BLING AND BARGAINS
Not only are the diamonds used in Ruff&Cut luxury jewelry conflict-free, but 10% from each sale and a portion of the company’s profits also goes toward improving conditions in the mining communities of Sierra Leone. As the name implies, the diamonds are rough cut, and when paired with recycled metals result in stunning, natural-looking, heirloom-quality jewelry. Collections include rings, earrings, pendants and nose rings, many of the pieces unisex. Standouts are a bracelet by designer Tracy Matthews of lily pad-inspired medallions ($7,090), and a line of silver and 18k gold jewelry featuring grinning skull charms ($1,040-$18,880). Why skulls? The company’s founder, Wade Watson, says they "1) display no skin color and represent a universal kinship, and 2) house the one organ we all have that might help us make the world a better and safer place."
Resembling geodes, the jewelry at Paloma Pottery is actually made from compressed recycled glass. The sparkly, crackle-glass surface is smooth to the touch. At $28, the rings are a beautiful and affordable way to keep a reminder to recycle literally on hand. Other gift-worthy pottery novelties include heart-shaped pendants ($42.50), magnets ($7.50) and bookmarks ($10.50). —J.R.P.
FOOD OF THE GODS
According to Neilsen.com, 48 million pounds of chocolate are sold in the U.S. for Valentine’s Day. Consider making your contribution to this statistic a purchase of organic, fair trade Shaman Chocolates with a Cause. All profits help support Huichol Indian villages in Central Mexico, said to be the last tribe in North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian ceremonial traditions. Chocolates with a Cause come in bars of nine varieties (2 oz., $3 each) including Milk Chocolate with Macadamia Nuts and Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt; Dark Chocolate with Green Tea and Ginger; and Dark Chocolate with Coconut. Or choose the Gift Box ($8), a gold foil-trimmed package of eight flower-shaped pieces of delectable organic milk and extra-dark chocolate. —Jessica Rae Patton
CONTACT: Shaman Chocolates.
Tiny Revolutionary is a mom-and-mom business born of the idea that all change begins small
so they started making Earth-friendly tees and rompers for wee wardrobes. Soft and thin, perfect for layering over a long-sleeve shirt, Tiny Revolutionary’s tees are sweatshop-free and printed using non-phthalate, water-based ink. The "Recycle Love" shirt — our favorite gift for every size Valentine — is 100% organic cotton and comes in Kids 6M through Adult Unisex 2X, as well as in an infant onesie ($24-$26). —J.R.P.
CONTACT: Tiny Revolutionary
GIVE LEATHER THE BOOT
Two of our favorite footwear retailers, Vegan Chic and MooShooes, have rolled out a plethora of pleather in which to fashionably clad your calves. Vegan Chic features NeuAura, an entirely animal-product-free company whose manufacturer boasts stringent fair-labor practices and has received a "Green Seal" for compliance with Brazilian environmental laws. They make the quintessential vegan dress boot, the Thames ($175). For something with a lower heel and price point, there’s the vegan cowboy boot in Cognac or Black ($50), insulated for warmth. And MooShoes introduces two cute new styles from Portugal-based Novacas, the faux-suede, wedge-heeled Bev ($170) and the kicky ankle boot, Betty ($140). As this winter’s array of vegan boots makes toe-pointedly clear, there’s never been less of an excuse to wear leather. —J.R.P.
I"m not a big breakfast eater, but Grandy Oats may change my coffee-only ways. The newest addition to their 100% organic granola line is Goji Agave (13 oz., $5). A so-called "superfood," Goji berries are rich in nutrients and health-promoting properties. They have a distinctive, slightly bitter taste, adding an odd-yet-pleasant flavor contrast—as well as a good boost of antioxidants—to the agave-sweetened medley of oats, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. Though the cereal is plenty sweet, agave is a low-glycemic sweetener, meaning it doesn’t stimulate blood glucose and insulin levels. Translation: You won’t need to sneak a nap under your desk after this breakfast or midafternoon snack. And, Grandy Oats" new reusable, recyclable yogurt-style container lends itself better to storage and straight-from-the-package snacking than typical cereal bags or boxes. —J.R.P.
CONTACT: Grandy Oats.
