220px-Bamboo_Feb09Over the course of a couple of years’ worth of posts on this blog, I’ve tried to offer a broad range of content for those with environmental concerns and an interest in a green lifestyle.  I hope I’ve conveyed the general message that there are numerous solutions-in-waiting for the ecological problems that we confront in the modern era.  The main focus here has been on bamboo, of course, and its tremendous potential to curtail global warming and contribute to the overall development of a sustainable resources industry.

But bamboo fits into a larger context, too, and there is no shortage of personal and consumer behaviors that we can change and promote in order to encourage a greener future. It is my hope that this blog’s occasional anecdote and attempt at a life lesson will inspire my conscious attention to environmental impact in some readers. I still find it astonishing how cavalier many people are about the everyday activities that contribute to keeping environmental degradation as the status quo.

Still, if there’s one such behavior that needs changing it’s what we buy and how we shop. And in a culture in which consumer spending is the backbone of the economy, the importance of this cannot be overstated.  In this context, bamboo has been a wonderful thing to focus attention on, because it’s an environmentally beneficial resource in its own right, and it can be manufactured into such an impressive range of eminently sustainable goods.

That is the more specific lesson that this blog calls attention to. Among its hundred of posts the reader can discover a wealth of different products that are currently and potentially could be produced using this most sustainable of resources. It goes without saying that bamboo makes a green alternative to cotton and wool by yielding viscose-from-bamboo fabric that’s turned into moisture-resistant shirts, cashmere-soft bedding, and plush, absorbent bath towels.

Of course, it’s even more well-known that bamboo is an exceptionally sustainable alternative to common timber. And the benefit of that alternative is by no means limited to the fact that it can be quickly re-grown, shooting up by some three feet in a single day as bamboo often does. As this blog has pointed out repeatedly, when bamboo is used as a building material it produces constructions that are remarkably resistant to earthquakes and high winds. And when planted in disaster-prone regions bamboo crops themselves can limit the impact of flooding and landslides.

And these benefits, particularly crucial to the third world, can be achieved using a resource that can be grown practically anywhere and is often readily available in impoverished countries.  In fact, this blog also calls attention to the ways in which bamboo has been used and still can be used to advance the economies of developing nations and tribal peoples.

And naturally, the benefits of bamboo are not limited to those seemingly faraway contexts.  This resource has great potential for Western society as well, and some forward-thinking companies have taken the initiative to source domestic bamboo and design products around its remarkable sustainability.  It’s hard to imagine how the resulting products could be more diverse in character.  As this blog has pointed out, they range from toys and bicycles to electronics, to vehicle frames, to biofuels and replacements for coal.

Despite many of these kinds of products being featured in this blog, I worry that precious few people are really aware of the things that are available which are almost futuristic in their eco-friendliness.  And ultimately it is absolutely essential that the public be aware of emerging options in the global marketplace.  Imagine it: if one single resource offers so many options for sustainable development and environmentally friendly consumption, how many other green alternatives must be available besides?  What, other than ignorance and a cavalier defense of the status quo, could be holding us back from taking advantage of these things to build a future that will surely be more livable for generations to come?

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LogoRectLowResI set myself to thinking about all the current events that I might want to focus on with this post, but I find myself hung up on a bit of personal communication that seems somehow more important than all of that.  The last time I met with my mother, a few days ago, we parted after sharing a series of like-minded rants, as befits the slightly hot-headed family we’re a part of.

The spark that set off the conversation was a motorist who nearly trapped my mother’s car in a supermarket parking lot.  I was present to this and at first thought that the individual had parked outside the exit, perpendicular to the nearest parking spaces, and left the car. But after my mother had inched back and forth enough to get free I found out that there had actually been someone sitting in the driver’s seat, watching the whole thing.

It would have been annoying enough just knowing that that person had found the most convenient illegal parking spot and then gone inside.  But I was far more upset to know that he was still in the car, for two reasons.  First, it meant that in order to solve the problem that he himself had created, all he needed to do was perhaps turn the ignition key and then coast forward four to six feet.  To not be willing to do even that, surely a person must be either profoundly lazy earnestly committed to being a jerk.  Second, his presence in the car means that there was an opportunity to call attention to his self-centered behavior and I had not taken it.

