Click on the headline for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

A real-world island experiment

Beverly Beyette, LA Times
Adventurers intend to build a sustainable eco-community on a Fijian isle in hopes of keeping developers away.

TAKE a tribe of international adventure-seekers and a remote South Pacific island and what do you get? In this case, not reality TV.

Two 26-year-old British entrepreneurs, Ben Keene (a.k.a. Chief Bengazi) and Mark James (a.k.a. Chief Marika), are seeking 5,000 people to join, a sort of tribal timeshare with a three-year lease on a Fijian island.

The goal: to build a sustainable eco-community and keep at bay developers with dreams of massive hotel complexes.

Memberships — Nomad ($220), Hunter ($440) and Warrior ($660) — entitle members to seven, 14 or 21 days on the palm-fringed 200-acre oasis, 100 at a time. Fees cover food, lodging and local airport transfer.

This is not for the five-star hotel crowd. The tribe will be roughing it, especially the early arrivals, who will have only tents and basic shower and toilet facilities.

“The first job for the tribe,” Keene said, “is to build for those who come later,” working alongside paid Fijian laborers to build beach huts. There’s no electricity, but solar energy will provide Internet access.

From his home in England, Keene said “an initial burst of interest” after‘s April launch brought in 400 members, about 50 from the United States. They are from 14 countries and are ages 18 (the minimum) to 67. Men outnumber women by about 20%.

Keene and James, both passionate adventure travelers, made a deal with a Fijian chief, Tui Mali (whose immediate family members are the island’s only inhabitants), to let the tribe develop a sustainable island community to benefit Fijians. The lease is about $95,000 for three years.

The objective, Keene said, is threefold: to provide a unique adventure for tribe members, to pioneer a “social experiment” of 5,000 people working together to create something and “to raise awareness about living sustainably and traveling responsibly.” All while providing local jobs and invigorating the economy
(28 May 2006)
HT: David Roberts (Gristmill).

A family of 4 — but no car

Sonia Krishnan, The Seattle Times
The Petersons are a family of four from Issaquah. They like to hike, go to the movies, watch “American Idol.” A regular suburban bunch.

Minus the SUV.

Minus any car, for that matter.

The Petersons don’t drive. They haven’t since 1987. No one in the family has a driver’s license. At 17 and 20 years old, the Peterson kids have never been behind the wheel.

As the rest of the country frets over the highest gas prices in history, the Petersons carry on as usual, biking, walking and riding the bus wherever they need to go.

“We’re not anti-car,” said Kent Peterson, 47. “We’ve just figured out that we don’t need one.”

The Petersons’ choice to go carless is often met with shock. Usually, they try to avoid bringing it up.
(28 May 2006)

Tending ‘Defiant Gardens’ During Wartime

National Public Radio
From the Western Front trenches of World War I to the deserts of Iraq, soldiers have found comfort in the simple act of gardening.

Kenneth Helphand, writes about war gardens — not just victory gardens, grown in time of scarcity, but those planted on hostile fronts, including Eastern Europe’s ghettos and the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II. Helphand calls the gardens an act of defiance.

Kenneth Helphand’s fascination with what he now calls “defiant gardens” began with this undated World War I photograph of soldiers in the French trenches flanked by their planting beds. Notice the use of twigs as ornamental borders delineating each soldier’s plot. Helphand had this picture on his bookshelf for several years before deciding to pursue the meaning of gardens in such extreme circumstances, beyond their obvious use for food.

On Jan. 28, 1918, this soldier took the time to paint trees on canvas-like material covering the side of his hut, while stationed near Boesinghe, Belgium. “Gardens in the war,” writes Kenneth Helphand, “…exemplified the struggle to create something normal in the most abnormal conditions.”
(29 May 2006)
Related: Guantanamo prisoners planting seeds of hope.

Eat the Press
An interview with foodie author Michael Pollan

David Roberts, Grist
Michael Pollan has built a reputation as a sleuthing agro-journalist. In his writing for The New York Times Magazine and a quartet of books, he’s trailed a steer from birth to dinner plate, traced America’s obesity epidemic to corn subsidies, and narrowly, fumblingly outwitted a small-town cop who came uncomfortably close to his marijuana patch. His writing — an engaging mélange of travelogue, economic analysis, and sheer, tactile joy in the pleasures of food — has made him a favorite among the foodie and enviro crowds alike.

In his latest book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he brings his investigative skills to bear on four meals. One is the typical American overprocessed fare; one is composed of what Pollan calls “industrial organic” — organic food grown on huge mega-farms alongside standard crops; one comes from a small organic farm that refuses to sell outside its neighboring community; and one is hunted and gathered entirely by Pollan himself. (His account of tracking and shooting a wild boar is bizarrely gripping.)

The author — now a journalism professor at U.C.-Berkeley — dropped by the Grist offices for a long, leisurely chat. We asked him about Big Organic, local food systems, and the cult of convenience, and hoped he wouldn’t notice the large bowl of SweeTarts on our conference table.
(31 May 2006)

How ethical shopping is making business go green (biodegradable plastics)

Martin Hickman, The Independent
Companies are exploring the use of biodegradable plastics because it makes business sense for several reasons – all of them linked to the environment.

First, shoppers are becomingly increasingly frustrated by the voluminous packaging that fills their bins when they unwrap food…

Second, retailers and suppliers are keen to attract a new breed of ethical shopper. The research organisation The Future Laboratory (TFL) has documented the rise of what it terms the “conscience consumer”. Typically, TFL found these ethical shoppers are cash-rich, credit-using 30-something city-dwellers who are keen – in the words of one such individual – to use “credit cards as ballot cards”…

The third factor – and perhaps the most decisive in the long run – is the looming oil shortage. Although technology has existed to make biodegradable bottles and tubs for a while, companies have lacked a commercial motive to warrant its introduction.

The rising price of oil is transforming that calculation. The cost of oil has risen 1,000 per cent (10 fold) in the past eight years – from $6.90 to $69 a barrel. Experts believe this may soon level the cost of biodegradable and conventional packaging.

So with “peak oil” – the point when global oil production starts to decline – only a few years away, it is sensible for companies to plan for the future. Making wrappers and tubs out of starch from corn, potatoes, beetroot or sugar cane may not just be greener, but cheaper too. And if you can make a virtue out of that necessity by attracting conscience consumers irritated by wasteful packaging, then you may have a pleasing solution to an ugly problem.
(29 May 2006)