THE MAD SUGAR POP KULTCHUR RUSH OF ALL THINGS NATURAL GONE FERAL OR WERE-* seeking revenge on humankind for past, present or future injustices manifests itself realistically in John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. The book, in great detail, recounts the December 1997 fatal attacks and eventual killing of a “vengeful” Amur (or Siberian) tiger in the Primorye Territory in Russia’s Far East.

It’s a harrowing tale on numerous fronts: from the point of view of the region’s post-perestroika destitute manual laborers and loggers, of the various families trying to make ends meet at the unforgiving taiga’s edge, of the underfunded governmental organizations and individuals trying to help them while “managing” the tigers, and of the Amur tigers themselves, largely endangered and preyed upon by feckless poachers looking to cash in across the nearby Chinese border.

Vaillant, the Vancouver, BC, author who previously penned the heart-wrenching, deservedly much-admired Golden Spruce, imbues The Tiger with a fierce, fiery energy and dramatic narrative flow that reads novel-like at times, while at others like a top-drawer fact-driven piece from Smithsonian, Nat Geo or The New Yorker. The interweaved fates of the human characters and the shock-and-awe-inspiring tigers drive the book, delivering its timely message of “We’re all in this together.” Vaillant writes:

Panthera tigris and Homo sapiens are actually very much alike, and we are drawn to many of the same things, if for slightly different reasons. Both of us demand large territories; both of us have prodigious appetites for meat; both of us require control over our living space and are prepared to defend it, and both of us have an enormous sense of entitlement to the resources around us. If a tiger can poach on another’s territory, it probably will, and so, of course, will we. A key difference, however, is that tigers take only what they need.

Instead of beating us over the head with this message, Vaillant lets it slowly develop while allowing the story to unfold, its many larger-than-life characters sharing tales of the taiga and its inhabitants, the tigers, Russia both past and present, and much more that draws a portrait of a fragile enclave on the chill edge of a teetering world.

“If there is enough land, cover, water, and game to support a keystone species like [the tiger],” Vaillant writes, “it implies that all the creatures beneath it are present and accounted for, and that the ecosystem is intact. In this sense, the tiger represents an enormous canary in the biological coal mine.” Vaillant goes on to report that, as of December 2009, fewer than 400 tigers may remain in the Russian Far East (more than 75,000 were reported to having lived in Asia last century; this number has since dipped some 95 percent).

Yes, The Tiger is a real-life bloodcurdling thriller about an Amur tiger seemingly bent on revenge, relentlessly going after a poacher who’d crossed his path and foolishly invited his wrath (like a fearsome Udeghe tale featuring the mythical tiger-like monster/malevolent spirit Amba)—in that, it’s a pretty unputdownable read. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of our Anthropocene age, as Vaillant has it, “characterized by increasingly dense concentrations of human beings living in permanent settlements on a landscape that has been progressively altered and degraded in order to support our steadily growing population”—in that, too, it’s a pretty unputdownable, and eminently compelling, read.

Tiger Protection Efforts in Primorye: Organizations to Support
Udeghe Legend National Park
Phoenix Fund
Tigris Foundation
21st Century Tiger
Wildlife Conservation Society

Allen

*Yes, indeed, I’m talking vampires, werewolves, piranhas and zombies—sure, why not include our dear departed loved ones who, instead of silently nurturing the Earth six feet under, are reanimated, irascible and, of course, hungry for brains!


WITH THE WORLD YET AGAIN MIRED IN INESCAPABLE MISERY, CATASTROPHE AND DESPAIR*, along comes the electro-opiate spread of sheer sporting escapism known as the FIFA World Cup to ease and distract our troubled minds. And better yet, they’ve gone green to offset all that travel—South Africa’s a significant haul for most participants and their fans, after all—and mass consumption that comes part and parcel of such a month-long, multi-city, multi-venue spectacle.

The World Cup’s “Green Goal” program began at the 2006 games in Germany with carbon-footprint-reducing offsets front and center, and has expanded with this year’s event, with commitments to doing more and doing it better, and showing last year’s lackluster climate talks in Copenhagen a thing or two when it comes to taking a united global stand against climate change. Time to make some noise with your vuvuzela—or considering its hornetlike buzz, perhaps not.

The Green Goal program includes offsetting teams’ emissions, more energy-efficient lighting and “green passports,” which I’ll explain in a moment. Over half the 32 teams participating are offsetting the carbon they generate from travel and hotel stays, Reuters reports. PUMA alone is paying for offsets of 18 teams, which wear the athletic company’s uniforms and gear. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF), meanwhile, is behind the smarter lighting initiative, providing energy-efficient lighting in the stadiums and solar street lighting of six host cities.

