Not to be outdone by the climate-fueled disasters broiling and incinerating the West, parts of the Mid-Atlantic have been deluged by torrential rain this week.
As much as 10 inches of rain fell in less than 4 hours in southeastern Pennsylvania on Monday, prompting "widespread and life-threatening flash flooding," according to the National Weather Service. Extreme precipitation is a clear signal of human-caused climate change — warmer air can hold more moisture and can thus dump more water when it rains.
As of Tuesday morning, New York City saw rain on 9 of the 13 days so far in July for a total of 8.49 inches, and Boston's month has been even wetter with 8.9 inches. Meanwhile, more than 14,000 firefighters across the Western U.S. are battling to contain blazes in sweltering heat.
Both extreme heat and wildfires are also clear signals of climate change.
Numerous fires in the Pacific Northwest threaten Native American lands, including in what is now north-central Washington where residents of Nespelem on the Colville Indian Agency were ordered to leave because of "imminent and life-threatening" danger from five wildfires ignited by dozens of lightning strikes Monday night.
For a deeper dive:
By Chris McGreal
After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America's petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.
An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.
Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching "mega-rains" destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.
But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.
The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry's behavior as "the most consequential cover-up in US history". And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco's downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.
"We are at an inflection point," said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.
"Things have to get worse for the oil companies," he added. "Even if they've got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clearcut wrong doing – that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public – really weakens the industry's ability to resist legislation and settlements."
For decades, the country's leading oil and gas companies have understood the science of climate change and the dangers posed by fossil fuels. Year after year, top executives heard it from their own scientists whose warnings were explicit and often dire.
In 1979, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels "will cause dramatic environmental effects" in the coming decades.
"The potential problem is great and urgent," it concluded.
But instead of heeding the evidence of the research they were funding, major oil firms worked together to bury the findings and manufacture a counter narrative to undermine the growing scientific consensus around climate science. The fossil fuel industry's campaign to create uncertainty paid off for decades by muddying public understanding of the growing dangers from global heating and stalling political action.
The urgency of the crisis is not in doubt. A draft United Nations report, leaked last week, warns that the consequences of the climate crisis, including rising seas, intense heat and ecosystem collapse, will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades even if fossil fuel emissions are curbed.
To investigate the lengths of the oil and gas industry's deceptions – and the disastrous consequences for communities across the country – the Guardian is launching a year-long series tracking the unprecedented efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry to account.
The legal process is expected to take years. Cities in California filed the first lawsuits back in 2017, and they have been tied down by disputes over jurisdiction, with the oil companies fighting with limited success to get them moved from state to federal courts where they think the law is more favorable.
But climate activists see opportunities long before verdicts are rendered in the US. The legal process is expected to add to already damning revelations of the energy giants' closely held secrets. If history is a guide, those developments could in turn alter public opinion in favor of regulations that the oil and gas companies spent years fighting off.
A string of other recent victories for climate activists already points to a shift in the industry's power.
Last month, a Dutch court ordered Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of the decade. The same day, in Houston, an activist hedge fund forced three new directors on to the board of the US's largest oil firm, ExxonMobil, to address climate issues. Investors at Chevron also voted to cut emissions from the petroleum products it sells.
Earlier this month, developers of the Keystone XL pipeline cancelled the project after more than a decade of unrelenting opposition over environmental concerns. And although a federal court last year threw out a lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans who say the US government violated their constitutional rights by exacerbating climate change, the Biden administration recently agreed to settlement talks in a symbolic gesture aimed to appease younger voters.
For all that, American lawyers say the legal reasoning behind foreign court judgments are unlikely to carry much weight in the US and domestic law is largely untested. In 2018, a federal court knocked back New York City's initial attempt to force big oil to cover the costs of the climate crisis by saying that its global nature requires a political, not legal, remedy.
Other regional lawsuits are inching their way through the courts. From Charleston, South Carolina, to Boulder, Colorado, and Maui, Hawaii, communities are seeking to force the industry to use its huge profits to pay for the damage and to oblige energy companies to treat the climate crisis for what it is – a global emergency.
Municipalities such as Imperial Beach, California – the poorest city in San Diego county with a budget less than Exxon chief executive's annual pay – faces rising waters on three sides without the necessary funding to build protective barriers. They claim oil companies created a "public nuisance" by fuelling the climate crisis. They seek to recover the cost of repairing the damage and constructing defences.
The public nuisance claim, also pursued by Honolulu, San Francisco and Rhode Island, follows a legal strategy with a record of success in other types of litigation. In 2019, Oklahoma's attorney general won compensation of nearly half a billion dollars against the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson over its false marketing of powerful prescription painkillers on the grounds it created a public nuisance by contributing to the opioid epidemic in the state.
Other climate lawsuits, including one filed in Minnesota, allege the oil firms' campaigns of deception and denial about the climate crisis amount to fraud. Minnesota is suing Exxon, Koch Industries and an industry trade group for breaches of state law for deceptive trade practices, false advertising and consumer fraud over what the lawsuit characterises as distortions and lies about climate science.
The midwestern state, which has seen temperatures rise faster than the US and global averages, said scorching temperatures and "mega-rains" have devastated farming and flooded people out of their homes, with low-income and minority families most at risk.
Minnesota's attorney general, Keith Ellison, claims in his lawsuit that for years Exxon orchestrated a campaign to bury the evidence of environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels "with disturbing success".
"Defendants spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual," Ellison said in his lawsuit.
Farber said cases rooted in claims that the petroleum industry lied have the most promising chance of success.
"To the extent the plaintiffs can point to misconduct, like telling everybody there's no such thing as climate change when your scientists have told you the opposite, that might give the courts a greater feeling of comfort that they're not trying to take over the US energy system," he said.
Fighting the Facts
Almost all the lawsuits draw on the oil industry's own records as the foundation for claims that it covered up the growing threat to life caused by its products.
Shell, like other oil companies, had decades to prepare for those consequences after it was forewarned by its own research. In 1958, one of its executives, Charles Jones, presented a paper to the industry's trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), warning about increased carbon emissions from car exhaust. Other research followed through the 1960s, leading a White House advisory committee to express concern at "measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate" by 2000.
API's own reports flagged up "significant temperature changes" by the end of the twentieth century.
The largest oil company in the US, Exxon, was hearing the same from its researchers.
Year after year, Exxon scientists recorded the evidence about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. In 1978, its science adviser, James Black, warned that there was a "window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategy might become critical".
Exxon set up equipment on a supertanker, the Esso Atlantic, to monitor carbon dioxide in seawater and the air. In 1982, the company's scientists drew up a graph accurately plotting an increase in the globe's temperature to date.
"The 1980s revealed an established consensus among scientists," the Minnesota lawsuit against Exxon says. "A 1982 internal Exxon document … explicitly declares that the science was 'unanimous' and that climate change would 'bring about significant changes in the earth's climate'."
Then the monitoring on the Esso Atlantic was suddenly called off and other research downgraded.
What followed was what Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the report America Misled, called a "systematic, organised campaign by Exxon and other oil companies to sow doubt about the science and prevent meaningful action".
The report accused the energy companies of not only polluting the air but also "the information landscape" by replicating the cigarette makers' playbook of cherry-picking data, using fake experts and promoting conspiracy theories to attack a growing scientific consensus.
Many of the lawsuits draw on a raft of Exxon documents held at the University of Texas, and uncovered by the Columbia Journalism School and the Los Angeles Times in 2015.
Among them is a 1988 Exxon memo laying out a strategy to push for a "balanced scientific approach", which meant giving equal weight to hard evidence and climate change denialism. That move bore fruit in parts of the media into the 2000s as the oil industry repositioned global heating as theory, not fact, contributing to the most deep-rooted climate denialism in any developed country.
The company placed advertisements in major American newspapers to sow doubt. One in the New York Times in 2000, under the headline "Unsettled Science", compared climate data to changing weather forecasts. It claimed scientists were divided, when an overwhelming consensus already backed the evidence of a growing climate crisis, and said that the supposed doubts meant it was too soon to act.
Exxon's chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, told industry executives in 1996 that "scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate".
"It's a long and dangerous leap to conclude that we should, therefore, cut fossil fuel use," he said.
Documents show that his company's scientists were telling Exxon's management that the real danger lay in the failure to do exactly that.
