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    If the past few storms in Europe and North America are any indication, winter's here in full force! Don't let the cold weather keep you indoors this season and venture out to enjoy the amazing outdoor winter sights.

    The possibilities are endless if you add a bit of thrill and imagination to any winter activity. Like this list of extreme winter sports from a mixture of skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, climbing, and sky diving.

    1. Wingsuit Base Jumping

    BASE jumpers, freefall off of Building, Antennas, Spans (Bridges) or Earth. These altitudes are very low in comparison to sky diving, which barely leaves room for error and only a split second to deploy the parachute at the right time. Now combine BASE jumping with a wingsuit - an amazing invention that gives you the ability to fly on your own - and some skis. You'll end up with something like this video below. The results are pretty wicked and definitely not for the faint of heart.

    2. Heliskiing

    Photo: Leo Mason/Getty Images

    Here's a lesser extreme combination of activities. Intermediate to advanced level skiers and snowboarders alike, can reach untouched terrains and fresh powder snow with a bit of help from a helicopter. The helicopter will drop off brave passengers at the top of a mountain leaving them explore the natural mountain terrains on their ride down. There are many heliskiing operations around the world that offer amazing winter sites and ski conditions.

    3. Kite Snowboarding

    kite snowboarding
    Photo: Photos and Co/Getty Images

    In kite snowboarding let the wind propel you through the snow. Not only will you need the lower body strength from just regular snowboarding, you'll also need the upper body coordination. Plus, strength to hold on to dear life if your kite gets picked up by any unexpected winds and pulls you up in to the air.

    4. Ice Climbing

    ice climbing
    Photo: Turner Forte/Getty Images

    You've all probably seen how ice reacts on impact - it cracks and depending on the impact the entire body of ice can break in to pieces. Well, that idea doesn't stop these adventure seekers. Ice climbers, equipped with special gear according to the slope and texture of the ice look for frozen mountain sides, waterfalls, or icefalls to conquer.

    5. Snow Kayaking

    snow kayaking
    Photo:Mike Timo/Getty Images

    A little imagination goes a long way in extreme winter sports - like this snow kayaking. Hike your kayak up a slope, get inside, and hang on to dear life as you steer down. It's pretty simple, and if you're on the East Coast where Snowapocalypse 2010 just hit, you can probably find a great slope just around the corner of your street. If you're short a kayak, you can also make your own sled to ride down the street.

    6. Ice Racing

    ice racing
    Photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images

    If you think driving in snowy and icy conditions are dangerous, then here's a sport that goes over and beyond those expectations. Take any type of motorize vehicle, get a group of extreme winter athletes, put them on the ice and watch them race. There are Jeep races in Colorado, annual Budweiser motorcycle ice races and the list goes on. It's one of the few thrilling sports on this list that has room for viewers. So if you don't think you can handle being one of the participants, you can always watch the thrill on the sidelines.

    7. Polar Bear Plunge

    polar bear plunge
    Photo: Sue Flood/Getty Images

    Every year during the winter, many thousands of people put on their wet-suits, or barely anything at all and jump into a freezing outdoor body of water. For many the polar bear plunge is done to commemorate the New Year or just to celebrate feeling of being alive or for a good cause. Whatever the reasons, it takes guts to immerse your entire body in excruciating cold water like the polar bear.

    Many of these polar bear plunge events are associated with a fundraiser - so if you're interested in the challenge, why not find a organization fundraising to help the earth and the community?

    More for the Winter
    Steph Davis: Climber, BASE Jumper, Wingsuit Flyer, Vegan, Animal Lover, Simple Living Advocate, and More (Interview)
    5 Fun, Easy Ways to Update Your Winter Jacket
    How to Green Your Snowboarding Trip

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    Day in and day out you head to your desk job to plug away at the computer. You watch the clock or day dream of better places and your passions that just aren't being met. What is your passion? What is your life's work? Maybe you're already doing it. Maybe you fulfill your passions each day. But what if your dreams involve dropping it all and moving abroad? Well, the idea may not be as far fetched after all especially if you could satisfy your dreams for free or without diving into any unnecessary depth.

    Today there are more and more stable, worthwhile, and life changing avenues for moving or traveling aboard. No matter your dreams, you can realize the essential importance of public service on nearly every continent around the globe.

    1. Join the Peace Corps

    peace corps volunteer abroad photo
    Photo: Stockbyte

    It was in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy, Jr. said those ever important words, "[m]y fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you but what together we can do for the freedom of man." And nearly 50 years later, the Peace Corps that he established serves in 77 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Peace Corps volunteers serve overseas for 27 months at a time providing technical assistance in six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment. You'll receive $7,425 (pre-tax after you complete your 27 months of service) in transitional funds, free travel to and from your destination, a monthly stipend to cover living expenses, and there's no fee to participate.

    2. Join World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

    wwolf small farms organic farms photo
    Photo: Seiya Kawamoto/Thinkstock

    WWOOF is a global exchange program for those interested in traveling the world while learning about organic farming. It was started in the UK in 1971 and has now spread to nearly every continent. The Web site allows you to connect with individual farms across the globe in places that you would like to live and in areas of farming that you would like to learn about. It's important that you choose carefully because you'll most likely be living with your host family. You exchange work on the farm with free room and board and often meals. WWOOF is set up into different networks from all over the globe and there’s a small fee to join each network (about $30), just to keep the Web site and such up and running.

    3. Consider Ashram Living

    ashram yoga meditation live abroad photo
    Photo: Hemera

    Living in an Ashram is a great way to turn inward, establish a better relationship with yourself, and then find peace, all the while living abroad for free or on the cheap. And just like Jessica said, Ashrams Aren't Just for Hippies Anymore. Head aboard on an ashram work study and enjoy free yoga classes, meditation training, room, board, meals, and an amazing experience in exchange for a work study that's usually around 3 months in length. Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas offers a 1 to 3 month residential study for $899 per month. The Salt Spring Ashram in British Columbia offers karma yoga opportunities for $150 per month.

    4. Teach English Abroad

    teach english abroad live abroad
    Photo: Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte

    There are various programs that allow you to teach English abroad like Language Corps. After completing a certification course which allows you to teach English in your chosen country for between $1,700 and 3,000, you'll be placed in a job teaching in Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam); Europe (Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Turkey); and Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru). There's also programs in China and Taiwan. Teachers are usually paid decently well for their work as well, depending on the program.

    5. Volunteer Abroad with Go Eco

    eco-friendly travel volunteering photo
    Photo: Jupiterimages

    You can live abroad for up to 2 months through GoEco volunteering projects. Get up close and personal with African wildlife by volunteering in a South African Lion Park or working on a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia. Do community or medical outreach in Kenya or reef conservation in Israel. Programs start at around $350 per week but are a great deal for the money.

    Like this? Stay up-to-date on all my foodie tips and get great holistic health info by following me on Twitter.

    More on Eco-Travel
    Bored With Your Travel Plans? How About Radioactive Tourism?
    Hit MindBodyGreen Travel for Hot Deals on Healthy Get-Aways
    What Do The New TSA Naked Body Scans & Pat-Downs Have to Do With Green?

