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 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.
Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.
By Christina Choi
When my five-year-old notices her dad running the water for any reason at all, she yells (at the top of her lungs and in a robot voice, of course), "ALERT. ALERT. WASTING WATER ALERT. ALERT, ALERT!" It makes me laugh but also warms my heart every time, knowing the importance of saving water—and the planet in general—is already ingrained in her mind.
Her behavior is not particularly surprising: Like many of my fellow Korean Americans and other Asian Americans, as well as Indigenous Pacific Islanders, the values of protecting and conserving resources are values I grew up with myself.
From when I was a young child, my parents—especially my mom—were constantly reminding me to turn off the faucet while I brushed my teeth, shampooed my hair, soaped the dishes, and any other time I wasn't actively using the water. My mom reused glass and plastic containers and utensils until they were practically disintegrating (BPA alert!). "Turn off the lights," she would say. "Don't waste electricity." "Eat every grain of rice in your bowl," she'd chide. "We don't waste food."
Such teachings probably play into the stereotype that Asians are overly frugal (read: cheap), but what many people may not realize is that these principles, at least in my personal experience, are deeply intertwined in our ancestral history.
Choi's maternal grandmother in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s. Christina Choi
All four of my grandparents survived the harshest decades of Japan's colonization of Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. But their trauma didn't stop there. After World War II ended Japan's occupation, the United States and Russia didn't allow the Korean people to determine the future of their own country. To satisfy their own foreign policy interests, they instead split the peninsula in half—literally tearing families apart. Just five years later, in 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korea invaded the South. Three catastrophic years followed, ending with the tragic deaths, injuries, or disappearances of an estimated 5.5 million people—many of them civilians. While the fighting stopped in 1953, there was no formal peace treaty between the two Koreas. Nearly 70 years later, the conflict is technically still not over.
From left: Choi's maternal grandparents in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s; Choi's parents in Seattle in the early 1980s. Christina Choi
My dad and mom, born near the end of Japanese colonization and in the middle of the Korean War, respectively, learned from their parents to never take anything for granted; everything could be taken away in an instant—including their own homeland. They were taught to appreciate the beauty of Korea's mountainous lands and free-flowing waters, for they could be stolen or destroyed at any moment. Before emigrating as adults to the United States in the 1970s, my parents witnessed decades of frenetic postwar economic recovery combined with extreme political corruption, as well as occupation by American troops—who still remain.
Colonization, imperialism, war, instability, corruption…it's no wonder that the importance of protecting our resources has been passed down through generations. My mom's "nagging" makes perfect sense. Add to this the fact that Korea—like many Asian cultures—is a collectivist society: Korean culture emphasizes the interconnectedness between people, and therefore we should all act so that we do not burden or harm others; it is the idea that the we transcends the I, be it in the context of family, the workplace, community, country, or, in this case, the planet. Simply put, we all do our part for the greater good. (Recent studies have also linked collectivist values to better, more effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.) And it's this heritage, reinforced with the knowledge I've gained from working at NRDC, that has nurtured my daughter's early embrace of protecting the planet and every living being on it. In some ways, the essence of environmentalism exists within us.
And yet, the environmental movement in the United States didn't ever reach out to me—I had to go to it. Despite Asian Americans' 250-plus years in this country, with the first recorded arrival of Filipinos in Louisiana in 1763, we have been constantly erased, and continue to be, from the nation's history, identity, and conversations, as well as from key statistics on public health and well-being, such as how the pandemic affects our communities.
Even now, after almost six years at NRDC, I see how Asian Americans—a faulty categorization that lumps together more than 20 different ethnicities and cultures originating from 48 countries—are left out of the narrative at environmental organizations, despite the fact that research shows that we care…quite a lot. In fact, according to a 2012 National Asian American Survey, 70 percent of Asian Americans consider themselves environmentalists, compared to the national average of 41 percent.
In California, where 15 percent of the population is Asian American, the data is even more impressive. An extensive study by the California League of Conservation Voters titled Asian American Environmentalists: An Untapped Power for Change in California found that a great majority of Asian American voters in the state—83 percent—describe themselves as environmentalists; 71 percent support environmental laws; and 61 percent believe we can protect the air, land, and water while creating jobs. In that state, 85 percent of Asian American voters said they are likely to vote for environment-focused ballot measures.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the trend continues: According to the nationwide 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, 77 percent of Asian Americans support stronger federal policies to combat climate change, while a study last year by the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America showed that 86 percent of Asian Americans agree that acting now on climate change would provide a better life for their children and grandchildren, compared to 74 percent of the general U.S. population.
Beyond the connection to our cultural values, we also care about the environment because we have to: Pollution and climate change are harming us directly. But as a result of the pervasive "model minority" stereotype, we receive little support from environmental justice work as well. The assumption is that all 20 million of us (and growing) are successful doctors, lawyers, or engineers living the "American dream"—surely no Asian American lives on the frontlines. Yet, according to the Pew Research Center, incomes vary the greatest among Asian Americans in comparison to other racial groups. In New York City, Boston, and California, one in four Asian Americans lives in poverty—many of them restaurant and hotel workers, employees in salons and laundries, and e-bike delivery workers. The highest poverty rates across the United States are found in Bhutanese and Burmese communities—33.3 percent and 35 percent, respectively; the overall U.S. poverty rate is 15.1 percent.
