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GoGreenNation News: Outdoor Workers Are Climate Victims
GoGreenNation News: Outdoor Workers Are Climate Victims

As temperatures spike this August, one group may be affected more than any other: people whose jobs won’t let them escape the heat. Heat exposure kills 2,000 workers in the United States every year, according to a report released by Public Citizen in May, and many more—up to 170,000—suffer from serious heat-related injuries. Those numbers are almost certain to grow: Every one degree Celsius increase in temperature brings a 1 percent increase in such injuries. As the planet warms, many workplaces are becoming deadly infernos.Many employers couldn’t care less. Their goal is to maximize profits, not to ensure their workers are safe. Bosses could give workers breaks in shade or air conditioning, and they could also provide cool drinking water. Some do, of course. But many don’t—and they won’t, without stricter laws and collective action by workers.This is not merely a labor issue, though. If this summer of unimaginable heat has taught the left anything, it’s that the politics of the environment and the politics of work are inextricably linked. Climate change is a workplace issue for everyone who toils unprotected from the weather. Conservative governments have acted swiftly to ensure that no employees get any crazy notions about having the right to survive their workday. My TNR colleague Kate Aronoff reported in June that Texas Republicans have nullified city-level protections enacted by Dallas and Austin. In May, Florida failed to pass a bipartisan legislative effort to get employers to meet some minimal heat safety standards, a weak and voluntaristic measure but apparently too worker-friendly for state Republicans.Even at the federal level, no solutions are immediate. Biden is working on protecting workers in extreme heat through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but reforms at that level are slow to enact and slower still to take effect. Congress could pass an interim measure, but that, too, seems likely to be stymied by Republicans and business interests. Meanwhile, workers are organizing. When some 340,000 UPS workers came close to a strike last month—which would have been the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history—climate change was a major reason. UPS workers were suffering from heat-related illnesses, sending at least 143 of them to the hospital over the past seven years, and several to their deaths. Not only do they spend time outside, but their delivery trucks—which are not air-conditioned—can heat up to as much as 120 degrees, they are forced to work without breaks to meet productivity targets, and cameras spy on them to measure productivity. Their threat to strike provoked the company to agree to install air conditioning, and some of the economic gains in the tentative contract may ease the productivity pressure.The problem of extreme heat is affecting labor relations throughout the delivery industry. In California, some Amazon workers went on strike last month, also over extreme heat, no air conditioning in the trucks, and productivity targets that preclude breaks. Amazon responded by firing the contractor that employed those workers instead of addressing the core problem: the time pressure baked into its own business model.Extreme heat is not the only workplace safety hazard wrought by climate change. Air pollution has reached dangerous levels in many places. The extreme temperatures in Arizona this summer exacerbated ground-level ozone, prompting high pollution advisories; scientists predict the ozone threat will increase with global warming. Meanwhile, widespread pollution from the Canadian wildfires was inescapable for millions of outdoor workers in the U.S. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in July that one-third of all workers had “regular outdoor exposure” in 2022.) While the New York City government was sending panicked warnings to stay indoors, many workers had no choice but to be outside—and many employers did nothing to provide for their safety. So UPS workers, represented by the Teamsters, and gig workers for companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash, who organized with a workers’ group called Los Deliveristas Unidos, cooperated to deliver N95 masks to their fellow delivery drivers.Delivery workers are the canaries in the coal mine on the intertwined issues of extreme heat and air pollution. In the coming years, many other sectors—construction, fishing, roofing, farming, landscaping, professional sports, and so on—will be affected by workers’ struggle to stay safe in extremely hot weather and toxic air. Global warming’s health consequences for workers are already visible and dire, and demand solidarity and a reckoning.Climate and labor are often spoken of as separate issues, at times in conflict, as unions sometimes oppose environmental policies that may threaten workers’ jobs, while environmental groups don’t always put workers at the center of proposed schemes for a carbon-free economy. But now, during the hottest summer on record, the political implications should be clear for the climate movement and labor movement alike: The fight to ease global warming is inseparable from the struggles for a safer workplace. Mandatory water breaks and air-conditioning must be seen as climate issues, and our ongoing addiction to fossil fuels understood as a brutal assault on labor.