THE THROWAWAY PEOPLE
Nick Clooney, in the foreword to Coal Country: Rising Up Against Mountaintop Removal Mining (Sierra Club Books, $25.95), a companion book to Sierra Club’s new feature-length documentary, remarks that his Irish immigrant ancestors moved to Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain region in part because "it had a hundred shades of green." It’s a striking image to bear in mind as one delves into the rest of Coal Country’s stories—how that lush, green land has turned to black—as has the now polluted air and the once-clear-running streams. Coal’s dark legacy in Appalachia—outlined in the introduction by Shirley Stewart Burns—began in the 1700s, when an abundance of coal was needed to fuel America’s industrial revolution. By the 1880s, coal extraction became the main occupation in the Appalachian region, and the workers, often immigrants who were treated like indentured servants, lost their agrarian lifestyle and their independence. "The worker frequently had no say in his own destiny because the company controlled everything," Burns writes, including the towns, the stores and the homes. So the region became dependent on coal, even as coal companies designed ways to do without them. First came strip mining, and then mountaintop removal mining, in which "the tops of ancient mountains are systemically decapitated and dumped into nearby mountain valleys and headwater streams."
What comes up in this book’s many personal accounts, from country stars Loretta Lynn and Kathy Mattea (whose latest album is called "Coal"), to environmental professor and author David Orr, to the many residents-turned-activists living in Appalachia, is not just the steady, horrific destruction of majestic mountains and thousands of miles of streams, but the turning of an entire community into a virtual wasteland while the rest of the country looks the other way. "This country was founded by men and women who rebelled agains
t oppression," writes Teri Blanton, one such unexpected activist, in the essay "One Small Voice." "It’s ironic that we, as a people, can somehow justify oppressing the people of Appalachia to destroy a landscape and a culture, all in the name of cheap energy."
There are many stories of idyllic childhoods spent hiking the Appalachian hills, foraging for huckleberries, riding horses, catching frogs. A time when, as John Roark writes in "Lives on the Line," "This was the most beautiful part of the world." Now, without the mountains to protect them, their homes are flooding, their water and air has turned poisonous, their wells have dried up, their children have been killed by coal trucks, and they spend day after day listening to the blasting and breathing the dust. Vivid before-and-after photos capture the beauty that’s been lost. Sam Gilbert writes, "What they consider us to be is throwaway people." And he’s not just talking about the coal companies. These stories are essential, and should evoke outrage that we have allowed such exploitation—of our land and our people—for so long. —Brita Belli
AN EASY CHOICE
With An Inconvenient Truth, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore inarguably brought the climate crisis into mainstream consciousness. A common criticism of the book and film has been, however, that it raised more questions than it answered. Gore responded by organizing over 30 "Solutions Summits," where the world’s experts in science and engineering from disciplines as diverse as neuroscience, information technology, agriculture and economics amassed to brainstorm an effective course of action. The results are presented in Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Rodale, $26.99). Gore wrote the book, as he explains in the Introduction, "to gather in one place all of the most effective solutions that are available now and that, together, will solve this crisis." The presentation is very effective as well, beginning with the book cover, from which unfolds a Planet Earth. One side is the depiction as seen from space today; the other is an artist’s rendering of a planet whose blue seas and green forests have been blighted by unchecked global warming. Graphs soar, graphics pop and pull-quotes pull the reader from page to page.
The big surprise in this book is what Gore presents as one of our biggest obstacles to remedying the climate crisis: How we think about it. He turns to psychologists and neuroscientists, who put forth that climate crisis is simply too remote a concept for our normal responses to danger. "We need to employ not reason-based analyses or an automatic or semiautomatic response to threat; we need to employ a third brain system, the one by which we set long-term goals based on shared values," writes Gore.
The changes necessary—radical shifts in energy sources and use, a new regard for our planet’s living systems, overcoming present political obstacles—are daunting, but Gore optimistically points out that the scale of systematic transformation needed will also bring highly effective solutions to longstanding global problems of extreme poverty and malnourishment.
The climate crisis can be solved, Gore concludes, but we must do no less than "make the rescue of civilization the central organizing principle of our politics, economics and social action." The only missing ingredient is collective will. —Jessica Rae Patton
Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, $22.50) is a lovely cookbook. Seriously, it’s worth the purchase price just to pretty up the bookshelf. But the recipes within are so interesting you’d be doing the stove a disservice. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, Shafia worked as a chef at Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco and Aquavit and Pure Food and Wine in New York before founding Lucid Food, an eco-friendly catering company in New York City. She draws strongly on her Iranian heritage for her inspired recipes. Arranged seasonally, they are primarily but not exclusively vegetarian, and all emphasize knowing the sustainability and sources of one’s food choices. Some standouts: Persian Stuffed Dumpling Squash; Grilled Mussels with Simmered Tomatoes over Couscous; Roasted Beets with Persimmons over Market Greens; and a winter stew called Fesenjan—chicken (or tempeh) in pomegranate-walnut sauce. —J.R.P.
