For more than 15 years I’ve been writing these Future Hope columns. I’ve tried, as best as I can, to write about topics or in a way which helps readers have hope that yes, transformational change for the better is possible in this often-hard-to-be-hopeful world. In that time I’ve never once written about the coming of spring.
Spring brings the varied and often-beautiful songs of birds. New species of on-the-move birds can be seen as the sun moves higher in the southern sky (in the northern hemisphere) and the air, land and ocean warm. Photo credit: Shutterstock
In retrospect, that surprises me. In the natural world it’s hard to think of anything more hopeful, more life-giving, more inspiring than the arrival of spring.
Spring melts the snow, for the final time, ‘til next winter. That was a big deal this year in northern New Jersey where, for a month and a half, half-a-foot to a foot-and-half of snow, hard snow, frozen hard by colder-than-usual temperatures, stayed on the ground. It is a welcome relief to walk with much surer steps on snow- and ice-gone surfaces.
Spring brings the varied and often-beautiful songs of birds. New species of on-the-move birds can be seen as the sun moves higher in the southern sky (in the northern hemisphere) and the air, land and ocean warm. Where I live, spring brings mating couples of geese from the city pond behind my house onto our back and front lawns, as certain a spring occurrence as the daily rising of the sun.
In the several small gardens at the eastern front and southern side of our house, new shoots of green break through the Earth and buds begin to appear heralding the arrival of daffodils, hyacinths, honeysuckle, fennel, milkweed (for the monarchs which we pray we will see later in the summer) and much more. I begin to think about getting ready to plant our vegetable garden.
The grass is still pretty brown, but some green is beginning to show and I look forward to it filling out as the rain and the sun do what they have done for millennia.
Spring, of course, brings warmer temperatures, which means I can now do my early-morning bike rides without the experience of returning home with cold and hurting fingers and toes. It makes the rides more joyful. I see the skeleton-like trees, devoid of leaves or flowers, but with new spring eyes I see the limbs and branches reaching upward toward the sun, which with the rain will provide new growth and beauty in coming days, weeks and months.
As spring evolves, it will mean seeing more walkers, bikers and runners out sharing the early-morning quiet and expectation-of-dawn with me. Over time I will see them less weighed down with garments to protect from the cold. I will see more animals—deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, groundhogs, possums and an occasional fox.
Spring makes me feel much more often that I am lucky to be alive and relatively well for 65.
But spring sometimes brings other reasons to have hope and love life. Often over the 46 years that I have been an activist and organizer, a revolutionary, spring has brought with it major mobilizations of people into the streets for mass demonstrations around war and peace, justice, climate or other issues.
I am involved with one such initiative, Beyond Extreme Energy, which has had a productive winter building an escalating campaign against FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Two months from now we will be nonviolently blockading the FERC entrances for a week-plus, following up on our successful week-long blockades in November. We will keep demanding that they stop serving the fossil fuel industry and instead protect the American people and the world’s destabilizing climate. We expect many hundreds of people to take part from May 21-29.
Students active in the fossil fuel divestment movement are taking action. Just last week two divestment office occupations were initiated at Swarthmore College and the University of Mary Washington, and I will be very surprised if the spring doesn’t bring more, hopefully a swelling flood of them.
And in the political realm, an email arrived in my inbox as I was in the middle of writing this from Sen. Bernie Sanders, laying out the truth of what is happening in this country and with our climate. Once again, as he always does, Bernie makes very clear and effective connections between the climate crisis and the crisis of economic injustice and inequality. I hope we keep hearing more and more from Bernie as a declared Presidential candidate in the coming weeks and months.
So many reasons to have hope this spring!
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.