American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom

 American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom presents shocking statistics about how Americans waste food.

American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom presents shocking statistics about how Americans waste food.

If you’re like most people, you were probably shocked by a report released earlier this year that found that up to half of the world’s food is wasted. When hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day, how is this possible?

This is just one of many questions that journalist Jonathan Bloom explores in his book American Wasteland. Every day, Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Bloom opens American Wasteland with this sobering statistic, and it just gets more depressing from there.

Depending on whom you ask, we squander between one quarter and one half of all the food produced in this country (40 percent is the figure that’s often used). Fruits and vegetables are allowed to rot on farms when the price for a particular crop would be less than the cost of harvesting it. Grocery stores throw out perfectly edible food that has reached its “sell-by” date (which is not the same as an “eat-by” date). Consumers let food go bad in the fridge—on average, we each waste 25 percent of the food that we bring into our homes—or leave half-eaten entrées behind at restaurants. Much of this wasted food ends up decaying in landfills, spewing out methane gas.

Before I continue, a disclosure: As a longtime vegan, I believe that no food-waste discussion is complete if it doesn’t include the waste inherent in meat production. It takes 4.5 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of chicken meat and 7.3 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of pork—grain that could be fed directly to hungry people. Every year, the commercial fishing industry dumps millions of tons of “bycatch,” or unwanted fish—most of them dead or dying—back into the oceans. In fish farming, fish must still be caught in the wild in order to feed farmed carnivorous species. It is estimated that it can take 3 pounds or more of wild ocean fish to produce a single pound of farmed salmon or sea bass.

While Bloom doesn’t specifically address these issues, there’s still plenty of food for thought for meat-eaters in his book. For example, we’ve all read about the predicted meat “shortages” because of sequestration and high prices stemming from last summer’s drought.

According to Bloom, during a previous meat shortage in the 1970s, researchers found that Americans actually wasted three times as much meat as they had before the shortage began. William Rathje, head of the University of Arizona’s Garbage Project, explains it like this: “When confronted with the widespread and sometimes alarmist coverage of the beef shortage … many people may have responded by buying up all the beef they could get their hands on.” But because those same consumers didn’t necessarily know how to properly store large quantities of meat, it went bad—and was thrown out.

Bloom also points out that milk has the second-highest “loss rate” of any food item. After all the suffering that cows endure on dairy farms—a PETA undercover investigation at a New York dairy farm documented that workers struck cows with poles and canes and that calves bellowed and thrashed in unrelieved pain as workers removed their horn buds—we end up pouring one-third of our milk supply down the drain. (When the public radio program Marketplace did the math, it found that this equals the milk from some 800,000 cows, tossed away without a thought.)

While (some) supermarkets do make an effort to donate unsellable items to food-recovery groups (many don’t), meat and dairy products, which are highly perishable, are often simply dumped because retailers would rather throw food away than risk being sued if someone gets sick from a donated product. Says Bloom, “If you want to learn about food waste, ask the guy at a supermarket deli about his store’s rotisserie chicken policy.” Unsold rotisserie chickens are usually tossed out after a few hours, even though they are still edible. Many prepared foods also get tossed.

There are some promising developments, though. Many college cafeterias are starting to go “trayless” after an experiment at Saint Joseph’s College in Maine revealed that eliminating trays in all-you-can-eat cafeterias means that students take—and therefore waste—less food. Some restaurants are now using software to track and reduce their waste.

Bloom also includes an extensive appendix with easy food- and money-saving tips for consumers, such as planning weekly menus around meals that use the same ingredients and repurposing foods that are about to go bad (use overripe bananas in banana bread or freeze them for smoothies). And he gives a shout-out to dumpster-diving “freegans” who salvage food that would otherwise end up in a landfill. But the enormity of the problem will require that all sectors of society—the government, farmers, retailers, restaurateurs, and consumers—take steps to substantially reduce waste.

When millions of people go hungry every day and billions of animals are abused on factory farms, wasting food is, ultimately, a moral issue. As Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics in Atlanta, eloquently reminds us in American Wasteland, “To treat food cavalierly leads to a lack of appreciation of the importance of food, of the fact that some go without it, of the suffering of animals that the carnivores among us are willing to tolerate to eat our food. It shows such a profound lack of appreciation for all that eating food represents.” If you’re ready to reduce your food waste, pick up a copy of Bloom’s insightful book, and visit PETA’s website for free vegan recipes.

Paula Moore

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

On My Way to Someplace Else by Sandra Hurtes

January 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Front Page, Immigrants, Slideshow

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On-My-Way-300-x-460On My Way to Someplace Else begins with liberation, on the day Russian soldiers entered Auschwitz and set Rifka and her fellow prisoners free. “A handsome soldier lifted my mother off her feet and although she was just skin and bones, he kissed her cheeks and told her she was beautiful,” writes Sandra Hurtes. It’s a rare and precious moment of joy, quickly followed by excruciating agony.

Beyond mere hunger, Rifka ran to the commissary, “only to find the food sealed in cans, except for mustard, which my mother loved. She cupped her hands and drank the mustard like soup. Her stomach became distended…She was rolling on the floor in pain. She believed she would die.” The irony is palpable. Yet Rifka survived and, Hurtes writes, “reclaimed herself.”

The author’s parents, beautiful and vivacious Rifka, and serious, hard-working Bela, were Holocaust survivors. And that made all the difference to their only daughter — one of two children — whom they called Simala.

Sandra Hurtes is a friend of mine. I’ve read bits and pieces of her stories over several years. So, her first book of essays, On My Way to Someplace Else, isn’t entirely new ground for me. Yet, when I purchased a copy (real friends don’t ask for freebies), I was instantly drawn into the world she once inhabited.

Hurtes’ father, too, had been a prisoner of the Nazis. For young Simala, the mere fact of her existence as their daughter was a lifelong responsibility, unlike that of any other “average American” I know. What I didn’t understand until reading her book was why. She writes,

[T]he legacy I carry as the child of survivors is a formidable one.

When I was growing up I desperately wanted to restore the happiness so bitterly stolen from my parents’ lives. I was a good daughter and almost never made waves…but as they placed all their hopes and dreams for the future in my hands, they created a horrible dilemma for me—how would I ever separate from them when separation to them felt like grave loss and abandonment?

What she feels in response to the loving stranglehold of parents so afraid of losing her to a life of her own is anger and resentment. Even with a therapist guiding her, her fervent love and loyalty for her parents render her unable to separate from them. This mixture of emotions and forceful personalities led the author to a state of all-consuming guilt.

On My Way to Someplace Else isn’t just a memoir about how the Holocaust shaped the author. It is also about fighting for her right to have a life of her own, unencumbered by the pain and fears that she absorbed from her parents.

Hurtes grew up conscious of “the foreboding knowledge that a life can be destroyed in a moment.” She writes, “When I was ten my parents took me to the Loew’s on Pitkin Avenue to see a documentary that had actual footage of the war. It was called Mein Kampf. The pictures then became indelibly engraved in my mind. I would never forget the sight of bodies, skinnier than nails, heaped one on top of the other, among them even children. I loyally mourned for them and for all the lives that were no more.

“I lay in my bed at night and thought about death and how it felt to walk into an oven big enough to hold people. I would hold my breath and wonder how it felt to be baked alive.”

In “Can a Jewish Girl Let Go of Suffering?” Hurtes writes about a 1990s study of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children of Holocaust survivors.

I decided to take a test the researchers were offering to determine if I had a deficiency of cortisol, a hormone that helps people deal with stress. However, halfway through the interview I bolted out the door, terrified that in telling personal details about my family, something awful would happen.

Soon after, this same fear stared me down when I published “A Daughter’s Legacy.” I was so certain a Nazi living in New York would seek me out to kill me, I almost pulled the article. For weeks after it was published, each time I walked into my apartment building I clenched my shoulders imagining a bullet flying toward me.

In “A Soaking Reign: For Some, Taking a Bath Is the Best,” first published in The Washington Post, Hurtes writes, “My mother could never erase the memory of the showers of Auschwitz. And so, she never adopted Americans’ love for showers.” She took baths, and instilled in her daughter a love of baths that goes beyond functional cleaning.

Hurtes’ mother was a local beauty, known for her laugh, her charm, her immaculate makeup and clothing, and a vivaciousness that belied the gaping wound in her soul. To the world, she was the perfect picture of the successful immigrant, yet she ached inside — profoundly.

The need to heal her mother and conform to parental expectations took a toll on Hurtes’ early marriage. It also left her feeling empty and confused as she looked ahead to the new life she might create. Would she remain unmarried and child free? Become a single mom? Marry again and bring her parents the grandchildren they ached for, in the traditional way they wanted?

On My Way to Someplace Else also explores Hurtes’ adulthood, which is filled with longing for closeness while she pushes away those who want to draw her in. In “Keeping Alive the Dreams of Love,” first published in the New York Times, she finally finds a man with whom she believes there will be a loving future. A twist of fate, and everything changes. As a reader, I rode the emotional roller coaster with her, and the story sticks with me like the memory of a long climb uphill and a headlong rush to the ground.

Other threads run through the book — knitting, work, and dating — each woven skillfully into the fabric of Hurtes’ story. This collection of memoirs is cohesive, yet varied. Twenty-one of the 26 stories previously appeared in such respected publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and a variety of Jewish publications, including The Jewish Press and The Los Angeles Jewish Journal. This is quality writing that offers us quality reading, exploring a world many of us do not know. When we lay the book down and resume our lives, we are richer for the shared experience.

Julia Wasson



Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years by Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley

When Joe and I began writing this blog late in 2008, we were soon introduced to Patagonia as a leader in sustainable business practices—or, as founder Yvon Chouinard prefers to call them—responsible business practices. We found’s Footprint Chronicles to be an especially intriguing—and daring—step toward a company’s taking responsibility for its impact on the environment. So, when I was offered an opportunity to review The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, I eagerly agreed.

If you’re familiar with Patagonia, you’ll understand how Chouinard and Stanley are qualified to write such a book. Patagonia is known for its commitment to the environment, for its celebration of the natural world, and for providing its employees with a rewarding and well-balanced work life (see Chouinard’s 2002 book, Let My People Go Surfing).

Yvon Chouinard not only founded and owns (along with his wife, Malinda) Patagonia, Inc., he also co-founded 1% for the Planet, of which Blue Planet Green Living is a member. Vincent Stanley, Chouinard’s nephew, who has worked for Patagonia “off and on since its inception in 1973,” has served in leading roles at the company, including helping to launch the Footprint Chronicles and working on the Common Threads Initiative.

The two men have credibility, both as successful businessmen and as environmentalists and social activists. In short, they have something to say that is worth reading.

In my day job, I serve as president of a small company with a nationwide footprint. Like many others at all levels of business, I continually strive to make our company better at what we do and more responsible to our employees, our clients, and our global community. I read a lot of business books. I listen to CDs on my 20- minute commute, morning and evening. And, now that I have a Nook (thanks, kids!), I read e-books, too, which is how I read The Responsible Company. (You can purchase it as a paperback, though, if that’s your preference.)

Since I’m trying to maintain this environmental/social action blog (a labor of love) while running a company, I don’t have much spare time. When I read a book, I want it to be richly rewarding, either in the joy of the prose or the knowledge and insights I gain (hopefully both). Was it worth my time—and, by extension, will it be worth yours—to read 117 pages that mostly recount the history of Patagonia’s struggles to do better by their stakeholders? Absolutely.

