Our Day of Independence

In today’s politically polarized America, a day of independence is much needed.  I just want to watch “House of Cards” or listen to “Hamilton” and not think about how they’re commentating on the current political climate.  Speaking of climate,  I’m not sure if the heavy air is from DC’s summer humidity or the political tension in Washington, DC. Either way, you could cut the air with a knife.  Let’s just say I am relieved to wake up today in the nation’s capital, attend the parade on Constitution Avenue, visit the National Archives and read the Declaration of Independence, see the fireworks on the Potomac River, and give thanks for living in America.

On this July 4, we all care about our beloved nation that was founded 241 years ago.  I’ve been reflecting on our divided country since January 20, the day of President Trump’s inauguration, and January 21, the day of the Women’s March on Washington.  I attended both events,  and I saw  opposite sides of the political spectrum.  There were several quotes I heard and thought of that I didn’t get to share back in January, but I hope still ring true this Independence Day.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) said that political and presidential elections are “not a celebration of victory, but a celebration of democracy.”  It is true that when we think of other countries and their current leaders, such as Jong-Un’s North Korea, Erdogan’s Turkey, or Assad’s Syria, it is hard not to be grateful that we live in a republic with democratic elections and freedom of speech for our representatives, our press, and ourselves.

Let this July 4 be “a celebration of democracy.”

As a nation of faith, it’s paramount that we recognize this sentiment from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “with malice toward none, [and] with charity for all.”  In that renowned speech, President Lincoln continued: “…with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  Similar to President Lincoln’s appeal to bind up the nation’s wounds,” the prayer at President Trump’s Inauguration implored us to “bind and heal our wounds and divisions, and join our nation to your purpose.”  This is something I pray for, as well.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all,” we can “bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Rather than trying to be a country we can never be, or no longer are, let us embrace the present and look forward, focusing on restoring our national unity and identity.  A campaign slogan that both Democrat and Republican presidential candidates have used  is “Let America Be America Again.”  This is the title of one of my favorite poems, written in 1935 by Langston Hughes.  “Let America Be America Again” is about how the American dream never existed for the lower-class American.  I first memorized this poem for my fourth-grade recitation contest.  I can’t relate to Hughes, who wrote the poem living as an African-American in the 1930s, but reciting his poem helped me learn his message and story.  It doesn’t hurt to walk in someone else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

Although Hughes writes about the plight of immigrants and minorities not achieving the freedoms and equalities they hoped to achieve, this message still resonates today, over 80 years later.  There is still so much to strive for: from racial inequality; to women’s fights for equal pay and paid maternity leave; to religious opposition to same-sex marriage; to the opioid crisis and unemployment in rural America; to the refugee crisis; to poor health care and veterans’ care.  But rather than being discouraged by the road ahead, Americans should take comfort in their shared trials and quests for equality, and lift each other up in their respective endeavors.  As Hughes writes so eloquently in the excerpts from his poem below, this is everyone’s America — and we can reflect on the vision of our founders and the values they want us to emulate today.

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s,
ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Where is Spring?

It is the first week of spring and it has not been the warmest welcome to the season.  Trees are brown and bare, garden beds are wilting, and winter coats have not yet been put into storage.  It’s not just dismal that we have had a prolonged winter — it’s disheartening that some flowers may never bloom.

The world-renowned cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. are victims of this unusually cold start to spring.  According to the New York Times and Washington Post, the recent cold weather has killed about half of the cherry blossoms that usually dot the city skyline and attract flocks of tourists.  What will Washingtonians do without our annual cotton candy wonderland?  And more importantly, why is it so dang cold?

I googled “why is this spring so cold” and nothing came up for 2017, which must mean not as many people as I thought were asking the same question.  One of the reasons why there have been record low temperatures in the springs of recent years is global warming.  The rapid rate of the warming Arctic is causing drastic changes to the pattern of the Jet Stream, which is one of the largest determinants of climate for North America.  The continent has had series of extreme weather since December 2013, where it’s been cold in the east and warm in the west.  This contrast in temperature in different regions is a major driver of weather patterns because it creates an imbalance in atmospheric pressure.  Ecologist Chris Helzer simplifies it for us:

“Arctic air to the north of us is less cold than it used to be, so there is less contrast between that air and the warm air to our south.  That weakens the jet stream, causing it to make large loops as it moves from west to east.  Equally importantly, those loops tend to stay in the same place for a long time.”