Just one example of a group of Asian Americans facing environmental injustice is the Laotian community in Richmond, California, where a Chevron refinery spews toxic pollution throughout their neighborhoods. For all these reasons, it is crucial that the larger white-dominant environmental movement wakes up and recognizes Asian Americans.
The origins of my strong foundation in conserving the earth's resources are my own, an unbroken thread stretching for generations, but I suspect that the values of many of those 70 percent of Asian Americans who self-identify as environmentalists have been similarly shaped by their ancestry. And maybe one day, their kids and mine, with her "water alerts," will become a powerful Asian American voice—one that the future environmental movement won't want to waste.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
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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 Sharon Buccino
This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.
For the first time, a Native American is in charge of shaping federal policy on public lands and waters. Secretary Haaland knows with every fiber of her body the value of the 1.35 million acres of lands originally designated as Bears Ears National Monument—not simply for their beauty and tranquility, but for their cultural significance and sacred power.
Haaland felt the pain of President Trump's destruction of the monument that Obama had created—the 85 percent loss of lands previously protected and the dismissal of the inter-tribal Bears Ears Commission created to help manage the monument. Alongside the Navajo Nation and other tribes, NRDC and other environmental groups challenged Trump's revocation in court. The cases are now on hold pending the Biden administration's action.
In Trump's repeated attacks on our monuments, he also illegally rolled back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument. The Antiquities Act has preserved some of America's greatest treasures. Pursuant to the Act's authority, President Biden should act now to deliver the protection the three monuments Trump acted to destroy both onshore and off.
Some Utah politicians are calling for Congressional action on Bears Ears. The problem is that they have been talking about this for years and have done nothing to protect these lands. President Obama only acted after Congress failed to. In the meantime, looters, mining companies and fossil fuel promoters are taking advantage of the land instead.
Every day, the land Trump carved out of Bears Ears National Monument is getting used. We need action now to restore what has been lost. Relying on the evidence the tribes presented to Obama, President Biden should issue a proclamation restoring Bears Ears to its former glory. In the meantime, Secretary Haaland should look to the five tribes—the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe—who originally proposed designation of Bears Ears as a national monument to help manage these lands in a way that honors their sacred power, as well as their cultural and ecological significance.
Sharon Buccino's current work focuses on energy policy and government transparency. She actively litigates in federal court and advocates before federal agencies and Congress. She has worked to implement effective environmental review and public participation for proposed pipelines, as well as oil and gas drilling. She also led NRDC's successful litigation under the Freedom of Information Act to force disclosure of the Cheney Energy Task Force papers. Prior to joining NRDC, Buccino practiced environmental and administrative law with a private firm in Washington, D.C. and worked for the Alaska Supreme Court. She holds a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a JD from Stanford Law School. Originally from central Florida, Buccino has spent over 25 years in NRDC's Washington, D.C., office.
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.
By Daniel Raichel
While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.
However, as a recent Chicago Tribune article shows, that's exactly what it is for one of our very favorite endangered pollinators—the rusty patched bumble bee.
For the better part of a decade, NRDC has fought for the rusty patched bumble bee's survival, and we are now suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the fourth time—this time, to reverse a Trump-Era decision not to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the bee.
That's why it was particularly sweet to learn that a couple of rusty patched bumble bees were spotted foraging near the Rogers Park Metra stop, not far from the Honeybear Cafe and some of my old foraging grounds growing up.
"Rogers Park Metra Community Garden" by LN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Although the article provides a fun "work meets life" moment for me, it also underscores the importance of our lawsuit. As Abby Shafer of the Evanston Native Bee Initiative notes, one patch of native habitat can be meaningful, but what's most needed is a network of interconnected habitat so that the bee's populations can recover and once again thrive.
By refusing to designate "critical habitat" for the bee, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively scuttled any plan for such a federally protected habitat network—breaking the law and putting this magnificent and vulnerable bee one step closer to extinction. That's why we'll keep fighting in court until we (yet again) secure the protections that the rusty patched bumble bee deserves.
Who knows, if we're successful, maybe you'll see the rusty patched bumble bee in your neighborhood too.
"The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park" by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
By Nicole Greenfield
The climate crisis disproportionately impacts women—and women of color in particular. This is why women must lead on its solutions.
Last fall, two powerful hurricanes, Eta and Iota, slammed into Central America within two weeks of each other, causing massive flooding and landslides and affecting millions of people, primarily in Honduras and Nicaragua. Thousands were uprooted from their homes, and women, many with children in tow, suffered the greatest. The events followed a disturbing but familiar trend: The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women. And it's not just storms that affect them; researchers in India have found that droughts, too, hit women the hardest, rendering them more vulnerable than men to income loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, and related health complications.
