Umbra on air mattresses

Dear Umbra, We live in a small house, and when we have guests, the bed situation is limiting. Convenience tells me that an inflatable bed would be ideal. However, the “no vinyl, that’s final” rule reigns supreme in our household. What sort of options can you suggest for a sleeping surface that is easy to store, environmentally responsible, and comfy? Sleepily, Angie Huntington Beach, Calif. Dearest Angie, The night I spent on an air mattress ranks high in the Bad Sleep Hall of Fame. It felt like sleeping on a giant egg carton, so I let some air out. Then …

On the Ball: In Beijing's court

A semi-comprehensive sportin’ round-up

Beijing Olympics 2008: With less than 30 days to the Olympic games, Chinese officials and businesses have actively been touting efforts to reduce air pollution. Even as visibility was down to a few hundred meters in the pollution-laden misty July weather, Beijing's environmental bureau insisted that there will be clear skies for the August games. Chinese corporations are trying to do their part to curb the smog. The Beijing Shougang Group has cut steel production by 70 percent and will take a 2 million yuan loss for the third quarter. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the AP, "We are confident that atmospheric pollution will have no major impact on the Olympic Games." However, Olympic athletes are not quite as confident as Rogge in the Beijing climate. In the lead-up to the games, the Canadian Olympic Road Racing Team will train in Kyoto, Japan, thereby avoiding the streets of Beijing until the last possible second. Perhaps the Canadians are right to raise a skeptical eyebrow at Rogge's claims. As of early July, Beijing's smog was five times over the safety limit and a few recent health studies have indicated that polluted air may affect blood circulation and athletic performance for asthmatics and non-asthmatics alike.

Calendar girls

Philly Eagles cheerleaders put out ‘eco-sexy’ calendar

We’ve mentioned a number of times how green the Philadelphia Eagles football team is, but I believe we’ve neglected to mention that the cheerleaders are also backing the effort to green the team. In fact, they’ve been so kind as to pose in organic swimwear and eco-accessories for a 16-month calendar printed on (mostly) recycled paper. The calendar will be available soon, but you can sneak a peek at Ms. November below:

The new film <em>Wall-E</em> gets it right

The link between obesity and the environment

Slate's Dan Engber has attempted to take down Wall-E in classic Green Room style with a piece slamming the film's connection between obesity and environmental destruction. Engber's critique is flawed in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin ... For instance, he doesn't seem to believe that obesity really has much to do with being too sedentary or eating too much. To support this, he cites research saying that 80 percent of the variation in body weight can be explained by DNA. But what the research actually shows (and what his own colleague, William Saletan, has recently gotten right) is that 80 percent of the variation can be explained by DNA among individuals living in the same environment. If fatness is determined so strongly by genes, as Engber would have us believe, how in the world, then, is it possible to explain skyrocketing obesity rates in the past several decades? In sum, Engber thinks the Nalgene-toting eco-liberals are ridiculous (and disingenuous) in their linking of the expanding waistlines and climate change. It's a too-easy analogy, he says. Granted, I (most likely, we) are among those people Engber loves to loathe and could scarcely be dissuaded from doing so, but just in case -- in case there's been a fundamental oversight, a gap in education -- I feel like sending him a copy of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food or Paul Robert's The End of Food. It's impossibly hard to argue, after reading either one, that agriculture, ecological degradation, and obesity aren't closely intertwined.

From Cat to Crap

SOL catz Oh hai. Did you noes global warming hates teh kittehs? Doll of the wild When the late Croc Hunter’s daughter took on his cause, it was cute. When she developed her own clothing line, it was less cute. But a Bindi Irwin doll that says “Crikey! Let’s go help wildlife”? We can only hope her 15 minutes are nearing extinction. Here comes the Capri Sun The fertile minds at TerraCycle are partnering with Kraft to turn junk-food wrappers into fashion-forward bags, umbrellas, and shower curtains. Next up: Worm-poop Uggs? You know we’d wear ‘em, Tom. Photo: Terracycle Running …

As the ground shifts under their feet, food giants experiment with new strategies

When you smile, the food world smiles with you … maybe. Photo: Original by heatkernel For more than a generation, the major corporations that process and sell the vast bulk of our food have had it pretty easy. They’ve had access to cheap energy to ship food over globe-spanning distances and run giant food-processing plants; reveled in cheap inputs like corn and soy, transforming them into everything from breakfast cereal to chicken nuggets; and relied on low-paid, abundant, and politically disenfranchised workers to do the dirty jobs. Together, these elements formed a kind of tripod propping up the industry’s enormous …

An interview with climate mockumentary filmmaker Randy Olson

Randy Olson became a filmmaker after fifteen years as a marine biologist, so the perspective he brings to the craft is rooted in science — but blended with his own irreverent humor. His hilarious new film on global warming is a perfect example. Randy Olson. After quitting his university job in 1993, Olson went to film school and teamed up with one of his heroes, renowned marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Together they produced the short film Rediagnosing the Oceans, and their partnership led to the founding of the Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project. Shifting …

Simple cooking can produce delicious results — like old-fashioned Austrian pancakes

Get cooking, sonny. Too many people in this country have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked, flim-flammed, conned, and hustled. They’ve been bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from the freezer at the nearest Walmart. They’ve learned to believe that cooking is a chore — like laundry or washing windows — to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when it can’t be. I understand that some people just plain don’t like to cook. That’s fine. But there are also those who would actually enjoy it, if they hadn’t been …

Check out the carbon

Will eco-labeling contribute to consumer shopping confusion?

Ben Tuxworth, communications director at Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. ----- British supermarket shoppers face increasingly bewildering claims about the ethical qualities of products. In one of retail giant Tesco's stores, shoppers can opt for goods branded with the Soil Association's organic standard, the Fairtrade Foundation's logo, the British Farm standard, or chain-of-custody marks from the Marine Stewardship and Forest Stewardship Councils. They can linger over footprint information from the Carbon Trust or dolphin-based evaluation of the fishing methods used to catch their tuna. On another spectrum altogether, they are offered "Finest" and "Value" brands on Tesco's own goods. And on most products they're also expected to wade through nutritional assessments, guideline daily amounts, glycemic index counts, information on allergies, and of course, brand, quantity, and price. As one weary consumer observed, supermarket shopping has become more like visiting a museum, with plenty to read and a clear educational agenda. Check-Out Carbon, a new report from my organization Forum for the Future, explores attempts to reduce the carbon intensity of the weekly shopping trip, and makes challenging reading for anyone hoping shoppers are taking it all in. After interviewing industry experts, conducting focus groups with consumers, and commissioning a survey of 1,000 U.K. adults, we found a surprising consensus: Despite the race to get ethically branded goods into stores, we're all expecting too much of shopper choice.

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.