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posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on The Environmental Impacts of the 2020 Presidential Election or Biden’s Green Plan

By: Artisha Naidu

On November 7th, 2020, a new president was elected, and the future of the environment is looking healthier. The Biden-Harris ticket won the 2020 United States presidential election, making Joe Biden the 46th president-elect and Kamala Harris the first female and person of Asian or African decent to be elected vice president. The change in administration is not only a huge for win history, but also for the planet. While some changes, such as new leadership for the EPA and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, are conventional, others are revolutionary. President-elect Biden’s plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice details a dramatic shift towards a clean energy revolution. The plan proposes a clean energy federal investment of $1.7 trillion and additional of at least $5 trillion over the next ten years. The key components of the plan are as follows:

  1. Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050;
  2. Build a stronger, more resilient nation by investing in smart infrastructure;
  3. Build and maintain global partnerships to combat climate change;
  4. Rectify harm caused by disproportionate pollution towards minority and low-income communities; and
  5. Create green union jobs for all, especially for workers and communities who powered the industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth.

Read the full plan here. The following subsections detail some, but not all, key points of the above components. 

Achieve a 100% Clean Energy Economy and Reach Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

The Biden Administration’s primary goal is to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. While progressive clean energy legislation is expected to pass in the House, passage through the Senate remains difficult. Therefore, Biden plans to sign a series of executive orders to push the green agenda forward while simultaneously pushing for stronger legal protections. Some of his strongest clean energy legislation includes:

  • Setting methane pollution limits for oil and gas operations; 
  • Implementing aggressive appliance- and building-efficiency standards;
  • Protecting biodiversity by conserving 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030;
  • Researching nuclear energy; and
  • Empowering local communities to develop transportation solutions.

Build a Stronger, More Resilient Nation

Citing the rise in natural disasters, the Biden Administration believes stronger infrastructure is vital to mitigating climate change’s impacts. Biden proposes strengthening relationships with state and local leaders to build resilient infrastructure while creating well-paying union jobs. In addition to increasing financial investments, he will:

  • Reform common-sense zoning and building codes;
  • Ensure that the nation creates the cleanest, safest, and fastest freight and passenger rail system in the world; and
  • Lower property insurance premiums for those who invest in resilient infrastructure. 

Build and Maintain Global Partnerships to Combat Climate Change

Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office to strengthen global partnerships. The administration emphasizes the need to collaborate globally to effectively combat climate change. He will further global partnerships by achieving the following:

Organize a climate world summit within his first 100 days in office to persuade leaders of major carbon-emitting nations to further their commitment towards combatting climate change;

  • Embrace the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol;
  • Make future bilateral U.S.-China agreements on carbon mitigation;
  • Demand a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies; and 
  • Provide “green debt relief” for developing nations that commit towards combatting climate change.  

Rectify Harm Caused by Disproportionate Pollution Towards Minority and Low-Income Communities

People of color and low-income people are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. President-elect Biden will address the inequities headfirst. In addition to reinstating federal protections designed to protect communities, he will:

  • Direct the EPA and Justice Department to pursue criminal anti-pollution cases to the fullest extent of the law and seek additional legislation if needed;
  • Ensure safe drinking water for all, including Flint, MI; and
  • Prioritize marginalized community members for green union jobs.

Create Green Union Jobs 

Biden will launch a national effort to create the jobs while building sustainable infrastructure for an equitable clean energy future. Beyond creating union jobs already detailed in Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice plan, the incoming administration projects to add additional union jobs in the Biden Plan To Build A Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure And An Equitable Clean Energy Future. Biden will ensure that jobs are equitably distributed across rural and urban communities for people of all backgrounds. He will also prioritize providing jobs for workers impacted by the energy transition, like coal miners and power plant workers. He details specific ways he will create well-paying green union jobs below:

  • Infrastructure- By rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, green spaces, water systems, electricity grids and universal broadband.
  • Auto- Creating about 1 million jobs in the auto industry, domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, by advancing electric vehicle production.  
  • Transit: Providing every city with 100,000 or more residents with zero-emissions public transportation options that will lead to jobs with labor protections. 
  • Power Sector: Creating American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. 
  • Buildings: Upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, which will create at least 1 million jobs with a choice to join a union.
  • Innovation: Drive innovation and commercialization of battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear in the United States. 
  • Agriculture and Conservation: Create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation. At least 250,000 of these jobs will be to plug abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaim abandoned materials.

