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By: Kelley Dennings

The pandemic may have everyone stuck at home, but for many people the location of home is changing. In the months between February and July 2020, as COVID-19 crept across the country, there was a nearly 4% increase in moves compared to the previous year as people fled big cities or dorm rooms or went looking for a change of pace. Temporary moves were up 27% for the same period, and there’s no indication this migration is slowing down.

I’m no exception. When my lease expired in December, I packed my things and temporarily relocated to the sunny south for the winter. What might make my move a little different, though, is that I tried my best to create very little waste.

Whether you’re headed across town or across the country, moving often leaves behind a mountain of waste. Every year Americans trash an estimated 16.8 billion pounds of junk when they move. They also use 900 million boxes and 90 million pounds of packing paper. Even if some of it gets recycled, disposing of all that waste demands energy and other resources, contributing to habitat loss, pollution and the climate crisis.

But there are steps you can take, like I did, to reduce the risk that moving to your new home will cost wild animals and plants their home.

Once I made the decision to move, I also made the decision to consciously consume by buying only what I absolutely needed. This helped me reduce the amount of stuff I had to move and/or rehome.

One place I focused was food because up to 40 percent of food that is produced in the U.S. every year is wasted. I learned to meal plan each week, helping me use up what was left in my refrigerator, cabinets and freezer. Sharing food might feel weird during COVID, but anything unopened I gave to a neighbor or local food pantry and made a mental note to purchase less of it next time. 

To stop junk mail from following me to my new place, I tracked what was being mailed to me for a month and then sent back the business reply envelope with a note asking to be removed from their list. You can also visit CatalogChoice to remove your name from other mailing lists you may not know you are on.

The one thing that’s hard to avoid acquiring during a move is boxes. Rather than buying brand-new moving boxes I got them for free by requesting them from online groups like FreecycleNextDoor or Facebook’s Buy Nothing group, but you can also get them for free from liquor and grocery stores. There are also companies that rent reusable plastic boxes, but if you move a lot like me you might want to invest in purchasing your own reusable tubs.

I skipped the packing paper and instead used my own towels, rags, sheets, pillows and clothes to protect my more fragile items. Using what I already had as packing material saved paper and its associated natural resources.

Most of my usable but unwanted items were given away through contactless online programs and outdoor curb alerts. The online outlets were great for things a regular charitable organization wouldn’t take, like my leftover holiday ribbon or a half-used roll of piping insulation.

In the end I gave two bags of winter clothes to a local charitable organization supporting homeless women.  Due to the pandemic, I called them first to ask what they were accepting and how they were handling donations. If you want to ensure your items go to organizations with values you support, look up the charity on Charity Navigator or Guidestar first.

The best way to help the planet is to prevent waste in the first place, because by the time you’re choosing between the donation or recycling bin all of the land, water, energy and other materials that went into producing your stuff has already been spent.

But there are several categories of items that can’t or shouldn’t be put in the regular trash or recycling. While packing up my stuff I unearthed old electronics, expired medicine and household hazardous waste like chemicals, batteries and lightbulbs. By recycling and properly disposing of these items I helped keep toxins out of the environment. E-waste, for example, represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste which can harm soil, water and wildlife.

Whether you’re hiring professional movers or recruiting friends and family to help you during this upside-down time like I did, take precautions to keep everyone healthy by wearing reusable masks and gloves and staying socially distant when possible. The pandemic may add some challenges to your move — it may even be the reason you’re moving in the first place  — but with a bit of planning, it’s possible to come up with a strategy for a more sustainable move that creates less waste and keeps everyone safe.

***

Kelley Dennings is a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. She has worked for local and state government recycling departments and now focuses on waste prevention and reuse.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on D.C. Gardeners are Growing Food to Combat Climate Change

By: Julia John

Nine-and-a-half years ago, lifelong gardener Kathy Jentz pushed to convert a brownfield site by her Silver Spring home into a community garden to expand sunny growing space for nearby urban residents. Today, with the removal of several inches of gravel, the addition of several tons of topsoil, and the dedication of dozens of local gardeners, the Fenton Community Garden is a productive Climate Victory Garden mere steps past the Washington, D.C. border. It’s one of hundreds in the D.C. metro area that not only offers fresh produce but also offsets greenhouse gas emissions.

