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Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice

“I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the U.S. But for black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden.

“While many in power seemed surprised that COVID-19 is killing twice as many black Americans, those of us in the environmental justice movement know that the health impacts of cumulative and disproportionate levels of pollution in our communities have created underlying health conditions that contribute to our higher COVID-19 mortality rates,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said at a virtual press conference on Monday.

Shepard is part of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), a national coalition of black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991. Although the network took a hiatus in 2006 after executive director Damu Smith passed away, the network just announced that it’s making a comeback against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls to fight racial injustice.

The network’s mission sends a clear message: Environmental injustice is not a single issue. Rather, it’s a constellation of issues including discrimination in housing, jobs, and healthcare.

It’s impossible to untangle black communities’ current risks from America’s long history of racist policies and practices. Discriminatory policies such as banks’ government-sanctioned refusal to approve home loans and insurance for people in communities of color, also known as redlining, forced black families into neighborhoods more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution and extreme heat. Now these same communities face a surge in unemployment and poverty rates as a result of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and they are also disproportionately dying from the novel coronavirus as a result of a lack of health insurance, unequal access to test sites, and higher workplace exposure via employment in essential services. As if that wasn’t enough, a recent Harvard study also found a link between air pollution and death from COVID-19.

Given the systemic conditions that disproportionately expose black people to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and other worsening crises, NBEJN members — including the network’s co-chairs, environmental justice pioneers Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright — say they are now looking to bring in black lawyers, engineers, leaders, and other experts to join forces to help create an equitable green stimulus package, take on the fossil fuel industry, and fight the Trump administration’s seemingly endless orders to weaken environmental protections.

“We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries,” said Bullard, an author and professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. “The NBEJN is about dismantling systemic racism, and we’re talking about turning the dominant paradigm on its head.”

Network leaders say COVID-19 recovery legislation could be an opportunity for lawmakers to pass a robust green stimulus package that would focus on environmental justice. Such a green stimulus package, the coalition said, needs to address core issues of systemic racism by, for example, providing green jobs to communities of color.

“Green stimulus packages often only look at protecting the world, but not protecting people like us,” said Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “Any stimulus package dealing with transportation to housing or whatever they’re talking about doing will have to include us and need to be viewed with equity and justice lenses.”

Even if an equitable green stimulus package makes it through Congress and the White House, there will still be a lot more work to be done. Bullard said that even if the Democratic party wins the presidential election or takes control of the Senate, it will take time to reverse Trump-era environmental policy damages, including the country’s withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement. Even then, he added, policymakers will need to take additional steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and center frontline communities. And NBEJN leaders say the network will stick around to make sure those steps are taken.

“Racism is baked into America’s DNA,” Bullard said. “NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America.”

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Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice

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Harvard didn’t divest from fossil fuels. So what does its ‘net-zero’ pledge mean?

In the lead-up to Earth Day, two wealthy, world-renowned universities made historic decisions about their relationships with fossil fuel companies and commitments to tackling climate change. Oxford passed a motion to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. Harvard, meanwhile, decided to skirt divestment in favor of a plan to “set the Harvard endowment on a path to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.”

Harvard’s announcement was both mildly celebrated and highly criticized by divestment advocates on campus and beyond, who have put increased pressure on the administration to divest over the last six months. In November, student activists joined their counterparts at Yale to storm the field in protest at the annual Harvard-Yale football game, disrupting the match for more than an hour. In February, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 179-20 in favor of a resolution asking the school to stop investing in companies that are developing new fossil fuel reserves. And a student and alumni climate group collected enough signatures earlier this year to nominate five candidates to the university’s Board of Overseers, which has a say in who manages the endowment, which was valued at $40.9 billion last year.

In a letter explaining the net-zero portfolio plan to faculty, University President Lawrence Bacow said that divestment “paints with too broad a brush” and vowed to work with fossil fuel companies rather than demonize them. “The strategy we plan to pursue focuses on reducing the demand for fossil fuels, not just the supply,” Bacow wrote. The school says its commitment matches the decarbonization timeline set by the Paris Agreement — but it’s not yet clear what it will entail, and whether the school will be able to fulfill it.

Net-zero emissions promises can mean different things, and in many cases, the entities making the promises haven’t figured out how to make good on them. BP’s net-zero pledge accounts for the emissions from some, but not all, of the fossil fuel products it sells to the world, also known as its scope 3 emissions. Repsol, one of the first oil and gas majors to announce a net-zero target, has a plan that relies on technologies like carbon capture that the company has admitted aren’t viable yet. Even entities with more ambitious and transparent plans, like New York State, haven’t stopped letting utilities invest hundreds of millions in new natural gas infrastructure.