Keep in mind, the above information was from spring of 2013, when the average temperature in March was 13 degrees colder than March 2012.  At that time, warm air over Greenland was redirecting air currents “like a rock in a stream,” meteorologist Greg Carbin said.  So given this was four years ago, can you imagine how much Arctic ice has melted since, and how much warmer the Arctic Circle will become?  Because the strength of a jet stream depends on several variables that climate change effects — location of high and low pressure systems, warm and cold air, and seasonal changes — it seems like our springs will only grow colder with time.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, you may have to wait until you put freshly cut daffodils or tulips on your dining room table, and if you’re a runner you won’t be wearing your short shorts any time soon.  What we have experienced this March is not a coincidence, but a consequence of global warming and anthropogenic climate change.  My greatest fear is of the seasons reversing; of future generations not having a White Christmas or knowing that flowers are symbols of spring, not early summer.  Our falls are getting warmer and springs are getting colder and it’s not supposed to be this way.  Hopefully there is a solution, and that we figure it out sometime soon.

On the bright side, I attempted to see our nation’s capital’s cherry blossoms and they didn’t disappoint!  Enjoy these pictures of the half of the blossoms that persevered and are in full bloom, to the delight of many tourists and locals:

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Resolute with New Year’s Resolutions

We are two weeks into 2017, and writing the date has become a little more comfortable. 2016 was not everyone’s favorite year (just look up #2016in4words on Twitter), but as Lebron James liked to point out in an Instagram post, it wasn’t all bad for everyone. And 2017 doesn’t have to be either! Let this be a year of optimism, letting light overpower darkness, and community stamp out disunity. This can be a great year for everyone, starting with yourself and your new year’s resolutions.

While 75% of resolutions will last through the first week of January, only 46% will make it through 6 months, the University of Scranton reports. What’s unique is that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve that year’s resolution, while only 14% of people over 50 will achieve theirs. Thus, our generation of “millennials” — people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — are more capable of achieving their goals, if they put their mind to it. Although this Saturday Night Live sketch with Drake argues that making new year’s resolutions is much easier than keeping them, don’t be discouraged. Here’s my advice on being the 39% who keep their resolutions for the entire year:

  1. Improve upon what you’re already good at. If you were naturally born with the ability to be a good friend, use your social disposition to befriend your co-workers or church community. Branch out, and continue to meet new people and be a friend to them as well. If you are very disciplined with exercise and fitness, use your gift for routine to also become disciplined with reading, your faith, phoning your family, or other things you wish you did more frequently. Think about what you excel at or did really well in 2016, and try to use those strengths in other parts of your life in this coming year.
  2. Don’t be someone you’re not or do something you don’t enjoy. If you hate running with a passion, don’t make your top new year’s resolution to “run more.” There are plenty alternative forms of exercise that you don’t have to torture yourself with. I personally wouldn’t make my resolution to “travel to more countries” if I had a deathly fear of flying. I think that new year’s resolutions are a chance to be the best person you can be or reach your full potential — not to become someone you’re not.
  3. Make realistic resolutions, not ones you know you’ll fail at. I am someone who doesn’t hate running, so one of my resolutions is to run more in the new year. But “running more” or doing anything “more” is so vague. Add a quantity or frequency to your resolution — say how many times or to what extent you want to accomplish something. I’m not going to aim to run every single day because the Lord knows I don’t have the time or discipline! I would surely fail at that resolution. Thus, I am aiming to run 100 miles in 2017; it is a set number I can reach, and a realistic one as well (100 miles a year is about 2 miles a week, which is very attainable for me). I know you want to reach for the stars, but don’t make astronomical goals that end in disappointment. You will feel immense satisfaction when you make quantifiable, plausible resolutions and see that you are completing them.
  4. Think of something you have in 2017, and aim to make it amazing. For anyone who has a graduation, wedding, class reunion, or an event that is already on your calendar, try to look forward to it. Whether you want to get in shape for this event, or you’re on the planning side and hope that it goes well, it’s good to make it a part of your year-long resolution than start thinking about it a week before it occurs. For me, two of my resolutions are to have a fun 23rd birthday and an awesome high school reunion. These are two important events in 2017 for me and I’m going to aim to put more effort and thought into them than normal, which will make both days so much more special when they finally arrive.
  5. It’s not a bad thing if you didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. Walking with one of my friends after Starbucks the other day, she told me she didn’t have any new year’s resolutions, as if she needed to make some. But I told her that isn’t a bad thing! If you feel fulfilled, get the most out of each day, and don’t feel a dire need to improve on something personally, then don’t sweat trying to find something you do need to work on. Just keep doing what you’re doing and do it well.
  6. Ask your friends and family what their new year’s resolutions are. You may think you have a good list of things you want to accomplish in 2017, but there may be possible goals that didn’t even cross your mind. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers what they hope to achieve this year and perhaps they will inspire you! Or you may find similar resolutions, and you can offer to try to accomplish them together. Having someone hold you accountable or embark on a journey with you will increase your rate of success and make the experience more memorable.

Hopefully these little tidbits help your list of resolutions, and enable you to make 2017 the best year yet!