"The climate crisis is not gender neutral," says Katharine K. Wilkinson, coeditor of the anthology All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a book of essays and poems written entirely by women contributors. "It grows out of a patriarchal system that is also entangled with racism and white supremacy and extractive capitalism. And the unequal impacts of climate change are making it harder to achieve a gender-equal world."
In the face of this reality, the world needs to embrace a feminist approach to tackling the climate crisis, she adds. That includes a collective mission to shift who is leading the way on solutions to the crisis, and what the approach will be.
A Multiplier of Injustice
"The intersections of climate and justice and feminism include the disproportionate impact of climate change and the entire climate continuum on women," says Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. "We also add the race lens, of course, and the additional risks that are unique to BIPOC women and, most specifically, Black women."
Climate change developed in an unjust world, and now it's exacerbating the vulnerabilities and inequalities experienced by women, particularly those who live in rural areas or the Global South and those who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color. Patterson reflects on this injustice in the essay "At the Intersections," which appears in the All We Can Save collection. She opens with an anecdote about the first time she saw racism, misogyny, and poverty collide with environmental issues as a Peace Corps volunteer in her father's homeland of Jamaica. Later in her career, as a human rights activist working internationally to combat HIV/AIDS and gender injustice, Patterson learned the story of a woman who left her native Cameroon because the crops in her community had dried up, only to become a victim of rape and then to contract HIV at the country's border. "These stories drew my tears," she writes. "There is a pandemic of devastating impacts at the intersection between violence against women and climate change."
These days in her environmental justice work with the NAACP, Patterson is committed to ensuring that communities in "grindingly desperate circumstances, communities that aren't even thought about," like those without running water or electricity, for example, aren't left out of the climate conversation. And that means not just including them, but deliberately prioritizing them and ensuring their voices are heard on all levels. She asks, "How do we make sure we don't continue with the ills of the past in terms of assuming the rising tide will lift all boats?"
“A Feminist Climate Renaissance”
According to Wilkinson, these injustices of the climate crisis also highlight a leadership crisis. What we truly need, she and All We Can Save coeditor Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, write, is a "feminist climate renaissance." Without this, a just and liveable future becomes impossible. "Research shows that women's leadership and equal participation result in better outcomes for climate policy, reducing emissions, and protecting land," Wilkinson adds.
Indeed, many of today's most influential climate leaders are women. On the international stage, Christiana Figueres, as the head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was the architect of the historic 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which in its preamble called out the need to empower women in climate decision making. Celebrities like Jane Fonda have brought attention to the climate crisis through civil disobedience and Fire Drill Fridays—inspired, of course, by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and the powerful Fridays for Future movement she began. Female government officials are likewise leading on climate. New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, recently declared a climate change emergency and committed her country to going carbon-neutral by 2025. Meanwhile in the United States, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the visionary behind the Green New Deal, a plan for the country to move away from fossil fuels and toward a clean-energy future. And over the past few years, groups like the Sunrise Movement, led by Varshini Prakash, have done critical work inserting the climate crisis into American public discourse.
Wilkinson and Johnson see four main characteristics shared by leaders like these. First and foremost, they prioritize making change over being in charge. "We need to get over ego, competition, and control—all that patriarchal, supremacist, hierarchical stuff that gets in the way, burns a lot of energy, and keeps us from collaborating," Wilkinson says.
Feminist climate leaders also tend to have a deep commitment to justice and equality. Having emotional intelligence is necessary, too. "This is the biggest challenge humanity has ever grappled with, and we're not going to solve it from our prefrontal cortex alone," Wilkinson declares. "We need to come to this as whole human beings. And that means the grief, the uncertainty, the rage, the anxiety, but also the really ferocious love."
Last, feminist climate leaders recognize that building community is a prerequisite for building a better world. Community holds incredible wisdom, while "individualism comes up short on good ideas, and certainly on a sense of purpose and joy," Wilkinson says. Nurturing that sense of community in the broad climate movement is often a first step, especially when uniting allies from disparate groups. As Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy founder Colette Pichon Battle advises, before diverse groups of women can stand on the front lines together, they must heal the relationships and reconcile the unjust social dynamics that exist between their various communities.
The good news is that women are uniquely prepared to take on this social and environmental healing work. "Women have had to develop a coping and a nurturing set of skills in order to see the survival of our families," Patterson says, adding that caring for a family under the most dire of circumstances has been bred into the DNA of Black women, who carry the trauma of slavery. "Women have just had to," she says.
For her part, Wilkinson says that she sees evidence of the growth and power of the feminist climate ecosystem every time she turns around. Leaders in the youth climate justice movement embody these characteristics, and increasing numbers of women are getting a seat at the national table (including former NRDC president Gina McCarthy, another All We Can Save contributor, who is now steering domestic climate policy from the White House). "There are lots of signs that this galloping herd is getting bigger and faster and stronger. And that gives me a lot of courage," Wilkinson says.
