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posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How the COVID-19 Pandemic Helped Me Rediscover Local Markets

By Kelley Dennings

When Virginia’s governor enacted stay-at-home orders I didn’t run out to get toilet paper. Instead I went to the hardware store for all the container-friendly, spring-vegetable starter plants I could find, including celery, leeks, lettuce and broccoli. 

My motivation was to support my mental health during this time. I wasn’t worried yet about feeding my body. I generally keep a full pantry, and I had five to seven days’ worth of food, which I thought was plenty. 

I was wrong.

Grocery shopping used to be simple. I’m privileged to live in an urban area that has two large grocery stores within walking distance. But as the stay-at-home order wore on and my pantry started to look bare, those big stores weren’t yet requiring face coverings or social distancing, and their delivery systems had two-week wait times. 

I wasn’t comfortable going into the stores, and waiting for delivery wasn’t an option, so I had to get creative. 

The local outdoor farmers market, where I get berries and watermelon over the summer, felt like a safe place to buy my food. But initially farmers markets weren’t considered essential. Thankfully the farmers market was able to support vendors in making pre-order community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes available, complete with social distancing and face covering policies during pickup. 

CSAs are a great way to support local farmers, but it meant that I didn’t get to pick exactly what I wanted, as I used to. I received a lot of potatoes and onions, but for the first time I also got kalettes, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. And I thoroughly enjoyed my new discovery once I figured out how to prepare them in the oven with a bit of olive oil. 

Because of the limited selection in my CSA box, and because I needed more than just vegetables, I started looking for stores closer to home where I could make quick stops to fill in what I needed. My next shopping excursion was to my local corner bodega. 

I hadn’t shopped there in the past because they have a smaller selection, but I found they had the fresh fruit I was craving and all the essentials. (Except toilet paper — but by that point, no one was carrying TP). As I paid for my purchases, I was pleased to see that it also offered personal protective equipment (PPE) like face coverings, gloves and checkout shields for the workers. 

As time went on, I purchased a quart of homemade potato salad from my local deli, the best loaf of sourdough bread I’ve ever had from my local bakery, and extra salad dressing and cookies from my favorite local restaurant (where I also got takeout for dinner). The lettuce I planted at the start of all this has already been harvested, and it won’t be long until my celery, leeks and broccoli are fully grown. 

I’ve come to appreciate how fortunate I am to have so many options in my community. Before COVID-19, getting food from multiple sources seemed inconvenient, but it hasn’t been. I do all my errands at one time, wearing a face covering and using social distancing practices. And I get to support local businesses at a time when we’re realizing just how important community is.

While I haven’t gone into a large grocery store chain yet, I did go to my local health-food store. As someone who’s lactose-intolerant, I craved my plant-based cheese, sour cream and cream cheese. While I could’ve gotten by without them, comfort food can help mental health

I went to the store just before closing, with my face covering, to stock up on my plant-based alternative foods and other essentials I couldn’t find in smaller shops. But still no toilet paper.

I was eating well, but starting to think I’d never find toilet paper. Remember all those potatoes and onions from my CSA box? Come to find out the long-lost art of bartering is back. I was able to swap potatoes and onions for rolls of toilet paper with my neighbor. 

None of us knows exactly what the new normal will look like, and I acknowledge that not everyone has access to the same options I do. When I think about life after COVID-19, I’m eager to get back to the gym and eating dinner out. 

But when it comes to grocery shopping, I plan to continue to support my local economy. I’ve reconnected with sharing and bartering, sustainable consumption, and food that’s made by people who care about the community as much as I do.  

Kelley Dennings is a campaigner with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity working to address the connection between human population growth and consumption and their threat to endangered species and wild places. Prior to the Center, she worked for multiple government agencies and nonprofits focused on recycling, forest conservation and consumption. 

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on What weeding can teach us about the climate crisis

By Denali Sai

We tend to shape our worldview with clear notions of good and bad. This grants us clarity of mind and groundedness in an otherwise volatile world. However, when we adhere to a binary, we restrict ourselves from thinking about many others’ experiences and needs, too often those of marginalized and BIPOC communities. When we see the world as us vs. them, as good vs evil, we lose sight of swaths of people, without whose voices a vision of a better world is not possible.

