Dear EarthTalk: What exactly is Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and how does it work to train activists?
— Kelly G., Washington, D.C.
The Climate Reality Project (CRP) is a non-profit launched in 2011 by Nobel laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore to address climate change, following up on the release of his influential book and documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. CRP serves as the nerve center of Gore’s advocacy and education efforts to spread the word about the need to ratchet down our greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the cataclysmic effects of global warming.
CRP’s primary focus right now is in training volunteer advocates — so-called “Climate Reality Leaders” — to go out into their communities and educate policymakers and members of the public about the need to take action to mitigate climate change while countering so-called “climate denial” efforts funded by oil companies and perpetuated by right wing think tanks. So far, some 10,000 individuals from 135 countries have participated in CRP training events.
The primary tool these Climate Reality Leaders use to spread the word is a regularly updated slide show created by Gore in 2011 that lays out the facts behind climate change. It details example after example of human-induced global warming wreaking havoc by lashing low-lying areas with massive storms, killing thousands with blistering heat waves and turning human populations already marginalized by war and famine into migratory climate refugees searching for safer places to live.
Meanwhile, CRP’s free “Reality Drop” news aggregator tool collects online news stories about climate change that activists can share on social media channels to dispel myths about global warming to help set the record straight for millions of friends, fans and followers.
Most recently, CRP has supported the creation and distribution of the follow-up to an Inconvenient Truth, a new documentary entitled An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. The film, released worldwide in July 2017, follows Gore around the world, documenting how global warming is already ravaging the planet. CRP is working to get the film in front of millions of viewers, as it did with the original film, in hopes it will inspire a new generation of citizen activists.
And come December, CRP will host its seventh annual “24 Hours of Reality,” a free, live-streamed multimedia event that showcases what’s being done to fight climate change in each of the world’s top 24 greenhouse gas emitting countries. It aims to show viewers what they can do even if their country’s leaders aren’t as invested in positive change as they could be.
“When you talk, your friends and family listen,” reports CRP. “That’s why it’s so important that every climate activist use their voice to spread the truth about the climate crisis.” Even those who haven’t attended a CRP event can download the free “I Am Still In” action kit which teaches people how to build support for clean energy and other climate solutions at the community level.
“There are many ways to use your voice, and whether you write a letter to the editor of your local paper or call your representative or talk to your neighbors, you can make a difference in sharing the truth and shaping public opinion right when your planet needs you,” concludes CRP.
Dear EarthTalk: How does Canada’s newly released “Food Guide” differ from the food recommendations offered up by the U.S. government? — J. Wheeler, Albany, New York
These days, many countries around the world produce food guidelines periodically to help improve nutrition and encourage healthy lifestyles among their populaces. The most recent update for Americans came in 2013 when the Obama administration released its MyPlate guidelines suggesting that a healthy diet consists of 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits and 20 percent protein, the latter including some dairy. In unveiling the MyPlate guidelines, First Lady Michelle Obama suggested that Americans need not measure out exact proportions, but instead simply make sure to exercise portion control and fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables and the other half with lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
But earlier this year Canada came out with its own new set of more detailed food guidelines, which public health advocates are praising as an improvement over America’s relatively simplistic standards. Indeed, Canada’s new Food Guide incorporates specific recommendations for eating the right foods according to an individual’s age and gender, and also offers tips regarding serving size for each food and preferred cooking methods, as well as suggestions for maintaining a wholesome lifestyle and body weight with daily physical activity.
Based on input from some 20,000 Canadians, Canada’s new Food Guide encourages the intake of plant-based proteins like legumes and soy products rather than meats and dairy (although still advises to give whole milk, low-fat yogurt and cheese to young children). “There’s no more dairy food group, a win not only for public health but also cultural inclusivity, given that up to 90 percent of some non-European ethnicities are lactose intolerant,” says Anna Pippus, an animal rights lawyer and director of Farmed Animal Advocacy at the non-profit Animal Justice. “It’s also a huge win for the cows who really don’t want us to kill their babies so we can steal their milk.” Pippus adds that instead, the new guidelines “sensibly advise people to drink water.”
Canada’s new Food Guide also recommends avoiding fruit juices — even those that are 100 percent fruit — as well as other sweetened beverages and energy drinks, instead suggesting water as by far the best way to stay hydrated. The Canadian guidelines also promote making food from scratch whenever possible, while acknowledging that frozen, packaged and canned foods can be worthy substitutes, if necessary. And in a nod to the interconnectedness of our food systems, Canada’s new guide highlights how the choices we make about what we eat impact the environment and has serious consequences regarding keeping the planet safe and clean.
While Canada may be far ahead of many countries in promoting healthier lifestyles and smarter food choices, we can all learn a thing or two from our neighbors to the north about how making small changes in our diets can lead to healthier, longer lives. The release of Canada’s new guide also underscores the need for the U.S. to update its own food guidelines accordingly. But regardless of whether or not the Trump administration feels compelled to issue its own dietary updates, concerned Americans can take matters into their own hands by upping the proportion of organic and locally sourced foods on their dinner plates and tempering a balanced diet with moderate amounts of daily exercise.
Contacts: MyPlate, www.cnpp.usda.gov/MyPlate; Canada’s Food Guide, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/canada-food-guide/get-your-copy.html; Animal Justice, www.animaljustice.ca.
