Our Daily Planet's Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas is a weekly featured opinion piece authored by policymakers, thought leaders & experts highlighting steps we can take toward a more sustainable future brought to you by people that know these topics best.

Talking Renewable Energy with Cloverly Co-Founder Dave Folk

Dave Folk is the co-founder of a company called Cloverly which calculates the carbon impact of common internet activities — like e-commerce shipments, rideshare, and on-demand deliveries — and then purchases carbon offsets to make those activities carbon neutral. Cloverly shows the buyer, in real time, the source of the offset and through its algorithm matches customers with the closest source of renewable energy for localized impact.

ODP: Before founding Cloverly you worked in marketing for an electric utility, what need did you see for a company like Cloverly to democratize how people can buy carbon offsets? What did it take for you to leave a secure job and found this start-up? 

DF: It always felt somewhat esoteric to participate in that market; and we saw that there were very few companies effectively making it simple and easy for the average person to decrease the carbon impacts from modern conveniences like e-commerce. Environmentally conscious consumers want to lower their carbon footprint, but sometimes that’s not easy. Cloverly decreases the friction for those customers looking to buy offsets, and we hope that by making it easy more people will participate. You often need to take risks to make a difference, but if we believe that we can truly have an impact than any risk is worth it.

ODP: As a Millennial, you’ve grown up in the midst of a rapidly warming and changing planet. Did the urgency of climate change at all affect the career path you chose? 

DF: It’s really the desire to have purpose in my work that’s driven my career decisions. I feel like our generation doesn’t mind looking at the status quo and asking: “is there a better way to do this?” The solutions that will help us mitigate climate change are opportunities to do things better, and that’s a great purpose to get up in the morning for.

ODP: Cloverly provides data about the specific local renewable energy projects that folks who use your platform are supporting. Why was it important for you to provide such a granular piece of information?

DF: We want to bring transparency to what has often been an opaque market. If you’re choosing to offset your purchase online with Cloverly we want you to know exactly where the carbon offset or Renewable Energy Credit came from, when it was created etc. This is table stakes for us, and how we believe the market should operate.

 

Millennials Putting Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

 As NBC News explained, “ESG investing” (environmental, social and governance), “SRI” (socially responsible investing), “CSR investing” (corporate social responsibility) or simply “impact investing,” is a concept has been around for years, but Millennials are charting new territory when it comes to doing good with their money. A rising group of Millennials is changing the way investors utilize their capital – for them, making a social impact is just as important as making a positive return.

By The Numbers:

What Can Impact Investing Do? Impact investments are made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Instead of forcing an investor to choose between wanting to make a difference and wanting to make money, unlike past mechanisms for social change like charity, impact investing synergizes the two. Watch this video to learn more about the specifics of what impact investment can achieve. 

Rising Returns: The 8th Annual Impact Investor Survey ran by the Global Impact Investing Network found that since just 2016, impact investment deals have gone up 58%, from $22.1 billion across 7,951 deals to $35.5 billion across 11,136.

Sustainable Development Goals As a Guide: In 2017, 76% of respondents across a spectrum of 225 investors said they tracked or planned to track their investment performance using the SDGs set forth by the United Nations. 

Why Millennials?: As Forbes explained, “The younger generation may see billionaires such as Bill Gates and the legendary Rockefellers as inspirational business people, but they may question the old guard style of first spending precious time trying to make billions of dollars and then endeavoring to better the lives of others. The concept of impact investing, or pursuing both a financial return at the same time as a positive social impact, allows young people to strive toward both simultaneously.”

Why This Matters: The growing impact investment market provides capital to address the world’s most pressing challenges in sectors such as sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation, microfinance, and affordable and accessible basic services including housing, healthcare, and education. This commitment to implementing social change combined with the estimated $30 billion intergenerational wealth transfer soon to go to Millennials over the next 30 years speaks volumes to how beneficial this new type of investor consciousness could be for the health of our society and our planet.

 

The Week Ahead: June 17th-23rd

Hope everyone had a great weekend and got to celebrate their dads. We’re so glad you’re starting your Monday morning with us, here’s what should be on your radar for this week:

Capitol Hill: On Wednesday the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on “Restoring Community Input and Public Participation” during the oil and gas leasing and development process. On Thursday the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to explore the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and carbon pollution regulations from light-duty cars and trucks.
Politics: On Tuesday, President Trump is expected to officially announce his second campaign at a rally in Orlando, FL. While it’s not likely that he will mention the climate crisis in his speech (as many other Democratic candidates have done), we hope he does!
Celestial Happenings: The Summer solstice is on Friday, read what you should know about the longest day of the year.