***

Artisha Naidu is a Government and Public Sector Consultant with Deloitte LLC. She is from California and has an extensive background in energy, environmental sustainability, and urban policy. Artisha is launching the Girls’ Leadership Apprenticeship and Mentorship (GLAM) Program, which provides workforce development to high school girls in D.C. She also tutors and mentors youth from marginalized communities and is a Community Outreach Coordinator for IMPACT Now. She holds a Masters of Public Administration from the George Washington University and a Bachelor’s of Science in Community and Regional Development from UC Davis. In her spare time, Artisha loves to travel, hike, read, and laugh.

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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.

***

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

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By: Nancy Stoner

When I was first launching my career, I never would have imagined that I would pursue environmental law, environmental philanthropy, and environmental non-profit management. Had I known, I may have taken the time to study more environmental science along the way. However, there is an important lesson I have learned along my journey to becoming the President of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, which is as long as you enjoy learning new things and continue to seek knowledge throughout your life, you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to. Yes, there may have been some merit to what our parents were saying when they shared this cliche line as we were growing up. A willingness to learn will set you leagues ahead in any career, and as you learn, you will discover more about yourself and your interests. You may end up in a pleasantly unexpected place. 

The most important question you should ask yourself about your career is “Is this where my heart takes me?” No matter what career choice you make, you will inevitably work a lot of hours, so make sure you find a career you are willing to devote a lot of time to. I have loved every job I’ve ever had — of course not every minute of every job — but every job has been interesting, rewarding, and fun. I followed my passions and curiosity and have stayed open to new experiences where I felt I could make a meaningful difference, and it has led me to some incredible opportunities. Of course you will also need to make a living with your career — as your parents also told you — so this detail can’t be overlooked. Make sure you are pursuing a career that is sustainable, but don’t forget that time is the most valuable thing you have in your life. Make sure you are spending it wisely. 

You may imagine your future career and have a clear vision of where you want to end up, or you may have no more than a faint idea of where you want to go. Both of these are fine so long as you are open to growth and new experiences, and you are willing to make adjustments along the way. When thinking about where you would like your career to take you, ask yourself where and how you would like to make a difference, because you CAN make a difference. And, if you put your mind to it, you will.

***

Nancy Stoner is president of Potomac Riverkeeper Network.  One of the nation’s most experienced water policy experts, Nancy has a rich and distinguished background in protecting our nation’s water. Nancy also served as Co-Director, Water Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, where she co-directed a national program to promote sound water resource management nationally and in specific watersheds, such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Anacostia River.

She lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, Marc Machlin. She has two grown children, Laura and Jared. She enjoys whitewater rafting, tubing, canoeing, birding, and gardening.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on A Shared Struggle: The Parallels Between the Plight of Women and that of Mother Earth

By Ngozika Egbuonu, M.A., M.S.

“In the end, all the struggles have the same objective: the defense of life. That is the most important, no matter where we are or what the specific goal of each fight is.” — Ana Sandoval, land defender and co-founder of Communities in Peaceful Resistance “La Puya”, working to resist dangerous mining megaprojects in her community in Guatemala.

You’ve probably seen them: angry video clips of men and women offended by public breastfeeding, endless memes insinuating women in leadership positions are “angry,” “bossy,” or “irrational,” or even my personal favorite, the growing rise of the men’s rights movement, which is built on the premise that men are losing power and status because of feminism. Each of these examples represent aspects of the societal challenges women face daily for simply trying to live their lives or improve the status of them. And the same can be said for our planet’s personified form: Mother Earth. And because she has no earthly voice (pun intended), those who do advocate on her behalf are met with virtually the same ire as feminists and women’s equity advocates and activists. 

Now, why is that?

The answer lies in our inherent femininity. You see, much in the same way environmental advocates and activists struggle to defend conservation and reduce pollution, women fighting to protect themselves and future generations are accused of unfounded or dramatized criticisms. This insistence that climate change is either unreal or being exaggerated by overdramatic environmentalists virtually mirrors the anti-feminine statements being expressed publicly. Let’s take a look at a few quotes about climate change and anti-feminism to try and literally illustrate this point.

