Sometimes it feels as if Earth is teetering on the edge of environmental apocalypse, as if we're all about to be sucked into a sludge-choked vortex of pollution and cosmic despair. But cheer up, lil' campers! Today is Earth Day, the one date on the calendar when it feels as if we might just have a chance on this Big Blue Marble. The eco-chummy critics of the St. Petersburg Times have joined forces to suggest music, movies and more to help you celebrate all that is green and glorious.
Until recently, we appreciated landscapes mostly as pretty pictures. Today, they have a new urgency, and artists often create them in part to remind us of what we have and could loose. Many are active environmentalists. And lots of artists do their part for the earth using found and recycled materials in their art.
We have many fine examples in our area. Here are a few, in celebration of Earth Day:
Clyde Butcher: Technically, he's south of us, in the Everglades, but we had to include the dean of Florida nature photography who doesn't need color in his prints to convey our state's beauty and lushness.
Carlton Ward Jr.: Ward uses his evocative color photographs to evoke a time when cowboys roamed the ranges of central Florida and to advocate for preservation of that land and life.
Taylor Ikin: Her watercolors glow impressionistically, sometimes even abstractly, but her lovely paintings document endangered waterways and swamps in and around Tampa Bay.
Christopher Still: We swoon over his gorgeous landscapes and panoramas but every detail in Still's meticulously researched paintings is meant to help us appreciate the past, care for the present and save the future.
Missionary Mary Proctor: The self-taught folk artist uses recycled materials such as doors instead of canvas, along buttons, beads and other found things. About as earthy as you get.
Lennie Bennett, Times art critic
As someone who's already left a Sasquatchian carbon footprint on the wild frontier, I've been relatively clueless about Earth Day. It started in 1970? Seriously? I thought it was something my mom made up to make me feel guilty. And yet, boys and girls, in tracking down some of the greatest "green" songs in pop, I'm suddenly feeling mighty planty. So turn up the radio and serenade Mother Nature. Here are five Eco-A-Go-Go songs:
1. Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye: "Where did all the blue sky go / Poison is the wind that blows / From the north, east, south, and sea."
2. Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell: "They paved paradise /And put up a parking lot"
3. (Nothing But) Flowers, Talking Heads: "There was a factory / Now there are mountains and rivers."
4. Poison in the Well, 10,000 Maniacs: "O, they tell us there's poison in the well / That someone's been a bit untidy and there's been a small spill."
5. What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong: "I see trees of green, red roses, too / I see them bloom for me and you."
Sean Daly, Times pop music critic
The big broadcast networks may be jumping on the green TV bandwagon just now, but some cable channels have been working the ecology vibe for a few years. Here's a quick list of the best television shows and channels to satisfy your "eco-tainment" fix.
1. 24 (Fox): Fox's amped-up action adventure show claims that it has become carbon-neutral this season, offsetting 2,179 tons of CO2 emissions by using biodiesel and hybrid vehicles, purchasing renewable energy and buying carbon energy offsets.
2. Sundance Channel's The Green: For three seasons, Robert Redford's indie-oriented cable channel has offered ecology-themed shows.
3. Planet Green: Discovery Channel created its own channel last year to feature eco-friendly TV shows such as Emeril Green, Alter Eco featuring Entourage star Adam Grenier and Go for the Green, a game show with — who else? — Tom Green as host.
4. Living with Ed (Planet Green): Watching Ed Begley Jr. bore West Wing co-star Bradley Whitford on the minutiae of dishwashing and composting in this unscripted series is still pretty eco-taining.
5. Whale Wars (Animal Planet/National Geographic Channel documentaries): Few channels offer a more amazing collection of nature documentaries than the NGC. And Animal Planet's thrilling series about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's efforts to stop whalers on the high seas — sailing a ship dubbed the Steve Irwin — combines unscripted drama with an eco-friendly message.
Eric Deggans, Times TV/media critic
Like all industries, Hollywood needs to reduce its carbon footprint. That doesn't deter filmmakers from wagging fingers at polluters, wasters and anyone believing climate change is a myth. It's part of the industry's liberal mystique. Yet these five movies make their ecofriendly points and box office profits, either positing facts in documentary style or imagining a terrifying future on a dying Earth:
1. An Inconvenient Truth (2006): If anyone besides Al Gore presented this lecture on climate change effects and the necessity for action, few would complain. But then the movie likely wouldn't exist.
2. The Day After Tomorrow (2004): A climatologist (Dennis Quaid) rails against global warming but nobody listens until catastrophic natural disasters and a new ice age begin. Pure fantasy … or is it?
3. Earth (2009): Disney's chronicle of elephants, polar bears and sea life struggling to survive opens in theaters today.
4. March of the Penguins (2005): Makes you want to do anything eco-friendly in order to help those cuddly creatures reproduce.
