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City leaders aim to shape green recovery from coronavirus crisis

Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville, THE GUARDIAN

Mayors coordinating efforts to support a low-carbon, sustainable path out of lockdowns

Cities around the world are already planning for life after Covid-19, with a series of environmental initiatives being rolled out from Bogotá to Barcelona to ensure public safety and bolster the fight against climate breakdown.

Mayors from cities in Europe, the US and Africa held talks this week to coordinate their efforts to support a low-carbon, sustainable recovery from the crisis as national governments begin to implement huge economic stimulus packages.

Many cities have already announced measures, from hundreds of miles of new bike lanes in Milan and Mexico City to widening pavements and pedestrianising neighbourhoods in New York and Seattle.

The initiatives are designed to allow people to move around urban spaces safely in a world where physical distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future – and do so without sparking a drastic increase in air pollution.

The mayors who took part in the newly formed economic taskforce this week believe these initial schemes point the way to more radical long-term measures that will help tackle inequality and the climate crisis.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/01/city-leaders-aim-to-shape-green-recovery-from-coronavirus-crisis

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How we can build a hardier world after the coronavirus

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed one particularly shocking thing about our societies and economies: they have been operating on a very thin margin. The edifice seems so shiny and substantial, a world of silver jets stitching together cities of towering skyscrapers, a globe of soaring markets and smartphone connectivity. But a couple of months into this disease and it’s all tottering, the jets grounded and the cities silent and the markets reeling. One industry after another is heading for bankruptcy, and no one knows if they will come back. In other words, however shiny it may have seemed, it wasn’t very sturdy. Some people—the President, for instance—think that we can just put it all back like it was before, with a “big bang,” once the “invisible enemy” is gone. But any prosperity built on what was evidently a shaky foundation is going to seem Potemkinish going forward; we don’t want always to feel as if we’re just weeks away from some kind of chaos.

So if we’re thinking about building civilization back in a hardier and more resilient form, we’ll have to learn what a more stable footing might look like. I think that we can take an important lesson from the doctors dealing with the coronavirus, and that’s related to comorbidity, or underlying conditions. It turns out, not surprisingly, that if you’ve got diabetes or hypertension, or have a suppressed immune system, you’re far more likely to be felled by COVID-19.

Societies, too, come with underlying conditions, and the two that haunt our planet right now are inequality and ecological turmoil. They’ve both spiked in the past few decades, with baleful results that normally stay just below the surface, felt but not fully recognized. But as soon as something else goes wrong—a new microbe launches a pandemic, say—they become starkly evident. Inequality, in this instance, means that people have to keep working, even if they’re not well, because they lack health insurance and live day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and hence they can spread disease. Ecological instability, especially the ever-climbing mercury, means that even as governors try to cope with the pandemic they must worry, too, about the prospect of another spring with massive flooding across the Midwest, or how they’ll cope if wildfire season gets out of control. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service announced that, owing to the pandemic, it is suspending controlled burns, for instance, “one of the most effective tools for increasing California’s resiliency to fire.” God forbid that we get another big crisis or two while this one is still preoccupying us—but simple math means that it’s almost inevitable.

And, of course, all these things interact with one another: inequality means that some people must live near sources of air pollution that most of us wouldn’t tolerate, which in turn means that their lungs are weakened, which in turn means they can’t fight off the coronavirus. (It also means that some of the same people can lack access to good food, and are more likely to be diabetic.) And, if there’s a massive wildfire, smoke fills the air for weeks, weakening everybody’s lungs, but especially those at the bottom of the ladder. When there’s a hurricane and people need to flee, the stress and the trauma can compromise immune systems. Simply living at the sharp end of an unequal and racist society can do the same thing. And so on, in an unyielding spiral of increasing danger.

Since we must rebuild our economies, we need to try to engineer out as much ecological havoc and inequality as we can—as much danger as we can. That won’t be easy, but there are clear and obvious steps that would help—there are ways to structure the increased use of renewable energy that will confront inequality at the same time. Much will be written about such plans in the months to come, but at the level of deepest principle here’s what’s key, I think: from a society that has prized growth above all and been willing to play fast and loose with justice and ecology, we need to start emphasizing sturdiness, hardiness, resiliency. (And a big part of that is fairness.) The resulting world won’t be quite as shiny, but, somehow, shininess seems less important now.

Read more for interview with Bill McKibben: https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/how-we-can-build-a-hardier-world-after-the-coronavirus

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Environmental Working Group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list for 2020

Zee Krstic, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

Each spring, the Environmental Working Group (also known as the EWG) publishes a list of fruits and vegetables that experts at the nonprofit say contain elevated levels of pesticides that may be concerning. Now known as the Dirty Dozen list to health experts and in-the-know shoppers, the list has long called conventional farming methods into question, especially as the EWG also publishes a competing list called the Clean Fifteen that highlights produce containing little to no pesticides when grown conventionally.