Dear EarthTalk: How are environmentalists using Instagram to further their causes? — Jason McNeil, Akron, Ohio
Instagram, the photo-based social network that Facebook bought in 2012 for a cool $1 billion, continues to rack up new users, doubling its base to 700 million monthly active users over the last two years. Environmental groups, activists and photographers have realized that they can get their messages out more effectively by embracing this newfangled communications medium that uses imagery to connect with the world’s increasingly attention-deficit oriented population of Internet users.
At the heart of the Instagram experience is hashtags, which are essentially keywords that Instagram users append to their posts so others can find them through simple text-based search. When someone searches for a particular keyword on the Instagram smartphone app or website, a list of imagery bearing the corresponding hashtag will pop up as results. Users can then choose to “follow” (i.e. subscribe to) any of the Instagram accounts that show up and will then see every new post by that “publisher” accordingly.
Several well-known green groups have active Instagram accounts, so eco-conscious users have many choices for getting their pictorial information. The Sierra Club (@SierraClub), the Center for Biological Diversity (@centerforbiodiv), Inherit the Earth (@inherittheearthorg), The Nature Conservancy (@nature_org), Conservation International (@conservationorg) and Clean Energy Advocates (@netzero.global) are among the better curated non-profit accounts to follow. And the International League of Conservation Photographers (@ilcp_photographers) features some of the best conservation-oriented imagery on Instagram from its network of hundreds of the world’s leading nature photographers.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of Instagram-only “feature” accounts devoted to environmental issues that are worth following. These curated Instagram account select posts from other users to feature on their accounts. Photographers and other users simply append corresponding hashtags to their posts and then these curated accounts can choose to pick them up and feature them for their own followers to see. Some excellent examples include #everydayclimatechange which features compelling imagery highlighting the challenges we face due to global warming. #climatechange is another hashtag sure to satisfy the urge to stay connected with climate activism. Wildlife lovers should be sure to check out @bbcearth from the BBC and its landmark Planet Earth series as well as @WildlifePlanet, which curates some of the best wildlife photography on the web. @Waterlust seeks to inspire scientific curiosity and sustainable products to support marine science research and education.
Likewise, several conservation-oriented photographers have embraced Instagram as a primary means for showcasing their work and inspiring environmental concerns and activism. Camille Seaman (@camilleseaman), Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen), Sean Gallagher (@sean_gallagher_photo), Brian Skerry (@brianskerry), Mattias Klum (@mattiasklumofficial), James Whitlow Delano (@jameswhitlowdelano), and Arrati Kumarrao (@aratikumarrao) each post jaw-dropping and inspiring photos regularly and are well-worth following if you need inspiration to do the right thing by the planet.
Every day new Instagram accounts with an ecological focus pop up. The best way to stay current is to locate existing feature accounts and then “follow” new photographers as they appear into these feeds. And unlike other forms of media, it doesn’t take much effort to learn about our world from Instagram.
Contacts: Instagram, www.instagram.com.
Dear EarthTalk: Why do antibacterial soaps and other products with triclosan get such a bad rap from health and environmental advocates? — Wanda Caravan, Hartford, CT
Antibacterial soap products aid in killing bacteria. But rumors that they are no more effective in doing so than traditional soap and water, coupled with concerns that such products could actually be harmful to human health and the environment, prompted the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to undertake studies, the results of which were released in 2016.
As to the possibility that these products can cause harm, the ingredient that has some scientists worried is triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal agent that has been shown to negatively affect hormone regulation in some animals. Human health relies on a well-functioning endocrine system to regulate the release of specific hormones that regulate metabolism, sleep and mood, as well as growth and development. When certain chemicals disrupt the system, they can do major damage to the physical process of maturation.
When you use a product containing triclosan, it absorbs through your skin or mouth and enters the body. One recent study found triclosan in the urine samples of 75 percent of the U.S. children and adults screened. Researchers also found that triclosan may contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs in the body. This can cause your immune system to weaken and become more vulnerable to serious illnesses and disease.
More than 95 percent of the consumer products containing triclosan are disposed of in sewage drains. As a result, the substance is now prevalent in our nation’s waterways. In fact, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study of 95 different organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, triclosan was one of the most frequently detected chemicals. This is particularly worrisome because triclosan is lipophilic, meaning it can be absorbed through fatty tissues like skin — and therefore many aquatic animals may be carrying triclosan in their bodies, as well.
As for the controversial question of whether antibacterial soap is more effective than traditional soap and water, the answer seems to be no. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing your hands thoroughly with ordinary soap and warm water is still just as effective at warding off infection as treatment with triclosan. A 2016 report by the agency found that the costs of antibacterial soaps likely outweigh the benefits, and now manufacturers will have to justify the use of triclosan in their products or pull them from store shelves.
The implications of these findings are that anti-bacterial soaps may not be widely available in the U.S. for much longer. The non-profit Beyond Pesticides reports that as a result of these negative studies, many major manufacturers “have quietly reformulated their products without triclosan.”
Says the FDA’s Theresa Michele: “Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere…we can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”
Contacts: FDA, www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm378393.htm; Beyond Pesticides, www.beyondpesticides.org.