In 2019, Martin Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University, told a congressional hearing that as a consultant to Exxon on climate modelling in the 1980s, he worked on eight scientific papers for the company that showed fossil fuel burning was "increasingly having a perceptible influence on Earth's climate".
Hoffert said he "hoped that the work would help to persuade Exxon to invest in developing energy solutions the world needed". That was not the result.
"Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong, and we knew that because we were the major group working on this. This was immoral and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change," said Hoffert.
"They deliberately created doubt when internal research confirmed how serious a threat it was. As a result, in my opinion, homes and livelihoods will likely be destroyed and lives lost."
Exxon worked alongside Chevron, Shell, BP and smaller oil firms to shift attention away from the growing climate crisis. They funded the industry's trade body, API, as it drew up a multimillion-dollar plan to ensure that "climate change becomes a non- issue" through disinformation. The plan said "victory will be achieved" when "recognition of uncertainties become part of the 'conventional wisdom'".
The fossil fuel industry also used its considerable resources to pour billions of dollars into political lobbying to block unfavourable laws and to fund front organisations with neutral and scientific-sounding names, such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). In 2001, the US state department told the GCC that President George W Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "in part, based on input from you".
Exxon alone has funded more than 40 groups to deny climate science, including the George C Marshall Institute, which one lawsuit claims orchestrated a "sham petition" denying manmade global climate change. It was later denounced by the National Academy of Science as "a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists".
Drilling DownTo Sharon Eubanks the conspiracy to deny science sounded very familiar. From 2000, she led the US justice department's legal team against nine tobacco firms in one of the largest civil cases filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act, which was designed to combat organised crime.
In 2006, a federal judge found that the industry had spent decades committing a huge fraud on the American public by lying about the dangers of smoking and pushing cigarettes to young people.
Eubanks said that when she looked at the fossil fuel industry's strategy, she immediately recognised big tobacco's playbook.
"Big oil was engaged in exactly the same type of behaviour that the tobacco companies engaged in and were found liable for fraud on a massive scale," said Eubanks. "The cover-up, the denial of the problem, the funding of scientists to question the science. The same pattern. And some of the same lawyers represent both tobacco and big oil."
The danger for the fossil fuel industry is that the parallels do not end there.
The legal process is likely to oblige the oil conglomerates to turn over years of internal communications revealing what they knew about climate change, when and how they responded. Given what has already come out from Exxon, they are unlikely to help the industry's case.
Eubanks, who is now advising attorneys general and others suing the oil industry, said a turning point in her action against big tobacco came with the discovery of internal company memos in a state case in Minnesota. They included language that talked about recruiting young people as "replacement smokers" for those who died from cigarettes.
"I think the public was particularly stunned by some of the content of the documents and the talk about the need for bigger bags to take home all the money they were going to make from getting people to smoke," said Eubanks.
The exposure of the tobacco companies' internal communications shifted the public mood and the politics, helping to open the door to legislation to curb smoking that the industry had been successfully resisting for decades.
Farber, the Berkeley law professor, said the discovery process carries a similar danger for the oil companies because it is likely to expose yet more evidence that they set out to deceive. He said that will undercut any attempt by the energy giants to claim in court that they were ignorant of the damage they were causing.
Farber said it will also be difficult for the oil industry to resist the weight of US lawsuits, shareholder activism and shifting public and political opinion. "It might push them towards settlement or supporting legislation that releases some from liability in return for some major concessions such as a large tax to finance responses to climate change."
The alternative, said Farber, is to take their chance on judges and juries who may be increasingly inclined to take the climate crisis seriously.
"They may think this is an emergency that requires a response. That the oil companies should be held responsible for the harm they've caused and that could be very expensive," he said. "If they lose, it's catastrophic ultimately."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Solar energy has been among the fastest-growing sources of power generation in the U.S. in recent years, catapulting from 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of generation in 2010 to over 90.1 billion kWh in 2020. While that's still just a small slice of the overall energy mix (2% of all U.S. electricity in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), the rate of growth is accelerating. The EIA forecasts that by 2022, solar capacity installations will outpace wind capacity installations for the first time on record after wind turbines had a huge head start.
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn of 2020 led to equipment shortages and other hardships for the solar industry. However, forecasts show the industry is primed for a resurgence in 2021 and beyond. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, solar installations are ramping up at a record pace and experienced a 46% year-over-year increase compared with the first quarter of 2020.
As 2021 continues to look like a prime year for solar power in the United States, which states are leading the charge? We can look to the recently released U.S. Solar Market Insight Report® from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for some answers.
Top 10 States for Solar Energy
The Solar Market Insight Report included a ranking of the top states across the country based on the total amount of solar electric capacity installed and in operation as of the end of the first quarter of 2021. To put it into context, SEIA figures also include the equivalent number of homes that can be powered by that solar capacity in the individual state.
Here are the current leaders for solar power in the U.S.:
|State||Cumulative Solar Capacity (Megawatts)||Equivalent Number of Homes Supplied by Solar Energy|
On this leaderboard, some states show up that would be expected — California has long been the solar king, and they don't call Florida the Sunshine State for nothing — while other states represent surprising emerging solar hotbeds. For example, you may be surprised to see some smaller, northeastern states like Massachusetts and New Jersey beating out the field. But these results go to show it's not just about land space and the natural sunshine; the policies and economics driving these installations are just as impactful.
2021 Top States for New Solar Installation
With the solar market really exploding in recent years, traditional solar stalwarts like Arizona and Nevada are being actively challenged by some emerging contenders.
Specifically looking at where solar installations were most active during the first quarter of 2021, the SEIA report finds the following were the top states for solar installations from January through March:
On top, Texas added 1,525 megawatts (MW) of capacity, which is equivalent to 45% of the capacity installed in the state during all of 2020 and represents 16% of the state's cumulative capacity to date. California added 563 MW of capacity, equivalent to 14% of the capacity installed in 2020 and 2% of the state's cumulative capacity. Florida added 525 MW of capacity, which is 19% of the capacity installed during 2020 and 7% of the state's total capacity.
Compare the above list with the top 5 states for solar installations for all of 2020:
- North Carolina
A few compelling trends become evident when looking at the above numbers. First, it's never too late to become a solar leader. While Florida is in the top five of cumulative capacity today, and given its sunny reputation that result may not seem surprising, the truth is that 47% of that capacity has been added since the beginning of 2020. In just over a years' time, Florida nearly doubled its total solar capacity.
Another important trend to recognize is that geography alone doesn't decide whether a state will be a solar leader. Mid-Atlantic states like Virginia and North Carolina or Midwestern states like Indiana wouldn't necessarily be the first most would guess as being solar powerhouses, but thanks to policies like North Carolina's generous Solar Property Tax Exemption, Virginia's allowance for net metering and Indiana's solar easement laws, residents of these states are enjoying solar power on their homes in record numbers.
Where Does Your State Rank for New Solar Installation?
So, are you living in a state that's leading the way on solar or one that has some ground to make up? Factors to consider when looking at why some states are making more progress than others will include the types of policies in place, the availability of rooftops on which solar can be installed, the appetite for new energy generation and even the state's seasonal solar irradiance.
Taking all of those factors into account, here's where each state stands in SEIA's recently published rankings:
Here's how each state's Q1 2021 ranking compares to how it ranked for total solar installations in 2020:
for Q1 2021
for Total 2020
|Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories||25||33|
Seeing some states jump up or down the list from one year to the next may seem drastic, but keep in mind that certain tax incentives expire, new policies come into play and other market forces affect local solar industries. That reality underscores the point that being a solar-leading state takes continued commitment, and doing so can happen at any point state leaders decide to truly embrace the solar industry.
The Future of Residential Solar
As the Solar Market Insight Report indicates, solar energy is a hot and growing market. To date, though, solar still only provides a fraction of the total energy generated in the U.S. While some customers, buildings and regions see much higher penetration of solar into their power mix on a micro level, there's much improvement still on the way, especially as dirtier energy sources like coal continue to retire.
The recent SEIA report shows that it's a constant push and pull as well, as residential solar installations in the second quarter of 2021 were down 8% from the fourth quarter of 2020 but up 11% from the first quarter of 2020. The fact remains, though, that residential solar had its largest first quarter on record and its second-largest quarter of all at the beginning of 2021. These results signal a growing solar market, especially in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas.