  • “We must ask whether these Obama administration policies are worth the lost jobs, lower take-home pay, higher gas and electricity prices, and so on.”—  Sen. John Boozman 
  • “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” — Pat Robertson
  • “Get rid of some of these crazy regulations that Obamacare puts in … such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance.” — Iowa Rep. Rod Blum

The above statements highlight attempts to equate progressive environmental and gender equity policy changes to attacks on others’ livelihoods and/or cultural traditions. In addition to being frustratingly wrong, these attacks use exaggerated or misinformed stories to distract individuals from critically thinking about legislation or actions that could help improve the quality of life for everyone.  

Interestingly enough, researchers at both the United Nations and Oxfam America found that women are more likely to bear the burden of climate change. In America, we know that is the case because economically disadvantaged people are impacted more severely when natural disasters happen and women make up roughly 70 percent of individuals living below the poverty line. A similar case can be found abroad as Voré Gana Seck, executive director of Green Senegal and president of the international nongovernmental coalition Counsel des ONG d’Appui au Developpment notes, “Climate change affects women because they are usually the main food producers of crops like rice, millet, vegetables. Because of no rain, climate change affects them. And girls have to drop out of school because they need to start working for their families.” This reality must force all of us to confront the need for achieving both gender equality and turning back the dial on climate change immediately. It seems that in accomplishing one, we are helping increase the impact of the other and ultimately making the entire world better for it.

These realizations are ultimately why I believe every attempt to devalue Mother Earth’s importance in our survival and existence is a subliminal attack on womanhood. Think of the female womb and its importance in carrying a child to birth. Or even the sustenance her body provides from the womb to toddlerhood and beyond. When people devalue mothers and the incredible effort it takes to carry, birth, and/or raise a child, such as in denying women adequate maternity leave or shaming women for having children (as if to imply that in doing so, they cannot function or be as effective in their careers or positions), they are disrespecting the miracle of life that brought each and every one of us into this world. 

Fortunately, there are great examples of how gender inequality has tried but failed to hinder a woman’s success, with my favorite being the life story of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG). Despite being one of the top students in her class at nearly every institution she stepped foot in, RBG experienced difficulty finding work as a direct result of her gender. This personal connection to gender-based discrimination had to have stirred something deep within RBG. That something I think also played a major part in some of her most treasured opinions. 

Recently, Center for Progressive Reform’s (CPR) President, Rob Verchick and several of his colleagues and CPR Board Members recounted their favorite RBG legal decisions and stories. Each person’s testimony beautifully demonstrates why I believe RBG was so adept in understanding the importance of gender equity, as well as the environmental justice both Mother Earth and so many of her inhabitants so desperately need and deserve. RBG could read through the language, science, and noise to understand the most crucial point at the center of the legal battles she decided upon: the defense of life.

One of the subjects that bothers me the most when I hear men or even other women complain about feminism and the fight for gender equality is the gender pay gap. The fact that women still have to fight for equal pay when doing the exact same job as their male counterparts should be enough to upset any decent person. Primarily because gender pay inequality not only hurts the women being unfairly paid, it hurts anyone else who relies on her income for stability or support. 

My first thought immediately goes to single mothers or even women, like RBG, who have to take on the role of both parents due to a crisis (or several) or sudden onset of illness, as was in RBG’s case when she had to be the foundation for her family during her husband’s first battle with cancer. Imagine the feeling of already struggling on one paycheck, but then on top of that, you aren’t even getting the full paycheck owed for the work you’ve done, and the only reason for that discrepancy in pay is your gender? For me, this example is one of the clearest ways of explaining the importance of gender equality to folks who still don’t seem to get it. 

Gender equality is not about putting men down, creating a narrative of male inferiority or trying to attack American cultural norms. In fact, I would argue that it is attempting to do the opposite. Gender equality, much like racial equality and equity, is helping to affirm each individual’s strength and talent by challenging all of us to work harder and be better. Championing gender equality is forcing us to update what we think of as the “American way” of doing things. Maybe the American way is leading by example and properly appreciating the talents that both men and women bring to life’s table. As the eloquent Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” For those of you who still view the fight for gender equality as an attack on masculinity and manhood, I encourage you to consider looking at it as a way for men and women to recognize that there is always room for growth and trying things a different way. In doing so, we can begin finding new opportunities to do more and be more than we are today. 

