Trump must win the Midwest. But out here his breezy reelection gambit falls flat
Art Cullen August 29, 2020
It’s dry. So dry that my neighbor Steve Drey, the tractor parts man who hears it first, figures that the combines might start rolling through the brown corn in just a week or two. Some farmers are cutting corn for livestock silage, and it’s punky.
One hundred fifty bushels per acre should be the ballpark crop yield around Storm Lake, Iowa, which is in severe drought along with much of the Corn Belt. That’s a 25% yield chop off expectations. It makes farmers itch to start harvesting before the paper-dry corn falls to a freak wind. A hurricane-like derecho wind flattened 14 million acres in the Tall Corn State just a couple weeks ago. This, as corn prices are at their lowest point in a decade.
The cicadas of late August called children back to school where vulnerable teachers and staff awaited them. Most come from meatpacking households – Latino, Asian and African – whose breadwinners were ordered into close working quarters in April by a President who demanded slower virus testing. We were among the hottest spots in the land.
The infection rate shot up in the college towns as the students returned. Governor Kim Reynolds ordered the bars shut down in six of the state’s 99 counties. She sailed to election in 2018 but has since watched her numbers slide as her mind melded to Trump’s. Our virus rate refuses to recede. Fourteen teacher aides in Storm Lake quit just before classes resumed for fear of infection. The governor ordered everyone back to class but didn’t tell schools how to do it. Our superintendent begged patience. She regrets saying “I just don’t know” so often when asked how to pull this off safely.
Nobody does know. The state last week acknowledged that it was disseminating faulty data about Covid infection as recently as July. The meatpacking industry is doing its own testing of employees on a selective basis. Deaths and hospitalizations have ebbed here. Children have their temperatures checked at the school door. We have no idea what the infection rate really is, or how long we can conduct classes. Masks are not required, but everyone was wearing them in class this week. The kids here seem to get it. Grandma, who takes care of them after school, is nervous.
It’s shouting distance of Labor Day, when people normally start fixing on the elections. Labor is restless. John Deere laid off Davenport and Waterloo workers last fall and this spring. Deere reported strong profits last week as a result, despite slumping sales from the Trump Trade Wars. There’s the disconnect between the stock market and Main Street – the Dow rises while enhanced unemployment benefits expire.
Atop all this – a pandemic, a climate crisis inspiring a mega-drought and derecho, rotten farm prices and incompetent government – another unarmed black man was shot, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Not so far from Minneapolis, where George Floyd became a household name. Now it’s Jacob Blake, whose mother Julia Jackson pleaded for prayer and healing on national TV, for her son, for the police, for this nation. The Bucks and Brewers refused to play.
Trump simply must win Iowa and Wisconsin. So he cast a convention against this backdrop of anxiety and fear – godless looters are coming for yours – and roped in our governor, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa to play in the tragedy. Few were inclined to listen. When the corn calls, you are too busy removing fallen trees from your machine shed. Trump dropped into the Cedar Rapids airport for an hour shortly before the convention to promise assistance after the derecho pulverized our Second City. After he left, he approved homeowner and business relief for just one of the 27 counties the governor had requested.
For that, Governor Reynolds told the TV convention that Trump “had our back.” Senator Ernst, trailing Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in fundraising and polling, landed a prime-time cameo to praise her fearless leader. The one who knocked down soybean prices. The one who helped the corn-fueled ethanol industry implode. The one who ordered children in cages to be separated from their mothers.
Farmers are anxious. Latinos are afraid. Unemployed machinists are frustrated. That prized demographic, suburban women in Urbandale next to Des Moines, are encouraging the school board to sue the governor over her in-person school orders.
A few Latino organizers gathered in the park on the sweltering evening when Trump would commandeer the Rose Garden for his reality show.
“Our people came here to be free of the corruption and violence,” said Storm Lake City Councilman José Ibarra. “Now it has come back to find us. Where can we go? What can we do but vote?”
They said their older folks who never saw a reason before have finally found one.
Even some of those farmers are wondering about Trump as they dig into a harvest so meager that wraps up as they vote. An ill wind blows for incumbents.
Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing on agriculture. He is a Guardian US columnist and author of the book, Storm Lake: Change, Resilience, and Hope in America’s Heartland
Vitamin B could help prevent the ‘worst outcomes’ in COVID-19 cases, experts say
Abby Haglage August 27, 2020
Doctors remain focused on finding a treatment to slow or stop the deadly immune overreaction to COVID-19 known as a “cytokine storm.” As they do, experts in the nutrition world are aiming to find ways to stop it before it begins. Early on in the pandemic, these recommendations from health experts focused on vitamin C and vitamin D, both of which can significantly strengthen the immune system.
But now, in a new study published in the international peer-reviewed journal Maturitas, researchers suggest that another, equally important vitamin is being overlooked: vitamin B.
The study, a joint collaboration between researchers at the University of Oxford, United Arab Emirates University and the University of Melbourne, called for more analysis of its effects on patients with COVID-19. “Vitamin B … plays a pivotal role in cell functioning, energy metabolism and proper immune function,” the authors write. “Vitamin B assists in proper activation of both the innate and adaptive immune responses, reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine levels, improves respiratory function, maintains endothelial integrity, prevents hyper-coagulability and can reduce the length of stay in hospital.”
While the study itself did not analyze the effects of vitamin B on COVID-19 patients, the authors say existing evidence on how it functions suggests that it would be extremely beneficial. “Vitamin B not only helps to build and maintain a healthy immune system, but it could potentially prevent or reduce COVID-19 symptoms or treat SARS-CoV-2 infection,” they write. “Poor nutritional status predisposes people to infections more easily; therefore, a balanced diet is necessary for immuno-competence.”
Overall, they conclude that vitamin B “should be assessed” in COVID-19 patients as a potential non-pharmaceutical “adjunct to current treatments.”
So what is vitamin B exactly?
Vitamin B complex — made up of eight different essential types, including B-2 (riboflavin), B-6 and B-12 — affects many parts of the body, assisting with critical functions such as eyesight, red blood cell growth, proper digestion, energy levels, heart health, and brain and nerve function. B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods including red meat, beans, milk, cheese, broccoli, spinach, avocados and brown rice.
Despite the availability of vitamin B-rich foods, many Americans may be deficient in this nutrient — and not even know it. According to a blog post from Harvard University, using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, “3.2 percent of adults over age 50 have a seriously low B12 level” and “up to 20 percent may have a borderline vitamin B12 deficiency.”
A deficiency in certain strains, such as vitamin B12, can be serious, resulting in an insufficient number of healthy red blood cells, which are used to fight off infection. Symptoms of vitamin B deficiency can range from fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness to personality changes, muscle weakness and unsteady movements.