Power and Joy
For their nonprofit All We Can Save Project, Wilkinson and Johnson have developed a 2030 vision for women leading on climate to hold the power to create transformational change and experience deep joy in their work. Their community-minded approach to solving the climate crisis prioritizes the collective lifting of one another's spirits and helps build momentum—both of which serve as an antidote to the gloom that can sometimes consume the lone climate warrior. "We're really into this idea of power and joy," Wilkinson explains. "Power is what you need to make change happen. And joy is frankly what you need to keep showing up every day."
With climate feminists at the helm, more resources and investments could be procured for the transformational climate work that cisgender and trans women and nonbinary leaders are already doing—developing solutions, researching and writing, doing community organizing—often at night or on the weekends. These leaders and their teams can also serve as examples and mentors for emerging climate feminists of all genders and ages.
And of course, men can be climate feminists too. "There's a really important role for men, and I think it starts with listening," Wilkinson says. "And when we consider core approaches to climate leadership, things like compassion, connection, creativity, collaboration, care, a commitment to justice, all of that is open to people of any gender." She notes that men in positions of power—whether they control funding or platforms or lead an institution—can be more intentional in helping to change the face of climate leadership. They can extend invitations to more women and to others from diverse backgrounds to bring forth ideas and lead projects, or they can step back and let others make decisions and set the vision.
Such collaborative work is increasingly urgent. "Even now, at the 11th hour for climate action, so many people in power are denying, blocking, and delaying, or putting forward hollow promises about what they're going to do," says Wilkinson. "It's absolutely devastating. But I do think the tide is turning. I think we will win."
She adds that Ireland's former and first female president Mary Robinson sums up the situation perfectly with the tagline to her Mothers of Invention podcast: "Climate change is a man-made problem—with a feminist solution!"
Reposted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By Noah Horowitz
While the energy efficiency of America's smart televisions has improved greatly since flat panel models were first introduced, some of the energy savings are at risk due to new "smart wake" features that can waste a lot of power when the TV is in standby mode.
These features provide the user with the convenience of waking their TV through a voice command to a nearby smart speaker, or to seamlessly shift from watching content on a tablet or phone to the TV, without using a remote control. Our extensive laboratory testing on the standby power of 10 different models found that in many cases, enabling these features caused a TV's overall annual electricity consumption to skyrocket by as much as 75 percent.
All that extra standby power adds up. NRDC estimates it will cost purchasers of 2021 TVs who enable smart wake features an additional $750 million on their utility bills over these TVs' seven-year lifetime, barring future manufacturer design improvements. The extra electricity consumption also will lead to more than 3 million tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions.
Spoiler alert, Samsung and LG TVs have found a way to support smart wake on their internet-connected televisions WITHOUT a noticeable increase in standby power levels. Other models we tested, however, were like vampires continuously guzzling electricity while waiting to be fully awakened.
What Are 'Smart Wake' Features?
The vast majority of new TVs offer the user the ability to be connected wirelessly to a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo (which many simply call Alexa). The user can then wake or control the TV simply with voice commands by saying things like, "Alexa turn on the TV" or "OK Google, turn on the Knicks game." Another option is "wake by cast," which allows a user who is viewing a movie or show on a tablet or phone to click on the little casting icon, and their TV will quickly wake and display the same content. Lastly, users can download an app to turn their phone into a virtual remote control that can wake and control their TV. These three features are forms of "smart wake" that avoid the hassle of having to locate and use a remote control.
iStock / Diy13
How Did We Test the TVs?
NRDC partnered with Pacific Crest Laboratories (PCL) for the first in-depth study of the standby power of different TVs when these features were enabled. Most of the ten TVs we tested required the user to go into the menu and turn on/enable the smart wake features. Each manufacturer had its own terminology for the settings and in some cases, the user needed to select the Quick Start feature for things to operate properly. We tested a range of TV brands, both major and small, as well as a variety of operating systems (e.g., Roku, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc.) that these TVs are controlled by.
Prior to testing we connected the TV to a live internet signal and downloaded the latest software update. After displaying video content, we turned off the TV and measured its standby power. We then configured the TV so the smart wake features were enabled, including selecting wake on cast and linking the smart speaker to the TV via a wireless connection.
Subsequently, we confirmed whether the smart wake features worked and measured the TV's standby power for 40 minutes. Given that TVs may not fully power down for several minutes, we waited 20 minutes before starting our measurements and then recorded the average standby power over the next 20 minutes.
What Impact Did Smart Wake Have on TV Standby Power?
The average standby power level of TVs tested without any smart wake features enabled was 0.6 watts. Once we turned on the smart wake features, standby power levels jumped dramatically. This table shows the brands tested, along with their operating system (OS). Some of the operating systems like Android TV are used by multiple manufacturers, whereas LG and Samsung have their own proprietary operating systems, WebOS and Tizen, respectively.
Two things to note: a) Samsung and LG TVs supported smart wake features without a noticeable increase in standby power; and b) for all the other TVs tested we saw standby power levels from roughly 5 to 20 watts. We conferred with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), which has tested roughly 40 TVs in both on and standby modes and done lots of great work in this space, and reported an average standby power level of 12.5 watts for models that showed elevated standby power levels with smart wake. (We used this value in our modeling discussed below.)