Additionally, customer appetite for residential solar is as strong as ever: 19% year-over-year growth is expected to get the residential market to a total of 3.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity by the end of 2021, a sum that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago. Indeed, the future remains bright for residential solar.
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In the midst of a massive, global loss of nature, cities around the world are finding ways to protect and expand open spaces and "rewild" their communities.
Between 2001 and 2017, the United States alone lost 24 million acres of natural area – or the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks – largely due to housing sprawl, agriculture, energy development, and other anthropogenic factors, according to a 2019 Reuters report. Every day, 6,000 acres of open space – parks, forests, farms, grasslands, ranches, streams, and rivers – are converted for other uses.
Rewilding restores an area to its original, uncultivated state, shifting away from the centuries-long practice of controlling and managing nature for human need. It incorporates both the old and the new, allowing wildness to reclaim an area and/or incorporating new elements of architectural or landscape design, like growing greenery on the facades of buildings.
The practice of rewilding is frequently carried out in wild areas; many projects aim to restore biodiversity in an ecosystem, often by reintroducing animal species that are high on the food chain, which in turn stabilizes lower species. One of the most famous cases of rewilding is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995.
Cities too have begun rewilding; but, although these were spaces were once as wild as Yellowstone, introducing apex predators to New York City or Tokyo might not be the best method for success. Rewilding in urban areas might instead include reintroducing native plant species, building parks on empty lots, incorporating more biophilic design when building new structures, or simply allowing nature to reclaim space. A major draw to rewilding in urban areas is the proven positive impact of nature on human health – particularly for city-dwellers with less access to outdoor spaces.
Here are a few cities that have taken on the task of rewilding.
Gardens by the Bay, which features the two cooled conservatories "Flower Dome" and "Cloud Forest", the Supertrees at the Supertree Grove, the Heritage Gardens, The World of Plants, and the Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, on July 29, 2017, in Singapore. studioEAST / Getty Images
In an effort to increase quality of life and restore native vegetation in the city, the Gardens by the Bay have transformed Singapore from a "Garden city" to a "City in a Garden." 18 "Supertrees" are dispersed throughout the landscape along Marina Bay, some as high as 160 feet; while not living things themselves, the trees are home to over 158,000 plants and mimic the functions of regular trees by providing shade, filtering rainwater, and absorbing heat.
Built on former industrial land, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is also an example of rewilding in Singapore, incorporating elements of water-sensitive urban design and reducing the urban heat island effect in the city. The park is built around the Bishan river, which now flows freely as a natural stream system, unimpeded by man-made barriers. Within the first two years after these rewilding efforts were implemented in the park, biodiversity increased by 30%, even though no wildlife was introduced. Additionally, visitors from the surrounding cities of Bishan Yushin, and Ang Mo Kio are provided a natural respite from city life.
Beyond parks, Singapore maintains more than 90 miles of Nature Ways: canopied corridors that connect green spaces, facilitating the movement of animals and butterflies from one natural area to another throughout the city. These routes mimic the layers of the ecosystem with shrub, understory, canopy, and emergent layers, providing habitats for different species at their various heights.
Singapore has also developed a City Biodiversity Index to examine and track the progress of biodiversity and conservation projects. Thanks in part to these rewilding efforts, Singapore is now considered Asia's greenest city.
2. Nottingham, United Kingdom
With the number of empty storefronts on UK high streets at the highest level in six years, the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has proposed a new vision for the empty Broadmarsh shopping center in the city: an urban oasis of wetlands, woodlands, and wildflowers.
The proposal was submitted to city council in December, and its proponents hope it will bring back native species and link the city to the nearby Sherwood Forest. The Wildlife Trust cites COVID-19 as a breakthrough in the way people view wildlife and nature, as many rushed to natural areas for solace throughout the pandemic.
Replacing these 6 acres of development – which is widely considered an eyesore by the community – could set a precedent for how such spaces are redeveloped in the future, perhaps reintroducing nature on available land rather than concrete and asphalt.
3. Haerbin, China
As climate change promises more frequent natural disasters, many cities are addressing the problem of increased flooding. The city of Haerbin, China – the capital of China's northernmost province, which sees 60-70% of its annual precipitation from June-August – has taken a creative approach: fostering a wetland in the middle of the city.
In 2009, landscape architects made plans to protect an existing 34-hectare wetland in the center of the city that had been cut off from its water sources by development, proposing that the location be transformed into an urban stormwater park: the Qunli National Urban Wetland.
The park provides invaluable ecosystem services: collecting and filtering stormwater into the aquifer, recovering a native habitat vital to the surrounding ecosystem, and supplying a place for recreation in the city with a network of raised paths and viewing towers for visitors.
4. Dublin, Ireland
One-third of bee populations in Ireland are threatened with extinction, so the country has begun retiring their lawnmowers and letting grasses grow high.
Ireland developed the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan to be implemented between 2015 and 2020, with an updated version outlining the continued plan for 2021-2025. Dublin too created a 2015-2020 Biodiversity Action Plan, aimed at reducing mowing and herbicide use in parks, roadsides, and other green spaces. By letting native plants grow instead of maintaining monocropped, chemical-laden lawns, native insect, bird, and bee populations thrive. Thanks to this initiative headed by the Dublin City Council, 80% of the city's green spaces are now "pollinator-friendly."
5. Sydney and Melbourne, Australia
One Central Park in Chippendale. Sardaka / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
Australia has caught on to the biophilic cities movement: a different design approach that brings nature and urbanites together, welcomes back native species, and makes even the densest cities more "natureful."
The government architect of New South Whales outlines the benefits of bringing nature into cities – for human health, improved property values, and resilience against the effects of climate change – by creating more green infrastructure in The "Greener Places" framework, released last year. The biophilic One Central Park in Chippendale – a suburb of Sydney – is known for its vertical hanging gardens, which incorporate 35,200 plants of 383 different species more than 1,120 square meters of the building's surface. The apartment block also employs a drip irrigation system for the plants, a tri-generation plant for energy, and a cantilever that redirects sunlight into a nearby park at various times of day.
Just down the coast, Melbourne has taken similar action with the Green Our City strategic action plan, which outlines how nature can be brought back into the city through green walls and roofs. Construction is expected to begin next year on the proposed "Green Spine" building on the city's Southbank, which will become the country's tallest building, and the world's tallest vertical garden.
6. Hanover, Frankfurt, and Dessau, Germany
As a part of the Städte Wagen Wildnis ("Cities Venturing into Wilderness," or "Cities Dare Wilderness") Project, Hanover, Frankfurt, and Dessau, Germany have agreed to set aside plots in cities – such as the sites of former buildings, parks, vacant lots, etc. – where nature will be allowed to take over. The project is largely experimental; the hands-off approach to these green spaces means that minimal intervention will occur by participating cities, and wilderness will be allowed to reclaim the spaces unimpeded.
The resulting wildflower gardens and untamed nature will create new habitats for plant and animal species, and thus will increase the overall biodiversity of these cities. Since the project's onset in 2016, The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Federal Ministry for the Environment have already reported greater drought tolerance of these areas and increases in the number of butterflies, bees, birds, butterflies, and hedgehogs.
Along with aiding native populations, another major goal of this initiative is to provide more opportunities for recreation and improve the quality of life of nearby citizens with greater exposure to nature.
7. New York City, United States
At first glance, the concrete jungle of New York City doesn't exactly appear particularly hospitable to wilderness. However, the city has become an example of how unused development – no matter how narrow or unlikely – can be transformed into a natural oasis. On the site of a former elevated railroad, the High Line gardens have become a staple attraction of Manhattan with a walkway stretching 1.5 miles through Chelsea along the Hudson River.
The High Line gardeners work to facilitate the natural processes occurring in this landscape, allowing plants to compete, spread out, and grow/change as they would in nature. In an environment as densely populated and developed as New York, the High Line provides a valuable habitat for native butterflies, birds, and insects – and, of course, the hundreds of plant species covering its surface.
8. Barcelona, Spain
Lorena Escuer / Hydrobiology / Handout
When Barcelonans emerged from their homes after the six-week coronavirus-induced lockdown last April, they found that the city was bursting with growth. With parks closed, nature had begun to reclaim spaces, and, after spending weeks indoors, Barcelona's citizens were eager to experience more nature in the city.
In May and June of 2020, the Urban Butterfly Monitor Scheme found significant increases in biodiversity: 28% more species per park overall, 74% more butterflies, and an explosion of plant growth during the spring rains that supplied more insects for birds to feed on.
Inspired by these changes – having had difficulty pursing rewilding efforts in previous years – the city is now working to create 49,000 square meters of "greened" streets and 783,300 of green open space. Furthermore, beehives and insect hotels have been dispersed throughout the city, as well as 200 bird- and bat-nesting towers to encourage even more biodiversity.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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By Jenny Shalant
If you're new to hometown activism, now is the time to get a few pointers. To start, recognize that no matter how small they seem, local actions matter. Remember the famous words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Find Local Allies.
To make real change in your community, you can't go it alone. Does your town have a conservation committee, a sustainability circle, or a friends group that supports the local park? How about a chapter of YIMBY ("Yes in my backyard") or Indivisible? Reach out. Get on the listserv, attend the meetings, learn about the priorities of your fellow concerned citizens, and see where you can lend a hand. These groups can lay the groundwork for big changes in your community and often have a line of communication with elected officials to help advance their mission beyond the neighborhood.
Make Your City a "Climate Sanctuary."
By fighting back against the expansion of fossil fuels at home, you'll help build momentum for a broader national movement. Now that you've joined forces with a local green group (see above), here are some goals to pursue.
- Tackle the food waste stream: According to the U.S. Composting Council, we sent 35 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2018—where it sat around, off-gassing methane. If we composted all that waste, the council says, the impact to our emissions levels would be the same as removing 7.8 million cars from the road. With that big picture in mind, take the first steps by composting at home—it's way easier than you think. Then work with your local green group to conduct workshops for residents. Once the practice starts to gather traction, you can work toward setting up a community composting program. Some cities, like Seattle and Toronto, today run comprehensive, mandatory compost pickup programs that started small but now boast huge waste-diversion stats.
- Switch off dirty energy: Lobby local officials to change your community's default electricity provider to one that uses renewable power resources, like solar, wind, low-impact hydroelectric, or geothermal. It's likely that green energy can save your town money, too. Officials in Charlotte, North Carolina expect to save $2 million in electricity costs with the development of a new large-scale solar project. You can help your town cut energy consumption on Main Street as well. Advocate for LED-powered streetlights (New York State provides a handy how-to guide), a "curfew" for commercial lighting through a dark-sky ordinance (as several Colorado cities have done), and energy-efficient appliances in municipal buildings.
- Conserve water: Climate change is expected to shrink freshwater supplies and bring water shortages to one-third of all counties in the continental United States. But there's plenty you can do to keep your city from contributing to the billions of gallons of water our country wastes daily as a result of leaky pipes, inefficient fixtures, and thirsty landscaping. By making a few changes, such as installing efficient toilets and sink faucets, you can save 11,000 gallons of water per year in your own home. Imagine what the impact would be if your entire neighborhood did the same. For inspiration, consider the city of Los Angeles, a leader in sustainable water management. Thanks to its comprehensive efficiency measures (as well as its water treatment and stormwater capture systems), it has kept its water usage on par with the levels Angelenos consumed in the 1970s. That's a pretty big deal considering that the city's population has grown by more than a million since that time.
Protect Your Local Ecosystems.
In addition to pushing the federal government to strengthen the laws that protect the air you breathe, water you drink, and ecosystems we all rely on, you can organize efforts at home to protect the local environment. Convene a cleanup of a nearby waterway or a vine lop effort to beat back invasive plants taking over your town woods—a threat that has increased with climate change. Advocate for town ordinances that prevent pesticide use in parks or on lawns, or organize a tree-planting project. Over the course of eight years, 50,000 citizens contributed to planting and caring for one million trees in New York City as part of a project that has become a greening model for metropolises around the globe.
Get to Know Your Elected Officials.
Your members of Congress are supposed to give your community a voice in the national agenda. Set a calendar reminder to call their offices regularly to continue pressing on the issues of most concern to you. Follow them on social media, and engage with their posts. Organize a postcard-writing campaign with your neighbors. The louder you are, the more likely they will be to hear you.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
One of the world's best restaurants is giving up meat.
Eleven Madison Park (EMP), a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017, announced Monday that it would reopen June 10 with an entirely plant-based menu.
"In the midst of last year, when we began to imagine what EMP would be like after the pandemic – when we started to think about food in creative ways again – we realized that not only has the world changed, but that we have changed as well," chef Daniel Humm wrote in an announcement posted on the restaurant's website. "We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways."
Eleven Madison Park, a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017. Eleven Madison Park
EMP first opened its doors in 1998, and Humm joined it as executive chef in 2006, according to The New York Times. Since then, the restaurant has earned many accolades, including three stars from Michelin and four from The New York Times.
The move reflects a growing shift away from meat in fine dining as concerns about the climate crisis mount. Studies have shown that raising meat emits more greenhouse gas emissions than growing vegetables or legumes, and also requires more land and water while polluting more overall. In recent signs of this growing awareness, a vegan restaurant in France earned a Michelin star for the first time this January, and, just last week, the website Epicurious said it was no longer publishing or promoting new beef recipes.
Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park Restaurant on Feb. 27, 2013 in New York City. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for Blancpain
EMP is one of the most famous restaurants to move away from meat, according to CNN, but its high-end status may limit the reach of its decision.
"[T]here are limits to what you can do through the medium of a Michelin-starred restaurant," Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner told The New York Times. "Chefs should obviously continue sourcing their ingredients responsibly, in light of the climate emergency, but at the end of the day, you're still cooking for rich people, and you might question their commitment to these things."
Meals at EMP will still cost $335, and, even at this price-point, it is not easy to obtain a reservation, so a very small percentage of people will experience the shift from dishes like lavender honey glazed duck or butter poached lobster to the new, plant-based meals Humm and his team are now working to perfect.
However, Yale University history professor Paul Freedman said that Humm's influence as a chef meant the decision could have a larger impact on dining culture.
It could, he told The New York Times, "have an influence on the best restaurants in places like Midland, Texas — affluent places that are not Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York."
Humm is also working to expand EMP's offerings to the less affluent. During the pandemic, the shuttered restaurant prepared nearly one million meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity with help from the nonprofit Rethink Food. Once the restaurant reopens, Humm said that he would continue that work, and that every meal at the restaurant would fund food for hungry New Yorkers.
"It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community," Humm said in the announcement. "A restaurant experience is about more than what's on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet."
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By Ajit Niranjan
Storms, floods, wildfires and droughts drove more than 30 million people from their homes last year, as rising temperatures wrought extra chaos on the climate, according to a report published Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
Together with wars and violence, which forced 9.8 million people to flee within their borders, extreme weather brought the number of new internal displacements in 2020 to 40.5 million people, according to the IDMC. The Geneva-based research organization estimates a record-breaking 55 million people were living displaced within their own country by the end of the year.
That's twice the number of refugees in the world.
Extreme weather is growing unnaturally strong as people burn fossil fuels and warp the climate. It is projected to drive more and more people from their homes through sudden shocks like floods and storms, as well as slower-burning crises like crop failures and drought. In rich countries, politicians have raised fears that more migration from poorer regions could overwhelm public services as the planet heats up.
The idea that climate change will trigger mass migration towards rich countries is a "distraction" from the fact that most displacement is internal, said Bina Desai, head of programs at the IDMC. "It's a moral obligation to really invest in supporting people where they are — rather than just thinking about the risk of them arriving at the borders."
The annual report, in its sixth year, found more than 80% of the people forced from their homes in 2020 were in Asia and Africa.
In Asia, most of the people forced to flee did so because of extreme weather. In countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia — where hundreds of millions of people live on low-lying coastlines and deltas — a combination of population growth and urbanization has left more people exposed to floods that have grown stronger as sea levels have risen.
The most severe cyclone to hit India in two decades made landfall on Monday, forcing authorities to evacuate 200,000 people in the state of Gujarat. But while early warning systems can save lives by pulling people out of harm's way, many of the displaced do not have a home to come back to. When Cyclone Amphan struck Bangladesh last year it forced 2.5 million people to flee and destroyed 55,500 homes, according to the report, suggesting that 10% of the people displaced were left homeless.
