I love documentaries. They are so informative, engaging and inspiring. But I find it's hard to keep those emotions alive days and weeks after watching a film. It would be great if everyone remained as energized by a film months later, as they felt walking out of the theatre. But fortunately there are films like GASLAND that have an everlasting effect and ability to grow an entire movement.
Josh Fox's GASLAND and GASLAND PART II revolutionized the anti-fracking movement and gave people the tools to get educated and fight back.
Now, with the tipping point of the People's Climate March and Fox's Solutions Grassroots Tour, I thought it a perfect time to feature a Q&A with the the NY Yankee hat-wearing-playwright-turned activist.
SP: What is your biggest hope for the outcome of the People's Climate March?
JF: First of all, I hope that there are a lot of people. I hope that there are a lot of fracking activists there because it’s clear from the science right now, as it’s been pointed out by many people, and most recently by Bill McKibben in Mother Jones, that fracked gas is just as bad for the climate or worse than any other fossil fuel because of all the methane that leaks. So I hope there’s a strong fractivist contingent at the climate march. And I also hope that it makes an impression on people in New York City because New York City is the third most vulnerable city in the world to climate change. After Hurricane Sandy we really saw what kind of damage can happen in New York City so I really hope that it gets people involved.
And of course, our part in all of this is about getting people to switch to renewable energy. In New York State you can switch your power provider very easily and all of a sudden the electricity that is going into your apartment or your home is no loner from natural gas or coal or oil, it’s from renewable energy sources.
Visit solutionsgrassroots.com and click on New York State and there are three different energy companies you can buy renewable energy from right now—Ethical Electric, Pear Energy and Community Energy. We’re not advocating any one company because we don’t want to work for just one company, but we are advocating companies that we think are strong and ethical that we've vetted. So visit SolutionsGrassroots.com today and switch to renewable energy.
SP: Tell me about Solutions Grassroots and your work to get people powered by renewable energy.
JF: Solutions Grassroots started because while doing our GASLAND tour throughout the U.S. with GASLAND PART II, we met face to face with thousands of people and the most prevalent question they had was how can we go renewable? They asked, how can we implement a renewable energy strategy because we’re fighting fracking here, at home, and we want to get out of the fossil fuel cycle? So we researched that question, and what we decided to develop was a new organization that gives people real simple choices and easy information on how to go renewable.
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There are a lot of renewable energy companies that are actually the fossil fuel industry in disguise, but at our website we only have the ones that are real renewable energy companies. So if you go there, you’ll see a map of the U.S. and there are options in many states to immediately start to go renewable. If there aren’t options in your state then Solutions Grassroots offers you a grassroots organizing structure so you can start a community team and campaign in your area for renewable energy legislation and progress towards greater renewable energy availability. But right now in New York State, Pennsylvania, all over the East Coast, California, Colorado, Illinois, there are a lot of options to go renewable today. Our goal is to make that information accessible to people.
Solutions Grassroots is a reaction to how often people asked the renewable energy question on our tour. So it was a response to our audience, a response to our fans, a response to the people who are fighting fracking.
SP: You provided a great overview about your Solutions Grassroots tour in your recent EcoWatch Insights article, what else can you share that people who can't make the tour might want to know?
JF: Solution Grassroots is starting in New York as a tour with a theatre piece and a music piece, but Solutions Grassroots plans to interact with all sorts of cultural products. So when we do our film on climate change, Solutions Grassroots will be an engagement program you can follow in 50 states. When we work, for example, with other people’s climate films, and we’re talking right now with a number of different people who are making films on climate change, Solutions Grassroots can be an add-on as a way for people to understand how to go renewable and how to buy their power from renewable energy. Solutions Grassroots is really a triangle that is the nexus that shows people how they can switch to renewable energy and how culture can drive this economic transformation in our society.
It’s also a lot of fun because we’ve been doing things that are positive. And when you fight the fossil fuel industry, fight fracking, fight pipelines, fight Keystone XL, fight mountaintop removal, those fights are very very difficult, long drawn out and negative. Working for renewable energy is a positive community builder, positive economic force, so it really feels good to do it.
