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As we head into 2012, many of us will be resolving to lose those few extra pounds, save more money, or spend a few more hours with our families and friends. But there are also some resolutions we can make to make our lives a little greener. Each of us, especially in the United States, can make a commitment to reducing our environmental impacts.
"The global community, and particularly people living in industrialized societies, have put unsustainable demands on our planet's limited resources," says Robert Engelman, President of the Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental research organization based on Washington, D.C. "If we expect to be able to feed, shelter, and provide even basic living conditions to our growing population in years to come, we must act now to change."
The United Nations has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Broadening access to sustainable energy is essential to solving many of the world's challenges, including food production, security, and poverty. "With so many hungry and poor in the world, addressing these issues is critical," says Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project. "Fortunately, the solutions to these problems can come from simple innovations and practices."
The Nourishing the Planet team recently traveled to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and will be soon traveling to Latin America, to research and highlight such solutions. The project shines a spotlight on innovations in agriculture that can help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment. These innovations are elaborated in Worldwatch's flagship annual report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.
Hunger, poverty, and climate change are issues that we can all help address. Here are 12 simple steps to go green in 2012:
Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, helping to save energy and protect the environment. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs. As a result, more than 75 percent of all material collected is being recycled, diverting 1.6 million tons from the landfills annually----double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity----enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!
What you can do:
(2) Turn off the lights
On the last Saturday in March----March 31 in 2012----hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.
What you can do:
(3) Make the switch
In 2007, Australia became the first country to "ban the bulb," drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs. By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out, and, according to the country's environment minister, this simple move has made a big difference, cutting an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. China also recently pledged to replace the 1 billion incandescent bulbs used in its government offices with more energy efficient models within five years.
What you can do:
(4) Turn on the tap
The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled----they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. And while public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products. According to a study, 10 of the most popular brands of bottled water contain a wide range of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue, and arsenic.
What you can do:
(5) Turn down the heat
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5-15 percent on your home heating bill.
What you can do:
(6) Support food recovery programs
Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption----approximately 1.3 billion tons----gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries, and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.
What you can do:
(7) Buy local
"Small Business Saturday," falling between "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday," was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions----providing models for others to learn from.
What you can do:
(8) Get out and ride
We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. Now, cities across the country are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses. Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. have major bike sharing programs that allow people to rent bikes for short-term use. Similar programs exist in other cities, and more are planned for places from Miami, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin.
What you can do:
(9) Share a car
Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009. According to the University of California Transportation Center, each shared car replaces 15 personally owned vehicles, and roughly 80 percent of more than 6,000 car-sharing households surveyed across North America got rid of their cars after joining a sharing service. In 2009, car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. Innovative programs such as Chicago's I-GO are even introducing solar-powered cars to their fleets, making the impact of these programs even more eco-friendly.
What you can do:
(10) Plant a garden
Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the FAO and the United Nations Development Programme estimate that 200 million city dwellers around the world are already growing and selling their own food, feeding some 800 million of their neighbors. Growing a garden doesn't have to take up a lot of space, and in light of high food prices and recent food safety scares, even a small plot can make a big impact on your diet and wallet.
What you can do:
And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.
What you can do:
(12) Reduce your meat consumption
Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Yet global meat production has experienced a 20 percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms.
What you can do:
The most successful and lasting New Year's resolutions are those that are practiced regularly and have an important goal. Watching the ball drop in Times Square happens only once a year, but for more and more people across the world, the impacts of hunger, poverty, and climate change are felt every day. Thankfully, simple practices, such as recycling or riding a bike, can have great impact. As we prepare to ring in the new year, let's all resolve to make 2012 a healthier, happier, and greener year for all.
The Worldwatch Institute was a globally focused environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C., founded by Lester R. Brown. Worldwatch was named as one of the top ten sustainable development research organizations by Globescan Survey of Sustainability Experts. Brown left to found the Earth Policy Institute in 2000. The Institute was wound up in 2017, after publication of its last State of the World Report. Worldwatch.org was unreachable from mid-2019.
"In 2021 alone, the expanded Child Tax Credit reached more than 61 million children and lifted nearly 4 million of them out of poverty."
As congressional Republicans intensify their assault on vital social programs, a trio of House Democrats on Wednesday reintroduced legislation that would make permanent the expanded monthly Child Tax Credit—a policy credited with lifting millions of U.S. children out of poverty.