Do other experts agree that vitamin B could be helpful?
Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutrition expert at Harvard Medical School and director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, urges caution when interpreting the results — which are not meant to suggest that vitamin B can either prevent or treat COVID-19. But still, she agrees that it may have major benefits.
“You can think of the immune system as an army. Its job is to protect the body. But if the immune system army isn’t well-regulated, it can overreact and actually cause more damage — this overreaction is what often happens in COVID-19 and is referred to as the cytokine storm,” Naidoo tells Yahoo Life. “Cytokines are inflammatory molecules released by immune cells. They are like the weapons of the immune system army. So if immune cells are soldiers, cytokines are guns and grenades. And in a poorly regulated immune system, the body’s cytokine storm induced by COVID cause lots of inflammation in the body, just as if little grenades were being tossed around. This is what causes the worst outcomes and death in COVID.”
Naidoo — along with her co-researcher, Nicholas Norwitz, a PhD candidate at Oxford University — does think that vitamin B may have an effect. “It follows that anything that improves immune system function and decreases the chances that an infected person will have a catastrophic cytokine storm may improve the outcome of COVID-19 cases and decrease the overall death rate,” Naidoo says. “Therefore, it’s quite feasible that B-vitamin supplementation could contribute to preventing the worst COVID outcomes.”
Although the news is promising, more research on the topic is needed — and individuals should consult their doctor before adding supplements to their diet. But until then, Naidoo hopes that the research will be a reminder of how important it is to have a balanced diet. “All Americans should be focusing on their overall metabolic health to improve their individual chances of coping well with the virus…,” she says. “To this end, our everyday basics on nutrition are critical.”
What the Republican Party actually stands for, in 13 points
David Frum, Staff writer at The Atlantic August 25, 2020
Republicans have decided not to publish a party platform for 2020.
This omission has led some to conclude that the GOP lacks ideas, that it stands for nothing, that it has shriveled to little more than a Trump cult.
This conclusion is wrong. The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans.
Once you read the list, I think you’ll agree that these are authentic ideas with meaningful policy consequences, and that they are broadly shared. The question is not why Republicans lack a coherent platform; it’s why they’re so reluctant to publish the one on which they’re running.
1) The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens. Lower this level, as Republicans did in 2017, and prosperity will follow. The economy has had a temporary setback, but thanks to the tax cut of 2017, recovery is ready to follow strongly. No further policy change is required, except possibly lower taxes still.
2) The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out. States should reopen their economies as rapidly as possible, and accept the ensuing casualties as a cost worth paying—and certainly a better trade-off than saving every last life by shutting down state economies. Masking is useless and theatrical, if not outright counterproductive.
3) Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.
4) China has become an economic and geopolitical adversary of the United States. Military spending should be invested with an eye to defeating China on the seas, in space, and in the cyberrealm. U.S. economic policy should recognize that relations with China are zero-sum: When China wins, the U.S. loses, and vice versa.
5) The trade and alliance structures built after World War II are outdated. America still needs partners, of course, especially Israel and maybe Russia. But the days of NATO and the World Trade Organization are over. The European Union should be treated as a rival, the United Kingdom and Japan should be treated as subordinates, and Canada, Australia, and Mexico should be treated as dependencies. If America acts decisively, allies will have to follow whether they like it or not—as they will have to follow U.S. policy on Iran.
6) Health care is a purchase like any other. Individuals should make their own best deals in the insurance market with minimal government supervision. Those who pay more should get more. Those who cannot pay must rely on Medicaid, accept charity, or go without.
7) Voting is a privilege. States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege in such a way as to minimize voting fraud, which is rife among Black Americans and new immigrant communities. The federal role in voting oversight should be limited to preventing Democrats from abusing the U.S. Postal Service to enable fraud by their voters.
8) Anti-Black racism has ceased to be an important problem in American life. At this point, the people most likely to be targets of adverse discrimination are whites, Christians, and Asian university applicants. Federal civil-rights-enforcement resources should concentrate on protecting them.
9) The courts should move gradually and carefully toward eliminating the mistake made in 1965, when women’s sexual privacy was elevated into a constitutional right.
10) The post-Watergate ethics reforms overreached. We should welcome the trend toward unrestricted and secret campaign donations. Overly strict conflict-of-interest rules will only bar wealthy and successful businesspeople from public service. Without endorsing every particular action by the president and his family, the Trump administration has met all reasonable ethical standards.
12) The country is gripped by a surge of crime and lawlessness as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and its criticism of police. Police misconduct, such as that in the George Floyd case, should be punished. But the priority now should be to stop crime by empowering police.
13) Civility and respect are cherished ideals. But in the face of the overwhelming and unfair onslaught against President Donald Trump by the media and the “deep state,” his occasional excesses on Twitter and at his rallies should be understood as pardonable reactions to much more severe misconduct by others.
So there’s the platform. Why not publish it?
There are two answers to that question, one simple, one more complicated.
The simple answer is that President Trump’s impulsive management style has cast his convention into chaos. The location, the speaking program, the arrangements—all were decided at the last minute. Managing the rollout of a platform as well was just one task too many.
The more complicated answer is that the platform I’ve just described, like so much of the Trump-Republican program, commands support among only a minority of the American people. The platform works (to the extent it does work) by exciting enthusiastic support among Trump supporters; but when stated too explicitly, it invites a backlash among the American majority. This is a platform for a party that talks to itself, not to the rest of the country. And for those purposes, the platform will succeed most to the extent that it is communicated only implicitly, to those receptive to its message.
The challenge for Republicans in the week ahead is to hope that President Trump can remember, night after night, to speak only the things he’s supposed to speak—not to blurt the things his party wants its supporters to absorb unspoken.
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David Frum is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Trumpocalypse: Restoring America Democracy (2020). In 2001 and 2002, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Sinking your teeth into a crisp apple or chomping on a stalk of celery is something you should be able to do without thinking. After all, the best nutritional science shows that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables—and plenty of them—is a crucial component of good health. But produce sometimes comes with potentially harmful pesticide levels.
That’s according to a new Consumer Reports analysis of five years of data from the Department of Agriculture collected from tests on fruits and vegetables to detect about 450 pesticides. In some cases, those levels exceed what CR’s experts consider safe.
The solution isn’t to eat less produce. More than 80 percent of Americans already fall short of the recommended amounts: at least 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits per day for most adults. Instead, you can minimize the risk by choosing fruits and vegetables grown with fewer and safer pesticides.
