Environment

Youth Climate Strike Are Only Gaining Momentum

Few movements have captured the public’s attention like the Youth Climate Strike. In August of 2018, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, ignited the movement by refusing to attend school and instead sitting on the front steps of the Swedish Parliament. Within months she was an internationally known advocate for climate action. Worldwide, teenagers and children responded in kind by striking for climate action. Their first major action, a worldwide strike on March 15 of 2019, was a resounding success that told the world in no uncertain terms that the next generation would stand up for the environment.

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

The History of the Youth Climate Strike

This isn’t the first time that students have struck for the climate. In 2015, over 50,000 people participated in a worldwide strike in favor of clean energy, aid for climate refugees, and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Many of the participants were children who skipped school to be involved. The strike happened in concert with COP21, but did not give rise to a lasting movement. That’s a contrast to the current Youth Climate Strike, which has already developed a great deal of momentum with both its small- and large-scale international actions. 

In Kind had the opportunity to sit down with two leaders of the US-based arm of the Youth Climate Strike— Maddy Fernands, the group’s National Press Director, and Karla Stephan, the movement’s new National Finance Director. 

Striking From School

The idea behind the Youth Climate Strike is simple: student activists skip class on Fridays to stand in front of their local, state, or national government offices. To paraphrase some of the participants in this movement, there is little more about the climate situation that needs to be learned in a classroom. These students feel that they already know the most important factor: adults aren’t doing enough to stop climate change. 

There is an immediacy to this movement that doesn’t necessarily exist in older organizations. If a child born in 2003 lives to be 100 years old, they are almost guaranteed to see some of the worst effects of climate change. The students who are now striking on Fridays are doing so because they can be assured that climate change will affect their lives. Climate change is not an abstraction or distant prophecy for them, but a near-term upset of their adult lives. To a degree, the schoolwork that prepares them for a business-as-usual future may be moot. It is hard to project how climate change will affect civilization. The teens who strike feel that protesting the inaction of adults is a better use of their time than sitting quietly and hoping that everything will be alright. They’ve decided to take matters into their own hands.

A New Organization

The Youth Climate Strike grew out of Fridays For Future, the organization that itself rose out of Greta Thunberg’s Friday strikes before the Swedish Parliament. Thunberg only began striking in August of 2018, meaning that the movement has momentum unusual for a new group. Some of this might be laid at Thunberg’s feet. As an international spokeswoman, the 16-year-old has done an excellent job promoting her cause. Not only has she delivered a TED talk, but she has spoken before the UN and is scheduled to also speak at Davos. She has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She - and the Youth Climate Strike - are now household names.

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Organization

The movement itself is global, with strikes happening in places as far-flung as Switzerland, Columbia, and Uganda. In the US, leadership is organized at the state and national levels. This hierarchy allows the group to both coordinate widespread actions and stay in contact as they plan increasingly ambitious actions. 

As if the challenge of organizing a national movement isn’t enough, the Youth Climate Strike is also youth-led and youth-managed. Maddy Fernands says that parents and educators are supportive, but have minimal administrative involvement. The leadership and direction are all managed by high schoolers. This seems apt, considering that these are the same people who will need to deal with the brunt of the climate crisis when they become adults. Many members of the group express frustration with current adult attitudes toward climate change, and even parents connected with the movement admit that they don’t feel the same panic about climate change that their kids do. In many ways, this might be a boon for the movement. Parents and educators don’t need to be involved in the protest itself. They can take care of practicalities, like bills and transportation, while their kids lay the groundwork for a movement to save the future.

Leadership

The US movement is led by five students: Representative Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi, is National Co-director and Co-founder with twelve-year-old Haven Coleman. National Creative Director Feliquan Charlemagne also heads the Florida state Youth Climate Strike chapter. Maddy Fernands, the group’s National Press Director, and Karla Stephan, its National Finance Director. Salomée Levy functions as the State Liaison, coordinating the national Youth Climate Strike leadership with state-based actions and chapters. 

Partnerships

To say that the Youth Climate Strike has made a splash in the world of environmental activism is to make a profound understatement. Karla Stephan reports that the group benefits from a growing list of partnerships, including those with Greenpeace, 350.org, the Future Coalition, and the Sunrise Movement. “It’s really helpful,” she says. What the Youth Climate Strike lacks in years, it makes up for with media savviness, networking, and connected leadership.

Co-director Isra Hirsi and Press Director Maddy Fernands are involved in several other environmental activist organizations, including MN Can’t Wait, a youth coalition that connects groups from 350.org to Sunrise and makes it possible for teens to get involved in climate action. Salomée Levy, the State Liaison, has also worked with GirlUp, a UN initiative to empower women and girls.

Sunrise Movement striking in solidarity with Youth Climate Strike in Chicago, Illinois

Sunrise Movement striking in solidarity with Youth Climate Strike in Chicago, Illinois

Not only are these partnerships important to the current Youth Climate Strike organization, but they represent a bright future for climate politics. Many of them, including 350.org, are relatively young themselves. However, they share the Youth Climate Strike’s political strategy and are already making an impression on US climate leadership. It seems likely that some Youth Climate Strike members will eventually run for office. At that time, the structure, strategies, and priorities of the wider environmentalist movement, including its focus on intersectionality, could become a larger priority in mainstream politics. That moment won’t be long in coming, either. Even though the members of the Youth Climate Strike can’t vote now, some are only a few years away from being legally allowed to run for local office. 

Goals

The demands and mission of the US Youth Climate Strike group are clear and broad in scope, but focused on working within the current political structure. One of their most strident goals is that climate change needs to be a national emergency. This would make funding available for the infrastructure upgrades that need to happen in order to move the nation beyond a fossil fuel-dependent economy. 

However, the group particularly wants to focus on supporting the Green New Deal. This comprehensive plan for climate action has been championed by some national policy makers, but still faces resistance. Nevertheless, it is gaining in popularity across the nation. The Youth Climate Strike’s priority is for the US to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. 

Intersectionality

Particular to the US-based Youth Climate Strike is a concern for marginalized communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by climate change. Several of the members of the group’s leadership express this priority in their online bios and display consciousness of intersectionality in their leadership. With a large percentage of female and non-white leadership, the group displays diversity in its representation as well as its actions. Maddy stresses that Indigenous communities have been on the front lines of the environmental movement from its beginning. In order for the transition to renewable energy to be just, those communities must continue to have a seat at the table.

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via Flickr

Actions

The March 15th Strike

The Youth Climate Strike is young in every sense of the word: young people lead it, but the movement itself is also less than a year old. However, it’s growing. The worldwide strike on March 15 was a key indicator of just how popular it has become across the globe. The New York Times reports that particularly massive protests took place outside of the US, with Hyderabad, South Africa, and Seoul all seeing sgnificant youth participation. Worldwide, more than a million young people participated. 30,000 marched in Sydney alone.

In Washington DC, the strike nearly coincided with a walk-out for gun control, lowering turnout, and Karla concedes that the DC group is hoping for better result at their next action. However, she tells In Kind that participation across the rest of the US was more than satisfactory. Some places, like New York, held strikes in multiple locations, which made the event more accessible to a broader range of students. New York and Los Angeles saw the highest participation rates, but even Alabama saw teenagers walking out of class for the climate. It was a good start, Karla says, especially when it came to media coverage. 

