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The climate crisis requires bold action from governments and corporations, but that doesn’t mean individuals have to sit on the sidelines. Ben White / Unsplash

By John R. Platt

A recent poll found that people today, especially younger people, feel helpless when it comes to fighting climate change.

By John R. Platt

A recent poll found that people today, especially younger people, feel helpless when it comes to fighting climate change.

Here’s the thing: That’s exactly how polluting corporations want you to feel. The more people believe their actions don’t matter, the more they find themselves rolling over and accepting the status quo.

Yes, solving the climate crisis requires bold action from governments and corporations, but that doesn’t mean individuals have to sit on the sidelines. Not only do our actions add up and influence others, we also have the ability to push for — and demand — systemic change.

And that push, importantly, can help turn our individual feelings of hopelessness around. Psychologists and climate activists tell us we can go from feeling helpless or hopeless about the future and toward a more positive, productive attitude just by taking a few steps forward.

Done correctly, these steps we take can also create a momentum for the future. As scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote last month: “If we wait for someone else to fix the problem, we’ll never solve it. But when we raise our voices to call for change, when we take action together — that’s when we find that hope is all around us.”

With that in mind, we’ve created a simple action plan for the next 30 days. They include small steps we can take to advocate for bigger societal changes — and in the process remind us that the power for change lies in ourselves, too.

Start at the Top:

1. Submit a public comment on proposed federal rules or regulations. You can find opportunities to voice your support or concerns at You might be surprised how few comments have already been submitted, or how much your voice might matter.

2. Write to your senator to demand action on climate — either in general or about a specific legislative action. (Find your elected officials’ contact information here.)

3. Write to your congressional representative with a similar request, perhaps one more tailored to your district. Remember, your voice as a voter counts 365 days a year, not just on Election Day.

Now Think Local:

4. Write to your mayor or other community leader about how you see climate affecting your region and encourage them to take action.

5. Write to your town parks manager and ask about their plans to keep green spaces open in the face of warming temperatures, wildfires and increased extreme storms.

6. Attend your local planning board meeting and speak out about any projects you feel don’t pass environmental muster. You can’t stop runaway development without getting in front of the people who make the decisions about what goes where.

7. Attend a school board meeting to support educators’ efforts to teach science (or, you know, to verify that they’re actually teaching it in the first place).

Next Up, the Corporations:

8. Write to a major corporation or retailer to offer feedback about their business models — for example, overpackaging. Can’t find a public email address? Sometimes it pays to take photos and share them on social media.

9. Take this a step further and sign on to support producer responsibility legislation.

10. Now strike closer to home. Write to a top employer in your town or county to ask about their climate policies or request they adopt more sustainable business practices. (The more specific, the better; it shows you know and understand their business and their role in your shared community.)

11. Ask your energy company about switching your account to renewable sources. The more customers who sign up to get their power from wind or solar, the better.

12. Hit ‘em in their stock portfolios. If you or your town, company, church, pension plan or friends have any investments in fossil fuels, intentionally or otherwise, divesting is a great way to send a message that profiting on destruction is no longer socially or financially acceptable.

Focus on Your Neighborhood:

13. Walk — or run! — around your neighborhood with a garbage bag or two to pick up trash and recyclables, then post what you find to social media. (This isn’t necessarily about shaming people; it’s a good way to show our effect on the environment.)

14. Attend a larger cleanup day in your area. Connect with local activists and organizations while you’re at it. You’re going to need people to talk to about all of this, so build your community as you go along.

15. Find a Little Free Library in your area and stock it with environmentally themed books. You never know who might find and read them. (Don’t have a Little Free Library near you? Talk to your local bricks-and-mortar library about setting up a display or webpage about their climate-related books and related materials.)

16. Ask how you can help an environmental justice cause in your area. We can practically guarantee some neighborhoods in your community suffer higher environmental burdens than others (if you don’t know of any, one place to start your search is the Environmental Justice Atlas). Find out how you can support existing efforts or create awareness. Oh, and if you’re in an area affected by these burdens, it’s OK to ask for help.

17. Attend a protest. Add your voice to a public event demanding action while meeting like-minded people. (Pro tip: Buy a reusable whiteboard instead of making new posters that will just end up in the trash.)

Game the Algorithms:

18. Share positive news. Fight the incentive for social media to focus on the stories and disinformation that makes people angry and tears us apart. The Earth Optimism and Conservation Optimism accounts are good places to start.

19. Follow a climate scientist on social media to amplify their voices. Check out Katharine Hayhoe’s “Scientists who do climate” list on Twitter for ideas (or just bookmark the whole list).

