TreeHugger's Greatest Hits, 2004-2012 (with a Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen)
It's hard for me to believe that I wrote my first post for TreeHugger seven and a half years ago. An awful lot has changed since then. The burgeoning "green movement," as it was, had yet to really hit its stride: There were no Oscars being handed out to former Vice Presidents; your hybrid car choices were limited to a novel few and could be counted easily on just a few fingers; and the Arctic was frozen enough that this wasn't happening yet. These were the salad days, when it was still news when somebody or something "went green" and it was still cool to get excited about wearing organic cotton.
Likewise, the web was a pretty different place then, too. Many people (though maybe not most) gave me sort of a funny look when I told them, "I write for a blog." Mark Zuckerberg's big idea was still residing at thefacebook.com, and something called Twitter was still over a year from launch. We wrote posts and viewed the site in Firefox v 1.0 (and maybe even, perish the thought, Internet Explorer v 6).
Since then, it's a great understatement to say that many, many things have changed: In the world of "green;" on the web; at TreeHugger; in the world at large. And there are lots of metrics I could use to try to express that change over time -- some depressing (atmospheric CO2 has risen from about 381 parts per million to almost 393 ppm in that time), some sort of weird (there have been 35 solar and lunar exclipses between then and now) and some that interest only me (we've published nearly 50,000 posts on TreeHugger since then). Rather than going down either of those roads, though, I'll just take a sec to review my favorite TreeHugger moments. It's my swan song, but you can also think of it as an abbreviated version of our greatest hits.
And since my time at the site followed a random and sometimes scattershot path, from writing -- about product and industrial design, food, a bunch of other random stuff -- to working at the now-unplugged Planet Green, back to being the Managing Editor here at TreeHugger, it made sense to me to run with the greatest hits theme. So here are 18 of my favorite moments, movements, and ideas we've featured at TreeHugger, set to the track list from Bruce Springsteen's Greatest Hits (because, you know, it's The Boss). Take it away, Boss.
Born to Run
"We'll run till we drop, baby we'll never go back...whoa!"
I couldn't resist. Also, this thing is definitely born to run. Get it?
The electric car industry has had an interesting trajectory these past seven-plus years. There has been great hope for (and hype in) these cars, and while there are ample examples of cars and companies that have left their skeleton frames behind, Tesla Motors has been one of my favorite stories to follow. They've brought two models to market, and brought green to the mainstream with it.
Just check out the way TreeHugger Brian rolled down the windows and let the wind blow back his hair. Even Condoleeza Rice approves.
"Talk about a dream; try to make it real.
You wake up in the night with a fear so real.
You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come.
Well don't waste your time waiting..."
So it seems that Rishi (nee Reishee) Sowa is familiar with this idea. His story certainly follows the narrative: Weary of living his life on dry land, he didn't waste his time waiting for a better situation; he built a floating island out of 250,000 floating pop bottles. And when that island was lost to a hurricane, he just built another one.
Not every dream ends in fruition and homemade islands; sometimes we go down to the river even though we know the river is running dry.
One of the most meaningful experiences I had at TreeHugger was touring the Galapagos Islands with a group of educators. Among the many really interesting things I learned there was the way the islands are approaching the brink, trying to find the right spot in a delicate balance between earning money via tourism and wrecking the amazing living lab that exists on each island. There are no easy answers here.
As the song goes, "Everybody needs a place to rest / Everybody wants to have a home," and Gary Chang's amazing Hong Kong apartment is one of the most amazing homes that we ever put on TreeHugger. Thanks to some slick design and really smart use of space, 344 square feet transform into a crazy array of 24 different designs. It's pretty amazing, just watch the video.
Likewise, TreeHugger founder Graham Hill's new LifeEdited apartment helps prove that more stuff doesn't equal a higher quality of life with his 420-square-foot space that can sleep four, host a dinner party for 12, be your home office, and offer an inspirational way to think about your stuff, your space, and how to live better with less.
"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact," unless it's an apple that's been tinkered with so it will (almost) never rot. Man that's weird.
Dancing in the Dark
You can't start a fire without a spark ... unless you're a volcano, in which case you can pretty much do whatever you want and also play a huge role in shaping the planet's landscapes and history.
Born in the U.S.A.
I interviewed Morgan Spurlock a few years back, as he was making the rounds promoting a film he produced called "What Would Jesus Buy?" The film promotes the work of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir; they all tour the country raising rabble and trying to get Americans to ease off the consumption, especially around the holidays. And the Reverend walks the talk during the film; the only non-food he buys is a sweater that was born the in U.S.A.
One of my favorite projects on TreeHugger was born when I visited my parents' home, where I grew up. My dad was busy building a geodesic dome solar greenhouse in the backyard to extend Colorado's growing season. I helped him build the thing in the fall; over the spring and summer he snapped some photos of the greenhouse in action, showing how much food you can actually grow with a setup like that. Of course, the personal connection makes me a bit sentimental about it, but I still love the story it tells. Grow food!
