By Rasheena Fountain
The topic of energy rarely came up during Alexis Cureton's childhood, split between Tulsa, Oklahoma, Duluth, Georgia, and Indianapolis. Nevertheless, Cureton can still recall his mother's reminders to turn off the lights and not to overuse the dishwasher. Those pleas gave him an awareness of the scarcity, necessity, and costs of energy—heightened during those cold-weather stretches when his family's finances did not allow them to pay the electric bill. Along the way, two questions formed in his head: "How is energy helping to create comfort and, in its absence, how am I uncomfortable?" Today, these questions shape Cureton's lens at NRDC, where he advocates for California's low-income communities of color to be at the energy decision-making table and for their access to clean energy.
Alexis Cureton with Dr. Robert Bullard at an event honoring the professor as the Stephen Schneider Award winner for outstanding climate science communication at Climate One in San Francisco. Alexis Cureton
Cureton speaking at an event for the Greenlining Institute. Alexis Cureton
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
By Shelia Hu
The cycle is all too familiar: Affluent residents move into lower-income neighborhoods in cities and make their mark on the area's character and culture. Property values and the cost of living rise in tandem. While the process of gentrification may revitalize under-resourced neighborhoods, the skyrocketing costs of living displace longtime residents and businesses, leaving a new demographic to enjoy the benefits.
The Lure of Higher Ground<p>Increasingly, high-income households are moving away from coastal properties to avoid threats like sea-level rise and erosion. The lurking impacts of the climate crisis "are pushing people inland onto communities that have been rooted there and have endured disinvestment, racism, and inequality and are now under the threat of gentrification and displacement," Forbes explains. Meanwhile, even owners of more-resilient coastal properties are eyeing properties farther from the shore due to expenses associated with climate change, such as the <a href="https://publicintegrity.org/environment/flood-insurance-climate-change-risk-inequality/" target="_blank">rising cost of flood insurance</a>.</p><p>Residents of Liberty City in Miami are among those now <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/has-climate-gentrification-hit-miami-city-plans-find-out" target="_blank">facing the ramifications</a> of climate gentrification. Sitting at a higher elevation than the rest of Miami, Liberty City is less vulnerable to the expected sea-level rise of <a href="https://southeastfloridaclimatecompact.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015-Compact-Unified-Sea-Level-Rise-Projection.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">14 to 26 inches by 2060</a>—and this has caught the attention of real estate developers.</p><p>A <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aabb32" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018 study</a> shows that real estate sitting on higher elevation in Miami has appreciated at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country. This value appreciation has not been leveraged to collectively benefit the predominantly Black residents of Liberty City who have been fighting for more resources for their community. Not only are they seeing a shift in their neighborhood, but these residents are also under pressure from developers to sell their homes.</p>
Evacuation from Extreme Weather<p>Natural disasters can also accelerate gentrification. "A large part of the reality is that Black- and brown-owned property is undervalued by the market, so in times of disasters—and we can include COVID-19 in this as well—predatory investors and developers take advantage of even cheaper property and land values than existed prior to a disaster," Forbes says.</p><p>Recent studies have shown that Black communities are undervalued <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank">by an average of $48,000</a>. The recovery and redevelopment period presents "a mix of residents trying to maintain or recoup what might be left of their homes; residents who have lost their jobs and are on the verge of being evicted with no option for affordable housing elsewhere; land grabs; and cities engaging in redevelopment processes that might tout equity but still create intentional strategies to attract more higher-income residents without enough emphasis on supporting existing low-income residents—all of which can lead to gentrification and displacement," says Forbes.</p><p>Climate-related disasters in 2018 alone displaced more than <a href="https://www.internal-displacement.org/expert-opinion/displacement-and-housing-affordability-in-the-united-states" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1.2 million people</a>. These extreme weather events—which will only <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-warming-101#weather" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase in frequency</a> as climate change worsens—can spur immediate gentrification in under-resourced communities. In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston, one in six families receiving assistance from the Houston Housing Authority saw their home battered or destroyed. After the city's many displaced families returned to seek new accommodations, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/climate-change-worsening-houstons-housing-crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">they found skyrocketing rents across the city</a>. And one year later, Houston still wouldn't commit to rebuilding or replacing all of the lost subsidized housing.