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What Does Pearl Harbor and Environmental Injustice in San Francisco Have in Common?

Photo credit: Christopher Ulrich/Flickr

By Sharon Franklin.

Pearl Harbor happened 71 years ago on December 7th, 1941, but remnants of this World War II attack are still being felt by residents living at Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, California. This neighborhood has been called a “textbook case of environmental justice.” As reported by the Earth Island Journal, this community’s battle for environmental justice has been almost a century-long battle.

The EPA declared a shipyard near this community a Superfund site in 1989. This was due to contamination from asbestos, PCBs, and, most controversially, radioactive materials. The U.S. Navy and EPA have been trying to clean up the radiation from this site for decades, but to enable the sale of the property to a very lucrative real-estate development deal with the Lennar Corporation. Not for civilian safety. Activists believe that should the Navy and EPA get away with this subpar cleanup, then the equivalent of transporting the fallout from Hiroshima across the Pacific to the Bayview-Hunters Point community will go untouched.  

The Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was again in the public eye in the Fall of 2022, when the EPA made it known that it does not intend to hold the Navy responsible for a full cleanup. Mr. Schwartz of the Earth Island Journal reported that failure to do so would disregard Proposition P, a measure passed overwhelmingly by San Francisco voters in 2000 (and adopted by the city’s board of supervisors in 2001). This measure also urged that the site be cleaned up to the agency’s most protective standards for safe residential use without restrictions.

According to Environmental Policy Analyst, Daniel Hirsch, of the San Francisco Examiner, the EPA “intends to allow the use of far weaker limits and let the Navy walk away from much of the pollution at the site, relying on unenforceable land-use restrictions and covering up rather than cleaning up the radioactivity and toxic chemicals.” The EPA’s vague assurances has only led to more questions for the community of Bayview-Hunters Point.  

Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction and a longtime community leader at Hunters Point, believes that the Navy’s use of Battelle and other federal contractors tied to the Navy and polluters is the opposite of independent oversight. He further says, “The plans by the Navy and EPA to leave large amounts of radioactive and toxic waste buried and capped at the shipyard are blatant environmental racism, especially as sea levels and groundwater are rising and will eventually flood and spread the contamination further into the community.” Also, Dr. Robert Gould, President of the San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility expressed outrage at “the abdication of EPA’s public duty” in their decision to let the Navy off the hook. 

On the other side of the debate is San Francisco Mayor, London Breed, who has gone on record in support of the Navy’s cleanup plans, describing them as “robust and appropriate.” In response to the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors President, Shamann Walton, asserted the EPA’s decision to allow a limited cleanup, saying that “the board will have a say on whether or not the city will accept land transfers from the Navy.”

So, What Can Environmental Justice Advocates Do?

As we approach the remembrance of Pearl Harbor 71 years later, environmental activists across the nation will continue to keep a watchful eye on what happens at Bayview-Hunters Point, noting that should the Navy and EPA get away with a substandard cleanup at a heavily contaminated site, we can only imagine what they could do to less affluent and less well-organized communities in other parts of the country.

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Contrary to Popular Belief, Climate Change is a Key Issue among Voters of Color this Election

Photo credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

By Sharon Franklin.

Victoria St. Martin, reporter for Inside Climate News, recently reported on a poll concerning people of color and climate change. The results run counter to the historical belief that environmental issues are a low priority for BIPOC groups. About 70 percent of people of color who responded to the poll said climate change had a significant impact on their home regions or communities. 86% of Asian American and Pacific Islander respondents, approximately 72% percent of African Americans, and 76 % of Hispanic voters said their communities had been affected.

