Greenspace August 7, 2013 By Jordan Sayle

James Hansen in 2012 by Josh Lopez

James Hansen in 2012 by Josh Lopez / Bill McKibben by Steve Liptay

hansen mckibben header3 McKibben & Hansen
If any individual deserves credit above all others for raising public awareness about the dangers of fossil fuel reliance, it might be Dr. James Hansen, who has been studying the issue intensely since the mid-seventies. He became the first scientist to testify about global warming in front of Congress 25 summers ago. And if there’s anyone who has taken bold steps in response to such warnings, it is the writer/activist Bill McKibben, who has helped organize a global network to rally support for addressing the problem.

Both men have the arrest records to prove their dedication to the climate fight, so PLANET was interested in gaining their personal reactions to the summer that has so far seen boldface climate-related developments on a number of fronts. The season began with the first measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide in excess of 400 parts per million, as recorded by NOAA researchers stationed in Hawaii. It also brought perhaps the most concrete plan of action yet by a sitting U.S. president to address the issue. Whether you’ve spent this summer of 400 ppm in the tornado-afflicted Great Plains, the fire-ravaged West, the rain-soaked Southeast, or under the oppressive heat dome that has covered much of the rest of the country, the news is bound to resonate.

Greenspace, film March 6, 2013 By Jordan Sayle

The Cuyahoga River on fire/First Run Features

The Cuyahoga River on fire/First Run Features

title97 Setting the World Ablaze

A warming climate isn’t the only source of heat these days. There is, in fact, another source of burning intensity. Organized groups of protesters amped up the temperature in their own fashion by taking to the nation’s capitol in a recent display of opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. As clarion calls to address climate change spread, it’s worth remembering that demonstrations and fights of resistance have stoked the environmental movement since its inception. These measures have succeeded in numerous cases throughout the years to protect communities from exposure to hazardous waste and to save endangered species or threatened ecosystems.

The ferocious fire that inspired the name of Mark Kitchell’s new documentary isn’t the sooty, pollution-fueling combustion of coal or the burning of rainforests. A Fierce Green Fire, now in limited release, is named rather for the life-sustaining inner flame that the conservationist Aldo Leopold once observed in the eyes of a dying wolf and for the corresponding zeal that has fueled the efforts of environmentalists for nearly five decades. The very same passion that was on display last month in Washington has fed the movement for generations through often bitter fights and against long odds.

In the time since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published and the Sierra Club was victorious in blocking the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon, activists have been busy responding to an evolving set of practices that threaten our land, wildlife, water, and air.


Greenspace January 31, 2013 By Jordan Sayle

postop212 Artful Energy

Crossing Social and Ecological Flows James Murray & Shota Vashakmadze

artful energy header Artful Energy
Imagine a power plant in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary. Try to picture an energy source as a work of art. That’s exactly what the Land Art Generator Initiative asked designers and architects to do. For its second site-specific design competition the non-profit organization (LAGI for short), sought to inspire plans for land art installations with the duel function of being both ornamental attractions for visitors and sources of renewable energy. This time the initiative found a kindred spirit in a parks department that has asked citizens to envision a dumping ground as a place of natural beauty.

When LAGI’s directors were considering places on which to focus their 2012 contest, New York City’s Freshkills Park seemed like the ideal choice. The location’s transformation from what was once the world’s largest landfill to a 2,200-acre preserve is now being undertaken in stages over a 30-year development phase with a similar intent as the one informing LAGI’s own mission — questioning assumptions and repairing environmental damage with smart sustainable methods. And when it comes to alternative energy, the park has already begun harvesting methane from decomposing garbage to heat area homes.

In LAGI’s ultimate goal of one day witnessing the construction of “the world’s first work of public art, slash sustainable utility-scale power plant,” environmental stewardship goes hand in hand with the establishment of a public gathering place, just as it does in the ongoing overhaul of Freshkills.

Greenspace December 14, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

Ditte Isager/©Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Ditte Isager/©Hachette Book Group, Inc.

andrew weil1 Andrew Weil, MD

The question What should we have for dinner? has never been so difficult to answer. A new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History presents a survey of the diversity in tastes, growing techniques, and methods of cooking that have satisfied appetites across cultures and centuries. It’s hard to consider this broad range of agricultural and culinary trends past and present and not come to the conclusion that ours is one of the more transformational periods in the history of food. Genetic modifications to crops, which were the subject of the recently defeated Proposition 37 ballot measure in California, represent only one way in which our foods are changing. More broadly, our entire approach to eating is being modified.

That monumental shift is due largely to a growing consciousness of the connections drawn between food and health being made in the context of strained food supplies in a changing climate. The health and wellness proponent Dr. Andrew Weil recently published a cookbook called True Food in which he argues that meals made from sustainable and wholesome ingredients can be both flavorful and easy. Dr. Weil spoke to PLANET about the common sense principles that he and his partners Sam Fox and Michael Stebner have followed in building a small empire of health food restaurants and the larger currents that have informed his thoughts about food in a world waking up to a new era of eating.

Art, Events, Greenspace November 21, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

Doug Aitken, Altered Earth,  2012. Commissioned and produced by the LUMA foundation, photo © Robert Leslie.

Doug Aitken, Altered Earth, 2012. Commissioned and produced by the LUMA foundation, photo © Robert Leslie.

aitkenheader Doug Aitken’s Altered Earth
The gallery walls came tumbling down in the 60’s and 70’s when a generation of land artists stepped outdoors and used nature as their canvas. For Robert Smithson, the doyen of the Earthworks movement, whose “Spiral Jetty” still protrudes from the shore of the Great Salt Lake, art was meant to engage with the outside world in a way that it couldn’t when cooped up inside. “A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge,” he stated in that earlier era.

It’s a shame Smithson couldn’t be there for Doug Aitken’s projection of movie images on the façade of New York’s MoMA for 2007’s “Sleepwalkers.” It was a case of art finding its way outside the museum’s walls but with the added twist of actually becoming the museum’s walls. Delineations between inside and out, real world and representation, never felt so fluid.

As a multimedia innovator, Aitken has built a reputation for reimagining time and space. Few artists come better equipped to capture the kaleidoscopic fever dream we know as life in the present day. With his latest installation, “Altered Earth,” he sets about creating what’s being billed as land art for the electronic age, and in 21st Century fashion, the results are disorienting and overwhelming.

Book, Features, Greenspace, film November 15, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

<em>The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History</em>/Chronicle Books/Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX

The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History/Chronicle Books. Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX.

dustbowlheader The Dust Bowl
The southern portion of the Great Plains was especially hard-hit during the Great Depression. Along with financial hardship, an environmental catastrophe of biblical proportions hung like a black cloud over the region. Severe drought in areas where the farmland had been overextended led in many cases to the drying up of an entire way of life and every conceivable thing around it. The Dust Bowl now gets the Ken Burns treatment with a new PBS documentary and an accompanying book. Burns and his collaborator, the producer and writer Dayton Duncan, consider this seminal event to be “the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history.” At a time when numerous other events are giving the Dust Bowl a run for its money in that distinction, Mr. Duncan spoke to PLANET about the lessons worth learning from this chapter in our past.
Can you describe your working relationship with Ken Burns and how you arrive upon chapters in American history that you decide to explore?

We’re both drawn to topics that are uniquely or quintessentially American. I have the best job in the world, because the films that I write and produce are about topics that I’ve suggested, from The West and Lewis and Clark to The National Parks and The Dust Bowl. I have a great interest in the connection between our land and our people, and how that interplay has affected our nation’s history.

Greenspace October 26, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

Solar Water Pump Testing Site in Safford, AZ/SunPumps

Solar Water Pump Testing Site in Safford, AZ/SunPumps

powerlessnomoretitle1 Powerless No More
Tech aficionados will be queuing up this holiday season to score the latest, hottest gadget ever invented. That’s become the standard during these glory years of the plugged-in generation. And while communication is now possible across a broader geographic and social range than might ever have been imagined, it’s remarkable in this time of hyper-connectivity that nearly 1.5 billion people around the world, approximately 20% of the global population, are still living in the dark. Not only do these people lack the ability to charge a cellular phone or connect to the Internet, they’re without basic lighting and the economic opportunities that come with it. Raising the living standard in the world’s poorest communities will not take electrical power alone, but the expansion of access is seen as a key element in realizing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and finally bringing everyone into the 21st Century.

The challenges are significant, but there’s an important role to be played by sustainable energy resources in addressing the problem. The topic of how renewables can alleviate energy poverty is sure to be among those discussed when the Alliance for Rural Electrification and its partners gather in Accra next week for the first International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference.

Greenspace October 7, 2012 By Jordan Sayle


Leaves by Delaney, Global Marshall Plan Initiative, from Cause and Effect, copyright Gestalten 2012

visstaheader3 Visualizing Sustainability
If you’ve looked at the polling data being collected in the swing states ahead of next month’s presidential election, or even if you haven’t, you probably know that the economy ranks highest among likely voters when it comes to the issues informing their choice between the candidates. Also routinely mentioned are unemployment, health care, and the budget deficit. While it’s unsurprising that these dollars and cents issues loom large in a time of widespread economic hardship, what’s noticeably missing from most polls altogether is the environment and energy.

Signs of climate change’s impact have become more apparent since the last time Americans elected a president, but the environment and related energy issues seem to have been downgraded in the mind of the average citizen. At this point in the cycle four years ago, even as the solvency of the nation’s banks was in question, a Quinnipiac poll found that between six and eight percent of voters in the key swing states and between nine and twelve percent of independents in those places named energy policy as the single most important issue upon which their decision would rest.

Art, Greenspace August 6, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

Niu Guozheng, Pingdingshan, China (left) Jimmy Chin, Main Rongbuk Glacier, Tibet (right)

Niu Guozheng, Pingdingshan, China (left) Jimmy Chin, Rongbuk Glacier, Tibet (right)

coal header COAL+ICE
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. That morbid line belongs to an American poet with a last name in keeping with the latter category. And while Robert Frost wasn’t thinking about climate change when he wrote those words, the evidence provided by scientists — not to mention the disaster-filled evening news telecasts of recent weeks — suggests that he might have been on to something. We won’t get ahead of ourselves with thoughts of the end of the world, but as the planet continues to warm, it would appear that fire’s supremacy over ice is gaining momentum in much of the country.

It was in the same overarching context that a prominent exhibit in documentary photography opened in Beijing last year, titled “COAL+ICE.” Organized by the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, the installation was split between depictions of China’s coal mining industry and the melting glaciers in the country’s Tibetan Plateau with the clear implication that the two subjects share a crucial link. Now that a condensed version is being shown at the Resnick Gallery in Aspen, CO through the end of the month, it’s worth taking a look at this ambitious collection of works and at the calculus under which coal fire plus Himalayan ice equals something none of us want to see.

Greenspace June 25, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

All photos courtesy of Tara Oceans. Images copyright of individual photographers.

Photos courtesy of Tara Oceans. Images copyright of individual photographers.

realtaratitle An Ocean of Life
Some of the most essential life forms on the planet are microorganisms that we know virtually nothing about. Phytoplankton and zooplankton comprise the bottom of the food chain in ocean ecosystems and play vital roles in regulating the Earth’s climate. But with that climate rapidly warming, these building blocks of the sea are disappearing at a rate of about 1% per year. Studying them and collecting samples of organisms that in many cases have never been seen before was the idea behind the two-and-a-half year journey around the globe by the Tara Oceans, a 118-foot schooner with an onboard crew of researchers, which came to an end in Lorient, France in March. (We first reported this incredible story earlier this year.)

The ten-year process to analyze the samples is now in its beginning stages, while future missions by Tara Expeditions are being planned. Next year, the crew will visit the Arctic to create a new inventory of biodiversity there, and in 2014 they’ll head to the Pacific Ocean to study coral reefs, including visits to South Asia, which the recent voyage failed to reach. For now, we can simply marvel at the stunning fruits of Tara’s labors so far with previously unimaginable visions of plankton, protozoa, and crustaceans from deep in the world’s oceans.