ICYMI: Just in time for Juneteenth (happening on Wednesday), prosecutors dropped all criminal charges filed against a group of eight government officials implicated in the Flint water crisis–one of the most public examples of environmental injustice in America. Prosecutors promised a new trial.

 

Never Forget by Akhila Bandlora

Last week Our Daily Planet had a chance to meet some of the remarkable young activists of Sea Youth Rise Up as they gathered in Washington D.C. to bring awareness to ocean conservation issues impacting both their local communities and communities around the globe. Akhila Bandlora, one of the 2019 delegates, wrote the following poem to present during her trip to Washington and we thought it captured so poignantly the essence of the youth environmental movement that our world is currently witnessing. We hope you’re moved by her words as much as we were.

 

never forget

i.
the girl with sea foam fingers writes letters
on napkins left on beaches like loose change,
words stumbling down staircases of five-seven-five haikus:
i want an ocean,
the one mama whispers of,
when she eats, sleeps, prays.
she ties them to the webbed foot of a seagull, and sends it off to the governor:
“we are the tide and we are coming.”
he laughs and the girl watches him corrode:
shoo the seagull, lull it to sleep with plastic wrappers and bottles, throw the napkins away to land up exactly where the girl found it, and dips his pen into the seagull’s carcass to sign a bill
for a factory to dump their industrial waste into the ocean
— the ocean, a man made trashcan.

But, The girl’s eyes are seismic; the world shifts.

ii.
It’s 1972,
the year oysters pearl, fish jump, and crabs claw;
the girl trades her haikus for ballads, her flat chest
for fruit cup breasts, their apathy for her unrest
the sailors; they call her a woman.
she gargles the sea in her mouth to remember why she’s fighting,
pulls trash left on beaches and from washed up animal carnage,
dumps it on the governor’s desk–
“the tide is here; we are here.”–
chants reduce, reuse, and recycle outside the homes of oil-guzzling men,
she leaks into classrooms, and salt water ferments the walls,
teaches her children how to protect;
the world watches her,
until its eyes cataract,
teeth chip,
lips parch,
and ears burst.
And finally, it listens–
births the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
MPRSA, the ocean dumping act,
holds the UN Convention on the law of the sea–
All promises to defend.
she smiles,
whistles to the whoosh of the waves,
and shows her children how to protest;
The fight is far from over.

 

iii.
It’s 2019,
where climate change is an alternative fact,
the ocean an afterthought instead of a forethought;
but it’s still her first thought.
her bones are soft like coral,
hair long like coast and gray like gravel,
voice throaty as a frog’s;
her battle ending,
the war still raging.
her children, we revolt
when our president pulls out of the Paris Agreement,
elects a denialist to run the EPA,
cuts its budget by thirty percent,
we community we young people we fight
we, together, grab conch shells and march on,–
“The seas are rising and so are we!–
the woman braids kelp through her hair,
washes her body with the sea,
tells us to never forget,
and we say we never will.

 

Akhila Bandlora, a rising senior, is an environmental activist from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2018, Akhila won fromthebowseat’s gold award for poetry, and officially began her environmental activism. Her work includes helping organize Arizona’s Youth Climate Strike, serving as a Creative Writing Finalist for the Genius Olympiad, and joining Earthecho International’s Ambassadorship Program. Additionally, Akhila’s delved deeper into environmental justice, realizing how the pursuit of environmental rights is often synonymous with social and racial justice.

If We Face the Truth, Everything Is Possible

Photo: Harvard University

By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

Graduation speeches are often pablum – containing well-meaning advice and platitudes of wisdom that are easy listening but also easily forgotten.  This week I (Monica) heard not one, but two speeches that transcended the ordinary graduation fare, providing important perspective and inspiration that is most needed and welcome at this moment in time.

Former Vice President Al Gore gave the “Class Day” address for Harvard College on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his own graduation.  It was, not surprisingly, a sermon and a call to arms for the graduating class in which he decried “attacks on known facts, science, and reason as strongman-like tactics to gather power and weaken democracy.”

