Last fall, Resource Media compiled an in-depth media tip sheet to provide journalists with background information and sources about the growing body of evidence linking drilling with widespread impacts on property values, property rights and quality of life in communities across America.
Since we first published Drilling vs. The American Dream, fracking has continued unabated, inching up and into ever more cities, towns and neighborhoods. To keep up with the changes, we updated the guide to include new data and research and new stories from the growing choir of millions of Americans who are now directly affected by oil and gas development:
Drilling vs the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values
There are currently more than 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S., and more than 15 million Americans now live within a mile of the hundreds of thousands that have been drilled since 2000, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Made possible by the advent of fracking, drilling is taking place in shale formations from California to New York and from Wyoming to Texas.
And there’s no indication that this “unprecedented industrialization” shows any signs of slowing. Almost 47,000 new oil and natural gas wells were drilled in 2012, and industry analysts project that pace will only continue.
Drilling rigs now regularly inch up and even into communities that never anticipated having to address problems like round-the-clock noise, storage tanks, drums of toxic chemicals, noxious fumes, near-constant truck traffic and pipelines near homes, schools, playgrounds and parks. For many, the impacts of this kind of large-scale industrial activity are incompatible with quality of life.
Congressman Jared Polis saw this firsthand last fall when a drilling rig went up on property neighboring his small farm in Weld County, CO. Polis, who said he had no notice of the fracking operations, filed a complaint with state regulators and then a lawsuit over concerns “about the impact that fracking has on the health of communities as well as the economic impact as it relates to property value.”
Also look no further than Exxon CEO and board chairman Rex Tillerson, who is suing to stop construction of a water tower that would supply nearby drilling operations because of the nuisance of, among other things, heavy truck traffic, noise and traffic hazards from the fracking operations the tower would support. That’s right, the head of the single largest drilling company in the world, acknowledges the “constant and unbearable nuisance” that would come from having “lights on at all hours of the night … traffic at unreasonable hours … noise from mechanical and electrical equipment.” Tellingly, Tillerson’s lawsuit—filed in 2012 with other plaintiffs, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey—claims the project would do “irreparable harm” to his property values.
At a more macro level, research is staring to show that energy booms such as the current drilling frenzy may not be the economic windfall that boosters make them out to be. After the initial surge in income and jobs that comes with drilling, problems inevitably follow: higher crime rate, decreased educational attainment and over the long run, significant declines in income. The more heavily a community ties itself to the drilling economy, the greater the decline.
“The magnitude of this relationship is substantial,” the study authors are quoted saying in the Washington Post, “decreasing per capita income by as much as $7,000 for a county with high participation in the boom.”
For those who own the rights to the oil and gas on their properties, the impacts of drilling can be offset by royalty payments that come from selling them to oil and gas developers. But in most parts of the country, the legal doctrine of split estates allows one party to own the rights to minerals and other resources below the surface while someone else hold the rights to property above ground. With the oil and gas industry showing little self-restraint and drilling encroaching into cities, towns and suburbs, split estates have left millions to deal with problems such as increased truck traffic, chemicals, lights, noise, heavy equipment, noxious air emissions and water—all without any compensation.
There are weak regulatory protections and few legal precedents to protect residents from this kind of industrial activity in their back yards. Regulations on how far drilling must be set back from homes and schools, for example, provide almost no cushion—often only several hundred feet—to mitigate drilling’s impacts on nearby homes and businesses.
Feeling unprotected by weak state and federal regulations, however, more and more communities are starting to fight back by passing local laws restricting or banning fracking within their borders. Pittsburgh became the first to take matters into its own hands with an ordinance in 2010. Since then, many others have followed suit: Dallas, Los Angeles, multiple cities and towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, counties in New Mexico. Last fall in Colorado, voters in four cities passed ballot measures banning or severely restricting fracking, three of them overwhelmingly. And this year, backers are gathering signatures for a 2014 statewide ballot measure that would give Colorado cities and towns local control over drilling-related policy decisions within their borders.
This pushback against drilling and its impacts goes beyond simple NIMBYism. The financial risks posed by drilling are real and substantial enough—as detailed below—that banks and insurers are also now adopting guidelines that forbid mortgage loans or insurance coverage on properties affected by drilling. It’s a battle between oil and gas and the nest egg of countless Americans.
The following examples begin to piece together the ways in which the threats posed by drilling and the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry quite literally hit home. Taken together, they are a call for decision-makers to start quantifying data and asking tough questions about drilling vs. the American Dream.
- In a 2013 survey of 550 people conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver, a strong majority said they would decline to buy a home near drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent.
- Realtors in Colorado are taking note as clients become increasingly hesitant about buying homes near drilling sites, with fewer and fewer bids rolling in. “Some don’t want to even look at anything remotely close to any existing or proposed well sites,” Boulder County real estate agent Nanner Fisher told the Colorado Independent. She also told Boulder iJournal that “if there is a well that’s visible when you show a property, [the prospective buyer] will ask to look for something else. A lot of it is the visual effect of the well site,” she said. “And, they think if you can see it, it’s gotta be close enough that it’s not healthy.”
