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The Future of Food

November 12, 2008 by · Comments Off on The Future of Food 

How Science Will Solve the Next Global Crises

Stephen Doyle and Zack Zavislak have created a visual article (they call it an “atlas”) for Wired Magazine (Issue 16.11) that illustrates possible “green” solutions to the world’s future food shortages. Charts describe topics like Global Crop Yield, Corn, Beef Steer, Future Farming, and Catfish.

corn

“Demand for food is rising, and the world’s farmers are struggling to keep up. It’s time for a new green revolution.

“Forty years ago, we defused the the Population Bomb with the Green Revolution. Modern fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides boosted crop yield and fed an expanding population. But now the chemical age of agriculture is running out of juice. Yields—production per acre—have gone flat while demand is rising faster than ever…”

The full article appears on the Wired website at The Future of Food.

Saving $$$ at the Grocery Store

October 2, 2008 by · Comments Off on Saving $$$ at the Grocery Store 

Obama vs. McCain on Oil

by Kate Heyhoe

 

If high food prices are cramping your wallet, then pay attention to what the candidates are saying about one key issue: oil and energy. Oil is tied to everything—and it may be the single most important issue of the election. To understand rising food costs, let’s look at the issue of oil and where the candidates stand.

oil

First, prices for grains, meats, dairy and vegetables always fluctuate, though usually it’s because of environmental conditions, like drought or pest infestation. Today’s high food prices are artificial in the sense that they’re controllable: if you take away the inflated oil prices, the price of food would plummet. And so would the price of everything else you buy.

Oil’s impact on food costs start with bringing feed grains to farms, and then continue mile-by-mile via truck, air, ocean liner, and by your own car, to move food from farm to factory or fridge. This fuel-price impact has gone far beyond squeezing out little luxuries. It hurts basic family nutrition, meals-on-wheels, and school lunch programs. When budgets are stretched, putting food on the table often becomes more important than going to the doctor, or sending kids to college. Some schools are cutting pack on sports, books, and teachers—just to pay for school buses, heating, and cooling expenses. That’s just not right.

On the other hand, when some schools recently switched to electric-powered buses, their fuel-savings quickly paid for the new equipment, and the clean engines don’t submit kids and drivers to choking fumes. As alternative-fuel cars become more in demand, and competitive industries kick into action, everyone can win. If we vote to make it happen. Which brings us back to oil.

Foreign oil and Wall Street speculators are only part of the fuel-cost equation. If you paid more at the pump after the recent Texas-Louisiana hurricanes, you know that price fluctuations were blamed on the shut-down of domestic oil production. So whether oil comes from inside or outside the United States, as long as oil dominates all other fuels, it will always control our economy and our freedoms, nationally and individually.

We will always have hurricanes, broken pipelines, and terrorist threats as justification for punching up the price of oil at any given moment (and then leaving it there as consumers adjust).

In other words: Whether it comes from inside or outside the U.S., oil straps us to a future of dependence on an industry so awash in profits, there’s no motivation for them to ever drop prices again. Big oil can’t be controlled by government, because it’s already more powerful than politicians. Even if oil was unlimited, there’s way too much profit to be made by keeping demand high and supply low (witness the Exxon mega-profits).

Solution: Open up competition through other sources of fuel, and the oil monopoly starts to crumble. Building our nation’s strength on renewable resources makes far more sense than the rallying cry of “drill, baby, drill.”

Obama’s plan is to reduce foreign and domestic oil with other forms of energy, while McCain’s number one strategy is to increase offshore drilling at home (continuing our oil dependence). Through the development of alternative energy, Obama’s plan seriously cuts our total oil consumption by 35 percent, or 10 million barrels per day, by 2030—sufficient to offset the projected amount of OPEC-imported oil and reduce domestically produced oil at the same time.

chef

McCain’s fallacy lies in his belief that “the sudden shocks and ever-rising prices…come with our dependence on foreign oil.” But our own Big Oil controls the market, and even if you take foreign oil out of the equation, you still have a country dependent on a single form of fuel, owned by a handful of corporations. McCain’s policy is stuck on increased drilling; it’s not a solution. It’s not even a good band-aid: it’s applied too late and it doesn’t stick. Prolonging our dependence has no good benefits anymore: oil and its emissions pollute the environment, while they simultaneously ramp up the cost of every little thing whenever there’s a hiccup in the supply system or a bump by Wall Street speculators, or a decision by oil companies to raise prices.

