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At the 7th Democratic debate, candidates took every opportunity to talk climate

Six candidates for president took the stage in Iowa on Tuesday night for the seventh Democratic national debate, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer, the smallest and whitest group of Democratic contenders to take the debate stage yet, talked war with Iran, health care, and, yes, impending climate chaos.

The past six debates have been a mixed bag when it comes to rising temperatures — some were surprisingly heavy on climate talk, others impossibly light. The last debate hosted by CNN, back in October, contained exactly zero questions about climate. But this time around, CNN got its act together, with a solid chunk of climate discussion in the final half hour of the debate.

Debate moderators may take ages to get around to climate change in these debates, but the candidates have gotten increasingly adept at weaving the issue into their answers to other questions. This time around, Wolf Blitzer, Abby Phillip, and the Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel could barely keep a lid on the climate action in the first half of the debate. At one point, Pfannenstiel tried to get Sanders to stay on topic. “We’re gonna get to climate change but I want to stay on trade,” she said. “They are the same issue,” Sanders shot back.

Right off the bat, Buttigieg and Warren touched on the importance of accounting for the impacts of climate change on national security in response to the moderators’ first round of questions, which were about the candidates’ fitness as commander-in-chief. But things really started heating up when Steyer, the billionaire climate activist, fielded a question about Iran by pivoting to the mega-fires still burning in Australia right now. “There is a gigantic climate issue in Australia which also requires the same kind of value-driven coalition-building that we actually should be using in the Middle East,” he said.

Bernie Sanders, in response to a question about Trump’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, blasted the agreement for not being climate-friendly. “Every major environmental organization has said no to this new trade agreement, because it does not even have the phrase ‘climate change’ in it,” he said. “I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world.”

A couple of minutes later, during the same section on trade, Buttigieg — the only candidate who will likely still be alive when the worst effects of warming kick in — jumped into the climate fray. “What I’ve noticed is pretty much all of us propose we move on from fossil fuels by the middle of the century,” he said. “The question is, how are we gonna make sure any of this actually gets done?” The former South Bend mayor (his term ended on New Year’s Day), recently came out with a green infrastructure plan that aims to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges, and tunnels while simultaneously making them more climate-resilient.

When the moderators did finally get around to asking some questions about climate change during the last quarter of the debate, the candidates were ready. But not all of them were successful in relaying their environmental expertise.

The moderators started by asking Buttigieg how he would protect farmers and factories in Iowa during natural disasters. His answer was light on specifics. Displacement “disproportionately happens to black and brown Americans, which is why equity and environmental justice have to be at the core of our climate plan,” he said. Asked why she doesn’t support a ban on fracking, Klobuchar pointed out that methane emissions from natural gas pose a growing threat to the planet but, in the same breath, said natural gas is an important “transition fuel” for achieving a renewable economy. That didn’t go over well with climate activists.

Steyer showed off his climate vocabulary, correctly noting that the question about protecting farmers was really about managed retreat. He added, “I’m still shocked that I’m the only candidate who will say this: I would declare a climate emergency on day one.” But his moment in the sun was cut short when Pfannenstiel asked him to defend his past investments in oil, gas, and coal. Steyer responded that he opted to divest from fossil fuels more than a decade ago after grasping the severity of the crisis.

Warren, who is nothing if not consistent, said tackling corruption is the first step in addressing rising temperatures. “Climate change threatens every living thing on this planet, and the urgency of this moment cannot be overstated,” she said. Biden, who spoke next, tried to establish himself as the O.G. climate advocate. “Back in 1996 I introduced the first climate change bill and — check Politifact: They said it was a game changer,” he said. But then another O.G. climate advocate got his moment.

“We have got to take on the fossil fuel industry and all of their lies and tell them their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet. That’s what the Green New Deal does,” Sanders said, making a plug for his $16 trillion climate proposal. The Vermont Senator recently nabbed an endorsement from the Sunrise Movement, a climate activist group that has been successful in pushing high-profile Democrats to embrace progressive climate policies.

In all, the portion of the debate devoted to climate change spanned about 10 minutes. But that total rises when you take into account all the moments that candidates brought up climate during the rest of the debate. If Tuesday night was any indication, the next 73 debates will be chock full of climate nuance.

