We Are the World
With optimism and visionary ideas, inventors, activists, and yoga practitioners are reimagining the future of life on Earth—and making it happen.
RETHINKING OUR HABITAT
Game Changer: Take Me to the River
Colorful island gardens float on a major waterway in downtown Manila, the capital of the Philippines and home to 1.6 million people. Underneath the surface, these man-made islands hold an innovative water pollution treatment system in the form of floating panels that create a protective home for pollution-eating bacteria. Inspired by the structure of coral reefs, scientists at Biomatrix Water, a Scottish engineering firm, designed the system to adapt to the flow of currents and withstand flooding. The islands are turning what was once a polluted, eco-logically dead waterway into a thriving ecosystem that supports fish and birds. Galen Fulford, a yoga practitioner and managing partner of Biomatrix, says: "By studying nature's success stories, we can make technology that's robust, beautiful, and in harmony with the natural world."
Green-Topia: Forest in the Sky
Trees in cities provide critical benefits. They cool buildings, clean polluted air, and provide a habitat for birds and insects. But when land is scarce, creative gardening is called for. Bosco Verticale, a pair of skyscrapers under construction in Milan, Italy, will support plant life on their balconies and outer walls, including 730 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 ground plants—the equivalent of a small forest.
Insular Thinking: School Houses Rock
Sometimes the best innovation arises not from sci-fi-type novelty, but by rearranging puzzle pieces into a new shape. At Richardsville Elementary in Bowling Green, Kentucky—one of the country's first net-zero-energy schools—the classrooms wrap around the gym and cafeteria, insulating the energy-hogging large rooms so that they need less heating and cooling. The school also has geothermal heating, rooftop solar panels, rainwater harvesting for irrigation, and TV screens that let students and teachers monitor energy and water use in real time.
Think About This: Green schools use an average of 30 percent less energy and water than conventional schools, saving about $100,000 per year. Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools in Washington, DC, says the students who attend them learn valuable lessons in saving resources.
Eco-Practice: Thank Your Mother
The call to protect Earth may feel especially urgent in our time, but it's not new to yoga. Praise of Mother Earth, a new translation of the section of the Vedas known as Prithivi Sukta, shows that honoring the sacredness of nature was a practice in the early days of yoga. Co-translated by Christopher Key Chapple, a professor of Indic and comparative theology at Loyola Marymount University, the Prithivi Sukta is illuminating to read today. "The hills, forests, and plants all can be seen through the eyes of yoga with renewed gratitudeand appreciation," says Chapple, who is an environmentalist and yoga practitioner. "By reading these verses, a spark of recognition grows into a profound love for Mother Earth and, from that love, a desire to protect and revere our wonder-filled planet."
Earth is adorned with many hills plains and slopes.
She bears plants with medicinal properties,
May no person oppress her,
And may she spread prosperity for us all around.
—from Praise of Mother Earth
Art Attack: Greenwashing
From San Francisco to Sao Paolo, a handful of street artists are broadcasting environmental wake-up calls with an art known as reverse graffiti. Armed with wire brushes and water sprayers, they clean away pollution to create reverse images that stand out on sidewalks and walls. British artist Moose Curtis created a picture of a forest in a sooty San Francisco tunnel and another, of flying birds, on a police station in Bristol, England. "Every mark I make becomes an environmental message, as it shows how dirty our world is," says Curtis. "People see there's no paint involved and they stop to take a closer look."
Urban Outfitters: Is That a Farm in Your Window?
New York City artists Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray believed the impossible: You can grow a garden inside a big-city apartment. Their invention, Windowfarms, outfits a window with a set of hanging planters that lets you "farm" everything from salad greens and fresh herbs to cherry tomatoes indoors. By using hydroponic cultivation (feeding plants with liquid organic fertilizer), they have eliminated the need for dirt and bulky pots, using old soda bottles instead. Today, some 30,000 Windowfarmers have joined the movement. Go to windowfarms.org.
Natural Wonder: Leave It to Beavers
Seeking solutions to declining water tables in many western states, several groups of environmentalists are promoting a wild idea: why not turn to nature's most talented hydro-engineer, the beaver? "Beavers make better habitats than we could ever make," says Brock Dolman of the California Beaver Working Group, an organization that protects beavers in California's watersheds. The rodents' naturally engineered systems help control flooding and erosion, hold water in the water table in dry months, and make ponds that support wildlife. It's brilliant: Beavers put in hours of hard labor to build water-saving dams, with no oversight and no salary required.
Picture This: Animal App
Your smartphone isn't just for texting. A new app allows you to contribute to scientific research and connect with other explorers of the natural world. Project Noah lets you upload and share pictures (time stamped and location tagged) of all the rare and wonderful species you see around you, whether you're on an island vacation or walking in the local park. You can browse participants' sightings—from leatherback turtles to Arctic foxes—on a map. Upload your own findings and have the satisfaction of building an ongoing database of knowledge. Join collaborative missions such as the Mushroom Mapping project, sponsored by Columbia University to spread knowledge about mushroom habitats, or perhaps one that tracks butterfly migration patterns.
Bright Idea: Play For Change
Video games may have a reputation for escapism, but they can also be a force for good. With the World Bank Institute, Jane McGonigal, a yoga student and game developer in Silicon Valley, created Evoke, a game that taps into people's heroic impulses. Taking the form of a graphic novel, Evoke lets players try on fantasy personas and go on missions to fight various social and environmental ills. In this year's version of the game, players tackle waste management in Brazil, receiving points for uploading videos and pictures of real-world waste-reducing actions. A final mission asks players to envision a social enterprise that could solve the trash problem in their community. Winners will be eligible for real-world funding.
Anna Dubrovsky, Josie Garthwaite, Katherine Griffin, Shannon Sexton, and Sarah Terry-Cobo contributed reporting to this article.
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