Despite these discrepancies, the concept of achieving net-zero for a company that sells products or a state that consumes energy is relatively tangible: They can invest in renewables, incentivize energy efficiency programs and electrification, try to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. But how do you reduce — or even measure — the carbon footprint of an endowment, which in Harvard’s case is made up of more than 13,000 different funds?

“I think the idea is, at the end of the day, all the companies in the portfolio would be net-zero,” said Georges Dyer, executive director of the Intentional Endowments Network, a nonprofit that helps endowed institutions make their investments more sustainable. While he doesn’t advocate for or against divestment or any other specific strategy, Dyer pointed out that Harvard’s net-zero target has the potential to address the climate crisis across the whole economy, including real estate and natural resources, and not just the fossil fuel sector.

A net-zero portfolio won’t be as simple as only investing in companies with net-zero pledges, since different companies have different definitions of net-zero. Indeed, in his letter to faculty, Bacow admitted that Harvard was not yet sure how it would measure or reduce the endowment’s footprint, explaining the plan would require “developing sophisticated new methods” for both. In a statement shared with Grist, the Harvard Management Company, which manages the endowment, said it would work to “understand and influence” each company’s “exposure to, and planned mitigation of, climate-related risks.” It plans to develop interim emissions targets to ensure success.

Harvard isn’t alone in trying to figure this out. The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance is a group of institutional investors that was formed at the United Nations Climate Summit last fall. Its members have committed to net-zero investment portfolios by 2050, promising to set interim emissions targets in five-year increments and to issue progress reports along the way. But the group is still looking for answers on how to actually accomplish these goals.

In vowing to work with fossil fuel companies, Harvard’s commitment relies, to a certain degree, on shareholder engagement, a strategy that has seen mixed results thus far. Timothy Smith, director of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) shareowner engagement at Boston Walden Trust, an investing firm, told Grist that investors have made real gains in changing companies’ behavior, attitudes, and policies around climate. He pointed to companies like BP that have not only set net-zero targets but also said they will withdraw from trade associations that have lobbied against climate policy.

“I’m not saying we’re moving far enough fast enough,” he said. “We are not.” Smith acknowledged there have been some failures, notably with Exxon, which has lagged far behind its peers in climate action. Last year, Exxon successfully blocked a shareholder resolution that would have forced it to align its greenhouse gas targets with the Paris Agreement.

Shareholder engagement is not a new tack for Harvard: In September, it joined Climate Action 100+, an investor-led initiative pressuring oil and gas companies to curb emissions and disclose climate risk. But most of Harvard’s funds are managed externally, so its ability to participate directly in shareholder initiatives is limited. Instead, it provides “proxy voting guidelines” to its financial managers. Harvard’s voting guidelines for climate change generally instruct managers to vote in support of resolutions that request that companies assess impacts and risks related to climate change. Other institutional investors have taken a more active stance — the Church of England and the New York State public pension fund, for instance, recently said they will vote against reelecting Exxon’s entire board since it has failed to take action on climate change, as well as filed a resolution asking Exxon to disclose its lobbying activities.

To be clear, no one is implying Harvard should engage with Exxon, since it’s actually unclear whether Harvard has any investment in Exxon. The school only discloses its direct investments — about 1 percent of the total endowment — as required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The rest of the school’s portfolio, as well as how much of it is invested in fossil fuels, remains shrouded in secrecy. An analysis of Harvard’s 2019 SEC filing by the student activist group Divest Harvard found that of the $394 million disclosed, about $5.6 million was invested in companies that extract oil, gas, and coal and utilities that burn these fuels.

The Harvard Management Company told Grist that it will report its progress toward the net-zero goal annually, with the first report to be released toward the end of this year, but it did not say whether it will disclose its fossil fuel investments.

Harvard’s success will depend, to a large extent, on transparent reporting from the companies it invests in. As part of its new commitment, Harvard announced its support for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, a financial industry group that makes recommendations for how companies should report their climate-related risks to investors.

This piece is significant, as navigating the financial risks of the impending energy transition is likely a key motivating factor in Harvard’s decision to go “net-zero.” Bob Litterman, a financial risk expert and carbon tax advocate, said this means distinguishing between companies that are well-positioned for the rapid transition to a low-carbon economy — aka a world where policy decisions make emitting carbon a costly endeavor — and those that are not.

