2 big environmental problems you probably don't know about — and 1 you should care more about.
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The Wilderness Society

The Earth.

Photo by NASA.


It's probably fair to say that most of us enjoy the experience of living on it.

Unfortunately, all of us continuing to do so might take more work than previously thought. There are lots of forces conspiring to screw up the environment.

And not all of them get great press.

At the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, four experts were asked to name the "biggest environmental problem most people don't know about."

These were their answers:

1. How little water there is for all of us to drink.

Here in the U.S., we're pretty cavalier about our fresh water use.

How cavalier, you ask?

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by David Shankbone/Flickr.

But the abundance of clean water in the United States — and most of the Western world — obscures an important reality.

There really isn't all that much water on Earth to go around. And the more we pollute it, the bigger a disaster we're courting.

Because there's really no alternative.

Sadly "I'll just drink beer" is not a scalable solution. Photo by Nejmlez/Wikimedia Commons.

Oceanographer David Gallo explains it thusly:

The amount of fresh water on the Earth would fit into...

GIFs via The Atlantic/YouTube.

And over 7 billion people have a straw in the same grain of salt. Some speculate that competition for control of this limited supply between countries could eventually lead to famine, war, or worse. There's some evidence it's happening already.

Making sure we preserve clean drinking water for future generations, and figuring out how to distribute it to the people who need it most, are huge challenges that we've only just begun to address.

2. How acidic the oceans are becoming.

Earth's oceans, artist's rendering. Photo by Chris Metcalf/Flickr.

For the past 200 or so years, humanity has basically behaved like a drunk, entitled teenager with regard to the health of the planet, spewing trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, consequences be damned. And the oceans have graciously taken on the role of our beleaguered parents, constantly bailing us out by absorbing much of that CO2, slowing down the process of global warming.

It's an unhealthy arrangement, but so far, it's worked.

Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like our sweet setup is unsustainable.

When the oceans absorb CO2, they become more acidic in a process known — creatively — as ocean acidification. And while minor changes in the pH of the ocean might not seem like a big deal to a bunch of hulking land apes, they are a huge deal if you're a tiny sea creature.

Higher ocean acidity makes it more difficult for shelled organisms like sea butterflies and oysters to calcify their shells. When these creatures die off, it trickles up the food chain — with potentially disastrous consequences for the larger creatures who eat them. Like fish. And whales. And, um. A certain primate species that loves its seafood. Not going to name names. Not going to say who.


Looking at you, Jeremy. Photo by torbakhopper/Flickr.

But you know who you are.

3. How hot the Earth is getting and how quickly.

Keep cool, dude. Photo by Ash Photoholic/Flickr.

Climate change. The big Kahuna. The whole banana. D-Day. Yahtzee.

And yes, I know. You're thinking, "Ugh. I know about this already." And maybe you do. But according to survey after survey after survey, too many of us don't. Not really, anyway. So the experts think, anyhow.

This year alone, unprecedented heat waves killed thousands in South Asia. Major changes in ocean currents are already afoot. Some scientists are predicting that sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previous thought by 2016.

A Pew Research Center poll from September 2014 found that action on climate change was near the bottom of most Americans' priorities lists. There's some evidence that people are finally starting to pay more attention, but even caring a lot might still not be enough. Because holy crap, it could be bad.

We need to take action, and we need to take it now. In so many ways, climate change isn't just an issue, it's the issue. Call up your senators and representatives and tell them to get it on the agenda. Spread the word! Get in the streets!

The Earth is pretty darn great. Let's make sure it doesn't go away.

But don't take it from me.

Take it from the experts.

Seriously. Listen. To. Them. These folks know what they're talking about:

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.