SP: The fight against fracking has become a fight for democracy. What advice do you have for the communities that have voted to ban fracking in their communities and then get trumped by state law favoring the interests of the oil and gas industry?
JF: Well you got to keep fighting. Right now we know that we are not living in a democracy for the most part. We are living in an oligarchy, where oligarchs and the rich and powerful make the rules. Now that’s depressing, but there are many other times in U.S. history when we were living in even less of a democracy, when black people didn’t have the right to vote, we were not in a democracy, when women didn’t have the right to vote, we were not in a democracy. Right now, the level of economic inequality, social inequality and human rights inequality is huge and we have to keep moving forward to expose these deficiencies within the political system and to also regain rights, to regain our rights.
And one of the ways I think we can try to do that is through distributed generation of renewable energy. When you control your own power, when some of your own power is coming from your own backyard, when your power is coming from ethical companies that want to get out of the fossil fuel cycle, or when you can actually go out there and get your friends and neighbors to sign up in ways that support local democracy, as you can do through the Solutions Grassroots website, that’s one way I think to take on the fossil fuel industry, one way to lessen their power within our democracy, make sure they have less money to pollute the political system. Right now there are more than 700 lobbyists working for the fossil fuel industry. That’s more than all of congress. We have to start to tilt the scales and one of the ways that we can do that is stop giving them our money.
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But definitely, the fight against fracking is the fight for democracy. Energy independence is really about people having the power and not about any one company or any one fuel, or any one nation, it’s really about people having control, local control over their power sources. And of course that means distributed generation of renewable energy.
[Editor's note: Distributed energy or decentralized energy is energy generated or stored by small, grid-connected (behind the meter) systems with the power generation located very close to the load it serves. Distributed energy systems can be owned by the homeowner or business owner. Conventional power stations, such as coal-fired, gas and nuclear powered plants, as well as hydroelectric dams and large-scale solar power stations, are centralized and require electricity for the energy to be transmitted over long distances Centralized systems are typically owned by large utilities.]
SP: I've been publishing environmental news for more than 25 years and I'm still waiting for us to hit a tipping point where the majority of people in the world are conscious of their impact on the Earth and act each day accordingly. Do you think we're close, and if so, what do you think will get us there?
JF: I’m watching the fracking movement and the climate movement and the movement on mountaintop removal and the movement against the Keystone XL and the movement against offshore drilling and the movement against GMOs and the movement for economic justice and the movement for economic and social inequality, I’m watching these things come together so I’m really excited about the possibilities, and I think that the fracking problem has been a game changer.
Now you have people in central Pennsylvania fighting the frackers who are talking about climate change. That was not the case before fracking. So things have changed. And I’m always optimistic, but what I’m really interested in seeing is community democracy, local democracy, community building. I think in my community we definitely hit a tipping point, there’s no question. And I think a lot of that has to do with a response to a threat and community members getting informed on the issues. So I think you have to just keep building and keep getting the word out.
SP: I know you don't have a crystal ball, but I think a lot of people would want me to ask you this: How long do you think the moratorium on fracking will last in New York state?
JF: I think that the people are in control in New York State on fracking. I think that as long as people insist on no fracking in the state, there will be a moratorium. I think it would be politically unwise for any politician in New York, whether that’s Andre Cuomo or the next governor, to decide that fracking is viable in New York because the citizenship has already reached that crucial, critical mass and there will be grave political consequences for any politician who would decide that it’s okay to frack New York.
The moratorium will last as long as our coalition of hundreds of groups and hundred of thousands of people remain strong in fighting fracking. I’m confident that the moratorium will stay intact because the people in New York have built a very strong movement. It’s not a movement of negativity, it’s not just a movement of fighting fracking, it’s also a movement of building renewable energy, of building positive energy, of building democracy. It’s a movement of building communities.
And even in the moments when it seems like we don’t have a fracking threat, people are still coming together. They came together to vote for Zephyr Teachout in record numbers. They came together in the places where we brought the Solutions Grassroots Tour. So that’s a permanent state of being in New York and I believe those bonds will last a long time and I believe a moratorium or a ban on fracking is a big part of that bond and I believe that advancing the renewable energy economy is a big part of that bond and I believe in making strides in true progressive politics is also part of that bond.
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Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
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By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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