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15 Green Challenges Just in Time for Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day ? a day of political and civic action focused on protecting our planet. Because every person counts when it comes to eco-friendly actions, here are 15 green challenges to try this Earth Day.

1. Take a shorter shower

Start your Earth Day on an eco-friendly note by taking a shorter shower than normal. Set a timer to really challenge yourself ? and bonus points if you keep the water on the colder side. ?Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. ?That’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water.? Be sure you also turn off the water while brushing your teeth. And if you have any leaky fixtures, make Earth Day the day you finally get them fixed.

2. Buy local

If you?re doing any shopping on Earth Day, make a point only to go to local establishments ? especially restaurants that serve food produced in the area. ?In North America, fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles before reaching your plate,? according to the World Wildlife Fund. If you have a farmers market open near you, head over to stock up on fresh, local produce.

3. Green your commute

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Challenge yourself to a greener commute in the spirit of Earth Day by biking, walking or using public transit. ?If 25 percent of Americans today used mass transit or other alternatives to driving for their daily commute, annual transportation emissions nationwide would be slashed by up to 12 percent,? according to the NRDC. If ditching your car isn?t an option, at least see whether you can carpool with someone ? even if it?s just to run errands. Every little bit counts.

4. Take your car for a tuneup

Speaking of driving, Earth Day is a fitting day to take your car in for a tuneup. ?If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year,? the NRDC says. ?A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.? So check your tires and schedule your car for other service if necessary to make sure you?re rolling as eco-friendly as possible.

5. Check for expiring food

Make Earth Day the day you finally clean out your refrigerator and pantry, checking for expired and almost-expired food. ?Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food ? about 40 percent of which just winds up in the landfill,? according to the NRDC. So if you find items that will expire soon, work them into your meal plan before they do.

6. Go vegan

If you eat a plant-based or mostly plant-based diet, you?ve already won this challenge. If not, at least make Earth Day a vegan day. ?Since livestock products are among the most resource-intensive to produce, eating meat-free meals can make a big difference,? the NRDC says. And who knows? You might discover some great vegan options to regularly incorporate into your meals.

7. Wash on the lowest settings possible

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If you have laundry to do, keep it as eco-friendly as possible. ?Using cold water can save up to 80 percent of the energy required to wash clothes,? according to the WWF. ?Choosing a low setting on the washing machine will also help save water.? Similarly, if you?re washing dishes, try to run a full load in the dishwasher instead of handwashing, which actually uses more water.

8. Switch off and unplug

You don?t have to go out on Earth Day and buy all new energy-efficient appliances (unless you really want to). But you can use the day to hunt for ?energy vampires? ? i.e., electronics and other appliances drawing power even when they?re not technically in use. Some examples include a computer sitting idle instead of fully shut down or even a coffee maker left plugged in just to keep that little clock functioning. Switch off and unplug what you don?t need to slay those vampires.

9. Green your lighting

Again, you probably won?t be purchasing new efficient appliances on Earth Day, but maybe you can pick up some more efficient lighting. If you haven?t already, make the switch to LED bulbs. ?LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents,? according to the NRDC. ?They?re also cheaper in the long run: A 10-watt LED that replaces your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the lightbulb?s life.? Plus, instead of always using overhead lighting with multiple bulbs, try positioning some lamps around your home and even at work to lower your energy use.

10. Tweak the thermostat

Depending on where you live, you might be using the heat or the air-conditioning (or neither) when Earth Day rolls around. If you?re in a climate-controlled environment, tweak the thermostat just a little bit, so it kicks on less often. ?Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year,? according to the WWF.

11. Look for air leaks

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Fixing air leaks in your home can potentially save around 10 percent to 20 percent on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Not only is that great for your wallet, but the environment will thank you, too. Some common places to look are around windows and doors, baseboards, vents and fans, fireplace dampers and the attic hatch. Plus, check your fridge to make sure its seal is still strong.

12. Broaden your recycling knowledge

If you already recycle, that?s great. Definitely don?t get lazy about it on Earth Day. But how well-versed are you in recycling protocol? Recycling rules sometimes vary by community, and there?s a chance you?re unwittingly recycling something that clogs the machines or otherwise just belongs in the trash. Find your local rules, and read through them to make sure you?re doing things correctly.

13. Take special recyclables to the correct facilities

As long as you?re thinking about recycling, use Earth Day to gather any special recyclables that can?t go in your normal recycling bins, and take them to the proper drop-off facilities. Often there are recycling events on Earth Day that accept items, such as old electronics and batteries. Check your community calendar, so you don?t miss events for any special recyclables you want to get rid of.

14. Sign up for e-bills

This Earth Day challenge should only take you a few minutes. If you?re still getting paper bills or other mailers you don?t need, change your settings to get the electronic versions instead. ?In the United States, paper products make up the largest percentage of municipal solid waste, and hard copy bills alone generate almost 2 million tons of CO2,? according to the WWF. Likewise, tell companies to take you off their mailing lists for advertisements (you can find all those online nowadays anyway), and ask for digital receipts and records whenever possible.

15. Ask for eco-friendly additions at work

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You might not have as much control at your office as you do at home in terms of making the place more eco-friendly. But you still can put in some requests. Ask for eco-friendly additions, such as recycling bins if you don?t already have them or 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper products. Challenge your colleagues to bring in reusable mugs and water bottles instead of using paper or (gasp) Styrofoam cups. And if you have an office coffee pot, try to get people on board with purchasing one of the more eco-friendly coffee brands (and definitely not the single-serve coffee pods).

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


15 Green Challenges Just in Time for Earth Day

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5 Ways to Be a More Eco-Friendly Dog Parent

Millions of households across the United States include a dog. And our dogs certainly have an impact on how environmentally friendly our lifestyle is. Ready to turn your dog into an eco-warrior? Here are five ways to be a more eco-friendly dog parent.

