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!


No Impact Trailer

July 21, 2009

How excited is everybody for the No Impact Man movie?? Just from the trailer, I can tell I’m going to love it, if only because it feels like I’m watching myself go about my green year between March ’07 and February ’08 (that sounds totally vain, I realize, but it’s really more in a nostalgic, remember-when-a-bunch-of-us-crazy-green-bloggers-were-being-so-hardcore-about-climate-change-and-stumbling-a-lot-along-the-way sense). Anyway, here’s the trailer. If anyone knows how I can haul this puppy north of the border into Canadian theatres, leave a comment! I’m a film reviewer AND an environmental columnist, so this has my name (and four stars) written all over it…

Green on the inside

June 4, 2009


I often talk about the myriad ways we can green our lifestyles — drinking tap water from a reusable stainless steel bottle (although, I actually just switched from my aluminum Sigg to a Kleen Kanteen after learning that the company still won’t reveal what they line their bottles with, but that’s a whole other story), changing lightbulbs to CFLs (well, technically we should be moving towards LEDs because there have been some sketchy reports about the mercury and whatnot in CFLs and personally I hate the glare that fluorescent bulbs give off, so the only CFLs in my house are either outside or in a closet), or … wait… I forget what I was trying to say.

Oh yeah! My point is: It’s all very well to make these external changes, but it’s just as important to be green on the inside. We should be thinking about our actions, of course, but we also need to think about what we put into our bodies. If you want to follow this green-on-the-inside advice in the literal sense, I highly recommend Meghan’s green smoothie cleanse, which starts this weekend. This is NOT one of those sketchy juice fasts or lemonade-and-cayenne-pepper detoxes, and it doesn’t involve endless weeks upon endless weeks of cabbage soup. It’s actually pretty simple: You just make a series of smoothies for a few days that are loaded with healthy vegetables — no protein powders. You can download an incredibly thorough tutorial about why these smoothies are so beneficial to your skin, heart, immune system, etc., and Meghan will even be Twittering (or tweeting… whatever) support for everyone along the way.

But what I think is extra great about this particular cleanse — and this comes from someone who is pretty much anti-cleansing; in fact, anti-anything that screws with my routine or prevents me from drinking red wine — is that it’s garbage-free, which makes it green on entirely different level. All of the ingredients are whole foods like kale, spinach and parsley, which can be purchased in the produce aisle of your nearest grocery store or farmer’s market with no packaging whatsoever; and if you want to take the smoothie out with you to work or to a picnic, you can pour it into a reusable cup or bottle. Everything you don’t throw into the blender can go into the compost bin.

Even if you don’t sign up for this, it’s kind of fun to take at least one day a week and try to create no garbage whatsoever, especially when it comes to food. Some items are always difficult to purchase without reams of plastic attached (I’m thinking of berries, in particular, which come in those unrecyclable cases), but this is actually the perfect excuse to go out and get a blueberry bush for the garden. My boy and I got one a few days ago and named it Boris. I’ll keep you updated on its vital stats.

Speaking of packaging, I will say this: Sometimes it’s unavoidable, so don’t beat yourself up over the occasional indulgence — after all, even Meg and I will succumb to certain food or enviro vices at times. For instance, at a friend’s wedding recently, we both got a little peckish before dinner, and in unison reached into our purses and pulled out two food bars. Here’s the photographic documentation:


Admittedly, they were both raw, unprocessed, preservative-free, [insert a few other hippie-and-nutritionist-friendly terms here] food bars, so it wasn’t as though we were secretly noshing on Cheetos. But still, my aim is to be at least 90% on-target with all my green goals and values, so although I allow the occasional pre-packaged nonsense, I always try to make up for it with something like a garbage-free weekend.

With that, happy cleansing! Or just happy green-eating and garbage-minimizing in general! There’s no such thing as too much loose, organic kale, people… no such thing…

Pics from the SNiG launch in Toronto!

May 20, 2009
OK, I promise I’ll stop droning on about my book — but not quite yet! Maybe by September. Yeah. Anyway, for those who are not yet sick of all this retched self-promotion, take a look at some of the photos from my recent book launch at the Libra Lounge in Toronto. It was a complete success, almost to the point of being disturbing — everyone from ex-boyfriends and high school teachers to former lifeguard colleagues and journalism school classmates showed up, and I only had about 30 seconds with each of them before I had to move on to the next. A friend of mine warned that this is what weddings are like, but with more politics involved. Yeesh. Anyway, here you go:
Grass Pots

My mum made these centrepieces as a nod to the cover design (and no, those are NOT my legs on the book cover)

My high-school English teacher Ms. Carrier, alongside my mum and sister

My high-school English teacher Ms. Carrier, alongside my mum and sister

I had to make a quick speech...

I had to make a quick speech... (that's Meghan on the far left)

... and sign some books

... and sign some books

It was PACKED in there! I didn't move, eat or drink for two hours (then again, I kind of didn't move, eat or drink for my whole challenge. either)

It was PACKED in there! I didn't move, eat or drink for two hours (then again, I kind of didn't move, eat or drink for my whole challenge, either)

One of the best surprises of the evening: My aunt came in from Hong Kong for a visit (I only briefly admonished her for the carbon cost of that). My dad is there on the left, too.

