Even though she works as Sierra magazine's lifestyle editor, where, in addition to other duties, she oversees the annual "Cool Schools" issue, so broad and deep is her interest in green and sustainability issues that Avital Binshtock makes time to write for the Los Angeles Times and a number of other newspapers and magazines. In addition to her work in traditional journalism, Binshtock is an avid traveler who wrote Frommer's Napa and Sonoma Day by Day. Here, Binshtock discusses her belief that, since consumption isn't going away, we should approach it realistically and do the best with it that we can; why it is that people believe living a green and sustainable lifestyle is elitist; and how cell phones may soon be small enough to be implanted into our heads.
What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"
I say, "I'm a writer." If prodded, I'll go on to say that I'm Sierra magazine's lifestyle editor and that my job is to point readers toward ways of living that are environmentally responsible. I research and test products, call out greenwashing, and tell stories of entrepreneurs trying to get eco-friendly stuff onto stores' shelves. I'm also in charge of Sierra's annual "Cool Schools" issue, in which we rank and report on America's greenest colleges.
In addition to my work at the Sierra Club, I write often for other publications, covering a range of topics, though travel is my specialty. I wrote the biweekly "Tours & Cruises" column for the Los Angeles Times Travel section for years and am the author of a Frommer's book about Napa and Sonoma.
What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?
The miniaturization of technology. It's not that new but it does always renew itself: Every time a device becomes smaller than it was before, the smaller version feels almost like a new invention and people scramble to adopt it.
That impacts sustainability in two ways: One, the rush to buy the newest mini gadget is hard on the planet for reasons that are clear. But on the other hand, things that can be produced with fewer materials can mean less waste on the production side, and certainly on the castoff side.
The futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that in 50 years, the cell phone, with its modern capabilities, will be so tiny that we'll be able to implant it into our heads. That everything is on the verge of virtually disappearing should help ease the e-waste problem.
What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?
There's a perception that green living exists in some sort of elitist sphere. That only rich people can afford to care about it and that it's a luxury to be concerned with only after your other needs are met. That's backward thinking. It's the poor that are most affected by environmental problems, and they're just as capable of and willing to live a conservationist life.
What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?
The way technology is being incorporated into food. Until now, the mechanization of the food industry has been to blame for serious environmental issues. But scientists and engineers are turning their attention toward how to re-pair technology and food production so that the union becomes sustainable rather than destructive.
For example, lab-grown meat could be a reality within a year. I'm a vegetarian and abhor how factory farms operate, so the possibility of mass-producing meat without all that pollution and cruelty fascinates me.