I interview Treehugger; Treehugger interviews me

July 31, 2009

What’s an environmentalist to do when she has some extra time on her hands in New York? Here’s a recommendation: Track down the editor of Treehugger.com and harass him for a coffee! Highly enjoyable — and yes, this was precisely what I did when I went to the Big Apple a couple weeks ago. At 8 a.m. on a Friday morning, I met Graham Hill at Earth Matters, a hippie café in the Lower East Side. It was absolutely sweltering and there was no air conditioning available (what with the establishment being green and all), so I ordered a smoothie. Graham got himself a latte and some fruity granola; then we both pulled up a seat and began to chat. Here’s the transcript of our Q&A:

Thistle: How long has Treehugger been running now?

Graham: It started about five years ago, in 2004. My friend Nick Denton (of Gawker.com) and I felt there was a need for the green movement to be a bit more cool and convenient. I mean, hippies are awesome, but they’re a very small group. And we realized that while most people will care about the environment, it can take a while to figure out what exactly is happening and how to do something about it. So we wanted to repackage green and make it more accessible.

Thistle: When I first began checking the site, all the posts seemed more about sustainable design than anything else.

Graham: Yeah, it was very design-oriented at first, but there’s been a natural shift towards news stuff. That said, I’ve been complaining to people recently that we’ve really lost the whole design element, so I’d like to work on bringing that back.

Thistle: What types of posts generate the most hits?

Graham: Any meat-related or animal-themed stories, for sure, especially something like seal-clubbing, which always leads to controversy and a lot of comments. But we just want good, compelling stories.

Thistle: How does one get a job writing for Treehugger? Is it a difficult application process?

Graham: We hire our writers based on their resumés and previous work experience; we make sure they agree with our general manifesto, then we work with them on a few stories, holding their hand for a bit before letting them post on their own. The full-time staff tend to be more beat-oriented, whereas the part-time writers will maybe focus more on their location. They’re anywhere between 22 and 60 years old, male and female, chemists, architects and journalists, and from all over the world.

Thistle: What’s the current goal for the site?

Graham: Well, right now, we really want to focus on helping people understand their impact on the planet and how they can actually change this in concrete ways. The symptoms of the Earth, as a patient, are not looking good. Carbon dioxide is increasing rapidly as though the green movement never even happened, so we need to get people to understand the scale of their behaviours and make actual changes. It’s all well and good to be really diligent about unplugging your cellphone charger every night and using tote bags, but that accounts for less than 1% of your carbon footprint. And even if the whole world starts doing this, then we’ve still only reduced everybody’s collective footprint by 1%. Small steps are only good if they lead to big ones.

Thistle’s Inside Voice: I wonder if he realizes my challenge was all about taking 366 small steps?

Thistle: So how much change is actually occurring right now? And who needs to be making the majority of them?

Graham: The reality is, the vast majority of people like to blame suburbia, blame the red states and so on. But I can’t even tell you the number of panels I’ve been on about the water crisis where everybody has plastic water bottles sitting in front of them. I mean, if we can’t even get these little symbolic things right, it’s pretty bad.

Thistle: How is Treehugger’s relationship with Planet Discovery?

Graham: They’re in 52 million homes right now. The partnership has been great — they’ve left us alone and let us do our thing. I’m still here two years after that happened, so that proves something.

Thistle: In your time as editor, has there been any one story, person or book that’s really inspired you?

Graham: Some of the most inspirational stuff to me is the basic, old-school way of doing things; really simple technologies that anyone can use. Like awnings, for instance — New York used to have awnings all over the place and we lost them, but they can seriously reduce heat in the summer. You can also just wear appropriate clothing. And offices really need to turn down the air conditioning and look at ceiling fans again — you should never be cold in the summer.

——-

Well, unfortunately, it’s been pretty darn cold and rainy in Toronto all summer; on the one hand, this means no need for air conditioning, but it also means that even my vegetable garden is starting to complain. And last weekend, it was no exception: Sunday afternoon began with a massive thunderstorm — but it wasn’t enough to deter me from stopping by the Alters’ place so my friend Lloyd (who writes for Treehugger) could interview me about Sleeping Naked. So, if you’re not completely sick of hearing about my book yet, watch the video below!

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A green report on my very ungreen trip to Tunisia

March 13, 2009

Sorry for the extended absence, folks — I’ve been away on vacation, and there’s not much in the way of high-speed wireless in rural Tunisia.

