Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Green Film Picks At The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012

Monday, April 16th, 2012
Last Call at the Oasis

Last Call at the Oasis

With the San Francisco International Film Festival 2012 just around the corner, we wanted to offer a Green/Sustainable  sneak at some of the Green themed films on the festival plate.

Most of the Green themed films come in the form of documentaries such as Bitter Seeds, which delves into a story of how genetically modified seeds in India continue to make farmers desperately poor. This film could be particularly relevant with several US states attempting to get GMO food labeling on the 2012 ballots.

We’ve seen water films in the past and we’re excited (and frightened) to see Last Call at the Oasis, which focuses on the ever-increasing global water crisis. This documentary from Oscar-winner and Palo Alto native Jessica Yu, shot by SF local Jon Else also features several Bay Area experts, deals with the impending worldwide fresh water shortage.

We also heard good things about a narrative film, called Valley of Saints, which deals with fisherman who battle water pollution  and shrinking water supply in Dal Lake in the Kashmir region of India.

Green films here we come.

The City Dark (2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival) Addresses Light Pollution

Monday, March 5th, 2012

the city darkThey say we live in a bubble. What many people fail to realize is that the bubble in question looks like and feels like against light bulb. In that giant light bulb we humans continue to lose touch with anything beyond our own urban cityscape. Now with half of the worlds population living in urban centers people continue to lose their connection to the heavens and stars.

The City Dark (playing at the 2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival) addresses the questions surrounding the problem of light pollution in our society. Writer/director Ian Cheney takes a journey from his rural upbringing in Maine to New York City and examines how modern society continues to place an emphasis on “Bright Lights, Big City” mentality while ignoring the light pollution impact on people, animals, and the environment.

Cheney creates stirring night light images and adds flavorful animation as well as a rhythmic soundtrack to create cohesion in the dark. He brings up many well researched points including the possible effects of cancer rates and night shift workers exposed to lights, as well as the harmful effects that light pollution has on turtle migration and bird flight patterns.

Like a bird that runs smack into an over lit skyscraper, The City Dark contains some abrupt transitions such as the section involving a cancer patient who hosted a late night TV show for many years.

Although interesting and informative the film could have created more of a “call to action” for people wishing to further explore the possibilities of change. Even so, Cheney exemplifies his passion for demonstrating how the pollution in our cities is not relegated to the land and waterways. Look up.

Second San Francisco Green Film Festival Opens Today – On Coal River Top Pick

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

coal riverOne of the great aspects of the 2nd San Francisco Green Film Festival, March 1-7, 2012 lies in the eclectic lineup of enviro, sustinable, green based films. The varied selections come from other regions that might not be on the general green radar. On Coal River would be one of those deeply environmental films that register emotionally strong notes by way of West Virginia.

A few of us viewed On Coal River which that takes place in the bucolic mountain area of Coal River Valley which immediately brings us into a David and Goliath struggle with the town residents confronting the notorious Massey Energy (the same Massey Energy that had the coal mining disaster on April 5, 2010).

Directors Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood take a back roads approach for the footage and back-story. The films smartly keys on some of the more active residents and colorful residents who have either been coal miners or know coal miners. The film makers go out of there way to show how coal mining (or rather mountaintop removal) continues to be a vital aspect to the economy (although they point out that the percentage of miners sits significantly lower that in past years) but many people believe that this business has also become a toxic and environmental liability for local residents.

The film focuses on several local community members who like to call themselves hillbillies but also educated hillbillies. In the forefront stands former miner Ed Wiley an activist/environmentalist who fights the good fight to get people to recognize that their local elementary school where their children attend should be recognized as an environmental hazard. The filmmakers capture the passionate and emotional Wiley spearheading protest efforts, leading educational meetings as well as him walking from West Virginia to Washington DC to raise awareness and get his point across.

On Coal River does a great service by not creating an overly polished film, and by sticking to capturing real emotion. The rough footage works well to demonstrate that people will fight for an environmental cause in states other than west coast states. It offers some insight into what the other people who support Massey (mostly people concerned with the local economic concerns if they fight Massey) but the film doesn’t get any official response from the energy giant. Did Massey officials decline to be interviewed for this film? Although the focus on the school offers a solid storyline and a hot topic, the film might have added some additional conclusion and information about the polluted water supply and toxic health conditions. What good is it to have a new school when the water supply and air remain poisoned for the whole town?