The American Family Act—reintroduced by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and backed by 204 House Democrats—would ensure the permanency of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) as established in the American Rescue Plan, the sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021. The expanded CTC expired at the end of 2021 amid the Omicron surge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The legislation would continue the $300 monthly credit for children age 6 and younger while expanding the maximum CTC to $250 per month, or $3,000 annually—up from $2,000 under the previous policy. The bill also provides the full CTC to "left-behind" children by revoking a rule limiting the refundable portion to $1,400 per year and eliminating the earnings requirement that previously excluded about one-third of eligible children from the full credit.
"An investment in our children and their families is an investment in the future of our country."
According to a summary from DeLauro's office, the expanded CTC assisted more than 61 million children and lifted nearly 4 million youngsters out of poverty in 2021 alone.
"When we expanded and improved the Child Tax Credit in 2021 under the American Rescue Plan, it provided unprecedented economic security for American families. It was the largest tax cut for middle-class and working families in generations," DeLauro said in a statement.
\u201cWhen we expanded the Child Tax Credit in 2021, it was the largest tax cut for middle-class & working families in generations.\n\nI'm glad to be joined by @RepDelBene & @RepRitchie in reintroducing the American Family Act, which would make the monthly CTC permanent. #ChildTaxCredit\u201d— Rosa DeLauro (@Rosa DeLauro) 1686157417
"These monthly payments helped parents pay bills, keep healthy and nutritious food on the table, afford school clothes and supplies, pay for a music lesson or a new pair of cleats, or manage a mortgage or rent payment," she added. "It lifted nearly 4 million children out of poverty in one year alone. It worked, and it is time we get it working for families and children once more."
DelBene said that "the enhanced Child Tax Credit was one of the most transformational policies from the American Rescue Plan, lifting millions of children out of poverty, boosting our economy, and helping parents pay rent, put food on the table, and afford other essentials for their kids."
"This is a proven program that will help grow our economy by rebuilding and strengthening the middle class," she added.
\u201cThe #ChildTaxCredit drastically reduced child poverty in the U.S. Let's make life just a little easier for working families and make it permanent by passing the #AmericanFamilyAct!\n\nhttps://t.co/m47WsvtyCg\u201d— Rep. Mark Pocan (@Rep. Mark Pocan) 1686165592
Torres asserted that "an investment in our children and their families is an investment in the future of our country."
"No government program has impacted so many Americans in such a short amount of time," he said. "It's one reason why I was proud to support the American Rescue Plan and why we must pass the American Family Act. Making the Child Tax Credit permanent provides much-needed financial stability for working families, helps them make ends meet and fight rising costs, and reduces child poverty."
"I can't think of a more worthy cause than helping meet the basic needs of children—our future—so they can learn, grow, and reach their fullest potential," Torres added.
\u201cThe #AmericanFamilyAct would make the expanded, monthly Child Tax Credit permanent, helping more kids live without hunger or the fear of poverty.\n\nLearn more about the eye-popping achievements of the #ChildTaxCredit here: https://t.co/bXYft0Ikbw\u201d— Economic Security Project (@Economic Security Project) 1686158628
Progressive advocacy groups welcomed the bill's reintroduction.
"We're thrilled to see lawmakers prioritizing tax credits for low- and middle-income families with the introduction of the American Family Act today," Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), said in a statement. "This legislation would help millions of children and families, especially the lowest-income families who currently make too little to receive the CTC."
"We know the CTC works wonders to boost economic security; when the expanded credit was in place in 2021 child poverty was cut by an astonishing 46%," Hanauer added. "Restoring the more robust CTC should be a top priority of all lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. But unfortunately, this bill stands in stark contrast to other tax bills taking shape that would deeply cut taxes for profitable corporations and wealthy families."
\u201cRestoring the more robust #ChildTaxCredit should be a top priority of all lawmakers.\n\nUnfortunately, that goal stands in stark contrast to other tax bills taking shape that would prioritize tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy households. https://t.co/GY0Qp2n2fg\u201d— ITEP (@ITEP) 1686154268
The revived American Family Act comes amid relentless Republican attacks on social programs benefitting families, including slashing funds for rental assistance and education programs and the imposition of new work requirements on some recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as conditions for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling to avoid what would have been a historic U.S. default.
"The governor has sided with the interests of private equity, hedge funds, and their powerful corporate lobbyists over and against the affordability concerns of people in our state," said the lead sponsors of the legislation.
Progressive lawmakers expressed anger Tuesday after Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis vetoed a landmark affordable housing bill following a lobbying push by corporate interests who opposed it.