The Poll’s Key Findings:

  • Midterm voters of color are hopeful and motivated to get involved with the progress the U.S. is making on climate change, even as overall midterm voters feel frustrated by the slow progress being made. A clear majority of voters believe it is important that the groups and organizations working to address climate change are racially and ethnically diverse – shares are even stronger among voters of color.
  • Outside of the economy, climate change has broken through as a top priority among overall likely midterm voters and voters of color; it is now equally as important to them as abortion, immigration, and gun violence.
  • Voters are overwhelmingly concerned by the perceived worsening impacts of climate change – especially voters of color of which three in four are worried about climate change’s direct effects on their lives. Voters’ sense of urgency to address the issue is even stronger.
  • Diversegreen’s research even finds that climate change alone can decisively influence voters’ choice of candidates at the ballot box this November. Voters of color are overwhelmingly more likely to support a candidate for Congress who has “addressing climate change” as one of their top three priorities. Messaging only improves support for such candidates.

Additionally, the poll found that 64 percent of people of color who responded were either “much more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to support Congressional candidates who indicated that “addressing climate change” is one of their top three priorities.  These were the communities most negatively affected by droughts, flooding, and wildfires.

Andres Jimenez, Executive Director of Green 2.0, stated “It’s really a testament that candidates need to stop shying away from the issues of climate change because it is a winning priority among voters of color.  It should be a game changer for candidates who are going to communities of color, working with leaders of color to really prioritize and work on these issues, to listen to these communities, to talk about climate change, because it is on voters’ minds as they head to the polls.”

Jimenez, continued by affirming “Climate change impacts communities of color, frontline communities the most. And as we move forward to be aggressive and to accelerate the conversation around climate change and to address these issues, we need diversity within those conversations.  In conclusion, Jimenez stated “We’re hoping that this poll reaches those types of candidates and that they’re inspired by this and go and speak with these communities, but also take time to listen to what these communities have to say about how climate change is impacting their communities, their families and themselves.”

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A Brief Analysis of the Inflation Reduction Bill (2022)

This graphic summarize the allocated spending categories included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Each $1 is equal to about 1 billion dollars.

Photo credit: Council of State Governments

By Hunter Marion.

On August 16th, 2022, President Biden signed into law the largest, most comprehensive environmental bill in our country’s history, the Inflation Reduction Act (2022). It might even be more impactful than the milestone environmental legislation passed during the 1970s.

The IRA is a massive bill, encompassing a mind-boggling list of new laws ranging from prescription drug regulation to rejuvenating the IRS to environmental justice to agricultural carbon sequestration to the Justice40 Initiative. It is packed with new policies, tax credits, and grants determined to simultaneously reduce future economic downturn and bolster the United States as the world’s frontrunner in green technology and environmentalism. As exciting and momentous an achievement as this is within the environmental movement, it is not immune to criticism.

Without a doubt, the IRA is full of marvelous carrots designed to incentivize compliance. It provides plentiful tax credits and rebates to taxpayers and companies who buy into or transition to cleaner technologies, like electric appliances, EVs, or renewable energy sources. Low-income or BIPOC grassroots groups and EJ communities can access more readily available funding for air monitoring technology, technical assistance, urban forestry, and more. Even government contractors can see their subsidized budgets and clientele sizably increase if they comply to prevailing wage and apprenticeship guidelines. However, this bill is surprisingly limited on sticks.

The sticks that are present do have potential to make meaningful environmental changes. For instance, the IRA taxes corporations at a much higher rate for leaking methane, holding a land lease without developing it, or refusing to comply with renewable energy transitions. The Superfund excise tax (which was reinstated in 2021) has even been applied to crude oil/petroleum products and a list of chemical substances, including two PFAS. (Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS,” are extremely pervasive and long-lasting chemicals or microplastics known to be harmful to human health). Nevertheless, for a bill determined to lower national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to pre-2005 levels, it hesitates to give the oil and gas (O&G) industry a slap on the wrist. It even provides hearty kickbacks to the O&G industry, such as authorizing the lease of previously unavailable offshore wells in Alaska and the Gulf Coast and allowing extraction wells to be located nearby (or preferred over) wind or solar farms.