GoGreenNation News: Climate change is crushing winter fun
GoGreenNation News: Climate change is crushing winter fun

For many Americans, winter means ice skating, building snowmen, and going skiing. But this year, many are missing out on the fun as the temperature stays stubbornly higher than normal.Why it matters: Warming winters tied to human-caused climate change pose an existential threat to seasonal activities and sports, which require sustained cold temperatures and often snow.In parts of Wyoming and Montana, for instance, the snowmobiling and cross country skiing seasons are expected to shrink by 20-60% by the end of the century under a lower warming scenario, per Sarah Blount, the program director of research and evaluation at the National Environmental Education Foundation.State of play: Cold-weather communities across the U.S. are finding themselves impacted by the unusually warm temperatures, forcing some events and traditions to be modified or canceled.Climate change is warming up winters over the long term, but specific weather patterns, namely El Niño, also contributed to this winter's particularly warm temperatures.Details: Minneapolis' Loppet Foundation, a nonprofit that organizes outdoor activities for the public, has found itself unable to host its usual array of events — like snowshoeing and tubing, executive director Claire Wilson tells Axios."People are sad," Wilson says. "They're bereft, really, because it's part of our culture. It's how you get through the long winter, through the dark days."The foundation is slated to help host the Cross-Country World Cup later this month. It's trying to maintain a man-made ski loop until then, as the city experiences its warmest winter in recorded history. When the group has been able to hold winter events this year, "the joy was palpable," Wilson says.Plus: The ice at Colorado's Evergreen Lake — outside of Denver and which describes itself as the "world's largest Zamboni-groomed outdoor ice rink" — wasn't thick enough for skating until late December, and couldn't support the Zamboni for another two weeks beyond that, manager Krista Emrich told Axios' Emma Hurt.Syracuse, New York's annual Pond Hockey Classic had to be moved from Hiawatha Lake to a man-made rink downtown, also due to thin ice.Officials at New Hampshire's Alton Bay Seaplane Base — which boasts the only ice runway in the Lower 48 states — said last week that the ice remained too thin and the runway would likely remain closed to planes this season.Of note: The Great Lakes have been "unusually ice-free this winter," according to Climate Central."Long-term records show a 25% decrease in basin-wide ice cover as well as a trend toward fewer frozen days across the Great Lakes since 1973," the group found.The bottom line: Shrinking winter recreation seasons will have a massive impact on host communities, where winter sports represent multi-million dollar industries that drive tourism and generate economic revenue, Blount says.

GoGreenNation News: Why Climate Journalists Hate Earth Day
GoGreenNation News: Why Climate Journalists Hate Earth Day

