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Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted: Climate and Mental Health

According to Einstein "Not everything that counts can be counted."

This is one of Dr. Lise Van Susteren's favorite quotes. I can see why as it perfectly encapsulates her work and presentation during the 2017 Climate and Health Meeting. Dr. Van Susteren's presentation has stayed with me, and continues to touch me deeply. She is a practicing general and forensic psychiatrist, and deeply committed environmental activist. I encourage you to check out her impressive bio. Her environmental work centers around the effects climate change have on mental health, some that can be measured and some that can not. According to Dr. Van Susteren everything related to climate change can carry with it an emotional toll.

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Adventure travel supports wildlife and local communities but can also be an invigorating and healthy vacation.

Join the Sustainable Tourism Revolution

I was shocked when I found out the travel industry generates nearly 10 percent of the world's GDP and rising each year. People are travelling and travelling more often. Tourism employs 1 of every 11 people in the world.

Along with economic impact, travel presents opportunities for growth, learning and the exchange of ideas. Travel and tourism are critical in maintaining our economy and this is especially true in developing countries. On global and local levels tourism is essential for sustainable development. As a result, the travel industry has become a sector where you can see shining examples of environmentally-conscious principles put into action that protect the planet and lift up the world's peoples.

What is sustainable tourism? As defined by the United Nations, it is that which takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.

The UN has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. According to the Secretary-General of the World Travel Organization, Taleb Rifai, this is "a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued."

Tourism is directly associated with three of the 17 UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

We have to alleviate poverty and provide people with basic healthcare, food to eat and fresh water. However, this becomes impossible if we continue to erode the natural systems that support all life. Thankfully, nature travel and learning about cultural heritage are among the world's fastest growing tourism sectors. In order to save the rhinos, elephants and tigers you have to help those that depend on the same land and resources. Tourism focused on wildlife ensures those animals become more valuable alive than dead. Fortunately, adventure tourism, which is focused on nature, wildlife and cultural experiences, has grown 65 percent year over year since 2009. Soon it will surpass $300 billion in annual revenues, reports George Washington University in their annual Adventure Tourism Market Report.

According to Booking.com's 2015 survey of more than 32,000 global travelers in 16 countries, 52 percent of adult travelers said they are more likely to choose travel based on destinations that reduce environmental impact or ensure that tourism has a positive impact on the local community. And Americans (53 percent) are among the world's top sustainable-minded travelers. With this sharply growing trend hospitality and travel companies that do not keep up with sustainable travel will lose out.

Since 2014, I have been participating as a judge for National Geographic's World Legacy Awards, which honors companies, organizations and destinations-ranging from airlines to hotels, from communities to countries driving the positive transformation of the tourism industry, showcasing leaders and visionaries in sustainable tourism best practices. Costas Christ, chairman of the awards, is credited with defining the term ecotourism which has now been standardized globally by the UN. Costas also serves as the director of sustainability for Virtuoso and moderated a panel I was on this year at the Virtuoso Travel Week conference. Virtuoso Travel Week is an intense five days where preferred luxury travel agents and providers come together to do hundreds of millions of dollars of business, as well as recognize industry leaders in sustainable tourism as the market continues to become more aware of the need to drive a sustainable strategy. It's about the triple bottom line—people, profit and planet.

You can stay at Ted Turner's formerly private residence on endless acres of pristine nature at Ladder Ranch with Ted Turner Expeditions.

Land and biodiversity conservation is one of my family's most beloved passions. My father launched Ted Turner Expeditions (TTX) in 2015 with three properties in New Mexico. My father, a well known leader in conservation, has worked to restore the overgrazed habitat of these grand ranches to their former pre-cattle glory. Having a passion for bison since his childhood, dad has made sure this iconic species is an important part of the restoration. There has also been a commitment to preserving and enhancing biodiversity.