Along with failing to directly limit O&G, this bill also ignores a few key battles within the environmental movement. First, hazardous fracking waste regulation is absent from the bill. As detailed in my previous blog, orphaned radioactive fracking waste is a national issue that falls through the cracks of most state and federal regulatory agencies. Second, the PFAS that are included in the renewed Superfund chemicals list are “legacy” PFAS. They are no longer manufactured (some stopped being made over 15 years ago) but still have significant presence within EJ communities. Despite their inclusion being a success to these groups, it belies the fact that hundreds of other similarly dangerous PFAS are still being synthesized and sold without much regulation. Lastly, the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), a program intended to put restoration and conservation efforts directly into the hands of community members, was absent from the finalized bill. The Biden Administration designed the CCC to be a climate-based government program modeled after the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) or Civil Works Administration (CWA). It was a revitalized effort to make environmentalism and community decision-making accessible for lower-wealth, BIPOC, and young people. Sadly, those plans fell through at the last minute. In fairness, it is truly remarkable that this bill passed at all, especially since its authority is uncertain.

As of late, the U.S. Supreme Court has been set on undermining crucial environmental regulations. In West Virginia v. EPA (2022), SCOTUS ruled that the EPA could not put state-level caps on carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. In Sackett v. EPA (2023), SCOTUS is likely to rule in favor of reducing protections of wetlands and waterways harbored under the Clean Water Act. It would not be any surprise if a case against one of the hundreds of policies contained in the IRA made its way to the Supreme Court. Nor would it be a shock if they too ruled in favor of dismantling a central component to these new environmental laws. The good news, however, is that this would likely be a decades-long process due to the copious number of laws and policies included in this bill. Now, if an anti-environmentalist collective were to gain the majority in the U.S. Congress in a future election cycle, that would be a different story.

No matter how likely a retaliation to this bill is or how much it is missing, it does not invalidate the joy and wonder of watching the U.S. take a huge leap towards becoming a greener, cleaner country.

To learn more about the Inflation Reduction Act, check out this informative video by Hank Green of the VlogBrothers.

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Why the EPA Is Like It Is

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

By William Sanjour.

Some of you may remember Bill Sanjour. Bill was a life-long employee of EPA in the Office of Solid Waste. He was an active critic of the agency, and he wrote several articles about the agency where he spent most of his working life. This is an excerpt from one of these articles. Contact info@chej.org for a copy of the complete article.

I am frequently asked why the United States Environmental Protection Agency does not seem to be particularly interested in protecting the environment. EPA is frequently cited as not only failing to protect the environment but even for working at cross purposes to environmental protection. I’ve concluded that to understand why EPA is the way that it is, you must start at the top, at the White House.

Any President of the United States and his immediate staff have an agenda of about a half dozen issues that they are most concerned with. These are usually national security, foreign affairs, the economy, the budget, and maybe one or two other issues. These I’ll call the Class A priorities. Other presidential responsibilities such as housing, education, welfare, transportation, the environment, veteran’s affairs, etc. I’ll call Class B priorities.

Equally important, but less well-known is the so-called “hidden agenda.” This includes such considerations as getting re-elected, getting supporters re-elected, and “where do we go when our term in office is over?” The hidden agenda is not peculiar to the White House as similar considerations are shared by every government official from the Speaker of the House to the House janitor. We are, after all, talking about people who, although they may be lofty government dignitaries, nevertheless have mortgages to pay, children to send to college, and orthodontist bills. When one brings the hidden agenda out of hiding, the actions of the government become the actions of people and they become clearer.

For the Class A priorities, the President appoints people he knows, and trusts and he demands performance. He will expect the military to be able to deploy forces anywhere in the world when an emergency arises. If they are not ready when he needs them, he will “bang heads and kick asses.” But can you picture any President of the United States bringing the Secretary of Education into his office and slamming his fist on the table because of low SAT scores in Sheboygan? Or bringing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency into the oval office to chew him out for the pollution in the Cuyahoga River? I can’t. And that, to my mind, is the difference. The President expects performance in Class A. He expects something else in Class B.

That something else is peace and quiet. The President will usually appoint people to head Class B agencies who are amenable to the special interests concerned with that agency, rather than his own cronies, but the message that goes out from the White House to the managers in Class B is, “do anything you want so long as it doesn’t impinge on the President’s Class A priorities.” But EPA can do almost nothing which doesn’t adversely affect business, especially big and influential business, and that disturbs the President’s peace and quiet. Furthermore, uncovering the hidden agenda reveals that the President needs big business to finance election campaigns and his staff is looking ahead to parlaying their White House experience to seven figure jobs in private industry.