The green passport is a 32-page booklet encouraging tourism that respects the environment and helps boost the economic and social development of local communities, as well as discussing green goals, plans and accomplishments. The handy guide also includes a carbon footprint calculator and information about green accommodations, restaurants and activities.

But wait, there’s more. Nine teams, thanks to Nike, are wearing jerseys made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s also a new high-speed train, the Gautrain, now online in Johannesburg, providing fast and reliable mass transit—it opened just 3 days before matchplay began at the World Cup.

Okay, so we’re talking sport here, 90+ minutes per match of diversion that often encompasses a nationalistic bent, a rather simple game that’s played the world over (yes, in the good ol’ US of A, too, and on a professional level), but there are some very positive lessons to be learned concerning the efficacious greening of the World Cup, just as there are from the game’s healthy competition, camaraderie and level playing field—just watch a game, if you haven’t yet, and pick up on its effervescent spirit, shared passion, commitment and excellence, the striving for greatness that involves teamwork as much as individual ability, focus and performance. We’re all in this together! seems to be a rallying cry.

And with the games held for the first time in South Africa, and on the African continent, which has certainly had more than its fair share of misery, catastrophe and despair, it’s encouraging to see how smoothly this world-engaging spectacle has unfolded as it nears the end of its glorious first week. We may not have witnessed a simpatico vibe at the Bonn climate talks that ended as the World Cup commenced, but perhaps by the next major climate summit in Mexico at the end of the year there may be some inspired shouting of “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!”

Allen

*I know, when truly isn’t it to one degree or another?

LIKE AN AWE-INSPIRING EXPO OR WORLD’S FAIR DEPICTING A BRIGHTER, SMARTER FUTURE that’s here and now—that’s how the Green Festival first struck me upon attending last spring in Seattle: the buzz, the energy, the openness, the innovation, the people, the free trade of ideas and insights, and the contagious passion for wanting to actualize the world a cleaner, healthier, more-inclusive place. I like to think of it as an inspiring place where there are more yeasayers than naysayers. And now the annual two-day event, presented by Global Exchange and Green America, is back in Seattle this weekend (June 5 and 6 at the Washington State Convention Center), bigger and better than ever, with Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute just added as a featured speaker.

What else can you expect? Well, try immersion in a world already gone green in innumerable ways, and all on constant display and readily available for easy interaction, badinage and play. Not bad for $15, which gets you in both days and provides access to all speaker presentations and festival events (see the complete schedule for details). Seattle’s Green Festival will feature a Music, Arts & Culture Room, Community Action Pavilion, Green Living Pavilion, Fair Trade & Social Justice Pavilion, Local Food & Farming Pavilion, DIY Zone (featuring hands-on workshops), Green Kids’ Zone, Blue Corner (all things aquatic) and Exhibitor Marketplace. It’s a lot to take in, even spread across an entire weekend.

The not-to-miss Exhibitor Marketplace can be a bit overwhelming (there are more than 350 businesses spread throughout the exhibit hall), and my recommendation is to hit it early before it gets too crowded and difficult to maneuver in a timely manner. It’s a great opportunity to wander serendipitously and see the latest developments in green products and services, and to chat with the people either behind them or representing them. Talk about rapidly emerging markets in the new green economy—this is positive ground zero, where you’ll find everything from wind-energy-powered web host providers and sustainably grown herbs to electric bikes and green burials/home funerals (yep, you read that right, the ultimate in cradle-to-grave-and-back self-realization).

In addition to Lovins, the many speakers well worth seeing in Seattle include Amy Goodman, John Perkins, Thom Hartmann, David Korten and festival-cofounder Kevin Danaher. But this event—which also takes place at various dates in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago—is about much more than merely listening to an informed quorum of speakers: it’s about the strong vibe, getting sweaty-palmed, heartbeat-aflutter caught up in a momentum-gaining movement that transcends social, political, commercial and religious/ethical/philosophical boundaries, and becoming part of something that’s attempting to affect true positive change in an era sadly being defined by financial scandals and hardships, environmental degradation and disaster, political stalemate and savagery, across-the-board apathy and, well, let me stop there—the Green Festival is for, lest we forget, yeasayers not naysayers.

I hope you can make the Seattle event this weekend, but if not, Washington and San Francisco Green Festivals take place this fall. All aboard the brighter, smarter future that’s here and now.

