Conservation in pop culture: a climate justice podcast, opera for plants and more

© Olivier Langrand

After being stuck inside for weeks on end, connecting with nature might feel impossible right now. 

With that in mind, here are a few shows, podcasts and more that can help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

The protests that have taken place throughout America — and around the world — in recent months have exposed a deep legacy of racial inequality across all facets of society. 

And as Conservation International CEO, Dr. M. Sanjayan, recently stated, “the conservation community is not exempt from this legacy.” 

In a recent episode of the “EcoChic” podcast, a female-focused show about climate change and sustainability, host Laura E. Diez and Black activist Leah Thomas discuss the inextricable relationship between social justice and environmentalism — what Thomas refers to as “intersectional environmentalism.”

From severe hurricanes to widespread heat waves, the impacts of climate change are wreaking havoc on humanity. People of color stand to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis — and are often underrepresented in the movement trying to halt it, explains Thomas. 

“The impacts of climate change are being felt differently, by different people based on race and culture, which I think is incredibly unfair,” says Thomas. “[Intersectional environmentalism] … takes into account the ways that race and identity do play a huge role in how environmental injustices are experienced around the world.”

Throughout the episode, Diez and Thomas shine a light on climate injustices impacting minority and marginalized communities, including the higher asthma rates in the Bronx county of New York City due to extreme levels of pollution and the threats of water insecurity for Indigenous peoples around the world. 

According to Thomas, racial inequities and environmental abuses often stem from the same issue: ignorance.

“We have become separated from the idea that our planet is our home,” she explains. “People wouldn’t treat their houses ... in a way that they are treating the Earth and they wouldn’t disregard the destruction that is happening. People are starting to view nature as something they seek out rather than something that we live in every day so it’s easier for people to be destructive or ignore the destruction.”

  • How are race and the environment linked? Start with this list of books, podcasts and more recommended by Conservation International staff

At the reopening of Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house on June 22, the renowned UceLi Quartet performed to a crowd of nearly 3,000 patrons.

All of which were plants. 

Recorded through a livestream, the concert began with a playful announcement asking the leafy listeners to “switch off [their] cellphones” and “refrain from taking pictures during the show.” For the next nine minutes, the UceLi Quartet performed a soulful rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for an arboreal audience of houseplants donated by local nurseries. 

The concert was given in response to Spain’s decision to lift COVID-19 restrictions, described by the owners of the Liceu opera as an opportunity to “offer us a different perspective for our return to activity, a perspective that brings us closer to something as essential as our relationship with nature." 

When the quartet strummed its final note, a gust of wind then blew through the opera, rustling the plants to mimic the sound of applause. 

And if this performance doesn’t bring a smile to viewers’ faces, what happened after the concert might: Every single plant was donated to local healthcare professionals working on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

From Yosemite National Park in California to Kruger National Park in South Africa, the world’s protected areas are crucial to conserving wildlife, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting local communities.

However, more than 130 million hectares (321 million acres) of conserved lands have been downsized or eliminated by governments around the world in recent years. 

Now, you can help track these legal rollbacks — and support efforts to stop them — with Google Earth’s Voyager, an educational tool that uses satellite imagery to teach people about Earth’s landscapes.

Working with experts from Conservation International, Google Earth recently created an interactive feature to help individuals (virtually) visit some of the most iconic areas set aside to protect nature and explore the legal changes putting them at risk. 

For example, users can scroll through the vast desert plains of Oman and drop by the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, an area dedicated to conserving this long-horned antelope. Voyager displays 360-degree views of the area and offers a brief history of the sanctuary, which was downsized by 90 percent in 2007 to make room for oil development — leaving the oryx vulnerable to poaching.

According to Conservation International scientist Rachel Golden Kroner, programs such as Google Earth’s Voyager that monitor legal changes to protected areas could help prevent future rollbacks and protect nature.

“This virtual tour provides a glimpse at some of the legal rollbacks that have impacted iconic parks around the world — and underscores the importance of monitoring their size and status over time," said Golden Kroner. "Strengthening and supporting protected areas in the long term — through solid science, policy and funding — is crucial for protecting biodiversity, stabilizing our climate and bolstering public health. We must protect important places to protect ourselves and our planet.”

Growing up in the Turkana pastoralist community of Northern Kenya, Josphine Ekiru spent her childhood living in fear of the poachers who terrorized her community. 

Now, she is using a powerful weapon to protect the wildlife she depends on: her voice. 

In the latest installment of “Women on a Mission” — a Conservation International series highlighting female leaders making a difference in their communities — viewers can follow Ekiru’s journey to convert poachers into peacekeepers.

At the beginning of the film, she describes her experience when seven poachers lured her into the remote wilderness with promises of reform, but instead trapped and surrounded her. 

Rather than cowering in fear, Ekiru instead stood up for what she believed in — and was able to convince many of the poachers that they could make a living protecting nature, rather than destroying it.  

“I have responsibility for my community, for this wildlife because of the future generations,” she explains in the film. “That’s what led me to confront the poachers — to tell them the truth. They are destroying their own resources, they are killing their own future.”

Now acting as the Peace Coordinator of Northern Rangelands Trust — a non-profit dedicated to ending resource-based conflict in Kenya — Ekiru has helped reform 19 poachers in the region, while also mediating conflict between communities over stolen livestock and limited resources. 

Through these efforts, she has also helped push for women’s rights in her often male-dominated community, recruiting 25 female peace ambassadors to join in on her mission. 

  • Watch more installments of the “Women on a Mission” series here

 

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: An Arabian oryx, Arabian Peninsula (© Olivier Langrand)


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