As a climate communicator, I am often troubled by the framing of the climate crisis as good vs. evil. In reality, the exponentially increasing and intensifying natural disasters of our changing climate are not disasters in themselves. Rather, they are naturally occurring hazards with disastrous impacts on human and physical capital.

Likewise the palm oil industry in itself is not an evil scheme that should be destroyed overnight. It took moving to the island of Borneo and living in a community of palm oil plantation workers for me to see past this Western misconception. In reality, the industry supports plantation workers who deserve a just transition towards sustainable cultivation practices.

Recently, I’ve been mulling over this conundrum in my garden. As the pandemic limits my movement outside my home, I’ve been spending more time tending to my garden. My most arduous and time-consuming task has been weeding.

Weeding is ultimately an effort to maintain equilibrium and peace in my garden. As I begin to pull out the dandelions, crabgrass, and carpetweed, my hands develop a rhythm, quickly guiding the plot back to equilibrium so that one hungry plant does not sap nutrition and space from the others.

As I do so, I resist the suburban notion that I am rooting evil from my garden. This is an active effort as frustration at their stubbornness and resilience is unrelenting. However, I am mindful of the fact that weeds are only bad in some contexts. The gardener ultimately determines where they are welcome and where they must be cut back.

For example, dandelions belong in lawns, fields, and forests. They are nutritious and contain healing properties. However, in my garden, they compete for the same resources as other, often less hardy, plants.

The value of weeding out some plants is to let others thrive. Maintaining balance is key to protecting the collective spirit of my garden.

In harrowing times like this, it is understandable to cling to binary thinking. As mortal creatures living in a chaotic world, we often use categories to cope with uncertainty. However, when we restrict ourselves in this way, we forget the humanness of every individual on this Earth. We forget that in order to enact change, we need to appeal to many different people, not just people to whom we intuitively prescribe value: Those who look, talk, and live like us. In order to build a better world, we need to build an inclusive world.

As is true in my garden, enacting change involves careful attention to nature’s balance and our collective strength. To emerge stronger from this crisis and beyond, we must listen to one another and actively stand up together to demand a radical transition away from unsustainable, harmful modes of development. We must elevate voices that complicate our current climate narrative, which tends toward sensationalized, Western-centric, sometimes blatantly unscientific stories.

Indeed, with our tender hands rooting blankets of weeds from the soil and planting new growth, we must care for one another and work collectively to nurture a more inclusive world.

Denali Sai is a climate communicator based out of Washington, D.C. She currently works in communications at the World Resources Institute, where she focuses on the economic benefits of global climate action. She co-founded and writes for Entropy Inherited, a climate newsletter that centers BIPOC and marginalized voices.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Five ways to find a green job during this pandemic

By Artisha Naidu

Finding a green job is hard enough. Throw in a 14.7% national unemployment rate, along with a global pandemic, and right now it seems nearly impossible. I’m happy to tell you that it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right effort and tactics it’s still surprisingly achievable. No matter if you’re a seasoned professional or fresh out of school, follow the five steps below to guide your green career search. But most importantly, stay positive and take care of your mental health. The job market has fluctuated and corrected itself throughout history. Today’s situation is no different. 

Know yourself 

If you have the luxury of waiting for a job that fits you, use it. A job search is a two-way street, both you and the employer are looking for the right match. You don’t want to be on the job hunt again in a few months, so take the time to understand yourself and what you need to thrive in a job. Consider the following:

  1. What specifically are you looking for in a job or career? What exactly do you want to do to help the environment? What skills to you want to develop?
  2. What are your strengths? Here’s a free version of the Strengths Finders test to find out. What job will let you use your strengths?
  3. What environment do you thrive in? How long of a commute can you handle? Can you sit at a desk all day?

Know the Green Market

Many organizations have suspended hiring, but several haven’t. Regularly monitor workforce boards, such as Green Jobs and Idealist, for updates. Research agencies before interviewing. How do they treat employees? What are their retention rates? How long have they existed? Don’t limit yourself to just green agencies, many private organizations have positions dedicated to sustainability and environmental improvements. For instance, Booz Allen Hamilton is seeking an Environmental Safety SpecialistHere is a list of major private organizations hiring amidst the pandemic, research them to see if they have sustainability departments. Broaden your search to include as many organizations as possible. 

Network 

A 2016 survey showed that 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. Informational interviews (meetings to learn about the experiences of someone in the organization you’re researching) are key. With stay-at-home restrictions, many people find themselves with free time and are excited to talk. Make sure to ask for additional connections to network with at the end of the conversation. 