WEATHER OR NOT
If you’re an armchair weather expert, a weather junkie or simply enjoy the intricacies of the world’s most turned-to conversation topic, look no further than Weather Whys: Fact, Myths, and Oddities (Perigree, $14.95) by meteorologist and editor Paul Yeager. In this slender volume, Yeager sets out to give readers a basic appreciation for storms, winds, freezing rain, puffy clouds and the like, by first giving readers a breakdown of just what these things are. Hail, for instance, happens when supercooled water freezes on dust particles that are then pushed back into clouds via an updraft, over and over again, accumulating more water, and more size, until they finally crash onto our heads and cars.
Like a science teacher who clearly enjoys his subject and has a knack for explaining it, Yeager’s easy-to-digest writing comes with a lot of requisite enthusiasm. Lightning doesn’t get enough respect, he writes—and did you know that the "temperature of a lightning bolt is estimated to be as much as 54,000oF (five times the temperature of the sun)"? The book is packed with fascinating facts like these. Yeager reveals that "it’s always cooler after a thunderstorm"; that seeking shelter under a highway overpass during a tornado is a really bad idea (the speed of the wind will increase); that "snow-eating wind" allows snow to vanish rather than melt and a whole lot of sports-and-weather phenomena like the fact that high humidity "allows a baseball to travel farther, increasing the likelihood of home runs." With gems like these, Weather Whys is already a candidate for bathroom book of the year. —B.B.
Perhaps you’ve had your fill of forlorn-looking polar bears clinging to a patch of ice in a melting Arctic sea. It’s the emblematic image of the disappearing Arctic, and the cover image of one recent book on the topic: After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic (Smithsonian Books, $26.99) by Alun Anderson. It is one of two new titles to tackle the question "what comes next?"And there is a reason, too, revealed in the introduction, why we’re apt to see a lot of books on the Arctic in coming years—it’s disappearing fast.
It was an actual polar bear walking along a beach at Canada’s Devon Island that led Anderson to write this book—a starving bear, he’d later learn. "If there were still ice," said a scientist he travelled with, "she might be able to swim out to it and catch a seal." The revelation made Anderson angry—and motivated. Despite the book’s scope, it’s as much a personal journey as a scientific exp
loration. Anderson takes readers to an Inuit community on Canada’s Ellesmere Island, a hunting village marked with recent kills—a walrus, a bear, "the head of a narwhal, sitting in a pool of its congealed blood with its single, spiral lance pointing ten feet up into the sky." These remote villagers have a unique viewpoint on global climate change, as they watch grass and trees take the place of ice and snow, and replace their sled dogs with boats. Later, Anderson details the activities of six buoys resting on ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, set out by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL). There used to be nine of these data-recording "mass balance buoys," but three were lost to "high-speed bottom melt." Anderson’s book approaches the Arctic from different angles, taking history, culture, geology, and the struggle for land and oil rights all into account.
Charles Emmerson’s The Future History of the Arctic (PublicAffairs, $28.95), is primarily interested in this land-grab struggle between nations, as the U.S., Russia, Canada and Denmark all lay claim to the 90 billion barrels of oil beneath the Arctic Sea. Not since the Cold War has the Arctic had such strategic significance, and Emmerson even wonders if an "all-out interstate war in the Arctic" is possible. While that’s unlikely, he writes, "a proliferation of broader security challenges in an increasingly ice-free Arctic is unavoidable." It is not just oil that they’re after, either. Emmerson writes about the bio-prospecting happening in the Arctic which he describes as "nature’s storehouse—a mine of biological substances and processes we barely understand…" Already there are 43 commercial enterprises bio-prospecting in the Arctic, according to United Nations reports. What are they looking for? "Arctic microorganisms [that] may be useful in bio-remediation of polluted land and water," and "Arctic antifreeze proteins…[that] may be useful to the commercial food industry," among other natural wonders. This new vision of the Arctic, as a site of exploitation and source of political conflict, is chilling indeed. —B.B.