5. Soylent Green (1973): Not for the cannibalism scheme feeding an overcrowded Earth ("Soylent Green is people!") but Edward G. Robinson's death scene, being euthanized for food while tearfully viewing a cinema cyclorama of long-gone wildlife and nature.
Steve Persall, Times film critic
Classical music is full of works devoted to the earth. The relationship between humans and nature was a grand theme for 19th century composers, from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony to Wagner's Ring cycle. Here are five choices for listening on Earth Day.
1. And God Created Great Whales: Alan Hovhaness' symphonic tone poem to the humpback whale incorporates underwater recordings of whale songs.
2. Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth): Mahler's mighty (and mighty long: 60-plus minutes) song cycle for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra on "The dear earth everywhere/Blossoms in spring and grows green again!/Everywhere and eternally the distance shines with a blue light/Eternally … eternally.''
3. The Desert Music: Let's hear it for Steve Reich, who won the Pulitzer Prize in music this week. His 1984 symphony on the desert features a chorus singing apocalyptic verse by William Carlos Williams.
4. The Dharma at Big Sur: John Adams was inspired by the California coast and the writing of Jack Kerouac to compose this work for symphony orchestra and electric violin.
5. Florida Suite: Frederick Delius, born in England in 1862, spent several years as a young man working on an orange plantation near Jacksonville. His bucolic orchestra suite includes movements evoking the St. Johns River and a Florida sunset.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic
A couple of classics and three recent books about the environment: Read them and see the world around you in a new way.
1. The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) by Edward Abbey is a passionate, hilarious, outraged novel about fighting environmental destruction, by the surly genius who gave us this timely wisdom: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
2. The Everglades: River of Grass (1947) by Marjory Stoneman Douglas helped create the concept of ecosystems and is a vital book for any Floridian; if the Everglades survive (still an open question), we can thank Douglas.
3. The World Without Us (2007) by Alan Weisman uses both science and imagination to explore what would happen if humans became extinct — with surprising and, from an environmental standpoint, oddly hopeful results.
4. An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming (2007) by Al Gore: You've seen the movie, now find out even more — and keep an eye out for Gore's next book on making a difference, Our Choice, coming in October.
5. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) by Michael Pollan is a book about food, yes, but it's also a smart, shocking look at our relationship to the planet, and what we can do to make it better.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor
FOOD & DRINK
Beyond navigating what's healthy and what's not, conscientious diners increasingly consider which foods are good for the planet and which ones contribute to problems like global warming and insufficient supply. Here are five things to satisfy belly and conscience :
1. Embrace eco-friendly packaging. The hottest trend in the wine industry is wine in a box. Juice box-like "TetraPaks," spigotted bag-in-a-box setups and even plastic bottles are estimated to result in as much as 85 percent less landfill waste than regular 750 ml glass bottles. Also, look for screw-capped or plastic-corked bottles and consider recycling your natural corks through programs like TerraCycle (mail corks to 121 New York Ave, Trenton, NJ 08638).
2. Consider energy in versus energy out. It takes 958 liters of water to make one liter of orange juice. And when buying fish, choose low-on-the-food-chain species like farm-raised tilapia, which provides more protein than it takes to raise it. For a guide to smart fish choices, consult Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch (www.montereybayaquarium.org), which now offers a downloadable iPhone app.
3. Drink tap. Plastic leaching into water sources, overcrowded landfill — plastic water bottles cause all kinds of problems. Go to H2OConserve.org to calculate your water footprint.
4. Go veggie at least once a week. Meat production is so energy-intensive that studies indicate meat eaters cause a ton and a half more carbon dioxide emissions than vegetarians in the production and transportation of their food. Visit meatlessmonday.com for ideas.
5. Exert pressure. Ask your favorite restaurant to consider new takeout packaging materials. There are cornstarch and potato starch disposable flatware and cups and recyclable paperboard that are nearly the same cost as those Styrofoam clamshells that are crowding landfills.
Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic
Maybe you can't stop the Earth from warming all by your lonesome, but you can lessen the energy consumption in your own kitchen. Here are five ways:
1. Use small appliances over large. Try a toaster oven vs. the regular oven or a hand-held mixer over the stand-up behemoth.
2. Cook foods that take less time. Pick angel hair pasta over fettuccine; chicken cutlets instead of chicken breasts with skin and bones.
3. Think before you open the refrigerator and freezer. Don't ponder dinner as the cold air escapes and the temperatures fall.
4. Upgrade aging appliances. It's valiant to hang on to old appliances but sometimes they are energy guzzlers. For instance, a 30-year-old refrigerator uses about 2,000 kilowatt hours a year. A new one uses 500.
5. Start cooking as much as you can at room temperature. For instance, take chicken out 30 minutes before putting in the oven. This will lessen the cooking time.
Janet K. Keeler, Times Lifestyles Editor