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13 Habits Linked to a Long Life (Backed by Science)

Health + Wellness
Nattakorn Maneerat / EyeEm / iStock

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Many people think that life expectancy is largely determined by genetics.


However, genes play a much smaller role than originally believed. It turns out that environmental factors like diet and lifestyle are key.

Here are 13 habits linked to a long life.

1. Avoid Overeating

The link between calorie intake and longevity currently generates a lot of interest.

Animal studies suggest that a 10–50% reduction in normal calorie intake may increase maximum lifespan (1).

Studies of human populations renowned for longevity also observe links between low calorie intake, an extended lifespan and a lower likelihood of disease (2, 3, 4).

What's more, calorie restriction may help reduce excess body weight and belly fat, both of which are associated with shorter lifespans (5, 6, 7).

That said, long-term calorie restriction is often unsustainable and can include negative side effects, such as increased hunger, low body temperature and a diminished sex drive (3).

Whether calorie restriction slows aging or extends your lifespan is not yet fully understood.

Summary

Limiting your calories may help you live longer and protect against disease. However, more human research is needed.

2. Eat More Nuts

Nuts are nutritional powerhouses.

They're rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds. What's more, they're a great source of several vitamins and minerals, such as copper, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin and vitamins B6 and E (8).

Several studies show that nuts have beneficial effects on heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, belly fat levels and even some forms of cancer (9, 10, 11, 12).

One study found that people who consumed at least 3 servings of nuts per week had a 39% lower risk of premature death (13).

Similarly, two recent reviews including over 350,000 people noted that those who ate nuts had a 4–27% lower risk of dying during the study period — with the greatest reductions seen in those who ate 1 serving of nuts per day (14, 15).

Summary

Adding some nuts to your daily routine may keep you healthy and help you live longer.

3. Try Out Turmeric

When it comes to anti-aging strategies, turmeric is a great option. That's because this spice contains a potent bioactive compound called curcumin.

Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is thought to help maintain brain, heart and lung function, as well as protect against cancers and age-related diseases (16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22).

Curcumin is linked to an increased lifespan in both insects and mice (23, 24, 25).

However, these findings have not always been replicated and no human studies are currently available (26, 27).

Nevertheless, turmeric has been consumed for thousands of years in India and is generally considered safe.

Summary

Curcumin, the main bioactive compound in turmeric, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some animal studies suggest that it can increase lifespan.

4. Eat Plenty of Healthy Plant Foods

Consuming a wide variety of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans, may decrease disease risk and promote longevity.

For example, many studies link a plant-rich diet to a lower risk of premature death, as well as a reduced risk of cancer, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, depression and brain deterioration (28, 29, 30, 31).

These effects are attributed to plant foods' nutrients and antioxidants, which include polyphenols, carotenoids, folate and vitamin C (32).

Accordingly, several studies link vegetarian and vegan diets, which are naturally higher in plant foods, to a 12–15% lower risk of premature death (33, 34).

The same studies also report a 29–52% lower risk of dying from cancer or heart, kidney or hormone-related diseases (33, 34).

What's more, some research suggests that the risk of premature death and certain diseases increases with greater meat consumption (35, 36, 37).

However, other studies report either nonexistent or much weaker links — with the negative effects seeming specifically linked to processed meat (38, 39).

Vegetarians and vegans also generally tend to be more health-conscious than meat eaters, which could at least partly explain these findings.

Overall, eating plenty of plant foods is likely to benefit health and longevity.

Summary

Eating plenty of plant foods is likely to help you live longer and lower your risk of various common diseases.

5. Stay Physically Active

It should come as no surprise that staying physically active can keep you healthy and add years to your life (40).

As few as 15 minutes of exercise per day may help you achieve benefits, which could include an additional 3 years of life (41).

Furthermore, your risk of premature death may decrease by 4% for each additional 15 minutes of daily physical activity (41).

A recent review observed a 22% lower risk of early death in individuals who exercised — even though they worked out less than the recommended 150 minutes per week (42).

People who hit the 150-minute recommendation were 28% less likely to die early. What's more, that number was 35% for those who exercised beyond this guidance (42).

Finally, some research links vigorous activity to a 5% greater reduction in risk compared to low- or moderate-intensity activities (43).

Summary

Regular physical activity can extend your lifespan. Exercising more than 150 minutes per week is best, but even small amounts can help.

6. Don't Smoke

Smoking is strongly linked to disease and early death (44).

Overall, people who smoke may lose up to 10 years of life and be 3 times more likely to die prematurely than those who never pick up a cigarette (45).

Keep in mind that it's never too late to quit.

One study reports that individuals who quit smoking by age 35 may prolong their lives by up to 8.5 years (46).

Furthermore, quitting smoking in your 60s may add up to 3.7 years to your life. In fact, quitting in your 80s may still provide benefits (44, 46).

Summary

Stopping smoking can significantly prolong your life — and it's never too late to quit.

7. Moderate Your Alcohol Intake

Heavy alcohol consumption is linked to liver, heart and pancreatic disease, as well as an overall increased risk of early death (47).

However, moderate consumption is associated with a reduced likelihood of several diseases, as well as a 17–18% decrease in your risk of premature death (47, 48).

Wine is considered particularly beneficial due to its high content of polyphenol antioxidants.

Results from a 29-year study showed that men who preferred wine were 34% less likely to die early than those who preferred beer or spirits (49).