Allen

BP: OBLOQUY AT PRESENT FOR CERTAIN, BUT ALSO “BEYOND PETROLEUM”—WHERE WE NEED TO BE, a point violently underscored by the epic tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico that continues to unfold. And it’s wryly interesting, timingwise, how this follows hot on the heels of a ho-hum Earth Day anniversary and Obama’s call to resume domestic offshore oil exploration to bolster U.S. energy independence—reconsidered and cancelled post-Deepwater Horizon explosion, which, lest we forget, cost the lives of eleven crew members.

There’s also been a sizable wave made in the climate energy bill debate (see the New York Times story “Gulf Oil Spill Threatens to Rearrange Washington’s Climate Agenda”). Ah, our constant craving for energy to (em)power our lives, particularly in its crudest form, a liquid scream slithering from our distant past, hidden away far beneath the Earth’s surface, ornery oleaginous ghosts and amorphous liquified-fossil hobgoblins from yesteryear.

BP: Beyond petroleum is the brand tag and theme developed by Ogilvy & Mather for British Petroleum. “We want to build one of the world’s great brands by building an organization devoted to revolutionizing the world’s relationship with energy,” Lord John Browne, then-CEO of BP, was quoted as saying in Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003). How hollow those words now sound as the Gulf rupture threatens to surpass the Exxon Valdez Prince William Sound spill of two decades ago. Adding fuel, a senior BP executive informed members of Congress at a closed-door briefing yesterday that the well could conceivably spill as much as 60,000 barrels a day of oil—ten times the current estimate. Can this beast be stopped?

Getting beyond petroleum, honestly and realistically, is where we need to be. And safely harnessing new forms of energy in the amounts required to power our growing, demanding, let’s face it, insatiable world is no easy matter. That we already know. There is no silver bullet. It’s a challenge—perhaps the challenge of our age—that the greatest minds must apply themselves to and solve. Soon.

Humans have achieved so much, as have we squandered. As the great blob inexorably approaches the Gulf coastline, and authorities attempt to burn off yet another patch, and a giant steel trap is readied for containment like in some 1950s monster movie, we know we’re running out of time. Incentive enough?

Allen

YOU KNOW YOU’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE WHEN EVEN LOVABLE OL’ SPONGEBOB’S FULLY ABOARD. And when we’re talking venerable Earth Day, celebrating its forty-year anniversary this year, who isn’t? And if not, why not? And I say this with ambivalence as the mossy bandwagoneers are out in great force, swabbing many a deck, some probably not at all deserving, with a bright green sheen. But in this testy time of tea-party politics and residual Climategate blowback, we’ll take any heightened eco-awareness and Earth-directed cheerleading we can get. That said, you’ll find here an Earth Day list of things to do that you can do anytime; further regarding SpongeBob, his Earth Day special, “SpongeBob’s Last Stand,” airs Thursday at 8 pm/7 pm central.

#1 Spend some time off the grid.
You know, unplug, unbuckle and set yourself free … for a bit. The rat race/almighty hamster wheel will still be there when you get back, but perhaps you’ll have heard an inspirational songbird, meditated on world peace or the price of wheat, thought about family or friends you’ve been neglecting of late, imagined a cumulous the mighty prow of an ancient vessel or majestic whale’s tale, or walked a silent path on your lunch hour sans cell, iPod or other mechanical distraction. Feels good, doesn’t it?

#2 Start a great green book.
Okay, perhaps not one of your own devising, but one that will motivate and inspire and spur a dialogue with others. Here’re a couple candidates: Bill McKibben‘s got a new one, Eaarth (find out just what he’s got in mind with that extra “a”); James William Gibson‘s eco-fabulous book, A Reenchanted World, is just out in paperback; or revisit/discover a classic from Muir, Thoreau, Snyder, Carson, Leopold, Abbey, Berry, Han Shan, et al.

#3 Engage a stranger in a face-to-face conversation.
Forget—at least for a while—texting, online social media, e-mail and that ubiquitous cell, and say, HELLO, my name is ________. What do you think about _______? Pick a topic, any topic, but it’s Earth Day and its fortieth anniversary, so why not make it about our planet, ecology, the lives of plants and animals, what Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption, and resultant disruption, says about the world of today?

#4 Join a new environmental or socially responsible group and volunteer some time and/or money.
With the rampant economic upheavals that continue unabated (kind of like Eyjafjallajökull Clash of the Titansed-up to mega-Kraken proportions), even a soupçon of support can help. And there are a myriad of exceptional organizations out there fighting the good fight, locally, nationally, globally. Initiate your own web search or feel free to hit our Tilth Creative Collaborative list.