Obama sees offshore oil drilling as the band-aid that it is, and incorporates it only as part of a broader plan that opens the doors to overall economic solutions. More jobs, better futures, new industries, foreign independence, financial security, and stabilized economies don’t come from oil; they come from multiple new sources of renewable energy at home.

It’s true that both Obama and McCain support alternative energy technologies, but they have totally different ideas on specifics. Obama wants to tax the profits of oil companies, McCain does not. Obama sees energy as something vital, and part of the government’s leadership responsibility. McCain walks away from direct involvement.

McCain’s plan might make sense if there was no viable alternative, but that’s where his vision falls short: we already have clear solutions of benefit to consumers, industry, the economy, and the environment. So what’s keeping these solutions from becoming widespread and affordable? Big oil and the reticence of policy-makers like McCain to forge a national problem into a productive solution. He says he supports an all-of-the-above strategy (using conventional and alternative fuels), but if you’re a homeowner looking for some solar tax credits, you can’t count on McCain; he’s never voted for them. If you’re an oil company, McCain stands against taxing windfall profits, so like Exxon, you’re free to keep making as much profit as you can get away with. McCain believes such a tax would hamper domestic oil production. Which is another good argument against our dire dependence on domestic oil.

Greening Both Parties

Here’s the rub: Even if gas prices were to drop to $2 a gallon, and food prices were to drop with them, oil dependence (foreign or domestic) will never improve our lives, but new energy investment would. Alternative, renewable energies, and the competition that comes with them, open up a future of jobs, building, manufacturing—strong arms for the economy to pull itself up with and powerful legs on which to take great strides. New energies mean growth at home, not abroad. And it will take forceful policies to combat the push-back from Big Oil.

Both candidates say it’s time for change. But more importantly, it’s time for choice—McCain’s core policies sound good, but in practice his plans don’t advance the economy, while Obama’s choice is to rapidly increase the momentum of diverse energy industries and use them to galvanize the rest of the economy and the infrastructure. Obama’s forceful commitment to move away from oil and push alternative energies to the top of the agenda is the only logical direction. In the short and long run, it’s the one that will shrink food prices, carbon footprints, and economic dependence. You may disagree with the candidates on other issues, but when it comes to feeding our future, the energy plan that’s got real meat to it wins.

But don’t listen to me. Make your own choice: Whether you lean toward Obama or McCain, take a moment to read a well-researched perspective on why energy is the most critical issue of our times. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written a number of articles and bestselling books on the issue. He says in part:

Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism…

Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil—and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Before deciding on who to vote for, please read Friedman’s complete article. You need to become a member of www.nytimes.com but membership is free. Here’s the link to the article:

And in case you don’t finish the article, I’ll cut to the chase:

Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values.

Amen. May the best green candidate win.

 

More links to Obama and McCain energy policies:

 

Reverse-Trick-or-Treating

October 1, 2008 by · Comments Off on Reverse-Trick-or-Treating 

Thousands Of Children Give Back Quarter Million Halloween “Treats” In U.S. And Canada

Halloween 2008 is First Since Failure to Meet International Child Labor Deadline on Cocoa Production; Push Focuses on Child Labor Abuses in Cocoa Fields, Poverty, Enviro Damage.

 

Thousands of children across the US and Canada are turning the traditional Halloween ritual on its head: They are the ones handing out the chocolate. Reversing the trick or treat model, these youths will give away more than a quarter million pieces of Fair Trade Certified chocolates. Now in its second year, the “reverse trick or treating” program is involving many more schools and partners than when it first kicked off for Halloween 2007.

oil

The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the extensive use of exploited child labor in the cocoa fields of countries like Cote D’Ivoire, which produces 40 percent of the world’s cocoa; the persistent problems of poverty in cocoa-growing communities; and environmental damage from unsustainable farming practices used to raise cocoa. This Halloween is the first since the industry’s failure to meet the July 1, 2008 self-imposed deadline of the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol to end to abusive child labor in cocoa production.