There’s no self-congratulatory back-slapping in this book. The authors tell the story of their painful realization of the harm their businesses (Patagonia is “an offshoot of the Chouinard Equipment Company, which made excellent mountain-climbing gear”) were doing to the environment and the financial risks they took when they committed to improvement.

The steel pitons produced at the Chouinard Equipment Company were contributing to the degradation of the mountains Yvon loved to climb. In a risky move, the company dropped their leading product and switched to a more environmentally friendly option.

Later, at Patagonia, Yvon and his colleagues learned that the cotton used to make the company’s popular polo shirts not only required huge amounts of water, it also required inordinate amounts of pesticides. (“Who knew then that cotton could be as dirty as coal?” the authors write.) They switched to organic cotton, but it wasn’t easy—or cheap—to do so.

Through the years, Chouinard and his team have diligently worked to lessen the harm (you can’t eliminate it entirely, the authors caution) of the products they make and sell. To many consumers, Patagonia is a role model. Yet, the authors are frank in discussing their failings as well as their successes—and praising the efforts of other companies to improve their own impacts on the planet.

We can’t pose Patagonia as the model of a responsible company. We don’t do everything a responsible company can do, nor does anyone else we know. But we can illustrate how any group of people going about their business can come to realize their environmental and social responsibilities, then begin to act on them; how their realization is progressive: actions build on one another….

We now know, from talking to all kinds of businesspeople, that Patagonia, if exceptional at all, is so only at the margins. As mice and men share 99 percent of their genes, so do Wal-Mart, BP, and Patagonia. Patagonia may seem different because its owners are committed to social and environmental change; and our company is privately held, not publicly traded, so we can take on greater risks. But our management requires the same sets of skills, pursues the same opportunities, and faces the same competition and constraints as any other business….

Those who plan for the future of their businesses, in every industry, have to take into account the increasing scarcity of energy and water and their rising cost, as well as the rising cost of waste and its disposal. Every company—from Wal-Mart to the Cheese Board Collective, from BP to the makers of Fat Tire Ale, from Dow Chemical to Patagonia—is already at work, in some way, even inadvertently, to dismantle a creaky, polluting, wasteful, and increasingly expensive industrial system, and is struggling to create new, less life-draining ways to make things; we are all trying to get a new roof up over the economy before the old, sagging one caves in.

If you have an interest in making your own company more responsible, no matter at what level you work, this book will help you find ways to make a positive difference. It’s filled with success stories, wisdom, and practical steps toward making any company, large or small, more responsible to its employees, its customers, its suppliers, and to nature and the commons.

But what if you can’t make much of an impact in your own company? Or what if you don’t have a traditional “job” at all? You can still make an impact as a consumer: Your dollars have power. If you buy from companies who use responsible business practices, you demonstrate in the most significant way that you value the decisions they have made. On the other hand, every dollar any of us spends on throwaway goods reinforces the mindset of a disposable economy and a disposable world. One thing the authors make clear is that it’s not just companies who must become responsible; it’s each of us.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Buy it on Amazon

This book is available on Amazon: The Responsible Company

Related Post

 Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is — 1% for the Planet

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the e-book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided. Our policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Iglu by Jacob Sackin

December 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Climate Change, Front Page, Refugees, Slideshow, War

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Iglu, by Jacob Sackin, is an exciting adventure set in a future Alaska, where glaciers are gone and refugees are pushing out the Inupiaq people.

Iglu, by Jacob Sackin, is an exciting adventure set in a future Alaska, where glaciers are gone and refugees are pushing out the Inupiaq people.

As I walked outside on the day that I wrote this, I inhaled the sweet air of springtime. Though I had gloves, I didn’t need them. My coat was open, and I didn’t shiver. Not so strange if this had been early in May. But it’s December in Iowa. Much as I love spring and enjoy the relative warmth of 63-degree days, I find the moderate temperature  most unsettling. December isn’t supposed to be warm where I live. This false, fall “spring” is the harbinger of a changed climate that is already dramatically altering weather patterns around the world. Yet, climate skeptics still fill the airwaves with denial.

In his young adult novelIglu, author Jacob Sackin imagines a world in which climate change is no longer questioned by anyone. Climate refugees are fleeing the lower 48 states to Alaska, pushing back the Native people and seizing the land for themselves. War rages on as the Inuit people fight back against the encroaching masses and the cruel Skyhawk soldiers sent to ensure the safety of the refugees.

The heroine of the story is April, an Inupiaq girl running for her life, narrowly evading the Skyhawk troops who have captured — or possibly killed — her parents. Everything familiar to April has been destroyed by bombing or bulldozers. Inupiaq people are being rounded up, forced into camps where they can be contained and controlled. April’s family has been torn apart, and she is left alone to fend for herself. In this futuristic coming-of-age story, April finds the strength not only to survive, but also to fight against the cruelty and injustice of the powerful U.S. government. She isn’t perfect — no realistic character is — but she makes a powerful role model for youngsters who are themselves coming to grips with an unfair world and an uncertain environmental future.

The political implications of this novel shouldn’t surprise anyone. The U.S. government is vilified, and the nation’s citizens are portrayed as self-interested and callow toward the plight of the Native people they are displacing. Although it’s set more than 100 years in the future, the characterization of my fellow citizens makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I hear a loud ring of truth about the way Native Americans were pushed back by people who look like me. The story of the Inupiaq people in Iglu, is universal: You have what I want; give it to me, or I’ll take it from you.

Today, we are all on our own inexorable march, but not (yet, anyway) a march northward. Instead, we are moving steadily toward the destruction of our own habitat. We are using resources with abandon. In the name of profit, convenience, and self-interest, we are killing the very rain forests and oceans that breathe oxygen into our air.

The ranks of the skeptics here at home are growing smaller as raging superstorms disable huge swaths of our nation and drought spreads its reach over much of the continent. Sadly, the youngest among us may live to see an Alaska with no glaciers, no permafrost, and no trees. It’s worth contemplating this painful future. If we do not change our ways now, this may be the awful legacy we offer our descendants.

The story is original, the message is compelling, and it is a cautionary tale worth reading — for young adults and adult readers alike. It took me some time to get into the story. Once I had read a few chapters, however, I found my self hooked, eager to know what would happen to April and those she met on her journey. I’d put the book down for a day or two and continue to think about the characters and their plight, glad to get back to it as soon as I could.

This is not a pretty story; ugly things happen to good people, and human nature shows its worst face at times. But there are moments of redemption and acts of kindness that restore the reader’s faith. The events may be too upsetting to younger readers, but older students and adults will find in Iglu ideas and events that lead to thoughtful discussion.

The only real hope for our survival is if we all make changes today. We can’t continue to blithely abuse our planet and think the future will be as bright for our grandkids as it was for us. Raising awareness through a vivid and exciting story is a step in the right direction.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Buy the book on Amazon: Iglu by Jacob Sackin

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.Our policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Running Out of Water by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal

Running Out of Water by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal, published by Palgrave/MacMillianIt is no secret that humankind is facing several environmental crises. Greenhouse gases are slowly cooking the earth, several of our natural resources are nearing depletion, and impending water shortages threaten our way of life.

Friends, news sources, and the Internet bombard us with facts like this every day. It’s hard to make sense of it all, and too easy to feel that there is no hope.

But, as the cliché states, knowledge is power. When you understand a crisis, you can do something about it. This idea is the driving force behind Peter Rogers and Susan Leal’s book, Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource.

Rogers is Professor of Environmental Engineering and City Planning at Harvard University, and Leal is a consultant and former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. They’ve co-authored this book to empower the average water-user with knowledge and hope.

Simple Explanations

Peter Rogers, Co-Author of Running Out of Water

Peter Rogers, Co-Author of Running Out of Water. Photo: Courtesy Palgrave/Macmillian

The book contains nine chapters, the first of which explains why we are approaching a water crisis.

Rogers and Leal keep the language simple and break their explanation into several key points, including:

  • Less than one percent of all water on the planet is fresh water.
  • Most fresh water is unavailable because it’s stored in glaciers and ice.
  • Ocean water can be converted into fresh water through a process called desalination, but it is very expensive.
  • Much of our water is contaminated. Restaurants and households dump grease and food waste into sewers, and treated and untreated sewage is dumped into lakes and rivers.
  • Climate change plays a large role. The authors explain, “The water world is caught in a vicious cycle: Climatic change is reducing our [fresh] water supply, and the systems we use to deliver clean water and treat wastewater produce the same greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”

Reusing Water

Susan Leal, Co-Author of Running Out of Water

Susan Leal, Co-Author of Running Out of Water. Photo: Courtesy Palgrave/Macmillian.

Each of the next seven chapters book focuses on a solution to one of the many issues surrounding water waste. Rogers and Leal explain these solutions by providing case studies. In the book’s second chapter, they use Orange County, California and its reliance on the Colorado River as a case study.

The Colorado provides water for eight states as well as Mexico, and the combination of overuse and drought is causing it to slowly dry up. In addition, importing water is expensive, and because the process often involves fighting gravity, it uses a lot of energy.

Fortunately, Orange County found a nearby, steady source of water to reduce their reliance on the Colorado River: the sewers. The concept is unappealing, but recycled water is actually cleaner than river water.

The recycling process begins with three steps: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light treatment. Rogers and Leal explain these processes, so I won’t make an attempt. But, these three steps filter out pollutants like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Next, the water is injected into a local groundwater basin and treated again to become drinkable. The entire process uses much less energy than importing water, and reduces the strain on the Colorado River.

A Fascinating, Accessible Book

The authors go on to tackle agricultural water use, the importance of public involvement in instituting large-scale change, converting waste water into energy, and much more. The concluding chapter of the book tells the reader how s/he can take action.

When you reach the final chapter, you will have all the information you need to follow the authors’ suggestions. I can’t say that I completely understand the water treatment and sewage systems the authors describe. But, it’s easy to see which systems conserve water and which do not.

The authors have a very clear message: These solutions work, and they are available and affordable. So, what can we, the average water-using citizens, do to deal with the impending water crisis?

Changing the way our society handles water begins with the most basic of steps: awareness. A good start would be reading this book. It will give you a sense of how much power you have as a voting, tax-paying citizen. And, most importantly, it will give you hope.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Alenka Figa


Blue Planet Green Living

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – ENTER IF YOU DARE!

September 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Art, Blog, Books, Environment, Front Page, Recycling, Slideshow

These views of Neptune by Enno de Kroon show how the art pieces change with the angle of view. Photo: Ripley Publishing

Ripley is a name long associated with uniqueness and — let’s be honest — oddity. The latest book in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! series is no exception. Flip to any page in this attractive, hard cover book, and you’ll find bizarre stories about all sorts of topics that will keep you reading and turning page after page:

  • training pigeons to evaluate art by rewarding them with food, page 77
  • a Russian man with a tree growing inside his lungs, page 111
  • hair scissors that fit on the tips of a stylist’s fingers, similar to Edward Scissorhands, page 144
  • and so much more.

The idea of reusing discarded items in new ways is hardly unique these days, and you might wonder how reuse and repurposing would fit Ripley’s definition of “odd.” Yet several of the entries in this book show highly unusual ways to reuse discarded items.

These bikini panties were made from strips of cola cans by artist Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch. Photo: Ripley Publishing

One of my favorites as far as ingenuity goes is the “trashy lingerie” created by artist Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch (Massachusetts). The bustier and panties are woven from a “fabric” of thin strips of “cola cans carefully threaded through a wire frame” (page 206). Though the press release I received says these skivvies are comfy, I have to wonder. Come on, would you want to wear metal underwear?

