Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Photo by Kenji Aoki for The New York Times

In the cover story from last week’s New York Times Magazine, Paul Greenberg writes about the end of Bluefin Tuna (Tuna’s End, 6/21/10).  It’s not a new story, this one about the pace of our consumption overtaking the reproductive capacities of some organism with the unfortunate genetic gift of tasting good.  (For other examples of general disregard of future ecological balance, see also: Cod, The Lorax, The Song of the Dodo, Collapse, etc.)  The selective pressures have changed.  The very features that helped this fish to survive over thousands of years (blood and muscle chemistry, size, shape, metabolism), are some of the same traits that contribute to what we find desirable (texture, protein and fat content, taste), and have subsequently led to its demise.

It used to be that the vastness of the Earth’s oceans provided sanctuary for large fish and cetaceans.  As the technologies of travel and communication have flattened the world, so have the advances of the world’s commercial fishing fleets shrunk the oceans.  There’s no place left to hide.  As Greenberg points out clearly and persuasively, those advances, along with the lack of regulations on the high seas — “[the fish] remain under the foggy international jurisdiction of poorly enforced tuna treaties” — have combined to wipe out the Bluefin Tuna.  It’s not over yet, but a healthy school of bluefin are no match for a fleet of purse seiners (or oil spills in their spawning grounds, for that matter), and the end is definitely in sight.

The bottom line is this: the status quo will result in extinction.

So is there any hope?  Greenberg points to a few options.  First, a worldwide moratorium on the Bluefin Tuna fishery could help the populations to recover.  This is unlikely, however, because of the demand for sushi and the lobbying clout that those millions of dollars carry along with them.  It’s also possible that a moratorium would be ignored anyway.  The second option is to replace the demand for Bluefin sushi with a farmed fish comparable in taste, texture, fat content, etc.  This might alleviate some pressure on wild populations — although feed conversion ratios for raising carnivorous fish are never great, some are better than others.  Greenberg mentions an aquaculture operation in Hawaii called Kona Blue Water Farms that is raising kahala (dubbed Kona Kampachi), and the closed-life-cycle system of raising Pacific bluefin, or Kindai Tuna in Japan.  Both are probably worth pursuing.

And then, there’s always someone at the TED conference with some ideas.  I leave you with Dan Barber’s talk from TED 2010: How I Fell In Love With a Fish. Maybe there is some hope after all.


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Indoctrination! Propaganda! cry the skeptics in the Comments section!

How about Responsibility, Conservation, and Sustainability?

An interesting read from last week’s Opinionator section of the Times; Allison Arieff on “How to Green Your Parents.”

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Go paperless!

An interesting idea from the TeachPaperless Blog, one that’s fairly easy to implement, and will be sure to spur some good conversations about paper use, waste, recycling, and the traditional role of paper in schools.

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, this group of teachers is asking if you’d be willing to go paperless, to not use any paper, or to accept work on paper on this upcoming Earth Day (April 22).

Can you commit to going paperless for the day? At latest count, about 650 teachers from around the world have signed on.

More info and links here:


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No Impact Man opened Friday 9/11/09.  Image:

No Impact Man opened on Friday Image: Oscilloscope Laboratories

The documentary “No Impact Man” opened on Friday in NY and LA.  A Huffington Post article from the other day explains a little of the back story, and it’s where I first heard of the film.  The movie presents Colin Beavan’s experiment to live with as little environmental impact as possible for a year, in Manhattan.  This meant major personal reductions in electricity use and garbage production, eating local and vegetarian, not riding subways or taxis, etc.  Although it was primarily his project, his wife and two-year-old daughter got to come along for the ride.  I don’t think they had a choice.  The experiment sounds both extreme and fascinating.  In print, Beavan has been portrayed as somewhat of a novelty (NYTimes “The Year Without Toilet Paper” March ’07) and as an attention-seeking eco-stuntman (Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker article “Green Like Me” August ’09).

So, with interest piqued, I read a bit more about Beavan, and he’s got some interesting things to say.  I thought his response to Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker article was brilliant.  He points out that she’s wasting time, energy, and magazine space by infighting (when in the grand scheme of things they are working towards the same goals), and he manages not to react so much to Kolbert’s personal jibes as to the philosophical ones.

A blog post of his from late August has some relevance to any work that promotes sustainability and environmental action; it’s called “Your green lifestyle helps convince people of global warming.” The gist is that a sense of apathy and insignificance in the general public is directly related to the subsequent decision to change nothing in the way of personal habits.  And it’s an easy out.  If I’m too small to affect change on my own, then what I do doesn’t matter, so I might as well keep doing what I’m doing. So he argues that the opposite attitude can prevail as well.  Seeing people make visible and significant changes in their lifestyle — beyond just changing lightbulbs, say — can help to reinforce the idea that our actions do matter.  This is important for a number of reasons: first, the actual positive change from people being more responsible results in less garbage produced, less fuel consumed, etc.; second, he argues that the perceived change (being part of the movement) gets more people involved; third, public and political pressure will be needed in order for anything to get done on a larger scale.  To quote Beavan, “…wholesale change in our systems — agricultural, transportation, and energy production — combined with cultural lifestyle change” is what it’s going to take to slow global climate change.

