Archive for September 2011 | Monthly archive page

Even without a thorough knowledge of white sage’s (Saliva apiana) mystical characteristics, simple observation of the plant will impress upon the onlooker a profound sense of respect and reverence.  Its long, grey-green leaves are covered with hundreds of soft, silvery hairs and emit a powerful, earthy smell.  In the right light, white sage almost shimmers, and when in bloom, white or pale purple flowers erupt from stalks that can reach several feet in height.  White sage tends to grow in full sun, in dusty or rocky soil, and is extremely drought resistant.

White sage (we’wey) has been used by the Chumash for thousands of years in order to primarily heal the spirit, which they believe in turn aids in the body’s ability to recover.  When smudged, the smoke is used to purify the patient’s central nervous system and calm the psyche.  Smudging is typically used with prayer and formal ritual, but a constant dose of sage and its benevolent properties can be ensured every day by maintaining gardens where the plant holds a prominent position.  During blessings, the smoke from white sage is said to bring prayers to God and invite divine benevolence into the healing process.

Leaves can be collected in conjunction with prayer to create a tea or placed directly in the mouth to soothe sore throats.  Sage contains cineole, which is an anti-inflammatory, as well as active diterpenoids, which are compounds that have been shown to combat bacterial infections, and reduce allergy symptoms.  White sage can also be added to a sweat bath, used to treat fevers, made into a poultice, and ingested to aid in the treatment of ulcers.

Bambu Batu is now fortunate to have bundles of sage available in the store.  Wild-crafted from the hills behind Big Sur, the leaves are ready for smudging or to be made into infusions.  Continue a tradition of healing and blessings with this remarkable plant!

Striving towards energy efficiency in our buildings, vehicles and appliances sounds like good, solid environmental policy.  However, in recent years, more and more climate researches have been raising awareness of what they call the “rebound effect“, or the idea that efficiency without regard to a shift in energy supply is actually damaging to global atmospheric health.  Many policy makers and businesses tout efficiency as a guilt-free way of stimulating the economy by encouraging manufacture of more goods to replace current infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers would benefit from lower electricity bills, and business owners would be able to reduce their costs of operation.

The arguments against simply producing more eco-friendly machines are rooted in the notion that lower costs may eventually lead to greater use from dirty sources that in turn pollute at an increased rate.  There is also a fear that the demand for energy would remain the same or even increase once focus is redirected from inputs into manufacturing new technology that requires power and electricity in different areas of production.  Some consumers may even up their use of efficient technology under the misconception that they are saving more with their new gadgetry than they are wasting.

While the rebound effect does not completely negate all monetary and climactic advantages of green design, it is contended that the net gain is too small to be considered as a panacea for government and industry in the face of global warming.  There is also the issue of “backfiring”, or situations where energy efficiency indirectly through the market leads to increased demand and may invalidate any gains made.

Currently, there is debate as to how much damage the rebound effect could cause.  For example, in some instances 10-30% of savings from car and home technology could be lost on an individual level alone.  On the macro-economic scale the breakdown is different for rich and poor countries, where the rebound effects are amplified for those that are in the process of industrializing. Poor countries respond more to fluctuating energy prices, and their demand for energy is constantly growing and has yet to reach a point of saturation.  Big economies mean big energy users, which could further damage the health of the climate if cleaner sources are not utilized, consumption grows out of control, or emissions are not strictly regulated.

More studies are needed to determine the overall scope of the rebound effect, but there are a few points that must be considered in light of the potential catastrophic effects our good intentions may have on the environment.  Clean technology is not enough to save us from the hazards of a warming globe.  We still need to reduce our net use of energy, make sure we choose renewable and safe sources of electricity, and scrutinize every aspect of our economies so as not to shift the energy burden to sectors outside the immediate “energy input” scope of investigation.

The Otter Project

For some of us, the 80’s were hard.  They meant ill-advised side ponytails, far too much spandex, and awkward high school social interactions.  Yet, no matter how rough it may have been for humans, the sea otters living off the California coast had a much tougher go of things.

In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, under the advice of Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond established a “No-Otter Zone” spanning from Point Conception south to the Mexican Border.  The Zone was created in response to complaints from the fishing industry that the otters were a threat to commercial species, and from oil companies worried that having such a cute and cuddly ocean ambassador would impede their drilling activities.

Even though the otters were protected by the Endangered Species Act as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, these animals were translocated to an “experimental” colony around San Nicholas Island in efforts to manage their populations.  The reasoning for the move was that in the event of an oil spill, large numbers of otters would perish, leaving the stocks depleted.  Having a reserve colony off the distant Channel Island could in effect save the bloodline and preserve genetic diversity.

