Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

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By: Sarah Marin

Every tenth year ending in zero, the U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be taken. This once-in-a-decade count works to collect statistical data of the lives of more than 331 million Americans to create a clearer picture of where, who, and how we live. While these population counts directly affect how District of Columbia Ward and ANC boundaries are drawn and how the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned, it will also determine how more than $1 trillion in federal spending will be allocated towards states and localities, and thus plays a critical role in health and environmental justice in our communities.

The deadline to complete the Census is soon approaching and is set to close October 31, 2020. With a population of just over 705,000 in 2019, (a 19% jump from the approximately 605,000 counted in the 2010 Census,) federal dollars flowing to the District will continue to rise. According to the DC Policy Center, the District of Columbia has received approximately $6 billion every year following the 2010 census. The funds allocated through the census over the past decade have supported more than 55 programs that directly and indirectly impact every resident of the District including: Medicaid, the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Section 8 and public housing assistance, highway and road construction, community facilities development and critical wildlife, environmental, and public health programs to name just a few. 

With so much at stake in the 2020 Census, it is crucial that every District of Columbia resident is counted. The good news is, as of October 12, 2020, D.C.’s enumerated percentage of housing units counted was 99.9%; however, self-reporting counts and count concerns for the city’s homeless population continue to underscore long-standing disparities in representation, environmental justice, and access to services for those who rely on them the most.

DC currently ranks 34th in “self-response rates,” with only 63.5% of households self-reporting. Notably, the census tracts in the northwest areas of the City have self-reporting rates far outpacing the areas to the southeast. For instance, the census tract with the highest self-reporting is Tract 10.03 in NW (Ward 3) with a rate of 90.5% and 84.1% reporting by internet for the first time. This rate is more than 60% higher than the tracts with the lowest self-reporting; at 25.7% self reporting with only 21.8% by internet in Tract 23.02 in NE (Ward 5) and 28.6% self-reporting with 17.9% by internet in Tract 74.01 in SE (Ward 8).

Interestingly, yet unsurprisingly, these low reporting tracts have some of the highest poverty rates in the city. While the average rate of poverty across the District is 13.5%, Tracts 23.02 and 74.01 have 18.3% and 70% of their populations living below the poverty line, respectively. These tracts are also located in some of the most environmentally unjust areas of the city, with Tract 74.01 adjacent to the Navy Yard toxic waste site and Tract 23.02 in close proximity to one of the city’s five trash transfer stations, the Fort Totten Transfer Station.

While just a few small examples, these figures directly highlight bleak patterns in access and equity for DC’s marginalized communities who may have limited access to internet or phone services or lack permanent housing. Community membership includes people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with limited English, and other marginalized groups traditionally undercounted. It is our responsibility to make sure that every D.C. resident is counted to help close these longstanding gaps that make the need for funds apportioned through the Census more important than ever!

UPDATE (as of 10/20): The Trump Administration closed the 2020 Census on 10/15/2020. However, DC EcoWomen felt the content of this blog was still vital and deserved to be shared with the community.

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Sarah Marin is an Associate and Client Services Manager at Sustainable Strategies DC and a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she studied International Affairs with concentrations in Environmental Studies and Public Health. Sarah is passionate about developing equitable and sustainable cities that support vibrant communities and a thriving, healthy planet for all. 

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By: Margaret Morgan-Hubbard

I am the daughter of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped the holocaust and landed in NYC in the mid 1930’s. Farming may not be in my blood, but fighting for justice certainly is part of my inheritance.  I aim to expand equity and justice, while protecting and restoring the environment. 

While working at the University of Maryland, I formed the Engaged University (EU) to make the University more accountable and responsive to our local community. I began to focus particularly on community health, food and the environment, because I discovered the systemic neglect and abuse inflicted by industrial food production on local people and the land. I wanted to explore ways I could act locally and impact globally.  