Most interesting was Gore’s sense that today is a more troubled time than the late 1960’s – the civic turmoil and polarization of the Vietnam War and the President’s dishonesty didn’t approach the challenges of today.   In his view, the checks and balances built into the U.S. government have weakened considerably since then, with more “compliant” judicial and legislative branches, and the viral speed of the internet and social media spread falsehoods and “alternate” facts in seconds.

In key part, Gore said, “Veritas — truth — is not only Harvard’s motto … but it is also democracy’s shield. And the right to pursue truth is the most fundamental right of them all, and that right is now at risk. And as a result, freedom itself is at risk, more so now than it was 50 years ago … We have to restore the role of reason and logic and rational debate.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a similar chord in her speech at the Harvard University-wide commencement in which she emphasized the importance of telling — and facing — the truth.  She said we must “be honest with ourselves.” And then Merkel said the most simple truth of all, “That requires us not to describe lies as truth and truth as lies,” she said to a standing ovation.  You had to wonder whether the President’s ears might be burning.

The Trump Administration’s decisions of late gave this message special urgency.  It became known this week that the Environmental Protection Agency granted a permit to build a new factory in Wisconsin based on the false conclusion that air quality in the region was good enough to allow another source of pollution unabated.  The Administration also required that future climate analyses performed by the government not take the long-term impacts of climate change into consideration. And they have pulled funding for studies of the long term health impacts of pollution on children and other sensitive populations so that we will not know their true toll on these citizens’ health and well-being.

This reminded me (Miro) of my mom’s accounts of working as an economist for the Soviet government in Ukraine and being asked to manipulate data so that her work fit the agenda of the government versus portraying reality. This was a common practice in the Soviet Union and demonstrates the danger of what happens when science and facts clash with politics.  Historically, despite which president or political party was in power in Washington D.C., the research and data of the United States government have always been trustworthy and relied upon by the rest of the world. We cannot allow our status as an arbiter of rigorous scientific information to be jeopardized in this era or any other.

And yet despite the dark times both described, Gore and Merkel were optimistic about the future.

Gore cited the power of technological advances that have made renewable wind and solar power cheaper than fossil fuels in the U.S. and in many parts of the world.  He recounted his deep faith in the power of people to change the world — even fundamental societal changes of the magnitude needed to slow global warming. And then he issued a challenge to Harvard to “face the truth” of the “moral choice” surrounding the University’s financial interest in fossil fuels, calling for divestment just as the University disinvested from South African companies during apartheid and from tobacco companies twenty years ago.  He spoke truth to power for all the students to see, with all the University’s leaders in attendance.

Merkel’s remarks were even more inspiring as she recanted how she felt when the Berlin Wall fell nearly thirty years ago, something that was unimaginable even months beforehand.  She learned from that experience that “anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change.” And she told the students that even when they inevitably encounter seemingly impenetrable walls in their own lives, whether physical, social, intellectual, or cultural, they must work to break them down.

And as if describing the climate crisis as another kind of wall, Merkel said “ We can and must do everything humanly possible to truly master this challenge to humankind,” said Merkel.  And then, facing her own truth, she said, “each and every one of us must play our part (and), I say this with a measure of self-criticism, get better…. I will, therefore, do everything in my power to ensure that Germany, my country, will achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2050.”

Merkel reminded the students that, “individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted. Neither is peace, and neither is prosperity,” Merkel said. “But if we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace new beginnings, everything is possible.”  As she closed, Merkel implored the graduates to go out into the world and “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”

The challenges we face today, both with our government’s lies and the climate crisis it refuses to see, are just walls we must break down.  And if we do, anything is possible.

Environmental Justice Is Essential to Climate Justice, and Now it Has A Caucus

Earlier this week, I (Monica) attended the Sunrise Movement rally in DC, which most people think of as a movement of young people demanding immediate and drastic action on climate change.  But listening to the leaders of the movement, who are much more diverse than the traditional “green” groups, one thing was abundantly clear — this movement is about much more than just climate – it is rooted in environmental justice, with a desire to end the oppression of pollution that unduly burdens communities of color in the U.S.

Which is why the recent creation of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE) is so important.  The Green New Deal’s “architect,” Rhiana Gunn-Wright, explained it this way — if the only agency involved in implementing climate change and environmental policy reforms is the Department of Energy, it would be woefully inadequate.  The new environmental movement is intersectional — and minorities are insisting that they will lead it in order to ensure that low-income and communities of color see an end to toxic air, water, and waste pollution that are dangerous and are disproportionately impacting them today.

