Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Great Expectations: Are Green School Curriculums To Become Like the Novels Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby: Required Reading?

Sir Richard Branson Helps Launch New Green Curriculum For Schools

by Paul McGinniss

Sir Richard Branson talking about the Green School Curriculum

NYC September 24

Sir Richard Branson joined Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell, the team behind the Veggie Van Organization and award winning Sundance documentary, "FUEL", to announce a new green curriculum for schools that meets national education standards. The curriculum will help educate the next generation about renewable energy and fuels of the future.

Developed by the non profit Veggie Van organization, the curriculum aims to "empower students to take action". It grew out of demand from "FUEL" theater goers, particularly mothers and teachers, who wanted to have a classroom version of the "FUEL" film which highlights unique green energy solutions for the future. The school program involves a dynamic, interactive, web-based curriculum hub that will enable a country-wide dialogue between teachers and students about green fuels of the future.

Jonathan Schein, founder of Schein Media and publisher New York House magazine, with Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell in front of the Algaeus, an algae fueled car, with containers of Algae fuel

Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell were in New York as part of a cross-country tour in a green vehicle caravan that includes the "FUEL" movie bus and the Algaeus, a Prius hybrid that runs partially on algae bio fuel.

Curiously, as I was on a bus leaving NYC, I read an article in the New York Times entitled "Oil Everywhere: It's a boom year for new finds". The article seemed to defy the entire raison d'etre of the "FUEL" film and the Veggie Van organization, that is, to make the world see that it is time to move beyond the pollution and climate change problems due to the continuing use of oil and non-renewable, carbon based fuels and embrace a green renewable future. The New York Times article said: "The oil industry has been on a hot streak this year, thanks to a series of major discoveries that have rekindled a sense of excitement across the petroleum sector, despite falling prices and a tough economy."

All I could think was: Should we be excited about this?

Sir Richard Branson about to pour Algae Fuel into the Algaeus, with Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell and Steve Howard, CEO of the Climate Group

This dichotomy of reality made me recall Charles Dickens' opening lines of his classic novel, "Tale of Two Cities"-- "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Is New York City today such a tale of two cities? Is it the best clean energy city or the worst city? Will the oil keep flowing and the coal keep burning? Do New Yorkers really understand the importance of the green energy revolution and how shifting to renewable energy now is extremely important for both economic and environmental survival?

As my bus neared the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, birth of the environmental movement in the United States, The Talking Heads song, "Once In a Life Time", kept playing in my IPOD head. David Bryne's haunting words captured the lost mood I was in: "Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was."

Is it same as it ever was? Has anything really changed? Has our society crossed the threshold of outdated thinking and technology? Are we ready to unify and give up the wasteful and environmentally damaging energy policies of the past? Or, are we still unsure and questioning the validity of what the "FUEL" film and the Veggie Van organization is all about?

"And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?"

FUEL film and Veggie Van supporter, NYC Councilman James Gennaro (left), speaking with FUEL director Josh Tickell

I said goodbye to Josh and Rebecca on 14th street in Manhattan after the excitement of the green curriculum announcement with billionaire, visionary, green energy advocate Sir Richard Branson. Branson, featured prominently in "FUEL", is investing in renewable energy ventures and has already tested jet fuel made from algae for his Virgin Airlines. It was exciting to meet him and be part of the event. But, after he left, the palpable energy slowly dissipated and in the end it was, once again, just Josh and Rebecca and their crew ready to load up their caravan and drive onward. They and a dozen additional dedicated souls were headed to Philadelphia with their green vehicle caravan to open "FUEL" in that city later that night. And, there were more cities on the horizon after that. Same as it ever was, or not?

It's been a long road for the couple who have been working for years on this journey to free America from oil addiction. With the New York Times touting a boom in new oil discoveries, in many ways, their work has just begun. Optimistically, with a new green curriculum for schools headed our way, despite resistance from oil industry forces, and any momentary doubts, it is no longer the same as it ever was.

And so Josh and Rebecca you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? ...am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god!...what have I done?

You've inspired us by your getting off the couch of indifference and standing up for something. You've demonstrated that a few grass roots visionaries with commitment and sincerity can make change. You've turned a dirty old yellow school bus into a clean bio fueled big green energy classroom. You've inspired me to help you bring your green caravan and film and school program to Southampton and New Paltz and the New York communities I am part of because what you have done is open up possibilities for future generations.

I hope the green curriculum that Josh and Rebecca want to give away for free to all schools in America does become required reading and teaching. As we teach our children about the historic battles in our country fought for Independence,Civil Rights and freedom from world tyranny during the second world war, why not educate them as well about the Green Revolution that is happening right now in real time? Why not work to involve everyone in America in the process of learning how to live sustainably and preserving the beauty and wonder of our planet. Of course, the future is the children of the world and their active participation is of paramount importance to realizing the end goals that will make the world a better place to live and be. The green curriculum is of vital importance to be implemented without delay.

With the rise in green building requirements and energy efficiency in building, what's the point in building green school buildings if the curriculum itself does not inform the students about inspiring developments like algae gasoline and high altitude wind turbines, as well all green focused industries creating jobs that will make the world a better place for all those students about to graduate?

Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell and their green vehicle caravan are on a trip that is, as the Talking Heads said in the title to their song, "Once in a Life Time."

Check out the Talking Heads video below. And contact the Veggie Van Organization about how you can be part of this trip of a life time and how their green curriculum program can be brought to a school near you.

NOTE: Last week, when the Green Curriculum initiative was announced, was Climate Week NY°C which coincided with the NYC United Nations Summit on Climate Change .

Edited By Joseph S Walker.
Photos by Paul McGinniss. Text and Photos Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Green Luxury High and Low: While Some Eco Products are High Priced Others Come at a Lower Price

Highlights From Eco Luxe Event in NYC September 22
by Paul McGinniss

Editor of New York House Magazine, Nancy Meyer, standing in front of one seat, all electric vehicle from Ohio based Myers Motors

Confession. At first I was a bit afraid (more like guilty) of embracing the concept of the Eco Luxe event in NYC at upscale restaurant Rouge Tomate on East 60th Street in Manhattan. It's not that I mind luxury, really, who doesn't want to be pampered. It's just that in this turbulent recessionary era I questioned the necessity of attending an event that billed itself as eco friendly, but emphasized luxury green products that one seemed to need lots of green to buy.

Happily, I attended Eco Luxe and left feeling optimistic. Yes, in the mix were impressive high end toys like the sexy $100K plus Tesla electric vehicle and the $1500 energy propulsion system by Canadian based BionX that can be retrofitted on any bike to make it electric. But, also included in the luxury mix were more affordable items like the cool T shirts with printed slogans made out of recycled plastic by California company "A Lot To Say" and delicious chocolate from the company Divine Chocolate that not only pays fair wages, but is actually owned cooperatively by the farmers in Ghana that grew the cocoa beans in the first place.

Here are some of the other highlights, high and low priced, from the event last night:

Hydro Flask

So simple. A reusable stainless steel container, sans toxic BPA leeching plastic liners, that keeps liquid inside cold or hot for hours without sweating from condensation on the outside. I forgot my last metal beverage bottle at the Montauk Yacht club a few weeks ago and I am happy to have found Oregon based company Hydro Flask. Now I don't have to worry about my bottle sweating and getting things wet in my bag or sipping hot water on a sunny day. The smart design takes into account the size of ice cubes so, if desired, you can add them to your bottle and take it on the go.

Nature's Cork

Who knew that cork could be used to make luggage, clothes, and all sorts of things normally reserved for leather or other materials? These not cheap, but reasonably priced, luxury Portuguese products, use cork grown sustainably and they feel more like expensive Coach made goods than a thrifty green substitute.

Divine Chocolate
A Farmer Owned Fair Trade Company

I love the idea that the farmers in Ghana own the whole company. This way the chocolate tastes good physically as well as spiritually.

A Lot To Say Apparel

Sisters Alison Stanich Power and Jennifer Stanich Banmiller are a blast and so are their shirts made of 100% recycled plastic. Celebrities love them and so will you. Don't forget to check out their line of underwear with slogans on them. These undies might very well inspire some late night reading.

Electric Bike Systems

Yes, to retrofit a bike with the new wheels, battery and electric motor is expensive at $1500. However, the system lasts a super long time and in bike friendly cities and areas this system can actually make a commute by bike much more feasible. The BionX reps at Eco Luxe told me that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just personally purchased 50 of them so his whole staff could cut down on the need for cars.

Soda Stream

I'm still loving the Soda Stream machine I have. Haven't used one water or soda bottle or can since I got one. No more wasting money on seltzer water and no more trips to the transfer station with a bag of empty bottles and cans that very well could end up in a landfill.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster in front of Rouge Tomate Restaurant, NYC

Okay, I admit it. I want one. Even a green advocate needs a day off and I couldn't imagine anything more awesome than cruising in this vehicle and making all the gas guzzlers and Prius drivers green with envy.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Check out Some Cool Products Made from Recycled Materials Below

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Green Vehicle Caravan Driving Cross Country to New York for FUEL film premier in NYC

Photo of Director Josh Tickell


Film maker activists Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Make History By Driving Cross Country in a Green Vehicle Caravan to Promote Opening of Award Winning film FUEL.

by Paul McGinniss

Back in the 1990s, Josh Tickell might have created the Veggie Van, an old Winnebago which runs on used fryer grease, but when he drove cross country in the colorfully painted van that smelled like french fries, he wasn't vegging out. He was on a quest to get America off its oil addiction and to promote green energy.

Ten years, several books and a film, "FUEL", later, Josh is at it again with his road tripping missionary work. This time he's traveling with actress and "FUEL" producer, Rebecca Harrell, and 9 other people. And, instead of having just the Veggie Van, they have a whole green caravan that includes an electric motorcycle and a bio-diesel-powered school bus. The latter, converted into a hi-tech classroom, also has a whole roof of solar panels. Leading the caravan, Josh, Rebecca and their trusty dog, Mr. Brown, cruise in the Algaeus--a Toyota Prius that has been pimped up with extra batteries and is fueled, in part, with gasoline that includes a blend of Green Crude, America's first Algae gasoline.

Photo of FUEL family Director Josh Tickell, Producer Rebecca Harrell and Mr Brown in the famous Veggie Van.

I spoke with Josh and Rebecca as they left Sacramento, California, the second city on the tour, heading toward the final destination, New York City. Their enthusiasm and sheer sense of inspiration wasn't close to being preachy and their concern for the environment wasn't so much doom and gloom as wishing for the moon and getting there Apollo 11 style. It was fun talking with them via cells phones as they traveled down the highway using bluetooth wireless, cameras filming them, in a one of a kind car with its own Algae gasoline stash, and their pooch, Mr. Brown, along for the ride.

I mentioned to Josh that they were a new version of the Merry Pranksters who traveled cross country in an old school bus as memorialized in Tom Wolfe's book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". Josh pondered the comparison with the Sixties road trip: "It's like Ken Kesey. But, we're driving 12 hours a day, having press conferences and film screenings in each city. This is the upgraded young America version of that trip."

And, it's true, unlike many creative radicals in the past who would have preferred to "tune in, turn on and drop out", Josh and Rebecca, despite the psychedelic- looking Veggie Van, are hardly about dropping out to find inner bliss. The passionate duo may be mirthful like the Merry Pranksters, but they're on a mission. As Rebecca said: "We have a very specific agenda. We want to wake people up. We want people to see the movie "FUEL". But, we want people to be empowered and to change the world from a place of enthusiasm and inspiration."

Photo from the FUEL film

Naturally, being filmmakers, Josh and Rebecca are making a film about their trip across country that will end with a planned, grassroots campaign in Manhattan's Time Square. The goal, they say, is "to jump start the Green Revolution."

The famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does.”

Yes, people like Josh Tickell, Director of "FUEL", and Producer Rebecca Harrell, along with a handful of people driving cross country, can change the world. And, they are. Yet, it's a difficult journey. Josh reflected on all of the years of hard work that lead to this moment as the green vehicle caravan headed towards Reno, Nevada to meet up with Governor Jim Gibbons: "It's hard to save the World all by Yourself."

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

FUEL opens in NYC on September 18th. Please click here to buy tickets. In NYC on the evenings of Sept 18th, 19th and 20th there will be special premier screenings where you will meet the FUEL director and producer and special guests.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Obamas Grow Their Own: New Video of The Obama White House Garden

by Paul McGinniss

In Spring of 2009, the Obama White House broke ground on the first vegetable garden at the White House since First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's victory garden during WWII.

Using seeds passed down from President Thomas Jefferson's garden at Monticello, the new garden serves as an example for the rest of the country and, hopefully, will inspire more people to grow food just outside the doors of their own kitchen.

The Roosevelt victory garden was more symbolic than practical and was a small fraction of the current White House plot. In contrast, today's garden has already supplied hundreds of pounds of fresh produce incorporated into the range of White House meals from Obama family meals to state dinners.

Watch the video below in which First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass discuss the story of the garden.

Since the Spring 2009 planting of the Obama garden, it has not been widely reported why the garden got planted in the first place. The major impetus was due to the efforts of Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International and his Eat the View Campaign. Launched in February 2008, "Eat the View" proposed that the Obamas replant a White House victory garden. Over 100,000 people signed the petition and asked the Obamas to plant an organic garden on the 18 acres of the White House lawn.

"Eat the View" continues its campaign to plant high-impact food gardens in other high-profile locations. For his efforts, Doiron won one of The Daily Green's 2009 "Heart of Green Awards".

To learn more about the history of the new White House garden, watch the video below where Roger Doiron is interviewed in July 2008 at his "white house" in Scarborough, Maine by New England Cable News.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss