Walking the Chalk

Going back to school? Here’s a green cheat sheet

OliBac via flickrAh, back-to-school season. The rustling of leaves, the squeak of new sneakers, the reassuring sound of chalk on a blackboard. Wait, does anyone still use chalk? And if they do, is it emitting some sort of toxic dust that’s dooming our children to a life of bad health and environmental despair? School, once that bastion of knowledge and wholesomeness, has become a sort of devil’s playground, presenting dilemmas ranging from toxic threats (probably not chalk, but what about radon or asbestos?) to junk-food lunches to diesel buses. We hereby present a few useful links and resources for navigating …

A stunt or not a stunt? That is not the question

Last week, Elizabeth Kolbert, a respected New Yorker journalist who writes admirably about our climate catastrophe and the environment, wrote a scathing attack on my book, No Impact Man. Sadly, casualties on the battlefield of Kolbert’s wrath included not only me, but also the work of James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith (authors of 100 Mile Diet), Henry David Thoreau (author of Walden), and other writers who used their own experiments in alternative lifestyles as narrative vehicles to, hopefully, propel into the popular discourse vital cultural issues that transcend the particularities of their experiments. MacKinnon and Smith wrote about their year …

You're not from around here, are you?

‘Localwashing’ in pictures — bogus marketing at its finest

Local food, local goods, local everything is in, as you’ve no doubt heard. Local is fresher. Local burns less shipping fuel. Local keeps the wealth nearby. Naturally, there’s money to be made off local, so big businesses are muscling into the game. The emerging term is localwashing—a variation on greenwashing wherein businesses claim to be local when actually … you get it. “The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me,” said author Michael Pollan, who’s done more to articulate the need for local in the food realm than maybe anyone else. “They can turn any …

Pane in the Glass

Should I suck it up and buy vinyl windows?

Not my window. But this is how they feel sometimes.TottoBG via flickrOnce upon a time, I was full of unswayable romantic notions about old houses. Then I bought one. I’ll refrain from going into too much detail about the quirks of our house, and of course I’m grateful to have a roof over our heads. But we’ve come up against a particular challenge that I can’t seem to figure my way around. It’s a little thing called window shopping. No, not window shopping like pressing your nose up against the glass (thanks, wordplay-loving co-workers!). Window shopping like, “We have got …

Tsunami of stupid

Rogue 9/11 ad isn’t from WWF — and its science is bogus

A Brazilian advertising agency’s rogue 9/11 ad crashes against WWF’s disapproval. Its message: “The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.”Image: DDB Brazil via New York Daily NewsWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF) suffered a PR heart attack this week when bloggers and Twitterers caught scent of an alleged (and now denounced) WWF ad comparing the casualties from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to those of the 2004 Asian tsunami. In case anyone was wondering “too soon?,” the answer is yes. WWF was quick to quash any affiliation with the advertisement, with WWF …

Pop: The Question

Ask Umbra on bubble wrap

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I just got married and received a lot of presents in the mail. I recycled/reused all the boxes, but I’m still stuck with a LOT of bubble wrap and sealed air. Is there a place where I can take these rolls of plastic to be recycled? JohnnyWashington, D.C. A. Dearest Johnny, Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy marriage. You may wish to retain a portion of the bubble wrap for use during periods of marital fragility. I have several ideas on the recycling of said wrap, which boil down …

Think Fast

Your greenest Ramadan

Islam is green by nature, and Ramadan offers a chance to make a big impact.Shawna AyoubAfter my grandfather had a stroke, the doctor said he might not walk again. He also said that getting him to challenge himself — to give walking a true try — was critical to his physical and emotional recovery. My grandfather took his first steps only a week after the near total paralysis of his left side. While he never regained his easy gait, he also never let his slow, strained shuffle hinder him. Mornings, he made ten laps back and forth on the Lebanese …

Visions of the Green Future

California students take Refract House to Solar Decathlon

The Refract team recycled used billboards to create waterproof walls for the home.Courtesy Santa Clara University Adjacent to a three-story parking garage on the Silicon Valley campus of Santa Clara University, workers are busy building a contemporary wood-clad home that wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of Dwell or another shelter magazine for the po-mo, Tesla-driving, little-square-eyeglasses-wearing set. Which is exactly the idea. The home is California’s entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon and is a collaboration between undergraduates at Santa Clara University and the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Twenty …

Peak oil

A tasting of five organic olive oils

Yummy, with a chance of drizzles.Homer (the Greek scribe, not the cartoon dork) is supposed to have declared extra-virgin olive oil “liquid gold.” If by that he meant something to treat as if precious, things have changed considerably three millennia later and half a world away from the Mediterranean. TV cooking gurus evoke Homer’s gold with a breezy acronym (EVOO) and splash it around like it’s tap water. Even local- and seasonal-minded cooks like me treat it like a pantry staple. I live thousands of miles from the nearest olive grove, yet I rarely pass a day without heating some …

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