Zoos and Aquariums to the Rescue

Zoos and Aquariums to the Rescue



by Jon Biemer

Zoos and aquariums help heal our planet. In addition to wonderful experiential and educational activities, many zoos and aquariums have committed themselves to species rescue and recovery.

I am a student of strategies that can create a healthier future – Handprints. (See my Clearing article about Handprints.) My research has shown me that zoos and aquariums now represent a beautiful, perhaps essential, collective Handprint.

Wildlife Conservation

Of the ten thousand zoos and aquariums worldwide, 239 (in 2019) meet the standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which requires support of wildlife conservation.

The Toledo Zoo in Ohio is engaged in the Mariana Avifauna Conservation program. Invasive egg-eating brown tree snakes have devastated native bird populations in the Pacific Mariana Islands. While relocation efforts continue for the threatened species, the Toledo Zoo hosts a reserve population of the white-throated ground dove, the golden white-eye dove, the bridled white-eye dove, and the Mariana fruit dove.

The Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium all host the World Conservation Society. This is a collaboration between a leading wildlife conservation organization and New York City’s aquarium and zoos. The World Conservation Society focuses on at-risk birds, amphibians, and mammals in fifteen regions, including temperate Asian mountains and grasslands, Patagonia in South America, and Madagascar and the western Indian Ocean.

The Monterey Aquarium and the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA) cooperate to recover the endangered sea otter. Between 2002 and 2016 staff released 37 otters that were nursed by surrogate mother otters. Their survival rates matched those born in the wild. The Monterey Aquarium also teaches the teachers. Their teacher development programs support climate action summits, help instructors get students excited about protecting coastal ecosystems, develop awareness about ocean plastics, and connect conservation and technology.



Each year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program spotlights ten endangered species. SAFE engages some 180 million annual visitors and obtains corporate sponsorship to help protect habitats, mitigate threats, and restore threatened populations. Below is a list of specific SAFE projects from their website. They last from a few months to ongoing.

Species Program leadership Species Program leadership
African Lion Denver Zoo Eastern Indigo Snake Central Florida Zoo & Gardens
African Penguin Not identified (South African project) Giraffe Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Colorado Springs, CO); Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
African Vulture North Carolina Zoo; Denver Zoo Gorilla Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society (NY)
American Red Wolf North Carolina Zoo; Endangered Wolf Center (Saint Louis, MO) Jaguar Albuquerque BioPark
Andean Bear Cleveland Metroparks Zoo North America Monarch (butterfly) Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment; San Diego Zoo Global
American Turtle Tennessee Aquarium Orangutan Henry Vilas Zoo (Madison, WI); Kansas City Zoo
Asian Elephant Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Radiated Tortoise Zoo Knoxville
Asian Hornbill North Carolina Zoo North American Songbird (various species) Smithsonian National Zoological Park (Washington, DC); Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Andean Highland Flamingo Zoo Conservation Outreach Group; Reid Park Zoo (Tucson, AZ) Shark and Ray (various species) Seeking participants
Black-footed Ferret Louisville Zoological Garden; Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago) Sea Turtle Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Atlantic Acropora Coral Steinhart Aquarium (San Francisco) Tree Kangaroo of Papua New Guinea Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle, WA)
Black Rhinoceros Buffalo Zoo Whooping Crane San Diego Zoo Global; Houston Zoo
Cheetah Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Omaha, NE) Vaquita (of the porpoise family) The Living Desert Zoo (Palm Desert, CA)
Chimpanzee Lion Country Safari (West Palm Beach, FL) Western Pond Turtle San Francisco Zoo


Vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Only about ten of these small porpoises remain living in the Gulf of California, near the Colorado River delta. Conservation efforts have been frustrated by corruption within the Mexican government. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

SAFE is the tip of the iceberg of AZA conservation efforts. The AZA operates about 500 Animal Programs, many with Species Survival Plans which are managed by Taxon Advisory Groups. These TAG’s develop action plans and goals for animals both in the wild and in zoos and aquariums.










Pacific Northwest Zoos and Aquariums

What are our Northwest members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums doing for species preservation? Here’s a hint.

Facility Species and Programs Supported
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium,

Tacoma WA

·      Programs to recover Red Wolves, Tigers, and Sharks

·      Dr. Holly Reed Conservation Fund (includes support for above programs)

·      Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

·      Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (rainforest protection)

·      Plastic reduction campaign

Oregon Coast Aquarium,

Newport, OR

·      “The Oregon Coast Aquarium [provides] critical care to endangered marine wildlife like sea turtles, northern fur seals, and snowy plovers. The goal is to provide triage and care for the animals until they are deemed eligible for release or transport to another facility for prolonged care and rehabilitation,” according to spokesperson Courtney Pace.

·      Awareness-raising about endangered species, including Vaquita campaign in cooperation with WhaleTimes.

·      Plans include building a state-of-the-art Marine Rehabilitation Center.

