With the icy winter winds once again ravaging our lips, a variety of green products can bring eternal spring. Most conventional lip products are petroleum based, and any essential oils are derived from plants grown with chemicals. The petroleum molecules create a slick over the lips, but, according to critics, are too large to penetrate the skin, and therefore cannot promote true healing. Essencia"s Jojoba Lip Therapy ($9.50), on the other hand, is an all-natural plant-based repair kit for suffering lips. The key ingredient is melissa oil, which has been used in Europe for centuries for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Melissa oil, combined with essential oil of manuka (a relative of the tea tree), make Essencia Jojoba Lip Therapy ideal for tackling cold sores as well.
Eco Lips organic lip balm ($1.79 to $2.49) is also petroleum free and uses 70 percent certified organic ingredients, such as beeswax, calendula, jojoba oil and peppermint oil. Organic ingredients have a higher nutrient content, which means extra love for your sensitive kisser. SPF 15 and 30 formulas offer further defense against the elements. And, for those of you who can"t keep track of your lip balm, Eco Lips offers the Eco Clip to attach to your bag or belt loop. To encourage recycling, Eco Lips offers a free Eco Lip product for every five empty containers returned to the company.
We kiss our lip balm every day, and so why not celebrate this relationship with (affectionately named) Pookie lip products? Pookie offers a range of lip balms ($6 to $9), including the flagship "Apookalips" and tinted "ColorBalms," all made with natural ingredients, including vitamin-rich almond oil and UV-shielding shea butter. "Pookie Lips Sport" is aromatherapy and lip balm all in one; lime, lemon, avocado, almond and apricot oils make the scent as healing to the spirit as the balm is to the lips. Pookie"s packaging is 100 percent recyclable, and the company will specially wrap and customize its products to use as party favors.
SOOTH THAT SKIN
In the winter many of us become gluttons for Vitamin C. It nourishes our bodies and some believe it keeps colds at bay. Now, thanks to Jason Natural Cosmetics" Vita-C line of cleansers and moisturizers, it can pamper our skin as well. Since 1959, Jason has produced top-notch botanical skin-care products devoid of mineral oils, sodium laurel sulfates, aluminum chlorohydrates and other potentially hazardous ingredients. Jason"s Vita-C products are formulated to infuse the skin with Vitamin C, an antioxidant that combats enemy free radicals. Winter skin feels healthy and alive, even when everything else outside is dormant. All products are biodegradable and packaging is 100 percent recyclable.
CONTACT: Jason Natural Cosmetics, (877)JASON-01, www.jason-natural.com.
LAUNDER CARES AWAY
Year round, skin can feel punished by harsh chemicals in conventional laundry detergent. Mountain Green Skin Sensitive has developed a line of laundry products to keep clothes fresh and clean without irritating solvents, alcohols, perfumes, dyes or enzymes ($9 to $12 for regular, $15 for baby-specific and $8.50 for fabric softener). Mountain Green products are made with purified water and nontoxic, plant-derived ingredients to handle the majority of laundry needs. Clothes emerge from the wash feeling cozy, soft and safe for sensitive skin. Mountain Green Products are cruelty-free, biodegradable and safe for septic systems. The packaging is 100 percent recyclable.
CONTACT: Mountain Green, (866) 686-4733, www.mtngreen.com.
FOR THOSE WHO SHAVE
Recycline, the company that brought you the Preserve recyclable toothbrush, now offers the Preserve razor. A company spokesperson tells E that the idea was to offer something that is more eco-friendly to those who still need or want a disposable razor (four-pack for $6.95, replacement blade five-pack for $4.95). The handles are made from 100 percent recycled plastic, at least 65 percent of which comes from Stonyfield Farm yogurt containers. When it"s time to retire the handle, you can use the included postage-paid envelope to send it back to the company for recycling. Unfortunately, we found the detachable blades themselves to be of mediocre quality, and the handle does not seem as durable as conventional alternatives (our first one arrived broken), so Recycline may have some issues to work out.
CONTACT: Recycline, (888)354-7296, www.recycline.com.
It is exciting to see celebrities make films about environmental issues, so it was with great anticipation that I watched Woody Harrelson"s documentary Go Further (Mongrel Media, directed by Ron Mann), which recounts his 2001 road trip down the West Coast and attempts to highlight the role of personal decision-making in saving the Earth. Could this signal a new age in which the film industry finally uses its clout to get the word out to mainstream America? Not this time. In Go Further we are continually told that to be environmental we must do yoga, eat a raw-foods diet, avoid dairy and drop phrases like "mother Earth" in regular conversation. To be sure, the film makes some good points: consumers must demand accountability, composting is important, and solar power is good. And there is an interesting inside look at a Ruckus Society boot camp for civil disobedience. But overall, the presentation lacks sophistication and perpetuates the notion of environmentalism as a fringe subculture, while alienating the mainstream.