- An economic analysis by the Headwaters Institute undermines the idea that oil and gas developments fatten the bank accounts of communities and leave them better off than before drilling started. While there may be short-term windfalls, the study of six western states found that over the long-term “oil and gas specialization is observed to have negative effects on change in per capita income, crime rate and education rate.”
- Denver Realtor Adam Cox wrote in a column in the Colorado Statesman that “potential buyers balk at buying homes near a drilling site, even though that’s often where the discounted homes are” because they are so close to oil and gas activity. Similarly, he said, homeowners near drilling sites “often have to sell at significantly lower prices than when originally purchased due to the oil and gas industry neighbors.”
- The fumes, lights and deafening noise that came after a neighbor leased adjacent land for fracking became unbearable and forced to move from their Cleveland suburban home. In an interview with Reuters, she said they were able to sell their house for $225,000, only half its appraised value.
- In the Catskills, fracking fears have already impacted the real estate market even though the state has yet to make a determination on whether to allow drilling. The prospect that the state will open the region to drilling, as the New York Times reported, “has spooked potential buyers” in upstate New York. The Times story also quoted a realtor who shut down her business In Wayne County, PA. Agents there, the woman said, are having trouble selling rural properties “because people don’t want to be anywhere near the drilling.”
- A study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the risks and potential liabilities of drilling outweigh economic benefits like lease payments and potential economic development in Washington County, PA. Even though lease payments can add overall value to homes with wells drilled on them, the possibility of contaminated water decreases property value by an average of 24 percent. The boost that comes from signing a lease offsets the increases, leaving a net decrease in value of 13 percent.
- A 2010 study of the Texas real estate market in the heavily drilled suburban-Dallas area near Flower Mound concluded that homes valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a drilling pad or well site saw values decrease by 3 to 14 percent.
- Faced with a boom in coal-bed methane development in the early 2000s, officials in La Plata County, CO studied the impacts of oil and gas development and found that properties with a well drilled on them saw their value decrease by 22 percent.
- In a 2005 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that oil and gas production “significantly affect the sale price for rural properties.” The study determined that the presence of oil and gas facilities within 2.5 miles of rural residential properties in Alberta, Canada reduced property values between 4 percent and 8 percent, with the potential for doubling the decrease, depending on the level of industrial activity.
- In Pavilion, WY, where the EPA has linked groundwater contamination with fracking, Louis Meeks saw the value of his 40-acre alfalfa farm all but disappear completely. In 2006, his land and home were appraised at $239,000. Two years later, as ProPublica reported, “a local realtor sent Meeks a coldly worded letter saying his place was essentially worthless and she could not list his property. ‘Since the problem was well documented … and since no generally-accepted reason for the blowout has been agreed upon,’ she wrote, ‘buyers may feel reluctant to purchase a property with this stigma.’ ”
- Similar nightmares have befallen residents of Dimock, PA, where fracking problems decimated home values, and the drilling company responsible, Cabot Resources, was ordered to pay impacted families settlements worth twice their property values, a total of more than $4 million.
- In North Texas, the Wise County Central Appraisal District Appraisal Review Board knocked down the appraised value of one family’s home and 10-acre ranchette from $257,000 to $75,000—a decrease of more than 70 percent. The board agreed to the extraordinary reduction as a result of numerous environmental problems related to fracking—just one year after the first drilling rig when up on the property.
- Unbeknownst to many suburban homeowners, homebuilders are starting to quietly retain mineral rights beneath the subdivisions they build in suburban areas. DR Horton has been perhaps the most notable construction company to employ this new tactic. In 2012, after an investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Real Estate Commission, officials pressured the Texas-based homebuilder to return mineral rights it had retained from beneath about 850 homes. Residents who live in a Florida subdivision built by Horton were equally surprised when they found out that the company also held the rights to prospect for whatever minerals lie beneath 2,500 of their homes near Tampa.
- As documented by Reuters, homeowners in subdivisions in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and other states have all purchased homes without disclosure about severed mineral rights only to see drilling rigs spring up next door too late for them to do anything about it. “This is a huge case of buyer beware,” University of Colorado-Denver Law Professor Lloyd Burton told reporters. “People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don’t exactly go out of their way to let people know.”
- Senate and House committees in the Colorado Legislature have passed a measure that, much like disclosures for lead paint, would require sellers to notify prospective homebuyers about separated mineral rights and whether a property may be subject to oil, gas or mineral development. Senate Bill 14-009 is awaiting approval by both chambers to be forwarded to the governor.
- In at least 39 states, there are laws that compel “holdout landowners” to join gas-leasing agreements with their neighbors, allowing oil and gas companies to drill horizontally to tap into oil and gas reserves that cross property lines—whether the owner of a property wants to allow the drilling or not. Called “mandatory pooling” or “compulsory integration,” these laws basically create eminent domain by private enterprise.