Oregon Zoo,

Portland, OR

·      Polar Bears International

·      Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization (Uganda)

·      Hutan’s Kinabatangan Oran-utan Conservation Programme (Borneo and Sumatra)

·      Action for Chetahs in Kenya

·      Painted Dog Conservation (Zimbabwe)

·      International Elephant Foundation

·      International Rhino Foundations

·      Tiger Conservation Campaign

·      SaveNature.org (habitat protection in 11 countries worldwide)

Seattle Aquarium ·      Sea Otter Conservation

·      Sea Turtle Rehabilitation

·      Octopus Survey (specific to Puget Sound)

·      Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award

·      Seattle Aquarium Sylvia Earle Medal (for “inspiring conservation of our marine environment”)

·      Seattle Aquarium Ocean Conservation Honors (two honorees per year)

Wildlife Safari, Winston, OR ·      Cheetah Conservation Botswana (Wildlife Safari is the top cheetah breeding center in the western hemisphere.)

·      International Elephant Foundation

·      Giraffe Conservation Foundation

Woodland Park,

Seattle, WA

·      Living Northwest (projects focused on native raptors, turtles, butterflies and carnivores and their habitats)

·      Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (Papua New Guinea)

·      Conservation Partner Program (including Cranes of Asia’s work with the people and avian fauna of Russia’s Amur River basin)

·      Wildlife Survival Program (activities which support AZA Species Survival Plans)

Zoo Boise,

Boise, Idaho

·      “Part of every admission and proceeds from our most popular attractions go to the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund.” 2019 Fund grantees included Garongosa Restoration (Mozambique), AZA SAFE (see above), Giraffe Conservation Fund, Paso Pacific (sustainable solutions for people and wildlife in Nicaragua), Red Panda Network, Snow Leopard Trust, Wildlife SOS, and…

·      Table Rock restoration (part of five-year commitment to restore the Boise Foothills which were devastated by fire)


Billings, MT

·      “A good majority of the animals that call ZooMontana home are rescues. These include animals that have been permanently injured to animals kept illegally as pets. ZooMontana takes pride in giving animals a second chance. Those that are not rescues are a part of crucial breeding programs designed for species survival and genetic purity.”


Something happened beneath the radar of popular media. As Zoo Boise says, the purpose of a zoo visit has shifted “to help save the very creatures they [are] seeing.” Zoo Boise instituted its conservation fee on admissions and events which goes beyond meeting operating expenses. Since 2007 they have raised more than $3 million. Other institutions have picked up on this practice. That’s an impressive Handprint in its own right. Writ large, the quantity and diversity of AZA programs testify to the maturity of a vision of species preservation.

While researching this article, I came to the conclude that zoos and aquariums are analogous to a keystone species. When the keystone species is healthy, most species within its biom thrive. We now have a powerful network, a system with infrastructure, expertise, experience, and constituents. Not only are iconic species protected. The synergy of young people, teachers, scientists, tourists, accountants, volunteers, and donors nurtures the entire global ecosystem.


Jon Biemer has more than forty years of experience working on sustainability-creating initiatives.  Biemer is a mechanical engineer and holds a certificate in Process-oriented Psychology.  He started Creating Sustainability as a sole-proprietor Organizational Development consulting practice in 2008.  Hi lives in Portland, Oregon.

This article is adapted from Jon Biemer’s book, Our Environmental Handprints: Recover the Land, Reverse Global Warming, Reclaim the Future, published by Rowman & Littlefield, May 5, 2012.


Food Waste and Climate Change

Food Waste and Climate Change

PEI Offers Food Waste and Climate Change Storyline Workshop for Teachers

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States is also one of the most wasteful. America holds the dubious distinction of throwing away more food than every other nation except Australia, an average of a pound per person each day. In total, 150,000 tons of food gets dumped daily in the U.S., the equivalent of a third of the calories we consume.</p style>

What many may not realize is how those actions contribute to the climate crisis. Now, thanks to an innovative workshop through the Pacific Education Institute (PEI), that may change. In December, 5th-grade teachers and high school teachers from Clark County and surrounding areas explored PEI’s food waste and climate change lesson plans and storyline through a free two-day professional development workshop. PEI is an award-winning statewide organization that helps teachers, schools and districts integrate place-based STEM education into their curriculum.

Funding for the workshop was provided through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) ClimeTime initiative.

The training offered teachers an opportunity to explore the science using data, hands-on activities, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), according to PEI’s Lower Columbia Regional Coordinator Chad Mullen. “We spend a good part of the time building teacher capacity,” he explains. “We don’t assume that teachers will arrive having background knowledge of why food waste is worth focusing on or the science behind decomposition and we don’t assume that they’ll come with a diverse background of cultural values around food and waste.”


At the workshop, teachers gained tools to help students understand the issue by applying math and science. For example, in one activity they measured how much energy, water and land goes into one pound of milk in a school lunch and how much atmospheric CO2 will be produced if it’s thrown out. “We help teachers understand the tools we’ve gathered for them to use with their students,” says Mullen.

Participants learned about the tremendous resources that go into food production through seeds, water, energy and land and how to calculate the greenhouse emissions from the food that is thrown away. “Wasted food is a big part of the climactic impact,” says Mullen. “We are providing students an opportunity to understand how individuals, classrooms, and schools can be part of the climate solution.”

