Archive for October, 2010

October 20, 2010

First Energy-Efficient Tree House Community

An ‘Eden of Sorts,’ Finca Bellavista Blends into Costa Rican Rainforest

The treehouse platform

Treehouse platform for zip lines

Energy-efficient communities are popping up around the world; from Masdar, the first carbon-neutral city, near Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., to an off-the-grid treehouse enclave in the Costa Rican Jungle. There, just off the Pan-American Highway, a rocky path leads from the windy road up a mountain, winding into the rainforest.
“You can literally see the line where the rainforest begins, and that’s when you get to the community of Finca Bellavista, an Eden of sorts,” Matt Hogan says, driving a beat-up truck. Hogan, a former motocross racer, is co-founder of Finca Bellavista, the solar-powered tree house community he built from scratch with wife Erica after moving from Colorado and joining an environmental movement toward taking communities off strained electrical grids. “It’s a win-win; we’re protecting the environment and creating ‘green’ jobs building the infrastructure,” Hogan says of what’s billed as the world’s first modern, planned, sustainable tree house community.

It consists of about two dozen sky-high structures, with more than 40 other properties sold and planned for development. All told, there are about 80 two-acre lots, which have been selling fast, the founders say. The first stage of “pre-infrastructure” lots is sold out, they say, and there are six more in Phase Two, starting at $55,000 for a lot.

Among the amenities are running water, electricity, refrigeration, complete bathrooms, including a shower and head, and even Wi-Fi. And the tree houses that the Hogans built themselves are completely powered by the sun. The community of the Finca includes professionals working out of their tree houses, young families with kids and retirees — about 100 residents in all now, some full-time. Most of them are American or Canadian, but Costa Ricans have been looking as well, the Hogans say. The Hogans took out home-equity loans against their Colorado home to buy land from local owners who had been trying to sell it for timber. They then sold the parcels to community residents, using the proceeds to make improvements.
The first full-time resident was a Zen-like website manager from Canada who goes by the name Kevin. His tree house is known to have the best Wi-Fi on the Finca.

The Hogans were living in Crested Butte, Colo., four years ago when they decided to fly to Costa Rica in search of a surf-shack hideaway. Erica was a writer and editor at a local newspaper. Matt co-owned a company that made roofing tiles from recycled tires.Finding Inspiration in ‘Star Wars’
After taking a tour of a lot of secondary-growth rainforest in the mountainous Southern Zone of Costa Rica, advertised for potential timber logging, Erica Hogan suggested using the jungle to build an Ewok village in the trees, similar to the one on the moon of Endor in the film “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” The conversation could have ended there, but her husband liked the idea. “It’s funny, the Ewok village was only featured for a split second in ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,’ but it left such a lasting impression there are few people who don’t know what the Ewok village is,” he says.

So Matt and Erica Hogan broke free from their commitments, followed through on their idealism and bought property in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica.If they hadn’t, the forest may have been lost to loggers, something environmentalists say has happened to half the tropical forests in the world in the past century. The Hogans spent the next four years building their version of an energy-efficient community. And, today, the Finca is indeed what they had imagined, a community of off-the grid tree house dwellers, living with nature, with access to 300 acres of secondary-growth rainforest. It’s a place where everyone — including the resident star Kimbo, the half-blind bulldog — uses zip-lining as a primary means of transportation. They ride on cables, zipping between platforms that rise as high as 90 feet from the forest floor, soaring across the mountaintops and waterfalls.

“It’s a real source of transport,” Matt Hogan says, walking through the forest. “Even the building materials for the tree house are brought in via zip line.” There are already 23 lines up, with more in the works as the community grows toward a target population of 200 people.

October 17, 2010

EPA Likely To Revoke Largest Mountain Top Removal Mining Permit In West Virginia

Protestors against mountaintop mining

Protestors against mountaintop mining

Following up on my earlier blog about this issue it seems that activism might have helped the EPA make a decision. This is why we need to keep the pressure on the government and our local lawmakers to insure they don’t make laws that line the pockets of corporations that are hellbent on profits and destroying our environment. The story below was posted by: Beth Buczynski

On Friday, an EPA official announced that the agency has reason to believe the Spruce Fork No. 1 mine may result in unacceptable adverse impacts to fish and wildlife resources in the state of West Virginia.

“We intend to issue a public notice of a proposed determination to restrict or prohibit the discharge of dredged and/or fill material at the Spruce No. 1 mine project site.” EPA Region III Acting Administrator William C. Early wrote in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntington District office.