For those new to networking, start out by creating a diagram of contacts. At the center, list everyone in your home, then list your family, friends, colleagues and anyone else who comes to mind. Next, list your dream job or company and search for people that fit these criteria. See if someone in your circle can establish a warm contact. If there are no connections, try sending a cold email (tips).  Green virtual networking events can expand your network. Check out the Environmental Law InstituteAlliance to Save Energy, and Eventbrite’s calendars for lists of upcoming events. Email the Sun Day Campaign about their bi-weekly “DC-Area Energy and Climate Change Events” listserv for updates on local events. Join environmental groups on MeetUp. Expand and maintain your networks.

Clean up your resume and social media profiles

It’s important to keep your public-facing profiles up-to-date. Your social media profiles are often your first impression with potential employers. A recent survey found that 70% of employers use social media to screen potential employees, of that 56% have chosen not to hire a candidate based on what they found. Try to keep your social media as positive and green as possible. Portray that you truly care about the environment by posting pictures of a peaceful climate change protest. A good rule of thumb: Don’t post it if you wouldn’t show it to your grandparents. Google yourself and see what comes up. What can you change? Make sure your resume and social media accurately showcase you as a person. Here are some great tips on how to update your resume, published by the Trachtenberg School at George Washington University, and here are some tips on updating your LinkedIn profile.

Create achievable goals

Approach the green job search in a realistic and positive manner by creating achievable goals to guide your search. Create a chart with daily, weekly, and/or monthly goals. Pick things you want to prioritize and set a realistic timeline to complete them. Whether it’s reaching out for informational interviews twice a week, applying daily to a job posting, following up with five contacts in a month — add these goals to your chart. Every time you complete a goal give yourself a gold star, get ten gold starts and give yourself a treat. This is a simple, fun way to keep yourself on track. 

Artisha Naidu is an incoming Government and Public Sector Consultant with Deloitte LLC. She has an extensive background in energy, environmental sustainability, and urban policy. In her spare time, Artisha is launching the Girls’ Leadership Apprenticeship and Mentorship (GLAM) Program, which provides workforce development to high school girls in Ward 8 of D.C. She also tutors youth from disadvantaged communities and is a Community Outreach Coordinator for IMPACT Now.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Can the COVID-19 pandemic help us learn how to save our planet?

By Elizabeth Hogan

My every day during this strange experience of quarantine and pandemic is largely spent – as it is for many of us – in front of a laptop.  Almost all of my time at my computer has been focused on combatting the latest efforts of the plastic industry to exploit COVID-19 to reverse regulations on plastic bans and fees, which limit ocean plastic pollution. The plastic industry is asking state and city governments to reverse the laws that do so much good for the environment and wildlife, claiming that plastic is more “hygienic” and “safe” than other materials. Actually, the reverse is true – coronavirus can last longer on plastic than any other material.

I’ve spent my career working to raise awareness about how plastic impacts marine wildlife and seafood. My anxiety about this global pandemic, the tanking economy – and my inability to actually see other human beings — is compounded by a roiling anger at the willingness of a spiteful and greedy industry to exploit people’s fears and cause more harm has overwhelmed and motivated me.  This isn’t just my personal soapbox.  This is my job, how I’m spending my time and how I earn my living.

The uncertainty of what the world will look like when this is “over” – if such a time exists – infects my thoughts and distracts from my work. Worries about my parents’ health, my own career, the community that I love, my nieces and their future, the stories I hear of people dying painfully and alone and wondering what on earth I can do to help beyond just sitting in my house – all swirl around in my head.  

This is mollified by the images and reports that I see of a planet slowly recovering; once polluted water becoming clearer by the day with less trash floating on the surface.  Species on the brink of extinction, due to our carelessness and exploitation, suddenly have a brief window of recuperation.  I’m trying hard not to feel guilty at my relief that our dying world seems to be getting a small chance at a recovery, while knowing that it comes at a great price to humanity.  I would not have wished this disease or the accompanying economic strain on anyone, yet my greatest hope during this time comes from the miraculous ability of our planet to heal itself from so much damage in so little time. 

