Many BC Families Missing Out on Free Money for Kids’ Education

A provincial savings grant isn’t reaching those who could benefit most. Which isn’t doing much for inequality.


B.C. families can receive a one-time payment of $1,200 into their kid’s registered education savings plan when their child is between six and nine years old.

A British Columbia program aimed at helping pay for post-secondary education and encouraging families to save fails to reach four out of 10 people who are eligible.

The low participation rate leaves millions of dollars unclaimed and has observers suggesting there are much better ways to fund education.

“When you hear that there is $1,200 available as a grant for post-secondary education that’s universally available, that sounds great, but we know that the take-up rate for that grant is very low,” said Alex Hemingway, an economist and public finance policy analyst with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“It sounds nice, but in fact it’s very likely that those who need it most are going to be least likely to get registered and get that funding,” he said. “That means we’re spending public money in a way that’s not going to be distributed as fairly as we would like.”

Families have a three-year window between when a child is six and nine years old to apply for the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant. All they have to do is open a registered education savings plan at a financial institution and the government will deposit $1,200, which can then grow tax free. MORE


Greenpeace loses Norway Arctic oil lawsuit appeal

Image result for Norway Barents Sea petroleum activity

OSLO — An Oslo appeals court approved Norway’s plans for more oil exploration in the Arctic on Thursday, dismissing a lawsuit by environmentalists who had said it violated people’s right to a healthy environment.

The verdict upheld a ruling made by a lower court, rejecting arguments by Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth group that a 2015-2016 oil licensing round that gave awards to Equinor and others had breached Norway’s constitution.

“The verdict is unanimous,” the Borgarting Appeals Court said in its written decision.

But unlike the original district court decision, which found that the use of Norwegian oil by foreign customers was not relevant to the case, the appeals court found that such use abroad should in fact be part of the consideration.

However, the argument was not enough for the court to find in favor of the environmental groups, Borgarting concluded.

Greenpeace immediately said it would appeal the case to Norway’s supreme court.

The lawsuit is seen as part of an emerging branch of law worldwide where plaintiffs seek to use a nation’s founding principles to make the case for curbing emissions.

The green groups argued the government decision contravened local and international law. They cited article 112 of Norway’s constitution, which guarantees the right of current and future generations to a healthy and sustainable environment, as well as the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming.

“The court’s verdict is a big step in the right direction, and the reason is that the right to a healthy environment according to the constitution is acknowledged by the court of appeal,” Greenpeace Norway chief Frode Pleym told reporters.

“The court of appeal also acknowledges that the emissions from Norwegian oil burned abroad are relevant,” he added.

Oil and gas extraction has helped make Norway one of the wealthiest nations on earth, with the third-highest per-capita gross domestic product and a $1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund stemming from petroleum income.

The government handed out 10 Arctic exploration permits in the contested 23rd licensing round, including three in the southeastern part of the Barents Sea, near Norway’s border with Russia.

Norway’s energy ministry welcomed the verdict.

“The court agrees with the state that the Barents Sea petroleum activity does not contravene the constitution,” the ministry said in a statement.

Oil companies have already drilled exploration wells in some licenses, but have not made any significant discoveries.

Aker BP plans to drill a well in one license later this year.

A win at the appeals court could have set a precedent for other climate cases globally, while limiting exploration by western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer, the plaintiffs said at the outset of the trial.

But while environmental groups said more petroleum resources had already been discovered than could be exploited without breaching the Paris goals, the government argued that any decision to drill was for parliament to make, not the courts.

There has been a surge in climate-related lawsuits in recent years, with campaigners viewing even unsuccessful litigation as an effective way of pressuring governments to be more ambitious about averting climate catastrophe.

Over 1,500 climate-related cases were brought in 28 countries, mostly in the United States, between 2007 and 2020, according to Joana Setzer, a fellow at the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics.

Most defendants are governments, but lawsuits are increasingly targeting bid oil and gas companies, she said.

New lawsuits draw on advancements in attribution science, which can find causal links between carbon emissions and climate-related damage.

Microgrids: An idea whose time has come?

A microgrid on the Blue Lake Rancheria reserve in California

Blue Lake Rancheria)

As the global population grows, so does the demand for electricity. But there are challenges, even now. More than a billion people around the world don’t have access to power grids. According to the Canada Energy Regulator, 200,000 people in Canada are not connected to the North American electrical grid and natural gas distribution pipeline systems.