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Pop Climate

Most days I’m discouraged by what is trending on Facebook’s newsfeed: Justin Bieber’s newest tattoo, a Real Housewife got face-altering surgery, a Hollywood star’s child had their 8th birthday party. When there are so many more important issues in the world, why is this what we choose to fill our brains with? Then there are days like today, where Emma Watson is the third-top trending topic on Facebook. A renowned actress and activist, Watson often advocates for women’s rights, but represented the environment at Monday’s Met Gala in New York with her eco-friendly dress. Here is Watson’s Facebook post on her gorgeous back and white couture gown made from recycled plastic bottles:

Emma WatsonThank you Calvin Klein & Eco Age for collaborating with me and creating the most amazing gown. I am proud to say it is truly sustainable and represents a connection between myself and all the people in the supply chain who played a role in creating it.

The body of the gown is crafted from three different fabrics, all woven from yarns made from recycled plastic bottles (!). Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants on the planet. Being able to repurpose this waste and incorporate it into my gown for the ‪#‎MetGala‬ proves the power that creativity, technology and fashion can have by working together.

Each and every part of this beautiful gown has been produced with sustainability in mind, even the components that you can’t see. The zippers on the gown are made from recycled materials and the inner bustier has been crafted from organic cotton. Conventional cotton is one of the highest impact crops, using more chemicals than any other crop in the world. Organic cotton on the other hand, is grown without the use of the most harmful chemicals and is therefore better for the environment and people working with cotton. The organic silk used in the lining of my gown is certified to a standard that guarantees the highest environmental and social standards throughout production. It is my intention to repurpose elements of the gown for future use. The trousers can be worn on their own, as can the bustier, the train can be used for a future red carpet look… I’m looking forward to experimenting with this. Truly beautiful things should be worn again and again and again. ‪#‎30wears‬

I hope you like it! The ultimate #30Wears! ‪#‎MetGala2016‬

Emma xx

Since she was a role model for millions of girls as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movies series, she has inspired millions more through her philanthropic efforts and the time she gives as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Her climate change-focused dress to honor the Met Gala theme “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” is wonderful homage to the growing innovations in green technology.

Jimmy-Kimmel-and-Scientists-on-Climate-Change-1024x579The same night that Watson brought a green edge to her black and white gown in New York City, Jimmy Kimmel was also drawing attention to the perils of climate change at his live late night show’s studio in Hollywood. Using Sarah Palin’s new anti-climate change documentary, “Climate Hustle,” as his starting point, Kimmel roasted Palin’s climate denial and gave a profound monologue on the very real, undeniable scientific validity of climate change. “We’ve had 15 of the 16 hottest years ever since 2001. That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact,” Kimmel said, according to ThinkProgress.org. Visibly appalled by the number of climate deniers in America, and in Congress, Kimmel asked, “What if I decided to deny the existence of yogurt?” He was trying to demonstrate that it’s loony to deny the existence of something that is clearly real.

You can watch Kimmel’s monologue on climate change and critique of “Climate Hustle” here.

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

Leo DiClimate

The world (and internet) rejoiced as Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his first Oscar last night. Six nominations and two decades later, Leo’s epic journey to win an Oscar is well-deserved, and fans anticipated a lengthy speech to make up for all this time. Yet his acceptance speech warmed the hearts of viewers all around the world, because it was about an issue close to his heart: the warming planet.

Although Leo was wearing black tie instead of the bear fur he donned in “The Revenant,” the film he won for, his message was not far different from Hugh Glass, his character inside the fur. It’s pretty amazing that after all of those years of not winning, Leo dedicated his speech to something greater than himself, his career, and the Academy: the fight against climate change. And it’s even more amazing that Leo chose to act in “The Revenant” in the first place, even if he had a hunch that his first Oscar would come out of it. He endured chilling temperatures and primitive environments for almost half-a-year, at the age of 41!!!! I’m not even 41-years-old and I still complain about a night of camping in Yosemite last November. Forget the memes that say Leo is a cry baby — the dude is a beast. And the ferocity he brings to his award-winning acting is what he is bringing to the fight against climate change.

Earlier this month I wrote a blog post on “The Revenant” and its environmental message. Here is Leo’s own environmental message — the end of his Oscar acceptance speech — from last night:

And lastly, I just want to say this, making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world — the world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production had to move to the southernmost tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.

We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous peoples of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.

Lastly, Leo ended with a line to summarize his night:

I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted; I do not take this night for granted.

While many of my college friends rejoiced on Snapchat by saying “FINALLY!!!!” AND “YAAASSSSS LEOOOOO,” environmentalists were kind of feeling the same way. The Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy were enthusiastic about the content of Leo’s speech and supportive of its message:

SierraClub

NatureConservancy

Others did not think his speech was so extraordinary. Some climate change experts and Canadians had choice words on Leo’s comments about the warming weather on set in Calgary, Canada and snowmelt. Apparently a Chinook wind is a weather phenomenon where warm air is forced downward at the point where mountains meet the prairie. Although Leo made it sound like an effect of climate change, it’s not — it’s a very common occurrence in southern Alberta, where much of “The Revenant” was filmed.