““The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,”

—Kathy Jentz
Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,” said Washington Gardener Magazine editor Jentz. She plants lettuce, radish, asparagus, strawberry, and thornless blackberry for publication research alongside her interns on one of the garden’s 44 plots.

Launched in D.C. in 2018, Green America’s Climate Victory Gardens campaign encourages gardeners of all levels worldwide to mitigate climate impacts by planting gardens, restoring soil health, and sequestering atmospheric carbon. The nonprofit modeled the effort on the world-wars-era victory gardening movement, when 20 million gardeners, united by the urgent cause of supporting the troops, grew two-fifths of the United States’ fruits and vegetables.

Now, across the D.C. region, households, community gardens, urban farms, schools, businesses, and other organizations tend to over 400 Climate Victory Gardens.

“Together, they span nearly 14 acres and draw down approximately 35 tons of carbon per year—equivalent to offsetting roughly 284,000 miles driven.”

—Julia john

“Garden activism is real and powerful,” said Carissa Tirado-Marks, school garden and sustainability coordinator at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C.

A Climate Victory Garden can be just a couple square feet or even a few indoor pots. With the right methods, any garden can enhance soil, capture carbon, and produce healthy food.

Climate Victory Gardening follows ten practices that protect the soil, store carbon in it, and cut emissions from garden inputs. Basic steps involve covering soils with organic matter, composting, avoiding chemicals, and promoting biodiversity. Additional tips include incorporating perennial and native plants.

Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“Gardens have a special place in urban settings,” said Jes Walton, Food Campaigns Director at Green America. “They’re a way for folks to connect to the land. They provide an opportunity for community building. In D.C., gardens have played an important role in human and ecological health and increasing food security, from World-War-I Victory Gardens to today’s Climate Victory Gardens.”

The 2.7-acre Glover Park Community Garden is the District’s largest Climate Victory Garden. Situated within Rock Creek Park, it actually began as a Victory Garden that tackled World-War-II food shortages. Today, its 150 plots supply organic vegetables and herbs for household, charitable, and instructional use. 

Many smaller D.C. gardens joined the Climate Victory Gardens campaign through Love & Carrots, a woman-owned company that has installed organic vegetable and flower gardens around the city since 2011. The landscapers also help clients care for gardens via coaching and maintenance programs.

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

Schools are popular locations for Climate Victory Gardens. In 2014, Mundo Verde’s Truxton Circle campus transformed 700 square feet of asphalt into a bounty of greens, peas, turnips, sunchokes, squashes, cabbages, celery, peppers, tomatoes, berries, figs, watermelons, herbs, and native species.

“A lot of people walk by during the day…ask about what is growing in the garden and leave with their arms full of greens and herbs,” Tirado-Marks said.

The space commemorates the land’s indigenous roots and grows food for students, their families, and the afterschool garden market by harnessing soil-building techniques, she said. These include rotating crops, leaving soils undisturbed, using cover crops in the cold season, and applying compost from the garden’s compost system and from its hens and worm bins.

Through engaging with this outdoor classroom and urban wildlife habitat, Tirado-Marks said, “students learn that natural, social, and economic systems are linked and interdependent. They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.” 

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

“They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.”

—Carissa Tirado-Marks

As an educator, she believes that “growing hyper-locally and keeping healthy food in communities should not be revolutionary.” And she hopes that “society will recognize the value of gardens—for learning, for healing, and for survival—and that eventually, gardens will be supported and evenly distributed throughout D.C. and beyond.”

***

Julia John is a former Green America food campaigns intern. She received a Masters in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 and currently writes about sustainable agriculture for Food Tank.

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By: Angela Trenkle

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

If you are a resident in the DC Metropolitan area, chances are you have come across the Potomac River in some form, whether it is the river proper or one of the river’s tributaries, the mighty Potomac River is a landmark of the area in the same way that some of the famous buildings are in the downtown DC area. There are tales of the Potomac that stretch back to some of the nation’s earliest presidents reaping its benefits. If rivers could talk, the Potomac would have an endless number of historical accounts to pass along for the world to learn.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

Today, the Potomac River watershed is home to approximately 5 million people as well as millions of animals and plants that depend on it for its many resources. Clean drinking water is at the top of the list followed by food sources for both humans and animals that occupy the watershed. The river is also utilized by hundreds during the warmer months of the year for recreational activities, including, but not limited to, kayaking, fishing, hiking, bird watching, and stand-up paddle boarding.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on August 8th, 2020 at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge on the Potomac River

For a period of time from the 1960s to the late 2000s, the Potomac River was in a state of decline and poor health. Water clarity was at an all time low, trash and algae were abundant, and native fish suffered because of the urban runoff that was making its way into their homes along the river. This has begun to turn around since the beginning of the 2010s, thanks to several key processes that were put into place. 