- Pooling gives the owner an interest in the well, including royalty payments, but as in Colorado, where forced pooling orders were issued by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 48 times in 2010, the law also makes the unwilling owner “liable for the further costs of the operation, as if he had participated in the initial drilling operation.”
- The intent of forced pooling is to create more orderliness in drilling underground oil and gas reserves, which rarely adhere to the patchwork of surface ownership. Forcing holdout landowners into leasing agreements is supposed to lead to fewer wells drilled and more efficiency in the ones that are. But it’s also frequently used as a threat by landmen looking to cash in on leases.
Mortgages and Fracking
Recognizing the numerous ways that drilling and fracking could damage value, the mortgage industry is starting to refuse to take on the financial liabilities and is tightening policies that prohibit lending on properties with wells on them or that are subject to leasing.
- Following the debacle in North Carolina over severed mineral rights (see above) the State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina officially has decided it will no longer approve mortgage financing for properties where the drilling rights have been sold off to someone else. The credit union, which manages almost $12 billion in residential mortgages, said it considers loans on such land to be riskier than those where the mineral rights remain with the land.
- According to American Banker, at least three mortgage lending institutions—Tompkins Financial in Ithaca, NY, Spain’s Santander Bank and State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, NC—are now refusing to make mortgages on land where oil or gas rights have been sold to an energy company. The publication quoted the president and CEO of the North Carolina credit union saying that if a landowner allows a drilling rig to go up on his or her their land, “We’d have to tell their neighbors, “We’re sorry, your property value just went down.’ ” (Also quoted in the Motley Fool.)
- Language in Freddie Mac’s standard mortgage contracts prohibit a “borrower from taking any action that could cause the deterioration, damage or decrease in value of the subject property,” and if the prohibition is broken by say, a landowner signing a drilling lease or entering into a mineral-rights agreement, Freddie Mac has the legal authority to exercise a call on a mortgage’s full amount if a borrower, according to an agency spokesman.
- According to a white paper prepared for the New York State Bar Association, Wells Fargo, one of the largest home mortgage lender in the U.S. is approaching home loans for properties that have gas drilling leases attached to them with a high degree of caution.
- In addition to Wells Fargo, Provident Funding, GMAC, FNCB, Fidelity and First Liberty, First Place Bank, Solvay Bank, Tompkins Trust Co., CFCU Community Credit Union are either putting hard-to-meet conditions on mortgages or denying loans altogether on properties with oil and gas leases. (Excellent summary of oil and gas issues related to mortgage lending from a brokerage vice president is available online.)
- The backgrounder prepared by the NYSBA about gas leasing impacts on homeowners also includes a section on residential mortgages and says the combination of home-ownership and drilling, “creates a perfect storm begging for immediate attention.” Risks include:
– Homeowners being confronted with uninsurable property damage for activities they cannot control.
– Banks refusing to provide mortgage loans on homes with gas leases because they don’t meet secondary mortgage market guidelines.
– Impediments to new construction starts, long a bellwether of economic recovery, since construction loans depend on risk-free property and a purchaser.
– The possibility of a property owner defaulting on a mortgage by signing a gas lease.
– Prohibitively expensive appraisals and title searches that are complicated by assessing the value of risks and the arcane paper trail of mineral rights and attached liabilities.
- A Pennsylvania couple was recently denied a new mortgage on their farm by Quicken Loans because of a drilling site across the street. According to the lender, “gas wells and other structures in nearby lots…can significantly degrade a property’s value” and do not meet underwriting guidelines. Two other lenders also denied the family mortgages.
- Federal lending and mortgage institutions (FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) all have prohibitions against lending on properties where drilling is taking place or where hazardous materials are stored. A drilling lease on a property financed through one of these agencies would result in a ”technical default.” FHA’s guidelines also don’t allow it to finance mortgages where homes are within 300 feet of an active or planned drilling site. Also see http://bit.ly/1dIen28.
Homeowners who think damage to property incurred by drilling accidents is covered by insurance need to think again. Such damages are typically not covered.
- Last July, Nationwide Insurance spelled out specifically that it would not provide coverage for damage related to fracking. According to an internal memo outlining the company’s policy, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”
- Often, a driller or well operator’s insurance won’t cover damages, according to the NYSBA summary. Homeowners may have to sue for damages and, even if they win, may not get paid for all damages since drillers admit in their regulatory filings that they may not carry enough insurance.
Other online resources:
- Save Colorado from Fracking on how fracking lowers the value of property and real estate.
- The New York Times has compiled hundreds of pages of documents related to drilling and property rights and values that include federal guidelines, emails from realtors and mortgage brokers, memos from bankers etc.
- Reuters investigated the mushrooming issue of split estates and the conflicts between mineral rights and property rights, finding numerous instances across the country of homebuilders and developers holding on to ownership of oil and gas deposits while selling off subdivision lots, while providing little to no information about the issue to buyers.
- And in-depth look by the Colorado Independent at ways the fracking boom is coming into conflict with homeowners.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
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