“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their zip code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin.” said Senator Duckworth. “That’s why I’m proud to start the Senate’s first Environmental Justice Caucus to raise awareness of the fact that communities of color face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way. Together, we will be strong advocates for every person’s right to a safe, healthy and livable environment.”

“We cannot achieve economic justice or social justice in this country without also addressing environmental justice,” said Senator Booker. “The fact that communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities across the country disproportionately face environmental hazards and harmful pollutants on a daily basis has been ignored for far too long.”

And Senators Duckworth, Booker and Carper made a powerful case for why their caucus is so important to galvanizing legislative support for laws and funding to correct these injustices.  In an op/ed in the Chicago Sun-Times that ran on Thursday, they recount the history of the movement, its foundations in civil rights, and where they hope to lead it.  We have, with their permission, excerpted it below.

Why we formed the Senate’s first Environmental Justice Caucus

By 

As a series of trucks headed toward Warren County, North Carolina, a crowd of residents gathered together to lie down in the middle of the road.

It was September 1982, and as they got down onto the ground, a movement rose up.

The residents were protesting North Carolina’s decision to dump 6,000 truckloads of toxic soil into their poor, predominantly African American community. They cried foul after officials brushed aside concerns that the toxic chemicals could bleed into their drinking water and poison their families. ….

They got arrested by the hundreds — peacefully, but relentlessly fighting back against this latest outrageous instance of environmental racism.

Eventually, the government had its way, and the soil was dumped from the trucks into the town.

But those protests sparked something larger. They ignited a movement to recognize every person’s right to a safe, healthy and livable environment and helped launch a new chapter in the fight for civil rights.

A chapter that found early roots on the South Side of Chicago and Newark’s Iron Bound section, led by heroes such as Hazel Johnson and Nancy Vak, who recognized the urgent need for environmental justice.

A chapter that’s still being written today.  …

Of course, one of the more recent, brazen examples took place in Flint, Michigan. There, the city’s attempt to save a few dollars set off a chain of events that poisoned more than 6,000 kids in 18 months, as elected officials covered their eyes to the crisis at hand.

But while Flint was a tragedy, it was not an anomaly.

There are thousands of communities in the United States with lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of their contamination crisis. …

There’s something wrong when black kids on the South and West sides of Chicago are eight times more likely to die from asthma than white children, as industrial fumes from chemical plants nearby fill their lungs while they play at recess.

There’s something wrong when parents in Newark, New Jersey are warned that their toddlers risk brain damage if they drink unfiltered tap water, or when the number one cause of absenteeism in school is asthma brought on by exposure to diesel emissions and air pollution. …

There’s something wrong when a light rain in Wilmington, Delaware, inundates the streets of Southbridge with flooding, putting the health and safety of predominately African American and working-class residents at risk. …

Every American deserves access to clean air and water. No matter their zip code, the color of their skin or the size of their income.

This isn’t “just” an environmental issue. …

It’s a matter of systemic racism, and of discrimination against those in poorer neighborhoods. …

That’s why on Earth Day, we officially launched the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus.

We refuse to stay quiet as the Trump administration ignores these crises or as Donald Trump’s EPA hems and haws, then avoids taking proper regulatory action, choosing corporate polluters over American lives time and time again. …

With this caucus, we’re hoping to continue the movement that those Warren County residents helped usher in as they lay down in their streets — doing everything we can to end these interwoven crises of health, safety and justice.

One bill passed, one water fountain tested, one child saved at a time.

We at Our Daily Planet could not agree more.  We will continue to tell the stories of the movement every day so that one day soon, together we can reverse these injustices.  To read the full op/ed, click here.

Climate Change Matters: Why I’m Speaking Out for our Earth’s Sake

By Arjun Marwaha

Climate change is real. Fires have ravaged many communities in my home state of California and unusually powerful storms have flooded other parts of the United States. More volatile climate events cannot be disputed. But, what ultimately drove me, a teenager, to channel this into a book? It is a little more complicated than that.

From a young age, I was the subject of many family jokes for religiously reading the weather section of the newspaper and then watching the Weather Channel instead of cartoons. I would constantly overwhelm my mother with questions, wondering if the rain that splattered on the windshield was considered “heavy”. This childhood curiosity later transformed into an exploration of the greatest threat to humanity — climate change. The weather that I had known as a cyclic, seasonal pattern suddenly became a gradual progression towards extreme weather events.

The 2017 California fire season literally hit home as four houses in my cousin’s neighborhood were incinerated. Police sirens and television screens signaled the fire containment efforts. However unlike the Earth that would be scarred for only a few months, my sense of security was forever scarred. This experience propelled me to begin discussions with my peers in the classroom. However, these conversations fell flat. In an effort to understand the issue, I initiated extensive research of the climatic effects and implications of climate change on human health; I ultimately compiled this information in ​Our Changing Earth: Why Climate Change Matters to Young People​. I not only researched what climate change is, but how it affects people so my peers can understand its relevance to them so they can take action and advocate for policies and practices that will protect the Earth.

The next generation will be inheriting planet Earth. We simply ask for a world that we can live in. For this reason, it is essential that young people are informed of the environmental threats that loom. This very concept motivates me: the minds of every person in their youth must be informed until legitimate governmental action is taken. As a published author and teenager, I hope to contribute to this cause through participation in protests and building online platforms. The Fridays for Future movement is a weekly school strike on Fridays where children demand climate action in several countries around the globe. Attending the March 15 Climate Strike in Los Angeles, California, I had the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds and encourage them to read my newly published book. This united protest is not only for a good cause and promoting awareness, it also helps to bolster momentum for climate policy in our government. As the current administration questions the validity of climate change and refuses to ratify the Paris Accords, many of us look forward to the 2020 elections. Everyday, I wake up and do everything in my power as a young citizen to push climate action. Knowing that the next generation has the impetus to resolve this political inaction and will have the ability to vote in future elections, I hope environmental policy is a major talking point in the political primaries for 2020. For these reasons—both political and personal—climate policy is the panacea to all future environmental threats. My past climate curiosity, my present climate awareness, and my future that lies before me are the reasons that I wrote this book. The reason I push for climate activism.

ARJUN MARWAHA, 17, is currently a junior at Fairmount Preparatory Academy. His debut book, Our Changing Earth: Why Climate Change Matters to Young People is available now on Amazon. You can learn more about Marwaha on his website and Instagram.

 

 

Georges Bank Should Not Become Exxon’s Bank

By Senator Edward J. Markey (D- MA)

This week, a court ruling forced the Trump Administration to put its plan to massively expand offshore drilling for oil and gas on hold. The Trump Interior Department’s record is one of blatant disregard for the ocean’s living marine resources and the people and coastal economies that depend upon them. The Massachusetts maritime economy—including tourism, fishing, and transportation—generated more than $17 billion and supported 136,000 jobs in 2015 alone, according to the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth.  If the Atlantic is opened to drilling, New England’s vital industries would be in direct danger of environmental disaster

At the same time as the Trump administration has had to delay its offshore drilling leasing plan, it continues to move forward in issuing permits for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. These permits allow oil and gas companies to use seismic air gun blasting, which is incredibly disruptive to fish and marine mammals. The piercing sounds that bounce off the ocean floor can harm or even kill whales and other marine mammals. At a hearing last month, my colleague in the House, Representative Joe Cunningham, sounded a bull horn and then told the witness, the Assistant Administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that the sound emitted by the seismic ships is 1,600 times louder than the shrieking bull horn.

Seismic blasting has been shown to harm a wide variety of economically and ecologically important species, from tiny plankton to large whales. Underwater seismic air gun blasting for oil and gas poses a significant threat to marine life and coastal economies. It threatens iconic species like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and it sets up the threat of an even more devastating oil spill. In addition, the results of the seismic testing activities will not be made available to the public, preventing coastal communities from conducting any cost-benefit analyses regarding how offshore oil and gas development will affect their economies.

Massachusetts fishermen have raised their voices against the Trump administration’s decision to allow seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic on the road to handing over our coastlines to Big Oil. Angela Sanfilippo, President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, decried the action, saying, “Fishermen have made great sacrifices to protect fish stocks and here we go with something that will harm the marine habitat and the marine environment. We as fish people know that these activities are harmful to fish, marine mammals and humans.” Opening up the Atlantic coast to oil drilling and seismic air gun testing has been widely opposed by fishing, tourism, and environmental groups up and down the East Coast, who recognize the harm to marine life from seismic blasting, the potentially catastrophic damage from an oil spill, and the impacts of fossil fuel emissions on the planet that could result. This opposition is bipartisan and extends to every level of government from Members of Congress to state and local governments to businesses. But none of that seems to matter to this president.

Make no mistake, the Trump administration is going to continue to pursue opening the waters off of Massachusetts and the entire East Coast to oil and gas drilling if they have the opportunity. In the meantime, they are willing to let the extremely harmful preparation for drilling continue.

But it gets worse. The Western Gulf of Mexico is replete with oil and gas rigs. Despite the lingering damage that the Deepwater Horizon explosion caused to the Gulf of Mexico, the Trump administration also announced plans this week to gut safety requirements for offshore drilling by revising the offshore drilling Well Control Rule. This rule was put in place by the Interior Department in the wake of the BP disaster to help prevent another spill. The Trump administration’s rollback limits the independent third-party oversight of key safety components that are essential to safe drilling operations and undoes efforts made after the Deepwater Horizon disaster to reduce the risk of environmental disaster. The Congressional investigations into the 2010 spill that killed 11 workers helped lead to the implementation of critical safety requirements for offshore drilling. Now, the Department of Interior is cutting 20 percent of the original rule, making current and future drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that even more dangerous.

President Trump’s rollback of safety requirements is a recipe for drilling disaster. Our workers, marine ecosystems, and coastal economies should not be put at risk from oil spills or drilling. Last month marked nine years since the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in American history. But instead of commemorating that tragic anniversary by preserving the rules that help prevent future offshore drilling injuries, deaths, and devastating spills, it is preserving the profits of oil companies that only value speed over safety. 

Congress should take action to prevent another Deepwater Horizon tragedy. In April 2018, I co-sponsored the Clean Coasts Act (S. 2720), which would codify offshore drilling safety measures, including the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule and the Arctic Drilling Rule. We cannot risk another oil spill that would devastate Massachusetts’ economy and our unique environment. Georges Bank should not become Exxon’s bank. Offshore oil and gas drilling would threaten Massachusetts’ fishing and tourism industry, even as we currently export nearly 3 million barrels of U.S. oil every day.  We enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches and coastline in the world. We must preserve them, which is why I will continue to fight the Trump administration every step of the way to protect our waters off New England and all our coasts from Big Oil.

Edward J. Markey has represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate since 2013. He is the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal Resolution.  And he is a loyal #FriendofthePlanet!

Special Earth Week Bonus EXCLUSIVE Interview with Gary Knell, Chairman of National Geographic Partners

It has been a huge year for National Geographic, including winning an Oscar for “Free Solo” as Best Documentary film and merging forces with Disney.  We caught up with Gary to talk about all that, plus his vision for National Geographic’s next phase.

ODP:   At a time when content is limitless, what has kept National Geographic at the apex of the media world when it comes to conservation journalism?

GK: For 131 years, National Geographic has been driven by our mission to help people better understand the world and their role in it. Through our relationship with the nonprofit National Geographic Society, we use our media platforms to amplify the important work they are doing in conservation, science, exploration, and education. In turn, we have unfiltered access to their explorers, grantees, and projects that are helping to catalyze action to work towards a planet in balance. It’s a virtuous cycle of storytelling that no other media organization can replicate.

ODP:   Congratulations — National Geographic’s Instagram following is now over 107 million — clearly, people are moved by your visual images.  How can these images change the conversation about conservation?

GK: Thank you- we have surpassed Nicki Minaj and most of the Kardashians, and now we are trying to catch Justin Bieber. Our success is proof that people are looking for more than selfies and food shots on the platform- they want to be engaged and inspired. Our account is managed by over 130 Nat Geo photographers who post compelling, impactful content that has the power to make a real difference in the world.

ODP:  With your new home in the Disney world, in what ways do you hope to carry on the National Geographic legacy of encouraging conservation and stewardship?

GK: Our new partnership with Disney significantly increases our scale and reach, bringing our mission-driven content to an even wider audience. We plan to harness the power of The Walt Disney Company’s enormous assets to connect millions of people around the world to National Geographic through Disney’s television networks, parks, products, experiences, and direct-to-consumer platforms including Hulu and the recently announced Disney+.

ODP:   Do you think there is a greater appetite in the public today for National Geographic’s unique content — is your share of the media market expanding in your view?  And do you think that is a result of an increased public interest in conservation issues?

GK: Definitely. We are seeing an increasing demand from audiences to not just be entertained- but to be engaged. Studies have shown that consumers are gravitating towards brands and outlets that have a purpose, and National Geographic is at the forefront of that. Purpose-driven brands build stronger emotional connections with consumers that go beyond the typical transactional relationship.

ODP:   National Geographic has not shied away from covering the climate crisis facing us today.  How can National Geographic help turn the tide on climate change?

GK: We are dedicated now, more than ever, to using our arsenal of content to illustrate the most effective ways to combat climate change.  For years, we have been ringing the alarm bells about this issue and now we are ringing them louder than ever. Climate change is covered in just about every issue of National Geographic magazine, as well as across our other platforms including on television, on social and digital, and most recently, in our “Paris to Pittsburgh” documentary with Bloomberg which chronicles what is being done in cities around the world since the Paris Agreement.

The results of a new NPR/Ipsos poll found that 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change but more than half of the teachers surveyed said they don’t teach it. The teachers cited several reasons for not building climate change into their curriculum including their own lack of knowledge on the subject as well as concerns about parent complaints. Using our reach to increase awareness and education about climate change can help address this issue and inspire real action. It’s part of why we come to work each day at National Geographic.

ODP:  What’s your favorite “coming attraction” from National Geographic and is there another Oscar in your future?

GK:  I’m really excited about “The Hot Zone”, based on the eponymous international best-seller by Richard Preston. Starring Julianna Margulies as Dr. Nancy Jaax, it is inspired by a true story about the origins of Ebola and its arrival on US soil in 1989. “The Hot Zone” premieres on Memorial Day and we can’t wait for people to see it.

And, coming off of our Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo”, our National Geographic Documentary Films team has a lot of exciting things in the works. We’re proud to have acquired the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced environmental documentary “Sea of Shadows” which won the Audience Award for world cinema documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  “Sea of Shadows” showcases the heroic efforts to save the endangered vaquita whale in the Sea of Cortez. All this and the National Geographic Documentary Films banner is only two years old- we’re just getting started.

Thanks so much, Gary.  We can’t wait to see these entertaining new shows.   And we are thrilled to think of the potential for impact now that National Geographic has teamed up with Disney!

ICYMI in theaters: We enthusiastically recommend “Free Solo” – to watch it, click here!

Starring Julianna Margulies, “THE HOT ZONE” premieres this Memorial Day.

Earth Day Starts in Your Own Back Yard

By Raleigh Kitchen, Membership and Outreach Manager, St. Simons Land Trust

Earth Day is usually associated with big demonstrations, laudable corporate commitments and remarks by national figures encouraging us to keep persevering in the fight for our planet. Those are all important actions, but we can’t forget that the most impactful things we can do to ensure a brighter future for planet Earth begin in our own communities.  Volunteering to build trails, cleaning up trash, and ensuring that wildlife habitats are protected are actions we can all take to bring large scale themes like climate change, biodiversity conservation, and sustainability to our own backyards.

The St. Simons Land Trust is an organization providing ways for people to do just that. Located on St. Simons Island, Georgia, our mission is to preserve the island’s natural and scenic character and enhance quality of life for present and future generations. We do this by acquiring highly developable or ecologically-vulnerable land, managing it with the utmost care, and providing passive recreation, educational outreach, and volunteer opportunities to the community.

The St. Simons Land Trust was founded in 2000 by a small but motivated group of community members. Their concern? Over-development. Who would ensure that wild maritime forests, natural green spaces, and historical and culturally significant properties would remain protected for their children and grandchildren? Over the last nineteen years, the Land Trust has protected more than 1,000 acres of land on an island rivaling the size of Manhattan. Our incredibly generous membership base of nearly 1,400 households and businesses, as well as those who have donated invaluable time and expertise, are who keep our mission moving forward and help us achieve our goals.

We cherish our precious barrier island and the unique wildlife and ecosystems that call it home. Part of our role is encouraging people who live and visit here to find a collective purpose in conserving St. Simons Island. Whether those people consider themselves conservationists or not, the notion that you and your neighbors have a shared bond through nature is a powerful thing.

This Earth Day we encourage you to start at home and join an effort in your community that is making a difference—and if one doesn’t exist, talk to your neighbors and start one! Or find a land trust like ours that is close to you. Volunteer opportunities are endless. It’s easy to see the big actions taking place around the globe and feel like there’s not much we can do. But sometimes the most impactful work involves each of us doing our part in our communities to ensure that the spirit of Earth Day lasts all year long.

Come take a virtual stroll through St. Simons: