Sunday, February 26, 2012

6 Game-Changers: An Update

One thing I love about my work is how it allows me to meet, interview and write about newsmakers and game-changers -- people on the cutting edge of environmentalism, science, the law, energy, the arts and more. Over the course of 12 nonfiction books, I've met quite a few, and readers often ask me what's become of them. So here are updates on six reader favorites, people who have changed lives and the world:

Doug and Kris Tompkins, environmental philanthropists
In Eco Barons, I wrote about Doug Tompkins, the cofounder of Esprit who cashed out to become one of the world's leading environmental crusaders. With his wife, Kris McDivett Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, he has created a million acres of parks and preserves in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina. Update: These days the Tompkins are battling hydro-electric dams in one of the world's last big wild places, while completing South America's Yellowstone, Patagonia National Park. Here's an excerpt about Tompkins from Eco Barons.

Roosevelt Dorn, the judge who would be king
When I spent a year inside the LA Juvenile Court for No Matter How Loud I Shout, Judge Dorn was at the epicenter of a system overloaded, undermanned and at war with itself. With the booming voice of a old-school preacher and a pistol tucked inside his robes, Dorn saved kids. But he didn't mind bending the rules, and he left office a polarizing figure. When he became mayor of Inglewood, his fall from grace was spectacular, ending with a public corruption conviction, as reported in the LA Times. Here's an excerpt about Dorn from No Matter How Loud I Shout.

Arthur Penn, from GI Bill to Hollywood icon
Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream featured Penn, the director of such groundbreaking films as Bonnie and Clyde and The Miracle Worker (not to mention the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates). Penn credited his success on his experience at the experimental, arts-centric Black Mountain College. A veteran of the decisive World War II Battle of the Bulge, Penn told me he would likely never have gone to college without the GI Bill -- one of the many stories I recounted in Over Here. Penn has since passed away at age 88, but the G.I. Bill continues to aid new generations of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. BTW, a new ebook edition of Over Here is in the works.

Judge John E. Jones III and the new Scopes Trial
In Monkey Girl I chronicled a modern-day Scopes Monkey Trial, which ended with Judge Jones's ruling that a creationism offshoot known as intelligent design could not be taught alongside evolution in a public school science class.  Jones didn't stop making news with that controversial Kitzmiller v. Dover case, however. These days he's in the middle of another no-holds-barred fight with national implications, as he presides over a suit brought against the natural gas industry by Pennsylvanians who claim their water and health has been destroyed by a newly popular method of drilling called fracking. Here's an excerpt from Monkey Girl.

Roxanne Quimby, Burt's Bees and the Maine Woods
When I wrote about Quimby in Eco Barons, the founder of Burt's Bees (who built a fortune from a company originally based in a log cabin with no electricity) was busily preserving large swaths of the vast Maine Woods that long ago enraptured Henry David Thoreau. Update: Quimby is trying to donate much of the land she purchased in order to create a new national park in Maine. Not everyone in the state is thrilled, and the would-be gift has turned into a battle, according to Forbes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Garbage In, Garbage Out - A Trashy Truth

Everyone thinks they know how much trash Americans throw away. The official EPA figure—used by environmentalists, businesses, and policymakers—maintains that the average American rolls just over 4.3 pounds to the curb every day. The problem: This "gold standard" of garbology is wildly wrong. Americans actually throw out more than 7 pounds a day, sending nearly twice as much waste to landfills as the EPA lets on.

Read the full story at Sierra Magazine

Monday, February 13, 2012

'Garbology' Galleys, First Review Are Here!

You know it's almost a book when the bound galleys thump on the doorstep. I really love the trashy montage Avery did with the cover of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash.

With the galleys comes the first review of Garbology, from the trade journal Kirkus. I'm happy to report the reviewer calls my upcoming narrative about the American way of waste -- and the families, businesses and communities who are finding a way back from it -- "surprising, even shocking" and "an important addition to the environmentalist bookshelf."

Garbology hits bookstores and e-tailers April 19, 2012. I plan on talking plenty of trash before then, so stay tuned.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wal-Mart and the Business Case for Green

Walmart’s effort to green its stores, trucking fleet, products, and supply chain, alternately dismissed from the left as window dressing and from the right as a costly distraction, has accomplished something that 40 years of environmental activism and regulation never managed: It moved sustainability from the fringe to the forefront of business concerns.... Read my full article at

The point of my piece is not to serve as a counterpoint to the recent series of stories at Grist by Stacy Mitchell -- who found the specifics of Wal-Mart sustainability projects wanting, to say the least -- but to point out that the real value of having such a mega-company trying to become greener, however imperfect those efforts may be, is that it drags the rest of the big business world along with it. Wal-Mart has used the same clout with which it has driven prices down and crushed competitors to do something shockingly different: mainstream sustainability. I have no interest in either lionizing or lambasting Wal-Mart on this score; it's simply a fact, and one that utterly destroys the arguments of the drill-baby-drill crowd by showing that sustainable and planet-friendly choices help America compete and prosper.