1. Spay or neuter your pet

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Spaying and neutering your pets would technically fall under the ?reduce? category of the three R?s (reduce, reuse, recycle). According to the ASPCA, roughly 6.5 million companion animals go through U.S. animal shelters each year. Some are adopted, and others are strays who go back to their owners. But sadly about 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. And in many cases, these are healthy, loving animals who simply weren?t lucky enough to find a household to adopt them.

That?s where spaying and neutering come in ? as well as adopting versus allowing a breeder to bring more animals into this situation. Every little bit helps to put a dent in the homeless pet population. Not only do you reduce the number of shelter animals, but you also minimize the strays on the streets who often lead painful, shortened lives and might become nuisances in the community. Not to mention spaying and neutering can help increase your pet?s health and longevity. So do your part to reduce pet overpopulation, as well as the resources that go into managing it.

2. Properly dispose of pet waste

Disposing of pet waste is a bit tricky because your ideal eco-friendly techniques typically won?t work. Here are some methods you shouldn?t use, as they can harm the environment, according to PetMD.

First, don?t flush dog poop down the toilet. This can send parasites and other pathogens that aren?t killed at water treatment facilities into the waterways. Consequently, this can harm ecosystems, especially marine life. Plus, people can become sick and actually end up using more resources (e.g., lots of toilet flushing for a stomach bug) than you thought you were saving by flushing the waste in the first place. Similarly, composting is not an option for dog poop (unless your community has a dog waste composting program), as it also allows the spread of pathogens.

So what can you do? Bagging the waste and throwing it in the trash is usually your best option. But on the bright side, you can go green with your poop bags. More and more companies are offering biodegradable bags, though sometimes that can be a bit misleading. Not all companies have appropriately tested their products in typical landfill conditions, so it?s important to do your homework before buying. ?Choose a company that has testing to back up their biodegradable claims,? PetMD says.

3. Reduce your dog food paw print

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Buying dog food and other supplies in bulk helps to reduce packaging waste, as well as the number of trips you take to the store. ?Pay attention to packaging materials, and try to buy products packaged in recycled or recyclable materials,? the American Kennel Club suggests. Plus, look for foods that have eco-friendly ingredients, such as certified sustainable seafood.

Even better, skip the packaging altogether, and make food at home for your dog. You don?t have to cook their whole diet (unless you really want to and know how to do it right). But forgoing the bagged and boxed treats in favor of ones you make yourself ? or even just replacing them with some fresh fruits and veggies ? can reduce waste and energy consumption. And that will certainly add up over the course of your dog?s life to reduce their carbon paw print.

4. Choose eco-friendly pet products

You might already choose environmentally conscious companies for your human products. And it?s just as important to support those types of companies that make pet products to encourage their growth in the industry (but keep your antenna up for greenwashing).

Just like with dog food, look for items ? leashes, toys, cleaning supplies, etc. ? that are packaged in eco-friendly materials. And keep an eye out for plant-based products. ?When it comes to pet supplies, one of the most common plant-based materials you?ll find is hemp,? according to PetMD. Hemp ? used for items, such as leashes and collars ? is durable and doesn?t need much water or harmful chemicals to grow.

You also can look for toys and other products made from recycled materials, such as plastics turned into fiberfill. And to really recycle, look around your home for items you can turn into dog toys, bedding, etc. Plus, put in the effort to mend old items until they?re no longer safe for your dog.

Moreover, if you no longer need some of your dog products, consider donating them to an animal shelter ? a great form of reusing. Shelters often welcome gently used leashes, collars, harnesses, beds, crates, toys, towels and more. Just make sure you call ahead about your donations, as sometimes shelters have too much of a specific item.

5. Grow a green garden and lawn

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There are many reasons to grow a more eco-friendly garden. For instance, you contribute to a balanced ecosystem, reduce environmental toxins and use fewer resources. But what does that have to do with your dog?

Green gardening practices and being a dog parent actually go hand in hand. A major issue for both the environment and our pets is the use of synthetic lawn chemicals. Not only do these chemicals pollute our water and kill beneficial species (among other consequences), but they also pose serious dangers to your dog.

Ingesting fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other products (including some organic varieties) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors and even death in a dog, according to VetStreet. Even if you don?t see your dog ingest anything while outside, they?ll still get the products on their paws ? which they?ll certainly lick later. So try to use the most natural products possible on your property. Or better yet, grow low-maintenance plants that don?t need these products, and take pride in knowing that your garden is benefiting both your pet and the planet.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Ways to Be a More Eco-Friendly Dog Parent

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2019′s Dirty Dozen: Which Foods Have the Most Pesticides?

Beware the ?Dirty Dozen.? The Environmental Working Group has released its annual list of fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticides, based on testing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this year?s Dirty Dozen ? as the produce is nicknamed ? has some unsettling surprises.

?Overall, the USDA found 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day,? according to an Environmental Working Group news release. ?Before testing, all produce was washed and peeled, just as people would prepare food for themselves.? And the results for one particular trendy food were eye-opening. ?The most surprising news from the USDA tests reveals that the popular health food kale is among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables,? the news release says.

So which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (as opposed to organic) should you avoid if you want to limit the pesticides in your diet? Here is 2019?s Dirty Dozen.

12. Potatoes

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The Environmental Working Group does point out that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is critical for a healthy diet. But to make sure you?re maximizing the benefits, try to consume pesticide-free, organic varieties as often as possible. Potatoes, for instance, have numerous health benefits ? as long as you?re not solely consuming them in chip form. One baked potato has about 145 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. It also contains many vitamins and minerals ? including several B vitamins, 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, 17 percent of potassium, 13 percent of manganese and 17 percent of copper.