One of the best surprises of the evening: My aunt came in from Hong Kong for a visit (I only briefly admonished her for the carbon cost of that). My dad is there on the left, too.

That’s it! A big thanks to my amazing publicity team at Wiley, especially Erin and Caroline, for making the night such a success. In the mean time, I’ll be at Paragraphe Books in Montreal, on McGill College Avenue, this coming Monday, May 25th, at 3 p.m. — so if you’re in Montreal, drop by! I’ll also be coming down to New York around July 15th to be on a panel called Greening Gotham (more info to come) and am always in Toronto for all your signing/interviewing needs!

All right, enough blathering about myself for now. Carry on!

Take on a green challenge, but remember: This is not a competition!

May 18, 2009


Sorry for the lapse in posts, everyone — I was on vacation and checking in with my extended family for two weeks, then the Canadian book launch happened (pics to follow!), then regular work happened, then it was a weekend of baseball games and sailing in the rain, then my boy won a huge grant from the King Abdullah foundation that was announced at the World Economic Forum yesterday and we celebrated with dumplings, chalk drawings and a screening of Last Night. Phew!

But I’m back for realsies now, and while checking up on some of my favourite blogs today, I came across a post by Arduous in which she admitted feeling a titch insecure/overwhelmed by all the wondrous green feats being accomplished around her. “Many of us, for better or worse, are really into the comparison game,” she notes. But of course, because this London blogger is also a self-aware academic with the capacity to throw down thesis statements like Kanye throws down rhymes, she very artfully concludes the following: “Living a sustainable life isn’t about trying to outdo one another in a bid to be the greenest of them all. It is, fundamentally, about trying to achieve balance. Balance in your life. Balance between you, society, and our environment. Balance between what you really need and what’s kind of superfluous.

After all, you can only be living sustainably if you can, in fact, sustain it.”


Couldn’t have put it better, myself. I remember when I first began my 366-day challenge and thought it was such an original idea — then I discovered No Impact Man and realized this Manhattanite was taking the exact same idea to a higher, arguably more commendable level and had already scored a book deal, a couple film contracts and an appearance on The Colbert Report. More e-digging led to even more challenge-based blogs, tracking people who were living without plastic for a year, saving all their garbage, going vegan and so on. It’s weird because my idea for the blog came from a very selfless place — it came from a true desire to respect the Earth and realign my values — so the fact that my selfish need to be the first person doing such a thing, or at least doing it best, had surfaced and taken over was truly disturbing.

But surely some of you must have similar lapses of judgment, no? Envy at a colleague’s stainless steel lunch kit? A mixture of awe and jealousy upon meeting the head of an amazing environmental nonprofit? Feelings of both inspiration and guilt after watching a documentary on the oil crisis? Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just me and my annoying A-type tendencies coming through.

Either way, I think Arduous makes a nice point, which we should all remember when we go about these endeavours to keep our thermostats down through the winter or leave our cars at home for the week — respecting the environment is a challenge, but it’s not a competition. We’re all in this together, so we need to smile at one another’s lunch kits and bicycles, commend each other for our accomplishments; and, when we’re feeling down about our heavy footprints, take a deep breath and go fly a kite (like my friend Caley, in the photo above).

And the winner is…

April 19, 2009


The other week, I offered an eco-friendly cellphone to the person who could give me the best idea for my next green book. Suggestions poured in and, frankly, I’d be happy to live out my days writing about every single one of them. However, there is only one phone, so after bugging my editor at Wiley to read through the ideas, he finally chose a winner (and a runner-up, in case that person doesn’t want the prize).

Here are his comments:

“Alison’s consumer culture book is interesting, but I worry that it would essentially be a manifesto. I like the idea of not eschewing all technology in the name of sustainability, but she (rightly) suggests the need for some big systemic changes that are definitely beyond the means of just one person.”

“Just Ducky seemed to have the most succinct request for an urban homesteader book, and because I was just reading about peak-oil alarmists (who seem like a fascinating, scary bunch), I think s/he might be on to something there, if the book were less of a “how-to” and more about profiles of these people.”

“Reuel touches on a topic near to my heart: I’m amazed at what’s going on in the developing world … I think there are some exceptional, inspiring stories out there, and they’re not being told. And, additionally, I think that a book about initiatives in the developing world will help us gain perspective when we consider some green ventures too bothersome.”

In the end, he chose Reuel as the winner and Alison as the runner-up — I’ll be getting in touch with you guys to sort out mailing addresses. But in the mean time, let me just say that I’m still a big fan of the green granny wisdom idea (see photo above, featuring the Raging Grannies). Our elders know a lot about living lightly, whether it’s the best recipe for preserves and pickles, or how to live without a fridge, how to darn socks and knit scarves, and even reuse a milk bottle. The new wave of hippies could learn a lot from their grandmothers, and if this wisdom were somehow adapted and repackaged for modern times, all the better.

Anyway, congrats Reuel! And thank-you everybody for the suggestions.