</p><p>The rebuilding of New Orleans, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, remains perhaps the starkest example of climate gentrification of a city in U.S. history. It is estimated that <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-katrina-anniversary/ten-years-on-hurricane-katrinas-scars-endure-for-black-new-orleans-idUSKCN0QB2AS20150806" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">100,000 Black New Orleans residents</a> have been permanently displaced from their homes due to the destruction of affordable housing following the storm. This included the razing of some developments that saw no significant damage as part of the city's rebuilding strategy.</p><p>Researchers have since concluded that hurricane damage was <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-12/new-orleans-gentrification-tied-to-hurricane-katrina" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">positively associated</a> with the likelihood of a New Orleans neighborhood having gentrified 10 years after Katrina. This suggests that natural disasters can sometimes pave the way for gentrification, uprooting existing populations en masse and wiping out infrastructure. Developers can swoop in afterward and invest in properties at lower prices and build higher-end projects meant to attract a wealthier population.</p>
Green—but Inequitable—Investments<p>Forbes also points to cities' efforts to implement eco-friendly infrastructure as a potential trigger for displacement. <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/ramya-sivasubramanian/tackle-green-gentrification-parks-and-affordable-housing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green gentrification</a>, such as the building of large-scale green spaces in neighborhoods, can inadvertently push out residents from the surrounding areas as it increases property values.</p>
- Sustainable Cities Need More Than Parks, Cafes and a Riverwalk ... ›
- Some Northern Cities Could Be Reborn as 'Climate Havens ... ›
- Climate Change Is Creating an Affordable Housing Crisis in Miami ... ›
By Arohi Sharma
Quarantining and sheltering in place from COVID-19 has a lot of us going stir-crazy — myself included. With summer in full swing, more of us are itching to get outside safely. Unfortunately, we're also right in the middle of peak harmful algal bloom (HAB) season. While state agencies are understandably redirecting resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the resources normally used to test recreational freshwater bodies for HAB events — including the dangerous toxins that are harmful to humans and pets — are on hold. This concerns me because, as NRDC's updated What's Lurking in Your Lake assessment shows, state agencies are already under-resourced to address HABs. Furthermore, our updated scorecards and mapping efforts show there is not enough comprehensive freshwater HAB data collection. With state budgets being redirected, it's unclear whether proactive freshwater HAB data collection will get necessary funding in coming years.
First, What Are Harmful Algal Blooms — or HABs?<p>While HABs along our ocean coastlines — like red tide events in Florida — garner more media attention, HAB events also occur in <a href="https://www.ksl.com/article/46773388/utahns-warned-to-watch-for-toxic-algal-blooms" target="_blank">our nation's freshwater bodies</a>. As <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/arohi-sharma/whats-lurking-your-lake-nrdc-state-hab-program-report" target="_blank">I wrote last year</a>, HABs occur when excess nutrients make their way into water ecosystems. Nutrients are food for the cyanobacteria that are normally present in freshwater ecosystems. But when excess nutrients are paired with other enabling factors like warmer weather and stagnant water, cyanobacteria proliferate. Some species of cyanobacteria leech cyanotoxins, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/kim-knowlton/dont-stop-smell-these-harmful-algal-blooms" target="_blank">which can be harmful to humans, especially children, as well as dogs</a>. The increased outdoor recreation in the summer, and the fact that some states' capacities are constrained due to COVID-19 response (like in <a href="https://deq.utah.gov/water-quality/harmful-algal-blooms-home" target="_blank">Utah</a> and <a href="https://www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness/" target="_blank">Kansas</a>), make it all the more important to be aware of these events and how they can impact us. For states like Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which are home to tens of thousands of freshwater bodies, funding constraints could have severe impacts on efforts to prevent exposure to HABs.</p>
Results of NRDC’s Updated Assessment<p>Last year, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/harmful-algal-blooms" target="_blank">NRDC mapped freshwater HAB events</a> across all 50 states from 2008 to 2018 because no such map exists at the federal level. This week, we updated that map to include 2019 freshwater HAB data and revised each state's freshwater HAB program scorecard. Those updated scorecards provide a baseline understanding of each state's freshwater HAB program. They also signal whether states are prepared to proactively prevent exposure to, and respond to, freshwater HAB events. As the chart below shows, there are noticeable improvements in state freshwater HAB programs from last year, but the overall outlook remains the same: State agencies don't have the resources to effectively address HABs.</p>