I find myself coming down on his side of the debate, recognizing that one person’s efforts do count for something.  I have to believe that — as a teacher — understanding that it’s part of my job to instill the belief in my students that they can make a difference.  That they will make a difference.  In Beavan’s case, the publicity (via book, blog, movie) is also helpful.  Watch the trailer, because what is remarkable is that these are normal people that made some serious changes for a year.  They didn’t just change lightbulbs or recycle.  It sounds hardYes, it was an experiment.  Yes, he wrote a book, and he documented the process, and he hopes that both do well.  I hope they do well.  He’s got to feed his family, right?  The take home point is this: the Beavan family’s efforts over the course of their “No Impact Year” were significant, but they pale in comparison to the potential effect of many more people making similar strides (even if they’re not as extreme).

He’s a force for good, I think, and it’s all definitely worth checking out.


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from the movie poster for the documentary “Food, Inc.” from director Robert Kenner. Image credit: Magnolia Pictures

from the movie poster for the documentary “Food, Inc.” from director Robert Kenner. Image credit: Magnolia Pictures

There has been a lot written about Robert Kenner’s documentary Food Inc. already.  Not surprisingly, the food blogs were abuzz before it even came out.  It covers topics that I’ve been reading a lot about over the past two years: topics in books by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, et al.  Sustainability of food, welfare of animals, agriculture in general, pesticides, health, fast food, small farms, etc.  We reference The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food fairly often in our house.  (And I’ve written already on this blog about reading Pollan.)  As a family, we consider the provenance of our food, discuss toxicology on a daily basis (the wife’s Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy comes in handy here), and we enjoy the farmer’s market, sourcing organic and local meats when we can.  We’re on board.  We get it.  So I’d like to see the movie, but I haven’t seen too many movies (other than rentals) in the last 10 months with an infant in the house.  It’s currently showing at the Bethel Cinemas, and I’m planning to go.  I have the general idea that most of the people that will go see Food Inc. are already on board, though, that for the most part the film will be preaching to the choir.  Plenty of silent “Amens” from the crowd?  The people who would most benefit from it probably won’t go see it.  That’s too bad, because the movie sounds enlightening and disturbing.  That’s exactly the point.  There are huge parts of the food industry that are disturbing.  But not everyone wants to be enlightened or disturbed about their food, and that’s a big part of the problem.

I won’t have anything to add to the movie buzz until I see it, so at this point I can only pass along what I’ve read.  Michael Ruhlman wrote a blog post about the documentary yesterday that I thought was heartfelt and persuasive.  He writes with clarity and emotion, and he was definitely moved by the film (moreso than he thought he would be).  Read his post here, go see the movie, and we’ll talk about it.

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Sustainable Coffee

DOMA coffee, Brasil Organic

DOMA coffee, Brazil Organic

I buy coffee from all over.  It’s one of those things, along with wine and spices, that you can exempt yourself from feeling bad about not buying local.  Well, I don’t feel bad.  Not too much coffee grown in Connecticut.  So since it’s from elsewhere, I’m always happy to try a new roaster.  I like the place here in town Zumbach’s, which is a great little coffee shop, and when they’re roasting beans it makes town smell like toast.  I’ve stopped in on my way home from work just because I smell them roasting.  It’s pervasive and persuasive advertising.  But I’m also willing to look a little further afield.  My brother brought some Solar Roast Coffee home for the holidays from Colorado, and that was great.  I’m pretty sure he should bring some home every time he makes the trip back East.  Other companies pop up on the radar from time to time, and I’m willing to try those too.  So I was happy to read about the DOMA Coffee Roasting Company a little while ago on Bob DelGrosso’s blog, A Hunger Artist.

After DelGrosso’s initial post and subsequent reader interest, Doma owner and head roaster Terry Patano offered a deal where he’d throw in a free 1/2 lb of his choosing when you ordered a pound (follow “deal” link for details).  So I just ordered some coffee from them, a pound each of Brazil Organic, and a blend called Primo’s, and they sent a half pound of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe.  Thanks, Terry!

Doma seems like an interesting company, doing what it can to be sustainable in a number of ways.  From a fair trade standpoint, they are a member of Cooperative Coffees, and they partner with coffee growers to form direct relationships that help local communities.  A recent Doma blog post describes a trip to Guatemala as part of the CRS Cafe Livlihood Project. They explain: “This is a three year project which aims to improve production practices (organic and shade farming), increase productivity and yields and increase quality.  We are working with groups in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.” Additionally, from their website, “we’ve made a commitment to place the farmers, their identity, and their product front and center. We do not hide behind anecdotes of sourcing from secret, mystical mountains – we want you to know the people that grow our coffee and the cooperative organizations that they own and manage.” My Brazil Organic coffee comes with the following information, for example:

CO-OP GROWER: Fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima
REGION: Perdizes, Cerrado

They’re also doing what they can for the environment at home.  A new eco-friendly roaster uses 80% less natural gas to roast their beans (source: http://www.smartroaster.com/).  It’s not just marketing (although that doesn’t hurt), but something that also makes sense for business.  Why not reduce your energy usage?  I know that they’re not the only independent coffee company that’s doing something good for the environment.  That’s a good thing.  I know that “sustainability” is a buzzword on the verge of being overused, and that in advertising as a whole, many claims are undocumented (see Greenwashing post).  But being ecologically sound and sustainable is one of those things that is going to happen eventually — needs to happen, actually — and I’m happy to support and highlight a company that seems to be doing the right things.  They also happen to make some really great coffee.  I’ve been enjoying both the Brazil and the Yirgacheffe for the past couple days.  Good stuff.

So, wherever you are, they’re worth checking out.  http://www.domacoffee.com

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