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Darby Minow Smith's Posts


The kids are alright: Erin Schrode helps teens go green

Teens Turning Green co-founder Erin Schrode.
Courtesy of Erin Schrode
Teens Turning Green co-founder Erin Schrode.

Teens are terrible. I might get flack for saying that, but who among us wasn’t awful? Ask your parents, teachers, and siblings: They’ll confirm you were a raging sack of hormones, sadness, and confusion. (I’m not immune to my own assessment: Picture a Dave Matthews Band superfan in ill-fitting khakis, with the heart of Genghis Khan. See? Total nightmare.)

So expecting paragons of selfishness to care about anything outside of themselves -- much less the fate of an entire planet -- would seem beyond the realm of possibility. It's certainly easier to throw up your hands, grumbling "Kids these days -- amirite?"

But in order for the green torch to be passed down to the next generation, we should make some attempt to appeal to the young’uns. Thankfully, there’s Erin Schrode: She’s been wading into that teenage wasteland for the last nine years as the co-founder of Teens Turning Green. And she believes, contrary to previously stated expert opinions, [deep breath] teens aren’t terrible. Or at least they aren’t any more terrible than the rest of us.

Read more: Living


This old thing? San Francisco finds new life for dead threads

clothing pile

Style meccas, tilt your ears: San Francisco's moving sustainability forward along with their fashion. On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Lee announced the debut of a city-wide textile recycling initiative.

San Franciscans trash 4,500 pounds of clothing an hour, according to the SF Environment Department. To put a dent in that number, more than 160 textile recycling bins were rolled out at noon in schools, stores, and libraries around the city.

The bins, and today’s announcement, are the first step in what will be a learning process for both San Francisco and the global clothing recycler they’re working with, I:CO.

Read more: Cities, Living


Russell Brand is a climate hawk as well as a revolutionary

Maybe you've seen this BBC Newsnight interview making the rounds. If you’re anything like me, you probably shrugged it off as another celebrity saying marginally interesting things about politics. If so, you were wrong.

Even if you strongly disagree with Russell Brand’s assertion that we shouldn't vote, it’s hard not to be amused by the ease with which he bats around hardened journalist Jeremy Paxman. He makes an articulate case that politics in the U.K. and the U.S. are broken and corrupt, and he calls for a greener, fairer system.

A political system "shouldn't destroy the planet," he says. "The measures that are currently being taken around climate change are indifferent, will not solve the problem." He calls for "a socialist, egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think they should be taxed."

Watch for yourself:


It takes a Village People: GMO disco will make Monsanto quake in its leisure suit

Have you been following Nathanael Johnson's GMO exploration on Grist? Do you find his research compelling but feel he could use even more pizzaz and hats? Have we got the video for you:

Have a good weekend, y'all.

h/t Dominic Holden

Read more: Food, Living


Poetic justice for the most contaminated nuclear site in the U.S.

We don't always allow poetry on our site (especially after the Great Rhyming Curse of 2012), but we'll make an exception for Washington state poet laureate Kathleen Flenniken. In Shell Game, a short made in four days for the 2013 International Documentary Challenge, Flenniken describes what it was like to grow up next to the Hanford Nuclear Site. Flenniken covers the history of the location -- from national pride to Superfund site -- and the conflicted feelings that arise from calling Hanford home.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Cut up your six-pack rings or seagulls will cut you

If you've ever accidentally discarded a set of six-pack rings and worried about strangling a turtle, you should be afraid for your own hide instead. This Official Comedy video explains it all -- and does the impossible by making A Flock Of Seagulls sound even more menacing.

Read more: Living


Blimey, it’s slimy: Meet fatberg, London’s 16.5-ton confluence of wet wipes and lard

What do you call a festering schoolbus-sized glob of lard? If you answered 'fatberg,' you'd fit right in at the U.K.’s largest water company. Thames Water uses the silly term to describe a serious lump of trouble that was, until recently, lurking in the London sewer system.

The 33,000-pound 'berg came from modest beginnings: flushed wet wipes and food waste created from Brits pouring grease and fatty foods down the drain. "Fatberg creation is a vicious cycle," Thames Water media relations manager Simon Evans told Henry Grabar of Atlantic Cities. “Fat clings to wipes, wipes cling to the fat."

Neither of these substances should be in the sewer. As John Upton wrote last month, wet wipe packaging claims flushability, but wipes don't come apart in sewers like toilet paper. "You can reach into the fat and you can pull out a wet wipe and it will be sturdy," another Thames Water employee told NBC. And it's easy to let a little fish 'n' chips grease slip down the drain when you don't expect it to turn into Flubber's Revenge: Return of the Grease Menace. While this fatberg is of record-breaking, monstrous proportions, average sewer buildup takes its toll, too. Thames Water spends $1.5 million monthly blasting out smaller fatty deposits, wrongful flushes, and other blockages.

Fatberg (yes, we're on a first-name basis) managed to congeal itself until toilets started backing up. Sadly, this blob couldn't just be killed with fire extinguishers: It took a team of eight to blast the monstrosity apart with high-pressure water hoses, and repairs are expected to take six weeks.

