, and you don't have to wait for the government or anyone else to act before you can get started doing it. It's, ahem, "shovel ready."
  4. Speaking of things that are easy and rewarding, some readers have reported making it through my entire book in less than a day. I tried to take a bunch of complicated budgetary and economic data and make it accessible, and this feedback suggests that I succeeded. So dive on in!
  5. It's not just about biking. People who are passionate about social justice, local food, housing reform, energy issues -- any of these big-picture issues that can be tackled on the level of our daily lives and communities -- will find the book helpful in terms of framing and inspiration. All of this stuff is connected.

What has been the response so far?

So far, nearly all the feedback has been positive, even, surprisingly, from a lot of folks who aren't already into bicycling. Someone wrote on Amazon that they were inspired to give it a try, and that's about the best kind of review there is.

Can you talk a bit about how the bike can serve to do more for social change?

Bikes have proved to be excellent tools for various social movements -- and not necessarily ones that are directly bike-related. Bicycles allow free, flexible personal transportation all over a dispersed city. It's easy to ride in groups and be highly visible, but it's also easy to be strategic and speedy, carry a bunch of stuff, and never get stuck in traffic or end up circling looking for parking.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, by Elly Blue, Microcosm Publishing 2013.


--Cover image courtesy of © Microcosm Publishing, 2013


Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.



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Green Your Community: (Almost) Free Rides

Test Your Bike IQ: How Much Does It Cost?

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