Nature and Environment

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Wind and Solar Energy

Environment and Society: Where is the Disconnect?

From carbon emissions and food prices to green businesses, the Worldwatch Institute's latest publication, Vital Signs, Volume 21 documents more than two dozen trends that are shaping our future. Through concise analyses and clear tables and graphs, the 21st volume of the Worldwatch Institute series demonstrates both increasing pressure on natural resources and scaled-up efforts to live more sustainably, and offers a starting point for those seeking solutions to the future's intensifying challenges.

For anyone hoping to arm themselves with well-researched facts about the state of the world, Vital Signs, Volume 21 is an important resource. Key points – some troubling, some encouraging – about humanity's schizophrenic relationship with energy and the environment come through in the report:

Automobile production: World auto production set yet another record in 2012, with passenger-car production rising to 66.7 million.

Natural disasters: Natural disasters in 2012 climbed to 905, roughly one hundred more than the 10-year annual average, with 90 percent weather-related.

Organic farming: Land farmed organically has tripled since 1999, although it still makes up less than 1 percent of total farmland.

Solar and wind power: Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, and wind power consumption increased by 18 percent in 2012.

Military budgets: World military expenditures in 2012 totaled $1,740 billion, the second highest yearly amount since World War II.

Fossil fuels: Coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012.

Greenhouse gas emissions: Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached 9.7 gigatons of carbon in 2012 (with a ±5 percent uncertainty range). This is the highest annual total to date.

Food prices: Continuing a decade-long increase, global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s.

Green business: More companies are seeking new legal requirement or third-party certifications that will hold them accountable to higher standards, embracing a triple bottom line prioritizing profits, people and the planet.

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in multiple languages. Published annually, Vital Signs tracks key trends in the environment, agriculture, energy, society and the economy to inform and inspire the changes needed to build a sustainable world.

By presenting cross-cutting analyses of global trends, the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs, Volume 21 makes it clear that positive global change can only be achieved if the social, economic and environmental dimensions are fully addressed.


"A failure to connect — to think and act across the boundaries of different disciplines and specializations — could well be diagnosed as human civilization's fundamental flaw in the face of growing and real threats," writes Michael Renner, Worldwatch Senior Researcher and Director of the Vital Signs Project.


Drawing on a wide range of sources, Vital Signs, Volume 21 highlights this disconnect between sectors by providing authoritative data and concise analyses of significant global trends in food and agriculture, population and society, and energy and climate.


For example, Vital Signs, Volume 21 shows that agricultural subsidies — some $486 billion in the top 21 food-producing countries in 2012 support factory farms that have colossal environmental footprints. They also often favor wealthy farmers and undermine farming in developing countries. By predominantly funding a few staple crops for the largest farms, subsidies support industrial-scale operations with low crop diversity which often sap soil nutrients and require heavy loads of fertilizers and insecticides.


Social concerns suffer from similar disconnects. At a time when climate change increasingly intersects with social and economic upheavals, disasters, and conflicts, governments continue to invest large sums in traditional forms of security policy. These troubling priorities mean that the U.N. peacekeeping budgets of about $8 billion per year are not enough to cover even two days' worth of global military spending. Military spending by high-income countries also dwarfs aid flows tenfold, with $1,234 billion spent on military programs in 2012.


"Governments have created a large and well-funded apparatus of security agencies," writes Renner, "but in numerous ways have failed to address many of the underlying reasons for the world's conflicts and instabilities."


On the energy front, technologies like wind and solar photovoltaics are rapidly becoming more cost-competitive. But governmental support is still essential, and policy uncertainties have put a brake on investments in renewable technologies. Meanwhile, global fossil fuel use is still growing, with coal, natural gas and oil accounting for 87 percent of global primary energy demand in 2012, and greenhouse gas emissions hitting record levels (9.7 gigatons in 2012 from fossil fuel consumption and cement production alone).


"Energy policy across much of the globe can only be labeled as schizophrenic," said Renner. "It seems driven more by the ideology of endless growth than by concern for a livable future, more by corporate strategies than by the public interest, and more by considerations of supply security and geopolitics than by shared human needs."


Vital Signs, Volume 21 presents these and other global trends and analyses of our planet and civilization. The resource uses straightforward language and easy-to-read graphs to present each indicator. Vital Signs is an invaluable guide to inform and governments, businesses, teachers, and concerned citizens everywhere to make the changes needed to build a sustainable world.


For more information, visit Worldwatch.


(Top) Photo by Fotolia/ vencav: Alternative energy consumption like wind turbines and solar panels both increased in 2012.

(Bottom) Cover courtesy Island Press, 2014: The cover of Vital Signs, Volume 21.


Laurel Highlands

Come early or spend a few days after the three days of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, held at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania this September 12 – 14, 2014.  Less than 30 miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort, there’s an ecotourism adventure to be had.  You can sleep at three very different farmstays every evening. Our family rafted, biked, toured some of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, and savored farm-to-table cuisine that blew us away at The Historic Stone House. 

Enjoy this photo essay of the ecotourism adventures not to be missed.  Here's the links to my previous blogs on the Laurel Highlands, the first focused on the adventures and the second on the lodging and dining options; both contain more details for you to plan your own trip.

Of course, my co-author and wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I would enjoy meeting you at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at one of our many presentations, including Powering your Homestead with Renewable Energy, Farmstead Chef, and our popular, Sustainable Living Simplified, where we share our journey to break free of fossil fuels, end the mortgage (aka “death pledge”), be our own boss, grow most of our own food and prepare it in your farmstead kitchen.

The Laurel Highlands stretch over three counties of mountainous terrain that starts a little over an hour east of Pittsburgh and encompass over 120,000 acres of state and federally managed parks.

 We spent most of our time traipsing through the woods around the spectacular Youghiogheny River Gorge in the Ohiopyle State Park.  An easy walk west from Ohiopyle is the bridge that crosses the river.

Yough From Bridge

Ohiopyle Water SlideFor the adventurous, try out the “water slide” in Ohiopyle.

White Water RaftingRunning the “Yough,” as it’s often called, is one of the best white water rafting opportunities in the Eastern US.  We ran the river with Laurel Highlands River Tours.

Ohiopyle BikingOhiopyle is basically the epicenter for biking, hiking, whitewater rafting and touring Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

Falling WatersThe internationally-renowned Fallingwater home, designed in 1935 for the family of Edgar J. Kaufman, owner of a Pittsburgh department store, became instantly famous for it’s distinct look and design.  Perched over a waterfall, the home and its centerpiece stairway down to the stream, brings the homeowner closer to nature.

Kentuck KnobKentuck Knob, is just up the road, nestled near the top of a ridge that offers a panoramic vista of the surrounding countryside.

Friendship FarmsConsider a stop to Friendship Farms and their Bunznudders Bakreamry for some homemade ice cream, breads and a wide assortment of other edibles. They also have a nursery of native plants on site.  The farm is operated by Mrs. Naomi Costello and two generations of her family.

Campbell Hill GlampingGo “glamping” (glamorous camping) at Campbell Hill Farm, located northeast of Ohiopyle on a 65-acre homestead.  Besides the comfty tent, it includes an outdoor kitchen and a heated tub to go for a relaxing soak with a view of the mountains in the distance.

Campbell Hill CabinCampbell Hill Farm also offers a cabin accommodation that overlooks a pond.

Inne at Watsons ChoiceFor a pampered farmstay, try out the Inne at Watson’s Choice, based on a 1820s land-grant farm just outside Uniontown.  Plentiful outside seating allows you to enjoy the sunrise or sunset.

Foxley Farm HouseOutside Ligonier rests the historic Foxley Farm, a 58-acre estate once used for fox hunting and which still has a fenced riding ring used today.

Foxley Farm GardensMuch of the ingredients for their meals comes directly from Foxley Farm's gardens.

Stonehouse Inn RibsThe Stone House Restaurant, located along the original National Pike, the first national road built in the early 1800s that became a gateway to the West. Executive Chef Jeremy Critchfield focuses on farm-fresh ingredients, prepared and inspired by seasonal abundance.  We're definitely headed back here for a sumptuous farm-to-table meal.   Another option is Out of the Fire Café in Donegal, with their signature roasted mushroom soup and smoked salmon sampler, savored as you take in the mountain vistas from their patio seating.

Farmstand SignsThere’s no shortage of roadside farmstands. Create your own simple farm-to-table meal.

Hope to see you at the Fair -- or running the Yough. If the weather cooperates, we’ll be running the Lower Yough.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.


Mother Earth News Fair Crowd 

When you have a passion for something, it seems that you continue to notice all connections that tie your passion to the many realities around you. I'm passionate about conscious, intentional, clear, long range parenting. As a mother, business woman, wife, author of a parenting book, and someone who cares deeply about being a good steward of the earth, I was enthralled by the lectures at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Wash. I listened to lecturer after lecturer cover topics from renewable energy, small-scale farming, green building, organic gardening, simple living, and citizen solidarity building. While I listened, I pondered ways to weave these powerful themes into our children's lives.

Highlights from the FAIR

I'd like to share some of the highlights:

Bryan Welch spoke about the beauty and abundance that surround us, he asked a stunning question about lifespan: “If you could live forever or extend your lifespan to a much longer range, would you choose to do it?” He asked us to think about what impact longer lifespans would have on overpopulation and the Earth's resources. He told us that he'd targeted an end-date for his life. This is not to say that he's going to end his life by a certain date but that his date would mark a full and productive life. Wouldn’t it be lovely to teach our children that it's not the quantity of achievements and acquisitions that count but the quality? When we settle into thinking of life as temporary, our time on Earth becomes the most valuable commodity we have.

Lisa Kivirist, who lives with her husband on a mostly self-sustaining farm and bed and breakfast, spoke about organic eating on a budget, reaffirming that financial and environmental sustainability can be complementary Lisa and her husband, John, have lived their lives intentionally and extremely frugally. She had many great tips to share on buying dried bulk grains, legumes, and coffee. Her talk helped me become clearer about aligning my values with every aspect of my life, especially concerning how I consume.  I was wishing our daughter had been with me to share in the experience.

Ed Begley Jr. was equally delightful. He shared a lesson from his father. When he was remarking to his father about the ills of the world in the 1970s, his dad replied, “OK, I understand. So now what are you going to do to improve things?” What a simple and powerful reminder for our children. When something is amiss in your life or the world, you can affect change by taking action. Lifelong learning is truly multi-generational.

Finally, one of my favorite learnings came from Joel Salatin. Joel’s passion for our living planet permeated everything he spoke about. He highlighted: how much is sold under false pretense, talked about how to avoid buying into profit over people – corporate greed over good sense, and the need to be consistently mindful of our actions by staying abreast on changing laws and voting with vigilance. He paired individual integrity with acting for the common good. Fitting his ideas with my parenting experience reminded me how a pragmatic, disciplined, and longitudinal approach to parenting worked well for my family.

How sweet it was to sit for two days listening, learning, and relating it all back to impassioned and intentional parenting. How vital it is for us to model and teach our children about conscious living today. They, after all, will inherit our earth, and be tomorrow stewards.

If this post finds you in the Pennsylvania or Kansas areas be sure to check out the upcoming MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS in September and October of this year.

Shawn Hosford is a parenting mentor and healthy families advocate based in Washington state whose other interests include lively conversations, organic and sustainable food, continuous learning, being outside and living life to its fullest. Learn more at The Invisible Parenting Handbook website and Facebook pageThe handbook is available to buy here.


Woman in Healing Waterfall

"We need the tonic of the wilderness. The ocean, the mountains, the deserts, a wooded grove – all contain the magic needed to restore  pure radiant energy to a stressed soul.  Mother Earth in all of her infinite compassion and strength has remarkable powers to restore vitality. Wash yourself in the pure water of the streams, put your bare feet on the  good earth, fall asleep in the arms of an ancient tree. There is good medicine to be found in nature."  – Henry David Thoreau

Anima Sanctuary, Jesse Wolf's wild home.

The readers of Mother Earth News understand that we are each an inextricable, essentially natural part of this living earth, and that our well being depends upon our relationship to the land. Whether urban dwellers, suburban, small town, remote wildscape or country farm, our bioregions can provide the local food options, natural medicines, inspiration, and rooted identities we need to flourish.  Now, after 35 year of reinhabiting and restoring the Anima wilderness sanctuary and authoring over a dozen other books, I have finally written and released “The Healing Terrain,” a 300 pages-long volume focused entirely on deepening our vital relationship to the natural world, from land acquisition and preservation to wildcrafting, gardening, wild foods, bioregional herbalism, including what it takes to learn how to be more native to place, more truly and wholly at home. 

And for you, I present here the first of several “Healing Terrain” excerpts, drawn from the book’s introduction:

“We are a special blend of Earth’s many elements, erupting from its mysterious ferment, and then recycling back into the land and every life form that ever sprouts from it, and this is true no matter what our philosophy or religion. For the devout, nature is God’s perfect creation, a balanced blessing of needed nourishment and necessary challenge, and a pharmacy of the medicines we most often need. For the secular or scientific minded, it is the set of processes and relationships essential for the continuation of life on this planet – from Earth’s carbon fundament to its exact atmospheric blend. To all who truly notice, it is not only essential but amazing, fascinating, awesome!“The land provides the fertile soils for our gardens and farms, and thus the nutrient filled foods and medicinal plants we need to be healthy.

Tree Hugging

Even the sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful pharmaceutical drugs at the core of modern medical practice are simply isolations, copies, derivatives and recombinations of natural botanical compounds.  Shelter from storms and the security of a home contribute to that health. From the land come not only the materials for our houses and the terrain upon which they are built, but also, most medical technologies depend upon the land’s minerals – for everything from steel apparatus to computers, radium cancer therapies to x-ray machines. In addition, to the degree that any ailment is exacerbated by rootlessness, disembodiment, imagined separation, artificial environs, indoor lifestyles and the resulting stress, reconnection to nature can itself be a natural treatment for what ails us.

“At risk if we pay nature no heed, is our sentience and awareness, wildness and liberty, growth and effectiveness, ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment. On the other hand, by deepening our conscious relationship with the natural world and a particular place we create the opportunities and conditions for increased sensual engagement and creature awareness, broadened organic perspective, greater insight, holistic understanding, dynamic reciprocity, personal liberation and re-wilding, empowerment and self-authority, uninhibited pleasures and fun, and greater effectiveness at nearly everything we might try to do in life.”

Elka gathering nettles.

A garden is just not an indulgence for the person with taste, anymore than herbs are simply a more natural way of treating our bodies’ imbalances and illnesses, or time spent outside merely recreational.... such practices a points of connection to the planet, our regions and place, to our wild and dreaming selves, to our greatest potentials and the world we seek to envision and create.

Whenever I commit to spending hundreds of my irreplaceable mortal hours writing a book, I carefully measure its intent and purpose. When writing and illustrating “The Healing Terrain,” I could feel the importance of our species’ moving closer to the earth, noticing more, feeling more, and doing more to not just survive but thrive. It is important to us, and important to the well being of the rest of this living world, that we look not so much to heady thoughts and distant stars as to the earth we are extensions and agents of.  For the sake of the planet itself, we will need to sentiently reinhabit what the poet Gary Snyder once described to me as the “real world,” a world of great consequence and heartful rewards.

Click here for more information on Hardin’s book: The Healing Terrain. You can read more of his writings on his blog at, in Plant Healer Magazine, and in the Natural Health section of the Mother Earth News blog beginning with "Medicines of The People."

We cannot discover ourselves without first discovering the universe, the earth, and the imperatives of our own being. Each of these has a creative power and a vision far beyond any rational thought or cultural creation of which we are capable."  – Father Thomas Berry

yerba mansa


Have you ever encountered a scene like this at a lake, river or the ocean?

Algal bloom

Algal blooms like this one can occur in water bodies as small as a neighborhood pond and as big as the Gulf of Mexico. When algae grow out of control in our waters, the result can be unappealing, harmful to our health and harmful to the environment.

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) want YOU to help spot and document algal blooms in our waters. Submit your photos of algal blooms where you live, vacation and recreate for a chance to win great prizes. Your submissions will help build a photo library that can be used to educate more people about algal blooms and illustrate the prevalence and impacts of algal blooms around the country.

Click here for more info!

Photo: Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland; Eric Vance, U.S. EPA. From Flickr


Crazy Birthday Candle Jungle Books Teaches CountingAs a teacher, I have talked with several parents who are home-schooling their children about the best ways to introduce counting. Over the years, I've found a few books that I enjoy, and now there are newer resources that I feel good recommending to parents planning home-school lessons. 

The Crazy Birthday Candle Jungle book series by Mark Schmidt is a clever way to introduce and teach counting to children. The series has a book for each basic number and uses clever rhymes, fun language and colorful illustrations to keep children engaged. I would use this book when working with children just beginning to start counting as a read-aloud book and/or as a way to integrate language arts into the math curriculum. Further, the card games allow the children to continue to develop their math skills without realizing that they are completing work. 

I would rank this book in between a basic counting book and a more advanced math story. Some other notable books that could work in a similar role are listed below: 

Olivia Counts by Ian Falconer

How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? by Jane Yolen

Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Lois Elhert

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream by Cindy Neuschwander

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang

Book cover by Eric J. Carter


Take a Second Energy Video Contest

Take a Second!

The National Environmental Education Foundation invites you to Take a Second for the environment by saving energy. Watch how we can find time for the environment every day, learn different ways to save energy, show in an Instagram video how you take a few seconds to save energy, and win great prizes by entering the Take a Second contest. Learn more at


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MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

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