Every spring since 2009, we've gathered up the high points and highlights from the year gone by with TreeHugger's Best of Green. It's a big project and we work really hard on it, but the results are worth it (I think, at least). We end up with a collection that really encapsulates the year gone by. It's part celebration, part nostalgia, and just a little recognition that we won't have it quite like this, ever again.
Hiding in this box is an armoire, a desk, a height-adjustable stool, two more stools, a six-shelf bookcase, and a bed with a mattress. It goes from box to fully furnished apartment in about 10 minutes, and I still think it's pretty amazing. Click to the original to watch the video of it in action.
To see what happens when humans alternately do and do not touch, let's go back to the Galapagos. While retracing some of Darwin's original route and stops on the islands, I saw firsthand the differences between mostly habited and uninhabited places, as well as the domino effects that can result from introducing non-native and otherwise invasive species. And while that's not to say that all human impact is bad or that we can't or shouldn't change anything anywhere, it was definitely clear that we have to be really, really careful about what we touch.
Better Days© Shutterstock
When it comes to the really big, global issues that we're facing, there isn't an awful lot of good news these days. Global climate change is getting worse. Ocean acidification shows no signs of abating. Fracking is making a mess of drinking water and causing health problems around the globe. Blech.
Still, there are great examples of the things a single human can and has accomplished: Hacking a 1992 Honda Civic to get 95 MPG; pedaling 2,500 miles using humar power only; saving an entire species from extinction. There are better days shining though.
Streets of Philadelphiaglokbell/CC BY 2.0
Many of you might recognize this tune from its inclusion in the 1993 film Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. The song itself has quite a collection of accolades -- Academy Award and four Grammy Awards chief among them -- though its connection to the film may be one of its most enduring legacies. In homage to the film's status as one of the first mainstream films to openly acknowledge its subject matter, I thought of all the great "first-ever" posts we've collected. Some silly (first "Food Tattoos for Hunger" day), some really important (first carbon-emissions map), some an awful long time in coming (first-ever commercial biofuel flight), and some just amazing (first animal living without oxygen) -- they're all pretty cool, and all help bring sustainability into the mainstream. Now if we can just get one of these with a green theme...
Secret Garden© dannychopsnz
There are a bunch of fun secret garden posts that I like -- about how 1,200 acres of arable land were found in Oakland, The Hobbit's working vegetable garden, a 40 year-old garden hidden in LA's largest park -- but I think my favorite secret garden story is the one "hidden" in the plain sight of permaculture principles that keep everything working in balance; we can replicate the system, though we may never fully unlock all of its amazing secrets.
Ok, so this one is a toughie, but bear with me. This song is about a lot of things, but the one I'll focus on here is how when dangerous, destructive, and ultimately illegal behavior is repeated ad naseum, it becomes normal -- something we tend just to internalize and deal with, rather than fighting and ultimately changing. It can be violence, or climate denial, or oil spills, or almost anything. One of the more interesting narratives over the past years is the realization by the green movement that it isn't enough just to be right about something -- climate science is the biggie that we've seen play out over and over again. You have to be right, and funded, and tenacious, and strong enough to overcome the inertia of everything working in the other direction. And that's tough. Fortunately we have animal babies on our side.
The power of individuals can be great, no doubt, but global problems require global solutions, and the biggest, most pressing issue of our time is a snowballing global problem. As a society, we know the mandate, are familiar with the collaborative tools required to make meaningful process, and have begun to experience the consequences of inaction. But, we lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay, making a fool's joke out of the promises we make. The clock continues to tick, and it's working against us, but until it ticks to zero, I have to believe it's not too late.
This Hard LandBert Kaufmann/CC BY 2.0
It would be an obvious choice to link up a bunch of drought-related coverage here, to talk about how "now even the rain it don't come 'round / It don't come 'round here no more" and ask "Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds I've sown / Can you give me a reason sir as to why they've never grown"? To be sure, that fits in with the narrative that we're working on borrowed time to try to adapt to a world that's changing in ways we don't really get until we see how bad it can be right in front of us.
All of that's true, for sure, but I'll leave you with a slightly different interpretation. "Hard" can mean impermeable, wrapped up, and locked down. It can mean impassable, unyielding, even impossible. But it can also mean weathered, battered, but not beaten, and tough. It means that you won't go down without a fight, that you won't shrink from the battle, that you can take a hit and get back up.
So, fellow TreeHuggers, readers and friends, by way of The Boss, I'll leave you with one last tidbit of advice:
Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive
If you can
And meet me in a dream of this hard land.
Collin Dunn was a Writer for TreeHugger.com, Managing Editor of PlanetGreen.com, and Managing Editor of TreeHugger.com between July 2005 and December 2012. You can read his entire archive here, continue to follow him on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. He is awesome and will be missed.