One way is to choose organic produce. “CR recommends buying organic when possible, to reduce your pesticide exposure and protect the environment and farm-workers,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, the senior policy analyst at CR who led our new pesticides study. Organic standards permit some pesticides, but they can be used only after nonchemical methods, such as crop rotation, have failed. Even then, farmers can’t use pesticides that could be harmful to people or the environment.
“Still, we realize organic can cost more, and that means it isn’t always an option,” Vallaeys says. And in many low-income communities, access to fruits and vegetables in general—let alone organic—may be limited.
To help consumers identify which produce poses the biggest risk from pesticides, CR experts developed ratings for 35 fruits and vegetables. They were organic and nonorganic, grown in the U.S. and imported. We also rated some frozen, canned, and dried items, for a total of 49 products. (See CR’s produce ratings and find out which fruits and vegetables to pick, below.)
The good news: Almost half of the nonorganic fruits and vegetables pose little risk. But about 20 percent, such as fresh green beans, peaches, and potatoes, received our worst scores; those are the ones it’s most important to try to buy organic. Even some organic products, such as fresh spinach, had worrisome pesticide residue. “For the lowest-scoring items, eating a half of a serving or less per day poses long-term health risks to a young child,” Vallaeys says.
Pesticides and Your Health
“Pesticides are chemicals that are specifically designed to kill living organisms,” says Devon Payne-Sturges, DrPH, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park. Some of the clearest evidence of harm comes from people who work with pesticides or live in agricultural areas. The Environmental Protection Agency says agricultural pesticide exposure is tied to asthma, bronchitis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate and lung cancers.
Industry groups say that such residue on food doesn’t pose a risk. “A farmer’s first consumer is his or her own family, so food safety is always their top priority,” says Teresa Thorne, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming. And CropLife America, a pesticide industry group, said that half or more of items tested by the USDA show no pesticide residue.
But many experts remain concerned. Payne-Sturges says pesticides can damage the brain and nervous system. And even low levels have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and other health problems, she says.
Plenty of research bears this out. A 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people with the highest levels of exposure to pyrethroid pesticides were three times as likely to die from cardiovascular disease during the 14-year study than those with less exposure. In a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, children with a greater exposure to organophosphate pesticides were more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. And a 2016 analysis in Scientific Reports found a link between pesticides and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other evidence suggests that pesticides disrupt the endocrine system, which is made up of hormones, the glands that produce them, and the receptors in the body that respond to them. Experts think this may contribute to some cancers and other health problems. And because this system is delicate, even small amounts of endocrine disruptors could have outsized effects, says Michael Hansen, PhD, CR’s senior scientist.
Yet the overall health impact of pesticides may be even greater because there are still many unanswered questions about the effects of long-term, low-dose exposure.
What Research Can’t Tell Us
Scientists studying pesticides are limited in the kind of research they can conduct. Giving a group of people a pesticide-laden diet and another a pesticide-free one would provide clearer answers—but would also be unethical. So scientists turn to other types of studies.
Animal studies, which can provide clues to potential harms, are limited by significant biological differences between, say, rats and humans. And epidemiological studies—which look at groups of people, their pesticide exposure, and their health outcomes over long periods of time—can link pesticides and illness but can’t prove that the chemicals caused the diseases.
Another limitation: Pesticides are usually regulated and studied by considering the effects of just a product’s active ingredient. Yet pesticide formulas contain many other substances. “Some of these are called inert ingredients, which gives you the impression that they’re not harmful,” Payne-Sturges says. But how they might affect health is largely unknown.
Also, health effects may be compounded when multiple pesticides are used together, which frequently happens. But most studies evaluate only the effects of a single type or class of pesticide, says Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “What we should be looking at is the whole swimming pool of chemicals that we’re exposed to,” she says.
What does this mean for consumers? “Sadly, there’s a lot we don’t know about the human health effects of pesticides in food,” says CR’s Vallaeys. “Given this, it makes sense that we should err on the side of caution and base decisions about pesticide use not just on what we know but also on what we don’t yet know.”
Pesticides and Farmworkers
Pesticides pose special dangers to people who work with them on farms and in factories, as well as to their families and people who live nearby.
A long-running project from the University of California, Berkeley, known as the CHAMACOS study is a key source of evidence. (The name is an acronym for the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, and means “little children” in Mexican Spanish.) Starting in 1999, researchers began following hundreds of Latino children—many from before they were even born—in Salinas, Calif., an area where much of U.S. produce is grown.
The findings show that pesticide exposure in pregnant women and during childhood is linked to poor reflexes in infants (a sign of brain and nervous system problems), lower IQ, attention disorders, poorer lung function, and more. People facing greater economic and social challenges are also more likely to suffer harm from pesticide exposure, says Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, the study’s director.
“The effects of pesticides on the people who grow and harvest our food is a big part of the reason CR recommends buying organic when you can,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, CR’s senior policy analyst.
Laws governing the use of pesticides on produce in the U.S. are based, at least in theory, on a philosophy of avoiding potential risk in the absence of definitive proof of their harm. But CR’s experts say the government hasn’t upheld its responsibility to protect consumers.
The EPA, which is responsible for overseeing pesticides, sets limits on how much residue is allowed on food. The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration separately test fruits and vegetables for pesticides. Both agencies say that by and large, testing shows that levels are almost always below legal limits. But the research used to set these tolerances is imperfect, and they’re often too high, says CR’s Hansen.
At a baseline, the limits are set at one one-hundredth of the amount of a pesticide that doesn’t cause apparent harm to animals in laboratory testing. That safety factor is meant to account for the uncertainty that arises when the results of animal studies are applied to long-term human exposure, and the fact that some people are more sensitive than others to pesticides.
The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act requires the EPA to apply extra protection when science doesn’t conclusively show that a chemical is safe for infants and children. Known as the “FQPA safety factor,” it lowers the cap on pesticide residue from one one-hundredth to one one-thousandth of the amount found not to harm lab animals. But with the exception of organophosphates, this safety margin has rarely been used.
The agency told CR it makes decisions about whether to apply the FQPA safety factor based on a variety of research, “a wealth of high-quality, peer-reviewed data.” When it decides not to, it has determined that a particular pesticide doesn’t affect infants and children any differently from adults.
Nor is it using the latest science, according to Hansen. “The tests the EPA uses to approve pesticides don’t take into account new evidence on pesticide harms, and it hasn’t incorporated many new scientific techniques,” he says.
James Hewitt, an EPA spokesperson, says the agency’s standard evaluations include some assessment of endocrine effects. And he says that while screening pesticides for endocrine-disruption potential is slow and resource intensive, the agency is working on developing newer, faster screening techniques, and that it refines its safety evaluation methods as science evolves.