Despite this small misunderstanding, it’s safe to say that Leo is an intelligent and passionate environmentalist. He has spoken at the United Nations Climate Summit, walked in a People’s Climate March, dedicated this year’s Golden Globes speech to the indigenous peoples in “The Revenant” and the land they care for, and now this Oscar speech. As climate change becomes an increasingly salient political issue on the global stage, we will probably see more climate speeches from Leo, and more Oscar speeches as well.

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

 

The Revenant

Leading the Oscar race so far with 12 nominations, “The Revenant” is Oscar experts’ favorite to win Best Picture. After seeing it in theaters, I was struck by the cinematography and sweeping landscapes of the raw wilderness in the film’s setting. Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu (who won an Oscar for “Birdman”), “The Revenant” was filmed in British Colombia, Alberta, Montana, and southern Argentina. There is no question the film is beautifully done and deserves its Oscar nod for Best Picture. But I think that the film’s cinematography speaks to the value of nature just as much as it focuses on the movie’s characters.

The film is “inspired by true events,” meaning it elaborately stretches the story of Hugh Glass, a renowned fur trapper and frontiersman. In 1823, Glass and fellow trappers were hired on an expedition in the South Dakota wilderness. On that expedition, an attack by a grizzly bear left Glass nearly dead, and his survival story made him the frontiersman of folklore he has become. (This article has no more plot spoilers, but to read more about what features of the film’s plot are historic or fiction, you can learn more here).

“The Revenant” has a number of environmental themes, and it’s not just because the movie’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, is an environmental philanthropist who has recently criticized fossil fuel industries. The suspense of the fur trappers’ trek through South Dakota reflects a much more primitive time in U.S. history, when bears and vengeful Native American tribes lurked around every corner. The movie also paints a picture of the ingenuity and resourcefulness required in that era; Glass crawls through a snowy wilderness for weeks, without food, horse, camping supplies, or the normal necessities required for a winter expedition. Although it is a film that follows a story of pain and revenge, the many moments where there is no dialogue or score — just the raw wilderness draped in untouched snow — are truly breathtaking.

Although the South Dakota wilderness in 1823 is not very applicable to the modern Midwest, the relationship between the fur trappers and indigenous tribes reflects today’s income inequality and maldistribution of resources around the world. Just as the American and French fur trappers made pelts out of the animals Native Americans used to support their way of life, corporations and countries in the Western world have robbed the rest of the world of clean air and a stable climate because of their excessive carbon emissions. In “The Revenant,” the chief of the Arikara tribe, Elk Dog, says to a French fur trapper who he does business with: “You all have stolen everything from us. Everything! The land. The animals. Everything!” When I heard this quote in the movie theater, I immediately saw the parallel between 19th-century colonial powers robbing indigenous tribes of their resources, and 21st-century societies polluting the ecosystems of the world’s poorest countries.

Another timeless theme in “The Revenant” is the spirituality of nature and how, like God, his Creation is infinitely greater than we are. In the book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke, he articulates the pastoralism and natural beauty that Iñárritu brings to life on the screen. “His awe of the mountains grew in the days that followed, as the Yellowstone River led him nearer and nearer. Their great mass was a marker, a benchmark fixed against time itself. Others might feel disquiet at the notion of something so much larger than themselves. But for Glass, there was a sense of sacrament that flowed from the mountains like a font, an immortality that made his quotidian pains seem inconsequential.” In a world of technology and concrete jungles, so vastly different from Glass’s lifestyle, we can strive to be like Glass — to be at peace with nature and respect its awe-inspiring scale, knowing that the leaves and rocks around us will long outlive our time on earth.

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

 

2015 Was Green

2015 was a year full of surprises. Oxford Dictionary declared an emoji as the word of the year, a Left Shark outshined Katy Perry at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was rainbow instead of white to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling favoring same-sex marriage. Yet one of the greatest surprises of this past year was the rise in global concern for the environment.

Climate change became a celebrity, and many portrayed environmentalism as our modern hero. From the Pope’s encyclical to the Paris Climate conference, environmental efforts provided glimmers of hope in a year filled with tragedies. Just as Star Wars fans have waited for “The Force Awakens,” I imagine that environmentalists have similarly been waiting for a year like 2015. As we look back at 2015, here is a glance at some of the past  year’s biggest moments for the environment.

Earlier this year, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama will “go down in history as the greenest president we’ve ever had,” and 2015 is a good example of why that may be true. In his penultimate year in office, Obama announced the Clean Power Plan under the EPA, which reduces carbon pollution from power plants to fight climate change; vetoed a bill and rejected a proposal for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a 1,200-mile pipeline that would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast and cause damage to the land it crossed; and he found time to hang with TV host Bear Grylls in the Alaskan wilderness for Grylls’s survivalist reality show, in efforts to “highlight the perils of climate change.” The president’s approval rating may be at all-time low for his two terms, but his environmental record will be one of the highest in presidential history.