Yep, that’s where I was. Nefta, Tunisia. Far, far, FAR away from Toronto, Canada. Now, I realize some of you will take the fact that I flew all the way to North Africa for a 10-day trip as reason enough not to keep reading this blog. I know it’s hypocritical of me to make claims of being an environmentalist and then proceed to spew over 20 hours’ worth of carbon into the atmosphere for pleasure’s sake. And I don’t really have any solid defense for this argument. All I can say is that there are hundreds of things I’m willing to do in the name of protecting and respecting the Earth, but right now, restraining my air travel isn’t one of them, and this out of nothing but complete selfishness on my part — I have a strong desire to see the world (that I’m polluting) first-hand, to experience what it feels like to be caught in a sandstorm, bottle-feed a baby camel, walk around a date plantation at dusk, and so on.

Anyway, that’s the only rationale I can give you, so for those still reading, here are a few photos and accompanying captions that address some of the green and not-so-green goings on in Tunisia, home of Star Wars, the Sahara Desert, date farming, Berber tribes and dromedary love.

OiLibya Gas Station in Tozeur

OiLibya Gas Station in Tozeur

As my boyfriend commented upon seeing this: “Well, at least they’re honest about it.” This was in Tozeur, where we picked up our rental cars (the most compact, fuel-efficient ones I could find; plus, there were four of us to each car). Filling up a tank costs about 40 dinars, which is $35 Canadian, which is pretty cheap. I don’t know about you, but whenever I saw this sign, I kept shaking my head and saying “Oy, Libya”…

A baby camel in Matmâta, a typical troglodyte village

A baby camel in Matmâta, a typical troglodyte village

How cute overload is this? Can you see his little milk moustache, too? I had just fed this guy some milk from a bottle and wanted to bury my face in his fluffy hump and snuggle him forever. Camels are everywhere in this country and are used for transportation, tourism and unfortunately food. What’s reassuring, though, is that they’re treated well — all the camels I saw looked well-fed and happy.

Environment Mouse

Environment Mouse

Readers, meet Environment Mouse. This cartoon rodent with enormous ears (“Qu’est-ce que c’est la souris avec les grandes oreilles?” my French-speaking friend inquired of a cab driver one day, which led us to the answer) is Tunisia’s green mascot. He doesn’t do much, other than adorn garbage cans, but we still love him.

An organic date farmer

An organic date farmer

My friend Rob snapped this photo of an organic date farmer at a plantation just outside Tozeur. We originally wanted to visit a date factory but ended up getting semi-lost; then, just as we pulled into a driveway to turn around and go home, we stumbled upon a small house and this man, who turned out to be the owner of all the palm trees around us. He gladly showed us around and explained why it was so important to grow these things organically — for instance, all dates have insects in them when harvested, but conventional methods include extracting these with toxic gases while the organic process involves freezing them. We got to eat dates fresh off the stem with no glucose coating, and the farmer even gave me my own palm tree seedling to plant at home (unfortunately, I wasn’t going to take a chance with Canada Customs, so I left it behind for the dude at Avis to take care of). I’m planning on writing more about this for my Sense & Sustainability column at the Post (this week’s story was on garburators, by the way), so watch out for it!

greenland

Flying over Greenland

And finally, here’s a snapshot from the flight back, where we flew over Greenland and, yes, there was a very direct and somewhat ironic connection between the plane I was in and the icebergs that were melting down below. But as depressing as that may be, it’s still beautiful.

That’s it for now; stay tuned!


Cow burps and Kevin Kostner

February 17, 2009

So first off, I’m totally intrigued by this story in The Guardian about how Cadbury is working with their dairy farmers on a way to reduce the number of times their cows burp each day. Contrary to popular belief, the methane that cows emit — which wreaks havoc on the air and environment — comes more from the animals’ burps than farts (cue “The More You Know” shooting star motif).

Two things I am wondering: 1) Is Cadbury one of the better chocolate companies out there, or are they evil? I don’t think they use any fair-trade cocoa or anything, but I also don’t think they’re as bad as Nestle, and they have great factory tours during Doors Open in Toronto. So yeah, someone care to refresh my memory? And also 2) Does anyone know if such a carefully crafted, anti-flatogenic diet could be applied to humans? Because sometimes it’s good to avoid farting, and surely there must be greater advice out there than “Don’t eat beans.”

key_art_waterworld

Now, for a total non sequitur: Slate has this intriguing/disturbing story on how Kevin Costner’s legendary blockbuster bomb Waterworld might have been ahead of its time. Although it was utterly panned when it came out in 1995, there was a lot of global warming foreshadowing there, so perhaps it’s worth renting now and viewing under a different light. Then again, it could still suck. A lot. But what do you think? Should I take the plunge and rent it tonight? Or is there another enviro-film that deserves more attention? What’s the next Inconvenient Truth?

(Watch the original Waterworld trailer here)