In Africa, most displacements in 2020 were due to conflict. Persistent violence forced people from their homes in countries like Burkina Faso and Mozambique, while new wars sprang up in other countries like Ethiopia. The IDMC estimated half a million people had fled fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region by the end of last year. Since then, UNICEF has put the figure above one million.
Some conflicts were coupled with unusually long and heavy rainy seasons that brought floods and crop losses to countries already affected by violence. Heavy rains forced people already displaced once to flee again in countries like Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Niger, according to the report. Such environmental disasters triggered 4.3 million displacements in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020. At least half of them were still displaced by the end of the year.
Migrants from rural areas to cities are often "forced to settle in areas that are not safe for habitation and prone to flooding or other hazards," said Lisa Lim Ah Ken, a regional climate specialist at the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Kenya. "A lot can be done, starting with prevention."
Researchers say the links between climate and migration are poorly understood and sometimes overstated. While the IDMC compiles data on internal displacement — most of which comes from sudden disasters like floods and storms — there is little data on how many people leave homes because of slow-burning environmental crises like rising temperatures and sea levels.
Still, a meta-analysis published in March by the University of Potsdam's Center for Economic Policy Analysis found that disasters that unfold over a long time like heatwaves and drought are more likely to increase migration than disasters that hit suddenly like floods and hurricanes. The researchers suggest this is because people need money to migrate, which is often lacking after sudden shocks, even though they cause immediate displacement across shorter distances.
Those who stay put — often without insurance to rebuild houses or livelihoods — can be trapped in a cycle of extreme weather that prevents them from leaving, though others may choose to stay behind for other reasons.
"If you want to migrate, then you need some resources to do so," said Barbora Sedova, an economist studying conflict and migration at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and co-author of the study. "What is not so much talked about is the populations that are trapped at the origin and that actually lack the resources to migrate."
Increasingly Extreme Weather
Climate change has already made extreme weather even more extreme — including in rich countries.
A study published in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences in March found that the risk of intense fire during the 2019/2020 Australian wildfire season was made 30% more likely by human changes to the climate. The fires killed 34 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
On Tuesday, a study published in the journal Nature Communications found that 13 percent of the $62.5 billion in damages when Hurricane Sandy struck New York City in 2012 was the result of sea-level rise. Had humans not heated the planet, and assuming all other factors stayed constant, the floods would have hit 70,000 fewer people, the modelers found.
Climate migration researchers have called for governments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions swiftly, adapt to the changing climate and continue to support displaced communities once the immediate danger has passed.
"If we create opportunities for these people in cities — in terms of employment, housing, life and dignity — then migration does not necessarily have to become an issue of international security," said Sedova. "If it's well managed, it can even have positive consequences for the country."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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A massive chunk of ice broke off of Antarctica this month, and it is now the largest iceberg in the world.
The iceberg, known as A-76, was first spotted by a British Antarctic Survey researcher May 13. It was then confirmed by the U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) the next day using images from the Sentinel-1A satellite.
"New giant #iceberg breaking away from the Ronne Ice Shelf," researcher Keith Makinson announced on Twitter.
New giant #iceberg breaking away from the Ronne Ice Shelf 13-05-2021 roughly 160 km x 25 km satellite image from… https://t.co/TXrwIl1ClT— Keith Makinson (@Keith Makinson)1620892929.0
The iceberg first broke off from the western edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, which is located in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). It is 89 nautical miles long by 14 nautical miles wide, according to USNIC, and has an area of 1,668 square miles, according to Reuters. To put that in perspective, it is larger than both the Spanish island of Mallorca, at 1,405 square miles, and the state of Rhode Island, at 1,034 square miles. It is also almost six times larger than New York City, HuffPost calculated.
The iceberg's size makes it the largest in the world, according to the ESA. It dwarfs the A-23A iceberg, which is also floating in the Weddell Sea and is around 3,880 square kilometers (approximately 1,498 square miles).
Relive the birth of the #A76 iceberg with this stunning animation! The animation was created using four… https://t.co/k3JfIX3Cbk— ESA EarthObservation (@ESA EarthObservation)1621513726.0
While the iceberg is large in size, its calving isn't necessarily a big deal from a climate perspective. In fact, iceberg calving can be a natural part of an ice shelf's cycle, as long as the ice shelf gains as much mass through snowfall as it loses to icebergs.
"Even relatively large calving events, where tabular ice chunks the size of Manhattan or bigger calve from the seaward front of the shelf, can be considered normal if the ice sheet is in overall balance," NASA explained.
The Ronne Ice Shelf is the second largest in Antarctica, according to HuffPost. It and another ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf, have "behaved in a stable, quasi-periodic fashion" for the past 100 years or more, University of Colorado at Boulder research glaciologist Ted Scambos told Reuters.
He said he did not think the calving had anything to do with the climate crisis. However, some ice shelves near the Antarctic Peninsula are disintegrating rapidly, which may be because of rising temperatures, Reuters explained.
While A-76's calving is part of a natural cycle, that doesn't mean it wasn't surprising.
"We could watch them for years and they won't do anything and elsewhere there will be this perfectly solid ice shelf that will suddenly collapse unexpectedly," Christopher Readinger, the lead analyst for the USNIC's Antarctic team, told HuffPost.
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By Courtney Lindwall
Whether you're simply fascinated by the superorganism that is a humming hive, want to pollinate your garden, or hope to harvest some honey, the ancient art of beekeeping offers much for beginner apiarists. "It blew me away how complex and organized the bees were," says Jason Thomas, senior IT specialist at NRDC, who began his hobbyist beekeeping career maintaining the hives on the roof of NRDC's New York City office. Here are tips from Thomas and other bee advocates on how to get started.
Join a beekeeper's association.
Beyond books and YouTube tutorials, your local beekeeper's association can offer guidance and insider tips as you learn the ropes. The American Beekeeping Federation offers a good jumping-off point, with listings by state. Once you find your local club, see if it offers classes for newbies. That's how Nicole Rivera Hartery, who now owns her own New Jersey–based beekeeping service called Bees on Main St., got her start: by taking an intensive course through Rutgers University's agricultural program. "I was fortunate enough to assist the members on their hives, and they became my mentors."
Keep native bees in mind.
While honeybees get the attention, there are about 4,000 species of native bees across North America. Some, like the underground-dwelling mining bee and the solitary mason bee, help pollinate agricultural crops. And like honeybees, native species, too, face myriad threats: climate change, pesticides, and toxic pollution. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that one in four native bee species are in peril. To protect against further decline, advocate for measures that support the health of all bees. Urge your lawmakers to ban harmful uses of neonics, a pesticide responsible for killing birds and bees, and encourage your community to cultivate a "pollinator pathway" lined with bee-friendly habitat and food sources.
Grow your own pollinator garden.
Bees feed off of nearby flowers, carrying sticky pollen on their legs and pollinating plants as they forage from two to four miles. Plant annuals that bloom throughout the season or perennials that bloom in sequence to provide food all year long. The ideal plants depend on where you live, but bees love native wildflowers and flowering trees—like wild cherries, horse chestnuts, tulip trees and crepe myrtles, for example—as well as fruit and vegetable gardens. (Read more tips on attracting bees and other pollinators here.) Watch out for toxic plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons, or ones that produce less nectar, like pansies. "If we all do this, we have a real opportunity to create a good stretch of pollinator habitat," says Guillermo Fernandez, executive director of the Bee Conservancy, "and to enjoy watching the wildlife that stops by for a sip of nectar."
Learn the local laws.
Whether you're tending to a single hive on your city roof or dozens in the country, get to know your local area's rules. Common ordinances include mandatory registration, limits on the number of hives, or restrictions on distancing from neighbors. In New York, for example, beekeepers are required to register their hives with the health department and renew their license annually.
Set up your hive.
Where you live, the amount of space you have, and your budget will influence how you set up your hive. The standard design since 1852 has been the Langstroth hive: It's more manageable because of its modular box and vertically hung frames—like folders in a filing cabinet—which help prevent them from fusing together. This where the bees make their honeycomb, store resources, and lay eggs. While plastic frames are durable, Thomas recommends natural materials like wood. "Anything plastic—the bees won't want to use that," Thomas says. Other designs include top bar, flow, and hex hives. Be sure to elevate your beehive off the ground—6 to 10 inches—to help keep it away from pests and ground moisture.
