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  July/August 2008
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Sierra Magazine
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Mixed Media: Big Ideas and Oddball Interpretations
July/August 2008

Lazy-Day Lit | Sierra Picks Summer Flicks | Earth Beat | Roller D'oh-ster | Reader Recommendations

Lazy-Day Lit
'Tis the season to chill out with a good book or movie

Summer slackers: Don't let us annoy you. We understand the appeal of spending these languid months with one's brain revving no faster than that of the lizard hiding under the lichen-covered rock you've been staring at for hours.

For those of you who do crave a measure of intellectual stimulation, Sierra asked writers and others with ties to the outdoors what tops their reading and viewing lists for the dog days. In the summer of the eco-doom movie The Happening, it's not surprising to see somber tomes. But you'll also find plenty to exhilarate hammock adventurers everywhere.

DAVID QUAMMEN, author most recently of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution | My goals for this summer include Robert Campbell's new book, In Darkest Alaska: Travel and Empire Along the Inside Passage; a biography of Nelson Miles (the soldier who stalked Chief Joseph); and everything I can find on the Ebola virus and gorillas.

KEITH BOWDEN, author of The Tecate Journal: Seventy Days on the Rio Grande | The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert, by Craig Childs. It changed the way I viewed rivers, streams, springs, and even small puddles. Water even tasted better after I read this book.

PAUL ROBERTS, author of The End of Food and The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World | My favorite nature book is At Play in the Fields of the Lord, by Peter Matthiessen, a prescient meditation on the clash of the natural and industrial worlds. As for movies, Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece Spirited Away is better than most live-action nature films at evoking the beautiful longing one feels on a mountainside. It's also one of my kids' top three movies.

PAUL HAWKEN, author of Blessed Unrest, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, and The Ecology of Commerce | One of my favorite books is The River Why, by David James Duncan. You realize that the culture of fishing will last longer than just about everything you see in a city.

GUILLERMO PAYET, founder of organic and local food Web site Local Harvest | For books, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row makes me think of a sleepy community close to beautiful nature, not too different from the world where I grew up in Peru. Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha might not sound like a particularly summery read, but it's about a man's search for spiritual growth. And summer is about living intensely, exploring, and savoring the experiences the ripe season brings us. For movies, check out Microcosmos. It follows insect life in a summer meadow over 24 hours.

ARLENE BLUM, author of Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life and Annapurna: A Woman's Place | My current interests are a blend of adventures in Asia and toxic chemicals. For inspiration, read On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet, by Luree Miller. But before slathering on that sunscreen, read Not Just a Pretty Face, by Stacy Malkan.

ELIZABETH MAY, leader of the Green Party of Canada and author of How to Save the World in Your Spare Time | My summers for the past ten years have been dominated by sharing Harry Potter books with my daughter. On many a lovely sandy beach, we moved from muggle world to magic. Do not be embarrassed to read them if you have no children for cover.

ANNA LAPPÉ, coauthor of Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet and Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen | The best summer movie? I loved the girl-power extravaganza of Blue Crush. I watched it with one of my surfing sisters. We were crushed when we found out they had cast a guy to do some of the surfing shots! My awe is inspired by films in which nature becomes its own character: the snow blanketing the fields and falling in thick flakes in the final fight scene of Curse of the Golden Flower and the swelling sea in The Piano. —Reed McManus


Sierra Picks Summer Flicks

Who says so? We say so! (And if you don't like our selections, submit your own at sierraclub.org/sierra/summer.)

3 Best Outdoorsy Movies
Into the Wild | When the call of the wild bites back.
Lawrence of Arabia | The North African desert shares top billing with Peter O'Toole.
A River Runs Through It | A well-tied fly lands gently upon the water.

3 Movies That Make You Want to Protect Nature
Mad Max | 1979's dystopic vision of "a few years from now." Uh-oh.
Dances With Wolves | The Lakota Sioux and subtitles help Kevin Costner see the Western frontier before it's gone.
Out of Africa | A Danish noblewoman finds passion in the land.

3 Movies That Make You Want to Stay Indoors
Jaws | Come on in--the water's churning.
The Blair Witch Project | What's scarier than wannabe filmmakers lost in the woods?
Deliverance | Hang on to your paddle. Wheeee!