One such process is the creation of the Potomac River Report Card. The report card, which began in 2007, provides residents of the watershed an easy format to view the different aspects of the river in terms of its health and the areas in which it improves as well as declines. This gives residents of the watershed a visual of what is happening and the areas that they can target for improvement. Thanks to this report card, in addition to the other processes put into place for the river, the Potomac has gone from an abysmal grade of “D” in 2007 to a peak grade of a “B” just three years ago in 2018. In 2020, the grade slipped slightly to a B-, showing that the river recovery is plateauing. Now is a turning point to ensure that it does not slip any further.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

To ensure that the flora and fauna thrive as well as make sure that our grandchildren can appreciate the river in the same way we have, you too can do your part to make a difference. Some ways that you can help include:

  1. Participating in stream cleanups to prevent water pollution and premature death of wildlife.
  2. Planting trees as forest buffers to cool stream temperatures and create forest corridors for animal travel.
  3. Use your voice to advocate for stronger water protection laws. 
  4. Donate to organizations that are working towards protecting the Potomac River and its tributaries.
Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on August 8th 2020 at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge (See left of photo)

As you can see, there are many benefits to the Potomac River not only for us, but for the animals and plants that depend on it for survival. By each of us doing our part and coming together with a common goal to make a difference, we can ensure that the Potomac is around for many generations to enjoy.

***

Angela Trenkle is a scientific technical writer who was born and raised in Maryland. Her love of science combined with her passion for writing led her into the field of scientific technical communication at a pre-clinical research organization where her work involves contributing to the documentation of study reports for various infectious diseases including COVID-19. Preserving the natural world is an important goal for her and she plans to use what she has learned over the years to help do her part in restoring local watersheds for future generations to enjoy. When she is not working, she enjoys reading, writing, traveling, running, weightlifting, and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on 6 Ways to Federally Aid the Adoption of EVs

By: Jane Marsh

People look forward to a future with flying cars and hovercrafts, but the future of transportation is already here. Electric vehicles have begun to cut down natural gas consumption that hurts the environment for those who can afford them. Many now wonder how the government could fuel the adoption of electric vehicles so they become the mainstream option for the average consumer.

These strategies are the latest ideas from environmentalists and federal experts. Some may take years to implement, while others could happen immediately. They would all open up the world of electric vehicles and get the world closer to a pollution-free existence.

1. Address Rising Oil Costs

Even though anyone can stop by a gas station whenever their car needs a refill, fossil fuels are running out. Industry experts estimate that the world will run out of fossil fuels by 2060, rendering all traditional vehicles useless.

The federal government could create campaigns to stress the importance of finding new fuel because of this approaching deadline. It’s in the consumer’s best interest whether or not they’re concerned about the environment.

2. Invest in Fuel Research

Electric charging stations aren’t currently widespread, so people may not switch to electric vehicles because they’d feel limited in where they could drive. The government could fuel the adoption of electric vehicles by investing in alternative types of charging stations. 

Water already powers 7% of U.S. electricity, so it could charge electric cars by local rivers and waterfalls. The charging stations would be strategic, but they would expand electric vehicle use into rural areas that didn’t previously have access to them.

3. Educate the Public About Emissions

Consumers may see electric cars as a luxury because of their price tag, distracting people from their necessity. The government could educate the public about carbon emissions by comparing electric and gas cars. They could point out that electric vehicles produce 50% fewer emissions than cars that run on gas, even when used for decades.

It would also help to make the problem personal. It’s easier to wave off climate concerns when people hear that emissions will create lasting damage in a few decades. Instead, they should know critical information about how greenhouse gases like carbon cause the following health effects:

  • Cancer
  • Developmental issues
  • Respiratory diseases

People will live a healthier, potentially longer life by switching to electric vehicles, but they won’t know that until it’s a well-known fact. The federal government’s access to news networks and international publications could get that started.

