How Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice

June 26, 2020 by  
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How Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice Rachel Ramirez Fri, 06/26/2020 – 00:30 This story originally appeared in Grist;  and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story . “I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the United States. But for Black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden. “While many in power seemed surprised that COVID-19 is killing twice as many Black Americans, those of us in the environmental justice movement know that the health impacts of cumulative and disproportionate levels of pollution in our communities have created underlying health conditions that contribute to our higher COVID-19 mortality rates,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said at a virtual press conference in mid-June. Shepard is part of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) , a national coalition of Black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991. Although the network took a hiatus in 2006 after executive director Damu Smith died , the network just announced that it’s making a comeback against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls to fight racial injustice. We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries. The network’s mission sends a clear message: Environmental injustice is not a single issue. Rather, it’s a constellation of issues including discrimination in housing, jobs and healthcare. It’s impossible to untangle Black communities’ current risks from America’s long history of racist policies and practices. Discriminatory policies such as banks’ government-sanctioned refusal to approve home loans and insurance for people in communities of color, also known as redlining, forced Black families into neighborhoods more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution and extreme heat . Now these same communities face a surge in unemployment and poverty rates as a result of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and they also are  disproportionately dying from the novel coronavirus as a result of a lack of health insurance, unequal access to test sites and higher workplace exposure via employment in essential services. As if that weren’t enough, a recent Harvard study also found a link between air pollution and death from COVID-19. Given the systemic conditions that disproportionately expose Black people to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other worsening crises, NBEJN members — including the network’s co-chairs, environmental justice pioneers Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright — say they are looking to bring in Black lawyers, engineers, leaders and other experts to join forces to help create an equitable green stimulus package, take on the fossil fuel industry and fight the Trump administration’s seemingly endless orders to weaken environmental protections . “We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries,” said Bullard, an author and professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. “The NBEJN is about dismantling systemic racism, and we’re talking about turning the dominant paradigm on its head.” Network leaders say COVID-19 recovery legislation could be an opportunity for lawmakers to pass a robust green stimulus package that would focus on environmental justice. Such a green stimulus package, the coalition said, needs to address core issues of systemic racism by, for example, providing green jobs to communities of color. NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America. “Green stimulus packages often only look at protecting the world, but not protecting people like us,” said Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “Any stimulus package dealing with transportation to housing or whatever they’re talking about doing will have to include us and need to be viewed with equity and justice lenses.” Even if an equitable green stimulus package makes it through Congress and the White House, there still will be a lot more work to be done. Bullard said that even if the Democratic party wins the presidential election or takes control of the Senate, it will take time to reverse Trump-era environmental policy damages, including the country’s withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement. Even then, he added, policymakers will need to take additional steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and center frontline communities. And NBEJN leaders say the network will stick around to make sure those steps are taken. “Racism is baked into America’s DNA,” Bullard said. “NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America.” Pull Quote We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries. NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America. Topics COVID-19 Policy & Politics Environmental Justice Equity & Inclusion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Tverdokhlib Close Authorship

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How Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice

Ocasio-Cortez and Kerry co-chair climate change task force

May 15, 2020 by  
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By focusing on climate change and other issues important to progressive voters, Joe Biden is attempting to win over Bernie Sanders’ supporters and unify the Democratic Party. Biden has tapped Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry to co-chair a climate change task force. “She made the decision with members of the Climate Justice community — and she will be fully accountable to them and the larger advocacy community during this process,” Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesperson Lauren Hitt said in an email. Ocasio-Cortez was a staunch Sanders supporter until he dropped out of the race in April. Related: Rep. Ocasio-Cortez releases Green New Deal resolution Ocasio-Cortez serves as representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, which includes the eastern part of the Bronx and parts of Queens. At only 30 years old, she’s Congress’ youngest member and is known for advocating for working-class people and social and environmental justice; Ocasio-Cortez sponsored the Green New Deal. Kerry is known for his work on environmental improvements. He helped orchestrate the 2016 Paris Agreement, which addressed greenhouse gas emissions . Other panel members bring the perspectives of both rural and urban areas. “This is the Climate Dream Team for Democrats,” said Jeremy Symons, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental consultant, according to Inside Climate News . The climate policy panel is one of six task forces Biden convened to unify Democrats after Sanders left the presidential primary race. The other five panels focus on healthcare, immigration, the economy, criminal justice reform and education . The groups will meet before the Democratic National Convention to help set Biden’s campaign agenda. “A united party is key to defeating Donald Trump this November and moving our country forward through an unprecedented crisis,” Biden said in a statement. “As we work toward our shared goal, it is especially critical that we not lose sight of the pressing issues facing Americans.” Via NPR Image via Senate Democrats

