Every few years, discussions about using straw as a building material, in bale form, come up again. Now, as our environmental challenges mount—from wildfires to hurricanes—straw bales seem to offer an answer to a good many of them. As we step into October, and the one-year anniversary of Northern California’s first wave of historic fires, it’s time to ask: Has the straw bale’s time finally come?
While the fashion industry continues to produce more and more clothing made from synthetics, with all their harmful effects, we’ve ignored the wonders of wool. The material is natural, durable, and endlessly renewable; more important, its creators (the sheep) can help regenerate the world’s drying, fire-prone landscapes. Fortunately, a wool revival seems to be underway.
When you put on a stylish jacket made of rayon, vegan leather, or even recycled plastic, are you sure you’re helping the planet more than if you bought one made of animal leather? In this journey down a very twisted rabbit hole, Alden Wicker—a frequent writer, blogger, and speaker on sustainable fashion—finds answers that may not be particularly comfortable for the animal rights movement.
A growing number of researchers and pastoralists around the globe have found remarkable, untapped opportunities in nature’s water cycle. It turns out that animals, plants, soil, and air have long collaborated to regulate our climate through water—until we disrupted their partnership. An environmental author sees a pathway to reconciliation.
You have probably never heard of the term “acequia,” but it describes one of oldest, most common-sense systems of irrigation on the planet. The basic idea is to use, and share, a river’s natural patterns instead of the predominant American system—namely, trap it, pipe it, and race to be the first to use it. Our writer tours the globe to track down its history, and its leading practitioners.
The blind spots in the American West’s water systems are in full display in Ventura County, a coastal region of southern California that happens to hold the most lucrative farmland in the state. Equally abundant, and somewhat in progress, are opportunities for enlightenment. Which path will prevail?
While many people in arid regions of the world struggle just to find water, others in rain-soaked developing countries face a different challenge: getting water that is safe enough to drink. What will it take to turn their precious water clean—so they can stay healthy, and we can stop spending scarce resources on mountains of plastic water bottles?
Since the communist revolution of 1959, Cuba has been on an economic rollercoaster. The country has lurched from dependency to self-sufficiency, in a bubble of isolation where technological time stopped. Our correspondent visits the artists and self-taught engineers who have kept Cuba running throughout its bizarre ride.
OK, so some of them look silly—brown and fat with oversized joints, like a high-school basketball player who has sprained every limb and wrapped each elbow and knee with ace bandages. But Craig Calfee, the respected (and highly successful) carbon frame builder, swears by the strength, flexibility, and ecological value of the bamboo bicycle.
While Japanese master craftsmen command up to $100,000 for turning bamboo into a fishing pole, aspiring younger makers can barely find anyone to take them on as apprentices. And this isn’t the only time-honored Japanese craft at the brink of extinction. How could this happen in a country that, for centuries, has served as a model of hand-made perfection?
The man was having the day of his life—out fishing Idaho’s gorgeous Snake River, accompanied by his gorgeous wife (“The Duchess of Cascading Water”), and a whopper of a rainbow trout teasing him in the depths of a riffle off the far bank. Then suddenly, his day took a very painful turn.
Now that manufacturing wages in Asia are starting to rise, some U.S. industries have started to bring their businesses back to our own shores. Many others remain skittish, however—of our tighter regulatory environment, of the high cost of U.S. labor, and of the paucity of workers who know how to make things anymore. Can that spiral be reversed?
Every few years, some new razor system hits the market pledging to save your face and your pocketbook. Virtually all of them miss the boat, because the golden age of shaving occurred 50 years ago. The good news is that all that vintage gear is still available, and a few entrepreneurs are now making beautiful modern versions. A visit with the American craftsmen who are making what might be the best of those razors.
By its very nature, mezcal—the precursor and parent to Mexico’s legendary tequila—is an endangered beverage. It must be made from wild agave, which is in increasingly short supply. But a determined mezcal scientist thinks he has an answer.
A young Oregonian believes he can create a uniquely American form of the Japanese bonsai tree. And he is literally betting the farm on the idea that if he builds it, they will come.
A molecular biologist is finding what could be dangerous levels of heavy metals in plants like kale, often called the “queen” of the vegetable kingdom. And they’ve shown up the most in organic varieties.
In an era of chronic drought, could desert crops become the new sustainable dinner?
You drink eight glasses of water a day. But you consume far more through the food you eat. A special report.
On a frigid, eight-acre farm just outside downtown Sebastopol, Paul Kaiser has devised a hyper-intensive form of organic agriculture that is grossing more than $100,000 an acre. And, he believes, saving the planet at the same time. Yet a number of farming experts see trouble on his horizon.
No matter how organic your shopping is, when you sit down to a plate of leafy greens, chances are you are supporting farming methods that contribute to global warming. There are, however, other options.
Was Jared Diamond right to call agriculture the worst mistake of the human race? Industrial agriculture vastly expanded the world’s food supply, but it’s also based on a fossil fuel economy that is slowly running out of juice. Are the alternatives like this “permaculture” operation in Wisconsin ready for prime time? Photo courtesy of newforestfarm.net
Al Ruozi, age 97, is a high-school dropout whose primary invention was a machine, largely forgotten by now, that can help farmers save water, improve soil quality, and fight climate change.
The carbon trading market is heating up again, and a lot of people who have been figuring out ways to grab carbon dioxide out of the air are back in the game. California’s John Wick may well be at the head of the pack.
For years, a handful of enterprising grain farmers in the Midwest have been making huge strides–ecologically as well as financially–by managing to farm without plows and other invasive “tilling” machinery. Their achievements point to the possibility of a very different balance in global commodity trading markets.
Mark Sturges doesn’t advertise and clients have to find him by word of mouth, but find him they do. He’s become a master of an agricultural art as old as agriculture itself: basic compost.
This time, a revolution that had nothing to do with ideology, and it bore a bounty of fruit. Could the U.S. learn sustainability from its new friend?
As worsening droughts become the new norm, soil conservationists have begun to wonder whether we are on a path to repeat the horrors of the Dust Bowl years. The articles, books and websites highlighted here offer plenty of ideas about alternate paths.