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.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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.
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.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
How did Hurricane Katrina—which displaced more than 1 million people in the Gulf region—propel your work, and how does it shape your mission today?
I got into this work in the aftermath of the hurricane in 2005, and it's been 15 years as of August 29. Katrina was a massive disaster that I felt compelled to respond to. It was my hometown. I stayed because I began to understand how that disaster was a manifestation of a global climate reality.
We are anchoring the Movement for Black Lives work that's centered around a national black climate agenda, and part of that will include in-depth communications to bring climate into the realm of Black lives—into communities that have been marginalized and targeted by our colonizing system. Part of our work is to begin a process of acknowledging the trauma that comes with being a person of color in this country, being in an environmental justice community and being poisoned every day, and going through a climate disaster. We are on the frontlines.
How do you help communities heal from this trauma when the underlying problems have not been solved?
The most difficult and time-consuming layer is building, healing, and strengthening relationships between different communities and acknowledging that many of us, especially people of color, have been systematically pitted against each other as part of a broader social infrastructure. What does it mean to reconcile these communities with each other? For example, we're making a Sacred Waters Pilgrimage down the Mississippi River for Black and Indigenous women to address the tensions between those two communities in the U.S. and begin to heal those relationships. In the climate movement, these are the people who are tokenized; it's just assumed they can stand on the frontlines together with no acknowledgment that there's a deep history of mistrust and tension between these groups—not of their own creation, and rooted in colonization. You've got to take some time to understand how the cultures are different and how people are perceived. You've got to reconcile and heal before you can work, and only then can the work that you do together stand. Otherwise, the work that you do together will fall.
In addition to building coalitions, what kinds of services does the GCCLP provide to help residents cope with the impacts of extreme storms?
We started out providing free legal services to folks recovering after a disaster. We are there as service providers but we also offer a political education about what is happening to you and why. We don't just get your FEMA paperwork completed for flood remittance, although that's part of what we'll do. You're also going to leave with an understanding of the frequency of flooding, the climate impacts, and how your area in particular has just been affected and is going to be affected in the future.
Today, we have four main programs, and in each, we have a level of advocacy within them: We do Equitable Disaster Recovery; Water Equity/Water Economy; Sustainable Economy/Energy Democracy; and Land, Labor and Just Transition. Our federal disaster advocacy work centers around the modification and re-envisioning of the Stafford Act, which controls and activates FEMA. We also do some state-level advocacy around mitigation planning here in the five Gulf South states. That involves educating decision makers not just on what the community needs but pointing out what's out there and within our budgetary reach or legislative duty.
A lot of the initial recovery work following Katrina centered around building climate-resilient communities that could withstand future storms. Has that work been successful?
Over the years, as we've watched people trying to create resilient communities that are more physically ready for the storms that are coming, we've seen it either lead to gentrification or segregation or investment in non-Black, non-Native places. Money never makes it to the frontline. So we've got to put in our own infrastructure systems at the community level, rooted in political education around economy, racialized capitalism, and wealth-building.
In our understanding of climate change, the economy plays a major (if not the major) role in how we got to this place. The economic philosophy of this country is one of extraction; it's an extractive economy that started with the attempted genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, all for profit, power, land, and control. So, we help communities to practice receiving, making decisions about, and distributing money to places where they want to see their dollars go—which is basically holding Black wealth. We help local organizations set up community-controlled funds all across the Gulf South region after every disaster. Yes, the community receives dollars, but they also go through a 12-month process to collectively develop a system of shared governance so that, should this happen again, we have systems of our own around our own money and its destination.
The practice of "blue-lining" is a new climate-driven threat that withdraws support for vulnerable communities living in high-risk flood areas. How did that manifest in New Orleans after Katrina, and how might it impact other areas?
It's happening already in places south of New Orleans where decision makers have understood we will not make it. We're going to lose those areas. My community is one. You watch as federal flood insurance becomes impossible because of the designations of flood risk by the Army Corps of Engineers. A point comes when you can't even get flood insurance to protect your home. After Katrina, officials said, "Everything below Interstate 10 is pretty much written off so if you live below I-10, you should begin to plan to move."
I think we're going to see false information about flood lines. On flood maps of south Louisiana, the city of New Orleans is not shown in the flood zone because of the levee system, which was only rebuilt to the standards that failed the first time. As a result, people in New Orleans can get insurance but people south of New Orleans can't.
How do you reach community members who are not already part of the climate conversation but face climate change impacts in their immediate futures?
Outreach is mainly folks just talking to the people they know. And we're part of larger coalitions that help us build new relationships. The problem is that the climate conversation has not yet made it into the daily rhetoric of Black, Indigenous, and brown communities, so giving generic information is not good enough. We're going to do more virtual education because video and social media are just how people get their information now in this COVID reality.
But the majority of folks we're trying to reach do not sit on a computer all day so there's still the problem of how to make it real. You have to understand that communication is not just words, especially down here in the South. You can sit under a tree next to somebody for a long time without words, yet a lot is actually being communicated, and they can feel that your energy is serious and authentic. I never had a problem communicating urgency to people of the Gulf South. They know I'm from here, that I love this place, and that I wouldn't be taking their time talking like this if it weren't serious.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Shelia Hu
The cycle is all too familiar: Affluent residents move into lower-income neighborhoods in cities and make their mark on the area's character and culture. Property values and the cost of living rise in tandem. While the process of gentrification may revitalize under-resourced neighborhoods, the skyrocketing costs of living displace longtime residents and businesses, leaving a new demographic to enjoy the benefits.
As climate change starts to play a more significant role in where we live, it has become a trigger for gentrification and displacement in its own right. Coastal cities that lie on the frontlines of global warming have seen an influx of investments to improve climate resilience. The efforts to redevelop or build new structures that can withstand the impacts of intensifying storms, flooding, erosion, and sea-level rise may inadvertently pose new threats to low-income communities of color.
On the other hand, the lack of equitable investment in low-income communities leaves people even more at risk for climate change impacts when the development model maintains a do-nothing status quo. The same consequence can happen when high-income households relocate from flood-prone coastal properties to higher-elevation cities, displacing the residents there. Extreme weather events fueled by global climate change can also rapidly reshape a city's identity and people's cultural connections to places they call home.
There are a few ways you can look at the causes of climate gentrification. Sasha Forbes, a senior program advocate in Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program, breaks them down.
The Lure of Higher Ground
Increasingly, high-income households are moving away from coastal properties to avoid threats like sea-level rise and erosion. The lurking impacts of the climate crisis "are pushing people inland onto communities that have been rooted there and have endured disinvestment, racism, and inequality and are now under the threat of gentrification and displacement," Forbes explains. Meanwhile, even owners of more-resilient coastal properties are eyeing properties farther from the shore due to expenses associated with climate change, such as the rising cost of flood insurance.
Residents of Liberty City in Miami are among those now facing the ramifications of climate gentrification. Sitting at a higher elevation than the rest of Miami, Liberty City is less vulnerable to the expected sea-level rise of 14 to 26 inches by 2060—and this has caught the attention of real estate developers.
A 2018 study shows that real estate sitting on higher elevation in Miami has appreciated at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country. This value appreciation has not been leveraged to collectively benefit the predominantly Black residents of Liberty City who have been fighting for more resources for their community. Not only are they seeing a shift in their neighborhood, but these residents are also under pressure from developers to sell their homes.
Evacuation from Extreme Weather
Natural disasters can also accelerate gentrification. "A large part of the reality is that Black- and brown-owned property is undervalued by the market, so in times of disasters—and we can include COVID-19 in this as well—predatory investors and developers take advantage of even cheaper property and land values than existed prior to a disaster," Forbes says.
Recent studies have shown that Black communities are undervalued by an average of $48,000. The recovery and redevelopment period presents "a mix of residents trying to maintain or recoup what might be left of their homes; residents who have lost their jobs and are on the verge of being evicted with no option for affordable housing elsewhere; land grabs; and cities engaging in redevelopment processes that might tout equity but still create intentional strategies to attract more higher-income residents without enough emphasis on supporting existing low-income residents—all of which can lead to gentrification and displacement," says Forbes.
Climate-related disasters in 2018 alone displaced more than 1.2 million people. These extreme weather events—which will only increase in frequency as climate change worsens—can spur immediate gentrification in under-resourced communities. In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston, one in six families receiving assistance from the Houston Housing Authority saw their home battered or destroyed. After the city's many displaced families returned to seek new accommodations, they found skyrocketing rents across the city. And one year later, Houston still wouldn't commit to rebuilding or replacing all of the lost subsidized housing.
The rebuilding of New Orleans, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, remains perhaps the starkest example of climate gentrification of a city in U.S. history. It is estimated that 100,000 Black New Orleans residents have been permanently displaced from their homes due to the destruction of affordable housing following the storm. This included the razing of some developments that saw no significant damage as part of the city's rebuilding strategy.
Researchers have since concluded that hurricane damage was positively associated with the likelihood of a New Orleans neighborhood having gentrified 10 years after Katrina. This suggests that natural disasters can sometimes pave the way for gentrification, uprooting existing populations en masse and wiping out infrastructure. Developers can swoop in afterward and invest in properties at lower prices and build higher-end projects meant to attract a wealthier population.
Forbes also points to cities' efforts to implement eco-friendly infrastructure as a potential trigger for displacement. Green gentrification, such as the building of large-scale green spaces in neighborhoods, can inadvertently push out residents from the surrounding areas as it increases property values.
