The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
- What the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About Fracking ... ›
- Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›
By Rishika Pardikar
Search operations are still underway to find those declared missing following the Uttarakhand disaster on 7 February 2021.
"As of now [18 March], we have found 74 bodies and 130 people are still missing," said Swati S. Bhadauria, district magistrate in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India. Chamoli is the district where a hanging, ice-capped rock broke off from a glacier and fell into a meltwater- and debris-formed lake below. The lake subsequently breached, leading to heavy flooding downstream.
The disaster is attributed to both development policies in the Himalayas and climate change. And as is common with climate-linked disasters, the most vulnerable sections of society suffered the most devastating consequences. Among the most vulnerable in Chamoli are its population of migrant construction workers from states across India.
Of the 204 people dead or missing, only 77 are from Uttarakhand, and "only 11 were not workers of the two dam companies," Bhadauria noted. The two dams referred to are the 13.2-megawatt Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project and the 520-megawatt Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant, which has been under construction since 2005. The flash floods in Chamoli first broke through the Rishiganga project and then, along with debris accumulated there, broke through the Tapovan Vishnugad project 5–6 kilometers downstream.
"Both local people and others from Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh…from all over India work on these two [hydroelectric] projects," said Atul Sati, a Chamoli-based social activist with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.
Sati noted that the local community suspects the number of casualties from the Uttarakhand disaster may be higher than reported because not all the projects' migrant workers—including those from bordering countries like Nepal—have been accounted for by the construction companies and their subcontractors.
The National Thermal Power Corporation is the state-owned utility that owns the Tapovan Vishnugad project. "NTPC has given building contracts to some companies," Sati explained. "These companies have given subcontracts to other companies. What locals are saying is that there are more [than 204] who are missing. They say there were [migrant] workers from Nepal."
NTPC and the Kundan Group (the corporate owner of the Rishiganga project) have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
No Early-Warning System
"NTPC did not have a proper early-warning system," said Mritunjay Kumar, an employee with the government of the east Indian state of Bihar. Kumar's bother, Manish Kumar, was a migrant worker employed with Om Infra Ltd., an NTPC subcontractor. On the day of the disaster, Manish was working in one of the silt flushing tunnels of the Tapovan project and lost his life in the flooding.
Mritunjay Kumar noted that it "would have taken time" for the floodwater and debris to flow from the meltwater lake to the Rishiganga project and then to the Tapovan project. "Even if workers knew 5 minutes in advance," he said, "lives could have been saved."
An advance notice "would have given [Tapovan] workers at least 5–6 critical minutes," agreed Hridayesh Joshi, an environmental journalist from Uttarakhand who reported from Chamoli after the disaster. "Many people made videos; they shouted and alerted people on site. If there was a robust early-warning system, many more lives could have been saved…even if not all, at least some would have escaped."
"It is true that this was an environmental, climate change driven disaster. But NTPC had not taken any measures to save their workers from such disasters," Kumar said. "They [NTPC] hadn't even installed emergency exits for tunnel workers. The only proper exit was a road which faces the river. If NTPC had installed a few temporary iron staircases, many people could have climbed out."
Kumar noted that the Tapovan project has been under construction since before the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, in which more than 5,000 people lost their lives as rainfall-driven floods ravaged northern India. "If they [NTPC] knew that such disasters will happen, why didn't they install early-warning systems?" Kumar asked. "Scientists have been warning about climate change and [dam and road] constructions in the Himalayas from a very long time. Obviously, NTPC was aware."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.
The spill was caused by a human error when a valve was left open, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was also not the field's first spill. Past spills at the Inglewood Oil Field, located in Culver City and Los Angeles County, have occurred in 2019, 2018, 2010, 2006 and 2005, exposing residents in the area to toxins and carcinogens, the Sierra Club added.
After a history of community organizing, Tuesday's spill arms activists with further momentum to fight against this major public health and environmental crisis in California's largest county.
"Yesterday's oil spill is a deadly reminder that the environmental racism that's shaped and harmed Black, Indigenous, and people of color continues to put our health at risk," Martha Dina Argüello, of the STAND-LA Coalition, an environmental justice coalition, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said in a Sierra Club statement.
Of the people living in the area, 52 percent are Black, which is a much higher percentage than the countywide eight percent, the Sierra Club reported. The oil field is also located alongside homes and schools, putting families at risk for health outcomes from air pollution like lung disease, leukemia, lymphoma, lung cancer and asthma. In Baldwin Hills, asthma related ER visits are 4.4 times higher than the Los Angeles County average.
