'Overt Bastardization of the Truth': Valve Turner Listed as 'Extremist' by U.S. Government Faces Upcoming Trial
The valve turners recently listed by Homeland Security as "extremists" believe their action of shutting down 15 percent of the daily U.S. oil supply on Oct. 11, 2016 was their only option of fighting the climate crisis.
Valve turner Ken Ward of Climate Direct Action is going to trial this spring for the third time. He is charged with burglary and sabotage. EcoWatch teamed up with Ward and his attorney Lauren Regan, the executive director and co-founder of Civil Liberties Defense Center, on EcoWatch Live to share what this trial means for climate activists and why the U.S. government is listing some of these peaceful activists alongside mass murderers and white supremacists.
Watch the interview here:
"In a fairly short period of time, after making some phone calls to pipeline companies, we broke in to enclosures, cut some chains, closed what are called safety block valves and closed down all five pipelines that carry tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S.," Ward said of the October 2016 direct action. It "might count as the most significant thing I've ever done on climate."
Ward, who has been working in energy policy since 1978, including a variety of strategic approaches to climate change says "what sociologists and political scientists are demonstrating is that faced with this kind of situation, faced with an intractable political environment, where powerful industries have billions to spend ... the single most effective thing that you can do is do engage in nonviolent direct action."
Five members of Climate Direct Action are seen before a coordinated effort to turn off valves on a pipeline in four states. Climate Direct Action
In mid January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security listed these valve turners as "suspected environmental rights extremists" and "domestic terrorists." What does this listing mean for climate activists?
Regan is not surprised by this "rhetorical" listing.
"The far right and the fossil fuel industry are spending about $30 billion in a media campaign, basically a smear campaign. It's one of the last-ditch efforts to try and persuade Americans that their gross profits are worth more than clean water and a healthy planet," Regan says. "As they're gasping for their last profiteering breaths, they are pulling out all of the dirty tricks that those types of profiteering industries have used historically."
Such listings seem to have no relevance for climate activists, as those who engage in direct action are aware of risks such as being arrested and potentially facing serious consequences.
Regan points to "the overt bastardization of the truth or manipulation of reality by those industries." It's an attempt to "frame nonviolent civil disobedience as the same type of action as Nazis who murdered humans or anti-choice zealots that murder abortion doctors. I think normal humans with thinking brains see the incredible difference between those scenarios. It really exposes the desperation of the industry in my opinion."
Ward mentions the "immense privilege" he has to engage in direct action here in the U.S. "Most people doing this around the world are getting killed or going to prison for long periods of time," he says. "The costs are so low compared to that."
Because Ward is engaged in climate action, he doesn't have "a certain amount of existential dread." He'd doing what he can. "I encourage everybody to think of what you could do," because we're out of time he says.
In the upcoming trial, Regan is defending Ward on the grounds of the climate necessity defense, something Ward was not permitted to offer in his first or second trial which both landed in a hung jury. Although Ward finished his sentence after the second trial, he chose to appeal anyway on the basis that he wasn't allowed to use the only defense he had.
Regan outlines where they are in the process:
A defendant pursuant to the Sixth Amendment is entitled to assert defenses and have jurors who are the fact finders in trials determine whether or not the defense actually passed muster. The Washington Court of Appeals ruled in our favor and affirmed the right of a defendant to use the climate necessity defense.
The state then appealed up to the Washington Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in our favor and again affirmed the right to a climate necessity defense, thereby creating Washington state precedent for future activists to be able to use.
Since that time there has been one other climate activist that was prosecuted since our appellate victory and the state did not even attempt to hinder their right to use the defense at trial.
So now we will move forward with the ability to put on expert witnesses and to be able to argue to the jury that when you are balancing the harms of cutting a lock and temporarily shutting a block valve compared to the serious and imminent harms of the climate crisis, sea level rise, forest fires and everything else that is going on in terms of harm from climate change, when you balance those two things clearly the scales tip in favor of engaging in direct action to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
When EcoWatch asks how a victory in Ward's upcoming case would be good news for climate activists, Regan says "it's already good news for climate activists." For example, in Minnesota, where valve turners have also been granted the right to use the necessity defense, climate activists will be able to use it to argue a case to fight the Line 3 pipeline.
Regan stresses the importance of the upcoming trial: "It will be the first time that 12 jurors will be given all of the evidence and information to actually do that weighting and that balancing," Regan says, while realizing that it's a "big ask" for the public to justify a crime for the greater good.
"We've been really trained that when the state tells you that something is a crime that you're supposed to think it's bad and you're supposed to punish them," Regan says. "In light of all of the broken systems of democracy right now in our country, more and more people are coming to the realization that we may have to fight for our own lives and not rely on global policies and the fossil fuels corruption of the democratic processes."