Food waste ends up in one of two places: the compost bin or the landfill, both of which are problematic. “If it goes into the compost, the carbon that plant pulled out of the air to make food is all going to decompose and turn back into atmospheric carbon or carbon that’s being held in the soil,” says Mullen. The decomposition process releases CO2, a recognized greenhouse gas.

But that’s not nearly as bad as what happens when food goes into a landfill. In the absence of oxygen, as it breaks down it gets converted into methane, which in the atmosphere is 104 times more destructive than CO2 over a twenty-year time span.

At the workshop, teachers gained tools to help students understand the issue by applying math and science. For example, in one activity they measured how much energy, water and land goes into one pound of milk in a school lunch and how much atmospheric CO2 will be produced if it’s thrown out. “We help teachers understand the tools we’ve gathered for them to use with their students,” says Mullen.

Cinnamon Bear, PEI’s tribal liaison for western Puget Sound region.

Another central aspect of the workshop is incorporating indigenous perspectives about food and waste. Cinnamon Bear served as PEI’s Tribal Liaison for the western Puget Sound region during the first year they offered the training. “Food waste is a prime example of how we have disconnected from our local environments and the ecosystems that provide the gifts of food and medicines that sustain us,” she says. “It’s something we can all have a very real and important impact on.”

This is the fifth food waste workshop PEI has offered and whenever possible, they include a local tribal elder or leader who can speak to the issue. When that’s not an option, participants view TEDtalks from indigenous leaders and teachers who share their perspectives. Bear says that expanding teachers’ ideas of what constitutes science has been an important first step.

“Giving hands-on, specific experiences is the method I’ve found most successful,” she says. “Having teachers make cordage from nettle, enjoy a traditional meal so they can experience how indigenous communities view food as a gift, or make a salve from cedar during a TEK lesson, all of that makes this knowledge personally relevant and motivating to the teachers who have such important work to do with our youth.”

The workshop also included collaborations with several community partners. Staff from the Clark County Green School shared their work in diverting food out of the waste stream and participants toured the Clark County Food Bank to learn about their strategies to redirect food waste toward those who need it most. Finally, they heard from Josh Hechtman, a 17-year-old high school senior who started Reproduce 81, a club at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane to send food that would normally be wasted at school home with students who would otherwise go hungry.

Teachers in the workshop heard from Josh Hechtman, a 17-year-old high school senior who started Reproduce 81, a club at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane to send food that would normally be wasted at school home with students who would otherwise go hungry.

The collaborative approach is typical of PEI’s educational model, which brings together schools and districts with conservation groups, resource management companies, and other community leaders to deliver real-world, outdoor-based STEM education rooted in local ecosystems and the industries that have grown around them. Previous workshops have yielded extraordinary results; in Chewelah, after fifth-grade students saw all the food waste they were producing, they produced a breakdown of how much it was costing the district per person – roughly the salary of one full-time teacher.

The class ended up meeting with representatives from the Spokane Tribe and managers from their local Safeway before presenting their findings to Governor Inslee. They also shared their discoveries with an international audience at the annual North American Association for Environmental Education conference.

Mullen and Bear anticipate inspiring results once Clark County teachers begin implementing what they learn in December. “I hope to see teachers and their students come out of this experience with a better understanding of some cultural values that might be different from theirs,” says Mullen, “and for our students from indigenous backgrounds to see themselves represented in the curriculum.”

Bear sees strong potential for young people to take the lead. “I want them to know they were born for this time and have a direct impact in the world we are creating and leaving for our future descendants,” she says. “I hope they realize their power and engage with the world around them with respect and reciprocity.”

To learn more, visit PEI’s website, the  ClimeTime website or call 360.705.9294.

All You Need is Love

All You Need is Love

Four Lessons in Global Education from the Beatles

By Sean Gaillard, June 19, 2017

Editor’s note: Sean Gaillard, principal of Lexington Middle School in Lexington, North Carolina, is a huge proponent of international collaboration for students in his school. In this essay he shares lessons in global education connections from an unlikely source: The Beatles.


The Beatles as Global Education Pioneers 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album by the Beatles. Over the last few months, the album has been the subject of many celebrations in the media. Special edition re-releases have reached the top of album charts. Retrospective commentaries on the innovative nature of this game-changing album by the most successful musical group in history abound. In the midst of this commemoration, another important footnote in Beatles history has been overlooked. This is also the upcoming 50th anniversary of “All You Need Is Love.”

This song is essentially an early example of a global Skype conversation. In 1967, the BBC produced a television special entitled “Our World,” which was the first live global satellite link-up. It aired in 25 countries simultaneously, and each participating country produced a representative segment—Great Britain was represented by the Beatles. The “Our World” audience watched the Beatles in the studio recording “All You Need Is Love.” John Lennon, the song’s primary lyricist, used it to capture a simple, universal message.

In late June 1967, the 400 million global citizens who tuned into the “Our World” broadcast saw the Beatles bedecked in flowers and beads with a group of friends, including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Marianne Faithful singing to the infectious chorus. Signs of “All You Need Is Love” written in several different languages were carried and flashed at the camera by various audience members.