Sadly, the translocation project was an abject failure.  Many otters died, disappeared, or swam back to their previous homes.  In 1993, only 12 otters out of the expected 150 lived off of the island.  The FWS found itself moving otters back at the cost of nearly $10,000 per animal, and encountered dead or sick otters that could have suffered adverse effects from transportation.  The FWS decided to stop containing the otters, but also did nothing to alter the law.

After years of lawsuits brought by both fisherman and environmentalists, the No-Otter Zone remains in effect although not enforced.  Otters are moving back into the the territory, but are still considered vulnerable until the legislation is officially repealed.

To advocate for protecting the otters, community members are invited to attend the FWS’s upcoming hearing in Santa Barbara on October4 from 5-8pm at the Fleischman Auditorium at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.  In addition, supporters are encouraged to write the FWS and local senators and representatives asking for a repeal of the No-Otter Zone.

For more information, visit the Otter Project’s Website to see how you can help one of California’s most famous residents!


Hot off the presses (for a hot topic here in Central California) are Bambu Batu’s “Fight the Power” t-shirts depicting our own Diablo Canyon Power Plant on organic bamboo/cotton.  These shirts are printed locally with non-toxic inks by concerned citizens who are uncomfortable with the proximity of large nuclear generators close to their communities.  Located in Avila Beach, the two Westinghouse 4-loop pressurized-water nuclear reactors are operated by Pacific Gas and Electric. Both units were brought online in the mid-eighties and licensed to run through the year 2025. Diablo supplies electricity to about 2.2 million consumers across the state.

There are many reasons to be a bit nervous about having a nuclear reactor in your backyard.  For starters, Diablo Canyon is built on top of a well-known fault line, and is vulnerable to seismic activity and tsunamis.  Ground acceleration, or tectonic shaking, could possibly cause submerged fuel rods to spill and ignite upon coming in contact with the air. The plant uses seawater to cool its rectors and has to constantly deal with maintaining its system free of kelp and marine animals.  In the past, massive jellyfish blooms and other irregular marine occurrences have gummed up the works of the reactors and have compromised the safety and efficiency of plant, even taking it offline for several days.

Blueprints for Diablo Canyon that were supposed to provide structural reinforcement in the event of earthquakes were found to have major errors.  In 1981, PG&E discovered that only one set of plans was used in the construction of both reactors, meaning that where workers were supposed to have switched the design off in the second reactor, they failed to do so.  This  resulted a “backwards” configuration, and needless reinforcement of certain areas where others were left unfortified.  Currently, PG&E has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Committee not to renew its license in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster until it can complete more seismic studies. This decision was partially due to repeated appeals from SLO Rep. Blakeslee asking that the renewal applications be withdrawn earlier this year.

While the probability of a catastrophe is difficult to determine, it only takes one perfect storm to cause long-term, terrible damage.  Anyone within a 10 mile radius of a meltdown would be subject to direct radiation exposure through airborne fallout, and those within a 50 mile radius would be at risk of contamination from ingesting radioactive food and water.  The half-life of isotopes affect the environment for generations afterward, leaving a legacy of pollution and risk of serious illness.  Community grassroots efforts, such as those undertaken by the Abalone Alliance, have for years been trying to halt the construction of new plants in the state as well as closing existing ones.  Those of us who wish to see a nuclear-free future for our society are supporting these endeavors by promoting cleaner forms of energy, writing our representatives, joining community forums, and wearing our hearts and thoughts on our sleeves.

Most of us are familiar with the term “carbon footprint“, or the overall impact human industrial activities have on global climate change with respect to the release of carbon into the atmosphere.  Launched in September 2010 as a part of the Clinton Global Initiative,  The Plastic Disclosure Project introduces the idea of a “plastic footprint” which attempts to formally calculate the effects of plastic use and consumption on the ecosystem.

Considering that nearly 90% of plastics worldwide are not recycled, many of these synthetics find their ways into the environment by way of landfills, improper disposal, leeching and degradation.  The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that 7,000,000 tons of garbage reaches the sea every year, the vast majority of which originates from land.  Large aggregations of man-made debris or “garbage patches” accumulate in and around major oceanic currents, some encompassing areas nearly twice the size of Texas.

Beginning this year, annual reports will be compiled from data contributed by participating industries and companies who volunteer to disclose their plastic use.  These documents will then be made available to governments, public and educational agencies in order to spread awareness of plastic utilization and assess its economic and environmental repercussions.  Almost any company can sign on as a participant of the PDP, although most of the investigation’s focus will be centered on the private goods sector.

It is the PDP’s hope that once listed companies agree to join the study, that enough information can eventually be collected to generate a picture of how plastics are being employed and what alternative technologies are available.  By generating a plastic footprint using baseline metrics, the PDP strives to encourage industries to reduce production waste, choose alternative materials, improve design, incorporate more recycled content into their products, recycle, and decrease the gross amount of plastics entering the environment.

