Rio+20 Earth Summit Is an Olympic Challenge the U.S. Can't Ignore
By Jacob Scherr
Used with permission of NRDC - Switchboard
Today, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff met with President Obama in the White House. They will undoubtedly discuss the upcoming big international athletic matches to be held in Rio de Janeiro: the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. These games will mark Brazil’s emergence as a power on the world scene; and Brazil plans to invest some $200 billion in new infrastructure for them—an important opportunity for U.S. businesses. However, there is an even more crucial global event being hosted by Brazil this June—the Rio+20 Earth Summit—which deserves both Presidents’ full attention.
Brazil and the U.S. should work together to ensure Rio+20—officially labeled the UN Conference on Sustainable Development—is truly historic and transformative. It needs to be different than the first Earth Summit in Rio held in 1992. That gathering of more than 100 presidents and prime ministers generated thousands of promises, including two treaties and Agenda 21, a 400-page plan of action.
There was real hope then that governments were going to solve the challenge of meeting the ever-growing needs of people while protecting our environment. While there has been some progress, the pressures on the planet have intensified, billions still live in abject poverty, and wealth has become even more concentrated. As Thomas Lovejoy wrote in a New York Times OpEd last week, “human ingenuity should be up to the challenge. But it has to recognize the problem and address it with immediacy and at scale.”
Yet history could repeat itself if President Rousseff and President Obama do not get focused on Rio+20. The U.S. and other countries have argued that the objective of the meeting should be taking action, not producing yet another long plan of action. Yet that is exactly what is now happening.
Since January, the “zero” draft of the Rio+20 output document has swollen to more than 200 pages of abstract statements and collective promises—many of which have been made many times before at earlier international conferences. We need to do more than just say, for example, that the world pledges to provide sustainable energy and safe water in the distant future to the one billion people who lack access to them now.
Imagine if we ran the Olympics this way. What if we brought the world’s athletes together to set goals like, by the end of these three weeks, we’ll have run 10,000 miles jumped 5,000 feet, and made a 1,000 free throws. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Who would be responsible for its achievement? What, exactly, would the incentive be for any one team or athlete to perform? This, you might say, represents a version of the tragedy of the commons: The tragedy of a common agenda that holds no one accountable.
The Olympics are inspiring and successful because they consist of small performances from individual competitors. Each athlete has incentive to succeed, and each sets personal goals to achieve their potential.
It is this competitive spirit and drive that we need to bring to Rio+20. Instead of the traditional approach to international summitry, let’s create a field where all the players—not just national governments—can show off their talents. If Rio+20 is to be meaningful—and for everyone’s sake, it simply has to be—the conference needs to encourage individual countries, communities and corporations to pledge specific, measurable actions to which they are accountable. Here is NRDC’s vision for the 2012 Earth Summit, including our list of potential Rio+20 deliverables from ending fossil fuel subsidies to reducing plastic pollution.
NRDC is advocating for a “cloud of commitments” as the major output of Rio+20. We can use new information technologies and capabilities, not available at the first Rio summit, to collect and hold accountable individual pledges. These commitments would be listed all in one place on the web so that you could sit at your desk and, with a few clicks of your mouse, track our progress toward sustainability the way you might follow the score of a basketball game. You would also be able to get in the game yourself by commenting on specific commitments and encouraging the leaders to push even harder towards a sustainable future.
We need our leaders to step up and recognize Rio+20 is one game we cannot afford to lose. President Rousseff should ask Obama to commit now to come to Rio+20 and to reaffirm their promise last year ”to work closely together to ensure its success. “
Why should President Obama get in the game? Simply put, it is in our nation’s best interest to do so. Do we really want to leave our children a depleted and degraded planet where Americans are less healthy, prosperous and secure? Does the U.S. want to fall behind in the global race toward a green economy, and in the eyes of the world? In the long run, those countries, communities and corporations that take bold steps toward sustainability will be the winners. We’re all in this together, on one small planet, but we’re also competitors.
What country would think to send a team to the Olympics without its team captain and coach? We need our best in Brazil. Twenty years ago, Brazil’s then-president, Fernando Collor de Mello, urged former President George H.W.Bush to attend the first Earth Summit. He accepted the invitation, but it was not until the last minute. The sooner President Obama commits to Rio+20, the sooner other world leaders will see the U.S. is really serious and join us in competing in the global race toward sustainability
For more information, click here.
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
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.