The time draws near. Those working in climate and environmental coverage can feel it approaching like the rumble of an oncoming train: Earth Day.The celebration on April 22 started with the best of intentions in 1970—part of a radical, nationwide movement that also helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency and extend the Clean Air Act. In recent decades, though, Earth Day has felt a bit more nebulous—and susceptible to cliché, pablum, window dressing, and corporate greenwashing. Reliably, at least one oil major each year uses the day to release some bonkers ad copy suggesting they’re environmentalists.TNR has published several pieces about this long-running trend, from Bradford Plumer’s short post in 2008 comparing the corporate co-opting of Earth Day to Christmas to Emily Atkin’s 2017 classic about Earth Day having become a “corny celebration of green living” mostly for white and privileged people, while low-income and minority populations face toxic air and water every day. Going forward, she wrote, “the onus is on the more privileged classes to change Earth Day from a feel-good exercise for well-off liberals to a day of mass activism to help the underprivileged, who have more immediate concerns than environmental injustice (let alone global warming).”Liza Featherstone struck a similar note in her plea last year to resurrect the radicalism of the original Earth Day. But on the optimistic side of things, she argued, we can point to the original as powerful proof of concept:If not for the climate crisis—which scientists and environmentalists warned about on that first Earth Day and the world has struggled and largely failed to address ever since—we’d probably view ’70s environmentalism as one of the most transformative social movements in history. That first Earth Day kicked off many of the important changes. As National Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes said in a 2020 interview, before that first Earth Day the Cuyahoga River was routinely on fire, breathing the air in major American cities like Pittsburgh and Los Angeles was like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and the bald eagle—America’s national bird—was in danger of going extinct. None of that is true today. Our waterways are also much cleaner, and fewer children suffer from lead paint poisoning in their homes (in fact, childhood lead poisoning has declined by 90 percent). The massive mobilization of Earth Day helped focus the general public’s attention on the environment, and in turn, that of politicians. Looking at this history tells us something that we need to know right now: We have solved pervasive and deadly environmental problems in the past, and we can do it again.As part of a series next week on the origin of various environmental culture wars, we’ll have more coverage of how, exactly, this moment of consensus fractured and climate policy got stuck in partisan deadlock. But in the meantime, as we gear up for a week that will doubtless feature its usual share of corporate shenanigans, it’s worth sparing a thought for what meaningful celebration might look like.Denis Hayes, the original organizer of Earth Day in 1970, offered five suggestions to Outside magazine’s Heather Hansman last year: Focus on the biggest, and ideally the most discrete, issue (that would be emissions); name a “clear enemy”; pinpoint specific political changes (as when Earth Day activists identified the “dirty dozen” congressmen in flippable districts who were blocking environmental policy); take the imperfect, passable policy over no policy at all; and give people a goal that doesn’t feel “hopeless.”Notably, none of these sound much like the program you’ll see if you visit EarthDay.org’s rundown for 2023. The official theme is “Invest in Our Planet”—a word choice evoking start-up culture, business-led solutionism, and so-called sustainable investment, none of which have performed all that well in recent years when it comes to reducing emissions. (In any event, the right is now engaged in all-out war on the entire idea that investment should be sustainable.) Under the heading “How to Do Earth Day 2023,” visitors are offered six ideas: “Climate Literacy,” “End Plastics,” “Plant Trees,” “Vote Earth,” “Global Cleanup,” and “Sustainable Fashion.”If Hayes is right, then for Earth Day to be effective again, it might need to choose one issue. It might need to be more explicitly political and less universally inoffensive. A useful Earth Day might not look like a product you can buy but a fight you can sign up for—and an affirmative vision of what winning the battle might look like.Good NewsWe don’t need the toxic and long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS to make things stain-resistant, a new peer-reviewed study finds. Furniture fabric that hadn’t been treated with PFAS held up just as well as untreated fabric. “PFAS on treated fabric can break off and end up in indoor air, attach to dust, or be dermally absorbed, and the pollution is especially a problem for homes with small children,” The Guardian’s report on the study notes. “The product is commonly applied to stain-resistant apparel and products for babies and children.” Find more information on what we know about the health effects of PFAS here and here.Bad NewsSea levels are rising more quickly than predicted along the southeastern and Gulf coasts, which might exacerbate the effects of hurricanes that make landfall there.Stat of the Week$14 billionThat’s how much the “collective market value of the biggest US [oil and gas] companies” fell in just three days when Ireland’s parliament voted to divest from fossil fuels, even though the value of the divestment itself (i.e., the value of the stocks in the sovereign wealth fund) was only about $78 million. That seems to indicate, according to a new study reported by the Financial Times, that divestment pledges and “viral divestment tweets” serve as important market signals.Elsewhere in the EcosystemThis Is How Fast Humans Have Changed the EcosystemThe forest of aspen trees known as Pando, in Utah, is actually a single organism, “perhaps the world’s largest living creature. It might also be the oldest living thing on the planet, having survived for over 10,000 years,” writes Faye Flam at Bloomberg. Each tree is a clone stem of the same plant, all connected by an underground network of roots. But now the organism is under threat:In the last 100 years, human activity has made growing new stems much tougher for Pando. The main threats, said Rogers, are deer and elk, as well as a few domestic cattle and sheep. Aspen grow fast, which makes their young stems tender and tasty to these herbivores, and so most are getting eaten before they have a chance of becoming a new tree. Areas that used to hold 200 adult stems now have just 50. “It hasn’t shrunk from the outside,” said [Utah State University biologist Paul] Rogers. “It’s thinning and collapsing from the inside.” The fact that it’s getting eaten isn’t the fault of the herbivores. Their populations exploded when, in the early 20th century, people decided to exterminate their main predators—wolves, bears and cougars. The impact of climate change is harder to predict, said Rogers. “We have these two opposing forces.” On the one hand, warming temperatures could shrink aspen habitat, pushing them to cooler, higher elevations. On the other hand, aspen thrive in fire.Read Faye Flam’s article at Bloomberg.

GoGreenNation News: Black Girl Environmentalist rejects climate "doomism"
GoGreenNation News: Black Girl Environmentalist rejects climate "doomism"