"A pattern of oil spills and the daily and 'authorized' toxic emissions both demonstrate that oil extraction is [an] inherently dangerous practice that has no place in our region. We look forward to working with Los Angeles County to take immediate steps to phase out oil and gas production," Argüello added, according to the Sierra Club.
Last fall, Culver City approved a resolution to take initial steps to phase out oil in the area, the NRDC wrote in a statement. Similar actions are also occurring citywide in Los Angeles.
In December, the Los Angeles City Council's Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee voted unanimously to pass a motion to begin a citywide phase-out of oil drilling, the NRDC wrote in a statement. "We're not over the finish line, but we're closer than ever," Argüello added, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Currently, there are 1,071 active oil wells in the city — 759 of which are located less than 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches and hospitals, STAND-LA, which has been leading the fight against oil in the city of Los Angeles, wrote.
Although no injuries were reported at the Inglewood oil spill on Tuesday, environmental groups have expressed concerns about toxins released in the air from the spill that could harm nearby communities, the Los Angeles Times reported, adding to the often unknown and unreported health impacts of oil spills.
"What's terrifying about health dangers like this is that the average person living nearby rarely has any way of knowing it even happened," Ethan Senser, Southern California Organizer with Food & Water Watch told the Sierra Club. "This is an ongoing crisis we can't keep sweeping under the rug - it's time that the County commits to partnering with frontline communities and supporting the real solutions they are putting forward."
- Kinder Morgan Pipeline Spills up to 42,000 Gallons of Gasoline Into ... ›
- Chevron Refinery Dumps Oil Into San Francisco Bay - EcoWatch ›
Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and growing inequality will exacerbate global volatility over the coming decades, a report by top U.S. intelligence officials released Thursday warns.
The Global Trends report, released every four years by the National Intelligence Council, predicted the impacts of climate change – rising temperatures, intensifying extreme weather and droughts that increase food insecurity, health risks, and conflict – would accelerate the trend of massive migration, and with it, global instability.
COVID, the report said, exposed the fragility of the world order, worsening "more and cascading global challenges, ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises," the authors wrote.
"The international system – including the organizations, alliances, rules, and norms – is poorly set up to address the compounding global challenges facing populations."
Under the best-case scenario, democracies would take advantage of the opportunity to use pandemic recovery efforts to reorient national and international priorities toward solutions that would plan and adapt for climate change and other crises.
Unfortunately, said Maria Langan-Reikhof, the director of the council's strategic futures group, "greater divisions, increasing fracturing… [are] likely to continue and probably worsen."
For a deeper dive:
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Louisiana's Vanishing Island: America's First Climate Refugees ... ›
- One Billion People May Become Climate Refugees By 2050 ... ›
By Nina Sevilla
"Food desert" has become a common term to describe low-income communities — often communities of color — where access to healthy and affordable food is limited or where there are no grocery stores. Living in Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, taught me that despite its common usage, "food desert" is an inaccurate and misleading term that pulls focus from the underlying root causes of the lack of access to healthy food in communities. The language we use to describe the issues can inspire solutions, so we should follow the lead of food justice leaders who urge us to reconceptualize "food deserts" as "food apartheid" by focusing on creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change.
The term "food desert" emerged in the 1970s and 80s, but in the past decade has really caught on, and is now a common concept in economic and public health fields. The racial demographics of the areas described by this term are most often Black and Latino. When comparing communities with similar poverty rates, Black and Latino neighborhoods tend to have fewer supermarkets that offer a variety of produce and healthy foods, and have more small retail (i.e. convenience and liquor) stores that have fewer produce options than in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Despite its prevalence, the term "food desert" has come under scrutiny for two reasons:
- It obscures the vibrant life and food systems in these communities.
- It implies that these areas are naturally occurring.
Sonoran Desert. Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
First, the word "desert" typically conjures up dramatic images of vast arid landscapes with little to no vegetation and water. Common uses of the word describe the absence of life or activity, but most deserts are full of adapted plants and have sustained human and animal populations for centuries. I fell into the trap of this misconception when I moved to Tucson. I thought it was going to be devoid of all life, but when I got there, I realized that the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, like most deserts, can be quite abundant, especially when they have the right resources.