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Ocasio-Cortez and Kerry co-chair climate change task force

Recycled materials and traditional techniques define this farmstay in India

May 15, 2020 by  
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At the edge of the Sasan Gir wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat, India, d6thD design studio has completed Aaranya, an agricultural farmstay that pays homage to the rural vernacular and Mother Nature. Crafted with a small carbon footprint, the building adopts low-tech systems, such as passive solar orientation and terracotta roofing, to minimize energy usage. The use of local construction techniques also helped stimulate the economy by employing nearby villagers and craftspeople. Completed in January 2019, Aaranya comprises a series of buildings, each consisting of two attached cottages topped with gabled terracotta -tiled roofs that help offset the monsoon seasons’ heavy rainfall and intense heat in summer. Carefully set amidst the mango trees, the low-profile cottages blend into the lush landscape and look as if they were “planted” on site. The east-west orientation of the buildings also helps minimize heat gain and takes advantage of the cooling breezes from the adjacent agricultural field. Related: A terracotta home keeps naturally cool in one of Thailand’s hottest regions “Rather [than] spending millions on the best technology to create the greenest of green buildings when very few Indians can associate with them and even fewer can afford, we have came up with a simple, established and honest approach inspired by the vernacular architecture,” the architects explained. The use of terracotta, for instance, helps evoke the image of traditional Indian village architecture that has been built from the earthy material for generations. Over time, the tiled roofs will be covered in creeping plants and, as a result, the building will “virtually disappear” once the roof is fully vegetated. In addition to terracotta roof tiles, the architects also looked to traditional construction techniques for the rubble stone-packed foundation, load-bearing exposed natural sandstone walls and the brick dome, which features a mosaic and a window wall of recycled glass bottles . The architects noted, “Every effort has been made to ensure that the cottages remain true to its context and testifies itself to the norms of vernacular architecture.” + d6thD design studio Photography by Inclined Studio via d6thD design studio

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Recycled materials and traditional techniques define this farmstay in India

MIT moves toward greener, more sustainable artificial intelligence

May 15, 2020 by  
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While current  artificial intelligence  (AI) technology holds strategic and transformative potential, it isn’t always environmentally-friendly due to high energy consumption. To the rescue are researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , who have devised a solution that not only lowers costs but, more importantly, reduces the AI model training’s carbon footprint. Back in June 2019, the  University of Massachusetts at Amherst revealed  that the amount of  energy  utilized in AI model training equaled 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. How so? Contemporary AI isn’t just run on a personal laptop or simple server. Rather, deep neural networks are deployed on diverse arrays of specialized hardware platforms. The level of energy consumption required to power such AI technologies is approximately five times the lifetime  carbon emissions  from an average American car, including its manufacturing.  Related:  This AI food truck could bring fresh produce directly to you Moreover, both  Analytics Insight  and  Kepler Lounge  warned that Google’s AlphaGo Zero — the  AI  that plays the game of Go against itself to self-learn — generated a massive 96 tons of  carbon dioxide  over 40 days of research training. That amount of carbon dioxide equals 1,000 hours of air travel as well as the annual  carbon footprint  of 23 American homes! The takeaway then? Numbers like these would make AI model deployment both unfeasible and unsustainable over time. MIT’s research team has devised a groundbreaking automated AI system, termed a once-for-all (OFA) network, described in  their paper here . This AI system — the OFA network — minimizes  energy consumption  by “decoupling training and search, to reduce the cost.” The OFA network was constructed based on automatic machine learning (AutoML) advancements.  Essentially, the OFA network functions as a ‘mother’ network to numerous subnetworks. As the ‘mother’ network, it feeds its knowledge and past experiences to all the subnetworks, training them to operate independently without the need for further retraining. This is unlike previous AI technology  that had to “repeat the network design process and retrain the designed network from scratch for each case. Their total cost gr[ew] linearly … as the number of deployment scenarios increase[d], which … result[ed] in excessive energy consumption and  CO2  emission.” In other words, with the OFA network in use, there is little need for additional retraining of subnetworks. This efficiency decreases costs, curtails carbon emissions and improves  sustainability . Assistant Professor Song Han, of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was the project’s lead researcher. He shared that, “Searching efficient neural network architectures has until now had a huge carbon footprint. But we reduced that footprint by orders of magnitude with these new methods.” Also of particular interest was Chuang Gan, co-author of the MIT research paper, who added, “The model is really compact. I am very excited to see OFA can keep pushing the boundary of efficient deep learning on edge devices.” Being compact means AI can progress towards miniaturization. That could spell next-generation advantages in green operations that improve environmental impact. + MIT News Images via Pexels and Pixabay

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How the next coronavirus stimulus could be a win-win for cruise lines and the environment

April 7, 2020 by  
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As the federal government seeks to bail out the industry, environmental advocacy organizations urged Congress to ensure that any financial aid for cruise lines come with strings attached.

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Green hydrogen could curb one-third of fossil fuel and industry emissions by 2050

April 7, 2020 by  
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That’s according to a BloombergNEF report that calls policy support for the hydrogen economy “insufficient.”

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Green hydrogen could curb one-third of fossil fuel and industry emissions by 2050

Green hydrogen could curb one-third of fossil fuel and industry emissions by 2050

April 7, 2020 by  
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That’s according to a BloombergNEF report that calls policy support for the hydrogen economy “insufficient.”

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Green hydrogen could curb one-third of fossil fuel and industry emissions by 2050

The National Butterfly Center is threatened by Trump’s border wall

November 2, 2018 by  
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The National Butterfly Center is a 100-acre wildlife preserve and botanical garden in South Texas. Not only is it the habitat of more than 100 different species of butterflies, but it is also home to several endangered plants and threatened animals. It happens to be located directly in the path of the Trump administration’s proposed border wall, and that means its future is in question. In September, Congress approved a federal spending bill that included $1.6 billion to fund the wall’s construction, and last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a waiver of 28 different laws that protect public lands, wildlife and the environment in order for construction. If the planned wall actually becomes a reality, it could cut the privately-owned center in two, leaving up to 70 percent of the preserve’s land between the wall and the Rio Grande. “It’s going to be a no-man’s land, Border Patrol’s enforcement zone,” Marianna Trevino Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, told NPR . “They will clear everything. So it’s not like all of this habitat is going to become Garden of Eden, undisturbed. It is going to be eliminated.” Related: Trump’s border wall threatens Texas plants and wildlife A group of scientists published a paper this summer outlining the proposed wall’s negative environmental impacts, and more than 2,700 scientists signed the paper to call on the Trump administration to rethink its border strategy. They would prefer the DHS follow existing environmental laws and avoid physical barriers. There are also multiple lawsuits pending against the Trump administration arguing that the DHS doesn’t have the authority to waive environmental laws to build the wall. But in the past, similar lawsuits in California and New Mexico have been unsuccessful. Wall construction could begin in February 2019. In the meantime, the butterfly preserve will continue to use its property as though the wall will not be built. “We have long-term plans for this place,” Trevino Wright said. “We’re not going to just pack up and abandon that.” + National Butterfly Center Via NPR Images via Alan Schmierer ( 1 , 2 )

