Resources for Eco-Awareness and Action
As odd as it may sound, the latest trend in eco-friendly products is poop. Creative Paper Wales, a company based in Snowdonia, Wales, makes its patented Sheep Poo Paper ($6 to $40) out of, you guessed it, sheep poop. The process consists of taking fresh sheep poop, putting it in a pressure cooker and using the leftover cellulose fiber to make greeting cards, post cards and stationery. The process is completely Earth-friendly and the result is a cute, stink-free card featuring a cartoon sheep. Another poop-inspired product is the new Organic Worm Poop Fertilizer from Terracycle, an organic lawn care company based in Trenton, New Jersey. This product is made from the organic waste of worms and is packaged in recycled soda bottles collected by school children across the country. Just by adding water, you can bathe your lawn in nourishing (and eco-friendly) liquefied worm poop. —Kathleen O"Neill
A CLEANER, GREENER BEER (OR TWO)
New Belgium has a new organic beer called Mothership Wit, a Belgian-style witbier. The organic direction makes sense for New Belgium, a company that has long sought to reduce its environmental impact. In 1998, employees there voted to switch to 100 percent wind power (except for the 10 percent that comes from methane captured by the company’s onsite water treatment facility). New Belgium also uses half as much water as the industry average, and is working with LEED to reduce energy usage. Mothership Wit is a light, wheaty concoction, with a thin head whose taste evokes hints of banana, lemon, clove and coriander. The flavor, while not extraordinary, does have a leg up on run-of-the-mill "lite" beers, and provides a solid eco-friendly option whether at a local pub or kicking back for the game.
Anheuser-Busch‘s slogan, "drink responsibly," now refers to more than sobering up before driving home. The company’s Green Valley Brewing Company subsidiary has launched two lines of organic beers. Wild Hop Lager and Stone Mill Pale Ale are sold in six-packs and on draught. The pale ale is smooth and mildly fruity, while the lager is full-bodied with a sweet caramel flavor. Both get high marks for taste. Even the packaging is made from 100 percent recycled material. —Shannon Huecker
You don’t have to live in Brooklyn to have access to handcrafted, environmentally conscious crafts able to turn your apartment, your birthday gift or your outfit into a conversation piece. You just have to log on to www.greenjeansbrooklyn.com, the online home of Greenjeans, a little Brooklyn shop that specializes in handcrafted arts from around the U.S. and abroad. With an emphasis on sustainability, Greenjeans features natural-edge wooden cutting boards from Pennsylvania, fused glass platters from Canada and animal-faced finger puppets from Japan. A line of jewelry from Brooklyn artist Alison Mackey involves botanical photos under resin in big, bold shapes, set into sterling silver. To understand the philosophy behind the company, owned by Amy Shaw and Jae Kim, it helps to visit a sister site, www.greenjeansbrooklyn.blogspot. com, where there are entries on how the "70s have fueled a new craft movement, the intersection of craft and art and pushing the limits of what craft means. It’s an alternative shopping experience for the alternative-minded. —Brita Belli
CONTACT: Greenjeans (718)907-5835.
YOUR DARK MASTER
THE COCOA BEAN!
If, like Seinfeld‘s George Costanza, the cocoa bean is your dark master, you will definitely enjoy the array of chocolate products from Veré. The name is derived from the Latin word for "truth," and the company makes products that are truly chocolatey—their rich confections boast cocoa content between 75 and 100 percent. The founder, Kathy Moskal, began her business after searching for a diabetic-safe chocolate. Now the company sells chocolate that is diabetic-safe, gluten-free and high in antioxidants and fiber. Its cocoa also promotes healthy digestion, protects the rainforest and is mostly organic. The cocoa beans are bought through the Rainforest Alliance, which helps ensure that farmers receive living wages and that the beans are shade grown without damaging the surrounding rainforest. When asked if the goal was to create a healthy chocolate or a sustainable chocolate, Moskal says, "You can’t separate the person from the environment," adding that a successful, quality product should focus on all aspects—health, environment and taste. —Shannon Huecker
CONTACT: Veré (866) 410-VERE.