It simultaneously makes me sad for what our planet could be if we only gave it the chance.  I’m ashamed of my excitement to see what our world might become at this great cost, at this opportunity for it to thrive and other species to breathe because their apex predator is taking a break from its usual relentless pursuit.  But I also want to embrace any source of optimism that I can. I think about the satellite images of cleaner air in China and Italy, stories of wildlife returning to places once avoided due to human activity, and the crash in the value of petroleum

What humankind has learned from all the recent changes forced by the pandemic – things like working from home, virtual conferences instead of travel, and limits to consumerism as we prioritize what we need versus what we want – all have the potential to change our standards and behavior long after the threat of coronavirus dies down. 

I realize that this is highly unlikely; most of the world eagerly awaits a return to life from “before.”  But some positive changes have potential to become permanent: Fewer airlines exist now, once “temporary” road closures have become permanent, and regulations on wildlife markets and trade are being established or enforced. And perhaps most importantly, the visual reminders of how the natural world and wildlife can thrive without human interference has raised critical awareness to protect habitats and migration corridors.  We simply have to be willing to learn the lesson that is right in front of us and allow it to inform how we will live beyond this time.

Elizabeth Hogan ran the Oceans and Wildlife program of World Animal Protection in the United States for seven years, specializing in marine wildlife entanglement and sustainable fisheries.  She now works as a consultant on ocean conservation for organizations including USAID, Pew Charitable Trusts, CSIRO, and the Aquarium Conservation Partnership on marine wildlife conservation and ocean plastic pollution.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Relearning our limits (don’t worry, not the calculus kind)

By Rita Foth

Empty shelves in the grocery store. Shortages of essential protective gear for frontline medical workers. Long delays on shipping. 

While these shortages range from severe and life-altering to minor inconveniences, everyone has experienced some degree of product unavailability during the pandemic. 

A light-hearted yet infuriating example is the pillaging and plundering (when did we all turn into pirates?) of the toilet paper aisle. How many of you have gone from store to store looking for toilet paper because you were lucky enough to run out around the start of quarantine? I know I certainly have. 

Obviously, some shortages have greater implications than others, but one implication looming behind every shortage is that they will continue to happen long past the pandemic if something doesn’t change. 

We live in an era where an entire grocery trip is just a click and a delivery away, an era of ordering just about anything off the internet and having it arrive at our door days later. This is the era of seemingly unlimited resources. Businesses have closed the gaps in their operations so efficiently that there is almost never a mistake, never a time where a product is unavailable. Beyond that being a simply remarkable feat, these practices have shifted our perception. Many people no longer look at the world through a lens of limited resources. That concept has been hidden behind the curtain. A consumer who looks at the world as unlimited is a consumer that many businesses want. 

But, if you’re reading this blog, you are well aware of the fact that the planet simply cannot sustain a population that consumes as if resources are unlimited.

Yet here we are. Consuming as if there’s no end in sight.

But what if, among all the devastation and disruptions caused by the pandemic, there is a silver lining. What if this pandemic has made people look differently at the objects they buy and how they use them? 

It is hopelessly optimistic to assume that people will suddenly change the way they purchase and consume items, yet I can’t help but think that staring at barren grocery store aisles won’t have an impact. 

Together with many other people in this country, I’ve been privileged enough throughout my life to never worry about scarce resources or where I will get my next meal. But does a system struggling to keep up with demand force people to reckon with the limited and finite nature of everything around them? Even if it’s an infinitesimal reckoning, it’s still a reckoning. And it is exactly what’s needed to push the environmental movement forward. People have worked for decades to move the environmental movement from the fringe to the mainstream, but the much of the general population continues to choose the easiest path: ignorance. If it’s not affecting me directly, why should I care? Now people know why they should care. In fact, they’ve been slapped in the face with why they should care.

I’ve wondered for a long time whether people would change their behaviors without a major event that forced them to wake up. I always assumed it would take the form of a natural disaster, but the unlikely foe has been a global pandemic. 

My greatest hope is that we can emerge from our homes and emerge from this pandemic a changed world. Not only changed because of the lives lost and the hardships endured, but also changed because we learned to take from the planet with a recognition of its limits. Because recognizing our planet’s limited capacity to sustain us is the first step in the long, arduous journey toward learning to sustain ourselves on this planet.

Rita Foth was born and raised in the mountains of Colorado and went to school in Washington state. She moved to D.C. in December 2019 to see what the “other Washington” had to offer. She is currently looking for jobs in environmental nonprofits.

