Action for Climate Change

Learn how drones and rock dust are being used to combat climate change by reseeding forests and sequestering carbon.

When a ship has an emergency, the call for “all hands on deck” is put out. Today, with more and more scientists saying we no longer have a climate problem but a climate emergency, the call for all hands to be part of the solution is bringing people of all ages on deck.

Leslie Wharton, spokesperson for Elders Climate Action (ECA), is in the midst of organizing a growing number of “old hands” into a nationwide network of people who, instead of just talking, are getting together and taking action.

“If I were 12 to 20 [years old] right now and looking at our chaotic future, I would be terrified and angry,” Wharton says. “A year or so ago, some of the youth groups started referring to our generation as the ‘boomers,’ in a bad sense: ‘You boomers, you’re the ones who really caused all these problems.’ That sort of thing. So, we decided we would call ourselves the Boomer Brigade. We are here, as a brigade of boomers, to deal with climate change.”

ECA’s parent organization, Elders Action Network (EAN), is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In 2014, after attending one of Al Gore’s Climate Reality training workshops, Paul Severance, a member of EAN, started Elders Climate Action, which held its first in-person conference in September 2015 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with people from other climate activist groups.

“That’s how I got involved,” Wharton says. “I was there in 2015, and it was like, ‘OK, I’m concerned about climate, so what do I do? Maybe I can calm my racing heart and anxiety if I join this conference.’ They were going to lobby on the Hill… I went, and there were 45 to 60 other elder people gathered there. There were speakers, a purpose, and training, and we met with members of Congress. I just felt such a community, such energy and support and focus, that I was just overwhelmed. At the end, I was given a form that asked if I would be willing to volunteer? I said yes.”

Although most ECA members are in their 50s through 80s and even 90s, some are as young as 18. ECA’s mission is to reach out to older individuals and get them involved so they can use their expertise, experience, and knowledge to help build a sustainable future. For example, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an ECA member got a municipal composting program to take off.

According to Wharton, 12 ECA chapters exist, and among these chapters, some groups work for change on a city, state, or even federal level. Wharton says, “Very simply, we are doing things to provide the support, incentive, initiative, and the energy to get more and more people out there doing whatever they can do, right where they are.”

For more information, or if you’d like to join or start an ECA group, visit www.EldersClimateAction.org and click “Join Us.”

Note: This article is based on an interview with Leslie Wharton by William Ulrich and Dennis Paulaha. The complete interview can be viewed on the GlobalConscience.World website.

— Maggie Goldsmith


Drones vs. Climate Change

pine forest with half dead and half living trees

In British Columbia, Canada, wildfires are more frequent, pine beetles are more numerous, and loggers are breaching agreed-upon limits. The forests of British Columbia have been strained to the point that they’re now a net carbon emitter rather than a carbon sink. The result is a negative feedback loop: Climate change increases threats to the forest, and the diminishing forest increases inputs on climate change. Natasha Kuperman wants to break the loop.

Kuperman, a former real estate developer and architect, recently launched Seed the North, with the mission of reseeding forests using self-flying drones. The advantage of drones over good old-fashioned gunny sacks full of saplings is that drones can more easily reach the hinterlands of rugged northern Canada. They can also get into recently burned forests, which are too dangerous for people to enter.

In an email, Kuperman says her motivation is ecological, not economic. Thus, Seed the North will be planting forests that are more diverse than the monocrops commonly planted by the logging industry. To do this, the organization partners with First Nations communities with knowledge of local tree varieties. But Seed the North won’t prescribe exactly what grows in the reseeded areas. By using pods containing a variety of seeds, the idea is that the land will naturally select what will grow.


Rock the Carbon Away

In 2018, a group of researchers publishing in Nature thought rock dust added to crops might sequester carbon like nobody’s business. But, they write, “Audited field-scale assessments of the efficacy of CO2 capture are urgently required.” Today, researchers are running those field-scale assessments around the world, and some are just starting to collect dirt samples from their test crops.

In New York state, a Cornell research team is spreading rock dust on hemp. In California, another team is trying it on alfalfa. The same goes for some lucky cornfields in Illinois and sugarcane in Australia. There are risks and rewards in the work: Some rock dusts could contain heavy metals, and at scale, there may be availability issues, making dust transportation too costly to implement. But hopefully, the dirt samples from below the fields will show carbon captured from the air, and the plants will show improvements from added minerals.

Cost is a consideration for researchers interested in the potential of this technology to help combat climate change. Rock dust is a plentiful byproduct of mining, but as yet, there isn’t a way for farmers to earn anything back just for sequestering carbon in their land. That’s why researchers at University of Sheffield’s Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation are trying to quantify the carbon sequestration, so that if a market is ever created for “carbon farming,” farmers can get paid to use rock dust.


A Poison Map of America

smokestacks releasing smoke or smog in to the air

This past November, newsroom ProPublica released a bombshell report showing alarming levels of toxic pollution plaguing U.S. cities. In particular, poor neighborhoods, often with higher concentrations of people of color, are being poisoned with powerful cancer-causing agents from nearby factories.

What ProPublica has done, the report says, is something the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could do but doesn’t: Journalists layered data from different factories onto one map. Each individual factory in an area may fall below the EPA’s acceptable threshold of pollution, but taken together, they create zones of high cancer rates throughout the country, especially in the South, where environmental regulations are weaker. Still missing from the map are other factors, such as proximity to major roadways or industrial farming operations. Visit ProPublia’s Cancer Causing Industrial Air Pollution Map to explore and find areas impacted by pollution — and identify the industries most responsible.


How to Save Wildlife when Siting Wind Farms

a ship constructing a wind turbine off-shore

Motivated by calls to transition the United State’s grid to cleaner sources, the Biden administration announced in March that it intends to build approximately 2,500 new offshore wind turbines (OWTs). But OWTs are not ecologically benign, so deciding where they go can be difficult. In particular, some researchers are concerned about their impact on whales. Enter a new tool created by The Nature Conservancy.

The Conservancy’s Marine Mapping Tool is an interactive map with layers of data on marine life to help decision-makers site OWTs wisely. However, when using the tool, it’s difficult to find a stretch of coastal waters that isn’t flagged as habitat for a threatened species, and nearly impossible to find a spot with no life at all. Data can’t smooth out every conflict, but, as spatial ecologist Marta Ribera said in an interview with The Nature Conservancy, “The more people who use this information to understand the vast marine world when making decisions, the better.”

Explore the Marine Mapping Tool.


Turning Up the Heat on Butterflies

monarch butterflies on a plant

In March 2021, new research was published in Science magazine showing that butterfly populations in the western United States have declined, on average, 1.6 percent every year for the past 40 years. The study drew from data collected by professional and citizen scientists. The causes for the butterflies’ decline are many, but researchers were able to single out warmer fall months, which suggests that global climate change is largely responsible.

The study builds on findings from around the world showing declining butterfly populations. Recent research in Illinois has confirmed similar trends of decline across all species of butterfly, but some species have been hit harder than others. The eastern monarch has declined 80 percent in the past 40 years. Meanwhile, the western monarch has declined by a staggering 99 percent. In the 1980s, California saw millions of the migratory pollinators flutter up the countryside, but last year, there were fewer than 10,000.

This study’s conclusion that global warming is a culprit is surprising, considering that butterfly populations tend to boom with warmer summers. In the study, researchers write, “This work shows that climate change impacts may be insidious and unexpected in their effects.” While local interventions for the butterflies may help, the need to limit global climate impacts as quickly as possible is clear.

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