Many Native people were forced into the most undesirable areas of America, first by white settlers, then by the government. Now, parts of that marginal land are becoming uninhabitable.
The Arctic ice pack and Amazon rainforest are disappearing; but wait!! The Sahara, the Pacific Garbage Patch, and the Gulf of Mexico dead zone are growing.
Some of the toxic chemicals in our bodies can skip a generation and impact our grandchildren. The world's most wildly popular home pesticide of all time, glyphosate, may be nowhere near as safe as its makers claim.
Rhinos. Tigers. Poachers. Deniers But let's save all that for now and focus on some of the literally millions of ways that we – and nature – are battling back.
Documentarian Ken Burns called national parks "America's Best Idea." So creation of marine protected areas by the U.S., U.K., New Zealand, Australia and others just might be the Best Idea of the 21st Century.
MPA's vary widely in size and level of protection. Some ban all commercial activity, some restrict only the most intrusive. The website protectedplanet.net estimates that over 7% of the world's salt water is under some level of protection.
Palau's sprawling mid-Pacific archipelago is home to a Texas-sized MPA. Satellites now patrol the area for illegal fishing across the vast sea.
Sky-eyes also watch for illegal logging in forests and water theft on megafarms and ranches; drones help keep an eye on polluted sites; mobile monitors sleuth methane releases from refineries and fracking sites, and methane leaks from aging urban sewer and energy systems.
When the U.S. Clean Air and Clean Water Acts passed in the early 1970's, they did so against a backdrop of blackened skies and flaming rivers. No more. And fetid, raw sewage-gorged rivers became a relative rarity.
When scientists revealed a new threat in acid rain, a stronger Clean Air Act helped neutralize that major threat to our forests.
Whaling is very nearly ended, as have most existential threats to whales and dolphin species.
After decades of false starts, wind and solar are pulling market share, and giving clean energy nightmares to the world's traditional energy powers.
As for activists, every once in a while, what may seem like a deathscape of never-ending futility occasionally produces a rainbow. We saw joy aplenty (here and here, e.g) from those who faced hardship and arrest to stop the Keystone XL pipeline when, last week, the Keystone XL pipeline stopped.
When 20th Century science gave us miracle products like tetraethyl lead to improve car engines; chlorofluorocarbons to chill our homes and our food; and DDT to clear Pacific jungle battlefields of malaria-bearing mosquitos, scientists became rock stars. Then we learned the lead was harming kids' brains, CFC's were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer and DDT was causing bird species to drop like flies.
We, for the most part, took care of those three. Leaded fuel is now outlawed worldwide, with few exceptions. The 1986 Montreal Protocol brought a worldwide ban on CFC's and other ozone depleters. And a 1972 ban on DDT in the U.S. gave new life to bird species we were fully prepared to write to write off, from brown pelicans to ruby-throated hummingbirds and even the national symbol, the bald eagle.
The Endangered Species Act in the U. S., parallel laws elsewhere and global pacts like the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) provide a far-from-perfect defense.
But they're a good guarantee that we'll have gators and grizzlies in our future. And hope, even when it seems a little hopeless.
His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.
Top photo of a 2017 protest against Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines courtesy Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons
I've made it to most of the Society of Environmental Journalists' 29 annual conferences, but not this one.
SEJ is the Jimmy Carter of non-profits – overlooked in real-time, but looking better and smarter with each passing year. This year's conference wraps up Sunday in Fort Collins, Colo (follow the action on social media via #SEJ2019)
SEJ's first national conference took place in 1991. It's now older than many of its members. At least one or two of its current Board members were fetuses back then. Most of its charter members are in their sixties, seventies, or beyond. Or gone. The membership used to be weighted toward full-time environment writers for daily newspapers. Now, the core is freelance journalists (though I've been trying to push the frequently more accurate term "subsistence journalists").
The beat has been re-energized in such legacy media giants as the Washington Post and New York Times. But SEJ's strength also lies in a proliferation of new sites doing dynamic investigative work and vivid storytelling.