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By Hannah Nelson

Washingtonians have a complicated relationship with the ginkgo tree. 

The day I discovered the ginkgo outside my apartment was one of those distinctly DC beautiful days: the trees were that fresh green that comes at the end of spring and stays for early summer, the sky so blue you’d think it was cloudless, too.

The tree in question is on the grounds of the National Cathedral, in a pocket of grass that used to be my spot for fair-weather reading. Until this year, I’d never noticed it. Perhaps it was the direction from which I spotted it, coming to it another way, but this year, I felt myself drawn to it, at the whim of the natural—one might say spiritual—powers of this tree.

Up close, I reached up and traced my thumb over the uneven edges of its distinctive fans, half-wondering if there was some genetic pattern to them invisible to human eyes. The leaves called me to hold them and I did, a single leaf between my thumb and index finger. It was like the soft cover of a Moleskine notebook, only thick and indented with lines as I imagine dinosaur skin might have been.

***

Ginkgo are “living fossils” and the only one of their species. Of the five groups of seed plants—simply, angiosperms (flowering plants), conifers (cone-bearing trees), cycads (tropical plants), gnetophyta (woody plants), and ginkgo—it is the only one that consists of a single species (by comparison, there are about 350 million species of flowering plants).

Even more remarkable is that ginkgo trees don’t visibly age and can live for hundreds to thousands of years. In a study published earlier this year, researchers compared gene expression in leaves and the cambium, a thin layer of stem cells between the heartwood and bark that differentiate to help the tree to grow. Although genes associated with cell division, cell expansion, and differentiation exhibited lower expression in old trees, those associated with the final stage of the aging process showed no difference in expression between young and old trees. This finding suggests that while growth slows, ginkgo biloba lives so long because it’s developed a perfect balance between growth and aging.

The trees’ biggest threat? Stress (one can relate). The older the tree, the greater its ability to adapt to changing environments, owing to persistent expression of a large number of resistance genes in addition to accumulation of antimicrobial and antioxidant protectants like flavonoids. But even the ginkgo has not been immune to climate change, which is causing the trees to shed their fruit later every year.

***

As days become shorter and temperatures fall, the petioles, or stems joining leaves to a stalk, of most deciduous trees form a protective scar between the leaf and the stalk at different rates across the tree that causes leaves to drop individually. Ginkgoes, on the other hand, form those scars all at once, resulting in one day per year when tree-lined streets in Northwest DC suddenly come to resemble a sparkling forest floor. Among the leaves, sometimes, when a female tree hasn’t been sprayed with a pesticide at the right time, will be her fruit—called berries that look something like a cross between a green grape of the wine variety and a white apricot.

They smell awful, so every spring, the Urban Forestry Division sprays female trees across the District, but because it can be difficult to time properly and the treatment isn’t always effective, it has implemented a Female Ginkgo Tree Removal Policy allowing property owners to decide to petition for the removal of one or more trees. It promises to replant them with different trees, yet ginkgoes make for superior urban trees, offering shade and resilience to ever-increasing environmental stressors such as increasing levels of carbon dioxide. 

In fact, the Smithsonian Institution has issued a call for leaf samples for its Citizen Science: Leaf Surveyproject, which it will use to study climate change. Not only do ginkgoes serve as a window to the past by providing a record from over 200 million years ago through to the present, but the secrets within their leaves might also allow us to better plan for the future. Scientists can analyze the relationship between carbon dioxide and stomatal index, or the optimal number of “tiny openings on leaves’ surfaces” needed to facilitate the exchange of carbon dioxide with oxygen and water. That information can help us to predict how warm the planet may grow to be and, I’d argue, to understand how different built environments affect nature.

From “Paleobotany: A Sketch of the Original and Evolution of Floras” by Edward W. Berry, p. 356 of the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1918.

***

It can also help us to understand ourselves. Native to China and cultivated starting around 1,000 years ago, ginkgoes were brought to Japan in the late 17th century, where the fan-shaped leaf came to symbolize longevity, and to Europe in the mid-18th century.