4. Expand Tax Credits

Anyone who buys an electric vehicle gets a federal tax credit, but it doesn’t apply to people who lease their cars. Currently, leased electric cars give the tax credit to the leasing company, providing no extra benefit to consumers.

Expanding this credit to leased cars would add incentive and fuel the adoption of electric vehicles. It would meet consumers where their financial abilities can take them and give them a tax discount that would further improve their living conditions.

5. Buy EVs for Federal Purposes

Advocates and experts can tell people to use electric cars, but actions speak louder than words. If those same people don’t use electric vehicles, it speaks to how practical they really are. The government should lead by example, which may begin soon.

The current presidential administration vowed to replace the federal vehicle fleet with electric vehicles. It would require 645,000 vehicles and doesn’t currently have a timeline. However, getting this effort started would normalize their use and make electric cars more conventional.

6. Introduce Federal Rebates

Rebates are similar to tax credits in that they give money back to the consumers, but rebates make that happen much faster. If federal rebates existed for electric vehicles, people would immediately get part of their purchase back in their pocket. It would make ownership possible for many moderate to low-income individuals, especially since they won’t match traditional vehicle affordability until closer to 2030.

Government Action Could Change the Game

If the government utilized these strategies, they could fuel the adoption of electric vehicles and greatly reduce U.S. carbon emissions. It would save people from a future with no fossil fuels and make electric cars affordable instead of remaining a dream for the average citizen.

***

Jane Marsh is an environmental writer. You can keep up with her work on her site Environment.co.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on This Valentine’s Day, the DCEW Executive Board share what they love about the environment

As most of America continues to deal with the effects of COVID and quarantining, it’s evident that we are all in need of feel good stories. This Valentine’s Day, we asked some members of the DC EcoWomen Executive Board to share what exactly they loved about the environment. Each board member was allowed to respond in whatever way they desired.

Let us know what you love about the environment by tagging us on social media!

“I love the endless opportunities for adventure and learning the environment offers us. I took this photo at sunrise on Assateague Island last summer. Just looking at it takes me back to the warm sand between my toes, the cool early morning breeze, the summer sun peeking out from beyond the clouds and the horizon, and the sound of wild horses neighing in the distance. When I think of the environment, I am reminded of the memories before this photo and those to come. My hope is that others feel this strong connection to and love for the environment so that they can come to understand why so many of us are fighting so hard to protect it.” —Ngozika Egbuonu

— a Haiku by Nikita Naik

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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.

***

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 8 Ideas for Eco-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions – And How to Actually Stick to Them

By: Ellie Long

If you’re anything like me, you’re starting out 2021 more than a little exhausted from the events of the past year. Yes, we’re surrounded by messages of “brighter days ahead,” but with COVID-19 still raging, an economic crisis disproportionately hurting the most vulnerable among us, and, oh yeah, a climate crisis spiraling out of control, “Happy New Year” can feel a bit premature. 

While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all this, taking small, concrete steps toward positive change can have a big impact on lending a sense of control, and even more importantly: hope. Once you accept that you’re not going to single-handedly stop the earth’s temperature from rising or save every tree in the rainforest, you can start focusing on what you CAN do in 2021. Here are a few ideas to get started – and tips and tricks for sticking with it. 

1. Vow to volunteer. 

Whether your schedule allows for once a week, once a month, biannually, or anywhere in-between, setting a firm, realistic target for when you can commit to giving back will help you stick to volunteering more in 2021. In-person opportunities can be harder to come by during COVID-19, but there are still many organizations across the D.C. area that could use extra helping hands – here are just a few to look into: 

  • Washington Parks and People has virtual, in-person, and group volunteer opportunities available with safety precautions in place, including a park cleanup on the 3rd Saturday of every month. 
  • EcoAction Arlington is hosting intermittent in-person cleanups around Arlington County, as well as virtual volunteer social events to connect with your fellow eco-enthusiasts. 
  • Capital Area Food Bank is playing a critical role in providing food to those who need it most around the region. Opportunities include driving to collect and distribute food, sorting and packing, and staffing their community marketplaces. 