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At the 7th Democratic debate, candidates took every opportunity to talk climate

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Arctic wildfires are releasing as much carbon as Belgium did last year

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Arctic wildfires are releasing as much carbon as Belgium did last year

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Bernie Sanders and AOC want to declare a climate emergency. Does that mean anything?

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Bernie Sanders and AOC want to declare a climate emergency. Does that mean anything?

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TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was flailing. Trump just revived it.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, it looked like TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was in hot water. Decades of activism, protests, and court cases were paying off, big league, as delays harmed the financial viability of the project. On Friday, the president revived the project with a stroke of his executive pen.

TransCanada had been losing in U.S. courts for the past few years: Obama-appointed federal judge Brian Morris ruled in November that President Trump failed to consider climate change when he approved the pipeline in 2017. In response, TransCanada turned to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to override the ruling, which had required the Trump administration to draw up a new environmental impact report. But that court sided with Morris, a decision that threatened to cause the company to miss out on the 2019 construction season.

Luckily for TransCanada, the company has a friend in the White House. Trump just signed a presidential permit that allows it to sidestep the courts and “construct, connect, operate, and maintain” the line between the U.S. and Canada, in addition to maintaining a facility in Montana that will ship tar-sands crude oil into the United States.

Like many Trump administration decisions, the move is considered highly unusual. If Trump’s decision holds up, it revokes a previous permit granted by Trump — the one that had been found insufficient by Morris — and reissues it.

“Our first response upon seeing this White House communication was that it must be an April Fools joke,” a spokesperson for the Northern Plains Resource Council, a plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit against Keystone XL, said in a press release. “This new effort appears blatantly illegal on its face and is an unprecedented effort by a United States president to supersede the judicial branch of the United States government.”

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TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was flailing. Trump just revived it.

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Once They Were Hats – Frances Backhouse


Once They Were Hats
In Search of the Mighty Beaver
Frances Backhouse

Genre: Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: October 1, 2015

Publisher: ECW Press

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“Unexpectedly delightful reading—there is much to learn from the buck-toothed rodents of yore.” — National Post   Beavers, those icons of industriousness, have been gnawing down trees, building dams, shaping the land, and creating critical habitat in North America for at least a million years. Once one of the continent’s most ubiquitous mammals, they ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Rio Grande to the edge of the northern tundra. Wherever there was wood and water, there were beavers—sixty million, or more—and wherever there were beavers, there were intricate natural communities that depended on their activities. Then the European fur traders arrived.   Once They Were Hats examines humanity’s fifteen-thousand-year relationship with Castor canadensis , and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. From the waterlogged environs of the Beaver Capital of Canada to the wilderness cabin that controversial conservationist Grey Owl shared with pet beavers; from a bustling workshop where craftsmen make beaver-felt cowboy hats using century-old tools to a tidal marsh where an almost-lost link between beavers and salmon was recently found, it’s a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they’re returning.   “Fascinating and smartly written.” — The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

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Once They Were Hats – Frances Backhouse

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The private intelligence firm keeping tabs on environmentalists

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The flyer shows a mob of balaclava-clad activists dressed in black, lobbing bottles at an undefined target. They could be protesting anything, but for attendees at a petroleum industry conference in Houston earlier this year, it was pretty clear what the violent demonstrators were targeting: the fossil fuel industry.

The scary image of protesters was distributed by Welund North America, a private intelligence firm that promises to help oil and gas operators mitigate the threat posed by an increasingly sophisticated activist movement. On the back of the flyer an anonymous testimonial reads, “Since subscribing to Welund we’ve dramatically increased our ability to pre-empt and better manage activist engagements and minimize reputational damage.” Logos — presumably of Welund’s clients — listed on the flyer include a who’s who of Big Oil and Gas: Royal Dutch Shell, Kinder Morgan, Duke Energy, Dominion, and Chevron. Welund has even secured contracts with the Canadian government.

In the past year, Welund has presented at several energy industry conferences and has also partnered with the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association — or TIPRO — to promote its intelligence-gathering services. The company bills itself as a leader in “understanding the activist threat” and in the past has provided intelligence on social movements and activist groups, including Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, and animal rights advocates.

Welund and its top North American officials ignored repeated requests for interviews and did not to respond to detailed written questions. But publicity materials and other documents reviewed by Mother Jones shed light on the company’s strategies.