They have persisted in Asian art as well as Art Nouveau, both styles represented in the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries. From China, in the Freer Gallery of Art is The Bodhisattva Mile (Sanskrit Maitreya), seated in “Pensive Pose” (Northern Qi dynasty, ca. 575), the Buddha’s Dragon Tree depicted as a ginkgo. In the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is Reminiscences of Nanjing: Old Gingko at Mt. Chinglong (Qing dynasty, 1707). From Japan, in the Sackler Gallery, is Crow and Ginkgo Leaves, from the series Seitei’s Flowers and Birds (Taish? era, 1916).

Now, in 2020, amidst a global health crisis and an environmental one too, the ginkgo continues to serve as a symbol of longevity, a reminder of the movement of time. It also reminds us that as participants in the world through which time moves, we will endure. We will learn how to live in a world where COVID-19 is an expected part of life. But that endurance also engenders a responsibility to ensure that world is one in which we’d be comfortable waking up and realizing where we are.

With longevity comes unknowing. The onset of COVID-19, with its watch-and-wait requirement, has shown us we can’t predict the future with certainty, and in this context the ginkgo might be considered, above all, a symbol of humility. It has adapted, it has endured, and still it protects us—providing urban havens, sources of wonderment, and scientific information we can use to reconstruct our changing relationship with the world around us.

That is our role now: to assume humility, recognize our unknowing, and take an honest assessment of our actions using the knowledge we are learning. With reverence, we might look to the ginkgo as our past and future, and to this moment as an opportunity to protect the environment and ourselves.

Freeing ourselves from perpetual striving, can we seek that balance between growing and slowing down that the ginkgo has refined naturally and over millennia? Taking pause, can we find the will to finally realize a wholeness within ourselves and with the natural world?

Hannah Nelson is an editorial strategist at the Society for Neuroscience. She holds a BA in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has an appreciation for narrative journalism, botanical illustrations, wooded areas, and the flora of DC.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Cooped up at home? Make eco-friendly choices.

By: Skylar Petrik

COVID-19 is impacting all of us. If, like many people, you’re cooped up at home, you may find yourself dreaming of park days or beachside hangs with friends. But just because you may be spending less time in nature, doesn’t mean you’re less likely to make eco-friendly life choices. And, while more of us at home means less greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, there are additional ways you can do more for the environment. Following are a few, simple eco-friendly choices you can make while being cooped up at home. 

  1. Pot a Plant

Add a dose of greenery to your home by potting one or more plants. Pick from easy-to-maintain indoor plants that can enhance your décor and also purify the air, or put them outside where they can get ample sunlight. Don’t forget to water regularly.

2. Opt for Natural Ventilation 

With the hot air that comes with summer in the D.C. area, many of us are likely beginning to turn on the air conditioning. This not only results in a higher electricity bill, but it’s also bad for the environment. Instead, open those windows and doors, and let natural air in. Keep your home naturally ventilated in the morning and evening, and restrict your AC usage to a few hours at noon and night.

3. Switch Off Lights When Not in Use

Every time you leave the room, even if it is for five minutes, switch the lights and fans off. Doing this five times a day will do the Earth some good. Smart bulbs and lights let you control the intensity and on/off features from your smartphone. During the day, let natural light in instead of switching on your room’s light. 

4. Backyard Gardening

Backyard gardening is a great way to grow your own fruits and vegetables and get rid of carbon dioxide in the air to keep your family healthy. Gardening is also a great way to relieve stress. And, a backyard garden reduces food costs and food packaging. 

5. Reuse glass jars

You’ve reached the bottom of a pot of jam, mayonnaise or pickles. Now what do you do with the jar? Reuse it for other food storage, such as wholesale nuts, dried cranberries, or seeds. Or, use it to make crafts. These are great ways to reduce the amount that goes in your recycling and garbage cans each week.

Skylar Petrik is a Community Impact Intern at the United Way of Frederick County. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from University of Maryland. She enjoys cardio kickboxing, running, making art and crafts, cooking healthy food, spending time with her family and friends and traveling.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Everything you think you know about shark conservation is wrong

By Leah Kaplan

As a child, I was terrified of traversing my room’s navy blue carpet in the dark to make it to the bathroom after watching the cinematic masterpiece Deep Blue Sea, a movie about genetically engineered sharks that go on a rampage. Many years later, I’m proud to say that I did safely make it to the bathroom and that I’ve since overcome my fear of sharks. While I’m still somewhat embarrassed about those childhood fears, I imagine that many of us have similar anecdotes about shark phobias.