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those egg cartons after the eggs have been eaten? Check out the art of Enno de Kroon (Netherlands), who paints portraits, still lifes, and other works onto the surfaces of the cardboard cartons (page 210). De Kroon is quoted in the book as saying, “I consider egg cartons as two-and-a-half dimensional objects that offer remarkable possibilities.” Remarkable, indeed. But don’t expect a traditional painting; these one-of-a-kind pieces appear “distorted when viewed head on.”

When you were a kid (or your kids were kids) were Transformers a popular toy in your household? How would you like to have an 8-ft. tall sculpture made from auto parts, scrap airplane parts, and used motorbikes (page 244)? This lifelike (if you can say that about a hunk of metal) sculpture in the photo on the right is the creation of RoboSteel, an Irish company that makes replicas of cultural icons and characters from fantasy.

RoboSteel also is responsible for a suspiciously Vaderesque space soldier (page 245) that is about as creepy a villain as you might find in any film. Nightmares, anyone?

A more playful sculpture (page 196) is a 6 ft. 6 in. tall angel made entirely of used toys. Robert Bradford (England) assembled “Toy Angel” over two months, using thousands of plastic playthings, such as action figures, water pistols, a toy saxophone, race car tracks, and even a tiara (but on the statue’s knee, not its head).

Ian Davie (North Wales) paints tiny birds on swan feathers he collects near his home (page 206). Davie hand cleans and grooms the feathers until they are perfectly smooth and ready for his artwork. Then he coats the feathers with acrylic to make a stable “canvas.” He needs about a week to create each painting, but the reward is apparently worth the effort; he sells the tiny works of art for $900 each.

Christopher Locke creates spiders out of old scissors and knife blades. Photo: Ripley Publishing

Art seems to be the running theme with the reused/repurposed items in this book. Alex Queral (Pennsylvania) sculpts portraits from a most unusual medium. The heads he sculpts virtually pop from the pages of recycled phone books (page 207).

Do these spiders scare you? They might if they could actually move. Those elegant eight legged critters are beautiful and sharp; they’re made from scissors collected by artist Christopher Locke (page 14). Don’t they make a black widow look almost benign?

Most people who play the lottery lose, of course. Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of all those losing lottery tickets? Two artists from Brooklyn (New York) created a full-sized Hummer H3 replica using $39,000 worth of losing lottery tickets (page 134). And that’s only 39,000 losing tickets. It boggles the mind to imagine how big a fleet of Hummers they could create if they used the losing tickets in just one state – let alone the entire country.

If stories and photos like these intrigue you, you’ll enjoy reading Ripley’s Believe It or Not! ENTER IF YOU DARE! You can purchase the book on in all major bookstores, on Amazon and other online bookstores, or at any Ripley’s Odditorium.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Eye of the Whale by Douglas Carlton Abrams

Eye of the Whale is both a compelling mystery and a cautionary tale.

Intrigue. Romance. Danger. Life. Death. Loyalty. Betrayal. Eye of the Whale has what it takes to get a reader’s pulse racing clear to the last page. But there’s more to this novel than a mystery. After years of thorough research, author Douglas Carlton Abrams has skillfully woven a tale that teaches as much as it entertains. Abrams combines hard scientific facts about the pollution that threatens the world’s sea creatures with a page-turning thrill ride.

When I taught science to fifth graders some 20 years ago, there was a push among educators to find fiction that could be used to teach the principles of science through story. This wasn’t exclusive to science classes, of course; nor was it confined to middle school. One of my grad school classes also used a novel to teach about business principles. It’s an effective technique, as a well-written story engages the reader far more than most textbooks ever could.

Eye of the Whale is an excellent literary vehicle for making the current threat of pollution immediate and real. The author accomplishes this by creating characters — not all of them human — that readers come to know and care about. From a mother whale who begins a new, mysterious song that carries around the world to a ravenous shark whose violent kills are simply a means of survival to a male whale stranded in a California river, the animals have compelling plot lines that draw the reader in.

Author Douglas Carlton Abrams listens to whale songs with marine biologist Libby Eyre in Tonga. Photo: Courtesy Douglas Carlton Abrams

Humans, too, carry the story, but the author leaves no doubt that everyone’s fate is interconnected; if the ocean creatures die, we all die. And that message is chillingly clear as the plot unfolds. This is not science fiction; it’s documented fact. And we all need to take note while we still can.

The book isn’t perfect (I found some of the characters to be a bit stereotyped), but the story line is intriguing. I read long into the night, eager to learn how everything would turn out. While the resolution was satisfying (that’s enough to tell you), the mystery of our own fate on this planet is far more uncertain.

Eye of the Whale pushes the reader to contemplate the immediate and more-distant future. Will we continue to hunt the sentient giants that inhabit our seas? Will we mutate and destroy all living creatures with our careless disregard for the environment we share with them? And, in the end, will we ourselves become just one more extinct species that the planet sheds itself of?

There may yet be time to effect change. Or not. The author would have us all feel the urgency to make a dramatic course correction now, before it really is too late.

Eye of the Whale is published by Atria Books and is available for purchase on Amazon and other websites. It’s a tale well worth reading — and learning from.

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Super Natural Home by Beth Greer

Every once in a while, I’ll read a book so filled with helpful information that I want to remember every single thing it says. Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is that kind of book.

From the introduction, where I learned that the author had been healed of a 5 cm benign tumor in her chest by changing her diet, to the fact-filled chapters jam-packed with tips and suggestions, to the list of resources in the back, this is a book that gives value on every single page.

I’m already a pretty “green” person. I buy organic foods when they’re available (not often enough or in sufficient variety here in the Heartland), check all personal care products on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, and try to use as many natural and organic household products as possible. I recycle and compost. I eschew fragrances and added chemicals. And I eat a mostly raw, vegetarian diet.

Yet I still scored poorly on the “Super Natural Home Quiz” that begins the book. It’s an inventory that asks about everyday exposures to products with harmful ingredients, such as synthetic pajamas and cotton-blend sheets, Tupperware, high fructose corn syrup, and VOCs from carpeting and paint. Even as conscientious as I am, there are lots of things I can improve on. I shudder to think how toxic my house was before I made the changes I’ve already made — back when my kids were still kids.

None of us can go back in time, but we can make changes to affect the present and the future. Super Natural Home is a wonderful compendium of information about how to make small changes — and large ones, too — that can help each of us improve our health and our lives.

Following the Introduction and the quiz, the book is divided into four sections. In Section I, “What Goes in You: How to Eliminate Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in Your Food and Drinking Water, ” I squirmed a bit when I read facts like these (all bullets are quoted directly from the book):

  • [T]he Popcorn Board’s 2008 Agri Chemical Handbook lists 33 insecticides, 38 herbicides, five fumigants, 15 fungicides, and four “miscellaneous” chemicals that are approved for use in nonorganic popcorn.
  • A 2006 USDA test found that 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.
  • Artificial colors are made from petroleum as well as coal tar (an extract of coal that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] says is highly toxic) and are found in things such as fruit drinks, sports drinks, candy, ice cream, ices, pet food, and store-bought cakes and cookies (think blueberry bagels and green St. Patrick’s Day bagels and muffins, too!).
  • There is a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day, according to Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.
  • [I]n 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press showed that America’s tap water, coast to coast, is contaminated with a vast array of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, pain medications, antidepressants, and sex hormones.

Oh, there’s a whole lot more scary information than that. But Greer tempers the lists of cautions with sound advice about what we consumers can do to improve our families’ diets. Here are a few:

  • Wash nonorganic produce well. Try using a product called Veggie Wash. It is 100 percent natural and uses ingredients from corn, coconut, and citrus to remove wax, pesticides, soil, toxins, and fingerprints.
  • Understand the vocabulary. “Conventional” means pesticides were used; “organic” means 95% of the product contains no pesticides; “100% organic” means none of the product contains pesticides.
  • Choose smaller fish, such as herring, sardines, and mackerel, which are less likely to have toxins than large fish such as tuna or swordfish. They also are very rich in omega-3s.
  • [C]heck the PLU (price look-up) number on the stickers of fruits and vegetables. Conventionally grown produce has four numbers; organically grown has five numbers prefaced by the number 9; GMO produce has five numbers prefaced by the number 8. (Example: a conventionally grown Fuji apple is 4131; organic is 94131; GMO is 84131.)

Section II, “What Goes on You: How to Choose Safe Cosmetics and Body Care Products,” provides a wake-up call about all types of things that we put on our faces, our hair, and our bodies. For example, Greer cautions against the nanoparticles that are becoming increasingly common in cosmetics:

Some experts wonder about the risks of these highly engineered nanostructures. There hasn’t been much research into their safety. If you apply them to your skin, do they end up in your brain—or, if you’re pregnant, your unborn fetus? Will they do damage? Will other, less welcome, substances piggyback on them? And what will happen if a number of different nanoparticles, from your face cream, sunscreen, and foundation, join together? We don’t know those answers yet. What we do know is that when you mix two or more chemicals together, sometimes you get a substance more powerful than the sum of the individual parts. In other words, 1 + 1 does not equal 2. It can create a chemical reaction packing a powerful punch.

Here’s another unsettling fact. Until I read Greer’s book, I had no idea that mercury is commonly used in some cosmetics. Mercury! That’s highly toxic. Greer writes, “The federal government currently allows a small amount of mercury as a preservative in eye liner, mascara, skin-whitening creams, and freckle creams. ‘It is known to cause neurological damage in people even in tiny quantities,’ said Senator John Marty, the Democrat from Minnesota who sponsored” a ban against intentionally adding mercury to cosmetics.

Along with solid advice about ways to limit or avoid exposure to toxins in personal care items, Greer provides lists for easy reference, such as these, in Section II:

  • Companies Selling Truly Organic Products
  • Companies Selling Products without Harsh, Artificial Ingredients
  • “Natural” Companies That Sell Products with at Least One Ingredient Deemed Harmful by the EPA
  • Super Soaps
  • Chemicals to Avoid When Purchasing a Sunscreen

She divides Section III, “What Surrounds You: How to Minimize Indoor Air Pollution in Your Home Environment,” by the rooms of a typical house. Each chapter in the section gives more facts and suggestions, such as these:

“The Bedroom: How to Improve One of the Most Important Rooms in Your Home”

  • Despite all we know about the dangers of lead and other toxic chemicals, the U.S. government doesn’t require full testing of chemicals before they are added to toys. So it’s not surprising that lead is found in a significant percentage of toys currently on the market.

“The Living Room, Den, and Home Office: Choosing Safe Flooring, Wall Coverings, and Furniture”

  • If your tables, chairs, desk, and cabinets are made of plywood or particle board, chances are they have been treated with pesticides and constructed with glue that contains formaldehyde.

“The Kitchen, Laundry Room, and Bathroom: Discover Safe Household Cleaners, Cookware, and Dishware”

  • Since only foods and herbs can be certified organic, the word “organic” on the label of a dish or laundry soap doesn’t mean much.

“Super Natural Home away from Home: How to Maintain Your New Lifestyle on the Road, at Work, at School, and at Play”

  • Another great thing to do at school is to use no-waste lunches. This involves a reusable lunch box, waxed paper instead of plastic, recycled aluminum foil, cloth napkins, and a metal water bottle. Make sure you offer organic food, including snacks, in those lunch boxes! One place to buy a reusable, waste-free lunch kit is

“Action Plan: 10 Easy Ways to Have a Super Natural Home”

  • Start from the inside out, beginning with your mind by keeping a positive attitude. Negative thoughts and emotions can be more harmful to our health and wellness than the toxins found in our homes. The good news is that we can produce natural healing chemicals in our bodies by focusing on love, faith, hope, joy, and gratitude. In the worlds of William James, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Each chapter in the book is loaded with tips, stories, inspiration, and enough facts to arm consumers for battle. And it is a battle, truly. If we passively accept the products that are thrust upon us in the marketplace and wherever we travel, we allow ourselves and our families to be slowly poisoned. Instead, Greer urges all of us to fight back by drastically limiting the number of toxic products we expose ourselves to.

But the book is much more than just dry facts. It’s peppered with interesting and well-written anecdotes from Greer’s own experience. She has faced the same challenges as the rest of us when it comes to greening her lifestyle, and it hasn’t always been easy. I am inspired by her dogged determination to provide her family with the healthiest possible environment while maintaining her humor and her sanity.

Other features of the book that I found helpful and of interest were “3 Ways to Make a Shift,” in which Greer distills tips from her anecdotes; “Unsung Hero” profiles about people who are making a difference to bring better products to the marketplace; recipes for healthy foods and healthy home care products; myths/truths; and a whole lot more.

Because you care about what goes on, into, and around your body and your family’s, I believe you will find this book to be a wealth of practical information that you’ll turn to again and again. I’ve already recommended Super Natural Home to my family members, and I’ll be buying copies for my adult kids. I can’t think of a better gift for young people starting out on their own. (And for not-so-young people, like myself, who might need a reality check.)

Super Natural Home is published by Rodale and available in bookstores for $15.95 US and $17.95 Canada.

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book described in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those books or products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book or product, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary products and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Why You Should Read THE WORLD PEACE DIET (and Buy It March 12)

Purchase The World Peace Diet on March 12, 2010. (Find out why below.)

This is an odd title for Blue Planet Green Living. We don’t generally say flat out that our readers should buy a product, though we often make recommendations. We’re making an exception for The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, by Will Tuttle, Ph.D., however.

Why? Two reasons, really.

Pass (by) the Meat, Please

The first, and most important reason to buy The World Peace Diet on March 12 (or any time) is that it will very likely reshape your thinking about the foods you choose to consume. Unless you’re already bypassing meat and dairy products, your diet isn’t as healthy as it should be.

I know, those of us in the US are drilled from a young age to believe we have to eat according to the USDA guidelines (remember the Food Pyramid and its many later permutations?). But those guidelines don’t take into account what’s happened to the foods we eat: The highly processed nature of the grains in packaged foods. The subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics administered to livestock. The filthy conditions in meat-packing plants, where E. coli and other bacteria and viruses contaminate the meat as it goes through processing.

The inhumane treatment of livestock and laying hens is another whole can of worms: The crowded, unhealthy conditions animals are raised in (think battery cages for hens and chickens, narrow farrowing crates for mother pigs, restrictive veal crates for baby calves, and the list goes on…). The brutal way chickens’ have their necks cut while hanging upside down from their legs on a fast-moving conveyor. The skinning alive of steers when the stun gun and the knife haven’t yet killed them. Chickens dropped alive into boiling water to loosen their feathers. And more, and more, and more.

If you’re reading this far, you probably already care about the animals whose lives are sacrificed for your diet. Perhaps you even have a few meatless days each week. If this is true for you, reading The World Peace Diet will no doubt push you farther along toward being a vegetarian — and perhaps even a vegan. Are you brave enough to consider such a radical change? It’s not easy to make the switch, until you learn how much difference it can make to your psyche and your health.

Improve Your Health

Consider these quotes from Chapter 5 of The World Peace Diet, “The Intelligence of Human Physiology”:

Besides clogging our body’s veins and arteries and contributing to heart disease and strokes, [the cholesterol and saturated fat in our blood] may block the capillaries that carry blood to individual cells, resulting in cells that are weak, lacking oxygen and nutrients, and unable to completely cleanse the toxins and carbon dioxide that are by-products of their aerobic processes. Swimming in this unhealthy environment, they may begin, over time, to degenerate and die off.

One example of this is the increasingly common occurrence of macular degeneration, which causes severe vision impairment and blindness, mostly in older people….

This clogging of brain capillaries by animal fat and cholesterol may also contribute to the diminished level of actual intelligence in cultures that eat diets high in animal foods. Clogged brain capillaries may reduce the brains’s efficiency and hinder its ability to make connections effectively….

Clogged pathways may also directly or indirectly cause low energy, chronic fatigue and a host of other ailments. In adult males, for example, the arteries in the vascular tissue of the genitals can become clogged by the saturated fat and cholesterol of an animal-based diet, diminishing the natural ability of many men to have an erection….

Kidney disease, kidney stones, and gallstones are another direct result of eating animal foods, since the kidneys have the difficult task of purifying our fatty, acidic blood….

The skin, the largest organ of elimination, is also severely burdened by the toxins in animal foods, and many of the skin maladies and allergic reactions we experience may be attributable to the body’s attempt to cleanse itself by passing toxins out through the skin. Our skin may be adversely affected by the excess fat and cholesterol in dairy products, which can clog the pores and may contribute to acne, allergic reactions, and excess body odor….

The cholesterol and large concentrations of saturated fat in animal foods increase our risk for obesity and the whole panorama of health problems to which being overweight contributes, such as diabetes and cancer….

When we get our protein from animal sources, we bring into our bodies much higher levels of toxic contaminants than we do by eating plant foods directly, because livestock feed grains are heavily sprayed with pesticides and these poisons tend to concentrate in animal flesh, milk, and eggs….

It is also well known that animal foods are heavily contaminated with viruses and bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, E. coli, campylobacter, and streptococcus, which can be harmful if not fatal to people, especially given our already overworked immune systems.

If this isn’t enough to make you rethink meat, there’s plenty more in this book that will. But Tuttle isn’t trying to scare the reader with unsupported statements designed to manipulate the truth to his point of view. He provides fact after fact to support his claims, to the tune of 56 references just in the 28 pages of Chapter 5. (Most other chapters have fewer citations, but they’re all well documented.)

But the book isn’t just about the perils to your health of an omnivorous diet.

As Tuttle says, The World Peace Diet “helps you understand the power of food, and the cultural mentality reinforced by our practice of food, for many levels of healing — physical, psychological, cultural, ecological, and spiritual.”

Why March 12?

I said there were two reasons to buy Tuttle’s book on March 12. The second reason is that for purchases made on March 12 only, many sponsors have donated excellent bonus gifts and prizes to anyone who buys The World Peace Diet.

These include downloadable audiobooks, recipes, music, e-books, discount coupons and the chance to enter drawings for some terrific prizes (like a weekend getaway!). There are over 50 gifts and prizes in all, and anyone who buys the book on March 12 (only) is eligible to receive them.

Here’s the link to this special campaign: You don’t have to purchase it through this link to qualify, but be sure to go read the information so that you know how to enter the drawing for prizes.

Again, from Dr. Will Tuttle: “You can help strengthen the forces of health, truth, transparency, sustainability, and peace by buying a copy of The World Peace Diet today (for yourself or to give to a library or friend). This will spread the message of compassion for all life. It’s a great way to help animals, the Earth, hungry people, and all of us — and to spread the message we believe in.”

True Confession

When Joe and I heard Will Tuttle speak in Iowa City in late 2008, we were incredibly moved. The truth is, we both have struggled with our eating choices since that evening. I’m now eating a vegetarian diet, and many days — though not all — I eat a vegan diet. Joe is a bit more flexitarian in his eating preferences, generally conforming to relatives’ meal choices when we visit (I bring my own food or eat just the vegetables, fruits, and nuts), though his preference is to be vegetarian. He, too, aspires to be vegan.

We don’t claim to be perfect, and we’re no one’s role models. But we are on our personal journey toward a better, healthier lifestyle and a healthier, more humane diet.

I can’t say I’ve always been happy that I attended Tuttle’s lecture. “A mind once stretched never goes back,” a wise teacher once told me. And my mind has truly been stretched. I can’t go back to eating unconsciously, without considering the suffering of the life forms that I am devouring.

As I asked earlier, “Are you brave enough to consider such a radical change?” You don’t have to promise anything. Just read the book, and make up your own mind. Then let us know what you decide.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living does not receive any kickback or percentage of your purchase through Dr. Tuttle’s link. We are, however, Amazon affiliates, so any purchases made through Amazon ads on our website do contribute a small percentage to the operating budget of Blue Planet Green Living. (Oh, and we purchased our own copy of the book in 2008.)

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — Be Happy!

Happy people are more likely to face — and fix — the problems they see around them. Photo: © Yuri Arcurs_iStockPhoto

We’ve all heard it: Carbon dioxide billows into the atmosphere, icebergs melt, oceans rise, the world gets hotter — our planet is headed toward calamity. And, although businesses, governments, and individuals throughout the world have been working together to enact change, “our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing — much less reduce them,” wrote Al Gore in a New York Times editorial last week.

Sheesh. It’s enough to prevent you from getting out of bed in the morning, much less enjoy your day. But, if enjoying yourself — being happy — seems a trivial concern in the face of such doom and gloom, think again. While the study of happiness is hardly new and noteworthy — recent books include Rhonda Bryne’s The Secret (Atria Books 2006), a hokey, if ubiquitous, book that instructs us to manifest our own destinies through visualization and vibrations — a new set of pragmatic authors examines personal happiness as both a source of, and obstacle to, our ability to enact change.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Photo: Courtesy Gretchen Rubin

Yale Law School graduate-turned-writer, Gretchen Rubin tackles happiness in the list-making spirit of a lawyer in The Happiness Project (HarperCollins 2009).

She sets out to “test-drive the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies and the lessons from popular culture — from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah,” and takes us along as she checks off tasks on her very own happiness chart. (For example, January’s goal is to boost energy, so she resolves to “go to sleep earlier, exercise better, toss, restore, organize, tackle a nagging task, and act more energetic.”)

While happiness seems like an inherently selfish pursuit — all of this inner-reflection while the world around us falls apart — Rubin argues that, in fact, the opposite is true. “Studies show that happier people are more likely to help other people. They’re more interested in social problems. They do more volunteer work and contribute more to charity… [T]hey’re less preoccupied with their personal problems,” she writes.

“Some people assume that happiness makes people complacent. Quite the contrary. Happy people are more concerned with the problems of other people and more likely to take action to help. So by making myself happy, I arm myself to be more effective in addressing the world’s significant problems,” she writes.

Indeed. When I’m tired, I grumble about the ten extra steps to the recycle bin; when I’m in a hurry, I don’t spend the time to make educated choices at the supermarket — much less on anything of substance. By acting selfishly, attending to my own personal well-being, Rubin argues, I arm myself to act unselfishly, to find the energy and well-being needed to confront difficult tasks.

The problem arises when we take the mantra of personal well-being too far. In Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan Books 2009), Barbara Ehrenreich looks at what happens when happiness is privileged above all else — including fact.

According to Ehrenreich, it’s the happiness industry — born from a uniquely American culture of reckless optimism and the field of ”positive-psychology,” spearheaded by none other than Martin Seligman, and distilled into books such as The Secret — that motivated corporate boardrooms across the country to buy into a sort of mind-over-balance-sheet mentality. She traces the rise of positive psychology as a cultural mandate — only good news today, please — until the point of delusion, wherein “science is something that you can accept or reject on the basis of personal tastes.”

Indeed, the very title of Gore’s op-ed is “We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change.” He writes, “It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.”

Yet, we don’t have the luxury of indulging in that relief. The paradox is that the realm of positive psychology privileges this mental relief above the actual distressing facts, yet positive thinking arms us with perhaps the necessary delusion that we can stop the tide of global calamity. We must strike a balance between genuine and legitimate fear regarding climate change and the positivism that allows us to believe that we can do something about it, that we can change the way things are going.

Ultimately, while Rubin and Ehrenreich seem to view happiness from opposite angles, the conclusion they reach is strikingly similar. “The threats we face are real,” writes Ehrenreich, “and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.” For Rubin, the point of all this happiness striving — the point of her checklists and daily reminders — is so we may become less self-obsessed, less introspective, more likely to step outside our comfort zones and do something.

So, get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise. Tackle nagging tasks. Enjoy your work. Cultivate relationships. Make the effort to get out and connect with people. And then, perhaps, call your Senator, as Gore advocates. Grow your own produce, recycle, and spend an hour a week volunteering. And watch how these activities, these unselfish attempts to tackle a very large, un-happy problem, might ultimately bring you (selfishly) even more happiness.

Megan Kimble

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Book Review: The Green Year by Jodi Helmer

There’s a “green” way to do just about everything these days. With simple steps, you can save energy, time, money — and reduce your carbon footprint. There’s so much information available these days that sometimes it’s just overwhelming, especially for those just starting off on their eco-journey.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have bite-sized, practical tips that you could make use of right away, every day of the year?

The Green Year by Jodi Helmer is a great place to start. Helmer has sifted through mountains of data to create a reader-friendly guide with 365 tips that make green living (or greener living) easy to accomplish and fun to do.

This isn’t a book for the advanced greenie; many of the tips include things most died-in-the-wool environmentalists are doing already. But it’s a gift that’s sure to please a young graduate or newlyweds starting out on their own.

And, if your children’s school allows holiday gifts to teachers, this little book will be a surefire hit — way better than perfume she doesn’t like or candies that are not on his diet. Or how about your child’s Brownie leader or Cub Scout den mother?

Priced on Amazon at just over $10, it’s a useful and inexpensive book for any number of people on your gifting list. You might even want  to buy it for yourself — then, in the true spirit of green living, pass it along to someone else when you’ve finished.

January through December

Though I’m a dedicated greenie, who spends lots of time looking for ways to make our household more ecologically respectful, I still found tips that surprised me. The following brief excerpts give just a taste from each month’s offerings:

January 19: “Toss your synthetic sponge and buy a sponge made of cellulose fibers instead. Synthetic sponges are made from nonrenewable resources and are often soaked in chemicals like triclosan that have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Triclosan is also a pesticide that could destroy aquatic life. Triclosan is one of the most common manmade chemicals found in our rivers and streams.…”

February 6: “Replace your toothbrush with an eco-friendly model…. Recycline ( makes its toothbrush handles from recycled yogurt cups. When it’s time to replace your toothbrush, mail it back to the company in a postage-paid mailer and your old toothbrush will be turned into products like outdoor furniture….”

March 1: “Use hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach when you wash a load of whites…. Hydrogen peroxide is just as effective for whitening your clothes but has none of the harmful environmental effects of bleach….”

April 9: “Switch to eco-friendly diapers…. that are gentler on your baby’s skin and kinder to the environment.”

May: 10: “Toss lemon peels in the garden to keep cats from using your soil as a litter box. Citrus scents make cats cower and sneeze… Aphids are also repelled by citrus. Mix the grated rind from a lemon with water and spray it on any plants that are being attacked by the little bugs.”

June 30: “Switch to eco-friendly cat litter…. Strip-mining [for clay] … has destroyed thousands of acres of land and removed millions of tons of soil. Choose cat litter made from wheat, recycled newspaper, corn cobs, or other renewable materials that are biodegradable or easily composted.”

July 27: “Explore alternatives to fabric softener. Most liquid fabric softeners contain ammonium chloride, which can harm marine life…. Try pouring a quarter cup of white vinegar or a quarter cup of baking soda (but not both) into the rinse cycle….”

August 3: “Switch to an all-natural dishwasher detergent. Your dishwasher detergent probably contains petroleum-based products…. Opt for vegetable-based dishwasher detergent; the soap is milder and made from all-natural ingredients.”

September 25: “Buy some new crayons. Crayons are often made of paraffin wax, a product made from nonrenewable petroleum. [Others] might contain asbestos… Instead, choose crayons made from soybean oil….”

October 9: “Switch to a powdered laundry detergent. Liquid laundry detergent is almost 80 percent water — a valuable, nonrenewable resource. If 20,000 Americans switched to powdered laundry detergent, it would save 55,000 gallons of water per year….”

November 1: “Think twice before tossing your jack-o-lantern in the trash. Your Halloween pumpkin can provide a feast for wildlife. Smash the pumpkin into chunks and scatter the pieces in the backyard….”

December 29: “Buy artificial fire logs…. Artificial fire logs emit 75 percent less carbon monoxide and create 80 percent less particulate matter than real wood….”

Don’t Wait for the New Year

Not every tip will be new to you, but even the familiar ones may be good reminders to do those things you were going to “get around to one of these days.” There’s no better time than now to make changes. And with The Green Year, any day is a good day to start.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Book Review – Who Turned Out the Lights? Your Guide to the Energy Crisis

Comments Off on Book Review – Who Turned Out the Lights? Your Guide to the Energy Crisis

Who Turned Out the Lights? takes a balanced look at the pros and cons of all types of energy. Photo: © TebNad -

Who Turned Out the Lights? takes a balanced look at the pros and cons of all types of energy. Photo: © TebNad -

Blue Planet Green Living received an uncorrected, proof edition of Who Turned Out the Lights? Your Guide to the Energy Crisis, by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson. We were asked if we’d like to review it, and that is what this post is about. In tomorrow’s post, watch for “The Great Energy Debate Pop Quiz” by Bittle and Johnson. — Publisher

Since beginning work on Blue Planet Green Living, I have made it my personal goal to gather as much information about the environment as my brain can handle, to read as much as I can get my hands on. I’m not particularly selective of the topics, but consume whatever crosses my path, defining my area of knowledge by whatever Destiny and my computer provide me. The task of keeping up with this data flow is daunting. Perhaps you feel the same.

Being an environmentalist means I have to choose from a million aspects of concern, direction, and interest. Planet Earth is facing a flood of problems, too many for one writer to assimilate, even for one magazine. For me, there is too little time to read about all the daily assaults on our planet, let alone verify the data in print; seek out authorities on the subject; interview them; type, edit, and post their points of view.

Being a journalist, as well, compounds the problem. Now, it is just as important to seek the opposing opinions and compare conflicting scientific data. Every topic has many angles, often many points of view, and frequently, two polar-opposite conclusions.

The fact that I try to keep an open mind on these issues is exactly why I like this book. The writers, Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, have tried to present both sides of every energy issue, or at least, remain neutral in their presentation. The book gives “just the facts,” not opinions, and provides extensive end notes for the reader to verify all sources.

The following excerpt from the preface confirms the generally even-handed nature of the discussion the authors present:

For many of us, the nation’s energy debate has become an incomprehensible jumble, so the purpose of Who Turned Out the Lights? is to stop, take a deep breath, back up a bit, and go back to basics. we’ve written this book because we’re convinced that there are millions of Americans who are concerned about the energy issue and want to understand it better. Our aim is [to] explain the nuts and bolts in plain, solid, nonscientific, nontechnical English. We also believe that increasing numbers of Americans recognize that the country simply has to stop arguing about energy and start doing something about it. Our plan is to describe the chief options as understandably as we can and summarize different points of view about them. We’re not recommending solutions here. instead, we’re trying to offer enough perspective, context, and information so readers can stop relying on Hollywood stars and pundits for direction. We want to help you decide for yourself what path the United States should take.

The book tackles the single largest pollution source that exists today: energy. Whether it is for industrial, commercial, transportation or residential use, the production of the fuels, or the use of them, this book presents the many effects that carbon-based fuel is having on our country and our planet.

Topics discussed include positives and negatives about the use of —

The authors might have considered the detrimental effects of the mining process that gets the coal that Americans burn. Photo: © Jim Parkin -

The authors might have considered the detrimental effects of the mining process that gets the coal that Americans burn. Photo: © Jim Parkin -

•  coal: e.g., “On the positive side, coal is affordable, reliable, and the U.S. has plenty of it,” (Let me interject here that the good folks at Appalachian Voices dispute all three of these claims); but, “Burning coal produces sulfur and nitrogen oxide — chemicals that create smog and acid rain.”

• nuclear energy: e.g., “nuclear power is the hands-down winner when it comes to generating electricity without adding to global warming”; but, “some [nuclear waste] is so hazardous that it needs to be isolated for ten thousand to one million years”;

renewable energy: e.g., “Both wind and solar have two huge advantages … they don’t produce any greenhouse gases… [and] we’re not likely to run out of wind or sunshine anytime soon”; but, “even though you don’t have to pay for the ‘fuel,’ the initial capital costs are higher than coal or natural gas when they’re spread out over the life of the plant”);

oil: e.g., “Oil is also amazingly portable… efficient…[and] works so well that it’s knocked all the transportation alternatives out of the box”; but, “since we’re not making any more dinosaurs, we’re not creating any more oil. So at some point we’re going to run out.” Though briefly mentioned earlier in the book, I note here a giant omission in the chapter dedicated to oil: nary a drop of ink was spilled talking about the release of greenhouse gases from burning oil.

• and cars, homes, and more …

All of these are energy topics, and they all affect our environment.

In the chapter called “Flawed Ideas,” the writers discuss the possibility that, as a nation, we might not want to become completely energy independent. First of all, it is not possible, since even if we opened up all the potential oil fields, we would only produce 40% of what we are presently consuming. Second, we are not at war with Canada and Mexico, the two largest suppliers of our oil. Finally, if we produced all our own oil, this would eliminate competition, and prices would rise. Competition has its place.

One of the more interesting topics, in my opinion, was the discussion about the dollar amounts spent by lobbyists on both sides of the energy debate in 2008. The oil and natural gas industries spent $129 million to influence legislators, coal spent more than $100 million, the utility companies spent $157 million, while the total spent by all U.S. environmental groups was only $17 million. The writers did not complain or push for more environmental influence, they simply said, “That’s part and parcel of the way our democracy works.”

Offshore drilling provides a lot of oil for the U.S., but poses a serious environmental threat if a leak occurs. Photo: © Winston Lue -

Offshore drilling provides a lot of oil for the U.S., but poses a serious environmental threat if a leak occurs. Photo: © Winston Lue -

Here is how the writers describe their book in the section titled, “Pulling the Strands of the Problem Together”:

The first step is to pull the far-flung pieces of this debate together in one place. There’s the energy issue with its assorted disputes over OPEC, oil company profits, speculation in energy markets, and how to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil. Then there’s the environmental debate on how to reduce the damage human beings do to the planet — global warming, carbon dioxide emissions, carbon footprints, pollution, that sort of thing. And finally, there is the economic fallout when the competition for energy heats up and supplies start getting tight….

These three issues — energy, environment, and the economy — all are intertwined, … and the country could get trapped … with all three problems coming to head at once.”

Although there’s much to recommend about this book, in my view, more attention could have been paid to the environmental effects of our choices of energy production. Where is the discussion of the environmental and health costs — not to mention the loss of natural beauty — of blowing up mountains to mine coal? Where is their concern for the horrible air pollution and health effects of mining the Tar Sands? What about the environmental costs of making the batteries that go into Priuses (and, yes, my wife and I drive Priuses)? These are just a few of the issues that troubled me by their absence.