Using technology to reach a global audience with the mindset to intentionally build community, empathy, and connection is a good example of taking action, one of the pillars of global competence. Educators, thought leaders, and organizations use this template on many levels to help students build global competence. Whether intentional or not, the Beatles served as global education pioneers with the example they set in this 1967 broadcast. Educators can glean many lessons from the Beatles and adapt them to support the needs of all students.

Lessons in Global Education from The Beatles

  1. Demonstrate a Positive Mindset: The message in “All You Need Is Love” is an anthem for the growth mindset expressed in the simplest of terms. Connecting with organizations with similar mindsets, like Teach SDGs, a United Nations-affiliated project to empower educators to teach about the sustainable development goals, provide resources for promoting a positive mindset and developing creative solutions for global challenges.
  2. Leverage and Integrate Technology: The Beatles understood the magnitude of what was then a new and innovative communication platform. They made sure that their message was simple, clear, and identifiable. Likewise today, there are numerous technology resources that can be leveraged to promote global awareness. Tools like Skype, Google Hangout, and Flipgrid are just a few of the tools breaking new ground in global communication among classrooms all over the world.
  3. Connect and Collaborate: Collaboration is the unsung element in the success of the Beatles. Global collaboration is more than just a simple “one and done” Skype session with another classroom or a token world map tossed on a bulletin board. Global collaboration is a sustained movement of inspired dialogue, vision building, and strategic planning. Twitter is one avenue for educators to build a network of global collaboration. Following Twitter hashtags like #GlobalEd, #GlobalEdChat, or #TeachSDGs will lead to an endless array of like-minded, inspiring educators who are ready to connect, support, and collaborate on global action projects.
  4. Take Global Action: The Beatles could have simply recorded “All You Need Is Love” and released it in the traditional manner. By agreeing to participate in a live broadcast for a global audience, they took global action in a daring way. Consider that the band had retired from live performance by that time but chose the “Our World” broadcast as a platform to perform and share a global message for unity, peace, and understanding. Organizations like the Global Oneness Project, Calliope Global, and Asia Society provide resources for educators to assist students in taking on global action projects to solve problems and create empathy.

As a principal, it is important for me to model ways to connect our students to enacting the incredible potential they all possess. Participating in Skype sessions with new international friends is a way to build the vision of preparing our students to be positive, future-ready innovators. Supporting global education projects in the schoolhouse is one way to build and sustain a positive school culture. The inspiring lessons of the Beatles is one of many musical riffs out there for educators to mine for global action.




Reframing Sustainability

Reframing Sustainability

Reframing Sustainability

Peter Denton, Ph.D.
Keynote Address – EECOM Conference 2016, International Peace Gardens

peaking here today is kind of like preaching to the choir. It is great to have a friendly crowd who does not think a polar icecap is the name of some new cold drink at Tim Horton’s or need to be convinced that these icecaps are melting.

As environmentalists, we are unfortunately used to a rather more hostile or puzzled reception. But while it is energizing to be with like-minded people, we all have to head back out into that social and cultural wilderness when a conference like this one is over. It is what we do – who we are. That local environmental choir to which we each belong has to become a global chorus to make changes that need to be made for all of us to have a sustainable future.

But it’s not just enough to sing, is it? I imagine some of you are old enough to remember the Coca Cola jingle, “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.” That hasn’t worked out too well since it was first aired in 1971 and then turned into a hit song, minus the Coke.

As a society, we seem to oscillate between two poles, between denial and despair — and as environmentalists, it can be even worse for us, because we know both poles are melting faster by the year.

So this afternoon I am going to try and do the impossible. I am not going to preach to the choir and tell you things you already know.

Instead, I am going to try and make you think about the sustainability nexus in a different light, to reframe it in ways that are both hopeful and practical.

At the risk of giving away my punch line at the start, as environmentalists, we are not providers of information. Nor are we harbingers of doom. We are messengers of hope. I’m going spend the rest of our time together unpacking what this means and why it is the punch line, but I want first to go back to that idea of a global chorus.

A couple of years ago, Rocky Mountain Books published a book called Global Chorus: 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet. It was edited by a young musician from Prince Edward Island, Todd MacLean, who just had a thought one day in the shower about how neat it would be to put together something that spoke about the hope people had for the future.

He had never done anything of the sort before, never written a book or edited anything, but he tried, anyway.

He asked people all over the world, from many walks of life, these questions: “Do you think humanity can find a way past the current global and environmental crises? Will we be able to create conditions necessary for our own survival, as well as that of other species on the planet? What would these conditions look like? In summary, then and in the plainest of terms, do we have hope, and can we do it?”

He got amazing responses from people whom you might think never look at random emails out of the blue, and compiled the book. I was asked to fill in a hole at the end, and so wrote for February 9th – a good day for a Manitoban to write up something about hope, on what is usually one of the coldest days of any winter.

My entry began like this:

“Hope is a creative act. It is creative because it generates something new out of the daily chaos of our lives. It is an act because through hope the possibility of a different future is created. We can work and dream toward what is possible but only if hope leads the way.”

While I think we need to work on our public image, environmentalists are the most hopeful people I know. They not only hope for a better future, they spend their lives working toward it, often without much in the way of the tangible rewards that other
people get for their efforts.

Perhaps the only profession just as hopeful as environmentalists would be teachers!