The Role of Data in Decision-Making<p>The adage "you can't manage what you don't measure" plays into my work every day. The troubling trends highlighted in NRDC's assessment have common threads: lack of data collection and inaccessibility of data.</p><p>I firmly believe that comprehensive data collection is a necessary pillar of effective decision-making. Data show trends that can help address the root causes of problems, help us understand what we know and reveal what we don't know, illuminate gaps in management and program efficacy, and provide information to hold decision-makers accountable. When states don't collect comprehensive data nor make data available to the public, it's tough to accomplish any of those goals.</p><p>The Trump administration's response to the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/nrdc-responds-covid-19" target="_blank">COVID-19 pandemic</a> unfortunately crystalizes what happens when decision makers politicize and withhold data. Public health decisions and emergency response become undermined by politics instead of empowered by evidence.</p>
Double Down on Prevention<p>The federal government could be preventing the kind of excess nutrient runoff that contributes to HABs by <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/jon-devine/how-clean-water-act-can-combat-harmful-algal-blooms" target="_blank">enforcing the Clean Water Act</a>, but it isn't, so states are bearing the costly burden of testing, researching, responding, monitoring, and mitigating freshwater HAB events. Now, with the health and economic crises emerging from <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/nrdc-responds-covid-19" target="_blank">the pandemic</a>, state agencies responsible for responding to freshwater HAB events are being asked to do more with less.</p><p>According to NRDC's updated assessment, 62 percent of states do not dedicate financial resources to respond to or research HAB events, which means state agencies tasked with HAB response must pull funding from other environmental remediation or water quality protection funds, compete with other agencies for funding, reduce funding for one area of HAB activity to supplement another, or simply forgo proactive testing altogether. Climate change will <a href="https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44871" target="_blank">increase the frequency and duration of HAB events nationwide</a> so the reactive approach to freshwater HAB response will only increase states' future costs.</p><p>While we all do everything we can to keep our families and loved ones safe this summer, NRDC will continue to hold states and the federal government accountable. Prevention is the smartest and most underutilized tool in our toolbox to combat HAB events so we will continue fighting this administration's rollbacks to the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/protect-clean-water" target="_blank">Clean Water Act</a>. We will also continue our advocacy for <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/lara-bryant/how-healthy-soil-can-help-reduce-harmful-algal-blooms" target="_blank">healthy soil stewardship</a> because we know that building healthy soil addresses one of the root causes of freshwater HAB outbreaks — nutrient runoff.</p>
What to Know for 2020 Summer Recreation<p>I understand the need to get outdoors this summer — I'm feeling the urge too. Should you seek out lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and streams, please look out for HAB indicators (e.g., <a href="https://www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness/download/BGA_examples.pdf" target="_blank">blue-green colored water</a>, a funky smell, dead fish, or caution signs, like the one below) and keep these things in mind:</p><ul><li>Dangerous HAB toxins that can harm your families and your pets are not visible to the naked eye. Removing blue-green algae or pond scum from the top of a freshwater body is not enough to keep your loved ones safe.</li><li>If you see anything suspicious, stay out of the water and report the potential event to the appropriate state agency. If you need help figuring out how to report a HAB event, you can download <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/harmful-algal-blooms-methodology#appb" target="_blank">your </a><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/harmful-algal-blooms-methodology#appb" target="_blank">state's scorecard</a>.</li><li>Keep your eyes peeled for caution signs that inform you whether the water is safe to recreate in.</li><li>Finally: The lack of a caution sign doesn't mean the waterbody isn't experiencing a HAB event. It's possible that your state doesn't have the resources it needs to proactively test every single freshwater body, <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map" target="_blank">especially with COVID-19 still surging across the United States</a>. Call the appropriate state agency or waterbody manager to inquire whether that waterbody has been tested for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.</li></ul>
By Allison Johnson
Most people who buy organic do it because they want to eat healthier. It's true – switching to an organic diet rapidly decreases exposure to a wide range of pesticides, including glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup). According to a new study published in Environmental Research, glyphosate levels in families' bodies dropped 70% in just one week on an organic diet. The researchers concluded that diet is a major source of glyphosate exposure and that eating organic reduces exposure.
