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EarthTalk®

by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss


Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that lawn chemicals can cause canine cancer, and if so, how can I protect my dog? -- Bill W., Ithaca, NY

Unfortunately, the answer may very well be yes. A 2012 study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Research, found that exposure to certain lawn care products, such as the nearly ubiquitous herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2 4-D for short), increases dogs’ chances of developing Canine Malignant Lymphoma (CML) by 70 percent. When ingested repeatedly, 2 4-D acts as an endocrine disruptor, mutating a dog’s white blood cell count allowing malignant tumor cells to replicate unchecked. While obviously worrisome for dogs and those of us who love them, the implications for people aren’t good either, given the similarities between the onset of CML in canines and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.

A 2013 study in another peer-reviewed journal, Science of the Total Environment, found that “exposure to herbicide-treated lawns has been associated with significantly higher bladder cancer risk in dogs.” Certain breeds of dogs (terriers, beagles, sheep dogs) are at greater risk, but needless to say lots of 2 4-D or other synthetic lawn chemicals like glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) aren’t good for dogs of any stripe. “A strong justification for the work was that dogs may serve as sentinels for potentially harmful environmental exposures in humans,” report the researchers behind the bladder cancer study.

What can you do to help prevent more dogs (and humans) from getting sick? For starters, avoid using lawn care chemicals around your home. And if you hire or manage someone else to take care of your yard, make sure they are not using 2 4-D, glyphosate or any other potentially hazardous pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Getting rid of your lawn altogether and replacing it with regionally adapted native plants that don’t need fertilizers or pesticides to thrive is another way to protect dogs from chemicals while saving yourself the trouble of having to mow the lawn.

If you can’t live without a grassy green lawn and can’t bear to just let it go wild, opt for all-natural, organic inputs. For instance, organic compost distributed across your lawn with a shovel in a thin layer can do just as well or better at nourishing your grass as chemical fertilizers. For weed control (beyond good-old hand-pulling), a great all-natural alternative to RoundUp is BurnOut, which uses the power of food-grade vinegar and clove oil instead of glyphosate to eradicate unwanted plants.

As for protecting your dog while out on a walk, steer clear of private lawns, even if you have to leash Fido to keep him out of neighbors’ yards. And the days of letting your dog run free in parks where your municipality may use questionable landscaping chemicals are over now that we know the potential consequences. Fortunately, many enlightened cities and towns have taken steps to rid their publicly accessible lands of such hazardous treatments. But you won’t know unless you ask, so contact your local parks department to find out exactly what they’re spraying. And if you don’t like the answer, rally other dog owners to help get it changed, for dogs’ sake.

CONTACTS: “Household Chemical Exposures and the Risk of Canine Malignant Lymphoma, a Model for Human Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267855/; “Detection of herbicides in the urine of pet dogs following home lawn chemical application,” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23584031; BurnOut Weed and Grass Killer, amzn.to/2XyhKGe

Dear EarthTalk: You don’t hear much anymore about the cutting of our forests to make paper. Has this destructive practice just moved overseas where we don’t have to confront it, or have increases in recycling in recent years made paper production less destructive? – J. W., Greenville, SC

It’s true that saving paper (and in turn saving trees) used to be a big discussion topic at home, school and office, but these days you don’t hear much about it. This is likely because paper recycling has become ubiquitous; most of us are now well-versed in how to sort recyclable paper from other “waste.”

According to the American Paper and Forest Association (AF&PA), upwards of two-thirds of all paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling in 2018. What this means is that a lot of the paper we use now gets made with recycled materials that don’t cause more logging and deforestation.

A big player in this march forward has been the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-profit that sets standards on forest products and then certifies and labels those that meet the standards as eco-friendly. Another major factor has been the establishment of guidelines set forth and agreed to by 200 governmental and other entities in 2014’s New York Declaration of Forests (NYDP), an international agreement to “end natural forest loss” by 2030.

Despite this progress, deforestation for paper still continues unabated in Indonesia and other parts of the developing world where government oversight is non-existent and profit incentives are too great for illegal loggers to ignore. Some 10 percent of global deforestation (a major driver of climate change) is due to logging for wood products including paper, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

UCS reports that clearing tropical forests and replacing them with mono-cultural plantations of so-called “fastwood” trees like acacia, partly to make virgin paper, accounts for more deforestation across Indonesia than more infamous environmental bogeymen like palm oil production and coal mining. “This is particularly harmful because about a quarter of fastwood plantations were cleared on carbon-rich peat soils,” reports UCS, “adding significantly to global warming pollution.”

