Tag Archives: environment

Is Your Favorite Restaurant Standing Up for Immigrants?

Mother Jones

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On this episode of the Mother Jones food politics podcast, Bite, restaurant owners dish about what it’s like to run an eatery in the age of Trump-administration immigration raids.

Back on January 25, President Donald Trump issued an executive order vowing to crack down on the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The move confirmed that Trump meant to make good on the anti-immigrant zealotry he repeatedly spewed during his campaign—and sent shock waves through the US restaurant scene.

That’s because about 15.7 percent of US restaurant workers are undocumented immigrants, and another 5.9 percent are foreign-born US citizens, as this 2014 study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows. So when Trump ramps up the pressure on undocumented US residents, he’s also making life stressful for the people who cook restaurant meals, wait tables, and wash dishes.

As if they didn’t have enough on their plates to deal with. According to EPI, restaurant workers’ median wage stands at $10 per hour, tips included—and hasn’t budged, in inflation-adjusted terms, since 2000. For non-restaurant US workers, the median hourly wage is $18. That means the median restaurant worker makes 44 percent less than other workers. Benefits are also rare—just 14.4 percent of restaurant workers have employer-sponsored health insurance and 8.4 percent have pensions, vs. 48.7 percent and 41.8 percent, respectively, for other workers.

As a result of these paltry wages, more than 40 percent of restaurant workers live below twice the poverty line—the income level necessary for a family to make ends meet. That’s double the rate of non-restaurant workers. In other words, Trump is going after the most vulnerable subset of an extremely vulnerable group of workers.

On Thursday of last week, activists organized a national Day Without Immigrants, a kind of general strike that included the closing of restaurants in Atlanta, Austin, Detroit, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, Nashville, Albuquerque, Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth, and—most prominently— Washington, DC. My colleague Nathalie Baptiste reports that busy DC spots Busboys and Poets and Bad Saint shut their doors that day, as did all of the restaurants owned by prominent chef Jose Andrés, including Jaleo and Zaytinya.

The gesture took place in a highly charged atmosphere, amid reports that US immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least a half-dozen states, including Florida, Kansas, Virginia, and my home state, Texas. Things got really tense in my hometown of Austin, where the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set up checkpoints in low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants.

Meanwhile, a “Sanctuary Restaurant” movement gained momentum. Launched back in January by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Sanctuary Restaurants pledge not to “allow any harassment of any individual based on immigrant/refugee status, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation to occur in their restaurant” and hang a “Sanctuary Restaurant” sign on their doors. By last week, more than 100 had signed on nationwide.

In the midst of it all, Maddie and I hit the streets to talk to a couple of participating restaurants for the new episode of Bite.

I talked to Johhny Livesay, the chef and co-founder of Black Star Co-op, a community-owned, worker-managed pub and brewery in Austin. In addition to signing on as a sanctuary restaurant, Black Star also has an innovative compensation policy: all the workers are paid a living wage, with benefits, and tips aren’t accepted. Austin has emerged as an incubator of restaurants challenging the industry’s unfair practices. L’Oca d’Oro, an Italian spot helmed by the former punk-rock musician Fiore Tedesco, also rejects the standard tipping model and has joined the sanctuary-restaurant movement.

And Maddie spoke with Penny Baldado, the owner of a lunch joint called Cafe Gabriela in Oakland, California. Penny is an immigrant herself—she’s originally from the Philippines. Give it a listen, and subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t already.

Bite is Mother Jones‘ podcast for people who think hard about their food. Listen to all our episodes here, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.

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Is Your Favorite Restaurant Standing Up for Immigrants?

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Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info

Mother Jones

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Back in 2014, Mexico became the first nation to pass a sugary-drinks tax, overcoming massive pushback from the soda industry. Big Soda resisted the tax for good reason—Mexico boasts the globe’s second-highest per capita soda consumption (trailing only Chile), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi together account for more than 60 percent of the market.

And now, in a strange twist, comes the revelation that several of the most prominent public-health experts who promoted the tax were targeted last summer by malicious spyware from NSO Group—”an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico,” reports the New York Times.

The attacks came in the form of text messages from unknown numbers with compelling but fake appeals to click infected links: stuff like, “your daughter has been in a serious accident,” with a purported link to a hospital. Once the link is clicked and the phone is hacked, the spyware can “trace a target’s every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight,” even capturing “live footage off their cameras.”

The cyberattacks, which occurred during the summer of 2016, came just as the researchers were engaged in an ultimately failed campaign to double the tax, the Times notes.

At this point, the source of the attacks is unclear. A spokesperson for ConMéxico, Big Soda’s powerful trade group in the country, told the Times that the industry had no knowledge of the hacks, adding that “frankly, it scares us, too.”

NSO Group, for its part, claims it sells its spyware only to governmental law enforcement agencies, and maintains “technical safeguards that prevent clients from sharing its spy tools,” the Times reports, adding that an NSO spokesman “reiterated those restrictions in a statement on Thursday, and said the company had no knowledge of the tracking of health researchers and advocates inside Mexico.”

While NSO Group says its spyware is designed to be used by governments to track terrorists, criminals, and drug lords, these revelations don’t mark the first time these tools have been turned on other targets, according to the Times: “NSO spyware was discovered on the phone of a human-rights activist in the United Arab Emirates and a prominent Mexican journalist in August.” That journalist, investigative reporter Rafael Cabrera—who has broken several embarrassing stories about President Enrique Peña Nieto—was the target of an unsuccessful hacking attempt with NSO software last year.

So just as Mexico has emerged as a policy laboratory for reducing soda consumption, it is also demonstrating some pretty innovative tools for keeping tabs on anti-soda agitators. And delivering an important reminder: Think hard before you click on a link texted to you from an unknown number, no matter how compelling the story is.

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Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info

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Everyone on Capitol Hill Needs to Go Backpacking ASAP

Mother Jones

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Getting out into the wild is restorative. Fresh air, natural sounds and settings, a spot of exercise: It tends to free our mind, bring down our stress levels, and, with any luck, give us a break from work. The converse is also true. Excessive urban noise, for example, stresses us out and can wreak havoc on our psyches. These are things we know just based on everyday experience.

Author and journalist Florence Williams, whose last book was Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, takes this knowledge way further in a new book that focuses on the science behind the health-wilderness link. For The Nature Fix, which hits bookstores this week, Williams bounced around the planet talking to naturalists, scientists, and government workers to get to the bottom of our complex relationship with our environment, which turns out to be both intensely physical and psychological.

I reached out to Williams to talk about the science—and why our government is in desperate need of a monthlong camping trip.

Mother Jones: You write about something called “biophilia.” What is that and why is it important?

Florence Williams: Biophilia is a concept popularized by Harvard biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson that humans are deeply and instinctively bonded to living systems. It’s important because modern life has made us forget this. We think we are separate from nature, and we often treat the natural world as if that were the case. Our essential amnesia of biophilia has devastating consequences for both us and the natural world. Wilson believes that although the bond is instinctual, it must be cultivated from childhood or we lose it. If we really care about the future of our planet, we need start reconnecting little kids to nature. Unfortunately, many schools, neighborhoods and ever-tempting new technologies are moving kids in the opposite direction.

MJ: We’ve always known intuitively that nature has restorative effects, hence a turn in the countryside, but you really dug in. What surprised you?

FW: I figured being in beautiful environments would be good for our mood and mental health, but I wasn’t expecting the evidence that it also improves our attention and cognition. I was also kind of blown away by the so-called “awe studies” that show that when we experience even little shots of awe, like a sunset or an unexpected butterfly, it can make us actually more compassionate and generous. I have this new plan that we need to line the halls of Congress with potted ficuses and unleash some butterflies.

MJ: A lot of the health aspects of our exposure to nature seems to involve reducing our stress levels. Is there much else to it?

FW: There’s some debate about the mechanisms by which time in nature makes us feel better. It reduces our stress levels, but why? Some argue it’s because of the way information enters our brains. In ordinary life, we suffer from an onslaught of stimuli that taxes our frontal cortex, especially, leading to fatigue and a kind of general grumpiness. When we’re in nature, the frontal lobes get a break, and other parts of our brains get turned on, like parts governing empathy and daydreaming and self-concept.

Another theory is just that, hey, our nervous systems evolved in nature, not in Euclidean concrete cityscapes, and it just makes us feel good to be back in the green and the blue and the environments that sustained us for millions of years. Yet another piece of it is that being outside facilitates a lot of other effective happy-making things, like exercise and hanging out with fun people and seeing beauty. We can get those things in a city, too, but nature provides them for free and for all.

MJ: There’s a growing body of science supporting these health effects, but it seems like foreign scientists and governments are more serious about this stuff and more willing to act on it than Americans. What’s your theory on this?

FW: A lot of the countries I looked at have socialized medicine. It saves the system a lot of money to put some resources into preventing stress-related diseases and it increases worker productivity in the long run. As a psychologist in Finland told me, there just aren’t enough skilled workers to keep burning through them, like so many industries do in the US. So they invest in the workers, even giving them spa time and hiking days in the woods, so that they’ll keep working. And, oh yeah, they get a year off for parental leave—but don’t even get me started on that.

MJ: Tell me a bit about ways governments have taken action on this science, such as the “healing forests” of Japan and Korea.

FW: Japan has designated some 48 forest-therapy trails, mostly used by Tokyoites, who take the trains out of town and decompress from their demanding lives. South Korea now has three entire healing forests and another couple dozen planned. In both countries, healing rangers offer low-cost programs in stress management for everyone from firefighters with PTSD to school bullies to cancer patients. South Korea has explicitly made “green well-being” part of its forest management plan. Researchers have found that time in the woods improves cardiovascular health as well as mental health, so they’re really promoting it.

MJ: Richard Conniff wrote us an interesting piece a while back about how America’s national parks were inspired by Madison Grant, a prominent racist. To what extent is access to nature a social justice issue as it applies to public health?

FW: Madison Grant may have helped inspire the national parks, but so did Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted is well known for his love of boulders and big elms, but less known for his radical ideas about public space—especially green space—and democracy. He had toured the slave-holding South as a journalist and promoted the idea of parks as a mixing pot for the great American experiment. He understood that all men and women need to de-stress from the pressures of crowded and increasingly urban life. These notions are now back in vogue, and I don’t think there’s an environmental group out there—or a land-managing federal agency, or a kids’ health group—that isn’t looking at diversity in the outdoors as a core tenet. I’m really heartened by the efforts of groups like Outdoor Afro and GirlTrek and the scouting groups and a ton of others to improve access to nature for urban kids. And when the kids drag their parents outside, the benefits reach into their communities.

MJ: You also wrote a recent piece for Mother Jones, on how noise, which is defined as unwanted sound, appears to have significant negative effects on human health and learning capacity. Part of the equation is how sensitive a person is to noise. So what can a noise-sensitive urban dweller do? Is there a way to make peace with the leaf blowers or with the death metal our annoying housemates insist on blasting day and night?

FW: I wish that were true. I think once you’re bothered by noise, you’re probably always bothered by noise. The best we can hope for is to change up our personal soundscapes by wearing noise-canceling headphones, playing some nice birdsong or whatever music, and soundproofing your work space. Beyond that, we need to just get the heck out of dodge once in a while to recover some equanimity.

Florence Williams

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Everyone on Capitol Hill Needs to Go Backpacking ASAP

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Sweden’s climate minister just trolled Trump in the most excellent way.

On Sunday, Steyer joined protesters at the San Francisco airport. Now, he’s saying Trump’s election has convinced him to broaden his focus from the environment to other issues.

Trump threatens “everything we care about: our climate, our economy, our fundamental rights and freedoms, and our republic itself,” Steyer said in a statement. “Trump’s racism, his crass attempts to personally profit from the presidency, and his unquenchable thirst for power have sparked a vital American resistance movement.”

In a video posted Tuesday, Steyer said, “I promise to do everything in my power to stand up to Trump.” When you’ve got a billion dollars to play with, that kind of promise means something.

Making good on the commitment might include a run for office — rumor has it that Steyer may try for the governor’s seat when California’s Jerry Brown steps down in two years.


Sweden’s climate minister just trolled Trump in the most excellent way.

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Climate Change Means Fewer Days of Perfect Weather

Mother Jones

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Picture the perfect picnic day: It’s neither too hot nor too cold, neither too humid nor too dry. The sun is shining, and there’s little chance of rain. For many of our outdoor activities, these are the days we care about and plan for. And yet, in the last few decades of climate research, scientists haven’t spent much time researching these “mild weather” days.

“In standard climate science research, we either focus on changes in the mean climate—what is the average annual temperature globally and how does that change in time, or what is the average annual rainfall amount and how does rainfall amount change in a region—or we look at extreme weather and storms, so hurricanes or floods or droughts,” says Sarah Kapnick, a climate scientist at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But today, Kapnick, along with two colleagues at NOAA and Princeton University, have released the very first study on global shifts in “mild weather” over the next century, and the results are not looking good.

Annual number of mild weather days right now.

Changes in annual mild weather days in years 2081-2100.

Using a climate simulation model to analyze mild weather days worldwide, the scientists found that today a person, on average, experiences 89 mild days—but by 2100 she will only experience 78. Moreover, though the latter half of the century will see the fastest decline in mild days, we will begin to see the effects within the next twenty years. The model projects that by 2035, our global average of mild days will fall by four. To put this into perspective, El Niño—one of the largest natural climate-changing events—only chips off one mild weather day per year from the global average.

Of course, these mild weather changes are not evenly distributed around the world. For example, the majority of Africa, as well as, parts of Asia, eastern Latin America, and northern Australia—regions most hard-hit by other studied climate change impacts—will also suffer the greatest losses in mild weather, upwards of 25 fewer days, over the next century. That isn’t to say that the US will ride through the upcoming decades unscathed. A table published along with the study shows exactly what key American cities should expect within the next twenty years. Take two examples: Miami, which currently experiences 97 mild weather days per year, will lose 16 of those days by 2035; DC, currently tallied at 81, will lose 7.

Changes in annual mild weather days for key cities in the US. Karin van der Wiel, lead author of the study

Ticking off a couple of days here and there doesn’t sound too bad when you’re planning for picnics or hikes. But, as Kapnick points out, mild weather days also affect critical economic activities, including construction, infrastructure projects, agriculture, and air and rail travel. Such shrinking and shifting of mild weather could lead to significant negative economic consequences, not to mention a threat to our global food supply. Even for the handful of regions around the world where mild weather is predicted to increase, there could be unexpected consequences. “People in sunny California know that just because you have sunny, lovely weather, mild weather, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good thing for your water resources,” says Kapnick.

Now that a model exists for studying the everyday impacts of climate change, Kapnick hopes other scientists will build off of her team’s work. She says, “We have started with mild weather, but future work can look at other ranges of climate that interest people for specific purposes or activities.”

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Climate Change Means Fewer Days of Perfect Weather

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