We’re also seeing natural disasters and major weather events disrupt power supply, causing mass blackouts for days at a time. And when one part of the transmission system breaks down, it can paralyze the whole grid.

Enter the microgrid. A concept that’s been growing in popularity, it’s a power system that can operate independently or work in connection with bigger grids.

A microgrid “contains everything that it needs to provide power to a community,” said Lynn Côté, cleantech lead at Export Development Canada. “You’re not building a system for a million people. You’re building a system for maybe a thousand people, 500, maybe 250.”

Big electrical grids connect buildings to central power sources, such as coal, nuclear and gas plants. When main components stop working, everything can be affected.

A microgrid operates as an island, which can be beneficial during times of crises like storms or outages (or for other reasons). Many are powered by a mix of renewable energy and batteries, with natural gas for backup. Microgrid power isn’t necessarily more reliable, but in communities far from a larger power source, microgrids can alleviate complications because the electricity is stored, owned and controlled locally.

One of the older examples is a microgrid built more than a decade ago in Sendai, Japan, which is powered by a mix of solar, gas and battery. According to Berkeley Lab, which does research on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, during blackouts caused by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, the microgrid in Sendai provided power and heat to the teaching hospital of Tohuku Fukushi University.

“Widespread power outages cause a lot of social and economic damage and destruction. And the climate crisis is making all of this worse,” said Jana Ganion, energy director for Blue Lake Rancheria, an Indigenous reserve in California that launched a solar microgrid in 2015.

Millions of people in California had their power shut off last fall because of wildfire risk. Meanwhile, the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid provided electricity to thousands nearby.

Setting up a microgrid can be an expensive undertaking, especially in dense urban or suburban areas with existing infrastructure. Consumers typically stick with what works, said Côté, and for the majority of Canadians, that means hydroelectric power (nuclear and coal are the next-biggest power sources).

“It’s really hard for certain countries to raise the kind of capital you need [to build a power plant],” said Côté, who has researched microgrids in remote Canadian communities. She said the “autonomy” a microgrid provides “is really important.”

There are nearly 300 remote communities across Canada, many of which rely on diesel-powered microgrids for electricity generation. Over the last decade, the federal government has worked with regional entities to create greener options.

In August, Gull Bay First Nation, north of Thunder Bay, Ont., co-developed a community microgrid that uses solar, battery storage and automated control technology to help reduce diesel use, according to Ontario Power Generation. It’s the first of its kind in Canada.

Côté said that in addition to making remote areas more self-sufficient, microgrids could help communities access clean drinking water by providing the power to treat it. SOURCE

UK citizens’ climate assembly to meet for first time

Randomly selected 110-strong panel will try to come up with a plan to tackle global heating

 The assembly will discuss policies such as bringing forward the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Ordinary people from across the UK – potentially including climate deniers – will take part in the first ever citizens’ climate assembly this weekend.

Mirroring the model adopted in France by Emmanuel Macron, 110 people from all walks of life will begin deliberations on Saturday to come up with a plan to tackle global heating and meet the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The assembly was selected to be a representative sample of the population after a mailout to 30,000 people chosen at random. About 2,000 people responded saying they wanted to be considered for the assembly, and the 110 members were picked by computer.

They come from all age brackets and their selection reflects a 2019 Ipsos Mori poll of how concerned the general population is by climate change, where responses ranged from not at all to very concerned. Of the assembly members, three people are not at all concerned, 16 not very concerned, 36 fairly concerned, 54 very concerned, and one did not know, organisers said.

The selection process meant those chosen could include climate deniers or sceptics, according to Sarah Allan, the head of engagement at Involve, which is running the assembly along with the Sortition Foundation and the e-democracy project mySociety.

“It is really important that it is representative of the UK population,” said Allen. “Those people, just because they’re sceptical of climate change, they’re going to be affected by the steps the government takes to get to net zero by 2050 too and they shouldn’t have their voice denied in that.”

The UK climate assembly differs from the French model in that it was commissioned by six select committees, rather than by the prime minister. Their views, which will be produced in a report in the spring, will be considered by the select committees but there is no guarantee any of the proposals will be taken up by government.