#5 Engage in some “Negawatt revolutionary” activity.
We’re not advocating some sort of apostasic militant anarchy here, but really just a simple rethink of the way you go about some of your everyday business: turning off lights when not in use, replacing traditional lightbulbs with CFLs, driving less, eating more that’s grown locally, etc. See our “The Negawatt Revolution Is Here and Now!” and “Energy Savings in Action” posts for lots more actionable details on creating these units of energy saved.

#6 Start planning your next holiday/vacation with eco-friendly considerations.
Try visiting a place like Glacier National Park rather than faraway Paris this summer. And if you can get there as fuel efficiently as possible, please do so. Glacier too far away? Check a regional gazetteer and visit somewhere closer to home.

#7 Plan your garden or start a garden for the first time.
What better way to get involved with the Earth than literally to get involved with earth! It’s still early to start planting, but never too early to start planning your new garden. What kind of veggies will thrive and where best in your plot of land (or community garden, if you lack the space yourself)? Ever try raised beds? What about an energy-efficient greenhouse DIY kit? If you’re in that new-to-gardening camp and hungry for tips, check out Oregonian scribe Kym Pokorny’s “Grow your own veggies: How to start an edible garden” story.

#8 Think “precycle” when it comes to what goes on your shopping list.
The less packaging the better, so keep that in mind when you’re getting ready to shop. I’m not advocating you go entirely bulk or buy everything in concentrate, but do you need a plastic bag for those three avocados (to, what, stop a border skirmish?)? a noncompostable container for those sprouts or to-go bagel and lox? pre-washed, already-chopped stir-fry veggies in a plastic container (c’mon, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle to buy the ingredients individually and prep them yourself)?

#9 Get directly involved with the Earth Day 2010 Campaign.
The Earth Day 2010 Action Center‘s the place to be. You can commit to Billion Acts of Green, RSVP to the Climate Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., taking place April 25, learn about campus and environmental arts events and programs, plus plenty more. You can also connect via Facebook.

#10 Use at least one “alternative” mode of transportation—and make a habit of it.
Can you walk, jog or bike to work or where you need to get to at some point during the day or evening? Can you leave the car at home and take the bus, light rail or turn that client meeting into a teleconference with PDFs shared electronically rather than paper printouts? Can you imagine a world with less smog and less stressful congestion? See our Green Dynamind post on bike sharing, “Cycle to Work—It’s the Law!,” for more on progressive thinking when it comes to transportation.

#11 Make every day Earth Day!
Arguably the no-brainer edict of the century, I believe, and an obvious embodiment of the golden rule, but sometimes acknowledgement, leading to perspective, awareness and action, can be everything.

Allen

CYCLE TO WORK—IT’S THE LAW. An outre, inverted, viridian rift on 1984, Brave New World or newly discovered chapter from an abandoned draft of Earth Abides? Nope. Try Mexico City, the present, and its Plan Verde, an ambitious eco-policy course of action initiated in 2007, which includes a bike-sharing program (Ecobici) and municipal commitment to build 186 miles of new bike paths (budgetary woes, unfortunately, have halted the path construction for now). City government workers, as part of the plan, will soon be required to bicycle to work the first Monday of each month. The city has already purchased 2,500 bikes to give away free to citizens who complete a bicycle safety course; another 1,100 bikes are actually part of the sharing program (an annual fee of 300 pesos [~$300] gives you access to the bikes).

Bike-sharing programs, both public and private, have been around for quite a while (recall Amsterdam’s famous white bicycles in the 1960s) and currently have a lot more traction in Europe, but are starting to pick up momentum in North America. In the case of sprawling, congested Mexico City, notorious for its air pollution, the program is part of its 20+ year struggle to change its ways—eliminating leaded gasoline, establishing emission standards for cars, closing particularly bad coal-fired power plants, among other ventures. But is the city past the tipping point? Is this too little, too late? Time will tell, but at least it’s a move in the right direction, a sort of noblesse oblige, which at least goes beyond mere yeah, yeah, we’re working on that platitudinous blather.

recent brandchannel piece commented on the marketing angle of such programs: “In an effort to modernize their brands and attract tourism dollars, many cities are adopting ‘green’ campaigns aimed at reducing pollution, promoting health, and demonstrating concern for the environment.” A reality check, sure, but it’s still a plus for the environment (refer back to our post on green marketing for a refresher). Read More »

THINGS GOTTA CHANGE—old-hat rhetoric? lachrymose echolalia? dyspeptic parroting of unfulfilled election promises? Well, taking an even cursory glance at just about everything driving the news these days, I’d like to reverse polarity and add a positive movement to this rather gruesome mix of new-decade decline-and-fall downerisms ad infinitum.