Beyond recycled paper itself, there are some promising alternatives to wood pulp as a feedstock for paper production. Some well-known alt-paper feedstocks include fiber crops like bamboo, kenaf, hemp, flax and jute, agricultural scraps such as sugarcane bagasse, corn husks or straw, and textiles left-over in the production of fabrics and rope. A newer entrant in the green paper alternatives playing field is calcium carbonate—literally rock dust—which is made by pulverizing construction waste and fusing it together with plastic before compressing it with massive rollers into its final paper-thin form.

What about, you might ask, the rapidly-growing digital age we find ourselves in now? Isn’t that saving trees? Yes, but consider the electricity load of all the computers, tablets and phones, as well as the server farms and network switching facilities that keep your e-mail inbox full and your Facebook feed full of new content. They’re largely powered by coal and other fossil fuels. Our addiction to digital information might just be taking a larger toll on the planet than if we still got our information the old-fashioned way—from actual books, magazines, newspapers and printed reports.

CONTACTS: AF&PA, afandpa.org; UCS, ucsusa.org; FSC, fsc.org; NYDP, forestdeclaration.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What is climate gentrification and where is it happening? – Jamie B., Boston, MA

Climate gentrification is a relatively new term describing what happens when neighborhoods traditionally overlooked by wealthy people become more attractive—and expensive—given their siting in geographic areas that happen to be more resilient to climate-related threats such as stronger, more frequent hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, etc.

The already-classic case is in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where climate-related flooding and sea level rises are driving wealthy homeowners away from once pricey beach-front property and into the higher elevations surrounding areas like Little Haiti, Liberty City and Allapattah that have traditionally been home to struggling minority families. The result is greater density and higher home prices and rents in these recently poor neighborhoods. Meanwhile the locals move out, complaining that the transition is forcing them out of their beloved homes while sapping once vibrant cultural identities.

A recently released Harvard study of real estate values by elevation in the Miami area over the last five decades found that while home prices were rising in most parts of the 2,400-square-mile county, areas at higher elevations were experiencing larger increases. Properties located 2-4 meters above sea level rose 11.5x in value on average over the 1971-2017 study period, while those located at or within one meter of sea level rose 8x on average. Current climate projections of Florida’s coastline in a warming world show that areas less than a foot above sea level will be underwater within another 50 years.

The Harvard study put the concept of climate gentrification in the public eye for the first time, but we can see examples of it just about everywhere. “In California, wildfires are becoming more common and forcing people to move, in some cases because their homes were destroyed, and in others because the threat of fire makes it difficult to get insurance or a mortgage,” reports Aparna Nathan of Harvard’s Science in The News blog. “Los Angeles, in particular, may see an influx of people from the coast (as sea levels rise) and further inland (as fires rage) into its traditionally working-class Eastside neighborhoods.”

Another area where climate gentrification has become a problem is Arizona, where people are moving from the overheated Phoenix area to the cooler, higher elevation areas of northern Arizona. According to Nathan, this trend is disrupting communities and the real estate market, and widening socioeconomic gaps in the process. Jesse Keenan, lead author on the Harvard study, concurs, telling Bloomberg News that the situation in Miami “evokes matters of equity and justice that have very limited historical precedent.”

Now that the issue is coming to the fore, environmental justice advocates hope that municipal planners and government officials start taking climate gentrification into account when developing master plans and drafting new zoning ordinances to make sure that even poor people have safe places to live in the face of increasing environmental torment. But as Nathan points outs, housing is just one example of an overarching theme: “as the climate changes, it will be easier for those with more resources to adapt.”

CONTACTS: “Climate gentrification: from theory to empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida,” iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aabb32/pdf; “Climate is the Newest Gentrifying Force, and its Effects are Already Re-Shaping Cities,” sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/climate-newest-gentrifying-force-effects-already-re-shaping-cities/; “Private Climate Firms Say They're Helping. Scientists Worry They're Not,” bit.ly/worry-they-r-not.

Dear EarthTalk: What is the Degrowth movement all about and how can I get involved?

-- P. Warren, Baltimore, MD

Degrowth is an aspirational term describing a way of life where economic expansion is deprioritized, resulting in stronger social bonds between people and within communities, greater economic equality and far less environmental degradation. Proponents decry the current economic/social paradigm of “faster, higher, further” as harmful to nature, given its relentless race to extract and monetize natural resources. They also abhor its competitiveness, stress and exclusion at the expense of the care, solidarity and cooperation necessary to help ourselves out of our humanitarian and ecological crises.