House Bill 23-1190 would have given local governments a right of first refusal to buy certain multifamily properties and convert them to publicly owned housing units. Both Democratic-led chambers of the Colorado Legislature passed the proposal, but Polis rejected the effort to expand the supply of affordable shelter in a state hard-hit by the nationwide housing crisis.
In a letter explaining his veto, Polis—an entrepreneur-turned-public official worth an estimated $400 million—wrote that he supports "local governments' ability to buy these properties on the open market and preserve low-cost housing opportunities," but he is "not supportive of a required right of refusal that adds costs and time to transactions."
Left unsaid by Polis was that his veto was sought by a coalition of powerful business groups, including Colorado Concern, the Colorado Real Estate Alliance, the Colorado Bankers Association, and the Land Title Association of Colorado. Those organizations asked the governor to kill the legislation, and he did, aligning himself with moneyed interests over affordable housing advocates and members of his party.
All four of the bill's lead sponsors—Sens. Faith Winter (D-25) and Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-17) and Reps. Andrew Boesenecker (D-53) and Emily Sirota (D-9)—condemned Polis in a joint statement released Tuesday night.
"It should be alarming to all of us that the governor has failed to usher these proven affordability measures across the finish line."
"The governor has sided with the interests of private equity, hedge funds, and their powerful corporate lobbyists over and against the affordability concerns of people in our state," the sponsors said. "It should be alarming to all of us that the governor has failed to usher these proven affordability measures across the finish line."
The lawmakers described Polis' stated commitment to affordable housing as "rhetorical" and said they felt blindsided after being told on "numerous occasions" that the governor had no intention of vetoing their bill, which would have made Colorado the first state in the country with a right-of-first-refusal requirement for multifamily housing.
"It is alarming that the governor has vetoed H.B. 23-1190, given the fact that the governor's office was engaged in helping us count votes on the policy as late as the last week of session," said the lawmakers.
Taking aim at the groups that urged Polis to nix the bill, they added that "the only currency you have in the state Capitol is your word—and with today's actions and the behind-the-scenes campaign leading up to the veto, several organizations have demonstrated that they are indeed bankrupt."
On Wednesday morning, journalist David Sirota—Emily Sirota's husband and founder of investigative outlet The Lever—blasted Polis for "bowing to the demands of a right-wing oil billionaire's editorial page and delivering an enormous victory to the most powerful corporate lobby firm in Colorado."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8 Update: Democratic Gov. @JaredPolis just vetoed the Democrats\u2019 affordable housing bill, bowing to the demands of a right-wing oil billionaire\u2019s editorial page & delivering an enormous victory to the most powerful corporate lobby firm in Colorado. #copolitics\u201d— David Sirota (@David Sirota) 1686149289
H.B. 23-1190, drafted after a similar right-of-first-refusal initiative for mobile home parks was enacted last year, would have given municipalities and counties a leg up in purchasing multifamily residential or mixed-use buildings constructed more than 30 years ago with at least five units in rural areas and at least 15 units in urban and suburban areas.
As The Colorado Sunreported: "Local governments would have had seven days to indicate that they were interested in buying an eligible property before it was listed on the open market, and then 30 days to make an offer and 60 days to close. The local governments would have had to pay market value for the properties and use them to increase their community's affordable housing stock."
"You will see a right-of-first-refusal bill next year."
The newspaper noted that Polis' veto of the legislation "represents another big failure at the Colorado Capitol this year for affordable housing advocates. Democrats declared the state's 2023 lawmaking term the year of affordable housing, but many of their priority measures failed, including a rewrite of Colorado's land-use policies and an eviction protections bill."
Last year, a Polis veto threat forced Colorado Democrats to remove a provision that would have capped annual rent hikes for mobile home lots from H.B. 22-1287. The bill was signed into law by the governor, but without the proposed rent stabilization rule, mobile home park residents remain at the mercy of landlords.
Looking ahead to the legislative session that begins in January, Boesenecker said, "You will see a right-of-first-refusal bill next year."
As Colorado Public Radioreported, the lawmaker "called for a more cohesive approach next year, saying that a lack of unified support for this year's measures 'allowed the opposition to really circle around them and tear them down.'"
"Young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again," one activist said.
In the wake of Biden administration decisions like approving ConocoPhillips' Willow project and agreeing to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), climate organizations and frontline communities across the country are launching a week of action from June 8 to 11 to demand President Joe Biden honor his promise to be the climate president and end the era of fossil fuels for good.
The action week will include a Thursday rally and sit-in at the White House along with demonstrations at 65 other locations across the nation backed by 64 different Indigenous, climate, labor, and environmental justice groups.