Our experience of the seasons is one that no longer needs to be mediated by the antiquated Gregorian calendar. The San Francisco-based theater troop Antenna has created an ECOlogical calendar (Pomegranate Communications, $14.99) that follows the seasons of the year from each equinox to solstice or vice-versa. Following the scientific timeline that places the universe at an age of 13.7 billion years, this artistic depiction of 2005 represents the lunar phases, the ebb and flow of tides, the ratio of sunlight to darkness, the positions of stars and planets depending on the time of year, and the behavior of vegetation and animal life. Time is compartmentalized in the linear, arbitrary calendar that is most widely used today. The grid of months to days has become a reminder of where we are meant to be at every moment, denoting bank closures and Hallmark holidays, as opposed to this fluid conceptualization illustrating that we are creatures of this planet as well. At a time when many of us are bound to man-ma
de constructs, this work depicts a more natural sense of time, placing us in the midst of the organic rhythm of our Earth.
KNOW WHAT YOU"RE EATING
The topic of food can be bleak, indeed. The past few years have produced a stream of books and articles exposing the nightmare that is the industrial food complex. Christopher D. Cook"s Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us (The New Press, $24) takes everything we"ve learned so far and bundles it trimly together, stuffing in plenty of new information as well. The book details an overwhelming matrix of problems stemming from the food industry: from supermarkets bullying small-food producers, to pollution from airborne feces particulates, to the horrors of the meatpacking industry. Densely packed with facts, figures and dates, this book is a great resource for activists as well as the general reader. Just be prepared for an intense urge to flee to the hills.
This isn"t the first time in history that water has been scarce. For millennia farmers have had to stretch water resources to irrigate their crops. Some solutions were small; others were impressively large, lending glory to states and their politicians. The common thread is this: Throughout history it has been the grandest water diversion projects that have ultimately ended in spectacular failure and often the collapse of entire civilizations, with the poorest most deeply affected. So why do nations still pursue enormous, one-stop solutions to water problems such as China"s Three Gorges Dam? In Keepers of the Spring: Reclaiming Our Water in an Age of Globalization (Island Press, $26), Fred Pearce takes the reader around the world, from India to Israel, examining the tragic human costs of the world"s largest water projects, yesterday and today. Pearce also examines the low-tech solutions, from rice terracing to rainwater harvesting, that have sustained communities for hundreds of years. With water technology, as with just about everything else, small is beautiful.
If you"ve ever indulged fantasies of selling off your belongings, moving to the country, and living off the land, Eleanor Agnew"s new book Back from the Land: How Young Americans went to Nature in the 1970s and Why They Came Back (Ivan R. Dee, $27.50) might make you regain an appreciation for your Maytag. The book documents the lives of the back-to-the-landers—those young Americans, who in the 1970s, quit their urban lives and moved to the country to pursue life on their own terms. On their homesteads they grew their own food, chopped their own firewood, and eschewed plumbing and electricity. For many, the first years were a blissful struggle of harnessing the elements and creating communities of likeminded individuals. But, many of these well-educated folks eventually found washing clothes by hand and heating their water on stoves a bit monotonous. Weary of their self-induced poverty and the lack of intellectual stimulation, they slowly transitioned back from the land in droves. But not without a sense of pride at what they had accomplished.
AMERICA VS. EUROPE
While Americans stubbornly pursue the ever-elusive American Dream, Europe is quietly and steadily creating its own vision for the future. In The European Dream: How Europe"s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream (Penguin, $25.95), Jeremy Rifkin describes the emergence of this phenomenon, and outlines its potential. He argues that America"s tradition of isolation and individualism is ineffectual in the modern era, while the European Dream, which values human rights over individual performance and community over self-sufficiency, fits nimbly within the dimensions of today"s interconnected world. As a result, the author says, quality of life and economic growth in Europe are outpacing that of America. The book takes a macro-level approach to the subject, and doesn"t leave us with a lot of perspective on how this dream is manifested in the day-to-day lives of Europeans. But by naming and defining this new vision that is quietly stealing our thunder, Rifkin challenges us, as Americans, to sit up and pay attention.