What CR’s Analysis Found
In our ratings, the “cleanest” produce receives an Excellent or Very Good score, while fruits and vegetables that carry the most risk are rated Fair or Poor. They factor in the total number of pesticides, the level of each on fruits and vegetables, the frequency with which they were detected, and their toxicity.
To account for toxicity, we used the EPA’s chronic reference dose for each pesticide (the amount it considers not likely to cause harm over a lifetime), then applied the FQPA safety factor to known neurological toxins or suspected endocrine disruptors—even when the EPA doesn’t. The goal was to “minimize the chance that risks are underestimated,” says Chuck Benbrook, PhD, a consultant who helped develop CR’s risk scores.
This means that fruits and vegetables with residue of many different pesticides can still receive a rating of Very Good or even Excellent if the amounts are low compared with the level we consider harmful, or if the pesticides have a low toxicity. But others rate poorly if they have even a very small amount of a more dangerous pesticide.
For example, fresh nonorganic tomatoes have a Very Good rating despite having residue of 65 pesticides because the amounts weren’t concerning and/or were found on only a few samples. On the other hand, imported nonorganic summer squash rated Poor because it had worrisome amounts of a particularly harmful pesticide on just one sample.
Thirty-one of 49 nonorganic fruits and vegetables—which include fresh, frozen, dried, and canned—earn a rating of Good or higher in domestic and/or imported forms.
But for the 18 nonorganic fruits and vegetables with a Fair or Poor rating, CR’s experts say everyone, especially pregnant women, infants, and young children, should try to eat the organic versions. If you can’t find them at a price you can afford, choose a higher-rated similar alternative, such as broccoli instead of green beans. Still, if that’s not possible, occasionally eating a low-rated fruit or vegetable doesn’t pose a serious health risk.
There were a few items for which organic produce got a score lower than Excellent. For those rated Very Good, the likely reason is that pesticides banned in organic farming drifted from fields where nonorganic crops were grown. But drift probably doesn’t account for the Fair or Poor scores for three organic items: imported frozen cherries, imported fresh snap peas, and U.S.-grown fresh spinach.
All but one of the contaminated frozen cherry samples were imported from Turkey. In recent years, questions have been raised about the integrity of the organic label on Turkish imports.
Organic imported snap peas are rated Fair because one of the 15 samples was contaminated with high levels of dimethoate, a potent neurotoxin.
And last, organic U.S.-grown spinach received a Poor score because 33 pesticides were found on 76 percent of the samples. For some of these, the levels were similar to nonorganic. That includes famoxadone, a pesticide banned in organic farming and a possible hormone disruptor.
“The vast majority of the USDA data show that while pesticides are sometimes found on organic foods, the levels are usually 10 percent or less of what’s found on nonorganic, which would be consistent with drift from a neighboring field,” CR’s Hansen says. “When levels on organic and nonorganic are similar, government agencies should take a closer look.”
A spokesperson for the USDA’s National Organic Program says fewer organic fruits and vegetables are tested than nonorganic, which may skew findings. And when it has questions about compliance, it first contacts the certifier for that operation, who can usually help identify underlying issues and quickly bring the farm or business back into compliance. When there’s indication of fraud or other serious problems, the program investigates and, when the evidence warrants, removes the offender from the organic system.
What Needs to Change
“Many federal policies should be altered to protect consumers from the harms of pesticides,” says Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy. Particularly important is a system to quickly identify banned pesticides on imported produce to keep it out of the country. “The USDA must also take steps to maintain the integrity of the organic program and help farmers transition to organic, which will make organic options more widely available.”
In addition, CR says that government agencies and Congress should take the following steps:
• Ban the agricultural use of the riskiest pesticides. This falls under the EPA’s purview, although CR also supports legislation proposed in the U.S. House or Representatives and Senate known as the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PDF) of 2020. This bill would ban many of the pesticides that contributed the most to the risk from pesticides on fruits and vegetables in CR’s analysis. (It would also provide stronger protections for farm workers and communities at the greatest risk of pesticide exposure.)
• Apply the FQPA safety factor to all neurotoxins, suspected endocrine disruptors, and any pesticide for which there’s uncertainty about its safety. That’s already required under the Food Quality Protection Act. CR says the EPA needs to apply the law consistently.
• Provide the public with an easy-to-search database of the pesticides currently registered with the EPA, including information for each pesticide on whether the FQPA tenfold safety factor was applied when setting tolerance levels.
• Place an import alert on fruits and vegetables that test positive for banned pesticides, because pesticides that are banned in the U.S. sometimes appear on imported produce samples in the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program. To make this happen, the USDA should alert the FDA, the agency responsible for enacting and enforcing import alerts, when residues of a banned pesticide are detected in imported samples.
Which Produce Should You Pick?
To create CR’s ratings, we analyzed five years of data—from 2014 to 2018, the latest available—from the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, which tests fruits and vegetables for pesticides, about 24,000 samples in all. Then we calculated a rating based on four factors: the number of pesticides detected on each item, the frequency with which pesticides were found on samples, the average amount of residue of each pesticide found on the items, and the toxicity of the pesticides.
The ratings reflect the number of servings of a particular fruit or vegetable a person can eat per day over a lifetime before the pesticides pose potential harm. We based our risk analysis on the levels that could harm a 35-pound child, about the size of a 4-year-old. The serving sizes represent a child’s portion, about two-thirds of an adult serving. While adults may have more servings, the relative risk remains the same; that is, an item rated Poor carries a higher risk than one rated Fair or better. The risk comes from chronic exposure. Choosing produce with the best ratings most of the time can reduce the chance of future harm.
With grace & a generous dose stinging ridicule, served up on a gold platter, Obama laid waste to the Trump presidency w/ a “WTF IS this?” and a “who the eff are YOU?” He summed up the simple essence of Trump: Lazy, stupid, dangerous, cruel, incompetent, a true threat to democracy, devoid of imagination, sociopath, psychopath, a cipher, a baby-man. In so many words. Wow. C’mon. Tonight. You gotta love Obama.
Barack Obama gives scathing DNC speech: ‘Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t’
John Fritze and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY August 20, 2020
Pres. Obama criticizes Pres. Trump, calls on Americans to vote in DNC remarks
Former President Barack Obama offered some of his most pointed criticism of President Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, arguing that his successor turned the presidency into “one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
“What we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come,” Obama said in one of the most closely watched addresses on the convention’s third night.
“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.
Though Obama has criticized Trump’s policies before, his remarks Wednesday were far more pointed – and personal. Obama rarely mentions the president by name – even as Trump has slammed his administration on a near-daily basis – but did so twice in his 19-minute speech.
“He has shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends,” Obama said in the live address delivered from Philadelphia.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said. “And the consequences of that failure are severe.”
Trump wasted no time firing back. Responding to excerpts of Obama’s remarks earlier in the day, Trump described Obama as “so ineffective, so terrible” as he offered an extended criticism of the Iran agreement intended to slow Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapons program.
“The reason I’m here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden,” he said.
Obama accused Trump of using the military as “political props” during Black Lives Matter protests in Washington.
Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, “understand that in this democracy, the commander in chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil,” Obama said.
“They understand that political opponents aren’t ‘un-American’ just because they disagree with you, that a free press isn’t the ‘enemy’ but the way we hold officials accountable,” he said.
InJune, Trump told governors to quell protests or he would deploy the military. Then he strolled through a park near the White House that had been forcefully cleared of protesters minutes earlier and brandished a Bible in a photo op in front of a church that had been damaged by protesters. The incident drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans and became a turning point in the way Trump characterized the Black Lives Matter protesters.
Obama, who burst into national politics with a memorable convention speech in 2004, hopes to rally the coalition of Black and young voters who twice propelled him to the Oval Office – many of whom stayed at home during the 2016 election.
The former president spoke fondly of his relationship with Biden while they were in office together, and his remarks were preceded by a video of Obama surprising Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a display intended to underscore their friendship.
“Twelve years ago, when I began my search for vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother,” he said.
“Joe is a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity. … That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts, that’s who Joe is,” Obama said.
Obama said Biden’s advice helped propel many of his policies.
“For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president – and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country,” Obama said.
Democrats hoped Obama would highlight Biden’s efforts on passing the 2009 health care law as well as overseeing the economic stimulus that helped the U.S. climb out of the Great Recession.
“Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality,” Obama said.
I’m Billy Graham’s granddaughter. Evangelical support of Donald Trump spits on his legacy.
Jerushah Duford, Opinion contributor August 25, 2020
As the proud granddaughter of the man largely credited for beginning the evangelical movement, the late Billy Graham, the last few years have led me to reflect on how much has changed within that movement in America.
I have spent my entire life in the church, with every big decision guided by my faith. But now, I feel homeless. Like so many others, I feel disoriented as I watch the church I have always served turn their eyes away from everything it teaches. I hear from Christian women on a daily basis who all describe the same thing: a tug at their spirit.
Most of these women walked into a voting booth in 2016 believing they were choosing between two difficult options. They held their breath, closed their eyes, and cast a vote for Donald Trump, whom many of us then believed to be “the lesser of two evils,” all the while feeling that tug.
I feel it every time our president talks about government housing having no place in America’s suburbs. Jesus said repeatedly to defend the poor and show kindness and compassion to those in need. Our president continues to perpetuate an us-versus-them narrative, yet almost all of our church leaders say nothing.
I feel this tug every time our president or his followers speak about the wall, designed to keep out the very people scripture tells us to welcome. In Trump’s America, refugees are not treated as “native born,” as scripture encourages. Instead, families are separated, held in inconceivable conditions and cast aside as less then.
The church honors Trump before God
Trump went so far as to brag about his plans, accomplishments and unholy actions towards the marginalized communities I saw my grandfather love and serve. I now see, through the silence of church leaders, that these communities are no longer valued by individuals claiming to uphold the values my grandfather taught.
The gentle tug became an aggressive yank, for me, earlier this year, when our country experienced division in the form of riots, incited in great part by this president’s divisive rhetoric. I watched our president walk through Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., after the tear gassing of peaceful protesters for a photo op.
He held a Bible, something so sacred to all of us, yet he treated that Bible with a callousness that would offend anyone intimately familiar with the words inside it. He believed that action would honor him and only him. However, the church, designed to honor God, said nothing.
It seems that the only evangelical leaders to speak up praise the president, with no mention of his behavior that is antithetical to the Jesus we serve. The entire world has watched the term “evangelical” become synonymous with hypocrisy and dis-ingenuousness.
My faith and my church have become a laughing stock, and any attempt by its members to defend the actions of Trump at this time sound hallow and insincere.
One of my grandfather’s favorite verses was Micah 6:8, in which we are told that the Lord requires of his people to do justly, to love kindness and mercy, and to walk humbly. These are the attributes of our faith we should present to the world. We can no longer allow our church leaders to represent our faith so erroneously.
Women of faith know better
I have given myself permission to lean into that tug in my spirit and speak out. I may be against the tide, but I am firm in my faith that this step is most consistent with my church and its teachings.
At a recent large family event, I was pulled aside by many female family members thanking me for speaking out against an administration that they, too, had been uncomfortable with. With tears in their eyes, they used a hushed tone, out of fear that they were alone or at risk of undeserved retribution.
How did we get here? How did we, as God-fearing women, find ourselves ignoring the disrespect and misogyny being shown from our president? Why do we feel we must express our discomfort in hushed whispers in quiet corners? Are we not allowed to stand up when it feels everyone else around us is sitting down?
The God we serve empowers us as women to represent Him before our churches. We represent God before we represented any political party or leader. When we fail to remember this, we are minimizing the role He created for us to fill. Jesus loved women; He served women; He valued women and we need to give ourselves permission to stand up and do the same.
If a plane gets even slightly off course, the plane will never reach its destination without a course correction. Perhaps this journey for us women looks similar. Perhaps you cringe at the president suggesting that America’s “suburban housewife” cares more about her status than those in need, but try to dismiss comments on women’s appearance as fake news.
When we look at our daughters, our nieces, our female students, and even ourselves, we feel the need to lean into that tug in our spirit. You may not have felt it four years ago; we do the best with what we know at the time. However, if we continue to ignore the tug we now feel, how will we ever be able to identify what is truly important to us?
I chose to listen to my spirit and speak out. Not because doing so feels comfortable, but because it feels like the right way to leverage the voice God has empowered me with. Now I am asking all of you that feel as I do, to embrace your inner tug, and allow it to lead you to use the power of your God-given voice and not allow Trump to lead this country for another four years.
Jerushah Duford is an evangelical author, speaker and member of Lincoln Women, a coalition of women in the Lincoln Project. Follow her on Twitter: @jerushahruth
‘There’s nowhere like it’: Alaska’s wildlife refuge fears death by drilling
Oliver Milman August 21, 2020
Biologist George Schaller has traversed the Amazon rainforest, studied lions in the Serengeti and searched for rare antelope in Tibet, but for him nothing quite compares to a vast and little-known wilderness found in the north-eastern reaches of Alaska.
Schaller first encountered the region in the 1950’s, taking a canoe down the Colville River, a waterway that drains into the Arctic Ocean, and trudging across the bumpy tundra to excitedly document the astonishing trove of wildlife found in the last fully intact ecosystem left in the United States.
“It was slow going because the tundra can be bumpy, but I saw around 125 species of birds, while keeping an eye out for a grizzly bear as there was no tree to climb to get away,” said Schaller, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist who is now 87.
He added: “To see the caribou, the bears and the migratory birds was just incredible. No signs of human development at all. There’s nowhere like it in the US and very few places like it left in the world.”
Schaller’s surveys formed part of the scientific basis that prompted President Dwight Eisenhower to create the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR), a sprawling, otherworldly landscape of soaring mountain ranges, sweeping expanses of tundra that can plunge to -50F in winter but be studded by soft mosses and wildflowers in summer, and rivers and streams weaving their way to the frigid sea.
“It’s a unique, awe-inspiring place,” said Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute. “There’s really no other place like this on Earth.”
The refuge was expanded in size by Jimmy Carter’s administration to an imposing 30,000 square miles, roughly the size of South Carolina, and appeared set for a future of pristine isolation even as Alaska transformed itself into a major oil-producing state.
But when Schaller returned to the tundra in 2006, to mark the 50th anniversary of his last visit, he was dismayed to find that Prudhoe Bay, on the doorstep of ANWR, had become a tangle of oil drilling machinery, pipelines, roads and airstrips. “It was utterly depressing to see what they had done,” he said. “Here’s something very critical for the natural beauty and biodiversity of the United States and it was being messed up by oil companies.”
Merely knocking at the door of the refuge wasn’t enough for Donald Trump’s administration, however, which this week finalized its plans to finally pry open ANWR itself to oil and gas drilling.
Leases to excavate plots in a 1.9m-acre area of the refuge’s northern coastal plain will be handed out by the end of the year, the Department of the Interior confirmed.
An oil well drilling rig and pipelines in a BP oilfield near Prudhoe Bay, on the edge of the Arctic national wildlife refuge.Photograph: WorldFoto/Alamy
How much drilling remains to be seen. A raft of legal challenges will now be launched and resources companies are grappling with a global oil glut from a coronavirus pandemic that pushed the price of crude oil down to minus $37 a barrel in April. But the decision has landed a heavy blow upon those who cherish a unique slice of America, the last undisturbed frontier in its frozen northern extremity.
The distress is sharpest for the Gwichʼin people, a native tribe that has lived in the harsh environs of what is now Alaska and western Canada for thousands of years. The land that comprises ANWR has deep cultural importance to the Gwichʼin, who rely upon it for their food, shelter and traditional practices.
The prospect of oil drilling rigs in this treasured place, therefore, is deeply wounding. “This administration has done nothing but disrespect the indigenous peoples that have occupied these lands,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwichʼin steering committee.
The most dire threat looms over the Porcupine caribou herd, a subspecies of reindeer that lives in the region. Each year, the 200,000-strong herd makes a trek similar in distance to that between New York and Miami to make it to the coastal plain of ANWR where the females give birth, tending to their young for the first few weeks of their lives. The caribou are a key food source for the Gwichʼin, who live in an area where imported foods are prohibitively expensive and subsistence hunting is critical for survival.
The interior department states that only 1% of the coastal plain will be taken up by oil and gas drilling infrastructure, although this figure typically doesn’t include pipelines and other associated disruptions. The upheaval, the Gwichʼin fear, will spell doom for the caribou herd they depend upon.
“This is a place that is so sacred to the Gwichʼin that we don’t go there,” said Demientieff. “Our creation story tells us that we made a vow with the caribou that we would take care of each other. They have taken care of us, and now it is our turn to take care of them.”
A vast abundance of other wildlife also face a jarring new reality. Each summer, every puddle of water is taken up by birds, with about 200 avian species finding a home here. Hundreds of different plant species dot the refuge, while dozens of mammals, including musk ox and polar bears, also roam.
Scientists have warned that even knowing where polar bear dens are can prove challenging, with David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior, acknowledging the potential for bear deaths and injuries “could be high”. Bernhardt has insisted, however, the risks can be mitigated.
The Trump administration’s opening up of the refuge has been cheered by some Alaskans who fear an economic crunch from the pandemic. Some Inuit communities have got upgrades such as water and sewer systems from oil and gas money, developments eyed enviously by some other towns.
“Development in a small fraction of ANWR has long been supported by Alaskans, especially by those who live in the region,” said Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, who admitted the industry has been “hard hit” by the pandemic and low oil prices.
But polling of the broader American public shows widespread opposition to the idea of drilling in ANWR. Advocates for the country’s last great wilderness hope it will still be spared from being just another place riven by roads, trucks and buildings and that Alaska can move away from being handcuffed to the fortunes of volatile, polluting fossil fuels.
The ANWR lease area contains up to 11.8 billion barrels of gettable oil, which, when burned, would further worsen a climate crisis globally and in Alaska, one of the fastest-heating places in the world where roads and buildings are buckling due to melting soil frosts, fierce wildfires now routinely tear through forests billowing unbreathable smoke and the animals are being so severely affected that the salmon are shrinking in size.
“ANWR is a thriving ecosystem that is already under threat from climate change and doesn’t need further damage from oil extraction,” said Herrmann.
“This is a stunning place that’s one of the few landscapes still safeguarded and sustainably used by its original indigenous inhabitants. The idea of making a short-term monetary gain from the loss of species, a homeland and a way of life is, well, kind of devastating.”
Editorial: California has the cure for the plastic plague. Let’s use it
The Times Editorial Board August 23, 2020
A heap of garbage lies near a beach in Fiumicino, Italy, on Aug. 15. Italy has produced 10% less garbage during its coronavirus lockdown, but environmentalists warn that increased reliance on disposable masks and packaging is imperiling efforts to curb single-use plastics that end up in oceans and seas. (Associated Press)
Plastic from single-use products has been filling up landfills over the last seven decades, ever since it became widely used in commercial products. In more recent years, discarded plastic has increasingly turned up in oceans, lakes, rivers and on the shores of waterways across the globe. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of dead marine life and in drinking water, food and the very air we breathe.
In recent years, the world started to wake up to the threat of disposable plastic trash and take steps to curb its use. Then the pandemic hit, and humans turned to plastic goods for protection.
Plastic face masks, gloves and face shields have guarded countless people from exposure to the coronavirus. Plastic takeout containers have allowed restaurants to continue to operate when in-person dining was banned. Plastic dividers at grocery store checkout counters have kept essential workers safe from infected customers. And groceries wrapped in layers of plastic packaging have allowed consumers to feel their food was safe from contagion.
While plastic has helped humans avoid infection and plastic medical equipment has been used to save lives during the pandemic, it has come with a cost: more plastic trash. It’s as disheartening as it was unavoidable, given the urgent need to slow the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean humans can’t and shouldn’t continue to find ways to reduce plastic trash. Quite the contrary.
California lawmakers have a proposal before them to do just that, an ambitious plan that would shift the state from the failed recycling policies of the past to a more promising approach. Packaged into two identical bills, Senate Bill 54 by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Assembly Bill 1080 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the proposal would establish the groundbreaking California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which would put the responsibility for and the cost of dealing with discarded plastic packaging and takeout containers where it belongs: on the companies that make them, rather than the consumers who buy them.
The bills would require that by 2032, products sold in plastic packaging in the state have a proven recycling or composting rate of 75%. If products couldn’t meet that high bar, they would have to be wrapped in some other material that does. The mandate could end up benefiting the entire country because manufacturers aren’t likely to switch packaging for just this one, enormous consumer market.
A single-use plastic tax appears to be headed for the 2022 state ballot, and it would raise the funds to help implement the law. But there’s no reason for lawmakers to wait two more years to get started addressing the scourge of plastic trash that has been decades in the making.
The US is in a water crisis far worse than most people imagine
Erin Brockovich August 24, 2020
When I was a little girl, my father would sing songs to me all the time about water. Sometimes, we would be playing down at the creeks and he would make up little tunes: “See that lovely water, trickling down the stream, don’t take it for granted, someday it might not be seen.”
My dad worked for many years as an engineer for Texaco and later for the Department of Transportation. Before he died, he told me that in my lifetime water would become a commodity more valuable than oil or gold, because there would be so little of it. Sadly, I believe he was right.
We are in a water crisis beyond anything you can imagine. Pollution and toxins are everywhere, stemming from the hazardous wastes of industry and agriculture. We’ve got more than 40,000 chemicals on the market today with only a few hundred regulated. We’ve had industrial byproducts discarded into the ground and into our water supply for years. This crisis affects everyone – rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat. Communities everywhere think they are safe when they are not.
Each water system is unique, but some of the most toxic offenders include hexavalent chromium (an anticorrosive agent), PFOA (used to make Teflon pans), PFOS (a key ingredient in Scotchgard), TCE (used in dry cleaning and refrigeration), lead, fracking chemicals, chloramines (a water disinfectant), and more. Many of these chemicals are undetectable for those drinking the water. Many cause irreversible health problems and people in communities throughout the country are dealing with these repercussions.
Like a blood test for disease, you can only find what you test for. If you don’t order a specific test for one of these chemicals, you won’t know it’s there. And you can’t treat water unless you know what’s in it.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. What about the EPA, Erin? What about corporate remediation departments? Aren’t the experts handling it?
The short answer is no.
These issues start with tiny seeds of deception that add up over months and years to become major problems. Our resources are exhausted. Corruption is rampant. Officials are trying to cover their tracks. People are not putting the pieces together when it comes to the severity of this crisis. I’ve got senators and doctors calling me, asking me what to do.
As if poisoned water wasn’t a big enough issue, the last six years (2013–2019) have been the hottest years on record. As our climate changes, and we experience more droughts, floods, superstorms, melting glaciers and rising sea levels, we are seeing greater strains on our water supplies and infrastructure.
Superman is not coming. If you are waiting for someone to come save you and clean up your water, I’m here to tell you: no one is coming to save you. The time has come for us to save ourselves.
But before you despair, I want to remind you that we are in this together. No one person must – or can – fix it alone. No one senator, one community member, CEO, mom, or dad. We’ve got to work together.
Even in the movie that shares my name, we had a team working around the clock. I went door-to-door to talk with residents who had concerns and were asking good questions. We hosted community meetings. We worked with some of the best legal teams, researchers, and academics in California. It was not a one-woman or one-man job. We fought together.
I’ve noticed over the years that when I visit towns and work with people, the number one thing everyone seems to need is permission. They are looking for someone to tell them that it’s OK to move forward or speak out.
It’s not always easy. We’re taught from the time we’re young to ask for permission: permission to leave the dinner table, permission to use the bathroom during class. As we get older, we must get permits to build an addition onto the house. We sign permission slips for our kids to go on field trips. All these little acts add up and then we think: who am I to stand up at a city council meeting and ask a question? We all have these doubts and questions. In the end, I think that the permission we are seeking is more about support. We want to know that if we take action, it will be successful and that our community will stand by us.
Consider this your personal permission slip. Yes, you have permission to ask questions. Yes, you have permission to scrutinize your water professionals to see if they have the right credentials. Yes, you have permission to start a Facebook group to make more people aware of your cause. You have permission to stick up for yourself when it comes to your health, your family, your life.
The first action that you can take is to become part of what I hope will be the first-ever national self-reporting registry. This crowd-sourced map allows individuals and community groups to report and review health issues (cancer being the most prevalent) and community environmental issues by geographic area and by health topic. The research is intended to connect the dots between clusters of illness and environmental hazards in specific communities and regions of the country. If you or someone you know is sick or suffering, please report it.
None of us need a PhD or a science degree, or need to be a politician or a lawyer, to protect our right to clean water. We have the power together to fight for better enforcement of environmental safety laws, to push for new legislation, and to storm our city halls until our voices are heard and the water is safe for everyone to drink.
Wildfires Across Northern California Devastate Farmers and Farmland
By Hannah Ricker, Climate, Food & Farm Labor August 24, 2020
Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires have hit some of the Bay Area’s most beloved farming communities, destroying farm structures and razing crops, with little containment in sight.
A barn at Pie Ranch in Pescadero that burned during the 2020 California wildfires. (Photo credit: Jered Lawson)
On Tuesday night, Judith Redmond was alarmed by the thick brown smoke that clouded the air as she drove the 75 miles back from the Berkeley farmers’ market to Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley. By Wednesday morning, she woke up to the ridge surrounding the valley engulfed by an inferno—part of what has become known as LNU Lightning Complex Fires—creeping dangerously close to the valley floor. Weathered by the 2018 County Fire, Redmond began to think logistics: how would she ensure the safety of her workers and neighbors with health conditions and animals that need to be moved?
Others, like rancher and organic cotton grower Sally Fox wouldn’t get the chance to ask themselves that question. Fox had to evacuate her farm and relocate her animals that same night.
And as the group of fires tore through nearby Pleasant Valley, the small farming community woke to abrupt knocks on their door giving them 10 minutes’ notice to leave. Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm, whose farm was previously damaged in a 2009 fire, begged authorities for an extra 10 minutes to let out her livestock, certain they’d be gone by the morning if she did not.
Miraculously, they survived, though many of her neighbors weren’t that lucky. Girl on a Hill and Castle Rock Farm were just several of the farms that had their entire operations wiped out. As of Sunday evening, the LNU Lightning Complex Fires have burned more than 341,000 acres in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, impacting agriculture communities known for diverse family farms, destroyed 845 structures, and killed 4. The fire is just 17 percent contained, and ranks as the second-largest blaze in state history.
In the South Bay, the CZU Lightning Complex Fires have burned 67,000 acres and forced 77,000 people in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties to evacuate as of Sunday evening, including directors Jered Lawson and Nancy Vail of Pescadero’s Pie Ranch. The farm lost its historic 1863 farmhouse, which housed apprentices in its nonprofit training program.
The Molino Creek Farming Collective, an organic farm run by several families in Davenport, lost “everything but the tomatoes.” In a Facebook Post on Friday, a representative for the farm wrote, “All of our people are safe. The fire burnt some people’s homes and not others. Much of our infrastructure is intact but we lost most of our fence posts, some of our water tanks, lots of our orchard, some outbuildings, etc.”
Nearby, Swanton Berry Farm saw many of its long-time workers lose their housing, and TomKat Ranch also evacuated their animals and staff early on as a preventative measure.
Fire at Pie Ranch in Pescadero. (Photo credit: Jered Lawson)
Farmers who are lucky enough to be able to stay on their land find themselves responding to the fire while keeping up with essential daily farm duties. On Friday, Judith Redmond said she was keeping a close eye on the voluntary evacuation orders, while her crew has stayed on the farm, starting work early to evade scorching heat and ending early to limit working in the toxic smoke. It’s peak harvest season, and they have to keep produce moving.
“Farms are living entities, which means you can’t just turn them off and come back later when things have calmed down,” says Evan Wiig, director of communications at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a nonprofit organization that advocates for sustainable food and farm policy. The recent heat wave, which has brought 100-degree days to many California farms, makes the crops especially vulnerable, says Wiig. A single day of irrigation could mean catastrophic loss.
Farming is a precarious line of work even during normal times, with razor-thin margins and inconsistent weather patterns that are only becoming more extreme. Add to that a global pandemic that has forced farmers to reroute supply chains and put workers who live and work in close quarters at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Now, the fires have made these ongoing pressures worse for many California farms, pushing many to the brink.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire burns in the Capay Valley. (Photo credit: Sally Fox)
“Farmworkers and farmers are having to work in these conditions when they have been putting their health on the line with COVID,” says Anthony Chang, director of Kitchen Table Advisors, a nonprofit that helps small, sustainable farms develop business practices. The only upside? At least many farmworkers are already used to wearing masks.
Some rural farms have the advantage of being surrounded by vast expanses of wildlands that buffer structures from a raging blaze. But isolation can also put them at a disadvantage as unincorporated regions often rely on volunteer fire departments.
“The people that save the structures in the [Capay] Valley are the volunteers and the locals,” says Redmond. That’s especially true this year, with a delayed response from a beleaguered state fire agency, which has been battling nearly 600 blazes with a smaller crew than normal thanks to a COVID-driven shortage of inmate labor.
“The volunteer fire departments have been defunded and have not gotten their share of various monies that they should have had,” says Redmond, who also chairs a local committee to prevent fire in the Capay Valley. “It’s a problem that has been building and developing. . . . Climate change has a lot to do with it.” For these reasons, it took two days since the blaze erupted for the state level fire fighters to come to the valley, says Redmond. Compared to the rapid response with aircraft firefighting they saw two years ago, this year’s response has been notably different.
Dan McCloskey, a firefighter from the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and part of a strike team of 20 SFFD firefighters on five engines sent to fight the LNU Lightning Complex Fires, told Civil Eats that 96 percent of Cal Fire personnel are already deployed to fight fires. He added that fire crews from up and down the West Coast—Washington, Los Angeles, and elsewhere—are present and more are arriving all the time to fight the nearly 600 fires that have started in the past week. But they’re still shorthanded due to the number and magnitude of fires burning in the state.
San Francisco Fire Department deployed to Yolo County. Photo credit: Judy Starkman
Power outages swept the Capay Valley during the week and over the weekend, complicating an already challenging evacuation for many. Many rural farms depend on well water, which can only be pumped with electricity. Power outages mean no irrigation and no refrigeration for harvested produce and eggs.
Still, some farmers are worried about more than getting through this fire season. Will Holloway runs Blue Leg Farms, a 10-acre plot in western Santa Rosa, in the North Bay, that has been ravaged by major wildfires in recent years.
“As we do less and less to manage our wildlands, [fire risk gets] progressively worse,” says Holloway. “We saw it starting with Lake County for five years. And now here for five years. And absolutely nothing has changed in the way we’re managing our wildland.”
That reality hits hard for farmers planning for the future. Holloway plans his farm around summer harvest, but now that fire season comes every year, he plans to start introducing more early-harvest produce into the mix so that there’s less at stake in the dry season.
As we do less and less to manage our wildlands, our fire risk gets progressively worse.
“People act shocked when it happens earlier and earlier,” says Holloway. “These are like once-in-a-lifetime events, which are happening every year now.”
For many Indigenous peoples of California, the fires are wiping out entire harvest seasons, threatening their food security. Fire is an integral part of many Indigenous stewardship practices, but the intensity of fires greatly limits hunting and gathering opportunities. “California is a natural fire landscape,” says A-dae Romero-Briones, director of the Native Food and Agriculture Program at the First Nations Development Institute. “The Indigenous people who would go and gather right now are being affected because the fires are so intense because stewardship practices, like low-grade cultural burning, haven’t occurred in years.”
The importance of Indigenous practices is not lost on Pie Ranch’s Nancy Vail, who wrote in a Facebook post describing the devastation the fire wrought on her farm, “May this be the beginning of transformation, may we resolve to bring back Indigenous knowledge, heal the damage done since colonization, bring justice to the lands and the people, build resilient homes for all people, practice climate-friendly everything, feed people, love more.”
CAFF’s Wiig says the fires are forcing farmers to find new ways to be more ecologically and financially resilient. CAFF has been advocating for strategies farmers can take to prepare for fire season, including diversifying crops and clearing defensible space. Insurance is another important step, though many small farmers can hardly afford exorbitant insurance costs. Small as they are, Wiig underscores how important these steps are in the long run.
“What we do on our farms and how our food system operates ultimately affects the resilience of our communities in situations like this,” says Wiig.