At Bambu Batu we offer reusable bamboo utensils, plastic-free water bottles, organic cotton produce bags, and bamboo canvas tote bags, and we encourage our customers to carry their own reusable shopping bags. How do you on an individual level try to decrease your use of plastics?

Yes, really, there is such a thing as World Bamboo Day.  And why not?  Bamboo is fantastic!  It can be worn, carved, eaten, pulped, fashioned into clothing and dwellings, played as an instrument, grown as a living fence…the possibilities are nearly endless.  On September 18th, break out your bamboo cutlery, fry up some bamboo shoots, and invite your friends over to your bamboo tiki bar to celebrate one of the globe’s most and versatile and dynamic plants.

The first World Bamboo Day was initiated as part of the World Bamboo Organization’s 8th congress held in Bangkok in 2009.  The Day was intended to spread awareness of the importance of bamboo as a vital part of international economies and as a key element of the sustainable living movement.  From Israel to the Phillipines, celebrations feature speakers from across the political spectrum, foresters, bamboo cultivators and suppliers, artists and chefs.

So, what can you do to show your love and appreciation for this glorious, generous grass?

– Californians can take part in the American Bamboo Society’s Fall Meeting this Sept 17 in the Bamboo Garden at Foothill College in Los Altos.  The gathering begins at noon and will feature highlights of the president’s recent trip to Colombia.

– Cook up a tasty stir fry, such as this delicious and incredibly easy recipe featuring spinach and tender young bamboo shoots.

– Pick up some bamboo pieces to make a flying paper lantern,  wind chime, or kite for a fun and sustainable crafting project.

– Plant some bamboo in your garden using Daphne Lewis’ informative books as a fantastic resource for your burgeoning zen paradise.

– Deck yourself out in your best bamboo threads from Bambu Batu and show some pride in your favorite natural fiber!

How will you celebrate World Bamboo Day?

Our skin is our protecting layer, the largest sensory organ the body possesses, and an ambassador to the world at large.  Wrapped around our entire beings, skin can take a pretty harsh beating from the elements.  Our dermis has to contend with heat, cold, dryness, friction, wind, dirt, chemicals, and the odd insult or two.  To show some appreciation for this amazing miracle of biology, treat yourself to Nourish’s SkinFood, a 100% organic, San Luis Obispo local beauty line now found here at Bambu Batu.

Containing high concentrations of vitamin E and fatty acids that help skin repair and feel moisturized, Skin Food is also perfume, dye, petroleum and animal product free.  Many other products use drying agents such as alcohol, clogging compounds derived from non-renewable oils, and toxic preservatives.  SkinFood is fully biodegradable, sustainable, and produced within the county.

Nourish boasts several different products to pamper your body; Dream Cream, Baby Bump, SkinFood, and Sweet Feet.  Each are available in 4oz and 7oz jars. All made with ingredients so pure you can eat it, really. Made with just three easy-to-pronounce ingredients, the SkinFood contains a healthy dose of Cocoa Butter, giving it the deliciously distinct aroma of real chocolate. (Cocoa also happens to be a tremendously healthy skin moisturizer!) Equally enticing, Sweet Feet is made with organic peppermint oil and boasts a hearty bouquet of mint chip ice cream! Mmm.

Swing on by Bambu Batu and sample some of Nourish’s silky, intoxicating balms.   Show your skin a little respect and admiration with some sweet-smelling, decadent, body butter!

No one likes to sink their toes in to the warm sand of their favorite beach and come into contact with a piece of litter left by careless visitors.  A trip to the ocean should be about enjoying nature, not dodging cigarette butts, plastic bags, and abandoned fishing equipment.  No matter how well we dispose of our trash, large amounts of garbage still finds its way from the mainland into the seas, forming massive aggregations, or “patches”, concentrated by swirling currents.  All of this man-made detritus harms marine ecosystems, chokes wildlife, and eventually washes back up onto shores the world over.

As a group, we humans have made quite a mess.  Luckily, there are many among us who every year participate in activities such as the California Coastal Cleanup Day, an event that takes place every September in an effort to remove trash from our shores. Last year, over 82,000 volunteers collected more than 1.2 million pounds of trash and recyclables in a single day throughout the state’s coastal and inland waterways.

The idea for a nationwide beach restoration day began in 1986 by a former Ocean Conservancy employee, Linda Maraniss, who was compelled to organize other concerned citizens in her home state of Texas.  Within only two hours, 2,800 volunteers picked up 124 tons of trash over 122 miles of coastline, an achievement that caught the attention of communities across the country.  The movement has since spread to 152 countries and locations across the globe, engaging nearly 9 million people who clear millions of tons of trash and collect data to document the amount, composition and frequency of ocean debris.

