Archive for February 2012 | Monthly archive page

In addition to smoking cigarettes and making toast in the bathtub, you may now put paraffin candles on your “to avoid” list.  Lighting one of these wax candles can release toxins such as toluene and benzene into the atmosphere.  Far from the relaxing or romantic gesture that these flammable favorites are intended to represent, paraffin could in fact cause cancer, dizziness or asthma if used on a regular basis.  In 2009, researchers presented their findings to the annual American Chemical Society’s meeting in Washington, and identified paraffin candles as a previously unrecognized source of indoor air pollution.  The National Candle Association maintains that paraffin is not toxic as it is approved by the FDA, but those with allergies, asthma, chemical sensitivities, or other concerns about the use of petroleum products would do best to purchase beeswax or soy candles.

Soy candles made from hydrogenated soybean oil, and beeswax produced by the bodies of the humble insect, are clean-burning, last longer than paraffin, are environmentally friendly, and do not drip or leave sooty deposits.  Beeswax in particular produces negative ions, which have been shown to increase the production of serotonin in the brain and elevate mood.  As a business that is concerned with the health of the human animal and the spaces they inhabit, Bambu Batu carries a only soy and beeswax candles, including scented and unscented lines from Big Dipper Wax Works, VegePure and Sparx.

Now that you have been enlightened and want to get rid of those old paraffin offenders, there are a few resources that may help you to dispose of them with the minimum of environmental impact.  “Take-back” programs such as the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth, MN  or accepts old paraffin candles or crayons via the post and recycles them into campfire starters or new drawing tools.  Earth911 is an excellent site that allows you to find the appropriate resting place for just about anything, or if you are feeling crafty, you can even make your own ski wax with old candles.

Lighten your load and get rid of the old oil-based tea lights and tapers for something a little more natural!

I may be from the TV and Internet generation, but when it comes to the topic science, I am snuggled up next to my radio like it was the newest piece of sparklingly modern technology.  Radio has had to step up its game in the past several decades in order to remain competitive amongst other forms of media.  Broadcasts dealing with complex subjects must be engaging enough to grasp the listener’s attention while also being presented in a clear enough manner that ideas are understood without producing that glazed over look so common in academic lecture halls.  Add in the task of making difficult and sometimes abstract topics relevant and entertaining, and you have an idea of the challenges radio faces.  With this understanding, I am in awe of these amazingly creative shows that keep me informed and curious about the natural world, grappling with the ethical impacts of new inventions, and enlightened as to the workings of the universe.

Radiolab- Fans of This American Life will fall in love with Radiolab, a podcast that explores the intersection of science, art, and human life.  Each episode deals with a central theme that is explored through story, anecdotes from history, and testimonials from researchers and field experts.  The hosts keep a conversational dialogue throughout the pieces, provoking a million questions to consider and keeping the tone lighthearted and inquisitive.  The soundscape is as compelling as the narratives, and aid in stimulating the listener’s imagination.  Personal favorite episodes concern themselves with the nature of moral behavior, parasites, and the accidents and unintended consequences of experimentation. Download or listen to the archives of podcasts online for free.

Talk of the Nation Science Friday- Every week, Talk of the Nation takes a break in its discussions of politics and popular culture to explore the newest achievements in science and technology.  Science Friday stays on top of the most relevant questions that society is currently grappling with, such as energy consumption and global warming, as well as the more quirky and diverting internet memes and tales of the weird.  Guests lead conversations alongside host, Ira Flatlow every 1-2pm ET, and take questions from listeners across the country.  Tune into your local NPR station for a dose of intelligent dialogue and insight from some of the brightest minds of their discipline.

99% Invisible- Roman Mars, the host of 99% Invisible, is fascinated with the small and almost unnoticeable elements of design and architecture that we encounter each day.  From the clicks and buzzes engineered for soundless electronic devices to graffiti tags etched into the sidewalks of San Francisco, the program explores the intentions and backgrounds of what many of us take for granted.  Another Public Radio production, you can listen to these short, beautifully produced accounts of the physical world on demand and free of charge.

