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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:

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made a heartfelt plea for Americans to “do better” on Tuesday after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Uvalde is a small town of about 16,000 residents approximately 85 miles west of San Antonio. The actor grew up in Uvalde until he was 11 years old when his family moved to Longview, 430 miles away.

The suspected murderer, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime. Before the rampage, Ramos allegedly shot his grandmother after a disagreement.

“As you all are aware there was another mass shooting today, this time in my home town of Uvalde, Texas,” McConaughey wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “Once again, we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.”

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Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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