Dear EarthTalk: What is the so-called Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and is Congress likely to go for it? — Mark Talarico, Brooklyn, NY
The concept of a “Green New Deal” (GND), first called for in a 2007 New York Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman, has been in the news lately thanks to a protest outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office in mid-November a week after the 2018 mid-term elections when Democrats took back the House. The goal of the GND is to put America at the forefront of green technologies to meet or exceed our Paris climate treaty commitments while boosting the economy and reducing economic inequality.
Think of it as like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original “New Deal” that helped get Americans back on their feet economically after the Great Depression through the creation of millions of federally-funded jobs that not only employed people but boosted U.S. economic productivity. The GND aims to give Americans a leg up in profiting off the transition to greener energy sources while simultaneously reducing the divide between the haves and have-nots.
At that November protest, hundreds of activists affiliated with the so-called Sunrise Movement showed up to call on Pelosi to back omnibus economic stimulus legislation that would put millions of Americans to work on facilitating the transition to an economy powered by 100 percent renewable, emissions-free energy. Later that day incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed her support by proposing the creation of a new House Select Committee on a Green New Deal tasked with detailing a “national, industrial, economic mobilization plan capable of making the U.S. economy ‘carbon neutral’ while promoting ‘economic and environmental justice and equality’.”
“There are so many different progressive issues that are important, and climate change and addressing renewable energy always gets to the bottom of the barrel,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept. “That can gets kicked from session to session and so what this just needs to do is create a momentum and an energy to make sure that it becomes a priority for leadership.”
At least 45 House members have expressed support for the GND, while eight likely Democratic presidential candidates (including Jay Inslee, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) are also behind it. And with the majority of Americans favoring taking strong action against climate change even if it means higher taxes, implementing some of kind of GND seems like a no-brainer.
But environmentalists might not want to hold their breath. For starters, Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for the creation of a new House Select Committee on a Green New Deal won’t be ready for a full House vote until 2020. Also, just because 40 members of Congress are supportive now doesn’t say anything about where the other 395 Congresspersons stand, let alone the 100 members of the still-Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, conservative critics point out that a Green New Deal could actually hurt the economy more than help it given how reliant we are on abundant and cheap fossil fuels. Even some liberals worry that the GND is trying to bite off more than we can chew. Only time will tell if something like the GND will become the law of the land — and many greens are keeping their fingers crossed.
Dear EarthTalk: Would extending Daylight Savings Time year-round have benefits for the environment? — Jane Wyckoff, Soquel, CA
The concept of “daylight savings time” (DST), whereby we set our clocks ahead by an hour from mid-Spring through mid-Fall so we can get more done using natural light later into the evening, was first proposed more than 200 years ago by Benjamin Franklin as a way to save money on candles (!). While Franklin’s idea didn’t catch on back then, Germany instituted a “war effort” version of it to conserve fuel during World War I. The U.S. followed suit in 1918 but scrapped the idea shortly after the war ended.
DST came back to the U.S. during World War II when FDR instituted it year-round as “war time” between February 1942 and September 1945. After WWII some states adopted summer DST, but it wasn’t until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 that it became standard across the country (initially Arizona and Michigan opted out; these days only Arizona and Hawaii don’t observe DST).
This past November, Californians voted in an extension of DST year-round across their state. The rationale is that the twice-a-year time change causes lost or poor sleep which leads to more accidents, aggravates existing health issues and has even been linked to a short-term uptick in suicides. Oregon and Washington are also considering aligning with California so the entire West Coast could be on DST throughout the year.
But according to a 2011 study published in The Review of Economics and Statistics by researchers from Yale and Claremont McKenna, such a change may not be good news for the environment. “Our main finding is that, contrary to the policy’s intent, DST increases electricity demand,” report researchers Matthew Kotchen and Laura Grant. “Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period.” According to their data, DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall (estimates range from 2-4 percent) when dipping temperatures send Hoosiers inside earlier to turn up their thermostats. They estimate that increased energy demand as a result of DST adds approximately $9 million a year to household power bills across Indiana while the “social costs” of the resulting increased emissions range from $1.7-$5.5 million annually.
Of course, mileage varies by region. A study by the California Energy Commission found that extending DST would have little to no effect on energy use in that state. Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Energy analysis of 67 different power utilities across the country concluded that a four-week extension of DST would save Americans approximately 0.5 percent of electricity per day, or 1.3 trillion watt-hours in total — enough to power 100,000 households for a year.
Whether or not the recent interest in extending DST throughout the year on the West Coast will take hold across the country is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, we can all look forward to the second Sunday in March to spring ahead and leave the short and dreary winter days behind us — at least for a few months.
Contacts: “Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Indiana,” ideas.repec.org/a/tpr/restat/v93y2011i4p1172-1185.html; “The Dark Side of Daylight Savings Time,” theconversation.com/the-dark-side-of-daylight-saving-time-91958.
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard about “Zero Waste” grocery stores in Europe where everything is sold in bulk and customers bring and fill up their own reusable containers and bags. When will we get some of these here on this “side of the pond”? — Jane Smith, Boston, MA
Many mainstream American grocery stores and chains now have bulk sections for dried foods like nuts and spices, though most everything else still comes sealed in plastic, cardboard, aluminum or glass, which customers then recycle or discard once they devour the contents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that containers and packaging make up almost a quarter of all landfill waste, with the average American generating four pounds of trash a day, most of it food-related. Furthermore, Americans throw out about a third of the food we buy, largely because we’re forced to buy more than we need due to the way food is pre-packaged for sale.