Climate "doomism" — fatalistic messaging that nothing can be done to reverse climate change on a global scale — is easy to find on outlets like TikTok, where the baseless argument has gone viral in recent years. Why it matters: Organizations like Black Girl Environmentalist are challenging the misinformation that feeds the argument, which they say can lead to a loss of power for the communities bearing the brunt of climate impacts. Driving the news: Members of the nonprofit's leadership team were just recognized on Pique Action and Harvard Chan C-HANGE's "Climate Creators to Watch" annual list for their advocacy work engaging people on issues of climate and environmental justice. The backstory: In 2021, Wanjiku "Wawa" Gatheru founded Black Girl Environmentalist (BGE), which seeks to empower Black girls, women and non-binary peoples in climate action by facilitating increased representation within environmental disciplines. It began as an online space providing digital educational resources, mentorship and programming, but has since evolved into an in-person, community-based network, launching next month in eight cities across the U.S. and the U.K.Creating optimism and a sense of agency around climate solutions while diversifying how people think a climate scientist or activist should look like are some of BGE's tenets. What they're saying: "We want people to know that being in climate doesn't have to be all doom," says Gatheru. "It’s not too late and the concept of 'giving up' is a privileged one. Especially for so many already experiencing the brunt of the issue."A Kenyan-American climate storyteller, Rhodes scholar and former revolutionary power fellow at the Department of Energy, Gatheru led the creation of the state of Connecticut's first-ever food security assessment of a public higher-ed institution, which has since been cited in federal legislation. The 24-year-old founder says she's been in the climate movement space since she was 15, which was when she decided she'd dedicate her life to environmental justice."I've unfortunately come across in many of these spaces, a lack of prioritizing Black voices, and particularly Black girls, Black women and Black non-binary environmentalists," Gatheru tells Axios. "I was constantly asking the question: 'Where are we in these conversations?' I know on the ground we are here, we are creating solutions, as a means of survival, we've been doing environmental justice before environmental justice was a term, but we're not really here."Meanwhile: Arielle V. King, the group's programming director, says there's a demonstrated need for accessible resources that teach how the pursuit of racial and climate justice are "deeply connected."The disproportionate burden of climate change on communities of color and the lack of protection and over-policing of those same neighborhoods are connected through a legacy of systemic racism and environmental injustice, King tells Axios. "If I'm talking about prison abolition, if I'm talking about Black Lives Matter, or another Black person being slain by police, that is an environmental issue," says King."The same communities that are over-policed in this country are the ones that have the least amount of trees or access to fresh, affordable food." Zoom out: A 24-year-old environmental justice advocate and educator, King has been a host of the "The Joy Report" podcast, which spotlights climate solutions, and worked as an environmental justice staff attorney at the Environmental Law Institute. She grew up in Albany, New York's South End, in what she considers a "very environmentally overburdened community ... with the highest asthma rates, the lowest income rates, the highest levels of pollution, and the most limited access to green space."Up until recently, the area was a food desert. The bottom line: "So much of environmental stewardship, environmental leadership is grounded in the knowledge and lived experience of Black women and Black non-binary folks," King tells Axios."One of the most important parts of the environmental justice movement is the ability to create self-determination for those who have been most impacted by environmental harm, and allow people to have a say."

GoGreenNation News: Fight Climate Change by Doing Less
GoGreenNation News: Fight Climate Change by Doing Less