2. Make 2021 your year of composting. 

Composting is a win-win for the environment: by sorting out your food waste, you reduce landfill emissions while creating a nutrient-rich soil for gardening or agriculture. Make a resolution to sort out your compostables, such as vegetable scraps, grains, and egg shells, into a separate container, then drop off them off at one of the D.C.’s collection sites (there are also locations in Virginia). Or, if you want to use the compost in your own garden, consider starting an at-home composting system – local governments including D.C., Arlington, and Montgomery County offer bins discounted or free. 

3. Plastic is so 2020. 

COVID-19 can make it feel like we’re making backward progress on eliminating the wasteful use of plastic in our daily lives. Counter the trend when the use of plastic isn’t necessary for health and safety with simple steps such as always carrying your own reusable grocery and produce bags to the store (most stores allow this, but may ask that you bag your own items), purchasing a reusable straw, or requesting restaurants to reduce plastic in takeout when possible (e.g., asking that plastic utensils are not included). 

4. Eat for two – the planet and you! 

Eating healthier is a common New Year’s resolution, but how about eating healthier for the planet? Set goals in 2021 based on your current diet; for example, if you already eat largely plant-based, maybe you’re ready to commit to being vegetarian or vegan (going vegetarian can roughly half your food carbon footprint, while veganism lowers it by about 60%), but if you currently eat a meat-heavy diet, starting small with “meatless Mondays” may be more effective at creating lasting change. You can also think about goals for eating more organic, local, or sustainably sourced food, e.g., “I will only eat seafood that is on SeafoodWatch’s recommended list.” 

5. Make Mother Earth the center of attention by informing others. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re probably already fairly interested in and informed about environmental issues. Confront disinformation and disinterest by spreading the word – a few examples of resolutions could include “I will always speak up when I hear or see climate disinformation this year,” “I will share at least one environmentally educational article on my social media each week,” “I will invite a friend or family member to every environmental event I attend,” or *ahem* “I will write a blog for DC EcoWomen!” 

6. Learn about the ongoing shadow of environmental racism. 

The past year brought the terrible toll of racial injustice front and center. In 2021, continue to listen, learn, and act – one way to start could be by reading up on environmental justice and how we can ensure our planet’s resources are enjoyed equally, that environmental catastrophes are not felt disproportionately, and that the movement for justice is all-inclusive. Here are a few resources to start:

7. Don’t forget to donate. 

If you have the means, helping to support the fight for a cleaner planet through donating can make a big difference. Consider establishing a certain amount of money you intend to donate each month, then setting a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget to make it happen. Or for an easy solution, set up a recurring donation with your favorite organization. 

8. Take care of yourself with nature. 

Resolutions around giving back are great, but in these stressful times, never forget to give back to yourself as well. If you have trouble finding the time, resolutions such as “I will hike once a month,” “I will join a birdwatching group,” or “I will go for a lunch walk every day” may help you make space for yourself. 

I hope you’ll find in these ideas some inspiration for a resolution that will work for you in the year ahead. 2021 may not be the brightest dawn we’ve ever seen, but there’s still hope in new beginnings, and setting goals for the benefit of yourself, your community, and the planet can provide a ladder to keep moving forward – step by step by step.

*** 

Ellie Long is a Communications Associate with the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington D.C.- based nonprofit that advocates for energy efficiency policy. In this role, she assists with content development, media relations, grassroots advocacy, social media, and other marketing efforts for the Alliance. Ellie graduated in May 2020 from California Lutheran University with degrees in Political Science and Global Studies, and previously interned in a Senate communications office.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on The Fight for Reproductive Health Care Is a Fight for Human Rights

By: Kelley Dennings

ATT: “The Fight for Reproductive Health Care Is a Fight for Human Rights” by Kelley Dennings originally appeared as an essay in the online version of Ms. Magazine. The original version can be found here. This blog is being re-shared with the DC EcoWomen community with permission from Ms. Magazine.

I began using contraception as a high schooler in small-town Nebraska, when I went on birth control for irregular periods and acne. By the time I had a sex life, in college, I had access to health care through the university. Its clinic offered affordable contraception but no contraceptive counseling. 

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, when I found a compassionate and responsive health care provider, that I learned about other family planning options: IUDs, diaphragms, patches and shots. Before that, I thought the pill or condoms were my only options. 