In follow-up conversations with Vizio, we learned that their TVs support wake by phone (using the phone as a remote control) when their TV is in the default Eco Mode setting and were able to achieve standby power level of less than 1 watt. The 14.4-watt level in the table was based on testing with the Vizio TV's Quick Start setting selected as that was required to get their wake by cast and wake by voice features to work properly.
NRDC and PCL developed a model to quantify the national impact of smart wake features. We excluded Samsung and LG TVs, which together represent just under half of U.S. market share, as they did not show elevated smart wake standby levels. We assumed an incremental standby power level of 11.9 watts, and that half of all users would configure their TVs to use one or more of the smart wake features. (Note: this article shows half of smart speaker owners connect them to TVs. While we don't know exactly what percentage use wake by cast or wake by phone, we believe it's significant and likely to grow as the manufacturers make these features easier to use and consumers become more aware of them.)
On a per TV basis, we assumed an average TV draws around 60 watts of electricity in active use and 0.6 watts in standby. Assuming a duty cycle of 5 hours on and 19 hours off per day, this translates to an annual energy use of 108 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. If that same TV had smart wake enabled and drew 12.5 watts in standby, its annual energy use jumped to 191 kWh/yr. — an increase of 76.3 percent. Over the TV's typical 7-year lifetime, it will consume an extra $75 of electricity, and twice that in areas with higher utility rates, like California and Hawaii.
We then quantified the national impacts by assuming that half of the 40 million TVs sold in the U.S. each year have inefficient smart wake designs, and half of those have smart wake enabled. The incremental energy used by these 10 million TVs over their lifetime adds up to:
- 5,777-gigawatt hours (GWh) of additional electricity use, which is equivalent to the annual output of two large (500 megawatt) coal-burning power plants
- $750 million in higher consumer utility bills
- Over 3 million tons of CO2 emissions
To put all this extra energy use into perspective, it's roughly equivalent to one year's worth of electricity consumption by all the households in Portland, OR and Tampa combined!
All of these impacts are just for the U.S. market and become a lot larger when international sales are considered.
Where to From Here?
The good news from this study is that two TV manufacturers already demonstrated that a TV can support all these smart wake features with no energy or performance penalty. We hope our study serves as a call to action for other manufacturers to work with their operating system vendors to provide a good user experience with these smart wake features enabled while achieving similar low standby power levels.
Our policy level recommendations include:
- The test method used by manufacturers and regulators to measure the energy use of TVs must be updated to ensure the TV is connected to the internet during testing and with smart wake features enabled, and that the increased standby power use this may cause is captured and reported.
- The Environmental Protection Agency should update its test method and eligibility criteria for ENERGY STAR® to ensure TVs that qualify for the label have low standby power levels, including when smart wake features are enabled.
- The Federal Trade Commission should update the testing and reporting instructions for its yellow ENERGY GUIDE label, which compares the energy use and operating costs of similar sized TVs.
Courtesy of EPA
As a result of our research and conversations with some of the manufacturers and companies that develop the operating systems, we believe these entities now understand this issue and appear committed to trying to make the necessary changes.
Let's hope that in the not too distant future the other TV manufacturers make the necessary software fixes so they catch up to Samsung and LG and we can prevent this unnecessary energy waste and the pollution that comes with it. That's something worth tuning into!
Noah Horowitz is the director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
By Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
Nevertheless, anxiety, grief, and anger are what fueled Lindeman's creative process for the making of Ignorance, her just-released fifth album. Over skittering drumbeats and densely layered sonic textures that hover somewhere between chilly and ethereal, Lindeman has crafted a 40-minute song cycle that examines our collective climate trauma as experienced through a single, highly agitated psyche.
"People are like, is it a political album? And I say no, it's an emotional album," she tells me. "I wasn't trying to write about these feelings; it's just that these were the feelings that I was having at the time, so they kept flowing through." Lindeman wrote more than 40 songs over the course of the winter of 2018–2019, much of which she spent in relative isolation. And when she wasn't writing, she was reading. "I had gone down the rabbit hole and had become obsessed with trying to understand the climate crisis," Lindeman says. "I was trying to figure out how I could be of use. Could I become an activist? Do I have that in me?"
Apparently she does. Lindeman joined the throngs who took to the streets as part of the "Fridays for Future" movement inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg. She studied the massive report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warned of the catastrophic consequences of failing to curb global carbon emissions immediately. Lindeman even hosted a series of public talks on the subject, interviewing economists, activists, political figures, and other artists about the need for climate action.
Amid all of this, she continued to compose—moving away from the indie-folk that had defined The Weather Station's earlier albums toward a new style that incorporates jazz, chamber pop, and (especially) the lushly produced soundscapes of artists like Kate Bush and Sarah McLachlan. It's a style well suited for a song like "Robber," Ignorance's opening track, which sets a tone of foreboding that permeates the entire album. As strings swell nervously, Lindeman sings of a thief who
permission by words, permission of thanks, permission of laws, permission of banks,
white tablecloth dinners, convention centers.
