I won’t say everything is perfect in this country, but some really good things have happened on the environmental protection front this month!!!
Let’s linger on the national and state news just long enough to say yippee for the Inflation Reduction Act! This legislation allocates $370 billion from the feds to producers of clean electricity. The law is expected to help bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions about 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030!
It took a while, but the dogged persistence of advocates and elected officials finally resulted in a big win. Extra credit points for the agile pivoting from taxing carbon emissions to incentivizing clean energy use! For more, take a look at this excellent article from Inside Climate News.
And at the state level, we can celebrate the new rule issued by the California Air Resources Board that requires all new cars sold in the state by 2035 to be free of greenhouse gas emissions. The rule also defines an interim target, specifying that at least 35% of new cars sold by 2026 produce zero emissions. This is HUGE, particularly since California is the largest consumer of cars in the US and because many states are likely to follow California’s lead. Read up on the details here.
OK, on to the local news…
Celebration One: Sale of Tropical Milkweed Banned in Marin County
You may have heard that the western monarch population is in serious decline, hovering at the extinction level. In California, the population dwindled from approximately 1.2 million in 1997 to only 2,000 in 2020. Environmentalists raised the alarm and conservation efforts began falling into place. Indeed, the latest census found that more than 247,000 butterflies overwintered in the state during 2021.
While the reasons for the monarch’s decline are complex, one factor pertains to their reliance on milkweed plants to complete their life cycle. Milkweed is the monarch’s only host plant. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed and the resulting caterpillars eat the leaves. In Marin, there are two kinds of native milkweed, and both are recommended for cultivation: Narrow Leaf Milkweed, and Showy Milkweed. These types will continue to be sold by nurseries in the county.
A third type of milkweed, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is not native to California. This is the one that has been banned. Unlike native milkweed species, tropical milkweed does not die back in winter. Because it lasts year-round and has attractive flowers, it has become an increasingly popular choice for homeowners seeking to attract monarchs to their yards. However, the fact that it doesn’t die back in winter like native milkweed means that diseases harmful to monarch butterflies, such as the parasite OE, can persist on its evergreen leaves and infect future monarch generations.
Last year the California Department of Food and Agriculture designated tropical milkweed as a noxious weed known to cause harm to the environment or the economy. This type of designation allows county agricultural commissioners to ban the sale and propagation of the plant. And Marin Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay has done just that. Tropical milkweed is no longer allowed to be sold in nurseries in Marin County!
Marin is the second county in California to ban tropical milkweed, joining Ventura County, which enacted a similar ban earlier this summer. Read all about it here.
A huge thanks goes to Stefan Parnay along with the hardworking, brilliant local advocates in the Marin Monarch Working Group who have pushed hard to get this plan in place!
Celebration Two: Single Use Plastic Foodware Banned in Marin County
For years, the petrochemical industry has promoted a gigantic lie, namely that plastic waste gets recycled in the US. Nope! This waste often ends up in landfills, along roadsides, and in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade for decades. Instead it gradually breaks into tiny particles that enter and contaminate the air, water, and soil.
These microplastics accumulate in the bodies of marine mammals, sea birds and humans. One recent study found ten times as many plastic particles in the poop of one year olds as in that of adults — thanks a lot, plastic baby bottles!
Evidence continues to mount concerning the pernicious effects of ingesting the chemicals in plastics. A newly published study by researchers at UCSF and Johns Hopkins found dangerously high amounts of chemicals such as melamine and cyanuric acid in the bodies of the participants, who were pregnant women. Particularly high levels were found in women of color. These chemicals are found in plastic products as well as in dishware, hair products, and pesticides.
And plastic is definitely not going away; rather, it is being produced in greater amounts than ever. Barring radical action, plastic production is expected to jump three- to fourfold by 2050.
OK, OK, but let’s get to the good news!
The good news is that in May of 2022, the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted a Reusable Foodware Ordinance that bans the use of plastic containers, plates, cups, straws, and utensils in restaurants and other take-out food establishments in all of unincorporated Marin.
What does the ban mean, practically speaking? First of all, reusable foodware and utensils must be provided if a customer is dining in a restaurant. So no munching from a plastic-lined paper box of fries.
Second, all take-out disposable foodware must be natural-fiber compostable or aluminum. So, no plastic or plastic-lined paper containers. And no bio-plastic foodware — the stuff may be colored green and plastered with pictures of trees and little arrows chasing each other, but it is not necessarily compostable or degradable. And some of it may contain toxic materials. So it is also banned.
This ordinance applies to all entities selling prepared food to the public including restaurants, grocery stores and delis, bakeries, carry-out, quick services, farmers markets, and food trucks.
Customers are allowed to bring their own containers for take-out. But come on people, they need to be empty, clean, and big enough to contain your food! Bring your own cup to avoid a $.25 charge for a disposable one.
If this new ordinance sounds familiar, it’s because it is modeled after ones already passed in San Anselmo, Belvedere, and Fairfax. These local ordinances paved the way for the county-wide policy. Other municipalities are expected to follow suit
This is a big victory, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jinesse Reynolds, Barbara Bogard, Renee Godard, Chance Cutrano, and Susan Hopp along with all the others who have devoted countless hours to this battle. Read more about Jinesse Reynolds and her fight to ban plastic foodware here.
Closing Note: What Motivates Us to Act on Behalf of the Environment?
These big wins are hugely important for protecting our planet. And when we see people coming together to solve problems it gives us the motivation and impetus to continue the struggle. Big successes are very rewarding and energizing!
From seeds to seedlings
But I also want to say that we can derive energy and purpose from small personal actions. To illustrate this idea, I will briefly recount my relationship with Chuck, a monarch caterpillar who spent a few weeks this summer in my backyard.
It all started 18 months ago in February, when I planted some milkweed seeds. For a few weeks they lived in seed containers on my kitchen counter. When the seeds sprouted, I transplanted the seedlings into pots and eventually I planted them in the ground.
I then waited expectantly for hordes of caterpillars to arrive for a feast. But no one showed up until July, when I finally spied a lone caterpillar scaling a milkweed stem. I knew that this caterpillar faced stiff odds; only a small percentage of them make it to the butterfly stage. But I nevertheless allowed myself to become attached, assigning him a gender and naming him Chuck.
I watched with pride and alarm as Chuck quickly consumed nearly all the leaves on the plants I had reared. Like the Hulk, Chuck was expanding before my eyes, weighing down the few remaining milkweed leaves on which he perched. Worried that he didn’t have enough food to get through the 18-day caterpillar phase, I went out and bought two pots of native milkweed.
Weirdly, Chuck showed no signs of interest in these fancy new plants. I watched and waited but he just kept wandering around on the barren stems of the old plants. I finally couldn’t stand it any longer, plucking him off a bare stem and placing him in the verdant paradise I had purchased. As I pulled him off the stem, I felt resistance from the little suction cups at the ends of his legs. Then he curled up in a protective spiral and didn’t move.
|Chuck chows down
|Chuck faces a bare larder
|Chuck ponders store-bought milkweed
I freaked out — what if I had ripped out the suction cups when I pulled him off? Was he in agony? When I came back later, he had straightened out but still didn’t seem interested in the new plants. The next morning, I went out to check on him…but he had vanished. I could only hope that he had wandered off to a more private place to form a chrysalis.
Two weeks later I saw a monarch fluttering around near the milkweed. Had Chuck beaten the odds and managed to make it to the butterfly stage? After all, he was the only monarch caterpillar in my yard, and this was the ONLY monarch butterfly I had seen there all summer. He didn’t dip a wing in salute or give me a knowing wink as he fluttered by, so I will never know if it was indeed Chuck.
What is my point? First, it is really challenging to “fix” a complex system that had been disturbed by human activity. The journey from egg to caterpillar to butterfly is amazing and hard to manage from the outside.
I also learned that connecting with another living creature, even a caterpillar, is unexpectedly rewarding. It was almost as rewarding to me as the big environmental wins that have cascaded down upon us this summer. I suppose the ultimate lesson is that environmental action begins with caring.
Yeah, or maybe, as my Missouri grandmother would say, I am just “kinda screwy.”
That’s it for this installment of the Notebook. Spread the good news by clicking on the share button below!