Frances Moore Lappe kicked off a whole subgenre of ecolocgy literature with her beststilling Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. The book challenged assumptions about the redistribution of food and how people's everyday actions might impact the global picture. Her latest, EcoMind, is a book devoted to overcoming mental habits that become obstacles to sustainable progress, and it's just out in paperback. We spoke by phone a few days ago.
Earth to Philly: When you originally wrote Diet for a Small Planet you were pulling together a lot of info on food and economics that people hadn't examined to such an extent. Did you see your main mission as conveying this data or changing the way people were thinking about these problems?
Frances Moore Lappe: I would say the latter, although I wouldn't have had that phrase then. But I was sitting in the U.C.-Berkeley library with my dad's slide rule, putting numbers together while the headlines were blaring to us that the world is running out of food famine is inevitable, scarcity is the cause of hunger, and my youthful intuition was that if I could just figure food out -- food is so basic, if we can't figure out why we're not feeding ourselves, all of us, that's a problem -- if I could just figure that one out then that would unlock the mysteries of economics and politics for me.
So I started with that one question, why are people hungry? Is it true that we're running out of food? And within a few months of putting the numbers together I had this shocking moment when I realized that we were actually creating scarcity out of plenty - that there was more than enough for all of us, but we had created this incredibly inefficient food system because the concentration of wealth and power meant that people couldn't buy the food they needed and it got diverted into feed -- and now, of course, into fuel -- and so today we have 20 to 30 percent more food for each of us, and yet there are as many people hungry today as there were when I wrote Diet for a Small Planet.
All of a sudden, it's OK to talk about climate change again. The weather event known as Sandy - or, if you're part of the media in-crowd, "Superstorm Sandy" - was so intense and overwhelming that many people who tuned out the warnings about bigger, stronger storms are now seeing things that make them go "hmmmm."
The biggest signal of a renewed climate-change conversation, though, came from Bloomberg Business Week, which pulls no punches in the cover story for its current issue: "It's Global Warming, Stupid." Just one excerpt.
In his book The Conundrum, David Owen, a staff writer at the New Yorker, contends that as long as the West places high and unquestioning value on economic growth and consumer gratification—with China and the rest of the developing world right behind—we will continue to burn the fossil fuels whose emissions trap heat in the atmosphere. Fast trains, hybrid cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs, carbon offsets—they’re just not enough, Owen writes.
Hoo-boy, been something of a scorcher, no? As you might have guessed, Earth to Philly kind of took the summer off. Hey, it was just too hot to blog!
And even though a weather-climate correlation should always be heavily qualified (and never are by the "Omigod, a snowstorm! So much for global warming!" crowd), it's getting harder and harder to ignore the day-to-day situation that suggests a larger trend.
July 2012 was the hottest month ever recorded in the contiguous United States. During that month, the surface ice in Greenland disappeared so quickly that slackjawed scientists are still scratching their heads over how such a thing could be possible. And Richard Muller, one of the most prominent voices for what may be politely termed climate-change "skepticism" has loudly proclaimed that he was 100% wrong - the planet is indeed warming, he says, and "humans are almost entirely the cause."
Experts from EnergyWorks, which helps homeowners make their homes more energy-efficient, will chat live today starting at 12:30 p.m. On a mobile phone? Click here to join the chat.
Well, tomorrow's Earth Day, so here's Part Two of our E2P roundup - a bunch of items related to the holiday from products to events to food and film!
Time was, releasing a product with less packaging or some recycled materials was enough for a flurry of publicity about a company's "commitment to sustainability." The field was less crowded, and a token effort would allow you stand out from the mainstream crowd. But with more jumping on the crowded "green" bandwagon, the bar is being raised.
"How high?" you might ask, but the question is really "how low?" when you're talking about compostable Toothbrushes!
Yes, I have indeed tried brushing my teeth with one, so that I can report to you that the handle did not bend or break, nor did the head suddenly snap off - something that apparently will become more likely (keep reading). I didn't want to throw it out after one or two uses, though, so I can't personally verify how well it composts. Here's what the makers, World Centric, have to say, though:
World Centric provides high quality compostable food service disposables and food packaging products ... made from annually renewable resources like corn, sugarcane, and wheat straw fiber, some of which are by-products of the agriculture industry. We use these materials to make sustainable alternatives to plastics and Styrofoam.
Our BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certified compostable toothbrush and compostable travel case are made from Ingeo™ (derived from plants), instead of petroleum based plastics. Bristles are not compostable. You can break off the head to compost the handle and travel case within 6 months in a commercial composting facility. You can also send us your old toothbrush and travel case for composting.
Here's the thing, though: Bristles are a key part of a toothbrush, no? If you can't make them compostable, it's a stretch to call it the whole unit a "compostable toothbrush." Though of course any compostability is a net gain, I'm left wondering why World Centric doesn't restrict the "compostable" line to things that really are.
Another entry from the past year is the Hydros Water Bottle. Frequently described as "like a Brita pitcher on the go," this is a reusable bottle that filters your water while you carry it. That's pretty neat in and of itself. But these days, it's not enough:
Your Hydros Bottle is designed to eliminate the need for bottled water and can be used at water fountains, kitchen sinks, and bathroom taps here in the US. Hydros is the movement to fight the Global Water Crisis worldwide. Your bottle purchase funds water projects through Operation Hydros and can provide clean water for one person in need for an entire year. $1 from each purchase helps fund sustainable water infastructure projects.
Here's part 1 of our annual Earth Day products round-up, this one from Gizmo Guy Jon Takiff. Watch for part 2 with more products and events tomorrow morning.
How do we know that Earth Day must be right around the corner (Sunday)? Environmental groups focused on the (fraught with eco-peril) electronics industry have been laying on the good and bad tidings.
Cloudy Forecast: Amazon, Apple and Microsoft all got slammed by Greenpeace International yesterday in a report on cloud energy practices. While Google, Yahoo and Facebook are
"taking steps to power their clouds with clean energy," those other "highly innovative and profitable companies are building data centers powered by coal and acting like their customers won't know and won't care," said Gary Cook, Greenpeace senior policy analyst. Some data centers "use as much electricity as 250 European homes."
To anyone who has embraced the 'Meatless Monday' concept, I say good for you. Huzzah, and all that. But from a climate perspective, I hope you're not planning on sticking to the one-day-a-week regiment.
Let's just consider one greenhouse gas: Nitrous oxide. A new study has found that to even have a chance at stopping it from increasing by 2030, those of us in the developed world who now eat meat every day will need to change to every other day, that is, only half the time.
Here's how the write-up in Discovery News summarizes the study:
It may have sounded to some like an April Fool's joke, but it was as real as a metal trash can: Yesterday the 20th anniversary of Philly's legendary "trash art" group The Dumpster Divers was marked with a group photo and an official Mayoral Tribute from Michael Nutter.
The celebration was held at the site of the first meeting, April 1, 1992, at the American Diner at 5th and Spring Garden. Silk City diner, which now resides at that location, was gracious enough to allow the Divers to use their premises as the site for their revelry.
The Dumpster Divers' motto is "one man's trash is another man's treasure," and the group has established a name for itself by creating art of trash, recycled materials and found objects, turning traditional notions of artistic beauty and worth on their head while generating some of the most eye-catching and original works of art and craft anywhere. (Disclosure: I was a member of the group from 1994 to 2008. I resigned membership upon launching Earth to Philly so I would be able to chronicle the group's exploits with the crystal-clear eye of objectivity required of all jounalist-bloggers.)
Does this happen to you? I sometimes go past a corner in Roxborough and think, something's wrong. This doesn't look right. At first I may not be able to put my finger on it, but then I realize that a big tree that used to be part of the scenery has been cut down. The scene now has too much sky, and less character than before.
As trees age, cutting them down does sometimes become necessary. And I hope the ones involved were removed for reasons of health and safety rather than commercial expediency. But either way, we need to be sure we're keeping up on the other end, planting new trees that will help beautify our neighborhoods in addition to other benefits (like, you know, oxygen).
If you have space in your yard for a tree, you have until the end of the month to apply for a free one from TreePhilly. Here's the key pitch from their press release.
If you go to an Eagles game next season and enjoy a plastic-bottled beer during the game (I know, what are the odds?), that bottle could be part of a former Lincoln Financial Field tarp.
How so? Randy Hendricks, the CEO of Sustainable Waste Solutions, explains: "The Eagles organization has done a tremendous job of looking at everything they buy, and everything they do, for sustainability," and the go-green mindset extends beyond high-profile solar-panel and wind-turbine projects to the nitty-gritty of waste management. Hendricks says the team is on a quest to go "100% landfill-free."
That's where his company enters the picture: "They just had a full field tarp replaced. They were looking into how it could be gotten rid of in the least harmful way, you know, most efficiently - but we said hey, that's a plastic that we can ground up and recycle. That's going to become a beer bottle or something."