It was all done real carefully.
"I wrote that song right after I had read an article about Exxon," Lindeman says. "I hadn't known the full story of Exxon—that long before most people knew about climate change, [Exxon] knew about it. Because they had researched it, as far back as 1981." After tasking its own scientists to study whether the burning of fossil fuels could lead to climate change, the oil giant sat on its findings for decades and even funded a vast network of climate deniers in order to maximize profits. "They had two paths," Lindeman says, "and they chose, actively, not just to allow it to happen, but to hide what they knew and to make it difficult for us as citizens to fight back."
Notably, "Robber" never mentions Exxon—or oil, or climate change, for that matter. As she does with all of the songs on Ignorance, Lindeman approaches her subject obliquely. There's no calling out of specific bad actors, and there's certainly no discussion of carbon emissions or sea level rise. She understands that such language would instantly and lethally deflate these songs, plunging them from the realm of art into the wide but shallow pool of didacticism.
Instead, Lindeman gives us something very much like poetry. In another song, "Trust," she makes a final appeal to a lover at what feels like the ending of a relationship:
Bring me all the evidence,
the baskets of wild roses,
the crumpled petals and misshapen heads of reeds and rushes,
the bodies of the common birds, robins, crows, and thrushes,
everything that I have loved and all the light touches,
while we still have time.
That the lover remains undefined—is it a person or a planet?—is another indication that Lindeman is less interested in preaching than in exploring feelings of profound loss through the use of concrete, if highly personalized, imagery. But this song, too, has its creative origins in a real-life incident. In this case it was the songwriter's despair at witnessing the Canadian government, in the form of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), attack and arrest members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in northern British Columbia for blocking a roadway in an attempt to stop the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their ancestral lands.
"The RCMP was approaching with dogs and helicopters," Lindeman says, recalling the late-2019 event that led to the writing of "Trust." "They looked like an invading army. And I thought: This is my government." As she followed the conflict on social media, Lindeman recalls, all the lines of communication from the scene suddenly went dead. "No one knew why. There was, like, two hours where the WiFi in the area went down and people weren't able to communicate. And I wrote that song in those two hours, while people were waiting to find out what had happened and if people were OK."
Lindeman acknowledges some ambivalence about sharing the story, "because obviously it's not my story to tell—I'm not Indigenous," she says. "But I felt, as a citizen, an immense betrayal. This government that had been elected to take action on climate and Indigenous reconciliation had essentially invaded people's land in order to protect a pipeline company. And people were there chaining themselves to fences to stop it from happening. Somehow that filtered into the song. There are other things that went into it—from my life, from my subconscious. But that image was the crux of it. Why are we still having to argue over the value of something like water, or a landscape?"
It's not easy to make poignant, lasting art about climate change. The problem is so immense and all-encompassing that the vocabularies of music, poetry, theater, painting, or film can seem insufficient to the task, but in fact, they may be just what we need. As people and governments mobilize to address this global existential crisis, we need artists to check our work, to hold us accountable, to spur us on. And we need them to remind us of the human toll—both physical and emotional—as we head deeper into an uncertain future.
And we need to them to be as persistent as the tiny yet full-throated creature Lindeman memorializes in her song "Parking Lot":
Waiting outside the club in a parking lot
I watched some bird fly up and land on the rooftop
then up again into the sky, in and out of sight,
flying down again to land on the pavement.
It felt intimate to watch it,
its small chest rising and falling as it sang the same song
over and over and over and over again,
over the traffic and the noise.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By Daniel Raichel
Industry would have us believe that pesticides help sustain food production — a necessary chemical trade-off for keeping harmful bugs at bay and ensuring we have enough to eat. But the data often tell a different story—particularly in the case of neonicotinoid pesticides, also known as neonics.
Despite being the most widely used family of pesticides in the United States, research has shown that the largest uses of these neurotoxic chemicals do little to nothing to help crop yields or farmers' bottom lines.
If we look closer, it's easy to see why: The vast majority of neonics are applied as coatings on seeds for crops like corn, soybean, and wheat — where they are most often used indiscriminately, rather than in response to specific pest problems. For many conventional seed varieties, farmers have no choice but to buy neonics-treated seeds, thanks to the near monopolies enjoyed by agrochemical giants, which manufacture both the seeds and the pesticides.
The result? Tens to hundreds of millions of acres are needlessly sown with bee-toxic seeds. And while these wasteful practices may spell good news for the profit margins of chemical manufacturers — to the tune of more than $3 billion per year — they are catastrophic news for the surrounding ecosystems.
That's because neonics are pervasive ecosystem contaminants. When coated on seeds, they're absorbed "systemically" as plants grow — up through the roots and into the nectar, pollen, and fruit itself — which then get eaten by other wildlife. What doesn't make it into the plant (usually more than 95 percent of the toxic seed coating) leaches out into the soil, where it can travel long distances, carried by rain and agricultural runoff into new soil, plants, and water supplies. Once in the ground, neonics are long-lived — building up in the soil over time and continuing to harm or kill bugs and other wildlife for years after application.