Jim Watson, a professor of energy policy at University College London, is one of four experts who will guide the members of the public in their decision-making. He acknowledged the scale of the challenges they faced in finding solutions to reaching net zero by 2050, which he said was “a hell of a job”.

As well as four experts to the assembly, a panel of advisers including representatives from the Confederation of British Industry, Trades Union Congress, National Farmers’ Union, environmental NGOs and renewable energy companies have helped provide the questions on which assembly members will be asked to give their views.

The key subjects to be considered will include transport, agriculture, domestic energy, and how consumerism is driving global heating. As well as policies such as bringing forward the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040, the panel will consider technological solutions to cutting carbon emissions. Watson said many technological initiatives were surrounded by hype. “It is really important we get across [to the assembly members] not just that the option is x, but what the status of that option is in the world,” he said.

The assembly will meet for four weekends. On the third weekend they will begin making decisions about ways to meet the net zero target.

A spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion, which is calling for the government to create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate, said they welcomed the fact that such assemblies were being used in mainstream politics. “However, because it is not commissioned by the government it is not what we are looking for. We want something with real teeth, that has actual power to influence policy,” she said. SOURCE

Attention all young organic farmers in Prince Edward County! This bursary is just for you!

person holding leafed plant

The County Sustainability Group is pleased to announce a 2nd year for our Bursary for Young PEC Organic Farmers. $1000 will be awarded annually in May to a young farmer in Prince Edward County who best demonstrates the values of ecologically sound , sustainable farm practices which regenerate soil health, protects vital resources such as water and biodiversity, reduces the need for synthetic inputs and prioritizes renewable energy sources.

Our group recognizes the importance of farmers and agriculture to our rural community and province.

In particular, we are grateful for sustainable farmers who are doing their utmost to protect the health of the land and all living creatures by implementing best practices.

We want this award to demonstrate our gratitude and help their long term success in the very challenging occupation of farming. Farmers feed cities and provide us all with nutritious food that far too often is taken for granted. Without their dedication and commitment to their craft, imagine how different our world would be?

We especially acknowledge , with this bursary, the challenges faced by young farmers just starting out in organic farming or trying to maintain or expand an existing operation. This is an expensive undertaking and not for the faint of heart. Every little bit can help, perhaps going towards new seeds, greenhouses,equipment, soil revitalization, irrigation,livestock,land leases, renewable energy or any number of important aspects of modern organic farming.

Applicants should demonstrate an understanding of the goals of Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO). Candidates should submit their application letters describing their reasons for being considered for this award by April 30th to Don Hudson at or Don Ross at

A winner will be selected and award money presented by May15th in order that it can be put to good use early in the growing season. If no suitable candidates should come forward this year, the award money will carry forward to 2021 when 2 – $1000 awards may be presented or a single recipient could receive $2000.

Ongoing funding for this bursary will be generated by proceeds from our annual CSG Rain Barrel & Composter Sale held on the final Saturday of May ( see ) This year’s sale on May 30th continues to also fund our PECI student environmental bursary award in memory of Fred Holtz.

We appreciate the support our community has shown for this event and welcome any extra donations an individual or business may wish to make to assist in the ongoing funding of either of these bursaries.


James Hansen: No Time for Despair

We have no time for despair.  Nor is there good reason to despair.  Yes, as I noted recently the Wheels of Justice turn slowly.  But they can be turned, and we will achieve justice soonest if we are smart and have a realistic view of the world.

“Shell’s Crude Awakening” in the 27 January issue of Time provides reasons for optimism, as well as need for continued resolve and hard work.  Shell is beginning to bend under the pressure of the Dutch public, but additional pressure is needed before it will be transformed into an energy company that will be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

As Dan Galpern, my legal adviser, and I argued at the recent COP25 meeting in Madrid, it is important to use lawsuits to ratchet up the pressure on the fossil fuel industry.

Roger Cox, pictured on the right above, deserves accolades for his success in the Urgenda (Urgent Agenda) case in the Netherlands and continued pressure on Shell.  Upon returning from a trip to the Netherlands in 2012 to help launch that case, I was irritated (Galileo and the Fireflies) by Roger’s decision to base Urgenda’s challenge to federal policy on the 2°C IPCC ‘guardrail’ target for limiting global warming.  It turns out he was right: the international target assured that even conservative Dutch scientists supported him.  Seven years later, Urgenda won their historic case, requiring the Dutch government to phase down emissions faster.  As wheels of justice go, that was pretty fast.

