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10 Carbon-Storing Trees & How to Plant Them

June 30, 2020


On school Arbor Day outings in the seventies, it was hard to imagine how my class's tiny maple sapling could make a difference to the local rabbits and squirrels, let alone "the health of the planet," an idea so big I couldn't wrap my head around it.

Today, stories of ecosystem devastation and industrial excesses bring the carbon crisis into troubling focus. It's easy to despair about balancing even our own "carbon footprint". Where to begin? Do trees really absorb greenhouse gases, and if so, are all trees created equal? How do I plant a tree that will thrive and maximize its contribution?

What is carbon sequestration?

The element known as carbon is essential for all plant and animal life on earth. The total amount of carbon on the planet is constant, but it moves around and changes form with relative ease. Burning of fossil fuels, which have stored huge amounts of carbon below the earth's surface for millennia, converts the carbon to carbon dioxide (CO2). In the atmosphere, CO2 absorbs and emits infrared radiation, contributing to planetary warming. The current level of CO2 is thought to be the highest in 20 million years, and scientists are working on solutions to capture and safely contain atmospheric carbon. One approach, "terrestrial sequestration", involves the simple planting of trees. A tree absorbs carbon during photosynthesis and stores it in the wood for the life of the tree. The massive trunk of an ancient oak or redwood represents many tons of sequestered carbon.

Which trees should I plant?

Studies have identified several optimal tree species for carbon storage, and botanists continue to experiment with new hybrids. Surprisingly, we should avoid trees such as the willow, which store comparably little carbon and emit more harmful volatile organic compounds. When choosing trees to plant, consider:

- Fast growing trees store the most carbon during their first decades, often a tree's most productive period.
- Long-lived trees can keep carbon stored for generations without releasing it in decomposition.
- Large leaves and wide crowns enable maximum photosynthesis.
- Native species will thrive in your soil and best support local wildlife.
- Low-maintenance, disease-resistant species will do better without greenhouse-gas-producing fertilizers and equipment.

Consider these reliable and versatile star-performers. The "best trees" vary by region, so look around local parks to see what's hardy in your climate zone.

1. Yellow Poplar (or Tulip Tree), the top carbon-storer in one New York City study, works hard under rough conditions.

2. Silver Maple can trap nearly 25,000 pounds of CO2 in a 55 year period, according to the Center for Urban Forests.

3. Oak (White Oak, Willow Oak, Laurel Oak and Scarlet Oak) has adapted to thrive in many climates, provides food and shelter to wildlife.

4. Horse Chestnut grows well in cities; its domed top provides exceptional shade which offers passive cooling benefits.

5. Red Mulberry provides the added benefit of delicious seasonal fruit.

6. London Plane is an excellent choice for urban planning, very tolerant of pollution and root-cramping, resistant to cold and disease.

7. American Sweetgum has brilliant fall colors, is large and long-lived. In the north, consider American Linden instead.

8. Dogwood offers lovely seasonal flowers; this and other particularly dense trees like Black Walnut can store more carbon in a smaller tree.

9. Blue Spruce, widely introduced as an ornamental, thrives in most northern regions; in the Pacific Northwest, Douglas Fir also excels.

10. Pines (White, Red, Ponderosa and Hispaniola) are the most carbon-effective conifer; find out which is right for your zone.

Where trees are most needed?

Cities and suburbs.

In urban "heat islands," vast stretches of asphalt magnify and reflect sun, sending CO2 directly skyward and creating "dead zones" below. A tree forms an oasis of shade, provides wildlife habitat, and improves air quality. Adding street trees can actually lower summer temperatures through evaporative cooling.

Clear cuts.

While sustainable logging may be necessary to support human systems, large-scale clear cuts represent an environmental disaster. The forest floor sequesters enormous amounts of carbon, accumulated over centuries by natural decay. Soil disruption and erosion caused by poor logging practices cause tremendous carbon release. Prompt replanting can help.

Tropical regions.

Carbon-offset studies have shown that the perpetual growing season and fertile soil of equatorial regions enables trees to multiply their carbon storage capacity. Forests in some of these regions have been devastated by industrial development and are in critical need of healing.

Your back yard or neighborhood.

Build a grass-roots movement by raising awareness of the urgency of carbon storage. Small local efforts create positive ripples and, yes, actual carbon benefits. You can spread the word by involving some neighborhood kids, a group of coworkers, or friends. They will walk away with practical know-how and pass it on.

Some practical advice when planting:

Allow plenty of room. Find out how large your tree will be at maturity, and plan accordingly. Keep in mind that roots can spread even wider than branch span, and some disrupt sidewalks or even house foundations. Call local utility companies to locate underground pipes and wires, or you may be liable for damages.

Optimize energy benefits. Trees planted to the south, east, or west of a building can actually reduce energy consumption for air-conditioning in summer. Evergreens planted along the north side create a wind-break in winter which can lower heating fuel consumption.

Minimize fertilizers. Many of the best carbon-offset trees flourish in marginal soil. Commercial fertilizers placed directly in the planting hole can injure roots, and release damaging nitrous-oxide which may cancel out the carbon benefits of the tree. The best low-impact soil amendment is your own kitchen compost.

When to plant? Try to transplant in early spring, before leaf buds begin to form, especially with any tree that comes "bare root" (with no protective ball of soil). In temperate climates, plant metabolism slows almost to a standstill in winter, and the dormant tree is less prone to transplant shock. Nursery trees with plastic or burlap-wrapped "root balls" can be planted in other seasons with caution, but summer planting requires more intensive watering which reduces the overall environmental benefit.

Ready to dig? Mark your chosen site with a circle about three times the diameter of the tree's rootball. Don't dig too deep: roots need oxygen from the surface. In high-clay soil, make your hole at least two inches shallower than your rootball. In sandy soil, dig to the same depth as the rootball. Gently separate any compressed or "root-bound" tendrils. If using compost or another amendment, mix it with some of the soil from the hole before back-filling around the tree. Water gently, preferably using a drip system or trickling hose, and let the water settle the soil rather than compressing it manually. Mulch with fallen leaves or grass clippings to conserve water and soil nutrients.

Take responsibility for your tree. Feel the soil periodically to a depth of 2 inches: it should be moist, but not soggy. For its first three seasons, the tree is vulnerable and may need watering if rainfall is less than one inch per week. Overwatering can "drown" the roots. Choose a location you can access without burning gas (walk, bike, or public transit), and use hand tools, such as a rake or handsaw over a leaf-blower or chainsaw. And finally, give some thought to what will happen when your tree's life is over. Use the wood if you can. Carpentry can prolong its carbon storage indefinitely; burning the wood for home heating reduces use of fossil fuels.

Alternative Options

Find a program to participate in. Many US cities now have urban tree planting initiatives. In San Francisco, for example, Friends of the Urban Forest holds neighborhood tree planting events, and helps residents find the "greenest" solutions for their own streets. Try a web search to find out if your city has a similar program, or call your local Parks & Recreation office.

No room to plant? Donate for worldwide reforestation. If you'd like to support a non-profit to plant trees in critical areas, the choice can be confusing. Those nonprofits that keep overhead low, commit to maintaining their trees, and engage the local people in the work and benefits of the plantings are more likely to create lasting carbon storage. Two with modest administrative costs and sustainable practices are Trees for the Future, which trains indigenous people to steward ecological plantings, and Plant-It 2020, which guarantees that their trees will not be logged in the future.

A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic

June 29, 2020

From The New Yorker:

The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit--the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. "This has been an unusually hot spring in Siberia," Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization's rapporteur of weather and climate extremes, said. "The coinciding lack of underlying snow in the region, combined with over-all global temperature increases, undoubtedly helped play a critical role in causing this extreme." Siberia, in other words, is in the midst of an astonishing and historic heat wave.

Anthropogenic climate change is causing the Arctic to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Climate models had predicted this phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, but they did not predict how fast the warming would occur. Although Verkhoyansk has seen hot temperatures in the past, Saturday's 100.4-degree record follows a wildly warm year across the region. Since December, temperatures in western Siberia have been eighteen degrees above normal. Since January, the mean temperature across Siberia has been at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. As the meteorologist Jeff Berardelli reported for CBS, the heat that has fallen on Russia in 2020 "is so remarkable that it matches what's projected to be normal by the year 2100, if current trends in heat-trapping carbon emissions continue." By April, owing to the heat, wildfires across the region were larger and more numerous than they were at the same time last year, when the Russian government eventually had to send military aircrafts to battle vast blazes. The scale of the current wildfires--with towering plumes of smoke visible for thousands of miles on satellite images--suggest that this summer could be worse. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they will also be more complicated to fight.

Toward the end of May, as the sun stopped dropping below the horizon, the heat continued. In the town of Khatanga, far north of the Arctic Circle, the temperature hit seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, or forty-six degrees above normal, topping the previous record by twenty-four degrees. The heat and fires are also hastening the dissolution of Siberian permafrost, perennially frozen ground that, when thawed, unleashes more greenhouse gases and dramatically destabilizes the land, with grave consequences. On May 29th, outside Norilsk, the northernmost city in the world, the thawing ground buckled, causing an oil-storage tank to collapse and spew more than a hundred and fifty thousand barrels, or twenty-one thousand tons, of diesel fuel into the Ambarnaya River. The spill was the largest to ever occur in the Russian Arctic.

Norilsk, which was constructed in the nineteen-thirties by prisoners of a nearby Gulag camp, Norillag, was already one of the most polluted places in the world. Most of its hundred and seventy-seven thousand residents work for Norilsk Nickel, the company that owns the collapsed oil tank. Its massive mining and metallurgy complex alone is worth two per cent of Russia's G.D.P. The city contributes a fifth of the global nickel supply and nearly half of the world's palladium, a metal used to make catalytic converters. Factories billow clouds of sulfur dioxide incessantly, and the resulting acid rain has turned the city and its surroundings into an industrial wasteland, with no green space or parks, just dirt and dead trees. Life expectancy in Norilsk is twenty years shorter than it is in the United States. The last time the town made the news, before the oil spill, was exactly a year ago, when an emaciated polar bear, a refugee from its melting home, was photographed rummaging through the city dump.

Norilsk Nickel's executives have tried to skirt responsibility for the oil spill by blaming the thawing permafrost--or, as a press release stated, "a sudden sinking of the storage tank's pillars, which served accident-free for more than thirty years." But the thaw did not happen unexpectedly, out of nowhere. Buildings in Norilsk have collapsed because of the sagging ground. Russian and international experts have been aware of the risks that rapidly thawing permafrost represents for more than a decade. A 2017 report from an Arctic Council working group said that "communities and infrastructure built on frozen soils are significantly affected by thawing permafrost, one of the most economically costly impacts of climate change in the Arctic." They found that thawing permafrost could contaminate freshwater, when previously frozen industrial and municipal waste is released, and that the bearing capacity of building foundations has declined by forty to fifty per cent in some Siberian settlements since the nineteen-sixties. They also noted that "the vast Bovanenkovo gas field in western Siberia has seen a recent increase in landslides related to thawing permafrost." The authors of a 2018 paper, published in Nature Communications, found that "45% of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are in regions where thaw-related ground instability can cause severe damage to the built environment." The paper continued, "Alarmingly, these figures are not reduced substantially even if the climate change targets of the Paris Agreement are reached."

In early June, President Vladimir Putin declared a national emergency, and scolded local authorities for their slow response to the spill. The Kremlin allegedly found out about the spill two days after the fact, from pictures of a crimson river posted on social media. Although the Russian prosecutor general's office agreed, in a preliminary finding, that the thawing permafrost was a contributing factor to the spill, investigators also said that the fuel-storage tank had needed repairs since 2018. They arrested four employees of the power plant on charges of violating environmental regulations. Norilsk Nickel denied the accusations but said that the company is coöperating with law-enforcement agencies and has launched "a full and thorough investigation." "We fully accept our responsibility for the event," the company said in a statement provided to the Guardian. Vladimir Potanin, the president of Norilsk Nickel and the richest man in Russia, said that the company will pay for the full cost of the disaster, which he estimated at ten billion rubles, or a hundred and forty-six million dollars. (A Russian environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, put the cost at around one and a half billion dollars.) Putin, meanwhile, publicly lambasted Potanin for the disaster, emphasizing that it was his company's negligence that led to the spill. "If you replaced them in time," Putin said, in a video call in early June, referring to the aging oil-storage tank, "there wouldn't have been the damage to the environment and your company wouldn't have to carry such costs."

The company's initial response efforts--floating booms to contain the spill--largely failed. By June 9th, the oil had entered the forty-three-mile-long Lake Pyasino, which borders a nature preserve and flows into the Pyasino River. "Once it enters that river system, it can't be stopped," Rob Huebert, an Arctic expert at the University of Calgary, said. "The oil could then make its way to the Arctic Ocean." On June 11th, Russia's investigative committee charged Norilsk's mayor with criminal negligence, for his botched response to the disaster. Last Friday, in another video call, Putin's emergencies minister reported that response teams had collected 3.6 million cubic feet of polluted soil and 1.1 million cubic feet of contaminated water. The company will construct a pipeline to pump the contaminated muck to unspecified disposal sites. But the region will remain toxic. Diesel oil seeps into river banks. Even if the oil is contained to the lake, the contamination can never be fully removed. Some of it will make its way through the food chain. Wildlife--fish, birds, reindeer--could suffer for decades. "You can't ever really clean a spill up," Huebert said. Putin, in the call, emphasized that work must continue until the damage is remedied. "Obviously, the disaster has brought dire consequences for the environment and severely impacted biodiversity in water bodies," he said. "It will take a lot of time to reclaim and restore the environment."

Putin, however, is not known for his environmentalism. His anger and concern about the Norilsk oil spill might have more to do with how much it exposed his government, making visible the overwhelming economic and environmental risks facing oil, gas, and mineral development in Siberia if temperatures there continue to rise. "The Russians' continued development of oil and gas in the central Arctic region is their economic future," Huebert said. "The Russians' interest in all this is to keep the oil flowing, whatever it takes." But sixty per cent of Russia is permafrost. Although much of the newest oil and gas infrastructure in the Far North has been engineered with climate change in mind, temperatures are currently on track to far exceed projections. Perhaps that is why the Kremlin did, finally, officially ratify the Paris accord last October. And yet the Kremlin continues to incentivize increased oil and gas development in eastern Siberia and the Arctic, which will lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions, which will continue speeding up the permafrost thaw.

The fallout of such policies will most immediately affect the health and survival of local communities. By 2050, according to the Nature Communications report, the loss of ground stability will affect at least a third of the infrastructure in the Arctic's permafrost zone, and the lives of nearly four million people. But these policies also have dire global implications. With its abundant plant life, the Arctic, for tens of thousands of years, was a carbon sink for the rest of the planet. Permafrost across the Arctic and boreal regions contains between 1.46 trillion and 1.6 trillion tons of organic carbon, which is almost twice the amount present in the atmosphere today. This carbon includes hidden pouches of ancient methane, plus long-frozen organic matter (akin to a frozen compost pile) that can release carbon and methane once microbial life awakens in the warming ground. With rising temperatures, researchers have recently found, more and more of this carbon is being released, turning the Arctic into a carbon source. Sue Natali, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, told me that, even though climate change has caused an increase in summertime Arctic plant life, which absorbs carbon dioxide, it is not enough. The warmth also increases the microbial decomposition of soil and plants in the winter, resulting in a higher annual release of carbon. "While the plants may have been ramping up," she said, "in the wintertime, the microbes are keeping pace and actually exceeding them." This cycle creates a terrifying feedback loop: more warming releases more carbon from the permafrost, which creates more warming. A study that Natali co-authored last fall projected that, if business continues as usual (in terms of emissions), by 2100, the Arctic could emit forty-one per cent more carbon each winter than it does now. That amount equals the emissions from two hundred and sixty-six million cars, nearly as many as are currently on the road in the United States.

The permafrost found in the area surrounding Verkhoyansk is some of the deepest and oldest in the world, descending as much as five thousand feet. Closer to the surface, a type of ice-rich permafrost known as yedoma is particularly vulnerable to rapid thaws. The result is thermokarst, the strange and sometimes shocking topography that forms as the land slides, sags, and sinks. Mysterious sinkholes suddenly appear, drunken forests fall, and hillocks destroy farmland. One of Russia's most extreme examples of thermokarst, known as the Batagay megaslump, is a two-hundred-and-eighty-foot-deep, half-mile-wide depression, situated just outside Verkhoyansk. It first began forming as a small gully in the nineteen-sixties, because of deforestation, but has grown significantly in recent years, exposing the remains of ancient creatures, including musk ox, a cave lion, a Pleistocene wolf, a woolly mammoth, and an almost perfectly preserved, forty-thousand-year-old foal. While exciting for scientists and tusk hunters, the megaslump is another sign of the challenges that people in the region--home to several indigenous cultures and languages, including Sakha, Evenki, Even, and others--face if they want to remain on their land. Some locals call it a gateway to the underworld, which seems appropriate, as the slump releases more and more methane. Researchers who have been to the slump say that they can hear the thuds, booms, and cracks of the thawing ice. This summer, the sound will be especially loud.

Keeping Young Adults Safe During the Pandemic

June 26, 2020

From Kaiser Health News:

Last month, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered most of the state's residents to stay home, I found myself under virtual house arrest with an uncomfortably large number of Gen Zers.

Somehow I had accumulated four of my children's friends over the preceding months. I suppose some parents more hard-nosed than I would have sent them packing, but I didn't have the heart -- especially in the case of my daughter's college roommate, who couldn't get back to her family in Vietnam.

So, I had to convince six bored and frustrated 18- to 21-year-olds that, yes, they too could catch the coronavirus ― that they needed to stop meeting their friends, wipe down everything they brought into the house and wash their hands more frequently than they had ever imagined.

The first two weeks were nerve-wracking. I cringed every time I heard the front door open or close, and when any of the kids returned home, I grilled them remorselessly.

The day after a house meeting in which I laid down the law, I found my son, Oliver, 21, inside his cramped music studio in the back of the house with a kid I'd never seen before. And that night, I saw one of our extra-familial housemates in a car parked out front, sharing a mind-altering substance with a young man who used to visit in the pre-pandemic era.

If I've been neurotically vigilant, it's because the stakes are high: I've got asthma and Oliver has rheumatoid arthritis, making us potentially more vulnerable to the ravages of the virus.

But even as I play the role of enforcer, I recognize that these kids are as anxious and worried as I am.

My daughter, Caroline, 18, is filled with sadness and despair, feelings she had largely overcome after going away to college last fall. She recently started doing telephone sessions with her old therapist. Oliver has begun therapy -- remotely, for now ― after dismissing it as pointless for the past several years.

A study released this month by Mental Health America, an advocacy and direct service organization in Alexandria, Virginia, shows that people under age 25 are the most severely affected by a rise in anxiety and depression linked to social isolation and the fear of contracting COVID-19.

That is not surprising, even though the virus has proved far deadlier for seniors. Mental health problems were already rising sharply among teens and young adults before the pandemic. Now their futures are on hold, they can't be with their friends, their college campuses are shuttered, their jobs are evaporating -- and a scary virus makes some wonder if they even want those jobs.

Paul Gionfriddo, Mental Health America's CEO, says parents should be attentive even to subtle changes in their kids' behavior or routine. "Understand that the first symptoms are not usually external ones," Gionfriddo says. "Maybe their sleep patterns change, or they're eating less, or maybe they are distracted."

If your teens or young adults are in distress, they can screen themselves for anxiety or depression by visiting They will get a customized result along with resources that include reading material, videos and referrals to treatment or online communities.

The Child Mind Institute ( or 212-308-3118) offers a range of resources, including counseling sessions by phone. If your young person needs emotional support, or just to vent to an empathetic peer, they can call a "warmline." For a list of numbers by state, check

Caroline's case is probably typical of college kids. She moved back home from San Francisco last month after her university urged students to leave the dorms. Her stuff is stranded up there, and we have no idea when we'll be able to reclaim it. Meanwhile, she has been planning to share an off-campus apartment starting in August with four of her friends from the dorm. We can get attractive terms if we sign the lease by April 30 ― but what if school doesn't reopen in the fall?

For Oliver, who's been living with me all along, the big challenges are a lack of autonomy, a need for money and cabin fever. Those stressors got the best of him recently, and he started doing sorties for a food delivery service. Of course, it makes me crazy with worry every time he goes out, and when he returns home I'm in his face: "Did you wear a mask and gloves? Did you keep your distance? Wash your hands!"

But what can I do, short of chaining him to the water heater? And if going out -- and getting some cash in his pocket ― makes him feel better, that can't be all bad (unless he catches the virus).

If your kid dares to work outside the house, and you dare let him, several industries are hiring -- particularly grocery stores, pharmacies and home delivery and food services. Child care for parents who have to work is also in demand, so your fearless teen might want to ask around the neighborhood.

Volunteering ― again, if they dare -- is another good way for young people to feel independent and useful. In every community, there are vulnerable seniors who need somebody to shop for them or deliver meals to their homes. You can use, a local networking app, to find out if any neighbors need help.

Food banks are in great need of volunteers right now. To find a food bank near you, go to Blood donations are also needed. Older teens and young adults can arrange to donate by contacting the American Red Cross ( For a list of creative ways to help, check out Youth Service America (

While the kids are inside the house, which in my case is still most of the time, put them to work. "Anxiety loves idle time, and when we don't have a lot to do, our brain starts thinking the worst thoughts," says Yesenia Marroquin, a psychologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

I've harnessed the able bodies of my young charges for household chores. A few weekends ago, I decreed a spring cleaning. They organized themselves with surprising alacrity to weed the backyard, sweep and mop the floors, clean the stove and haul out volumes of trash.

Considering the circumstances, the house is looking pretty darn good these days.

Giving Birth During the Coronavirus Pandemic

June 25, 2020


American Academy of Pediatrics Issues Safety Recommendations on Home Births; Hospitals Remain the Safest Option Even Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Evidence points to safer outcomes for infants delivered in a medical setting.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its recommen​dations for the birth of infants at home, while emphasizing that the AAP believes the safest birth remains ​at a hospital.

"We recognize that women have different reasons for planning a home delivery, such as cultural or religious beliefs - and right now, concerns over the coronavirus pandemic," said Kristi L. Watterberg, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, "Providing Care for Infants Born at Home."

"We are providing information for physicians to share with expectant parents to help them understand the factors that increase the risks of home birth and recommend standards for newborn care. If a medical emergency does arise during birth at home, families should also be aware of the very real risk that emergency transport services could be unavailable due to the coronavirus response."

The policy statement, published in the May 2020 Pediatrics, was written by the AAP Committee on Fetus and Newborn as an update to recommendations made in 2013. The statement reiterates that hospitals and accredited birth centers remain the safest settings for births in the U.S.

Planned home birth in the U.S. has been associated with a two- to three-fold increase in infant mortality, as well as increased risks associated with medical complications, according to the statement. Yet more women are giving birth at home, with the increase seen mostly in white non-Hispanic women, research shows. More than 2% of births to these women take place at home, although this varies across states.

The AAP recommends that those who consider home births meet all these criteria:

1. Have a low-risk pregnancy

2. Have certified personnel who would attend the birth and a pre-established network in case of transfer to a hospital.

3. Ensure that the care of infants born at home be consistent with that provided for infants born in a medical facility.

4. Arrange for two care providers to be present at each delivery. At least one should have primary responsibility for the newborn and appropriate training, skills, and equipment to perform full resuscitation of the infant according to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program.

Expectant mothers with questions about hospital safety during the pandemic should talk over their concerns with their physicians in advance.

The AAP and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support the provision of care by midwives who are certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (or its predecessor organizations) or whose education and licensure meet the International Confederation of Midwives Global Standards for Midwifery Education.

"Our primary concern is always for the mother and baby's safety, care and comfort," Dr. Watterberg said. "We are here to support parents with the information they need to make the best decision for their families."​

Guidance on Digital Advertising and Children

June 24, 2020


Advertising to children and teenagers is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and research has shown that children are uniquely vulnerable to it. A policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics offers evidence-based recommendations to protect children from the rapidly changing and sometimes exploitative digital marketing strategies that are part of the online world families use every day.

The AAP policy statement, "Digital Advertising to Children," published in the July 2020 issue of Pediatrics is an update of a 2006 policy statement and recommends new legislation and industry reforms to protect children from digital ads.

"Lawmakers, media producers, tech companies all have a duty to start developing a digital environment in which families can navigate to educational and entertaining games, shows and other content that provides opportunities for children, rather than focusing on profits and data collection." said Nusheen Ameenuddin, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, co-author of the policy and chair of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.

"Parents can be very effective in teaching children and teenagers about digital media by making a family media use plan, teaching and applying media literacy and by being good role models for their children, but it's no longer acceptable to simply continue to blame parents for a digital advertising environment that is largely out of their control."

Advertising is ubiquitous in children's media and digital environments. An analysis of the most-downloaded free apps for children under age 5 found that 96% contained commercial content, including hidden ads and ads that provide incentives such as game tokens or gameplay advantages. In addition, app characters sometimes encourage in-app purchases in games aimed at children. According to the AAP, children are particularly vulnerable to this marketing tactic.

Gaps in privacy protection

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), enacted in 1998, offers some protection to children online, but the Act has many gaps and is not reliably enforced. App and game designers can easily sidestep COPPA guidelines by claiming a game or app is for "general audiences" even when it is clearly aimed at children, and COPPA only protects children younger than age 13. AAP recommends COPPA protections be expanded to age 17.

In addition to violating children's privacy through data collection, online marketing campaigns directly impact children's health, according to the AAP. Research shows that children who are exposed to ads for alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods and drinks, and marijuana are more likely to consume these products. In some cases, internet ads have become a loophole for companies banned from traditional advertising. For example, tanning salons are banned from advertising on television, radio or other traditional media because indoor tanning is a class 2 carcinogen. Instead tanning salons actively use social media as a strategy to reach teens and young adults.

"The internet should not be a place where advertising for unhealthy products can reach children," said Dr. Ameenuddin. "There are also concerns that poorer and marginalized communities are exposed to more health misinformation, which could negatively impact the health of these children who already face many challenges."

Teenagers also need protection from online ads, which impact the self-image of teens. Online ads communicate "ideals" of body appearance in weight loss ads, and can impart cultural or racial biases in products like skin lightening or hair straightening aids.

The AAP recommends parents talk with children about the ads they see from an early age and continue conversations throughout childhood.

The AAP recommendations include:

1. Lawmakers must ban all commercial advertising to children younger than age 7, and limit advertising to older children and teenagers. All advertising should be clearly labeled as "sponsored content."

2. New laws are needed to reduce advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and teenagers and ban depictions of tobacco products (including e-cigarettes). Internet sales of tobacco products should be banned because they are easily accessed by minors.

3. Families should create a Family Media Use Plan to guide children toward high-quality media content with fewer ads. Families can use this plan to talk to children about data collection and how to be media savvy. Pediatricians should be available to families as a resource of information and advice.

4. Parents should monitor privacy settings on personal devices, apps, social media, virtual assistants, and wireless networks.

5. Families and pediatricians should talk to school administrators and teachers about the digital privacy settings on the education technology tools they use.

6. More funding is needed for research on digital advertising and its impacts on children, and for digital literacy programs in schools.

"Policy makers and technology companies should adopt stricter privacy regulations for all users, but most especially for children and teenagers, who face privacy and data collection surfing the web at home, streaming videos and television shows, and even at school while using ed tech," Dr. Ameenuddin said.

15 Titles to Address Inequity, Equality, and Organizing for Young Readers

June 19, 2020

From School Library Journal (SLJ):

With leaders like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, youth are making themselves heard. These titles elevate the voices of young activists, inspire calls to action, and explain complex issues such as racism, sexism, environmentalism, and immigration. Though the books are all aimed at middle grade readers, they vary widely; the poetry and biography picks are best for younger readers, while the fiction and general nonfiction selections skew older. While far from an exhaustive list, these texts will be a strong foundation for school and public libraries serving budding activists.

We also highly recommend several books that provide further historical context, inspiration, and examples for readers: Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell; An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese; Kid Activists: True Tales of Childhood from Champions of Change by Robin Stevenson; The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani; Zenobia by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman; and You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino.


HARRINGTON, Kim. Revenge of the Red Club. S. & S./Aladdin. 2019. ISBN 9781534435728.

Gr 4-8- When Riley's school suspends the students' newspaper, imposes sexist dress codes, and shuts down the Red Club--a support group for girls dealing with menstruation--Riley and her classmates lead a revolution. Written from a cisgender perspective, this book nevertheless offers strong and inclusive messages about periods and also encourages readers to speak out.

RAMÉE, Lisa Moore. A Good Kind of Trouble. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2019. ISBN 9780062836687.

Gr 4-8 -This brilliant exploration of race and activism is ideal for readers not quite ready for Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give. When Shayla becomes more involved with the Black Lives Matter movement after a police officer who shoots a Black man is acquitted, she must make difficult decisions about her friends, family, and school. Ramée's writing is exceptional, and Shayla's story will resonate.

RHODES, Jewell Parker. Ghost Boys. Little, Brown. 2018. ISBN 9780316262286.

Gr 4-8 -When 12-year-old Black tween Jerome is fatally shot by a white officer, he returns as a ghost alongside the spirit of Emmett Till and hundreds of other "ghost boys," bearing witness to the resounding effects of his killing. Rhodes unpacks privilege, racial injustice, and implicit bias. Jerome closes the book with a thundering call to action: "Only the living can make the world better/.../Don't let me/(or anyone else)/tell this tale again."

WOODSON, Jacqueline. Harbor Me. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2018. ISBN 9780399252525.

Gr 4-7 -When a sixth grade teacher pulls a group of her students together every Friday to chat without the hovering presence of adults, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Tiago, and Ashton meet and share their experiences. Their stories and evolving relationships touch on timely topics like deportation, racism, and parental incarceration while demonstrating the need for genuine listening, discussion, and justice.

YANG, Kelly. Front Desk. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2018. ISBN 9781338157796.

Gr 4-7 -When Mia Tang and her family come to the United States from China, they struggle to make ends meet and end up managing a hotel for an exploitative owner. Recognizing that other immigrants face similar difficulties, they offer them a secret safe space in the hotel. Set in the 1990s, this powerful, engaging tale of social justice explores the intersection of race, class, and immigration.


CAMERINI, Valentina. Greta's Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike To Save the Planet. tr. from Italian by Moreno Giovanni. illus. by Veronica Carratello. S. & S./Aladdin. 2019. ISBN 9781534468771.

Gr 3-6 -While Greta Thunberg's biography to date may be brief, Camerini's portrait of the climate activist will inspire. The author explores Thunberg's path to activism, the support of her family, her experience with Asperger's syndrome, and the worldwide revolution she is spearheading. Hopeful despite the serious subject matter, this work is an exemplary model for young readers eager to effect change.

GATES, Henry Louis, Jr. with Tonya Bolden. Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow. Scholastic Focus. 2019. ISBN 9781338262049.

Gr 6 Up -A much-needed examination of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, this should supplement all middle school history textbooks. Gates and Bolden look back at historical perspectives while drawing parallels to current issues of inequity and racism, illustrating how we got where we are, and emphasizing that change is imperative.

JEWELL, Tiffany. This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How To Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work. illus. by Aurelia Durand. Quarto/Frances Lincoln. Jan. 2020. ISBN 9780711245211.

Gr 6 Up -Jewell invites readers to grab a notebook and work their way through four themed sections, with plenty of room for reflection and conversation. With an activity called "Disrupt!" the author offers suggestions for what to do if readers observe two Black men being detained by police. While Jewell acknowledges that the consequences of these actions will depend on readers' position and privilege, she doesn't fully explore the risks at stake. Still, there's no substitute for this interactive guide.

RICH, KaeLyn. Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution. illus. by Giulia Sagramola. Quirk. 2018. ISBN 9781683690597.

Gr 7 Up -Ready to smash the patriarchy? This robust, positive book explains how to generate change. While some of the information is best suited for young adults, there is a wealth of material for upper middle graders. Readers will learn about microaggressions, rape culture, lobbying, social pressure, and even fiduciary agents in this book that perfectly blends concept, context, and action.

YOUSAFZAI, Malala with Patricia McCormick. Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls' Rights. Little, Brown. 2018. ISBN 9780316527149.

Gr 3-5 -Yousafzai's story has been written and adapted for adults, teens, middle graders, and young children. Though appropriate for middle graders, this text doesn't shy away from the reality of Yousafzai's life. After learning about her work with women's rights, her journey, and the support and education she received from her family, readers will feel that they, too, are capable of making a difference.

An Expert Explains How To Assess COVID-19 Risk

June 18, 2020

From NPR:

Across the country, states are loosening the restrictions that had been put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 -- with varying results. New cases are decreasing in some states, including New York, Michigan and Colorado, while case numbers and hospitalizations have swelled recently in several states, including Texas, Arizona and Florida.

"Since the very first day of this pandemic, I don't think [we've been] in a more confused position about what's happening," epidemiologist Michael Osterholm says. "We just aren't quite sure what [the coronavirus is] going to do next."

Osterholm is the founder and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. His 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, was recently republished with a new foreword about COVID-19. Mark Olshaker is the book's co-author.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, the coronavirus has often been treated as a political issue rather than a public health issue -- and much has been made of President Trump's refusal to wear a mask in public. But Osterholm says that the risks from COVID-19 supersede partisanship.

"We will all know somebody -- we will all love somebody -- who will die from this disease," he says. "Eventually there won't be any blue states or red states. There won't be any blue cities or red rural areas. It'll all be COVID colored."

Osterholm says that face masks and physical distancing remain the best practices in terms of curbing the spread of the coronavirus. But he adds that "distancing" shouldn't mean cutting off all social contact.

"It's physical distancing. ... Don't socially distance. If there was ever a time when we all need each other, it's now," he says. "We need to start an epidemic of kindness right now to take on this pandemic of this virus."

Click here for the full interview.