GET FUNKY NOW
San Francisco designer Funk Divine offers a bold answer to the pale organic T-shirt with its collection of gold-on-black cutoff tees and zip-up sweatshirts ($38-$128). Made of hemp and organic cotton, the tops exude attitude. They come emblazoned with Egyptian scarabs that give the illusion of giant necklaces, with gold strands threading down the shirts" backs. And unlike typical tees, these shirts hug the hips and fall a little off the shoulders, adding edge to the look. The designer takes activism seriously, too, spreading a vocal message about the need for hemp production in the U.S. —B.B.
CONTACT: Funk Divine
Summer’s got a new organic beer, and its name is Orlio, a light, hoppy India Pale Ale or a smooth, crisp "common ale" that offers the perfect compliment to grilling and chilling. The common ale won the gold in the "American-style Amber Lager" category at the 2008 World Beer Cup—an international beer Olym-pics that honors top contenders from around the world. It must be something in that clean Vermont water. —Brita Belli
CONTACT: Orlio Organic, (802)864-9820
SPREAD A LITTLE SUMMER
We’ve seen plastics, tires, cardboard and license plates all find new life as recycled goods, but Artful Wares has harvested a different cast-off for its flatware—mussel, lobster and clam shells from the Maine shoreline. The shell pieces conjure New England summers in blue, pinkish-red and off-white hues—filling the handles of the sterling silver serving spoons, forks and spreaders. Artisan Tamra Philbrook started the company and uses shells reclaimed from local seafood processors, turning a natural waste into a work of art. The pieces range in price from $20-$98. —B.B.
CONTACT: Artful Wares, (888)670-2723
Sunscreen in a stick makes reapplying on little one’s exposed noses a lot easier on parents. And TruKid‘s Sunny Days Face Stick, a mineral sunscreen without any toxic ingredients and no animal testing, offers an easy, on-the-go option for eco-minded moms and dads. The line of chemical-free, phthalate-free products for kids ($8-$12.50) includes "Sunny Days," a mineral suncreen in a pump, "Hero Stick" to soothe everything from burns to dry skin and even a "Funny Foot Cream" for toes on the go. —B.B.
CONTACT: TruKid, (510)463-2682
CRANK IT UP
The Eco Media Player, made by Baylis, is a very good idea that still needs to be perfected. Media players can do more than provide entertainment—they can generate their own energy using a hand crank. And this model doubles as a flashlight, a phone charger and a voice recorder besides playing music and videos, all for around $199. Even winding it has a certain appeal, though it will force you to admit that your hands are out of shape. All these great features, however, are for naught, as the software used is anything but intuitive. Additionally, the product was manufactured in China, and with all the news coming out of China lately, the process for this eco-media player was probably anything but eco-friendly. —Brian Colleran
CONTACT: Eco Media Player
COME SAIL AWAY
This summer, you can head to the beach while clutching your own contribution to the Team 7 Olympic women sailors—a special edition bag from Maine company Sea Bags, which turns recycled sails into roomy, durable totes with thick, braided handles. Sea Bags are all individual, and all handmade in Portland, Maine. The Team 7 bags ($135-$185) feature the team’s red and blue 7 logo, an Olympic patch and autographs from skipper Sally Barkow and teammates Carrie Howe and Debbie Capozzi. Fifty percent of the bag’s proceeds benefit the team. Besides having that authentic nautical look and giving old sails a second life, these carry-alls are about the most hardy-looking totes we’ve ever seen, and they’re water resistant to boot. —B.B.
CONTACT: Sea Bags, (888)210-4244
Radiant City is billed as a "documentary about suburban sprawl." It feels like a documentary, too, up until the final credits, when you learn that the subjects are being played by actors whose recorded "lives" are actually cut-and-pasted from those of real suburbanites. While that final "gotcha" diminishes the overall effect, it doesn’t change the film’s central, spot-on points: sprawl is killing the earth and any remaining notion of community. In fact, the film shows the way words like "community" have been misappropriated by developers building homogenous McMansions. Front porches have disappeared while strip malls have flourished, and parents spend endless hours commuting to work and shuttling children to sports practices. When they do step outside, they are forced to push strollers alongside treeless, busy highways. Radiant City is a depressing wake-up call to the shortcomings of the American dream, even though it’s set in Canada. —B.B.
CONTACT: Radiant City
China’s Water Warriors by Andrew C. Mertha (Cornell University Press, $29.95) and The China Price by Alexandra Harney (Penguin Press, $25.95) cover the same topic from two very different angles. Both seek to explore the evolution of the Chinese political process, the first through the lens of hydro-power projects and environmental protection, and the second through the lens of the Chinese manufacturing sector and hu-man rights. As these books explain, the difference between what the political leadership in Beijing decrees and what actually gets implemented is vast, since local politicians can be easily bribed to ignore laws. This political disconnect allows for rampant environmental crimes in the name of progress, and human rights crimes in the name of GDP. In the past, there was little recourse.
Recently though, the media, non-governmental organizations and activists have found ways to take part in the political process, often by associating with a department in the Chinese government. But as both authors are quick to point out, this does not mean China will change its human rights or environmental records overnight. It means that the political process in China is evolving and avenues for effectively challenging and changing political decisions from within the Communist party will continue to develop and mature.
However strong the common theme in these books, China’s Water Warriors is written by an academic for an audience interested in the finer points of the Chinese political process, and the writing is less accessible. The China Price is written by a journalist for a mainstream audience interested in why so much of what they buy reads "Made in China." —Brian Colleran
Not all naturalists are stiffs. In A Supremely Bad Idea (Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All) (Bloomsbury USA, $24.99), author and bird geek Luke Dempsey pokes fun at the laborious waiting and thumb-twiddling involved in birding while still implying that there’s something almost dangerous in the pursuit. Birders, he writes, are the ultimate outsiders. "With strangers I can go from mildly interesting to completely written off in about a second and a half. Birder. It’s like saying "registered sex offender," or "Pleased to meet you, I’m Andy Dick."" Dempsey is a Brit and his self-deprecating humor follows his search for rare breeds across the U.S., from the Florida Everglades, spotting a crested caracara by car, through Michigan, where efforts to protect the Kirtland’s warbler involve the killing of "buckets" of cowbirds by hand. There is a dark side to birding, after all. —Brita Belli
The Midwest is ripe for dreaming, and John T. Price does his fair share in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships (Da Capo Press, $25). The memoir is set in Iowa, the place Price never left. In many ways, it’s an ordinary story: Price joins the drama club and counts his pimples; he turns to his dog for emotional support and cries when developers bulldoze nearby woods. Well, maybe he’s a bit more sensitive than most. It may not be an environmental story, per se, but Price’s memories are fused by his awareness of place, be it the vastness of the Arizona desert where his immigrant grandparents move or an unforgiving Idaho cliff where he spends his honeymoon. And his deep-rooted fondness for Iowa never falters, for the "red-tailed hawks floating above the fields, as if attached to kite strings," for the way the dawn lights the snow, "making it appear more natural and familiar than the solid slope of earth it covers." —B.B.
The Compassionate Carnivore, subtitled Or, How to Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald’s Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint, and Still Eat Meat (Da Capo Press, $24), written by well-grounded dreamer Catherine Friend, is a convincing book exhorting consumers to think about what their food represents. It’s also an affirmation that eating meat is not inconsistent with caring about animals or the environment. As a meat-eating farmer concerned with her animals" quality of life as well as their environmental impact, Ms. Friend wants consumers to accept meat for what it is, a former living animal, and to care about the lives that livestock lead before becoming a meal. She encourages consumers to buy according to their beliefs, to the best of their abilities. It’s an unusually measured approach to a controversial topic. —B.C.
In their book Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life (Simon & Schuster, $9.99), Los Angeles residents and eco-enthusiasts Linda and Tosh Silversten outline easy ways for adolescents to get active on global warming while keeping reality in check. The mother-and-son pair take living green seriously—in their former New Mexico home, the family used a year-round outhouse and the sun as an alarm clock. But they promise that big city life can be nature-friendly, too. Suggestions for teens (but applicable to anyone) include using rechargeable batteries and putting on a sweater in the winter instead of turning up the thermostat. Using boxed statistics, Generation Green gets into the environmental science in digestible bites. Facts on individual energy usage as well as government eco-efforts help to relay the message that preserving the planet is everybody’s job. —Kimberly Telker
OUR CHEMICAL WORLD
This is it: The book that finally chronicles the chemical invaders tainting us and the environment—the phthalates and Bisphenol-A (BPA), the flame retardants and non-stick surfaces. And investigative journalist Nena Baker‘s book The Body Toxic (North Point Press, $24) is enough to induce outrage. It’s a book about clean living activists like Sharyle Patton who discover her body is carrying the same 105 polluting chemicals as a pack-a-day smoker living alongside an industrial plant. It’s about the $637 billion-per-year chemical industry that has quietly infiltrated every corner of our lives, from disinfectants and insecticides to vinyl car seats and fiberglass frames to toys and picnicware. Baker writes, "The world embraced synthetic substances as miracles and used them as freely as water without knowing what they could do to the environment and people."
Now, these persistant organic pollutants (POP) are present in the bodies of every person, and it will take "generations to rid them from the world, even if we never release another ounce." Any one of the chapters focusing on particular toxins (in weed killers, beauty products, cookware and computers) deserves an outraged movement. In "Kermit’s Blues," we follow the struggles of scientist Tyrone Hayes who finds that the widely used herbicide aztrazine, made by billion-dollar chemical company Syn-genta, led to sexual scrambling and impotence in frogs in much smaller amounts than allowed by government regulations. Hayes was shut out by Syngenta and forced to resign from his research post, and the EPA continues to allow the toxic chemical, which is present in "about 75 percent of stream samples" in agricultural areas. —B.B.
THE HARD QUESTIONS
There are no words one is more likely to read on the cover of an environmental book than "Foreword by Bill McKibben." The collection, A Passion for this Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Explore Our Relationship with Nature and the Environment (Greystone Books, $21), is no exception, and gives ubiquitous environmental spokesperson McKibben the opportunity to write about David Suzuki, whose work inspired the essays. Equal parts TV science broadcaster and environmental activist, Suzuki embodied the idea that the environmental movement needs teeth.
Essays in the book attest to that need, including "Save the Environment—Take Back the Media," by E‘s publisher and founder, Doug Moss. In it, Moss calls for serious reform, from halting media consolidation, to finding funding outlets for progressive media and a broader acknowledgment that writing about issues is very much "doing something" about them. Ecofeminist Sherilyn MacGregor gives a pointed response to the question of women’s role in the movement, by dismissing the idea that a female approach will solve anything. I
nstead she says to strengthen the "three ships": "citizenship, leadership, and scholarship." And in his essay "The Real Stuff," Richard Mabey argues against Intelligent Design and asks, "Isn’t this something to have faith in? The stuff of life, the astonishing, resilient, surreal inventiveness of it all?"
These authors ask the hard questions that many in the environmental movement have shied away from. It’s a service to Suzuki, who firmly believed in the necessity of speaking up. —B.B.