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    For those of you out there looking for remote living at its best, why not consider purchasing your own private island? In fact, islands are for sale all over the world and often times it's simply the purest form of off grid living. From the Caribbean, to San Francisco and beyond private islands are available for the taking.

    For island owners like Richard Branson, it wasn't as costly as you may think. And there are also those privately owned islands that have been passed down in families almost like oversized estates or trust funds. Dotting the globe like specks of dust, these simple paradises leave many a bystander in awe.

    1. Necker Island

    necker island richard branson's island photo
    Photo: Creatas Images

    Necker Island is a small island in the British Virgin Islands just north of Virgin Gorda. All of the land on the island is owned by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records. The entire island operates like a resort and can accommodate up to 26 guests. Branson paid about $140,000 for the island in 1978 and he spent $10 million to turn the 74 acre island into a luxurious island oasis.

    2. Gardiners Island

    gardiners island private island photo
    Photo: iStockphoto

    Gardiners Island is a small island in the town of East Hampton, New York. It's 6 miles long and 3 miles wide and has been in the Gardiner family as a royal grant from the English crown for nearly 400 years. The 3,000 acre island has the largest strand of white oak in the Northeast as well as rare birds and Indian artifacts,

    3. Niihau

    nilhau private island hawaii photo
    Photo: Hemera

    Niihau is the smallest of Hawaii's inhabited islands. Elizabeth Sinclair purchased Niihau in 1864 for $10,000 from the Kingdom of Hawaii and private ownership passed on to her descendants, the Robinson family. Hawaiian is still exclusively spoken on the island and it's nicknamed the "Forbidden Isle" because it's generally off limits to the public. The island is also home to the endangered monk seal.

    4. Red Rock Island

    red rock island san francisco bay photo
    Photo: iStockphoto

    Red Rock Island is an uninhabited, 5.8 acre island in the San Francisco Bay. The island has been passed down between private owners and is now for sale for $22 million. It's a habitat like no other, made of solid red rock with no natural source of water. The island is located in three counties San Francisco, Marin, and Contro Costa.

    5. Pakatoa Island

    pakatoa island new zealand photo
    Photo: John Foxx/Stockbyte

    Pakatoa Island comprises 60 acres of exclusive island in Aucklands Waitemata Harbour along the New Zealand coastline. It's a 15 minute helicopter ride to Auckland City. The island was developed in the 1950's with a restaurant and coffee bar, lounge bars, and a hotel but it's just waiting to be updated. You can purchase it all for a meer $23 million.

    Like this? Stay up-to-date on all my foodie tips and get great holistic health info by following me on Twitter.

    More on Island Living
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    Adventurous eating doesn't have to consist of gnawing on indigenous creep crawlers or mysterious internal organs. Exciting bites can be the result of the faces and places that you choose to eat. If heights give you the willies then this may be too much for you, but for all those bold eaters out there, why not consider dining in the clouds?

    These 6 restaurants are found across the globe, from the Middle East to Europe, and some places that aren't on land at all. The views are even better than the bites in these hard-to-resist high flying outposts. Consider globe trotting to new heights in 2011 at one of these high altitude destinations.

    1. Restaurant des Chaux, Switzerland

    swedish alps photos
    Photo: Karl Weatherly/Thinkstock

    Tucked high in the Swedish Alps, in Gryon, Switzerland, Restaurant des Chaux boasts intoxicating views of rocky cliffs and sun bathed mountain pastures. In the winter, the restaurant can only be reached via gondola but in the summer, other vehicles can make it to the top. Try the medallions of venison with cranberries and spaetzle or the Corbillon smoked salmon and the whole roasted beef with béarnaise sauce. Finish the meal off with tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream or a double cream berry coulis.

    2. Wildflower Hall, India

    himalayas high altitude restaurants photo
    Photo: Thinkstock

    Situated at 8,250 feet in the magnificent Himalayas in India, Wildflower Hall is the luxury resort that was once home to Lord Kitchener, the chief military commander for the British administration in India. Named quite simply "The Restaurant," the hotel's eatery boasts a spread of ever changing Pan-Asian bites on an open-air terrace with panoramic views of the grand Himalayas.

    3. Atmosphere in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

    buri khalifa tallest building tallest restaurant photo
    Photo: Davis McCardle/Getty Images

    The Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai is the world's tallest manmade structure, it's 828 meters high with 206 floors; the perfect place to house the world's highest restaurant, Atmosphere. The restaurant is located on 122nd floor within luxury Hotel Armani. The restaurant, which is set to open this year, offers cuisine that's centered around grilled foods along with pre and post dinner drinks.

    4. Tampu Restaurant at Sanctuary Lodge, Peru

    machu picchu hotel restaurants photo
    Photo: Brand X Pictures

    Amidst the sacred ancient stones of Machu Picchu, you'll find one of the world's most mystifying views. Sanctuary Lodge's stunning outdoor terrace restaurant, Tampu offers authentically Peruvian cuisine. Tampu is harmoniously designed to fit into the natural surroundings of the area and is built with all wood and stone materials.

    5. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, Up Above the World So Bright

    airlines food photo
    Photo: Thinkstock

    I have a special place in my heart for the journalist that had to taste all the rather gruesome meals before coming across the top airline bites. Talk about dining in the clouds, you can't get too much higher than airline travel and according to Times UK, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways do it best. These airlines want you to feel like it's a special occasion even in coach, just like the good old days. With meals like velvety pasta in a tangy tomato sauce and chocolate mousse with a mandarin sauce, it seems they may be living up to expectations.

    6. Hazie's, Colorado

    steamboat springs photo
    Photo: Digital Vision

    Soaring high into the sky on Mount Werner, in Steamboat Springs, Hazie's features gourmet American fare. Try the macadamia encrusted sea bass, baked escargot strudel, or grilled lamb with goat cheese risotto. Vegetarians will enjoy the baked Portobello Wellington. During ski season this is the ideal spot to refuel and enjoy the breath taking snow capped mountains at the same time.

    Like this? Stay up-to-date on all my foodie tips and get great holistic health info by following me on Twitter.

    More on Travel
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    Just a few days ago, Somali pirates seized an Algerian ship on the Indian Ocean, which had on-board 27 crew members. On the same day, another boat was reported hijacked by Somali pirates. This time a Mozambican fishing vessel, which held 14 crew members.

    Stories like these are more common than we are led to believe by the news. According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) approximately 20-30 reported pirating incidences occur per month. The IMB Piracy Reporting Center also reports that currently 27 vessels, and 625 hostages are being held by Somali pirates alone. Although, the numbers have gone up since the two most recent incidences.

    With seaborne piracy on the rise, what does it mean for people like us? Since these pirates take anything that make profit - they're not only willing to stealing cargo, but they're also known for kidnapping passengers. Even cruise liners have become targets and travelers should be aware of their cruise line destinations before they embark on their journey. Additionally, with companies paying more to protect and insure their vessels and goods, consumers may soon be seeing price hikes on products as companies try to minimize their losses.