In 2007, I started the Masterpeace Community Farm. The goal of the project was to create a communal space that enabled the growth of middle school youth, college students, and local community residents, primarily of African and Latinx heritage. My staff and I found the young people’s positive response to growing, preparing, and eating healthy food especially intriguing.

When the University of Maryland defunded the project, a few of us decided to continue our food justice work through the non-profit we formed called Engaged Community Offshoots, or ECO. Ultimately, our work evolved into ECO City Farms. 

When we began ECO, we secured an agreement with the chief dietitian of the Prince George’s Public School System to supply seasonal organic vegetables for a salad bar at William Wirt Middle School. Although this agreement was never honored, we were able to leverage the commitment to secure land from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission as well as funding from a number of area foundations for the farm. 

Losing Masterpeace Community Farm solidified our determination to own the land for ECO. We located a perfect site— a residential house in a low food access/low income neighborhood with a large back yard where food had been grown for decades. 

When I met with the Planning Office and local Council members, I was informed that I could never build hoop houses nor create a commercial urban farm in a residential neighborhood, and that urban farming was  not a legal land use in the County. Nevertheless, I persisted.   I continued to insist on meetings with planning supervisors, and then their bosses, going higher and higher up the chain of command. After a series of such meetings, I finally reached a director who publicly declared: “This woman is never going to go away, so let’s just give her some parkland on which to farm!” I was escorted to the Parks Division and spent many hours looking over maps to find a suitable site. 

The land I ultimately secured for ECO was just two blocks away from the land I tried to purchase, and it was free. However, the use agreement was only good for one year and the land had a tennis court in front of it that the town hoped to redevelop. Nevertheless, we built our farm and immediately began growing and selling food. 

Local politicians were so impressed with our achievements that by the end of the year, we were able to achieve a number of things, including: negotiating a 15-year renewable use agreement, expanding onto the obsolete tennis court, building a processing kitchen out of a shipping container, and renting the first floor of a Parks & Recreation Division house for our offices, less than a mile from the farm. After months of persistent advocacy and the struggle, the County code was changed to allow urban farming, along with its accompanying infrastructure, in almost every zone of Prince George’s County.

With land secured, funds raised and basic infrastructure built, we imagined that all we had left to do was grow good food for our healthy-food-deprived neighbors and they would come. But nothing is that simple. 

While there is certainly a need for healthy locally grown food in every community everywhere, there is often a disconnect between the food we grew and the eating habits, purchasing practices, cooking skills and desires of the community where that food is grown. Our clientele was rarely the predominantly working class Latinx residents who neighbored the farm.

Over ten long years, with many advances and setbacks, ECO has become the première urban farm in the metropolitan DC region, employing 7 people—mainly women– full time and exposing hundreds of people yearly to the art and science of urban growing. We have taught many hundreds of DC area residents, aspiring farmers and their families through community-based experiential learning courses at our farm– incorporating cultivating and harvesting vegetables, cooking, nutrition, composting, herbalism, business skills and responsible environmental stewardship. 

We’ve exposed many hundreds of area school children to environmental education and conduct 6-week-long youth summer employment programs every year, including this one. We’ve engaged hundreds of area college students in programs about healthy eating and active living. We’ve held dozens of community events, poetry readings, festivals and celebrations. 

Together with Prince George’s Community College, we’ve issued a Certificate of Completion in Commercial Urban Agriculture to the hundreds of trainees who attend our courses and we are just now completing the fourth of a six-year USDA grant to train urban farmers to fulfill ECO’s mission to “grow great food, farms and farmers.”  

We’ve managed to keep our farms open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing practices that maintain social distancing amongst staff, customers and apprentices.  Simultaneously, we’ve provided affordable weekly farm shares to 70 local families and supply free weekly shares to 25-40 area senior households.

We helped to found the Prince George’s Food Equity Council to advocate for the policy change that is needed to make food production, distribution and consumption more equitable.  Our goal is to undo the damage wrought by the plantation economy, persistent racism, the  devastation of the environment and the industrialization of the food system.