In addition, one review observed wine to be especially protective against heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders and metabolic syndrome (50).

To keep consumption moderate, it is recommended that women aim for 1–2 units or less per day and a maximum of 7 per week. Men should keep their daily intake to less than 3 units, with a maximum of 14 per week (51).

It's important to note that no strong research indicates that the benefits of moderate drinking are greater than those of abstaining from alcohol.

In other words, there is no need to start drinking if you don't usually consume alcohol.

Summary

If you drink alcohol, maintaining a moderate intake may help prevent disease and prolong your life. Wine may be particularly beneficial.

8. Prioritize Your Happiness

Feeling happy can significantly increase your longevity (52).

In fact, happier individuals had a 3.7% reduction in early death over a 5-year study period (53).

A study of 180 Catholic nuns analyzed their self-reported levels of happiness when they first entered the monastery and later compared these levels to their longevity.

Those who felt happiest at 22 years of age were 2.5 times more likely to still be alive six decades later (54).

Finally, a review of 35 studies showed that happy people may live up to 18% longer than their less happy counterparts (55).

Summary

Happiness likely has positive effects not only for your mood but also your lifespan.

9. Avoid Chronic Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety and stress may significantly decrease your lifespan.

For instance, women suffering from stress or anxiety are reportedly up to two times more likely to die from heart disease, stroke or lung cancer (56, 57, 58).

Similarly, the risk of premature death is up to three times higher for anxious or stressed men compared to their more relaxed counterparts (59, 60, 61).

If you're feeling stressed, laughter and optimism could be two key components of the solution.

Studies show that pessimistic individuals have a 42% higher risk of early death than more optimistic people. However, both laughter and a positive outlook on life can reduce stress, potentially prolonging your life (62, 63, 64, 65).

Summary

Finding ways to reduce your anxiety and stress levels can extend your lifespan. Maintaining an optimistic outlook on life can be beneficial, too.

10. Nurture Your Social Circle

Researchers report that maintaining healthy social networks can help you live up to 50% longer (66).

In fact, having just 3 social ties may decrease your risk of early death by more than 200% (67).

Studies also link healthy social networks to positive changes in heart, brain, hormonal and immune function, which may decrease your risk of chronic diseases (68, 69, 70, 71, 72).

A strong social circle might also help you react less negatively to stress, perhaps further explaining the positive effect on lifespan (73, 74).

Finally, one study reports that providing support to others may be more beneficial than receiving it. In addition to accepting care from your friends and family, make sure to return the favor (75).

Summary

Nurturing close relationships may result in decreased stress levels, improved immunity and an extended lifespan.

11. Be More Conscientious

Conscientiousness refers to a person's ability to be self-disciplined, organized, efficient and goal-oriented.

Based on data from a study that followed 1,500 boys and girls into old age, kids who were considered persistent, organized and disciplined lived 11% longer than their less conscientious counterparts (76, 77).

Conscientious people may also have lower blood pressure and fewer psychiatric conditions, as well as a lower risk of diabetes and heart or joint problems (78).

This might be partly because conscientious individuals are less likely to take dangerous risks or react negatively to stress — and more likely to lead successful professional lives or be responsible about their health (79, 80, 81).

Conscientiousness can be developed at any stage in life through steps as small as tidying up a desk, sticking to a work plan or being on time.

Summary

Being conscientious is associated with a longer lifespan and fewer health problems in old age.

12. Drink Coffee or Tea

Both coffee and tea are linked to a decreased risk of chronic disease.

For instance, the polyphenols and catechins found in green tea may decrease your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease (82, 83, 84, 85, 86).

Similarly, coffee is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers and brain ailments, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92).

Additionally, both coffee and tea drinkers benefit from a 20–30% lower risk of early death compared to non-drinkers (93, 94, 95, 96).

Just remember that too much caffeine can also lead to anxiety and insomnia, so you may want to curb your intake to the recommended limit of 400 mg per day — around 4 cups of coffee (97, 98).

It's also worth noting that it generally takes six hours for caffeine's effects to subside. Therefore, if you have trouble getting enough high-quality sleep, you may want to shift your intake to earlier in the day.

Summary

Moderate consumption of tea and coffee may benefit healthy aging and longevity.

13. Develop a Good Sleeping Pattern

Sleep is crucial for regulating cell function and helping your body heal.

A recent study reports that longevity is likely linked to regular sleeping patterns, such as going to bed and waking up around the same time each day (99).

Sleep duration also seems to be a factor, with both too little and too much being harmful.

For instance, sleeping less than 5–7 hours per night is linked to a 12% greater risk of early death, while sleeping more than 8–9 hours per night could also decrease your lifespan by up to 38% (100, 101).

Too little sleep may also promote inflammation and increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. These are all linked to a shortened lifespan (102, 103, 104, 105).

On the other hand, excessive sleep could be linked to depression, low physical activity and undiagnosed health conditions, all of which may negatively affect your lifespan (106).

Summary

Developing a sleep routine that includes 7–8 hours of sleep each night may help you live longer.

The Bottom Line

Longevity may seem beyond your control, but many healthy habits may lead you to a ripe, old age.

These include drinking coffee or tea, exercising, getting enough sleep and limiting your alcohol intake.

Taken together, these habits can boost your health and put you on the path to a long life.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.

Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.

From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.

Historical Precedent

Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.

Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.

Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?

Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.

When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.

The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.

The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.

But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.

Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.

This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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