Books »A Friend of the Earth

a friend of the earth tc boyleT.C. Boyle specializes in fringe characters, usually misguided and desperate men who go to extreme measures to quelch their boredom, fear, and/or pain. Drop City and After the Plague, both excellent, adhere to this theme and Boyle's ecological disaster tale, 2000's A Friend of the Earth, is no exception.

The story begins in 2025, Ty Tierwater, a former extreme environmental activist, is living in a world created by all the people that refused to listen to him. Most animals and plants have died out, people survive on catfish and sake and the weather fluctuates between intense extremes due to human triggered climate changes. Humanity is not over, just suffering through a hellish, dying planet, sitting in condos as the rest of the world rots or gets washed away in floods.

You want to sympathize with Tierwater. Clearly in the future scenario Boyle has imagined here, he was right all along and yet the author doesn't paint anything black and white; while Tierwater's intentions and beliefs are good, he's not a thoroughly good man, in many ways he's a downright fool and often an asshole.

Skipping through time to tell his story, we meet his second wife Andrea and his daughter Sierra, both big parts of the environmental movement, both hurt in big ways by Tierwater, who believes that to be a friend of the earth, you have to be an enemy of the people, a troubling and complex way to live as a human being.

Once again Boyle, hands down one of my favorite living writers, presents an unflinching look at the intricacies of hot button issues with no easy answers.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Songs »Big Yellow Taxi

big yellowtaxi joni mitchellJoni Mitchell, universally lauded for her impact and song-writing, is kind of an acquired taste. Thanks to extremely poignant and relevant environmental lyrics and the beautiful refrain, “Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got till it's gone” (which was oddly sampled by Janet without any regard to the original meaning), Big Yellow Taxi is one of Mitchell's most popular and accessible songs.

Even reluctant listeners, like my friend Mike you used to torment the little hippy girls in high school by singing, “I wanna shampoo your haaaaaiiir” in a mocking falsetto would have to admit that this song has a lasting and pretty ring to it.

Written during a trip to Hawaii when Joni, “…took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.”

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Albums »What’s Going On

what's going on marvin gayeWhat's Going On is an album of beautiful despair, told from the point of view of a Vietnam vet returned to a country on the wrong path. The album, which was a departure for Marvin Gaye (and his reluctant record company, which was known as a hit factory), dealt with many issues that had been bubbling just below the surface of a forgotten American dream. Poverty, joblessness, and environmental issues were a far cry from Heard it Trough the Grapevine, but Gaye was not feeling terribly hopeful and cheery in 1970. His duet partner Tammi Terrell had just died and other factors of fame had sent him into a deep depression.

The titular track is by far the album's most popular, but it's a great experience to listen to it in its entirety as each song bleeds into the next. Considered revolutionary and praised as a soul masterpiece, it's actually a somewhat subdued and simple album that derives its power from the strength of its subject, Gaye's captivating voice, and the layers of orchestration.

While I consider the album one of despair, and it seems that that's the way he was feeling when making it, there's a sense of, if not hope than at least a quiet ambition to try to make the world a better place. In many ways, as lots of the problems Gaye addressed become worse, it's still a powerfully relevant piece today.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Hunks »Rogan Gregory

roganRogan Gregory is at the forefront of creating a green culture in industry. He's a champion of eco and cultural ethical production. His line, Loomstate is made from entirely organic cotton and Edun, a line he coordinated with Bono, brings trade to the developing regions of Africa:

“I could go to China tomorrow and have some samples in a month which are all perfect. That's the reality, but we haven't chosen that path, we've chosen a much more complicated sourcing base. We are pushing though, wherever we go, to create sustainability. To be loyal to the factories we're in and to help them to get to a point where they're benefiting as we are.'

More affordably, Rogan did a line for Target that again used organic and environmentally sensitive materials and he'll be doing it again this week when Loomstate for Target launches.

