Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doing the green thing

Sick of the word green yet? It does seem to be the catchword of the hour, with sustainable, organic and carbon footprint running not far behind. I'm starting to think we're on the verge of overload and that soon people will start throwing up their hands and saying, "Forget it! Shut up and give me a styrofoam cup of nonorganic, unfair trade coffee and never mention the words reduce consumption to me again!"

For those who have not yet OD'd on the whole green concept, a world of great new books awaits you. The subject is moving beyond simple "what you can do" guides and into deeper, more interesting reads that tell stories of how people have done it and are doing it right now. Greg Melville's Greasy Rider, which I'm reading right now, will be out in October. Melville and his buddy Iggy decide to drive from Vermont to California in Melville's old Mercedes, which has been has been converted to run on used cooking oil; although they can operate the engine on diesel or biodiesel, they decide to make the journey using nothing but oil begged from restaurants along the way.... and naturally, they run into a few snags. My husband's car has been converted to run on recycled oil (we call it The Greasemobile) so perhaps I'm reading Melville's book with a little more interest than most, but I think Greasy Rider is entertaining enough to reach far beyond the diesel engine conversion crowd.

The next title on my to-read list is You Are Here by Thomas M. Kostigen. Reminiscent of The World without Us and Garbage Land, You Are Here (available in September) takes a concrete approach to addressing how our everyday actions affect our world. Kostigen travels to Jerusalem to witness firsthand how acid rain is eroding earth's most treasured religious site; he visits a village in Alaska that, by 2015, will be under water due to the rise of ocean levels; he sails to the Eastern Garbage Patch off the coast of Hawaii to see with his own eyes a drifting vortex of trash twice the size of Texas. Kostigen will be speaking and signing here at Vroman's on September 27, and I think I will have a few questions for him.

A book that's available right now and getting a lot of local press is The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. In their book, and on their blog Homegrown Evolution, Coyne and Knutzen talk about practicing small-scale urban agriculture in Los Angeles. You don't need acres of country land or tons of money to make big, life- and global impact-altering changes, they argue; ordinary people in the heart of a major metropolitan area can grow some of their own food, live off the grid, and reduce their (warning: overused phrase!) carbon footprint. Here's an interesting recent L.A. Times article about guerrilla gardening that features Knutzen and Coyne.

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