With a scent described as “the worst wet dog you can ever think of" and a texture that “feels like wax and smells much worse,” fatberg is a cautionary tale that will ensure years of nightmares for chafed-butt children doing the dishes. Terrifying photo below the fold:

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


How’d the present get so tense?

man on ipad late at night
Danijel Grabovac

We wake up to our phones. On Twitter, respected news organizations scramble for civilian breadcrumbs from the latest scandal, retweeting and blogging without pausing to check sources. Meanwhile, on Facebook, one friend "likes" Walmart, another shares a Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, and a third sneers about climate change while Instagramming an unseasonable snowfall. Those same bright screens tuck us in late at night, screwing up our internal rhythms and sleep. Corporations, on a constant quest for growth, and our government, in an eternal war against terrorism, gather up as much of this information as they can, searching for patterns of threat and opportunity.

book coverStill with us? Congratulations, so far you've survived the 21st century with an attention span intact. That’s no easy task nowadays: We’ve become so obsessed with chasing the moment, we’re not even living in it, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff argues in his latest book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. In Present Shock, Rushkoff attempts to make sense of a world brimming with information but free of context. He posits our society has experienced a fundamental shift in the way we experience time. If the last century was characterized by an infatuation with the future and the Next Big Thing (the title’s a play on Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock), modern culture’s favorite tense is present.

And while living in the moment complicates dealing with future problems like climate change, "presentist" culture holds opportunities for environmentalists, too. We've given up on some of the ideologies of the 20th century and are beginning to grope at something new. Rushkoff points to Occupy Wall Street as the first fully presentist political movement, one that discards end goals and debates in favor of building consensus and making changes on the ground. And we’re poised to transcend being passive consumers: Technology can enable us to question corporations and find new, more sustainable models of commerce.

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff.

But how do we encourage an open, vibrant world without being driven crazy? While the knee-jerk reaction is to just unplug, Rushkoff is no luddite. He’s been writing about the internet since the early '90s and insists the solution lies in understanding our technology and making it work for, rather than against, us. We must become the programmers instead of the programmed, he argues.

I recently chatted with Rushkoff over the phone about the implications Present Shock has for green issues. (This conversation seems to have staying power across a wide range of media: Rushkoff blew Stephen Colbert’s mind back in May, and he was on Marc Maron’s podcast last week.) The man has a sharp way with words -- he describes Facebook as a modern-day Tupperware party and doesn't hesitate to give the middle finger to Walmart. Below, highlights from our conversation.


Woody Harrelson wants your paper to be less, well, woody

Woody Harrelson
Steve Rogers Photography
Woody Harrelson: actor, activist, paper man.

Woody Harrelson could put the crunchiest Grist staff member to shame. The Academy Award nominated actor lives off the grid in a solar-powered, organic farming community in Hawaii. He’s been a vegan for 26 years and eats a mostly raw diet. Scratch dairy or meat cravings. He just craves cooked food.

Harrelson, who calls himself a “lover of the forest,” first became involved in environmental causes back when he was playing the part of a bartender on Cheers. In '92, a bipartisan bill in Congress aimed to make millions of acres of virgin Montana wilderness available to logging companies. Harrelson joined forces with a coalition of environmentalists, including Peter Bahouth of Greenpeace, that was pressuring lawmakers and pushing to weaken the legislation. While the bill ultimately failed, it got him thinking, “Geez, even if you do stop the deforestation here or there, the timber industry just goes somewhere else. You really need to change systems.”

For Harrelson, that meant finding a replacement for paper made from wood. And so, in the late '90s, Harrelson started working with Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Golfman to figure out how to make paper without using wood. After 15 years of research and development, the company has a product made from 80 percent wheat straw waste. Today, the company, Prairie Pulp & Paper, is announcing the sale of its Step Forward Paper at Staples stores.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Harrelson made brief calls to the media about the announcement. I took the opportunity to ask him about everything BUT paper, but he managed to squeeze in some paper talk anyway. Golfman, Prairie Pulp & Paper's president, joined us for the call. Here's our lightly edited conversation:


Fashion isn’t frivolous — it’s a matter of life and death

Relatives mourn as they look for a garment worker, who is missing after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, outside Dhaka May 2, 2013.
Reuters/Khurshed Rinku
Relatives mourn as they look for a garment worker, who is missing after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building.

I was 9 years old when the political first became personal. Swayed by stories of kids not much older than me stitching together soccer balls and sneakers, my sister, mom, and I made a pact to never wear Nike. In a sea of Air Jordans, I held my own in uncool shoes* against neoliberal arguments I could tell were bullshit years before I hit puberty.

Sixteen years later, I found myself sneaking stories about sustainable fashion into Grist. Why clothing? Why this issue, so often associated with vanity, and not another, more worthy topic? What about the local food movement? Or the multifaceted battles over renewable and dirty energy? The world is burning, and you want to write about jeans? Really?

Clothing is a giant, wasteful industry in need of serious reform. Just growing enough cotton for a T-shirt swallows up anywhere from 700 to 2,000 gallons of water. Then there’s the other end of that shirt’s life cycle: Americans threw out 11.1 million tons of textiles in 2010.

There’s good news, too. An army of millennials are fighting to shake up, reinvent, and reinvigorate the way we do fashion. Major brands are already gearing up to go green (or greenwash like mad). And there’s a growing backlash to business-as-usual. "We're having conversations about clothing that people were having about food 15 years ago," Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed, a book on the social and environmental costs of fashion, tells NPR.

That’s all important, but it wasn’t until I tried to write about the recent collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Bangladesh that I made the connection as to why this stuff matters so much to me. By last count, more than 1,000 people have died in Rana Plaza, making it the most deadly accident the garment industry has ever seen.

One-thousand. For comparison, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which spurred safety and labor laws across the U.S., killed 146. Last November, 117 people died in the Tazreen Factory fire in Bangladesh. And while they were still pulling bodies out of Rana Plaza’s rubble, another Bangladesh factory went up in flames on Thursday, killing eight.