    While we hear much news about digital piracy, we seem to hear very little about these above incidences. So to catch you up on this ongoing issue of pirating, here are seven facts about modern day pirates...

    1. They exist!

    Modern day pirates exist. They may not be the peg legged, eye patched, and hook-for-a-hand types Hollywood depicts, but they are ruthless and dangerous characters. The Heritage Foundations describes the pirates in Asia as...
    ...appear to be a heterogeneous group that includes opportunistic fishermen, common criminals, Asian mafia, and in some cases members of the maritime security forces responsible for safeguarding shipping.

    2. What you can Expect:

    Seaborne piracy can range from the more common stealing of cargo while the boat is anchored, to boarding and hijacking of a boat at sea. On Live Piracy Reports by IMB you can read many incidences similar to this -
    15 armed robbers boarded an anchored chemical tanker. The robbers were very violent with the crew and mustered them in the mess room. Ship and crew cash and crew personal items were robbed. Some crew members suffered minor injuries. Later the robbers forced the chief engineer and master to sail the vessel under their order to an undesignated position. Here the vessel was forced to conduct STS (ship to ship) operations and discharge their cargo into a smaller unnamed vessel.

    3. High-tech and Armed:

    Modern day pirates, are definitely not like those in movies. They are closer in appearance to military groups and are equipped with the most advanced technologies. From GPS systems, speed boats and heavy-duty firepower, which includes automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and the like. The Heritage Foundations describes,
    Many reports describe heavily armed men with military-style weapons. [...] almost all reported acts of piracy involve armed intruders who threaten and often injure, kidnap, or kill members of the crew.

    4. Government & Organized Crime:

    Many pirates are associated with and often times secretly funded by governments or anti-government groups. Some pirates in the South China Sea are reportedly working with the Chinese government, while other groups, like the Somali pirates, are flourishing as a result of successful government control.

    5. Financial Loss

    According to The Heritage Foundation, the estimated annual financial loss due to seaborne piracy in the year 2000 (with respect to unreported and reported incidences) was at $16 billion USD.

    6. Where?

    According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau many areas of South East Asia and Indian Sub Continent, Africa and the Red Sea, South and Central American including the Caribbean waters, the Arabian sea, and the Indian Ocean are prone to frequent attacks by pirates. For obvious reasons, safer waters are usually near countries with fully trained maritime security forces and where there is reasonable political stability.

    7. Environmental Pirates?

    If you've caught a glimpse of Whale Wars, you'll know the heated action that takes place on the oceans to defend marine wildlife against whalers, poachers and the like. Organizations like the Sea Shepherds use direct tactics to deter ships from harming marine wildlife, by sometimes using paintballs, stink bombs, or even rancid butter. They may not sound as dangerous as the Somali pirates, but their jobs are equally as dangerous.

    We may not hear about them in the news every day, but seaborne pirating is a huge topic that affects travel, the environment, and global trade. For more information on seaborne pirating you can visit the ICC International Maritime Bureau.

    More News From the Oceans:
    How to Get Nutrients from Fish Without Eating Them
    What You Can do to Stop Ocean Crime: The Short List
    Underwater Gliders Follow Fish to Track Marine Health

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    Urban blight.

    Devil's night.

    Racial tension.



    Of all the things that come to mind when one thinks of Detroit, orchids are probably about the last thing that would occur to most people. But Detroit is home to the largest municipally-owned orchid collection in the United States, also one of the largest in the world. How did this come to be? How did a city better-known for cars and crime end up with this botanical treasure?

    Anna Scripps-Whitcomb

    The orchids were bestowed upon the city by Anna Scripps Whitcomb in 1953. Scripps-Whitcomb was the daughter of Detroit newspaper publisher James Scripps. She was a fanatical orchid grower, who proudly showed her private collection of hundreds of orchids every spring at what was then called the Horticulture House on Belle Isle, in Detroit. She became renowned in the area an an orchid aficionado. During World War II, she was responsible for saving endangered Cypripedium orchids, receiving them from Great Britain to save them from the devastation. She and a small staff of gardeners germinated hundreds of the orchid seeds, including the offspring of the endangered Cypripediums.

    belleisleorchids.jpgPhoto by Colleen Vanderlinden.

    Revolutionary Orchid Propagation

    Propagating those endangered orchids was not exactly a simple proposition. Back in the 1940's, orchid growers could generally expect a propagation rate of only 5% for most orchids. However, researchers at Cornell had recently developed a new method for germinating seeds, using a gelatinous mixture of chemicals, salts, and seaweed extracts. Scripps-Whitcomb and her staff experimented with the method and ended up with a germination rate of nearly 50% -- an astounding increase that resulted in hundreds of orchid seedlings.

    belleisleorchids2.jpgPhoto by Colleen Vanderlinden.

    After her death, the City of Detroit was bequeathed with her vast collection of orchids -- 600 plants in all. Two years later, the city renamed the Horticulture House the "Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory," and undertook a massive renovation. The conservatory houses Mrs. Scripps-Whitcomb's collection to this day.

    Detroit may get more press for its cars and its crime, but the orchids are a beautiful reminder of a brighter past -- and a symbol of hope for a brighter future.

    scrippsconservatory.jpgPhoto courtesy of Angela Anderson-Cobb, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    Related Posts:
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    The reasons that animals get to be on the endangered list are many and complex, but habitat and lack of safe refuge have a lot to do with it.

    The Gulf of Mexico, for example, has been too cold lately for the manatees who usually live there, and the mammals have instead been turning up in the warm waters of power plant discharge canals.

    More than 300 manatees—mammals whose immune systems are weakened in the cold—swam into the discharge of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station in Florida last week, the BBC reports.

    Central Africa

    gorillas photo

    Central Africa's mountain gorillas might win for the world's most dangerous habitat, and between habitat destruction and ongoing conflict in the region, their population has been brought to the brink of extinction, with no place to go for refuge. Add the world's only remaining mountain gorillas living in the mountainous region spanning Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the list of reasons to stop the conflict in that region (which means taking a little responsibility for the role our gadgets play in perpetuating it).

    Great Barrier Reef

    Great Barrier Reef photo
    Digital Vision/Thinkstock

    The Great Barrier Reef is really suffering not only because of climate change, but also because of runoff from the coast of nutrients, fertilizers, pesticides, sewage, and oil. It's putting the delicate balance of life in the world's largest reef system in serious jeopardy.

    Gulf of Aden

    sea turtle photo

    The waters where Somali pirates often strike are also home to plenty of marine life, including many coral species, the Crown Butterfly fish, which is found only in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and thousands of sea turtles. Female turtles have been tagged and identified as nesting in South Yemen and then recaptured in Somalia, more than 2000 km away.

    Forests of Indonesia

    orangutan photo

    The orangutans in Indonesia are running out of space to go, too. Logging operations and the global demand for palm oil have nearly wiped out the territory these primates call home, and social conflicts have been on the rise, reports The Ecologist, "as people who depend on forests for their livelihoods are being forced to change their way of life."


    madagascar photo
    Digital Vision/Thinkstock

    Madagascar is not just a DreamWorks film; it's a real-life ecological wonderland. But it's under threat from the usual suspects: deforestation, erosion, exploitation of resources—including hunting and people collecting wild animals—and introduction of alien species.