Welund is part of a deeply controversial cottage industry of private intelligence firms that has flourished in recent years. According to one estimate, the global industry is now worth about $20 billion, and the agencies — sometimes with just a handful of employees — are popping up everywhere from Israel to Africa to the United States. Recent revelations have shown that Black Cube, an Israeli firm, gathered intelligence on Obama administration officials in an effort to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. Christopher Steele, the co-founder of Orbis Business Intelligence, another private firm, was responsible for the famous Trump-Russia dossier.

Welund, a U.K.-based company founded by a former MI6 special agent in 2007, has traditionally kept a low profile. Even its name, which is derived from Norse mythology, is little known beyond a small subset of industry and government contractors. Welund, which established a North America office in 2016, seems to rely heavily on its ties to industry and law enforcement. The firm’s vice president of operations, Travis Moran, is a former U.S. Justice Department special agent who previously worked as a senior counterterrorism investigator at Dominion Energy, one of the largest suppliers of electricity and natural gas in the United States.

The company depicts the environmental movement as one of the energy industry’s most dangerous adversaries — comparable to the challenges posed by international industrial espionage. “What we’re talking about here is an existential threat,” Moran told the audience of oil and gas executives in Houston.

The industry seems to agree. In November 2017, when Welund partnered with TIPRO to provide free access to its intelligence platform, the petroleum group’s president described activism as “one of the most disruptive and costly threats to the energy industry — in lost productivity, damage, legal and reputational risk.”

Welund’s effort to court the oil and gas industry comes at a time when battles over energy development have reached a fever pitch. Beginning in 2008 with the campaign to block approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, activists have focused on fossil fuel infrastructure as a target of both legal action and political protest. The movement claimed a major victory in 2015 when President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone project. (That decision was promptly reversed by President Donald Trump during his first few days in office.)

“The anti-fossil fuel movement is the No. 1 challenge threatening our industry, especially when they have sympathizers in the White House, Ottawa, and elsewhere in public office,” wrote the editor of the Pipeline and Gas Journal, an industry trade publication, shortly before the 2016 election.

Welund specializes in profiling these activist threats and maintains a “live archive” of original content that, it says, is used by dozens of international corporations, law enforcement agencies, and government bodies. Its subscriber-only intelligence platform appears to be largely composed of open source data — that is, news reports, online information, and strategic analysis — according to the firm’s contracts with the Canadian government. At industry gatherings, the company has emphasized the importance of continuously following social media to develop effective counter campaigns. The firm promises to closely monitor activists, and one of its Canadian contracts referred to the use of open and “other sources.” Canadian officials declined to say what those “other sources” included.

At the Houston conference, Moran described activists as traveling “professionals” who have more experience than the companies they are protesting. “We keep track of them,” Moran said. “You’ll see them at the Marcellus. You’ll see them at Bayou Bridge. That’s what they do.” The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a controversial project in Texas and Louisiana; the Marcellus shale formation is the epicenter of fracking in the eastern United States.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

The firm has also presented alongside Gryphon Sensors, a subsidiary of defense contractor SRC, which is a pioneer in the field of commercial drones. Moran, whose Twitter handle is “dronin_on,” is a strategic partner at Gryphon and an advisory board member of the Texas-based Energy Drone Coalition, which focuses on the use of drone technology by the energy industry. According to Gryphon, its mobile drone security system, which can track hundreds of targets simultaneously, is “perfect for … law enforcement and critical infrastructure protection.”

In recent years, anti-pipeline advocates have been targeted by law enforcement agencies and private security contractors employed by the industry. In late 2012, the FBI opened an investigation into anti-Keystone activists. More recently, according to the Intercept, private security contractors and FBI informants infiltrated the activist camp at the heart of the Native-American-led protest movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

None of those controversies involved Welund, which cautions energy firms against using covert or illegal methods to obtain intelligence, arguing that such tactics are likely to do more harm than good. In Houston, Moran referred to the PR mess Energy Transfer Partners found itself in after contracting with private security firms that used aggressive tactics in encounters with protesters campaigning against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Moran advised companies enlisting the services of private security contractors to “make sure you have a policy that they understand.”

Industry now has a staunch ally in the White House, but activists have continued to engage in high-profile civil disobedience campaigns and legal challenges designed to thwart or delay pipeline development, often at great cost to the oil and gas firms.

