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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2006
Table of Contents
Interview: Jaime Lerner
Photography of Hope
Decoder: See No Evil
Year One
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
The Green Life
Hey Mr. Green
Good Going
Sierra Club Bulletin
Sierra Archives
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Sierra Magazine
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The Green Life
Ideas for living well and doing good
By Jennifer Hattam

Media Lounge | Fast-Food Notion | Trendsetter | Scrappy Style | Whole-Earth Workout | Grapevine | No Goods | Vital Signs | Pop Corner

Media Lounge
Books and films to spark fresh thinking and inspire new habits

Better Off
LET'S TALK Discuss this selection with your friends and neighbors. Learn how at
a book by Eric Brende
It was a contrarian quest for an MIT student: to see how little technology is needed to get the most out of life. In search of an answer, Eric Brende and his new wife moved to an Amish-like community in rural Pennsylvania, where they traded electric lights for kerosene lamps, tap water for a pump and cistern, and desk jobs for sorghum farming. Somehow, more physical labor allowed for more leisure and, for the Brendes, a more satisfying lifestyle. At the experiment's end, they embarked on the biggest challenge of all: rejoining the modern world without abandoning their minimalist ideals.

how to be a bad birdwatcher HOW TO BE A (BAD) BIRDWATCHER
a book by Simon Barnes
For British sportswriter Simon Barnes, birdwatching is "a state of being, not an activity": You don't need to go anyplace special to do it, and you don't need fancy equipment or exhaustive lists. All you have to do is look. After all, as Barnes writes, "the great thing about being a beginner is that it doesn't take much to please you."
The Real Dirt of Farmer John THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN
a film by Taggart Siegel
This is the true story of a misfit Midwesterner whose artistic spirit and associations with outsiders provoked his neighbors' suspicions—and then helped him save his family farm. Taggart Siegel's documentary begins as an elegy for a dying way of life, but it ends with hope as Farmer John revitalizes the community by bringing in urban dwellers hungry for a connection to their food and the land.
a book by David B. Williams
Former park ranger David B. Williams discovers a salmon sanctuary in the shadow of a shopping mall, watches a pair of bald eagles build a nest in a well-trafficked Seattle park, and traces his drinking water "from forest to faucet." Just as nature has created unlikely urban niches, Williams's keen observations allow him to make a place in city life for his wild heart.
a book by Philippe Bourseiller
This coffee-table take on the "50 Simple Things You Can Do" concept does more than multiply the tasks: It accompanies each suggestion with striking nature photographs. Though there may be no direct connection between compact fluorescents and Bolivian cacti, such idiosyncratic pairings remind readers that how they go about their daily lives has far-reaching—and not always obvious—effects.

Fast-Food Notion

BurgerVille Do burgers taste better when they're cooked on a wind-powered grill? Perhaps not, but for fast food you can feel good about eating, it's hard to top Burgerville. The Pacific Northwest chain—which dishes up all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free local beef—recently announced that it would use wind-generated energy to provide 100 percent of the electricity at its 39 franchises and Vancouver, Washington, headquarters.

Find purveyors of sustainably produced meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs in your area at

Twenty-seven percent of Americans' daily trips are one mile or less.

Ross Evans, inventor, the Xtracycle

xtracycle Ross Evans

Toting your kid to school? Hauling a kayak to the water? Leave your car behind and hop on one of Ross Evans's inventions. With its sturdy rear platform and roomy saddlebags, the sleek, elongated Xtracycle is more maneuverable than a bicycle trailer and can handle loads of up to 150 pounds.

Q: What's your favorite place to take your Xtracycle?

A: The grocery store. Everybody needs to go shopping, and the Xtracycle makes a mundane experience joyful.

Q: How so?

A: People get an Xtracycle for a specific chore, but it makes it possible to live a whole lifestyle that's more sustainable while getting in better shape and being more adventurous.

Q: What about bad weather?

A: Marketers try to sell us on an ideal of comfort: "You've worked hard. You deserve to drive a leather-interior car with the air conditioner on." We're saying you deserve to experience life more fully by getting in touch with the elements and your own self-sufficiency. —interview by Alison Fromme

A recent study concluded that switching to organic foods provides kids with "dramatic and immediate" protection from toxic pesticides.