I think it is also worth noting the importance of adequately appreciating and acknowledging the work and experiences of all women. From child rearing to practicing law or medicine, teaching to nursing, each and every woman’s positively impactful efforts must be celebrated and valued for both its short term and far-reaching implications. 

In a much similar way, we must celebrate and value our Mother Earth for both her immediate and future contributions to all of our lives. From her diverse terrains to bountiful natural resources, from her unique native flora and fauna to her resilience in the face of natural and human-made disasters, Mother Earth has shown us all more than enough strength and beauty. Unfortunately, for those wonders to be shared and appreciated generations beyond our own, we all have to come to a collective agreement: we must listen to the science. 

Just as you don’t want me attempting to stand in for an eye surgeon with my limited medical experience and squeamishness around anything blood related,  we don’t want politicians or climate deniers to drown out the conversation when the evidence and the research to prove climate change exists are all available. 

We are at a crossroads, friends. Climate change is happening and for many of us in the DC Metro area, you should be thinking more about how this will impact all of our ways of life. Where will you purchase groceries? Will the groceries you want be available and at an affordable price? Think about the food banks and food pantries, the farmers and farm workers. How does climate denial impact them? If science doesn’t resonate with you, then listen to the people already being impacted. We all have a part to play to save our communities and this planet. I hope you’ll join me and my fellow colleagues at DC EcoWomen by sharing the stories of climate change happening in our local and regional communities, as well as voting for policies that affirm your commitment to environmental advocacy and stewardship. 

As the lead pastor of the church I attend, National Community Church (based right here in DC), Dr. Mark Batterson once said, “I reserve the right to get smarter.” With everything being thrown at us right now with regards to the election, climate change, and the fight for social justice both here and abroad, I think it’s safe to agree that we could all benefit from getting smarter, and doing so fast. 

***

Ngozika Egbuonu is a professional fundraiser and content creator with more than ten years of experience working in communications roles for a variety of industries. Currently, she lives in Upper Marlboro with her husband, Gerald, and serves as the Community Engagement Manager at Network for Good. Ngozika is passionate about uplifting female voices, achieving racial equity, and fighting climate change. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking trails throughout the DMV or posting tons of photos of her new bunny, Thurgood.

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Welcome to the first Spooktastic Saturday installment! Submissions have been made anonymous. Enjoy!

I went backpacking through Saguaro National Park for an alternative spring break. One night, I accidentally slept on the mouthpiece of my CamelBak and completely soaked myself, my tent mate, and all of our belongings in water. We happened to be at the top of a mountain. It was freezing the next morning! It made for a very uncomfortable hike down. 

—DC EcoWomen Member

One of the scariest moments of my life came during a bike trip across Europe. My front brakes were completely worn down, but I didn’t know how to change them. I was flying down the side of a switch back mountain and I took a turn too fast. I lost my balance and my bike nearly tipped over the side of the mountain. 

—DC EcoWomen Member

My professor took our summer class on a field trip to a state park. Our van got stuck in the sand. There wasn’t any cell service and we spent the rest of the day rescuing the van. I still had a final the next day. 

—DC EcoWomen Member

My best friend and I were hiking at sunset in Nova Scotia. We lingered at sunset and then took the long way back, figuring we would be able to hike the remaining 4 miles quickly before it got too dark. Then, we encountered a black bear a few hundred yards away. We froze and tried to backtrack, but it would have been 5 miles back the other direction in the dark. Our phones were quickly running out of battery and the sun was setting. No one else was around. We considered running past the bear or climbing a tree (both bad ideas, by the way). We even considered jumping a high fence into a private residence, but we couldn’t get up the fence. Finally, we decided to walk quickly past the bear and make as little noise as possible. As I passed, I noticed the bear had a long neck. It turns out it was a moose, and not a bear.

—DC EcoWomen Member

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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: Jessica Miles

When I was in college, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In the book, he mentions Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms. I was awestruck by the way Pollan described Joel’s philosophy on farming and meat production. Joel is known for saying that everything he wants to do is illegal. Yet, everything about the way Polyface conducts itself resonates with me. 

In September, I fulfilled a longstanding dream and toured the Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. I had the pleasure of meeting Heather Juda, who has raised animals for Polyface in the past and who was my tour guide.