While Maddy Fernands, the National Media Cordinator, made sure that people got interviews with the Youth Climate Strike’s leaders, local operatives managed social media on a place-by-place basis. “I had access to the DC Instagram and Facebook,” Karla tells me. “There was also US-wide social media.” The social media strategy was particularly important to the movement’s growth and influence. While the Youth Climate Strike leaders don’t disregard the importance of traditional media, including NPR and the New York Times, they’re also well aware that more people check social media than read the news. Both had their places on the big day, but one was disproportionately successful. “Social media definitely helped our platform more,” Karla says.

In fact, social media may have spurred a jump in the Youth Climate Strike’s membership. Participation has grown tremendously since the strike, with a surge in applications to join the national and state teams. Requests for ground-level membership pour in day by day from kids who are inspired by the fact that people are paying attention to the demands of teenagers. As non-voters, teens don’t always have much control over what happens to their world. This is a way to do something about the future of the planet that they’ll inherit. The movement is well situated for its next action on May 3. 

Youth Climate Strike in London via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in London via Flickr

What’s Next

The Youth Climate Strike is banking on their winning media strategy coming through again on May 3, when the movement will once again walk out of school. This time, however, their plan is more focused on policymakers. Now that the Youth Climate Strike has the world’s attention, they’ll use their newfound influence to lobby local and state officials to support environmental legislation. Karla says the intention is to switch up the way that strikes are normally done, a way to get real action out of an otherwise symbolic protest. “It’s combining civil disobedience with civil action.”

Strategic plans for this collective political action are still in progress, but in DC, at least, the process will begin with a moment of silence. Since Congress isn’t in session at that time, most of the lobbying work will happen at the state level. However, the impact of teens rallying at the Capitol will be important for the message that the group wants to send. Teens prioritize climate change even when adults are off doing other things. 

In keeping with their organizational demands, the Youth Climate Strike will attempt to persuade politicians to support the Green New Deal. Though that’s their focus, the movement is open to any environmental policy that could slow or halt global climate change. Their goal is to inspire action on the parts of political leaders, and at this point, any action would be welcome. 

In that spirit, the Youth Climate Strike also launched a petition in partnership with MoveOn.org to get the 2020 US Presidential candidates to hold an environmentally themed debate. In an election where the environment is an increasingly popular theme, this gives the Youth Climate Strike a chance to move public dialogue closer to the urgent climate issues that they feel should be the center of political discussion already. 

Greta Thunberg aptly noted that there’s no second chance for climate action. For the teens of the Youth Climate Strike, the time is now. This is their chance to save the world, and they’re taking it.

Donate to or learn more about the Youth Climate Strike on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Sign Youth Climate Strike’s #ClimateDebate petition to make climate change a central topic in the 2020 presidential election

Explaining the Green New Deal and Its Critical Urgency

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October 2018 report warned that averting or mitigating food shortages, wildfires, extreme weather events, coral reef die-offs and other disasters will require global human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to  reach net zero—so that all remaining emissions were matched by carbon capture mechanisms-- by 2050. They acknowledged that reaching this target would require a rapid economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

Some US lawmakers are proposing a radical transformation to deal with the crisis, and they are citing a historical precedent. The  “Green New Deal” invokes the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping programs to promote employment and social safety nets when the nation was crippled by the Great Depression. Those programs were denounced as radical government overreach in their day, but they helped many struggling families to survive, and a few New Deal initiatives-- including Social Security and the FDIC –remained law and are now accepted across the political spectrum. 

Just what is the Green New Deal? The term was coined in 2007 by Thomas Friedman, who was suggesting steps to curb US reliance on foreign oil. In 2008-9 the UN called for a ‘Global Green New Deal’ in which developed countries would invest at least 1% of GDP in reducing carbon dependency, while developing economies should spend 1% of GDP on improving access to clean water and sanitation for the poor as well as strengthening social safety nets. 

Green Party candidate Jill Stein ran on a “Green New Deal” in 2012 and 2016. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez adopted the term during her successful campaign for the House of Representatives. In recent days lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Ed Markey have voiced support for some form of Green New Deal, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has sketched out a Green New Deal for his state as part of his budget proposal. A Green New Deal is called for in an open letter to all lawmakers signed by more than 350 elected officials across America, and also in a letter to the US House of Representatives signed by more than 600 environmental groups. There are some differences between these New Deal proposals, but they share many important features. 

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

Each Green New Deal proposal sets an ambitious target for emissions reduction. An earlier proposal from Ocasio-Cortez’s website and the Green Party plan both call for the US to move to 100% clean energy, with zero net emissions, by 2030. Cuomo’s plan calls for 100% of NY power generation to be carbon-free by 2040, and also calls for plans for overall carbon neutrality at an unspecified date. (In 2016, according to the EPA, electricity generation was the source of 28% of US carbon emissions.) The environmentalists’ letter calls for 100% renewable energy production throughout the nation by 2035.  

Many Green New Deal proposals plan to meet these goals through massive investments in renewable energy production and energy efficiency, including upgrades to buildings and to the transportation grid. The Ocasio-Cortez and Green Party proposals also call for changes in the US agricultural system, which is a significant generator of greenhouse gas emissions: Ocasio-Cortez writes about localizing food production systems, and the Green Party also calls for the elimination of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. Both groups also speak of the importance of investing in small-scale local businesses and co-ops in other industries.

The Green Party plan and the environmentalists’ letter explicitly exclude nuclear power from their definition of acceptable energy sources, but nuclear power remains a contested issue among some advocates of a Green New Deal. Some advocates say that nuclear power is a necessary stopgap because renewable energy production cannot be scaled up fast enough to allow fossil fuel generation to scale down in time to prevent climate catastrophe; others point to the hazardous waste generated by nuclear production and the risk of lethal accidents.

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

Like the UN Global Green New Deal, the US Green New Deal is concerned with alleviating poverty and working toward economic justice as well as slowing climate change. Impoverished communities tend to suffer most from pollution and the health problems it brings; some of them have also depended on highly polluting extractive industries for their employment base. Many different Green New Deal plans mandate input from and funding to these vulnerable communities. New York’s plan sets aside money to help communities who have depended on conventional power generation transition to clean energy jobs.  Green New Deal proposals also require input from tribal authorities, recognizing the needs of their communities and the insights they offer. 

Some versions of the Green New Deal—including Ocasio-Cortez’s draft plan and the Green Party platform—call for full employment and a government guarantee of living-wage jobs for any worker who wants employment. The Green Party specifies that such jobs must be offered in human services fields like child care and elder care as well as in construction and energy production, so that people with varying levels of physical strength can find work. Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal plan does not guarantee employment but does set aside funds for workforce development to help people qualify for the jobs required by the new energy economy; it also includes wage guarantees for those workers. 

Whether or not there is a legal mandate for full employment, the green energy transition is likely to create jobs. In the short term, upgrading existing buildings and transportation infrastructures for greater efficiency will be a massive and labor-intensive project. In the long term, a 2014 UK study concluded, “there is a reasonable degree of evidence that in general, renewable energy and energy efficiency are more labor-intensive in terms of electricity produced than either coal- or gas-fired power plants.” A transition to more small-scale local agriculture would also require more human labor and less fossil fuel.  

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

Ocasio-Cortez’s version of the Green New Deal also calls for social supports detached from employment, including basic income programs and universal health care. Many of her fellow Democrats at the national level who support some type of Green New Deal are also supportive of Medicare-for-all or some other expansion of publicly funded health care. In New York, Cuomo has dismissed single-payer health care as impossibly expensive, though NY offers generous Medicaid benefits.

Many critics of the Green New Deal in its several incarnations are focused on questions of how much it will cost and where the money is to come from. The Green Party points out that continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to increased spending on disaster relief (as climate change intensifies hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms) and health care (as people require treatment for illnesses caused by pollution and extreme temperatures as well as for natural-disaster-induced injuries.) They also propose halving the military budget (pointing out that US military spending far exceeds that of any other nation, and suggesting that, without the demand for access to foreign sources of fossil fuels, we’d have much less incentive to fight wars) and sharply increasing taxation on the wealthiest Americans. Ocasio-Cortez and some of the Democrats who hold with her also back tax increases for the wealthiest. 

For now there is no single clear and authoritative version of the Green New Deal: the Green Party is not in power anywhere, Governor Cuomo’s New Deal plan will have to be approved by the state legislature (which is already considering a somewhat different climate-mitigation bill with some New Deal overlaps), and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey are now working out a Green New Deal bill to present to Congress.  But the national dialogue has broadened to take in the possibility of transformative change in the face of crisis. The answers may not be clear yet, but at least the vital questions are being considered.  

The Polar Vortex Doesn't Disprove Climate Change and Here's Why

Over the past couple days, many of us in the Midwest have been hunkering down and bundling up as we’ve been walloped by a  “polar vortex”, a mass of arctic air which dipped unusually far southward and brought with it temperatures  in the -20s (and wind-chills in the -60s!). Young people from Minnesota to Illinois to Michigan experienced a level of cold they had never felt before; in locations throughout the upper Midwest, the thermometers have not dropped so low in over a generation

Along with the actual vortex, however, came a front of tweets and social media posts claiming that the deep freeze was proof (proof!) that climate change was a fraud. Of course, posts like these reveal much more about their authors than they do about climate change. If such declarations are proof of anything, it is that their posters either lack a basic understanding of what climate change means or else are being deliberately misleading. Nothing about the theory of climate change suggests that the Midwest (or anywhere else) can’t receive a spell of cold, even record-breaking, weather. 

snowstorm-on-the-highway-during-the-rush-hour-PMYGJAG.jpg

Often ignored or misunderstood by those calling foul on climate change is the key distinction between climate and weather. NOAA’s website does an excellent job outlining this distinction, “Whereas weather refers to short-term changes in the atmosphere, climate describes what the weather is like over a long period of time in a specific area.” Whether includes your day-to-day phenomenon – your daily, hourly or even minutely changes in temperature, precipitation, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure and more. Climate refers to the general, long-term characteristics of a region. 

For example, you might describe California’s Death Valley’s climate as very dry and extremely hot; that doesn’t mean that it never rains in Death Valley, it just means that, on average over time, Death Valley has experiences high temperatures and low rates of precipitation. Accordingly, a rainy day in Death Valley wouldn’t prompt us to reclassify the area’s climate, it would, rather, be considered unusual or rare weather event. If, on the other hand, Death Valley started experiencing much more rain for months or years, then we’d have to think about reclassifying its climate. 

When we zooming out to a global scale, we find that a cold couple of days in the Midwest tells us bupkis about the general trends of the Earth’s climate. The polar vortex is a weather event (and it is one that, due to climate change’s disruptive impact on the polar jet stream, might actually become more likely as the planet heats up). When we look at long-term, global data, we see a much clearer picture of where the climate is heading. Global average temperatures have been steadily rising for over a century, and the five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010, and climate scientists predict continued and accelerating warming to the tune of at least several degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

This bigger picture might be tough to focus on for those of us currently freezing our tuchuses off, but we should try to not let the weather – and erroneous tweets about the weather – distract us.

Inside 350.org and Why They Rise for Climate

Most people know 350 as the worldwide climate action network that has sparked a generation of environmental activism. It’s the organization behind the People’s Climate March, Exxon Knew, and Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. Every year, its influence grows as hundreds of thousands of people across the globe join in on its actions and show up for its chapter meetings. 350 not only networks people together at the grassroots level, but connects fellow climate change activist groups and unites them for major conglomerate projects and demonstrations. It helps smaller organizations make big changes together. There may not be a more significant presence in climate change activism than 350.

What many people don’t realize is that 350 is relatively young. Ten years ago, it was the infant brainchild of a famous author and a handful of young recent college graduates. It was dedication, hard work, and a commitment to social organizing that brought 350 to where it is today.

Starting a Movement

Bill McKibben was an active environmentalist long before he founded 350. In 1989, he’d become famous for his first book, The End Of Nature, which introduced millions of readers to the concept of climate change. In 2006, he led the “Step It Up” campaign, which included nationwide protests and his own personal walk across the state of Vermont. The enthusiasm that grew out of this action was momentous. Step It Up expanded, and in 2008, changed its name to 350.

Bill was the face and focal point for the young organization, but without a small group of dedicated Middlebury College alumni, 350 would never have become a reality. According to McKibben, who was a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College at the time, the recent grads took his ideas and turned them into a revolution. Step It Up had surprised everyone with the range of its success; now it transformed into a policy and grassroots organizing engine prepared to withstand the challenges ahead. The group’s new name referenced 350’s mission to reduce atmospheric carbon levels to 350 parts per million, the maximum safe level according to NASA scientist James Hansen. 

The founding group included May Boeve, who is still the executive director of 350, and Jamie Henn, who remains strategic communications director. The nonprofit’s success drew help like a magnet as people who had sought a focal point for climate action joined in spades. Bill McKibben’s appearance on The Colbert Report in 2009 caused the group’s popularity to rocket, and with awareness came support. Today, 350’s board of directors includes Naomi Klein, bestselling author of This Changes Everything. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in 350 climate actions in the over 188 countries where 350 is active.

350 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. CharityNavigator.org, which tracks the honesty of nonprofit groups and rates them according to transparency, gives 350 its highest score for accountability and conscientious use of funds. In fact, 84.9% of 350’s funding goes to “program expenses,” meaning the services, activities, and actions that 350 uses to make a difference in the world. It’s entirely supported by donations and gifts, and its revenue in 2016 was around $13.7 million. As director, May Boeve gets a little less than $100,000 per year in compensation. That’s a little low for someone running a global nonprofit - the president of Earthjustice nets more than three times that per year - and 350’s financial footprint is fairly light for a group that makes such a large splash. This efficiency is a credit to 350’s adherence to its ideals and the enthusiasm of the volunteer community that has rallied around it.

Part of the reason that 350 has become such a success is that it leverages technology very well. Online marketing is one of its principle strategies, and that strategy has paid off in a huge way. The people who started 350 were young and tech-savvy, willing to leverage social media and aware of the power of digital connection. That awareness has translated into a global network of partners and volunteers that has given 350 an amount of influence disproportionate for a company with less than 200 official employees. 

A distributed organization

350 has one clear, overarching mission: reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. This is the maximum safe limit for atmospheric carbon, as stated by NASA’s James Hansen in 2008. It’s a big goal, especially considering the fact that our air currently contains over 400 parts per million of carbon. That’s why 350 has broken this huge task down into smaller ones and distributed its mission across a network of chapters, also called “nodes.”

While 350’s headquarters is located in Brooklyn, New York, globally distributed regional action networks tie these nodes together and coordinate them. For example, you could become a member of a 350 node near your home in Lowell, Massachusetts, and that node will specifically work on issues pertaining to your city. However, it’ll answer to the statewide network, 350 Mass, in order to coordinate widespread actions and get guidance. 350 Mass will, in turn answer to the parent 350 organization.

Having a chapter setup gives 350 the flexibility to organize at the grassroots, local level even as it pressures governments worldwide to take action against carbon pollution. It can coordinate actions across the world by empowering local chapters, and it regularly partners with local organizations to build solidarity and make local actions more effective. For example, the mass action known as Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice took place in early September of 2018. 350 and several partner organizations like Sierra Club and the Climate Reality Project united to make this massive action possible. Though there were over 900 separate actions worldwide, they took place in a coordinated way. That meant that a rally in Joliet, Illinois, which was attended by about 500 people, supported an action far bigger than the Chicago area alone could have generated. It wasn’t just a 350 movement, either, but a joint effort with the People’s Climate Movement, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and even the local United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers union. Participants had a chance not just to support a global cause, but to build a stronger network on the ground. 

The chapter setup also allows 350 to put a known face on climate politics. Residents of Chicago might have been a little ruffled if a large lobbying agency rolled into town and engineered a demonstration, but when the demonstration is organized and attended by earnest Chicago-based volunteers, the message becomes more powerful. The people protesting at Joliet weren’t outsiders. They were neighbors, friends, and constituents, and they cared about Chicago’s future in a world that faces climate change. 

How 350 makes a difference

The scale of climate change is too big and varied to attack without a plan. There are too many different sectors of society tied up in fossil fuel. 350 deals with this problem by separating its mission into bite-sized chunks, and then into individual projects.

For example, one of 350’s goals is to fight the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes shipping, processing, and distribution networks for crude oil. The Keystone Pipeline System, completed in 2010, is exactly the kind of infrastructure that 350 tries to impede. In 2012, 350 made the final construction phase of the Keystone Pipeline System a focal point of its protests. To this day, 350 and its partners have managed to delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline using legal red tape and mass protest. The mission is to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, the strategy is to fight fossil fuel infrastructure, and the immediate project is stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. So far, this atomized method of addressing a big, complicated problem is proving very effective.

Stronger together

350 has used the divide-and-conquer strategy to cover a lot of ground so far. That said, one of its big advantages is that it actively connects dozens of other activist organizations and helps them to organize amongst one another. For example, 350’s Go Fossil Free divestment campaign, which began in 2012, actively partners with People & Planet, which is a student-based social and environmental justice group based in the U.K. 

Whether 350 starts a project, such as Go Fossil Free, or gets involved with an existing project, like the People’s Climate March, it puts a lot of energy toward networking activist groups together. Not only does this strategy get more people involved in protests and demonstrations, but it pulls in experts who might have relevant experience. 350 doesn’t have to be the most experienced organization, and it doesn’t have to be the best organization for a specific job. All it has to be is the best organization for building partnerships. Lending assistance to other groups can be much more powerful than running a campaign solo from start to finish. 

350 even partners outside of environmental circles, forging alliances with the famous U.K. newspaper The Guardian and The United Church of Christ. In many cases, it opts to stand up for other social justice issues, like police brutality, in order to build cohesion with other progressive groups. Not only is this simply the right thing to do, but it generates a very positive image for environmental activism. People who care about other progressive issues are more likely to see 350 and its volunteers as helpful allies whose actions are worth attending.

Educating new activists

Some of 350’s best organizational partners are made up of familiar faces. For example, the Divestment Student Network is made up of activists whom 350 trained at a Fossil Free Fellowship workshop in 2013. Since then, 350 has logged over $5 trillion divested from educational and municipal pension funds, much of it with DSN’s help, and victories continue to accumulate. In 2017, New York City and State committed to divest. One of the big reasons that this happened was because 350 has been so generous with information. The more activists it can train, the more likely it is that it will accomplish its goals.

That’s why 350 offers free online trainings. Right now, there are eight of these videos, which the 350 website refers to as “skill-ups,” that cover having productive climate conversations and grassroots campaigning for beginners. The average length of each video is thirty minutes. 

The 350 trainings website includes a ton of other resources, including exercises for in-person group training facilitators and free handouts for meetings. At in-person events, such as the Global Climate Action Summit, 350 nodes might also hold in-person workshops, such as the free personal divestment class that 350 Silicon Valley presented with Santa Clara University in September 2018.

Marches, protests, and demonstrations

Of all its activities, 350 is probably most famous for its demonstrations. These are often partnership events along the lines of the Rise for Climate march in Joliet. (If 350 is good at one thing, it’s sharing credit!) Their protests are always peaceful and organized. The Rise for Climate movement even saw participation in Antarctica

350 encourages other mass action, too. For example, divestment efforts have translated into small-scale bank account closures and protests. By educating people about environmental topics, 350 empowers them to make changes in their own lives too. 

Whether actions are large or small in scale, one of their chief functions is PR. 350 makes sure that during and after every event, the world knows what happened. Showing that people are willing to upset their routine to march or protest is one of the most powerful ways to communicate how serious an issue climate change is. By publicizing marches and activities, 350 also turns itself into a news source for climate action, not only for itself, but for its partners too. Twitter is one of the most important venues for this activity.

Political action

As an organization, 350 takes a multifaceted approach to change. On one hand, protest and public demonstration is an important part of its toolkit. Getting people into the streets with signs and chants - or getting them to stake out politicians’ offices - shows policymakers and non-activists that the climate is a serious, present issue that people care about. Grassroots campaigns are 350’s bread and butter.

However, 350 also follows up the public side of these campaigns with political action that’s not as flashy, but also gets results. In fact, 350 currently employs a policy director, Jason Kowalski, whose job is to discuss 350’s goals with lawmakers and political influencers. Jason also attended Middlebury College, and he was involved in the original Step It Up campaign in 2007, so he’s been in the 350 family for over a decade. 

According to OpenSecrets.org, 350 also spends some money on political campaigns, helping to finance the election of Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and spending nearly $100,000 to campaign against Donald Trump’s election in 2016. However, compared to other influential political organizations, their involvement in the political process is small. In 2018, Exxon alone spent over $1 million on its preferred political candidates.

Opposition

It’s no secret that change is hard. Sometimes, it sends you to jail. 350 founder Bill McKibben has been arrested several times, once outside of a gas station where he stood to protest during the #ExxonKnew campaign.  At Keystone XL protests outside of the White House, which 350 helped to organize, dozens of protesters left in handcuffs

These are high-profile situations that make splashy news headlines. However, the greatest opposition that 350 faces exists in political and social structures that resist a shift away from fossil fuel. That’s why every battle that 350 fights is an uphill one, from getting anti-fracking measures on the ballot in California to stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built across Native lands. 

Successes

All of this effort has paid off in a big way. Not only has 350’s work helped municipalities and colleges divest over $6 trillion in fossil fuel assets, but that divestment has, according to Shell’s 2018 annual report, seriously threatened the oil giant’s bottom line. It’s quite a coincidence that on December 3, 2018, Shell bowed to investor pressure and tied executive salary to short-term greenhouse gas reductions!

350’s efforts to stop fracking have also borne fruit. The state of Paraná in Brazil finally banned the practice in 2016, and 350’s efforts in Uruguay have stalled fracking activities near the Guaraní Aquifer. Efforts to halt fracking in California continue.

One of 350’s biggest triumphs happened in 2015, when the Obama administration cited climate change as a reason to stop construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. For a moment, everyone who had worked for years to prevent this environmental disaster from going forward celebrated. Then, a year later, the Presidential administration changed. The Trump administration restarted its efforts to build the Keystone XL, leading to the ongoing legal battle in which 350 is still engaged today.

However, even when it has to endure setbacks, 350 sees its popular support rising. The annual People’s Climate March, for which 350 partners with a large number of other environmental organizations, saw over 200,000 participants in Washington, D.C. alone in 2017. In 2015, parts of the Philippines started to ban the construction of new power plants thanks to 350’s efforts, and that trend continues today. Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice saw tens of thousands of people worldwide march in the name of a green future. Although there are still huge challenges ahead, it’s clear that 350 has hit a cultural and political nerve. 

Where it’s going

The fight against climate change has only just begun. Even now, when the effects of fossil fuels on the natural world are easily visible, the political resistance to action against climate change is both well-funded and entrenched. 350 has a lot more work to do if it’s going to get our atmospheric carbon levels down to a safe level again.

Every year, this organization pushes its mission a little further. Every year sees a few more pension plans divested and a few more fracking operations made illegal. As the battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline rages on, 350 and its partners Bold Nebraska and the Indigenous Environmental Network cooperate to build solar arrays directly in the path of the proposed oil transit corridor. 

Just ten years into its existence, 350 is showing the world that you don’t need to be rich or powerful to make a difference in something that matters. Progress can happen anywhere, especially if done together with others.

Rise for Climate was a worldwide climate movement that took place over 7 continents, in 95 countries, with 900+ actions that took place on September 8, 2018. It was co-organized by several organizations including 350, Climate Reality Project, In Kind, People’s Action, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, and World Wildlife Fund.

You can learn more about 350 or donate to them here. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How the Environment Influences Yeisy Rodriguez's Art

A creative household 

Yeisy Rodriguez is probably one of the most socially conscious 20-year-olds you’ll ever meet. She’s educated on subjects such as climate change and animal cruelty and hopes to teach others about their lasting effects on the environment. But her teaching methods don’t involve lectures or waxing poetic on YouTube videos. No, her methods are much more creative. 

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Yeisy was born in Miami to Cuban parents who moved to Florida in 1995 to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. Her parents had family in the U.S., which made the transition easier but they still had to adjust to speaking English and living in an unfamiliar country. 

Yeisy’s parents encouraged her love for the arts and animals. The Rodriguez family went beyond the “must love dogs” mantra as pets also included birds, cats, dogs, hamsters and bunnies. When she was seven years, Yeisy also started discovering her inner artist by attending art and painting classes. 

At 14 she began to question what she wanted to pursue as a career, but as she delved more into her art, which she says started out as a hobby, she realized that art had become her calling.

“I didn’t think I would do it as a career,” she says. “When I went to college I had to choose a major and I chose art. It was easy because I would think of all the other things I could major in and none of them felt right.” But despite the easy choice, Yeisy still had her doubts because she knew little about the art world and had no idea where to draw her inspiration. 

Also at 14, Yeisy, like most girls that age, started wearing makeup. But unlike a typical teenager, questions would later surface about how her makeup products were being made. 

“I realized some makeup was not cruelty-free about two years into wearing makeup, and it was definitely a bit overwhelming and frustrating at times,” she says. “In some cases, finding replacements for certain items that had become staples in my routine was difficult but I was determined to only support cruelty-free brands.” 

Picture-perfect prevention 

Yeisy’s epiphany spurred her to research countless beauty companies and the ways to prevent cosmetics testing on animals. But it also urged her to create art that she hoped would raise awareness and most importantly educate people on some of these issues. 

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

“People aren’t choosing to be ignorant – they just don’t research,” she says. “I like to make that information more accessible. Pictures and visuals are easier for people to grasp and make more of a statement.”

Yeisy also likes incorporating numbers into her work and believes that when statistical information is presented visually, it can be “really impactful.” For example, her digital piece titled And then there were two is based off an article she saw in October 2017 that detailed how, because of a “record amount of summer sea ice and an unprecedented rainy episode,” all but two chicks of a colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins died of starvation in Antarctica. 

Another piece titled 99°, 99% also shows how rising temperatures are causing sea turtles to turn female. And while this may not seem like a big deal, scientists have started to question how the sea turtle population will sustain itself when, years from now, there’s a chance there will be no more males reaching adulthood. 

Stories such as these are a huge influence in her work, which features 2D and sculpture pieces, acrylic, water color, ink, graphite, prints, gouache and oil painting, which she says is her favorite medium to work with because she’s most “familiar” with it. 

“Climate change influences a lot of my work,” she says. “It impacts the penguins, the turtles – it’s very present.” 

According to the New York Times, scientists believe most and probably all of global warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases and if emissions continue to rise, warming could exceed eight degrees Fahrenheit, which would “transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population…and precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history.”

It’s a startling thought but one Yeisy hopes to bring attention to – even if it’s not overnight. “When people look at my work, I hope people learn something,” Yeisy says. “But I really hope it changes the way they do things. If at least one person can get that out of a piece I make, then I’m happy.”

An artist’s journey 

Yeisy’s art didn’t always have the same powerful message it does now. In fact, when she was entering college, she applied for the BFA program and didn’t get in because her work didn’t have an overall message. She spent the summer building her portfolio in the hopes of applying again but never did because she no longer felt like she needed the program to confirm that she was a great artist. 

“My work spoke for itself,” she says. “It’s become more specific and affective. I feel better putting more thought into it, which means the audience will put more thought into it.” 

Learning more about a particular subject has also allowed her to become more confident in her work and have a newfound appreciation for the craft. 

“I like that it’s [art] is an unique career. It’s something that people can look at and admire – like these animals,” she says. “I love the freedom of it and the ability to do what you want and have a voice.” 

Yeisy believes art’s role in society goes far beyond visual aesthetic. Artists, like any revolutionary, have a duty to speak to the world’s injustices – whether political, environmental or racial. 

“In the 20th century, a lot of Cuban artists made art about the government,” she says. “The same thing can be seen in Russia, Italy and other countries because art has always been used to spread a message and inform people.”

And while she realizes that a career as an artist may not be the most stable profession, for her, art isn’t about making money but rather making work that’s true to what she stands for. 

As for how she plans to do that, Yeisy, who graduated from Florida State University in May, wants to one day open her own art shop and have a portion of every sale go to a charity or organization that helps the environment or animals. Until then, she’s planning her next big art project (she would love to paint a mural for an organization that supports animals) and balancing working as a graphic designer and her art. 

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

It would seem like she has it all figured out but her assuredness didn’t come overnight. Her work comes from “finding my own way” and educating herself on the subjects that matter to her. But she wants people to know, that even if you’re not an artist or an activist, it’s okay. 

“It’s all about your actions,” she says. “If you’re in a creative field, it may be easier to express but making a difference starts with a small change in your life. You can volunteer or just encourage others to inform themselves so that they, in turn, can inform someone else. Life is chain reaction – if one person does something good, then maybe others will be inspired too.” 

For more information on Yeisy and her artwork, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

How $20 Can Take a Ton of Carbon Out of the Atmosphere

If you’re passionate about the environment and concerned about the effects of climate change, you have probably heard the term “Carbon Offsets” used by many businesses when describing their sustainability projects. Lyft recently committed to purchasing enough of them to cover all of their rides’ emissions, and many other large companies such as General Motors and Barclays purchase them to help make their businesses more environmentally friendly.

If you aren’t familiar with what they are, carbon offsets can sound a little like the 15th century practice of buying indulgences. It sounds nice, but is relatively useless when the efforts to reduce carbon aren’t personally made by the company itself.

In the case of carbon offsets, this simply isn’t true. When a company purchases the carbon offsets, they are funding projects that remove vast quantities of carbon from the air. While that carbon removal doesn’t come from switching their office lights out early, or putting fewer cars on the road, it is no less effective. Many of the projects funded would never come to life if it wasn’t for the offsets that make funding available.

Another example of this is how some airlines like Emirates, American Airlines, and Delta offer their passengers the opportunity to purchase enough carbon offsets to cover the amount of emissions that their share of the airplane trip produces. Because flying is unavoidable for some people, these kinds of offsets meet people where they already are and offer them a environmentally-minded solution.

 

So what is a carbon offset?

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A carbon offset is a certificate acknowledging the fact that funds paid for by one company, will remove a certain amount of carbon (usually in tons) from the air. Companies that sell carbon offsets pay for projects that remove carbon, through projects such as creating green energy, capturing and destroying the greenhouse gases, or sequestering the carbon through the planting and management of forests.

These projects have profound impact on climate change. In some cases, such as Lyft’s carbon offset project to make car parts lighter, the project would never be possible without the carbon offsets. This is because the price is often not considered worth it by car companies, even though the impact on climate change can be seen for decades after the creation of the part.

Carbon offsets are essential for businesses who have no other way to make their business sustainable. While some of these we can argue would be better off not existing, carbon offsets also offer the chance to be sustainable to small businesses and even individuals that care about the environment.

In some locations, purchasing green energy is impossible, but thanks to carbon offsets, a small business that wants to be sustainable can purchase offsets equal to the power they consume. Eventually they may even reap the benefits of these projects, as green energy becomes more widely available thanks to the offsets available.

 

Are there drawbacks to carbon offsets?

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While anything that helps fight climate change is good, carbon offsets are frequently criticized because they allow companies to continue old habits without real change. The concern is that if the companies that use carbon offsets instead of addressing real problems in their business continue to do so, the damage done to the climate will worsen.

Despite these concerns, carbon offsets allow healing to occur in our delicate environment, and they are a great first step toward improving our global situation. Carbon offsets not only give us a chance to do better in our own lives, but to help address the carbon we can’t do anything about too.

Carbon offset credits are great because not only can the largest companies and governments in the world purchase them to offset emissions, they also allow anyone who is passionate about ending climate change to buy personal carbon offset credits, which broadens the scope of who can participate in large scale sustainability projects, and increasing those projects’ exposure.

To learn more about carbon offset credits or to purchase some of your own, check out sites like Terrapass or Carbon Fund.

We Are Still In: Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement

In 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement became one of the biggest moments in our fight against climate change. Countries all over the world made an agreement to reduce their greenhouse gases and to commit themselves to the fight against climate change. Since then many of them have made great progress in their goals, with some countries going so far as planning to reach their goals ahead of schedule. In the daunting face of climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement symbolized and manifested the world coming together to working towards finding a solution to environmental cirisis and hope for the fture.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and left many US citizens feeling embarrassed. It seemed like it would be yet another blow to the United State's position as a forward thinking nation, but citizens decided to take action. In a startling reversal of the president's words, they sent a powerful message back to the world: “We Are Still In!”

That message has since spread from the war cry of a few scattered businesses and states, to a national movement encompassing almost 2,000 businesses, 10 states, 272 cities or counties, and 9 tribes. All total, these people represent more than half of all Americans. 

Those who want to be part of the social movement can sign up at the “We Are Still In” website. There, they can make an agreement for their state, business, or other body of people, to keep to the agreements set in the climate agreement.

Many of the organizations that have done so have already seen success in their goals. As an example Minnesota, the first and so far only midwest state to join the movement, is already making great strides toward their goals. They officially joined the movement in 2017, but have been working on the clean energy sector for over a decade now. They set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and are already half way to their goal.

Walmart, one of the largest retail chains in the nation, has also joined the agreement. Most of their carbon footprint doesn't come from their own stores, but from the supply chain they get their products from. In an effort to be more sustainable, they are challenging the suppliers that fill their shelves to help them remove up to one gigaton of greenhouse gases from being created in the next 15 years. This is a huge goal, and a great one. 

Their plan is backed by trying to figure out scientific ways to reduce their emissions, and through their influence have already convinced several suppliers to not only reduce their impact, but have inspired a few to go as far as going completely carbon neutral.

These efforts are just two examples of many thousands of groups who are each striving in their own way to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. These states, companies, and organizations have realized how important climate change is, and are taking steps toward changing the future of the planet to be a better one. With rising ocean levels making it a reality for entire countries to disappear in the next few years, the timing of these efforts has never been more critical.

As more and more Americans sign on to this agreement, we can hope that our efforts will help change the future. The United States might be “out” of the Paris Agreement, but as for the people, “We are still in!”

You can learn more about We Are Still In at their website, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

The Origin and Impact of Earth Day

As Earth Day's 50th Anniversary approaches, it pays to look back on the start of this important holiday, and understand how it came to be. In the 1950s, before Earth Day was even being considered as a concept, no one gave much thought for the environment. The chemical industry was at its peak, and there was little in the way of protection for the environment. When most people thought of environmentalism, they didn't think about protecting the oceans from things like plastic and oil spills, instead they thought of things like setting aside land for animals and protecting old growth forests. 

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In the 1960s, this all began to change. The first major ripple to hit the status quo was Rachel Carson's book, “Silent Spring.” The book brought to the attention of the average man or woman the damage being done to the environment by the chemical industry. It was a very popular book at the time, and it changed the minds of many people about how they viewed the environment.

Silent Spring got people thinking about the environment, and a series of environmental disasters helped launch people into action. Among them were major oil spills off of the California cost, and pollution so bad in the great lakes, a river leading to Lake Eyrie actually caught on fire. 

Source:  Sierra Club

Source: Sierra Club

These disasters coupled with many others galvanized environmentalists into action. Determined to make an impact, they began to plan a grass roots movement to help take a stand for the good of the planet. That grass roots movement was a concept called Earth Day, and it launched April 22nd, 1970. Over 20 million people left their homes to attend events around the United States in an overwhelming show of support for this movement. Their efforts had a profound impact. The government hastened to create legislation to protect against some of the worst atrocities that big business was having on the environment. 

The same year as Earth Day had its first event, the United States came out with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These two bits of legislation changed the world for the better. Instead of being allowed to spew what ever dangerous chemicals they wanted into the air or dumped into streams, factories now had to meet specific standards.

Years before Earth day started, twenty people in a small town called Donora died from air pollution expelled by a factory. According to the EPA, the Clean Air Act is credited with preventing as many as 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and as many as 83,000 hospitalizations. The clean water act as had an equally large impact. When the Clean Water Act first went into effect, only 1/3 of the United State's water was safe to be used. This climbed to over 2/3rds.

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These successes alone both had a strong impact on improving the environment, and with the installation of a new agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, also a direct reaction to Earth Day, the environment suddenly had a fighting chance for good.

Earth Day then took a back seat on the world's stage until 1990, when environmentalists again rallied to the cause. This time not 20 million, but 200 million people. This time their goal wasn't to stop the flow of toxins being let loose into the air and water, but to make Earth Day a global event. Their focus this time was on recycling.

Once again the efforts of environmentalists around the globe were impactful. Their events gained global attention to the impact throwing out aluminum cans and other highly recyclable items had on the world. The average person learned that when they threw something away, they needed to realize that there is no “away”. There is just our one planet.

The 1990 Earth Day celebrations were mainly created by two foundations developed specifically for the vent. The Earth Day 20 Foundation, and Earth Day 1990. These foundations were lead by many of the same people who had been essential in the first Earth Day. These people included Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was the original founder of the 1970 Earth Day, Edward Furia who was the Project Director for Earth Week, 1970 and Denis Hayes, National Coordinator for Earth Day 1970.

Their efforts spread Earth Day from just the United States to 161 countries. A team of climbers on Mount Everest brought down two tons of garbage left by other hikers on the way to the summit, and as many as 20,000 people at a time visited Times Square in New York for Earth Day related events.

Source:  NBC

Source: NBC

Earth Day 1990 was once again a success, and it would eventually lead to Senator Nelson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton five years later. It put environmentalism back in both the political and the public eye. 

By the time Earth Day 2000 rolled around, the number of participating countries had climbed even higher to 184 countries participating. The focus this time was on global warming, and the possibly cataclysmic results.

The impact of this Earth Day was profound. Now businesses and politicians were very aware of how much the environment meant to people, and they scrambled to take advantage of it.

Just two years after Earth Day 2000, California passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, the eventual end goal being that at least half of California's utilities come from renewable sources by 2030. Given the size of the state, it was a huge success for environmental activists everywhere.

Electric and hybrid cars became a fashion statement, and consumers flocked to get more gas efficient vehicles. With the rising costs of gasoline, having a cheap way to refuel made them even more popular.

By the time Earth Day 2010 rolled around however, environmentalism was facing threat. While people still wanted to protect the environment, the oil industry was starting to fight back. Some people even stated that climate change was fake, and that there were no signs of the green house effect after all. Despite all this, environmentalists still gathered, and companies that were hesitant to change began to yield to the demands of people all around the world.

The changes from Earth Day have become pervasive throughout business and politics alike. Most companies now have a link on their website addressing sustainability and what their company is doing to reach it. Even companies that have nothing to do with the environment in their business, are making an effort to appeal to consumers by changing how they do business.

In some cases this is changing over to using only sustainable energy, using biodegradable materials, or using recycled materials in their products. The change in big business is becoming more common, and politics has been following behind, albiet at a somewhat slower pace.

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Recently the Paris Climate Accord brought together many of the world's greatest powers. In total, 175 countries signed the pledge, agreeing to lower greenhouse emissions and deal with their own countries carbon footprints. Despite the agreement not going into effect for several years after the agreement was signed, many countries began making ambitious changes right away.

China in particular, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, has already made strides toward their goal. They have introduced coal caps in high coal consumption areas, introduced new legislation to make new buildings increasingly environmentally friendly, and started fining companies that polluted too much.

This has made them a world leader in the environmental front, and put them ahead of many other countries who are also struggling to support their environment. Another notable country making big changes to help the environment is Finland.

While Finland doesn't produce nearly the same amount of carbon emissions as China does, it has made notable strides in its own right. As one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. While reducing carbon emissions is an important part of the climate accord, so is sequestering as much as the green house gas emissions being produced as possible. This means forests, which are one of the greatest ways to help keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Finland has some great policies in place to help maintain their forest, and even have tourism based on how pristine and beautiful their landscape is. Their success at managing their sustainability has even gotten its own name, “The Finnish Model,” and is being used as an example of how to create sustainability in other countries. With an EPI of 90.68, Finland is leading the way in sustainability, and will hopefully be a model closely followed by other countries in their struggles against climate change.

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Thanks to Earth Day in many respects, the environment has gotten a helping hand from countries all around the world. As glaciers melt and weather phenomenon related to global warming sweept the globe, more people are realizing that climate change is part of the problem.

The next major Earth Day celebration will be 2020. This anniversary is an important one because it will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and environmentalists everywhere are already gearing up to tackle it.

Many of the topics for Earth Day 2020 will be the same, but some new campaigns are being added in. One of the most important ones is the threat of plastic pollution in the world's oceans, and drawing awareness to the problems this plastic is causing.

Thanks to the throw away culture big business has created, we are accustomed to getting nearly every disposable item in its own plastic bottle or bag, and then throwing it away when we are finished with the disposable item inside. We throw it away, without considering the fact that there is no “away.”

While some of this material gets recycled, a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Vast quantities of plastic have ended up in the Oceans, creating huge rafts of floating debris in the gyres that form in the ocean. This plastic isn't just ugly—it kills wildlife. Sea turtles commonly mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and eat them, often resulting in death. Those that survive may not reproduce due to the plastic in their guts. Sea birds, fish, and other wildlife also end up eating and dying from the plastic, and the plastic itself causes changes in the PH of the ocean.

This will no doubt be a huge part of the campaign, and with the success of Earth Day's past, we can hope that this Earth Day will help provide more help to the environment by shedding light on this terrible problem caused by plastic pollution.

Earth Day has been around for 48 years, and it has seen sweeping change in how people view the environment. From the complete ignorance of what was going on and the terrible damage being done to the world, to knew science constantly being added, the last 48 years has seen major change in the world.

In 50 more years, we can hope that we will have changed our ways and become a more sustainable world, with greenhouse gas under control, throw away plastics banned, and more thoughtful people paying attention to what they do. These changes won't come without a fight though. It starts with individual people who choose to make changes in their own life, and also add their voice to others so that their government hears their demands.

Change can be as simple as carrying a reusable plastic bag to the market, or planting your own garden so your food does not have to travel thousands of miles in order to get to your plate. We can change the world just by making small changes in our own lives, a vital and important aspect of Earth Day itself. With our combined effort, we can make this planet a good one for the next generation. Hopefully, the world as a whole will try, and Earth Day 2070 will be a remarkable one.

At Last, We’re Saving the Bees!

“Save the bees” is and has always been more than a catchy campaign slogan. For a few years now, we’ve been direly warned by scientists near and far about the dangers of a world without bees, or without enough of them. Bees are vital for our agriculture, after all! Fear and decline in bee populations around the world have had millions, nay billions, of people on the edge of their seats wanting for an opportunity to do more. Thanks to yet another scientific advancement in the world, we’re finally doing it. We’re finally saving the bees!

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

The population of wild bees and other pollination-powerhouses has been declining for some years now, and it’s not a regional problem. An assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has revealed that this decline in population has now become a global problem. The problem has gotten so severe that the UN is towing the line of needing to declare a full-scale threat to global food supplies. The solution, they propose, is protecting the populations of critters that are responsible for pollinating our crops. Some of those crops are pollinator-dependent and can’t produce enough quantity of crops, or can’t produce crops that are worthwhile and healthy without having the help of bees and other pollinating animals and bugs. These dependent crops include “nearly all your fruits and many of your vegetables”, says Simon Potts from IPBES. Such examples are apples, mangoes, and even cocoa beans. No cocoa means no chocolate.

A UN group charged with monitoring and assessing climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has determined that 9% of the European bee and butterfly population is currently under threat of extinction, as up to 40% of the respective populations has already died off. There are ways that this can be rectified, the obvious one being a greater force towards more sustainable living. But beyond eco-harmful lifestyles, there are other things that are major culprits behind the decline of bee and butterfly populations. Namely, the use of pesticides.

The pesticides that we’ve used for decades on both an industrial and a personal scale have been cutting bee populations way back because of the harm they cause to the bugs, which ultimately resulted in an inability to pollinate or reproduce.. Lucky for us, and for the bees, scientists have gone to work, and they’ve discovered that there was a certain kind of pesticide that didn’t harm bees. In fact, the bees were completely resistant to it! This pesticide is called tau-fluvalinate, and the brilliant minds behind its discovery published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal for the world to see.

The hope with this new discovery of a harmless pesticide is that it will still work to repel insects that cause damage to crops, such as mites and other pests, but don’t cause any harm to insects that seek to only pollinate the plants. One of the authors of the study, Professor Ke Dong, put it like this: “For the first time, we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels.” In other words, the pesticide will still be absorbed into the body of the bee, but they won’t stick around and cause damage.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Unfortunately, it will still be a while before the pesticide will be released to the market widespread. Scientists need to make sure that they’re 100% certain their pesticide won’t cause any further harm to the populations of pollinating insects, mainly the bees, and that there will be no harmful circumstances that they didn’t anticipate. It’s for everybody’s sake that they take their time.

Lucky for the bees, Professor Ke Dong and his research team aren’t the only ones helping to tackle the problem of diminishing bee populations. The Cheerios brand recently purchased and created a 3,300-acre bee habitat so that our little pollinating friends may have a place to thrive and repopulate. Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, a classic rock band, has a foundation in his name that advocates for environmental protection and preservation, and they’ve helped to protect bee populations as well.

We’re not hopeless, but we’re not out of the woods yet either. Our planet still needs us, and right now, our bees need us the most. If you want to help on your own, the best thing you can do is plant flowers where you can. Flowers help keep bee populations up and help the earth through pollination. They’re helping to save the bees; will you join them?

A Brief History of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park became the first National Park in the United States on March 1st, 1872. It was established as a public park to serve as a spot for excitement and adventure for the people. The establishment of the park sparked a worldwide national park movement and today many nations now have national parks or preserves. The park has become famous all over the world for its naturally breathtaking scenery and geothermal wonders.

America's first national park is named after the river that runs through it. Within the park's massive boundaries, visitors can find mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and some of the most concentrated geothermal activity in the world. The park has 60% of the world’s geysers, as well as hot springs and mud pots. At 3,472 square miles, the national park is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The park offers several recreational opportunities including camping, boating, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing. 

The land area of the park spreads into parts of the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with 80 percent of the park comprising of forest and the rest, grassland, which is home to unique species of plants. The park is well known for its many lakes, wildlife, and geothermal features. One of its most popular thermal features is the Old Faithful geyser. The Old Faithful, capable of spewing water about 180 feet into the air, earned its name as a geyser when early explorers noted that it erupts once every 60 minutes. However, after decades of earthquakes which have altered its network of underground fissures, the eruptions have slowed down. Nowadays, the geyser often takes about 90-minute breaks in between eruptions.  Yellowstone has the nation’s oldest herd of bison and largest free-range herd. It is also an iconic spot for the Lower Falls and Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone National Park is a host to millions of visitors every year. It covers a wide expanse of land, about 2, 219, 789 acres. The park is home to one of the largest calderas in the world, having over 10, 000 thermal features. It is also the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Over 7 species of hoofed mammals (moose, elk, bison, pronghorn), grizzly bears, several types of other mammals, birds, fish, and gray wolf, resides in the park. The park has one of the largest petrified forests in the world, with trees that have long been buried by soil and ash and transformed into mineral matter.

Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is a reservoir of hot magma five miles deep, fed by a gigantic plume of molten rock welling up from hundreds of miles below. The heat is responsible for many of the park's famous geysers and hot springs. As magma rises into the chamber and cools, the ground above the park periodically rises and falls. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone caldera is the largest super volcano on the continent and is considered an active volcano. The caldera was formed after a massive explosion of magma which occurred nearly 600,000 years ago and has erupted with great force a number of times in the last 2 million years. This resulted from an immense heat formed below the earth’s mantle, pushing a large plume of magma towards the earth’s surface. The caldera was formed as a result of the volcanic depression that occurred when a magma reserve emptied and caved in. This was what led to the birth of what is known as the nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness of Yellowstone today, a recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. 

Yellowstone is located almost entirely within the state of Wyoming, with northern boundaries into the state of Montana and eastern boundaries spilling into Montana and neighboring Idaho. It therefore has five (5) entrances paving way to the national park. The North Entrance is open all year round to wheeled vehicles, and is also the busiest route due to its easy access and plowed road. The West Entrance is open from April 20 - November 4 to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12. The Northeast Entrance leading to Cooke City, is open all year round to wheeled vehicles while the South & East Entrances are open from May 11 – November 4, to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12.

The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park depends on your interests, as the park is open all year round to visitors. Many visitors are attracted to the park’s dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Each season offers visitors a distinct experience ranging from hiking to watching wildlife adventures and guided tours to fall-foliage tours. Springtime at the park is known for abundant wildlife, boisterous waterfalls, and feral weather. The spring season has the most crowds at the park, while winter time is for solitude. The park also offers lots of different and exciting ways to enjoy the winter season. 

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

At Yellowstone, wintertime is synonymous with fewer crowds, freezing temperatures, and hot geyser basins. Every year in early November, most roads leading to the park close to regular traffic as the winter season approaches. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis, and snowcoaches, become the primary means of transportation as roads are closed, lakes and rivers freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland. Limited services and restrictions to vehicle access makes a winter visit a challenging one. Most stores, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodges are closed during the winter season, which also contributes to this challenge.

The only exception to restricted vehicular movement is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, which is open to regular traffic all year. Once enough snow accumulates (usually by mid-December), roads open to “over-snow” travel only. This means the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach, or through the non-commercially guided snowmobile access program. Over-snow travel usually ends in mid-March, when the plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to normal cars in mid-April. Visitors can also indulge in the ranger-led programs offered at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park has a tour bus system, nine visitor centers, and over 2,000 campsites. Park partners and other businesses are also known to offer a variety of guided activities and trips during winter.

Yellowstone is also home to more than 199 species of exotic plants, 1,150 species of native plants and a countless number of fires including the biggest fires in America. Much of the Yellowstone's landscape has been shaped by the fires. In the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the national park was burnt. After the fires of 1988, scientists learned that even though much was burned down, due to the minerals in the ashes and the sunlight that was able to reach the forest floors after decades, the soil was enriched, therefore allowing new plants to be born, which allowed more food for animals. Although the fires were reported as horrifying and life threatening to the park, the fires rejuvenated Yellowstone's wildlife and ecosystem. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Why Land Conservation Matters

Land conservation is aimed at protecting sensitive natural areas such as the Yellowstone National Park or areas rich in cultural or historic value to be enjoyed by people and biodiversity in the future. There is a growing need to protect areas of land from destruction. This is due to the increasing activity of development, urbanization, and industry, resulting in the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitats.

Land conservation helps to preserve ecological function through the maintenance of natural diversity. Yellowstone National Park helps to reduce the accelerated population decline of animals and endangered species. This is especially needed in the park where scientists have presumed that the volcano present therein was capable of burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of harmful volcanic ash — a mix of splintered rock and glass — and blanket the Midwest. The resulting ash could endanger the lives plants and animals, crush roofs, and destroy the beautiful landscape of Yellowstone. This therefore goes to show that land conversation cannot be overemphasized in the restoration of our ecosystem.

While Yellowstone started out as a single park, it quickly grew to become a part of a much larger National Parks System- and from there a symbol of land conservation. In a time where protected lands that are crucial to the health of our environment seem more in more danger, it is important to remember the importance of our parks. Happy Birthday Yellowstone, and here's to hundreds more!

 

Image source: Yellowstone National Park