Environmentalists have also made life difficult for energy companies in Canada — as well as for the government agencies those firms often work with. In 2016, protesters disrupted a National Energy Board hearing in Montreal, resulting in several arrests and forcing the regulatory body to cancel two days of hearings on TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, which was slated to run from Alberta to refineries and shipping terminals in New Brunswick and Quebec. TransCanada eventually terminated the project.

And that’s exactly what Welund is seeking to prevent. The company appears to have worked on behalf of clients involved in some of the most controversial projects currently moving forward: Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, designed to carry fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia to processing facilities in Virginia and North Carolina; and the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would greatly expand the capacity for shipping tar sands oil from Western Canada.

Dominion, Moran’s former employer, is facing strong headwinds as it seeks to complete its pipeline. Activists have already set up an encampment in an old growth forest known as Miracle Ridge that is in the project’s pathway and is scheduled to be cleared this year. This follows weeks of tree sits — including one by a 61-year-old-woman that garnered national attention — protesting the nearby Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan, apparently also a Welund client, was facing similar opposition when it decided to abandon its Trans Mountain project. In March, the company’s CEO described the anti-pipeline movement as “much more intense” and “more organized” than ever before. Two months later, in an unprecedented move, the Canadian government agreed to intervene and purchase the pipeline for $3.4 billion. The sale closed this summer, and construction has been underway on about 600 miles of pipeline connecting Alberta’s tar sands with export terminals near Vancouver.

Opposition to the project has persisted, including from British Columbia Premier John Horgan, whose government has joined a First Nations lawsuit challenging the decision to approve the pipeline. The conflict has sometimes been described as Canada’s Standing Rock.

“People can just expect resistance to this project to grow,” Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Already we’ve seen over 200 people risking arrest and getting arrested to try and oppose this project, and those numbers are going to continue to increase as it moves forward.” In late August, a Canadian court ruled that the NEB had not properly consulted with First Nations groups and temporarily halted the project.

Welund did not respond to questions about its apparent work for Dominion and Kinder Morgan and whether that work related to the Atlantic Coast or Trans Mountain pipelines. Dominion declined to comment for this story. Kinder Morgan said it does not comment on security-related issues.

Last year, as Canada’s National Energy Board was evaluating Kinder Morgan’s application to build the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the agency signed a contract with Welund to monitor social media activity and provide the government with weekly updates on activist threats, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

The contract, which came just months after protesters shut down the NEB hearings on the Energy East pipeline, focused on helping the agency manage threats to “personnel, critical assets, information and services” as it prepared for upcoming public events, many of them related to the Trans Mountain project. The contract included access to Welund’s intelligence platform, email advice and warnings from Welund researchers, the Welund weekly banking digest, something called the “Welund Weekly Activist Overview,” and up to 50 hours of “bespoke services,” which focused on information specific to the safety and security of the agency’s staff and activities, according to the NEB. (Welund had already been providing the NEB with some form of intelligence and analysis for some time.)

Within the Canadian government, Welund’s services were touted by Lee Williams, who at the time was the head of security at the NEB. In a June 2016 email, Williams introduced his counterpart at the National Research Council — a Canadian government body that oversees research and development and often works closely with the private sector — to a Welund representative.

“We’ve been using their services for almost a year,” Williams wrote, “and find both their web content and bespoke services very beneficial.” A few months later, the NRC’s security branch entered into a $28,250 contract with Welund. In one document related to the contract, an NRC employee highlighted the firm’s “domestic and international military and counter-terrorism experience” and targeted data collection “through open and other sources.”

Williams has since left the NEB, according to government records. In recent promotional materials, Welund has listed a person named Lee Williams as a company contact. A Welund employee confirmed that a Lee Williams currently serves as an executive with the company but didn’t know whether he is the same Williams who worked for the NEB. Company spokespeople did not respond to written questions about Williams. Welund’s Williams did not return repeated phone calls and text messages. The NEB said it does not comment on HR-related employee matters.

The National Research Council declined to be interviewed for this story but said that Welund had a one-year service contract with the agency to provide country-specific risk assessments and alerts. This information, according to an emailed statement from the NRC, was used to assess the safety of travel and to brief employees in advance of international trips.

In response to a public records request for specific Welund materials — including copies of the weekly activist overview — provided to the NEB as outlined in the contract, the agency said it had no additional records in its possession.

Karen Ryhorchuk, an NEB spokesperson, said the agency sometimes conducts security assessments in advance of public events in order to safeguard personnel, assets, information, and services. Welund, she said, assisted the NEB in managing security threats and risks. “Information provided to the NEB by Welund was from [publicly] available, open source data from conventional media and social media outlets,” Ryhorchuk wrote in an email.

The NEB’s contract with Welund expired at the end of 2017 and has not been renewed. But early this year, the agency awarded a similar contract to Falling Apple Solutions, which was founded by Eppo van Weelderen, a retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian army. Falling Apple has the same Alberta address as Welund, and van Weelderen is listed as one of Welund’s directors. According to the NEB, the contract with Falling Apple, a self-described engineering and project management firm, was terminated after only three months. When I reached van Weelderen by phone and told him what I was writing about, he hung up.

Meanwhile, privacy advocates are growing increasingly alarmed about the Canadian government’s use of intelligence firms — especially after a recent request by the NEB for contractors who could evaluate security threats by monitoring social media on an even broader scale. In June, Ron Deibert, a political science professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Citizen Lab, which studies the intersection of technology and human rights, wrote an open letter warning that the hoovering up of massive amounts of data in the name of protecting critical infrastructure could have a chilling effect on free speech.

“The system proposed … is inherently oriented toward mass data collection and analysis, and will, by definition, have significant collateral impacts on the rights and interests of individuals who pose no security threat,” he wrote. The NEB ultimately withdrew the proposal.

For its part, Welund may disagree with the heavy-handed methods employed against the Dakota Access protesters, but it still holds a rather ominous view of environmental activism. “It’s threatening your operations, it’s threatening your finances, it’s threatening your reputation, and it’s threatening your viability,” Moran said in Houston.

The Houston conference was mostly celebratory, with discussions of greatly expanding oil production and pipeline capacity. There were presentations refuting the science of global warming and information sessions with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management. David Blackmon, editor of Shale Magazine, gave a talk titled, “The Trump-Driven Sea Change in Federal Energy Policy.” Chris Wallace of Fox News delivered the keynote address.

But, when Moran took the stage, the tone was decidedly darker. Showing the audience an image of a masked tree-sitter protesting a pipeline project, he warned them about the financial impact of activism. “If you’re not aware of this, if you’re not aware of how effective they can be … if you’re not ahead of the game,” he said, “this can be your fate.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with support from the H.D. Lloyd Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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The private intelligence firm keeping tabs on environmentalists

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Conservation 101 for City Dwellers

As a born and raised city dweller, I tend to jump at opportunities that allow me to experience the great outdoors ? in all its glory. Connecting with nature has always been an important part of my life, from simple walks in the park to hiking adventures in the forest.

For many urbanites, just being outdoors alone, as described above, is connecting with nature. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The best way to connect with nature is to build a relationship with the environment, which starts with the conservation of our natural spaces and the species they support. Participating in conservation work not only helps the environment, it helps us understand the complexity of ecosystems and their importance to us. This allows us to better connect with nature. We have a responsibility to ensure that nature is conserved here at home. And through conservation, we not only recognize the natural value of other species, we become an ambassador for all things nature.

Conservation for urbanites is two-fold: living in a sustainable manner and protecting the natural environment. These are both distinct but important parts that make up conservation.

To begin your conservation journey, try starting small and working your way up. No matter the size of the act, if you perform stewardship work for nature, nature will reap the benefits. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing your contribution to the big picture of conservation.

So ask yourself this: What can I do to help the natural world within my community and neighbourhood?

Minimizing Your Ecological Footprint

A good and practical starting place is working with the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Although simple, don?t underestimate the power of this trio. It is best to first reduce and reuse and then, if necessary, recycle. This is because recycling requires energy to disassemble an item and reproduce a product from the dismantled pieces.

Reducing can come in the form of opting for electronic bills to reduce paper use and minimizing excessive energy use through energy-saving light bulbs. You can also buy fewer clothes and wear the clothing in your closet more often before sending them off to a charity or second-hand store. When you shop, reduce your use of plastic bags by bringing reusable bags with you. The options for reducing, reusing and recycling are limitless.

In addition to growing native plants in our yards, there are other steps we can take to help protect nature. You can take further action to protect local biodiversity by avoiding the use of pesticides. Pesticides are harmful to small bugs and insects. As much as possible, we should be conserving wildlife and remembering that each species has a role within an ecosystem, regardless of its size. For example, choose natural insect repellents.

The underlying principle in minimizing your ecological footprint is incorporating sustainability into our everyday practices. Purchase reusable or ?green? products, products with little to no packaging or packaging that can easily be reused or recycled. Think durable, not disposable. Make it a habit to actively reduce, reuse and recycle. These small-scale efforts have long-term benefits.

Hands-On Stewardship for Nature

With our increasingly urbanized world, it is important to conserve habitat for the wildlife that live there. In your own backyard, try gardening and landscaping with native plants, which is a great way to help restore and maintain biodiversity within a local ecosystem. Native species provide habitat and food for many wildlife species, particularly pollinators. Before you begin, thoroughly investigate which species in your area are native.

Consider getting involved with a citizen science project. These are projects that enlist everyday people to work alongside professional scientists by volunteering their time for a research project, such as monitoring species or engaging in biological inventories (bioblitzes) of an area. Not only is this a great way to learn more about nature, but you are helping gather critical information that helps scientists understand changes in landscapes and guides future stewardship efforts. Something as simple as taking pictures of wildlife and uploading to sites such as iNaturalist, a site filled with thousands of observations made by people around the world and that helps scientists understand where and when species occur, are helpful to nature conservation.

Volunteering for nature is perhaps one of the best ways to support and further conservation work. Many cities and nature-based organizations offer opportunities to get involved, such as participating in tree plantings or cleaning up local parks.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada offers many Conservation Volunteers (CV) events throughout the year to engage Canadians in the protection of natural habitats and the species they sustain. Find a CV event and sign up today!

While getting outdoors can sometimes be tough, we should also remember that we have the power to spread the message of nature conservation through word of mouth and social media. In doing so, we acknowledge, support and advance the need for conservation ? a need and responsibility each of us has in protecting nature. It is important that we take action now for the future, because as American civil rights leader John Lewis said, ?If not us, then who? If not now, then when??

The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada?s Summer Work Experience program. This post was written by Veshani Sewlall and originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada?s blog, Land Lines.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Washington state residents resort to giant fans and throwing rocks at the smoke to get it to go away

This week, breathing in Seattle air was the equivalent to smoking around a third of a pack of cigarettes a day, thanks to smoke from wildfires raging in Canada and the Cascades. On Monday, air quality in Spokane was the worst in the country, forcing people to don masks or stay inside. You know what they say: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Rather than wait for the interminable smoke to dissipate, some Washington residents elected to take matters into their own hands.

One Spokane Facebook event implored its nearly 2,000 attendees to: “Blow Spokane’s Smoke Back to Canada.” “To get rid of this smoke, we have to work together as a community,” the event’s description says. “After much deliberation and mathematical calculation, we have figured that it is absolutely possible for us to blow this smoke away with high powered fans.”

Thayne Jongeward

The haze may be thick and disorienting, but Spokanites know a couple thousand box fans can’t reverse the smoky effects of decades of forest mismanagement and rising temperatures. That didn’t stop them from taking credit, though, when the smoke finally started to lift on Thursday morning. “IT IS WORKING!!!” wrote one resident, adding: “KEEP PUFFING AND BLOWING, AND THANK YOU!!!”

Another Facebook event with over 43,000 attendees had a similar idea: Throw rocks at the smoke. “I strongly believe with enough rocks, we can make the smoke leave,” the event organizer wrote. Yet another page suggests positioning a giant fan over the state of Idaho. All of these satirical events promote ways to donate to B.C. food banks, animal shelters, and the Red Cross.

I asked my friend Alexandru Oarcea, who’s a hotshot firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, about the box fan plan. He thought it was cute but pointed out a major flaw: “If, by some miracle they were able to create enough wind to start to push it to Canada, it would just suck the smoke from Oregon and California in behind it.”

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Washington state residents resort to giant fans and throwing rocks at the smoke to get it to go away

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We’ve entered the era of ‘fire tsunamis’

Life in the Rocky Mountains is frequently extreme as blizzards, baking sun, and fires alternate with the seasons. But fire tsunamis? Those aren’t normal.

