The Most Important News From Nov. 8 Wasn't About the American Election

The Most Important News From Nov. 8 Wasn't About the American Election


There is one issue it's really time for everyone to embrace regardless of politics. Because this issue transcends opinion: It's based in fact, it affects everything and everyone here, and we are literally destroying our opportunity to maintain this way of life if we continue to ignore the catastrophic damage we are causing. Yup -- I'm talking about the environment.

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Spotlight On: Tesla's New Home Battery System

Spotlight On: Tesla's New Home Battery System

The world currently consumes 20 trillion kWh of energy annually—enough to power a single family home for 1.8 billion years or supply energy to a nuclear power plant for 2,300 years (or launch the Falcon 9 rocket seventeen million times). 

To begin the march away from these staggering numbers, Tesla has reinvented itself in order to change the way we look at consumption—and shepherd in a new era of renewable energy at home and businesses.

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Great Dish Giveaway Nets $11k for Nonprofits, Keeps Waste from Landfill

Photo from
The scene. Photo/Nicole Caldwell
The Better Crew on Saturday took part in a bit of American history as the public was invited to pick up as much unglazed Syracuse China dishware as desired from the company's former location in Syracuse.

For $10 a carload, people could arrive on Court Street, sign a waiver, and pull up to a field behind the factory to rifle through tens of thousands of unglazed dishware. The building's new owners were going to break up all the china and haul it to a landfill; but instead decided to turn it over to the public. The $10 fee was donated to the Eastwood Neighborhood Association and Over The Rainbow Daycare center at St. Matthews Church in East Syracuse. So this served an environmental cause (keeping all the stuff out of the landfill) as well as artistic, historic, and supporting great neighborhood causes. Quadruple win!
The pieces are all unglazed, but are perfect for art projects or for decorating and glazing by those with kiln access.

More than 1,100 cars and trucks arrived over the weekend with upwards of 3,000 people. More than $11,000 were raised for the nonprofits. Over at the Better compound, we'll be putting the china to use in a number of ways:
  • Glazing workshops open to the public
  • Future farm-to-table dinner events, where we will have artists design the dishware and diners will be able to bring their place settings home with them
  • We will glaze dishware for use at festivals, weddings and other events
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Vote the Environment, Why Don't You!

Poster by Erika Pitcher. Prints available here.
Consider the environment when you vote today.

Really. Think about it.

You may be really very seriously concerned about economics. Job growth. War chests. Gun control. Abortion. Maybe you are planning on voting for someone you don't like in order to ensure the incumbent gets tossed. Say you're voting based on who's better on women's rights. Gay rights. Civil rights. Healthcare. Balancing the budget. Supporting our military. Maybe you just really hate democrats.

Well, listen up: There's only one fundamental truth where each of us is concerned: We live or die based on the condition of the earth.

You don't get job growth without safe drinking water. There is no debate over gun safety without nourishing food. We have no security, no safety without fresh air to breathe. There is one thing that comes before every selfish, philanthropic, compassionate, arrogant stance we take in this world and that's the environment. She shields us, clothes us, feeds us, warms us, cools us, and only ever operates from a neutral, vibrant place.

It's time to stop carrying on in spite of her and start making moves because of her. These moves come in large part out of where we put our money and whose name we check on our voting ballots. Which politicians are willing to stand up and defend her? Who is unwavering in their devotion to Mother Dearest? Who understands the gravity of our environmental situation and the stakes? Whoever that is, that is who you need to go out and support. Today. Right now.
Poster by Kevin M. Fitzgeral. Prints available here.
A mere one-quarter of Americans between 18 and 29 years old are expected to vote in today’s midterm election, according to a study conducted by Harvard University. That is horrendous. Embarrassing. Too few. Hey, young people! We need you! Old people too! Everyone!!  I don't care if you're disillusioned by the two-party system or—gasp—whether you've finally figured out that all politicians are corrupted liars. Feel that way? Then start voting for the other person, the underdog, the green party or libertarian or independent. Better yet, why don't you put your neck out and run for something next go-round? Elected officials in small towns can actually make big changes for communities. In some ways, there's more power to effect change on the local level than there is for some puppet politician at the federal level. So get involved!