Friends of the Earth / https://foe.org/the-study/<p>But the health benefits of organic agriculture extend far beyond our individual dinner plates. Organic farming offers a comprehensive alternative to chemical agriculture, and it protects our soil, air, water, wildlife, and critically – our farming communities – from toxic pesticides.</p><p>The purpose of pesticides is to kill. So it's not surprising that widespread use of these chemicals poses a serious public health threat. Diet alone exposes us to a frightening cocktail of pesticide residues, and toxic pesticides pose much <a href="https://law.ucla.edu/news/exposure-and-interaction-potential-health-impacts-using-multiple-pesticides" target="_blank">more severe</a> health threats to <a href="https://www.organic-center.org/organic-agriculture-reducing-occupational-pesticide-exposure-farmers-and-farmworkers-0" target="_blank">farming communities</a>.</p><p>Food system workers and their families and communities – who are <a href="http://www.pesticidereform.org/environmental-justice/" target="_blank">disproportionately Latinx and low-income</a> – bear the brunt of <a href="https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/sites/default/files/aExposed%20and%20Ignored%20by%20Farmworker%20Justice%20singles%20compressed.pdf" target="_blank">harm from toxic pesticide use in agriculture</a>. Farmworkers are at risk from direct exposure to harmful chemicals when mixing and applying pesticides, as well as while working in fields; as a result, they suffer <a href="http://www.farmworkerjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/aExposed-and-Ignored-by-Farmworker-Justice-singles-compressed.pdf" target="_blank">more chemical-related injuries</a> than any other U.S. workforce. Exposure also extends beyond the workplace. Workers can carry pesticides home on clothes, shoes, and skin, inadvertently exposing their children and other family members, and pesticide drift can harm people living, working, and learning near farms.</p><p>These exposure routes add up. And weaning our agricultural system off its addiction to toxic chemicals is an uphill battle.</p><p>We've seen recent wins on pesticide issues in the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/business/roundup-settlement-lawsuits.html#:~:text=Just%20weeks%20after%20the%20deal,warn%20consumers%20of%20the%20risk." target="_blank">courts</a> and in <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/media/2019/191009" target="_blank">some</a> <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/media/2020/200320" target="_blank">states</a>, but it can take decades of fighting to end the use of a single pesticide. For example, NRDC petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end use of the brain-toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2007; thirteen years later, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/nrdc/nrdc-takes-epa-court-again-protect-childrens-health" target="_blank">we're still in court</a> demanding that EPA protect public health. Meanwhile numerous similar <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/media/2018/181024-0" target="_blank">organophosphate</a> chemicals also remain in our fields and our bodies.</p>
By Courtney Lindwall
If you're one of those people cooped up safely at home, with creative energy and free time to spare—count yourself lucky. Here, we've rounded up a list of two dozen environmental projects that can make your time indoors, or right outside, a little brighter. Whether you're ready to start rescuing more of your kitchen scraps, sewing your own cloth napkins, or documenting those backyard butterflies, we hope these simple green ideas will provide a calming means of coping during these unprecedented times. Have fun and stay safe.