How big a problem is the North American sweet tooth for chocolate from suspect sources? The US State Department estimates that 284,000 children work in abusive conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa—and that 64 percent of those children are under 14 years old. U.S. consumers eat 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate annually, representing nearly half of the world’s supply.

Among the growing list of organizations helping to spread the word about how Fair Trade Certified chocolate provides a solution to these problems are Global Exchange, International Labor Rights Forum, Co-op America, and the Fair Trade Federation, Fair Trade companies Equal Exchange, La Siembra and Alter Eco.

Hundreds of schools, congregations and youth groups across North America are helping to raise awareness about the impact of consumer’s choices in the chocolate industry. By giving out Fair Trade Certified chocolates, children know that farmers abide by international labor laws that prohibit illegal child labor while also ensuring farmers receive a fair, stable price and that environmentally sustainable farming practices are applied.

Co-op America Fair Trade Program Coordinator Yochanan Zakai said: “It has been seven years since signatories to the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol acknowledged that child labor exists in the cocoa industry. They pledged to stop it then and it is unconscionable that these child labor abuses continue to this very day. As Americans, we can play a role in creating a more responsible chocolate market by choosing Fair Trade Certified? chocolate year round.”

“Chocolate connects the millions of Americans who eat it daily to the growers around the world who depend on cocoa for their livelihoods,” says Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, director, Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Campaign. “It is unthinkable that our children are eating chocolate made with illegal child labor or slave labor, especially when a viable solution, Fair Trade Certified chocolate, exists right now.”

This Halloween, the distribution of Fair Trade Certified chocolate is intended to demonstrate that there already exists at least one reliable, transparent tool that the cocoa and chocolate companies may adopt to fight poverty in cocoa growing communities. It also seeks to raise the profile of chocolate made available by companies who have committed to using only Fair Trade Certified cocoa and put public pressure on large chocolate companies to follow suit.

For more information, including a statement released by 47 organizations and fair trade companies around the world: “Commitment to Ethical Cocoa Sourcing: Abolishing Unfair Labor Practices and Addressing Their Root Causes,” visit www.reversetrickortreating.org.

 

About the Reverse Trick-or-Treating Campaign

The Reverse Trick-or-Treating campaign was crafted by human rights advocacy group Global Exchange, which has a long track record of successfully encouraging major corporations to adopt new business practices.

The 225,000 Fair Trade Chocolates and informational cards have been provided in the United States by Equal Exchange and Alter Eco, and in Canada by La Siembra.

Co-op America is the leading green economy organization. Founded in 1982, Co-op America provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses and individuals to solve today’s social and environmental problems.

Other organizations with a lead role in Reverse Trick-or-Treating are Americans for Informed Democracy, Fair Trade Federation, International Labor Rights Forum, Oasis, Slow Food, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Students for Fair Trade, and United Methodist Committee on Relief.

BPA: In Your Bottles, Cans and Frozen Containers

September 26, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

by Kate Hehyoe

bottle

Recently, BPA’s been making headlines, but often with incomplete information. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a widely used chemical that can leach from packaging into foods and liquids.

As canned and frozen packaged foods go, BPA presents a real dilemma. It’s so ubiquitous, it’s even in soda cans. From Con-Agra to Carnation, Annie’s Naturals to Whole Foods, and conventional to organic, we’ve been eating products with BPA-packaging for more than fifty years.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest stops short of putting all BPA-lined containers (including cans) on the do-not-use list. But it does note that pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children are more at risk than the general population because BPA mimics estrogen, a hormone that affects brain development.

In early 2008, the Food and Drug Administration concluded that BPA-packaged products “are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects…At this time, FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk assessment process. However, concerned consumers should know that several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist, including glass baby bottles.”

But in September 2008, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and released before federal hearings linked exposure to bisphenol A with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities in adults.

scientist

Other studies suggest that as BPA leaches into ground water, it may harm fish and plants over time. (BPA does have a short half-life, chemically speaking, but it’s everywhere; as a polycarbonate component, it’s found in everything from CDs to medical equipment to fire retardant.)

The food safety issues are really just opening up. Things you should know about BPA include:

  • If you see #7 in the recycling symbol on a plastic bottle or frozen food container, it may contain BPA. But #7 is a catch-all category, so it also includes both BPA and non-BPA containers.
  • PVC containers marked as #3 can contain BPA in their plasticizers, but not all do.
  • Any container of hard, clear plastic is likely to contain BPA, unless otherwise noted.
  • BPA leaches out 55 times faster when exposed to hot liquids.