Read more at https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a31916678/dirty-dozen-foods-2020-list/

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Stanford researchers explain how humanity has ‘engineered a world ripe for pandemics’

Josie Garthwaite, STANFORD NEWS

A pandemic can strike at any time. It takes little more than the right roll of genetic dice in a virus circulating among animals, followed by a chance encounter with a person or some go-between species, like pigs or mosquitoes. But as the new coronavirus whips around the world with a speed matched by few of the infectious diseases that have emerged in modern times, it poses the question: Why now?

According to Stanford biological anthropologist James Holland Jones, we have always had spillover events, in which disease jumps from animals to people. “What’s different now is that a spillover in one part of the world can have major consequences for the rest of the world,” he said. “We have engineered a world ripe for pandemics.”

Central to this vulnerability is the fact that our species moves around the world so much, and so quickly – whether for business, leisure, safety, education, economic necessity or other reasons. Many diseases are able to move right along with us. In fact, one of the most successful indicators of where pathogens will spread is the number of flight connections between cities, said Stanford biology Professor Erin Mordecai, who studies how climate, species interactions and global change influence infectious disease dynamics in both humans and natural ecosystems.

All this interconnectedness is particularly problematic with a disease like COVID-19, which can be transmitted by people who are not experiencing symptoms. “This disease is really nasty from a control standpoint,” said Mordecai, an assistant professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “If you don’t know you’re sick, you might get on the plane and shed virus everywhere.”

An engineered world

It’s not only our highly mobile lifestyles that are helping give pandemics a runway to spread around the globe. It’s also the way we crowd together in increasingly dense cities, interact with wildlife and alter the natural world.
Continue reading “Stanford researchers explain how humanity has ‘engineered a world ripe for pandemics’”

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Six Bay Area counties will be ordered to ‘shelter in place’ as coronavirus spreads

James Rainey and Susanne Rust, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area will be placed under a shelter-in-place directive by public health officials in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said Monday. It’s a move that will close virtually all businesses and direct residents to remain at home.

Goethals said he believed that the order, to be issued Monday afternoon, will put the six counties on perhaps the most restrictive public health footing anywhere in America, since the outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Only police and fire departments, hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and a few other businesses will be allowed to remain open under the shelter-in-place order, said Goethals, who holds a master’s degree in public health.

Residents will be able to go grocery stores and other essential services, but the mayor urged residents not to rush, adding that stores will remain fully stocked.

The order will come from public health officials in the nine counties around the Bay — San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda. It will last for at least two weeks and could be extended for a third week, Goethals said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10827908-181/six-bay-area-counties-will

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Op-Ed: We have no reason to believe 5G is safe

Joel Moskowitz, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

The technology is coming, but contrary to what some people say, there could be health risks

The telecommunications industry and their experts have accused many scientists who have researched the effects of cell phone radiation of “fear mongering” over the advent of wireless technology’s 5G. Since much of our research is publicly-funded, we believe it is our ethical responsibility to inform the public about what the peer-reviewed scientific literature tells us about the health risks from wireless radiation.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced through a press release that the commission will soon reaffirm the radio frequency radiation (RFR) exposure limits that the FCC adopted in the late 1990s. These limits are based upon a behavioral change in rats exposed to microwave radiation and were designed to protect us from short-term heating risks due to RFR exposure.

Yet, since the FCC adopted these limits based largely on research from the 1980s, the preponderance of peer-reviewed research, more than 500 studies, have found harmful biologic or health effects from exposure to RFR at intensities too low to cause significant heating.

Citing this large body of research, more than 240 scientists who have published peer-reviewed research on the biologic and health effects of nonionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which calls for stronger exposure limits. The appeal makes the following assertions:

“Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.”

The scientists who signed this appeal arguably constitute the majority of experts on the effects of nonionizing radiation. They have published more than 2,000 papers and letters on EMF in professional journals.

Read more at https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/we-have-no-reason-to-believe-5g-is-safe/

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Richmond v Chevron: the California city taking on its most powerful polluter

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

The Chevron refinery that looms over Richmond, California, its muted orange tanks nestled into the scrubby low-slung hills above San Francisco Bay, is older than the city itself.

The refinery processes nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil each day. When it “flares”, as it did more often in 2018 than in any other year over the past decade, dark smoke spirals up and across town in the bay breeze.

When it explodes, like it did in 1989, 1999 and 2012, the thick cloud is visible across the bay and beyond, a blot against the sky that ascends before falling and settling on everything within a multi-mile vicinity that is not covered, closed or sealed up.

A fire on 6 August 2012 sent more than 15,000 people to seek treatment for respiratory distress at local hospitals.

Richmond has long been known for the three Cs: crime, corruption and Chevron. You could also add coal to that list, which the Levin-Richmond terminal began exporting out of the city in 2013, along with coke, the petroleum-refining byproduct.

Despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s wealth, Richmond’s median household income is below the California state average, with more than 15% of residents living in poverty. More than 80% of residents are people of colour. And Richmond children have roughly twice the rate of asthma as their neighbours countywide.