No hobby is without its gear. Start with what you'll wear for protection: Most apiarists recommend a sturdy suit (with ventilation for warm days), gloves, and a veil. As for tools, the basics include a hive smoker, which helps calm bees naturally and mask their alarm pheromones when you're disrupting their hive; a bee brush, to safely move bees without squishing them; and a hive tool, for prying open lids and separating frames. You may eventually want to purchase things like a queen clip, which allows you to catch and hold your queen bee, or a honey extractor.
Buy (or attract) some bees.
Most beekeepers purchase their starter bees online—typically the Western or Italian honeybee. A standard package has about 10,000 bees, including a queen. (Thomas recommends picking them up from a nearby retailer; shipping can cause bee loss.) After introducing the bees to the hive, set up a feeder—for initial sustenance—and remove it once the bees find nearby nectar. Some beekeepers choose to capture a wild swarm or attract one to a swarm trap, although Thomas cautions that this technique is best attempted by more experienced beekeepers.
Learn to read your frames.
Apiarists must tend to their hives throughout the year. Conduct check-ins every 7 to 10 days. Use your smoker to calm the bees and be careful not to crush any as you remove frames for inspection. Being able to "read your frames" takes experience, but be on the lookout for a healthy queen; a brood distributed in solid blocks within the comb cells; abundant pollen and nectar; and no pest or disease issues. Hive maintenance also changes through the seasons. Spring is when most hives grow. In winter, populations naturally shrink and hives need to be insulated. (In New York, Thomas aids overwintering by keeping a Canadian species that's more acclimated to the cold.)
Ensure your hive is "queenright."
Your hive may have thousands of worker bees and drone bees—but often just one queen, who lays all the eggs and whose good health—a state called "queenright"—determines the health of the hive. Learn to spot the queen quickly by watching for her longer abdomen and hairless back. You can also identify her by the way worker bees encircle her. Signs that your hive may no longer have a healthy queen include a lack of eggs and brood, a population decrease, and an agitated temperament.
Plan for pests and disease.
Even in the best-maintained hives, pests are unavoidable. "I thought I'd only have to worry about wasps," Hartery says, "but when I found out everything I'd have to protect them from, it was a shock." Varroa mites are most common (and often treatable with remedies like oxalic acid), but other threats include mice, wax moths, and small hive beetles. Your bees may also catch diseases, like the nosema fungus, but many are treatable if you catch them early. Aim for "Integrative Pest Management," which prioritizes nontoxic, preventative, least-invasive measures, before resorting to potentially harmful options, like miticides.
Reap the (sweet) rewards.
If you're mostly in it for the honey, keep in mind that it could take a while. "Usually, don't expect honey your first year," Hartery says. Thomas advises buying frames with existing honeycomb to start. When the honey comes, it will have the unique flavor of the plants the bees feasted on. Apiarists can also use their hives' comb, pollen, and wax to make everything from candles to pollen patties, which can be fed back to the bees before winter.
Stay the course.
"As beekeepers, we dedicate so much to these hives and we just want them to be healthy," Hartery says. "When we lose one, it can be pretty devastating." Her advice? Know that losing a hive is inevitable. But the rewards of the job have always won out for Hartery. "I get done working, and I'm able to sit back and observe—just watch them work together. It definitely opens up your eyes to life in general. You think, this is how we should be as a human race; this is how we should work together for the greater cause."
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By Courtney Lindwall
Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.
Clearly, something isn't working, but as a consumer, I'm sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers' shoulders. While I'll continue to do my part, it's high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products.
There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the "Extended Producer Responsibility Act"—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.
Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
"The New York bill would be a foundation on which a modern, more sustainable waste management system could be built," says NRDC waste expert Eric Goldstein.
In New York City alone, the proposed legislation would cover an estimated 50 percent of the municipal waste stream. Importantly, it would funnel millions of dollars into the state's beleaguered recycling programs. This would free up funds to hire more workers and modernize sorting equipment while also allowing cities to re-allocate their previous recycling budgets toward other important services, such as education, public parks, and mass transit.
The bills aren't about playing the blame game—they are necessary. Unsurprisingly, Americans still produce far more trash than anyone else in the world, clocking in at an average of nearly 5 pounds per person, every day—clogging landfills and waterways, harming wildlife, contributing to the climate crisis, and blighting communities. As of now, a mere 8 percent of the plastic we buy gets recycled, and at least six times more of our plastic waste ends up in an incinerator than gets reused.
It's easy to see why. Current recycling rules vary widely depending on where you live—and they're notoriously confusing. Contrary to what many of us have been told, proper recycling requires more than simply looking for that green-arrowed triangle, a label that may tell you what a product is made out of and that it is recyclable in theory, but not whether that material can be recycled in your town—or anywhere at all. About 90 percent of all plastic can't be recycled, often because it's either logistically difficult to sort or there's no market for it to be sold.
That recycling marketplace is also ever changing. When China, which was importing about a third of our country's recyclable plastic, started refusing our (usually contaminated) waste streams in 2018, demand for recyclables tanked. This led to cities as big as Philadelphia and towns as small as Hancock, Maine, to send even their well-sorted recyclables to landfills. Municipalities now had to either foot big bills to pick up recyclables they once sold for a profit or shutter recycling services altogether.
According to Goldstein, New York's bill has a good shot of passing this spring—and it already has the support of some companies that see the writing on the wall, or as the New York Times puts it, "the glimmer of a cultural reset, a shift in how Americans view corporate and individual responsibility." If the bill does go through, New Yorkers could start to see changes to both local recycling programs and product packaging within a few years.
What makes these bills so groundbreaking isn't that they force manufacturers to pay for the messes they make, but that they could incentivize companies to make smarter, less wasteful choices in the first place.
New York's bill, for instance, could help reward more sustainable product design. A company might pay less of a fee if it reduces the total amount of waste of a product, sources a higher percentage of recycled material, or makes the end product more easily recyclable by, say, using only one type of plastic instead of three.
"Producers are in the best position to be responsible because they control the types and amounts of packaging, plastics, and paper products that are put into the marketplace," Goldstein says.
Bills like these embody the principles of a circular economy—that elusive North Star toward which all waste management policies should point. By encouraging companies to use more recycled materials, demand for recyclables goes up and the recycling industry itself is revitalized. What gets produced gets put back into the stream for reuse.
If widely adopted, we could significantly reduce our overall consumption and burden on the planet. With less paper used, more forests would stay intact—to continue to store carbon, filter air and water, and provide habitat for wildlife and sustenance for communities. With less plastic produced, less trash would clog oceans and contaminate ecosystems and food supplies. In turn, we'd give fossil fuels even more reasons to stay in the ground, where they belong.
That would be my Earth Day dream come true—with little hand-wringing of fellow guilt-stricken individuals required.
Courtney Lindwall is a writer and editor in NRDC's Communications department. Prior to NRDC, she worked in publishing and taught writing to New York City public school students. Lindwall has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. She is based in the New York office.
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By Jessica Corbett
From fake oil spills in Washington, D.C. and New York City to a "people mural" in Seattle spelling out "Defund Line 3," climate and Indigenous protesters in 50 U.S. cities and across seven other countries spanning four continents took to the streets on Friday for a day of action pushing 20 banks to ditch the controversial tar sands pipeline.
"Against the backdrop of rising climate chaos, the continued bankrolling of Line 3 and similar oil and gas infrastructure worldwide is fueling gross and systemic violations of human rights and Indigenous peoples' rights at a global scale," said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
"It's time for the big banks to recognize that they can and will be held accountable for their complicity in those violations," Muffett added. His organization is part of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, more than 150 groups that urge asset managers, banks, and insurers to stop funding climate destruction.
#Line3 is being built through Indigenous territory without consent. If built, Line 3 would release as much greenhou… https://t.co/Qla18Rhnmm— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1620396780.0
The global protests on Friday follow on-the-ground actions that have, at times, successfully halted construction of Canada-based Enbridge's Line 3 project, which is intended to replace an old pipeline that runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota, to Wisconsin. The new pipeline's route crosses Anishinaabe treaty lands.
Simone Senogles, a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network, declared that "no amount of greenwashing and PR can absolve these banks from violating Indigenous rights and the desolation of Mother Earth."
