Backyard Talk

A Call to Action: On the State of Our Nation & Covid-19

By Jenna Clark, Communications Intern
This week, Congress is in recess. Most Representatives and Senators will return home to districts in turmoil. After many states reopened, Covid-19 rates skyrocketed in much of the south, west, and Midwest. On Wednesday, the United States reported 67,300 new cases. On the same day, we accomplished a remarkable feat: 3.5 million confirmed cases. 
Despite the shattered records, in cases, in single day death statistics, and the growing number of hospitals facing- again, shortages in personal medical equipment and beds, Americans are today, somehow, still locked in a debate about masks. Perhaps its because our President until very recently refused to wear a mask in public, and because his administration is openly distancing itself from the CDC. Increasing research supports the airborne spread of Covid-19 particles. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it: wear a mask.  Everybody In, Nobody Out
Many people in this country desperately need assistance. In tandem with an unprecedented health emergency: 138,000 deaths and rising, we face a once in a century economic disaster. As of this week, between 32 and 33 million people in the country are either receiving unemployment benefits or have applied to do so. While the national unemployment rate decreased from April to June, its hard to conceive that this upturn will continue as many states face massive waves of Covid-19. After re-opening, some states are re-enforcing shut down measures. 
President Trump and other leaders argued that we must open up the country to stave off economic disaster. Thousands of lives have been and will continue to be lost due to their ignorance, a tragedy unlike this country has seen. Their focus on re-opening against all scientific recommendations may also prove to be economically short sighted. By ignoring science and scientists, the Trump Administration is actually creating the economic disaster that they feared. Now we may face a much larger and much more longterm economic problem. As our country continues to be crippled by the virus, those short-term unemployed may become so permanently. It is our government’s responsibility to help.  
In March, Congress passed the CARES Act: a $2 trillion relief package. However, much of the funding allocated for local governments hasn’t reached them. Where local governments did receive aid, funds are running out, but the need isn’t. Increased unemployment benefits are set to end in most states on July 25, just over a week away. While Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package through the House in June, it never reached the debate floor in the Senate. Senate Republicans are working on their own bill, which they expect to release “as early as next week.” However, the $1 trillion maximum that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell identified is below acceptable for House Leader Nancy Pelosi.  
Senators must pass another Covid-19 relief act, and soon. In todays’ era of politics, bipartisanship isn’t trendy. Unfortunately, our government no longer has the privilege to infight. They must work together and create an agreement that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind. Fighting this virus and its economic toll shouldn’t be a partisan issue. 
During this recess, constituencies across the country have an opportunity to hold their Senators accountable. Remember, our governmental officials are elected by us, for us. Our needs and our wills are their responsibility. They have power because we give it to them: we can just as easily take it away.  
So this week, call your representatives. Send emails. Hold them accountable for our well-being. Let them know that they have to take action, they have to pass a new Covid-19 relief act.   
People's Bailout Video Image
For more information: 

Homepage News Archive

Discrimination in Nature: A Story of a White Woman Calling the Cops on a Black Man Birdwatching in Central Park

By law, the access to public parks and lands is currently universal to all people in the United States. However, many black citizens are deterred from visiting parks and enjoying nature due to racism engrained in society and stereotypes involving the demographic of people engaging in many activities involving nature (e.g., hiking and camping). This phenomenon can be disturbingly seen through the recent harassment of Christian Cooper, a black avid birdwatcher in Central Park, by a white woman who called the police on him on May 26th. The story of Christian Cooper further exposes our society for engrained racism and discrimination, specifically in regards to how different races associate themselves with the natural world. Read More

Backyard Talk

What is “Fridays for Future,” and why are youth protesting outside their parliaments across the world? By Maddelene Karlsson

Since August 2018 a climate change movement known as “Fridays for Future” has grown significantly fast. It all started with the now 16-year old Swedish Greta Thunberg, who learned about the devastating effects of climate change in school. She felt so taken by what she had learned and thought that interventions on a global level need to happen sooner rather then later. Greta started to protest outside of the Swedish parliament every Friday during normal school hours arguing “why study for a future which may not be there.” The goal of her protests was to demand political leaders improve current climate policies for a sustainable future. Greta also argues “why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?”. Like the snowball effect, Greta’s protesting went from her protesting alone to large school “strikes” together with thousands of people across the world every Friday.
Fridays for future Greta Thunberg

(Photo: Michael Campanella/The Guardian)

In mid-March 2019, the largest strike so far took place in more than 125 countries with at least 1.6 million participants, all demanding action against climate change. Recently, on May 24, another large school strike was organized with similar participation rates, as featured in The Washington Post. The group Youth Climate Strike US, is the lead youth climate action organization in the U.S. They are advocating for the New Green Deal, a stop to new construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, evidence-based policymaking in the government, a declaration of national emergency on climate change, comprehensive climate change education in primary schools, improved preservation of public lands and wildlife habitats and clean water actions.
Fridays for future protest