20. Review a green product you like and write about the qualities that you find worthy of praise. In the online commerce world we live in now, products (and businesses) live or die by five-star reviews. (You can also give negative reviews to products you find egregious, or those whose marketing claims amount to little more than greenwashing.)

21. Find climate-denying videos on YouTube (Tucker Carlson is a good start) and give them thumbs-down votes so fewer people get them in their recommendations. (Just don’t watch too long: That way lies madness.)

Keep Learning:

22. Ask your friends about their favorite energy-saving techniques. Do this online and you might end up with a lot of interesting suggestions that everyone can learn from. As Texas State University environmental studies professor Tom Ptak wrote recently, “When enough individuals make changes that lower daily household energy consumption, huge emissions reductions can result.”

23. Start or join an environmental book club so you’re up to date on the latest climate science or related issues (and can share with like-minded other readers). Here’s a list of recent books to get you started.

24. Write to your local media — either a letter for publication about an issue, or just a friendly note to a local editor or reporter to praise their climate coverage. (You could also suggest they do more to cover it.)

25. Donate or subscribe to environmental news. A thriving independent press serves as an essential watchdog against corporate malfeasance and government corruption.

26. Set up a Google Alert for a topic you’re passionate about. It can be as simple as “climate change,” a topic like “sea-level rise,” or more specific like “climate” and the name of your town.

27. Read up on a skeptic’s argument so you can debunk disinformation when you encounter it — which you will.

Think Longer Term:

28. Sign up with a voter-registration effort in your area, or a voter-motivation effort through a national organization like the Environmental Voter Project — or make a plan to volunteer on Election Day. (You’re registered to vote, too, right?)

29. Consider running for office or encouraging your friends to do so. The 2022 election is right around the corner, and too many races remain unopposed.

30. Donate to an environmental nonprofit to support the ongoing fight. Every dollar helps. You time matters, too, so if you can’t afford to give, there’s probably a good way for you to donate your time by making phone calls, sharing petitions, stuffing envelopes, or doing something that matches your particular skillset.

Wait, This Month Has 31 Days!

31. Take some time to reflect on the past month. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn? What would you like to do again? What didn’t make it onto this list that you’d like to try? Another month looms around the corner, and the opportunities to make a difference are endless — even as the time to act grows shorter.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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A curious Galapagos shark approaches scientists. NOAA and Richard Pyle / Bishop Museum

By David Shiffman

This September a team of dozens of scientists announced grim news: Around one third of the world’s 1,199 known sharks and related species, they assessed, are now threatened with extinction.

By David Shiffman

This September a team of dozens of scientists announced grim news: Around one third of the world’s 1,199 known sharks and related species, they assessed, are now threatened with extinction.

The startling message from members of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, which published their results in the journal Current Biology, means that sharks and their relatives are much worse off than previously understood. The last global assessment of shark species, published in 2014, found 24% of species at risk.

The more complete — and more worrying — picture of the extinction risk for these species provides critical information for conservationists, scientists and policymakers, as well as the people who live and work near shark populations.

But getting there, especially during a pandemic, posed more than a few challenges.

Diverse Species and Diverse Threats Require Diverse Experts

Gathering the data needed to assess — and reassess — nearly 1,200 species required a staggering amount of work, involving 353 experts from more than 70 countries who met during 17 different week-long regional workshops stretching out over more than five years.

Before the pandemic hit, the core team racked up a ton of frequent flier miles. “We had to submit over 340 travel expense reimbursement claims,” says Nick Dulvy, a professor at Simon Fraser University and the lead author of new shark assessment.

An endangered Caribbean reef shark.

An endangered Caribbean reef shark. Brian Gratwicke / CC BY 2.0

Many workshops took place at academic institutions or hotel meeting rooms. One was held in the atrium of an aquarium — which seemed like a fun idea until school groups full of excited (and loud) children arrived.

After Covid-19 travel restrictions arrived, the process shifted online. That required everyone to work odd hours to accommodate job and home schedules for colleagues in all sorts of time zones.

The effort involved intense research: More than 20,000 cited sources informed the assessment.

But it wasn’t just science that made the work possible; organizers and participants also credit the model, which prioritized respect, diversity and inclusion, cooperation and trust.

Regional workshop organizers made sure to invite and include local experts, including at least one from each country being discussed. For example, 2017’s Arabian Seas and Adjacent Waters workshop included representatives from Somalia, Oman, India, the Maldives Sudan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran and the UAE.