"By giving credit lines to Enbridge, these institutions are giving the oil company a blank check to attack Anishinaabe people, steal our lands, and further guide this planet into climate chaos," Senogles said. "Those who financially back Enbridge are directly implicated in its crimes. To put it bluntly, blood is on their hands."
The Stop the Money Pipeline coalition launched the #DefundLine3 campaign in February. At the time, Tara Houska — a citizen of Couchiching First Nation, tribal attorney, and founder of the Giniw Collective — wrote for Common Dreams:
It is my duty as an Anishinaabe woman that compels me to support people in taking direct action to stop the construction of Line 3. Direct action, like when Water Protectors recently locked themselves inside a section of pipe, blockaded the entrances to construction sites, and locked themselves to trucks being used to carry Line 3 pipeline materials.
It is from this sense of duty that I am asking you to join us in this campaign. Together, I know that we can do this. Throughout history people-powered movements have changed the world. And they sure as hell can stop Line 3.
Appearing on Democracy Now! Friday, Jackie Fielder of Stop the Money Pipeline noted that "Line 3 would result in an additional 193 million tons of greenhouse gases every single year, and it violates Indigenous rights of the Anishinaabe people and their right to free, prior, and informed consent."
WATCH 📺 Our very own @JackieFielder_ on @democracynow this morning talking about our Global Day of Action. The 2… https://t.co/JI5SkkPMkO— Stop the Money Pipeline (@Stop the Money Pipeline)1620397129.0
While critics of Line 3 continue to call on U.S. President Joe Biden to intervene and block the pipeline, activists also hope that increasing pressure on banks could quash not only this project but others like it.
"Wall Street may think it can keep profiting off disrespect for Indigenous rights and desecration of the natural world, but it needs to think again," said Moira Birss, climate and finance director at Amazon Watch. "From the Kichwa in the Amazon to the Anishinaabe in Minnesota, Indigenous peoples and their allies are ramping up resistance, and we will hold accountable the financial enablers of this destruction."
As 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben explained: "Let's just say it straight. These banks are trying to profit off the end of the world, and the ongoing desecration of Indigenous land. History will judge them for it, but we're trying to speed up the process."
Activists and supporters shared updates from the protests on social media:
Today we smeared fake oil over @WellsFargo. The bank is one of the world's biggest climate criminals. It is making… https://t.co/sW7Ttj6iFl— Extinction Rebellion Washington DC (@Extinction Rebellion Washington DC)1620404699.0
Line 3 is being built through Indigenous territory without consent. We're here in Minneapolis with @MNIPL to deman… https://t.co/ghxjlBm4b8— MN350 (@MN350)1620399831.0
BREAKING: we’re outside @wellsfargo in London calling for them to pull their money out of a climate wrecking tar sa… https://t.co/QLOXnk6gr0— Fossil Free London (@Fossil Free London)1620385988.0
"Nearly every major U.S. bank has now promised that they will align their business with the Paris agreement," noted Alec Connon, Stop the Money Pipeline coalition co-coordinator. "But the fact that those exact same banks are continuing to bankroll a tar sands oil pipeline that is completely incompatible with the Paris agreement and curtailing climate chaos shows just how hollow their promises are."
The 2015 Paris agreement's more ambitious goal is to limit global temperature rise to 1.5˚C by the end of the century. However, based on nations' current plans to cut planet-heating emissions, the world is on track to hit 2.4˚C of warming by 2100, according to a projection published earlier this week by the Climate Action Tracker.
Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, asserted that "financial institutions must be held accountable for their role in financing the destruction of the climate, the violation of Indigenous rights, escalating harms to public health during a pandemic, and increased rates of violence toward Indigenous women living near 'man camps' associated with pipeline construction."
"In solidarity with Indigenous leaders, we are calling for fossil fuel divestment to protect the water and climate, and the health and survival of Indigenous communities," she said. "As multiple crises in 2021 proliferate, business as usual must not and cannot continue."
"Now is the time for financial institutions to align with the Paris agreement, respect human rights, divest from Line 3 and planet-wrecking companies, and instead invest in our communities, renewable energy, and a regenerative economy," she added. "There is no time to lose!"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Katharine Lusk
Through a year of pandemic shutdowns and protests, Americans have rediscovered their public spaces. Homebound city dwellers sought havens in parks, plazas and reclaimed streets. Many of these places also became stages for protests against police violence and systemic racism in the U.S.
Mayors around the world have used this time to reimagine the use of public space. Will cities revert to familiar car-centric patterns, or build on the past year to create more outdoor spaces that are accessible and welcoming for all of their residents?
Beginning in June 2020 and continuing throughout the summer, our team at Boston University interviewed mayors in cities across the country as part of our annual Menino Survey of Mayors. We wanted to understand how they were grappling with the unprecedented challenges and stark inequities laid bare in 2020, and how they were thinking about repurposing the public realm.
Our newly released report, Urban Parks and the Public Realm: Equity & Access in Post-COVID Cities, supported by Citi, The Rockefeller Foundation and The Trust for Public Land, offers new insights into how the disruptions of this unprecedented year have shaped mayoral perspective on parks and streets.
Partial street closures early in the pandemic gave people in cities like Oakland, California, a taste of urban life less dominated by cars.
COVID-19 and racial protests have highlighted pervasive inequities in the U.S. One issue we examined was how mayors think about investing for equity in parks and green spaces.
Among the 130 mayors we interviewed, 70% believed all their residents, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, live within easy walking distance of a park or green space. This view may be somewhat optimistic.
Data developed by The Trust for Public Land shows that, on average, 64% of residents in the cities we surveyed live within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space. Our analysis of The Trust's ParkServe data for all U.S. cities with more than 75,000 residents showed that on average, 59% of white residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space, compared with 61% of Black or Hispanic residents and 57% of Asian residents. Mayors, particularly those in Northeast cities, acknowledged that not all neighborhoods had equal access to high-quality parks.
Another important question is how welcome residents feel in local public spaces. In our interviews, 77% of mayors believed their cities' parks were safe for all users. A similar proportion believed Black residents could use parks without fear of police.
But physical safety is not the only measure of accessibility. Racial and ethnic minorities may be discriminated against or feel socially and culturally excluded in some parks and public spaces. Widely publicized false assault charges by a white woman against a Black birder in New York's Central Park in October 2020 presented one prominent example.
"So long as people of color, and black men in particular, are seen as a potential danger, the issue of racial equit… https://t.co/O4CynYv9wk— Bloomberg CityLab (@Bloomberg CityLab)1590590548.0
Most Likely to Gain: Diners, Walkers and Bikers
Some local leaders capitalized on empty streets to accelerate long-planned projects or initiate new ones. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo made headlines with her decision to remove half of all street parking in Paris, add 50 kilometers (31 miles) of bike lanes and convert a major central roadway, Rue di Rivoli, to a cycling thoroughfare. These steps mark a fundamental shift toward a public realm that centers on people, not vehicles.
Similarly, one East Coast mayor told us that the need to maintain physical distance between people had prompted a call for more outdoor space:
"Fewer cars means more opportunities for public space. We're learning a lot about how to share public space and not just use it for cars – we worked to close roadways and people want to keep them."
Nearly half of the mayors we surveyed closed some roads to through traffic during the pandemic, and just under a third closed select streets to nearly all traffic. One prominent example is Washington, D.C.'s Black Lives Matter Plaza, commissioned by Mayor Muriel Bowser along two blocks of 16th Street NW. This new pedestrian promenade has quickly become a landmark that embodies a convergence of protest and pride.
New York City undertook an expansive "open streets" initiative, temporarily closing more than 100 miles of roadway to cars to provide more space for outdoor recreation in all five boroughs. Like most cities we surveyed, New York did not have a plan or process for retaining these changes after the pandemic. But the city's Department of Transportation, responding to public pressure, has signaled its commitment to making some changes permanent.
Typical setup for temporary limited local access under New York City's Open Streets initiative. NYC DOT
The most popular new use of public space, and the one most likely to endure after the pandemic, was outdoor dining. Among the mayors we surveyed, 92% created new space for outdoor dining, with 34% noting they planned to make these changes permanent. Locations varied across cities and neighborhoods: Some communities claimed sidewalk space, while others reallocated on-street parking or repurposed empty parking lots. Other cities closed entire streets for dining.
Other new uses of public space included widening sidewalks and creating new bike lanes. About 40% of the mayors in our survey pursued each of these changes. In Boston, permitting for new outdoor dining was part of a multifaceted "Healthy Streets" initiative that also accelerated creation of dedicated bus lanes and new bike lanes – including expansive new protected lanes around the city's historic central green space, Boston Common.
Ambitious projects require resources, and financial pressures still loom. Almost 40% of mayors we surveyed anticipated "dramatic" financial cuts to their parks and recreation budgets. That threat could be offset by the recently enacted American Rescue Plan, which provides direct funds for cities of all sizes.
People-Centered Public Spaces
Our survey indicates that Americans' newfound enthusiasm for public spaces isn't likely to fade. Among the mayors we surveyed, 76% believe their residents will visit parks and green space more frequently in the future than they did before the pandemic, 70% anticipate that residents will be walking more, and 62% believe they will be cycling more frequently.
Speaking recently about the future of cities, renowned Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye asserted that high-quality public space "has now become the treasure that people are completely addicted to. If you took for granted a park, now you realize that it's a very important part of the quality of life [in] cities."
As the U.S. emerges from a long and challenging year, perhaps more American mayors – spurred on by residents – will find the will to forever transform urban spaces into the treasures they can be.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Marianne Dhenin
Many Americans learned to ride bicycles as kids. I still remember zipping around a cul de sac in my neighborhood, shrieking with glee and reveling in my newfound freedom after the training wheels came off. But those who did not have the opportunity to learn to ride during their childhood often face uncertainty or anxiety about learning as adults. Bicycle education programs help those who want to become cyclists overcome that fear while also addressing problems in their communities — from pollution to racial injustice.
And biking's popularity has only increased during the pandemic: Bicycle sales skyrocketed in the United States in March 2020 as commuters sought to avoid crowded means of public transportation. Organizations around the world are using bicycle education to empower new riders and advocate for more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive communities.
In 2015, Germany coined a new term, Willkommenskultur, to describe the welcoming culture rolled out to greet arriving refugees, many of whom were fleeing the Syrian war. This culture led to an explosion of new volunteer organizations eager to address the needs of new arrivals. Few groups have had as lasting an impact (or as much fun) as #BIKEYGEES in Berlin. According to Annette Krüger, its founder, the organization teaches "women from all over the world" how to ride bicycles.
For immigrants to Germany, where about nine out of every 10 residents own a bicycle, learning how to ride means becoming part of a community. On bikes, women "can discover areas in their neighborhood" and experience "an improvement in independence, mobility, and security," says Greta Aigner, a trainer at #BIKEYGEES.
Annette Krüger, right, and another #BIKEYGEES coach, left, help a woman balance on a bicycle during a #BIKEYGEES class in Berlin. Deutsche Fernsehlotterie / Jan Ehlers
#BIKEYGEES was awarded the German Bicycling Award in 2018 for its service to the community, its focus on women's empowerment, and its promotion of sustainable transportation. Krüger and her team now give regular riding lessons in 15 locations in Berlin and the neighboring town of Brandenburg. She characterizes the courses as "two hours of happiness."
"You don't have to register," she says. "You can come as you are. We only ask: Do you want to learn how to ride a bike? Or do you want to learn how to teach to ride a bike? We are all learning something." Krüger's advice to anyone looking to make an impact is to start now. "It's so easy to change the world, but we have to do it," she says, "and the bike is the perfect vehicle for it."
Making a More Livable City
Like #BIKEYGEES in Berlin, many bicycle education programs in the U.S. work with immigrants who did not learn to ride as kids. Lana Zitser, a Russian immigrant who has spent most of her life in the U.S., says she only committed to learning in her 30s to set a good example for her 11-year-old son who was also learning to ride. She says that while her older brother learned how to ride when they were kids, her mother was "extremely overprotective" of her. "My girlfriends who also grew up in Russia don't know how to ride bicycles either," she says.
Zitser signed up for classes with an organization called Sustainable Streets, based in Los Angeles County. "I'm grateful for the experience," she says. "Now I ride around the neighborhood with my family."
Ron Durgin, co-founder and executive director of Sustainable Streets, says he loves empowering new riders like Zitser. He co-founded the organization in 2009 with the belief that turning more Angelenos into cyclists would mean turning Los Angeles' urban environment into "a more livable community."
"There's this kind of mindset about Los Angeles," Durgin says. "People come to Los Angeles, and they think they have to buy a car." With millions of cars on its streets, people living in Los Angeles County are exposed to 60% more vehicle pollution than the average Californian, and a whopping 250% more than San Francisco Bay area residents.
Ron Durgin, center in a green shirt, and a group of bicyclists prepare for a Sustainable Streets' social ride in Los Angeles. Sustainable Streets
Los Angeles County's auto-centric urban planning also means its streets are less walkable and its residents have little access to parks or other public spaces. Across Los Angeles County, there is an average of only about 3 acres of parklands per 1,000 residents, which is a meager one-third of the national average.
"Whether it's air quality, water quality, land use, [or] the way we allocate public space," Durgin says, cyclists can have a big impact on city life. Research shows that cities with good bicycle infrastructure and more riders have higher per capita GDPs, less traffic and pollution, and happier citizens.
More than a decade after its founding, Sustainable Streets' adult education programs have helped hundreds learn how to ride, understand the rules of the road, navigate their cities, and perform basic bicycle maintenance. The organization has also had great success influencing bike infrastructure. Sustainable Streets and its allies have lobbied the city of Santa Monica to improve bicycle parking and even establish a dedicated bike campus near its headquarters. At the bike campus, cyclists can practice riding and learn the rules of the road in a safe environment.
"It has always been a goal of mine to learn to ride a bike," says Julie Maharaj, who attended an adult learn-to-ride class on the Santa Monica bike campus last year. "[The class] has definitely given me more confidence and a feeling of accomplishment," she says.
Durgin says his best advice for other groups looking to start bicycle education programs is to lean on community partners. If you can't find partners, make them. Sustainable Streets has gained favor with law enforcement officers, city administrators, and skeptical locals by inviting them on social rides. "We just tried to weave [them] in," Durgin says. "There's just a joy and a feeling of freedom when you're on a bike and getting outside and socializing with other people."
Leveling the Playing Field
Unlike Los Angeles, New York City is known for having its fair share of bicyclists. According to the New York Department of Transportation, nearly 900,000 New Yorkers ride regularly, and more than 50,000 depend on their bicycles to commute. But research shows that the majority of people who choose to commute by bike are wealthy and White. They are often drawn to bicycling for environmental or health reasons.
But for lower-income communities and communities of color, especially for people with disabilities or those who have health limitations, bicycling is not always so feasible or even desirable. Members of these communities often have to live farther from city centers and travel longer distances for work, often on roads that lack the infrastructure for safe cycling.
"When you talk about access… it's not only about providing someone a bicycle," says Hilena Tibebe, board member of Bike New York and founder of Ride to DC, which works to raise awareness of the racial disparity within the cycling community and increase access and inclusion for cyclists who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. It's also about "providing someone a helmet, creating a route that is accessible for all, being able to ride a bike, [and] having the roads to bike on," she says.
Low-income residents and people of color accounted for much of the uptick in cyclists in the 2000s, but they are also often neglected by investments in cycling infrastructure that make roads safer and more accessible. Instead, cities tend to focus on the needs of wealthy White cyclists.
For Bike New York, whose mission is to "transform the lives of New Yorkers through cycling," these disparities are unacceptable. By placing its adult education and after-school classes, summer camps for kids, and bicycle libraries (an innovative program that allows kids to borrow bicycles in public parks for recreational use) in underserved communities, the organization is trying to "level the playing field," says Ken Podziba, the organization's CEO. "There aren't enough people of color riding, and we're trying to help."
A volunteer helps a participant in a "Learn to Ride – Adult Class" organized by Bike New York for adults learning to ride a bicycle on May 3, 2013 in New York. STAN HONDA / AFP via Getty Images
Bike New York now provides bicycle education to 30,000 New Yorkers per year in all five boroughs and has a network of more than 3,000 volunteers.
Podziba says that Bike New York's largest boon has been partnering with the city and placing its education programs in local parks, which provide safe spaces for riders to learn and practice and for Bike New York to store its bikes and helmets. In the future, Podziba says he hopes others will emulate this model and that there will be better communication among bike organizations "so we could all learn together, work together, support each other, build each other up."
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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