2017 was an exceptional year for ordinary citizens who stepped up to come to their communities' needs and in the process, sent a clear message that anyone can make a difference. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we look to this list as inspiration for others to act as boldly.
1. The California Heroes
Wildfires have been blazing through the west since late summer and the natural landscape has been burnt to the ground in the process, causing families and animals to flee. Hundreds of volunteer firefighters have stepped up to fight the blaze and ordinary civilians have risked their lives to save family heirlooms, displaced pets and wild animals. These heroic acts prove that there is one thing the fires haven't taken and that is the human spirit.
2. The New Mexico Tribes Who Said No to Fracking
Several Native American tribes in New Mexico voiced their concerns about an ordinance to regulate oil and gas fracking on their sacred lands in November. They filled public meeting halls, calling for better protections for the land, air and water with the support of many community members who raised their fists in solidarity. Ahjani Yepa of Jemez Pueblo, one of the many brave tribe members who spoke out, said, "The land is our Bible. Once it is gone, you cannot print another copy."
3. The Concerned Citizens Who Blocked Approval of an Oil Train in California
An oil train moves through California's Central Valley. In 2009, 10,000 tank cars transported crude oil in the entire U.S. This one terminal alone proposed bringing in 73,000 cars a year. Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice
In November a group of citizens, with the help of Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, was successful in their lawsuit filed to Kern County, stating that the risk of a massive refinery and rail project in their community was not fully assessed. The project would have allowed imports of up to 63.1 million barrels of crude oil per year. The win was a huge success for the community and the environment.
4. The Peruvian Farmer Who Took a German Energy Giant to Court
Saul Luciano LliuyaPascale Sury
Saul Luciano Lliuya, a farmer in Peru, filed a lawsuit against German energy giant RWE that claims they have endangered his hometown of Huaraz by melting glaciers and swelling a mountain lake that threatens to flood the region. The suit calls for $20,000 towards the $4 million cost of building flood protections for Huaraz.
5. The Pangolin Men
The pangolin is the only scaled mammal in the world, it also the most trafficked. But, there a group of men in Zimbabwe who call themselves the "Pangolin Men" because they have devoted their lives to protecting the species. The men work at Tikki Hywood Trust, where they rehabilitate the animals so that they can go back into the wild.
6. The Man Teaching Ex-Coal Miners to Be Bee Keepers
Appalachians learn beekeeping skillsJohn Farrell
Mark Lilly, a retired insurance adjuster, has found a way to strengthen his rural West Virginia community through his favorite hobby, beekeeping. By teaching former coal miners in his town how to keep bees, he is giving them a new sense of purpose and some are even able to make a decent income at it. The bees are also helping the natural environment, which was been ravished by the coal industry. "We spent a lot of years scarring the land," Lilly said. "Now we will begin trying to heal some of those scars."
7. The Farmers Transforming Mountaintop Coal Mines
Crew members Eva Jones and Chris Farley, residents of Mingo County, work the soil. It is compacted, composed of blasted rock, and lacks organic matter. Paul Corbit Brown / YES! Magazine
As part of the Refresh Appalachia initiative, former coal miners and others who have been put out of work in West Virginia are turning mountaintop removal sites into hope. Through farming and forestry, the Refresh crews are revitalizing the hillsides to be profitable and sustainable for the local communities that surround them. The crew members also receive training in sustainability careers such as solar installation, making it win-win all around for the economically depressed region.
8. The 98-Year-Old Man Who Donated His Walgreens Investment to Build a Wildlife Refuge
Russ Gremel / Facebook / Chicago Tribune
Chicago-Native Russ Gremel found himself with quite a bit of money after investing $1,000 into Walgreens nearly 70 years ago. Gremel decided to donate the $2 million he had accrued to the National Audubon Society, who bought a 400-acre plot of land from Augustana College to turn it into a wildlife refuge that can be used for education and enjoyment for many years to come.
9. The Man Who Led a Volunteer Group to Clean up the Beach
When Afroz Shah, a 33-year-old lawyer, in Mumbai, India saw Versova Beach for the first time, he was shocked. The beaches were completely covered in rotting trash, with some patches getting up to 5.5 feet high. Recognizing the extreme risk to the health and safety of his community, Shah began cleaning. Slowly but surely, he built a volunteer group of 1,000 people to clean the beach. Almost two years later, Shah and his group, the Versova Resident Volunteers, cleaned up 11,684,500 pounds of trash, most of it plastic, that had accumulated along the shoreline. Shah won a "Champion of the Earth" award from the UN for his efforts.
10. The Kids Who Filed a Climate Lawsuit Against the U.S. Government
© Robin Loznak Photography, LLC
In an historic effort, a group of 21 young adults and children are challenging the U.S. government's approach on climate change. In November 2016, the group's lawsuit, supported by Our Children's Trust, was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken. In June, the Trump administration filed for an appeal of Aiken's order in the Juliana v. United States case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but it was denied. And the young group got a trial date for Feb. 5, 2018. "I'm excited that we have a date now," said Jayden Foytlin, 14, of Rayne, Louisiana. "I think we are all looking forward to our day in court. I feel like we are that much closer to justice."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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Hurricane forecasters predict the 2020 hurricane season will be the second-most active in nearly four decades.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
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