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By Jason Daley

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it's in: Is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting; will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another?

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Blanca Peak from Ellingwood Point. SummitPost

By Ryan Dunfee

The 14,351-foot summit of Colorado's Blanca Peak erupts 7,000 vertical feet from the pancake-flat San Luis Valley to its west and gains its incredible altitude in just six miles. From any vantage point north, west or south, the peak and the surrounding Sierra Blanca Massif groan improbably upward from the sagebrush plains. The contrast is striking. You can watch the seasons change just by following Blanca's ridges skyward until you see the high alpine blanketed with snow, which comes early in fall and stays late into summer.

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By Heather Smith

To get to the largest surviving population of wild Spring Chinook salmon on the Klamath River, I drive farther north than I've ever been in California, then turn right. Gradually, the highways disappear, and the roads narrow. Commerce becomes more improvisational. Grocery stores and restaurants disappear and in their place there is a farm stand staffed by Gandalf in overalls and a naked baby cooing to itself and scooting along on a tricycle.

The roads become more improvisational too, and begin to curve and twist until they nearly double back on themselves, until my rental car is trundling along a single lane of dirt and gravel carved into the edge of a cliff. It becomes clear to me that if I meet another car going in the opposite direction that one of us is going to die, probably me. But when I do round a corner and see another car it does a set of maneuvers that seem to bend space-time, and somehow we pass by each other smoothly, and continue on our way.

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By Conor Mihell

At dawn, I launch my kayak and paddle into a velvety expanse of turquoise water. Here, in northern Michigan's Straits of Mackinac, Great Lakes Michigan and Huron meet like the middle of an hourglass. To the east, the rounded form of Mackinac Island is the centerpiece of an archipelago in Lake Huron.

According to an Ojibwe creation story, this is Mishee Makinakong, the Great Turtle, whose surfacing shell became a refuge for plants and animals as floodwaters surged in the days before time. Today, droves of ferries buzz to and from the island, a bustling summer tourist destination replete with kitschy fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages.

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By Meredith Brown

Thousands of people affected by the past two months' hurricanes owe their lives to the brave emergency responders at state and city police departments, 911 call centers, fire stations, the National Guard, and the Red Cross. But what about the wild animals whose habitats have also been destroyed? That's where wildlife rehabilitators, or "rehabbers," come in—specially trained and licensed individuals (often working as volunteers) who typically work in collaboration with local wildlife centers to retrieve and rehabilitate mammals, birds, reptiles and other species in distress.

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By Michael Berry

Activist turned skeptic Paul Kingsnorth no longer believes technology can save humanity from "ecocide."

Through 19 essays in Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist (Graywolf Press, 2017), Kingsnorth argues that it is time to abandon the notion of sustainability, "an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for 'the planet.'"

Instead, he advocates for "dark ecology," a philosophy that insists on the nonsuperiority of humanity, emphasizes the need to preserve nonhuman life, and urges withdrawal from the political fray. For Kingsnorth, that meant moving his family from England to rural County Galway, Ireland, where he could build compost toilets, learn to cut grass with a scythe, and plant 500 small trees.

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By Jonathan Hahn

On President Trump's first Earth Day in the White House, he declared on Twitter that "we celebrate our beautiful forests, lakes and lands"—an amiable if blasé arm-punch to the planet from the leader of the free world.

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By Wendy Becktold, SIERRA Magazine

Have you ever booked a vacation-rental property that promises blissful solitude, only to show up at your mountain hamlet and realize that the online photos left out the traffic-jammed road or the nine other cabins clustered nearby?

What to do if, when you want to get away, you really want to get away?

FreeHouse is here to help. The website, which launched last June, lists off-the-grid vacation properties where travelers can really unplug. Founders Sarah and Jason Stillman got the idea for FreeHouse while (where else?) on vacation—actually, over the course of many vacations.

FreeHouse

Jason was inspired by his experiences cross-country skiing in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, where he would stay in 10th Mountain Division Huts, a system of rustic backcountry cabins. "They have woodstoves. They have solar panels. They usually don't have running water," he said. "The whole point is to get out there in the wilderness."

Another source of inspiration for the couple was Sarah's father's off-the-grid property on the east cape of Baja, where the couple eventually got married. Their trips to that isolated location got them thinking about how great it would be to have a resource for finding similar spots.

"Off the grid" doesn't mean that a property lacks electricity, just that "there is no way to extend the external infrastructure feed to those areas," Jason explained. "We are giving people the confidence that if they book through us, they are going to a place that's truly remote."

FreeHouse

Most of the properties operate with solar power, though a few use wind or hydro power. Many of them also rely on wells or rainwater. "A guy in Santa Fe took us through his whole setup for rainwater collection," Sarah said. "It's a pretty cool educational experience, especially for people who are thinking about implementing one of those systems at home."

But aren't these properties already available on better-known booking sites?

The problem, Sarah and Jason say, is that other online services don't have the best filters for these types of searches.

"Needle in a haystack," Rosellen Sell, who has booked places through FreeHouse, says about trying to find off-the-grid properties on websites like Airbnb and VRBO. She and her elderly mother stayed at secluded locations outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Fort Lupton, Colorado, while on a road trip. "My mom isn't going to go backpacking, so to get her out there and sit on the porch and look at the stars—yet have a house and a warm bed—that was a really nice experience."

FreeHouse doesn't just connect travelers to the right vacation rental—it also connects property owners to the right kind of traveler. After all, a composting toilet may not factor into everyone's idea of a dream vacation, not to mention being asked to conserve water and other resources.

"Sometimes people end up at off-the-grid places who really shouldn't," Jason said. "A lot of our property owners mention that because of the unique nature of their property, they don't want to put it on Airbnb." With FreeHouse, everyone knows what they are in for.

Not that the properties are devoid of luxury. The website includes a range of options from which users can pick and choose. "The majority of our places are pretty nice in terms of having all the comforts of home," Jason said.

FreeHouse

For now, FreeHouse only lists about 50 properties, around 35 of which are in Colorado, where the couple lives. A smattering of properties in New Mexico, Florida and Baja make up the rest. But vacation rentals in North Carolina, the Yucatán and Nicaragua are soon to follow. "We are focusing on North America for the time being, but if properties elsewhere reach out to us, we add them," Sarah said. Ultimately, the couple hopes to list off-the-grid properties all over the world.

Sell has no doubts about whether she'll use the service again for her next trip. "It's very comforting to have these destinations where I can be true to the values I adhere to in my everyday life while also vacationing."

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Michael Brune

On Dec. 16, the Obama administration is expected to finally release new standards for protecting us from mercury and other toxic heavy metals from power plant emissions. All of us have reason to be glad, but parents (and anyone who might ever want to be a parent) should especially welcome this long overdue protection. My wife Mary and I co-authored a column for Sierra magazine that explains why:

It started before we even brought our first child home from the hospital. Electrical sockets needed to be covered, cabinet doors secured, knives stowed out of the reach of tiny hands. We live in earthquake country, so we finally got around to bolting our bookshelves to the wall.

Like any parents, we'll do anything in our power to keep our kids safe. We know that our power has its limits, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

Getting the house ready was just the beginning. We were also determined to protect our daughter from less-obvious dangers. Well aware of the toxic chemicals that increasingly find their way into our bodies, we shopped for the healthiest foods we could find—and still do.

Of course, not all Americans have the same easy access to fresh, organic and healthy foods that we do. In lots of neighborhoods it can be hard to find decent produce. But even so, you'd think there'd still be plenty of nutritious alternatives to fast food, like the humble tuna sandwich.

Not anymore. Tuna, like many types of fish, is often contaminated with mercury, a neurotoxin that damages the brain and nervous system, particularly in fetuses and young children. Mercury in the bloodstreams of pregnant and nursing women can result in birth defects like learning disabilities, reduced IQ and cerebral palsy.

We've known about the dangers of mercury for a century. (It's what made the Mad Hatter mad.) We've also known how the fish get contaminated—primarily via coal-fired power plants, whose smokestacks spew almost 50 tons of mercury annually into the air we breathe.

A heavy metal like mercury does not stay in the atmosphere for long. It eventually falls to Earth, inexorably working its way up the food chain until it winds up in the tuna sandwich in some kid's lunch box—or on the sushi platter ordered by a young woman who's just become pregnant.

And that's where we get mad—both as environmentalists and as parents. There is absolutely no reason our kids should be exposed to this poison. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was first charged with limiting toxic air pollutants like mercury more than 20 years ago, during the George H. W. Bush administration. The technology to filter mercury from coal-plant smokestacks is widely available. But there's still no national limit on how much mercury a coal-fired power plant can release into the air. It's like debating what kind of childproof latches to put on the cabinets while the kids are playing with the knives.

This past March, the U.S. EPA finally proposed a standard that would require coal plants to keep more than 90 percent of their mercury emissions out of the atmosphere. The new rule would also apply to such cancer-causing metals as arsenic, chromium and nickel. Filtering out these poisons would prevent hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year. It would be the single biggest measure to save American lives in a generation.

Incredibly, it might not happen. As we write this, the U.S. EPA is under attack by politicians whose first allegiance is not to American children but to the polluters who don't want to clean up their dirty power plants. Possible reason: The polluters shelled out nearly $30 million to these members of Congress who continue to vote for dirty air.

We know that it's impossible to protect our children from every possible harm. Inevitably, knees will get scraped and probing fingers will get pinched in cabinet doors, and that giant leap off the porch might end in a tumble. But to endanger our kids solely for the sake of polluters' bottom line? As parents, and as Americans, that's something we can never accept.

Urge President Barack Obama to stand up to corporate polluters and issue strong Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants by clicking here.

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