One of the most important people in Washington, DC this year was not the president in the White House, but the pontiff in the white hat. In 2015, Pope Francis became more than the head of the Catholic Church: he became the foremost fighter against climate change. On June 18, the Vatican released Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato si’: On Care for our Common HomeThis document was the Pope’s written call for the world to unite in effort to preserve our planet for posterity and to honor God’s Creation. He echoed his environmental message in his address to U.S. Congress during his historic trip to the United States, where he chided U.S. policymakers for failing to ameliorate climate change and the wealth distribution of the country.

Across the county from the pope’s historic East Coast tour was the historic West Coast drought. California’s four-year drought has crippled the golden state’s agriculture and been declared a state of emergency. Yet the disaster has also rallied Californians and produced successful conservation initiatives, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown. California is short about 20 inches of rain since 2012, which prompted Gov. Brown to order a 25 percent reduction in urban water use. By June 2015 the state had surpassed that conservation target. State-sponsored initiatives such as water tips, subsidized drought-tolerant lawns, efficient water irrigation systems, and more have helped California stay on track. While dumping black “shade balls” in a Los Angeles reservoir was not successful, hopefully other future initiatives will continue to help the thirsty state. (Seriously, who thought that dumping 96 million black plastic balls into a body of water was a good idea?)

2015 was also a year where people responded to environmental issues, made their voices heard, and became activists for the environment. The death of Cecil the Lion, who was lured from a protected wildlife habitat in Zimbabwe to be killed by an American big-game hunter, outraged animal activists, celebrities, and social media users around the world. “Kayaktivists” in Seattle, Washington, protested Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic, pressuring the company until Shell announced they have cancelled their Arctic drilling program for the foreseeable future. Renewable energy is also on the rise, and climate activists have been demanding 100 percent renewable energy for all; consequently, solar and wind are now growing faster than the electricity generated by fossil fuels, and by the mid-21st century it is totally possible for the world to run on renewable energy alone. These same climate activists made the Global Climate March a historic event: on the eve of the Paris Climate summit, about 800,000 people marched in about 180 countries, letting their world leaders know that they would not settle for less than a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase on global warming.

The Global Climate March was comprised of over 2,300 marches around the world, all leading to the Paris Climate Conference. In early December, world leaders from 195 nations met in Paris, France to reach an international climate agreement. The conference, COP21, produced a “landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions,” the New York Times reports. The agreement, which United Nations diplomats have been working toward for nine years, signals an end to the fossil fuel era. While the conference negotiations fell short for many who were hoping for stricter, more committing requirements for each country, it was a historic accord nonetheless. “For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It seems that 2015 is the year that more of the world recognized climate change as a crucial problem, and the environmental movement is coming to fruition.

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Paris Climate Conference

In light of the recent terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, the Paris Climate Conference (also known as COP21) is an opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate strength and unity by ratifying an international climate agreement. In response to the attacks, President Barack Obama said, “This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”[i]

One could argue that, like terrorism, climate change is an international security threat that pervades all borders. Climate change is not just an attack on the people of Maldives or Bangladesh – both countries are likely to be inundated in the imminent future by rising sea levels –, but climate change poses a threat to all of humanity and the universal values we share. For the Maldives Ambassador, unless the COP21 produces a legally binding agreement, many will view the conference as a “major failure.” No one hopes that “Paris will almost certainly fail” as some have predicted, nor does anyone want to anticipate the aftermath “if Paris is seen as a failure.”[ii]

The COP21 is of critical importance to the environmental community because of its potential to establish a legally-binding international agreement committing its participants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to author and foreign affairs specialist Robert D. Kaplan, the environment is more than just a scientific claim or partisan issue. “It is time to understand ‘the environment’ for what it is: the national security issue of the early twenty-first century,” said Kaplan.[iii] The Paris Climate Conference is climatologists’ answered prayer to establish an international consensus on addressing climate change. In early December of 2015, this two-day conference will, “for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”[iv] Yet for policymakers, citizens following worldwide, and even millennials, who may not believe in anthropogenic climate change, there are still valid reasons to think seriously about this climate conference:

1. The Paris Climate Conference is an opportunity for the United States to regain ground as a global leader and redeem itself for not joining the Kyoto Protocol.

2. In light of the recent Paris attacks, the COP21 is an opportunity for the international community to unite against terror and over the joint fight against climate change.