The good news is that non-BPA alternatives do exist. They’re either not widespread or not promoted as BPA-free. For instance:

  • Eden-brand uses non-BPA cans for their beans (but not for their tomatoes).
  • Aseptic containers (as with tomatoes) and pouched packages (as with tuna) are non-BPA alternatives to cans.
  • For non-BPA plastic soda and water bottles, look for recycling symbols with 1 (PETE).
  • Stainless steel and glass make good alternatives to hard plastic, polycarbonate bottles.

With increased consumer demand, more manufacturers will get the BPA out. You’ll probably never see labels stating the package contains BPA, but the brands that voluntarily go BPA-free will be smart to let us know.

 

This article is excerpted in part from Kate Heyhoe’s book (Da Capo Press, April 2009):

Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen—the New Green Basics Way
*Hundreds of tips and over 50 energy- and time-saving recipes to shrink your “cookprint”

2008 Trends: What’s Hot, What’s Not

January 10, 2008 by · Comments Off on 2008 Trends: What’s Hot, What’s Not 

This year, cooking comes with greater awareness. Jumpstarted in recent years by Warren Buffet and the Gates Foundation, George Clooney’s plea for Darfur, issues raised by The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Al Gore’s leadership with global warming, the national mindset is increasingly aimed at connecting with bigger issues. As the year progresses, I’ll be covering the emerging trends behind what we eat and how we cook it…

Lodge Signature Seasoned Cast Iron Covered Casserole with Stainless Steel Handles

In:

  • Cast iron cookware, regular and enamel coated
  • Made in USA (preferably local)
  • Induction cooking, to keep kitchens cool
  • Re-usable shopping bags
  • Stovetop cooking, all year round
  • Conscious consumerism: voting with your dollar
  • Savory desserts
  • More meatless meals, especially with whole grains
  • Dark chocolate, organic and fair trade, 70% cacao
  • Certified: Organic, Fair Trade, and domestic Fair Trade
  • Ethical eating, humanely raised animals
  • Kinder, gentler TV chefs with world vision
  • Kitchen sections at second-hand stores
  • Peace

Out:

  • Inhumanely raised livestock and poultry
  • Inhuman, self-centered TV chefs with no vision
  • Milk chocolate
  • Faux organics and exploited workers
  • Made in China, including questionable “organics”
  • Double wall ovens, which stress cooling systems
  • Beefy meals (though grass-fed beats conventional)
  • Plastic and paper
  • Oven cooking in warm weather
  • Supporting the bad guys
  • Corn syrup sweets
  • Teflon and nonstick-surface cookware
  • Salad shooters and one-trick-pony appliances
  • War

…from Kate’s Global Kitchen

Lodge’s Green Initiatives

October 31, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

One benefit of cast iron is that the seasoned surface is naturally nonstick and non-toxic at any temperature, unlike bonded surfaces like Teflon.

lodge cookbook

It’s not just enough to make products from green materials, or design cookware that’s more energy efficient. The greenness of the manufacturing process also comes into play, and every cookware company makes some degree of environmental impact. But at Lodge, they’re environmentally vested. Here’s the company’s report:

How Green is Our Foundry?

Lodge Manufacturing Company’s Pollution Prevention Success Stories

*Increased Use of Biodiesel:* In 2005, Lodge began using biodiesel to power several pieces of equipment, progressing to a 90% blend before cutting back to 20% in winter months. Biodiesel reduces ozone forming potential and also reduces emissions of sulfur, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and hydrocarbons compared to diesel.

*Cardboard Recycling:* Lodge began cardboard recycling by allowing outside companies to pick up cardboard at no charge. In 2001, the amount of cardboard recycle was 34.5 tons. In 2005, it was 48.1 tons. The program continues today.

*Establishment of Beneficial Use of Foundry Sand:* Lodge Mfg, the American Foundry Society (AFS), and the Environmental Committee of the AFS worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Solid Waste to request and help draft a beneficial use policy for non-hazardous foundry sand. The policy was adopted in April 1996 and is an example of industry and government working together for good of the environment.

Beneficial Reuse of Foundry Sand/Marion County Landfill: Lodge Mfg coordinated with Marion County government to have 9,225 cubic yards of foundry sand to create the required 12-inch protective cover over the liner in the first phase of two new cells. Completed in March 2003, the County saved $191,311.75 by using the sand.

*Settling Ponds Support Plant & Animal Life:* A stream flows from South Pittsburg Mountain through the Lodge foundry and into the Lake Guntersville Reservoir Watershed. Working to enhance the stream’s water, Lodge constructed three storm water settling ponds to support plant and animal life. Water lilies, cattails and fish have been introduced to the ponds and are thriving. Water quality is now above requirements.

*Planting Trees for Site Beautification & Ozone Attainment:* A total of 121 trees have been planted on the Lodge Mfg campus to help improve air quality and beautification. The establishment of 1.4 acres of trees is equivalent to removing one motor vehicle from the highway.

*Lodge Manufacturing receives the 1994 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Hazardous Waste Reduction:* In 1991, Lodge President Henry Lodge replaces the cupola melting system with more environmentally friendly induction melt system. The result was that Lodge Mfg changed its status as a Large Quantity Generator of Hazardous Waste to Small Quantity Generator.

Solar For Lease: Citizenrē Lights Up

October 9, 2007 by · 4 Comments 

Here’s an innovative concept: Solar Leasing. This company will, starting in 2008, lease solar home systems, maintain them, and install them (with no upfront costs) for the same price as what you pay for electricity now.

solar

It’s called the Citizen REnU program. Watch a video with Ed Begley, and check out the basic info “here”:http://www.liveearthsolar.com/. Essentially, you pay to Citizen what you would normally pay to your existing electricity supplier during the lease term, which runs in one, five and thirty year increments. But you lock in the rate at the beginning of each term, so even if your electric company raises its rates during the same period, you’re not affected. Plus, you stay on the grid in case the solar system fails or runs low on solar reserves.

It sounds like a winning concept for the environment (no greenhouse gases from solar energy), and for the consumer (no rate increases, no purchase or installation costs, or maintenance issues for what would otherwise be a very costly venture). The company is taking orders now for launch in 2008. It sounds great, but I haven’t read all the fine print and am always cautious about working with a company that’s still tweaking their operations and their local installers (especially since we live in a rural area).

If anyone takes them up on the deal, tell the rest of us how it goes. But if they can make this system work, what a great step toward solar energy for all. If they deliver as promised, and they service my area, we’ll be certain to sign up. Check out Citizen REnU at “http://www.liveearthsolar.com/”:http://www.liveearthsolar.com/

Slavery of the Cocoa Children

August 20, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

The Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cocoa, and its beans are mixed into almost every brand of mass-produced chocolate. But did you know that much of that cocoa is harvested by children as slave labor, held captive and forced to work against their will?

cacao

In 2000 and 2001, British and American journalists documented the enslavement of adolescent and teenage boys on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Most of the children come from Mali, Ivory Coast’s poorer neighbor. Traffickers entice naive adolescents and teenagers with the promise of good jobs in the Ivory Coast. Even the prospect of buying a new bicycle or modest scooter can motivate a boy to sign up for a season of hard work. Later, once separated from their community or others who speak their language, the children are sold to cocoa farmers. Some farmers pay children a small sum at the end of the cocoa season. Some do not. And some farmers exploit the children’s vulnerability, forcing them to perform long, hard, dangerous work, with only minimal food and shelter. Some beat and threaten those who try to escape, locking the children in sheds or huts at night.

West Africa supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa, mostly to Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cadbury, Cargill, ADM, and other global corporations. And while a handful of these western corporations control approximately 85% of Ivorian cocoa exports, and could take a pro-active lead in combating slavery practices, few have done anything substantial. Even 2001’s hopeful Harkin-Engel Protocol, in which large-scale cocoa industry players promised to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, has been watered down and produced little effect.

Consumers, though, can make an impact—by buying Fair Trade Certified products. Fair Trade Certified cocoa and chocolates are sourced from eleven origins, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, and numerous Central and South American countries. Under Fair Trade standards, the farmers and co-operatives abide by key covenants of the International Labor Organization, including those forbidding inappropriate child labor and forced labor. Fair Trade also offers critical protections for workers, and directly addresses the underlying problem of low cocoa prices and chronic poverty among cocoa farmers. And Fair Trade’s criteria also specify the practice of sustainable agriculture that limits the use of agrochemicals.

