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The Green House

The Woman Behind Your Furniture

The Woman Behind Your Furniture

At Sabai we are proud to be a women-owned organization, however even more empowered and creative women run our company daily. 

Our full-time team is entirely composed of women and each day several other women contribute their unique talents to all that is Sabai: from design and operations to PR and manufacturing. 

In honor of Women's History Month, our team wants to introduce you to the woman behind your furniture, Maribel Montenegro. 

Maribel is the Administration Manager at our factory. Daily in High Point, Maribel coordinates with the our operations team to ensure that the correct product is reaching each customer. Not to mention, she's organizing the shipping and packaging for each Sabai piece. Most importantly, she's overseeing our production to ensure that the right pieces are being made and on a timely basis. 

Sabai Co-Founder Phantila Phataraprasit (virtually) spoke with Maribel to learn more about her work, sustainable practices, advice as a working mother, and favorite spots in High Point. 

PP: How did you find yourself in the furniture industry? And how did your upbringing take you to furniture - did you have a specific skill set or knowledge of the industry?

MM: I studied business administration Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia. When we  (Maribel and her husband Carlos) decided to open our own furniture shop, my college education played an important part on making our business grow. Specifically, learning about business structure has helped me manage the administrative side of the business.  While furniture was a new industry for me, Carlos had been working on furniture for more than 15 years. Because of his work, I was confident that I was familiar with the general concepts in the furniture industry from the beginning. 

PP: What is your favorite part of your work and work with Sabai?

MM: I love seeing how we realize a customer's vision - especially with Sabai. It is incredible to step back and appreciate that we are taking part in the process of making sustainable furniture - a concept that is still very new to our industry. 

 PP:  How does sustainability play a role in your work?

MM: I’m very conscious about sustainability so we are always looking for ways to reduce waste and re-use materials. And when we can, we use responsible materials that are sustainably sourced. A few factory specific examples of our conscious strides are: 

  • Using leftover fabric scraps to make new zipper stoppers. 
  • We make small throw pillow covers from leftover fabric pieces. 
  • Sometimes, we even use leftover fabric pieces beneath the upholstery. 
  • Prioritizing sustainable materials such as jute (for our webbing), cotton, as well as natural fibers. 

PP: The factory prides itself on offering living wages  - can you tell us more about how this standard originated?

MM: We always wanted to have high quality standards and I think appreciating employees work in every aspect is an essential step to achieve those goals. Plus every employee takes a part of making the factory run.  This has been our standard from the very beginning. We definitely see that our employees are satisfied with the company. For example, 90% of our employees have been with us since the very beginning (almost 4 years) - this says a lot. 

PP: As a working mother, what do you hope to teach your children or want them to know about being a woman in the workplace as well as a working mom?

MM: I hope my kids can see how important is to work for what they want to achieve and feel accomplished in the making. As women, we find great satisfaction when develop in all aspects in life - as mothers, wives, workers and so on. Showing myself as a valuable worker to the people around me; including my kids, let them know that no matter one's gender we are all valuable in our workplace. 

PP: Do you have any recommendations for someone who may want to visit High Point?

MM: High Point is a great place to find all resources and materials for making furniture and a great place to buy furniture. You all should visit during Market Week. The High Point Furniture Market is really exciting for us locals because our small city becomes full of people from different parts of the world. You can also find so many types of furniture for any and all design purposes. It's beyond exciting if design is your thing. 

While you're in the area, a few of my favorite local spots to grab a bite to eat are:

  • Magnolia Blue 
  • The Basil Leaf Sushi & Thai 
  • The Market (Phantila's favorite spot for cake when she visits) 

A huge thank you to Maribel and the driven women who inspire our team each day. Sabai is dependent on your creativity, passion, inspiration, and determination.  

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Environmental Justice: What You Need to Know, How You Can Have an Impact.

Environmental Justice: What You Need to Know, How You Can Have an Impact.

When Phantila and I set out to start Sabai, there was one thing we were both certain of: we wanted to build a business centered around inclusive sustainability. Most companies that market themselves as sustainable create a brand that only embodies whiteness. Not Sabai. 

Sabai is a Thai word that means cozy - this is how we want every single member of our community to feel when they engage with us, no matter their race, religion, gender, sexuality, or background. From our name to our entire brand ethos, we take a global approach to sustainability that focuses on bringing everyone into the fold, and acknowledges the history of sustainability and its origins within Black and Indigenous communities.

