Bill McKibben: We Must Keep Brewing Gale-Force Winds to Shift Political Landscape
The key passage—the forward-looking passage—of President Obama’s speech last week rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline came right at the end, after he rehashed all the arguments about jobs and gas prices that had been litigated endlessly over the last few years.
“Ultimately,” he said, “if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
.@BarackObama: In order to prevent catastrophic climate change - have to #keepitintheground https://t.co/Ji6ZjsNlAI https://t.co/IFgKfV7JHv— 350 dot org (@350 dot org)1446831616.0
This is a remarkable evolution for the president. He came into office with “Drill Baby Drill” ringing in his ears from the 2008 Republican convention, and baby did he drill. Before his first term was out, he gave a speech in front a stack of oil pipe in Oklahoma in which he laid out his accomplishments:
“Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some. So we are drilling all over the place.”
Obama believed he could balance all this drilling with an effort to cut demand for fossil fuels. In his first term he used the Detroit bailout to skillfully exact big increases in auto mileage, and in his second term he’s employed EPA’s regulatory authority to imperil coal-fired power plants. And his team carefully negotiated an agreement with China that pledges rollbacks in the emissions of these superpowers. These were not exactly easy lifts, but they’re the kind of step politicians like to take: They work in fairly hidden ways, and they really bite later, once you’re out of office.
Oh, and they would have been more or less enough—25 years ago. Back then we had plenty of steps we could still take that would have moved us gradually on to a new energy trajectory—low but rising prices on carbon, say. But we didn’t take those steps, in part we now know because energy giants like Exxon simply lied about what they knew, and bred a quarter-century worth of phony debate that prevented real action. Now we’re in literal hot water (hot enough that an international team of scientists recently confirmed that a worldwide wave of coral-bleaching is underway). Which means that the president’s suite of policy initiatives were by definition too little too late. Not unimportant, but by themselves clearly insufficient to lead the world in the race to catch up with physics.
Keystone, by contrast, was the kind of decision politicians hate to make. Here was a big project with lots of money on the line, a clear priority for important players. (The Koch Brothers, never forget, are the largest foreign leaseholders in Canada’s tar sands). So on the one side was the conventional power of the fossil fuel industry, which literally Never Loses. And on the other side was—at the outset—a slightly motley environmental crew of scientists, indigenous people, farmers and ranchers. That small fight eventually attracted lots of others, who saw an opening for venting their great fear of climate change. They were willing to go to jail, and on the back of that commitment came the big green environmental groups, media attention, and the resulting dilemma for the president: Who do I disappoint?
After holding off for four years, the answer was: the oil industry. Which is a very new development. As recently as this summer he’d been willing to give them permission to go drill in the Arctic. But that permission was met with true outrage, enough so that when Shell slunk away in September the administration said it would be giving out no more permits for the Arctic Sea.
One thing that’s changed is the economics of energy. It’s beginning to look like the drop in oil prices is more than just the usual boom-bust cycle. Instead, it’s starting to reflect the dramatic, exponentially accelerating rise in renewable energy. Over the course of Obama’s decision-making on Keystone XL, for instance, the price of a solar panel dropped more than 80 percent. All of a sudden the oil companies look a little tiny bit less mighty.
And the other thing that’s happened is heat. Obama’s term turned out to be the moment when global warming became undeniable to everyone who hadn’t blinded themselves for the sake of ideology or profit. 2015 will be the hottest year ever measured, smashing the record set in … 2014. We’ve burned more of America this year than ever before. Our biggest, richest state is in a drought like none that’s been measured before.
The realization that we had no more time to wait became mathematical in 2012, when a few of us started spreading what at the time seemed like a fringe idea: that the data showed the fossil fuel companies had four or five times as much carbon in their reserves as we could ever safely burn. This argument was fringe at first, but a mushrooming divestment movement spread it across the globe. By this fall it was the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking on the floor of Lloyds of London, who was making the case that we faced “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that was likely to become a “stranded asset.”
In this new world, the political equation begins to shift. Four years ago neither Obama nor Romney even mentioned climate change during their presidential battle. This year Bernie Sanders has made it one of the two centerpieces of his campaign (alongside inequality), and he’s skillfully pulled Hillary Clinton along with him. She has so far ended up opposing Keystone and Arctic drilling, but also lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Meanwhile, with polling showing that even 59 percent of Republicans take climate change seriously, the GOP candidates are scrambling to figure out some middle ground that both satisfies the Kochs and doesn’t make them look like loons.
All of this is to say: Read President Obama’s decision as the decision of a weathervane. That’s not an attack—that’s pretty much the way politics work. The (interlocking) combination of a strong movement, strong alternative sources of energy, and the strong signal from the natural world make it easier for him to reject Keystone than approve it. There are other signs of the direction this political wind is now blowing: New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, for instance, has issued subpoenas to the word’s richest and most powerful company, asking Exxon to explain its catalogue of deceptions over the last quarter century. That’s a gutsy move—but in this new context not a suicidal one. Maybe it’s even a brilliant one politically, which could end up making him a hero in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt breaking up the Standard Oil trust.
As to where it blows next, remember the president’s words in announcing his Keystone decision: “We have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.” With Keystone he kept some Canadian fossil fuels in the ground, but the pressure builds to do the same at home. Without asking Congress, he can exercise his jurisdiction over public lands in the U.S.—an interesting test will come later this year when he decides whether to lease the offshore Atlantic Ocean for oil drilling. Perhaps they’ll even give up offering up the vast coal deposits of the Powder River basin.
Don’t expect President Obama (or President Clinton) to be out in the lead, and don’t expect Congress to do a damn thing. They’ll need that same kind of movement out there pushing them (as Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pointed out last week when they launched the Keep It in the Ground Act on Capitol Hill). The job of movements is to keep brewing up the gale-force winds that shifted our political landscape last week—and to hope we can do it before hurricane-force winds, drought, flood and sea level rise shift our landscape.
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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.