This trial will find out whether Americans who are not necessarily engaged in climate activism, the jurors, will agree that nonviolent direct action is justified in the face of the climate crisis, in what Regan says, will be a first.
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Maxime Leroux, a 19-year-old student in France is creating an online community of people executing one "save" per day for the sake of the planet.
OneSave/Day is the name of the free app that is empowering thousands to commit to just one daily action to be a better environmental steward.
"What an inspiration he is," commented Misty Hay, an "EcoWatcher" who tuned in to an EcoWatch Live interview with Leroux on Thursday. "It's bringing you one action every single day that you can do," said Leroux.
Prior to the launch of this app, Leroux had never touched app development. He hadn't even considered himself to be an environmentalist. "I had no real relationship to this topic," he said.
Leroux was a typical college student who grew up with a "normal" life. He began to absorb headlines about the climate crisis which leave many with a growing sense of eco-anxiety. He shared more about these sentiments on the blog Eco Warrior Princess:
I was frustrated that there seemed nothing I could do every single day to make a difference; to me, taking daily action just seemed to matter.
My thoughts were that [I] alone would not have a crucial impact, but as a community, we could make all the individual actions count. Imagine 100,000 persons picking up one piece of trash on the same day. The result would be amazing, it would only take seconds for each participant to complete and the actions can easily be done every day.
EcoWatch, BBC and CNN Climate are some of many sources Leroux began to study to figure out the biggest problems our planet faces. Once he began examining the problems, he started to find the solutions.
Plastic pollution is the most obvious example. "What can we do about this problem?" he asked. "Where do we consume plastic? Why do we have plastic?" Once he figured out some of the sources of the problem, one place being grocery stores, he began to create simple "saves" that anyone can do such as: Take the minimum amount of plastic from the grocery stores. On the day of the interview the task was to find out about local car sharing options.
Since the app is in its early stages of evolution, there is much room for improvement and some bugs are currently being worked out. Leroux invites EcoWatchers to find the app on instagram by searching One Save a Day and to send any feedback or ideas for future saves.
A byproduct of doing one save per day is a feeling of satisfaction at the end of each day. He receives feedback from individuals saying, "At the end of the day I know that I've done something good on this day for the planet."
Leroux wrapped up the EcoWatch Live interview by encouraging viewers to avoid comparing themselves to others such as those thriving in the zero-waste lifestyle and to try instead one "save" a day.
Embracing solar power means reducing both your reliance on traditional utility companies and your environmental footprint, but the high upfront cost of solar panels can be a big deterrent for some homeowners.
If you're considering solar, you may have questions like: How much does it cost to install a solar energy system? What are some of the factors that can impact pricing? What else should home- and business owners know about going solar? In this article, we'll touch on each of these important topics, with the goal of helping you make a fully informed, financially responsible decision about solar energy.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost to Install?
To begin with, let's take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installation. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average price of a residential solar system was $2.94 per watt, which would mean a 5 kWh system would cost $14,700 and a 10 kWh system would cost $29,400.
The exact price you'll pay for solar panels will depend on a number of factors, including your geographic location, the size of your home and more.
Now, you might rightly wonder: What exactly are you paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total cost. Remaining expenses include labor, maintenance and additional parts and components (such as inverters).
What Factors Determine Solar Pricing?
As mentioned, there are a few key things that can lead to variation in solar system installation costs. Analyzing these can help you determine whether solar panels are worth it for your home. Let's take a look at them in greater detail.
Your Electrical Needs
The solar panels themselves will be rated for a particular wattage, which reflects the amount of energy they can absorb for storage and ultimately for power generation. You will actually pay according to wattage, which means that the greater your household energy needs, the more you'll have to spend to get the correct number of solar panels.
So, how do you determine how much energy you need for your home? The best way to figure this out is through a consultation with a solar installer. (We recommend shopping smart by requesting free consultations with two or three top solar companies in your area.)
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on total square footage, the number of people who live in your home, the number of appliances and power-draining devices that you have connected and more. It can then recommend the ideal solar panel system size to accommodate your energy usage.
Type of Panels and Other Components
Variation in manufacturing can also affect the cost of solar panels. There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Of these two, monocrystalline options tend to be more energy-efficient and thus may provide you with greater savings in the long run. They are also a bit pricier on the front end. With that said, homeowners with a smaller roof surface area may benefit from getting the most efficient solar panels, even if the initial cost is a bit steeper.
Other components you'll need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts and more. The quality of these materials can affect your total solar system cost. For example, if you spring for the best solar batteries, they may add a few thousand dollars to your investment.
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Your geographic area. Solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and thus a lot of photovoltaic light. This basically means that solar panels can operate more efficiently, and in many cases means that fewer total panels are needed. Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems.
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 26% federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels between 2020 and 2022. It is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023 and may not be extended thereafter.
Local incentives vary by state, but most of the best solar panel installers will help you identify and apply for these programs so you don't miss out on savings.
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. Different vendors are going to offer different levels of customization, expertise and consumer protections (including guarantees and warranties). The bottom line? It is wise to shop around a bit, determine the average cost of solar panels in your area and evaluate the value of services offered by a few solar installation companies.
Solar Panel Price Vs. Return on Investment
Clearly, your upfront solar panel installation cost may be a little steep. Now, let's look at the flipside: How much money will you actually save? And will your energy savings be enough to offset the initial cost of your solar energy system?
It is not unreasonable to think that you can cut your monthly utility bills by as much as 75% or more by switching to solar energy. Of course, the specific dollar amount will depend on where you live, the size of your home and the number of people in your household.
One way to look at it: The average household energy bill is somewhere between $100 and $200 monthly. It would probably take about 15 years for your energy savings to cancel out the cost of solar panel installation. In other words, within a decade and a half or so, your solar system might pay for itself. Factor in savings from tax rebates and other incentives, and most solar systems pay for themselves in closer to seven or eight years.
Note that most solar energy companies offer free solar calculators, which help you arrive at a ballpark for monthly energy savings. While these calculators are imprecise, they can certainly give you a general sense of the financial benefits you will experience when you convert to solar energy.
Free Quote: See How Much You Can Save on Solar Panels
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could save up to $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive tax rebates.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Solar Panels
As you continue to weigh the pros and cons of solar energy, it's natural to have a few questions. The best way to resolve these is really to set up a solar consultation with a local expert, but in the meantime, here are a few general answers to some of the most common solar inquiries.
How much will it cost to maintain my solar energy system?
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring any maintenance or upkeep. As such, you should not really need to factor maintenance into the equation for the first 20 years or so after you install your system. (And most solar companies will offer you warranties and guarantees to give peace of mind on this front.)
How will solar energy impact my property values?
Many homeowners want to know how going solar will impact the value of their homes. Going solar increases property values. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported buyers are willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar panel system. With that said, you are only going to see your property values go up if you own your solar system outright, as opposed to leasing it.
How can I finance the cost of solar panels?
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing consumers some flexibility. With that said, there are three basic options for paying for your solar energy system:
- Purchase your solar energy system outright (that is, pay in cash).
- Take out a solar loan to purchase the system, then pay it back with interest.
- Lease your system; you will pay less month-to-month but won't actually own the system yourself.
Which is better, buying or leasing my solar system?
It all depends on your motivation for going solar. If you want to maximize long-term savings and increase the value of your home, then purchasing your solar system is usually best. However, if you just want a low-maintenance way to reduce monthly energy costs and practice environmental stewardship, then leasing might be a better option. Also note that leasing can be a good option for those who do not plan on being in their home for exceptionally long.
How can I be sure my roof will accommodate a solar system?
If your roof faces south, has ample space and has little to no shade cover, it should work just fine. Even roofs that are not optimal can still be utilized with a few tweaks and adjustments. Your solar energy consultant will advise you on whether your home is a good fit for solar energy.
How long will my solar energy system last?
Solar systems are designed to be exceptionally durable. With just the most basic upkeep, most solar energy systems should continue to work and produce power for anywhere from 25 to 35 years.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the initial cost of solar panels is more than offset by the long-term, recurring energy savings. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to embrace solar power.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.
The win came shortly after the Center for Biological Diversity asked a federal judge to stop construction in 68 miles of the Arizona border via a filed injunction saying the government unlawfully ignored dozens of laws in place to protect wildlife habitat. The delay is set to last until October, leaving many environmentalists concerned this is only a temporary win. On Thursday EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity Borderlands Campaigner Laiken Jordahl via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out what we should expect to happen in the coming weeks and to gain clarity on the energy on the ground of our borderlands.
Watch the interview:
"This is an important win, but it's so temporary and it's important to stress that," said Jordahl. "Bulldozers are already arriving on site in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the San Pedro River in Arizona."
To find out more about this specific monument and surrounding area, watch this video which is part of the Center for Biological Diversity series Border Views:
A temporary win means there is still a plan for bulldozers to tear through wildlife refuges in October. The department of homeland security will replace waist-high vehicle barriers currently in place with a "30 foot impenetrable wall, complete with night lighting and cameras on top," said Jordahl. "It will have a profound impact on wildlife connectivity in ways that these vehicle barriers do not."
Jordahl reiterated the importance of understanding the conservation aspects of vehicle barriers and how the border walls replacing them will have irreparable harm on wildlife — not only 93 endangered species at risk from the wall, but "virtually every single terrestrial animal [that will not be] able to cut across this impermeable barrier."
"We are proposing quite literally to ram a border wall through the heart of the best Sonoran Desert habitat anywhere in the world," said Jordahl.
What can we do about it?
The Center for Biological Diversity recommends a "huge outpouring of support and advocacy," and that EcoWatchers reach out to Congress stating that we want "legislative protection for these nature areas."
According to Jordahl Republicans want to approve $5 billion more for border walls which would wall off the rest of the U.S. Mexico border. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, please call Congress.
Border wall construction is already happening and underway in Organ Pipe. Currently the Center for Biological Diversity has a pending lawsuit, awaiting a decision by Sept. 4. If they lose and Trump is allowed to waive any and all environmental protections to rush wall construction, they expect ground to be broken in almost 60 miles: through the entirety of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and across San Pedro River which is the last free flowing river in the American Southwest.
Jordahl says the most important things anyone can do are to raise awareness, to share videos like this interview and to help the Center Biological Diversity to reframe the argument and discussion around the border.
"If politicians in DC and most of the American public knew the reality of the land here, the beauty of the land and how fragile these ecosystems are, there's no way we'd be talking about ramming a medieval wall through some of these expansive and beautiful nature areas," said Jordahl.
Another thing EcoWatchers can do, if able, is take a trip to the border to see the borderlands for themselves. Some places Jordahl recommends visiting are Organ Pipe in Arizona and Big Bend in Texas. Jordahl's view of the borderlands is one with flourishing national treasures, diverse wildlife habitat where black bears and jaguars dwell in the same place, rugged spectacular landscapes and seven different units of the national parks service.
More than 40 percent of insects could go extinct globally in the next few decades. So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week OK the 'emergency' use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor on 13.9 million acres?
EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out why. Environmental Health Director and Senior Attorney Lori Ann Burd explained how there is a loophole in the The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act under section 18, "that allows for entities and states to request emergency exemptions to spraying pesticides where they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to spray."
Watch the interview:
In a press release sent to EcoWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity stated:
The approval includes 2019 crops of cotton and sorghum in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Ten of the 11 states have been granted the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same "emergency." Five have been given approvals for at least six consecutive years.
If an occurrence is happening six years in a row, does that justify an emergency?
"This administration has been grossly abusing this exemption to allow the use of this one pesticide called sulfoxaflor on a vast acreage year after year," said Burd.
Our biodiversity is at serious risk. For example, in Texas — where 5.8 million acres got emergency exemption to spray — more than 800 native bee species and eight species of bumblebees reside. It is also an important migration route for monarch butterflies.
"Monarch butterflies and eight species of bumblebees do overlap with Texas counties where there is sulfoxaflor spraying," said Burd. "Even at subacute, very low doses, sufoxaflor will have a very dramatic effect on bumblebee reproduction." The purpose of sulfoxaflor is to kill insects.
Farmers have only gotten away with spraying sulfoxaflor because they were granted emergency. The EPA has not approved the lethal insecticide sulfoxaflor to be used on sorghum because it is known to attract bees. At one point the EPA did allow the use of sulfoxaflor on cotton, however the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the approval — the result of a lawsuit brought to them by beekeepers.
In a summary following the vacated approval in 2015, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit published conclusions:
The panel held that because the EPA's decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, the EPA's unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence. The panel vacated the EPA's unconditional registration because given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA's registration of sulfoxaflor in place risked more potential environmental harm than vacating it.
Criticism has been raised by the fact-checking resource Snopes on the grounds that it is misleading to imply that Trump is the only one who's approved emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor. EcoWatch asked the Center for Biological diversity to respond.
"This is not a new problem," said Burd. "This has been going on for six consecutive years and we have not been in the Trump administration for six consecutive years." So, yes, Trump's EPA did this, but "this is by no means a new problem. Our pesticide registration and approval process is fundamentally broken. EPA's pesticide office is captured by industry and they are not doing their jobs protecting human health and the environment from these pesticides," said Burd.
Breaking: #Trump #EPA OKs 'Emergency' to Dump Bee-Killing Pesticide on 16 Million Acres "emergency" approvals 2 sp… https://t.co/QNkcexUMP4— Food Democracy Now! (@Food Democracy Now!)1550605300.0
EcoWatch asked Burd if there anything the public can do to stop these emergency approvals and prevent the use of toxic pesticides.
Burd suggested EcoWatchers consider signing a petition "demanding that Trump's EPA stop rubber-stamping 'emergency' uses of pesticides that wreak havoc on our environment." EcoWatchers can also help by getting involved with various groups working to protect the environment, choosing organic, refusing the use of pesticides at home, talking about not using them at work or at a homeowners association, supporting local ordinances going after pesticide issues, voting often or early and planting pollinator friendly gardens in rural and urban environments.
Agricultural spraying. Marcos Alves / Moment Open
Correction: A previous version of this article used the above photo of agricultural spraying as headline image. Headline image has been updated for clarity.
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Will you be a part of this solution? Campaigners and businesses united to launch one of the largest plastic pollution visual surveys ever conducted.
On June 5, coincided with World Environment Day, A Plastic Planet urges you to join the challenge. It's simple. Take a photo of anything you would like to see go plastic free. Post the photo to your social media channels and use the hashtag #OnePlasticFreeDay. Include where you are posting from and what the item or place is.
EcoWatch teamed up with A Plastic Planet via Facebook live on Monday to amplify the voice of the exciting One Plastic Free Day in which people will unite locally and globally to take part in a landmark global visual survey on plastic.
In a press release sent to EcoWatch, A Plastic Planet explains how the photos from social media posts will be used:
Following June 5 the comprehensive global results will be published as part of a landmark visual report into the frustration caused by unnecessary plastic across the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia.
The major new visual report is set to shed new light on the extent of the global plastic crisis, identifying hotspots around the world where decisive change is most needed. One Plastic Free Day is also set to see Governments and big business make their own plastic reduction pledges.
"The fifth of June is a day for us to say we've had enough, but together in harmony and that's how we can really make an impact," said Eileen Horowitz Bastianelli, environmental crusader with EcoCentric Solutions and A Plastic Planet. "The solutions are there but we have to look at them together and we have to approach our governments with the appropriate asks."
What makes this opportunity unique is that it's a solution owned by the people. This is a chance for the public to tell governments and corporations exactly what they want to be rid of plastic.
"This hashtag is really important because it's about everybody," said Frederikke Magnussen, co-founder of A Plastic Planet. "We have more power than we think and that hashtag will show that we are standing together ... we look at plastic as the tip of the iceberg where we can actually try to make a change."
Bastianelli explained in the Facebook Live that she is thrilled to see how many individuals are backing One Plastic Free Day. Not only will billboards celebrating the day be lit up in Times Square, but also in places around the world. Hollywood stars, athletes and leading campaigners are also taking part.
So get out there, snap a photo of an item that is unnecessarily laced in plastic and become a voice in this solution.
On Friday, Seal Rescue Ireland released Sesame the seal into the ocean after five months of rehabilitation at the Seal Rescue Ireland facility. Watch the release on EcoWatch's Facebook.
On Nov. 21, Seal Rescue Ireland — Ireland's only seal rescue center — found five to six week old Sesame underweight at only 13 kilos with deep lacerations all over her body. Waves from big storms had likely thrown her against the rocks when she was less than 2 months old. Today she's at a healthy weight of 42 kilos and ready to return home.
"It's really encouraging to see her take straight to the waves," said Sam Brittain, animal care manager. "The last time she was in the sea was probably a bit of a traumatic experience for her."
Sesame was initially set to return to the sea on April 13, as reported on EcoWatch Live during a tour of their facilities:
"In a natural turn of Murphy's Law, she unfortunately was delayed because another big storm came through," said Brittain. The release was rescheduled and he explained that the frequency of storms is increasing because of climate change. "It's becoming a big problem for the grey seals."
Volunteers gathered round to demonstrate their support during the release and cheered Sesame on once the cage was opened. "We're really happy with how many people showed out to give her a good welcome back to the sea" said Brittain.
We are thrilled to announce our third challenge of the year in hopes of inspiring you to take part in a sustainable solution. It's simple: go vegan for 10 days, talk about it in your daily life and create social media posts about your experience using the hashtag #Vegan4TenDays. For a chance to be featured on EcoWatch's Instagram, tag EcoWatch in your stories.
Going vegan is proven to be the best thing you can do for the planet so EcoWatch teamed up with the executive producer of What the Health? Sailesh Rao and VBites head of marketing Jasper Wilkins via Facebook Live to break down the vegan lifestyle for you in a digestible manner.
"[Going vegan] is the absolute best thing you can do from a climate change perspective and an extinction perspective," said Rao.
Rao explained that one third of croplands are used to graze animals. "We are extracting six times as much food as we need from the planet and we are giving 83 percent of the food we extract to the animals and then starving 9 million people to death every year."
Rao explained that we have a systematic problem driven by scarcity in a hierarchal system we have created.
EcoWatch asked Rao how we've ended up in such a system that teaches, for example, that products like dairy are healthy for humans to consume.
"The FDA is part of the U.S. government. The U.S. government is pretty much influenced by industry. So the industry has convinced the FDA that we need to sell more," said Rao. "This is how they have basically convinced schools to give milk to kids, to have cheese in their lunches even though it is well-known that this is not good for them. So they get type 1 diabetes, and all kinds of diseases by eating excessive dairy. Unfortunately this is the system that we live in. We create diseases in people and then we fix them with pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures."
When Rao was diagnosed with arthritis at age of 40 he was taking painkillers daily, until he switched to a vegan diet. Within one month of eating vegan, he no longer suffered from the pain.
EcoWatchers engaged with the live feed by attesting to Rao's statement, such as Michael Chapman who said, "My spouse (primary and urgent care MD) is reversing his patients' diabetes and heart disease by switching them to Whole Foods (organic) plant-based diet." Another comment was from nurse practitioner Rosario M. Chayo, who said, "I encourage as Vegan as possible [when formulating diets]!"
The Facebook Live has almost 200 comments suggesting that people care about their impact on the planet and are willing to engage in solutions such as going vegan.
"It's so important for our own health, but obviously the health of the planet and the health of the other people and animals that we share this world with," said Wilkins as he brought up the unsustainable practice of overfishing.
Over the past five years Wilkins traveled the world working on humanitarian projects that were directly affected by climate change. By leading a vegan lifestyle and using social media to spread positive awareness with projects such as In Focus and International Citizen Service, Wilkins is able to do his part to mitigate the climate crisis. Wilkins stands by veganism on the basis of animal rights, human health and the health of our planet.
Wilkins has seen first-hand positive effects of the vegan trend. While working for the vegan food company VBites, he's seen the growth in demand for the more than 130 products offered. "More and more people now are more open to changing to a plant-based diet because now the technology is there to replicate taste. It's really good that everything is coming together at one time."
Wilkins urged viewers to understand that going vegan will create almost immediate positive results in terms of sustainability.
"It has an immediate impact on the environment by going vegan and it's something that is becoming so much easier because of the accessibility of food," he said.
If everyone were to switch to a vegan diet, one third of our land could return to its original use, a lush wildlife habitat.
"From a climate change perspective, this is the number one thing anyone could be doing," said Rao as he expressed hope.
Are you up for the challenge? It's simple.
- Go #vegan4tendays and use the hashtag on social media posts.
- Create posts or stories on social that speak of the impact the challenge has made on your life.
- Tag the three of us in your Instagram stories so we can consider featuring your work: @EcoWatch, @Infocusorg and @veganworld2026.
- Share the challenge with your friends and family.
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EcoWatch teamed up with sustainability activist and Instagram influencer Margarita Samsonova via Facebook Live to give you the tools you need to make a massive impact on this planet through volunteer work.
Here are five steps including valuable "pro-tips" to get you on your way to a life-changing experience as a volunteer abroad.
1. Imagine Your Capabilities
Step one is using your imagination to discover what you are capable of. Samsonova explained that she never would have thought she'd be where she is today. "I just had a passion but I couldn't even phrase it," said Samsonova as she shared how the path she once imagined didn't make logical sense at the time. She had no idea who she would one day be when she first recognized her passion to study zoology and thus make a difference on the planet.
Samsonova trusted and surrendered to her passion, eventually discovered her message, and today she has a video with 22,000 views on Facebook and 106,000 followers in Instagram. She's inspiring people around the globe to do the work. And she gets to spend at least one month each year doing volunteer abroad work.
2. Do the Research
Research everything until you find the organization of your choice. For example, you might start by searching "penguin rescue center" + "your preferred destination." Once you find a specific organization, be sure to check reviews as well.
In case you find yourself stuck on third party websites that disclose the name of specific organizations and cost large amounts of money. Samsonova shared a "pro-tip" for you.
On that website, view the description for the volunteer opportunity you've found. Copy and paste some of the words in that description to your preferred search engine including the country. For example, copy and paste words like "spend time giving medications to turtles + Costa Rica" to your search engine. There's a high chance you will then find the name of that organization and void the fees from the third party website.
3. Follow the Money
As described in the Instagram post below, it can costs money to volunteer. Samsonova offered another "pro-tip" — $20 - 30 per day is the recommended cost you should pay. If an opportunity costs more than that, it's important to get back to researching and find out where that money is going.
Another way to avoid paying money is telling the organization about any value you can add while you are there. If you are a skilled worker, you can discuss offering your services in exchange for a the volunteer opportunity.
4. Be Patient
Those who offer volunteer work are often times incredibly busy people who are working on saving orangutans from illegal logging operations, rescuing sea turtles from poachers and capturing ghost nets trapping endangered species such as the vaquita.
"Things can be really slow. They can be located in the middle of no where with limited service. They have other things to think about. The process can be quite long ... they might forget to reply," said Samsonova.
She urged viewers to avoid taking these circumstances personally and explained an experience she once had where the messages were very short and she thought they might not want her to come. "Maybe I shouldn't go," she wondered.