Making Sabai an inclusive brand is not only representative of our beliefs but also of the unjust reality that people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues. Communities of color in America are exposed to significantly more air pollution, toxic waste sites, landfills, lead poisoning, and other industrial complexes. 

The proof is in the pudding: A study conducted in 1983 by the U.S. Congress’ General Accounting Office (GAO) found that 75% of the hazardous waste landfill sites in eight southeastern states were in low-income communities of color. 

Meanwhile, a 2014 study found that Black people are 75% more likely to live near fenceline zones. A fenceline zone is defined in the study as, “an area designated as one-tenth the distance of the vulnerability zone, in which those affected are least likely to be able to escape from a toxic or flammable chemical emergency, but not representing the outer bounds of potential harm.” This means that Black people are more likely to be exposed to chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and chronic illnesses.

To ensure that Sabai embodies inclusive sustainability, our team is working to reduce waste by using recycled materials and through our Closed Loop Program, Sabai Revive. Meanwhile, Sabai’s products are nontoxic - they are made without harmful chemicals such as flame retardants or formaldehydes to prevent further inequities in public health. Unchecked by government, corporations big and small are responsible for this legacy of harm. As a small business, we lead by example through our inclusive and sustainable ethos. However, it is the strength of our message that we hope will inspire our community to take collective action and demand these practices from our governments as well as all corporations.

 

To close out Black History Month, I spoke with Sustainable Brooklyn's Whitney McGuire to discuss environmental racism, climate change, and sustainability messaging. Whitney is a Co-Founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an organization that is bridging the gap between the sustainability movement and targeted communities. She is also an attorney and leader in fashion law. 

Caitlin: Can you tell us how sustainable corporations are excluding Black and Brown communities? 

Whitney: The sustainability movement doesn’t incorporate the different aspects of different cultures that practice sustainability. We are the originators of this concept of sustainability that is being appropriated, repackaged, and resold to us as a commodity that we need to buy into in order to “be sustainable”. It’s a fucking lie. When you’re broke you take the train, when you’re broke you take the bus, you shop second hand clothing, you shop at thrift stores.This has been my entire life.

Caitlin: Right. Where do you think that cognitive dissonance began? Where can we trace the rewriting of this legacy within history to?

Whitney: Not addressing the lived experiences of descendants of enslaved Africans throughout America is [the first] gaping hole in most conversations about sustainability. 

Caitlin: Of course, so essentially history has been re-written from Day 1. Do you have any advice for brands with sustainable products that want to ensure their company is inclusive and incorporates the communities of color that have been at the forefront of sustainability for generations?

Whitney: If you want to be on the wave of the future, and you want to actually paint the future and break with the status quo, you have to be willing to make bold decisions. For corporate brands, that can be difficult with the landscape of venture capital funding. But we at Sustainable Brooklyn try to emphasize the importance of really paying attention to your responsibilities within intersectionality. Any brand that is on that wave is automatically willing to at least do some introspection to ask, "Where is our accountability, and how can we make more intentional actions? What is our responsibility to our consumers and their communities?" These brands can’t operate in silos anymore, and can’t think that "business as usual" is going to shield them from the impacts of an unstable social climate. Brands have to really understand that they have much more responsibility now than they have been given in the past.

Caitlin: How can our community help the environmental justice movement? 

Whitney: Locally, our elections are really impactful. It’s vital that we take the extra step to go to the police commissioner’s website and see who our actual representatives are, to go to our County Board of Elections and see who the gatekeepers to our safety are. So I would encourage people to use this momentum from the national election to form habits of political engagement.

Caitlin: I couldn’t agree more with your advice to create habits of political engagement, especially at the local level. Thanks so much Whitney for sharing your perspective, life’s work, and action steps with us! 

 

For more resources on Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement please visit: 

Climate Justice Alliance

NAACP

Sunrise Movement

Yale Environment 360

 

Photo by Sustainable Brooklyn, featuring Co-Founders Whitney McGuire and Domonique Drakeford on the Essential Sofa in Indigo Velvet.  

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An Open Letter to Our Community

An Open Letter to Our Community

To Our Community,

I want to start by saying a resounding thank you. Thank you for bolstering our team each day as we realize our vision of a sustainable future. Your feedback, support, values, ideas, and imagination are Sabai's true north. On behalf of our team, I personally invite you to join us in upholding the Sabai Standard.

The Sabai Standard is a culmination of our mission - to make beautifully designed, affordable furniture that doesn’t cost the earth. Our goal is to prolong the life of our furniture by offering customers the right to repair their furniture and a Closed Loop Promise that affords Sabai's pieces a second chance at life. The Sabai Standard is not only designed to reduce furniture waste but also to provide our customers with more affordable options, whether that be through accessible repairs or a secondhand sofa. 

After working behind our customer support email, I was struck by one recurring theme: life happens. Isn't that just magical? Yes, most of the time. However, when your adorable puppy mistakes your new sofa leg for a chew toy it is not as wonderful as most moments life beckons.

Now, life's sticky situations do not need to be a means to an end for Sabai's furniture. The furniture industry's current cycle of buy, use, wear, and trash is not sustainable: for our planet or bank accounts. With the launch of the Sabai Standard, I ask for your participation in setting a new standard for the furniture industry - one that embraces circularity, not waste. 

To our fellow furniture companies, the impact of this program will only be greater with you on board. I encourage you to join Sabai in taking responsibility for the life cycle of your furniture products. Please let our team know if you we can help along the way. 

To our customers, we set the foundation that will empower you to minimize your personal impact and look forward to your taking part - when and if the time comes. 

To our community, the Sabai Standard is just the first leg up for the furniture industry. I hope that together we can foster open conversations and constructive growth as we enter this new era of consciousness. I look forward to seeing what we achieve as a collective body. 

Stay cozy, 

Sophie Kennedy
Director of Business Development

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5 Black Owned Home Decor Businesses To Support

5 Black Owned Home Decor Businesses To Support

Now that most of us are spending far more time at home, many of our apartments are getting old fast. If you’re looking to add something new to your home right now, consider making your purchase at a brand founded by a Black entrepreneur. Whether your walls need a fresh coat of paint, your old couch is due for an upgrade, or you’re looking for a new set of plates and glasses for the day you’re allowed to host a dinner party again, these Black-owned brands have got all your home decor needs covered. 

Harlem Toile

Drawing on the eighteenth century french toile tradition, which depicted rural scenes in wallpaper patterns, Sheila Bridges created a gorgeous, subversive wall covering featuring images which, in Bridges' words, "lampoon some of the stereotypes deeply woven into the African American experience." Her design is critically acclaimed, housed in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s wallpaper collection and often exhibited in museums worldwide, from The Studio Museum in Harlem to the Musee De La Toile De Jouy in France. The design was originally only available as wallpaper, but is now sold on bedding, ceramics, and glassware. 

Jungalow

Justina Blakeney started Junglaow as a blog, but her eye for aesthetics quickly led to the site’s evolution into a lifestyle brand. The online boutique sells basically everything you could possibly need to decorate a home: bedding, bath accessories, planters, glassware, plates, rugs, light fixtures, and more, from Jungalow’s in house line and carefully chosen outside brands. The website also curates a selection of prints by womxn artists. The company prioritizes sustainability by shipping in pre-used boxes, and working with vendors and suppliers that use natural, recycled, and compostable materials. For every purchase made at Jungalow, the company plants at least two trees.

Mitchell Black

Mitchell Black is a Chicago-based wallpaper brand offering permanent and removable versions of their vibrant, colorful designs. Their ‘Bohemian Bungalow’ collection offers a variety of nature-inspired patterns: ferns in deep indigo, a lotus pattern in metallic gold, and an art deco take on palm fronds. The brand also sells photographic wallpapers: bright and invigorating coastal images like ocean swimmers and beach umbrellas from a bird’s eye view. 

Clare

Nicole Gibbons thought paint shopping was a hassle-filled, overly long process, so she decided to create Clare as a one-stop shop for indoor paint, with a pared-down collection of 56 colors you can order online. The website offers an interactive feature called Color Genius that suggests colors based on your furniture and space. Their swatches are peel and stick, so you can easily imagine the colors on your walls, and don’t have to deal with paint chips. To top it all off, Clare paints are sustainable, free of toxic carbon-based solvents and manufactured through a Greenguard Gold certified process, which means they meet rigorous standards for emissions. 

Sabai

Caitlin Ellen and Phantila Phataraprasit couldn’t find a chic, eco-conscious couch at an affordable price, so they made their own, founding a company to offer other people the furniture they’d been dreaming of. Sabai couches and pillows are sustainable, affordable, customizable, and of course, beautiful. Made of fabrics that come from natural fibers and recycled water bottles and manufactured in High Point, North Carolina, their sofas are not just sustainable, but also easy to assemble, stain-resistant, and soft.

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How to Make Iced Coffee at Home

How to Make Iced Coffee at Home

Picking up an iced coffee on the way to work, school, or wherever we were going was a beloved part of many of our pre-quarantine routines. However, that habit was never good for the environment, and now it’s also potentially hazardous to our and others’ health. With that in mind, we’ve been learning how to make our own cold brew at home during quarantine.


We’ve all heard the statistics about plastic straws in the ocean, but the straws aren’t even the worst part. Most takeout iced coffee cups aren’t even recyclable, because they’re made of polypropylene, a material most recycling programs don’t accept. So basically, making iced coffee at home keeps you and others safe from COVID-19, and helps shrink your environmental footprint. 


It also couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is measure out 1 cup of coarsely ground coffee, mix it with four cups of cold water in a large jar, stir, and put it in the fridge overnight (anywhere from 12-24 hours). When you’re ready to drink, filter out the grounds using a coffee filter or a french press! 

We like these compostable coffee filters from Public Goods, or these reusable cotton ones from Thrive. The jar options are endless. We used the jar our favorite Bloody Mary mix came in, but you can use a mason jar, or any other empty glass glass container that seals shut tightly. 


Pour over ice, add your favorite milk or non-dairy substitute, and drink! If the straw is essential to your iced coffee experience, try a stainless steel version. We love these from Onyx. They curve at the right angle, and they’re dishwasher safe.

 

Image By David Dewitt

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A Q&A With Sabai Founders, Caitlin and Phantila

 

Last week, I spoke to Sabai's founders about how they started their company, why they wanted to make couches, and what it's like to be young women working in two male-dominated sectors: the startup space and the furniture industry. 

 

Q: So, how did you two meet?

Phantila Phataprasit: We met in college, first as friends and then as colleagues – our first business venture together actually came before Sabai, when we were still in school.

Caitlin Ellen: In college, we worked together to found Columbia University’s first credit union. We wanted to give students a better way to bank, a system that actually had their best interests at heart, so we helped establish a student-run credit union that also helped students learn financial literacy. We already had a personal rapport, but we really built our professional rapport during that project.

Q: Why couches? You two definitely seem destined to be business partners in something, but what drew you towards making furniture?   

Caitlin: During our senior year of college, we lived together and really started trying to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives. We learned how to compost, and joined CSA, and planned to bring this climate-oriented mindset into our post-college lives.

Phantila: So, when we started trying to furnish our first apartments, we realized there weren’t really any affordable, sustainable furniture options on the market, especially in the couch space. We wanted to bring our values into our purchasing decisions, but that option just wasn’t there. So, we decided to create it, and we set out to figure out what a sustainable furniture company that produced pieces at a reasonable price point might look like.

Q: How do you see Sabai becoming even more climate-conscious in the future? Do you guys have any plans to reduce your company’s environmental impact even more?

Phantila: That’s one of our top priorities – one of the reasons we were inspired to start this company was that we kept seeing abandoned furniture on curbs. People throw away so much furniture in this city! And we wanted to figure out how to build something that would last longer, and create less waste.

Caitlin: 80% of the furniture in this country ends up in landfills. With that in mind, we are looking for ways to make the end of a Sabai couch’s life more sustainable, ways to keep them out of landfills. We’ve focused so much on keeping the production side sustainable (you’ll read more about that soon, in an interview with our factory owners), so now we’re turning toward the other end – we’re looking at a buy-back option that could close the production loop entirely, and a repair-don’t-replace program.

Q: Lastly – can you two talk a little bit about your experience as young women in the startup and furniture spaces?

Caitlin: Well, we get called girls a lot. It’s just harder to be taken seriously when you are entering these male-dominated spaces as a woman, especially a young one.

Phantila: The furniture industry has established its systems over centuries, so it’s a really traditional, aging industry. We’ve come up a lot of men who don’t trust us to know what we’re talking about, or don’t take us seriously, but we’ve also met so many deeply kind, open people in the industry who are excited to get new perspectives and want to modernize their industry.

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5 Climate Change Docs to Binge Watch

5 Climate Change Docs to Binge Watch

Every day seems to bring more news about COVID-19’s spread across the globe. Bogged down by constant coronavirus coverage, we risk forgetting about other urgent crises facing our planet, most importantly, climate change. In between the next two shows you binge watch this quarantine, give yourself a refresher course on climate change, sustainable solutions, and our planet’s history with one (or all!) of these climate-focused documentaries.


1. Our Planet

Released on Netflix last April, this British docu-series focuses on the way climate change affects animal life across the globe. David Attenborough narrates in a soothing British accent, taking you from coastal aquatic ecosystems to rainforests and deserts, documenting how all these spaces are under siege from encroaching human-induced climate change. This series basically combines a national geographic style tour of the world’s natural wonders with eloquent, lucid scientific explanations of how we got here.

2. Sustainable

This documentary will change the way you think about your next meal. It’s a deep dive into the American food system, following the trail of devastation big agribusiness has left in its wake by telling the story of a seventh-generation, independent farmer in Illinois. You’ll learn how large agriculture corporations’ farming practices degrade our soil, waste massive amounts of water, and overuse pesticides, but also how we can build a better food system to replace this one. 

3. True North

This series comes from the progressive news organization The Young Turks, and follows three journalists as they embark on a trip to the arctic to see how climate change is affecting local native live, arctic wildlife, and deep north ecosystems overall. They draw connections between the north pole’s ecosystem and weather patterns all over the world, and tell their stories in an honest, inspiring voice. The episodes clock in at less than twenty minutes each, and you can watch them on youtube. 


4. The True Cost

After you watch this 2015 documentary about the fast-fashion industry, you’ll never be able to shop online at Zara the same way again. In addition to revealing how exploitative the industry is for garment workers, the film also reveals all the hidden climate costs of fast fashion, from the way factories foster river and soil pollution, contaminate crops, spread disease, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

5. 2040

If all those movies are starting to make you pessimistic, finish off your film syllabus with 2040, an Australian documentary that came out last year. Filmmaker Damon Gameau imagines the world he hopes his young daughter can inherit twenty years from now, and it’s a much healthier, happier one than we currently live in. He looks at technologies like renewable energy sources and potential futuristic mass transit solutions, and remains optimistic even as he lays out how difficult our journey to this future will be.

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How to Help Heal the Food Chain From Your Couch

How to Help Heal the Food Chain From Your Couch

During quarantine, it’s easy to feel powerless to help the small businesses that you used to patronize in daily life. We all have favorite restaurants, cafes and bars we miss, and many of the entrepreneurs behind them will struggle to reopen storefronts when all this is over while many of their employees are struggling to buy essentials in the meantime. In addition, many of the wholesalers and farmers that supply our favorite spots are losing business too. While the coronavirus has broken a lot of American food chains, there are ways you can help mend its holes from your couch. We pulled together four ways to support farmers, restaurateurs, food service workers, and wholesalers during this crisis. 

1. Buy Produce From A CSA

Community Supported Agriculture programs are a great way to support farmers in your region who have lost business during this crisis. Here’s how they work: you sign up to pay a monthly fee to a farm, and you periodically receive an assortment of fresh produce. In New York, the City Greenmarkets are partnering with the app Fellow Farmer so you can sign up online, pre pay, and coordinate contactless delivery. Modern Farmer published a list of CSAs in every state, which you can check out here. When you want to choose your own specific produce, OurHarvest allows you to shop from an online array of locally-sourced groceries, and OurHarvest will donate a meal to a local food pantry for every order over $25. 

2. Buy Ingredients From Restaurant Wholesalers

Companies that normally source niche, gourmet ingredients and sell directly to restaurants are hurting right now, with restaurants closed. During quarantine, you can buy restaurant-quality ingredients in bulk to cook with. Not only are you supporting a struggling business, but you also get access to the types of ingredients that are usually hard to find for a non-chef. In New York, two options offering home delivery right now are Baldor and Natoora.

3. Tip Your Out of Work Servers & Bartenders

Huge numbers of restaurateurs have created GoFundMe campaigns to support the staff they laid off or furloughed because of COVID. Use GoFundMe’s search function to look up your favorite closed restaurants, bars, and cafes to see if they’ve set one up, and you can donate directly to the people who used to work in your favorite spots. If a business hasn’t set one of these up, you can donate to one of the funds for out of work food workers – the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation’s Emergency COVID-19 Relief Fund is a great option.

4. Buy Gift Cards & Dining Bonds

See if your favorite places are selling gift cards online. Many are, and plan to put the money towards reopening in the future. Buy one now and start imagining your first restaurant meal post-quarantine. Hundreds of restaurants have also joined Dining Bonds, which is a program that sell gift cards at 25% off, so you are making an investment that pays off in free food. Check out participating restaurants here.

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Quarantine Reading: 5 Books On Climate

Quarantine Reading: 5 Books On Climate

Half of the world’s governments have officially told their populations to stay home. Now that most Americans are weeks into their quarantine, many of us are starting to look for new cultural production to distract from despair during this time. Needing a break from the constant glut of COVID content is completely reasonable, and can be an opportunity to bulk up on your climate knowledge, or escape into a novel that takes ecological concerns seriously, weaving them into engrossing narratives. Here are five books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, that address our climate crisis.  


Jenny Offill, Weather

Set in the present day, Jenny Offill’s novel depicts both the dailiness and the existential dread of living while the planet probably dies. The novel follows a Brooklyn mother as she takes a gig job answering letters to a climate change podcast, while simultaneously parenting her child and interacting with friends and family. Offill’s writing is fragmentary, sometimes dreamy, and always engrossing. 

Claire Vaye Watkins, Gold Fame Citrus

Opening in a Los Angeles that hasn’t felt rain in years, this 2015 novel follows a former model squatting in a Laurel Canyon home its starlet owner abandoned years ago. With California beset by world-historical draught, this protagonist attempts to travel East, where water still falls, but must navigate the ever-encroaching desert sands and the dangerous, dessicated landscape to get there. 


Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

Atwood is a master of dystopia, and her plausible yet terrifying futures usually turn on some form of ecological catastrophe. In The Year of the Flood, a religious sect called God’s Gardeners believe a “waterless flood” will destroy humanity and the planet they live on, so they devote their lives to vegetarianism and saving all the human and animal life they can. This book is the second in a trilogy, which can be read on its own or as part of the series, which includes an earlier climate crisis in the first book. 


Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate 

This 2014 book catalyzed a lot of leftists’ environmental awakening, and it’s essential reading now whether you’re just picking it up or returning for a reread. Years before any politicians were promoting a Green New Deal, Klein was calling for a Marshall Plan for the environment. In this book, she lays out the impending climate calamity in stark detail and clear prose, as riveting as it is terrifying. She deftly reveals that capitalism is inextricable from ecological death, showing the many ways polluters and capitalist governments are currently working together to prevent progressive a progressive restructuring of the international economy, which is the only real way we have a chance to save the planet. Still, she never gives up hope, charting the course activists and organizers are currently forging to a re-oriented, livable future. 


Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

On Fire brings together an assortment of Klein’s writing over the past decade, placing new essays alongside old ones to spotlight the burning urgency of a Green New Deal. Published just last year, Klein addresses a wide array of climate contingencies and interrelated crises, connecting the dots between different countries’ struggles to address climate change and highlighting the need for collective action. She writes about the various labor sectors, like health and education, that should be considered green jobs even if their ecological role is opaque at first, demonstrating the way most roads lead back to the climate in our current moment.  Continue reading

The Climate Impact of Coronavirus

The Climate Impact of Coronavirus

One in four Americans is currently living under a “shelter in place order,” directed by their state officials not to leave their homes if possible. The governors of California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and New York all passed similar orders last week, so 25% of Americans, including me and maybe you, have been adjusting to a sudden, extreme, and indefinite lifestyle change. Celebrities are staying home and recording a cappella videos, fully grown adults are learning Tiktok dances, and workplaces and schools have been replaced by virtual chatrooms. 


This atmosphere is disorienting and ominous; people are rightly afraid of themselves or their loved ones falling ill. But lost in the virtual noise of case counts and virus maps and twitter threads is one positive effect of this tear in the fabric of society: a dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.


Satellites that sense chemical emissions in the air are showing sharp declines in atmospheric pollution over cities that have ordered their citizens to stay home. Los Angeles, which is normally one of America’s smoggiest cities, recorded starkly cleaner air readings over the past two weeks than the same two weeks last year. In the Bay Area, the number of vehicles crossing the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland went down by forty percent in just the last two weeks, and is likely to fall further. 


It’s not just the reduction of cars on the road that’s cutting emissions down. The mass closure of restaurants, bars, and stores have sharply reduced electricity use in cities as well. Columbia University researchers reported that carbon monoxide emissions decreased over 50% in the last week. 


Obviously, enforced social isolation is not the solution to climate change, and this positive byproduct of the pandemic might soon be counteracted by increased production of supplies to combat the virus, or mass movement of people in its wake. However, we can still take lessons away from this moment. Despite many conservative politicians’ claims, it is possible to rapidly cut down our greenhouse gas emissions, and people are capable of making massive sacrifices to save the lives of people they don’t know. Remembering these facts will be essential to making the radical societal changes necessary to combat climate change in the future. 

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