11. Celery

Have you joined the celery juice bandwagon? If you don?t want to be sipping or crunching on pesticides, aim to go the organic route. One cup of chopped celery contains just 16 calories with 2 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. And it still offers a fair amount of nutrients ? including 9 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 37 percent of vitamin K, 9 percent of folate and 8 percent of potassium. Plus, according to Healthline, celery is full of antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation and aid digestion.

10. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are great to grow in your home garden, where you can prevent pesticides and other chemicals from coming in contact with your food. A cup of chopped tomatoes has only 32 calories with 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Plus, the serving provides you with 30 percent of your daily vitamin A, 38 percent of vitamin C, 18 percent of vitamin K and 12 percent of potassium, among other nutrients. Tomatoes are especially known for their lycopene, which gives them their red pigment. ?Lycopene has been linked to health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and certain types of cancers,? according to Healthline.

9. Pears

A medium pear is a substantial snack ? containing about 100 calories, 6 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. It also offers some vitamins and minerals, including 12 percent of the recommended vitamin C intake, 10 percent of vitamin K, 6 percent of potassium and 7 percent of copper. Still, even though a pear?s skin helps to make it a great source of fiber, it doesn?t keep the pesticides out. So make sure you?re consuming clean varieties of this fruit.

8. Cherries

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More than 90 percent of the cherry samples the Environmental Working Group analyzed tested positive for two or more pesticides. So for the full health-boosting potential of this tart little fruit, go organic. A cup of cherries has about 87 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein. It also gives you a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins and several minerals. Plus, according to Healthline, cherries are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can protect your body against diseases and reduce inflammation.

7. Peaches

The thin skin of peaches doesn?t offer them much protection against pesticides. But it will contribute some fiber to your diet. One medium peach has about 60 calories, 2 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. It also contains several B vitamins, about 10 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 17 percent of vitamin C, 5 percent of vitamin K and 8 percent of potassium. And according to Healthline, peaches can be considered a low-sugar fruit with a little less than 13 grams of natural sugars.

6. Grapes

If you take pesticides out of the equation, grapes can be a very healthy addition to your diet. A cup of red or green grapes has roughly 100 calories and a gram of fiber. And it provides you with 27 percent of the recommended vitamin C intake, 28 percent of vitamin K, 8 percent of potassium and 10 percent of copper, among other nutrients. According to Healthline, the potent antioxidants in grapes can help fight several diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Plus, grapes also might help to improve heart health and lower cholesterol.

5. Apples

Just like with cherries, more than 90 percent of the apple samples carried two or more pesticides. ?Apples are generally near the top of EWG?s Dirty Dozen list because they contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including some at high concentrations,? according to the Environmental Working Group. And there?s one chemical in particular that?s especially controversial. ?Most conventionally grown apples are drenched in diphenylamine, an antioxidant chemical treatment used to prevent the skin of apples in cold storage from developing brown or black patches,? the Environmental Working Group says. U.S. growers and regulators say the chemical poses no risk, but European regulators feel there isn?t enough evidence to prove its safety.

4. Nectarines

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Nectarines also are among the fruits and vegetables that had more than 90 percent of their samples test positive for two or more pesticides. But sans pesticides, nectarines are a healthy way to get several nutrients. A medium nectarine has about 62 calories ? most of those coming from its natural sugars. Plus, it contains 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. It also offers multiple B vitamins, 9 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 13 percent of vitamin C, 8 percent of potassium and 6 percent of copper.

3. Kale

The Department of Agriculture hadn?t included kale in its pesticide tests since 2009. At that time, it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list. But since its popularity has skyrocketed, so has the pesticide use. ?More than 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues,? according to the Environmental Working Group news release. Especially alarming was the presence of the pesticide DCPA, or Dacthal, which showed up in roughly 60 percent of the kale samples. Since 1995, the EPA has classified DCPA as a possible carcinogen ? specifically citing liver and thyroid tumors ? and the European Union banned it in 2009. Yet it?s still legal to use on U.S. crops ? including kale.

2. Spinach

?Federal data shows that conventionally grown spinach has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested,? according to the Environmental Working Group. There were an average of 7.1 different pesticides on every spinach sample. And more than three-quarters of the samples contained one particularly scary ?neurotoxic bug killer? called permethrin. ?At high doses, permethrin overwhelms the nervous system and causes tremors and seizures,? the Environmental Working Group says. ?But several studies also found a link between lower-level exposure to permethrin-type insecticides and neurological effects in children.? Europe banned permethrin in 2000, but the EPA is still assessing its risks.

1. Strawberries

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Sweet, juicy, pesticide-filled strawberries took the top spot on 2019?s Dirty Dozen. ?Conventionally grown strawberries ? contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce,? according to the Environmental Working Group. ?? What?s worse, strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes of poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living thing in the soil.? Of all the samples, 99 percent contained at least one pesticide ? and 30 percent had 10 or more pesticides. Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, hormone disruption, neurological problems and more. So if you?re not keen on putting that in your body, stick to the organic varieties.

Bonus: Hot peppers

The Environmental Working Group expanded 2019?s Dirty Dozen to include hot peppers, which don?t meet its traditional ranking criteria but nonetheless should have their contaminants exposed. ?The USDA tests of 739 samples of hot peppers in 2010 and 2011 found residues of three highly toxic insecticides ? acephate, chlorpyrifos and oxamyl ? on a portion of sampled peppers at concentrations high enough to cause concern,? according to the Environmental Working Group news release. ?These insecticides are banned on some crops but still allowed on hot peppers.? So buy organic hot peppers whenever possible. But if you can?t, washing and cooking them can somewhat diminish the pesticide levels.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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2019′s Dirty Dozen: Which Foods Have the Most Pesticides?

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9 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening

Gardening can play a significant role in a healthy lifestyle ? and not just because of any fruits and vegetables you grow. Even if you don?t have the greenest thumbs, you still can enjoy the benefits. Here are nine surprising ways gardening can boost your health.

1. It uplifts your mood

A growing body of research has linked being around nature to stress relief and an overall improved mood. And it seems gardening falls under that category. A study on gardening and stress had participants complete a stressful task before assigning them either to 30 minutes of gardening or 30 minutes of indoor reading. Both groups experienced drops in their cortisol levels (the stress hormone), but the gardening group had much more significant decreases. Plus, gardening managed to restore the participants? positive moods after the stress task had brought them down, but reading did not. ?These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress,? the study says.

2. It can strengthen your immune system

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More research is demonstrating how playing in the dirt can be good for your health. A study on immunity found evidence to support the notion that exposure to microbes, especially at a young age, helps to strengthen the immune system and prevent diseases. And another study from Johns Hopkins Medicine corroborates those findings. It found that early exposure to dirt, dander and germs can lower a person?s risk of allergies and asthma. Just remember that dirt also might contain bacteria and parasites that can make you sick. So avoid touching your face with dirty hands, and wash them as soon as you?re done gardening.

3. It promotes brain health

Gardening also has the potential to improve your brain health. A study on dementia recruited 2,805 people age 60 and older who had no known cognitive impairments and followed them for 16 years. Ultimately, there were 115 men (out of 1,233) and 170 women (out of 1,572) who developed dementia during that time. But the researchers noted that those who engaged in daily gardening lowered their risk of developing dementia by 36 percent. In comparison, daily walks dropped the dementia risk by 38 percent for men, but interestingly there wasn?t a ?significant prediction? for women.

4. It?s good exercise

Gardening may help you relax, but it?s also a pretty good workout. Cleveland Clinic qualifies gardening as ?moderate? exercise ? akin to walking or riding your bike, depending on the intensity. And research has catalogued several health benefits of gardening, especially for older adults. A study on seniors found daily physical activity, including gardening, cut their risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 30 percent, as well as prolonged their lives. And another study on gardening and older adults concluded that gardening was an ideal way for seniors to stay in shape. It specifically helped them maintain their hand strength and dexterity. Plus, at any age, caring for something that?s living can be a helpful motivator to get up and move.

5. It helps you eat healthier

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According to Harvard Medical School, gardening can play a helpful role in maintaining a healthy diet. Just by the nature of what you grow, it can lead you to eat more fruits and vegetables. You also can prevent unhealthy fertilizers and pesticides from getting in your food. And you get to enjoy the benefits of freshly picked produce. ?Vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some store-bought vegetables that must be picked early,? Harvard Medical School says. Plus, a study on gardening and diets found people who gardened when they were children were likely to eat more fruits and vegetables later in life. So put those little green thumbs to work.

6. It can be a positive social activity

Social interaction is important for your health and well-being in many ways. ?Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index,? Mayo Clinic says. Plus, a social group can give you a sense of belonging, help you cope with trauma and encourage you to make positive choices. And if you?re an avid gardener, working in a community garden might be the perfect fit. One study found people participating in community gardens had significantly lower BMIs ? as well as a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese ? than others in their neighborhoods who didn?t garden. The researchers also found some of the benefits extended to the gardeners? families, as well.

7. It exposes you to vitamin D

We all need vitamin D ? from the sun and our diets ? to keep our bodies healthy. And though it?s important to be careful about exposing your skin to the sun, gardening still is a prime way to keep your vitamin D at an optimal level. A study on vitamin D deficiency found regular gardening (as well as outdoor cycling) lowered the likelihood that older adults ? whose skin often has more trouble synthesizing vitamin D ? would become deficient. Interestingly, people who engaged in brisk outdoor walks did not experience the same benefit.

8. It?s eco-friendly

Tending to a home garden can be an eco-friendly activity and help to combat climate change. And a healthier planet means better health for all of us. A guide from the National Wildlife Federation offers several tips on environmentally friendly gardening. For instance, it recommends trading your gas-powered lawn tools for electric- or human-powered ones.?Stay away from fertilizers and lawn chemicals?to help prevent water pollution. Plus, be conscientious about what you plant. ?Gardeners can play an important role in minimizing the threat of invasive species expansion by removing invasive plants from the garden and choosing an array of native alternatives,? the National Wildlife Federation says.

9. It gives you a sense of purpose

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Regardless of whether you have a single plant or an entire field, gardening is an ongoing responsibility. And that can give you a sense of purpose and nourish your spirit. Just ask NASA. To combat feelings of isolation, lower stress and break up monotony, NASA’s Human Research Program has experimented with astronauts growing plants in space. ?The countermeasure to sensory monotony is sensory stimulation,? according to NASA. ?Working with plants provides astronauts visual, tactile and olfactory stimulation, and eventually even salivary stimulation with fresh foods and variety.? And even astronauts ? whose job already is out-of-this-world ? found significant meaning in the work. ?Several astronauts agree that the ability to watch plants grow, and to play a part in their growth, provides a strong connection to something bigger than their immediate surroundings,? NASA says.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Original article: 

9 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening

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15 Spring Cleaning Tips for a Healthy House

It?s the most refreshing time of the year. Yes, spring cleaning season has rolled around again. And even if you have no intention of making an official spring cleaning to-do list, there are still certain parts of your home that probably could use a serious cleanse. Here are 15 spring cleaning tips that can help make your house a healthier place to live.