For us at Global Gourmet and NewGreenBasics.com, our favorite chocolates just happen to be Fair Trade Certified, and we’ve added a new company to the list: Equal Exchange, which was founded in 1986, and is the oldest, largest for-profit Fair Trade company in the U.S. Besides sinfully rich cocoa and chocolate bars, they offer organic coffee, tea, and sugar produced by democratically run farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The company takes an active roll in humanitarian issues, and the story above is adapted from an article that appeared in their Spring 2007 newsletter. (Read the original “Ivory Coast cacao (Ivory Coast cacao)”:http://www.equalexchange.com/child-labor-in-the-cocoa-industry article).

A list of Fair Trade Certified companies, from chocolate makers and distributors, to tea, sugar, rice, vanilla and other ingredients, can be found at “Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners (Fair Trade Certified’s Licensed Partners)”:http://www.transfairusa.org/content/certification/licensees2.php#cocoa .

Solar Music for Picnics, Concerts and Parties

July 29, 2007 by · Comments Off on Solar Music for Picnics, Concerts and Parties 

“If you say you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there.”

While Bill Graham’s Fillmore pulsed with San Francisco psychedelicos, the Vulcan Gas Company was blowing open its doors to a nascent Austin counterculture, deep in the heart of Texas. Then came the Armadillo World Headquarters, where acts like BB, ZZ, and Zappa played to a mixed bag of hippies, cowboys and suits.

Sun Music

Now, Austin, TX has rolled out a new music stage. Literally. It’s on wheels, it’s green, and it may be heading for a town near you.

Austin remains an incubator of cutting edge everything, from music to tech to green. Besides billing itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is host to SXSW (the South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival), and the PBS series Austin City Limits, on air since 1976 and now an annual festival in its own right. So it’s not surprising that a portable solar powered music stage has fired up here.

Sustainable Waves converts trailers to green music stages: Solar panels generate enough energy to power up sound equipment, as well as charge reserve batteries for use on cloudy days. The sides of the trailers lock down in transit, then pop up upon arrival. In just minutes, the stage is ready to rock and roll, compared to the hours a crew of stage hands needs to mount a traditional stage. And because it’s completely self-powered and self-contained, without wiring or plug-ins, music can go wherever the trailer goes, to parks, lakes, ranches, beaches or neighborhoods. Sustainable Waves rents their big green music machines to bands for performances both in town and on the road.

Plus, listeners get to hear solar energy in action. They come away with a good time and a greener perspective. So far, the Sustainable Wave and its Eco Tune package has made a splash at venues in Telluride, Joshua Tree, San Diego, Santa Fe and other hip places.

Polar Sperm Bank for Plants

July 25, 2007 by · Comments Off on Polar Sperm Bank for Plants 

seeds

Think of it as protection for plant progeny: a high-tech fortress designed to preserve three million seed varieties. Hopefully, we’ll never have to make a withdrawal from this “doomsday” shelter. But if certain agricultural gems start to disappear, or an agricultural catastrophe strikes, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault may save the day. To be completed in fall 2007, the vault is chilled by the permafrost of its island location (deep inside a mountain, some 600 miles from the North Pole), and by sub-zero coolers powered by a nearby coal plant. Even if the power fails, the permafrost will keep the seeds in a frozen state (unless, of course, global warming melts the ice). Norway owns the vault itself, but the seeds will be the property of their contributing nations, about 100 countries.

Spearheaded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the vault preserves its seeds with state-of-the art materials, including hermetically-sealed envelopes adapted from the pharmaceutical industry (five-layers of mylar, plastic, and foil), air-locked entryways, and barcodes linking each envelope to a genetic database. If you think this Noah’s Ark of seed DNA is eco-folly, consider this stat from WIRED magazine: Of more than 8000 different crops grown in the U.S. in 1903, only 600 still existed 80 years later. (I wonder what crops we lost in that time…) At any rate, starting with the A’s, I sure hope the vault stocks artichokes, arugula and asparagus. Without them, cooking and eating just wouldn’t be the same!

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