Rethinking What Comes Next

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The average size of a new house in the U.S. has doubled since 1970. SHUTTERSTOCK

Thanks as always to Bill McKibben for his view on ways of thinking differently about our shared future:

When Social Distancing Ends, Will We Rethink the World We Want?

Long before the virus, Americans had become socially isolated, retreating into sprawling suburbs and an online world of screens. When we emerge from our pandemic-mandated separation, can we reconnect with each other and reconsider how the way we live impacts the natural world?

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Patterns are notoriously hard to break, even when you have to. Studies find that more than half of smokers diagnosed with lung cancer keep on smoking, even though their odds of survival would go way up if they stopped. Nicotine is powerfully addictive, of course — but we’re beginning to suspect that’s true of lots of other human behaviors too: checking your phone, for instance, which seems strongly linked to the supply of dopamine (which is what nicotine affects as well). One tells oneself that one will change — but change is hard. Continue reading

Darn Charm

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Prepping For Less Food Waste

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Clare Schneider/NPR

End of year stories about what to do differently in the new year may seem overdone, but we find them worth sharing when they touch on a theme we cover regularly. This column has the added value of some funny, some even bizarre suggestions:

Food waste is a big problem in the United States, where a typical household of four tosses out about $1,600 worth of food annually. So, Life Kit did a deep dive on how how to reduce food waste.

In planning that episode, the office was abuzz with conversations about our own tricks and tips to save food — from recipes to compost tips. This made us wonder what other wisdom was out there. So we asked you!

We were overwhelmed by your collective knowledge and thriftiness. Our roundup is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are a few tips we felt inspired by. (If you want to join the conversations, you can find them here on Instagram and Facebook.)

Your tips from Instagram

1. Used coffee grounds can be dried and used in a steak rub or mixed with coconut oil and sugar and used as a body scrub. — @Chefanniecarroll Continue reading

Orlando Is The New Walden

Every day begins with a search for a story to share here, something evocative, sometimes provocative, hopefully useful in some manner. When my own name will go on the post there is some personal connection to the story being linked to, or it is a story of my own. When the there is an important story or an essay that fits our framework but does not require my own personal reflection, I will post using the La Paz Group name instead of my own.

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Community fruit trees provide for everyone. Photograph: http://www.livewonderful.com

Today’s linked story is personal in a very simple way. Since a teenage visit to Walden Pond I have celebrated Thoreau unthinkingly, even considered his exemplary life as a kind of compass relevant to all of us all of the time. I do not retract any of that, but the story below challenges the isolation of Thoreau’s example, and turns our attention to how important community is for many of the same self-reliance outcomes I have celebrated in relation to life on Walden Pond. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to my attention:

I didn’t buy any food for a year – and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been

Rob Greenfield gardened, fished and foraged to eat more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. But to succeed, he needed the community

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Rob Greenfield with greens grown in his garden. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

For the last year I grew and foraged 100% of my food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, not even a drink at a bar. Nature was my garden, my pantry and my pharmacy.

Most people would imagine I live in the countryside on a farm, but actually I live in a city; Orlando, Florida, a few miles from the centre. When I arrived here, I didn’t own any land, so in order to grow my food I met people in the neighbourhood and turned their lawns into gardens and shared the bounty of food with them. I’m a big believer in the philosophy “grow food, not lawns”.

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Rob Greenfield in his tiny house in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

I also needed a place to live for my two-year stay in Orlando and I also found this through the local community. I put the message out that I was looking for someone with an unused backyard who could benefit from my being on the property. After a short search I found Lisa, a woman in her early 60’s with a lifelong dream of living more sustainably. I built a 100 sq ft tiny house in her backyard and in exchange I turned her entire front yard into a garden, set up rainwater harvesting, composting and grew her fresh produce. Together, we helped meet each other’s basic needs through an exchange, rather than using money. Continue reading

Urban Farming Meets Upmarket Retail

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Delia Danciu, 24, a gardener, works at the Galeries Lafayette department store rooftop in Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

In our quest to brighten up each day with a story, a picture, or personal observation that helps us better understand the world around us, Doreen Carvajal is our source for this story in the New York Times from the former hometown of several of our long-time contributors:

Rooftop Gardens Are Turning the Urban Shopping Scene Green

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Galeries Lafayette rooftop garden is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

PARIS — It’s a swift ride by elevator from Galeries Lafayette’s perfume section to the grand department store’s 10th-floor luxury farm with its signature scent of sage, rosemary and compost.

The rooftop garden, lush with climbing plants, tomatoes, marigolds and strawberries, is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction for customers yearning for an exclusive green refuge — and perhaps a taste of beer brewed from the store’s homegrown hops. Continue reading

Europe And The Race To Car Electrification

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Thanks to Adam Vaughan and the Guardian for this update on this race:

Electric cars exceed 1m in Europe as sales soar by more than 40%

Milestone reached nearly a year after China but ahead of the US

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Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Photograph: Miles Willis/Getty Images for Go Ultra Low

There are now more than a million electric cars in Europe after sales soared by more than 40% in the first half of the year, new figures reveal.

Europe hit the milestone nearly a year after China, which has a much larger car market, but ahead of the US, which is expected to reach the landmark later this year driven by the appetite for Tesla’s latest model.

Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, a 42% increase on the same period a year before. Continue reading

The Aha Moment Explaining One Challenge To Recycling

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Color-coordinated waste baskets for waste recycling in New York City. Credit Ramin Talaie/Corbis, via Getty Images

Thanks for this interview full of incisive interview quetions by David Bornstein, who is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. Thanks to Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, for the explanatory answers in the interview that follows:

The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling

Some of the biggest recycling operations are owned by landfill companies whose profits improve when recycling doesn’t work well.

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Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America. Credit Shelly Mosman/Recycle Across America

In the past few years, one of the core pillars of the environmental movement — recycling — has fallen on hard times. News dispatches reveal hundreds of cities and counties scaling back their recycling programs because of the high costs associated with processing recyclables and the lack of demand for the materials. A new conventional wisdom is gaining ground suggesting that recycling may not be worth the effort.

But is that true? And has recycling ever gotten a fair shake? After decades, less than a third of municipal solid waste is recycled — and much of that is contaminated with garbage, which diminishes or destroys its value. Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day, are we really ready to admit defeat and return to the “Mad Men”-era ethos of the “throwaway society”?

There may be another way. For most of the past decade, Recycle Across America, a nonprofit organization I covered in this column six years ago, has been demonstrating that it’s quite possible to get people to recycle properly, just as it’s possible to get most people to wear seatbelts, quit smoking and stop driving drunk. But the recycling industry has never taken the logical steps needed to create a successful societywide recycling habit — and today it may not be in the economic interest of some of the big recycling companies to build it. Recently, I spoke with Mitch Hedlund, the founder of Recycle Across America, about this dilemma and the possibility that a recycling collapse can be avoided. Continue reading

Latinovegan

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Pesto and pulled jackfruit tacos. In Southern California, working-class Mexican-American chefs are giving traditionally meaty dishes a vegan spin. Evi Oravecz/Green Evi/Picture Press/Getty Images

We are happy to see another story posted by Gustavo Arellano in the salt files at National Public Radio (USA):

Carne Asada, Hold The Meat: Why Latinos Are Embracing Vegan-Mexican Cuisine

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Loreta Ruiz (center) runs La Vegana Mexicana, a food pop-up based in Southern California, with her children, Loreta Sierra (left) and Luis Sierra. Gustavo Arellano/for NPR

Tall, dreadlocked Josh Scheper knew he was out of place as he surveyed the scene at a Santa Ana, Calif., parking lot on a Sunday morning this past April. And the 46-year-old loved it.

Hundreds of people waited in line at stalls for vegan food, but few people looked like the Los Angeles resident. Nearly everyone in the crowd was young and Latino, as were the chefs. The food on sale was Mexican — but not hippie-dippy cafe standbys like cauliflower tacos, or tempeh-stuffed burritos. Instead, chefs reimagined meaty classics that were honest-to-goodness bueno. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Reducing Our Intake Is The Only Answer

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Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

The argument made below by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, is one nobody can hide from. We are not. Contributors on this platform have been reducing our intake of these forms of calories over the last couple years. We can report on its not being as difficult as it may sound at first to carnivores, ice cream aficionados and milk-drinkers. We are down some 40% and pushing the envelope further as fast as we can. It is not enough, relative to what these numbers say:

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Continue reading

Drink The Wonk

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Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:

‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.

One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.

The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading

Carbon Footprint Self-Analysis

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Thanks to Livia Albeck-Ripka and the New York Times for this

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. This guide will walk you through some of them.

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DRIVE LESS

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your carbon footprint here. You will need to know the following: Continue reading

The Largest Underground Bicycle Parking Garage In The World

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A special section in Utrecht’s new underground bike parking garage is for bigger bikes, which usually have children’s seats attached. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

If You Build It, the Dutch Will Pedal

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As fast as Utrecht can build underground bike parking garages, most spots are taken. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The city recently surpassed Amsterdam in a widely respected ranking of bike-friendly cities and is now second only to Copenhagen, which is more than twice its size. Continue reading

Install Solar Power In Your Home

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Thanks to the Guardian for this series of videos:

Every day, the sun kickstarts mini power plants in about 942,000 homes around America. We are of course talking about solar energy – and in 2017, it’s never been cheaper to invest in it for your home. The Guardian looks at key tips for installing solar panels and why now is the time to switch

How to install solar panels at home

Redeeming Schemes Punctuated With Question Marks

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An impression of the town square at the Babcock Ranch development in Florida. Photograph: Babcock Ranch

For every redemption story there seems to be at least one more redemption puzzle. Conundrums. This is one of those. We want to love the scheme for some of its nobler aspects, but then realize it is impossible to do so unconditionally. And finally, simply, impossible:

The solar-powered town: a dream for the environment – or a wildlife nightmare?

Babcock Ranch, the brainchild of ex-NFL player Syd Kitson, aims to be a model of sustainability but campaigners fear it will be tragic for endangered panther

Edward Helmore in New York

Florida real estate has a bad habit of reflecting the boom-and-bust cycles of the US economy but Babcock Ranch, a new development opening early next year and designed to be the world’s first solar-powered town, is hoping it can provide the Sunshine state with a model for sustainable living. Continue reading

How Much Energy Does A Bicycle Produce?

We had been wondering this too, we admit:

An NPR listener (with what may be the best Twitter handle ever — Booky McReaderpants) inquired whether a home can be powered by bicycle-powered generator.

It’s an interesting issue about energy and the modern world. And the short answer comes from just running the numbers.

A typical house in the U.S. uses about 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a month. So — to Booky McReaderpants’ question — could you generate that much power all by yourself on stationary bike?

No.

Nope.

Not even close. Continue reading

Remote Living, Well Done

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Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean michael clarke stuff / Wikipedia

Thanks to EcoWatch for keeping us posted on the greenish news from the bottom edge of the planet:

World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient 

The most remote village on Earth, located on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is about to get a 21st century upgrade thanks to an international design competition aimed at creating a more sustainable future for the farming and fishing community. Continue reading

If You Happen to be in Cincinnati

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If you happen to be (or work) in Cincinnati, you will likely notice that the city is setting precedent as one of the “greenest,” most innovative cities in the US. According to an article published on Triple Pundit, the city is one of the fastest growing centers for technology innovation and it is employing that expansion to propel its 60 sustainability initiatives as outlined in the Green Cincinnati Plan, which covers a whole spectrum of topics from renewable energy, to transportation, to food waste.

“In addition to benefiting the environment, our initiatives must make economic sense (save money, create jobs) and improve quality of life for residents (improve public health, mobility, connectedness)” explained Ollie Kroner, the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Cincinnati.

Continue reading

Solar Energy Benefits for All

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All photos from: Boston University Bostonia

It seems obvious that investing in renewable solar energy saves money for those who install photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes. However, what might not be so obvious is that PV systems also reduce electricity prices for all those with no solar panels, as professor Robert Kaufmann from Boston University discovered. His research revealed that the approximately 40,000  households and community groups with solar panels in Massachusetts reduce electricity prices for all of the three million electricity ratepayers in the state, including those with no solar panels.

“Until now, people have focused on how much was being saved by those who owned PV,” says Kaufmann. “What this analysis quantified was that it actually generates savings for everybody.”

Continue reading

Hydroponics at Home

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A vertical hydroponic system that also serves a artistic window decor by Michael Doherty.
Source: Washington Post

Hydroponics is far from a new subject on our blog (read on Milo’s experimentation with hydroponics), and while the sustainable benefits of this gardening method have been shared before, there is still one aspect we haven’t covered: appearance.

Just to cover the basics once again, hydroponics is a system of growing plants without soil and using mineral nutrient solutions in water. It’s water efficient and can be done easily in tight quarters, which means anyone can create a hydroponic system – in theory.

“If you understand the fundamentals, what the plants need, and you have some practical use of tools, it can be just a kiddie pool filled with water and a floating piece of Styrofoam board with holes cut in it,” believes Gene Giacomelli, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona and director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.

Continue reading