1. Get some fresh air

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Many of us can?t wait to throw open our windows in the spring. (Sorry to those with spring allergies.) And your house might desperately need that ventilation to reduce indoor air toxins that built up during the winter months. Natural ventilation has the ability to reduce lung-related illnesses by up to 20 percent, according to the World Health Organization. It also helps with moisture control, which hinders mold growth. If you can?t open windows, some other ways to improve indoor air quality are to bring in some houseplants, invest in an air purifier, limit the products you buy that contain VOCs and simply remove your shoes at the door.

2. Declutter

Decluttering isn?t just for Marie Kondo fans. Getting rid of unnecessary possessions can do wonders for anyone?s health and wellbeing. According to Mayo Clinic, a tidy house can decrease stress, improve energy, spark creativity and leave you feeling happier and more accomplished. Plus, that organization can trickle into other areas of your life. For instance, you might be inspired to adhere to a healthier diet or a more structured workout plan. So jump on the decluttering bandwagon this spring, and start tidying up.

3. Check expiration dates

As you declutter, make a point to look at expiration dates on any products that have them. Spend a day taking inventory of everything in your fridge and pantry. Get rid of food that?s past its prime, and plan to use anything that will expire soon. Plus, check the expiration dates on medications and first-aid items, household products and even any fire extinguishers you have in the house. It should bring you some peace of mind knowing everything is in working order.

4. Be picky about cleaning products

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Before you really get down to spring cleaning, take inventory of your cleaning products to be sure you have the tools you need for a healthy house. Consumer Reports recommends closely reading the labels of any store-bought products and adhering to their instructions. ?A label with the words ?poison? or ?danger? indicates that some ingredients are toxic if ingested; one with the words ?warning? or ?caution? means there are ingredients that could be dangerous if swallowed,? Consumer Reports says. Even better, learn to make your own natural cleaning products that are better for your health and often your wallet, as well. You might already have many of the items you need right in your kitchen.

5. Dust often-overlooked spots

Let?s be honest: There are parts of our homes we often skip with the dust cloth, as they can be tedious or difficult to clean. But a dusty house can have several consequences for our health. So as the season changes, prioritize dusting all those overlooked spots ? blinds, baseboards, the tops of doors and cabinets, shelving, fan blades, etc. ?You can fit a pillowcase around the fan blade, and use it as a dust rag,? HGTV recommends. ?Any dust that falls will land into the pillowcase rather than on the floor or furniture below.?

6. Deep-clean rugs and upholstery

It?s also ideal to give your rugs and upholstery a good cleaning to remove dirt, dust and other allergens that have settled in them. If you?re able, move your furniture, so you can reach all of your flooring to clean. HGTV even suggests making this the time of year when you invest in steam cleaning your carpets. ?An annual steam clean helps to lift stains and refresh the fibers in high-traffic areas,? HGTV says.

7. Thoroughly wash windows

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Before you throw open those windows for the spring season, make sure they shine. Wash the insides and outsides, getting between screens and the glass. If you?re feeling especially ambitious, head to the exterior side to knock down any debris and cobwebs around your windows, so they aren?t trapping pollen and other contaminants near your open windows. Plus, freshen up your screens for the season, especially if they?ve been sitting idle (and dusty) all winter. ?To quickly clean screens, use a scrap of carpeting,? HGTV says. ?It makes a powerful brush that removes all the dirt.?

8. Disinfect trash cans

If you?ve never cleaned your trash cans, well, it?s probably time. It?s not a pleasant chore, but it will ensure that your cans are odorless and bacteria-free. The Kitchn recommends using a clean toilet brush and your preferred disinfecting spray to scrub down the inside of a trash can. Then, rinse, tip it upside down and allow it to dry thoroughly before you use it again.

9. Detox the refrigerator

A clean fridge is a healthy fridge. Besides killing any mold and bacteria, detoxing your fridge also removes spoiled food from the equation that could get you sick. Simply use your favorite natural disinfectant on the interior (and exterior). HGTV suggests working one shelf at a time, so you don?t have to remove the entire contents of your fridge all at once. ?Every time you go to the store, make it a goal to clean a single shelf before you pile in new groceries,? HGTV says.

10. Degrease the stove and oven

Credit: ThamKC/Getty Images

Cleaning grime off stoves and ovens can take a bit of elbow grease. But the good news is you don?t have to resort to any toxic cleaners or even your oven?s potentially dangerous self-cleaning function. Simply create a paste of baking soda and water, and coat the dirty areas, The Kitchn says. Let it sit preferably overnight, and then wipe up the paste. Finally, spritz a little vinegar on any leftover baking soda, which will bubble, and wipe it away.

11. Make faucets shine again

Hopefully, sanitizing faucets is part of your regular cleaning routine, as they?re a prime spot for germs to live. But there are some parts of faucets that tend to accumulate buildup over time. For lime buildup, HGTV recommends placing a vinegar-soaked towel over the spot and allowing it to sit for about an hour. That should make the deposits easier to wipe off. Likewise, check your showerhead for any mineral deposits, which can affect its performance. ?Keep the jets in the nozzle clear and clean by misting the showerhead with a mixture of 50 percent white vinegar and 50 percent water,? according to HGTV. ?Allow it to sit and drip for a few minutes and then wipe it clean with a dry cloth.?

12. Cleanse the bathroom

Use spring cleaning as a reason to finally tackle any mold and mildew lurking in your bathroom. Try a spray bottle filled with white distilled vinegar, which is highly effective on its own in killing mold. For a more pleasant smell, you can add a few drops of essential oils ? or even some tea tree oil, which is an antifungal itself. And if you have a shower curtain (and liner), simply throw it in the wash with a cup of vinegar to kill mold and mildew.