Despite all of our collaborative work to date, urban farms have not proliferated as rapidly as we initially imagined; few children get to eat healthy, fresh, locally grown foods at school; most families do not know where their food comes from or how it is produced; small scale farming is only marginally economically viable; and few public resources are devoted to ensuring that toxic-free food is a human right.

I am proud that after 10 years of hard work and persistence, ECO City Farms still exists as a model of what is possible. And I am excited that when we advertise  our training to students now, the majority of our responders are women of color of all ages who want to ensure their food is toxic-free and grown by people they trust, and who earn a living wage. But there are still very few new urban farms, and many financial and other impediments to becoming a full-time urban farmer. 

I know that I and my partners in this struggle cannot rest until truly sustainable urban farms pepper the landscape of Maryland and beyond, and that everyone who wants to grow food, for themselves and/or others, has the opportunity, means, resources and know-how to do so. 

Please join me in this effort. Let me know what steps you are taking to make your local food system more just, equitable and healthy for all.  [email protected]

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder of ECO City Farms in 2010, is a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and friend of the earth, who has lived in the DC area since 1982. ECO is the premier nonprofit urban teaching and learning farm in Prince George’s County that grows great food, farms and farmers in ways that protect, restore and sustain the natural environment. Working with area children, youth and adults, ECO educates and trains the area’s next generation of area urban farmers and eaters.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Taking Stock: A vision for an economic recovery that puts workers and the climate first

By: Jessica Eckdish

This month we celebrated Labor Day, an important day to honor and celebrate America’s workers and the contributions of the labor movement to our country. As we are also nearing the end of the current presidential term, it’s an important opportunity to take stock of the direction we’re heading and whether the path we’re on is working. 

It’s not.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll and is nowhere close to done. America has surpassed 7 million cases and 200,000 deaths, millions of people have lost jobs and remain unemployed, and workers continue to struggle to stay safe and healthy on the job.

We went into this pandemic with three ongoing interconnected crises: economic inequality, racial inequality, and climate change. The pandemic has cast a harsh spotlight on just how severe and disproportionate the impacts of these crises are.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “the bottom 90% of the American workforce has seen their pay shrink radically as a share of total income,” from 58% in 1979 to 47% in 2015. That is almost $11,000 per household. There is a direct correlation with the decrease of worker power, as the share of workers in a union fell from 24% in 1979 to under 11% now.

And the deck has been stacked against people of color. Data point after data point illustrates exactly how unequal our economy is. Regardless of education level, black workers are far more likely to be unemployed than white workers, and black workers are paid on average 73 cents to the dollar compared to white workers. The wage gap persists regardless of education, and even with advanced degrees black workers make far less than white workers. 

The systemic racism inherent in our society has proved deadly for black Americans, who regardless of making up just 12.5% of the U.S. population, represent 22.4% of COVID-19 deaths. And among those aged 45-54, Black and Hispanic/Latino death rates are at least six times higher than for whites. 

We’ve seen clearly just how dangerous the status quo is. We need to move urgently towards economic recovery. At the same time, we know that returning to “normal” is not good enough. We have to do better.

Last summer, the BlueGreen Alliance alongside our labor and environmental partners released Solidarity for Climate Action, a first of its kind platform recognizing that the solutions to economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change have to be addressed simultaneously. With COVID-19 worsening these crises, the vision of Solidarity for Climate Action is more important now than ever.

We can tackle economic recovery in a way that achieves multiple goals simultaneously—we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change, deliver public health and environmental benefits, create and maintain good, union jobs, address economic and racial injustice, and create a cleaner, stronger, and more equitable economy for all.

Here’s how we can do that:

In addition to prioritizing frontline workers’ and vulnerable communities’ health and safety, recovery efforts must prioritize equitable rebuilding and investments in workers and communities that need it most, especially low-income communities, communities of color, and deindustrialized communities. Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. We must inject justice into our nation’s economy.