She realized they were just too busy to have long conversations. "If you want to come, come here, trust me we will show you everything," is the message she received.
5. Take Responsibility
Volunteering abroad will open your eyes to the destruction we cause as humans and what we can do to avoid harming to the planet.
"You never come back the same person from a trip like that because it changes your perspective, your opinion on life on how other people live in different countries," said Samsonova. "With every trip I do I come back a better person."
Samsonova wrapped up the interview by discussing the massive impact volunteering typically has on a person. She said she never comes back the same person after a trip. "How can I care about shoes and nail polish if there are penguins out there that are dying?"
Can you go 21 days without using plastic water bottles? Well, you've been challenged. Too easy of a challenge for you? Share the idea with your friends and family. Imagine if the entire world went 21 days without consuming plastic bottles.
Let's make 2019 the year of plastic pollution solutions. We have unimaginable power as consumers to create a better world for our children.
You've Been Challenged
EcoWatch teamed up with China's first professional surfer Darci Liu and #5minutebeachcleanup founder Carolina Sevilla to create an exciting challenge to help you on your path to making a huge difference on this planet. Get engaged with your friends and family and embark with us on this journey.
It's simple: refuse plastic bottles for 21 days, talk about it on social media, hashtag #PlasticBottlesChallenge and reflect on your experience for a week via social media posts. Let us know via social media direct messaging if this challenge has made a difference in your life. Mention @EcoWatch, @5minutebeachcleanup and @take__away_from_the_sea so we can consider featuring your experience in our Instagram story.
We Need a Massive Shift
"We get used to very easy lifestyles," said Liu, but we've got to shift our mindsets and move away from the single-use mentality.
"What we need to realize is how much that bottle has traveled to be where you are," said Sevilla as she spoke about the carbon footprint of plastic water bottles. We are responsible for the destruction happening on this planet. Sevilla urged viewers to get engaged, reject single-use plastic and realize that "this can really make an impact."
Plastic Is Wreaking Havoc On Our Health
"It's way healthier for us to bring our own water bottles" instead of consuming whatever bottles of water or beverages are available when we are on the go, said Liu. Plastic Pollution Coalition points out in the above Instagram post that we are still learning about the health implications of plastic.
Plastic Bottles or Tap Water?
93 percent of bottled water contains microplastics. The chemicals used in plastic bottles create these microplastics. Have we all processed the fact that these chemicals do leach into the liquid, and thus end up in our systems as well?
Coke, Pepsi and Nestlé Are World's Biggest Producers of Plastic Trash
Liu lives on Hainan Island China where she has direct connection to the ocean each day, a rare opportunity considering most of China is away from the sea.
"Every single day there is more trash in the ocean next to me while I'm surfing," said Liu. "Kids ask me the question why there are so many plastic bottles in the ocean. I don't know how to answer the kids."
At this point, you likely have a solid understanding of the importance of this challenge. So find yourself a water bottle that you enjoy drinking from, and be sure you have access to a water refill station or water filtration system if needed. You are officially a change maker and an #EcoWatcher committed to making a difference.
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We are excited to announce that today marks the start of our 21-day #LandfillChallenge in which we're challenging you to hold on to your plastic trash for 21 days.
The average American produces 4.4 pounds of waste per day. Since our garbage is "out of sight, out of mind," it's easy for us to disregard how much we are contributing to our growing landfills. We will no longer sit back and watch this destruction build—instead we'll offer solutions and encourage you to participate through various challenges throughout 2019. Let's do this!
Let's Make 2019 the Year of Plastic Pollution Solutions
Last year generated critically important momentum for plastic pollution awareness. Considering how the topic is now being talked about on mainstream media, how Collins Dictionary designated "single-use" as the word of the year and how the theme of Earth Day was ending plastic pollution, it's near impossible to have a blind eye to the problem. To take action you have to start by seeing exactly what the problem is and that's why we're thrilled to invite you on this journey that we've called the #landfillchallenge.
Once we see how much garbage we produce in the next 21 days, we'll see the immediacy of the need to act. Reducing waste is such an easy way to make a small act for a massive ripple effect on our planet.
Your Chance to Make a Huge Impact
We've teamed up with Blue Yourself to create a simple process for you. Save your plastic trash for 21 days, then join us on Jan. 26 to share our experience together.
- While continuing your normal daily routine, hold on to all plastic trash for 21 days—including recyclables and trash you create while on the go.
- Create social media posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #LandfillChallenge.
- Have the chance to get featured on the Instagram stories of EcoWatch and our co-host Blue Yourself by tagging @EcoWatch and @Blue_Yourself as you document your experience.
- Join us Saturday Jan. 26 at 10 a.m. EST / 7 a.m. PST as we hold a Facebook Live on EcoWatch to mark the start of a week of reflection together.
- Co-create with us on Jan. 26 if you are feeling the pull. Show us your positive energy and enthusiasm in your social media posts and we may reach out to you and invite you to our live video talk show during our live reflection event.
Week-Long Reflection Will Help Us Plan Next Step
A week-long reflection will teach us the following information we need to know to make changes in our lives:
- Are we in fact "aspirational recyclers?"
- Do the numbers on the bottom of recyclables mean anything?
- Which of the three "r's" of reduce, reuse, recycle is most important?
- Are all of our recyclables actually recycled?
- What's the best way to recycle plastic bottles?
- What do we do with compostable plastic?
You've Been Challenged! Tell Your Friends. We're All in This Together.
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What Will It Take to Stop Trump From Bulldozing Most Diverse Butterfly Center for Border Wall Section Already Funded?
Bulldozers are expected to arrive at the National Butterfly Center in February or early March. A planned 5.5 mile section of concrete and steel border wall that is already funded will cut straight through the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the U.S.
Marianna Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center believes most Americans are unaware that 33 new miles were funded in the 2018 Omnibus spending bill in March. The National Butterfly Center is on a segment of those 33 new miles, costing roughly $30 million per mile according to Wright.
EcoWatch teamed up with passionate individuals working on the border with the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Butterfly center on Wednesday to educate Facebook Live viewers on what is happening on the grounds. Viewers asked thought-provoking questions and left encouraging comments such as, "Calling my Senators right now."
"Nature knows no borders," said Laiken Jordahl, Center for Biological Diversity borderlands campaigner. "Animals have evolved to migrate freely for millennia and now we are proposing quite literally to slice the continent in two with the border wall. To think that we could do something like that free of consequence is delusional."
Wright states that the morale on the ground right now is "pretty bad." To date, 28 laws have been waived for border wall construction including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
"The potential impacts are devastating," said Wright. "Especially for animals like the ocelot where we have fewer than 80 known in existence."
Not only will migration routes be divided for hundreds of species, including those endangered such as the jaguar and Mexican gray wolf, but the border wall will divide tribal nations and interfere with the flow of water in certain sections.
"Border walls are horrifically damaging for the environment," said Jordahl. "If these plans do move forward they will certainly be met with vociferous opposition," said Jordahl.
As one viewer asked, "Can we stop the construction of what has already been funded?" Jordahl answered with a hopeful response, urging viewers to continue to weigh in to Congress and to show up on the ground and fight when the time comes. He states that we must continue to put pressure on U.S. Customs and Border Protection and make them question the morality of their actions.
"No, we cannot stop this," said Wright in a comment sent to EcoWatch. "Nothing Trumps eminent domain, so they will seize the property."
Whether or not we can stop the already funded destruction of the National Butterfly Center is up in the air and resistance plans are pending. However, Jordahl remains hopeful about maintaining #NoBorderWall advocacy.
"I do believe that people can change and I do believe that if we make this project so toxic and so unpalatable, they might reconsider."
The interview ends on a positive note as Jordahl urges viewers to remember to call their senators, regardless of who they are and to change the narrative whenever speaking about the borders. The borderlands are incredibly biodiverse filled with breathtaking flora and fauna—a true national treasure—and should not be viewed as a dangerous and out of control place.
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2018 was the year for plastic pollution awareness. One good aspect of the plastic crisis is the fact that we can solve it. Getting involved with solutions is an easy way to have our voices heard globally.
"The bottom line with plastic pollution is that there's plastic everywhere," said Gaelin Rosenwaks, founder of Global Ocean Exploration, during an EcoWatch Live interview on Facebook Thursday. The interactive live interview with Rosenwaks—who just got back from an expedition diving deep into the Great Blue Hole in Belize—inspired EcoWatchers to educate themselves on plastic pollution and commit to solutions.
"It doesn't matter where you go ... whether you are in the open sea ... or at the bottom of the blue hole, you're going to see plastic," said Rosenwaks who brings cutting-edge research from global expeditions to the public through film and photography.
Education is the first step. We must understand and acquire the tools we need to solve this pervasive issue. Eliminating single use-plastic when possible is critically important, but to double that effort, we must survey how many items we use that are wrapped in plastic and work towards a zero-waste lifestyle.
Each time we refuse plastic whether it's single use or plastic packaging, we are planting a seed for witnesses or companies to examine.
"The thing about plastic that's a blessing in disguise is that it's something that every single individual can do and have an impact," said Rosenwaks. "Showing that as a consumer you care will hopefully drive industries to care and make changes."
Tune in to the live conversation above to find out more about solutions to plastic pollution and to hear from two passionate individuals who are not only tackling the problem of plastic pollution, but creating a better world for future generations through awareness and commitment.
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