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whole fools

Whole Foods is finally getting its comeuppance.

The notoriously pricey grocery chain will close nine stores after six consecutive quarters of plummeting same-store sales. It seems $6 asparagus-infused water and bouquets of California ornamental kale just aren’t flying off the shelves.

There’s a bitter green irony here: The organic products the chain popularized are now more popular than ever, just not at Whole Foods. Americans bought three times more organic food in 2015 than in 2005. But now, superstores like Kroger, Walmart, and Target are selling organic food at reasonable prices that threaten Whole Foods’ claim to the all-natural throne.

To compete in a crowded lower-cost organic market, the company launched a new chain in April 2016: 365 by Whole Foods Market, aka Whole Foods for Broke People. The 365 stores are cheaper to build, require less staff, and offer goods at lower prices.

Whole Foods may have a squeaky clean image, but that doesn’t square with its labor practices. The company has historically quashed employees’ attempts to unionize, and it sold goat cheese produced with prison labor until last April.

Still, if you’ve a hankering for “Veganic Sprouted Ancient Maize Flakes,” we’re pretty sure that Whole Foods has that market cornered.

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Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This organizer fights for safer waste disposal.

Living in Detroit, Ahmina Maxey knew her city had a waste problem. At the time, Detroit was the only major city in the country without a curbside recycling program. In those years, Maxey often collected her community’s recyclable refuse at her house so she could take it to a recycling center. While working at the Zero Waste Detroit coalition, Maxey successfully pushed for a city-wide recycling program in 2014. Now she focuses on what happens to garbage after it’s been picked up.

At the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (or GAIA), Maxey fights for an incinerator-free future. Garbage incinerators spew dangerous levels of chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead into the atmosphere — not to mention CO2 — often near communities of color. At GAIA, a network of over 800 grassroots groups and individuals, Maxey helps coordinate and connect communities working toward cleaner waste removal. She holds workshops on the dangers of incinerators and proposes zero-waste alternatives — such as comprehensive recycling programs and reducing consumption in the first place — in communities fighting active incinerators and incinerator proposals.

The way Maxey sees it, communities can create new, green jobs around better waste-removal practices, and clean up their air in the process. “For every job you can create from traditionally burning waste, you can create 10 more if you choose to recycle it and put it back in the economy.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


You Missed Something

Trump’s newest funding cuts are a nightmare for national security and public health.

On that note: In the event of a flood, do you prefer your town with or without toilet water flowing down the streets?

President Trump’s proposed cuts, issued on March 16, would roll back or eliminate programs that deal with environmental security concerns, the Intercept reports. These concerns include pandemics, extreme weather, and, yes, floods of sewage.

In March, Trump signed an executive order signaling that national security agencies no longer need to take climate change into consideration.

One minor problem: Virtually every major federal security document ever compiled on climate change names it as a significant threat to national safety. Both within the U.S. and around the world, we can expect rising seas, extreme weather, dramatic flooding, intense wildfires, and prolonged drought to increase migration, conflict, and health risks.

Trump has attempted to cultivate a tough reputation on national security with proposed increases in military spending, vague threats against North Korea, or yelling about That Wall all the time. But it looks like he’s ignoring a pretty enormous weak spot.


War on Facts

This is embarrassing, but there might be some climate denial in your school.

New legislative measures in six states seek to challenge science in the very place where it should be the most protected and least politicized: children’s classrooms.

As Vice reports, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Idaho, and Indiana have all put forward bills that seek to discredit basic concepts like climate change and evolution in school curricula.

The measures include bills requiring teachers to describe established climate science as “controversial” and giving locals the right to object to textbooks they disagree with. These pieces of legislation indicate a shift from the longstanding “creationism deserves a place in the classroom” debate toward climate denial.

This is a pretty chilling follow-up to the news that the Heartland Institute mailed its climate-denial propaganda to thousands of science teachers across the country. If you were wondering why so many people were out March(ing) for Science — in the pouring rain, no less — last weekend, you may have your answer.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This teenager gives the youngest generation a voice.

Growing up in the era of smartphones and social media, today’s kids have the world on a handheld screen. Yet they don’t often engage on environmental issues. Why? “We’ve never been told our opinions matter,” says Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (his first name is pronounced Shoe-tez-caht). The refrain he hears from grown-ups: “‘These issues should be left for adults.’”

Martinez, who is half-Aztec, helps organize unified actions like protests and tree plantings for Earth Guardians, a nonprofit that encourages youngsters to stand up for the planet. Martinez rallied youth for the 2014 climate march in New York City and the Native Nations Rise march on Washington this March.

At just 16, Martinez has addressed the United Nations five times and is one of the 21 kids suing the federal government over climate inaction. He has also talked climate on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and in Teen Vogue, among other media outlets. Makes you wonder what the hell you were doing when you were in high school, huh?

By the time he’s 26, Martinez would like to see a much better world. Ten years isn’t much time, though. This generation has to take action fast. “We’re not just the future,” he says. “We’re also here right now.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


well, that escalanted quickly

Trump’s latest executive order will review Bears Ears and other national monuments.

The order, which Trump signed Wednesday, directs the Interior Department to review all national monument designations over 100,000 acres made from 1996 onwards.

That includes between 24 and 40 monuments — notably, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, and Mojave Trails in California.

During the review, the Interior Department can suggest that monuments be resized, revoked, or left alone, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a briefing on Tuesday. We can expect a final report this summer that will tell us which monument designations, if any, will be changed.

Environmental groups are already voicing opposition. If designations are removed, it could make it easier to eliminate protections and open land to special interests like fossil fuels.

Zinke, a self-proclaimed conservationist, said, “We can protect areas of cultural and economic importance and even use federal lands for economic development when appropriate — just as Teddy Roosevelt envisioned.”

In between further adulations of his hero, Zinke said that he would undertake the “enormous responsibility” with care. “No one loves our public lands more than I,” he said. “You can love them as much — but you can’t love them more than I do.”


Sashay Away

Coal is giving us blatant hints that it’s on the way out.

And for a government that adores market forces so much, it doesn’t seem to be heeding them very well. Consider the following:

1. In 2016, there were over twice as many American jobs in solar energy production as in coal (373,807 vs. 160,119), the New York Times reported. Note that the coal industry continues to be a relatively large employer in Wyoming, West Virginia, and to a lesser extent North Dakota and Kentucky.

2. But here’s a surprise from Chris Beam, the new president of Appalachian Power — an energy company based in Charleston, West Virginia. “[Gov. Jim Justice] asked me, ‘I’d like you to burn more coal,’” Beam told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Well … We’re not going to build any more coal plants. That’s not going to happen.”

Why? Corporations like Amazon and Google that might look to expand energy sourcing to Appalachia have greener preferences. (Beam isn’t the first energy CEO in the region to show interest in renewables.)

3. The EPA just held a session to invite public opinion on which clean air regulations should be cut — ever-conveniently during a Monday morning. The loudest respondents? Fossil fuel lobbyists.

Can we stop trying to make coal happen?