13. Refresh the bed

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A spring refresh might be just what your bed needs, especially if you have allergies. You should wash your sheets and pillowcases at least weekly, according to The Spruce. Pillows should be washed about every one to four months, depending on whether you use a pillow protector. And if you use a duvet cover, the duvet itself probably only needs to be washed a couple times a year, so spring cleaning can be one of those times. Plus, throw your mattress cover in the wash (ideally do this monthly), and give your mattress a good vacuuming to remove dust and dirt. Then, relax and breathe a little easier in your sleep.

14. Hunt for home repairs

The spring cleaning season is a prime time to spot any potential repairs your home might need. So as you move about your cleaning tasks, keep an eye out for damage. ?Investigate all doors and windows for leaks and drafts, particularly near the corners,? HGTV recommends. ?Look for peeling and chipping paint, which can signal water intrusion.? Try to take care of any issues as soon as possible before those spring showers and hot weather complicate matters.

15. Pace yourself

Just because it?s called spring cleaning, it doesn?t mean you have to get everything done before the flowers fully bloom. Divide and conquer your to-do list, while being mindful that some of these jobs can be pretty physically taxing. Do what you can. Pace yourself. Check off the tasks that are most pressing. And remember to stop and smell that fresh spring air.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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15 Spring Cleaning Tips for a Healthy House

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15 Foods That Make Excellent Cleaning Products

Your kitchen is full of exciting meal-making possibilities. And your fridge and pantry probably hold several methods to clean your home that you might not even realize. Here are 15 foods that make excellent cleaning products.

1. Rice

Rice is a wonderfully versatile ingredient in recipes, and it even has a place in your cleaning arsenal. Good Housekeeping recommends using uncooked rice to gently, but effectively clean hard-to-reach spots in vases and other glassware. Simply fill the vessel with water, dish soap and rice, and swish the mixture so the rice scrubs the inside. Then, drain and rinse the glassware.

Additionally, you can use rice to remove built-up oils from a coffee or spice grinder, according to The Kitchn. Pulverize roughly a quarter cup of rice in your grinder, and then wipe it out with a damp towel. The oils will cling to the rice, leaving the grinder fresh for its next use.

2. Ketchup

Besides acting as fries? sidekick, ketchup can be a powerful cleaning product. According to Good Housekeeping, you can use ketchup to remove tarnish from copper-bottomed cookware just by massaging the surface with the acidic condiment. Some people even use this method to shine away tarnished spots on their cars. And if the ketchup isn?t enough to dissolve stubborn tarnish, you can try adding a pinch of salt for a bit of scrubbing action. (Or add potatoes, and have yourself a nice snack.)

3. Coffee grounds

Don?t dump those grounds after you enjoy your morning coffee. They have many uses around the house. Healthline suggests using coffee grounds to fertilize your garden ? or to create more nutrient-rich compost. Plus, you can use them to repel pests, including mosquitoes, fruit flies and beetles. Furthermore, a bowl of coffee grounds in your fridge can help to neutralize odors. And you can use them as a natural cleaning scrub on nonporous surfaces ? as well as to exfoliate your own skin.

4. Tea

Credit: Uniquestock/Getty Images

Not a coffee drinker? No worries. Tea has many cleaning uses, as well. ?The astringency of tea actually cuts through grease and dust,? according to The Spruce. ?Plus it also adds a shine to hardwood floors and furniture.? As a hardwood floor cleaner, simply brew a pot of tea with five or six tea bags. Then, pour the tea into your mop bucket, and add cool water if needed. Just be sure to test it on an inconspicuous area before mopping your whole floor.

5. Potato

Potatoes: They?re great mashed, baked, fried ? and as a rust cleaner. If your favorite cast iron skillet or other cooking utensils have gotten a little rusty, just grab a raw potato, according to The Kitchn. Slice it in half, ?dip the cut end in dish soap or baking soda and firmly rub it over the rusted area.? Repeat until you?ve removed all the rust, slicing off a new cut end if necessary.

6. Bread

Sliced bread was a pretty great invention, especially when you consider its more offbeat uses. That spongy piece of dough is excellent at cleaning up messes, according to Good Housekeeping. Use a slice to clean marks off walls or gently dust artwork. It even is effective at picking up glass shards. Simply press a slice over the broken glass, and even tiny shards should safely stick into the bread.

7. Banana peel

After getting your potassium fix, hang on to that banana?s handy peel for a little bit of cleaning. SFGate recommends using banana peels to dust houseplants, especially the ones you can?t spray with water. Simply wipe the leaves with the inner wall of the peel to remove dust and dirt and leave behind a healthy, banana-scented glow. And that?s not the only household item banana peels can make shine. According to Apartment Therapy, you also can use them to naturally polish silver. Blend up the peels to make a paste, and then work that paste onto your silver item with a cloth. Finally, dip the item in water to remove any remaining paste.

8. Baking soda

With its plethora of uses around the house, baking soda is as much a cleaning product as it is a cooking ingredient. Mix it with a little water to make a surface scrub, use it with dish soap to help cut grease and grime on cookware or even add it to mop water to clean marks off floors. A water-baking soda combo is excellent at cleaning the inside of your oven or microwave, it can polish silver and remove coffee and tea stains from pots and mugs. Plus, baking soda can deodorize most areas of your home, including the refrigerator, trash cans and even drains. Those little boxes certainly pack a major punch.

9. Lemon

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Baking soda might get a lot of cleaning glory, but lemon is right there with it. One of the easiest ways to clean your microwave is to chop up a lemon, add it to a bowl of water and heat it until your microwave window is steamy, according to Good Housekeeping. Wait at least 15 minutes for it to cool, and then wipe down the inside.