When tidepooling along the beach here on the Central Coast, I admittedly like to poke at the marine life.  But what exactly am I pestering?  Enter the Avila Beach Sea Life Center to shed a little light on my adventures in aquatic biology.  Located just south of San Luis Obispo, the Center allows visitors to learn about one of the most fascinating aquatic ecosystems in California.  Open to the general pubic and for schools and birthday parties, the aquarium is a must for anyone interested in science and nature.

For students, the Floating Lab takes participants out onto the open sea where they trawl for plankton, perform sea water chemistry, dissect squid, and observe marine birds and mammals in their natural habitats.  The facility-based Discovery Lab course lets teachers select from a diverse curriculum of fun games, lectures, animal encounters, and interactive activities that teach about the fascinating inhabitants of the Pacific, the importance of a healthy environment, and how we as humans can care for our watery neighbors.

The Avila Sea Life Center is the only public marine education facility between Lompoc and Monterey.  Adult admission is $3, students/seniors $2.  Come take a stroll along the beach, and discover another universe not far from home! (For more information, email

Armed with knowledge and looking for adventure?  Test your smarts and observation skills with some great ocean-side hikes:

– Montana De Oro: This state park in Los Osos offers a number of fantastic bluff and beach trails that provide wonderful views of the ocean, tidepooling, and bird-watching.  If you are lucky, you may even spot a sea otter, sea lion, or whale during their migration season.

– San Simeon:  Famous for its colony of breeding elephant seals,  park and walk several feet to take a gander at one of the ocean’s most impressive marine mammals.  However, be careful not to get too close to the hulking, snorting masses of blubber!  Males are known to be pretty aggressive and are a lot faster than they appear.

– Pismo/Oceano Dunes:  Check out one of the last refuges for the endangered Snowy Plover as well as a number of other ocean and estuary birds.  Take care not to get run over by drivers as the Dunes are one of the last public beaches in California to allow vehicles.

– Pirate’s Cove:  If you are an immodest enough soul to endure a little nudity on this clothing-optional beach located slightly south of Port San Luis, you are almost certain to encounter harbor seals in this sunny, quiet stretch of sand and sea.

Star Wars fans, tree huggers, and perpetual children rejoice, an Oregon man living in Cave Junction has done what many of us have long dreamed of doing.  Michael Garnier has built what might possibly be the largest concentration of treehouses in the world.  Dubbed the “Ewok Village“, the collection of houses complement the state’s “tree-mendous” and “tree-riffic” forests.

After leaving the Army from his post as a Green Beret medic, Garnier decided that he wanted to make a living off of the scenery without having to cut it down in the process.   He loved to work with wood, and began crafting picture propellers that use the eye’s natural responses towards the rapid shift between light and shadow to produce what he refers to as an “organic, psychedelic kaleidoscope”.  After trying his hand at constructing fences, pole barns, and furniture, Garnier found that renting his treehouses as vacation lodgings allowed him an income and a way to give people a new perspective on how to use the land. He also sells the parts and plans of his own invention for those who wish to construct their own mansion in the branches.

Designed to work with the tree’s natural biology, each house incorporates techniques that allow for the structures to become a part of the plant’s anatomy.  Eventually, attaching bolts and supports merge with the trunk and branches, creating the least obtrusive and strongest possible foundation for the dwellings.  Interconnected houses utilize sliding brackets that accommodate for wind and growth.  Complete with furnishings, spiral staircases, toilets, and windows opening onto the canopy, the houses resemble comfortable, upscale cabins.  Bridges connect each residence, and luggage and cleaning supplies are hoisted from the ground by ropes and pulleys.  His own house is an 1800 sq foot building that is supported by seven trees and may be the largest treehouse ever constructed.

Between Garnier’s prolific use of tree puns, amazing houses, and reportedly amazing meals cooked at this unique bed and breakfast, I am longing for an excuse to visit rural Oregon.  Branch out from a boring, tradition hotel or camping tent and leaf for a trip for the world’s most incredible treesort!