On the other end of the spectrum, it seems like sharks have become quite trendy. Between Left Shark’s stellar Super Bowl performance a few years ago and the popularity of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, sharks have begun to seem like dolphins’ cool, edgy friend. 

I knew little about sharks and even less about effective methods for their conservation until the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, the science policy think tank where I work, hosted a talk by David Shiffman, an Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher, marine conservation biologist, and award-winning expert in public science engagement. During his seminar, Shiffman busted several myths about sharks and spurred me to reflect on how I think about my values and conservation efforts.

MYTH #1 – Sharks are a big threat

Movies have dramatically shaped public perception of sharks—most notably the quintessential shark film Jaws. Even decades after the film’s release, Shiffman explained: “There’s almost always someone in the audience at my public talks about shark research and conservation who cites Jaws as ‘proof’ that sharks are scary and bad.” But sharks are mostly not a threat to humans. Shiffman noted that in a typical year, more people are killed by falling flower pots, by collapsing vending machines, and by falling off a cliff while taking a selfie. (Please let us be better than that.)

Not only are sharks not a major threat, but humans are better off with a healthy shark population because of the important role they play in maintaining ocean food chains. 

COUNTER-MYTH: Public fear is the biggest threat to sharks

So maybe we feel bad about our distrust in sharks and want to mend this relationship. Shiffman emphasized that wildlife harassment is NOT the way to do this. Respectful appreciation of sharks via some types of ecotourism can be a positive way to combat public fear. Not all ecotourism endeavors are conducted in a manner that respects sharks and their habitats. (Don’t be a Darla.)

MYTH #2 – Ecotourism is the answer to conservation

Shark ecotourism can help local economies and promote conservation in some cases. However, a study by Shiffman and colleagues found that wildlife tourism of apex predators (sharks, crocodiles, big cats) can provide economic incentives for their conservation only under some conditions. The unique characteristics of the region and the predator will affect whether or not tourism actually helps achieve conservation goals. In many cases, the species of sharks that are most at risk are not the types that would typically be seen during your ocean Instagram photoshoot.

MYTH #3 – Finning is the biggest threat to sharks

The practice of finning in order to fulfill a global desire for shark fin soup has garnered a lot of attention. The legal definition of “finning” refers to catching a shark, cutting the fins of its body, discarding the body at sea where it will then bleed to death or drown, and then selling the fins on land. But if the shark’s body makes it to land, then it’s no longer considered finning. Most people don’t realize this. Finning has been illegal in the United States since 1993 yet online petitions calling for its ban frequently circulate the Internet. In addition to the finning ban, successful ad campaigns in China have led to a significant decline in this practice over the last 20 years. 

Instead of just talking about finning, Shiffman asserted that a bigger threat to sharks is unsustainable overfishing, including for fins and meat, and via bycatch. 

MYTH #4 – Sustainable shark fisheries do not exist

Within the scientific and fisheries management communities, there is a general consensus that sustainable fisheries can and do exist. Further, Shiffman and his colleague found that 1) the United States has some of the most sustainable shark fisheries in the world; and 2) a proposed U.S. ban on the sale of shark fins would harm these sustainable fisheries and have little effect on global killing of sharks.

MYTH #5 (My two-cents) – There is only one right way to protect sharks

There are many ways that we can protect sharks. A ban on the sale of shark fins is one option; sustainable shark fisheries is another; as are many other options. 

Science can show us some of the demonstrated and potential effects of different policy options but whether and how we protect sharks really comes down to our values. My work with the  Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes brings together members of the public to discuss these values questions underlying important sociotechnical issues. For more information, check out our website. I promise we don’t bite!

Leah Kaplan is a program specialist with the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes in DC. Her primary focus is supporting the Consortium’s work on Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA), aiming to incorporate public values and perspectives into critical science and technology decisions.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Celebrate women and the environment this month

By Kelley Dennings

In the face of the climate crisis, young people are starting to question whether they should have kids. Many are worrying about the planet their children would inherit, and what adding to the population would do to our already-suffering environment.

Research predicts one million species could go extinct in the coming decades due to climate change, habitat loss and other human-related pressures. Meanwhile reproductive rights face a barrage of attacks at the state and federal level.

Frankly, there’s a lot to worry about. But we also have a lot that gives us hope. In March, we commemorate women who have come before us through Women’s History Month and we celebrate International Women’s Day.