“It’s a textbook example of an environmental justice community,” said Matt Holmes, the executive director of the nonprofit Groundwork Richmond. “I think the whole country owes Richmond a debt.”

And the city is here to collect. Richmond may be a company city, but it is in open and sustained conflict with the industries that sustain it. Environmental justice activists here are fighting a multi-front war against the fossil fuels that gave the city life, but which, they argue, are also slowly killing it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/richmond-chevron-california-city-polluter-fossil-fuel

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Neighbors sue to halt Safeway gas station construction in Petaluma

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A controversial Safeway gas station project is on hold pending approval of a city permit. Meanwhile, a group of residents that has filed a lawsuit to stop the east Petaluma project will likely seek a temporary injunction to pause work on the site while the case makes its way through the courts.

Save Petaluma, which is attempting to overturn the city council’s April 1 decision to deny an appeal and approve the 335 South McDowell Blvd. project, filed the suit in Sonoma County Superior Court this month, naming Petaluma as the respondent and Safeway as the real party of interest.

So far, Safeway has applied for a demolition permit for the current structure at the corner of the Washington Square Shopping Center, but the permit application is still under review, according to city officials.

Patrick Soluri, the Sacramento-based attorney representing Save Petaluma, said he will likely pursue an injunction to freeze construction efforts at the site until the case has been decided. Had Safeway been authorized and demolition had gotten underway, the corporation would have been protected under what’s known as a vested rights doctrine.

“We would seek injunctive relief if necessary to protect the citizens of Petaluma and also preserve the integrity of land-use and environmental decision-making in the city,” Soluri said in an email.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9625724-181/petaluma-reviews-safeway-gas-station

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California to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

Brian Melley, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s most productive agricultural state moved Wednesday to ban a controversial pesticide widely used to control a range of insects but blamed for harming brain development in babies.

The move cheered by environmentalists would outlaw chlorpyrifos after scientists deemed it a toxic air contaminant and discovered it to be more dangerous than previously thought. California Environmental Secretary Jared Blumenfeld said it’s the first time the state has sought to ban a pesticide and the move was overdue.

“This pesticide is a neurotoxin, and it was first put on the market in 1965,” Blumenfeld said. “So it’s been on the shelf a long time, and it’s past its sell-by date.”

The decision comes after regulators in several states have taken steps in recent years to restrict the pesticide used on about 60 different crops in California, including grapes, almonds and oranges. Hawaii banned it last year, and New York lawmakers recently sent a measure to the governor outlawing use of the pesticide.

DowDuPont, which produces the pesticide, said it was disappointed with the decision and that farmers who rely on the pesticide say it will hurt their ability to control insects.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/94c594ce51f441b6998fb83a4cda2c79

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Lawsuit launched to protect Sonoma County residents from airport lead pollution

Press Release, April 30, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

Environmental groups filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect northern Sonoma County residents from deadly airborne lead emitted by planes using local airports.

California has repeatedly submitted air-permitting rules for northern Sonoma County that failed to include emission standards for lead, a deadly neurotoxin. Under the Clean Air Act the EPA is required to develop air-quality plans when states submit deficient plans. The plans are designed to help states keep their air pollution below federal limits.

“The EPA needs to act expeditiously and develop new permitting rules that will protect our communities from the irreversible effects of lead poisoning,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health. “Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure and deserve regulations that provide the highest protections available.”

Lead pollution is a serious problem in northern Sonoma County, where several local airports, including the Sea Ranch, Healdsburg Municipal and Cloverdale Municipal, service small piston-engine powered aircrafts typically used for corporate and private travel. Such planes use aviation gas, the only remaining type of gasoline containing lead. According to the EPA, the more than 167,000 piston-engine planes in operation are responsible for nearly half of all lead emissions nationwide.

“There’s no excuse for allowing small planes to continue to poison Sonoma County’s air,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA needs to take immediate steps to reduce the dangerous threats posed by toxic lead.”

A 2011 Duke University study reported that as far back as 2010, EPA research showed that “the lead in air surrounding airports can be inhaled directly, or the lead may be ingested by children after it settles into soil or dust.”

The Duke study found that higher levels of lead were detected in North Carolina children living within half a mile of an airport where planes use leaded gas. The study concluded there was a “significant association” between leaded aviation fuel and higher blood lead levels in children.

Lead is a heavy metal that can persist in the environment indefinitely. Continuous exposure causes it to accumulate in the body’s organs and bones. Short-term exposure to lead can result in abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, memory loss, pain or tingling in the hands or feet and weakness. Long-term exposure can result in kidney and brain damage, hypertension, impairments to the immune and reproductive systems and even death.

Lead poisoning is also a threat to wildlife. Northern Sonoma County is home to endangered steelhead trout, as well as protected coho and Chinook salmon, which rely on the Russian River to spawn. The successful recovery and health of the Chinook salmon is critically important to Southern Resident killer whales, which depend almost exclusively on the fish as their food.

SOURCE: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2019/sonoma-county-lead-pollution-04-30-2019.php