I don’t feel too bad about this one because I didn’t know the jerk was on the scene, but there have been far too many opportunities when I could have let somebody know that they were making the world a worse place, but I didn’t.  I once saw a man finish a fast food beverage while leaving the park with his child, then simply throw the empty container on the lawn without the hint of a second thought.  There were three causes of annoyance in that: the knowledge that people litter with that much impunity; the fact that I didn’t rush to catch up to him and call him out on it; and the fact that he was setting that kind of an inconsiderate example for a toddler.

The rant between my mother and me was just more of this, a catalogue of past experiences wherein people had made things meaner or uglier for others when the effort involved in doing otherwise was equivalent to taking three steps to the left.  I’ve found that riding a city bus is an impressive showcase of human self-centeredness.  I can’t recall all the occasions when I’ve seen many able bodied young men sitting at the front of a bus, none of whom moved a muscle when an elderly woman came on board clutching grocery bags, only to have to stand up the entire ride.

I’m insufficiently confrontational.  I need to find a way to firmly but politely tell people that they’re doing wrong when they are.  And so does every other person who wouldn’t throw garbage on the ground instead of crossing the street to get to a waste bin, or block someone’s egress instead of stepping to the side, or do any number of other little things that help to spoil both the natural and the social environment of the world.

There’s a good reason why I think this is relevant to this blog.  The site itself puts a lot of focus on the social good that can be accomplished through conscientious consumer behavior and the like.  It says to buy bamboo and support sustainable industries in order to help curtail global warming and save the planet.  Such efforts are immeasurably important, to be sure.  But I worry a little bit about preaching to the choir.  After all, the only reason why you would listen to that kind of advice is because you’ve already got a basic sense of the difference that you, as one person can make.

Apparently this is not true of everyone.  The only way that I can make sense of people refusing to move out of a doorway when someone else is trying to get through it is by assuming that such people are possessed of an overriding mentality that says “my actions don’t matter.”  A person has to be actively broken of that mentality.  They have to be confronted directly and made to understand that they’re doing something wrong and that to the people around them it matters.

Maybe that doesn’t work with everyone.  Maybe a significant portion of the “I’d rather not move” crowd is comprised of psychopaths who actively want life to be harder and shorter for others.  But I can’t realistically expect to hold onto my faith in the future if at least a handful of those people aren’t merely oblivious to their own place in the world.  Surely, some of them have a sense of shame, but one that just isn’t activated by direct communication.

If I’m right about that, but it never happens that they’re called out, confronted, brought face to face with self-centered behavior, then we have to just write these people off in the effort to make the world a better place.  And here’s the thing, I don’t think we can do that and still succeed.  I think environmentalists and social activists need as many people on their side as possible, even if “on their side” just means being rudimentarily aware of the impact that one has, and knowing that that’s important.

I hope the idea that we can’t do it on our own doesn’t stand in contract to my usual optimism about how much good can be done by sustainable consumption, bamboo products, green tech, and the like.  I’m still every bit as optimistic about that, as well as about the potential for cultural change, which can make people more understanding, peaceful, and collaborative.  But it’s always been my view that these are goals we can’t accomplish if we try to live in a vacuum.  Tribalism will get us nowhere.  Sticking with your own kind will only get you so far.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but I’m intent on working to fix it.  I can’t keep letting people get away with harmful behavior, free of criticism or public awareness.  I can’t risk convincing myself that by spending my money wisely or writing this blog, I’m making up for the deficits of personal communication.  Social ethics don’t work that way.  Your conscientious consumer behavior might win you bonus points, but if you first enable others to make the world a better place, the best you can do is break even on the harm you’re causing by proxy.

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240px-Thanksgiving_grace_1942I fear that the celebration of Thanksgiving is starting to be restricted to a smaller and smaller proportion of Americans.  Specifically, I’m worried that it’s a feast and an occasion of togetherness only for people who aren’t service employees.  I understand that some cooks and servers, clerks, stockpersons, janitors, and others have always been made to work the evening of Thanksgiving.  It’s not as though the world stops spinning on the fourth Thursday in May.  But the sheer number of people on employer schedules year after year is growing faster than bamboo at the height of summer.

I wasn’t fully aware of the situation until last week.  My two older brothers have always worked on Thanksgiving, only to drag themselves, haggard and half-asleep, to the home of one of our parents, where we share a meal that seems cursory by the standards of many other Thanksgiving celebrations.  This year, though, the holiday was briefly cancelled among our immediate family, when it appeared that my nearly sixty year-old mother might also be working a part time retail job on the same day.

That turned out to not be the case, and now the shared meal is back on schedule.  But the uncertain circumstances led me to wonder why on Earth the store she works for would even be open on Thanksgiving in the first place.  Only afterwards did I realize just how many national retailers are opening their doors on a holiday that has generally seemed almost sanctified in its encouragement of togetherness and national rest.

During the time that I thought Thanksgiving was off for my family, I considered what to do with the day instead, assuming I didn’t just put myself to work as well, for lack of a better alternative.  But I decided that there was a better alternative, and that I’d take the opportunity to make the rounds to all of the stores that are going to be open on Thanksgiving, not to buy anything, but rather to offer home baked cookies to all of the employees who were working that evening and tell them that I think it’s inexcusable of their employers to compel them to do so.

Hopefully doing so would shame any customers in the area to rethink their priorities.  Fortunately, in articles like this I can take a more direct approach and tell readers directly: if you’re thinking of getting a jump on your Black Friday shopping by paying your favorite store a visit on Thanksgiving, don’t.  Or even if you think it would just be a good opportunity to pick up some toilet paper, or shampoo, or socks, don’t.

Corporate retailers wouldn’t make these decisions if they didn’t have good reason to think they will pay off.  And that good reason is every customer who shops mindlessly whenever they can, paying no heed to the calendar or the human consequences of their own lack of restraint.

Not that I think that description applies to any readers of this article.  If you visit this site regularly because you’re concerned about the environment and interested in bamboo, then you probably shop consciously and pay attention to the impact that your consumer decisions have on your own lifestyle, your community, and your world.

If that’s the case, then even if you want to shop on Thanksgiving for some reason, you won’t have to go to Dollar General or Wal-Mart, or Macy’s, or any of the many other retailers that are thoughtlessly putting full staff on their sales floors.  If anyone feels that they must shop on Thanksgiving, they can just do it online.  As you probably know, you can find better made, more sustainable, lower impact goods online anyway.  So not only can you get elegant bamboo towelsand bedding, you can do it without supporting the sorts of corporate decisions that prioritize profits ahead of employees, their families, and their participation in the best of American traditions.

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1384188670007-pi111113-021It is impossible to conclusively link any single weather event to anthropogenic climate change.  And although there is no sensible way of denying the seriousness of the problem, it does a disservice to the science behind it if we try to use an individual hurricane or heat wave as proof that that problem is real.  Nevertheless, for those of us who accept the fact of man-made global warming, it can be helpful to take a keen look at extreme weather events as they’re happening, and recognize that these are the kinds of things that we must try to prevent from recurring more frequently in the future.  Potent images of enhanced natural disasters have the potential to serve as motivators for the international community, and those motivators are desperately needed.

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in his country, Philippine climate change commissioner Naderev (Yeb) Sano attempted to deliver just such a motivator to the other attendees at the first day of two weeks of climate talks in Warsaw.  The UN-led gathering began on Monday, and the day was largely highlight by Sano’s tearful plea for the nations of the world to solve the climate change crisis without delay, before it can contribute to more disasters like the one that reportedly killed some 10,000 people last week.

Sano also expressed commitment to a period of fasting until a solution is agreed upon by the participants at this, the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  He explained that for people like his compatriots, who are especially threatened by rising sea levels and ocean storms, it is practically unimaginable that the process should have to drag onto a 30th or 40th convention before something truly significant is done to curtail rising levels of greenhouse gasses.