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Low-income communities often face disproportionate environmental burdens, like higher levels of pollution and a dire lack of green spaces. But when investments into these communities are made, rents can skyrocket—displacing longtime residents. We can begin to address this green gentrification by advocating for genuine community collaboration, affordable housing, tenant protections, and a living wage. Because clean air, safe water, and green spaces should not be a luxury. Learn more by clicking the link in our bio! - #environmentaljustice #greengentrification #pollution #greenspaces #cleanair #safewater #affordablehousing #tenantprotections #livingwage
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"While it is good that cities adopt green interventions to increase climate resilience, the greening can lead to gentrification and displacement, given our racially and structurally unjust planning practices and policies, which don't focus enough on keeping people in place if they so choose, especially renters," says Forbes.
These eco-friendly amenities may only end up benefiting wealthy residents—which is what's in danger of happening along the Los Angeles River, where profiteering developers are taking advantage of a restoration project intended to benefit surrounding ecosystems and riverside communities. One of two large projects proposed along the river, north of downtown L.A., would disrupt habitat restoration efforts and place a commercial development atop riverside land that the city had previously envisioned as part of a contiguous public park. The other proposed project features luxury housing in L.A.'s Chinatown and has already led to reports of landlords evicting long-term residents.
Other projects like the High Line in New York City, the 606 in Chicago, and the Atlanta BeltLine have prompted similar concerns of accelerated gentrification, despite their original goals of neighborhood revitalization. Forbes explains that there needs to be proactive strategies and policies tied to such projects that not only focus on anti-displacement measures but also allow low-income communities and communities of color to access the new amenities for their well being.
"Programs and policies for community ownership, cultural programs, income and workforce development that support communities should be implemented months or years ahead of the groundbreaking of any major development, as well as after the development is completed," Forbes says. "The continued failure to do so is as dangerous as the 'unintended consequences' of projects that are implemented to make things better. We don't account enough for inaction." Urban planning and zoning are key forces driving gentrification as a whole, Forbes adds, with local governments playing a significant role in regulating these practices.
Given that reality, Forbes and national and local partners with the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) say that community-led investment and self-determination by low-income communities and people of color are fundamental to any city's revitalization projects and to determining what happens to local land. Toward that end, SPARCC collaborates with community partners and amplifies local efforts to promote equitable and sustainable development practices—not just for housing protection but also for access to public transportation, cultural preservation, and parks.
"We must have increased voice, power, and access to adaptive financial resources, especially for community-led organizations, to make sustainable, healthy, and equitable development a reality," Forbes says. This can vary depending on the specific needs of the neighborhood. In the Bay Area, for example, 64 percent of low-income residents living near transit are at risk of displacement due to rising housing costs. To help mitigate this risk, SPARCC partners have focused on supporting the region's community land trusts—local nonprofit organizations that ensure long-term housing affordability in a neighborhood—and have succeeded in acquiring several single-family homes in collaboration with residents, lenders, and developers.
We already know that climate justice, housing justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity are interconnected. To begin working through these issues and avoid the pitfalls of gentrification, cities need to ensure that they recalibrate their inequitable planning and economic development practices of the past and bring the decision-making table to those experiencing the issues firsthand.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
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By Arohi Sharma
Quarantining and sheltering in place from COVID-19 has a lot of us going stir-crazy — myself included. With summer in full swing, more of us are itching to get outside safely. Unfortunately, we're also right in the middle of peak harmful algal bloom (HAB) season. While state agencies are understandably redirecting resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the resources normally used to test recreational freshwater bodies for HAB events — including the dangerous toxins that are harmful to humans and pets — are on hold. This concerns me because, as NRDC's updated What's Lurking in Your Lake assessment shows, state agencies are already under-resourced to address HABs. Furthermore, our updated scorecards and mapping efforts show there is not enough comprehensive freshwater HAB data collection. With state budgets being redirected, it's unclear whether proactive freshwater HAB data collection will get necessary funding in coming years.
First, What Are Harmful Algal Blooms — or HABs?
While HABs along our ocean coastlines — like red tide events in Florida — garner more media attention, HAB events also occur in our nation's freshwater bodies. As I wrote last year, HABs occur when excess nutrients make their way into water ecosystems. Nutrients are food for the cyanobacteria that are normally present in freshwater ecosystems. But when excess nutrients are paired with other enabling factors like warmer weather and stagnant water, cyanobacteria proliferate. Some species of cyanobacteria leech cyanotoxins, which can be harmful to humans, especially children, as well as dogs. The increased outdoor recreation in the summer, and the fact that some states' capacities are constrained due to COVID-19 response (like in Utah and Kansas), make it all the more important to be aware of these events and how they can impact us. For states like Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which are home to tens of thousands of freshwater bodies, funding constraints could have severe impacts on efforts to prevent exposure to HABs.