"Young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again," Zero Hour organizing director Magnolia Mead said in a statement. "We need an immediate transition to renewable energy to slow the climate crisis, and that's impossible while our president is still approving massive fossil fuel expansion. If President Biden cares at all for future generations and frontline communities, he must choose to end the era of fossil fuels."
Our public officials clearly lack the political will or backbone to protect our people and the planet. So we must take action."
The action week—whose organizers include Zero Hour, Sunrise, 350.org, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Fridays for Future, and the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition—grew out of disappointment with Biden's Willow approval along with the desire to channel young people's online opposition to that project into direct action.
The sense of urgency only mounted when the debt-ceiling agreement, signed into law by Biden Saturday, included approving the MVP and weakening the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives frontline communities a say in infrastructure projects.
The protest outside the White House, which begins at 2:00 pm ET, will specifically demand that Biden cancel the 300-mile fracked gas MVP through Virginia and West Virginia.
"We are still not deterred in our fight against the MVP and other such harmful projects," Maury Johnson, a landowner in the MVP's path and a member of Preserve Monroe and the POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, & Rights) Coalition—who is helping to arrange transport for the rally—told Common Dreams. "Hope to see hundreds if not thousands join us in front of the White House on Thursday, June 8."
The new direct action group Climate Defiance has promised to risk arrest at the protest and called on everyone of conscience to join them.
\u201cThe President stabbed us in the back. He sold us out to fossil fuel CEOs. He forced upon us the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is a death sentence for our generation.\u201d— Climate Defiance (@Climate Defiance) 1686004033
"Now is the time for climate action," Jay Waxse of Climate Defiance told Common Dreams. "Joe Biden and Joe Manchin think it's time for massive fossil fuel expansion, while our forests burn and skies fill with smoke. Our public officials clearly lack the political will or backbone to protect our people and the planet. So we must take action."
Waxse added that the group had chosen nonviolent direct action "to express to our branches of government that we won't be satisfied until we put an end to the expansion of new fossil fuels. And that means stopping the MVP now!"
As Washington D.C., along with most of the eastern U.S., chokes on unhealthy air from Canadian wildfires, Jamie Henn of Fossil Free Media said the White House protest would go ahead, though the organizers were taking health precautions including distributing N95 masks.
"This is 'exactly' why we have to take these sorts of actions," Henn tweeted.
\u201cThat said: we are absolutely going to take precautions to keep people healthy and safe, with KN95 masks and other precautions available for folks. \n\nThe fires are a real reminder of how climate, health, and disabilities all intersect, especially for the most vulnerable.\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1686161011
For those who can't travel to D.C., organizers have provided a nationwide action map for the week as well as a toolkit explaining how to register an action.
Overall, the week has four main demands for Biden:
Local actions will also target specific fossil fuel projects, such as the Canadian-owned aging Line 5 pipeline that Indigenous advocates worry will spill oil into the Great Lakes.
"As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, I am calling on the Biden administration to shut down Line 5 immediately," Bad River Ojibwe activist Aurora Conley of the Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance said in a statement.
"Our territories and water are in imminent danger, and we do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice. We do not want our lifeways destroyed," Conley added.
In Seattle, meanwhile, protesters with XR Seattle, 350 Seattle, and other groups are meeting outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building at 12:00 pm PT Thursday with both national and local demands. In addition to calling on Biden to halt the MVP and restore NEPA, they also want Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to publicaly oppose the expansion of the GTN pipeline, a plan from TC Energy to pump an additional 150 million cubic feet of methane per day through the 1,354 mile long pipeline that runs through British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The additional methane would add 3.47 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is set to decide on the expansion June 15, 350 Seattle communications director Ben Jones told Common Dreams.
The action, he said, was motivated by "the combination of looming expansion of natural gas" along the West Coast "and approval of a deeply unpopular and strongly resisted pipeline out East."
Jones was also concerned about the gutting of NEPA, which has helped communities in the Pacific Northwest to fight off more than 20 proposals for oil and gas expansion in the region in the last 15 years.
"With gutting NEPA, that's some of the main avenues that community groups have for public comment or for advocacy," Jones said.
Nationwide, organizers hope that the coming week of action will be the first in a summer-long escalation leading up to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres' hosting of a global Climate Ambition Summit in New York City in September.
"Starting this June and leading up to September, we will be taking action with national and international partners to make it clear that siding with Big Oil is a political liability for Biden—and we, the people who got him elected, demand better," the coalition said in their toolkit.