Scrappy Style

From its leather-tiled floor to its sheet-metal shingles, every inch of this two-bedroom house is made from trash. After scouring scrap yards and construction sites for reusable materials—including 1,500 phone books that help insulate the building and improve its acoustics—a team of artists, architects, and builders erected a temporary exhibition home to display at World Environment Day last summer in San Francisco. A permanent version is under way in Seattle.

Whole-Earth Workout

People will do just about anything to lose weight, a tendency the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers is putting to use for the environment. Participants in the "Green Gyms" movement, which started in 1999 and is now established in 50 cities, get their weekly workout by planting trees, creating gardens, clearing trails, and carrying out other conservation projects. Sessions include warm-up exercises, training in the use of tools, and even a tea break.

Exercising outdoors, exposed to the elements and uneven terrain, can burn 30 percent more calories than hitting the gym.


Whole Foods Market branched out to whole-life retailing last fall, adding a shop in West Hollywood specializing in ecofriendly clothing and housewares to its chain of 180 grocery stores. * British model Elizabeth Hurley, the mother of a three-year-old boy, is developing a line of organic baby foods. * The Nike Considered hiking boot, one of the company's new shoes manufactured with less wasteful and toxic processes, was a 2005 "gold" winner at the Industrial Designers Society of America's prestigious awards. * The Christian Science Monitor has anointed the likely buyers of such boots—young urban professionals with a green bent—as "GUPPYS."

No Goods

Hummer This may sound like a joke, but apparently some men really want to smell like a heavily polluting, obnoxiously large SUV. "In keeping with its famous heritage, HUMMER Fragrance For Men is masculine with rugged and adventurous attributes.... The smooth richness of tonka bean acts as the 'axle' that links and balances the fresh and warm notes, creating an olfactory sensation that can only be HUMMER." How'd you like to be stuck in an elevator with a guy wearing that?

* * *

With high-end java joints spreading into every corner of the country, it seems that getting a piping-hot cup of coffee wherever you go couldn't be easier. But it wasn't convenient enough for Wolfgang Puck. Last year, the celebrity chef introduced a line of packaged lattes in self-heating containers. A reaction between water and calcium oxide in a sealed inner cone warms up your drink in six to eight minutes, time you might spend pondering whether getting ten ounces of coffee in a half pound of single-use packaging is much of a breakthrough.

Vital Signs

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

Sierra readers may be trying to live lighter, but nationwide the disease of overconsumption has only spread since David Wann and his coauthors outlined its symptoms in their 2001 book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. While working on the revised edition, Wann stopped to check America's rising temperature, using five variables from the book's new "Fever Index":

Wiggle Room measures the size of the average new nonrural single-family home:
2001 2,361 square feet
2004 2,402 square feet

The Guzzle Gauge tracks per-capita fossil-fuel consumption:
2001 291 million Btu
(the equivalent of 2,328 gallons of gasoline)
2004 293.7 million Btu
(the equivalent of 2,349 gallons of gasoline)

The Waste Line estimates the amount of consumer electronics thrown away every year:
2001 2,054,800 tons
2003 2,500,000 tons

Wing Span indicates how many air miles Americans travel annually:
2001 664,849,159,000 miles
2004 752,323,898,981 miles

The Debit Sheet calculates how much the average household owes in car payments and credit card debt:
2001 $17,024
2004 $18,619

Pop Corner

In between all the photos of hot babes and cool gadgets, lad-mag Maxim found room to tell readers of its September 2005 issue how to "stick it to the utility companies" by living off the grid. Tip #11: Use propane for your heating system and "save electricity for your PS2!" (That's "PlayStation 2" for Sierra readers happily beyond Maxim's demographic.) After all, how much fun can the simple life be if you can't play Grand Theft Auto?

* * *

It's really no surprise that the writers of Six Feet Under, the acclaimed HBO series about a family-run funeral home, were attuned to the latest trend in death: green burials. After killing off one of the main characters in the show's final season, they had mourners wrap his body in a simple (and biodegradable) burlap sack and bury it. The practice, which avoids the toxic chemicals used in embalming, has long been popular in the United Kingdom (see and is on the rise in the United States, where at least four cemeteries are devoted to low-impact interment.

Farmer John photo: Taggart Siegel; Naturalist photo: Joel Rogers; Ross Evans photo: Lori Eanes; Hummer photo courtesy of Riviera Concepts Inc.
"Green Gyms" illustration by Josef Gast

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