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Sierra magazine
Enjoy | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Sing for Tomorrow | Trendsetter | The (Recycled) Art of War | Happy B-earth-day | Trashy Totes |
The Taste of Power

Sing for Tomorrow

"All things move in music and write it," said Sierra Club founder John Muir. Legendary songwriter Oscar Hammerstein echoed that observation: "All the sounds of the earth are like music." No surprise, then, that so many musicians are concerned about the planet--a soothing refrain for anyone who loves music and the outdoors with equal fervor.
An ecoTunes Playlist That Won't Make You Cringe
Gathering from all corners of the musical map--bluegrass ballads, black-metal dirges, pop sarcasm, and classic folk anthems--we herein suggest a set of songs in favor of not trashing the planet, in the order we'd play them on our iPod.

Marvin Gaye, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (1971)
The luscious, sad, soulful linchpin to any self-respecting green jukebox.

Johnny Cash, "Don't Go Near the Water" (Boom Chicka Boom version; 1989)
Sparsely backed, employing that sonorous voice of authority, the Man in Black breaks the bad news to children about their environmental inheritance in classic Cash fashion.

Metallica, "Blackened" (1988)
The kings of metal poignantly--if noisily and thrashily--lament Mother Earth's demise.

I See Hawks in L.A., "In the Garden" (2008)
Country rockers from the city of sprawl deliver pretty, rollicking notes about bees, weather, logging, and a paradise "bothered" rather than lost.

The Postal Service, "We Will Become Silhouettes" (2003)
A dulcet, dancey synth-pop indictment of the air we breathe.

Mos Def, "New World Water" (1999)
The rapper-actor drops F-bombs on rising oceans, poisoned water, and imminent shortages.

Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi" (1970)
Another classic, denouncing pesticides, overdevelopment, and painful breakups.

Ted Nugent, "Great White Buffalo" (1978)
Sweet guitar licks and the Nuge's hunter-conservationist take on species extinction.

Wolves in the Throne Room, "Vastness and Sorrow" (2007)
Gorgeous black-metal onslaught by Earth First!-leaning farmsteaders. Unintelligible lyrics paint a scorched, wasted earth.

The Roots, "Rising Down" (2007)
A hip-hop general survey of worldwide malaise hits global warming and not-so-natural disasters.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, "Johnny Appleseed" (2001)
Rousing (and sage) advice about resource management from a punk-rock icon.

Jean Ritchie, "Black Waters" (1971)
The Appalachian folksinger calls out the coal companies in this (unfortunately) timeless bittersweet tune.

Talking Heads, "(Nothing But) Flowers" (1988)
Playfully sarcastic, joyously upbeat, David Byrne's visions of a carless, fast-food-free future in which plant life overtakes factories and freeways.

Peter Gabriel, "Down to Earth" (2008)
Just hearing this slick piece of pop from the WALL-E soundtrack triggers enviro-endorphin sunbursts in the brain.

--Lynn Rapoport

Vocal Activists
Billboard's annual list of top-enviro musicians charts performers who offset their carbon footprint, donate to green charities, and drive around in biofueled vehicles. Recent rundowns have included well-known nature lovers like Jack Johnson, John Legend, Pete Seeger, Willie Nelson, Radiohead, and Dave Matthews. To those, we'd like to add a few artists you may not have heard of — yet.

Singer-songwriter Alyssa released a soulful new album, Within, in 2008, whose folksy tracks express reverence and worry for the natural world. Her CD's jacket is recycled and plastic-free.

Feliciano dos Santos, the front man of Mazambique's Massukos, sings lively Afro-pop in the Nyanja language. He won the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize for his advocacy for clean water.

Country crooner Adrienne Young has a down-home musical style and a passion for sustainable agriculture; her debut CD, Plow to the End of the Row, included a packet of seeds. Her songs are abundant with farming references, her website links to the local-food organizations with which she partners, and she often performs at planting festivals and nature symposiums.

Music Fests' Sound Environmental Notes
All over the country, fans converge at music festivals to experience the organic unity of swaying en masse to the same beat. Since these annual gatherings often stamp a damaging footprint, festival organizers are taking steps to tread lightly.