One solution to both of these problems is the “zero-waste” grocery store which sells in bulk (or “loose”) to customers who bring their own containers and shopping bags and fill them up with just the amount of food they will eat. Besides the obvious environmental benefits of reducing the stream of waste to landfills and energy-intensive recycling processors, zero-waste grocery stores also tend to be easier on the wallet — given that packaging adds upwards of 40 percent to the cost of many everyday food items.
Zero-waste food stores began turning up in Europe in just the last 15 years. The success of stores like Germany’s Original Unverpackt, France’s Day By Day, Denmark’s LØS Market and the UK’s Bulk Market and Earth.Food.Love shows a strong proclivity, at least in Europe, for a green grocery experience.
Zero waste markets are a harder sell in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped a few entrepreneurs from trying. The nation’s first zero waste grocery store, In.gredients in Austin, Texas, opened with fanfare in 2012 but had trouble competing with a nearby traditional grocery store — and finally shut its doors for good in April 2018. “We realized…we weren’t changing shoppers’ habits,” Erica Howard Cormier, In.gredients’ former GM, told CNBC. “You have to plan a lot to go to the grocery store with your own containers, and people would go to the store across the street because they forgot their container.”
Nevertheless, others have ventured forth undaunted. Some of the biggest are Precycle and the Filling Station in New York City, Dill Pickle Co-op in Chicago, Simply Bulk Market and Zero Market in Colorado, the Refill Shoppe near Los Angeles, People’s Food Co-op in Portland, OR and Central Co-op in Seattle. And in Vancouver, BC, is Nada, one of the biggest and most successful zero waste markets in the world. The store claims to have diverted some 30,500 containers from landfills since opening in 2014.
A search on the Litterless.com’s “Zero Waste Grocery Guide” turns up dozens of zero waste grocery options in most major U.S. metropolitan areas, even if some are smaller specialty stores or just sections in traditional markets. So grab a few tupperwares and that old college reunion tote bag and get shopping!
Contacts: Original Unverpackt, original-unverpackt.de; Day By Day, daybyday-shop.com; Bulk Market, bulkmarket.uk; LØS Market, www.loes-market.dk; Earth.Food.Love, thezerowasteshop.co.uk; Nude Foods, nudefoods.co.za; The Refill Shoppe, therefillshoppe.com; The Filling Station, tfsnyc.com; Simply Bulk Market, www.simplybulkmarket.com; The Zero Market, www.thezeromarket.com; Nada Grocery, www.nadagrocery.com; Literless’ Zero Waste Grocery Guide, litterless.com/wheretoshop.
Dear EarthTalk: After reading an EarthTalk piece on climate divestment, I’m looking to switch my checking and savings accounts to an environmentally friendly bank. Any ideas? – Bill Kim, Troy, NY
Few of us think about how our banking affects the environment but, in reality, putting your money with a green-minded financial institution may be one of the best things you can do to help conserve land, protect air and water, save endangered wildlife and mitigate climate change. Banks (owned by shareholders) and credit unions (owned by the customers) lend and invest some of the deposited funds they are holding, which is how they’re able to pay interest back to you. A bank or credit union that limits its investments to sustainability-oriented companies and institutions is well on its way to being considered green.
“Money is power — it allows people and businesses to meet their needs and act on their beliefs,” says Laurie Fielder of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU), a leading “green” credit union in Vermont. “Your credit union or bank has a lot of power in determining who has access to money, which means they determine which ideas and businesses are empowered.” She adds that individuals investing in energy savings at home, or businesses committed to sustainable operations, are ideal loan candidates for VSECU, given its underlying commitment to ethical practices that benefit the community.
New York-based Amalgamated Bank started in 1923 to open up quality and affordable banking services to the masses, and has been serving working people and their families ever since. In the modern era, Amalgamated considers environmental sustainability a key component of its overall investment criteria, refusing “to invest our own dollars in funds that harm people or the planet.” Amalgamated offers a full suite of banking and investment services to individuals, businesses, non-profits and institutions.
Likewise, Minnesota-based Sunrise Banks offers a full suite of personal and commercial banking services and invests customer deposits in sustainable and community development projects that return high yields financially and environmentally. Another great place to bank if you care about the planet is California-based Beneficial State Bank, which distributes its profits to local community and sustainable development projects. Aspiration, an online-only bank that stays green not just by foregoing brick-and-mortar branch locations but also by investing only in businesses and institutions that have sworn off fossil fuels, is yet another green choice. Still other responsible options include: City First Bank of DC, First Green Bank, the Missoula Federal Credit Union, New Resource Bank, Southern Bancorp and Verity Credit Union. U.S. citizens can open online accounts with any of these banks.
To find more banks and credit unions that worry about achieving a so-called “triple bottom line” (financial, social and environmental gains), check out the website of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, an independent network of banks using finance to deliver sustainable economic, social and environmental development. Only 11 of the 48 banks around the world that qualify as members of this Netherlands-based non-profit are U.S.-based, but industry analysts expect many more American banks will start to go green given increasing public demand for putting our money where our mouths are.
Contacts: “How are activists using divestment to fight climate change?” emagazine.com/divesting-fossil-fuels/; VSECU, www.vsecu.com; Amalgamated Bank, www.amalgamatedbank.com; Sunrise Banks, www.sunrisebanks.com; Beneficial State Bank, www.beneficialstatebank.com; Aspiration, www.aspiration.com; Global Alliance for Banking on Values, www.gabv.org.