Look back in time, two, three, even four decades ago. There were glimmers then about what we were doing to the environment and to each other. A whole lot of people got together back in those days for the anti-war movement. John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their bed protests: Hair Peace. Bed Peace. People harnessed their energy and pressured the political arena. And you know what? We pulled out of Vietnam. It happened. The republic had spoken. So why would it be so far-fetched to think that in this era, we might be able to harness that public energy again in order to make big, environmental changes? To abolish fracking once and for all? To finally put an end to drilling for oil? Or overall demand for oil? Or an overwhelming shift in perspective about how we live our lives in general? If the general public can end wars and push uptight politicians to accept recreational marijuana use, is it so far-fetched to think we could make compost toilets the norm and end our reliance on fracked gas and oil? Or that we could put an end to the endlessly diverted waterways out west? That we could refuse, with the force of millions, to subsidize huge corporations that couldn't care less about us?

It's not fair that we would have to be drowning below sea level or actually have run out of wild-caught fish for people to vote for the environment. California shouldn't have to dry out entirely for us to consider our elected officials' stances on water conservation. Glaciers shouldn't have to go the way of the woolly mammoth before we are willing to discuss climate change on a political level. Ditto for lakes and rivers being deemed unfishable, unswimmable before we're willing to vote for someone who will protect our waterways. Don't wait for every last ounce of oil to be drawn from the ground and every reserve to be cashed in on. Don't let some bigwig frack in every available spot, provide jobs for the next 80 years and make some fat cats even fatter; before we realize we can't actually eat all those dollar bills.

Give me a break.

Vote the Environment. She's the only renewable resource on the planet besides hope and love.
Vote Mother Earth. She's the only politician with a literal platform: the ground beneath your feet.
Vote the Planet: Because manufactured meat, farmed salmon, and GMOs ain't gonna cut it.

We are in the middle of a crisis far more interesting, exciting, terrifying and opportunistic than Miley Cyrus' latest rant, Lena Dunham's embarrassing memoir, or Brangelina's wedding photos. We're talking climate change. Extinction. Destruction of wild places. Record droughts. Rising sea levels. Severe storms and weather patterns. Dogs and cats, living together! It all keeps happening, even while we keep arguing over who we'll vote for based on who gives a crap about health care, birth control or how many bullets can go into a gun. This is like a magician getting you to look at one hand while he sleights with the other.

Stop being so distracted!

What if we refused to vote for the lesser evil in the polls and instead rooted for independents, libertarians, the Green Party—anyone who refused to stand down on environmental issues? What if we told the two-party system to take a hike?

It's time to draw the proverbial line in the sand: DO NOT CROSS! We will not let you! This has gone too far. We've had it!

So compost. Host farm-to-table dinner parties. Love each other and forgive and go love some more. Eat organic. Ditch sugar. Pick up trash, recycle, help to conserve our wild places. And, for goodness sakes, vote for priority numero uno! What good is that voice the world gave you if you don't use it to defend her?

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Heating the Home with Renewable Resources

In the United States, energy use accounts for 82 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking for shale gas brings with it a host of environmental concerns (shale gas is expected to comprise 50 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035, by the way), while our continued reliance on coal and oil are killing the planet (if you want to ruin your day, check out this ever-timely article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone). But there are renewable resources we could be tapping into in order to heat our homes this winter.

To get Better Farm off its fuel-oil furnace, we're now sporting a wood stove (utilizing standing-dead trees on the property and logs from a woodlot three miles away) and pellet stove. We of course realize these options aren't available to everyone. So depending on where you live and what's available to you, consider looking into one of these options for producing heat in your home this year.

Image from Canadian Geothermal.
Geothermal solutions are prized for their efficiency. These all-in-one 'forced-air' or 'water-to-air' systems can provide comfort to your home more efficiently than any other type of ordinary system. Put simply, geothermal is a method for heating and cooling a structure using the constant ground temperature. In reality the Earth is the world’s largest solar collector and at depths of roughly 5 feet below grade the Earth has stored enough energy to maintain about a 50 degree temperature ( in our area of Pennsylvania) year round. Geothermal heating and cooling utilizes a ‘ground source’ heat pump to either extract heat from the ground during the winter or reject heat into the ground during the summer. While the geothermal setup will pull additional electric, a solar kit can change all that. (Western Pennsylvania Geothermal Heating and Cooling, Inc.)