Not all nations of the world feel quite so directly pressured by this globally-diffused problem.  Unfortunately, that means that not all of their representatives are as motivated as Sano.  The goal of the current convention may seem ambitious by some standards, but it continues to delay serious action.  All that is really expected is that the results of these talks will set the stage for a decisive agreement at talks scheduled for 2015 in Paris.  The conclusion of these two weeks may well be indicative of progress, but it seems almost certain that Sano will be leaving hungry.

Still, if he has succeeded in giving a human face to the problem for the duration of these talks, then his fast will have been worthwhile.  After all, national governments and the people who represent them at these conferences might tend to be excessively distant from the problems they’re trying to solve.  That’s no small problem when it takes so much advance planning and political maneuvering to put country-level initiatives into action.  They do not have the leisure that individuals have to do their part through simple, straightforward changes like choosing to buy eco-friendly bamboo products.

Whether Typhoon Haiyan is or is not attributable to anthropogenic climate change, we should personally look at the resulting tragedy as a source of motivation to do our part with lifestyle changes, charity, and forward-looking investments.  We all should recognize the problem already, but we can benefit from some poignant reminders of what is really at stake.  Hopefully, the people and institutions with greater power to change things will be roused by those reminders, as well.  But it will take time for them to act.  So in the meantime – and even once an agreement has been signed at long last – let’s all play our individual parts.

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220px-Bamboo_Feb09The state of Tripura in India produces about one and a half million metric tons of bamboo each year, which is in fact over one tenth of the entire country’s output.  In recognition of both the economic and the cultural significance of the resource to that region, the government of Tripura has recently created a unique Bamboo Heritage Club.  The new organization was established with the goal of bringing broader attention to the works of local artisans who utilize regional bamboo, and to support further activities by similar residents of the Indian state.

Maybe I’m just feeling particularly cynical today, but I’ve begun to get a little frustrated by how often I am able to report on stories like this from faraway places, compared with how often they come up as being driven by Western governments, business organizations, charities, and entrepreneurs.

On one hand, the Bamboo Heritage Club is unprecedented even in India, so perhaps it’s not so much that the United States and other western nations are way behind in terms of public support for sustainable resources.  Maybe it’s just that given the vital importance that bamboo already holds for Tripura, that specific region is well ahead of the curve.

On the other hand, there are already organizations like the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, which recognize the economic and environmental value of those products and exclusively devote their efforts to the organization of events and the promotion of development projects that help to realize bamboo’s true potential as a global resource.  INBAR’s mission statement, however, specifically describes its efforts as operating within some of the world’s poorest countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

That is a highly laudable goal, and indeed I have tried in the past to emphasize some opportunities that exist for bamboo to help alleviate national poverty in places where it is commonplace and harvestable.  But what about wealthy, First World nations?  There’s really no reason why they should be excluded from visions of industries that rely on bamboo and other sustainable materials for everything from building construction to furniture, to food, fuel, and bamboo clothing and linens.

Bamboo grows here too, after all.  It is suitable to most climates.  Furthermore, it’s becoming increasingly crucial to the same, seeing as it has an exceptional ability to replace carbon dioxide with oxygen and help curtail global climate change.  For this reason and others, bamboo is, or at least will be, a globally important resource.  If it’s going to be used on that scale, its growth and economic value ought to be promoted on that scale, and not just among countries that have fewer modern industries or that have an existing heritage built around bamboo.

A sustainable future must involve some sort of union of the modern and the traditional.  No doubt we in the West expect developing countries to learn something from us about business practices and using technology to achieve self-reliance and greater wealth.  Perhaps things like INBAR are good examples of the conscientious use of typically Western organizational structures.  But the West can learn from places like Tripurta, as well.  I wait with shrinking patience for our answer to the Bamboo Heritage Club – something that recognizes American and European bamboo not as a link to some past cultural history, but as a natural source of entirely modern economic and environmental potential.

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Modern Home Design Meets Bamboo

October 15, 2013 Bamboo & Sustainability

Tweet Check out this incredible bamboo home that was recently featured in New York Magazine!  There is a slideshow of six stunning images at their website: http://nymag.com/homedesign/articles/2013/10/globaldesignissue/bali/ This touches upon so many topics that we have covered here at Green Earth News over the years, such as the role of bamboo in economic development in [...]