The other historic case, by Our Children’s Trust against the U.S. federal government, suffered a setback last week when a federal appeals court voted 2-1 to dismiss the case.  That is not the end of the story, though.  As Joe Robertson points out, the opinion of the two majority judges is logically incoherent: the Court exists to redress grievances protected by the Constitution, yet they conclude they are not empowered to do so.  The more reasoned opinion of dissenting Judge Staton includes “…plaintiffs’ claims adhere to a judicially administrable standard.  And considering plaintiffs seek no less than to forestall the Nation’s demise, even a partial and temporary reprieve would constitute meaningful redress.”

Our requested redress no doubt flummoxed the majority judges.  However, as both a Plaintiff and Expert Witness in the case, I note that our “ask” is based on science that the Defendants will not be able to refute: a plan is needed to reduce atmospheric CO2 to some value south of 350 ppm, if we are to avoid unacceptable consequences such as eventual loss of coastal cities.

Thanks to the slow pace of the wheels of justice, we can no longer achieve that CO2 target in an acceptable period solely by reducing the rate of fossil fuel emissions.  But that is no reason to despair.  And we should not be frightening vulnerable young people with gloom and doom pronouncements.  The problem can still be solved.  Our planet has a bright future.

The ridiculous climate statement – even from politicians – goes something like: “we have 10 years, 7 months, x days until the carbon budget is used up and we are doomed!”  IPCC should be censured for initiating that nonsense, and wrongly frightening young people.  We are already in carbon overshoot, but that does not mean that the problem is unsolvable.

Instead of despair, we should celebrate how far we have come.

I was stunned to hear U.S. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg precisely describe Carbon Fee & Dividend as the central pillar of his plan to address climate change.  Underlying economic forces unleashed by a rising carbon fee will do more to move us to a clean energy future than all the laws and regulations that can be imagined.  The public would accept a rising carbon fee/tax, if and only if 100% of the money is distributed to the public so as also to address wealth disparity.

That is not enough, however.  The fossil fuel industry, if we allow them to get away with it, will build an infrastructure that locks young people into a future of gas + renewables – and increasing climate change.  The fossil fuel industry is spending large amounts of money campaigning against nuclear power, for the purpose of locking in gas + renewables.

Massive amounts of power will be needed for drawing down atmospheric CO2, for producing liquid fuels, and for desalinization, as well as for an electricity-dominant energy system.  Young people will get fracked and gassed, if there is no viable alternative for baseload electric power.

Andrew Yang is the one candidate in Iowa who seems to have the most complete understanding of the energy and climate story.  Yang, of all the candidates, gave the shortest, best answer to the Des Moines Register question about their climate policy: Carbon Fee & Dividend.

In addition, with Cory Booker’s withdrawal, Yang is the one remaining candidate with an understanding of the crucial role of United States leadership in nuclear technology.  That technologic leadership, and our young people’s future, depend upon investment and support from the government comparable to the support that brought down the cost of solar energy.

Yang’s party, unfortunately, has a history of hostility toward nuclear power, our largest source of carbon-free energy, with smallest environmental footprint, as discussed in Fire on Planet Earth.  Some candidates espouse a ‘Green New Deal,’ characterized by limited understanding of the energy/climate problem, but by an $XX trillion price tag.  One thing is assured: if they get the nomination, they will lose the election.

Yes, I know, young people are afraid of hurting their Boomer hippie grandparents’ feelings.  Of course, they meant well when they paraded against nuclear power.  It was identified as the next villain, after the Viet Nam war ended.  But what is more important: their feelings or your future?

As with Obama, it is said that Yang has no chance.  But a message can be sent to the other 49 states: we all had best take a closer look at this guy, for the sake of the future of young people. SOURCE

Doomsday Clock nears apocalypse over climate and nuclear fears

The Bureau of Atomic Scientists unveil the clock

The symbolic Doomsday Clock, which indicates how close our planet is to complete annihilation, is now only 100 seconds away from midnight.

he Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) said on Thursday that the change was made due to nuclear proliferation, failure to tackle climate change and “cyber-based disinformation”.

