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Surprising Stories of Climate Activists

From kids, to grandparents, to climate clowns, Stepping Up podcast features the folks taking on global warming

There’s a new podcast on the audio scene, and it will spark both your interest and your imagination. Stepping Up tells the stories of climate advocates who are stepping up their game in unexpected ways. Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

photo of young people examining objects in the sand at an ocean beachphoto Sarah CraigHeirs of the Ocean members Elliot, Kirin, Dakota,  and Charlie are stepping up to the challenge of climate change.

The first episode, called The Loudest Smallest Voices, was released last week. It features the tales of several young activists, and will make you laugh and cry.

The episode starts with12-year-old Kiran Garewal’s visit to the lab of climate scientist Dr. Vania Coelho at the Dominican University of California. As he walks in, he sees a room cluttered with science equipment, and another humming with the sound of aquarium tanks. Kiran is there because he’s heard from his friends that coral reefs are dying and he wants to ask Dr. Coelho, an expert of coral bleaching, why.

Kiran’s interest in coral was piqued when, several months earlier, his friends came back from a trip to the islands of Palau in the South Pacific. They told him that they went kayaking and saw huge swaths of white dead coral. It was scary to discover that the oceans were in such a state of disaster.

Kiran and his friends are part of Heirs to Our Oceans – a group of 17 kids who are on a mission to save the oceans. These kids live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are home-schooled using a curriculum that is hands-on and project-based. The club arose out of that curriculum. By studying the oceans, they’re learning to research, write, speak and think critically.

Back in the lab, Kiran learns that coral bleaching comes from heat stress – in this case, warming waters – and it can kill almost an entire reef if it’s intense enough. He asks the professor about the impacts on the food web when this happens. “As the corals start to die, you start to have less and less fish in those areas because they don’t have enough habitat anymore to survive,” says Dr. Coelho. Kiran suggests they can move to another habitat. “Oh no, no,” she responds. “Those …more

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Advocates Plan Solar Installations Along Keystone XL Route

Environmental groups hope to block pipeline’s path, promote renewable energy as Nebraska ponders pipeline approval

When President Donald Trump signed off on a presidential permit okaying the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in March, it was a real blow to an environmental movement that had tasted victory over the dirty tar sands clunker back in 2015 when President Obama withdrew the permit for the project. With Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau united in their support of the pipeline, it seemed little could stand in the way of some 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands fuel barreling down a 36-inch crude oil pipe from Hardisty, Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska to export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline seemed destined to pass over, under, and through environmentally sensitive areas such as Nebraska’s Sandhills, and putt at risk the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground freshwater sources .

photo of pipelinePhoto Shannon RamosEnvironmental groups have launched a campaign to install solar panels along the Keystone XL route, literally and symbolically blocking the pipeline with a renewable energy future.

But not so fast. Anti-pipeline activists are holding strong. And last week, they announced Solar  XL, the latest move in a battle waged against the pipeline. Launched July 7 by a coalition of groups including Bold Nebraska,, Indigenous Environment Network, and Oil Change International, the campaign features a series of solar panel arrays installed directly on the KXL pipeline route as it passes through Nebraska.

“We are putting solutions in the path of the problem,” said Sara Shor, a campaigner for  “TransCanada will have to literally dig up these solar arrays in order to build a polluting pipeline of the past that will pollute land and water, increase carbon emissions, and make climate change worse. The first project will be completed by the time the hearing in Lincoln starts in August.”

Each installation will cost $15,500 for a nine-panel frame, net-metering connection to the Nebraska power grid, and labor. The groups aim to raise $50,000 via crowdfunding at the Action Network to help finance the installation in locations where landowners have refused to sell to TransCanada.

The energy produced by the arrays will be used by Nebraska farmers and ranchers leading the fight against KXL in Nebraska, both symbolically and literally putting a renewable energy future directly in the path of some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet.

“I am vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline mainly because of …more

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Just 25 Companies Responsible for More Than 50 Percent of Global Emissions, Report Says

Small set of fossil fuel producers may be key to tackling climate change

Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a new report.

The Carbon Majors Report “pinpoints how a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” says Pedro Faria, technical director at environmental non-profit CDP, which published the report in collaboration with the Climate Accountability Institute.

photo of oilPhoto kris krügAccording to a new report, 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

Traditionally, large scale greenhouse gas emissions data is collected at a national level but this report focuses on fossil fuel producers. Compiled from a database of publicly available emissions figures, it is intended as the first in a series of publications to highlight the role companies and their investors could play in tackling climate change.