By committing a reduction in carbon emissions, the United States has the potential to set the standard at the Paris Climate Conference for economically developed countries, and thus redeem themselves for their lack of participation in past environmental initiatives. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore Jr. brought climate change to the minds of many Americans through his Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. “We have everything we need to get started,” Gore said, “with the possible exception of the will to act.”[v] One of the major ways the United States can act is by committing to a legally-binding agreement at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, unless the Kyoto Protocol of two decades ago repeats itself. After “intense negotiations,” a handful of countries did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol treaty, including the United States.[vi] At the time, leaders in the U.S. Senate condemned the Kyoto Protocol as a “flawed treaty,” and President George W. Bush called the treaty “ineffective, inadequate, and unfair to America.”[vii] Bush argued that the treaty would severely damage the U.S. economy; by not ratifying the treaty, the U.S. could grow the economy and, at the same time, improve the environment through technology.[viii]

Looking back at Kyoto, the United States looked self-interested and cowardly by not ratifying the treaty; our country has become more passionate about addressing climate change since Kyoto, and the COP21 is our nation’s opportunity for redemption. According to the Pew Research Center, a global median of 67 percent of participants say that in order to reduce the effects of climate change, people will have to make major changes in their lives. A median of just 22 percent believe technology can solve this problem without requiring major changes,[ix] which contrasts to Bush’s comments in the early 2000s. Even in the U.S., a country known for its technological innovations, 66 percent of participants believe people will need to significantly alter their lifestyles.[x] Thus, citizens in the U.S. are aware that it will take individual participation to partake in a global environmental initiative; if the U.S. commits to reducing its carbon emissions at the COP21, it seems that according to this Pew Research poll, more Americans than anticipated will be ready to join.

In a statement on November 11, 2015, Secretary-General Ki-moon said, “Helping people in need should not be a zero-sum game.”[xi] The hope is that the United States’ representatives at the COP21 do not view a climate change agreement in terms of economic gains or losses, but as, first, a moral duty to preserve the future our nation and aid our fellow countries who are suffering from the effects of climate change and, second, an act of respect to the city of Paris and our allies in this time of terror. Just as concerned citizens from around the world have expressed their support of Paris during this difficult time – via profile pictures, social media campaigns, candlelit vigils, and more – we can also support the beautiful city by voicing support for the Paris Climate Conference. If millennials write to their respective members of Congress, use social media to inform their friends and follow the COP21, and participate in the Fast for the Climate on December 1, then we can mobilize national support for the United States and President Obama to set the tone for an international climate agreement.

Featured Image: Allies Day, May 1917 by Childe Hassam, National Gallery of Art

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

[i] Melanie Garunay, “President Obama Offers a Statement on the Attacks in Paris,” WhiteHouse.gov, November 13, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/13/watch-president-obamas-statement-attacks-paris.

[ii] Jennifer Jacquet and Dale Jamieson, “Here’s What to Hope for From the Paris Climate Talks,” Grist, October 13, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://grist.org/climate-energy/heres-what-to-hope-for-from-the-paris-climate-talks/.

[iii] Dan Caldwell and Robert E. Williams Jr., Seeking Security in an Insecure World, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 227.

[iv] “COP – What’s it all about?” Sustainable Information Forum 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21.

[v] Mark A. Boyer, Natalie F. Hudson, and Michael J. Butler, Global Politics: Engaging a Complex World (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013), 470.

[vi] Boyer, Hudson, and Butler, Global Politics, 477-478.

[vii] Ibid, 478.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Bruce Stokes, Richard Wike, and Jill Carle, “Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions,” Pew Research Center, November 5, 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/11/05/global-concern-about-climate-change-broad-support-for-limiting-emissions/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=climate_us.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Proposed Reductions in Development Aid,” UN.org, November, 11 2015, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=9239.

How Green are the Candidates for 2016?

Technically, I should be registered with the Green Party. During the season of President Obama’s 2012 election, I took the iSideWith political quiz to see what party my views aligned with, and surprisingly I got the Green Party. Jill Stein 2016 anyone? While Dr. Stein is seeking her party’s nomination for the presidency in 2016 (you can check out her campaign website here), her chances of residing in the West Wing are slim. Thus, it’s worth taking a look at where the leading presidential candidates stand on the environment, from their policies to their personal views.

Here’s the rundown on Carly, Marco, Jeb, Hillary, and Bernie, tentatively in the order from least environmental to the most.

Carly Fiorina:

The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard is taking the GOP and 2016 presidential race by storm; she currently ranks second among Republican candidates, polling at 15 percent as of Monday (up from 3 percent in early September). Even though she wore blue at the last GOP debate, her views on the environment are far from liberal. She is anti-environmentalism and views EPA regulations as too restrictive. In 2010, Fiorina received the “People’s Choice Award” for the notorious Dirty Dozen list, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters.

When addressing climate change on the campaign trail this summer, Fiorina’s stance is not abnormal for a conservative who is concerned about the economy: she questions whether climate change is real, whether it is worth spending resources on to try to stop, and if it is real, whether the U.S. can help stop it. Unfortunately for Carly, 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists believe that climate change is occurring (according to NASA’s Global Climate Change initiative), so I think I would have to side with the experts on this one.

Lastly, for those living in California — where the effects of the drought are greatly deteriorating the state’s agriculture and exacerbating wildfires — Carly said that the drought is “man-made.” She blames the state’s historic drought on liberal environmentalists. I wonder why she didn’t mention that during the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley?

Marco Rubio:

The Florida senator has been criticized for taking a stance on climate change characteristic of his party: “spineless” and “bending to the anti-scientist crowd without sounding wholly anti-science,” says the Washington Post. On CBS Face the Nation last April, Rubio said that “humans are not responsible for climate change.” Rubio says he is not sure about scientists’ claims, but what he can say with certainty is that trying to reverse climate change would “have a devastating impact on our economy.”

In 2014, Rubio was in the public spotlight for “back-tracking” on climate change: as a presidential hopeful, Rubio was one of the few Republican frontrunners who recognized climate change, but he lost credibility for denying human activity’s role and denouncing scientists’ claims. As recently as earlier this month, Rubio has announced that he will reverse President Obama’s climate change agenda, also condemning the Environmental Protection Agency’s initiative to reduce greenhouse emissions. Like many other Republicans, Rubio’s priorities lie with the economy rather than the environment. If elected in 2016, you can be sure that Rubio will focus more on green dollar bills than green initiatives.

Jeb Bush:

Where Catholic candidates like Rubio did not criticize the Pope’s comments on climate change this summer, Catholic and presidential candidate Jeb Bush did. On Wednesday the former Florida governor attended Pope Francis’s mass in Washington at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. While Bush and his wife kept a low profile at the event, he did not avoid the limelight this summer when he spoke out against the Pope weighing in on climate change. “I think the Pope is an extraordinary leader of the church whose teachings I try to follow,” Bush said in June, according to the New York Times. “That’s why I go to Mass. I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.”

It seems that the son of Bush 41 and brother of Bush 43 has been flip-flopping on climate change. While he criticized the Pope this summer for weighing in on politics, he has said in recent years that “as a public leader, one’s faith should guide you.” At a campaign event in New Hampshire last June, Bush said that the science on global warming is “not complete”; yet he has also offered a “stronger assertion” than many of his Republican rivals that global warming is a threat and the federal government should address it. He opposes Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and his administration’s Clean Power Plan, but he has suggested creating incentives to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

It’s unfortunate that Jeb Bush has made so many contradictory comments, because he truly does have a more “centrist position” on climate change than most of the Republican presidential field. As the former governor of Florida, he’s vocalized his concern for global warming’s future impact on the city of Miami, as well as the U.S.’s need to “develop a consensus about how to approach” global warming without taking away jobs from Americans or creating hardships for the middle class. He is optimistic about climate change, stating that there are “technical solutions for just about everything, and I’m sure there’s one for [global warming] as well.”

Hillary Clinton:

Clinton’s views are as green as some of her pantsuits, which is very green. Her campaign adviser, John Podesta, was Obama’s senior counselor until last February and specializes in climate change policy. Clinton’s selection of Podesta is “good for climate hawks,” some have said. During her time in the Senate, Clinton supported clean air initiatives and EPA funding, sponsored bills to finance green-collar jobs, and advocated a cap and trade system (On the Issues). In June 2014, she promised the U.S. would help raise $100 billion a year by 2020 “to assist poor countries in coping with climate change as long as America’s demands for a global warming pledge are met,” the New York Times reports. Clinton has been praised for her understanding of the science of climate change (she’s spoken at the League of Conservation voters), and advocacy for climate change awareness and women’s rights (she launched a new United Nations initiative for this as Secretary of State).

While the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State is environmentally conscious, she has accepted some money from some not-very-green hands. In April, it was revealed that her family’s Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from Pacific Rubiales, the Colombian oil company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The founder of the company, Canadian Frank Giustra, privately donated millions more to the Clinton Foundation, and now sits on the organization’s board.

Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign has also been tainted by some dirty donors; fossil fuel lobbyists have been raising money for her campaign. These bundlers are linked to industries in big oil, natural gas, and the Keystone Pipeline. Speaking of Keystone, Clinton just voiced her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline yesterday (September 23rd). Today, she has also made the news by unveiling her plan to make the U.S. a “clean energy superpower,” if elected president. Could Hillary be in the Oval Office again? And would her climate change policies be more successful than her health care initiatives as First Lady? (P.S. You can visit her campaign website page on climate change here. Warning: it seems like a climate change petition, but it’s actually just for the campaign to get your email and then ask if you’ll give $5 or $2,700. Thanks, Hil).