Bonnaroo, held in Manchester, Tennessee, is biodiesel-powered and provides composting and recycling bins, an option to contribute to sustainable causes when buying a ticket, a program to reduce bottled-water consumption, and concession stands that dispense only biodegradable plates, cups, and cutlery. Bonnaroo offsets all its emissions. Among the headliners for the June 11&ndash14, 2009, festival are Bruce Springsteen, Phish, Nine Inch Nails, Al Green, and Ben Harper.

San Francisco's Outside Lands (August 28&ndash30, 2009) has the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Incubus, and M.I.A. on its carbon-neutral lineup. According to the event's Web site, "about anything you can buy at Outside Lands will be either recyclable or compostable." By turning in recyclables, festivalgoers can win concert tickets and band merchandise, and there's a place to donate old cell phones and recharge current ones with solar and wind power.

Austin City Limits is carbon-neutral, uses biodiesel in every generator, and has "Rock and Recycle" centers where fans can exchange recyclables for T-shirts and posters. Food is mostly local and organic and served on compostable flatware. The Beastie Boys, John Legend, Kings of Leon, and 100-plus other bands are scheduled to play October 2&ndash4, 2009.

Pete Seeger on Our Radio

Sierra Club Radio was thrilled to interview folk music icon Pete Seeger in honor of his recent 90th(!) birthday. While Seeger's music is loved by many, his audiences might not be aware of his long history as an environmental activist.

During the interview, which you can listen to by clicking here (go here to subscribe to our podcast), Seeger talks about:
-the connection between music and social change
-his early beginnings as an environmentalist
-his 40-plus-year fight to clean up the Hudson River
-performing with Bruce Springsteen at President Barack Obama's inauguration
-why he believes that we're living in the best of times
-his reasons for hope, and more . . .

For more Sierra Club Radio interviews, check out Cotel


Missy Higgins, singer-songwriter

After the success of her debut album, Sound of White, this husky-voiced Aussie stole away to a rural part of her homeland for six months to write music under an open sky. Higgins--one of Billboard's ten greenest artists last year--is a stalwart eco-warrior. Her tours are carbon neutral, she's a vegetarian, and she totes her trusty Sigg bottle everywhere. Her most recent album, On a Clear Night, reveals a deep appreciation for the healthy abandon we achieve in the natural world, especially on freedom-cry tracks like "Going North" and "Steer."

Q: You partnered with the Sierra Club to give away your hit single, "Where I Stood," to benefit the 2% Solution campaign.

A: Being involved in that is great because it's a really inspiring and realistic way of getting people to make a change, by doing it a tiny bit at a time--just cutting 2 percent [of carbon emissions] a year. I think a lot of people panic because they think going green is going to take all the pleasures out of living...But it's about taking a more realistic approach.

Q: Will you ever sing about environmental problems?

A: I've tried, but I can't figure out a way to do it without sounding cliche. Some people protest through their music, and some have to do it through other means. Midnight Oil does it pretty well [through their music]. They're big environmentalists. --interview by Tobin Hack

ON THE WEB To get Missy Higgins's free single and take the 2% pledge, go to Read a longer interview with her at

The (Recycled) Art of War

Artist Lin Evola-Smidt, best known for her 13-foot sculpture Renaissance Peace Angel (right) at Ground Zero, lost her husband to suicide after his health failed because, she speculates, of exposure to organic poisons from the World Trade Center attack. Evola-Smidt now devotes her work to world peace. Her projects involve melting down weapons and recycling their metals into public art.

Her next work, the New York Peace Angel monument, will stand 30 feet tall and debut in 2012. Other cities with a history of strife, including Jerusalem and Sarajevo, are lining up for similar pieces.

Happy B-earth-day

For many parents, planning a child's birthday party opens a box of eco-guilt filled with balloons, wrapping paper, and landfill-clogging trinkets. EchoAge can help. Children send e-invites using the online service, and when recipients RSVP, they're asked to donate between $10 and $40 in lieu of a material gift. A portion of that money (42.5 percent) goes toward one present of the youngster's choosing. An equal amount goes to one of a dozen charities--three of which are environmental--also selected by the child. The remaining 15 percent covers a service fee.