You also can clean wooden cutting boards by sprinkling them with a little salt, rubbing a cut lemon over it and then rinsing. Plus, lemon juice mixed with salt makes an effective brass cleaner. And don?t forget to add a little lemon rind to your natural all-purpose cleaner for a scent boost and some added cleaning power.

10. Olive oil

Olive oil isn?t just to make salads taste delicious. Add a bit of oil to a cloth, and buff stainless steel appliances to remove grime and make them shine, The Kitchn recommends. You also can use olive oil mixed with lemon juice to clean and condition wood (but test a small area first). Plus, an olive oil-coarse salt scrub can remove stuck-on food from cast iron skillets.

11. Vinegar

White vinegar might rival baking soda for its cleaning versatility. You can use it to ?freshen laundry, lift stains from carpet, brighten windows, and so much more,? according to Good Housekeeping. Plus, it makes a powerful all-purpose cleaner when mixed with water and baking soda (and essential oils if you wish). Soaking glassware in vinegar is an easy way to remove hard water stains. And a bowl of vinegar is an effective room deodorizer.

12. Salt

We might find salt in a lot of our favorite snacks, but it?s also an important ingredient in many effective cleaners. Salt adds a gentle abrasive factor to cleaning concoctions, making it useful to scrub away stains, food particles and even rust and tarnish, according to The Kitchn. Plus, it?s absorbent, which is why it?s a key factor in keeping wooden cutting boards sanitary. It soaks up all the liquid in the grooves, giving bacteria a less friendly environment to reproduce. And you even can sprinkle salt over liquid spills to help prevent stains.

13. Walnuts

Credit: ffolas/Getty Images

If you have wood furniture or floors, it?s almost inevitable that they?ll get some dings and scratches. And that?s where walnuts come in. The natural oils in walnuts ? Brazil nuts work well, too ? darken the wood and hide scratches, according to Good Housekeeping. Simply rub the damaged area with the nut until it blends better with the surrounding wood. It might not be a forever fix, but it does last for a while depending on the mark. And it?s cheap, easy and natural.

14. Club soda

Cleaning red wine stains with club soda has been a longstanding method. Some people swear by it while others claim there?s no scientific reason for it to work (though the secret might be in the bubbles). Still, this carbonated beverage has other cleaning applications. Use it to gently clean surfaces, including porcelain, stainless steel and even your car windshield. Its fizz plus slightly acidic nature helps to wash away marks and particles.

15. Vodka

If you have laundry that smells a little off, try spritzing it with a little vodka. No, really. According to Good Housekeeping, the vodka will kill odor-causing bacteria and dry completely scent-free. Just be sure to do a spot test first. Plus, a cloth moistened with a little vodka can work to shine chrome, glass and porcelain fixtures. And as an added bonus, it should clean away any mold on the surface, too. Cheers to that!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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15 Foods That Make Excellent Cleaning Products

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Climate change is a human rights issue

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Seventy years ago today, nearly every nation in the world approved a list of fundamental rights entitled to every human being on the planet. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a milestone document signed in the wake of World War II. Now, a new humanitarian crisis is afoot: climate change.

So many of our human rights, such as the right to life, food, health, and an adequate standard of living are adversely affected by climate change. From devastating hurricanes to killer wildfires, climate change exacerbates socioeconomic disparity, gender inequality and other forms of discrimination.

And yet, even among our so-called climate leaders, the link between justice and the environment goes unnamed. As the United Nations climate summit in Katowice (dubbed COP24) enters its second week, some advocates are concerned that the conversation has not been focused enough on human rights. When the Paris Agreement was signed three years ago, parties outlined a vision that recognized nations must respect and protect human rights. This year, the talks are being sponsored by coal companies, and the latest draft of the Paris rulebook (which outlines what countries need to do to put the accord into action) omits a human rights reference.

Sébastien Duyck, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law released a statement in response to the silence around human rights at COP24, saying, “Immediate action is necessary to avoid the suffering of millions of people and the collapse of ecosystems, and to be truly effective that action must be rights-based and people-centered. At a time when every human right is threatened by the accelerating climate crisis, it is unacceptable for negotiators to be backsliding on the promises of the Paris Agreement.”

Here at Grist, we agree that covering the environment involves covering human rights as well. Here are some of our top justice stories of 2018:

Heat Check

Grist / Justine Calma

Extreme heat kills more than a hundred New Yorkers yearly. Here’s how the city’s tackling the problem in a warming world.

4 Indigenous leaders on what Bolsonaro means for Brazil

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro wants to open the Amazon rainforest up to new development.  But it’s not just one of the world’s largest carbon sinks that’s threatened — the lives of many of Brazil’s indigenous peoples are under siege as well.

Between Trump and a devastated place

This year, undocumented immigrants reeled from hurricanes, fires, and the Trump administration.

When criminal justice and environmental justice collide

Shadia Fayne Wood of Survival Media

Black communities in the United States face a host of structural challenges that impact day-to-day life — from environmental injustice to heightened policing and racial profiling.

California’s most vulnerable were already breathing bad air. Heat and wildfires are making things worse.

MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

It was a punishing summer in California. But it’s worse for those who live in the most polluted areas

On Thin Ice

Grist / Michael DeFreitas / robertharding / Allan White / Winnie Au / Getty Images

Climate change circles are not immune to #MeToo. Homeward Bound was supposed to foster science’s next generation of female leaders. But it finds itself navigating treacherous waters.

Want to see more award-winning news?

Help us raise $50,000 by December 31! Support nonprofit journalism by making a donation today and all gifts will be matched


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Climate change is a human rights issue

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Can the Paris Climate Deal Save This Tiny Pacific Island?

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by Newsweek and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

You’ve probably never heard of Nauru. But you might want to learn its name. It may not be around much longer.