The Administrator of EPA is usually someone who is agreeable to the mainline environmentalists but one who is also a “team player.” He can make all the speeches he wants about the environmental ethic, but he must not do anything to make waves. This message permeates the entire agency. The message isn’t transmitted through written or even oral instructions. It’s more a case of survival of the “fittest.” People who like to get things done, people who need to see concrete results for their efforts, don’t last long at EPA. When it comes to drafting and implementing rules for environmental protection, getting results means making enemies of powerful and influential people. No, they don’t usually get fired, but they don’t get advanced either, and their responsibilities are transferred to other people, and they usually leave the agency in disgust. The kind of people who get ahead are those clever wimps who can be terribly busy while they procrastinate, obfuscate, and come up with superficially plausible reasons for not accomplishing anything.

The bottom line is that if you want EPA to pay attention to you, you have to affect the careers of EPA employees. If you organize and have a large block of supporters, then you can influence local, state, and federal elections. You can also use your influence on local banks, merchants, or anyone else who might be tempted to profit from a hazardous waste facility in your backyard. By pressuring these people, you in turn affect the pocketbooks and careers of EPA employees, and thus their actions. If you win locally, EPA will follow.

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Shales, Scales, and Sales – Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo credit: J. Henry Fair

By Hunter Marion.

Within the U.S., 12 states produce the vast majority of the country’s fossil fuels. These states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Three of these states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) sit atop two massive underground geological formations called the Utica and Marcellus Shales.

Shale is a “fine-grained sedimentary rock composed mostly of consolidated clay or mud” that has preserved ancient organic material from hundreds of millions of years ago. Fossil fuels, which are gases or liquids derived from the decay of this material, are plentiful amongst shale layers. Fracking is the most common and lucrative way to extract this organic material from the shale. It is also one of the most destructive forms of energy extraction in our country.

Fracking is the process of pumping pressurized water, chemicals, and a “proppant” (usually sand) to fracture and hold open underground fissures in shale containing oil and gas. The refuse from this process is then removed from the site and either stored at an off-site location or injected into a deep well. Every step in this process jeopardizes public health and ecological stability. But it also produces rampant hazardous waste.

Some of the decaying material in shale is radioactive. Normally, these radionuclides or naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) are buried and do not pose a threat to human health. However, when they are extracted by unnatural means they then become technologically enhanced NORMs (TENORMs) and can be dangerous when concentrated in high quantities – like in fracking.

TENORMs accrue in the instruments used for extraction. Several types of fracking waste like scales, sludge, and brine cause recurring radioactive exposure. Scales are layered mineral deposits that cake the inside of pipes from gas wells. They contain the highest concentration of radioactive material and must be removed by hand. Sludge is a mixture of oil, liquids, sand, soil, and residue that accumulates at the bottom of storage tanks. Although radiation concentrates less in liquid form, sludge poses the greatest threat to health as it can more easily escape into the environment or drain into nearby water. And brine, or liquid waste, is the refuse from the initial pressurization of the fissure. It has repeatedly been found seeping into the groundwater and soil via unexpected ways, such as commercial deicer, road dust suppressants, or “Johnny on the spot” restrooms.

On-site workers are constantly exposed to elevated rates of radioactive waste. One radionuclide commonly found in fracking waste is radium (Ra). Brines from the Utica Shale region have been found containing Ra at 580 times the EPA maximum contaminant level. Consistent exposure to radium is also correlated with elevated risk of developing cancer to chronic blood and bone disease. Reporting has even shown that fracking companies often do not provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees are typically tasked with manually moving, cleaning, and handling fracking waste without any radiation training or even awareness of the material’s potential harm. These workers then unconsciously expose nearby civilians and buildings to radiation when they leave work.