Earth Beat
Blogging for truth, justice, and the planet

A veteran of both conservation groups and journalism, Alex Steffen was struck by the idea that environmentalists too often focus on what they stand to lose rather than what they hope to gain. That sparked the creation of , an online magazine and think tank that is cultlike in its steadfast optimism about finding solutions to planetary ills. Sierra sat down with Steffen, its executive editor, for a big dose of possibility.

What's the thinking behind worldchanging.com?
That solutions-based reporting can be just as impactful and interesting as problems-based reporting. When you assume a solution is possible, you often end up having a very different conversation. Often we use the term "bright green," meaning an approach that has an absolute standard for the protection of natural systems but also puts people at the center. Creating a more widespread prosperity is crucial for gaining support for moves to protect the environment and for addressing poverty, public health, violence, and civil rights.

How do you address unavoidably negative stories?
Being solutions based doesn't mean you ignore the dire state of the world. But it does mean a certain amount of "chosen optimism." Many of our opponents don't dismiss the problems. They just question whether anything can be done.

But people aren't necessarily motivated by facts.
By and large, people won't make a move when things are bad until things get atrociously bad--unless they're given an option they think is a better trade. We want to give people an option to vote for and not just to vote against.

What's technology's role in the bright green future?
To be antitechnology is to be anti-environmental. We'll soon have 9 billion people on this planet. Almost everybody is aspiring to have at least a European level of prosperity, and we're not going to talk them out of that.

We can design ways of living that offer a high quality of life with a fraction of the ecological footprint. If we don't use technology to design that world, we're effectively gearing up for a collapse. And desperate people are the worst stewards of natural systems.

Describe your blog's core audience.
They're young--the median age is 25--and more female than male. Most are in business, academia, the design professions, or media. What we don't have is a large readership in traditional activism circles.

What are the backgrounds of your contributors?
We have people from six continents writing for us--and once posted something from Antarctica. We have a hip Belgian online journalist who lives in Berlin and covers the culture of social change; a corporate consultant who writes about business changes; and people who write about emerging technologies, design, and architecture.

Which trends are ripe to be picked up by mainstream media?
One is the idea that if you push hard enough, sustainability becomes an investment rather than a cost.

The environment has become chic. Does it worry you when Vanity Fair puts Madonna on the cover of its green issue?
It's nonsense, but now it's working in our favor. It has alerted an enormous number of people who weren't paying any attention to these issues.

Which book has influenced you?
John Thackara's In the Bubble. It's about understanding the design choices that go into our lives and their lack of sustainability. If you're a person who marks your books, you can end up marking something on every page.

What's your environmental vice?
Flying. I work in a global network. I'd like to be less of a road warrior, but I enjoy being able to sit in a conference in New Delhi and having a long conversation with Indian design students about sustainability in rural India. —Reed McManus


Roller D'oh-ster

Universal Studios gave its new Simpsons Ride an energy-saving design--a particularly good idea given Homer Simpson's propensity for wreaking havoc at Springfield's nuclear power plant. The attraction, which takes visitors on a rattletrap trip hosted by Krusty the Clown, reportedly uses 662 fewer kilowatts per day than its predecessor (a Back to the Future ride) by swapping incandescents for LEDs and using a custom computer system to power down motors when idle. Springfield hasn't seen an eco-phenomenon like this since Lisa Simpson lobbied against water pollution with her slide show, "An Irritating Truth." —David Ferris


Reader Recommendations

We asked Sierra readers to pick the books that epitomize summer. For more, and to chime in with your own favorites, go to sierraclub.org/sierra/summer.

I often reread A Country Year: Living the Questions, by Sue Hubbell. Who can resist the charm of bees buzzing? Definitely a book for the hammock.

The Lorax always makes me want to hug a tree. I bought a copy for my best friend's son but ended up keeping it for myself.

Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire is a testament to the redrock majesty of southern Utah, decorated with Abbey's random wit and attitude.

My daughters love Allen Say's The Lost Lake, a beautifully illustrated book about a work-obsessed father and his lonely son who hike into the mountains to find a secluded lake the father loved as a boy.

Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf made me look at animals with patience and understanding.

Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer is an escape to the outdoors of Appalachia. It's like opening a window on a breezy day.

As a child in Denmark, I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moby-Dick, and all of Jules Verne's books.


Photos, from top: Lori Eanes, Doug DuBois, Lori Eanes (3); used with permission.

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