These days it may be easier to find information on the type of contraception that’s best for you, but the battle for equitable reproductive health care is far from over.

Reproductive Freedom Requires Contraception

On Nov. 10, the Supreme Court once again heard arguments challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, including guaranteed access to contraception. Recently confirmed justice Amy Coney Barrett has publicly criticized the ACA—though it provides access to affordable contraception and lifesaving health care coverage to 20 million Americans. Her opinion could decide the law’s fate.

This attack on contraception coverage is an attack on reproductive freedom—an unpopular one. A recent nationally representative survey by the Center for Biological Diversity (where I work) found that 80 percent of respondents agree that all types of birth control should be legal, free and easily accessible.

Free contraception would have been a blessing when I was in college—just as it is today for students who are supported by the no-cost contraception coverage of the ACA. When it’s not, low-income and marginalized communities suffer the most due to systemic racism, poverty and sexism.

Black women have greater difficulty getting contraception and face greater pregnancy risks associated with climate change. They also experience worse pregnancy outcomes due to inadequate health care access and other economic and social pressures caused by systemic racism. Black communities disproportionately experience gaps in appropriate reproductive health care and exposure to toxic pollution.

In Cancer Alley, in southern Louisiana, residents not only suffer from higher rates of cancer from toxic chemical air pollution, but per capita COVID-19 death rates are higher too. Unfortunately these areas also have an unmet need for health care providers. 

Overall 19 million people are in need of publicly funded contraception, and 95 percent of them live in areas that lack health centers offering a full range of contraceptive methods. These are known as contraceptive deserts.

The 2020 Election

Health care has always been of utmost importance to voters, and the 2020 election was no different. As Americans cast their votes among a raging pandemic, COVID-19 job losses meant that an estimated 4 million women are facing the loss of  their employer-sponsored insurance, affecting nearly one-in-10 women who obtain sexual and reproductive health care.

Abortion ballot measures in Colorado and Louisiana show the divide on the issue. Colorado, one of seven states that currently doesn’t prohibit abortion at any point during a pregnancy, struck down a measure that would nearly have banned all abortion measures after 22 weeks of gestation, the stage at which proponents argue a fetus could survive outside the womb.

On the other hand, Louisiana joined Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee in approving a constitutional amendment expressing that those states offer no protection for the right to an abortion, meaning it will be difficult to keep abortion legal in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

Continued gridlock in Congress and the potential alteration or repeal of the ACA next year by the Supreme Court could leave more people vulnerable. Our current members of Congress, who have devised no health care backup plan if the ACA is rescinded, are out of touch with the millions of Americans struggling even more because of the pandemic.

Biden Administration Offers Reason for Hope

Under a Biden presidency, there’s good reason to believe, reproductive health care will once again be treated as a human right.

One of the first things President-Elect Biden will most likely do is rescind the Mexico City Policy, also referred to as the global gag rule, which 70 percent of Americans favor ending. This policy—which denies U.S. funding to health clinics around the world that provide information or services about legal abortion—has been a political football since the Reagan administration, with Democratic presidents rescinding it only to have every Republican president reinstate it.

But President Trump expanded this policy further than ever before by prohibiting any foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving U.S. global health assistance if they provide information, referrals or services for legal abortion or advocate for the legalization of abortion in their country.

This harmful policy undermines access to contraception, HIV/AIDS services and maternal health care, contributing to more unintended pregnancies and more unsafe abortions. Supporting international family planning and reproductive health programs is essential to empowering women and improving the health and lives of millions of people.

Domestically Biden could reverse the Trump administration’s Title X rule, which undermines the Title X program by promoting natural family planning over other contraceptive methods. It emphasizes discredited abstinence-only messages among adolescents and blocks funding for clinics that provide, refer or discuss abortion services.

Under this “domestic gag rule,” reproductive health care services in low-income communities across the country have decreased by half. By reinstating a comprehensive Title X program, President Biden could once again increase the availability of quality health services for those who need it.

Reproductive Health and the Environment

President-Elect Biden has indicated he plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, a global effort to tackle climate change. According to a 2018 United Nations report, climate change and its effects disproportionately affect women globally, as many are highly dependent on local natural resources.