Lastly, due to a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal government (i.e., the EPA) cannot regulate oil and gas waste. More specifically, oil and gas waste is not considered hazardous waste under RCRA. Meaning that no matter the amount of TENORMs present in fracking waste, it does not need to be properly disposed of and treated. Thus, these wastes become “orphaned” and get lost in a system of nearby landfills, waterways, or incinerators. In Texas, one company just left deteriorating vats of waste exposed to the desert heat. State and local governments can address these wastes, but they have either not cared to or failed to do enough.

Radioactive fracking waste has been a problem since the 1980s. From Oregon to New York, the disposal of conventional and unconventional fracking well waste has been continuously mishandled and endangered hundreds of thousands of lives. All levels of government should be held accountable for recognizing fracking waste as a hazardous byproduct. Maybe then the country can finally find a real home for this orphaned waste instead of abandoning it near ours.

For more information about radioactive fracking waste, check out these articles by Rolling Stone, the Public Herald, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Pros and Cons of the EPA’s Proposed Rule Against PFAS

Photo credit: Ken Wright/USAF

By Jose Aguayo.

On August 26, 2020, the USEPA released a proposed rule to regulate Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or “Superfund.” These two chemicals are the most widely used ones from a family of chemicals called Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS. They have been used indiscriminately for decades in the aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, clothing, and cooking ware industries. Given their wide usage and their chemistry, which makes them virtually indestructible by natural processes, PFAS widely spread and accumulate in the environment. Additionally, PFAS are strongly linked to health problems in humans, such as cancer and decreased immune response.

The proposal from the EPA looks to tackle the PFAS problem by, ideally, increasing transparency around the release of these harmful chemicals and by helping to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up their contamination. Although this sounds like an amazing move on paper, there are caveats that need to be monitored and potential pitfalls that need to be avoided at all costs.

Let’s start with the positives first – and there are quite a few. Firstly, PFOA and PFOS emissions over a certain threshold will trigger reporting requirements from the industries using these chemicals. The EPA will then be able to investigate and potentially require cleanup at sites contained by releases. Crucially, the EPA will be able to require the industries that released the PFOA and PFOS to pay for the cleanup. Many sites contaminated by PFOA and POFS are military installations that would hold the DOD responsible for the cleanup. Additionally, trash that contains a certain level of PFAS may be required to be disposed of in hazardous waste landfills. Currently, any number of consumer products, construction material, or other waste can freely go to municipal landfills where minimal controls mean these chemicals have a chance of leaching out into the surrounding communities.

Now, the bad news. Labeling these PFAS as hazardous chemicals means that thousands of sites suddenly become eligible to be added to the National Priorities List (NPL), or Superfund list. This list currently has 1,329 sites. With the addition of PFAS sites, this number would easily double if not triple. The current wait time for Superfund cleanup depends on many factors, but the size of the list is one of the main ones. As such, sites currently wait anywhere from a couple of years to more than a decade before cleanup commences. If the list is doubled or tripled, the cleanup times would easily follow suit. A community that has been waiting for cleanup for nearly a decade today, may get pushed further back and wait another decade before the contamination around them is removed.

The argument against this point is that most sites with PFOA and PFOS contamination are DOD installations, thus money would flow from this department. However, that is not guaranteed, and it will require constant pushing from the affected communities to ensure that the money comes in a timely manner. Since PFOA and PFOS have been phased out from many industries, finding responsible parties to pay for cleanup in non-DOD sites will most likely result in lengthy litigation battles that will only delay cleanup of contaminated sites even more.

Another potential pitfall is the disposal of PFAS containing materials. Although the proposed rule would make many PFAS waste go into hazardous waste landfills, a significant number will escape this requirement. The oil and gas industry is exempt from CERCLA, which means their byproducts are not required to follow CERCLA disposal guidelines. Waste from oil and gas drilling, especially fracking waste, contains large amounts of various PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS. This waste would escape regulation and be free to contaminate communities around non-hazardous waste landfills.

All in all, this move from the EPA is a very welcome step to combat PFAS pollution. However, there are several ways in which industries can avoid these implications, and even some ways that the designation can hurt existing communities. CHEJ is weary of these potential pitfalls and encourages the USEPA, as well as the environmental community, to ensure that they do not materialize as detriments to environmental justice communities.