Nauru is a speck in the South Pacific. It’s the tiniest island nation and the third smallest nation in the world. At roughly 8 square miles and with just over 10,000 residents, Nauru isn’t exactly a political heavyweight on the world stage. But Nauru is sinking, drying out, and generally in peril due to the ever-accelerating effects of climate change. And it may spark a debate at the Paris climate talks currently underway about what to do with populations on the verge of becoming climate refugees with literally nowhere to go.

Nauru is not your typical drowning-island scenario. What used to be a Pacific island oasis is now, by many accounts, a physical example of how quickly paradise can be destroyed. In the early 1900s, a German company began strip-mining the interior of the island for phosphate, the main component of agricultural fertilizer. Then came Japan, which occupied the country during World War II, and continued the phosphate mining. The U.S. bombed Japan’s airstrip on Nauru in 1943, preventing food supplies from entering the island. Less than a year later, Japan deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as forced laborers on a nearby island—only 737 of them survived the ordeal to be repatriated after the war just three years later. After the war, Australia took control of the country, and phosphate mining resumed as an Australian enterprise, before mining rights were transferred to Nauru when the nation became independent in 1968.

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For more than three decades after that, Nauruans enjoyed the second highest per-capita GDP of any nation in the world. Western food arrived on the island, where topsoil is scant and little food is grown locally. Now, “instant noodles, soda and anything in a tin” are the staple foods on Nauru, according to NPR. Rates of Type 2 diabetes are high, and until recently, Nauru held the title of the nation with the highest obesity rate. Nearly 40 percent of Nauruan men are obese, four times the global average.

But in the early 2000s, the phosphate ran out. By that time, 80 percent of the sland’s land area had been strip-mined. In a This American Life report from 2002, journalist Jack Hitt described peering into the interior of the island as “one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.”

“Almost all of Nauru is missing, picked clean, right down to the coral skeleton supporting the island…it’s all blindingly white,” he said.

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Today, almost all of Nauru’s economy is based on foreign assistance and income generated by a controversial Australian detention center, sometimes referred to “Australia’s Guantanamo,” used to detain refugees seeking asylum in Australia. Refugees from Syria, Iraq, and other war-torn nations have been held there for years under what critics say are harsh conditions; the center has sparked a human rights debate in Australia.

Meanwhile, the complete destruction of the island’s interior has severely limited Nauruans’ ability to adapt in the face of climate change. People can only live on a thin strip around the perimeter, which means, unlike many other island nations, there’s nowhere to move to even temporarily avoid sea level rise, explains Koko Warner, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report and an expert on climate change-related human migration. According to a survey of Nauruans she and colleague Andrea Milan recently conducted for United Nations University, 40 percent of households on the island say they’ve already experienced sea level rise in the last ten years.

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Nauruans’ precarious coastal living makes them uniquely vulnerable to extreme storms, which scientists predict climate change will make make more severe in the region. “A one-degree change in the path of the cyclone could make all the difference,” Warner says.

Nauru’s other big problem is drought. The country has no clean groundwater nor does it have any lakes or rivers to supply freshwater, according to Warner and Milan’s report. The rainy seasons have become irregular, and more than half of Nauruans say they’re concerned about drought.

What does that mean for the future of Nauru? “In the coming five-to- 10 years, barring a massive cyclone, life will probably continue more or less the same. But pushing beyond 10 years, real uncertainty arises,” Warner says. One thing is certain: Without freshwater stores, and without the ability to migrate within their own country, Nauruans will have to go somewhere; 30 percent of the island’s population, according to Warner’s survey, say they’d likely migrate if drought, sea level rise, and flooding worsens.

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Already, the neighboring island nation of Kiribati has leased land on Fiji in anticipation that its residents will become climate change refugees. Nauru hasn’t followed in Kiribati’s footsteps—and only one quarter of Nauruans say they have the financial means to make migration possible themselves.

“Without improved access to international migration, some Nauruans will be ‘trapped’ by worsening environmental conditions, declining well-being and no opportunity to either migrate or generate income necessary for adapting,” Warner and Milan wrote. There must be a way, Warner says, for a country to learn how to best make migration possible, and there must be an international structure in place for such a country to seek funding for it.

But the impact of a warming planet on human migration needs were, until recently, largely absent from international climate change talks, Warner says. Now, nations are beginning to pay attention: The European Commission’s webpage for the Paris climate talks, for example, calls it a “crisis in the making,” noting that the “greatest single impact” of climate change “could be on human migration, with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption.”

It remains to be seen if the final document to come out of the Paris talks—expected to emerge Saturday—will include language that addresses migration, but Warner is hopeful. “‘Human mobility,'” she says. “The words need to be in there.”


Can the Paris Climate Deal Save This Tiny Pacific Island?

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Chart: Happy Days Are Here Again—for the Superwealthy

Mother Jones

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With Washington paralyzed on bread-and-butter issues and the midterms ahead, we put together a primer on the state of America’s frozen paychecks. We’ll be posting a new chart every day for the next couple of weeks. Today’s chart: How the recovery left most Americans behind.

The Great Recession officially ended five years ago, but that’s news for millions of Americans: A stunning 95 percent of income growth since the recovery started has gone to the superwealthy. The top 1 percent has captured almost all post-recession income growth. Compare that with how they did during these historic booms:

Sources: Boom and recovery gains, 1% gains: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel); average household income: Census Bureau.

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Macklerâ&#128;&#139;

Photos: Warner Bros; Peter Morgan/Reuters; Christoph Dernbach/DPA/ZumaPress; Steve Jennings/Wireimage/Getty Images; Bo Rader/Witchita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images; Kimberly White/Reuters

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Chart: Happy Days Are Here Again—for the Superwealthy

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