“Being able to understand what’s happening on the ground is important,” says Rima Jabado, lead scientist for the Gulf Elasmo Project and chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. “A room full of Westerners can’t effectively talk about conservation problems in a country they’ve never been to, and conservation challenges can be difficult to interpret if you don’t know the local context. We made the choice to go to these countries, bringing people together, which was great not just for analyzing all this data, but for forming new collaborations and relationships.”

Ensuring gender equality of participants was also a priority for organizers, as was inviting a range of professionals.

“We don’t just invite academics, but also representatives from environmental nonprofits and government fisheries agencies,” says Dulvy. “We might have been able to get some of the information we needed via email, but we need to know what sharks are caught by what gear types where. People with real-time recent experience with the local system are much more helpful.”

A sand tiger shark.

A sand tiger shark. Greg McFall / NOAA

The inclusive model used serves in stark contrast to the problematic practice of “parachute science” or “colonial science,” in which researchers from wealthy countries visit field sites in the global south to collect data but don’t work with or help local experts.

That commitment to inclusivity garnered praise from outside experts.

“Building mutually respectful, equal partnerships that are beneficial to the location in question is absolutely key here,” says Asha de Vos, founder and executive director of the Sri Lanka-based conservation organization Oceanswell, who was not a part of this study. “If we’re making decisions about our common heritage, we need to be inclusive when moving those decisions. We need everyone at the table, and we need to empower the people on the ground.”

Prepping the People and Information

Getting the people together was one thing. Gathering, condensing and analyzing the data was another.

It started with a core team of Shark Specialist Group experts who attended multiple workshops and compiled all the data from the 1,199 species assessments. The core team served as authors of the summary paper, while many of the invited local experts became coauthors on the individual species assessments. Since these local experts came from a variety of fields with a variety of areas of expertise, everyone needed to complete IUCN Red List training in advance to understand how their data fit into the IUCN assessment scheme. Red List categories are complex, quantitative, and use very technical language, so it was important to make sure that everyone was using the same definitions of terms before, for example, deciding if the data showed that a species was critically endangered.

A scalloped hammerhead shark.

A scalloped hammerhead shark. Kris-Mikael Krister / CC BY 2.0

The training also emphasized the need to come up with scientifically rigorous results.

“You need to come in here in an objective way and look at the data and be honest about what’s happening and not happening,” Jabado says. “The IUCN is very science-based, and we can’t assign a status to species [just] because it will give us funding or be a problem for managers.”

Once everyone was on the same page, the real work began. Prior to the workshops, participants prepared background briefings on local conditions and key species, along with summaries of new and relevant scientific literature for everyone to read. Determining the Red List status for each species required data on their distribution, their overlap with threats, their reproductive biology and, whenever possible, their population trends. (A common misconception is that a Red List assessment of “data deficient” means that scientists know nothing about the species and any random bit of new knowledge is helpful for their conservation, but really it only means we don’t have data on population trends over time.)

While the actual deliberations of Red List workshops are confidential, organizers told me that in general these workshops were where the data crunching and any associated discussions or deliberations occurred. And these discussions are where local expertise is critical — a Western scientist half a world away can read a spreadsheet emailed from Indonesia, but sometimes local experience provides key context and greater understanding. Local experts may also be aware of important data sources others may not have, such as fishing records or scientific papers published in non-English journals.

It’s also during these meetings that teams of experts get to know each other, sometimes resulting in long-term regional or global collaborations. Organizers told me that several research collaborations around the world began as conversations during coffee breaks at Red List workshops, a clear emergent benefit of this model.

After the workshops, when people went home (or logged off Zoom), the writeups for each species were finalized. When all assessments and reassessments were complete — for example, the new assessment that recategorized Caribbean reef sharks from “near-threatened” to “endangered” — the team began to write the summary paper.

That’s when they found the staggering and sad results that made headlines.

The Result: An Index of Loss and Hope

Each shark and related species, except for the handful of species discovered since 2014, received updated IUCN Red List conservation assessments as part of the process.

That helps determine conservation priorities for individual species, but the bigger picture of risk to entire categories of species — such as mammals, amphibians or corals — emerges from what’s known as a “Red List Index,” which shows how Red List assessments have changed over time. The summary paper determined a Red List Index for sharks for the first time and showed their collective decline on a par with other threatened species groups.

“Putting sharks on the Red List Index puts them in front of the eyes of policymakers,” says Dulvy.

He says this is particularly important, because previous Red List Indexes didn’t include any marine vertebrates.

Because of that, the existing indexes also didn’t document one of the major dangers facing species around the world. “What was missing from this picture was an indicator showing the biggest threat to the oceans: overfishing,” he says.