Solar-Powered Heat Pump
Image from Accent Comfort Services.
Modern ductless, mini-split air source heat pumps (ASHPs) run 2-3x as efficiently as traditional 'resistive' electric heat, making the cost to run the units equivalent to buying oil at $1.68/gallon.
Simultaneously, they provide air conditioning using half the energy as traditional window or central air conditioning systems. Best yet—by installing a solar electric array to power the electric consumption of the heat pumps, you effectively have a solar space-heating system. Your solar array will generate credits in the summertime (when it is sunniest) which allow you to run the heat pumps in the wintertime (when it is coldest). Your system will effortlessly generate all the 'fuel' it ever needs from clean, abundant sunshine! (From ReVision Energy)

Pellet Stoves
The new pellet stove coming soon to Better Farm's library.
For those who like wood stoves but don't love handling firewood and tending the fire, pellet stoves are great options and utilize totally renewable resources. Pellets for these stoves are made from  compressed wood byproducts and other biomass. The appliances vary from designs that are lit manually, with heat output controlled directly by the homeowner using a dial or buttons, to those units that ignite electrically, with pellet supply and heat output controlled automatically by a wall-mounted thermostat. Wood pellets produce almost no net climate-changing carbon dioxide if they are used as fuel — although some fossil fuels typically are used in the manufacture and transportation of pellets. The technology for modern residential pellet heating systems was invented back in 1983. This technology is now reliable, mature, and effective. The main question left to answer is whether the pellet lifestyle makes sense for you. And to answer this question you need a glimpse inside the process. (Mother Earth News)

Wood Heat
Wood is a totally renewable resource. If you live on a lot of property, there are seemingly endless reserves of standing-dead trees that can be harvested in a responsible way. We scored more than eight cords this year by doing responsible tree-felling in the woods at Better Farm alone, and there is plenty more where that came from. A few wood heat facts:
  • Wood-burning stoves are better in environmental terms as the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
  • Trees are a renewable resource (particularly when derived from plantations and cultivated woodland; or in our case, when you plant new trees and only cut down standing-dead ones). 
  • Wood ashes can be used very successfully in the vegetable garden (except in the area where you plan to grow potatoes). Mix the ash thoroughly with your soil. Tomatoes seem to benefit especially from soil that has been mixed with a small quantity of wood ash.
  • Nothing is cozier than sitting around inside on a frigid day in front of a toasty-warm wood stove. Nothing.

Care to share your methods of alternative heat? Email

Using Art as a Vehicle for Change

Advertising Agency: BBDO Malaysia, MALAYSIA, Kuala Lumpur / Advertising Agency: Duval Guillaume, Belgium
Science alone isn't enough to change the hearts and minds of many. Art is the only thing that can do that. Art has the power to really make people think. So when you use art to deliver a sustainable message, people are far more likely to sit up and take notice. Or better yet, to stand up and act.

The implications for art intersecting with sustainability are huge. Using this unbelievably powerful tool—this endless creative resource each of us has—literally can change the world. There is tons of new art coming out that's been produced sustainably with natural, eco-friendly materials. There is art with a sustainable message. There are seed bombs. There is upcycling. The intersection of art and sustainability is the intersection of the heart and the mind. It is the synthesis of everything dear: fundamental survival, connectedness to the natural world, beauty, and love.

Because science is about facts, but the science of sustainability also involves questions underpinned by values. This is where art comes in. Consider how thought-provoking a piece of art can be. Think of how timeless pieces—the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, that famous Campbells soup can, has inspired wonder in people. If art can inspire cathedrals, the pyramids, the entire marketing world of the 21st century, just think of how art can provoke people to consider their perceptions of sustainability. 