Using the word "desert" to imply a location's inferiority as a desolate place writes off the people who live there, as well as the flora and fauna that are actually present in deserts. The term "food desert" obscures the presence of community and backyard gardens, farmer's markets, food businesses, and other food sharing activities that exist in these areas. As farmer and activist Karen Washington points out, "food desert" is an outsider term, used by people who do not actually live in these areas. She says, "Number one, people will tell you that they do have food. Number two, people in the 'hood have never used that term... When we're talking about these places, there is so much life and vibrancy and potential. Using that word runs the risk of preventing us from seeing all of those things."
Students harvest vegetables from a school garden. State Farm via Flickr
Second, by using the term "desert" one is implying that food deserts are naturally occurring. Deserts are classified by amount of precipitation an area receives, so they are dictated by weather patterns — forces beyond human control. Though increasing desertification due to climate change is exacerbated by human activities, for the most part, deserts are naturally occurring. Food deserts, in contrast, are not naturally occurring. They are the result of systematic racism and oppression in the form of zoning codes, lending practices, and other discriminatory policies rooted in white supremacy. Using the term desert implies that the lack of healthy and affordable food is somehow naturally occurring and obscures that it is the direct result of racially discriminatory policies and systematic disinvestment in these communities.
Building more grocery stores won't necessarily make things better. Sometimes grocery stores are unaffordable to their surrounding communities. Sociologists have started using the term "food mirage" to describe the phenomenon when there are places to buy food, but they are too expensive for the neighborhood. And, as Karen Washington and research from Johns Hopkins University highlight, people who live in the places labeled "food deserts" most of the time do have food, but often the food they can afford is fast food or junk food. People who work in public health have come up with another term for areas with easier access to fast food and junk food than to healthier food: "food swamps." Rather than simply building grocery stores, some of these communities need stable jobs and a livable wage to change their access to healthier food.
A Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining map from the 1930's that labeled "hazardous" majority Black areas of Nashville, Tennessee in red. HOLC
Swamp, desert, mirage... all these sound like places to stay away from. Language is important and using these terms prevents us from naming and addressing the root causes and making systemic change. Many groups are now using the term "food apartheid" to correctly highlight the how racist policies shaped these areas and led to limited access to healthy food. Apartheid is a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination, and these areas are food apartheids because they too are created by racially discriminatory policies. Using the term "apartheid" focuses our examination on the intersectional root causes that created low-income and low food access areas, and importantly, points us towards working for structural change to address these root causes.
Corona Farmers Market, Queens, New York City. Preston Keres / USDA
Getting at the root causes is not a small task — naming them is the first step, and there are many different routes to take from there. Fortunately, there are many organizations already working on different aspects of addressing food apartheid, from building alternative food system models to providing ideas for policy reform. Organizations like The Ron Finley Project, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and Whitelock Community Farm are strengthening regional food systems through urban and small-scale farming. SÜPRMARKT, Mandela Grocery, and other nonprofits are creating affordable, organic grocery stores, and re-thinking the grocery store model through co-ops. HEAL Food Alliance offers a comprehensive policy platform to address food apartheid root causes and build a better food system. As an example of transformative policy change, the Navajo Nation passed a tax on unhealthy food to fund community health initiatives in 2014. Ultimately, strong policies are necessary to ensure that no neighborhood experiences food apartheid and to redistribute power to remove systems of oppression.
A major component of power is economic capital — a reparations map maintained by Soul Fire Farm offers an easy way to start supporting efforts across the U.S. to more fairly allocate land and money and work toward repairing historical inequities based on race. In addition to economic capital, power is also control over your decisions and the choices you make. To address this, movements of food sovereignty seek to bring power back to the people. The Declaration of Nyéléni asserts that food sovereignty is the right of all people to design and influence their own food systems and the right to healthy, culturally appropriate, and sustainably-produced food.
The food sovereignty movement and the phrase "food sovereignty" were created by La Via Campesina, the largest international peasant movement. The term and movement have since expanded across the globe and into urban areas. I have encountered the term used to describe urban farming in large cities, like Baltimore, and to describe indigenous peoples reclaiming their native foodways. I have also heard people question if food sovereignty is the right term to cover these vast topics. I believe the words we choose help us see the way forward and if we are serious about transformative change, we should explore food sovereignty seriously.