The report found that more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 — the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established — can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities. The scale of historical emissions associated with these fossil fuel producers is large enough to have contributed significantly to climate change, according to the report.

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. If fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, says the report, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks.

While companies have a huge role to play in driving climate change, says Faria, the barrier is the “absolute tension” between short-term profitability and the urgent need to reduce emissions.

A Carbon Tracker study in 2015 found that fossil fuel companies risked wasting more than $2 trillion over the coming decade by pursuing coal, oil, and gas projects that could be worthless in the face of international action on climate change and advances in renewables — in turn posing substantial threats to investor returns.

CDP says its aims with the carbon majors project are both to improve transparency among fossil fuel producers and to help investors understand …more

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Indigenous Storytelling at Standing Rock

A conversation with Myron Dewey, co-director of Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock

Myron Dewey is a Paiute-Temoke Shoshone filmmaker who co-directed Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock with Academy Award and Emmy nominee James Spione and Oscar nominee Josh Fox. Awake documents the struggle of Indigenous water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota as they gathered for much of last year to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being constructed beneath the Missouri River.

photo of Shenandoah SalamanderPhoto courtesy of Awake tells the story of Native-led resistence to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the ways in which it changed the fight for clean water and the environment.

Dewey brought an Indigenous sensibility to his segment of Awake, as he has to his previous groundbreaking body of work, which includes Mni Wiconi, which is also about Standing Rock. According to Fox, Dewey’s production company, Digital Smoke Signals, was “livestreaming from Standing Rock every day, flying their drones over the pipeline and protests.”

“They got lots of followers on Facebook because they outperformed the mass media,” he adds. “Where CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News failed to bring you the stories, Digital Smoke Signals succeeded. The Indigenous Environmental Network succeeded. The outfits that were on the ground, we were bringing things independently that the mass media wasn’t reporting.”

In October of last year, Dewey was charged with a misdemeanor for live streaming drone footage of security forces hired by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. His case goes to trial July 12.

When I spoke with Dewey by phone, he was somewhere in the mid-West. Asked about his location, the activist-director replied: “I’m en route. I usually don’t let people know where I am due to safety reasons.” In this candid conversation Dewey discusses everything from Hollywood’s depiction of Indigenous people, to the Standing Rock struggle, to his pending court case.

How did you get into filmmaking?

It was an epiphany. Our [Indigenous] stories weren’t accurately being told. I went for my undergraduate at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, that’s where I became awakened in many different forms — not just consciousness, but emotional, historical trauma, education, and history. There was so much I needed to learn — for example, why I was angry at the things I could not articulate at that time. I try to articulate that anger and help our youth do the same... so they can move forward and help the community around them heal.

When …more

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Saving the Shenandoah Salamander

Government agencies are coming together to protect the small amphibian, which is only found in Shenandoah National Park

Deep within the ancient Appalachian mountains of Shenandoah National Park lies a creature that can only be found on three of its highest peaks, the fittingly named Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah). This rare black and orange salamander, which is a remnant of the Pleistocene, has managed to survive in a unique ecological niche even as amphibians across globe are in decline. But with new threats emerging, scientists are coming together to help save this remarkable creature.

photo of Shenandoah SalamanderPhoto Mark Hendricks The Shenandoah salamander is only found within the highest elevation parts of Shenandoah National Park.

“It is a really old species,” says Dr. Evan Grant, principal investigator of the Unites States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative. So old that in fact its divergence from a common ancestor with its closest relative, the eastern red backed salamander, is thought to have occurred over five million years ago.  “It’s amazing that it has persisted for so long,” adds Grant. 

The Shenandoah salamander is a member of the family Plethodontidae, colloquially known as the lungless salamanders, which breathe entirely through their skin and typically require damp environments to facilitate respiration. However, the high elevation talus habitat where the Shenandoah salamander lives is dry. So how did it end up there?  It is believed that the Shenandoah salamander is a relict adapted to the cooler climate afforded by the highest elevations in the park. This need for a cool climate — combined with competition from the eastern red-backed salamander, a much more common, closely related species that has expanded its’ range into higher elevation habitats since the end of the Pleistocene — has restricted the Shenandoah salamander to only a handful of the highest elevation parts in the park. As a result, the salamander has one of the smallest ranges of any tetrapod, perhaps the smallest.

photo of researcherPhoto Mark Hendricks Shenandoah salamanders live in dry talus slopes in three high-elevation parts of Shenandoah National Park. The habitat is primarily characterized by rocks and moist soil pockets.