Still, Who Turned Out the Lights? left me with a clearer view of the energy corner we are backing ourselves into. It’s well worth reading as a starting point, but don’t stop there. Check out some of the great environmental resources (like Appalachian Voices) to get a fuller picture.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Book Review: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

   "Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts." — Annie Dillard. Photo:  © Blaine Stiger -

"Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts." — Annie Dillard. Photo: © Blaine Stiger -

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

What is the true nature of Nature? Is it a harmonious, interconnected system, operating according to the principles of co-dependence and benevolence? Or is it red in tooth and claw — an unfeeling, unthinking force, in which the individual is overwhelmed and subsumed to serve a larger purpose, one mysterious and obscure? This is what Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is all about: an exploration into the nature of Nature, an attempt to discover the true character of the natural world around us. Appropriately, it is neither a rapturous celebration of Nature, nor a grim survey of its various cruelties. Rather, like Nature itself, it is something in between — and something quite beautiful.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, first published in 1974, has endured to become one of the great American classics of nonfiction writing. Roughly described, it is a collection of related essays recounting the author’s thoughts on Nature as she observes the ecological happenings of the eponymous Tinker Creek for a period of several years. It is an unclassifiable mix of memoir, science, anthropology, folklore, philosophy, theology, ecology, and probably several other things that I didn’t even pick up on. It is expansive, complex, and eclectic. Dillard’s diverse interests give the text a richness and universality that many other environmental books lack (at first glance, at least), and this results in a work that could be equally appealing to the environmentalist, the philosopher, and even the priest.

But this eclectic combination of subject matter would not succeed unless it was tied together by excellent prose, which it is. Indeed, the prose itself is equally responsible for the book’s enduring popularity. Though only Dillard’s second book, she displays a virtuosic grasp of language that allows her to quote from scientific studies of rye grass while still maintaining a kind of breathless tension. Imagine National Geographic written by poets, and I think you have a good idea. Consider this passage:

It is amazing that trees can turn gravel and bitter salts into these soft-lipped lobes, as if I were to bite down on a granite slab and start to swell, bud, and flower. Trees seem to do their feats so effortlessly. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn’t make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes; it splits, sucks, and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out ever more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.

That isn’t a paragraph, that is a journey! It begins with a lyrical description of tree growth, then moves on to scientific figures, incorporates religious terms (obelisk), and mechanical language (dynamo), and then returns to the lyrical style of its beginning, all the while maintaining the comparison between the author and the seemingly magical tree. This is the level of quality that can be found on nearly every page — passages that, in their intricacy, reflect Nature itself.

From Dillard’s musings on the natural world, we learn that the main problem with contemplation is one of observation. One cannot properly describe and appraise Nature unless one truly sees it as it is. In attempting to discern the nature of Nature, Dillard grapples with the difficulty of observing Nature accurately, with the difficulty of seeing. Nature is so “wholly gratuitous,” with such an “extravagance of minutiae,” that if one wishes to see it truly, they must accept a part for the whole. As Dillard says, “I do not understand even what I can easily see. I would like to see it all, to understand it, but I must start somewhere, so I try to deal with the giant water bug in Tinker Creek and the flight of three hundred redwings from an Osage orange.”

In the first half of the book, Dillard is often seized with a kind of wild rapture, an amazement with the diversity and complexity of Nature. But such a joyful understanding would be incomplete without acknowledging the dark side of such complexity. If the world is so large, what is the place of the individual in such a world? Dillard explores this question in a chapter called “Fecundity,” the bleak response to an earlier chapter called “Abundance”:

I don’t know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and with that extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day, include our own cheap lives, Henle’s loops and all. Every glistening egg is a memento mori.

Dillard’s concerns are existential in scope, full of religious anxiety meant to offset her earlier spiritual exuberance. Indeed, the book is somewhat religious in nature, as the title demonstrates. As a “pilgrim,” Dillard is obviously searching for some kind of religious enlightenment, some kind of connection with a mysterious God. In her “Afterword” to a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the book, she admits that its thematic organization was religious in origin. The first half is meant to embody the via positiva school of theological thought, in which God possesses all positive attributes. The second half, beginning with “Fecundity,” is written from the perspective of the via negativa school, in which God is seen as unknowable, with all attributes, positive and negative, inapplicable in the face of divine mystery. This conflict is made manifest by a continuing tension between Dillard’s joy in the face of beauty and alienation in the face of bewilderment.

It is in this conflict that we find the book’s relevance to the environmental movement and, indeed, all of humanity. Nature, the environment, the natural world — whatever you want to call it — is simply so beautiful, so complex, so big (and I mean big) that the only appropriate response to it is a deep humility. Indeed, the average human being can only come away from the book chastened by its presentation of Nature’s mystifying workings. Our own synthetic, consumptive activities look cheap and shameful compared with the mechanics of a small creek. After reading Pilgrim, even the most ardent developer would probably be forced to think twice about cutting down an ancient stand of trees to pave the way for another execrable subdivision.

And all of this from one woman’s observations on the flora and fauna of a nearby creek.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “[T]he world globes itself in a drop of dew.” What we learn in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is that the world, whether it be a drop of dew or the whole of the universe, is a stunning thing — equally wonderful, equally terrible, and full of mystery.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

The Creation – An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

The World Without Us

Ansel Adams at 100

Silent Spring

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

Book Review – Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

While searching for photos to accompany this book review, we found large numbers of appalling examples of animal cruelty – in both food production and product testing. Readers should be forewarned that scrolling down this page will reveal photographs that may be very disturbing, and all the more so because they are real. – Publisher

Veal calves are often chained by the neck in small wooden crates where they are unable to walk or stretch their limbs.

Veal calves are often chained by the neck in small wooden crates where they are unable to walk or stretch their limbs. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

The third edition of Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer, includes a dedication to “all of you who have changed your lives in order to bring Animal Liberation closer. You have made it possible to believe that the power of ethical reasoning can prevail over the self-interest of our species.” Readers not acquainted with the context may feel distanced by the dedication, at least until realizing there are three prefaces to the book. The first edition was published in 1975, and the preface begins, “This book is about the tyranny of human over nonhuman animals.” The last edition was published in 2002, twenty-seven years and thousands of protests later. Singer may well be correct in dedicating the book to an audience that has built momentum in the movement for animal rights and maintained the book’s importance throughout the decades.

It is a testament of society’s inertness that I was surprised by the book’s exposure of the severe mistreatment of animals. In Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan attributes Animal Liberation as an infallible argument for vegetarianism and animal rights. In a fairly comic scene, Pollan, who has been reading Animal Liberation, sits down with a steak, supposing his gut will win the debate. Like most Americans, Pollan found that the appeal of meat — its affordability (due to government subsidies which reduce the cost by as much as 15 times) and ease of preparation, as well as the fact that it is the social norm — affected his dietary choices, without his having rationally considered the effects of his meal. Singer’s work is the rationale needed to overcome “humanity’s” dependence on animals as food.

For his argument, Singer uses the word “speciesism,” a word that Spell Check does not recognize, but which is found on “discrimination of one species in favor of another, usually the human species, over another, esp. in the exploitation or mistreatment of animals by humans. Origin: 1970-1975; species + -ism.”

Singer states, “[T]he word is not an attractive one, but I can think of no better term.” His definition: “[A] prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species against those of members of other species.” It encourages and heartens me, as it may readers of the book, as I’m sure it does Peter Singer, to see that the term speciesism, on which the argument relies, has been accepted by external resources as a viable term.

In my experience discussing speciesism, I have encountered strong resistance when I compare the animal rights movement to the human rights movements. These objections are, as far as I’ve been able to measure, emotional, rather than logical, responses. I cannot present the entire argument in the article to attempt to persuade you of the similarities between sexism or racism, and speciesism, but I will share the book opening with you.

When Mary Wollstonecraft … published her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, her views were widely regarded as absurd, and before long an anonymous publication appeared entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. The author of this satirical work (now known to have been Thomas Taylor…) tried to refute Mary Wollstonecraft’s arguments by showing that they could be carried one stage further. If the argument for equality was sound when applied to women, why should it not be applied to dogs, cats, and horses? The reasoning seemed to hold for these “brutes” too; yet to hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd. Therefore the reasoning by which this conclusion had been reached must be unsound…

A dairy cow's ailing udder. A large percentage of dairy cows experience similar afflictions, and most of their milk is considered drinkable. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

A dairy cow's ailing udder. A large percentage of dairy cows experience similar afflictions, and most of their milk is considered drinkable. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Singer goes on to explain that what seems logically absurd is actually a solid argument. The fundamental point he makes is his definition of equality.

Equality is a moral idea, not an assertion of fact. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability between two people justifies any difference in the amount of consideration we give to their needs and interests. The principle of equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat human beings.

Today, we view sexism and racism as immoral and unjust because they do not give equal consideration to fellow human beings. Speciesism, however, receives a more complicated judgment. Like Pollan sitting down to eat his steak, most people are speciesists because it is convenient, and because society is not sympathetic toward “special” equality. Animals, however, because they are living creatures with functions similar to our own, deserve consideration for their rights. “What we must do,” Singer writes, “is bring nonhuman animals within our sphere of moral concern and cease to treat their lives as expendable for whatever trivial purposes we may have.” The primary basis for our judgments should be the suffering our acts might cause animals.

Ducks become so ill from the force feeding that they cannot lift their heads. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Ducks become so ill from the force feeding that they cannot lift their heads. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

The capability of an animal to suffer, in case you are questioning it, is proven through the same physical responses to pain as humans. Vocal responses such as cries or yelps, and physical responses such as contortions, writhing, or spasms are also evidence of suffering. Humans and animals share these signals, and if we do not deny the suffering of humans, Singer states, we cannot deny the suffering of animals. The argument from here develops into a problematic, though thoughtful and interesting, consideration of whose pain is more significant (a human’s or a horse’s). The important thing to remember is that to promote equality for all species is, according to Singer, something one must avoid, wherever it is not in our necessary interest to cause an to animal suffer.

“There can be no moral justification for regarding the pain (or pleasure) that animals feel as less important than the same amount of pain (or pleasure) felt by humans.” To think of an example of speciesism, then, one needs only imagine an instance when the suffering was inflicted on an animal(s) without preventing, in opposite and equal or greater measure, the suffering of a human(s). Thus, acts that are conclusively speciesist include purchasing beauty or cleaning products that were tested on animals, eating factory farm raised animals, or supporting a government that funds psychological and military experiments on animals. The book discusses these examples at length.

Chapter 2 reveals a plethora of appalling experiments conducted on animals for military, economic, or scientific purposes. This chapter will surprise — and probably shock — anyone who has not researched animal testing. The experiments are presented as immoral for a number of reasons. The most obvious case is unnecessary experiments, such as mutilating cats to see the effect on their sexual habits. Another example is experiments carried out without scientific rigor, leading to their being disregarded as scientific evidence. Experiments exposing dogs to high temperatures until they die have been repeated multiple times, with similar results, and again, for no apparent reason. The last example discussed, and the most broad, though not as overriding as the other two, is when the viability of an experiment depends on an animal suffering the way a human suffers. In this instance, the experimenters cannot deny that they are causing suffering to animals, because for their results to be applicable to humans, their subjects must react as a human would.

The chapter provides extensive examples of testing conducted on animals. Information about common procedures were the most compelling.

n this animal testing picture a monkey restrained by chains is about to undergo a Draize eye irritancy test. Substances such as shampoos, cosmetics, pesticides, weed-killers, household products and riot control gases are instilled into the animal's eyes. Generally no pain relief is given during this cruel animal testing. Photo: Brian Gunn /IAAPEA

In this animal testing picture a monkey restrained by chains is about to undergo a Draize eye irritancy test. Substances such as shampoos, cosmetics, pesticides, weed-killers, household products and riot control gases are instilled into the animal's eyes. Generally no pain relief is given during this cruel animal testing. Photo: Brian Gunn /IAAPEA ©

LD50 stands for “lethal does 50 percent”: the amount of the substance that will kill half of the animals in the study. To find that dose level, sample groups of animals are poisoned. Normally, before the point at which half of them die is reached, the animals are all very ill and obviously in distress. In the case of fairly harmless substances it is still considered good procedure to find the concentration that will make half the animals die; consequently enormous quantities have to be force-fed to the animals, and death may be caused merely by large volume or high concentration given to the animals. This has no relevance to the circumstances in which humans will use the product.… The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that “several million” animals are used each year for toxicological testing in the United States. No more specific estimates for the LD50 test are available.

The prevalence of these experiments, or similar ones, is not definite, mostly because of a lack of government regulation. Singer cites some numbers, however: “The National Institute of Mental Health funded over 350 experiments on animals… This government agency spent more than $30 million dollars on animals experiments in one year.” And, “Estimates of the animals used in the United States each year range from 10 million to upwards of 100 million.” He adds, “This is a conservative estimate.”

Singer reveals one example of an especially cruel experiment, though not alone in its horrific nature. “Harlow and Suomi describe how they had the ‘fascinating idea’ of inducing depression by ‘allowing baby monkeys to attach to cloth surrogate mothers who would become monsters’: The first of these monsters was a cloth monkey mother who, upon schedule or demand, would eject high-pressure compressed air. It would blow the animal’s skin practically off its body. What did the baby do? It simply clung tighter and tighter to the mother….” The results of these experiments, Singer says, are meaningless.

To end this type of suffering, one can take several steps. The first is to make your objections known to your politicians and to the public through letters and protests. The second is to stop purchasing products tested on animals: These products are labeled with an icon that says, “This product was not tested on animals.” Otherwise, Singer writes, “we should just do without any new but potentially hazardous substances that are not essential to our lives.” To adjust one’s habits and life may seem difficult, but when it is done out of respect and consideration for animal rights, then it becomes a moral imperative.

   	An unwanted dog from a dog pound has been left chained, on a dirty basement floor in a laboratory, after an experiment which involved major surgery. No after-care facilities were provided by the vivisectors, the blankets have been donated by animal welfare workers. Photo: Brian Gunn /IAAPEA ©

An unwanted dog from a dog pound has been left chained, on a dirty basement floor in a laboratory, after an experiment which involved major surgery. No after-care facilities were provided by the vivisectors, the blankets have been donated by animal welfare workers. Photo: Brian Gunn /IAAPEA ©

Another imperative, which you may consider as Pollan did, when you sit down to eat a steak for your dinner, is that we cease to eat meat or animal products that come from factory farms. The suffering that our diets impose on animals is immense, yet extraordinarily well concealed. Corporations raise the animals that feed America, and they take advantage of lax government standards to treat animals like “machines that convert fodder into flesh.” In order to make their products cheaper, animals are raised in poor conditions and fed unnatural food and chemicals that accelerate their development. “Once we place nonhuman animals outside our sphere of moral consideration and treat them as things we use to satisfy our own desires, the outcome is predictable.” The condition of the animals is deplorable.

In mass-market agribusiness, the chicken, for example, whose natural life span is seven years, lives only seven weeks. In the United States the average bird has 375 square centimeters of living space, too small for it to even stretch its wings. One farmer may be in charge of 250,000 chickens, who live in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) in which it is poisonous to breathe. “When the birds must stand and sit on rotting, dirty, ammonia-charged litter, they also suffer from ulcerated feet, breast blisters, and hock burns.” Most chickens never see daylight until they are taken out to be slaughtered. Every year in the US, 5.3 billion birds are killed for meat. That’s about 25 birds for every citizen. They take the form of nuggets, wings, legs, breasts — fried, roasted, broiled, sliced, deboned, or stuffed. Fifty percent of the birds are sold by only 8 corporations, which signals a death of family farms.

The artificial insemination of birds raised for meat on factory farms is rough and brutal. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

The artificial insemination of birds raised for meat on factory farms is rough and brutal. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

As for pigs and cattle, the industries that raise our food have become more abusive, confining animals to space so small they cannot even turn around. The mother animals are systematically raped or bred, then separated from their children. The animals suffer a brutal, accelerated cycle of life and death for the benefit of the companies who own them. Their suffering is evident in this observation made by G. Cronin, writing about tethering pigs with a collar or chain to keep them from escaping from their open-ended stalls. “The sows threw themselves violently backwards, straining against the tether. Sows thrashed their heads about as they twisted and turned in their struggle to free themselves. Often loud screams were emitted and occasionally individuals crashed bodily against the side boards of the tether stalls. This sometimes resulted in sows collapsing to the floor.” Singer writes, “Their violent attempts to escape can last up to three hours.”

“The factory farm is nothing more than the application of technology to the idea that animals are means to our ends.” Tail docking, debeaking, and castrating are the deliberate physical mutilations used to control animals in extremely close conditions and states of suffering as a means to the end: money. The “end” has a catastrophic effect on the environment. “A modest 60,000 bird egg factory produces eighty-two tons of urine… In the United States, farm animals produce 2 billion tons of manure a year — about ten times that of the human population.” Singer tells us there were 3,500 incidents of water pollution from farms in 1985. “Here is one example from that year: a tank at a pig unit burst, sending a quarter million liters of pig excrement into the River Perry…”

Besides what comes out of the animals, what goes in is alarming. A 1000-lb. steer requires enough water to float a destroyer. If each pound of beef erodes 35 lbs. of eroded topsoil (as Singer claims), that would mean nearly two tons of valuable soil is lost. Further, the number of calories in the resulting beef we get as food is only 1/33 the number of calories in the oil that was used to produce it. This is most alarming, considering some corn grown in Mexico produces 83 calories of food with one calorie of fuel. Clearly a vegetarian diet is critical to sustaining our environment, as well as maintaining respect and equality for all living creatures.

Pigs raised on factory farms are confined in metal and concrete pens with hard slatted flooring. The live here until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at six months old. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Pigs raised on factory farms are confined in metal and concrete pens with hard slatted flooring. The live here until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at six months old. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Singer describes the vegetarian diet as a boycott against the way animals are treated. By refusing to purchase meat, the corporations responsible for raising the animals that produce the meat will be forced to use their resources in other ways — or go bankrupt. He sets the standards of the boycott: “replace animal flesh with plant foods; replace factory farm eggs with free-range eggs… replace the milk and cheese you buy with soymilk, tofu, or other plant foods, but do not feel obliged to go to great lengths to avoid all food containing milk products.” He admits, however: “Eliminating speciesism from one’s dietary habits is very difficult to do all at once. People who adopt the strategy I support here have made a clear public commitment to the movement against animal exploitation.”

As Will Tuttle, Ph.D. explains in World Peace Diet, our food choices are affected by the culture we have inherited from 2000 years of western culture. To recognize animal rights is a “radical break” from this culture. It is a just one, however difficult. Our culture has thrived by ignoring the immoral consequences of using animals for our pleasure or purpose. While we are deeply involved in humanity’s own importance, it is important to see the significance of all living creatures. “It is only when we think of human beings as no more than a small subgroup of all beings that inhabit our planet that we may realize that in elevating our own species we are at the same time lowering the relative status of all other species.”

Hung upside down by shackles, thousands of chickens are killed every hour at the slaughterhouse. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

The isolation of humanity has been profitable for few, and harmful all. To quote the French poet Francis Ponge, “Il faut mettre homme a sa rang dans la nature, il est assez haut. Il faut mettre homme a sa place dans la nature, il est assez honorable.” My translation of this is that humans (man, actually, though I’ll take the liberty of saying humans) should accept their rank in nature, which is high enough, and their place in nature, which is honorable enough. In essence, we must think of ourselves as one with nature, not outside of it.

Someone once asked me why lions should eat meat, but humans should not. Aside from the obvious physical evidence — that we have only two canine teeth designed for eating meat and that we are reared for walking, not for speed (a lion runs on four legs, not two) —  the most important reason is that our ingenuity enables us to hunt with weapons and presents us with the choice between killing for food and finding alternative ways of eating. If everyone in America would recognize this choice and eat a vegetarian diet, the impoverished people in the world could be fed eight times over. If it were possible to teach a lion how to eat corn, I would suggest it. As it is, I propose we respect the lion’s place in nature, as we should respect the place of all living creatures, human or non.

Elias Simpson

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

World Peace Diet – Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony

Californians Protect Farm Animals with Prop 2

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Publisher

For far too long, critics of environmentalism have resorted to a now-familiar false dichotomy pitting humankind against Nature. Human beings are a species apart, they say, detached from the ecosphere but still able (indeed, morally obligated) to reap its benefits. This fallacy is backed up by a related either/or argument, in which any environmental regulation is equated with obstructing the progress and well being of the human race. According to this philosophy, the protection of the proverbial spotted owl threatens the welfare of humanity.

Over the course of decades, science has unambiguously disproved these premises. It has become increasingly clear that in addition to providing innumerable non-material benefits to humankind, the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it bestow upon us equally incalculable eco-services, such as water purification and soil enrichment. Humanity requires Nature to survive. Therefore, it is in our best interests to protect, preserve, and nurture the environment.

This is the argument behind E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). Refuting the tired ideas of anti-environmentalism and presenting the reality of human dependence upon Nature, Wilson demonstrates that the environmental crisis will affect us all, regardless of our ideological differences. It is appropriate then, that the book is not simply a sermon to the converted. Rather, it is a direct address to the very people who stand in the way of environmental progress. Of course, the converted can enjoy it too.

Written in the form of a letter to an unnamed Southern Baptist pastor — a member of a famously anti-environmental, anti-science political coalition — The Creation is Wilson’s compassionate plea to safeguard and care for the biosphere. Though Wilson is obviously attempting to bridge sharp political, cultural, and religious divides — to forge a truce, if you will, between Red States and Blue States — he is just as interested in expressing his personal conception of Nature and humanity’s place in it. And the reader is lucky for that, for Wilson is a fine chronicler of the natural world and his musings are as effective an argument as any.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for General Non-fiction, E.O. Wilson has long been one of America’s most prominent naturalists and theorists. In The Creation, he clearly draws upon his decades of work in the fields of sociobiology, entomology, and conservation to produce a document that is brief without being shallow and compassionate without being impractical.

Beginning with a salutation to the unnamed pastor, Wilson goes on to describe the wondrous workings of Nature and the problems that humanity — with its mix of “Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology” — has caused it. “Civilization was purchased by the betrayal of Nature,” Wilson tells us in the first few pages. If humanity and Nature are to survive, this betrayal must be mitigated as much as possible.

Refreshingly, The Creation is not simply a screed or list of grievances, and Wilson doesn’t try to assign blame. Though the many environmental problems we face are well-documented, he is equally interested in compelling a sense of reverential awe for Nature. For each current or coming ecological catastrophe, there is something uplifting, fascinating. So while “the pauperization of Earth” is examined in-depth, Wilson is generous enough to provide a profile of the wolverine and the pitchfork ant (“two magnificent animals”) and the occasional incredible fact (“700 bacterial species thrive as symbionts in the human mouth”). Along the way, he touches upon his own thought-provoking theories of “biophilia” (the theory of humanity’s innate connection to Nature) and “consilience” (the unity of all knowledge), as well as his long love of ants.

And somehow it all works. When I came to the final page, I didn’t feel despondent or angry, but rather, inspired. I was excited to protect that pitchfork ant, as I was every other living thing.

The Creation is less concerned with all of the past crimes perpetrated against Nature than it is with preventing future ones. Wilson only devotes half of the book to the sorry state of the environment. The other half is dedicated to biology as a subject of study — its definition, laws, discoveries — and how to effectively teach a love of Nature to children and students. He closes with a proposal to the pastor to create “An Alliance for Life.” But what of the profound differences separating the author from his symbolic opponent? Wilson has an answer:

“Forget the differences, I say. Meet on common ground. That might not be as difficult as it seems at first. When you think about it, our metaphysical differences have remarkably little effect on the conduct of our separate lives. My guess is that you and I are about equally ethical, patriotic, and altruistic. We are products of a civilization that rose from both religion and the science-based Enlightenment. We would gladly serve on the same jury, fight the same war, sanctify human life with the same intensity. And surely we also share a love of the Creation.”

Published just three years ago, The Creation seems well-suited to the historical moment. With all this talk of national unity and the bridging of partisan divides (cross your fingers), it seems fitting to read a book about hope and change from an author who’s truly a uniter, not a divider. For its affirmative tone, Wilson’s text strikes me as one that begs repeated readings. For those of you fighting the good fight out there — through activism, conservation, recycling and the like — you may occasionally feel as if it is all in vain. But, sometimes, great causes should be undertaken regardless of their chances of victory. The Creation will tell you why.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The World Without Us

Ansel Adams at 100

Silent Spring

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

The World Without Us

Nature has her way, once humans leave. Photo:

Nature has her way, once humans leave. Photo:

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

When I read a book about the environment, I usually come away depressed. Sure, there are some uplifting books out there, but most environmental books concern coming or current catastrophes. Global warming, extinction, horrific pollution — these are common topics, and they make for dismal reading. Though Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us addresses all of these familiar issues and more, upon completing it, I felt the strangest sense of hope. It was one of the most interesting and oddly affecting non-fiction books I have ever read.

The work’s controlling idea is a simple one, but with far-reaching implications: What would happen to the world (the natural and man-made realms) if all of humanity just disappeared? What would become of our cities and farms, of the forests and oceans? Drawing upon expert opinions, history and his own imaginative powers, Weisman envisions an earth devoid of human beings, but not of our material legacy. He charts the hypothetical decay of our entire infrastructure and imagines the return of true wilderness where the human race once dwelled. The results of this extended thought experiment are both humbling and heartening.

The book is impressive both for its vast scope and its crisp style. Weisman is just as adept at describing staggering feats of human endeavor as he is at explaining the complex properties of micro-organisms. His visits to locations as diverse as the DMZ of the Korean Peninsula, a strip-mining operation in North Carolina, and the Aberdares moors of Kenya are uniformly interesting and well-written.

Indeed, the great strength of The World Without Us is its many vivid descriptions of things alternately appalling and awe-inspiring. Never before have I been given such a clear idea of the scope, the scale of human industry. As I came to learn, humanity has embarked upon projects that are truly massive in size and conception. In reading the chapter on the environmental legacy of petroleum extraction and the immense industrial complex in Houston, I could not help but be amazed at the audacity, the ingenuity, the foolishness of the human race. Did you know that enormous underwater salt domes are hollowed out and used to store explosive gases until they can be turned into plastic? I didn’t. In every chapter, I was confronted with a fact that significantly affected my understanding of the natural world and humanity’s role in shaping it.

The overarching theme of the book, if it can be said to have one, is the resilience and fluidity of the natural world. No matter what humans throw at it, nature endures. Currently, some of the most ecologically vibrant places on the earth are decrepit industrial wastelands. Chernobyl, the site of an infamous 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine, is now a teeming wilderness. Less than a year after humans fled, the birds returned to settle in one of the most dangerous and desolate places on the earth. Weisman’s description is profound:

To watch barn swallows zip naked around the carcass of the hot reactor is discombobulating, especially when you are swaddled in layers of wool and hooded canvas coveralls to block alpha particles, with a surgical cap and mask to keep plutonium dust from your hair and lungs. You want them to fly away, fast and far. At the same time it’s mesmerizing that they’re here. It all seems so normal, as if apocalypse has turned out to be not so bad after all. The worst happens, and life still goes on.

The imagined speedy demise of our infrastructure underscores just how unnatural our lives are. If humans really were to disappear, we learn, nature would shrug off our cheap material legacy almost immediately. In a couple of days, New York’s subway system would flood with water, and in a couple of decades, a nascent river would flow through Manhattan. Our houses would disappear in one hundred years, while some would rot in as little as ten. The plants and animals driven off by human development would very quickly reclaim their lost territory and settle among the ruins of our civilization. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all.

Unfortunately, Weisman tells us, only the worst aspects of our material legacy will endure. Plastics will be around for thousands of years, if not longer; the same with rubber. Sadly, a Texas-sized piece of Pacific ocean covered with floating man-made debris — literally a sea of garbage — will serve as a monument to humanity indefinitely, or at least until something evolves to devour all of those tasty polymers. Another piece of our proud legacy will be 441 abandoned nuclear plants. The reactor core of the average plant, after spewing significant amounts of radiation into the atmosphere, would “[congeal] into a deadly, dull metallic blob: a tombstone to the intellect that created it.” The accompanying nuclear wastes would be around as long as chemistry and the laws of physics dictate.

Even a fortress will eventually succumb to the forces of nature.

Even a fortress will eventually succumb to the forces of nature.

It is depressing to consider that our most regrettable and destructive creations will serve to testify to our existence long after we are gone (it would take about 100,000 years for the earth to reabsorb all of the carbon dioxide we’ve pumped into the atmosphere); but as I said, this is not a depressing book. Despite all of the harm human beings have done to nature, it will survive. Though we like to flatter ourselves with ideas of grandiosity and power, in the big scheme of things, we’re just another species trying to make its way in the world. It’s a strangely uplifting idea. While it does not absolve us of our obligation to clean up our act, it does make us feel just a little bit more optimistic about the future, whether we’re around for it or not.

In a general sense, what Weisman ultimately recommends is that humankind step back and learn to curb its procreative and consumptive instincts, to live more thoughtfully. We must realize that humanity is a part of nature and not in opposition to it. Besides, based on the evidence, we would surely lose a war of attrition.

The World Without Us is the kind of book you want everyone to read, that you want to press into the hands of strangers and say, “Take a look at this.” I came away from it seeing things a little differently, in some ways radically differently. I am sure other readers will too. Possessing a wide appeal and fascinating premise, this book could change minds. Perhaps best of all though, it’s a great read. Lucid, comprehensive, imaginative — it has more to recommend it than the good intentions of its author. So, I will finally leave you with a piece of advice I hope you will soon be giving to strangers: Take a look at this.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The Creation – An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

Ansel Adams at 100

Silent Spring

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6 of a Billionth of the Planet

I have trouble making even little decisions about how to help the environment. Say I find a mucked-up glass jar hiding in the back of the refrigerator. Should I rinse it out so that I can recycle it? Or should I toss it in the trash and save the precious fresh water it would take to clean it?

If a small decision like that has me stymied, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to figure out how to build a truly “green” building. James Glave, author of Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6 of a Billionth of the Planet, decided to do just that. His book chronicles an amazing number of decisions he had to make and challenges he faced when trying to build a single, small building he calls an “Eco Shed.” I wasn’t far into the book before realizing I’m a whole lot less green than I thought I was.

In the first chapter, Glave recommends checking out YouTube for a clip posted by a U.K. government agency in December 2005: Tomorrow’s Climate, Today’s Challenge. He recounts that he reflexively clicks his mouse on the You-Tube clip that haunts him and drives him to try to live a greener life:

“It’s a throat-grabbing moment, and in my mind it underscores one of the most inconvenient truths of all: increasing numbers of us connect the dots between SUV tailpipes and the hottest summers on record, but we often overlook a big bad factory right under our noses — home.”

Glave’s saga begins in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in a drafty, old house in a freezing, cold winter. He and his wife are struggling with budget considerations and long-distance negotiations to purchase a new home on an island off the western coast of Canada.  After making some compromises, they purchase a medium-sized tract home with an upgrade to a larger lot and room for a garden.

While attempting to influence neighbors and friends, and lead their children into green-thinking, they are constantly embarrassed about driving their Lexus SUV, a gift from the author’s father-in-law:

“The truth is, the moment you take your life off autopilot — the moment you begin leading by example — you essentially start to tinker with the social order. First, in a kind of self-defense mechanism, some might begin holding you to a higher moral standard. Once you publicly embrace green, there’s little wiggle room for the occasional Starbucks’ latte, McDonald’s french-fry binge, or, heaven forbid — dollop of Cool Whip. (These occasional nobody’s-perfect indulgences become hypocrisies.)”

Struggling with his green dream, Glave begins to plan a zero-emissions outbuilding on their property, to serve as a writing study and guest room. The plans become complicated when he has to dismantle the carport (also a gift from the well-intentioned in-laws) in order to provide sunlight to heat his “Eco Shed” during the cold, wet Canadian winters.

Glave’s search for recycled and earth-friendly materials to build this single-car-garage-sized building, and the difficulties he faces, defy imagination. Glave takes us along on his search for each eco-friendly building material, never compromising in his determination to purchase each item as locally as possible. Because the Eco Shed is such a small project, Glave has trouble with architects, contractors, schedules, and purchases. Budget overruns, marital stress, job stress, and delays punctuate the pages.

But Glave’s building adventure is not the only issue he chronicles. His burning desire to recycle the Lexis SUV and buy a smaller, more gas-efficient vehicle keeps nagging at the edges of the story:

“Buying a tiny, sporty car would give us the vehicular equivalent of a gastric bypass operation; we’d feel fuller faster, which would naturally help curb our consumer appetites. We wouldn’t buy as much vacuous crap, I reasoned, because we’d have no way of getting it home. But most important, we’d slash that naggingly large transportation footprint.”

By the end of the book, another family member buys the Lexus, and the Glaves are free to purchase the small car. He recounts a conversation with his daughter:

“Along the way, the three of us silently took in the transportation profile of Bowen Island. Though there were a few other pint-sized runabouts on the roads, we passed several contractors’ Ram-tough megapickups, a jacked-up Ford Excursion with monster tires…

‘Hey, Dad,’ asked Sabrina, ‘remember how you said our new car was much nicer to the planet?’
‘That sounds pretty good to me.’
‘It does doesn’t it? I feel much better about our car. Don’t you?’
‘I guess so.’
Then, a beat.
‘But what about all the other cars?’ ”

This book is entertaining, but educational in ways I didn’t expect. Who knew the single-family home was such a blight on the earth? Breaking the cycle of waste and destruction is more complicated, it seems, than just separating cans and bottles from real trash, and using canvas shopping bags at the market:

“Having stubbornly refused to compromise for the better part of a year, I now appreciate that green is more a direction than a destination. It is a relentless and private self-improvement project that will never be concluded….

“Eventually, the acceptable norms will evolve, and every one of us will discover that transformational change isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather a dog’s breakfast of compromises and personal discoveries.”

If you’re serious about living a green life and not making the earth worse than it was when you came here, this book is for you. It’s a good read that allows you to laugh at yourself while you see how far you’ve come, then take a sober look at how far there is yet to go. Unwinding all the damage we’ve done to the earth is impossible, but we must not wait to begin trying.

Belinda Geiger

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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