Garden guru Steve Solomon likes to pamper his veggies.  To make sure that they receive all the nutrients they need without the risk of leaching or or overloading the plants, Solomon uses his own home-made fertilizer in his garden.  A result of  over 30 years of experience, this mix is easy to make, affordable, and certain to raise an edible paradise.  Unlike many store-bought formulas, this organic fertilizer is free of harmful chemicals, includes valuable trace minerals, naturally slow-release, and is slower to dissolve.

What You Will Need:

Seed Meals- One of the most important ingredients, the seed meals are the byproducts of vegetable oil production.  Mainly used as feed for animals, they are labeled by protein content instead of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium composition like most fertilizers.  Composed of flaxseeds, sunflowers, cotton seeds, canola, and a variety of other plants, seed meals should be purchased free of genetic modification and be certified organic whenever possible.  Chemical-free grass clippings can be used as a substitute, although they will not stimulate the same growth as the meal.

Bone Meal, Guano, Phosphate Rock- All of these compounds help to add phosphorus.  Bone meals are probably the easiest  of the three to find in garden centers.

Kelp Meal- Seaweed provides a wide variety of trace minerals as well as hormones which act like vitamins that help a plant cope with environmental stresses.  Farm supplies will sell sacks of the meal, but lucky residents of the coast may opt to take a shovel and flatbed truck to the beach.

Lime- This rock possesses huge levels of calcium and is available in three types.  Agricultural lime is pure calcium carbonate, gypsum is calcium sulfate, and dolomite contains both calcium and magnesium carbonates.  Dolomite is the most preferred, but a combination of all three will produce the best results.  Make sure not to use chemically active “hot limes” which are sold as hydrated lime, quicklime, and burnt lime.

The Mix:

Measuring all ingredients by volume, mix uniformly:

– 4 parts seed meal

-1/4 part ordinary agricultural lime, finely ground

– 1/2 part agricultural lime (or 1/4 gypsum)

-1/2 part dolomitic lime

Then add:

– 1 part bone meal, rock phosphate or guano

-1/2-1 part kelp meal (or basalt dust)



Before planting, or at least once yearly (usually in the spring) apply one quart of fertilizer evenly.  Add a quarter inch of compost evenly on top of each 20 square feet of planting area.  Blend the layers with a hoe or spade.  For vegetables that demand more food like melons, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and spinach, sprinkle small quantities of fertilizer around the root systems every couple of weeks.  Gardens with heavy clay soils should expect to use 50% more fertilizer.

Get growing!

It is important to stand up for what you believe in, and when you own green furniture, it is also possible to sit, lie down, and and lean on your convictions.  To fully relax with a clear conscience, it is best to purchase furnishings that take advantage of recycled materials, sustainable woods or grasses, and are free of harmful chemicals.  As a bamboo specialty store, Bambu Batu supports the increasingly popular trend towards eco-friendly fabrication and design.  Hoping to outfit your home with stylish appointments worthy of the earth-respecting soul that you are?  Here are a couple of companies we would suggest:

Anji Mountain-  Bambu Batu is happy to carry Anji Mountain’s beautiful bamboo mats.  The company takes advantage of other renewable natural fibers and offer full lines of area rugs from jute, seagrass, wool and sisal.  Unlike many other floor coverings, these materials do not release pollutants and large amounts of carbon during production or release heavy metals and synthetic chemicals during disposal.  Man-made fibers can emit VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) while sitting in your home.  Avoid allergies and respiratory illness by choosing plants over plastics!

Modern Bamboo- Contemporary design and environmental awareness converge in Modern Bamboo’s clean, sleek chairs, closets, and tables.  Fabricated in the USA by skilled craftsmen, the company also custom builds pieces from reclaimed materials and uses VOC-free glues and finishes.  Taking advantage of bamboo’s natural strength and flexibility, the designs reminiscent of Charles and Ray Eames help to create an indoor atmosphere that is sure to remain in style far into the future.

Atmodsphere- Located in downtown San Luis Obispo, home and kitchen decor boutique Atmodsphere showcases beds, desks, chairs, and tables fashioned from reclaimed wood, recycled milk bottles, and poly lumber.  Ranging from the affordable to the very high end, the store hand selects the best in modernist style.  Drop in to browse or take part in one of their many handmade-craft workshops.