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Chemical Recycling – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Photo credit: GAIA

By Stephen Lester.

Several years ago, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) released a report warning about a growing trend promoted by the chemical plastics industry called “chemical recycling” (also referred to as “advanced recycling,” “waste-to-fuel,” “waste-to-plastic,” “plastic transformation,” and “plastics renewal”). According to GAIA, eight states had passed laws at that time that relaxed pollution regulations and/or provided subsidies for facilities that promoted these processes. Some even explicitly defining them as recycling facilities, despite numerous reports from media, watchdog, and nonprofit groups concluding that they are doing little more than burning plastic.

In a legislative update released this month, GAIA now lists 20 states that “have passed laws redefining these processes as non-waste, including several that inaccurately “define chemical ‘recycling’ as recycling” (emphasis in the original). According to this excellent new report, many of these laws reclassify waste or incinerator processes (including pyrolysis and gasification) and/or feedstocks in a way that would subject them to less stringent air and water quality requirements. Some of these bills redefine solid waste processing as manufacturing, or plastic waste as a post-use polymer or recovered feedstock.

This is a disturbing trend that GAIA warns is being accelerated by the petrochemical industry, who is chiefly behind it. The report argues that this “aggressive legislative strategy” has focused on passing laws at the state level that feature two approaches. First, some laws provide financial incentives to build facilities while making them exempt from some state laws. The second approach pushes for the inclusion of chemical “recycling” in the definition of acceptable recycling in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills. These aim to reduce packaging by requiring producers, rather than municipalities, to pay for the recycling of plastic packaging. At the federal level, GAIA notes that the industry has targeted regulators instead of legislators. As an example, GAIA points out that the USEPA included chemical “recycling” in its 2021 National Recycling Strategy.

GAIA names the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the industry lobby arm, as the chief perpetrator of this campaign and describes a report released by ACC this year announcing “$8.7 billion in investments in 83 projects in advanced recycling and recovery, as well as mechanical recycling, aimed at revolutionizing the use and reuse of plastic resources.”

Several advocacy groups are circulating a sign-on letter to Congress to oppose industry sponsored plastic burning legislation. That letter begins: “The American Chemistry Council is working to have federal legislation introduced that would strip regulations from pyrolysis and gasification incinerators and pave the way for a national network of plastic burning facilities that the industry continues to greenwash as so-called ‘advanced recycling.’” Sign on to this letter urging members of Congress to reject any such industry bill and uphold longstanding environmental law designed to protect public health from industrial polluters. The deadline for signing is September 9th.

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International Environmental Governance

Photo credit: Yomiuri Shimbun/AP Images

By Arien Hernandez.

Climate injustice, alongside a lack of state responsibility and commitment, is arguably one of the world’s most formidable challenges regarding climate change. Measured by the extent of damage that would occur if no climate action was taken, developing countries are more vulnerable to climate change, and yet have fewer resources to combat it (Chap. 3, Morin et al.).

Regardless of their emissions, developing countries deal with a disproportionate impact of pollution and environmental degradation due to their reliance on natural resources. Climate change is one of the greatest risks to lower wealth communities, as it is a “force capable of literally ‘undoing’ decades of development”. Meanwhile, some developed states, such as the U.S., have favored minimal agreements in environmental treaties or policies, which are sometimes incomplete or ambiguous (Chapter 7, Morin et al.). Although states have shown initiation in climate action through international treaties such as the Paris Agreement, the ambition gap is a clear indicator that states need stricter emissions targets. If every country shared a systematic and structural view on the environment, these issues would be easier to solve (Chap 6, Morin et al.).

Developed countries can help remedy this issue by taking responsibility for their historic and current emissions while supporting developing nations by transferring funds, expertise, and technologies. Thus, alleviating some of the climate inequity. To fully commit to stricter emissions targets, developed states could enforce emissions trading, ratify more environmental treaties with binding emission targets, or divest from fossil fuels and encourage sustainable energy.

The increasing involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and their significant contributions in addressing collective action problems in global environmental politics, has restored a majority of my hope for the future. A perfect example is noting California’s initiation in air pollution legislation and greenhouse gas emission policies, whereas the U.S. federal government fails to uphold similar goals. It is promising to know that amid inaction and irresponsibility across state actors, many groups and organizations are committed to combating climate change. However, more environmental cooperation and action is needed if we are to restore the Earth’s climate to sustainable and healthier levels.

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The Battle of the Poxes: What You Need to Know About Monkeypox

Photo credit: World Health Organization.

By Tijani Musa.

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted from animals to humans). According to the WHO, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although the monkeypox symptoms are clinically less severe. Another significant differentiation is that smallpox was known to have been eradicated in the 1980s. Due to the subsequent cessation of the smallpox vaccination following the eradication, monkeypox is making an entrance and attracting the attention of public health practitioners, everywhere. Historically, the environmental conditions in which cases of monkeypox are detected are near tropical rainforests. These environmental conditions are mainly in central and west Africa. Nonetheless, if Covid-19 pandemic has taught humanity any lessons, it would be that we live in a connected world and humans are interdependent on each other. Subsequently, a disease in the tropical rainforests of west Africa could easily travel on the next flight to  infect the next person anywhere in the world. Hence, to minimize the potential spread of monkeypox is to understand the people, place, or things susceptible to carrying and spreading the virus.

Typical host of monkeypox virus

Various animal species are susceptible to the monkeypox virus. The WHO included rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates, and other species as likely hosts of monkeypox. There is still mystery lingering on the history of the monkeypox virus, and further studies are being conducted to learn more about its exact reservoir (s) and its circulation.

How does it spread

Monkeypox spreads in many different ways starting from person to person through:

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or intimate physical contacts, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
  • Touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta
  • At this time, it is not known if monkeypox can spread through semen or vagina fluids

According to the CDC, it is possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat, or by using products from an infected animal. Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The window of illness typically lasts from 2-4 weeks. In the United States, the CDC latest data shows at least 2,108 probable or confirmed cases as of July 19, 2022. The U.S is working diligently to get in front of this virus as it has tripled its monkeypox vaccine doses since last week. More work is needed to increase the supply of vaccines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warns that “this is something we definitely need to take seriously. We don’t know the scope and the potential of it yet, but we have to act like it will have the capability of spreading much more widely than it’s spreading right now.”

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The Urban Heat Island Effect

Photo credit: Washington City Paper.

By Leanna Theam.

I grew up in the suburbs of sunny Southern California then moved to the opposite end of California to a small college town to study Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning at the University of California, Davis. Regardless, living my entire life in California meant that have I never understood or experienced the severity of climate change. This summer, I moved to Washington, D.C. for a 10-week program to be an intern for the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice. To put it simply, I was not ready to experience summers in the city.

I never expected the heat to rise to such high temperatures on the East Coast of all places and it didn’t take me long to realize that I moved into an “urban heat island.” The Urban Heat Island Effect, as explained by the Environmental Protection Agency, “occur[s] when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat.” Washington, D.C. is a good example of this effect as temperatures in the city can rise to 10 or 20 degrees hotter than surrounding cities that may have more greenery.

This not only poses a threat to our environment but a threat to the communities living in these heat islands, specifically those in a lower socioeconomic class. I am fortunate enough to be temporarily housed in an apartment building with AC, and I do not have to worry as much about an energy bill for these summer months. However, long-term residents in the city do not have the same luxury. The Washington Paper explains that “wealthier D.C. residents can leave town for the beach or the mountains this time of year” compared to other lower-wealth individuals who do not have similar means to escape the heat. Federal government’s history of discriminatory actions and urban planning segregation only exacerbate this problem amongst communities of color. Historically redlined neighborhoods must put up with dangerously high levels of heat in the summer months.

Environmental justice is social justice, and we must call for our local, state, and federal governments to focus on these environmental issues. Government officials should pass policies that can help us move towards a healthier living environment to continue mitigating climate change to the best of our ability.

Check out this article to learn more: Exploring the Heat Island Effect in Washington, D.C.