Unsurprisingly, our agricultural system is now 48 times more harmful to insect life than it was just two decades ago, with neonics accounting for more than 90 percent of that increase. That's why it's also no surprise that neonics have been recognized as a primary cause of the massive losses of U.S. honey bee colonies every year — the unfortunate new normal. Neonics are also linked to mass die-offs of native bees, birds, fish, and harm to other important insects and earthworms, which keep our soil healthy and nutrient-dense.
This contamination poses a clear ecological crisis but it's also a crisis for how we eat.
In a recent study out of Rutgers University, researchers looked at seven different crops in 131 commercially managed fields across North America to see how many crops were "pollinator-limited" — i.e., crops whose yields would be higher were there more pollinators.
Distressingly, five out of every seven crops they analyzed were pollinator-limited — including favorites like apples, cherries, and blueberries. "Honeybee colonies are weaker than they used to be and wild bees are declining, probably by a lot," said the paper's senior author, Rachael Winfree. "Fewer bees, in turn, mean less food, and more pressure on struggling honeybee populations to replace pollination from native bees."
As Winfree notes, this reliance on a single species is risky, "setting us up for food security problems." Worse yet, the study shows the likely impact of neonics on our food supply isn't decades away; it's already happening right now.
For the present, industries can use stopgap solutions—like breeding and shipping out more honeybees to make up for lost colonies — but these strategies may ultimately fail if we don't address the source of the vast and wasteful neonic contamination.
Looking into the future, low yields may mean that some of our favorite foods become far pricier or unavailable entirely — an outcome with high human and economic costs.
In the United States, the production of crops that rely on pollination is valued at more than $50 billion annually. Indeed, one in every three bites of food is reliant on pollinators. Food workers — an umbrella term for a behemoth industry that includes everyone from farm workers to restaurant cooks and servers to grocery store clerks — could experience increased job disruptions, too, should the markets for these foods become upended.
Recently, a group of local New York chefs — recognizing their reliance on bees and an abundant and diverse food supply to keep restaurants open, workers employed, and their food healthy and delicious—asked state legislators to rein in wasteful neonic use statewide.
Faced with rising food costs, more families may also struggle to put food on the table. Already, more than 10.5 percent of all U.S. families — or more than 35 million Americans — experienced food insecurity at some point in 2019. During the COVID-19 crisis, that number has ballooned. For those unsure where their next meal may come from, even moderate increases in food costs are felt acutely. Potentially significant changes to food costs or availability — particularly for our most nutrient-dense produce — would likely hit low-income families hardest.
The stakes are high, but the solution is simple: We must rein in needless neonic use that threatens our food supply and contaminates our land and water on a vast scale.
In the same turn, we must also support regenerative agriculture practices, which eliminate the need for synthetic pesticides like neonics. A more just and sustainable food system that protects workers, consumers, and the wild world also protects our food security — it's what we need and it's within reach.
Daniel Raichel is a staff attorney and a member of the Lands & Wildlife program, focusing on protecting our nation's bee populations from the ever-growing threats to their health and existence—in particular, the use of bee-toxic pesticides. Before joining the Wildlife team, Raichel was codirector of NRDC's Community Fracking Defense Project and an advocate for the cleanup of industrial pollution in the New York region. Prior to that, he was a member of the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic. Raichel holds a bachelor's degree in English from Cornell University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. He works out of the Chicago office.
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By Rasheena Fountain
The topic of energy rarely came up during Alexis Cureton's childhood, split between Tulsa, Oklahoma, Duluth, Georgia, and Indianapolis. Nevertheless, Cureton can still recall his mother's reminders to turn off the lights and not to overuse the dishwasher. Those pleas gave him an awareness of the scarcity, necessity, and costs of energy—heightened during those cold-weather stretches when his family's finances did not allow them to pay the electric bill. Along the way, two questions formed in his head: "How is energy helping to create comfort and, in its absence, how am I uncomfortable?" Today, these questions shape Cureton's lens at NRDC, where he advocates for California's low-income communities of color to be at the energy decision-making table and for their access to clean energy.
A self-proclaimed nerd, avid reader, and documentary enthusiast growing up, Cureton found inspiration in the pages of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla's autobiography. Despite being born worlds away from Tesla—Black and in the home of Black Wall Street—he related to Tesla's innovative ideas and that he did not fit in with the norm. "A lot of my interests weren't really mainstream," Cureton says.
Still, pursuing a career in energy was not on his radar, even with his interest in Tesla. As a teen, Cureton and his friends knew vaguely of solar panels and that they were installed in homes located in more affluent neighborhoods. But, he says, "we were not talking about creating energy businesses or lobbying for particular policies that improve the conditions of our community."
For college, Cureton headed off to Clark Atlanta University to pursue an undergraduate degree in sociology. It was the same university where the man considered the "father of environmental justice," Dr. Robert D. Bullard, had taught. Bullard left Clark Atlanta to teach at another institution the year before Cureton arrived; nevertheless, the professor's writings would welcome him into the environmental sector.