(Photo: Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The main goal of the school strikes is to urge political leaders globally to comply with the recommendations of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s stated in their latest report that in order to prevent and reverse the predicted devastating impacts of climate change on planet earth and human health, global CO2 emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030. While political leaders are responsible for implementing sustainable policies, such as fulfilling the pledges they made in the Paris agreement for 2030, all people can do their part with small lifestyle changes as well. If we don’t act now, we put ourselves and all wildlife at risk for a mass extinction.
The devastating effects of climate change is not limited to melting icecaps and rising sea levels. Climate change has also caused an increased number and intensity of extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, tornados and rainfall in the U.S. In the 2009 CHEJ publication “In the Eye of the Storm,” the impact of extreme weathers near or at Superfund sites is explored. Superfund sites are already toxic and put human health at risk. With the increased number of storms and flooding, toxins migrate in soil and water and pose a greater risk than originally, making the cleanup processes more difficult and costly too.


ALEC Wants to Make Protest Illegal in Illinois

Dangerous anti-protest legislation is working its way through state assemblies all across the U.S., chipping away at the right to protest and undermining social justice movements. <Read more>

Backyard Talk

Small Victory for North Carolina Residents Fighting CAFOs: Governor Vetoes House Bill 467

The Bill:
“Elise Herring has been fighting for decades against the industrial hog farm that moved in beside her family’s Eastern North Carolina property in 1986 and began spraying the fecal material of +2,000 hogs onto the field that ends eight feet outside her kitchen window.
But last Friday, when the state’s newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would protect the hog industry from lawsuits like the one Herring and about 500 others have filed against a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, she breathed a sigh of relief- at least for the moment…
The North Carolina legislature, in which the Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses (35-15 in the Senate; 74-46 in the House), could override the veto with a 3/5ths majority vote if they take up the issue again. The House would need 72 votes to override the veto, and the Senate would need 30; during each chamber’s last vote on the bill, 74 representatives and 30 senators supported it.”
The Problem:
“In North Carolina, 6,500 industrial hog farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), house more than 9.5 million animals in the flat, hot eastern stretches of the state.
Together, the pigs produce 10 billion gallons of feces and urine each year, which the operations store in large, open-air pits, euphemistically referred to as “lagoons.” To make sure the pits do not overflow, the operations periodically lower their levels by shooting the fecal mixture over “sprayfields” of feed crops with high-pressure sprinklers.
Scientific studies confirm that discharging animal waste into the air damages human health in the surrounding areas. The foul-smelling chemicals the CAFOs release – namely ammonia and hydrogen sulfide – are associated with breathing problems, blood pressure spikes, increased stress and anxiety, and decreased quality of life, studies have found.”
Read the entire story about the North Carolina House Bill 467 and CAFOs here

Backyard Talk

The 2000s Really Are a New Era

By: Amelia Meyer
At the beginning of the last century, about 95 years ago, women earned the right to vote. That was a milestone that took effort and dedication. Now, not even a hundred years later, on June 26th, 2015 our nation has given homosexuals the right to get married. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 allowing same sex couples to be married in every state. This is an extremely important part of our social history. Within the past decade, America has elected an African American President, has women running for president, legalized marijuana in a few states, and given homosexuals the right to marriage. All of these achievements are remarkable and really shape our society today and what the future has in store for it. It is really important to stop and realize how different our society is from 50 years, 100 years, or even 20 years ago. One significant part of our progress is social media; it has become a spectacular tool for freedom of expression, connectivity, and publicity that really helps movements like gay rights and climate change. Instead of just protests and calling people one by one, justice movements can be achieved through the internet, social media, blogs, cell phones, protests, and even profile pictures.

This past weekend was full of achievements for gay rights and for our society. We are all one nation and everyone deserves to love and be loved. On Friday there were tears of joy and ecstatic embraces not only outside of the Supreme Court, but around the world. President Obama made a speech on Friday and said “Today, we can say in no uncertain terms, that we have made our union a little more perfect.” Progress is very important in our nation and throughout the world. This ruling is not only important for the gay rights campaign, but it is vital for the stability of our society. The future promises change and improvement. Last week the Pope also openly supported the climate change movement combining the ultimate figure of religion and the most important topic of science today. Also today New York banned hydraulic fracking which is another step forward in climate justice.
Our nation reacted wonderfully throughout the weekend – there were parades around the country supporting the fact that “Love Wins.” Just walking around in different towns and cities, restaurants and stores had signs saying things like “Equality Wins.” Justice has been achieved. As our world progresses, it will be very intriguing to see what other forms of justice we can achieve.

Backyard Talk

EPA Can Map Environmental Justice Communities – Can They Stop The Poisoning?

Today we know how to identify Environmental Justice communities but what is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doing to relieve their community burdens? A new mapping tool created by the EPA, called EJSCREEN was recently released. This tool is great for academia or researchers but how does it help environmentally impacted communities? Why is generating information, that community already know because they are living with the pollution and associated diseases daily, more important than helping them?

CHEJ, for example, has worked for over thirty years with Save Our County in East Liverpool, Ohio This community in the 1990’s was defined by EPA as an Environmental Justice community, through their evaluation process which is the same as the mapping categories. Yet nothing has changed as a result of this definition.