And I’m going to take Cleveland, and the “Cleveland Model,” as a new and enlightening nexus point, that is, its cooperative spirit, literal co-ops and bright green focus—and, hoop fans, I’m not talking LeBron James, Shaq, turn$tile revenues (green of another sort) and the concomitant full-glaze opiate common of professional sports. This is—drum roll, please—CHANGE TO BELIEVE IN! And I think we’re all ready for a true (a posse ad esseannus mirabillis. Read More »

PrintTHE IN-AGAIN TERM “NEGAWATT” CONJURES ELECTRO-DYNAMIC VISIONS of both simple solutions that hearken back to pre-combustible-engine horse-and-buggy times and complex cyclopean constructs more aligned with sci-fi pie-in-the-sky dreams of a better, brighter tomorrow. Both visions are valid, both consider energy conservation from a near and far view, that is, a personal and societal perspective, and both are by no means mutually exclusive.

Considered one way, as Planet Green relates, “the greenest power of all is the Negawatt—the power you don’t use. The first thing you should be doing is just doing less, investing in CFL and LED lighting, turning off switches, junking your fridge if it is older than 10 years, and hanging your laundry on a line.”

Another way has it, and this from Thomas Friedman’s “The Energy Internet: When IT Meets ET” chapter of Hot, Flat, and Crowded, is a future realization of the “E.C.E.” (Energy-Climate Era) through a vast, interconnected, back-and-forth smart grid—this is the grandiose view from space, where “an Energy Internet would enable you, me, and your next-door neighbor to do extraordinary things by way of saving energy [negawatt = a unit of energy saved] and using clean power efficiently, and do them around the clock, all the time, whether or not you’re thinking about it.” This is also where individuals, organizations both public and private, big business and government(s) will have to agree on an executable plan (or many), strategy and tactics that efficaciously move forward such a grid, not get tied up in endless red tape, petty squabbling and boardroom fisticuffs that lead to insurmountable impasse and failure. Read More »

America at Risk coverThere is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.’ —Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’

PROPHETIC WORDS OR AN AGE-OLD OBSERVATION of the way change, by necessity, is initiated, that is, breakdown serves as accelerant? In America at Risk: The Crisis of Hope, Trust, and Caring by Purdue sociologists Robert Perrucci and Carolyn Perrucci (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), systemic cracks are painfully dissected—with true and actionable enlightenment, hopefully, to follow. The Perruccis’ thesis:

“We believe that the decline of hope, trust, and caring is the unanticipated consequence of the major transformation over the last thirty years in the kind of goods and services produced in America, in the technology that is used in production, and in the people who are involved in the production process. We call the composite of these changes the new economy.”

Their take on our current collective cachexia, all part and parcel of the “new economy,” makes for compelling reading, and the slender book (including index and notes it’s a mere 160 pages) offers up an array of solutions that deserves further exploration, certainly before we move from Cohen’s “Anthem” to Gibbons’ Decline and Fall … (for instance, from Gibbons: “If all the barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honor”—just plug in “terrorists” in place of “barbarian conquerers” and “America” in place of “Rome,” and wait for the cookie to crumble). Read More »

Green JobsTHE BLUE GREEN ALLIANCE IS AN ORGANIZATION WHOSE TIME HAS COME. With unemployment hitting a 26-year high of 10.2 percent (up from 9.8 in September) and Christina Romer, chairwoman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, proclaiming, “Having the unemployment rate reach double digits is a stark reminder of how much work remains to be done,” it is indeed time to get to work in novel ways that can bust us out of the torpor and downright moribund climate which surround us, and are dragging so many of us down.

Traditional methodologies and paradigms, and let’s throw in the $787 billion spending package, have thus far not done the trick—far, far from it (okay, the spending package has helped but it is not close to enough). Organizations like the Blue Green Alliance (BGA), on the other hand, are shuffling the deck and dealing new cards, even as they continue to establish credibility and put in place dependable means to get things done—”mission accomplished!” is not something they’ll probably shout anytime soon, but again they’re building that house with a canard-spouting chorus of naysayers over their shoulders, and these things take time—and there’s no time to lose.

Let’s take a closer look at this national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations (not the odd bedfellows they at first seem) dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy. Remember, in the words of Cicero, “Freedom is participation in power.” And freedom, as defined, should include the ability to find and maintain a livable wage in a healthy environment. Read More »