Nature meets culture: Athletes with a climate cause, postcards for the planet and more

© brentlloyd

It can be hard to connect with nature in our daily lives. But with a little help, you can find nature everywhere. With that in mind, here’s some recent arts and culture news to help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

1. Athletes hustling to stop climate breakdown 

Running a marathon is hard. Running a marathon during a record-breaking heatwave is downright dangerous

As climate change accelerates, this scenario is becoming an increasing concern — which is why athletes of all sports have a part to play in ending the climate crisis, says Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan on a recent episode of the TRAINED podcast by Nike.

Hosted by Nike’s Editorial Director Jaclyn Byrer, this podcast typically explores techniques for becoming a better athlete or increasing your personal fitness. On this special episode, Byer invites Sanjayan and American marathon runner Joan Benoit Samuelson to discuss the impact climate change is having on athletes — and how human health is connected to the health of the planet. 

An avid outdoorsman, Sanjayan has witnessed climate impacts firsthand, sharing on the episode how he struggles to fly fish and hike near his home in Montana because “the rivers are [often] too warm to fish and the air is too hard to breathe.”

But it’s not sports activities he worries most for; it is the people whose livelihoods depend on the outdoors.

“We can access the outdoors in a luxury fashion, but think about the people who have to work outside, who have to make a living in farming or agriculture,” Sanjayan said. “For them, it’s not just ‘nice to have.’ For them it is life or death.” 

Fortunately, individuals — particularly athletes — have a big role to play in drawing attention to the climate crisis and the actions that could help end it. 

“We need collective action — that is frankly where we need the athletic community,” Sanjayan said. “Think about how fanatical people are about their teams. Athletes are change-makers and they’ve always been that way. The way we can engage with people who are athletes … is going to be a huge driver for collective action on things like climate.” 

2. Postcards to protect the planet

Postcards capture a snapshot of a treasured memory — from a childhood vacation to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

A recent edition of Grist’s “Fix” series instead uses postcards to showcase peoples’ memories in nature — and the moment that solidified their passion for protecting it. 

The authors invited dozens of people across the climate movement — from activists to farmers — to share photographs and short entries about their relationship with the outdoors. 

For example, Olatunji Oboi Reed, a justice advocate, paints a picture of how cycling along the beach in Chicago helped her find a community and work through a bout of depression during the pandemic. 

“I noticed there were other Black people on the trail, and they would acknowledge me,” she wrote. “That was such a big deal, because I had been socially isolated for several months. As I’m riding, the wind is blowing the leaves on the trees, and it sounds like music. All of it — the entire experience — was nature speaking to me in a way I had never experienced.”

Unfortunately, other memories were not quite as pleasant. Accompanying a picture of Lake Michigan's coast, an entry by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, a climate activist, describes his experience with water pollution in a lake near his hometown of Holland, Michigan. 

“[The lake] was contaminated due to severe runoff of phosphorus from farmland,” he wrote. “Its name is Lake Macatawa — and the nickname for it was Lake Maca-toilet, because it smelled like rotting fish.”

Meyaard-Schaap explained how this experience fueled his desire to protect nature so that future generations can enjoy it.

“[The lake] is a resource that was meant to be enjoyed, just like Lake Michigan, but it couldn’t be enjoyed … It was supposed to be a gift, and it was a threat instead,” he wrote. “I came to understand that how we treat the world around us is directly related to how we treat our neighbor.”

3. A podcast about the carbon we can’t afford to lose 

Hosted by brothers Ty and Brock Benefiel, The Climate Pod podcast explores nearly every realm the climate crisis touches, from politics and economics to culture and social justice. 

In a recent episode, the brothers invite experts to discuss one of humanity’s greatest allies in the fight to stop climate breakdown: nature. 

Particularly important, says Conservation International's Will Turner — a guest on this series — is protecting nature’s reserves of something called “irrecoverable carbon” — that is, vast stores of carbon, which, if released, could not be restored by 2050, when the world must reach net-zero emissions.

“There are massive amounts of carbon in ecosystems that have accumulated there so slowly … that if we lost it, we are not going to get it back,” Turner said. “It’s not like when your lawn grows back next week — this takes hundreds to thousands of years to accumulate this carbon.”

Conservation International led groundbreaking studies of irrecoverable carbon in 2020 and 2021.They found that ecosystems across six continents contain more than 260 billion tons of irrecoverable carbon, most of which is stored in mangroves, peatlands, old-growth forests and marshes. 

Were these ecosystems to be destroyed due to human activity, the carbon they emit would effectively prevent humanity from limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), the benchmark for a “safe” climate set by the 2015 Paris Agreement

Increasing the amount of land under protection in key areas by just 5.4 percent would keep a whopping 75 percent of Earth’s irrecoverable carbon from being released into the atmosphere, according to the study. Fortunately, many world leaders have rallied around a common goal to protect 30 percent of land and sea by 2030 — a target informally known as the “30 by 30" initiative.

The issue? We need action now — not in a few years. 

“Soon is not an acceptable substitute for now,” Turner said. “Fortunately, it’s within our power to do something about this. We know what we need to do: decarbonize energy in industry, pursue technologies to remove CO2, protect and restore ecosystems globally, all in parallel.”


Cover image: A runner at sunset (© brentlloyd)

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