Despite some loose threads, it is great to see an emotionally charged environmental film where David wears a hillbilly hat.

ON COAL RIVER
Francine Cavanaugh, 81 min, USA
Sat 3/3 – 3:30pm

True Sustainable Eco Lodge At Hix Island House In Vieques

Friday, January 13th, 2012
Casa Solaris

Casa Solaris

The tourism department for Puerto Rico claims that the ex-military base for the US turned tourist destination Vieques offers visitors a eco-island experience. They may claim eco-island status as a whole however we had to search pretty diligently to find anything authentically eco friendly. Our diligence paid off with a visit to the muy verde Hix Island House

Our timing couldn’t have been better as the hillside eco resort recently opened a new additional called Casa Solaris. We see many lodges called “eco lodges” but Hix Island House offers a true and tranquil eco-villa experience.  Firstly, the architect John Hix created his new Casa Solaris building completely off the grid. The completely self contained wing offers six minimalist designed rooms powered by both a photovoltaic system and solar hot water. The pool also gets its heat from the nearby solar panels and contains a locally used a low chemical cleaning system significantly less toxic than the typical chlorine based products.

Speaking of water, in addition to dual flush toilets, the building contains a greywater system that transports used sink and shower water to the nearby field to irrigate the soon to be planted bananas trees and other indigenous fruits.

Lest we forget abut the materials used to create the building. Originally John Hix wanted to use wood however he discovered that wood doesn’t hold up well through hurricanes so he opted for concrete. The use of concrete in the overall design includes the floor, walls, countertops and showers. The al fresco shower may be the best experience with the cement floor and walls, the views of the rain forest and ocean, as well as the fact that the heated water comes via the sun.

We also enjoyed the fresh baked bread and the local fruit (Mango). One of our few disappointments comes from the fact that locals don’t grow more local tropical fruit (Corazon, passion fruit) which they grow on the main island. The Hix Island House staff already planted various fruit trees to rectify that issue.

Besides letting guests know about the sustainable design of this villa, they continue to educate the locals so that Viequenses will use the sustainable knowledge to create sustainable homes and lodges of their own.

The education, design and sustainability make the Hix Island House one of the true eco-resorts not only in Puerto Rico but in todo el mundo.

Northstar’s New Zephyr Lodge Shoots For LEED

Monday, December 26th, 2011

zephyr ski lodgeIt’s been a dry winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and that must mean that Mother Nature must be telling us something. She’s telling us to go sustainable or no more snow. Maybe that’s an exaggeration but some resorts have begun to get the message. Some resorts (like Northstar) have built new projects with LEED certification standards.

We got a chance to check out Northstar’s newly opened Zephyr Lodge. The warmly designed building is shooting for LEED certification which takes a snowshoe step in the right direction.

We couldn’t help but notice the wood paneled interior and exterior which not only gives the lodge a cozy feeling but it does so in a sustainable way using reclaimed barn wood and tin from Montana.

The interior receives a notable amount of natural light from the large window wall that faces the mountains. To us, that design is a no brainer with a great view and tons of natural light.

Speaking of light, the lodge also offers high tech programming in the building so that lights only turn on when a lack of ambient light exists.

The bathrooms offer the ubiquitous low flow toilets and we love the high powered hand dryers. We just have to question why they have paper towel dispensers next to the hand dryers.

We sampled some of the tasty cuisine which supposedly offers a significant amount of either organic or locally sourced ingredients. We haven’t verified the menu ingredients yet. Stick around as we post more about the sustainable slopes in the Lake Tahoe region.

Semper Fi Documentary Film – Military Eco-intelligence?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

SemperFiposterIs there such a thing as Military Eco-intelligence? Normally we wouldn’t dare consider the military Eco-friendly considering all of the weapons and other military waste that they have left behind in their various closed military sites. Seeing the new documentary Semper-fi Always Faithful didn’t exactly change our minds.

When Marine Corp Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, he sought to find answers. For years he struggled to find closure and answers to what happened. His persistent uncovering of information led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history.

The film follows the personable and persistent Ensminger to expose the Marine Corp to their culpability of poisoning thousands of military personal as well a civilians in North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. The film directors ( Tony Hardmon, Rachel Libert ) build on the momentum that Ensminger brings. The military trained him well. He acts like a marine on a mission who won’t take no for an answer. Ensminger carries the weight of exposing the environmental injustice of the Marines on his back and keeps his target in sights like an eagle-eyed sniper.