If both agencies choose to invoke the Clean Water Act in this case, it could result in the revocation of Arch Coal Inc.’s permit for the Spruce Fork No. 1 mine in Logan County.

The Spruce Mine is the largest surface mine in West Virginia. The current permit, which was issued in 2007, allows the company to exploit about 2,300 acres through mountain top removal mining and to dump the resulting waste in more than eight miles of streams.

Although the Arch operation is the only surface mine for which an Environmental Impact Statement has ever been prepared, Early wrote that conclusions included in that assessment “are not supportable.”

West Virginia’s Gov. Joe Manchin (D) recently filed a lawsuit against both the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, accusing the agencies of purposefully delaying 23 pending mountain top removal mining permits and harming the state’s economy in the process.

Fifty House Democrats have since joined together to support of new regulations that make it tougher for coal companies to continue mountain top removal mining.

Tell Congress You Oppose the Destructive Practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining!

October 15, 2010

Diving for a High


October 15, 2010

Go Nuts

New research conducted by a team of scientists at Penn State University revealed that eating walnuts and walnut oil on a regular basis may help people handle stress better.


I am a big fan of nuts, especially cashews. But, I do consume a bit of walnuts because I am aware of their nutritional value. I was surprise to find out about the stress study though. Too bad I didn’t know about this when I was working at Warner Bros. I would’ve eaten scores of walnuts and possibly been a better employee. Oh well…that’s life.

A cluster of black walnuts

Black walnuts

And now a wikipedia moment… The Eastern Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a species of flowering tree in the hickory family, Juglandaceae, that is native to eastern North America. It grows mostly in riparian zones, from southern Ontario, west to southeast South Dakota, south to Georgia, northern Florida and southwest to central Texas. Isolated wild trees in the Upper Ottawa Valley may be an isolated native population or may have derived from planted trees.

The Walnut Study

The study examined 22 healthy adults who had high levels of “bad” cholesterol, and found that the participants who were put on diets that included walnuts and walnut oil had lower resting blood pressure rates and were able to maintain lower blood pressure responses to two common stressors — giving a speech and soaking their feet in a tub of ice-cold water.

“This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress,” author Sheila G. West, an associate professor of biobehavioral health, said in a statement. “This is important because we can’t avoid all of the stressors in our daily lives. This study shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress.”

Go Nuts About Nuts

According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet rich in nuts and seeds can go a long way toward maintaining your health. Walnuts contain a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid which has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and inflammation markers including C-reactive proteins.
Other good stuff in nuts:
Unsaturated fats
Omega-3 fatty acids
Vitamin E
Plant sterols
This study reinforces the fact that eliminating all fat from the diet isn’t as important as incorporating more healthy fats than unhealthy ones

October 14, 2010

Lucky Cools Savory Acorns

Lucky Cool dives for a yummy acorn

October 14, 2010

Listen to Ted Danson

Ted Danson

Vote NO on Prop 23
Texas oil companies are trying to erase California’s progress in the fight against climate change. Help create millions of green jobs and stand up for California and the oceans’ future.

Act Now
We can’t let Texas oil companies make California – and our oceans – dirty.

Prop 23, funded by Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro, will be up on November’s ballot. If it passes, California will be prohibited from making progress on its greenhouse gas emission goals until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or less for one year. Something that has only occurred three times in almost four decades.

Pledge to vote NO on Prop 23 and keep California a leader in fighting climate change »

Prop 23 is a massive step backwards for California’s leadership in climate change. Not only will it prevent further progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it will repeal and essentially erase all the climate change progress California has made since the state’s landmark 2006 law.

While these oil companies want you to believe climate change legislation hurts the economy, the truth is it will create millions of green jobs and help establish California as an economic leader in alternative energy.

Our oceans need clean energy. Dependence on dirty fossil fuels, like oil, is changing the oceans’ very chemistry. Emissions in the atmosphere are changing the chemical make up of our oceans, making them more acidic and severely affecting marine life like corals and shellfish. As part of sensitive and vast marine ecosystems, reefs are vitally important to the overall health of the oceans – and the planet.

I know I can count on you to support California’s efforts to reduce our state’s greenhouse gas emissions and work towards a sustainable future. Vote No on Prop 23 on November 2nd »

For the oceans,
Ted Danson
Actor, Activist, Board Member

PS. We need your help in getting the word out that Prop 23 is disastrous for California and our oceans. Please take the pledge and forward this email to 5 friends, share it on Facebook and post it on Twitter.

