Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

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By: Tacy Lambiase

In 2021, let’s commit to investing and caring for ourselves and our communities.

For many of us, it’s a ritual. When a new year starts, we start to analyze the previous one. What do we wish we could have changed? How can we make sure that we’re somehow better, healthier, prettier, or wealthier in the year to come? Enter: The New Year’s resolution.

While well-intentioned, many resolutions inevitably fail within weeks or months, leading to frustration and disappointment (who knew it would be so hard to start working out five days per week?). But what if there was a way to make resolutions that make us feel good and do good for others in the process? 

Here’s what I’d like to propose: Instead of making a typical New Year’s resolution, let’s all commit to participating in some form of community care this year. 

Community care means exactly what it sounds like: it’s “people committed to leveraging their privilege to be there for one another,” as community organizer and researcher Nakita Valerio describes it. It can involve anything from making dinner for a sick neighbor to participating in a community-led protest. 

While the concept of community care is nothing new, I think many of us would agree that it’s sorely needed. As our greater DC community continues to face the impacts of a pandemic, high unemployment, ongoing racial and social injustice, white supremacy, and climate change, it’s more important than ever for us to foster a culture of care within our own homes, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods. 

If you’re ready to commit to community care, here are a few action items to get you started. 

Care for Yourself

  • You have something amazing to offer to someone else, whether that’s your time, skills, perspective, or passion. Take time to reflect and explore the social change role that you can best play to support the needs of your community. 
  • Community care doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also practice self-care: it’s hard to support others when your own needs are not being met.Get into the habit of listening to your body and responding accordingly. Maybe that looks like taking a nature walk when you feel stressed, scheduling a doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, or asking a friend to be a listening ear when you need one (community care can be both given and received).
Picking up trash during your daily walk is another form of community care.

Care for Your Community

  • Think about your neighbors, but also your community of friends, family members, and coworkers: Who could use a phone call, a card in the mail, or a word of encouragement? Brainstorm a simple action that you can take, totally unprompted, to make someone else feel loved and supported.

Care for Our Common Home 

  • Join a local Buy Nothing group and make gifting, sharing, and borrowing the norm in your community. Items that we own but no longer need could find a second life in the hands of a neighbor, helping us to form stronger relationships and reducing unnecessary waste.

I’m planning to participate in more acts of community care this year. What about you? Do any of the actions on this list speak to your values or goals? Respond in the comments with your plans; I’d love to hear how you’re promoting a culture of care in your community.

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Tacy Lambiase manages communications and outreach for the Office of Sustainability at American University in Washington, DC. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in sustainability management from AU’s Kogod School of Business. Tacy enjoys kayaking, reading, and spending time with her husband and her adopted cat, Spanky.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Essential Food and Agriculture Workers Need Our Support During COVID-19

By: Jes Walton and Charlotte Tate

A person standing in front of a store filled with lots of fresh produce

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Millions of people throughout our food supply chains, from farms to delivery drivers, are risking their health to ensure food makes it to our tables. Many of these workers lack necessary safety nets even as they face greater risk from COVID-19. 

Along with these trying times comes the opportunity to reshape a new normal—one where all people are supported, essential workers are treated as essential, and society works for all people and the planet. Here are actions to support a more just food system locally and nationally:

ACTIONS TO TAKE IN DC

  1. Buy directly from farmers 

Many farmers and farmworkers are feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Some have been able to pivot, selling directly to consumers. When you purchase directly from farms, more money goes to farmers, their employees, and their environmental/agricultural values. 

In DC, farmers markets are open with safety protocols. Farmers and markets have creative alternatives like pre-ordering and quick pick up. Farmers may be selling virtually and even offering delivery—contact your favorites to learn more.

Take action to keep DC farmers markets open and classified as essential

  1. Support local food hubs, CSAs, and co-ops 

Local food hubs make many different types of food and produce accessible to you in one place. Many, like 4PFoods, are offering deliveries or special pick up options. Find your local food hub here. 