While no one is immune to climate change, women are among the most vulnerable, since they’re more likely to become victims of scarcity, drought, food insecurity and increased disease. Without appropriate health care access and autonomy over one’s reproductive future, educational and economic opportunities can become limited. The climate crisis only exacerbates the gender divide.  

My experience accessing contraception informs my fight to ensure others have access to contraception today and in the future. Until we start treating health care as a human right, we’ll continue to struggle to achieve equality and reproductive freedom.

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Kelley Dennings (@kdennings) is a campaigner with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. She holds a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from N.C. State and a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Florida. She is certified in project management, public health, social marketing, and family planning counseling. At the Center she develops and executes campaigns focused on rights-based solutions from voluntary family planning to the solidarity economy to address how the effects of population pressure and inequitable consumption impact our environment.  Before joining the Center, she worked in waste reduction and forest conservation.

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 Exposed: Educating and Advocating In a Political Stalemate

By: Kaley Beins

“In order to protect public health from chemical contamination, there needs to be a massive outcry–a choir of voices–by the American people demanding change.” When Lois Gibbs reflected on her 20 years of environmental health activism she wrote this call to action in the context of her activism in Love Canal, NY, the birthplace of EPA Superfund legislation. Now, almost 40 years after the legislation was passed, Americans still face the consequences of toxic exposures from waste sites, industrial pollution, and even consumer products. Movies like Erin Brockovich and Dark Waters dramatize industry contamination of communities, while news stories like the Flint water crisis demonstrate the prevalence of toxic exposures, especially for low income communities and communities of color. 

Yet, legislation to prevent such exposures often dies in committee or, worse, on the lips of the politicians espousing it. While we wait for updated and implemented toxics regulations, we can educate ourselves about environmental health and advocate for policies to prevent, or at least mitigate, toxic exposures. 

One of the trickier parts of being informed is understanding how researchers and government agencies define the exposure levels associated with human health effects. Some evaluations, such as IARC and EPA carcinogenicity classifications, are based on the amount of available data from animal and human studies. However, in my opinion, the most meaningful information on chemical exposures is based on exposure dose, or the amount of a chemical you are exposed to. Unfortunately, these values will vary between agencies, but by knowing how exposure limits are determined, you can better understand how protective (or permissive) environmental policies and guidelines are. 

The largest distinction between set exposure limits in the United States is whether or not they are legally enforceable. Legally enforceable limits are upheld by law and are usually determined by the U.S. EPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and state agencies. Non-regulatory agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publish research and guidelines on chemical exposure limits, but these limits are not legally enforceable. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some federal exposure limits and how they’re determined: 

Enforceable: 

  • EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are measures of allowable air pollution for 6 criteria air pollutants as permitted under the Clean Air Act. 
  • EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) is the legal limit for chemicals in drinking water, as enforced by EPA. When determining MRLs, EPA considers the cost and technology required to remove contaminants in addition to the available health data.
  • OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) are levels of exposure allowed for workers over the course of the work day. 

Not enforceable 

  • ATSDR Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs) are levels derived from toxicological studies in humans or animals. 
  • EPA Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) is the limit for chemicals in drinking water below which no human health effects are expected to occur. Not to be confused with MCLs, MCLGs are determined only using health data. They may be slightly lower than MCLs. 
  • NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) are levels of exposure that NIOSH recommends workers do not meet or exceed during the work day. RELS are often used to help determine OSHA PELs.

The differences between these values can inform how you and your community use them. However, many chemicals may not have any exposure limits, either because they are not regulated or because insufficient health data exist. Nevertheless, information about chemical exposure levels and the risks associated with them is crucial in promoting environmental health. The following resources can help you stay informed about environmental health risks in your community:

As you engage with contamination issues in and outside your community, you can use these resources to arm yourself with information, then organize locally, collaborate nationally, engage politically, and stay involved. As Baltimore activist Destiny Watford said in an interview, “I realized it is important to question why people invested in something, why things are the way they are, and what can I do to change things in a way that isn’t superficial but gets to the root of the problem.” 

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Kaley Beins, MPH is an environmental health researcher who works at the intersection of public health and toxicology. During her career she’s worked with nonprofits, local health departments, and federal agencies, and she’s learned the ins and outs of chemical regulation and exposure, as well as how much of that information is available to the public. Kaley is passionate about education and empowerment as an avenue for environmental justice and health equity.