October 13, 2010

Destruction Of The Indonesian Rain Forest

It’s hard to keep up with major corporations and their willing ness to destroy natural habitats in the quest for large profits but writer Laurie Sophie Schnee does a great job of exposing Wilmar International, Asia’s leading agribusiness group in the following article.Rainforest being decimated by Wilmar coproration

The world’s most influential palm oil corporations, especially Wilmar International Limited, drive a large number of palm oil plants in Indonesia.
The recent financial crisis, had a great negative impact on Wilmars economic situation. But a corporation lacking responsibility must not be rewarded by sourcing its shortsighted cropping projects. Palm oil is included in almost every product of our daily lives, just as for instance peanut butter, a large number of cosmetics or instant soups. The increase of palm oil consumption, though, has lead to a high variety of crimes against humanity commited for the end of our luxury.
The native population are brutally expelled from their land, which often is illegally bought by Wilmar. To make the land arable, precious rain forest, being home not only to indigene cultures, but also to a large amount of species, including also orangutans, is burnt down and substituted by a monoculture of oil palms. After three years, the successful cropping requests the intense use of fertilizers, due to the laterite containig soil, which, after contact with oxigene, becomes infertile.

The beautiful rainforests of Indonesia

Rainforest of Indonesia

The native people have no choice but to work on the plants -under horrible conditions. Low-paid and not even equipped with basic work protection measures, the workers are slogging under completely inhumane conditions and threatened and persecuted in case of slightest criticism. Due to the infertility of the soil, the damage done to the primary rain forest is irreversible. No forestation project can ever restore the unique ecological community destroyed by bulldozers and “casual” bush and forest fires.


One of the world's most interesting primates

One of our closest relatives in the evolution of mankind, the orang-utan is robbed its home, helpless orang-utan babies are made orphans by killing their mothers. A sad fate is awaiting them: If not killed by farm workers or starvation, they are sold to the end of entertainment of paying spectators, forced to endure endless tortures and to lead unhappy, very mournful lives. It is brought into scientific discussion including great apes into the genus of mankind for them feeling and reflecting very similarly to the way we do. The destruction of Indonesian rain forest by Wilmar not only affects the biodiversity, but also the providing of human rights to Indonesian’s indigenous population.

Tell World Bank President Robert Zoellick you neither appreciate Wilmar’s attitude towards human rights nor its sourcing by World Bank’s funds, which is also fed by your hard-earned taxes!

October 12, 2010

West Virginia Acts Against EPA

View of the mountaintop in West virginia

Mountain top removal

As I transform and expand the Treehouser blog the coverage will include stories like the one to follow. It is necessary for us all to have a voice about the way the government whether it is local or national treats our natural habitats. As John Lennon said “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” Well I echo that sentiment about our country and the environment. The first step is information so here it is, judge and act for yourself and your children.

Last week, the state of West Virginia announced that it would sue both the Environmental Protection Agency and the the Army Corps of Engineers over mountain top removal mining regulations it says are “unlawful” and “based in inadequate science.”
West Virginia’s Gov. Joe Manchin has accused the government of purposefully delaying 23 pending mountain top removal mining permits and harming the state’s economy in the process. According to the Epoch Times, “Manchin alleges that no specific law or government regulation has kept the permits from passing, only a political policy agenda specifically coming from the executive branch of government.”

View of mountain top removal site

Mountain top removal

Mountaintop removal, in which hundreds of feet are blasted off hills to gain access to coal seams, has become a major mining method in West Virginia, Kentucky and nearby states, but also a source of bitter conflict.

Producers say it saves money, but critics say it is destroying the landscape as the removed dirt and rocks are dumped in valleys and toxic chemicals are released.

In reponse to Manchin’s allegations, the EPA pointed to scientific research that demonstrates the negative impacts of mountaintop removal and valley fill mining, including: the destruction of diverse, old growth deciduous forests
the burying of small streams that are a vital part of the greater Appalachian watershed. To date, more than 1,700 miles of Appalachian stream channels have been damaged by mining spoils.
In some regions, as much as 35% of the watershed has been mined, and active mines cover 12%–15% of the landscape.
When the Obama administration took over in 2008, opponents of mountain top removal mining were initially impressed with the EPA’s action of freezing over 70 new mountain top removal mining permits. The excitment was shortlived however, as the EPA soon caved into industry pressure and approved more mountain top removal mining sites in the already devastated West Virginia mountains.

Right now the EPA is deciding whether to veto what would be one of the largest mountaintop removal sites yet, the Spruce No. 1 Mine project in West Virginia.