The term “degrowth” first came into common usage among proponents following the first international conference devoted to the topic in Paris in 2008. It has since entered the wider social lexicon through the media and academic writing—and as a battle cry for many environmental advocates working to ratchet down our carbon emissions to combat climate change.

According to the web portal Degrowth.info, a society refocused on degrowth would prioritize achieving “the good life for all” by fostering a culture of “deceleration, time welfare and conviviality.” Meanwhile, developed countries would reduce production and consumption, partly to reduce their impact on the planet but also so as not to lead less-developed countries down the wrong road through bad example.

Degrowth is also predicated on extending democratic decision-making and political participation to all corners of society, acknowledging the ability of local populations to make their own decisions about how to retain self-sufficiency and sustainability in the face of socially and ecologically turbulent times. Also, degrowth advocates say we should be relying on cooperation, planning and a conservation ethic to solve our environmental problems instead of waiting for technological fixes that may or may not even work.

But just because we would be sacrificing some of our consumerism doesn’t mean degrowth would lead to a lesser quality of life. In fact, proponents argue the opposite, envisioning happier lives where we would derive more satisfaction from healthier time-tested pursuits like art, music, walks outside and time with friends and family than from sitting inside by a screen plotting another amazon.com purchase.

Achieving degrowth—and attaining a “steady-state” economy that can function without getting bigger—is of course easier said than done. Rich nations would have to pare down their energy and resource demands significantly and let poorer nations increase their consumption so their citizens get the chance to live healthy, safe lives with access to the conveniences (electricity, sanitation…) modern life has to offer.

If you want to learn more about degrowth, Degrowth.info is a great resource and can point you toward local gatherings of like-minded activists. Another way to get involved is by attending the Picnic 4 Degrowth that takes place in parks all over the world on the first weekend of June every year. And if you really want to go deep, get yourself to Europe for one of the non-profit Research and Degrowth’s annual movement-wide gatherings (May 29-June 1 in Vienna, Austria and/or September 1-5 in Manchester, England).

CONTACTS: Degrowth info; degrowth.info; Picnic 4 Degrowth, picnic4degrowth.wordpress.com; Research & Degrowth, degrowth.org.

Dear EarthTalk: Where do the remaining Democratic presidential candidates stand on climate and environment? -- Mary W., Miami, FL

It was just a few months ago that two dozen Democrats were vying for their party’s nomination to take on Donald Trump in 2020. While technically 16 are still in the race, only seven—Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang—qualified for participation in the December 2019 debate (based on a minimum number of contributing supporters and success in polling in the four “early voting” states). While the Democratic party will most likely choose its candidate from among these seven, it’s still too early to count out the other contenders.

For their part, environmentalists would’ve been happy if Washington governor Jay Inslee, who made promoting the need to address climate change the central tenet of his 2020 presidential bid, was still in the race. Before dropping out in August, Inslee released an omnibus plan to phase out fossil fuels and shift the economy wholesale over to green energy. Fans called it a more practical version of the Green New Deal, a similarly comprehensive green energy-based economic overhaul plan introduced into Congress earlier in the year.

With Inslee out, no one candidate stands out as particularly focused on the environment, although they all support a carbon drawdown of some sort. Elizabeth Warren has adopted Inslee’s climate plan lock, stock and barrel. Previously, she had co-sponsored the Green New Deal along with fellow senators Sanders, Booker and Klobuchar. Most of the other Dems in the running expressed support for the Green New Deal.

Meanwhile, Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire-turned-activist, has lots of environmental cred given his role as founder and funder of NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) an advocacy non-profit and political action committee which steered some $74 million of his riches toward environment-friendly Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in the 2014 elections.

Another compelling candidate from an environmental perspective is media mogul and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has put up $150 million of his own money in support of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign which helped shutter some 50 coal-fired power plants nationwide. Last June, he pledged another $350 million to the cause via Beyond Carbon, his initiative to fight dirty energy.

Other candidates may not have so much money to throw around, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t also keen to fight climate change. Reading through the answers of a recent environment survey of the Democratic hopefuls by the non-profit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) shows more similarities than differences, with each of the Dems pledging to commit billions or trillions of dollars to fighting climate change and restore the U.S. to a leadership position on the issue internationally.

In short, voters concerned about climate change would do well to pull their levers in favor of any of the Democrats running. Whether there are enough like-minded Americans to unseat Trump in 2020 is another question entirely—but the health of the planet may just hang in the balance.

CONTACTS: League of Conservation Voters, lcv.org; NextGen America, nextgenamerica.org; Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal, content.sierraclub.org/coal/; Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Carbon, beyondcarbon.org.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org


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