Experiment in the Kitchen<p><strong>Spice up mealtime with recipes from </strong><a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/" target="_blank">Save the Food</a> that will also help prevent your food from going to waste. Make a fromage fort to spread on your crackers, or "scraps falafel" to use up wrinkly onions and wilted herbs. And for dessert, how about some <a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/leftover-mashed-potato-apple-cider-donuts" target="_blank">leftover mashed potato apple cider donuts</a>? </p><p><strong>Rescue wilting herbs.</strong> Make <a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank">herb oil ice cubes</a><a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank"> by </a>packing diced herbs into an ice cube tray, covering with olive oil, and freezing. Thaw for ready-made flavor in your next dish. You can also transform less-than-fresh herbs into sauces, like chimichurri or pesto, or roast them and mix with salt to create longer-lasting seasonings. </p><p><strong>Start a windowsill herb garden. </strong>You'll need some seeds or a small plant, an upcycled container like a coffee canister that leaves room for growth and drainage, and a sunny ledge. (The Herb Society of America can help you determine <a href="https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/intro-to-herbs/hsa-gardening-for-kids/light-indoor-gardens.html" target="_blank">the right dose of light and water for each species</a>.) In a few weeks' time, you'll be ready to add a sprig of fresh basil to your bowl of pasta or diced cilantro to your batch of guac.</p><p><strong>Arrange a plant-based recipe swap</strong> with friends and family, which will reduce your diet's climate impacts while creating some virtual community. (Remember: If <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sujatha-bergen/saving-planet-starts-our-plates" target="_blank">every American cut just one hamburger</a> or about a quarter pound of beef out of their diet each week, we could reduce emissions by as much as taking about 10 million cars off the road each year.)</p>
Enjoy a Dose of Nature<p><strong></strong><strong>Make your own basic bird feeder</strong> using pine cones, twine, nut butter, and birdseed. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rxsVfAvaa/" target="_blank">This video from the Feminist Bird Club shows you one way to do it.</a> Hang it on a nearby tree you can spot through your window, then grab a pair of binoculars and do some armchair birding!</p><p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-and-why-be-seed-savior" target="_blank"><strong>Create an herbarium</strong></a>—a scrapbook of pressed, dried flowers or other plants. To prepare your samples, press the plant matter in a large book or between sheets of newspaper and place a weight on top. When the leaves are dry, mount them on acid-free paper to preserve them, and label each specimen on the page. You can also include illustrations, photographs, seed packets, and notes.</p><p><strong>Sharpen your naturalist ID skills.</strong> Try to identify every species of plant in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk. You can do the same for wildlife—and share your findings through <a href="https://www.projectnoah.org/" target="_blank">Project Noah</a>, a citizen science platform to discover, share, and identify wildlife.</p><p><strong>Grow new indoor plants</strong> with the use of stems and leaves, rather than seeds. Though it <a href="https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/how_to_propagate_houseplants" target="_blank">depends on your individual plant</a> species, propagating houseplants is often as easy as cutting off a stem or leaf from an existing plant and sticking it in soil or fresh water. If it takes, a new root system should form within a few weeks—leaving you with a hearty second plant within a few more months. (Pro tip: This works for green onions too! Nearly submerge their sliced-off roots, end down, into a glass of water that you change every few days. Voilà: a nearly endless supply of scallions.)</p><p><strong>Observe monarch butterflies</strong> in your backyard and share your findings with Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to their <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/monarch-butterflies-get-head-start-schoolyard" target="_blank">conservation</a>. Each year, monarchs make a remarkable 3,000-mile trek from as far north as the southern parts of Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back—but these pollinators are <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/monarch-butterfly-numbers-fall-again" target="_blank">in danger</a>. Register as one of Monarch Watch's citizen scientists to <a href="https://monarchwatch.org/calendar/?fbclid=IwAR1bawlAoraeMokwdiZa_GVONQqtDnqQxc_EM_UwzbO0zhq733PT6CQIgLc" target="_blank">help track the population's health</a>.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank">Boost your backyard biodiversity</a>. </strong>Plant some milkweed—the main food source for monarch caterpillars and egg-laying habitat for the butterflies. Hang a bee nesting box somewhere it can get sunlight and warmth. Add a barn owl box or attach a simple roosting perch to a pole. For reptile enthusiasts, set up a small wood pile, using brush or old logs as shelter for lizards and snakes (plus fungi).</p>