In a similar way that using the term "food apartheid" can help us identify and address the root causes of the geographies that lack access to healthy food, highlighting "food sovereignty" as a call to action directly addresses the power dynamics at play in the food system. This term focuses the lens on how our modern, globalized food system does not value the rights of peasant and small-scale farmers anywhere and how in most cases the major decisionmakers are multinational corporations. The organization A Growing Culture says "there is no genuine food security without food sovereignty." They continue, "We must stop seeing food security as the pathway to eradicating hunger. It reduces food to an economic commodity, when food is the basis of culture, of life itself. Food sovereignty is the pathway to imagining something fundamentally different."
As we look forward and imagine a fundamentally different system that nourishes all people and the planet, we have a wealth of knowledge and examples to draw upon, as well as rich terminology to describe the challenges communities are facing and our goals for the future. Any efforts to achieve — and ways we discuss — a better, more equitable, food system should address root causes, redistribute power, and be guided by people with lived experience in food apartheids. Food security is more than proximity to a grocery store; it should be about food sovereignty — the right of all people to have a say in how their food is grown and the right to fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.
The term "urban forest" may sound like an oxymoron. When most of us think about forests, we may picture vast expanses of tall trunks and dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves, far from the busyness of the city. But the trees that line city streets and surround apartment complexes across the U.S. hold great value, in part because of their proximity to people.
"Per tree, you're getting way more value for an urban tree than a tree out in the wild," says Mark McPherson, founder and director of a Seattle nonprofit called City Forest Credits. In an increasingly urbanizing world, cities are, after all, "right where people live and breathe and recreate."
Trees—and urban trees in particular—provide enormous benefits. For starters, they're responsible for producing oxygen and removing CO2 and other pollutants from the air. Urban forests in the U.S. remove an estimated 75,000 tons of air pollution per year. They reduce the impact of falling rain and encourage that water to soak into the ground, reducing flooding and erosion as well as preventing pollution from entering waterways. And the shade they provide isn't just good for picnics; trees absorb heat and release water vapor that cools the surrounding air. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that trees reduce the energy consumption needed to cool homes in the U.S. by more than 7%.
To find out just how much one tree can do, you can even estimate the value of the benefits of a specific tree near you using this calculator developed by a collaboration of tree experts and nonprofits.
The trouble is that these benefits are not equitably distributed. "Nationally, there's a trend for trees to follow wealth," says Leslie Berckes, the director of programs for Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental group that works with communities across Iowa and Illinois to plant and care for trees. She says wealthier communities tend to have more trees for a variety of reasons, including racist housing practices. "Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space, less tree cover," Berckes says.
And the results are life-threatening. In the absence of trees, these urban areas tend to be concrete—either buildings or sidewalks or streets. These impervious surfaces absorb heat during the day and then release it at night, preventing the relief of cooling temperatures, and creating urban heat islands. "People are getting sick or dying from heat," Berckes says, "and their utility bills are going up. … Heat is the biggest killer from [a] natural disaster perspective."
Building Community by Planting Trees
To better support the health of these communities, Berckes' organization employs local teenagers to plant and care for trees. Trees Forever pays a starting rate of $10 an hour—higher than the state's minimum wage of $7.25—and then bumps it up to $15 an hour for crew leaders. In addition, Trees Forever provides teens with professional development resources such as resume-building, mock interviews, financial literacy courses, stress management tools, and shadowing professionals in green jobs. Although COVID-19 has paused some of these activities, the organization sees this multifaceted support as an investment in a local workforce that will then have the knowledge and skills to continue the important work of tree-planting for building healthier communities.
Dawud Benedict, 18, has been planting trees with Trees Forever since the fall of 2020. He applied after hearing about a friend's positive experience working with the organization. "It just sounded nice to do something more for Des Moines area," he says. The work has taught him to appreciate trees and their benefits to the community and the world, he says, as well as to work together as a group. He enjoys being able to drive past work sites and point out trees that he helped plant in his community. "I feel like I'm making a bigger impact," he says.
In recent years, Trees Forever has endeavored to put equity at the center of their work through training and education, though Berckes admits that a lot more work must be done. "Our own staff is all White," she says. "Iowa is a predominantly White state. When we go to work with some of these small towns, I bet the percentage of White people is 80 to 90-or-more percent." Much of the group's outreach has historically focused on door-knocking and connecting with groups like neighborhood associations, churches, and local businesses. But Trees Forever's traditional methods weren't reaching Hispanic residents who moved to these communities to work in the meatpacking industry. So to make access to the benefits of urban trees more equitable, the organization is working to overcome language barriers and meet these community members where they are.
West Des Moines is home to three Microsoft data centers, and two more are slated for construction starting in 2021. In the corporation's efforts to invest in communities that house its data centers, it funded Trees Forever's work in 2019. And in 2020, the collaborative piloted a project that promises to put equity first.
The project, called the Impact Scorecard, is being rolled out in West Des Moines as well as Phoenix. The creator of the scorecard, Mark McPherson, says Microsoft was looking for high-impact projects, and his organization, City Forest Credits, developed a way to measure the impacts of trees on equity, human health, and the environment.
"As a society, we have not found a way to put natural capital on the balance sheet as an asset," he says. "There's no asset value to the trees; only an expense item." As such, trees necessarily fall to the bottom of many city's budgets, or off of them altogether. "Urban trees don't just store carbon, they reduce stormwater, they improve air, they provide energy savings in terms of heating and cooling. They can, if done right, tremendously advance environmental justice—they provide human health benefits, biodiversity, bird and pollinator habitat, slope stability, and the list goes on. They are like utilities," McPherson says. "They provide incredible services."
Those services are immensely valuable to cities. They reduce the costs of doing all kinds of other work, including stormwater management, air purification, and water retention.
Sure, some carbon markets put a dollar value on capturing CO2. But the problem, McPherson found, was that carbon markets couldn't capture any of the values of urban forests specifically. Carbon credits are typically sold by the ton for huge acreages of forest. In the city, an individual tree isn't going to store enough carbon to make a blip on these particular charts, but it has incredible value for countless lives.
So he teamed up with his older brother, Greg McPherson, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Forest Service who founded the Center for Urban Forest Research. In the '90s, he moved to Chicago to figure out how to quantify the value of the services that trees provide to the city, and he continues to refine benefit-cost analyses for trees.
The Impact Scorecard is the latest outcome of this work. It aims to get corporations and other private funders to underwrite the costs of doing important community-led work through the planting of urban forests.
"That's a critical part of environmental justice," explains Mark McPherson, who, as a White man, says he works hard to avoid the tropes of White saviorism. "Not just, you beam in from your NGO office and plant trees," but rather "to actually have these projects led by the local community."
Letting Communities Lead
That's what drives the work of Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. This partnership brings together 14 organizations—from the Morton Arboretum to the U.S. Forest Service, the Chicago Parks Department to the Chicago Department of Public Health—to leverage resources and expertise in support of the urban forest in and around Chicago. She says trees can help reduce crime, improve property values, and reduce temperatures.
To let communities lead, though, members of the initiative had to be willing to listen. Some neighborhoods, for example, didn't want trees or actively removed them to prevent obstructing street lights because of safety concerns. Police departments, too, sometimes cite a need for open lines of sight on sidewalks and in parks. "This was an eye-opener for us," Scott says. It all comes down to having the right tree in the right place. That's why her organization works within communities to show the value of trees and evidence of the ways trees can support a different dynamic.
But unlike a forest on public lands or a reservation, urban forests can't be managed as a whole. Urban areas are a mix of public and private lands, so to plant trees requires the buy-in of a greater number of stakeholders.
"We know trees have a dramatic impact on quality of life," Scott says. They are critical infrastructure in communities and should be protected and budgeted as such, she says, but they are rarely recognized for the value and services they provide. All too often she hears that "trees are a luxury we handle after everything else." With COVID-19, being outside is more important than ever, and people are seeing and appreciating trees in a whole new way. But in some ways the work is made harder, Scott says. City budgets are tight and meeting basic needs like housing and safety is necessarily taking priority.
Here's where the scorecard comes in. It matches communities who want to invest in their tree cover with private funders, such as corporations who want to make investments that have a measurable impact. That impact is broken down into three categories that emphasize the value of urban trees specifically: equity, human health, and environmental benefits.
Mark McPherson says that urban forests are unique because they connect global atmospheric benefits with ecosystem benefits and resilience and mitigation benefits. "Very seldom do you get a climate action that fits all of those," he says.
To look at the benefits of trees at scale, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative developed a map that breaks it down by neighborhood, indicating the percentage of land covered by impervious surfaces, the percentage of tree cover, and the financial benefit those trees provide the community. It also includes location-specific information on air quality, heat, flooding, and vulnerable populations.
Screenshot from the Chicago Region Trees interactive map page.
Take, for example, the La Grange Park area of south Chicago. It has 47% tree cover and 30% impervious surfaces. The calculator estimates the community gains more than $750,000 a year from these trees. In contrast, Bedford Park, just to the south, has only 7% tree cover and 59% impervious surfaces. Their benefit from these trees is $300,000. But the calculator also estimates that the community could reasonably boost that tree canopy to as much as 65% of the neighborhood's land area—a ninefold increase—which would also up their benefits.
Scott says the priority communities don't always track exactly on racial or socioeconomic lines. In fact, the two neighborhoods with the fewest trees, according to their assessment, were actually quite well-off financially, so the initiative decided to focus its efforts elsewhere. These communities have the resources available to make change but choose not to.
Instead, the initiative is prioritizing projects that put health and equity at the center. An assessment of educational facilities, for example, identified a list of 24 schools and 24 day cares in Chicago within 500 feet of an expressway. The initiative is doing air-quality testing and planting vegetative buffers as a means of improving air quality at each of these facilities. (A 2013 study found that adding a row of trees between a roadway and nearby houses reduced pollution levels in the houses by 50%.) By using the Impact Scorecard, funders have third party verification of the health, equity, and environmental benefits of the project.
"The trees in our neighborhoods tell a story about our society—one of equity," Mark McPherson says. The story we're trying to craft, he says, is one in which living in a city is healthy, equitable, and connected with nature.
BREANNA DRAXLER is the environmental editor at YES!, where she leads coverage of climate and environmental justice. An award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of experience editing, reporting, and writing for national magazines, she won a 2020 National Magazine Award for a collaborative climate action guide that she published with Audubon Magazine. Breanna also writes, reports and edits for National Geographic online, Grist, and Audubon Magazine, among others. She serves as a board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Northwest Science Writers Association. She also has a Master's degree in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder. Breanna is based out of Seattle, but has worked in newsrooms on both coasts and in between. Her previous staff positions include editing at bioGraphic, Popular Science, and Discover Magazine. She speaks English and French.
Reposted with permission from Yes! Magazine
Homes in redlined neighborhoods are 25% more likely to be flooded, according to a report from the real estate firm Redfin.
Climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels like gas, oil, and coal, is increasing U.S. flooding risk, and the report is yet another example of the compounding harms caused by racism and climate change. Overlaying current flood risk assessments with maps of which neighborhoods were excluded from public investment via New Deal-era programs because of their high Black and immigrant populations — the racist practice known as redlining for the color in which those neighborhoods were delineated on federal maps — shows how the effects of those racist policies persist today.
"The discrimination that happened in the past may seem like it happened a long time ago, but it compounds," Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather told CNN. "It's not like the historical practices that were discriminatory diminished in effect. It seems like they actually increase in effect." The populations of redlined areas today are 58.1% Black, Indigenous, and people of color compared to 40.4% in places deemed desirable by lenders, the report found. The report comes as E&E reports FEMA is beginning to evaluate not just how disasters disproportionately burden low-income people and people of color, but how disaster response has exacerbated those inequities.
As reported by Reuters:
The study's authors pointed to a number of examples where communities of color suffered the most from storms.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, four of the seven zip codes with the costliest flood damage were at least 75% Black, it said.
And as sea levels rise and flooding becomes more common - with 2020 a record-breaking year for Atlantic hurricanes - there are concerns that financial institutions like banks and insurers will raise costs for the worst-affected households.
Jesse Keenan, associate professor of real estate at the Tulane School of Architecture, calls this "bluelining."
Much like redlining, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, institutions could begin drawing their own lines around neighborhoods at environmental risk, dictating the terms and availability of mortgages.
Therefore, he said, federal investment in infrastructure is urgently needed to help mitigate these risks.
For a deeper dive:
- Sea Level Rise Is Speeding up Along Most of the U.S. Coast ... ›
- Racism Is Adding to the Burden of Energy Bills, Report Finds ... ›
Most of Jackson, Mississippi, still lacks safe water, a month after the severe winter storm in mid-February ravaged the city's water system and left much of the population without any running water at all for three weeks.
Even now, city officials cannot show the water is potable, forcing those residents for whom service has been restored to boil water to drink, brush their teeth, and attempt to clean themselves.
That Jackson's water infrastructure needed improvement did not come as a surprise, and for residents of the 80% Black city, the racism is clear.
"We have to recognize the role that [racism] plays, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told NPR.
"We have to realize that issues of race are as American as apple pie."
For a deeper dive:
Clarion Ledger, Mississippi Today, Clarion Ledger, NPR, New York Times, NBC, AP, CNN, Slate; Commentary: CNN, Keri Leigh Merritt op-ed; Climate Signals background: February 2021 polar vortex breakdown and central US winter storms
- Can Countries in a Water Crisis Resist Coronavirus? - EcoWatch ›
- The Climate Crisis is a Water Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Every Mississippi Beach Is Closed Due to Toxic Algae - EcoWatch ›
A group of teenagers, living in some of London's most polluted communities, are posting roadsigns highlighting the disproportionate impact air pollution has on people of color.
The campaign, organized by Choked Up, a group made up of self-described "Black & brown teens," has posted signs throughout the city which warn "breathing kills" and "pollution zone," The Guardian reported.
Motivated to put an end to early deaths and the negative health impacts toxic air inflicts, Choked Up's co-founder Anjali Raman-Middleton, 17, said: "I'm terrified that my daily commute to school along the South Circular has already had a negative impact on my lungs," according to The Guardian. "I urge London mayoral candidates to commit to transform these roads to give me and my generation a greener future."
Raman-Middleton was also inspired by the recent ruling regarding the nine-year-old Londoner, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, which made her the first person in the UK to have air pollution exposure listed as the cause of fatality on her death certificate, adding it "proved that the road I live less than five minutes from can kill," according to the BBC.
We grew up along the polluted streets of London, breathing illegal air. Our stories have been forgotten and overloo… https://t.co/hAcRUN8yNB— Choked Up (@Choked Up)1614531304.0
The call to action is backed by a group of about 100 health professionals with the NHS, the Environmental Defense Fund reported, who contributed a letter highlighting the daily health impacts Londoners face from toxic air. But this "health burden of dirty air is not equal," the health professionals wrote in the letter, coordinated by Medact, a coalition of health professionals working to mitigate health inequalities in the environment.
The call to action follows recent research by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, which shows that nitrogen dioxide levels are on average "24-31% higher" in communities where people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to live, the BBC reported.
"Air pollution affects every single one of us from birth to old age, but we know the least well off and marginalised communities, including those from black and Asian backgrounds, are being hardest hit," said Dr. Laura Jane Smith, a respiratory consultant at King's College Hospital and signee of the letter, according to The Guardian.
Research also found in some areas of London, one in five primary schools are near major roads, where children are exposed to high levels of pollution, and schools with the highest percentage of non-white students are exposed to on average 28 percent higher NOx levels than schools with the lowest proportion of students from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the EDF.
Exposure to toxic air has a direct impact on health, specifically targeting young people whose bodies are still developing, leading to asthma and heart conditions. Growing research also suggests pollution can increase the risk of depression and dementia, The Guardian reported.
"Like the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution is disproportionately impacting marginalised communities and Black, Asian and minority ethnic people," Oliver Lord, head of policy and campaigns at Environmental Defense Fund Europe said in a statement. "It's clear London's busy roads are a root cause of health inequities and air pollution levels are a major contributor."
The youth group, Choked Up, is putting signs specifically in London's "red routes" which make up five percent of its roads but hold a third of its traffic, according to The Guardian. The teenagers are calling on mayoral candidates to transform these roads, with fewer private cars and walking and biking routes, as well as zero-emissions public transport, according to the EDF.
"We took action so that lawmakers, decision makers and politicians finally take this climate and air quality crisis seriously, for everyone's sake." Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, a 17-year-old co-founder of Choked Up, said, according to the EDF.
The efforts of the teen activists are also supported by Mums for Lungs, a group of London parents campaigning for clean air.
"The street signs are hard hitting because we want people to take notice of the huge damage being done to their health by air pollution." Jemima Hartshorn, a parent who is part of the Mums for Lungs group, said, according to the EDF. "It is crucial that the message is heeded by politicians that if we do not take action on air inequality there will be more and more hospital admission and sadly more needless deaths of children."
- 'Car-Free Zones' Launching in London - EcoWatch ›
- London Schoolgirl's Death Linked to Illegal Levels of Air Pollution ... ›
- Protesting Against Air Pollution Crisis, Extinction Rebellion Stalls ... ›
1-Month Hunger Strike: Chicago Activists Fight Metal Scrapper Relocation Into Black and Latinx Neighborhood
Hunger strikers in Chicago are fighting the relocation of a metal shredding facility from a white North Side neighborhood to a predominantly Black and Latinx community on the Southeast Side already plagued by numerous polluting industries.