Anyway, to start, I need to set out three guiding principles that underpin what I want to say today about reframing the sustainability nexus.

First, sustainability is primarily a social and cultural problem, not a scientific or technological one. We know what needs to be done and have the tools we need to do it – we just don’t.

Second, all ecology is social ecology. Environmental sustainability is inextricably interwoven with social sustainability – we cannot separate environmental sustainability from sustainable development. Ecological justice embraces all of us, everywhere.

Third, a sustainable future will be the result of the choices we all make, together, every day. On a round planet, there is no place to hide. We can’t escape the consequences of what people have done, but we can make better choices today than we did yesterday,
right where we live.

I’ve written three books in Rocky Mountain Books’ Manifesto series to outline these themes: Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World (2012); Technology and Sustainability (2014); and Live Close to Home (released in October 2016), so here I am just going to flag them and move on.

This trilogy is not intended to provide information, but to nurture hope, but we can’t skip straight to hope this afternoon without talking about information.

As environmental educators, we all know the importance of information, of just how little too many people seem to understand about natural systems or about their interrelationships with the way people live.

Recently I cringed when I heard a local municipal councilor, who led an unsuccessful mission to torpedo a city-wide organic composting initiative, admit he did not realize that rotting organics produced a greenhouse gas.

He had the rare courage to admit his ignorance and I hope he learned something from the encounter, but it is still frightening that people who are responsible for decisions that affect all of us know so little about what is actually going on.

While I am sure we all know more about greenhouse gases than that councilor did, we still have a tendency to inhabit environmental siloes. Calling them “cylinders of excellence” does not diminish the problem.

We all have information that someone else needs, but rarely share it. Too often we spend much time and energy reinventing the wheel, and so diminish and fracture our efforts toward a better future as a result.

For example, how many people here know what UNEP stands for? (The United Nations Environment Programme.)

How many people here know that after Rio+20 in June 2012 UNEP was given responsibility over all of the environmental efforts of the United Nations?

Or that the Second World Parliament of the Environment, UNEA 2, was just held in May 2016 in Nairobi at UNEP’s global headquarters?

In part, I have to take some of the blame for this result: I am currently one of the two civil society representatives for North America to UNEP, elected at meetings in Washington in 2013.

Despite all our advantages, even our region lacks any significant reporting structure or means of engaging people doing environmental work in some collective fashion.

This also likely means you have not heard about GEO 6 – Global Environmental Outlook 6 – UNEP’s flagship product, which was just released at UNEA 2. The global version will not be out for a couple of years, but the regional assessments for the six global regions are complete.

This is the most comprehensive effort to date to provide a snapshot of the planet’s health, and while it is based on the most recent data, that is still several years old. The intention is to tie it to an interactive, real time data stream, through a site called UNEP Live.

These are both amazing resources that must be used for environmental education and for policy development, but they have an Achilles heel. We desperately need more and better information if we are going to base policy decisions on good evidence.

I was privileged to be part of the writing team for the North American Regional Assessment. It was unnerving how little we actually know about what is going on around us, even here at home.

For example, the most recent national statistics on municipal wastes and waste diversion in Canada consist of a one page summary note in 2010 from Statistics Canada. There is no national data collection, and most provinces don’t have good numbers themselves.
This is just laziness. We have to do better.

One of the interesting features of GEO 6 was the intentional effort to promote and include citizen science, along with so-called “grey literature” and indigenous local knowledge, or ILK. When it comes to measuring climate conditions, school children can be enlisted to upload data, just as the rest of us could do it ourselves with cell phones. Around the world, indigenous peoples are finally starting to be treated with respect for what they know about the places where they live.

There are other ways to figure out what is going on and to pool that information, by thinking creatively and working, literally, from the ground up, listening to the elders or just to ordinary people. We just have to do it.

While information is necessary, however, the need for more information cannot delay the decisions that we must make. I have witnessed a kind of informational paralysis, or datalock, when scientists and policy makers get together.

There is either too much information, or not enough of the right kind, or people can’t agree on what it means, so decisions are deferred until some future time. Too much information can swamp common sense.

So while both formal and informal kinds of public education are crucial, we know that providing information is not enough.

Sustainability is a problem not because people don’t know the facts, but because they refuse to admit the obvious. Nor will they easily accept responsibility for the choices that have created the situations they try so hard not to see.

There is a world of difference between information and knowledge, after all. Knowledge is information in context, interpreted, framed, explained and owned. Our responsibility as environmental educators is not just to provide information, but to provide context, to transform what can be gleaned from any Google search into knowledge that people understand, including policy makers.

Much of what we are exchanging here are the lessons we have learned about how to take information and transform it into knowledge that our audience, of whatever age or ability, can understand.

This is incredibly important. Information-dependent policy development will simply take too long, if it ever gets started at all.
We need evidence-based policies, but that information needs to be framed in a way that it becomes useful knowledge, knowledge that can be directed to a purpose.

It needs to be interpolated, not simply collated. A quantitative system can only be predicted if all the parameters of the system are understood. It’s kind of like predicting the weather – ever notice that even on the prairies our weather specialists can barely manage to predict what the weather will be six hours out?

So specific predictions about climatic events are never going to be accurate, no matter how much information we gather. Instead, we have to make qualitative assessments, finding new ways to understand all of the human and ecological systems within which we live. We have to adapt to the changing conditions of dynamic systems.

Knowledge is information in context – but what kinds of contexts are possible? And what can we do to change those things that are blocking our way forward into a sustainable future?

It’s all about changing our perspective. Let me demonstrate. You are all arranged in a
particular way in this room. I can’t change any of you or where you are. All I can change is my own perspective on this room and everything in it. Let me demonstrate by walking around the room and showing how new perspectives emerge when we change position in some situation that otherwise seems gridlocked.

Consider how this works for issues in sustainability, which as you recall, I described as a social and cultural problem. People feel trapped because they think there is nothing they can do to change the arrangement of the forces in the world that threaten their future.
They slide into denial or despair because there seems no other option. They feel powerless and so they are.

Take the information they have and change the context, change their perspective, and it is amazing how new possibilities emerge. Hope emerges out of those possibilities, if we allow it to – then and transform it into action.

Todd realized this with Global Chorus. He said: “I guess I am now a guy who has learned, in my own little way, what can be done when you choose not to follow what you think and instead follow what you believe.”

In part, this is the result of living in this wired world of ours. We all can do more than we think.

I have had this same experience. In late January 2012, fueled by the frustration of teaching the same round of things over and over, I started writing a blog. Two weeks and 25,000 words later, I emailed a publisher out of the blue and said I wanted to turn it into a book for the fall. Two weeks after that, he agreed – but wanted the manuscript for Gift Ecology in six weeks to fill a hole in their fall lineup.

One year to the day after I got that email, I was having a private meeting in Nairobi with the president of UNEP, who that year was the Environment Minister from Sudan, talking to him about my book, the role of civil society in changing the world, and Muslim- Christian relations. That was only the beginning. It would be a long conversation to tell you the rest of the story and I still have no idea what is coming next.

For example, in April, I went to Tehran for the Earth Day weekend with a couple of dozen people from around the world for the Second International Seminar on Environment, Religion and Culture. In June, after UNEA 2, I drove across the Great Rift Valley en route to the Loita Hills and the Maasai community with whom I have been working since that first trip in 2013.

This is a long way from home for a kid from St. Andrews, Manitoba, whose previous exposure to anything exotic was walking through the zoo in Winnipeg!

I haven’t changed who I am or what I believe – I just found a bigger audience, full of possibilities that I couldn’t see from where I stood before, an audience who also saw more possibilities in what I could do than when I stayed in my classroom, thinking that
was all I could do to change the world.

From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with the message that we are just one person, that society is run by elites and by masses, not by people like you and me. You might roll out of bed determined to change the world, but by the second cup of coffee, you are back in the rut, frustrated and powerless.

But that, too, is a choice. It’s not the way things have to be – nor is it the way things have always been.

No event for good or ill in the history of humanity was ever the result of the actions of a group. It always began with one person, making a choice. Others saw that choice and made their own choices in support, so we lose sight of that original decision.

One person can change the world. In fact, that is the only way it ever changes. That change starts with our own choices as individuals. We make choices, every day, each one of us, all the time.

I would begin my ethics and sustainability classes by asking this question: “How many of you have made an ethical choice so far today?” Most of the time I just got puzzled looks and silence in response.

But we all make hundreds of ethical choices in a day – we just don’t stop and think about what they are. For a sustainable future, we need to make better choices today than we did yesterday – not great ones, just better ones.

This is where the power of one choice by one person gets multiplied. The planet is in the shape it is in because of the poor choices people have made, one at a time, right where they live.

Our only hope for a better future than the one that will surely arrive is to do the same in reverse, to make better choices right where we live, and watch the tide grow.

As Todd wrote at the beginning of Global Chorus, “So please, embrace this notion: if you do have any idea that can help your household, your workplace, your community, your city, your region, your country to be more environmentally sustainable and/or socially harmonious, do not hesitate. Do it.

“Because the reality is that these kind of helpful ideas come to us for a reason: to help us evolve. But a helpful idea is wasted if it is not borne by action into this help-hungry world.”

This afternoon, I want to take us one step further, in closing. If there is a world of difference between information and knowledge, there is even more between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom lies in understanding our choices, what to do with what we know.

We began our day discussing aboriginal attitudes toward the environment, unfolding what it means to consider all our relations, and I want to suggest that indigenous traditions world-wide offer a glimpse into the wisdom humans have always embedded in their choices, day-to-day.

We have just lost sight of that wisdom, those choices, in the development and global extension of the western industrial society which we have inherited and which, without significant changes to the choices we make, we will perpetuate, with disastrous consequences for our children and for the future of the Earth.

We have both the power and the responsibility to choose – but where and how? How do we express our hope in tangible and practical ways?

The three books I wrote are all independent, though the themes are woven together. The third one, Live Close to Home, focuses on where we need to make those better choices.

We live in an unsustainable global culture because we focus our primary attention on other places than where we actually live. We need to live close to home, to realize what we mean by home in all its dimensions.

We need to realize we live in a universe of relations, not an environment of connections, and embrace the story of all those relations, a story in which we are both authors of our own parts, and characters in the lives of other people.