Results of NRDC’s Updated Assessment
Last year, NRDC mapped freshwater HAB events across all 50 states from 2008 to 2018 because no such map exists at the federal level. This week, we updated that map to include 2019 freshwater HAB data and revised each state's freshwater HAB program scorecard. Those updated scorecards provide a baseline understanding of each state's freshwater HAB program. They also signal whether states are prepared to proactively prevent exposure to, and respond to, freshwater HAB events. As the chart below shows, there are noticeable improvements in state freshwater HAB programs from last year, but the overall outlook remains the same: State agencies don't have the resources to effectively address HABs.
Some of the improvements observed from our updated scorecards include:
- Seven more states (California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming) scored an overall "excellent" rating compared to last year.
- Five states (Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have created new websites that share information on freshwater HABs in their states.
- Seventeen states improved the information made available on their websites.
- Six additional states (Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) adopted cyanotoxin thresholds since last year.
- Nine additional states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) developed and/or created response protocols for how to respond to HAB outbreaks. From this list, unfortunately, only Arkansas and Michigan have made their protocols available online.
- Nine additional states claim to be leveraging relationships with NGOs and local organizations to communicate HAB information to the public compared to last year.
- We found 11 new states using social media to communicate HAB information to the public.
Some disconcerting trends from our updated analysis include:
- 36 states do not collect comprehensive HAB data.
- 34 states do not make HAB data easily available to the public.
- 29 states do not make their response protocols available online.
- 24 states do not proactively sample for cyanobacteria or cyanotoxins.
- 20 states claim they do not have the authority to issue recreational advisories.
The Role of Data in Decision-Making
The adage "you can't manage what you don't measure" plays into my work every day. The troubling trends highlighted in NRDC's assessment have common threads: lack of data collection and inaccessibility of data.
I firmly believe that comprehensive data collection is a necessary pillar of effective decision-making. Data show trends that can help address the root causes of problems, help us understand what we know and reveal what we don't know, illuminate gaps in management and program efficacy, and provide information to hold decision-makers accountable. When states don't collect comprehensive data nor make data available to the public, it's tough to accomplish any of those goals.
The Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately crystalizes what happens when decision makers politicize and withhold data. Public health decisions and emergency response become undermined by politics instead of empowered by evidence.
Double Down on Prevention
The federal government could be preventing the kind of excess nutrient runoff that contributes to HABs by enforcing the Clean Water Act, but it isn't, so states are bearing the costly burden of testing, researching, responding, monitoring, and mitigating freshwater HAB events. Now, with the health and economic crises emerging from the pandemic, state agencies responsible for responding to freshwater HAB events are being asked to do more with less.
According to NRDC's updated assessment, 62 percent of states do not dedicate financial resources to respond to or research HAB events, which means state agencies tasked with HAB response must pull funding from other environmental remediation or water quality protection funds, compete with other agencies for funding, reduce funding for one area of HAB activity to supplement another, or simply forgo proactive testing altogether. Climate change will increase the frequency and duration of HAB events nationwide so the reactive approach to freshwater HAB response will only increase states' future costs.
While we all do everything we can to keep our families and loved ones safe this summer, NRDC will continue to hold states and the federal government accountable. Prevention is the smartest and most underutilized tool in our toolbox to combat HAB events so we will continue fighting this administration's rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. We will also continue our advocacy for healthy soil stewardship because we know that building healthy soil addresses one of the root causes of freshwater HAB outbreaks — nutrient runoff.
What to Know for 2020 Summer Recreation
I understand the need to get outdoors this summer — I'm feeling the urge too. Should you seek out lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and streams, please look out for HAB indicators (e.g., blue-green colored water, a funky smell, dead fish, or caution signs, like the one below) and keep these things in mind:
- Dangerous HAB toxins that can harm your families and your pets are not visible to the naked eye. Removing blue-green algae or pond scum from the top of a freshwater body is not enough to keep your loved ones safe.
- If you see anything suspicious, stay out of the water and report the potential event to the appropriate state agency. If you need help figuring out how to report a HAB event, you can download your state's scorecard.
- Keep your eyes peeled for caution signs that inform you whether the water is safe to recreate in.
- Finally: The lack of a caution sign doesn't mean the waterbody isn't experiencing a HAB event. It's possible that your state doesn't have the resources it needs to proactively test every single freshwater body, especially with COVID-19 still surging across the United States. Call the appropriate state agency or waterbody manager to inquire whether that waterbody has been tested for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.
We've placed this new signage in conjunction with the Wyoming Department of Health & Wyoming Livestock Board to ensure info about #HCBs is nearby for people recreating in #Wyoming. Visit https://t.co/eXIVjPp6SU for information about advisories and further FAQs. #WDEQ pic.twitter.com/HBIDP9Flqy— Wyoming DEQ (@Wyoming_DEQ) June 15, 2020
Reposted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.