The start of Women’s History Month in 1981 harkens back to a time of congressional compromise. In 1981, there were only 23 women in Congress – compared to 127 today — and fewer women in the workforce overall.

The U.S. fertility rate in 1981 is nearly identical to now. And although women have more autonomy in many ways, access to family planning is still a political chess piece.

International Women’s Day, held on March 8 annually, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it’s more than a celebration – it’s a call to action.

This year’s theme, #EachforEqual, is drawn from a notion of “collective individualism.” It highlights how individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. 

The intersection between individual family planning decisions and reproductive healthcare policies is the perfect example of how personal and collective action are intertwined. And the climate and extinction crises are bringing renewed attention to the effect of our growing population on the planet. 

While individuals are at the heart of reproductive rights and justice, there are systems in place that determine whether people have access to the knowledge and healthcare they need. That’s why it’s frustrating when individual and systematic change are pitted against one another. These aren’t “either/or” issues.  Our collective individualism can benefit everyone.

Not only do individuals need to feel comfortable discussing their family planning wishes with partners and health care providers, systems such as comprehensive sex education, to support knowledgeable discussions, and universal access to all forms of contraception, are equally important. 

Progress has been made in understanding how individual family planning, reproductive rights and the environment work together, but more could be done. 

The intersectional work around population is grounded in human rights, reproductive rights and social justice. Every individual should have access to contraception and education to plan if and when they want to have children to help prevent unintended pregnancies, improve the lives of families and protect the environment. 

To achieve that, activists must cross the political aisle, partner with family planning groups and bring justice for all into the fold.

Kelley Dennings moved to Washington, D.C. ten years ago and has worked with three environmental non-profits. She currently works at the Center for Biological Diversity where she highlights how population growth and overconsumption affect habitat and wildlife. She advocates for rights-based solutions to these problems such as voluntary family planning.

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By GraceAnne Casto

What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is a day when the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women are celebrated around the world. It is also an opportunity to accelerate gender equality in our present day. Despite all the advancements the global community has made toward respecting and recognizing women and girls, there is much more left to do. 

There is a long history of women, and men, celebrating March 8th globally — this day was first recognized in 1911. Every community and nation celebrate in their own unique way. For example, in Russia, March 8th is a combination of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day holidays. In Italy, it is popular to give yellow mimosa flowers to the women in your life. 

Despite the differences around the world, the common and core themes of the day are equality for women and recognition of the amazing roles women play.

#EachforEqual

The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is #EachforEqual. This theme emphasizes the role each of us can play in achieving gender equality. We each can make choices, big and small, day-to-day, that impact how women and girls are viewed, which stereotypes are propagated, and the opportunities made available to different members of society. The hashtag #EachforEqual is meant to inspire and encourage us to examine our own actions and perspectives, and make changes to become a gender-equal world. What can you do in your sphere of influence to consciously advocate for women around the world? Write it down, strike the pose (see photo), and post to social media with the hashtag (#EachforEqual) to spread awareness and inspiration!

Sustainability, climate change and women

Ulrika Modéer, UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, and Anita Bhatia, UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships wrote an amazing blog post about climate action and the female gender for DC EcoWomen. It is well-established that sustainable development and gender parity are intertwined and interdependent. Recognizing this, the UN made their fifth Sustainable Development Goal:  “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Women are often the most vulnerable to impacts of poverty and climate change. However, they often play a key role in how their families and communities can build resilience. Education, career opportunities, and healthcare advancements for women are cornerstones of achieving both gender equality and sustainable development.

Let’s Celebrate!

  1. Strike the #EachforEqual pose and post to social media, and share something you are doing in 2020 to contribute to gender parity
  2. Learn empowering self defense at the “Punch, Then Brunch! Women Empowering Women Through Self Defense” event on March 8th.
  3. Buy flowers or chocolates for the amazing females in your life – be sure to look for local or fair trade products (check out your local farmer’s market or neighborhood florist)
  4. Learn about the history of women’s fight for equality, or about current issues we face – check out this list of recommended reads.

How will you celebrate?

Let us know in the comments, or share how you celebrated this day with others at the next DC EcoWomen event!

Additional sources: 

GraceAnne Casto is a DC resident who works as an environmental planner. She likes spending time outdoors, cooking, and reading. Making small steps towards a more sustainable and ethical life is one of her passions.