    This is not an exhaustive list, of course. Species are being pushed from their mountaintop habitats, and plant species are threatened in just about every country in the world.

    More on endangered species and their habitats:
    Four Species Being Pushed Off Mountaintops by Climate Change
    Captive Breeding: Part of the Solution or Adding to the Endangered Species Problem?
    12 Animals Threatened by the Oil Spill
    20% of World's Plant Species Threatened With Extinction - Yes, Human Activity is Main Cause

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    Every city has its charms - from the food, the people, and the attractions.

    Host Piers Morgan explores some of the world's unique cities in the series, Piers Morgan On, premiering on Planet Green Sunday, January 9 at 3 pm. Here are some very unusual attractions from the cities Piers Morgan explores that may pique your interest for future travels.

    1. Tour New York City on a roller coaster...

    nyc roller coaster
    Photo: Hirsham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    Las Vegas probably has a replica of all the world's major monuments - ok maybe not all, but many. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that it has included an entire city to its' collection. This particular city has a very unique addition that the original doesn't have. The New York New York hotel provides a grand tour of (as you may have already guessed) New York City. The very unique aspect of this replica is the chance to tour the entire city on a thrilling roller coaster ride. It completely beats any of the bus tours they have in New York City. You definitely wont be able to do this anywhere else.

    2. Get hitched with a stranger you've just met...

    vegas wedding
    Photo: PNC/Getty Images

    Apart from its' crazy casinos and resort like accommodations, Las Vegas is the place to completely let yourself lose and have fun with their endless options of food, shows, and night life. While you're down here and having the time of your life, why not also get hitched with a stranger and get the full Las Vegas experience? There are numerous chapels fortheme based wedding services in this city. Get married by a famous celebrity like Elvis, or better yet, be Elvis at your own wedding. If you're in a hurry the drive-thru services might be the perfect thing.

    3. Feel like a Formula One racer on the Monte Carlo street circuit...

    formula one
    Photo: David Madison/Getty Images

    Every year in May, the streets of Monte Carlo are closed off for the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix; the creme de la creme of all Formula One races. As one of the most prestigious automobile races, the Circuit de Monaco uses the original street layouts of Monte Carlo, and is known to be one of the most demanding tracks with its' narrow streets and tight turns.

    If you're down in Monte Carlo, take a walk down these streets and picture professional drivers racing down those streets at over 200kph. You can even book a tour to drive a Ferrari down the circuit.

    4. Explore the depths of the ocean at the Oceanographic Museum...

    oceanographic museum
    Photo: Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

    Monte Carlo has an amazing view of the ocean, and with its' mountainside landscape, you'll be admiring the ocean from just about anywhere in the city. Take advantage of this gorgeous location and get to know more about the ocean at the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, which is perfectly perched at the top of a cliff overlooking the beautiful water. This museum is also closely associated with the famous Captain Jacques Cousteau, who is known for his immeasurable work for marine life and conservation.
    Be an explorer, take an ocean adventure, and find what made Captain Jacques Cousteau so passionate about his work.

    5. Do what the locals like to do...

    Photo: Yann Layma/Getty Images

    If you take a stroll down Shanghai, you will find traditional Chinese architecture amongst the towering skyscrapers, and find many hidden local treasures. In the mornings, amongst the sycamore trees of the public parks you'll find groups of middle aged to older women and men both engaging in various activities - from tai chi, meditating, dancing, or even belting Chinese opera. You'll find many more groups activities happening in the park throughout the day - so don't be shy and jump in! It's a great way to get some exercise and get acquainted with the local culture.

    6. Get your chi flowing with the right pressure points...

    foot massage
    Photo: Laura Lane/Getty Images

    After you're done walking up and down the streets of Shanghai - you'll probably be begging someone for a foot-massage. Be careful who you ask though, because Chinese foot massages can be the most painful thing you've ever experienced. The Chinese foot massage stimulates pressures points in the foot to get energy or aka "chi" flowing in your body. The masseuses will dig deep into every curve and bend of your foot, to release and circulate energy all around. However painful the experience may be, the good news is, after it's over you'll feel every muscle and bone in your feet completely relaxed. Take it from me - if you can hold out through the pain, your feet will thank you later.

    Don't miss Piers Morgan's adventures in each of these exotic locales -- from going to bed with Paris Hilton to exploring the world of the filthy rich in Shanghai -- tune in this Sunday, January 9 at 3 pm, only on Planet Green.

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    Since last Thursday, 100 tons of sardines, croaker, and catfish have died near Paraná, Brazil. Paraná is in the southern part of the country and has some coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. The 100 ton count came from a survey conducted by the Federation of Fishermen’s Colony of Paraná, Paranaguá. It has been reported by this fishing association that 2,800 fisherman depend on fish caught in the area for their daily incomes.

    At the moment it isn’t known exactly what caused such a catastrophe, but it has been speculated there is some environmental imbalance, or there has been a large chemical spill from a boat offshore. Of course, the fisherman are very concerned and have a right to be, but are there deeper issues at work that need to be investigated outside of commerce?

    Bottom trawling has been documented as a fishing method there, and it is known to do severe damage to marine ecosystems. “And it’s clear that trawling causes more damage to marine ecosystems than any other kind of fishing. Now, as the threats of ocean acidification and melting sea ice are adding insult to injury, we have to reduce harm from trawling to have any hope of saving marine ecosystems,” said marine biologist Elliot Norse. (Source: Bottom trawling is so destructive that some nations have banned it, but others have still taken no action to protect marine habitats. In 2004, 1,000 scientists called for an end to bottom trawling.

    Since it isn’t yet known what caused the die-off near Brazil, there is also a possibility it was caused by some event within the ocean itself. In 2002 a sudden loss of many fish near Kenya was due to a massive bloom of algae that contained a toxin. (Source: World Wildlife Fund) So it isn’t fair to assume the situation in Brazil could only be due to human impacts on marine habitats, but seafood sales are temporarily suspended in Paraná, due to the possibility the fish could be contaminated.

    At Care2, we believe that individual actions can collectively make a difference. Whether you start making differences in your home, your community, or across the globe, we are glad to help you on your journey. Join us today! With more than 11 million members, Care2 is the largest online community of people making a difference in healthy and green living, human rights and animal welfare. Join us today!

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    It appears a new chilling travel trend is on the loose: ice skating-- in warm climes.

    The New York Times Magazine reports on ice rinks popping up peculiar places like the W Los Angeles-Westwood, where a rink resides and straddles the hotel's pool during the winter season.

    Ice Skaters (Not Surfers) Dot the Hotel Del
    hotel del coronado surfers photo
    This is what you'd expect to see...Photo: Hotel Del Coronado

    San Diego's famous and historic Hotel Del Coronado, now has a 10,000-square-foot skating rink in its beach-y backyard, dotted with palm trees and aromatic with balmy Pacific Ocean air. Let's put it this way, the Hotel Del is a destination where you expect to see surfers, not ice skaters. In 2005, I visited there for this reason and this reason alone: Coronado's incredible beaches. So pardon my harshness here but skating? Seriously?

    hotel del coronado photo
    Sunny San Diego's famous, historic Hotel Del. Photo: Hotel Del Coronado

    It seems the icy hot activity isn't strictly limited to SoCal however. Guests at the St. Regis Atlanta in Georgia not only can lace up their skates, but unwind afterward with hot cocoa and s’mores-- snagging them at the neighboring bar and carrying them to the hotels' poolside gas fire pits to, you guessed it, roast marshmallows.

    Cold Ice in Hot Places: Unsustainable Ice Skating?
    Don't get me wrong, this all sounds entirely fun-- even coming from this winter-worn and weary, Northeast born and raised blogger who doesn't even have much interest in skating. And I'm sure if thrown into a wacky situation involving skates and s'mores in a sunny locale, I wouldn't have a hard time making the most of it. But a large, eco- part of me has to question the excess factor of imitating cold ice in hot places-- if not in cooling costs, materials used. Sunny ice skating sort of seems like the "hot" in hot yoga. Is it really necessary?

    Maybe I sound like a stick in the mud (or shall I say, ice) but I'd prefer to enjoy the hotel activities that its natural locale and weather forecast has to offer-- from SoCal's surfing, swimming and beach strolling to urban Atlanta's rumored lively local nightlife and charming streets.

    That's me.

    More on Ice Skating:
    The Home Ice Advantage: Make An Eco-Skating Rink
    Green Your Ice Skating with Iceless Rinks?
    How to Care for Your Ice Skates

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    The Blub Lounge in Barcelona, Spain, is described as a small, sub-aquatic world. It combines food with music and vegetation. Not all on the same plate, mind you. This looks like a place where the normal stark lights and hard surfaces of the city are smoothed by natural elements. Recycled materials also are in the mix.

    The Blub Lounge opened last year. According to the designer, Elia Felices Interiorismo, the single-floor club is meant to mimic an undersea world: "The light shining onto the different elements is broken up into tiny shafts, resembling the rays of light under the sea, bathing every detail in an underwater glimmer."

    photo blub lounge club barcelona green disco

    The interior space, totaling almost 6,500 square feet, is divided by blue anodised aluminium Kriska curtains, "which link up to make a light and versatile mesh screen on the upper part of the walls which is both decorative and functional in that it allows spaces to be defined while providing light, colour and movement similar to that of water."

    photo blub barcelona plants

    The bars in this club are topped with ECO by Cosentino, a substitute for stone that's made mostly of post-industrial or post-consumer materials and bound with a resin derived in part from corn oil.

    Another interesting aspect: The VIP area is where most of the plants hang out. The area is "designed with vertical rows of different plant species, dividing the space into geometric modules of varying height to create a natural, living environment which both protects and provides privacy for those who want to get away from the crowds."

    photo blub couches VIP

    Finally, the light here comes from LEDs. Remember, "dancing is one of the best full body, no-equipment-needed, sweat-dripping, calorie-blasting, slim body-making, naturally green exercises (not to mention the fun factor)," as reported here in 2009.

    If you're in Spain, check this out. If you've found a eco-disco spot someplace else, let us know in the comments.

    More on Green Spaces
    Dancing Machine Parts Reanimated in Swedish Nuke Plant
    Move Over Plastic Slides, Green Spaces Are the New Playground
    The Sustainable Dance Club
    Eco-Nightclubs Show the Power of Dance

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    Disney World in Florida is a place of excess and consumerism. But it's also a place to spend time with your family, and learn a few environmental lessons along the way. Having just returned from a whirlwind, four-day "vacation" to all four theme parks, I present a user's guide to greening your Disney vacation.

    First off, yes, it's easy to dismiss the green at Disney as window dressing. It is, to some extent. But the experience got my kids talking about environmental issues. And they're only 6 and 9 years old. So that's not all bad. Of course, their dad is a Planet Green blogger. That also could have something to do with it.

    1. Get ready to exercise
    The theme parks, from Hollywood Studios to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom, require a lot of walking. We walked an estimated 150,000 miles during our trip. Slight exaggeration. The Walt Disney World Resort occupies a 47-square-mile area.

    2. Get a map
    Or better yet, download the app/bookmark the mobile site. This will help you find your way around, and pinpoint some of the more eco-themed attractions.

    3. Ride the spaceship
    Spaceship Earth is what's inside that big golf-ball shaped icon at the entrance to Epcot. The ride takes about 15 minutes. The basic story is about how human communication has advanced from writing on cave walls to this marvelous thing we call The Internet.

    photo epcot ball disney fla

    Near the end of the ride, you get to choose, on a screen in front of you, how you’d like your future to be. My youngest daughter (who calls Epcot "The Apricot") chose a future focused on the Home, living in the Country, in a dwelling made of Natural Materials, and Car-pooling to work.

    From this, the Disney people created a video using our faces, to show us living in a home that runs on green energy, in a world that’s less polluted and a lot more sustainable than the one we have now.

    4. Read the fine print
    It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the extravagance and people, along with ongoing parades and fireworks. But at the Animal Kingdom, for instance, there's a lot to learn about threatened and endangered species and the role of wildlife refuges in protecting animals. The story of Kilimanjaro Safaris, for instance, involves seeing animals in the "wild," and chasing after poachers. There's also a Conservation Station nearby (relatively) where kids can soak up some wildlife conservation awareness. The Tree of Life is synthetic, but also pays homage to bugs.

    5. Talk to your kids
    It's fun to eat a sundae, but not for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for instance. To put it another way, if you're going to give your kids a Disney experience, you also should talk about how it's still important to recycle and increase our use of alternative energy sources.

    Speaking of energy, after the Epcot Spaceship Earth ride, my oldest and youngest daughters played a game that required them to use various forms of electricity to power a city.

    “Don’t use the coal!” my oldest daughter yelled to her sister. “Use wind and solar.”

    For More
    Check out the Disney conservation page. Have you also been to Disney and found some green during a family vacation? You'll spend a lot of green ($$$) either way.

    --- Via

    More on Green Travel
    Explore the Unusual: Can't-Miss Attractions in 3 Major Cities
    (Another) 5 Ways to Green Your Disney World Trip
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    The February 2009 Snowmageddon, the Christmas blizzard of 2010 and the recent storm in the South and North are clear indication that we're in for some major winter weather in the future. Previous storms have completely put out of sync most (if not all) modes of transportation, stranding millions of people in sometimes very dire situations. While it's always recommended to limit travel during these times, it's not always possible to plan so far ahead. So here are some interesting, inspiring and informative lessons from stranded stories that may help you during the next snow storm.

    1. Tweet it:

    Ann Curry's famous tweet about Doctors without Borders after the Haiti earthquake made a huge difference in the relief efforts. Even New Jersey mayor Cory Booker used Twitter in the last blizzard to help out those in most need. The mayor rallied his troops to rescue anyone stuck in the two feet of snow. A TIME article describes more of the Mayor's efforts,
    ...Booker, who played football at Stanford, helped dig out a New Jersey transit bus. "It's an endurance test." This is not the first time Booker has responded to distressed citizens on Twitter. He shoveled the driveway of an elderly man last New Year's Eve after the man's daughter tweeted about his predicament. He also hit the streets during snowstorms last February.

    If you're stranded and you need help, don't forget to reach out via Twitter. An Ann Curry or Mayor Brooker might be in the area to help you out.

    2. Bring Extras:

    Meghan Johnson, got stuck in New York City after her holiday vacation because of the major blizzard. Her main concern during her extended stay in the city was that her epilepsy medication was running low and she couldn't get extras from the dug stores in the U.S. She feared the combination of the stress and lack of medication would lead to a seizure. Take Johnson's story as a lesson and when you're out traveling take extras of the things you cannot live without, just to be on the safe side.

    3. Dress Warmly:

    Can you imagine yourself being stranded in a New York City train over night with 400 other people, with very little heat? Christopher Mullen, boarded the A Train dressed lightly after a trip to Mexico not expecting to get stuck in the New York public transit, but had to spend the night huddled with his girlfriend for body heat. The extra layers may have helped pass the night a bit more comfortably on this ride.

    4. Don't Forget your Please and Thank Yous:

    Jeremy Korpas, was on his way home on December 26th, when the blizzard intervened and canceled his flight. Days later, back at the airport trying to get back home, Korpas found the terminal jam packed with angry travelers also trying to get home. During times of chaos, Korpas's story will show that patience and a few kind words go a long way. That night, he ended up with the only standby seat on a flight back home, with an upgrade from the ticketing agent who really appreciated his kind demeanor.

    5. Help Others in Need:

    During a major snowstorm in Ontario that stranded many travelers, truckers came to the rescue.
    "I noticed a couple, along with their baby, behind me stranded in a car. I have a nice warm cab, so I invited them in to spend the night," Virgin said yesterday from County Road 22 where he was expecting to remain until later today.

    In another instance, Bill Justice, a driver with Trailwood offered a heated bunk to another driver. And Dan Moreland, a driver with Elgin Motor Freight, invited in an overnight guest who was stranded for 30 hours. Justice said many truck drivers were doing the same to help those stuck in passenger vehicles to stay warm through the night.

    6. Look on the Bright Side

    Being stranded in a blizzard for days or even hours would make anyone frustrated. But if you are one of the more fortunate ones and have the necessities to pass the night or the next several nights with enough food, water and heat, why not make the best out of the situation? You could make your own sled and take it out for a ride, or try some indoor games. For some others, it might not be that glamorous, but you can still find comfort in good company.

    Andrew Lauda, a Navy officer had just come home to spend the holidays with his wife and 3-month-old son, when the family got stuck on the highway on their way to grandma's. They luckily found shelter in a bus with enough heat to last night with the help from a near by stranger and made it home safely after 18 hours. After the experience, Lauda has these words to share,
    I haven't seen my wife in six and a half months, so we had a lot of time to talk and catch up.

    Safe travels everyone!

    Need Something to Do in the Winter?

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    As one of his last efforts, outgoing Governor of Ohio Ted Strickland has placed an emergency ban on the buying or selling of wild predators such as bears, wolves, primates, alligators, venomous snakes, and large constricting snakes. The ban is meant to prevent injuries to humans from trying to keep wild animals as pets. “This rule will help protect Ohioans from deaths and serious injuries caused by attacks from dangerous wild animals held in private ownership,” he said. (Source:

    There appears to be a lack of awareness about the difference between wild and domesticated animals in some people. One of the incidents that focused attention on the issue of wild animal ownership was the tragic death of a young Ohio man after being mauled by a caged bear. Brent Kandra worked at the home of a man who had a collection of wolves and other large predators including eight bears, four tigers, and a lion. Kandra was killed one day when he opened the bear’s cage for a routine feeding. The bear had never previously been aggressive with him.

    The homeowner’s license to exhibit animals had been taken away after it was revealed the owner had allowed people to wrestle with his bears. The bear that mauled Kandra was euthanized after the attack, which is the typical course of action when a wild animal kept in captivity has attacked or killed a human. Kandra’s parents have supported Strickland’s ban.

    In 2006, an Ohio man was killed by his pet boa constrictor snake. In 2004, an Ohio woman was bitten by her pet viper and died. She owned a total of nine venomous snakes. When police inspected her home they had no knowledge of the presence of venomous snakes and could have been bitten and killed also. The woman had driven herself to the hospital after being bitten and died there.

    In a separate incident in November 2010, an Ohio teenager stole and killed an alpaca, though the animal was not aggressive to anyone and had done nothing to him. One of the more curious aspects of owning wild animals as pets, is that there are plenty of unwanted dogs and cats in shelters waiting to be adopted, yet some people still choose “exotic” animals. In some cases it appears to be a form of reckless thrill-seeking, and in others exploiting the animal to get attention for one’s self.

    At Care2, we believe that individual actions can collectively make a difference. Whether you start making differences in your home, your community, or across the globe, we are glad to help you on your journey. Join us today! With more than 11 million members, Care2 is the largest online community of people making a difference in healthy and green living, human rights and animal welfare. Join us today!

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    Piers Morgan is taking Planet Green by storm on TV this Sunday at 8 pm and is visiting some of the world's most intoxicating destinations. Here's a quick look at what's sustainable and what's not in three of the cities Piers Morgan will hit this season. How much do you know about major cities' sustainability around the world?


    Dubai is famous, perhaps notorious, for over-the-top extravagance, which aside from using up excessive financial resources also uses up way, way more of the planet's natural resources than your average construction project. It's where the world's tallest building and ideas like air-conditioned beaches and archipelagos of universe-themed islands are able to sprout while so many regions are pushing for sustainable urban planning and architecture.

    But it's also home to at least some innovation in sustainability—Xeritown, for example. A 60-acre town "composed of dense urban clusters and built along a north-south axis that will take advantage of the cool breezes that blow in from the ocean," writes That cool sea breeze, in turn, will block out the hot desert winds—and where there is need for water outside of domestic consumption, Xeritown was planned to take advantage of industrial wastewater and grey water.

    A little loftier in scope, but with the potential to bring some element of sustainability to Dubai, which imports so much of its food, is the scheme for seawater-reliant vertical farming.


    green Hollywood

    Not unlike Dubai, Hollywood is famous for extravagance—and waste. From one-time-use costumes and movie sets to the city's inefficient, car-dependent transportation network, Hollywood is not known for efficiency or green thinking.

    But, it does exist, and it is definitely on the rise: efforts to green the entertainment industry are taking hold in everything from the subject matter of films to materials and construction, and even recycled fashion. And of course, don't forget all the celebrities who are opting to drive green.

    Monte Carlo

    Monte Carlo photo

    Piers Morgan says: "For the last fifty years, Monaco has been the most glamorous and exclusive place in the world to live." Glamorous is almost always associated with intensive consumption of resources, and Monte Carlo is no exception. And while some of the luxurious hotels are starting to take small steps like recycling and mentioning sustainability on their websites, Monte Carlo is definitely not where the world's innovation in sustainability is taking place.

