It’s been unseasonably hot in North India this month; but cooler weather brings not relief but stinging eyes and painful breath.
Air pollution has become headline news here—one of the snippets that flowed from President Obama's visit was that breathing the air had cut six hours off his life-expectancy. Soot levels are up to 16 times higher than World Health Organization safety levels, double Beijing's. Corporations routinely try to reassure their staff by providing air purifiers for their offices.
"@350: Some intense stats about how bad #AirPollution is in #Delhi http://t.co/tr8ZOAI4LX @350india http://t.co/e3RyBzGjGg" @ClimateReality— Val Williams (@Val Williams)1422418530.0
Delhi came to the edge of unlivable air pollution once before, in the 1990’s. Highly polluting two-cycle three wheeler motor rickshaws were a main villain. A campaign led by the Center for Science and the Environment, capped by a Supreme Court ruling, converted the rickshaws to CNG and the air immediately improved. But three decades of vehicle growth, exacerbated by government subsidies for diesel fuel which drove the auto market towards dirtier diesel models, brought the return of choking air. This time there is no single fix like CNG in the wings.
Not all of Delhi’s problem is the result of poorly controlled industry. The early winter problem is significantly exacerbated by the burning rice straw in the fields after the harvest. And cultural practices matter. When three babies sued to prevent the use of firecrackers to celebrate India’s Diwali festival, because the crackers create enormous clouds of smoke, the courts declined to intervene, referring to well established custom.
They did, however, rule that trucks passing through Delhi bound for other destinations were to pay a special toll to encourage the to route around the heavily polluted capital. (Many of the destinations were Delhi suburbs which lie outside its boundaries but are fully economically integrated). When the company which manages the truck check points into Delhi initially refused to collect the tolls, the courts instead ordered such non-local loads turned back, even though in some cases the crops the trucks were carrying would rot on the longer routes around the city.
The result was a nightmare—long lines of trucks waiting at the check-points, belching out pollutants and wasting fuels while inspectors used handkerchiefs as respiratory protection. Eventually the collection of the toll was implemented—but if it accomplishes its purpose and causes truckers to drive around Delhi instead of through it, regional pollution could well increase because the new routes will be longer and more fuel wasting. What is really needed is cleaner trucks and cleaner fuels or better ways of delivering goods than using trucks—but these take time.
New Delhi air pollution hits 27 times the safe limit, making it worse than Singapore haze https://t.co/AgmTgO3yDU https://t.co/si7Z9F59RR— Bloomberg (@Bloomberg)1446721046.0
This kind of rough and ineffective justice is often a marker of early efforts to cope with the first wave of public concern over air pollution. Typically the effort is made to eliminate or reduce the source of pollution only when air quality is particularly bad. Mexico City experimented with prohibiting vehicles from driving one day a week during bad smog episodes, based on the last digit on the license plate. Families responding by buying an additional car, often a polluting clunker, for the day their regular sedan was banned. China banned factories from operating during the Olympics; factories stepped up production and pollution after the games ended. My own San Francisco sponsors "spare the air days" on which the public is encouraged to make special efforts to use transit to get to work. (Bizarrely, bicycling is also encouraged on these heavily polluted days, at the same time that health authorities warn against such heavy physical exercise.)
Industries resist real modernization. When governments accede to these pressures to avoid genuine solutions, they resort to “squeeze the driver” strategies like the Delhi truck tax. But public demand eventually requires solutions—requiring cleaner fuels as Delhi did with 3-wheelers and CNG, imposing tougher emission standards on new cars as Mexico eventually was forced to do, installing pollution controls of power plants as the Obama Administration is finally requiring in the U.S.
The costs are enormous. Delaying modernization once air pollution hits the public concern threshold is invariably penny-wise and pound foolish. This is true even if you ignore the economic and health costs of the pollution itself. First, squeeze the driver solutions typically generate a lot of ancillary expenses, like raising the costs of shipping goods to Delhi suburbs or the increased driving in Mexico by clunkers. But more important, delaying action means that another generation of poorly engineered vehicles or poorly controlled power plants and factories, get built. When the public finally demands clean air, not band aids, governments are left with two economically unattractive options. Either impose truly draconian limits on new vehicles and facilities, to make up for the failure to control those just built; or insist on retrofitting (power plants) or junking (cars, as in the U.S. cash-to-clunkers program) vehicles and industrial facilities goods that should have been properly designed and pollution optimized in the first place.
Retrofitting is astonishingly more expensive than doing it right in the first place. One of the major reasons for the shut-down of more than 200 U.S. coal power plants is that for decades power companies lobbied, successfully, to avoid installing mercury and sulfur pollution controls on them, choosing instead to purchase slightly cheaper coal and install high stacks to spread the pollution around. Now that the Obama Administration is insisting on cleaning up pollution, instead of dispersing it, pollution controls that might have been affordable as original equipment for plants built in the 1970’s and 1980’s are prohibitive.
So delay is typical, whether we are looking at the U.S. or India. (Or London, where Mayor Boris Johnson has proposed to wait until 2020 to take any further action over London’s resurgent pollution, saying its air is not as bad as that in Beijing or even Paris. Instead, he urged Londoners to spend less time outdoors to improve their health). Delay is expensive, as India is likely to find out when it proceeds with current government plants to clean up public health pollutants from the huge cadre of recent coal plants it has built without scrubbers and other state of the art pollution equipment.
And delay kills. Delhi’s air may or may not be worse than Beijing’s. It is quite lethal enough to represent a real threat to the city’s residents. The saddest part of all—another generation all around the world is subjected to truly dangerous levels of pollution in the name of “economics” when delay only makes the final bill higher, not cheaper. No economist would recommend borrowing money from a money lender to pay routine costs of living—delaying real clean-up once pollution reached critical levels is no different.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.