Earth Day 2022: For Earth Day, here are strategies to cope with climate anxiety
🌎 Happy Earth Day.
The president is in Seattle to announce a program to count and conserve the country's oldest trees. The carbon stored by forests, harvested wood products, and urban trees offsets around 14% of carbon released each year in the U.S.
Here's what else we're following:
The roots of Earth Day: The celebration arose after years of oil spills, acid rain and rivers on fire.
How to make your home more sustainable: NPR's Life Kit has advice on greening everything from your closet to your kitchen.
Our critics' favorite books, movies, music and art: Good ways to enjoy and celebrate the planet.
'10 years to save the planet': Small-town mayors in Missouri and Kansas take up the climate fight
As KCUR's Barbara Shelly reports:
A coalition of small-town mayors in the Kansas City area banded together to figure out ways their governments could take action against climate change and make their towns more livable and environmentally friendly.
Damien Boley, mayor of Smithville, Mo., has a vision for a walkable community with abundant green space. It may seem risky to go all-in on climate action in a conservative-leaning county, but Boley says there's plenty of room to make real change.
Mike Kelly, the mayor of Roeland Park, Kan., agrees. “One of the things we heard on the doorsteps during our campaigns is this existential dread," Kelly says. "Like, we have 10 years to save the planet, and nobody’s doing anything about it.”
Today's Google Doodle shows how climate change has damaged the environment
Today's Google Doodle is a stark visual reminder of how pressing the issue of climate change is.
The dramatic satellite images from Google Earth and the Ocean Agency span the course of months or years from four locations: Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; Sermersooq, Greenland; Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the Harz Forests in Germany.
The views of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, are "a very high-impact visual image," Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University in Sydney, told The Guardian.
"Our physical and biological world is transforming before our eyes and that's what these images are emphasizing and so there's absolutely no time to waste."
The images also highlight the Earth's rapidly shrinking glaciers. As NPR reported earlier this year, the melting of enormous ice caps over Greenland and Antarctica is the largest driver by far of future sea-level rise.
If you're interested in seeing more examples of how the environment is changing, Google Earth offers satellite imagery that goes back to 1984. And these five female photographers are also documenting the effects of climate change.
And if all of these images make you want to honor Earth Day and beyond, check out NPR Life Kit's tips for living a more sustainable life.
Suggestions for managing climate grief and anxiety this Earth Day
Studies show many people today — especially younger generations — experience persistent anxiety about climate change and global warming.
Although the climate crisis is already affecting people across the world drastically, many of those with the power to reduce climate change's acceleration, like governments and corporations that pollute a lot, are dragging their feet to respond.
Combined with frequent reports of heat records, devastating flooding and long, drawn-out fire seasons — those realities can feel stressful, infuriating, and for some people, hopeless.
Those feelings of climate anxiety or even grief aren't going away, but experts say there are ways to recognize them, use and manage them through the coming decades.
NPR's Life Kit spoke to an ecotherapist and experts about a few ways they help clients live with climate anxiety. Here's some of what they recommended:
- Let yourself feel the feelings — all of them: Smith says feeling loss or despair when you think of climate change and its effects is a normal reaction that's okay to have. Facing those feelings is an important part of dealing with them.
- Talk to someone if you need to, like a therapist or friend even: Some people may benefit from climate-aware therapy, or finding support systems through friends, family or those on the internet.
- Channel your feelings to connect with others: Seeking out people who are also feeling what you feel can make you feel less alone and reduce stress. That could look like getting involved with pushing for legislation, activism or helping your community respond to climate change.
Read more from Life Kit on managing climate anxiety here, or check out these stories from NPR.
Eco-activist and former international fugitive Joseph Dibee pleads guilty in 1997 Oregon arson
An environmental and animal rights activist pleaded guilty Thursday to decades-old federal arson charges, including involvement in a 1997 central Oregon fire that destroyed a slaughterhouse.
Prosecutors say Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, 54, was a member of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, which the U.S. Department of Justice has held responsible for acts of domestic terrorism.
Dibee pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy to commit arson for his role in the fire that destroyed Cavel West, a slaughterhouse that processed and sold horse meat in Europe.
Celebrate nature with these stunning and surprising wildlife photos
Admiring the natural world is a quintessential part of Earth Day celebrations yearly.
One way to delve into nature's beauty — and humor — is to check out the winners of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, a prestigious contest sponsored by the Britsh Natural History Museum, and the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.
Winning entries in the Photographer of the Year contest depict the breathtaking beauty of animals and natural environments. French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta won last year by capturing camouflage groupers with a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in a biosphere reserve in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The winning image is called Creation.
The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards show the delightfully silly and surprising side of the animal kingdom, such as this stylish pigeon wearing a leaf face mask. The photo, by John Speirs, won the Spectrum Photo Creatures in the Air Award and the Affinity Photo People's Choice Award. It's titled I guess summer's over.