El Dot- Simple and stylish, you too will dream of outfitting a whole room or office in an El Dot collection.  Constructed from a Nepalese timber species of bamboo and of rosewood, the frames of their pieces are harvested annually by local farmers from private land.  Cushions, padding, and upholstery fabrics are composed of non-toxic and biodegradable wool, hemp,  and organic latex.  The nuts and bolts are all brass, and sourced from Kathmandu.

Linker Workshop- Central Coast local craftsmen Jamie Coxon and Nick Wilkinson provide custom installations, furniture, and displays from reclaimed materials through the Linker Workshop.  From succulent-adorned wall planters to jewelry cases, lighting fixtures to seating build-outs, picture frames to decks, these two can make just about anything for your home or business.


Show love to thy sweetheart and thy neighbor by buying local gifts this Valentine’s Day!

Sweets for the Sweet: Why buy a plain old grocery store sampler when you could look to Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates for organic and fair trade treats this year?  Not only will your purchase support a San Luis Obispo small business, but it will also help contribute to Partners In Health, Haiti relief efforts, and make it possible for West African cocoa farmers to sustain a living wage with socially just business practices.  Nothing says affection like principled confections!

Light a Fire: Bambu Batu is proud to carry Big Dipper Beeswax candles to add a tender glow to your night.  Available in scented and unscented pillars, pots, votives and tapers.  Sourced from beekeepers throughout the Pacific Northwest, the wax is smokeless, dripless, free of animal or petroleum products, and produces negative ions that help relax and clarify your mind and body.  Big Dipper is a Green America Approved Business, and donates 10% of their net profits from candle sales are donated to promote sustainable beekeeping, support local schools, community health and research organizations, animal shelters, and sports teams.

Nightdress to Impress: Both comfortable and romantic, Bambu Batu offers the BambooDreams Women’s Flirty Lace Nighty.  Not just for a romantic encounter, this bamboo and spandex nightgown is an excellent way to show kindness to yourself and whoever you are snuggled up against.  Guys will fall for our incredibly soft Bamboo Boxers. Gentle on the earth and kind to your skin, nothing says love like bamboo.

Romantic Records: Need a soundtrack to set the mood?  Head on over to Boo Boo Records for the perfect album to express your feelings.  Their knowledgeable employees will guide you through their wide variety of music to select some sweet sounds.  The store also sells shirts, posters, bags, and other gifts to provide some happy harmony to your Valentine’s Day.



Hungry for a solution to our world’s environmental problems?  So are a number of organisms that scientists are hoping will some day be used to mitigate oil spills, lessen the effects of climate change, break down plastics, and provide alternative fuel sources.  By harnessing the power of the all-powerful appetite, researchers hope to find creatures that will make a meal out of our wastes and transform them into something less toxic and perhaps even beneficial.

·Fungal Food:  Researchers from Yale found a new species of fungus in the Amazon, Pestalotiopsis microspora, that feeds on polyurethane in oxygen-free environments.  Now, the ubiquitous and nearly indestructible plastics that were once sure to persist for generations may now be able to be digested in landfills and other controlled environments.

·Gribble Guts: The digestive tract of a small wood-munching crustacean may hold the key to a new source of biofuel.  The gribble, a notorious diner of fishing boats and ocean-side piers, produces a set of enzymes to help break down plant matter instead of relying on bacteria like most other organisms.  These chemicals could help covert cellulose into simple sugars that could then be fermented and used to power cars.

·Have You Herd: Moose, reindeer and other grazers may help to help cool warming areas of the tundra in Siberia.  By keeping grass healthy and trampling snow, these browsers help to maintain the permafrost and sustain the plants that reflect sunlight and trap greenhouse gasses.  Repopulating land with the animals not only results in a short term temperature drop, but by mitigating the effects of climate change, could also contribute to a more long term adjustment in the weather.

·Micro-Managing: Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered oil-digesting bacteria in the waters of the Gulf in the wake of the BP Horizon spill.  These microbes seem to love hydrocarbons and are able to break down many of the compounds found in crude oil in a short amount of time.  Some would like to culture and spray these bacteria over the Gulf in order to take care of the remains of the disaster.  However, while the debate continues as to how effective the bacteria would be, they are certainly becoming a topic of great interest for those looking for a biologically centered cleanup solution.



Want to live close to nature without having to move away from a cultural, economic, or social hub?  Residents of Milan, Italy no longer have to compromise urban life for the peace of pastoral living.  Architect Stefano Boeri has been commissioned to build the world’s first vertical forest, the Bosco Verticale, within the heart of the city.

The dual towers will stand 27 stories tall and will be home to over 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 ground cover plants.  On flat ground, the amount of vegetation housed within the towers would be equivalent to nearly 10,000 square meters of forest.  The plants are irrigated by the building’s grey water systems.  In addition to producing oxygen and processing carbon dioxide, the Bosco Verticale helps in the creation of a micro-climate by filtering dust particles, creating humidity, and protecting from solar radiation and airborne toxins.  As one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Milan has been especially compelled to lead the way for innovative environmental design.

The Bosco Verticale project is part of an effort of metropolitan reforestation that is seen as critical to the survival of modern cities. Boeri’s firm has also created designs for other environmentally enlightened  structures including Solid Waves, a green-walled skyscraper complex in Astana, Kazakhstan. Three small towers bend horizontally at ground level to form sheltered residences and courtyards, each covered in a facade of vegetation that acts as insulation, air scrubber, and combination rainwater filter and sponge.  The layout allows for maximum sunlight to illuminate the dwellings and ample open spaces for residents to enjoy the outdoor green areas.

In more densely populated provinces such as Chongquing, China, architects have formulated plans to take advantage of vertical space by establishing gardens on each level of the highrise they have dubbed Urban Forest.  The design aims to re-invoke the cultural affection for nature while also acting as an iconic symbol of cutting edge technology and economic prosperity.   Taking advantage of a thriving civic center, the Urban Forest would house a large number of people without contributing to sprawl, and maintain a vital psychological connection to the natural world.

Between the increasingly popular movements towards establishing rooftop gardens, balcony green zones, and vertical farming, the green revolution is certainly on the upswing.  Sustainability and living in harmony with the earth — now that’s something we can look up to.


Created by students at Swarthmore College in George Lakey’s Peace and Conflict Studies Course, the Global Nonviolent Action Database aims to document cases of peaceful civil disobedience from around the world.  Since the database went online in September of 2011, each member of the research seminar — with additional contributions from students at Georgetown and Tufts — began by writing and cataloging anywhere from 10 to 24 stories.

Examples of peaceful demonstrations are clustered into groups by the issue they are aiming to address.  These categories include the struggle for democracy, environmental justice, economic equity, human rights, national and ethnic identity, and peace.  All accounts fall under the heading of being nonviolent methods of struggle that go beyond institutionalized conflict procedures, such as courts action and voting, and involve protests, noncooperation, boycotts and intervention.  Being an active, living resource, the database is constantly updated to reflect new developments, and new pieces are added as world events unfold.

The GNAD cites three major applications for the use of nonviolent action.  The first is change, focusing on the means to reform governments and political institutions.  The second is concerned with defense, where either something valued is being protected or a way of life is being shielded from destructive forces.  Lastly, third-party nonviolent intervention (TPNI) addresses the need for outside physical intervention that helps to reduce the overall level of violence in an altercation and acts as a form of civilian peacekeeping.

Aside from being a fantastic resource for journalists and students of mediation, the GNAD is an inspiration to community organizers, citizens yearning for change, and strategists looking for examples of peaceful instances of dissent.  Those searching for motivation can browse through a number of cultures and nationalities engaged in a wide variety of issues, many of which hold elements in common with the challenges faced in local communities.  The simple fact of knowing there are others out there working towards the same lofty goals without resorting to violence is a heartening and uplifting reassurance.

Peace out, yo!