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by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk: What is the EPA’s new Green Bank all about? -- Rick D., Asheville, NC

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed the creation of a so-called green bank, known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) to help leverage the power of traditional financial markets in solving the climate crisis. Investing in carbon offset projects from lower income communities across the United States, the GGRF, at face value, has a social-ecological conscience. However, beneath the guise of green goodwill, darker forces are at play.

As a by-product of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), there are fears that the GGRF is a 'green trojan horse' created to give fossil fuels another chance and push out foreign business. “The IRA is rife with corporate giveaways and handouts aimed at allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue business as usual,” says Ebony Twilly Martin, the Executive Co-Director of Greenpeace USA. Meanwhile, Frederick Erixon, the Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy adds that the European Union (EU) has concerns about the discrimination inherent in the IRA: “Many of the IRA policies take an ‘America first’ attitude that will hurt European green industries and cleantech.”

Furthermore, the new independent national green bank, by virtue of its association with the IRA, may struggle to convince a crucial player in the climate war, the risk-averse private sector, to invest in the development of low emissions services and products from disadvantaged communities.

Delegates to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) stressed that not enough finance is supplementing the right sectors of the economy to create green technologies and infrastructure.

In theory, championing green banks as an effective means of financing climate action and optimizing social-ecological system resilience is a good idea — especially for communities that have been left behind in the transition to cleaner energy, transport and living. However, green bank models like the GGRF can only succeed when detached from the design of coal barons, protectionist policies and political squabbling.

Global biodiversity is in the headlights of the climate crisis. With a burgeoning population of 8 billion, humans must take account of our carbon footprint and develop innovative strategies that lift nature and all walks of society to reduce our impact. Green banks can be part of ‘the solution’ but must first escape fossil fuel interests and discriminatory bills to coax the private sector to follow them into a brave new world of green financing.

“The climate test is simple. It requires jobs, justice and restoration of the environment,” says Edward Markey, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. An independent national green bank could be the answer. Through the GGRF, funding can be leveraged to advance green initiatives and infrastructure in disadvantaged communities while creating good, local jobs.”

With less than six months for EPA to distribute funds to eligible projects across the U.S., stakeholder input on the implementation, design and structure of the GGRF is currently being sought. Now is the time for the public to question the evolution and motives of the scheme, so that when a national green bank does arrive, it is truly transformational to the global economy, ecology and climate.

CONTACTS: The Inflation Reduction Act: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, greenpeace.org/usa/the-inflation-reduction-act-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly; “EPA Moves Ahead on Green Bank: Opportunity to Weigh In Is Now,” hklaw.com/en/insights/publications/2022/10/epa-moves-ahead-on-green-bank-opportunity-to-weigh-in-is-now.

Dear EarthTalk: Is Google doing anything to prevent the propagation of climate disinformation on the Internet? -- P. Hanson, Washington, DC

The advent of the internet and smartphone innovations have brought information to our fingertips. As the number of users skyrockets, advertisers have identified lucrative opportunities to meet people where they are. Google is a household name, holding 87 percent of the market share and hosting billions of users. Polls of Google users show that they trust that it produces credible search results. Seventy-three percent of users believe that most or all of the information they find in a search is accurate and trustworthy; however, 68 percent of users were unable to identify the difference between an ad and an organic search result. This gives a leg up to potentially nefarious advertisers spreading climate disinformation.

Google addressed the problem of pervasive climate disinformation prior to the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) 26th annual meeting in 2021; the internet giant pledged to halt the display of ads that promoted climate disinformation. This commitment came in tandem with other advertisers pressuring Google not to display their products alongside climate disinformation.

The commitment that Google made has come under fire as there are questions about the legitimacy of their pledge. Michael Koo, co-chair of the climate change disinformation coalition at Friends of the Earth, stated, “It appears Google is spreading disinformation about its efforts to fight disinformation”. In the span of two years, Google has accepted nearly $24 million in advertisements from oil giants. Of that $24 million, $10.9 million was spent on greenwashing ads that were seen 58.6 million times, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). These ads were targeted to key-word searches including: greenhouse gases, renewable energy and information about “eco-friendly” companies. Additionally, since their pledge, Google has accepted $421,000 for ads from climate denial groups with taglines like “climate campaigners hype the risks of global warming,” and “fossil fuels make the planet safer”.

CCDH has outlined steps that Google needs to take to actualize the claims they’ve made on their stance on climate disinformation. Step one would be to halt climate denial ads and ads promoting greenwashing. Additionally, CCDH suggests that Google introduce a transparent library of their advertisements so that the public can examine how ads are being placed and how they may distort search results. Lastly, CCDH suggests that a legislative framework be established to ensure the transparency, accountability and responsibility of not only Google, but all online platforms.

These recommendations are a good starting point, but there is no guarantee that Google will follow them. That being said, users should be armed with skills to identify climate disinformation. Common tactics that proponents of climate disinformation utilize are: false expertise, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, conspiracy theories and cherry-picked data. The best way to combat these tactics is to be a cautious consumer of online information. Be prepared to vet the source of the information that you find, and get in the habit of developing a mixed-news diet.

CONTACTS: How to Spot Climate Misinformation, nrdc.org/stories/how-spot-and-help-stop-climate-misinformation; Greenwashing on Google - Full Report, counterhate.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Greenwashing-on-Google_Final-Report.pdf; Big Oil Greenwashing with Google Ads, context.news/climate-risks/gaming-google-oil-firms-use-search-ads-to-greenwash-study-says.

Dear EarthTalk: Do houseplants really improve indoor air quality? Which ones are the most effective as such? -- Kay Hamm, Los Angeles, CA

In recent years, more and more people have developed an interest in keeping houseplants. There are many potential reasons why there has been such a resurgence in indoor gardening. Many people took up tending to houseplants during the pandemic as a quarantine hobby. As the years have progressed, people’s interest in keeping houseplants has continued to thrive and it’s easy to understand why. They liven up any living space, and provide people with something to care for—both which provide many mental health benefits. However, there has been speculation as to whether or not keeping houseplants provides environmental and health benefits through purifying the air in our homes.

The short answer is that houseplants do have the potential to purify the air in our homes. When plants perform photosynthesis, they take carbon dioxide out of the air and emit oxygen as a byproduct. Since plants output oxygen into the surroundings, by scientific definition they have the potential to increase the oxygen concentration in your living space. However, the degree to which they can detoxify the air and measurably make a difference to the air quality in a person’s living space is another matter.

“There is currently no evidence…that a reasonable number of houseplants remove significant quantities of pollutants in homes and offices,” reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, in order to make a considerable difference in the air quality of your home, you’d have to keep a large number of houseplants under specific climatic conditions, requiring a large amount of effort, time and money that isn’t realistic for most of us. Having houseplants can even worsen indoor air quality if you are overwatering them, as overly damp soil may promote the growth of microorganisms which can affect allergic individuals.

However, if you are interested in keeping houseplants that have the potential to clean the air in your home, there are a variety to choose from. There are two major air pollutants found in homes: particulates (dust, mold) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) (gases that are released from materials such as fabric, paint, cleaning products etc.) Spider plants, philodendrons, ZZ plants, dumb canes, pygmy date palms and ivies are among the plants suited to indoor living that are especially good at filtering out particulates. Other plants especially good at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out of your indoor air include pathos, bamboo, Areca palms, rubber plants and peace lilies. You can usually find a wide assortment of indoor plants — and get more advice — at a local nursery or garden center.

Of course, there are also many other ways to improve the air quality of your home. Keeping a clean home reduces the amount of particulate matter in the air. Investing in air purifiers and home air filters can help reduce both the concentration of VOCs and particulate matter that could be impairing your indoor air quality. Simple tasks like opening your windows and airing out your home in the warmer months increases air circulation and benefits your home’s indoor environment.

CONTACTS: Houseplant care tips for beginners

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/care/houseplant-care-guide/; EPA’s Improving Indoor Air Quality, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/improving-indoor-air-quality

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit  https://www.earthtalk.org . Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org .

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