“I have heard a number of investors talk about aligning their portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Litterman. “You know, it’s not entirely clear what that means, but if what it means is that they’re trying to position their portfolio to do well in that scenario, that makes sense to me.”

But for divestment advocates, maximizing returns is beside the point. In an op-ed for the Crimson, the campus paper, alumnus Craig S. Altemose criticized Harvard’s net-zero plan for ignoring the question of responsibility for the climate crisis and the fossil fuel industry’s track record of spreading disinformation and lobbying against climate policies. He also argued that the plan is not aggressive enough to meaningfully help the world avoid the worst effects of climate change.

In a Medium post, the group Divest Harvard argued that “a good-faith effort to reach carbon neutrality would have acknowledged that divestment is the logical first step.” Oxford University ran with that concept: After its initial announcement to divest, Oxford instructed its endowment managers work toward net-zero across the rest of its portfolio.

Across the spectrum, divestment advocates and sustainable investing experts agree that Harvard’s net-zero endowment pledge represents a step forward. But how big a step? In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, Bacow framed the entire initiative in dubious terms, saying, “If we are successful, we will reduce the carbon footprint of our entire investment portfolio and achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions.” Harvard has a lot of questions left to answer if it wants to turn that “if” into a “when.”

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Harvard didn’t divest from fossil fuels. So what does its ‘net-zero’ pledge mean?

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Elizabeth Warren’s new climate plan can go the distance, even if her campaign can’t

Elizabeth Warren once again trailed her top competitors in Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Another poor showing on Super Tuesday — the day when the greatest number of Democrats can go to the polls — could spell the end of her presidential aspirations.

But regardless of what happens to the Massachusetts senator this week, her climate plans, some of the most detailed and thoughtful in the primary, could live on — much like those of Jay Inslee, the campaign’s original climate candidate, who left the race last August. (Warren, among others, adopted elements of the Washington State governor’s climate platform upon his exit.)

That’s especially true of her latest proposal, aimed at stopping Wall Street from continuing to finance the climate crisis. As far as Warren’s climate plans go, this one is as on-brand as they come. Evoking the 2008 financial crisis, she writes in the plan, posted to Medium Sunday morning: “Once again, as we face the existential threat of our time –– climate change –– Wall Street is refusing to listen, let alone take real action.” (Larry Fink over at BlackRock might disagree, nevertheless, Warren persists.)

Many other candidates, including Warren herself, have previously unveiled climate risk-disclosure plans, designed to compel corporations to reveal to stockholders and the public potential climate-related liabilities to their business — ranging from fossil fuel investments on their books to parts of their operations with exposure to, say, sea-level rise. But this plan, introduced as the stock market continues to plunge amid coronavirus fears, is different in that it is aimed directly at Wall Street banks.

Climate change, she says in the Medium post, destabilizes the American financial system in two major ways: physical property damage (think the wreckage of coastal cities in the wake of catastrophic hurricanes or Western towns post-wildfires) and so-called “transition risks.” For those of you without a degree in economics, transition risks in the context of climate change means, for instance, investments in the fossil fuel industry that could suddenly lose value as the nation switches to a green economy. Theoretically, such a shift could create conditions for a financial meltdown.

“We will not defeat the climate crisis if we have to wait for the financial industry to self-regulate or come forward with piecemeal voluntary commitments,” Warren writes. So she suggests taking aggressive steps to reign in Wall Street and avoid financial collapse by using a number of levers at a president’s disposal — some old, some new.

First, she says, if elected, she’ll use the regulatory tools in the Dodd-Frank Act — enacted in the wake of the 2008 crash — to address climate risks. Specifically, she would ask a group created by that legislation — the Financial Stability Oversight Council, comprised of heads of regulatory agencies — to assess financial institutions based on their climate risk and label them “systemically important” where appropriate.

Next, she’d require American banks to self-report how much fossil-fuel equity and debt they acquire yearly, in addition to the assets they hold in that sector. She’d also mandate insurance companies disclose premiums they derived from insuring coal, oil, and gas concerns. She’d ask the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Labor, the two agencies in charge of regulating pensions, to identify carbon-intensive investments. Current pension systems, she writes, are “leaving all the risk of fossil fuel investments in hard working Americans’ retirement accounts.” In addition, she’d staff federal financial agencies with regulators who understand the connection between financial markets and climate change, “unlike Steven Mnuchin,” she says (seemingly unable to pass up the opportunity to drag Trump’s unpopular Treasury secretary).

