This Woman Is Paddling from Chicago to New Orleans to Fight for Clean Water
A New Jersey native and mother of two has set off on a two-month paddling journey from Chicago to New Orleans to raise awareness about water quality issues.
Extreme distance paddler and clean water activist Margo Pellegrino.The Big Apple 2 The Big Easy Facebook
Blue Frontier Ocean Explorer Margo Pellegrino set off via the Sanitary Canal on her 20-foot outrigger canoe on Aug. 10 from the Lincoln Park Boathouse in Chicago.
This downstream-upstream challenge will first take her from the Windy City into the Mississippi. Then, she'll traverse upstream on the Illinois River into Kentucky Lake and onto the Tennessee River and the Tenn-Tom Waterway. From Mobile, Alabama, she will paddle into the Mobile Bay and head west into New Orleans.
"This adventure for our water, our rivers, our ocean, our bays/estuaries has begun," she wrote about Day 1 of her 8-week trip. "It certainly won't be an earth shattering movement, won't rock the world, but it's very much another drop in the ocean of worker bees striving to make our watery world a better place. It's what I can do, so with the help of many many hands along the way, prayers from friends and family, I'm doing it."
To underscore how epic the voyage will be, traveling the 927 miles to New Orleans from Chicago by car would take at least 13 hours of straight driving.
The CHI2NOLA routeGoogle Maps
Incredibly, Pellegrino's current trip is actually the second leg of her two-year "The Big Apple to The Big Easy" journey. For the past three summers in a row, Pellegrino has paddled extreme distances from one city to another. In 2015, she paddled from New York City to Chicago via the Hudson River, the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. In 2014, she paddled from Trenton to Newark.
To date, the ocean activist has paddled more than 5,000 miles of the nation's coast. For her current campaign, she has helped Blue Frontier raise roughly $11,500 towards a $30,000 target to go towards conservation efforts.
According to Blue Frontier, Pellegrino and her logistics and communications crew are hoping to raise public awareness to problems affecting our waterways. Along the way to her destination, Pellegrino and her team will be holding a number of community events so people can learn why clean water, and the people whose jobs and health depend on it, should be a nationwide issue. You can see tentative landing dates here.
"Margo's paddle is OUR paddle," Blue Frontier states on its website. "Together we can educate the public and our elected officials, and show them that there is a growing constituency for our water—from our watersheds into our rivers, lakes, and bays, to our ocean."
In a blog post, Pellegrino also highlighted why clean water and healthy coastlines and riverfronts must be a 2016 election issue:
"In order to help our ailing ocean, please help me make water and climate change an election year priority. We need an honest debate and serious attention to these issues, as the consequences are nipping at our heels. To do any less is a dereliction of duty to protect the people and property of this great nation. We need to know now, before we cast those ballots, how our future president will address these crisis level issues."
The adventurer took time during her epic paddle to answer some of EcoWatch's questions via email.
Q. In terms of training, what do you have to do to prepare for such a long journey?
A. I try to paddle as much as possible, run, bike, anything, theoretically anyway, though I have to admit, my training was a little lean going into this. Fortunately, I also paddle with the Philadelphia Outrigger Canoe Club so I made sure I made as many team practices as I could.
Q. Have you ever felt deterred by crazy weather or other obstacles along the way? What keeps you motivated to keep paddling?
A. Conditions have shut me out on occasion, but once I'm started from point A I'm pretty determined to get to point B. So far I'm going into my fifth day of paddling, and am just happy I've been able to stay on target with the distances and destinations. Friday with the storms and rains and two locks in a big miles day was a definite challenge, but I'm pretty focused on the schedule. I think sticking to a schedule helps build momentum and enthusiasm for this crazy way to bring attention to the plight of our nations water-our rivers and our ocean. I also want to stick to a schedule so I can get home in two months! You do miss the family, after all, and my son is going to start high school. I'm a little sad about missing his first month, but at least we can call.
Q. Have you always been an extreme distance paddler/When did you start? How did you get involved in it?
A. No, but I've always like paddling for longer than many of my friends. One of whom bit me on the arm when I refused to turn around our aluminum canoe to go home. That was in high school. But serious long distances I haven't done before, not before '07 when I paddled from Miami to Maine.
Q. What are some must-have items that you bring with you on your extreme paddling trips?
A. Water, food, are pretty basic. But GPS, VHF (marine radio), waterproof cell phone, iPhone in waterproof case, SPOT tracker, water shoes, reflective vest, emergency repair stuff, compass, light, spare paddle, sunblock. Oh yes, and of course a sense of adventure, flexibility—clearly the ability to "go with the flow"—and curiosity are crucial.
Q. Was there a particular "aha" moment where you became passionate about water issues?
I've always been aware of water issues. I grew up hearing about Love Canal, reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and have kept fresh water fish. I get tinge need for clean water. You can collapse your tank if you have too many fish and you don't change the water. When my father died in '04 and we were helping my mom clear out some of his stuff, I stumbled across an article in, I forget which science mag, about our collapsing ocean. That combined with David Helvarg's 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, jump started my activism. How can you not try to do all you can do to help fix things? There's no "unknowing." And when you KNOW about a problem, then the next step is to DO something. So I'm trying in this crazy way, to get folks to see the problem, and put pressure on their elected officials and agency heads to DO something.
Q. In your own words, can you explain to me why this election year is especially important in terms of water and environmental issues?
A. It is off the charts how important this election year is. Our nations water is in crisis. Look at Flint. That disaster to save money and switch Flints water source to the corrosive water of the Flint River is case in point. The DIRTY WATER accelerated and exacerbated the problem we have everywhere of lead in our pipes. On this paddle, I can't tell you how many times I WISHED I could hop in the water to cool off. This is my hottest paddle ever, but I didn't dare hop in for those first few days. And, the simply despicable, inexcusable unsanitary Canal out of Chicago blows my mind. How anyone finds that acceptable is beyond me. Our nations water is in crisis, from our drying rivers like the Rio Grande to our ailing coastal waters and our ocean, we have got to do something. Aging sewer plants, agricultural run-off, polluting industry, plastic pollution ... it all needs to be addressed.
We need to be asking our elected officials about where they stand on our nations water, both salty and fresh because this impacts everyone's lives and businesses. Clean water is an economic driver. The Outdoor Industry says that outdoor recreation brings in $646 billion a year.
Q. Who are your environmental heroes (and why)?
A. David Helvarg, president and founder of Blue Frontier, is one. He's gotten the grassroots active wth his Blue Vision Summit. He jump started the "seaweed rebellion" by helping smaller groups network and more effectively come together to maximize their voice. Sylvia Earle, Jacques Cousteau and my local friend Joel Fogel of Water Watch International who has been nonstop since the 70's and before are up there as well.
Q. Where's the most memorable place you've paddled and what made it so special?
A. The Pacific Northwest. Something about its heaviness—there is definitely somethings primal, connected to our ocean and Earth, mysteriously spiritual, wild, I don't know. But I love that place ... Washington, Oregon and Northern California. You can be a wild human animal there. You hafta rely on your intuition out on those waters. My other favorite place is South Jersey—our own lost coast of the Delaware Bayshore and our back bat marshy areas like Motts Creek (which has a GREAT little bar except they hafta use all disposable stuff because of their septic).
Q. How do you practice an environmentally friendly lifestyle?
A. Hahaha ... only have beer at Mott's Creek Inn! Or bring your own utensils but there's probably some stupid New Jersey reg about that ... But seriously, use LESS and BUY LESS of everything. Get OUT more, especially to your local waterways/ocean. And hopefully it's clean water you have access to.
Q. What is an easy way for people to help out with your cause? If there's one thing you wish you could tell people about your current campaign what would it be
A. Sign my petition, sign up for David Helvarg's "Blue Notes" at Bluefront.org, try to use as little plastic as possible, get OUT and play in some body of water, and consider making a donation and/or hosting me and Chelsea, my logistics manager/ground team, if we happen to be coming in your neck of the woods.
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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