Alexis Cureton with Dr. Robert Bullard at an event honoring the professor as the Stephen Schneider Award winner for outstanding climate science communication at Climate One in San Francisco. Alexis Cureton
At Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where Cureton set out for an MPA in policy analysis, the door opened further for him when the school began to offer an energy major concentration. He followed his curiosity, entering the concentration as one of three African American students.
"It was a culture shock," Cureton says, adding that many of his peers had been more deeply engaged in clean energy since their teen years. One classmate had been making mini solar panels in his garage for fun in high school. "I saw how late in the game I was exposed to this industry," Cureton says. "I think about how many people feel that way."
The few Black students in the concentration not only found themselves in the racial minority in the classroom—they also found no representation of themselves in the curriculum. "I learned that people whose books we were told to buy and to read over the summer were not Black. They were not writing from a Black perspective or about Black people," Cureton says.
He worked to counter these feelings of isolation by focusing some of his independent graduate coursework on the federal government's inadequate response to environmental justice concerns. He sought out professors like Dr. Edwardo Rhodes and Dr. Tony Reames. Friendships like these helped Cureton begin to read more widely on the topic, using stipends he received from summer fellowships to buy books that resonated with his experience as an African-American man in the United States. However, Cureton knew it would be important to build professional relationships outside of the program as well, and with that understanding, he forged a partnership with the American Association of Blacks in Energy to offer mentoring and internships to students of color in the program.
Dr. Bullard's books solidified Cureton's career journey. Through writings like The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities, he learned that Black people had been fighting for the environment for a long time. Cureton felt as if the pages said, "Congratulations, you are part of that group." And he no longer felt isolated in his career path.
Cureton speaking at an event for the Greenlining Institute. Alexis Cureton
Cureton went on to work as a researcher at organizations focused on creating equitable, community-focused clean energy transitions like Spark Northwest, the Greenlining Institute, and GRID Alternatives—groups that also help to create related job-training opportunities for underserved communities. He served as an electric vehicle fellow in the GRID Alternatives' SolarCorps program, aiding efforts to provide access to clean mobility for low-income communities in California. (The group offers grants of up to $5,000 toward the purchase of new or used electric cars.)
Cureton explains that California's affordable housing crisis has also impacted many residents' transportation expenses since it's pushed them into homes farther away from central business districts. As a result, he says, "many people are transportation burdened, meaning they are spending more than half of their income on gas." While driving an electric vehicle slashes fuel costs, buying one is out of reach for many. And further compounding this access, he notes, low-income communities are too often left out of policy conversations that could help raise these affordability issues. "I always strive to make sure that what I advocate for comes directly from the community," Cureton says.
The siting of transit infrastructure must also have local buy-in, he adds. For example, in Long Beach, California, which is among the nation's most ozone-polluted metro areas, residential neighborhoods that are home to large Black and Latino populations surround Interstate 710. More than 40,000 diesel trucks traverse the corridor daily, as part of the city's port infrastructure. Residents call it "asthma alley." But no one chose to live amid this pollution, says Cureton. "Who made the decision to put the roads here? The community did not get to make the decision on road placement."
In his role at NRDC, Cureton continues to bring community representatives to the table to broaden the conversation around clean energy solutions through the Energy Efficiency For All (EEFA) initiative. At the state level in California, EEFA advocates for sustainable clean energy investments in affordable housing. Some of these efforts include encouraging disadvantaged communities throughout the state to take advantage of the Low-Income Weatherization Program (LIWP), which helps renters afford energy efficiency upgrades like insulation and lighting that make their homes more comfortable while lowering their emissions and energy bills. Cureton has also been supporting the Repower LA coalition's #EraseUtilityDebt campaign, which works to relieve the pressure on residents struggling to pay water and power bills in the face of increasing unemployment rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I love the position I am in. The work I am doing is tied directly to me," Cureton says.
Even before the pandemic, one in three Americans were considered "energy insecure," with low-income communities of color hit the hardest by inequitable energy policies. Now, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have further amplified how much work needs to be done to create social policies that allow Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color to thrive, he points out. But he wishes that momentum did not take such tragedy.
"I don't want to go through something that's 10 times worse than this to finally get to where we need to go. I have lost too many people from COVID and 'I can't breathe,'" says Cureton. One of his best friends lost his father to the virus in August; another friend's cousin, Dreasjon Reed, was shot and killed by the police in Indianapolis in May.
What keeps Cureton grounded in his work is his empathy—a trait he sees as a requirement for anyone entering this field. "I don't think that you can work in climate, clean energy, and environment and not think about other people," he says.
Equally fundamental to his work around utilities is his mission to boost energy literacy so that low-income communities of color can become their own advocates. "How do I communicate to my people this complex concept of energy and how it impacts them?" Cureton asks. He cites Malcolm X, who could articulate the lived experiences of his people—and who served as an intermediary between those oppressing and those fighting to no longer be oppressed—as an inspiration for his work in both the policy space and on the ground.
"Energy has played a huge role in the ways that Black people live and experience life in this country," Cureton says. It is his mission to light the path forward.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.