Perhaps the most important piece of Warren’s plan concerns international cooperation, which echoes a theme in previous climate plans she’s introduced. She’d join other world powers in making climate change a factor in monetary policymaking, and prompt the Federal Reserve to join the Network on Greening the Financial System, a global coalition of central banks. And she’d make implementation of the Paris Agreement a prerequisite for future trade agreements with the U.S. “Addressing the financial risks of the climate crisis is an international issue,” Warren writes on Medium.

As is her calling card, Warren’s latest plan is designed to protect consumers from a potential financial bubble that could burst on the horizon. And if she’s unable to continue campaigning after this week, her competitors might be smart to heed her warning and give this plan a good look, particularly the international components. As John Donne famously wrote, no market is an island.

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Elizabeth Warren’s new climate plan can go the distance, even if her campaign can’t

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Grass Alternatives for a More Eco-Friendly Lawn

For some people, their perfectly manicured lawn is a point of pride. But having the greenest grass on the block can come at a high cost.

?Every year across the country, lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for all that mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

That?s why many people are turning away from high-maintenance turf grass and moving toward other groundcover for their lawns. Although the best options depend on your particular environment and community regulations, here are some grass alternatives for a more eco-friendly lawn that will still inspire neighborhood envy.


Groundcover plants spread but stay low to the ground, so they don?t require mowing or much other maintenance at all. Some varieties can tolerate foot traffic, but most aren?t meant to be walked on. That makes them easy-care options for low-traffic areas of your yard.

These plants not only enhance the aesthetic beauty of your yard, but they also can fill in areas where traditional grass can?t grow and control soil erosion and weeds, according to the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center. They?re also ideal around buildings ?to reduce heat, glare, noise, and dust.?

It?s best to use an edge barrier for groundcover plants to keep them where you want them, as some tend to spread pretty invasively. As long as you pick the right plant for your area and follow the care instructions, you should have a relatively easy time getting it to take hold and grow.

Here are some examples of groundcover plants commonly used to replace traditional turf grass.


There might already be some clover popping up on your lawn from nearby natural areas. If that?s the case, don?t be so fast to pull it. ?Dutch clover is a familiar face in meadows and lawns and actually makes a terrific lawn replacement,? DIY Network says. ?The deep green plants withstand normal foot traffic, but aren?t an ideal choice for a heavy traffic area, like a play area beneath a swing set.? Clover is both heat and drought tolerant and withstands mowing. In fact, microclover is gaining popularity as a plant to blend with traditional turf grass for a thicker, more weed-resistant lawn.

Creeping phlox

Credit: MaYcaL/Getty Images

If creeping phlox is right for your climate, you?re in for a colorful groundcover. ?Native to rocky and sandy areas of the Appalachian region, these beauties bloom in April or May,? the DIY Network says. ?? Plus, its foliage is evergreen and its typically hardy in Zones 3 to 9, making it a great year-round groundcover for most gardeners.? And as an added bonus, these plants are both resistant to deer and droughts.

Creeping thyme

You might use thyme in your kitchen, but this herb also makes an effective groundcover in the garden. ?The fragrant herb comes in a variety of cultivars that typically grow anywhere from 3 to 6 inches high with dozens and dozens of small, delicate flowers,? HGTV says. It?s good for dry soil and even rock gardens. And it?s tough enough for some foot traffic. Plus, thyme is known to repel mosquitoes and some other pests.

Monkey grass

Credit: seven75/Getty Images

Monkey grass comes in many varieties and goes by several names, including lilyturf, liriope, mondo grass and snakesbeard, according to Gardening Know How. Whatever you call it, it?s a popular groundcover for a reason. ?Monkey grass is easy to care for, it?s heat and drought tolerant, and it?s extremely hardy, growing in many types of soil and surviving under numerous conditions,? Gardening Know How says. ?This thick ground cover resists weed invasions, is rarely affected by pests and diseases, requires little or no fertilizing and performs effectively wherever it?s needed.? It grows to about 10 to 15 inches, though there are shorter dwarf varieties.


