Improve Your World: No Fracking, Yes Renewable Energy
[Editor's note: Students from the State University of New York (SUNY) School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY held their 2013 graduation ceremony yesterday. SUNY ESF's motto is "Improve Your World." Dr. Sandra Steingraber was given an honorary doctoral degree for her life's work on environmental health and science, including her work to fight fracking in New York. She was given a standing ovation for her inspirational speech (see below) and called on our future environmental scientists to take action.]
What an amazing moment. Thank you. And what makes this a special honor for me is not just that SUNY-ESF is the nation’s oldest and most venerable college of environmental science, which is my field of study, too, but also that its official motto consists of the three words that I happen to live by.
Those words—for the guests here who may not know them—are not a Latin phrase about the nature of truth and wisdom. They are a set of simple directions in English.
Improve your world.
Isn’t that great?
But embracing improve your world as your personal motto for life requires at least two things. One is to possess really good data on what’s wrong with the world. And that means staying awake and paying attention and being willing to look at hard truths without flinching.
This week, climate scientists reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have overshot 400 parts per million. That’s a problem. Carbon dioxide traps heat, destabilizes our climate, and warms and acidifies our oceans in ways that are harmful to the world’s plankton stocks. We need plankton. They provide us half the oxygen we breathe.
Last month, ecologists reported that the world’s bees are in trouble. That’s a problem. Insect pollination is an ecosystem service—aka unpaid labor donated by another species—that provides us one third of the food that we eat.
Last year, a financial analyst reported, in the science journal called Nature, soaring commodity prices and declining grain harvests due, in no small part to our increasingly unreliable climate. In order to stabilize the climate, we would need to leave at least 80 percent of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
“As a former oil analyst,” says the author, Jeremy Grantham, “I can easily calculate oil companies’ enthusiasm to leave 80 percent of their value in the ground—absolutely nil.”
That’s a big problem. How do we improve our world if there exists a fundamental conflict between the business plans of the fossil fuel industry and the conditions for life itself? We can’t.
Are you flinching yet?
Well, what if we blew up the nation’s bedrock and fracked out the bubbles of natural gas they contain and burned those instead of coal? Would that keep us from hurdling off the cliff of climate catastrophe?
The data say no.
Well, then, what if we divorced the fossil fuel industry, and, over the next two decades, transitioned entirely to wind, water and solar energy while, at the same time, reducing our per capita energy consumption by half. Would that work? In fact, that’s the only course that gives us a fighting chance.
Is it doable? The best data we have, from Stanford University, say yes.
What if we turned New York State into a model for that national plan by closing the door to fracking and convincing our governor to embrace a plan of economic development based on renewable energy? What if farmers could supplement their income not by allowing the gas industry to turn their land into an industrial proving grounds, blasting apart the bedrock under their fields and pastures with a club of toxic chemicals as though it were a piñata, but, instead, by paying them to erect solar arrays that fed into smart grids, into which we could then plug our electric cars?
Is that doable? Is it realistic? Is it more or less realistic than imagining we can carry on without pollinators, plankton stocks, uncontaminated drinking water and reliable grain harvests?
Does that plan—fossil fuel abolition—allow us to improve the world? In my mind and heart, in the way I read the data, the answer is yes.
And that brings us to the second thing that improve your world requires: the willingness to do something based on the data.
My date today is my friend and colleague Renee Vogelsang, who is an organizer for the anti-fracking movement. Do you know what’s on Renee’s email signature line? A quote from the Quaker civil rights leader and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin: "The proof that one truly believes is in action."
Now I am a contemplative person. I research a lot and write a lot. Renee contemplates too, but she almost never has a thought without acting on it. Renee and I met in 2011 when, thanks to all the research and writing I do, I became the lucky winner of the Heinz Award, which comes with a $100,000 cash prize. I decided to donate that check to the anti-fracking movement, and it became the seed money for the coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking.
It began with a handful of organizations but—thanks to Renee and her activist colleagues—New Yorkers Against Fracking has now blossomed into a mighty alliance of more than 200 groups, 1,000 businesses, 500 faith leaders, student chapters on every campus, and dozens of scientists and medical professionals. Just like the abolitionists of old, we are a powerful social movement for change.
Here’s the amazing secret about combining an unflinching willingness to look at the data with political action: it makes you happy. It gives you purpose. It makes brave. It makes you a hero.
The people who are truly depressed and scared about our environmental situation are the people who aren’t doing anything about it. They suffer from what psychologists called well-informed futility system. They suffer from what I call being a good German in the face of an ecological holocaust. But that’s a choice. Instead of closing your eyes to hard environmental truths and pretending everything is fine, you could choose to be a member of the French resistance. You could choose to be an abolitionist. You could choose to fight.
And here’s another secret: taking action makes you a better environmental scientist. There is a difference between being able to analyze environmental data objectively, which I believe in, and being neutral about the environmental crisis, which I don’t believe in.
It turns out that it’s nobody’s job to take the hard truths of environmental data into the political arena and make sure they inform our laws and policies and our economic structures. We have to do that work ourselves.
And doing it is what makes science moral.
Doing the work of political action has taken me to all kinds of places—to the White House, to the European Parliament, to town halls and church basements. And last month, it took me to the Chemung County Jail. As an inmate. I was sentenced to 15 days of incarceration for an act of civil disobedience that involved blockading a compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake. This lake is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people and under it, in abandoned salt caverns, the gas industry seeks to store billions of gallons of fracked, pressurized explosive petroleum gases trucked in from out of state.
Inside cell #1 in cell block 5D, I wrote my annual Earth Day lecture with a stubby pencil on scraps of paper and then managed to smuggle it out. I consider it to be the most important scientific statement I’ve ever made.
And, while incarcerated, I learned some new skills—like how to walk up and down a set of stairs while wearing ankle manacles, handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.
It’s a good skill to have. And it’s easier than walking down a hospital corridor while pushing an IV drip and wearing a backless, blue cotton gown, which is the uniform of a cancer patient—an identity of mine for 30 years.
The actions that caused me to wear an orange jumpsuit were not neutral.
But neither were the actions taken by the industries in my hometown that contaminated the air and water of my childhood with chemical carcinogens and caused me to grow up as one data point in a cluster of cancers.
I was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20 and it was that experience that led me to environmental science in the first place.
Today I wear an academic robe. But I would rather wear an orange jumpsuit so that my children do not have to wear a blue hospital gown. Wouldn’t you?
I’ll close with an invitation, which you are the first to receive. To all you newly minted environmental scientists and those who love you, to all those who take up the motto improve your world as your life’s work, join me in Albany on June 17—which is the 128th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s arrival in New York. On June 17, we will rally and march to declare New York’s independence from the fossil fuel empire: no to fracking; yes to renewable energy.
I believe this will be the lunch-counter moment of our age, and I warmly invite you to march with me. My invitation is especially extended to SUNY ESF’s illustrious graduate, Commissioner Joseph Martens of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Join us, Joe!
What we love we must protect. That’s what love means.
And to all of ESF’s graduates today: Congratulations, stumpies! In the days ahead, I look forward to blending your institution’s motto, improve your world, with that of my own organization: NOT ONE WELL.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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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."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
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.