Trashy Totes

What would you do if you lived on a landfill? In Manila, the Philippine capital, the women of Smokey Mountain, once the world's biggest open garbage dump, are making the most of it. With help from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who funded microloans, and a nearby Catholic parish that manages the money, the women started an enterprise using newspaper strips to craft colorful handbags, the sales of which support their families. The handwoven purses, ranging from $46 to $72, translate well on U.S. streets and are available from Banyan Paper.

The Taste of Power

While many energy bars still resemble rabbit food, we found a few to savor

Energy bars have come a long way. When introduced more than two decades ago, they sacrificed taste for function and were "enjoyed" almost solely by hard-core athletes and hikers. Today, thanks to a boom in competing brands, some are actually worth savoring--while others are still harder to swallow than compressed wood shavings.

To determine the best and worst, 15 Sierra Club staffers blind-tasted and scored bars from 25 companies that work to preserve the environment. Our eaters didn't sugarcoat their opinions: Some bars garnered comments like "looks and tastes like bear scat," "I'd rather have a root canal," "should not be sold to the public," "like sticking your tongue in a mousetrap," and "kitty litter."

But other brands pack as much flavor as they do nutrients. Here are Sierra's top five in order of how they ranked. --Avital Binshtock

Luna White Chocolate Macadamia
$1.39 |
Fans called it "simply delicious," "natural tasting," and "not too dense" and noted its "nice crunch" and "tempting" appearance. They detected vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a "sweet and salty combo," which inspired comparisons to Rice Krispies Treats and popcorn Jelly Bellies. But not everyone loved this bar. "Weird aftertaste," one complained. "A bit commercial," said another. Luna bars, marketed to women by the makers of Clif Bars, are 70 percent organic. A portion of the company's proceeds goes toward eliminating environmental causes of breast cancer.

Olympic Granola Almond Chocolate Trail Bar
$2.99 |
Raves included "I'd get this for a hike, no doubt," "one of the best," and "I'd eat these every day." Our panel appreciated the "hearty, well-balanced mixture of nuts, oats, seeds, and chocolate"; the "chewy," "light and airy" texture; and that it "looks like food." One naysayer commented that there's "too much going on." Olympic Granola's corn-syrup-free bars are made of non-genetically-modified ingredients that are grown without chemical sprays.

One Lucky Duck Chewy Almond Crunch Bar
$6.50 |
Despite being chided as an ugly duckling--one taster said it looked "terrible," and another found its green seeds "off-putting"--One Lucky Duck's taste soared. The "hearty" bar is "well executed" and has "a nice collection of nuts, seeds, honey, and oats accented with raisins," with "just the right amount of moisture, chewiness, and sweetness." "This could be served as a dessert at a nice restaurant," one taster opined. Handmade in small batches, this pricey bar is from a company that sells only raw, vegan, organic products.

Clif Bar Cool Mint Chocolate
$1.39 |
"The icing pulls you in and the minty flavor finishes you off," summarized one taster. The bar was called "refreshing," "chewy but not too dense," and "like a Thin Mint." "Caffeine?" someone surmised. (Yes, actually--one of the ingredients is green tea.) Though a few found it "weird" and "too potent," most were "surprised to like this one so much." Clif Bars are 70 percent organic, and the company engages in many sustainable actions, including diverting most of its waste and using biodiesel for its fleet.

Honey Stinger Peanut Butter 'n Honey
$1.49 |
This "crumbly," "simple-looking bar" was divisive. Those who gave it a thumbs-up said it "tastes almost like candy" with an "excellent flavor," "melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter," and a "nice crunch." But those who didn't like it commented on a "terrible chemical flavor." One taster wondered, "Will the chocolate base melt in the heat?" Honey Stinger is 100 percent wind powered, and employees get time-off credit for carpooling, bicycling, or walking to work. The company recycles all paper, glass, and metal and maintains a community vegetable garden outside of its building.

On the Web See how the rest ranked on our Green Life blog.

Photos and illustrations, from top: Anne Helene Gjelstad, Josef Gast, Lori Eanes (6); used with permission.



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