If you have moss growing somewhere in your yard, you might want to embrace it. ?Chances are if the conditions are right for moss to grow, significant renovation may be required to get turf grass to thrive in the same area, with no guarantees,? according to turf experts from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Not only do mosses add color and beauty to spaces where little else will grow, but they also help to prevent erosion and retain moisture and nutrients in the soil. Plus, they?re a sign your ecosystem is doing well. ?A good bio-indicator of air and water pollution, these hardy, yet delicate, plants only thrive in areas that exhibit good air and water quality,? the extension says.


Credit: Ilona5555/Getty Images

Common periwinkle, or vinca minor, is often grown as a groundcover and usually stays at only about 4 inches high. Not only does it add green to spaces that might otherwise be bare, but it also provides a pop of color with its springtime blooms. Plus, it has some very practical purposes for the environment. ?The periwinkle plant is exceptional as an erosion control specimen,? according to Gardening Know How. Once established, the plant is drought resistant and doesn?t require much maintenance besides keeping its spreading in check.


Where turf grass might fail, sedum can grow. ?The Sedum genus of plants includes between 400 and 500 individual species, often known collectively as stonecrops, so-named because these are plants that not only tolerate dry, rocky soils, but positively thrive in them,? according to The Spruce. They range anywhere from 2 inches to 3 feet in height. And the low-growing groundcover varieties spread easily but aren?t invasive, with shallow root systems that make them easy to remove if necessary. ?There is no talent required to grow sedums, and the only way they can be harmed is if they are overwatered or planted in garden soil that is too moist,? The Spruce says.

More grass alternatives

Credit: Gabriele Grassl/Getty Images

Besides groundcover plants, there are plenty of other grass alternatives to make your lawn a more eco-friendly and lower-maintenance place.

The Home and Garden Information Center suggests planting native ornamental grasses, which ?are low maintenance, drought resistant, grow in most soils, seldom require fertilizers, and have few pest or disease problems.? Try creating borders with these grasses or other plants to cut down on the area of traditional grass you have to mow. Or put together a larger display of ornamental grasses of varying looks for a visually appealing patch of lawn.

You also can replace a portion of your lawn with garden beds filled with plants of your choosing. Native plants ? especially ones that attract pollinators ? are ideal for this. Or you could grow your own eco-friendly vegetable garden. Likewise, consider replacing some of your lawn with trees or bushes that can provide habitats for wildlife, among other benefits.

And finally, for a true eco-friendly approach, keep conservation landscaping in mind. For instance, ?a rain garden may be suitable in an area where you want to slow down rainwater runoff and increase water infiltration into the soil,? the Home and Garden Information Center says. Or maybe a rock garden is more appropriate for your climate.

Just make sure that whatever you plant ? groundcover or otherwise ? you?re following your local regulations. Some homeowners associations, for instance, might have rules on how much traditional lawn can be replaced with alternative plants. Or neighbors might not be happy if your plants begin to encroach on their lawns. Be open about why you?re swapping out your grass, and work to change restrictive ordinances. Who knows? You might inspire an eco-friendly lawn trend throughout your community.

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Grass Alternatives for a More Eco-Friendly Lawn

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7 Ways to Eat an Earth-Friendly Diet

Since 1970, people around the globe have been celebrating Earth Day on April 22nd.? Considering the state of our planet and the political, corporate and industrial forces that seem intent on destroying it, everyday should be Earth Day. Our world needs more care and healing and, in the absence of true leadership from elected officials and the business elite, it is up to ?the little people? to lead the way.

In honor of Earth Day, here are seven ways you can eat an earth-friendly diet:

1) Grow your own food

It sounds crazy, but something our ancestors did naturally for millennia has now become one of the most significant acts of revolution we can undertake. At the turn of the previous century, most American households grew all or most of their own food. As late as the mid-1980s when they passed away, my grandparents purchased staples such as flour and salt at the grocery store but grew everything else.

How did we get so far removed from this natural act? The short answer is this: we have been told for decades that buying your food in stores is a sign of affluence. Now that food production is industrialized and run by companies equally interested in chemicals, buying food in stores is increasingly associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases. Do yourself a favor and take charge of your personal food supply. Whether you have a balcony, a backyard or an acreage, give it a try. You?ll be surprised how easy and rewarding it is and you?ll be even more surprised at how much delicious, fresh food you can get out of even the smallest spaces.

2) Eat local

If growing your own food just isn?t feasible, consider stocking your pantry with locally-grown products from markets and independent grocery stores. Many smaller produce markets and even some health food stores stock fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and prepared foods from local producers. Not only do you support your local businesses and keep dollars in the local economy, you cut down on the amount of food that needs to be shipped into your community from elsewhere. Less shipping means fewer trucks on the road and fewer fossil-fuel emissions into the atmosphere.