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California becomes the first state to ban animal-tested cosmetics

October 1, 2018 by  
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A new California law banning the sale of animal-tested cosmetics is the first of its kind in the U.S. The California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday soon after its inception by colleague and Senator Cathleen Galgiani. The regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, restricting manufacturers wishing to “import for profit, sell or offer for sale” all cosmetics produced with animal testing. Violators will incur a base fine of $5,000, plus $1,000 for each day they continue their illicit activities. Currently, several  animals are manipulated in the cosmetics industry including mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs. A large proportion of these test subjects are killed after experimentation, but not before they have been exposed to possibly irritating or even deadly substances. Susceptibility to hazards is determined by force-feeding or causing the animals to inhale chemicals in order to evaluate toxicity levels. Related: LA City Council unanimously agrees to ban the sale of fur The new California law makes the Humane Cosmetics Act, a federal bill that would eliminate the practice of animal testing in the cosmetics industry, all the more significant. The vital legislature was introduced to Congress last year, but has yet to be passed. Unfortunately, the greatest loophole that remains in the groundbreaking law is an exception for products for which no alternative experimentation procedures exist. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been very lax thus far, simply asking companies to “employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective” to eliminate adverse effects for consumers. California joins a list of governments, such as the EU, India, Israel and Norway, that have already adopted such a ban. But some countries, including China , require animal testing on all imported cosmetics. These animal-tested products could also funnel through the California legislature’s loopholes — as long as animals weren’t used to determine the safety of a product for sale in California specifically. While there has been a push in China to move away from animal testing, there is also greater incentive for companies to stop animal testing. Companies hope to avoid having to pay for two sets of testing, one set of animal tests for China and another to be able to sell the same products in the EU or California. “It gives greater impetus for [the cosmetics] industry to push for changes in other countries,” said Vicki Katrinak, program manager for animal research issues at the U.S. Humane Society. “We’re hoping that California will just be the start of resolving this issue.” + The California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act Via The Huffington Post Image via Siora Photography

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California becomes the first state to ban animal-tested cosmetics

Congress rejects Trump’s renewable energy budget cuts

March 22, 2018 by  
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Congress has reached a deal on the $1.3 trillion budget for fiscal year 2018, an agreement that does not include the cuts to clean energy demanded by the Trump Administration. President Trump’s budget proposal would have cut funding from carbon capture and storage technology while increasing funding for new coal technologies. In this instance, Congress pushed back. For example, the omnibus spending bill increases funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by $2.3 billion rather than agreeing to the 66 percent funding cut for the office proposed by the Trump Administration. In what may be the last major legislation passed this year, Congress must pass the budget deal by midnight on Friday to avoid a third government shutdown in 2018. If the budget deal is enacted, the United States would likely achieve the 2015 goal set by President Obama of doubling research and development for clean energy within a decade. The bill also protects the EPA from Trump ‘s proposed 23 percent cut, maintaining funding for the agency at $8.1 billion. While funding for renewable energy is protected, Trump did manage to achieve a significant policy victory through the bill’s increased funding for DOE’s fossil energy arm to $727 million. This money will fund the development of low-carbon coal technologies. Related: USDA withdraws Obama-era animal welfare standards for organic meat, eggs and dairy The omnibus spending bill also includes a $868 million increase for DOE’s Office of Science , ignoring the Trump Administration’s proposed 15 percent cut. While those who support renewable energy and environmental protection have reason to celebrate, the current government is nonetheless limiting the potential of the clean energy industry. A large increase in funding for clean energy research and development is unlikely in the near future. However, Congress has found an agreeable equilibrium that ensures the quiet work of transforming the energy economy of the United States can continue, even though Donald Trump sits in the White House. Via Axios and the Washington Post Images via Depositphotos (1)

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