Two weeks ago, I promised this newsletter would have more to say about the emotional sustainability of climate coverage and climate activism—which seems to be a theme of late. In the wake of the most recent U.N. climate report, for example, several prominent voices in the climate space have returned to the question of how to frame climate news optimistically, so that people don’t feel too overwhelmed.In a world where fossil fuel executives, meat megacorporations, and the like possess vastly more wealth and power than activists, tone probably isn’t the primary challenge in climate communication, as Kate Aronoff argued last week. At the same time, it’s true that sustainability continues to have the reputation of being a lot of work. And that’s a fascinating conundrum—because despite the plethora of popular articles promising five, 10, 12, 20, 22, 40, 58, or 101 ways to live more sustainably and fight climate change, a lot of the easy answers about how to live more sustainably involve doing less.Four years ago, climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar penned a classic essay at Vox about being tired of people confessing their environmental sins to her. Too often, she wrote, people feel they need to “convert to 100 percent solar energy, ride an upcycled bike everywhere, stop flying, eat vegan,” or else they’re bad environmentalists. “And all this raises the price of admission to the climate movement to an exorbitant level, often pricing out people of color and other marginalized groups.” Personal action isn’t irrelevant in the fight for a livable future, she wrote, but it’s not the best place to focus one’s efforts, particularly if people then get overwhelmed and stop at the personal—neglecting to vote for robust climate policies because they’re so busy trying to find a place to recycle those pesky plastic bags. A lot of people clearly feel sustainable living means doing more: taking more time to sort recycling or buying special reusable containers, sourcing clothes from thrift shops or researching the most sustainable varieties of seafood. A lot of people also want guidance about how to live more sustainably (how to have a more sustainable yard, for example, was one question I recently heard raised in a meeting) but feel intimidated by the amount of work it might require (killing off your grass and installing a bunch of native plants is pretty daunting for nongardeners).But let’s take that sustainable yard question as a good case study. Sure, there’s a case for killing off your grass, planting a meadow of native plants, as The New York Times recently urged to ward off the insect apocalypse, or even adding a frog pond, as Emma Marris suggested at The Atlantic. But if you’re not ready or equipped to do that, there really is one easy trick to make your yard more sustainable: Do less. Mow it less frequently—the estimates on emissions from gas-powered lawn mowers vary, but all of them are staggering (greater than a car operating for an equivalent amount of time), and longer grass is more hospitable to insects and other wildlife anyway. Apply pesticides or herbicides less frequently—the runoff is terrible for watersheds (in fact, that might be an easier way to help amphibians than installing a frog pond). If you’re in a water-strapped part of the country, water it less frequently.Greater effort doesn’t necessarily mean greater environmental friendliness. This holds for so many other things as well, like clothes shopping. Donating your clothing or looking for sustainably produced labels has some serious limits, as recent reporting on the deluge of unused clothing donations and greenwashing of the fashion industry has shown. The real way to dress sustainably, as a growing number of experts acknowledge, is simply to buy less. The real way to make your commute more sustainable may not be to spend hours researching and then financing the latest e-bike, but to work less—by pushing for a four-day workweek, as Kate wrote about last year. You’d think that this would be a popular “solution” in a world where people are always bemoaning how little time they have, how little cash they have, how bad inflation has gotten. Yet “do less” isn’t always what people want to hear. Perhaps that’s because “do less” has a hint of austerity to it or because doing less may require swimming against the flow of a culture obsessed with aesthetics. Try doing or not doing anything remotely unorthodox with your lawn in a neighborhood with a neurotic homeowners’ association, and see how that goes. (Although, that being said, this Maryland couple sued those bougie troglodytes and won, so there’s hope.) Buying fewer clothes means ignoring the pressure to engage in competitive social signaling.Yet it’s worth remembering that it’s precisely this culture of aesthetics over substance that the corporations driving climate change have relied on again and again: by championing the idea of a personal “carbon footprint” in the first place, to make people feel guilty about their own lifestyles instead of questioning fossil fuel companies’ culpability; by marketing gas stoves as a lifestyle upgrade or plastics as convenient and more pleasant to use; by trend-churning to force seasonal purchases; and a multitude of other examples.If individual consumers are going to take on the task of fighting all this, perhaps the least they can do for themselves is—instead of adding 20 items to their to-do lists and shaming themselves for falling short—choose the path that saves them time and money, by rejecting the cult of aesthetics in the first place. There’s beauty in that too.Good NewsRenewable electricity generation surpassed coal in this country for the first time in 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports. Bad NewsOver a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine catapulted heat pumps and home insulation to the top of the Western European political agenda—to save on winter fuel—an independent report has found that the United Kingdom only “stuttered further” in 2022 on its path to energy efficiency. The chair of the independent commission blamed insufficient funding and an overreliance on “low-stakes incremental changes” and called for bolder policies. “The risk of delay in addressing climate change,” he said, “is now greater than the risk of over-correction.”Stat of the WeekThat’s the degree to which stricter limits on fine-particulate-matter air pollution could reduce mortality rates among older Black and low-income people in the U.S, according to a new study. Read the New York Times write-up here.Elsewhere in the EcosystemThe Gospel of DisasterSlate has a pretty wild story this week about the Christian relief organizations that are stepping up to the plate to help communities recover from climate disasters when the Federal Emergency Management Agency fails to get the job done (unfortunately a frequent occurrence, due to persistent underfunding):The Christian relief organizations that have stepped in as first responders—with little oversight—are diverse, spanning from well-intentioned community churches with decades of goodwill to billion-dollar evangelical charities that use far-right outrage to fundraise and take advantage of disaster to spread their gospel.The overwhelming majority of these organizations’ on-the-ground volunteers serve out of genuine compassion. But some of the country’s largest disaster charities are helmed by far-right extremist leaders who encourage volunteers to make proselytization a main part of their mission, bragging in press releases about how many disaster victims “prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” For Samaritan’s Purse, that leader is president and CEO Franklin Graham, the evangelical titan who has called Islam a violent religion, compared trans people with pedophiles, and praised Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies, saying LGBT people will burn in “the flames of hell.”Read Nick Aspinwall’s story at Slate.This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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