Do Some Handiwork and Art Projects<p><strong>Make face masks </strong>for your friends, family, and workers on the frontlines. This <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/DIY-cloth-face-covering-instructions.pdf" target="_blank">Center for Disease Control guide</a> breaks down different techniques. If you're comfortable sewing, you'll just need two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of fabric, two pieces of elastic, and a needle and thread for each mask. The no-sew option only requires a T-shirt and scissors. Remember: Cloth masks should be cleaned regularly (the CDC says a washing machine is sufficient) in order to remain effective.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Get your crayons out </strong>and do some therapeutic coloring. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as part of a collaboration with NRDC, Studio Number One and its creative director, artist Shepard Fairey, have converted some of its archival activist artwork into <a href="http://www.studionumberone.com/free-downloads" target="_blank">black-and-white printouts for at-home coloring.</a></p><p><strong>Tackle your plastic bag stash</strong>, especially if your city or town is among those that recently banned the bag. Since current conditions may eliminate collection and recycling programs for plastic bags in your area, consider upcycling them instead. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to make outdoor pillow cushions stuffed with plastic bags, weave bags into <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/" target="_blank">sturdy baskets</a>, or wind them into jump ropes.</p>
Build Your Community<p><strong></strong><strong>Start an environmental movie club.</strong> Various apps let you host movie nights with friends online, so you can chat while you watch. You can find our recs for standout environmental films on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-QNBxqJAUR/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>—including <em>Poisoning Paradise</em>, <em>Virunga</em>, and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank"><em>The Biggest Little Farm</em></a>—with short summaries and tips on where you can find them online.</p><p>Document the environmental changes in your community<strong>, as they relate to climate change, through the </strong><a href="https://earthchallenge2020.earthday.org/" target="_blank"><strong>Earth Challenge </strong>2020's online portal</a>. The project will collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations, and your insights will help promote policy change to address our warming world.</p><p><strong>Tune in to a new podcast</strong>. We recommend <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/range/hot-take-4#/" target="_blank"><em>Hot Take</em></a>, featuring NRDC's own Mary Heglar and her cohost Amy Westervelt, which takes a critical but constructive, intersectional look at how climates issues are being covered in the media. And despite the weighty content of the podcast, laughter is one of its defining sounds.</p><p><strong>Connect with climate justice activists</strong> by following along with <a href="http://thisiszerohour.org/our-actions/#actions" target="_blank">Zero Hour's Getting to the Roots digital series</a>. Each week, it focuses on a different theme that is a root cause of the climate crisis as well as ways to solve it—through digital leadership training, webinars, virtual open mics on Instagram and Twitter, art competitions, and podcast releases.</p><p><strong>Write a </strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-write-successful-letter-editor" target="_blank"><strong>letter to the editor</strong></a> that tackles one of the environmental issues facing your community that's close to your heart. The letter can be written in response to a piece that's already been published by a given media outlet, or it can be a proactive statement of support for or opposition against a particular issue that affects fellow readers. It's the perfect way to reach thousands of individuals and still remain publicly engaged without having to leave the comfort of your home.</p>
By Zak Smith
It is pretty amazing that in this moment when the COVID-19 outbreak has much of the country holed up in their homes binging Netflix, the most watched show in America over the last few weeks has been focused on wildlife trade — which scientists believe is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is about wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the appearance of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian flu and probably COVID-19 in humans is a result of wildlife exploitation. As a conservationist, this is one of the things I've been thinking about while watching Tiger King. Here are five more:
1. We are in a biodiversity crisis.<p><a href="https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/" target="_blank">A million plant and animal species</a> are threatened with extinction, many within decades, including tigers. The leading drivers of species decline and the impending collapse of ecosystems are ocean and land use changes (like converting wildlands into other uses, usually agricultural) and the direct exploitation of species (like taking animals out of the wild for eating, "medicinal" purposes, or status motives). It is for these exact reasons that there are more tigers in cages in the United States than there are in the wild. Developers continue to destroy tiger habitat and, in the not-so-distant past, hunters shot and killed tigers for sport or for trade in tiger products (and some still do illegally).</p>
2. We must fundamentally change our relationship to nature.<p>Transformative change is necessary to limit species extinctions and secure human well-being (functioning ecosystems provide the clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, flood control, healthy soils, pollination of plants and healthy coastal waters humans need to survive). Transformative change in this context means "a <a href="https://ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment" target="_blank">fundamental, system-wide reorganization</a> across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values." We aren't going to halt the loss of species and strengthen ecosystems if we continue to treat wild plants and animals as expendable and renewable resources that we can use however we want. The tigers and other animals in <em>Tiger King </em>are exploited for profit and personal interests. Regardless of how they may be respected, coveted, or cared for, they are still treated as exploitable objects, which reinforces other destructive attitudes toward nature. A tiger cub is something to be held and photographed, a wetland is something to be filled and built upon, a rhino is something to be killed so we can use its horn for fake medicine. It's a view of nature as being in service to human wants, an attitude that is destroying our planet and one that must change.</p>