Our first stop is to visit the pigs. I watch as young pigs immediately trot over to the thin electric fence. Heather points out pigs have a “built-in” shovel on their noses. Because pigs are omnivores, they love rooting for goodies on the forest floor.

Happily squealing pigs root around the ground or laze in the dappled sun.

By keeping the pigs in silva or acorn pastures, Polyface is reintroducing disturbance to the forest. When the pigs root through the earth looking for things to eat, they turn the soil over, providing favorable conditions for certain seeds and thinning the forest underbrush. The pig’s current pasture is very open, with broken stalks of plant matter jutting up erratically. Lush green undergrowth crowds an adjacent undisturbed field. Polyface pigs move every 7-10 days, ensuring the pigs’ activity never progresses from disturbance to destruction. Pigs are both sassy and stubborn, Heather informs us, so the only way to move them is by closing their feeding trough a day ahead of time, and then sprinkling a trail of feed for the pigs to snuffle and follow.

To get to the chickens, we have to hike up a rather steep hill. The view at the top is worth it. A lush green field ringed with mountains in the near distance, and clear blue skies lift my spirits. Out here, it’s peaceful, which makes it easy to forget that time is soup and the world is currently on fire.

Chickens at Polyface fall into two categories: broilers (the kind you eat) and laying hens. Broilers are kept in shelters that can hold up to 75 at a time. Compared to an industrial farming setup, Polyface chickens have a good deal. A chicken rests in the sun with its leg splayed out in front of it. Heather informs us the chicken is “sunbathing.”

Another key element of chicken operations at Polyface are the 3 M’s:

Mobile: Unlike industrial operations that utilize permanent infrastructure, Polyface’s broiler pens are mobile and can be moved by one person. Chickens are naturally eating and pooping machines. Chicken feces contain high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. To prevent runoff, Heather and other Polyface employees arrange broiler pens diagonally and move them daily to avoid overlap and nutrient oversaturation.

Modular: Each chicken shelter only costs 300 dollars to build. Compared to a traditional hen house, Polyface’s model is more affordable, requires less land, and is infinitely scalable, making it more accessible to beginning farmers.

Management Intensive: Both broiler shelters and the laying hens’ “Egg Mobile” are moved daily. The chickens spread the nutrients found in cow poop through the process of them scratching through cow pies in search of fly larvae.

One of the more shocking facts Heather shares is on the seasonality of eggs. At Polyface, they only raise chickens in the warmer months, to account for the chicken’s natural dislike and susceptibility to the cold. In an industrial setting, artificial lights prevent the hens from sensing when it’s time to stop producing eggs. Hence, the average person is always able to find eggs at the grocery store.

Our final stop is to see the cows. Unlike in a traditional setting, Polyface cows aren’t fed grain in any part of their diet.

The key element of Polyface’s approach to cattle grazing is in the grass.

Heather plucks a long blade of grass from the ground, holding it in a rough “S” shape. The bottom of the curve, Heather tells us, is known as the “diaper stage,” where the grass is young and isn’t growing much. The same is true for the top of the curve or “nursing home” stage. In this stage, the grass has grown as tall as available resources have allowed, slowing growth and carbon sequestration rate. However, the “teenage stage” in the middle of the curve is where the grass proliferates. Through photosynthesis, the grass sucks carbon dioxide out of the air.

By volume, grass sucks more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than trees. Polyface has transformed its soil from having 1% nutrients and organic matter to 8% in just 60 years. The same increase would’ve taken 100 years to occur naturally. Polyface cows are moved from pasture to pasture every day so that the grass is not grazed past the teenage stage, therefore remaining in a constant state of carbon sequestration.

Barn where cows are overwintered and Polyface creates its own compost through carbon bedding

I learned a lot while touring Polyface Farms. However, the most important aspect was the impact it had on my parents. Neither my mom or dad could stop talking about how surprised they were to hear of the differences between Polyface’s operation and traditional farming. My mom was particularly struck with the seasonality of eggs. To me, the effect this tour had on my traditional parents highlights the effectiveness of educating people in person about the impact of the food system. When it’s real and it’s in front of them most people find it hard to ignore. 

***

Jessica Miles is a graduate of Chatham University’s MFA creative writing program, where she studied creative nonfiction with a concentration in nature writing. She is passionate about the polar bears and the Arctic. You can follow her on Medium @jessthenaturewriter

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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.