As North Americans, we have an additional burden to carry, however. We not only have to mind our own homes – we need to support and encourage people in other countries to do the same.

With more time, I wanted to discuss the 2030 Development Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the UN has committed – goals that acknowledge the planetary interrelationships between society and ecology, toward social and ecological justice. Please look them up – and find ways to embed them in what you do at home and for other people.

Finally, educate yourselves about what environmentalists elsewhere face in their daily struggles to make a difference where they live. It is an increasingly dangerous profession for our colleagues in other places, who are constantly under threat – with someone murdered or assassinated every other week.

One day at lunch in Nairobi during UNEA, a gentleman joined me at my table in a crowded cafeteria just as a colleague left. I spent most of the next hour having a very interesting conversation with the Environment Minister from Somalia, Buri Hamza, who turned out to be a Somali-Canadian who had returned to his home country after many years away, leaving his family behind in Toronto.

We talked a lot about technology and the environment, so I gave him a copy of Technology and Sustainability and we promised to continue our conversation, as he pondered ways to bring me to Mogadishu to give some lectures. At the session in the afternoon, he was a speaker…but in a seat with the label “Special Guest” instead of his name – the only time I had ever seen this done at UNEA. I thought it odd, but wondered if there might be security reasons for it.

Three weeks after our lunch together, he was killed when the terrorist group al-Shabaab sent a suicide bomber and others to attack the hotel back home where he was living. He was crushed by the debris when his part of the hotel was demolished, the only real target there that day.

Somewhere in the rubble of his room would have been that copy of my book.

Hope is not cheap. Those creative acts that hope inspires come at a cost. Hope is powerful enough, however, to change the world, because it emerges from the same Earth story in which we all live out the roles we have been given or which we claim for ourselves.

To close with what I wrote at the end of my Global Chorus entry:

“Hope is just as resilient in the human heart as the impulse to survive is resilient in living systems. That resilience does not excuse us from doing things that deny hope any more than it excuses us from actions that destroy life. When the spirit that is in us aligns with the spirit found deep within the Earth, green will no longer be just a colour.”

One Earth. All we have. All there is.

Thank you. Miigwich.

Peter Denton is an activist, writer, speaker and educator. He blogs at http://peterdenton.ca and tweets @green_ethics.

Environmental Handprints

Environmental Handprints


The Board of Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors (ECO) created Handprints during a retreat. Top Row (left to right): Bethany Thomas, Co-founder; Adam Hixon, Board Member; Michelle (Matejka) Leifwalker, Board Member. Bottom Row (left to right): Sarah Bercume, Co-founder; Erin Rowland, Board Member.

Environmental Educators Create Handprints


by Jon Biemer

he Handprint is a paradigm whose time has come. The Handprint motivates by focusing on the positive ways to think about sustainability and follow through with appropriate action.

Over the past decade, the Handprint emerged independently in several places. India’s Center for Environmental Education (CEE) adopted a ten-year-old girl’s handprint – her name is Srija – to represent “action towards sustainability.” Gregory Norris, who teaches at Harvard University, shows how an individual or a business can be “Net Positive,” meaning our Handprint can, with intention and effort, be larger than our Footprint. Rocky Rohwedder, Professor Emeritus at California’s Sonoma State University, published an e-book, Ecological Handprints, which highlights inventions and practices that foster human needs as well as reducing environmental impacts, especially in the developing world. I also published, blogged and presented my sense that we need to go beyond the admonition to reduce our Ecological Footprint.

Whatever your emphasis, the world needs more Handprints.

A Handprint has the potential to do good long after the initiator moves on. Consider planting a tree. Choose a tree that will thrive. Plant it with care. From that point on it holds soil in place, provides perches for birds, and removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Environmental educators naturally create Handprints by planting ideas and feelings in the minds and hearts of future generations. According to systems analyst Donella Meadows, influencing how people think is one of the most effective ways to change a system.

Adults can create Handprints with young people in lots of ways.

  • Garden to cultivate a long-term relationship with the soil and the cycles of life.
  • Plant trees. Observe a tree as it grows to increase a sense of kinship.
  • Practice stewardship of our commons. Participate in stream clean-ups and invasive plant removal. Join a beach clean-up sponsored by SOLV.
  • Ride the bus, even when it is not necessary, to foster a planet-friendly lifestyle.
  • Visit an aquarium, zoo or wildlife sanctuary. Explain how they protect endangered species.
  • Talk about environmental heroes like John Muir and Rachel Carson. Invite young people to see themselves as advocates of a healthy world.
  • Tell old Indian stories. They convey a depth of wisdom that can be recalled for a lifetime.

I am especially interested in aligning our Personal Handprints to create Collective Handprints. With initiative and persistence, individual Handprints multiply over time. Many steps were required to pass the landmark Oregon Outdoor School ballot measure in 2016, a Collective Handprint. These included demonstrating the concept (as Portland educators did), initiative signature-gathering, and educating the electorate. Any park requires visionaries and champions to create awareness, planners and politicians to figure out the details, and plenty of visitors and citizens to care.

