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Environmental Issues You Might Have Missed & How You Can Help

In the words of Carl Sagan, “we live in an extraordinary age.” The rise of technology and social media has helped shed light on some of the most pressing issues our planet faces that may otherwise be swept under the rug. Unfortunately, many environmental catastrophes remain less covered, especially those that don’t seem like an immediate threat or don’t have “viral” potential.

While learning about the problems our planet is facing can feel disheartening, we think it’s important to become informed so that solutions can be driven forward. This post presents two recent environmental tragedies and how you can help.

Oil Spill and Fire in Balikpapan, Indonesia

On March 31st, fisherman in Balikpapan, a city on the island of Borneo, reported a strange scent near an offshore oil refinery that is run by the state-owned oil and gas corporation, Pertamina. The scent was oil from a leaking pipeline that had become cracked when a ship dropped anchor, hitting and cracking the pipeline in the process. The oil rose to the surface and ignited, resulting in a horrific fire that ended with the death of five fishermen, thousands of injured residents, and the passing of the protected and endangered irrawaddy dolphin. The 700,000 residents are struggling with the toxic air and lack of a commutable bay, which many local fisherman rely on. Indonesia declared a state of emergency after the incident, with the oil reportedly covering about seven square  miles and polluting over 23 miles of precious coastal ecosystems and habitats.

Photo credit: Stefan Brending

The source of the oil spill was a controversial process, with Pertamina initially denying any responsibility for the leak despite having many underwater pipelines through the impacted area. Investigations are still underway, but currently both the owner of the anchoring vessel or Pertamina could be charged with the deaths of the five fisherman.

So how can you help? International problems are sometimes more difficult to have direct involvement in, especially in the case of oil spills when cleaning-up is a dangerous task best left to those who are trained. In addition to reducing your own oil consumption, one way to have an impact is to be a vocal to political leaders about reducing/banning oil drilling, especially in vulnerable areas. A recent example of this took place in New Zealand, where government officials have announced they will stop issuing permits for offshore drilling and exploration.

In many cases, reaching out to officials is easier than you’d think. Many nonprofits or conservation organizations have petitions (like this one) you can sign that go directly to senators. These are generally more effective than Change.org, though it doesn’t hurt to sign those too. And of course, you can call, email, or write letters that push for changes in your own words.

Proposed Roll Back of Endangered Species Protections

The second issue that needs to be addressed is the potential undoing of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which was enacted to protect critically endangered species from extinction. Of course, these policies can always be improved, but it’s hard to imagine that any person would be blatantly against the Act.

Well, believe it or not, there are people out there — and one of them just entered the White House. Susan Combs, a former Texas state official with strong ties to the oil industry, was selected as acting secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. She is a fierce opponent of the Endangered Species Act and has even referred to endangered species as “incoming Scud missiles.” She previously worked to remove protections of a bird called the golden-cheeked warbler, arguing that its listing “hurt military readiness” (WTF?) and successfully removed protections for a lizard in 2012.

Her appointment comes in conjunction with the news that the White House is reviewing a proposal that would roll back protections under the Blanket Section 4(d) Rule, a set of blanket protections for 300 threatened animal and plant species, including the northern spotted owl and manatee. Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director at the Center for Biological diversity, claims that easing protections could help oil companies that currently must avoid killing or harming habitats of threatened species.

While conservationists have been assured that current species on the list would not be affected by the change, it’s still very alarming. The proposal would replace blanket protections with protections tailored to each species. This would severely slow down the already cumbersome process of adding a new species to the list, which can take up to decade as it is. And threatened species don’t have more time.

Photo credit: Maegan Luckiesh (left) and Tom Kogut/USFS (right)

So how can you help? Right now, the best things you can do is spread the word to anyone and everyone you know. If the proposal goes through, the U.S. Wildlife Fish and Game claims that “public input will be invited.” So make sure you stay up to date with the issue and comment the second you can.

Digesting that there are so many environmental issues that are glossed over by the news can be overwhelming. But we are advocates for not dwelling on what can’t be undone, but rather finding ways to impact both legislation and the consumer demand that is often the root of these problems. People like you give us hope that change can, and will, come.

Have other ideas of how we can make an impact? We’d love to hear them. Comment below!


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