The clock now stands at its closest to doomsday since it began ticking.

The idea began in 1947 to warn humanity of the dangers of nuclear war.

graphic shows the clock
Presentational white space

Last year the clock was set at two minutes to midnight – midnight symbolises the end of the world – the same place it was wound to in 2018.

BAS President Rachel Bronson told reporters in Washington DC on Thursday that the time was now being kept in seconds rather than minutes because the “moment demands attention” and that the threats level is worsening”. She said the world was now menaced by powerful leaders who “denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats”.

The decision is made by the BAS Science and Security Board, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates. For the first time this year, the board was joined by members of The Elders – a group of international leaders and former officials first founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007.

“We must act and work together,” said former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, a member of The Elders. “Not a single country or person can do it alone. We need all hands on deck and we can all work together.”

Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump give different takes on climate change

Former California Governor Jerry Brown, another member of the panel, said: “Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder. Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there’s ever a time to wake up, it’s now.”

Astrophysicist and panel member Robert Rosner said: “The fact that the clock is now a mere 100 seconds from midnight signals really bad news,

“What we said last year is now a disturbing reality in that things are not getting better.

“Past experience has taught us that even in the most dismal periods of the Cold War, we can come together. It is high time we do so again,” he added.

The clock was first created by US scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first nuclear weapon.

World is getting warmer graphic

Georgetown University Professor Sharon Squassoni told reporters that the threat from nuclear weapons had increased, in part due to the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, North Korean nuclear weapons development and continued proliferation from countries such as the US, China and Russia. She called the situation “dangerous” and demanding of an “urgent response”.

The committee warned of another threat, particularly ahead of the US presidential election in November: “government-used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations”.

Board member Robert Latiff called “untruths, exaggerations and misinterpretations” a problem that could lead to the “wholesale trashing” of scientific evidence. Deepfake videos, he said, “threaten to undermine truth from fiction”. SOURCE

Former Irish President Mary Robinson said “the world needs to wake up”, equating her reaction to that of “an angry granny”.

If defending life on Earth is extremist, we must own that label

Police say climate groups such as Extinction Rebellion are a ‘threat’. They’d have done the same for the suffragettes and Martin Luther King

Extinction Rebellion protest at Heathrow airport, December 2019. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

t’s not an “error” or an “accident”, as the police now claim. It’s a pattern. First, the Guardian revealed that counter-terrorism police in south-east England have listed Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the youth climate strikes as forms of “ideological extremism”. Then teachers and officials around the country reported that they had been told, in briefings by the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, to look out for people expressing support for XR and Greenpeace.

Then the Guardian found a Counter Terrorism Policing guide to the signs and symbols used by various groups. Alongside terrorists and violent extremist organisations, the guide listed Greenpeace, XR, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, CND, the Socialist party, Stop the War and other peaceful green and left organisations. Then the newspaper discovered that City of London police had listed XR as a “key threat” in its counter-terrorism assessment.

The police have always protected established power against those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this country. Part of it is empire-building: if police units can convince the government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they can argue for more funding.

But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world, corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen. A recent article in the Intercept seeks to discover why the US Justice Department and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something about these rightwing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights activists.

One of the two authors of the Policy Exchange report, Richard Walton, is a former police commander. A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said he would have had a misconduct case to answer had he not retired. The case concerned allegations about his role in the spying by undercover police on the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The purpose of the spying operation, according to one of the police officers involved, was to seek “disinformation” and “dirt” on the family, and stop their campaign for justice “in its tracks.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has defended the inclusion of XR on the police list of extremist ideologies. But it seems to me that people like Patel and Walton pose much greater threats to the nation, the state and our welfare than any green campaigners. Before she became an MP, Patel worked for the company Weber Shandwick, as a lobbyist for British American Tobacco (BAT). One of her tasks was to campaign against the EU tobacco control directive, whose purpose was to protect public health. A BAT memo complained that the Weber Shandwick team as a whole “does not actually feel comfortable or happy working for BAT”. But it was pleased to note that two of its members “seem quite relaxed working with us”. One of them was Patel.