On Thursday, one observer described a “tsunami” of flames overnight at the Spring Creek fire near La Veta in the south-central part of the state. And you can’t stop tsunamis.

“It was a perfect firestorm,” Ben Brack, incident commander for the Spring Creek fire, told the Denver Post. “You can imagine standing in front of a tsunami or tornado and trying to stop it from destroying homes. A human response is ineffective.”

Pyrocumulus clouds, a sure indicator of intense heat release from wildfire, were clearly visible from 100 miles away. The fire is just five percent contained and covers more than 100,000 acres — larger than the city limits of Denver — making it the third-largest wildfire in state history.

A 300-foot tower of flames wiped out an entire subdivision, according to the Post. Officials aren’t yet sure how many homes were torched overnight (they’re too busy fighting the fire to count), but the latest available number is in the hundreds. No one has been injured or killed so far.

The official term for the hellish meteorological event that hit La Veta is a “firestorm,” a self-propelling explosion of flame generated by strong and gusty winds from a particularly intense fire over extremely dry terrain. When a fire gets hot enough, it can generate its own weather conditions and wind speeds can approach hurricane force, drying out the surrounding land. In just a few hours on Wednesday night, the Spring Creek fire swelled by nearly 20,000 acres, with airborne sparks igniting new fires nearly one mile downwind.

Months of unusually dry and warm weather have combined to push Colorado’s fire risk to “historic levels,” leading the state to close millions of acres of public lands. Two-thirds of the state is in drought. It’s part of a pattern of intense fire danger currently plaguing most of the western United States, which is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

Fire is a natural part of ecosystems throughout the West, but what’s happening now is far from natural. There’s growing evidence that climate change is starting to create the conditions for more frequent firestorms.

In 2012, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history swept through Colorado Springs, torching nearly 350 homes. In 2016, when a fast-moving wildfire destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Fort McMurray, Canada, it took 15 months to fully extinguish. Last year, in Santa Rosa, California, entire neighborhoods were erased.

Over the past two decades, more than 800 million of Colorado’s trees have been consumed by bugs — a phenomenon more common worldwide as warmer temperatures are helping plant-eating pests flourish in previously cool places. To top it off, this past winter was one of the warmest and driest ever recorded, “the stuff of nightmares,” according to local experts. Rivers are running at about half their normal levels, and the summer monsoon rains still haven’t arrived.

It’s clear that the state’s steady and transformative slide into a drier future has already begun. This week’s firestorm is terrifying proof.

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We’ve entered the era of ‘fire tsunamis’

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Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Public Utility Commission gave the green light to Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 — a new Canadian tar-sands pipeline that would replace a deteriorating pipeline that’s currently running at half capacity. It’s the most recent development in an ongoing dispute over the Canadian energy company’s plan.

The decision isn’t totally final, according to the state’s governor. But it allows Enbridge to now apply for 29 other permits it needs to build the pipeline, which would run from Superior, Wisconsin, to Alberta, Canada.

Despite Minnesota’s decision, pipeline resisters say they’ll keep fighting.

In the early ’90s, a pipeline spilled 1.7 million gallons of oil in northern Minnesota. Activists worry that a major spill could happen again, potentially affecting river health and indigenous practices. Although the proposed route doesn’t go through reservations, it would cut through places where indigenous groups harvest wild rice and hunt.

Environmental and indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke has been fighting the Line 3 project for five years. She tells Grist she’s disappointed in the public utility commission’s decision. But she’s still optimistic that the new line won’t happen: LaDuke called the project “Enbridge’s most expensive pipeline that will never be built.”

Margaret Breen of Youth Climate Intervenors — a group of young activists who have been working to oppose the pipeline — says that her organization remains motivated to stop the project, too.

There’s also the possibility of legal action. Cathy Collentine of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign says that the Sierra Club is exploring options to halt the pipeline’s progress, such as petitioning for a reconsideration of the decision.

LaDuke says her group, Honor the Earth, has a legal team that plans to take action. The group is inviting water protectors to come to Minnesota.

LaDuke expects more resisters to join in the wake of the most recent decision. “We think water protector tourism should be at an all time high,” she says, and warns that a Standing Rock-like protest may be on the way.

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Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.

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