FAIR TRADE TEAS
The Republic of Tea, an all-natural tea company based in Novato, California, has been selling eco-conscious teas since 1992. But its line of Fair Trade-Certified Teas ($9.50 per box of 50 bags) is more than just environmentally friendly—the teas actually help farmers in developing countries earn fair wages. By supporting fair trade practices, the Republic of Tea helps families in South America, Africa and Asia build homes, churches and schools to support and educate their children. Available in five exotic flavors, such as Cranberry Blood Orange and Wild Blueberry, these teas help families stay warm and healthy this winter. To learn more about Fair Trade Certification and ways you can help, visit www.transfairusa.org. —Kathleen O"Neill
CONTACT: The Republic of Tea (800)298-4832.
Apparently, we have a national obsession with super-smooth skin, as razors have become a highly competitive business, all about "high performance" and multiple blade action. Now the environmentally friendly version can compete with Preserve Razor Triple, a triple-blade razor that features a handle made from 100 percent recycled plastic, including 65 percent of recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups. The razors come in a rainbow of colors and the package, made from renewable wood sources, can double as a travel case. Preserve offers replacement blades, but Gilette Sensor blades and Personna Acti-Flexx blades will work as well, and the handles are ergonomically designed so you"ll be less likely to slip up and nick yourself while turning your body bowling-ball smooth. —Brita Belli
CONTACT: Preserve by Recycline, (888)354-7296.
GOOD GROWING, BAD FOOD
While we’ve grown comfortably accustomed to having whatever food we want, during any season and at any hour, Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, $20), says that that convenience comes at a substantial
cost. Katz questions whether food produced in grand scale by major corporations like Monsanto really is more efficient. He says that supporting local farmers could make small-time farming a viable occupation again. And while farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture are both on the rise, Katz notes that transitioning to local, seasonal eating will mean we have to "reorient our tastes and our habits." But, he assures, "We can learn to love what grows abundantly and easily around us." This book delves deep into the ethical dilemmas surrounding current food production and consumption—the fact that corporate conglomerates control the seed supply, the dangers of factory farming, the nutritional loss caused by pasteurization and irradiation. It also spends equal time teaching a better way to grow and eat: creating land trusts and building urban gardens, eating raw and participating in the slaughter of animals if you plan to eat them. Each chapter ends with a list of "Action and Information Resources" and contains relevant recipes for treats like flax crackers and "savory vegetable strudel" (with or without cannabis). —Brita Belli
PAY TO PREY
Peter Barnes, co-founder of Working Assets Long Distance and Credit Card Services, and writer for Newsweek and the New York Times, says capitalism needs an upgrade. In Capitalism 3.0: A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $22.95), he proposes an ingenious and feasible way of protecting the commons by giving it property rights. Barnes" basic tenet is that when corporations take from the commons, or pollute into the commons, they should pay for that privilege. That isn’t revolutionary—many have suggested corporations pay to pollute—but he recommends that the power to make them pay be taken from government and given to trusteeships, which are strictly bound in their legal responsibilities to beneficiaries. He also suggests that when corporations pay to pollute, the money is sent to each American as an annual dividend check. One person equals one share in the commons.
Capitalism 3.0 is full of similar groundbreaking ideas. Barnes supports start-up capital for each person, limiting advertising, and greatly reducing patents and intellectual property rights. We may not be able to install his changes tomorrow, but this book offers solutions that are truly amazing in their practicality and effectiveness. —Shannon Huecker
The Last Harvest, Truck Farmers in the Deep South (University of Georgia Press, $32.50) is a poignant collection of pictures capturing small-scale farmers in author Perry Dilbeck‘s hometown of McDonough, Georgia. Once a small town of roadside vegetable stands, McDonough is now another sprawling suburb of Atlanta. Dillbeck tells the story of 13 different farmers and their farms, some with only two or three acres left. Alton Alexander was born in Henry County, Georgia in 1937 and was raised growing soybeans and wheat. "Now, I just sell a tiny bit of Mississippi sidewinder peas, cantaloupe and corn to help ends meet," he says. "The government took everything I owned [for a highway] and left me with just a few acres of land." Sadly, his is not an unusual story. Dillbeck photographs these farmers (all over 75) plowing their fields, picking their crops and setting up shop at the local farmer’s market. The book reminds us of a time when farming was a way of life, not a dying art. —Kathleen O"Neill
TALKING COMPUTER TRASH