The film not only centers on Camp Lejeune but shows the environmental injustices in military bases and surrounding areas in various regions around the country. The film feels like a punch to the gut of the top brass of the Marines. How could they poison the water supply of the faithful people who make up the Marines then cover it up and deny? Sounds like typical military operations.

Semper Fi represents a rare opportunity to show marines and ex-marines as pseudo environmentalists, a position not normally associated with the military. A powerful film indeed and perhaps it will act as an early morning revelry and lead the troops to be always faithful to Jerry Ensminger and his environmental cause.

New Environmental Documentary Patagonia Rising Plays at DocFest 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

IMG_0687We all make decisions in life. For Chile they have a whopper of a decision that centers on Patagonia. The new documentary film Patagonia Rising that plays at Doc Fest 2011 revolves around issues that will likely alter the region and have far reaching effects in the future.
Patagonia Rising investigates a plan to build five large hydroelectric dams on two of the world’s purest free flowing rivers in Patagonia, Chile.

The film highlights the various cultural communities caught in the middle of a conglomerate with their renewable energy plan, scientists with alternative energy ideas, local pro-dam business people and various local citizens who claim that their culture and livelihood will cease to exist if these dams become a reality.

Besides power and energy, the film also delves into the issue of water rights. As fresh water becomes scarcer, it will someday move ahead of oil as the resource that countries fight over.

The title refers to the climate change that has affected the glacial melt and overflow of many rivers that flow through the region. The film displays how flooding continues to dramatically disrupt communities, agriculture and lifestyle.

Like other enviro doc films, Patagonia Rising creates a well-balanced story that brings awareness to an important situation. Oakland based director Brian Lilla offers some stunning cinematography and subtly brings a human aspect to the situation. Althugh the film offers a mostly anti-dam slant, Lilla attempts to give all sides a voice and let the viewers decide for themselves. Although interesting and insightful, the film lacks emotion and raw energy that other docu films offer. Many of the locals who highlight Lilla’s focus lack dynamism which causes a certain passiveness to the film. A film like this needs more energy and outrage.

The film, produced in 2010, has a fairly short shelf life, with the hydroelectric decision to be made sometime in 2011. Depending on that outcome, the film could represent a historical archive of how things once appeared in Patagonia.

Green Grand Canyon Part 2 – Phantom Ranch

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

grand cnayon zen shotWhile at the Miswak lodge the director of sustainability mentioned that the average visitor spends something like 17 minutes at the Grand Canyon which represents a longer period than the time Clark Griswold spends looking at the Canyon in the film “Vacation” but still a somewhat ridiculous amount of time.

A group of us (10 total) headed down the less traveled Kaibab Trail without much traffic. Those who we did run into only planned on heading down a mile or so. Que lastima for them. They would miss the wildlife that we spotted (deer, ring-tailed cats, bats), as well a magnificent Canyon highlights. A fast 5-6 hours later, most of the group tumbled into our 10-person cabin at the Phantom Ranch.

Although we could never get a straight explanation of the origin of the name, we did appreciate the various elements that the ranch did to make things more environmentally friendly. Not just the recycling and energy waste prevention but the educational evening discussions including one about the bats and their delicate balance with the environment and their misunderstanding with most of the human world.

Although striving to create a more sustainable environment, the fact that Phantom Ranch bathrooms contained these Rain Flurries caused some consternation. One of hikers – a green thinking attorney (yes, they do exist) mentioned looked that these showerheads looked like giant sunflowers. Although we enjoyed free flowing warm water after a pair of lengthy day hikes (we will get to that soon) these showerheads certainly don’t tow the party line as far as water conservation. We can’t imagine how much water they use or why they even exist in the shower rooms where the ranch continues to make green strides.

Speaking of strides, some of the better hikes to consider include the Clear Creek Trail, which for a 3/4 mile hike from the junction offers killer views directly down onto Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Creek drainage. However, keep the momentum going a few miles further to another overlook, which offers views of both the Black Bridge of the South Kaibab Trail and the Silver Bridge of the Bright Angel Trail along with a long stretch of the Colorado River and the Inner Gorge. Some of the rock formations (especially around sunrise or sunset) not only make for super photos but offer near moments of Zen, something that we all seek on our eco-trips.

A Green Look at the Grand Canyon

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Miwak lodge

Maswik lodge

From Costa Rica to Alaska and many places in between, travelers like us often see eco-lodges proudly displaying advertising claiming how “eco friendlily” or “green” the lodge is. Oftentimes, the “eco-lodge” claim has more to do with the location in a rain forest, in or near a state park. Some places might be better tagged Greenwashing lodge. That doesn’t mean that lodges located in national park areas can’t be considered eco-friendly or even (gasp) sustainable minded.

Take some of the lodges that sit right on the ledge (or close to it) of the Grand Canyon. Anyone would be hard pressed to find any excess PR expressing how Green the Maswik or Bright Angel lodges are. The Xanterra lodges have been on the Green bandwagon for about 10 years (and that includes the Grand Canyon Railway that during certain dates runs on cooking grease from their own used cooking oil.)

Good thing they act proactively with their resources because Arizona seems be in drought denial. Eventually, the state will run out of fresh water and if the hotels (especially the ones in Phoenix) don’t do something about it then the state will be something like dust in the wind.

Water, more than any other resource, remains a top concern for the Grand Canyon hotels.
At the Maswik and Bright Angel lodges, the guest and public bathrooms offer numerous water savings features like low flow showerheads, low flow and hooray waterless toilets. Get over the waterless urinals guys.

In the Canyon, people don’t realize that 40% of the park’s energy use comes as a result of moving water. Not drinking it, just moving it.

Beyond the H2O, one of the big challenges comes about because the historical buildings have certain limitations and restrictions so it isn’t like they can just place a water catchment system (or even solar panels) on the lodges.

They focus on small creative things with significant environmental impact but low visibility impact. The Bright Angle lodge recently installed recycled carpet in their dining room, which counts as only a small aspect to their attempt for LEED Gold certification. Even those small shampoo bottles, normally taboo in an eco lodge, come in Plastarch bottles, made from a corn based, biodegradable material.

For those who don’t get enough environmental reading, feel free to check out a copy of the company sustainability report that resides in each room. It contains successes and failures but at least they continue to be transparent.

Next week – we go down the trails and into Phantom Ranch.

On Coal River Screens At SF Docfest 2010

Monday, October 11th, 2010

coal riverOne of the great aspects of the upcoming 9th San Francisco Documentary  Festival is not only the number of environmental based docu films but the fact that the eclectic selection comes from other regions that might not be on the general green radar. On Coal River would be one of those deeply environmental films that register emotionally strong notes by way of West Virginia.

A few of us viewed On Coal River which that takes place in the bucolic mountain area of Coal River Valley which immediately brings us into a David and Goliath struggle with the town residents confronting the notorious Massey Energy (the same Massey Energy that had the coal mining disaster on April 5, 2010).

Directors Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood take a back roads approach for the footage and back-story. The films smartly keys on some of the more active residents and colorful residents who have either been coal miners or know coal miners. The film makers go out of there way to show how coal mining (or rather mountaintop removal) continues to be a vital aspect to the economy (although they point out that the percentage of miners sits significantly lower that in past years) but many people believe that this business has also become a toxic and environmental liability for local residents.

The film focuses on several local community members who like to call themselves hillbillies but also educated hillbillies. In the forefront stands former miner Ed Wiley an activist/environmentalist who fights the good fight to get people to recognize that their local elementary school where their children attend should be recognized as an environmental hazard. The filmmakers capture the passionate and emotional Wiley spearheading protest efforts, leading educational meetings as well as him walking from West Virginia to Washington DC to raise awareness and get his point across.

On Coal River does a great service by not creating an overly polished film, and by sticking to capturing real emotion. The rough footage works well to demonstrate that people will fight for an environmental cause in states other than west coast states. It offers some insight into what the other people who support Massey (mostly people concerned with the local economic concerns if they fight Massey) but the film doesn’t get any official response from the energy giant. Did Massey officials decline to be interviewed for this film? Although the focus on the school offers a solid storyline and a hot topic, the film might have added some additional conclusion and information about the polluted water supply and toxic health conditions. What good is it to have a new school when the water supply and air remain poisoned for the whole town?

Despite some loose threads, it is great to see an emotionally charged environmental film where David wears a hillbilly hat.

ON COAL RIVER
Francine Cavanaugh, 81 min, USA
Fri 10/22 9:30p; Mon 10/25 7:15p