3) Buy food from local farmers

Buying directly from local farmers ensures that your food doesn?t make the lengthy trip to your grocery store, a trip which causes untold pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. You?ll be rewarded with much more nutritious food as well. That?s because food quickly loses its nutritional value after it has been picked. Those precious first days in transport causes a significant loss of nutrients.

4) Eat more plant-based foods

No matter how some people try to spin the facts, the reality is that a plant-based diet is far better for the planet than to use the extensive resources required to grow meat and poultry. Additionally, plants actually absorb carbon dioxide emissions while animals emit them. The bonus is that countless amounts of research shows that plant-based diets are far healthier for your body as well. A study published in the American Medical Association?s own online journal JAMA Network, found that eating a plant-based diet was more effective than other diets to lose weight. Another study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases found that a plant-based diet slashes mortality risk from heart disease by a whopping 40 percent. A plant-based diet is healthier for you and the planet.

5) Choose chemical-free or organic

Buying organic means that you?re not supporting chemical-based agriculture. When you buy organic, or better yet, grow your own food organically, you?re helping to ensure that many acres of land will not be sprayed with toxic chemicals?chemicals that have been linked to many diseases, including cancer.

6) Drink purified tap water

Choosing tap water over bottled water helps to ensure that billions of plastic bottles don?t end up in landfills, roadsides or waterways. Even the simple act of carrying your own reusable water bottle that you refill can help make a difference to the level of plastic pollution on the planet.

7) Eat fewer packaged and processed foods

Making your own food from scratch isn?t just better-tasting and healthier, it reduces the amount of waste in landfills, as well as the amount of packaging that needs to be processed even if it is recycled. It?s a simple act but just choosing foods with less packaging, or better yet, no packaging at all, will make a big difference to the planet.

Related Stories:

How a Plant Based Diet Can Transform Your Weight and Heart Health
What Happens to Your Gut When You Go Vegan
New Study Finds More Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM shares her food growing, cooking, and other food self-sufficiency adventures at FoodHouseProject.com. She is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World?s Healthiest News, founder of Scent-sational Wellness, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, & Cooking. Follow her work.

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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7 Ways to Eat an Earth-Friendly Diet

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Climate change group scrapped by Trump reassembles to issue warning

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

A U.S. government climate change advisory group scrapped by Donald Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the floods, wildfires, and other threats that increasingly loom over American communities.

The Trump administration disbanded the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment in August 2017. The group, formed under Barack Obama’s presidency, provided guidance to the government based on the National Climate Assessment, a major compendium of climate science released every four years.

Documents released under freedom of information laws subsequently showed the Trump administration was concerned about the ideological makeup of the panel. “It only has one member from industry, and the process to gain more balance would take a couple of years to accomplish,” wrote George Kelly, then the deputy chief of staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a June 2017 email.

The advisory group has since been resurrected, however, following an invitation from New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and has been financially supported by Columbia University and the American Meteorological Society. It now has 20 expert members.

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (SCAN) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of SCAN and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” states the report, the work of 13 U.S. government agencies..

On current trends, the U.S. economy is set to lose $500 billion a year from crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather damages, the report found. Rainfall levels and flooding have increased in much of the country, with the amount of the U.S. West consumed annually by wildfires set to increase as much as sixfold by 2050, according to the assessment.

But these warnings have been only intermittently heeded in decisions made by cities and states across the U.S., due to a lack of knowledge, political will, or funding. The U.S. has no national sea level rise plan, for example, and the Trump administration has scrapped rules around building infrastructure in areas deemed vulnerable to climate change. These circumstances have led to haphazard planning that results in certain dwellings repeatedly lost to flooding or fire.

“We live in an era of climate change and yet many of our systems, codes, and standards have not caught up,” said Daniel Zarrilli, chief climate adviser to New York City, one of the few U.S. cities with such a person. “Integrating climate science into everyday decisions is not just smart planning, it’s an urgent necessity.”

In its new report, the Science to Climate Action Network recommends the creation of a “civil-society-based climate assessment consortium” that would combine private and public interests to provide more localized help for communities menaced by floods, wildfires, or other perils.

“Imagine working in state or county government — you have a road that is flooding frequently and you get three design options all with different engineering,” Moss said. “You don’t have the capacity to know what is the best option to avoid flooding, you just know what costs more.