Here are but a few:
A collection of long-reads on environmental issues in the American South. The year-old startup is the work of Lyndsey Gilpin, who seeks to fill in the gaps in a region vastly underserved in environmental reporting and storytelling.
Two years ago, the Arizona-based advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity launched a news site, The Revelator. Its well-told stories on species, habitats, and politics rapidly became a must-read.
A few months ago, Emily Atkin took her unique blend of insight and smart-ass from a very established place, The New Republic, to her new four-times-weekly newsletter, Heated.
When a startup site wins a Pulitzer, as Inside Climate News did six years ago, it suddenly no longer looks like a startup. But publisher David Sassoon's masterful adherence to an ambitious business plan can stand as a model for all others. It turns 12 years old this month.
Another Pulitzer winner, MIT's Deborah Blum, puts out a stream of big-think pieces at Undark. Its tagline: Truth, beauty, science.
There are too many other quality sites to mention, but here are four more that shouldn't be ignored: The solution-oriented theme of Ensia; the urban-ish tone of Citylab; the food-oriented scoops of FERN; and the saltwater stories of Hakai.
One recent casualty in the perilous world of nonprofit publishing is Pacific Standard, whose deep dives into environmental stories will be missed. It main funder pulled the plug in August.
With climate change finally breaking through as a frontline issue for virtually all news outlets, and a zillion other plagues – ocean plastics, glyphosate, water quality, Trump's regulatory purge – making waves, our beat is poised to rise in prominence for the worst of all reasons: Out home planet is literally a hot mess.
We also press forward with an uncomfortable form of vindication: The planet is indeed warming up, and despite some strong efforts, getting dirtier. Species are indeed disappearing. So are habitats, from Arctic ice to tropical forests. Just like SEJ members and others have been reporting for decades.
The beat continues to face traditional foes: Indifference or timidity on the part of some bosses; the shaky financial footing for all journalism; well-heeled, slick, and often unprincipled interests who like to portray our news as Fake News.
But the beat goes on, and it's more crucial than ever.
Two years ago, a Sherpa mountaineering guide came across a chilling sight on the Tibetan approach to Mount Everest: The frozen hand of an unsuccessful climber, exposed.
Nearly 5,000 men and women have reached the summit of the world's tallest mountain. An estimated 300 died trying, or, more frequently, died on the descent. Two-thirds of those bodies have never been recovered. But as Everest warms with the rest of the world, its snow- and ice-cover lessens, and dwindling glaciers move more quickly, Nature is giving up thawing corpses. Stephen King must surely be taking copious notes.
"Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting, and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed," guide leader Ang Tshering Sherpa told the BBC. The Sherpas have tried to bring the bodies down off the mountain, but every effort is delayed: A frozen corpse weighs about twice as much as a thawed one.
But wait! There's more! Since the duo of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered the mountain in 1953, the mountain has become a veritable conga line of climbers during the weeks-long window of good weather each spring. And the masses have left masses of abandoned gear, oxygen tanks, and a "fecal time bomb" behind. Tons of human waste, also presumably unfreezing, now adorn the path to the Top of the World. Good times.
A study led by Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Observatory has accessed declassified spy-satellite photos of the Himalayas to estimate that ice and snow melt there has roughly doubled since 1975. Spy satellites? That's not because Everest has become a high-altitude sh*t-show. Himalayan snowmelt slakes the thirst and waters the crops of nearly a billion people in Bangaladesh, India, Pakistan, and parts of China. Snow-less Himalayas would be an existential threat to that huge population. If you want to know why climate change is a global security issue, here's Exhibit A.
It's not the first time that Cold War sleuthery was turned into unintended service for climate science. For twenty years, University of Washington scientists have accessed declassified logs of both U.S. and Russian nuclear submarines as they conducted routine patrols beneath Arctic ice. A routine function of such patrols was to measure the thickness of Arctic sea ice -- the better to poke through said ice and blast the world to smithereens.
The data show a steady and alarming loss of ice thickness over half a century. Since the mid-seventies, satellites have provided a reliable measure of the demise of Arctic ice. But we can thank the American and Soviet navies for providing an extended record of climate change – slow motion mutually assured destruction, 21st century style.