On Thursday the three original hunger strikers – Oscar Sanchez, Breanna Bertacchi and Chuck Stark – will complete their fourth week without food. "It is immoral, it is discriminatory and we cannot allow [this plant to operate] in a pandemic when we can prevent it," Byron Sigcho-Lopez, the 25th ward alderman who has joined the hunger strike for "as long as it's needed," told The Guardian.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended its environmental justice investigation into whether Illinois discriminated against the predominantly Black and Latinx Southeast Side community after the Illinois EPA began "informal resolution agreement discussions," Block Club Chicago reported. Last month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also sought guidance from federal regulators and appears to be hoping the Biden administration will make the call over whether the scrap yard can be moved to the Southeast Side, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune:
Lightfoot has so far declined to meet the strikers' key demand. But by reaching out to federal regulators for guidance this week, the mayor for the first time raised the possibility that Reserve Management Group won't be allowed to operate its new facility along the Calumet River at 116th Street.
If the Biden EPA steps in and blocks the state permit, the Lightfoot administration would be spared from making a decision about a final city permit RMG needs before it can start shredding scrap metal on the Southeast Side.
RMG's opponents contend that locating more heavy industry in an already polluted, majority Latino and Black neighborhood is an immoral — if not illegal — example of environmental racism, a scourge both Biden and Lightfoot as candidates promised to aggressively confront.
For a deeper dive:
By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
Environmental issues are deeply interconnected with racial justice as Black people have historically been disproportionately impacted by pollution, climate change and lack of access to green space.
In June 2020, 25 Black environmental leaders published an open letter calling for an end to the 'systemic and pervasive racism within the environmental field.' They called for an end to negative narratives around Black people and their relationship with nature in the U.S., Europe and Africa and listed solutions to eradicate racism, from education to ensuring access to wildlife.
From environmental justice advocates to scientists and social entrepreneurs, here are just a handful of the many Black environmentalists who have contributed to our global understanding of the need to look after our planet.
1. Wangari Maathai
In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the Green Belt Movement, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March.
2. Robert Bullard
Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has campaigned against harmful waste being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which the Biden administration is building on.
Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis
Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to stop taking motorized transport. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.
4. Dr. Warren Washington
A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the Parallel Climate Model (PCM) and Community Earth System Model (CESM), earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the Nobel Peace Prize, as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
5. Angelou Ezeilo
Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the Greening Youth Foundation, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- Youth Climate Activists Want a Role in Biden's White House ... ›
- As Protests Rage, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice ... ›
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›
Low-income Texans, especially those of color, disproportionately bore the burdens of the state's power grid failure that left them huddling for warmth, and dying, without heat in poorly insulated homes.
Authorities across the state prioritized keeping electricity on for critical facilities like hospitals, meaning that the generally wealthier, and whiter, communities that shared those facilities' circuits also had power. This meant that those with limited resources to relocate or take shelter in a hotel were those most likely to lose their power, most likely to lose income from hourly-wage jobs, and least able to pay to replenish the food that spoiled in their refrigerators and freezers, never mind the cost of repairing burst water pipes.
Food shortages were also most pronounced in poor Black and Hispanic communities where food deserts are common. Communities of color and poorer communities are also frequently short-changed when it comes to post-disaster aid. "We continue to be the victims of social injustice, food injustice, systemic racism — all of it," Gloria Vera-Bedolla, a Latina community organizer, told Vox. Bera-Bedolla's neighborhood on the east side of I-35 is home to a vast share of Austin's Black and Hispanic populations. "We're fighting these systems that were not made for the success of Black and Brown people," she said.
As reported by the Texas Tribune:
In the days after widespread power outages roiled the state, community advocates and local leaders repeatedly drew the parallels between what they'd learned so far about the storm's toll on Texans of color and the pandemic's disproportionate devastation on mostly Black and Hispanic communities. Even as more than half of the deaths due to COVID-19 have been Black or Hispanic people, advocates have reported that these communities have fallen behind in the vaccination efforts.
"We know that historically the communities that are marginalized tend to be the ones that are hit the hardest, whether we talk about COVID-19 or power outages," said Jaime Resendez, a city council member who represents the predominantly Hispanic southeast portion of Dallas. "If history serves as a guide, these communities could also be the last ones to get the attention and service that they need.
For a deeper dive: