13 Climate Justice Leaders Imagined as Comic Superheroes
The Earth could use some climate-change-fighting superheroes right about now. And according to a new comic series by the nonprofit Amplifier, there are a few real-life ones in our midst.
Thirteen of them, actually.
On Earth Day, April 22, Amplifier released the comic art series #MyClimateHero, portraying leaders of the modern climate justice movement. Amplifier is a Seattle-based art design lab that facilitates art aimed at "amplifying the voices of social change," according to its website.
"#MyClimateHero tells the story of modern climate leaders building unprecedented cooperation, driving action and creating space for those most impacted to share their knowledge and perspectives," said Amplifier chief of staff Tamara Power-Drutis.
Comic artists designed the series, which also features interviews and excerpts of the superheroes. Amplifer released all artwork for free download on its website.
Here is a look at the series.
1. Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright
Social and climate justice advocate
"Leadership in itself must come from frontline communities, which includes Native American, Black, Brown and low-wealth folk," said Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright. "Leaders and everyone in this work understand that it takes a lot of work to better understand the needs of these communities and the need to support them more. … The frontlines are also our First Line of defense in the climate fight, [and] they are and must be the foundation. The Environmental community is also realizing, albeit slowly, the need to establish the nexus between racial justice and the climate struggle, and this is a good thing."
2. Angel Hsu
Founder and director of Data-Driven Yale
"Modern climate heroes are needed now more than ever because climate change is worsening and accelerating," said Angel Hsu. "In my field of work, modern climate heroes are those individuals, companies, organizations and governments who take actions to slow climate change while transparently sharing what it is they are doing. We don't have a good sense, collectively, of how well policies and initiatives designed to tackle climate change are working because there is not enough available data to assess these efforts."
3. Neil deGrasse Tyson
Director of the Hayden Planetarium
"As a voter, as a citizen, scientific issues will come before you," said Neil deGrasse Tyson in the film Science in America."And isn't it worth it to say, 'Alright, let me at least become scientifically literate, so that I can think about these issues and act intelligently upon them.' Recognize what science is, and allow it to be what it can and should be: in the service of civilization. It's in our hands."
4. Adrianna Quintero
Executive Director of Voces Verdes
"An open and inclusive movement with people of all types working together, not because we call ourselves environmentalists, but because we have a shared vision for a healthy environment and a better future for everyone is stronger than any polluter," said Adrianna Quintero. We just need to believe in ourselves and stand strong to fight for what's right. Our future depends on it."
5. Patricia Espinosa Cantellano
Executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
"When it comes to climate change, we need women at the negotiating tables, in boardrooms and as the heads of businesses, in the streets and in the fields," said Patricia Espinosa at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn on November 13, 2017. "After all, we know that gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is key to successfully meet our climate and sustainable development goals. So, it is important that we work together to make sure that women's voices are heard, but furthermore, that women are involved in making the key decisions that will lead to a better tomorrow for all."
6. Pope Francis
Marty Two BULLS
"Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest," said Pope Francis in the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' of the Holy Father Francis on the Care for Our Common Home, published June 2015.
"Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."
7. Jane Kleeb
Founder of Bold Alliance
"Environmentalists are not only living on the coasts of our country or in big cities. Ranchers, farmers, Native Americans in rural states work every day to protect the land and water for future generations," said Jane Kleeb. "Some people think those of us that live in rural communities are 'backwards,' or don't care about climate change. However, the reality is, if we don't take care of the land and protect the water, we also can't grow crops or raise cattle. Pipelines are threatening not only climate change, but the very way of life in rural and small towns."
8. The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.
President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus
"I also think of all the various efforts within the climate and environmental movement that are meant to broaden and grow the movement in numbers and diversity," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. for HuffPost. "And I think, all those efforts will not be as successful as they should be until there is true recognition of what it means to march for climate as a person of color, and until there are meaningful things put in place to create a multicultural movement that accounts for the different experiences we have even at the same climate march, let alone in the same country, and certainly on the same planet."
9. Nathaniel Stinnett
Founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project
Valentine De Landro
"The environmental movement's biggest enemy is complacency," said Nathaniel Stinnett. "We already know the solutions to most of humanity's great environmental problems (even climate change), but we're not yet implementing those solutions. … Without political leadership, we're never going to address the climate crisis. And we're never going to get political leadership on climate change unless voters force it to happen. So, every environmentalist needs to vote. You can no longer care about climate change and claim that voting doesn't matter.
10. Rogue Scientists
Who saved environmental data
"Data Refuge launched November 2016 in Philadelphia to draw attention to how climate denial endangers federal environmental data," excerpted from the Data Refuge website. "With the help of thousands of civic partners and volunteers, the project has rapidly spread to over fifty cities and towns across the country."
11. Paul Nicklen
Expedition lead and co-founder of SeaLegacy
"At SeaLegacy, and through my own platforms, we can engage with millions of people, in real time, every day," said Paul Nicklen. "That is something that was unheard of even just two years ago. With this huge distribution channel comes an even greater responsibility to merge science with art and storytelling so that we can maximize this unprecedented opportunity to make the change we need to ensure this planet is going to survive—change that the majority of people want and know is necessary."
12. 21 Kids v. Gov
"I'm grateful that my fellow plaintiffs and I can have our voices heard, and that climate science can have its day in court," said Victoria Barrett, plaintiff from White Plains, New York, in a March 7, 2018 news release by Our Children's Trust. "The Trump administration tried to avoid trial, but they can't ignore us. Our future is our choice and I believe the courts will stand with our constitutional rights."
13. James Balog
"I have found repeatedly that no matter what somebody's preconception was about climate change, if I could get them in the room and show them in a gentle and impartial way what our team has observed in the world, they realize through their intellect and their hearts that this is real," said James Balog in an interview by Stephen Lacey for ThinkProgress. "And I've had many audiences with climate skeptics or climate deniers in the room—in many cases the majority—and I still have wound up with standing ovations from those crowds. The witnessing that we've done is powerful and it seems to inspire people to know that there are others who risk their lives and their careers for this cause."
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>