AN EPIC ADVENTURE
In 1735 a team of French scientists set out for South America to answer one of the most pressing questions of the time: what is the precise shape of the Earth? Robert Whittaker"s fascinating account of this expedition in The Mapmaker"s Wife (Basic Books, $25) is a shimmering history of Enlightenment science and exploration. Through extremes of weather and disease, these scientists dutifully triangulate distances and gather botanical specimens throughout the Peruvian wilderness. The natural history alone makes a wonderfully rich read, but the story begins when the expedition ends. Team member Jean Godin sets out to chart a route back to France via the largely unmapped Amazon. When he reaches the Atlantic he attempts to send for his young bride, Isabel. But war and bureaucracy conspire to keep the two stranded on opposite sides of the continent for an astounding 20 years. Finally, Isabel decides she will wait no longer. What follows is an utterly suspenseful account of Isabel"s journey, the first known instance of a woman traveling the entire length of the Amazon, battling hostile plants, animals, and humans with every step. A true story that reads like a novel, The Mapmaker"s Wife is a delicious winter treat.
In The Impossible Will Take a Little While (Basic Books, $14.95), editor Paul Rogat Loeb selects excerpts that provide hope, inspiration and solutions for citizens who feel powerless against the state of our society. This self-help book for a nation in distress features insights from Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and more than 50 others who focus on the abilities of the individual. "All power is power over someone, and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behavior of those it rules over," writes Vaclav Havel. The contributing authors describe some of their most difficult struggles and most meaningful victories. Through the authors" successes, the reader develops a picture of hope and begins to see the possibility of a positive turnaround in the future of our nation.
Soon after Mark Kurlansky"s book Cod was a surprise hit, a wave of copycat books descended from the heavens. There is The True Story of Chocolate, Salt: A World History (that one"s by Kurlansky, too), The Potato and the prosaically titled Coal. So it"s hardly surprising that The Story of Corn (University of New Mexico, $24.95) by Betty Fussell just crossed our reviewing desk.
The idea of doing a commodity book may not be original, but The Story of Corn is just the kind of coffee table book I like having on my coffee table. Fussell (whose previous books include Crazy for Corn) is a food lecturer who left no kernels unturned in pursuit of her tasseled subject. The reader will learn all about corn-cob pipes, visit one of the legendary Midwestern corn palaces, understand finally the true nature of fructose, find out how Native Americans ground their staple crop, and delve deeply into the history, mythology and sacred ritual around this humble foodstuff. All this, plus the many pictures are wonderful.
J.P. Harpignes gets around. He is the former program director of New York City"s invaluable Open Center (and still organizes events there). He also helps produce the equally invaluable Bioneers Conference north of San Francisco. Political Ecosystems (Spuyten Duyvil, $15.95) is his second book, after Double Helix Hubris. He is a tireless grassroots activist, so his advice to fellow activists deserves a look. Even though it was written before the 2004 election, it reflects some of what we learned from that debacle. Harpignes cautions his fellow environmental progressives not to "assume, consciously or unconsciously, that our position is the only one at which an intelligent person could arrive." The left, as he points out, "suffers far more from a blind faith in the power of its logical arguments than the right." And that may be why so many savvy greens went into shock that John Kerry didn"t win. But Harpignes points out that conservatives need coalitions to win, and that these coalitions are vulnerable. As he notes, activists will have to find the weak spots.
One Clean Breath
Oxygen may not strike you as a lively protagonist for a book. Think again. In Gasp! The Swift & Terrible Beauty of Air (Shoemaker & Hoard, $26) a masterfully inventive biography of air, Joe Sherman weaves between geology and history, myth and science, to retrace our understanding of life"s most precious gas. From the Ionian philosophers of ancient Greece to the eccentric chemists and scientists who tested daringly with air through the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Industrial eras, Sherman invokes a lively, little-known chapter in Western history. He also explores myths in Hindu, Maori and Viking culture, showing the ways societies tried to make sense of the invisible gas that surrounded and sustained them.
In GASP!, Sherman—whose nonfiction book on General Motors, In the Rings of Saturn, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize—blames the auto industry, weak government policies and America"s obsession with cars as key factors tilting the scales of climate change towards disaster. But "myth came before science and will outlast it," he writes in a vaguely hopeful, meditative tone. After narrating a 20th century atmosphere filled with germ warfare, radioactive pollution, smog and global warming, hope is about all we have left. Read this timely homage to air—and make sure you take a few deep breaths.
Editors’ Note: The product review of the Recycline Preserve razor ("For Those Who Shave
" Tools for Green Living, January/February 2005) unfairly pointed out that E"s sample arrived broken. We recently learned that the sample was sent in inferior (and discontinued) packaging, and now believe that was the source of the problem.