3. Most wildlife trade should be banned and we should protect more wild places.<p>As noted above, ocean and land use changes and direct exploitation of species are causing an extinction crisis and threaten the ecosystems we depend on for human well-being. In line with our exploitative mindset, we've been stuck for centuries with economic and social patterns that allow unfettered use of wild places and wildlife until there's a problem. We need to flip that model on its head and only use wild places and wildlife if we can affirmatively demonstrate that such use won't contribute to the biodiversity and climate crisis. Tigers and the other animals appearing in <em>Tiger King</em> wouldn't be endangered today and wouldn't require "sanctuaries" if we hadn't destroyed their habitat and taken them from the wild for food, pets, "medicine" and trophies.</p><p>To set things right, we should ban most wildlife trade and protect more of the natural world. I say "most" wildlife trade to account for the exception of well-managed fisheries. NRDC has long sought to limit irresponsible wildlife trade (<a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/zak-smith/victory-imperiled-species-world-wildlife-conference" target="_blank">fighting for imperiled species</a> internationally, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/elly-pepper/gov-cuomo-signs-historic-bill-reverse-biodiversity-loss" target="_blank">supporting state efforts</a> to limit trade, providing recommendations to China on <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/ning-lisa-hua/chinas-new-wildlife-trade-ban-upcoming-law-amendment" target="_blank">revisions to its wildlife law</a>), and now we must go further by banning most trade. In addition, we should support efforts to set aside vast swaths of ocean, land and terrestrial water to rebalance the functioning of our natural world. That's why NRDC and others support an initial call of protecting <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/andrew-wetzler/save-our-planet-protect-30-land-oceans-2030" target="_blank">30 percent of the world's oceans, lands and water areas</a> by 2030. In China, we're protecting areas in a way that helps tigers by supporting the government's development of a National Park system, with targeted efforts on one of its pilot parks, the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/zak-smith/important-advance-tigers" target="_blank">Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park</a>, which provides an important habitat for China's struggling populations of Amur tigers and leopards.</p>
4. Not all sanctuaries are sanctuaries.<p>A lot of so-called sanctuaries are dumpster fires; they serve no purpose other than exploitation of animals for profit, and the animals suffer needlessly. It doesn't look like the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park — the park formerly owned by Joe Exotic — is a sanctuary, though it styles itself as being one, so the public may be confused. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, <a href="https://www.ifaw.org/journal/tiger-king-what-you-should-know" target="_blank">legitimate sanctuaries</a> "do not breed, allow public contact with, sell, or otherwise exploit the animals that they take in." Legitimate sanctuaries can play an important role in saving imperiled species, promoting animal welfare, and educating the public. But those that do not meet strict standards are part of the problem, not the solution. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) provides accreditation for sanctuaries that abide by a set of policies, including the maintenance of a nonprofit/noncommercial status. <a href="https://bigcatrescue.org/" target="_blank">Big Cat Rescue</a>, which is featured in the <em>Tiger King </em>series, "has held <a href="https://www.sanctuaryfederation.org/2020/04/02/global-federation-of-animal-sanctuaries-responds-to-tiger-king-docuseries/" target="_blank">GFAS Accreditation</a> status since 2009."</p>
5. Changing our relationship to nature must include a just transition.<p>Throughout the world and in the United States, millions of people use nature in destructive ways for their livelihoods. I don't say this with judgement; often, people are just doing what we've always done — business as usual — which is unfortunately destroying the planet. Workers in the fossil fuel industry, fishermen in unsustainable fisheries, clearcutters in the tropics and boreal forests, and even people working at fake sanctuaries depend on the current system of exploiting nature to provide for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, it's at the expense of other people who depend on healthy, thriving ecosystems for their livelihoods and at the expense of human well-being overall. If we want to succeed in charting a new path for our planet, we must commit to making people and communities whole. The rampant exploitation appearing on the screen in <em>Tiger King</em> isn't just of wildlife — it is also of many desperate people brutalized by a political and economic system providing few options. We're not going to successfully realign our relationship with nature if we don't provide the necessary support for people and communities to transition to more sustainable, ethical means of providing for themselves and their families.</p><p>So, watch <em>Tiger King</em> and see if for you, like me, it <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/tiger-king-coronavirus-covid-19/?bxid=5cec26573f92a45b30effa0a&cndid=52115012&esrc=Wired_etl_load&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_033120&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list1_p3" target="_blank">informs the horror of the current moment</a>, then maybe think about building a different world when we come out of this — a vibrant, natural world filled with wildlife and wonder, where we orient ourselves around preserving nature, not exploiting it, and embark on a new human journey.</p>
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