Through the work of the Turner Endangered Species Fund biologists and other partner organizations have been working to increase the numbers of imperiled and endangered species, among them the Mexican Gray Wolf, Bolson Tortoise and Chiricahua Leopard Frog. Visitors can stay on one of a number of properties, including some of my father's formerly-private residences and immerse themselves in an incredible American landscape that has been dubbed by some as the American Serengeti. As visitors enjoy the beauty of these natural landscapes they are also becoming more aware of the importance of conserving the land and species for many generations to come. Two TTX ranches, the Armendaris Ranch and Ladder Ranch, are located in one of two of the most critically important biodiversity hotspots in North America. With TTX, my father has created a model for other private land and business owners that you can manage these landscapes for profit and conservation and the two are not mutually exclusive.

With my family as we explore Iceland and their green energy economy.

As you begin to plan your 2017 vacation, consider destinations and accommodations that employ environmentally sustainable best practices. You can not imagine how much good your visit can do for the local people and animals. My favorite trips have been transformative experiences in nature, topping the list are the Arctic circle, the Amazon river basin and the Galapagos. I always come away restored and more committed than ever to work to make sure these special places are available for our children and future generations. On my bucket list are the Antarctic, the awe-inspiring Sandhill crane migration along Nebraska's Platte River and central Mexico to see the wintering grounds of the imperiled Monarch butterflies.

Here are 10 of the best ecolodges, according to National Geographic:

1. South Africa: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve

2. Indonesia: Misool Eco Resort

3. Peru: Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica

4. Australia: Great Ocean Ecolodge

5. Greece: Milia Mountain Retreat

6. Nicaragua: Jicaro Island Ecolodge

7. China: Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

8. Sri Lanka: Jetwing Vil Uyana

9. Poland: Eco-Frontiers Ranch

10. Namibia: Damaraland Camp

Food

Feeding the Future Takes Center Stage at EAT Food Forum

We've all heard the saying "You are what you eat." If you eat unhealthy foods, you'll inevitably be unhealthy. I'd like to take it one step further. It's not just what food you eat, but how it ended up on your plate.

Laura Turner Seydel shares Captain Planet Foundation's best practices based curriculum program Project Learning Garden at EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2016.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell

Is the apple you're eating sprayed with pesticides? An apple is a great choice for a nutritious snack, but grown with the help of a chemical cocktail, repeated consumption could have harmful effects on your body, and those same pesticides contribute to the mass decline of pollinators and other environmental harm.

As we know food is a cornerstone of life and our existence relies upon it. The way we grow our food affects the natural systems that support all life which produces that food. Naturally we care about how our bodies will look, develop and function.

On one end of the scale we have the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and other countries that consume Western diets, where the average person is consuming excessive amounts of sugar on a daily basis, leading to rampant diabetes and other associated chronic diseases. On the other end, in developing nations, communities are starving, where lack of resources and devastating effects of climate change, lead to widespread poverty, malnutrition and death.

In a global economy, the manufacture, marketing, transportation and consumption of food is intricately tied. Co-founder and president of EAT Foundation, Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, opened the EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2016 in June with these facts:

  • In the next 10 minutes, the world will welcome 2,500 new citizens.
  • Almost 300 new citizens, more than 10 percent, will not have enough food for a healthy life.
  • Almost 1,000 new citizens are expected to grow up overweight—and their biggest killer will be food.

Food is the leading cause of the global health crisis and at the heart of the environmental catastrophe facing the planet, responsible for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. And food is the single overwhelming cause of lack of biodiversity.

Jamie Oliver discusses his Food Revolution and takes questions from the audience.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell

The EAT Stockholm Food Forum is the only global initiative bringing together experts from politics, science and business solely focused on the issue of food. I was honored to participate this year, giving a keynote on the work of Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) and our Project Learning Gardens.

By 2050, the world's estimated population will be 9 billion people and 80 percent of those will live in cities. Currently, more than 2 billion of the world's 7.4 billion are undernourished and 1.3 billion of our population works in agriculture.

According to Johan Rockström, executive director of Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Pavan Sukhdev, founder and CEO of the GIST Advisory, approximately 40 percent of the world's land is used in food production. If there was no change in our agricultural system, we'd need 70 percent of the planet's land to meet the needs of 2050. In addition, food production consumes 70 percent of the world's fresh water. Clearly, in order to feed the world's population in 2050, just one generation away, we need to make some big changes.

But it's not just the immediate issue of feeding the future. Food, it's production and consumption, is intrinsically tied to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Revolutionizing the world's food systems is key to realizing these goals, moving the world to a more just, safe and prosperous future.

Adopted in September 2015 by the UN, the SDGs are 17 aspirational goals with 169 targets designed to address the world's greatest issues, like poverty, climate change and hunger.

For example, Goal 5 is Gender Equality. Throughout much of the developing world the overwhelming majority of farmers are women. These duties, in addition to those within the home, make educational opportunities minimal.

Climate change induced disasters, erosion and changes in temperature now require replanting of fields two or three times, where once was sufficient. Lack of education and malnutrition lead to higher violence, inequality, mortality rates and poverty.

Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, shared a recent study from Tanzania. In countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Ethiopia where women and girls are responsible for collecting fresh water, collection can take longer than 30 minutes for a quarter of the population. This study showed a 12 percent increase in school attendance when water was only 15 minutes away. A greater increase in education opportunities leads to greater economic opportunities. This creates a virtuous cycle impacting present and future communities. Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth and have children later in life. They have better employment opportunities and a mother's education improves childhood nutrition.

Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen is co-founder and chair of the EAT Foundation and Stordalen Foundation.EAT 2016 Johan Lygrell

In order to solve the looming problems associated with food production, it's critical that we work holistically. As Dr. Anthony So, director of the Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, points out, policy changes will not be enough. Developing new technologies is key!

Imagine technology that could be used by any farmer that crowdsources data the world over, providing critical information and keeping everyone accountable. Feeding the seven billion and growing people on Earth is one of the major challenges of the day and to do so we must move toward more sustainable solutions.

School gardens and eating veggie rich diets will dramatically improve obesity and diabetes. Cities in particular can develop direct practical level solutions. It is critical that we develop effective methods of growing food in urban centers. With fresh water sources in decline in many parts of the world it is important to consider how this precious resource is used and conserved.

It is true that our planet faces dire and compounding issues, but it's important to not lose yourself in the doom and gloom. As Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway reminds us, solving climate change is not about scary phrases and overwhelming statistics, it's about mountain air, buzzing bees and coral reefs. It's about the beautiful and vast biosphere and the quality of life of all the world's people.

You can learn more about issues surrounding food by visiting the Eat Food Forum website and watching presentations from some of today's most innovative thinkers. Speakers came from a range of backgrounds—from Small Island Developing States to cities—including CEOs of leading food producers to consumer activists.

Animals

Amphibian Conservation Is Hopping in Atlanta, Hoping to Stave Off Global Mass Extinction

What if I told you there was an entire underground world below you right now? The frogs you may see in your backyard are a tiny portion of the amphibian world surrounding you.

According to Mark Mandica, amphibian conservation coordinator at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG), "If you weighed all the spotted salamanders they'd weigh more than all the mammals and birds combined in a healthy ecosystem." Some salamanders on average live 50-51 weeks underground, until they emerge for their breeding season. Frogs and salamanders come in many shapes, sizes and colors and are critically important to ecosystems around the world.

Toughie is the last known Rabbs' Fringe-Limbed Tree Frog in existence. He is named after George Rabb, one of the world's most eminent herpetologists.Mark Mandica

Unfortunately, amphibians are dying off in huge numbers in a global mass extinction. Reasons are varied, but chief among them are habitat loss and the chytrid fungi. In the mid-90's, then amphibian conservation coordinator of ABG, Ron Gagliardo, started what is now one of the oldest amphibian conservation programs in the U.S. He and several botanists started working with frogs as a way to illustrate plant and animal relationships at the garden. From there the program gained momentum and started safeguarding rare amphibians.

Their work reached a crisis level in 2005 when the chytrid fungus was sweeping through South and Central America. Gagliardo from ABG and Joe Mendelson, director of Herpetological Research at Zoo Atlanta, swooped in urgently ahead of the fungus and collected as many frogs as possible. After the collection, that same year the fungus killed up to 85 percent of amphibians in the region.

Famed National Geographic photographer and creator of the Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, likened this to rescuing precious items from a burning house. Thank goodness they did because the frogPOD at ABG is now home to some of the world's rarest frogs. Shortly after Gagliardo and Sartore returned from their rescue mission I took my three young children to observe the magnificent menagerie. Laura Elizabeth, my then 9 year-old daughter was truly moved. She befriended Gagliardo and Sartore and wrote a children's book with their help, Our Friends the Frogs. It was important to her to educate others on the tragic plight of the amphibians and offer pointers on how anyone can help. Laura Elizabeth is now 18 and, sadly, the crisis still looms large.

My then nine year-old Laura Elizabeth with Ron Gagliardo visiting the frogs for her book, Our Friends the Frogs.

The Atlanta Zoo and ABG's conservation programs are centered around Captive Assurance Colonies which are collections of endangered animals kept safely in captivity and bred with the hope they may one day be returned to the wild. For some like Toughie, the last Rabbs' Fringe-limbed Tree Frog known in existence, this will probably never be a reality. For other species at the frogPOD there is hope, but currently it is still not safe to re-release.

The chytrid fungus still remains in the area, with no known method of eradication and growing in lethality. According to Mandica, "The more out of balance an ecosystem, the more lethal the disease can become." Prof. Tyrone Hayes, UC Berkeley, released a study in 2006 positing agricultural chemical drift and specifically the most popular herbicide worldwide, atrazine, is compounding the problem. Amphibians exposed to common pesticide mixtures suffer suppressed immune systems, making them more susceptible to the chytrid fungus, among other disorders.

In the U.S. and specifically Georgia, amphibians are becoming increasingly endangered from habitat loss. Georgia is second behind North Carolina for the largest number of amphibian species. For eight years ABG has collaborated with Zoo Atlanta, the University of Georgia and Georgia Department of Natural Resources on a head-start program for their rarest frog, the Gopher Frog. They collect eggs every year, raise the tadpoles up through metamorphosis and release the baby frogs in protected habitats in South Georgia. Their habitat, the longleaf pine ecosystem, has been reduced by 97 percent. Other animals adversely affected by this reduction are the Gopher Tortoise, Indigo Snake and Mandica's favorite, the Flatwoods Salamander.

The Frosted Flatwoods Salamanders, native to Georgia, are critically endangered.Pierson Hill

The Flatwoods Salamander is a peculiar species that has never been kept successfully in captivity. But Mandica and his team are trying to change that. They currently have three adult salamanders which they collected and raised from larvae last year. This season, they acquired 15 more as recently metamorphosed baby salamanders. Flatwoods Salamanders live underground until they emerge to return to the same small pond they were born in to breed. They have not been detected in South Carolina for six years, very few last year in Georgia and none this year. Fortunately a broad coalition is working to restore their habitat. ABG's plant and amphibian conservation efforts have targeted this endangered ecosystem and partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, San Antonio Zoo, University of Missouri, Virginia Tech, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and others.

Visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden's frogPod with Mark Mandica, Suzanne Barnes, Joel Sartore and Cole Sartore.

Conserving amphibians is important for many reasons. Here in the South, we should be especially grateful for their voracious bug consumption and even better, spotted salamanders are mosquito eating experts! Mandica says a mere 1,000 amphibians can eat five million bugs a year! Due to amphibian's highly sensitive skin they are the first to show imbalances in the ecosystem. At ABG frogs can only be sprayed with filtered "frog water" because if common, highly-treated tap water were used, they would all die. There are some very important lessons there! Amphibians are also a critical part of the food chain as popular prey and bug-eating predator. To humans, amphibians can have big health implications. For example, a pharmaceutical study revealed a compound in the skin of the endangered Phantasmal Poison Frog is 200 times more effective than morphine and non-addictive.

Locals and out-of-town visitors alike can learn more about amphibian conservation from exhibits in the ABG conservatory every day at 11 a.m. They can also join Mandica's hugely popular Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program. He gives workshops on how to identify and monitor frogs and salamanders in your backyard. On the website, maamp.us, Mandica has information, call recordings and pictures of each life stage of all 28 species we have in Atlanta. Outside the Southeast, you can visit AmphibianArk.org to learn more about amphibian conservation.

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