    Don't miss Piers Morgan's adventures in each of these exotic locales—from shadowing the life of a Hollywood star to exploring the hidden world of decadence in Marbella—tune in this Sunday, January 16 at 8 pm, only on Planet Green.

    More about Dubai and Hollywood
    Dubai Gets Less Dubious with Xeritown by SMAQ and X-Architects
    DIY Greywater Recycling in Los Angeles
    Focus on Focus Earth: Is Hollywood Really Going Green?

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    Sustainability is on the rise worldwide, and schools are no exception. Curriculums in the U.S. and abroad are starting to include more environmental issues, and the schools themselves have started to adopt recycling and other practices that have become widespread in households but not necessarily in educational environments.

    But they're also literally building green, too: using sustainable design and renewable materials to give students the most vivid possible example of the possibilities that can sprout from green thinking.

    In Bali, the Green School has been making waves both for its construction and for its curriculum. TreeHugger has described it before:

    The school's 75 buildings are cooled and powered with renewable energy sources like micro-hydro power, solar power, and bio-diesel. Bamboo, lalang-alang grass (a local grass), and traditional mud walls form the structure of the buildings.

    The school was carefully built on 20 acres of land and is on an organic permaculture system, designed to work in perfect cohesion with the natural ecology of the land. A thriving organic garden to be cultivated by the school's own students will grow fruits and vegetables, herbs, and other crops including chocolate.

    bali green school photo
    Image: Courtesy of Green School Bali

    Financial Times describes the school this way:

    As well as traditional classes, the students plant, grow and eat their own food. They learn all about recycling, too, as waste is used to feed the school’s animals and the output from their toilets is used as a natural fertilizer.

    The school is also working towards disconnecting completely from the local electricity grid, generating its own power in several ways, including a simple but ingenious water vortex driven by the local river.

    The children learn about conservation at first hand. Green School has its own aviary, which houses many Bali Starlings, a white bird with a striking blue mask. There are believed to be only 20 breeding pairs left in the wild.

    The school, which is growing fast—132 students last year and on the verge of hitting 200 this year—has received numerous accolades, including an Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

    The Bridge School

    Bridge School China photo
    Image: Courtesy of Li Xiaodong Atelier

    Also an Aga Khan Award for Architecture recipient, the Bridge School in China’s Fujian Province connects the two parts of Xiashi, a village divided by a small creek that was said to be declining but now had a central social space. The school exists between two steel trusses that span the creek, and a pedestrian bridge is suspended below the structure for the people of the village to use.

    João XXIII School

    green school Brazil photo
    Image: Courtesy of Clarinha Glock/IPS

    Down in Brazil, students are leading the green revolution themselves. First, they suggested replacing disposable cups for the water fountains with reusable bottles—causing the 3,500 cups that were being discarded in one day to drop down to 250. More from IPS:

    Founded in 1964, with 915 students and run by a foundation established by parents, João XXIII intends to invest more in the project "O Mundo Passado a Limpo" (The Past World Made Clean)…

    The school already had a vegetable garden and systems to process compost (organic materials) and to separate recyclable materials from trash.

    In 2009, a study at the school, "Biodiversity: Know It to Preserve It," about identifying the native and exotic species found in the school's green area, won the attention of biologist Camila Rezendo Carneiro and agricultural engineer Sérgio Luiz de Carvalho Leite, professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.

    The school and the university joined efforts, and through an extension course Carneiro and Leite are guiding the students in their analysis of species. They will put together a bio-map and establish a nature path on the school grounds.

    This year, IPS reports, they will design a model for a city that will be assessed based on environmental sustainability, ethics and cooperation.

    Hug It Forward

    bottle school Guatemala
    Image: Courtesy of Laura Kutner

    And a school literally constructed from plastic bottles in Guatemala has grown from a one-off impressive effort to an entire movement, Hug it Forward.

    More on green schools:
    6,000 Plastic Bottles + Some Dedicated Villagers = New Schoolhouse in Guatemala
    Green Schools Bill to Boost Energy Efficiency, Grow Jobs
    Turkish Schoolkids Teach, Learn About the Earth
    New Green School Opens in Bali

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    If you're trying to raise money for a cause these days, you have to be creative. And this video of a guy in a bear suit, raising funds for Florida conservation, seems to fit the bill. The idea is to make the Sunshine State more "bear-able" for threatened wildlife.

    A little introduction: Folks from The Nature Conservancy in Florida are trying to raise $500,000 to help purchase a 631-acre tract of land north of Orlando called Hollywood Pines. It's home to the largest black bear population in Florida. Preserving it would maintain a key wildlife corridor for the bears, a threatened species in the state.

    The guy in the bear suit is Media Relations Manager James Miller. He's gone above and beyond being a spokesman here. He wore the bear suit for a day (must have been hot in there) and his colleagues captured it all on film. The gist: It's not easy being a bear when your habitat is threatened by development and highways. Florida, by the way, was first inhabited by Native Americans about 12,000 years ago. Black bears have lived in the state's forests for more than a million years.

    The Florida black bear is considered a threatened species because only 2,500 to 3,000 remain in eight isolated habitats throughout the state, according to The Nature Conservancy. They're also considered an "umbrella species," because other native species rely on the same type of habitats that can allow bears to thrive ... or decline.

    This is about more than just bears, too. We're all walking around with a bear suit on, in some respects. Connected forests, a goal of this campaign, will keep freshwater systems intact and provide natural protection from flooding, erosion and storms.

    If you like this video, see the links below for other wacky fundraising stunts perpetrated for the planet's sake. To donate to the bear campaign or find out more, see the links at

    As noted by The Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, the video and campaign "shows how conservation groups are resorting to novel measures to shore up cash donations for important projects during a bad economy."

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    When the gates open and we are all legally allowed to freely travel down to Cuba, I want to be one of the first to make the trip. And it seems we may be headed in the right direction though in seriously baby steps. According to Jaunted, more and more airports will be offering flights to Havana including flights for church groups and school groups. Charter flights, which had previously been limited to Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, will be allowed from all airports with proper US customs. Additionally, (and unrelated) Americans will be allowed to send $500 per month to Cuban citizens that are not in the Castro Administration or members of the Communist Party.

    Last year Orbitz tried to get the travel party started with the Open Cuba online petition but even still, we're not there yet.

    Americans Are Ready

    A poll by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. of 1,023 Americans found 64 percent favored lifting the travel ban, according to USA Today. Among the strongest supporters of eliminating the Cuban travel ban is the American Society of Travel Agents.

    Colin Tooze, ASTA's vice president of government affairs, had this to say:

    "The appeal is tremendous—it's a new destination to sell. It's a shot in the arm for the travel industry and they're excited." And he says many American tourists are eager: "There's already a lot of pent-up demand."

    Describing Cuba as unlike any other Caribbean island would be an understatement. From 1950's style American Buicks to old men playing Dominos, it has a culture all its own. Havana illustrates Spanish colonial architecture at its best. The water is crystal blue with cobbled streets, cigar factories, and music clubs dotting the island. Cubans speak Spanish and it's difficult, though not impossible, to get along if you don't speak the language.

    The island is just 90 miles south of Key West though it's a different world entirely. It has a population of 11.3 million living on a 780 mile long island. And there is already some travel infrastructure in place from European and Canadian travel.

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    Every garden is amazing. From the smallest container to the most dramatic botanic garden (such as those listed below), gardens help us appreciate the natural beauty around us, amaze us with the diversity that exists in the plant world, and stand testament to the creativity of those whose art consists not of brushes and paints, but of flowers and plants.

    Whether they stand as symbols of a leader's greatness, as a wealthy man's monument to his love of plants, or as a beautifully cataloged collection of a particular type of plant, the world would be a sad place without its botanic gardens. Here are five of the most dramatic, amazing gardens from around the world.

    1. Musee de Quai Branly Vertical Garden, Paris

    branly.jpgPhoto courtesy of Tim Brown Architects, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    The streets in this area of Paris mimic the meandering curves of the Seine, and at the heart of it is the Quai Branly Museum. The building itself is a hodgepodge of shapes, but it is the administrative wing that really draws attention. The four-story building, with its gently curving facade, is covered from sidewalk to roof in plants.

    Designed by botanist and landscape designer Patrick Blanc, the garden comprises 15,000 plants. With 170 species represented, the garden is an amazing spectacle of urban vertical gardening that celebrates biodiversity. Plants included in Blanc's design include heuchera, ferns, ivy, grasses, sedges, mosses, liverwort and bergenia.

    The patented system Blanc designed to support the garden (and others he's designed) is constructed of heavy-duty felt attached to a strong plastic backing. The felt and plastic support plant roots and provide a medium for water and nutrients to reach the plants. The entire thing is supported by a metal frame that holds the plants off of the facade of the building to reduce the potential for damage from plant roots. A drip irrigation system at the top of the wall runs constantly, bathing the plant roots in moisture and nutrients.

    2. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK

    heligan.jpgPhoto courtesy of Fimb, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    From the mid-1700's through the early 20th century, the Tremayne family of Cornwall designed and maintained an extensive garden on the family's estate. After losing the majority of its gardening staff in World War I, the gardens fell into a state of disrepair that only continued and worsened through the second World War and thereafter. The gardens became overgrown and neglected, and any of its former splendor was lost in the mess that remained. That changed, though, in the 1990's when a descendant of the Tremayne family inherited the estate. Upon looking around, the family realized that there was beauty amid the chaos, and undertook the enormous task of bringing the gardens back to their fomer glory.

    The magnificent Heligan Gardens are designed in what is known as the "gardenesque" style, which means that different parts of the garden have entirely different moods and focuses. The gardens include several very old rhododendrons and camellias, an Italian-style garden, a large vegetable garden, Europe's only productive pineapple pit, and "The Jungle,"which is filled with sub-tropical tree ferns. The gardens are now open to the public, and the "Mud Maiden," above, has become one of the garden's most beloved features.

    3. The Nong Nooch Botanical Garden, Thailand

    nongnooch.jpgPhoto courtesy of Zoe Goodacre, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    This amazing, 500-acre garden was originally destined to be a fruit plantation. Instead, the owners decided to plant tropical plants and flowers. The result is nothing short of magnificent.

    The 500 acres are divided among several themed gardens and display gardens, including a cactus and succulent garden, a French garden, a garden inspired by Stonehenge, a display garden featuring variegated plants, an orchid and bromeliad display garden, and "Butterfly Hill" - which features tropical plants that attract butterflies. Nong Nooch is also home to a vast collection of cycads that boasts at least one member of every single cycad species on the planet.

    4. Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden, Tromso, Norway

    arcticalpine.jpgPhoto courtesy of Harald Graven, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    The world's northernmost botanical garden boasts a wide ranging collection of Arctic and alpine plants from across the entire Northern hemisphere.

    The garden is arranged geographically, grouping Arctic and alpine plants together by continent, as well as by botanical association (so related plants within a specific region are grouped together.) All together, the garden showcases thousands of botanical taxa within its 20 collections.

    The garden also strives to educate visitors about the relationship between the plants and the terrain of Alpine regions. A "Geology Walk" explores rocks of Norway, and signs throughout the garden help visitors appreciate the uniqueness of alpine plants.

    5. Rikugien Garden, Tokyo

    rikugien.jpgPhoto courtesy of Kabacchi, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

    The work "rikugien" means "six poems garden" in Japanese. This breathtaking garden in Tokyo features gardens that bring 88 scenes that bring famous places in Japan and China, historical references, and poems to life.

    Rikugien Garden was constructed in the late 1600s through early 1700s by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, with permission from the fifth shōgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Some of its most popular features include a serene pond and islands, teahouses, and forested areas. In all, the garden is home to over 6,000 trees, particularly maples, camellias, magnolias, and azaleas.

    Gardens like these are wonderful not only for the pleasure they provide just by being there, but by the inspiration they can provide for our own gardens. They also open our eyes to the diversity of plants on our planet and the creative ways we've found to celebrate them.

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    The makers of Taser stun guns, used by police on individuals who are resisting arrest or fleeing, are now making a Taser weapon for stunning large wild animals. “Just as our Taser technology is a safer and more effective option to stop dangerous individuals, the Taser Wildlife ECD [Electronic Control Device] is an extension of Taser’s technology to save animal lives. It is designed to incapacitate larger animals more effectively and safer than current animal control tools,” said says Rick Smith, Taser CEO. (Source: The Register)

    The wildlife Taser shoots metal darts up to 35 feet, which are supposed to hit the animal and then send a 20,000 volt pulse of electricity. Such a massive jolt causes the loss of muscle control rendering the animal helpless for a short period.

    There have been a few examples of Tasers being used on wildlife in recent years. In Oregon, an elk caught in a barbed wire fence was tased to subdue it during a successful rescue. The animal reportedly was not harmed and ran away after being freed.

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is studying the use of Tasers for stunning troublesome wild animals. They were prompted to do so when one of their wildlife technicians was with a state trooper attempting to help rescue two trapped moose calves. The mother would not let them get anywhere near the calves to help them. The trooper decided to try his Taser on the mother moose. The tasing caused the moose to lose control of its body and fall to the ground briefly. It then ran into the woods long enough for the two men to free the calves. Since then, the wildlife technician has worked with the department to study the effects of Tasers on moose and bears. He has also worked with Taser to help improve the design of the device.

    The argument for stunning wild animals with electricity, rather than using tranquilizer darts, is that the side effects of the drugs used in tranquilizing can be serious when used repeatedly. For example, a tranquilizer called Telazol may cause damage to large wild cats. The argument against using an electroshock weapon on wild animals would have to include the possibility of overuse to the point of abuse.

    One would hope the requirements for purchasing a wildlife Taser would be very strict, as the potential to use it to torment animals by immature or mentally unwell individuals is very high. Additionally, being within a range of 35 feet or less would appear to be in such a dangerous position that if one missed the animal target or the weapon did not stun the animal, the shooter might simply enrage the animal further.

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