Organized by the Ocean Conservancy, the California Coastal Cleanup day will take place statewide on Saturday, September 17 from 9am-noon.  To find a cleanup coordinator in your area, follow the California Coastal Commission’s link or email <>.  Make sure to bring hats, water and sunscreen.  Collecting bags, data sheets, pencils, and gloves will be available on site.  However, if you would like to go the extra mile and reduce waste even further, bring a pair of your own work gloves or reusable collecting container such as a plastic bucket or cloth shopping bag.

Looking to make a difference on a more consistent basis?  Visit the Adopt-A-Beach site to see how your community can sponsor litter removal 365 days a year or donate to the Ocean Conservancy’s ongoing efforts to keep our seas healthy and trash-free.


Sorry Oscar, but I HATE trash.  Case in point; marine garbage patches.  What exactly are these giant, floating messes?  Technically, these suspended litter heaps are concentrations of debris (usually consisting of small pieces of plastic) concentrated within a common area.  Contrary to popular belief, there are no permanent “islands” being created in the middle of the ocean that can be detected via satellite.  These collections of rubbish are, however, extremely harmful to marine ecosystems and enormously difficult to contain, clean and manage.

There are several massive known aggregations throughout the world, identified as the Eastern Pacific (between Hawaii and California), Western Pacific (off the Coast of Japan) and North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone (north of Hawaii) garbage patches.  There are also Atlantic equivalents to the Pacific concentrations (as debris will collect around major gyres, or large circulatory currents), although research is comparatively thin compared to those in the Pacific.  While these are not the only places flotsam accumulates from human activities on the mainland, they are by far some of the biggest and the subject of great concern. Since their size and shape changes daily or seasonally, estimates of location and span are at time difficult to pin down in exact terms.

The vast majority of the masses are made up of plastics.  From single-use bags to water bottles, plastics are responsible for chemical pollution through degradation, choking marine life who mistake objects for food (see the Guardian’s photo essay on Albatross death), and endangering entire ecosystems by disintegrating into tiny pieces which are taken up through the bottom of the food chain.

These  particles are then accumulated upwards into the tissues of larger organisms, eventually reaching top predators and human beings who consume animals lower down on the food chain.  Plastics are very hard to remove from the oceans as sunlight may reduce them into pieces unable to be captured by nets. Where trash collects, so does marine life, and attempts at skimming debris might also harm the creatures swimming amongst the junk.  Major clean-up efforts would also use a large amount of fossil fuels to locate, process and haul the detritus out of the sea.

Luckily, as individuals, we have the power to make decisions that can have large-scale effects.  Water bottles and plastic bags, who are common occupants of these floating landfills, can be replaced with multiple use items such as cloth grocery sacks (like Blue Lotus’s stylish produce bags), thermoses, canteens and reusable water bottles. At Bambu Batu, we dig the sustainable and attractive Bamboo Bottle. We also offer an attractive assortment of re-usable bamboo utensil sets and sporks, to further reduce your dependency on disposable plastics.

Reducing the amount of plastics we use, as well as recycling and properly disposing of what we purchase, can go a long way to stem the flow of trash making its way into our oceans and food chain.


In the war between Human Civilization and Mother Nature, the abundance of big box stores, pavement, freeways and housing developments may signal that Team Industrialization is winning.  However, some creative and enterprising Homo sapiens are not willing to let the world go the way of the machine without a good fight.

The guerrilla gardening movement allies plants with gardeners who install them in public or private spaces that they themselves do not own.  This type of clandestine cultivation transforms neglected or abandoned properties through the creation of full vegetable gardens,  seed or plant “bombing, art installations or green graffiti.  Much of the movement’s guiding principles are centered around the notions of food independence, land reform, ecological awareness and environmental reclamation.

Modern incarnations of guerrilla gardening take almost as many forms as the plants themselves, beginning with the coining of the term in the 1970’s by Liz Christy and the Green Guerillas, who revitalized a New York plot by establishing a community garden.  By throwing “green-aids”, or seed bombs over the fence of their target site, they began colonizing the vacant lot with fruits and vegetables.  After hauling away trash and amending the soil, the Guerillas launched a more aggressive mission to establish a more permanent local green space for their community.  Currently, they are an established non-profit who promote education, sustain grass-root coalitions and engage youth organizations with the mission of spreading land reform and green public areas.

Since New York’s pioneering urban green space, guerrilla gardening movements have spread across thirty documented countries and have become the topic of a number of thriving internet forums and websites. The latest such venture to catch our attention comes from Heather Powazek Champ, who knits plants pockets and drops them secretly and strategically around the city of San Francisco (as per the featured photo, above).

For a humorous and inspiring account of one urban farmer’s adventures in squatting, pick up a copy of Novella Carpenter’s Farm City.  Further tips and stories from the front lines can be found through the, an excellent resource for the history of the movement, outlines and suggestions for your own project, and links to guerrilla groups in your area.

Where would you take a stand and plant the seeds for a little rebellion?