“Climate issues aren’t being raised in communities. They may know they are vulnerable but they don’t know whether to use, for example, wetlands or a flood wall to stop flooding. We need to establish best practices and guide people on how to apply that locally.

“This is extremely urgent. Every year that goes by means more people losing everything from flooding and fire, including the lives of loved ones. This needs to be addressed as rapidly as possible.”

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Climate change group scrapped by Trump reassembles to issue warning

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CNN gave a platform to climate deniers, then debunked their lies

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CNN put out a video this week titled, “Don’t believe these climate change lies.” It’s a change of pace for a mainstream media outlet long accustomed to presenting climate change as if it’s an issue that’s still debated by the scientific community.

CNN’s two-and-a-half-minute video features the network’s team of meteorologists debunking a bunch of talking points frequently spouted by deniers. Yes, the climate has always been changing. But never at this rate, the video says. “Only man-made influences, including the burning of fossil fuels, could have created this crisis.”

Watch the video:

As welcome as this is, there’s still a glaring problem: Two of the network’s four examples of how climate deniers operate are clips from CNN itself. One of those deniers, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, was hired by CNN as a senior political commentator last January. Right after the Trump administration released the 4th National Climate Assessment in November, Santorum was on air, arguing that “the reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive.”

The next day, CNN invited Tom DeLay, the former Republican House majority leader, to discuss the assessment. He promptly unloaded a heap of nearly identical denier BS on viewers: “The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10 to 20 year assumptions made by scientists getting paid to further the politics of global warming.”

In other words, CNN is telling us not to believe these myths about climate change while giving a platform to people who … tell us these myths about climate change. Oy gevalt.

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CNN gave a platform to climate deniers, then debunked their lies

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When Trump tries to bring back coal, these communities pay the price

Christina Zacny has a rare immunological condition, mast cell activation syndrome. “I’m literally allergic to almost everything,” she says. Her symptoms became more severe four years ago when she began going into anaphylactic shock, at one point going into shock thirty times within 3 months.

Zacny grew up down the street from a coal-fired power plant in Wheatfield, Indiana and still lives nearby. She says her doctor suspects that the polluted air and water that has surrounded Zacny for most of her life has exacerbated her disorder. She wears a mask when when the air quality is bad and worries about groundwater contamination from the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station’s coal ash.

So when the Trump administration unveiled its plan to deregulate coal emissions earlier this week, Zacny was stunned. She works evenings at the nearby Blue Chip Casino, and was woken up one morning by an urgent phone call from a friend. “They said you have to go look at the news rights now, you’re not going to believe what just happened,” she recalls. “I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awful.’”

This spring, groundwater near the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station plant was found to be contaminated with toxic substances.

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its proposed replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan earlier this week. It’s the Trump administration’s latest attempt to resurrect the ailing coal industry. According to a side-by-side comparison of policies by the EPA, the Obama-era rules “shut down coal” while Trump’s plan “keeps coal plants open.”

Critics of the proposed Clean Power Plan replacement, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, are both skeptical and outraged. Coal-fired power plants are in steady decline, a trend that will likely continue as natural gas and renewables become cheaper energy options. But while the proposal won’t be enough to hearken a coal comeback, it does extend a lifeline to the remaining coal plants that don’t meet Obama-era emissions standards. And that’s life-threatening for the communities closest to coal plants, like Wheatfield.

Earlier this year, groundwater near the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station plant tested positive for toxic substances and two known carcinogens, radium and arsenic. To Zacny, that’s not a coincidence. She lost her father and grandfather to cancer, and several uncles and cousins have had cancer, too.

“I don’t want to lose anyone else,” Zacny says. “I have children that grew up in this area drinking the well water. I want to see my children and family live long lives.”

For now, two of the plant’s four coal-fired generators are slated to shut down in 2023 as part of the utility’s efforts to shift to cleaner energy. Although the utility has said that it plans to stay on track, it’s in the process of reviewing the policy changes announced this week.

Since 2010, some 270 coal plants have shut down, or are planning their retirements, according to the Sierra Club. That’s more than the number of coal plants still open. The organization estimates that shutting these plants down has saved more than 7,000 lives and $3.4 billion in healthcare costs.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan called for a 32 percent drop of carbon emissions below 2005 levels from the electric sector by the year 2030. Despite legal challenges that have kept the Clean Power Plan from being enforced, we’re actually close to hitting that goal — emissions are down nearly 30 percent since 2005.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, says that the United States is within a year or two of meeting the targets of the Clean Power Plan. “We have continued to make steady progress in spite of all the chaos created by Trump.”