In her previous government role, as secretary of state for international development, Patel held unauthorised and undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, after which she broached the possibility of her department channelling British aid money through the Israeli army, in the occupied Golan Heights. After she was not candid with the prime minister, Theresa May, about further undisclosed meetings, she was forced to resign. But she was reinstated, in a far more powerful role, by Boris Johnson.

Our government is helping propel us towards a catastrophe on a scale humankind has never encountered before: the collapse of our life-support systems. It does so in support of certain ideologies – consumerism, neoliberalism, capitalism – and on behalf of powerful industries. This, apparently, meets the definition of moderation. Seeking to prevent this catastrophe is extremism. If you care about other people, you go on the list. If you couldn’t give a damn about humankind and the rest of life on Earth, the police and the government will leave you alone. You might even be appointed to high office.

It is hard to think of any successful campaign for democracy, justice or human rights that would not now be classed by police forces and the government as an extremist ideology. Without extremists such as Emmeline Pankhurst, who maintained that “the argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics”, Patel would not be an MP. Only men with a certain amount of property would be permitted to vote. There would be no access to justice, no rights for workers, no defence against hunger and destitution, no weekends.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, subjected to smears very similar to those now directed against XR and other environmental groups, noted: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Good citizens cannot meekly accept the death of the living planet. If seeking to defend life on Earth defines us as extremists, we have no choice but to own the label. We are extremists for the extension of justice and the perpetuation of life. SOURCE


How We Reduced the Environmental Impact of (Almost) Everything We Buy


Image result for low-carbon living

The stuff we humans buy is a disaster for the planet we love. Livestock intended for human food now make up 60% of the total weight of mammals on Earth, while wild mammals make up only 4% (the rest is humans and pets). The global clothing industry is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the emissions from entire European Union. Single-use plastics are choking the oceans. Transportation (including the cars we drive, but the semis that cart our products to stores) accounts for almost a third of U.S. emissions.

This post doesn’t discuss food because that is a huge subject all on its own, with a lot of complex dimensions. If you’re interested in learning how we eat lighter, see here and here. Gardening is a big part of our diet and there will be new posts when it’s time to start seeds, but in the meantime get your gardening fix here and here. When it comes to the other things we all buy, changing our habits to go easier on the planet has a whole bunch of other amazing benefits.

The first great secret is simply:

Reducing the total amount we buy in the first place.

Clothes are an excellent example of the myriad ways buying less can improve your life. The most obvious is financial. The average American household has 2.5 people, spends $1,800 a year on clothes and shoes, and carries $5,700 in credit card debt. My family owns smaller, more thoughtful (“curated”) wardrobes; the four of us together spend about $400, we carry no revolving credit card debt, and we’re comfy and satisfied with what we wear, much more so than before we curated it. And that’s including shoes, socks and underwear, with two growing kids and one professional wardrobe.

Hand-made wardrobes that are much more functional than a closet
I designed our little house without closets, except for a hall cupboard. These wardrobes are much easier to keep neat, and they store our entire clothing collection plus a bunch of other things.

I’m sure you could think of a great way to use an extra $1,400: put it in savings so you can weather an emergency, or offset your impact by supporting spectacular projects like those at The Cool Effect. We use some of the money we save to plant trees. At least one study found that “green” consumers actually have as much impact as unconscious consumers, and buying less is not only much less impactful, but results in greater financial and emotional well-being.

The clothing industry is the second-greatest polluter after oil and gas (check out these fascinating graphics, or this TED-Ed). Synthetic fabrics have a higher carbon footprint and a bigger disposal problem than naturally-grown fabrics, but natural fabrics use a lot more water and occupy land that could grow food or be left wild. Americans want their clothes cheap, which means they’re made by people who are poorly paid in unsafe conditions. And when we discard a “fast fashion” item it gets shipped to developing countries where the endless stream of charity clothing has destroyed local textile industries and livelihoods.

You will see buying less framed as a sort of deprivation. You will hear that you deserve to have whatever catches your fancy. That’s effective advertising, but it’s disingenuous. I think you deserve a low-stress dressing routine, where it’s effortless to pick out something comfy that looks great. You deserve a wardrobe that works for you, not a clogged closet and a disastrous dresser. There are excellent resources which support a curated closet, such as Project 333 and Thrift Shop Chic.

Marie Kondo’s method can be especially quick and effective: dump your closet onto your bed, pick up every piece one at a time, and let go of anything you don’t adore. If it doesn’t fit, if it makes you sad because it came from an old boyfriend, if it looks great but pinches, I guarantee you’ll be happier not to see it ever again. If you don’t love it you probably weren’t wearing it anyway, so you won’t go naked without it. Most people only wear about 20% of their clothes regularly, and hardly ever or never wear the other 80%.

This process yields something much more valuable than whatever cute-but-ill-advised shirt is on the corner rack at Walmart. You gain a closet that makes you feel good instead of bad. You might hesitate to discard things because of that livelihood-wrecking issue mentioned above, but because building a closet you love breaks the destructive buying cycle, the net effect is profoundly positive. I’ll say it again: when you look around your house and see only things you genuinely love, your urge to buy new things all but disappears.

The second great secret is:

If you really need it, get it used.

Buying something new feels great for a moment because it triggers all the reward chemicals in our brains. Then it feels bad later when you realize you were suckered by the 20% off sign, or when the credit card bill arrives, or when the house is so stuffed you can’t move through it. Humans are highly motivated by the gravity of previous investment. We’re unwilling to give up something we paid a lot for even if we don’t really like it, so we hang on.

Buying used subverts this psychology of seek and reward by taking the focus off whatever the fashion, decorating and advertising industries decide is “in.” In a thrift store where nothing is hot off the loom, the emphasis is on what feels good to you, which is a recipe for satisfaction rather than endless consumption. I have a Banana Republic sweater in perfect condition, an $80 piece if it was new. I don’t love it because it’s “in.” I love it because it feels amazing and looks great on me. Therefore, I won’t discard it when it’s “out,” but instead continue to get pleasure out of wearing it for years. It cost $3. If it had been a mistake, I would have no qualms about letting it go because my investment was very small.

Thrifting isn’t useful to everybody. Men and people of very unusual sizes have a harder time outfitting themselves used, but they aren’t really the ones causing the clothing problem (except maybe my uncle Stan, who has a lot of shoes). Women spend almost twice as much as men on clothes, and women and children drive fast fashion, which is the most harmful clothing practice.

Thrift store stock aren’t the only things available used. We have a refurbished chainsaw and a refurbished laptop. They work fine, cost a fraction of the price of new machines, and drove no new production and very little pollution.

The largest, most impactful product most people buy other than a house is their car. You might have seen articles urging you to get a brand new car right now, because new cars are more gas-efficient on average than old ones. Beware this sort of reasoning, which looks suspiciously like advertising.

The oft-quoted statistic that 80-90% of a vehicle’s lifetime impact is in its fuel just isn’t true. It’s very easy to measure how much gas a car uses but much more difficult to measure its embodied energy, because the economy is complex. That 90% assessment counted the electricity used by the plant that made the car, but maybe not the electricity used by the other plant that made the equipment that made the car. It counted the impact of mining the metal for the car’s body, but not the impact of mining the metal in the office equipment at the dealership. These are small amounts, but they add up. If instead we examine how much of our country’s total emissions are the result of the auto industry, it looks like about 50% of the impact of a vehicle is in its manufacturing (that article is an excerpt from How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee. If you can’t borrow it from your local library, get it here).

The car industry is as much driven by fashion as the clothing industry, and there are therefore many more vehicles manufactured than necessary. People buy new because they succumb to advertising, to display their supposed status, or to possess the latest thing. People buy a four-wheel-drive even though they never go off the pavement, or get a much bigger car than they need. Somebody has to buy new, but nowhere near as many somebodies as do, and the impact of cars-produced-per-mile-driven is therefore increased by retiring them before they’re spent.

It’s true that on average newer models have better fuel mileage, but there are lots of middle-aged models with great mileage, too. The driver must compare the efficiency of the model years she is considering, and the reliability and safety of those models, taking care not to reward companies that make wasteful cars that need a lot of repairs and die early. A used buyer can take advantage of depreciation, getting a newish machine for thousands of dollars less just because it’s been driven off the lot. Even if you’re able to pay cash and avoid thousands in interest, the opportunity cost of brand-new just isn’t worth it.

Efficiency also really depends on how you drive. We live in the country and my husband commutes to town, an arrangement which is often held up as the most wasteful possible lifestyle. Yet the average single American driver uses 656 gallons of gas per year, and the two of us together use less than 500, including diesel for the tractor.

We have a ten-year-old efficient manual car for the majority of our driving, and a 23-year-old manual truck essential for farm tasks, which I also sometimes use to take the kids places while my husband is at work. We reduce our gas usage by bundling errands, keeping our focus on our deeply-rewarding homestead, and recreating in our neighborhood rather than driving long distances to shop for entertainment. This saves us time and money and improves the quality of our lives first, and also reduces our impact.

The third great secret is:

If you must have something and you cannot get it used, buy it ethically.

Buying used isn’t the solution for semi-disposable necessities like socks and underwear. But if you reduce your clothing outlay by buying only what you need and getting that secondhand, money appears in almost any budget for high-quality socks and underwear. My family is trialing Bombas, a company that not only takes back their product at any time for any reason, they also donate socks to the homeless. Darn Tough is another sock company with a generous return policy. I have some Darn Toughs that have lasted years.

Ethical buying is often the first-proposed solution, which is nothing but great marketing, because it should really be the last. Before you spend money on a reusable straw which still has impacts in the manufacturing stage, evaluate whether your life would really worsen if you just skipped the straw. Some folks with disabilities really need them, but the rest of us don’t. Before you spend your time hunting down compostable trash bags, work to greatly reduce the trash you make in the first place. Then it won’t much matter how it’s bagged. Buying a few pieces of good Pyrex really did get my family completely out of the cycle of semi-disposable Tupperware, but not every “solution” the green marketing machine pushes is so successful.

The fourth great secret is:

Above all, think of yourself as a detritivore.

You know detritivores. They’re the creatures who clean up by feeding on what’s fallen. We’re talking mushrooms, springtails and all the little organisms that build soil, the most precious thing on Earth. We detritivores make kefir at home, and use other people’s empty yogurt containers for compost buckets. We drink water, and use other people’s empty juice containers for the ice bottles that keep our cold drawer cold (read about it here, and about how we cut our electricity usage by 85%). We use my husband’s scrap paper from work for homeschool. We fix broken things, and then use them until they truly fall apart.

A beautiful secondhand sink
A perfectly good sink. Next to the faucet is my home-grown luffa that is surprisingly robust after several weeks of scrubbing dishes. I am very excited to never buy another sponge!

When we built our little house, we used salvage wood for the window sills and ceiling. We got our plaster sand from a neighbor’s defunct volleyball court. We got the floor tile from our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, utilizing small leftover batches to make a lovely design. Our beautiful living room rug used to live in the entryway of a business. When our couch failed, I took it apart and reused the foam to make a new one out of secondhand scrap fabric and 2x4s. Our kitchen sink is a $2,000 model I bought off some guy whose new wife “didn’t like it.” I could never have afforded such luxury new, but secondhand it’s well within reach, and it reduced the (quite significant) impact of building our house.

How about you? Have you broken the consumer cycle and learned to value what you have, buy less and buy used? Tell me how you do it so I can take my skills to the next level. SOURCE

Big Oil’s Plan B is already in the pipeline: More plastic

As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

“In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, an advocacy group.

And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.

“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,” Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions. Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking to create a new plastics corridor in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where fracking wells are rich in ethane.

Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic — in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up to 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. It’s just the highest profile piece of what the industry hails as a “renaissance in U.S. plastics manufacturing,” whose output goes not only into packaging and single-use items such as cutlery, bottles, and bags, but also longer-lasting uses like construction materials and parts for cars and airplanes.

Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S., including expansions of existing facilities, new plants, and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, says the American Chemistry Council, an industry body. While some are already running or under construction, other projects await regulators’ approval.

“That’s why 2020 is so crucial. There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late,” said Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and a former regional director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If even a quarter of these ethane cracking facilities are built, it’s locking us into a plastic future that is going to be hard to recover from.”

Global emissions linked to plastic — now just under 900 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent annually — could by 2030 reach 1.3 billion tons, as much as almost 300 coal-fired power plants, the Center for International Environmental Law found. If output grows as planned, plastic would use up between 10 and 13 percent of the carbon emissions allowable if warming is to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Center reported. MORE