More than 137 million Americans live in areas with poor air quality, report finds
Despite decades of environmental efforts, over 40% of Americans — more than 137 million people — live in cities and states with poor air quality, a new report says. And, in addition to cars and factories, wildfires are increasingly contributing to unhealthy air.
For the past 22 years, the American Lung Association has produced its annual State of the Air report, which analyzes the air quality on a local level for communities across the country. This year's study found that more Americans were exposed to unhealthy air, at times deemed hazardous, compared to previous years.
In fact, more than 63 million people lived in counties that had dangerous levels of deadly particulate matter pollution — an increase of nearly 9 million over the last year. These particles are made up of dust, ash, soot and metals. They come from gas-powered vehicles and industrial plants, however in more recent years, dangerous spikes in particulate matter readings are coming from wildfires, which are burning hotter, faster and longer.
"The three years covered by [the report] ranked among the seven hottest years on record globally," the study said. "Spikes in particle pollution and high ozone days related to wildfires and extreme heat are putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing across the nation to clean up air pollution."
Although wildfires take place all over the United States, the overwhelming majority happen in the West. That is why, according to the report, all but one of the top 25 worst cities with particulate matter pollution are west of the Rocky Mountains. The eastern outlier is Pittsburgh, which has historically had poor air quality because of its industrial facilities. That said, the city has been cleaning up its act and saw its lowest levels ever in this year's study.
This Earth Day, one book presents global warming and climate justice as inseparable
On this Earth Day, it's still an open question to what degree our planet will remain habitable in the coming years.
To increase the chances that it will, it's critical to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy internationally, and on the individual level for each of us to reduce carbon emissions stemming from individual habits. These are among the main takeaway messages from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released on April 4.
That report led to worldwide headlines about the climate crisis. Moral philosopher and former journalist Elizabeth Cripps offers an equally urgent message in What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care, published in the U.S. last week: Efforts to contain global warming will succeed only if they are coupled with policies of climate justice.
Why is this so? Let's start with exactly what "climate justice" means. Climate justice rests on two major premises. Rich nations contribute disproportionately to global warming, leading to violations of human rights across the world. Poor, vulnerable people suffer the brunt of extreme weather including heat waves and so-called "natural" disasters that are actually human-caused. Second, those rich nations, and wealthy individuals too wherever they live, must take extra responsibility for fighting this crisis while keeping uppermost in mind the needs of those most grievously affected.
Climate change, Scripps says, is "a morally impermissible harm" and a "failure to protect the most vulnerable." It's a specific, situated harm: The wealthiest 1 percent of the world's population has produced more than twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest half of the world. Cripps brings home the point: "Even if the poorest 90 percent of people in the world dropped their greenhouse gas emissions to zero tomorrow, the carbon budget would be used up only a few years later than it would otherwise have been."
It's not that the richer countries escape climate consequences, of course. Events like the recent flash floods in Western Europe, bush fires in Australia, wildfires in the American West, and severe hurricanes in U.S. waters make that clear. But in the global south, Cripps says, the toll of extreme weather has been even worse going back decades, and the future looks catastrophic: The World Bank predicts 86 million "internal climate migrants" in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, 40 million in South Asia, and 17 million in Latin America.
Cripps yearns for us to see beyond these alarming statistics. "Envisage," she asks, each person hidden within these numbers, "with their own interests and plans for the future, their favourite foods and favourite jokes — before they're dehumanized, in your mind, by the scale of the tragedy." Shouldn't we care about 11-year-old Maroof Hussein in Bangladesh, whose school and house were flooded and whose 8-year-old friend drowned? Shouldn't it matter to us, the fate of disabled people the world over who are not able to flee from a flood and face extra risk?
Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist emerita at William & Mary. Animals' Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity is her seventh book. Find her on Twitter @bjkingape.
Watch a corpse flower bloom for the first time in 7 years
Time-lapse footage captured the moment a corpse flower, famed for its putrid stench, began its rare bloom at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
This video, shared on April 21, shows the flower opening up inside a greenhouse as visitors come and go.
The corpse flower, otherwise known as an Amorphophallus titanum, emits a rancid smell that attracts the meat-eating insects that pollinate it.
According to the university, after only a few days of blooming, “the plant will die back to soil level and the bulb will go dormant, then regularly grow vegetation through the ensuing years until it generates enough energy — typically after seven to 10 years — to grow another huge, and stinky, flower.”
How young people are taking action against climate change
NPR's 'Throughline' explores Earth Day's roots and impact
Rivers on fire, acid rain falling from the sky, species going extinct, oil spills, polluted air, and undrinkable water: For so long, we didn't think of our planet as a place to preserve. And then, in the 1960s and '70s, that changed. Democrats and Republicans, with overwhelming public support, came together to pass a sweeping legislative agenda around environmental protection.
In an effort to make schools greener, the White House is offering billions of dollars
"In most school districts, the second-largest yearly expense after salaries is the energy bill."
That's a quote from Vice President Harris, speaking earlier this month at an elementary school in Washington, D.C.
Harris was announcing a new, multibillion-dollar federal push to renovate public schools in ways that are healthier both for children and the planet — and often, that save money too.
The funds are spread across several different agencies and programs. The White House released a toolkit with details:
- Heating and cooling upgrades: Studies show that schools are on deck to spend $9.7 billion of American Rescue Plan funds to upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems – something that became top of mind to curb the spread of COVID-19. More efficient HVAC systems could lower energy costs and emissions.
- Cleaner transportation: A $5 billion rebate program from the Environmental Protection Agency that replaces old, mostly diesel-fueled buses. Half the money is specifically for electric buses.
- Carbon-free commuting: Some of the $90 billion in the Department of Transportation's highway safety funds can be used to help with route planning so more students can walk or bike to school.
- Lower power costs, more light: A $500 million Department of Energy grant program, paid for by the infrastructure law, can be used for things like LED lights, better insulation, and solar panels.
As the vice president noted in her speech, many of these changes bring health benefits to students. Cleaner, fresher air in buildings and lower emissions from buses mean fewer asthma attacks and less severe allergies.
And, as we've all become hyper-aware of recently, improved ventilation in school buildings lowers the risk of spreading some illnesses. Bike-friendly schools invite students to get more exercise. Better ventilation and more comfortable temperatures, the EPA says, are consistently linked to better performance in school.
And of course, scientists say the world needs to reduce emissions fast to avoid the most extreme dangers of climate change. Schools could be a great place to work on this, for two big reasons.
NPR's Culture desk recommends these books, movies and art installations
In 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River went up in flameswhen a spark from a passing train ignited oil-soaked trash floating in the water. The latest in a series of environmental crises, it inspired activists to organize environmental teach-ins and demonstrations across the country.
That activism gained momentum, leading to the first Earth Day, which took place the following year. Since then, the environmental movement has transformed into a significant force in American political life. In the years that followed, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and went on to sign a number of environmental policies — including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act — with broad bipartisan support. Now, Earth Day has gone global, and activists continue the work of getting politicians to pass environmental regulations and combat the disastrous impacts of climate change.
From documentaries to artistic projects, NPR has collected some of our favorite ways to celebrate the Earth and think about what we can do to protect its flora and fauna.
Read the list below and click here for more details (and trailers!).
- An Inconvenient Truth
- Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust
- Planet Earth and Life
- The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers
To listen to:
- The Hotelier, "Soft Animal"
- Applause Encouraged #111415 by Scott Polach
- HURT EARTH by Jenny Holzer
- The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause
Check out tips from 'Life Kit' for living more sustainably
Climate change calls for long-term, systemic solutions, but that doesn't mean we can't all strive to live more sustainably. Fortunately, NPR's Life Kit podcast has tips for how to make small but important changes in your life and at home, from the kitchen to the closet.
- How to cut your home's carbon emissions
- How to eat less meat
- How to start composting
- How to talk to kids about climate change
- Tips for ditching fast fashion and cultivating a sustainable closet
- Small steps you can take to get closer to nature
- What role you can play in the plastic problem (featuring this nifty interactive about what's recyclable, what becomes trash and why)
Biden will order a study of old-growth forests in an Earth Day executive action
President Joe Biden will sign an executive order to inventory and protect old-growth forests while visiting Seattle later today.
The order requires the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to come up with a shared definition of mature and old-growth forests and gives them a year to take stock of their numbers in the U.S. After collecting that data, the agencies must come up with new policies to manage and conserve these wooded areas, with an eye towards threats like wildfires.
The carbon stored by forests, harvested wood products, and urban trees offsets around 14% of carbon released each year in the U.S., according to a 2020 Forest Service report. Older, wider trees tend to store more carbon, although there is some scientific debate over how much carbon they continue to take out of the atmosphereas they age.
While definitions of old-growth and mature trees vary depending on the type of forest, the term was initially applied to stands containingtrees that are 150 years old.
The executive action does not take steps to limit the logging of old-growth forests on federal lands, as a coalition of environmental groups has been calling on the administration to do. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, "conserving our remaining older forests and trees on federal public lands is one of the country's most straightforward, impactful and cost-effective climate solutions," they wrote.
The new executive action also directs federal agencies to:
- Work with communities, non-profits, industries and unions to create "forest-related economic opportunities" such as outdoor recreation sites
- Develop 2030 targets for reforestation and expand seed and nursery capacity
- Reduce or eliminate U.S. purchases of agricultural commodities grown on illegally or recently deforested lands, in keeping with goals from the most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference
- Study how natural interventions can further climate goals, from restoring marshes, to planting shade trees, to promoting drought-resistant crops
The Earth Day push comes after a halting year for the White House's climate agenda. Read more here.