This is one of the central tenets utilized in betterArts residencies—the program itself appeals to people who want to use art as a vehicle of change. BetterArts attracts artists from all over the world who have an environmental message to share with the world through their artwork. Whether upcycling trash, creating pieces out of invasive plant species, or the like, betterArts residents explore some of the world's most profound environmental issues in a beautiful way.

Check out some of the following pieces, used for social issue ads (compiled over at BoredPanda) and see just how intense the messages are when clever artists are at the wheel:

See more here.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Throwing a Zero-Waste Party

One of the obvious hazards of having a bunch of wonderful people over is dealing with everything those wonders leave behind.

So few of us want to spend time with loved ones washing dishes and cleaning, we often opt for what seems easiest: disposable everything.  Yet, we just threw a party with six bands and hundreds of people and ended up with less than one full bag of garbage. How on earth did we pull that off?

First, the problem.

From Styrofoam plates to plastic cups, we are so accustomed to throwaway meal items that we barely give a second thought to utilizing stuff that we only use for minutes (sometimes seconds) before tossing it along on its dead-end course with a landfill. Here are the facts (from
  • In 2009, the United States generated 13 million tons of plastics waste from containers and packaging, and 7 million tons of nondurable plastic waste (for example plates and cups). The combined total of nondurable disposables exceeded the 11 million tons of plastic durable goods, such as appliances [EPA]. Only 7 percent was recovered for recycling.
  • Plastic cutlery is non-biodegradable, can leach toxic chemicals when handled improperly, and is widely used. estimates 40 billion plastic utensils are used every year in just the United States. The majority of these are thrown out after just one use.
  • 3,460,000 tons of tissues and paper towels wound up in landfills in 2008.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 780,000 tons of plastic and polystyrene cups and plates were discarded in 2008.
  • Americans produce enough Styrofoam cups every year to circle the earth 436 times. These cups are completely non-biodegradable, deplete the Earth’s ozone layer, waste enormous amounts of landfill, and are deadly to marine life.
  • The Container Recycling Institute claims that 2.81 million juice boxes were sold in the U.S. in 2006, most of which cannot be recycled due to the inseparability of the cardboard, plastic, and aluminum foil used in the product.
  • According to the EPA, Americans discarded about 2.7 million tons of aluminum, the largest source being used beverage and packaging containers. And in the time it takes you to read this sentence, more than 50,000 12-oz. aluminum cans were made. 
  • The Container Recycling Institute estimates that supplying plastic water bottles to American consumers in one year requires more than 47 million gallons of oil, the equivalent of one billion pounds of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. 
So what's the solution?
At last week's Summerfest, we welcomed hundreds of people to Better Farm to help support betterArts' mission of arts and cultural outreach against a backdrop of responsible environmentalism and practical sustainability.

So what did we do to steer away from such a disposable-obsessed culture?
  • Instead of Styrofoam plates, we went with compostable ones that will turn into dirt by next spring.
  • We opted to invest in real silverware and cutlery, along with heavy-duty plastic tubs for bussing dirty silverware.
  • We utilized real glasses for iced tea, lemonade, water, beer and wine.
  • We ditched all the single-serving bottles. That means no water bottles, no bottles of juice. We filled pitchers and loaded people up with glasses.
  • We put out carefully marked garbage pails: compost, burnable, washable, recyclable. That left cigarette butts and empty bags of ice as the party's only actual trash items.
  • We made our food from actual ingredients, not pre-packaged or store-bought stuff. That meant no cellophane, Styrofoam, or even plastics to contend with. As a bonus, most of the side-dish items came from just a few feet away in Better Farm's garden!
For a party of several hundred people over the course of 12 hours, there were about six trips to the kitchen sink to wash glasses and cutlery. We divided up the responsibilities on this, so no one was stuck doing it more than once. The few minutes it took to clean everything and bring it all back to the party makes the investment more than worthwhile—over the course of several years, betterArts is saving hundreds of dollars by not having to buy disposable items. That's more money that can be spent doing arts outreach in the North Country—and less junk clogging up the environment. We can all feel good about that.
Got some great ideas for throwing zero-waste parties? Email us at

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.