For sharks, overfishing poses a threat to 100% of at-risk species, and the sole threat to 67% of them. The rest face threats from overfishing combined with habitat loss, climate change and pollution.

Sharks in a Yemen fish market.

Sharks in a Yemen fish market. Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

All told, the new assessment identified population declines for multiple shark species — mostly due to overfishing — as well as three probable extinctions of species that haven’t been observed in more than 80 years.

That weighed heavily on the participants.

“Any one person might work on one species, and you know what’s happening and you think it’s bad, but you think maybe it’s just me,” Jabado says. “But when you sit in a room and hear the same story for so many other species, it’s depressing.”

While this global perspective of the impacts of overfishing on marine life is scary, at the same time, she adds, the process created some sense of hope.

“We can’t make progress unless we’re working together,” she says. “Conservation can be very depressing, but being in a room full of passionate, dedicated people is inspiring.”

Author’s note: Shiffman is a former postdoctoral research fellow in the Dulvy lab at Simon Fraser University and a current senior research advisor to the IUCN Red List’s Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group. He has never worked directly on IUCN Red List Shark Specialist Group research projects.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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On the eastern coast of Tanzania, communities are restoring mangrove forests to adapt to rising sea levels and storm surges. Photo: UN Environment Programme / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Scientists have provided another reminder that, when it comes to climate change, we're all in this together. A study published last month in Nature Climate Change concluded that at least 85% of the world's population has already been affected by climate change.

By Tara Lohan

Scientists have provided another reminder that, when it comes to climate change, we’re all in this together. A study published last month in Nature Climate Change concluded that at least 85% of the world’s population has already been affected by climate change.

“It is likely that nearly everyone in the world now experiences changes in extreme weather as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions,” Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, told The Washington Post.

While we’re all in it together, not everything is equal. Wealthier countries like the United States play an outsized role in pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, but less wealthy nations face the gravest risks. We also know far less about how climate change will affect poorer countries — much more research and resources have been dedicated to studying North America compared to Africa or South America, the study found.

These knowledge gaps don’t just affect people, either. Countless species of plants and animals face a warming world. Researchers have found that rising temperatures and related impacts can force changes in behavior, reproduction, migration and foraging. Biologist Thor Hanson wrote in a recent book that 25% to 85% of species on the planet are already on the move because of climate change. What happens when new neighbors interact in these novel ecosystems is something we know little about so far because the ripple effects are far-reaching and numerous.

But the more scientists uncover about how plants and animals — and their habitats — may change, the more effective conservation measures will be.

The Revelator has been keeping tabs on the growing field of climate change biology. Here are five new findings that scientists have made recently about wildlife and climate change.

Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska.

Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. The plant is a sedge with wind-dispersed seeds. Western Arctic National Parklands / CC BY 2.0

1. Pack your bags. Numerous bat species will need to move to find suitable habitat as their current homes are predicted to get hotter and drier. Some, like the Isabelline Serotine bat (Eptesicus isabellinus), could be forced to relocate 1,000 miles. The largest exodus will likely come from Coastal Europe and North Africa, which already support the greatest amount of species richness.

2. Not a breeze. While fish can swim to colder waters as the ocean heats up, plants may have a harder time finding suitable habitat in a changing climate. A 2020 study found that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics or on the windward sides of mountain ranges could face the biggest problems because the wind isn’t likely to move them in a climate-friendly direction.

3. Forest for the trees. Mangrove forests can help mitigate climate change and have been shown to store up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests. They also help protect coastlines from hurricane damage. Nature-based solutions to help lessen the blows from climate change are good news, but researchers have also learned that mangroves themselves are threatened by rising seas. If we want help from mangroves, we’re going to need to cut our greenhouse emissions to help them, too.

4. Disasters abound. So far this year the United States has been walloped by 18 weather and climate disasters costing $1 billion each. An increase in the severity of extreme weather isn’t just an economic concern, though. Researchers say that such events can also take a toll on wildlife by killing animals or indirectly destroying food and habitat, contaminating water, or forcing wildlife to move to areas with greater competition or predation.

5. Taking the slow lane. Sometimes you just need a good place to hide. Last year the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment dedicated an entire issue to new research about how to identify and manage climate-change refugia — areas where the effects of rising temperatures are largely buffered because of unique local conditions. As one of the studies explained, “As the effects of climate change accelerate, climate‐change refugia provide a slow lane to enable persistence of focal resources in the short term, and transitional havens in the long term.”

The hunt for climate refugia is another reminder of the benefits research can have on conservation, and why such scientific efforts need geographic parity so that some regions — and their biodiversity — aren’t overlooked.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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