"PBDEs are everywhere," said reporter Kellyn Betts at a recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference panel. "There are high levels in breast milk, blood and fat. Dust is the main route of exposure, and they’re coming out of products like computers and traveling around with dust particles." What are PBDEs? Pick up High-Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman (Island Press, $25.95) and you"ll learn that they’re pentabromodiphenyl ether, a flame retardant used in the plastic housing of computers, FAX machines, TVs, printers and circuit boards. Grossman’s book explores "the underside of high-tech," from manufacturing plant to end-of-life disposal. You"ll travel to Taizhou, China, where much of the digital detritus from our computerized society ends up. Instead of eco-correct dismantling, you"ll see workers exposed to myriad toxins as they bang computers apart with primitive hammers. This is the dark side of Being Digital, the flip side of Wired magazine’s bright outlook, and Grossman does an excellent job of exploring it. —Jim Motavalli
Now available in paperback, Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger (Villard Books, $14.95) offers a cheap, entertaining way to travel to Australia and Tasmania and become intimately familiar with the local wildlife. Wombats, quolls, potoroos, little penguins, giant lobsters and pademelons all populate the pages of this eco-adventure with Brooklyn nature writers Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, but it’s the elusive, thought-to-be-extinct Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) they track that is at the mysterious center of it all. The inclusion of the book’s illustrator, friend and celebrated artist Alexis Rockman, who collects animal scat for pigment and smokes a lot of marijuana, keeps it humorous, and the detailed accounts of the habitats, from underwater expanse to lush rainforest, draw a vivid picture of the world where the tiger once roamed and the dangers of both encroaching pests (like feral cats and foxes) and unchecked logging. Whether they find the live tiger they fell in love with in stuffed form at the American Museum of Natural History is beside the point. They learn the power an animal can have on a peoples" consciousness and they guide readers on an enthusiastic exploration of some truly remote places with some truly memorable characters. —B.B.
OUR ENERGY FUTURE
Last spring, when gasoline prices soared over $3 a gallon, Americans suddenly woke up to the fact that cheap energy was not their birthright. Almost overnight, SUVs became a glut in the market and alternative energy, from solar to wind, turned cool again. When prices dropped just before the November election (an oil company nod to an oil-friendly administration?) many people went back to sleep again. But the rumble about approaching peak oil is not dying down. The Citizen Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis by Greg Pahl (Chelsea Green, $21.95) offers a thorough overview of oil alternatives, including chapters on solar, wind, water power, biomass, biofuels and geothermal. Pahl, also the author of The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options, is an amiable narrator, explaining how we got into this mess and offering examples from his own experience (he installed both solar panels and a wind tower). We"ll likely need a smorgasbord of all these energy options to survive peak oil, so this book is an indispensable community tool. —J.M.
SCIENTISTS TAKE A STAND
Stanford University scientist Richard N. Zare writes, "We must be willing to speak out against the threat of making science just a matter of opinion." That is exactly what investigative journalist Seth Shulman does
in Undermining Science, Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration (University of California Press, $24.95). Backed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Shulman looks closely at President Bush’s cavalier treatment of scientific data during the last six years. From placing unqualified non-scientists in supervising positions to altering laboratory findings to fit the administration’s line, Shulman uncovers some very disturbing trends.Each chapter tackles an issue that the Bush administration has been less than truthful about when addressing the American public. In such chapters as "Burying More than Intelligence on Our Security" and "When Good Science is the Endangered Species," Shulman succeeds at making the cold, hard facts accessible to the average (non-scientific) reader. While those facts are discouraging, the testimonies of prominent scientists taking a stand are inspiring. —K.S.
FINDING THE STARS
When he’s not designing colorful inlays for guitars, Bob Crelin is a light pollution activist in Connecticut who helped push through a landmark bill to dim the nighttime glare in his shoreline town. Our ancestors knew thousands of stars in the evening sky, but now we’re lucky if we can identify a dozen—and the culprit is the millions of watts of light we shoot up to the heavens. Crelin has taken his protest to a new forum with a children’s book, There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars (Sky Publishing, $17.95, with a portion of profits donated to the International Dark-Sky Association). Aimed at 9 to 12-year-olds and featuring lovely illustrations by Amie Ziner, the book uses a poetic approach to re-introduce kids to the glories of a star-filled sky. "The Milky Way stretched overhead/Once the sun had retired to bed/Its soft cotton glow, like a river of snow/Looked so close it could tickle your head." It closes with a gentle exhortation for kids to become light activists in their communities, so we can once again "dance with the stars." —J.M.