Consider joining a local co-op like Green America certified Green Business Tacoma Park, Silver Spring Co-op or find other options on the Cooperative Grocer Network

Look into local CSA programs, many of which may be seasonal but are worth researching for spring.

When shopping from a traditional grocer, try to find a local chain and remember to be kind, patient, and thankful to those putting their health at risk to make sure stores stay up and running. Don’t forget to wear a mask and respect physical distancing guidelines.

  1. Reconsider delivery services

Many delivery drivers do not have access to benefits like paid sick leave because of their employment classification. The delivery apps, like Uber or Instacart, often take a percentage of profits from local businesses. 

If possible, prioritize picking up your food instead of delivery. For other actions, visit Gig Workers Rising to stand with delivery drivers. 

  1. Grow your own food

Gardening is a great lockdown activity that can contribute to your own food security and relieve some of the pressure on our food system. During WWII, millions of Americans grew 40% of the country’s produce in Victory Gardens. 

Today, we’re advocating for Climate Victory Gardens that also prioritize our planet’s health, learning from examples like the Glover Park Community Garden—started in 1939—that’s both an original Victory Garden and modern Climate Victory Garden.

  1. Contribute to local mutual aid funds 

Mutual aid funds are a great way to support those in your community, including food and agriculture workers that may need a little extra help right now. Check out this extensive list of national and DC-based mutual aid funds. 

ACTIONS FOR IMPACT BEYOND DC 

  1. To support ALL essential workers, including those that work in food and agriculture, call on Congress to pass an Essential Workers Bill of Rights!
  1. Protect agricultural workers 

Many farmworkers do not have health insurance or paid sick leave. Our system relies on these workers and takes advantage by not providing the necessary benefits. 

Farmworkers feed us all and many farmworkers are migrant workers. Many workers, especially migrant workers, have been left out of COVID-19 relief efforts, despite being essential and our food system relying on their labor. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-led human rights organization, is calling on the Florida governor to protect farmworkers who supply food to throughout the country —support farmworkers here! 

  1. Ensure grocery store and warehouse workers are protected 

Many chains struggled to respond to COVID-19, resulting in workers not being provided the needed protections. For example, at Whole Food’s parent company, Amazon, over 19,000 employees have contracted COVID-19. A company as profitable as Amazon/Whole Foods should be providing basic workplace protections. Tell Amazon to respect workers and the planet today! 

  1. Support workers in meat packing facilities and buy local, regenerative meats:

More than 44,000 workers in meatpacking facilities around the country have contracted COVID-19 and over 200 have died. Venceremos, worker-driven organization in Arkansas, is calling on Tyson Foods to protect its workers and provide paid sick leave and sign the petition here!

Instead of buying factory farmed and processed meat, look to smaller, local ranchers and processors for meat, dairy, and eggs that come from animals raised in a humane way that’s good for people and the planet. Regeneratively managed flocks and herds are also part of the climate solution.

Know of other local and national groups doing great work to support food and agriculture workers? Please share them with us! 

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Jes Walton, Food Campaigns Director, Green America

Jes has worked at many levels of the food system, from time spent on a small organic farm to studying federal agricultural policy, with many stops in between. Currently, her work focuses on regenerative agriculture, gardening, and the impacts of pesticides on people and the planet.

Charlotte Tate, Labor Justice Campaigns Director

Charlotte’s work is centered at the intersection of environmental and labor issues, focused on toxic chemical exposure in apparel, child labor in cocoa, and holding online retailers accountable. She works to educate and mobilize US consumers to advance environmental and labor rights throughout supply chains.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Looking for Onsite Dining in DC Restaurants that Hold the Plastic? Check Out These Options

By: Susan Schorr

Restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19. In March, they were ordered to suspend table seating and limited to delivery and take-out. In June, when the Mayor determined the District had reached a sufficient decrease in COVID-19 cases, the Phase II restaurant reopening guidelines required restaurants to operate under strict restrictions for on-site dining. Many beloved establishments have either shut down completely or are hanging on with reduced staff and revenue streams.