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Score One for Quality over Quantity

October 2, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet Congratulations to Marina Shifrin on her departure from her job!  If you haven’t seen her YouTube video, which as of this writing has well over two million views, then check it out.  You’ll probably enjoy it.  People seem to love videos in which fed-up employees quit their jobs in creative ways.  It’s wish fulfillment [...]

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The Traditional and the Modern: Connected by Bamboo

September 18, 2013 Bamboo & Sustainability

Tweet One of the things that I like so much about bamboo is that it represents a sort of happy medium and a point of meaningful union between the absolutely traditional and the fully modern.  From week to week, news stories related to the resource might deal with its use in large scale manufacturing or [...]

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Mankind and Muriqui

September 3, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet The September issue of Smithsonian Magazine introduces readers to the muriquis, a species of primates native to South America.  The large, tree-dwelling monkeys are presented by author Steve Kemper as a counterpoint to the traditional stereotype of primates as highly competitive, aggressively individualistic creatures who battle for dominance or else grudgingly subsist at a [...]

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New Mammal, New Motive for Forest Conservation

August 20, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet   A new species of mammal has just been discovered in the forests of Ecuador, and it is adorable.  To know that the olinguito is out there, looking like fluffy teddy bear, and having been overlooked by scientists the world over until 2013, a person would have to be pretty callous or uninspired to [...]

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In Defense of Genetically Modified Crops

August 6, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet   I take great pride in my liberal mindset, but I take much greater pride in my tendency to avoid knee-jerk ideological endorsement or opposition to issues that might rile certain left-leaning groups.  After reading a quite balanced article by Roger East or TriplePundit, I’m reminded that genetically modified crops are one such topic. [...]

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Good News From the Electric Car Market

July 23, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet   I love good news.  However, it seems that I am almost always tentative about it.  You might just say I’m cautious, or you might say I’m overly analytical, or you might call me paranoid.  But let’s not let that detract from the good news that electric cars are selling better than they ever [...]

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Sweet And Delicious: Make Your Own Mead

July 16, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet A few weeks ago we touted the benefits of the earth-friendly, heart-healthy mead and promised a how-to on making your own tasty beverage.  Comparatively speaking, mead is a bit simpler to make than wine or beer. Here’s what you need to make your own delicious gallon of mead: 1 pkg. of yeast (preferably wine [...]

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The Folly of the Phantom Planter

July 9, 2013 Bamboo Garden

Tweet The Phantom Planter materializes without a sound, his target well in sight.  He wields the tools of his trade so confidently and so without reservation that he arouses no suspicion.  He is so practiced at it that the movements of his gloved hands come almost as naturally as breathing.  This specter has descended upon [...]

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4th Of July Sale: Green Earth Bamboo Offers Stylish Red, White And Blue Options!

July 1, 2013 Bamboo Fashion

Tweet “…the stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes as a symbol of secession from the home country.”   –George Washington A graceful depiction of how the red, white and blue came to be on the American flag.  In 1782 these iconic colors were chosen to represent [...]

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Guantanamo Bay, Keystone XL, and Obama’s Double-Speak

June 28, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet   In today’s political landscape, it seems that most people’s opinions of their public officials are fixed from the point of election and intractable forever after.  I like to think that will make me pretty unique when, looking back on the Obama presidency, I will be able to pinpoint an exact date when I [...]

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Xeriscaped Yard: Working With What You Have

June 26, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet Xeriscape:  Sounds like an alien, sounds like an instrument, sounds like nothing you would ever attempt on your lawn but that’s precisely where it’s meant to work.  Coined by the City of Denver water department during one of their many periods of drought this landscaping concept advocates using as many native, drought-resistant plants as [...]

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Mead: Earth-friendly, Heart-healthy and Simply Delicious

June 24, 2013 Green is Grand

Tweet Eco-Friendly beer, eco-friendly wine and fun cocktails are great for summer nights on patios, rooftop bars and camping trips.  Who would have thought there was another option?  Mead is a new novelty on many drink menus but its history is a long one. A mixture of honey, water and yeast, mead is one of [...]

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