Divers from coastal communities around the world wrapped crime-scene tape around dead coral reefs during a series of underwater dives to highlight the catastrophic damage to this valuable ecosystem and the culpability of the fossil fuel industry for its loss. A series of underwater photographs collected from Samoa, the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the Andaman Islands was released Wednesday to showcase the impacts of the worst mass coral bleaching in recorded history and how it is one of the consequences of the reckless behavior of Exxon and fossil fuel companies hindering global climate action.
Recent research confirms that the above-average sea temperatures causing this bleaching across 38 countries are the result of human-induced global climate change, rather than from local pollution as was previously argued and the fossil-fuel industry is the main culprit behind these impacts. Since the past century, companies like Exxon chose to ignore the warnings of their own scientists and instead have been pouring resources to actively deceive the public by funding climate denial groups, recommending against climate shareholder resolutions and obstructing climate action.
What were once bright colorful coral reefs full of life have turned bleached white then murky brown as they've died and become covered in algae. In places like the Great Barrier Reef up to 50 percent of previously healthy reef has been bleached and killed. In North America, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting that Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, eastern Micronesia and Hainan Island (China) are likely to have the worst bleaching in the coming months, as well as some bleaching going on in Hawaii and various parts of the Caribbean.
The event started in 2014 with bleaching from the western Pacific to Florida. In 2015 the event went fully global but mostly through the impacts of global warming as much of the bleaching occurred before the 2015-16 El Niño developed. Reefs support approximately 25 percent of all marine species, so a massive coral die-off may risk the livelihoods of 500 million people and goods and services worth $375 billion each year.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, as Washington readies for the annual State of the Union address, more than 500 people in referee outfits are converging on Capitol Hill to “blow the whistle” on Congress. Why? Consider these two facts:
1. The American people believe (rightly) that Members of Congress are more responsive to their campaign donors than to their own constituents.
2. Americans of all affiliations clearly favor ending fossil fuel industry handouts.
Americans are sick of watching Congress receive bribes from the fossil fuel industry to vote for scams like the Keystone XL pipeline and fossil fuel subsidies. We see what’s happening, and we’re declaring it out of bounds and unsportsmanlike from this point forward.
The five biggest oil companies alone have made more than $1 trillion in profits over the last decade. It’s absurd that these companies still demand, and still receive, handouts from Congress paid for by taxpayers. This isn’t about energy or jobs—it’s about greed and corruption.
Listed below is some useful information about the cycle of dirty energy money corruption going on in Congress.
Money In—Campaign Finance
(All data is from Oil Change International’s Dirty Energy Money campaign which uses public data made available by the Center for Responsive Politics.)
Since 1999, the coal, oil and gas industries have shelled out more than $93 million to current members of Congress.
The trend is increasing with each election cycle, and current members of Congress took more than $25 million in campaign contributions from the oil, coal and gas industries in 2009-2010.
Through October of 2011, dirty energy interests had given this Congress $7.8 million in this cycle alone.
It is worth noting that direct contributions to candidates are only one way that the fossil fuel industry exerts influence. Substantially larger sums of money are mobilized by SuperPacs and other entities.
Each year that the president has submitted a budget, it has included eliminating $4 billion in annual subsidies to the dirty energy industry. Each year Congress has been unable to eliminate the subsidies.
In a vote in May of 2011, the reason was clear. Senators who voted to preserve subsidies took an average of five times more dirty energy money than those who voted to stop handouts to the oil industry.
Dirty Energy Money and the Keystone XL Pipeline
Earlier this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard threatened President Obama with “huge political consequences” if he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. This threat was unusual only because it was public, but the industry clearly continues to implicitly threaten all of our elected Representatives.
In July, the House of Representatives voted on the Keystone XL pipeline. Those Representatives who voted for the pipeline received 513 percent more from the oil and gas industry than those who voted against it.
In total, those who voted for the pipeline have received $10,922,161 from the oil and gas industry while those who voted against the pipeline have received only $717,552. In other words, those that voted for the pipeline have received 15 times more money from the oil and gas industry.
In December, the House held another vote with similar results. Members of Congress who supported the measure have received $41 million from the fossil fuel industry, while those who voted against the bill have received only about $8 million from oil, gas and coal interests.
An analysis by ThinkProgress of lobbying disclosure records for the first, second, and third quarters of 2011 suggests that the lobbying expenses of the 20 or more business and labor interests who backed the project was $60 million compared to $1 million by the seven organizations that actively opposed the measure.
TransCanada’s lobbying efforts alone over the first three quarters of 2011 totalled $920,000, just under the total amount spent by its opponents..
Political Return on Investment
Buying Congress is a great investment for the oil, gas and coal industries. During the last two year cycle, they put in $25 million, and they got out at least $4 billion annually—$8 billion. In other words, for every $1 that the fossil fuel industry invests in Congress, they get at least $320 back.
For more information, click here.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.