It also seems likely that COVID-19 is unleashing a parallel pandemic of plastic pollution. Just think about all those delivery and take-out orders filled in disposable plastic containers! The Phase II guidelines gave eateries the option of serving onsite diners either on disposable or reusable food ware. Restaurants choosing to serve food or drink with disposables in DC were already required to use either recyclable or compostable containers by DC law. But since DC doesn’t have widespread composting, and contamination issues may prevent recyclable containers from being processed properly, restaurants using disposables may be adding to the mountain of trash.  

Fortunately, a number of restaurants across the District opted for reusable food ware for on-site dining. The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club celebrated these restaurants as part of the international #PlasticFreeJuly campaign this year, a month-long campaign that encourages everyone to reduce their plastic usage. 

We reached out to more than thirty restaurants in all Wards to ask about their reusable practices. Some, we found, were still offering only take-out and delivery, one is only open on weekends for on-site dining but using disposables, while many more were clearly so busy, operating with drastically reduced staff, that they weren’t able to chat with us. We did manage to connect with more than a dozen DC restaurants in Adams Morgan, Barracks Row, Chevy Chase, Columbia Heights, Downtown, Dupont Circle and Petworth to find out why they opted for reusables. We shared their moment-in-time responses on the Chapter’s Zero Waste twitter handle, @ZeroWasteDCSC.  Every single restaurant we spoke with — from Lincoln Restaurant to Lavagna– said that they opted for reusables because it saves them money. Serving on reusables means they don’t have to buy disposable plates, cups or utensils or find a place to store them. As Makan explained, going the reusables route has made sourcing much easier especially in these times of disrupted supply chains. That’s because, like Tequila & Mezcal, these restaurants already owned reusable plates, cups and utensils.

Room 11 and The Avenue added that opting for reusables is in keeping with their goal of maintaining a low environmental footprint. Lauriol Plaza said that customers prefer eating on real plates, a sentiment echoed by Duke’s Grocery explaining that reusables provide a more refined dining experience. Dupont Italian Kitchen noted that opting for reusables enabled them to rehire their dishwasher, creating employment during these challenging economic times. In addition to serving on reusables, The Green Zone also reuses liquor bottles to serve water and has replaced paper menus with QR order codes, while Blue 44 sanitizes reusable menus and condiment containers after use. Cinder BBQ and the Parthenon told us they also only provide disposable utensils on request for take-out orders. They realized that because of the pandemic most customers are working from home and don’t need disposable plastic utensils.

These local establishments deserve a lot of credit for taking an eco-friendly approach to reopening.  We’re also pleased that the District’s reopening guidelines provided them the opportunity to do so.

Still, there’s more to do. Our next story will focus on the move to reusable takeout container systems and on-going campaigns to convince delivery companies to limit disposable accessory food ware like napkins, utensils and condiment packets.

We hope that you will join the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club in supporting your local restaurants that are holding the plastic, and sharing ideas on what more they can do to stem the tide of plastic during the pandemic. We also invite you to join our Chapter’s Zero Waste Committee.

As a national organization, the Sierra Club’s work recognizes the impacts of plastics in the environment worldwide, especially in our oceans and waterways. It calls for the minimization and elimination of single-use plastics such as cutlery, cups, lids, straws, bags, beverage bottles, cigarette butts, and expanded polystyrene packaging. While biodegradable and compostable plastics and other materials are often presented as an easy alternative for single-use plastics, such substitution perpetuates wasteful production and throw-away practices. These substitute items may also contain toxic chemicals. Single-use plastics (including compostable plastics) must be phased out, and materials must be redesigned for durability and reusability without toxic chemicals.

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Susan Schorr is a member of the Sierra Club Washington DC Chapter’s Zero Waste Committee where she leads single-use plastic initiatives, and is also a member of the National Reuse Network

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. 

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 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.