  • The hazardous waste incinerator, WTI, still operates and remains for most of the time in violation of air and other standards.
  • Other industries continue to pollute with little enforcement.
  • An elementary school was closed due to the air emissions from the WTI Incinerator stack which is almost level to the school windows (incinerator is in the valley) stack peeked over the embankment. The City was force to shoulder the costs of relocating students and staff.
  • In the past several years new wells were drilled for natural gas extraction and infrastructure.
  • The community has the highest number of cancers in their county than other similar counties in the state.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in East Liverpool, Ohio as a result of being defined an environmental justice community.

  • No decision to stop new polluting industries from setting up shop.
  • No action on denying permits, when they have been a significant repeat violator of the laws and regulation, when up for renewal permit.
  • No fee data and information when requested under the freedom of information requests.
  • No additional public comment meetings for new or existing permits. Absolute nothing changed in East Liverpool, OH and so many other communities.

    Thank you EPA for providing a tool for academics, for communities to say yes our community qualifies (although they already knew) and for real estate and banking institutions to provide information that will make it more difficult for families in Environmental Justice communities to secure a home improvement loan or sell their property.

    Now can you spend some time and money on reducing the pollution burdens and assisting with the medical professionals for disease related injuries.

  • Categories
    Backyard Talk

    Environmental Health: A Social Movement Whose Time Has Come

    Guest Blog by Kate Davies

    In 1965, when I was 8 years old, my mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was given less than a year to live. By some miracle she survived, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer some 20 years later. She survived this too, but in 1995 she developed a rare T cell lymphoma. She died in 2007, after fighting these three different types of cancer for over forty years.

    My mother’s illnesses influenced me profoundly. As a child, I wanted to become a doctor so I could make her better, but as the physicians failed to cure her, I became more interested in how cancer could be prevented. To find out more, I decided to study biochemistry. After completing a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate, I became convinced that toxic chemicals and radiation played a role in this life-threatening disease. This realization led me to join the environmental health movement.

    I suspect that most people join this social movement because, like me, they know someone with an environmentally-related disease or because they live in a community affected by pollution.  This shouldn’t be a surprise.  Social activism is often a result of direct, personal experience.  Although scientific and economic information is important, living with or witnessing an environmental health problem firsthand can inspire activism in a way that facts and figures alone don’t.

    The leaders of the U.S. environmental health movement are well aware of this. For the past 35 years, they have intentionally drawn attention to the health effects of toxic chemicals and other environmental hazards. By highlighting the effects of pollution on living, breathing people, they are putting a human face on the issues. Whether it’s a cancer survivor talking about how she copes with daily life or a mom talking about her child’s learning disabilities, the stories of real people dealing with real illnesses make environmental issues much more tangible and immediate.

    This is the environmental health movement’s unique strategy. Unlike most environmentalists, who emphasize the natural world, the environmental health movement shines a spotlight on human health and well-being. This may sound like a subtle difference, but it affects how issues are framed and communicated to the public.  More importantly, it makes a huge difference in how the public understands them.

    Shining a spotlight on human health has made the environmental health movement successful.  Working mostly at the state and local levels, activists have organized countless communities to protest abandoned toxic waste dumps, oppose new hazardous facilities, raise awareness about local disease clusters and draw attention to environmental injustice. The movement has also won numerous legislative victories. Over 900 toxics policies were proposed or enacted in the U.S. between 1990 and 2009, and between 2003 and 2011, 18 states passed 71 chemical safety laws..

    The environmental health movement was born in 1978, just two years before I joined it. As supporters of CHEJ will know, in that year, Lois Gibbs first raised the alarm about the health effects of toxic chemicals leaking from an abandoned waste dump in Love Canal, New York. Organizing her neighbors to demand action, she fought the government and won.

    Since then, the environmental health movement has spread across the U.S. and around the globe. Today, about 10,000 environmental health organizations and people are listed on WISER, a worldwide social networking website for sustainability. Almost 4,500 members in about 80 countries and all 50 states form the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. There are now environmental health groups in every major city and state in the U.S.

    But despite its success and widespread public support, very little has been written about this social movement. There are many books on the environmental movement, the environmental justice movement and the science of environmental health, but only a handful on the environmental health movement.

    My new book, The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement, is an attempt to remedy this situation and give it the recognition it so richly deserves.  In the book, I describe the historical and cultural origins of the U.S. environmental health movement and analyze the organizations and strategies that comprise it today. By examining what has made this movement successful, the book provides insights into what social movements can do to advance positive social change.

    Those of us who are part of the environmental health movement do this work because we are called to do it. For us, there is simply no other choice. As the poet Adrienne Rich wrote:

    “My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
    So much has been destroyed
    I have to cast my lot with those
    who age after age, perversely,
    with no extraordinary power,
    reconstitute the world.”

    Kate Davies, MA, DPhil, is the author of a new book called The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement. She is core faculty in the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle and clinical associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. She has been active on environmental health for 35 years in the U.S., Canada and other countries.