His is exactly the kind of forward thinking mind in business and the arts that can spark movements for larger change.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Style Icons: Male »John Denver

john denverI remember the John Denver of my childhood as a nice, gentle man with Kermit the Frog perched on his shoulder, and that's probably exactly how he'd like to be remembered. He was a man who loved the earth, flying, space travel, Muppets and free speech. Always unwavering when it came to standing up for his beliefs, he shocked the Tipper Gores of the world when he sat before the Parents Music Resource Center, not on the side of the moms who wanted to shut up the likes of Two Live Crew, but right next to Frank Zappa and Dee Synder. It was awesome.

On the negative side, I always associated him with a… well, lets just call her an unlikable teacher I had in 2nd grade. She was a John Denver nut who made us watch Oh God because he starred in it; she was also married to a professional storyteller and would make us listen to him tell stories all the time, ugh.

But it's a shame to let old memories mar the legacy of such a good person.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Style Icons: Female »Julia Butterfly Hill

julia butterfly hillJulia Butterfly Hill inspired millions when she independently climbed a redwood and stayed there for over seven hundred days to stop the Pacific Lumber Company from cutting it down. Certainly the inspiration of the character of Sierra in this week's excellent book recommendation, Hill has also prompted singers to write about her.

A model example of peaceful activism, Hill continues in her efforts for conservation and environmentalism, and she writes a blog about her experiences.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Restaurants »Foodswings

foodswings brooklyn fake philly cheeseteakI had it on good authority from two reliable friends that Souen was the place to try macrobiotic hippy food that is actually yummy, but it was just too steep a learning curve for someone who gets crushes on their local butcher and is dreaming of ways to make cow hearts and bone marrow. Everything had that earthy, kind of dirty after-taste and it cost a fortune; but people love it, so I don't want to knock it too much.

I found Foodswings, a vegan spot in Williamsburg with a “fast food” bent to be a much easier sell. I'd recommend getting a couple things to share, since the flavors can be monotonous, but overall we were surprised by how much we enjoyed it. The menu is huge and overwhelming, and my only advice is to steer clear of the mac and cheese (mac and cheese sans butter and cheese is just a sad thing no matter how hard you try), otherwise, it seems like you can't go too wrong here.

I had the fake beef Philly cheese-steak which had nice, almost teriyaki-ish flavor and Jim was pretty impressed with the fake chicken drumsticks that came with a dill ranch that I personally loved. Desserts are tasty too. We split a pistachio shake (forgetting while ordering that I was putting my life in my hands) that, despite salmonella paranoia, was absolutely delicious.

This is a spot I'd take a veggie friend coming for a visit, and who knows, with their uncharacteristically helpful service and chicken wings that even Sam Champion loves, I might be back on my own too.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Desserts »3400 Phinney Chocolate

bread and chocolate 3400 phinneyThis tasty bar of “bread and dark chocolate” called Phinney 3400 comes from Theo, a company devoted to making the world better. According to their site, they do this by:

Using only pure ingredients that are grown sustainably. We source our ingredients locally whenever possible.
Partnering with our growers by ensuring they earn a living wage and have access to education for their families.
Honoring and respecting our employees and suppliers. This is possible due to the unique fact that we control every step of our own manufacturing process.
Using green energy sources to power our factory.
Using sustainable packaging and printing methods.
Educating about social and environmental accountability 7 days a week through public tours of our artisan factory.

Available at Whole Foods, the chocolate is excellent. Aside from the crispy bready flavor, which tastes like a less crispy and much better Kit Kat, we oohed and aahed over their mild Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate.

Since then, two new flavors have emerged: Fig, Fennel & Almond Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate, yummm!

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Drinks »Think Coffee

think coffee mercer sohoWhile you will not get your drink especially quickly, Think just might make the area's best tasting lattes and, more importantly, the company is both socially and environmentally conscious.

From New York Magazine:

Think brews only Fair Trade, organic, and shade-grown java; the hormone-free milk comes from small farms in the Hudson Valley; and twenty-five percent of profits are donated to local charities.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »Plant a Tree

Our building recently planted trees along the sidewalk (full disclosure, my harder working neighbors are the ones to thank, I was away). Planting trees, which is the activity Arbor Day is centered around removes CO2 from the air, produces oxygen, beautifies the city, and helps to fight global warming.

To get involved and plant a tree yourself, take a look at this week's website A Million Trees NYC.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Spend a Couple Minutes »Baggu

baggu nylon bagsMy friend Astrid kept me good and green by buying me a Baggu. It's the same concept as the I'm not a Plastic Bags, but it's better in one very vital way. You can scrunch it up in your purse, therefore having it on your person at all times, making the bag actually useful. I can't tell you how many deli meats and bottles of whiskey my little red helper has brought home.

Plus, as we all know now, it's just better for our planet. Here are some staggering facts:

* Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

* The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually.

* Plastic bags don't biodegrade, they photodegrade – breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

* Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Web Sites »A Million Trees

A Million Trees is the perfect group to get behind this Arbor Day and really any day that you feel like making this city a better place. They have one goal:

To plant and care for one million new trees across the City's five boroughs over the next decade. By planting one million trees, New York City can increase its urban forest—our most valuable environmental asset made up of street trees, park trees, and trees on public, private and commercial land—by an astounding 20%, while achieving the many quality-of-life benefits that come with planting trees.

There's also an LA branch.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Places to Visit »Sagamore Hill Nature Trail and Museum

sagamore hill nature trailIt's hard by today's standards to envision a big game hunter as any sort of conservationist or environmentalist, but Teddy Roosevelt was both. One of the first, and certainly one of the most influential leaders of a conservation movement:

According to the National Geographic, the area of the United States placed under public protection by Theodore Roosevelt, as National Parks, National Forests, game and bird preserves, and other federal reservations, comes to a total of approximately 230,000,000 acres or about 84,000 acres per day!

Sagamore Hill, his home in Oyster Bay, offers a small museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments as well as a great short nature walk that takes you directly to the shore and offers glimpses of a crazy eccentric Asian palace mansion next door.

There also hourly tours of the home itself, which we just missed on our visit, but plan to return for.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

TV Shows »Planet Earth

planet earth complete seriesPlanet Earth can be summed up in just a few sentences, because words would just fail to equal the impact of the program's stunning images.

It is one of the most amazing things you will ever see. It alone is worth buying a Blu-Ray player. It will make you love the world you live in and be fascinated by it.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Laughs »Green Porno

isabella rossellini green porno beesWith her alluringly soothing voice, I'd probably listen to the beautiful Isabella Rossellini talk about anything. Luckily for me I can hear her talk about a subject as interesting as the reproduction cycles of animals!

In Green Porno, a series of funny and quirky shorts which she created, produced, wrote and directed, the often Sci Fi-like like mating practices of insects and, in this season marine animals, are explained in entertaining and scientific detail.

Each episode features fun, handmade costumes and sets by Brooklynite Andy Byers. A recent clip about whale penises has been featured on The Soup, but you can see them all on the Sundance website.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

Movies »Wall-E

wall e? Once again Pixar has surprised and amazed me. While I have to admit that my first reaction to advertisements for Wall-E wasn't one of wonder (I actually thought it might be a bit too precious and contrived), in a way I'm glad that the animation powerhouse keeps proving me to be too cranky and cynical because let me tell you, this thing is fantastic and it nearly brought myself and Jim (who never cries) to tears.

Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter and team managed to make magic from the simplest ingredients: a desolate landscape that is an environmentalist's worst nightmare is rendered so exquisitely that you're left marveling at dust and trash; a cockroach, universally rather despised, becomes an adorable and loyal companion.

The warnings of impending environmental collapse (including morbid obesity, laziness and human gluttony destroying the earth) are harsh and direct, I'm hard pressed to think of another recent mainstream movie so clear in its message, especially a children's film. It's quite an achievement in this testy time to be so political without alienating audiences and coming off preachy.

I think the film manages this feat by instilling so much humanity in its nonhuman stars. Wall-E and Eve, just scraps of metal and computer chips, can make you laugh, cry and want to be a better person – pretty powerful stuff for a cartoon.

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Posted on April 20, 2009