We must invest in our infrastructure. From our failing roads and bridges and water systems to our buildings, electric grid, and transportation systems, infrastructure investments will boost our economy and create millions of jobs, while also reducing pollution.

We need to support and retool America’s manufacturing sector, which took a major hit during the pandemic. Making a major reinvestment in transforming heavy industry and retooling to build more of the clean products, materials, and technologies of the future here can provide pathways to good family-supporting jobs and strong domestic supply chains while reducing growing climate emissions. 

The pandemic exposed the inadequate investments we’ve made in our public sector. We need to rebuild and invest in our health care systems, public health agencies, education, and community-based services to be better prepared for disasters like COVID-19 or natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. We also must rebuild and expand the social safety net—including pensions, healthcare, and retirement security—and ensure and enforce worker and community health and safety.

We also have to ensure these investments support and create local jobs with fair wages and benefits and safe working conditions, create economic opportunity for all people in the communities in which they reside, and meet forward-thinking environmental standards to ensure resiliency. 

By making smart investments where they are most needed, ensuring that economic and racial justice are core principles in all we do, and rebuilding with the reality of climate change at the forefront, we can and will build a fairer, more sustainable, and just future for America.

Jessica Eckdish, Legislative Director with the BlueGreen Alliance, writes about how labor and environment can come together to create a “cleaner, stronger, and more equitable economy for all.” This roadmap to economic recovery could allow us to achieve multiple goals related to climate change, public health, and the environment, as well as the creation of good union jobs that address economic and racial justice. 

An American River

Sep
2020
04

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The Racial History of the Anacostia Is the Racial History of the United States

Photo: Crossing the Anacostia River outside the West Hyattsville Metro

By: Eliza Nellums

In these hazy days of social distance, I like to walk along the trails that follow the Anacostia River through Prince George’s County, Maryland. There I see my neighbors, mostly people of color, cooling off in the water and teaching their kids to fish. 

But the fish in the Anacostia are dangerous to eat and, in some places, just touching the sediment at the bottom of the river is considered a cancer risk – due to “legacy toxins” from industrial development. I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy toxins – of all kinds – lately. 

The Anacostia River is only nine miles long. It flows south from Prince George’s County, through Southeast D.C. – where it gives its name to a neighborhood in Ward 8 – before it empties into the Potomac. From there the water travels into the Chesapeake Bay. 

But along its short length, it contains six different superfund sites.

The river has a rich role in American history. The name “Anacostia” is taken from the native peoples recorded by Captain John Smith. They were pushed from their lands by the 1700s. When the site of the capital city was first being decided, the Anacostia was part of the reason George Washington selected the present-day location of Washington D.C. – because it provided access to the wealthy port towns around Bladensburg. But by 1800, the city’s development had made the river too full of silt to be navigable. The Navy Yard, carved out of its banks, was key to the Union Army’s strategy during the Civil War. By 1892, the Army Corps of Engineers was required to dredge the river and fill the wetlands. Prevented from flowing naturally, the river was considered a source of disease. Barry Farm, a settlement for African-Americans, was established on the banks in 1867. It was eventually cut off from the river by the construction of a freeway in the 1950s.

As Washington D.C. continues to develop, people of color are  pushed up the river into Prince George’s County. At one point, it was among the most affluent majority African American counties in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, industrial development has been pushed upstream at the same time.  As fossil fuel plants in the city proper have been shut down, more have been built or proposed in Prince George’s County. 

As my neighbors pull catfish out of the stream – a District Department of Environment study found that 74 percent of people fishing in the river were eating or sharing the fish they caught – I think about our toxic legacy. 

A river can represent the struggles of the people that live along its banks. And like its nation, the Anacostia River will require a lot more work before we can all be safe in it. 

Eliza Nellums is a writer and a resident of Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is the author of All That’s Bright and Gone, a novel.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.