I'm often asked how I manage to be hopeful for the future when I spend a great deal of time publishing news about the daunting environmental problems impacting the world. I reply that it's because of the passion and commitment of the people I know who work hard every day to protect the planet we all share.
There's no better example of the warriors working toward a sustainable future than the 700 people who attended River Rally in Portland, OR May 4-7. For the first time, River Network and Waterkeeper Alliance joined forces to host River Rally with attendees from more than 40 U.S. states as well as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, India, Iraq, Mexico, Peru, Senegal and the United Kingdom.
The opening reception included a Tribal Invocation by Gerald Lewis, a Yakama Nation Tribal Councilman and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chairman. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson gave the evening's keynote address.
The following morning began with Alexandra Cousteau, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and founder of Blue Legacy, relaying "the need to tell our stories" and how "we have to shine the light on the important work people are doing" to protect the world's water.
During the four days of the conference, water advocates spent time in workshops that shared best practices for watershed restoration, stormwater management, water quality monitoring, water and energy conservation, green infrastructure, habitat restoration, safe drinking water and more.
The keynote speaker for Saturday evening was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council and president of Waterkeeper Alliance, who was introduced by James Curleigh, CEO of Keen Footwear, one of the leading sponsors of the Rally.
Curleigh's exuberance shined through as he philosophized on "living a HybridLife"—having a commitment to create, play and care. He then introduced Kennedy, referring to him as "a legend and the ultimate water warrior."
Kennedy also keynoted a rally in Portland with more than 400 people on May 7 opposing the exporting of coal and six coal export terminals proposed for Oregon and Washington that would ship 150 million tons of coal per year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
The last night of the conference was the River Heroes Reception, which celebrated the work of many of the water advocates through the presentation of awards from their colleagues.
Throughout the conference, I had the opportunity to sit down with many of the Keepers and River Network affiliates to get the skinny on their work.
One of the most interesting stories I heard came from Nabil Musa, the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper. Musa discussed the many problems Iraq's watershed faces due to pollution and degradation of the rivers themselves, and upstream water diversion projects. He also mentioned the challenges he faces as an advocate in a country where government decision-makers view the rivers as abstract resources that they can pollute, divert, drain and trade away without consideration of the communities and ecosystems that are destroyed.
Danielle Katz, founder and executive director of Rivers for Change, talked about the 12 Rivers in 2012 campaign that will explore, sample and record conditions on 12 critical California rivers as they paddle from Source to Sea down these watersheds. The campaign will highlight the health of these local ecosystems to help promote the interconnectedness and interdependence of our states' communities on this precious resource.
I met with Carla Garcia Zendejas, a board member of Bahia Magdalena Baykeeper and Tijuana Waterkeeper. Bahia Magdalena works along the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Julio Solis serves as Magdalena Baykeeper and works to protect mangroves and gray whale breeding grounds against unsustainable large-scale tourism development. Tijuana Waterkeeper is on the U.S.-Mexico border in Baja California. Margarita Diaz serves as Tijuana Waterkeeper and works to improve conditions of the Tijuana River watershed due to challenges from the lack of sewage infrastructure, and educates the public and governmental officials on the consequences of polluting the waterway.
Cathy Kellon and Kate Carone from Ecotrust talked about the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative that focuses on restoring salmon spawning and rearing habitat to ensure recovery of Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead.
Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich shared his story about trying to reverse a culture of non-compliance with state, federal and tribal clean water laws. From addressing toxic runoff to holding dischargers accountable, Spokane Riverkeeper is restoring a river that for generations has been the main vein of the great Inland Northwest.
Brenda Archambo, president of Sturgeon For Tomorrow, explained the importance of protecting the bottom-dwelling, ancient species of lake sturgeon and how she assists fisheries managers in the rehabilitation of this species that made its first appearance about 136 million years ago.
I sat down with Krystyn Tully, vice president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, who told me about the new Swim Guide, an app that makes it easy to explore and enjoy the best beaches near the Great Lakes, California Coast, Florida and Alabama.
While hanging out in the hotel lobby, I ran into Hans Cole from Patagonia, the sponsor of the scholarship fund for River Rally. I thanked him for his support and he replied, "We know how important it is for grassroots activists working on the front lines of the environmental crisis to get the right training and to feel connected to a larger community."
Thanks to the leadership of executive directors Marc Yaggi from Waterkeeper Alliance and Todd Ambs from River Network for having the foresight to combine efforts and create the largest international gathering of water protection advocates.
I'm grateful for the time I spent with these incredible water warriors who are making a difference in their communities and local watersheds. There's nothing like spending five days with kindred spirits in the lush Pacific Northwest to rejuvenate the soul and rekindle the fire to go back home and continue the work of protecting our planet.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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