Bernie Sanders:

Last but not least, the Independent senator from Vermont is good at making his fellow presidential candidates #FeeltheBern; but how will he address global warming’s burning impression on our planet? Mother Jones has called Bernie Sanders the “best candidate on climate change” for the 2016 presidential election. Sanders was also ranked the number one climate leader in the Senate for their last congressional session, by the Climate Hawks Vote, a new super PAC.

Has Sanders earned these praises? Absolutely; in 2013 alone, the senator introduced the Climate Protection Act and Residential Energy Savings Act. Sanders also criticized democratic competitor Hillary Clinton earlier this summer, calling her climate change plan “not enough” and vehemently criticizing her failure to take a stance on the Keystone Pipeline (which she just announced she opposed two days ago). The senator is also one of the only 2016 presidential candidates who has called for issue-specific debates, such as one on the environment. “I think environmentalists deserve a debate,” Sanders said, “so we could talk about how we move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel.”

One criticism of Sanders’s stance on climate change is that he isn’t promoting it enough. Some critics are saying they expected him to have more agenda-setting with climate change, and so far, his campaigning on the issue has been underwhelming. It also doesn’t help that climate change is an issue buried at the bottom of Sanders’s “laundry list of policy proposals,” a mere 17th in a list of policy issues Sanders prioritizes. As the campaign continues, will Sanders voice his ardent environmental views? Will he continue to say that “climate change is the single greatest threat facing the planet,” as he has said before, or will he cater to a country that views ISIS and Iran’s nuclear program has greater threats? It’s still over a year until the actual election…who knows what could happen?

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

U.S. Open: Chambers Bay

It’s been called one of the “worst golf courses” in the country, “a course with a real attitude,” and “controversial.” Even a pro on the PGA Tour, Ryan Palmer, said “it’s not a championship course.” So then why has this course been pretty successful at hosting the U.S. Open this week? Why have commentators and journalists been exploring the course’s intrigue rather than lambasting it? Because although Chambers Bay is undeniably unconventional for a golf course, especially as a stage for the U.S. Open, it is a prime example of what golf courses should strive for in the future.

The host of the U.S. Amateur in 2010, Chambers Bay was an unused sand quarry along Puget Sound before it opened in 2007. The USGA tapped the public course in University Place, Washington, eight months after it opened to host the U.S. Open. It is the first U.S. Open to ever be held in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. For a U.S. Open course, Chambers Bay is unusually young and regionally unique. But it also has one more crowning achievement: it is incredibly sustainable.

The Chambers Bay golf course in University Place, Washington (Photo: Business Insider)
The Chambers Bay golf course in University Place, Washington, and host of the 115th U.S. Open (Photo: Business Insider)

In his article in The Washington Post on Chamber’s Bay, Thomas Boswell writes, “the sustainability of the course, its low cost to maintain and its low water usage were all appropriate to the 21st century.” On the Chambers Bay website, Pierce County boasts of its public course’s walking-only policy, which frees the course from the confines of cart paths and saves the need of operating electrical golf carts. Because there is no wear from carts, the course is covered in fescue grass from tee to green. “In addition to providing a fast, firm surface that is fun to play, fescue’s deep roots make it incredibly drought tolerant, able to go days without supplemental watering,” the course website says.

This fescue grass is an agent of change for the USGA: they are trying to move professional golf away from its lush fairways to a “brown is the new green” ethos. This “back to natural” movement gained traction last year at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where its No. 2 course “had been allowed to grow back to its natural loose, free and downright scruffy-looking self.” Chambers Bay sees themselves as another pioneer of this movement: “With its limited use of water and minimalist maintenance philosophy, Chambers Bay is a poster child for sustainable golf,” the website reads. They are “encouraging other courses to move away from lush but water-intensive landscaping that is increasingly becoming untenable in communities facing competing demands for water, particularly in the water-starved Southwest.” The Los Angeles Times endorses the USGA’s efforts and expresses, in a recent article, the water problem in golf: “The economic crisis is clear. In the last seven years, the U.S. has lost 800 golf courses. One estimate put the annual rise in water costs for courses at 11%. Those two things cannot be disconnected.” Water usage is clearly something that must be addressed by the golf community and accounted for in course design, and the 2014 and 2015 U.S. Open courses have been perfect examples of this.

“With its limited use of water and minimalist maintenance philosophy, Chambers Bay is a poster child for sustainable golf.”

In conclusion, Chambers Bay is a success story. The course has produced some challenging yet exemplary golf, with four co-leaders going into the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday. While it may be criticized for its unconventional layout, it is a links course by design and a sustainable course by its structure. It is playable for the professionals while still being integrated into the landscape. Regardless of who wins the championship, “I think Chambers Bay is the story today,” former pro golfer and current commentator Greg Norman said on FOX’s U.S. Open coverage this morning. The U.S. Open may be the oldest major in America, but it is ever-changing and the USGA strives to honor 21st-century sustainability while maintaining 115 years of tradition.

© Rissponsible Living, 2015