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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
A baby Sumatran rhino. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Malavika Vyawahare

Humans are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than what is considered natural. Now, new research underscores the extent of the planet's impoverishment.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Paula Kahumbu attends the TDI Awards during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 25, 2017 in New York City. Rob Kim / Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Women have long been at the forefront of the effort to protect the earth and its creatures. Some of them, like Greta Thunberg and Jane Goodall, are household names.

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To truly get the most out of life, a person needs to be able to get a good night's sleep, which has led many to wonder if there is anything behind the idea of CBD for sleep improvement.

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People gather in front of a church before participating in a national mile-long march to highlight the push for clean water in Flint on Feb. 19, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. The march was organized in part by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Derrick Z. Jackson

No punishment has yet fit the crime of the Flint water crisis, complete with its child poisoning and lethal outbreak of Legionnaire's disease. After a prior investigation fell apart in 2019, Michigan state prosecutors unveiled a slew of fresh charges against nine figures involved in the fateful penny-pinching move to switch Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. The river's waters, made corrosive from decades of industrial pollution, ate at Flint's old water pipes, releasing lead into drinking water and into the brains of thousands of children.

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A horticulturist examines a plant at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, which collects and stores plant species to support conservation and biodiversity, near Haywards Heath, Sussex, England. Oli Scarff / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

A growing number of people around the world are calling for the public ownership of seeds, which they say is essential for a more democratic and ecologically sound food system, as the coronavirus-driven spike in empty supermarket shelves and the continued loss of biodiversity this year sparked a rise in the popularity of saving and swapping seeds and shed more light on the negative consequences of allowing a handful of agrochemical corporations to dominate the global seed trade.

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By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.

Looking for climate-oriented gifts that can be purchased, delivered, and enjoyed under COVID-safe, socially-distanced conditions? Look no further.

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Fossil fuel companies received $110 billion in direct and indirect financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, including up to $15.2 billion in direct federal relief. Andrew Hart /

By Bret Wilkins

In a year in which the United States has already suffered 16 climate-driven extreme weather events causing more than $1 billion in economic damages, and as millions of American workers face loss of essential unemployment benefits due to congressional inaction, a report published Monday reveals the Trump administration has given fossil fuel companies as much as $15.2 billion in direct relief — and tens of billions more indirectly — through federal COVID-19 recovery programs since March.

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Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is seen in a video conversation in Stockholm, Sweden on April 22, 2020. Jessica Gow / TT News Agency / AFP / Getty Images

By Priyanka Jaisinghani

COVID-19, "stay-at-home" orders and enforced physical distancing has made us more dependent on digital when it comes to connection and communication at both a local and global level.

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A Stop the Money Pipeline protester holds a banner outside JP Morgan headquarters in NYC on Feb. 25, 2020; JP Morgan is a top contributor to the fossil fuel industry. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.

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Smoke covers the skies over downtown Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 9, 2020. Diego Diaz / Icon Sportswire

By Isabella Garcia

September in Portland, Oregon, usually brings a slight chill to the air and an orange tinge to the leaves. This year, it brought smoke so thick it burned your throat and made your eyes strain to see more than 20 feet in front of you.

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Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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.

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
A baby Sumatran rhino. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Malavika Vyawahare

Humans are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than what is considered natural. Now, new research underscores the extent of the planet's impoverishment.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Paula Kahumbu attends the TDI Awards during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 25, 2017 in New York City. Rob Kim / Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Women have long been at the forefront of the effort to protect the earth and its creatures. Some of them, like Greta Thunberg and Jane Goodall, are household names.

Read More Show Less

To truly get the most out of life, a person needs to be able to get a good night's sleep, which has led many to wonder if there is anything behind the idea of CBD for sleep improvement.

Read More Show Less
People gather in front of a church before participating in a national mile-long march to highlight the push for clean water in Flint on Feb. 19, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. The march was organized in part by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Derrick Z. Jackson

No punishment has yet fit the crime of the Flint water crisis, complete with its child poisoning and lethal outbreak of Legionnaire's disease. After a prior investigation fell apart in 2019, Michigan state prosecutors unveiled a slew of fresh charges against nine figures involved in the fateful penny-pinching move to switch Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. The river's waters, made corrosive from decades of industrial pollution, ate at Flint's old water pipes, releasing lead into drinking water and into the brains of thousands of children.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A horticulturist examines a plant at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, which collects and stores plant species to support conservation and biodiversity, near Haywards Heath, Sussex, England. Oli Scarff / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

A growing number of people around the world are calling for the public ownership of seeds, which they say is essential for a more democratic and ecologically sound food system, as the coronavirus-driven spike in empty supermarket shelves and the continued loss of biodiversity this year sparked a rise in the popularity of saving and swapping seeds and shed more light on the negative consequences of allowing a handful of agrochemical corporations to dominate the global seed trade.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.

Looking for climate-oriented gifts that can be purchased, delivered, and enjoyed under COVID-safe, socially-distanced conditions? Look no further.