Wishing upon a star for stronger water stewardship

As the lights over Paradise Bay dim, eager spectators gasp and cheer in anticipation. Music rings out, and after a few moments of dramatic buildup, powerful fountains spring to life over the water, illuminated by an almost dizzying array of choreographed lights. In an awe-inspiring display of vivid color, radiant music, and majestic water, Disney’s “World of Color” show begins.

The Submarine Lagoon at Disneyland.

The Submarine Lagoon at Disneyland.

I’ve always loved Disney theme parks, but as my environmental consciousness has grown, so has my recognition of the the parks’ environmental impacts. Disneyland and California Adventure consume massive quantities of energy and water, generate enormous amounts of waste, and pollute our atmosphere with huge volumes of carbon dioxide. Seriously, look at the data—it’s terrifying, and those footprints become even larger when you consider the automobile traffic that the parks generate. And that’s without even getting into the fact that Walt Disney famously paved over a 160-acre orange grove to build Disneyland. (Although at least one original tree is still standing.)

Don’t get me wrong—I grew up going to Disneyland with my family, and I love it there. Some of that love stems from nostalgia, but mostly it stems from the thrill of rides like Space Mountain and Grizzly River Run, from the wonder of watching fireworks light up the night sky over Sleeping Beauty Castle, and from the majesty and technological marvel of shows like World of Color. But that pure enjoyment is difficult to reconcile with an understanding of environmental impacts.

Unless, of course, it isn’t. Continue reading

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Twig Teatime Ain’t So Bad

The Belle of Louisville grandly awaits her next trip down the Ohio River.

The Belle of Louisville grandly awaits her next trip down the Ohio River.

The creaky, rickety wooden rocking chairs sat expectantly. Reclining on their ankles, they remained stoic despite the rows of knitted wool draped across their laps in oh such a casual way. The roughness of their curving lines paid homage to their time in a faraway wood, as they waited to become the frame for a human form that would try to rock them into a slumber.

“Would you like some twig tea?” the man with twinkling blue eyes asked. I was musing on my surroundings at a café in Louisville, Kentucky. His question drifted through the air. Flavors ranging from smoky to caramel to charcoal presented themselves on the menu, and I chose the cocoa variety.

Man, I still think about that twig tea, though. Tree bits in hot water sounds like nature in a teacup. And sometimes in a city, we need every bit of nature we can find. Continue reading

Happily swamped, marvelously bogged down

The chokeberry drunkenly dangles her berry offerings.

The chokeberry drunkenly dangles her juicy offerings.

“Excuse me—Brooklyn has marshlands?” my co-worker asked me in disbelief yesterday. I assured her that this insect paradise, which I visited over the weekend, had not been a mirage. (If only my bug bites were instead.) But while these wetlands—hidden in southeastern Brooklyn, next to soccer fields and a parking lot—are very much real, they feel as abandoned as the oil and sewage floating through them.

As we approached the salt marsh, we saw a clear division between the suburban streets and the unkempt foliage of the neighboring wetlands. A chokeberry shrub pushed against the metal barrier holding her back from the paved sidewalk, her sinewy fuchsia trunks gushing with blood-black berries as she leaned her elbow branches over the barrier. The chokeberry was the first sign that we were entering a New York City jungle unlike the concrete one we know so well.

Continue reading

Blissful boating on blue-green algae

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We stepped into a teetering rowboat on Central Park Lake on Saturday afternoon, the pistachio-hued water complementing the verdant landscape. As we navigated the curving waterway, a linen-clad couple declared their affection in the shade of a willow tree. An elderly gentleman skipped his oars across the water with expert precision, the rapid movement of his arms seeming to match the intensity of his thoughts. We bumped into a few rock walls and low-lying branches as we stopped to observe a family of sunbathing turtles, but let’s chalk that bit of awkwardness up to environmental curiosity. Continue reading

Something in the water: The polluted politics of fracking

I left Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, so it’s probably time to write about what I was doing there all summer. Especially since it has everything to do with water.

For 10 weeks, I interned at the Sierra Club’s legislative office, lobbying for tougher regulation of the natural gas industry. I was particularly focused on the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has enabled the natural gas boom in the United States over the last few years. Even if you didn’t see Matt Damon’s “Promised Land”—or the more overtly anti-fracking documentary “Gasland”—you’ve probably heard about the increasingly controversial drilling technique. Continue reading

Journal from Baltimore: Going back to the city’s weeds and water

We stopped for creamy smoothies at a café and market called Milk and Honey in Baltimore. After a day of touring the seemingly worn-down city, we entered a place catering to locavores and evoking in its name the Israelites’ Promised Land.

This environmentally friendly café was just one of the nontraditional green spaces we saw in Baltimore. These unconventional places—including hole-in-the-wall green cafés, wild plants growing on condemned buildings, and undeveloped stretches of waterfront—seemed to have the greatest potential for making Baltimore a healthier, happier city in the long run.

Baltimore has a reputation for high crime rates, heavy drug use, and debilitating poverty. While Maryland boasts the highest median income levels in the United States, the median income in Baltimore is 23 percent below the national average. It is the U.S. city with the second highest number of murders per year, following Detroit.

Baltimore also consistently does not make it into lists of America’s green cities. And this got me thinking.

Continue reading

Baltimore blues: Lessons from the waterfront and ‘The Wire’

As we made our way out of the bus station in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that “The Wire” had gotten it right.

For those not familiar with “The Wire”—and if you’re not familiar with it, by all means stop reading this post and go watch it—the show examines Baltimore, portraying it as a city of empty row houses, shattered windows, and neighborhoods abandoned but for the drug trade. We didn’t visit the city’s worst neighborhoods—Stringer, Marlo, and Omar were nowhere in sight—but we were nonetheless overwhelmed by the number of decrepit and condemned buildings, many of which looked like they hadn’t been touched in years. It was a sunny day, but the gray streets were largely devoid of people, and even the few green spaces we passed were littered with garbage. We’d never seen a major city in a state of such disrepair.

Baltimore building

But amid the deteriorating buildings and empty streets, one neighborhood was particularly teeming with economic activity: the Inner Harbor. Continue reading