That’s the good news. The bad is that Trump’s plan, by the EPA’s own estimates, will lead to as many as 1,400 more premature deaths each year. That’s because the new plan rolls back federal oversight and allows states to lay out their own rules for regulating power plants.

“They’re handing off the responsibility for this important program to the states which have in the past already shown that they’re not capable of controlling air pollution, especially pollutants that travel in an interstate manner,” says George Thurston, population health director at NYU School of Medicine’s Human Exposures and Health Effects program. “You need a national coordinated effort.”

And if the 27 states that sued to keep the Clean Power Plan from being enforced choose to relax pollution rules, it will be easier for dirty plants that would have shut down to carry on. Thurston says the people who live closest to these power plants, like Zacny, will wind up paying the price with their health.

In 2012, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the NAACP, and Chicago-based environmental justice organization, LVEJO, published a report that looked at who lives near coal plants across the country. Of those who live within 3 miles of a coal plant, almost 40 percent are people of color and the average person made $18,400 a year. Kandi Mossett, a lead organizer from North Dakota for the Indigenous Environmental Network (and a member of the Grist 50 class of 2016), says that her community has suffered health problems ranging from asthma to cancer as a result of contamination from coal. Now she fears they’ll have to face another battle with the coal industry on top of their efforts to stop fracking for oil.

“In more recent years we’ve been dealing with emissions from fracking as well, and we were hoping to breathe a sigh of relief, if not fresh air, as coal plants were hopefully being phased out,” Mossett said. “Instead, we’re dealing with the nightmare of the fossil-fuel-controlled state potentially being able to regulate itself.”

Handing over power to the states, however, could encourage some to push for stronger emissions standards and carbon dioxide reduction goals. Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress, expects to see states that have embraced clean energy to step up. California and Vermont are leaders when it comes to clean energy momentum, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That is extraordinarily important when we have a lack of national leadership,” she says.

Photo credit: Christina Zacny for State Representative

Zacny, a mother of four, is running for Indiana House of Representatives. Her platform focuses on making sure that others like her who live with chronic illnesses have access to healthcare. She would also like to see the Schahfer plant turned into a solar and wind farm, and she’s pushing to legalize industrial hemp that she says can be used to clean up contaminated sites.

“These are long lasting implications that the community is going to have from this [coal plant],” says Zacny. “Whether we transition over to renewable energy or not we still have cancer here.”

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When Trump tries to bring back coal, these communities pay the price

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National parks could get a lot more expensive in 2018.

The demonstrations call on households, cities, and institutions to withdraw money from banks financing projects that activists say violate human rights — such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and efforts to extract oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

The divestment campaign Mazaska Talks, which is using the hashtag #DivestTheGlobe, began with protests across the United States on Monday and continues with actions in Africa, Asia, and Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven people were arrested in Seattle yesterday, where activists briefly shut down a Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo.

The demonstrations coincide with a meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, involving a group of financial institutions that have established a framework for assessing the environmental and social risks of development projects. Organizers allege the banks have failed to uphold indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior, and informed consent” to projects developed on their land.

“We want the global financial community to realize that investing in projects that harm us is really investing in death, genocide, racism, and does have a direct effect on not only us on the front lines but every person on this planet,” Joye Braun, an Indigenous Environmental Network community organizer, said in a statement.

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National parks could get a lot more expensive in 2018.

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Climate change is gonna be freakin’ expensive, government office warns.

The demonstrations call on households, cities, and institutions to withdraw money from banks financing projects that activists say violate human rights — such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and efforts to extract oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

The divestment campaign Mazaska Talks, which is using the hashtag #DivestTheGlobe, began with protests across the United States on Monday and continues with actions in Africa, Asia, and Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven people were arrested in Seattle yesterday, where activists briefly shut down a Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo.

The demonstrations coincide with a meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, involving a group of financial institutions that have established a framework for assessing the environmental and social risks of development projects. Organizers allege the banks have failed to uphold indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior, and informed consent” to projects developed on their land.

“We want the global financial community to realize that investing in projects that harm us is really investing in death, genocide, racism, and does have a direct effect on not only us on the front lines but every person on this planet,” Joye Braun, an Indigenous Environmental Network community organizer, said in a statement.

More here – 

Climate change is gonna be freakin’ expensive, government office warns.

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