Because of its limited habitat, presumed competition with eastern red-backed salamanders, and concerns about habitat loss, the Shenandoah salamander was listed as endangered in 1987 by the Commonwealth of Virginia and was federally listed in 1989. In 1994 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published the recovery plan for the species. At that time, competition with the eastern red-backed salamander was believed to be …more

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Eulogy for Gureombi

A reflection on the ten-year struggle against a joint US-South Korean naval base on Jeju Island

Why do your warships
Sail on my waters?
Why do your bombs drop
Down from my sky?

Why did you burn my
Farm and my town down?
I've got to know, friend,
I've got to know.

— Woody Guthrie

Ten years ago, in the small coastal fishing and farming village of Gangjeong on Jeju Island, South Korea, the Korean government made a deal to construct a joint United States-South Korea naval base. The base would be located at the site of a beautiful volcanic rock plateau called Gureombi. For centuries the villagers in Gangjeong revered this rock formation, protecting it, laying in its warm streams and pools, sharing food, and holding ceremonies there.

photo of Gureombi protestPhoto courtesy of Joyakgol Local activists protest the construction of a joing US-South Korea naval base on Jeju Island.

Five years ago, against the protests of hundreds — in the village and internationally — police stood guard as contracted workers dynamited this sacred site, beginning construction of the base. From the other side of the razor wires, the villagers watched in despair as a crucial cultural landmark was (almost entirely) blown to bits. Then came the endless procession of cement trucks, dumping load after load of concrete over the mangled remains of Gureombi, smothering memories as well as the habitats of endangered species of crab and frog, destroying the breeding ground for thousands of shellfish and seaweeds, and decimating what was once an important foraging ground for villagers. (Read more about the impacts of the base here.)

Over the course of the resistance, hundreds of people — from international activists to mainland Koreans standing in solidarity with the villagers, to the villagers themselves, including the former mayor and numerous Gangjeong elders — have been arrested for impeding the base’s completion. At times more than one thousand police — many from the mainland — have been sent in to Gangjeong to ensure the construction of the base continued, views of the locals be dammed.

Last year the naval base opened. And in March of 2017, the first US Navy vessel docked at Jeju, followed by a second one just last week.

Why has all this happened? Why have sacred sites and vital habitat been destroyed?

Gureombi, and the villagers themselves, had the misfortune of being in the way of progress.

In this case, progress meant a massive new naval base complete with warships. It also seemed …more

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Unique Coral Reef at Risk as Oil Companies Prepare to Drill Near Amazon River

Companies estimate 30 percent chance of damage to the newly discovered ecosystem in event of a spill

Oil companies planning to drill near a vast coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon river have calculated that the unique ecosystem has a 30 percent chance of being affected in the event of an oil spill.

photo of ambulancePhoto Jeso Carneiro Oil companies may start drilling near the newly discovered Amazon river reef as early as this summer.

In February BP told The Guardian it planned to start drilling a block it controls by August 2018. Brazilian company Queiroz Galvão also has a block it expects to start drilling from next year.

The unique reef system astonished marine biologists when its existence was widely revealed last year, and is believed it could be the home for dozens of previously unknown species. (Read Earth Island Journal’s report about the discovery here.) But activists warn that an oil spill could irreparably damage the 1,000 kilometer-long ecosystem before scientists have even had a chance to study it.

“It’s unlike any other reef that we know about,” said Sara Ayech, an oil campaigner at the London offices of Greenpeace. “If the companies drill there’s a risk of an oil spill and if an oil spill hits the reef, then we could see parts of it destroyed before we even document them.”

The Brazilian government has estimated that the Foz de Amazonas, or Amazon Mouth area, could hold 15.6 billion barrels of oil. A consortium of oil companies led by French giant Total, and including BP and Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras, snapped up five exploration blocks in the area when they were auctioned off in 2013.

In January, Total said it had begun moving equipment to the Amazon area and planned to start drilling this year. The oil reservoirs it hopes to reach are situated in 1,900 meters of water, nearly 200 kilometers from the coast.

Scientists from Greenpeace examined the publicly-available Environmental Impact Study Total submitted to the Brazilian authorities and found references to the possibility of an oil spill reaching the reef.

Reef structures in the area to be drilled “present possibilities of being impacted by oil,” the study said. In winter that possibility could be as high as 30.33 percent, while in summer, 20.93 percent, the study produced for Total by companies Proceano and AECOM said.

As long ago as the 1970s, scientists suspected the existence of a reef hidden under the murky waters of the River Amazon’s mouth. But it was not …more

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