Anyone can support Collective Handprints – if he or she is aware, prepared and motivated. Therein lies a calling for environmental educators.



A Handprint Workshop

Here is how I help people embrace the Handprint after a conversation about the environment.

On a sheet of 11” by 17” paper, draw the outlines of both hands. Use colored markers if possible. The left hand represents past effort. For each finger, write down something you have already done for the environment. Modest things are okay, like recycling or signing a petition. We usually do not start from scratch.

For each finger on the right hand, write an intention relating to the environment. Start with something simple like reading The Man Who Planted Trees to a child. Can you set up an environmentally-friendly practice, like composting? Perhaps a trip on the bus to the zoo is in order. Adults might think about attending an environmental conference or testifying at a siting hearing.

Share the Handprints in small groups. (If time is limited, just focus on intensions.)

Writing down and voicing our accomplishments and intentions improve the likelihood that we will follow through. Others may not remember what I write. But I do!



Jon Biemer is writing a book titled, Healing Our Planet: How Handprints Create Sustainability. Doing business as Creating Sustainability, he provides Organizational Development consulting. For 23 years, he coordinated energy efficiency research and managed conservation programs with Bonneville Power Administration. He also gathered signatures for the successful 2016 Oregon Outdoor School ballot measure. Jon lives, with his wife Willow, in an eco-retrofit home without owning a car. The author’s website is: www.JonBiemer.com

4-H Urban-Rural Exchange

4-H Urban-Rural Exchange


By being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host families, students begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.

By Maureen Hosty
With contributions from Gary Delaney, Deb Schreiber, John Williams, Jed Smith and Shana Withee

OSruralB_0164regon is a state of great socioeconomic and geographic diversity. While this diversity brings strength, it also challenges Oregonians to meet the needs of all communities. This divide is mostly deeply felt around natural resource management issues. Oregon cities are now so culturally isolated from the country that clashes between urban and rural Oregon occur frequently when it comes to grazing, logging, wilderness and wildlife. That was the world Portland urban youth walked into when they took a stand in defense of wolves in 2005 at a public Fish and Wildlife hearing. Ranchers howled in protest. Yet, just as it seemed Oregon’s urban-rural divide had grown into an unbridgeable chasm this conflict ended when 4-H stepped in. 4-H staff from urban and rural Oregon along with a handful of ranchers from rural Grant County did the unexpected. They invited kids from urban Portland middle school to live and work along side them and see a rancher or farmers side of life.

Today the 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange involves youth as a catalyst for change for a sustainable Oregon future by providing a venue for rural and urban youth and families to share their stories, their lifestyles, their beliefs and their practices for managing the land for the next generation. Through this program, urban youth and their adult chaperons travel to rural Eastern Oregon to live and work alongside 4-H ranch and farm host families for 6 days. Likewise, rural youth travel to Portland with adult chaperons to live and work alongside their 4-H urban host family.

rural_0202The program provides youth who are too often exposed to viewpoints on one side of an issue, a first hand experience on the land. It is this experience of being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host family that youth can begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.

Through the process of developing this program 4-H Faculty quickly learned that a key to helping youth understand the the natural resource issues as well as the sustainability and resiliency of their host community, youth first need some knowledge about the dynamics of the influential social, environmental, and economic systems that underlie them. Thus, while the program began as a response to the issue of the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon, in the end the program is designed to help youth understand the broader social, cultural and economic issues within rural and urban Oregon and the interdependence between both sides of the state.

During their stay with their host family youth participate in daily chores in caring for the land with their host family. More importantly though, youth are involved in all aspects of community life of their host family. The attend school for a day, participate in community events, shop at the local store, attend a local sports game, meet local neighbors and sometimes attend church to name a few of the activities.

Program Design

Participant Selection Process

IMG_1535.JPGApproximately 40-50 youth are selected to participate in this exchange each year. Youth selected to participate in this program must submit a 4-H program application and get approval from their school administrator and principal. Teachers and 4-H staff screen youth applications. Youth are selected for their commitment and openness to learn and their potential for serving as an ambassador for their community. Participating youth must also commit to giving a presentation back home about what they learned during their 6-day exchange. Once they are selected youth are paired with another student of the same gender and then matched with a host family. All youth are expected to write a letter of introduction to their host family.

Likewise, 8-10 adult chaperons are also selected to participate in this program. All adult chaperons must complete the OSU Extension 4-H Leader screening process and undergo a criminal background clearance. Chaperons are recruited and selected from teachers, parents and community partners.

Host families for this program are recruited from current 4-H and OSU Extension families. All adults in the host family must complete a background information application and participate in a host family site visit by the 4-H Extension faculty. Host families are selected for their ability to provide a meaningful experience for their visiting youth or adult chaperons.


Prior to loading in the vans and heading across the mountains to their host family, all youth and adult participants in the program must first complete a series of 4-H educational programs designed to prepare them for their experience. A 30-minute introductory program is provided at the beginning for the school year to introduce all potential students to the program and explain the application process. A series of 2-3 follow up educational sessions are held over the next several months. These educational sessions focus on the social, cultural and environmental issues of their host communities; cross-cultural communication and understanding; and sustainable urban and rural agriculture.

A mandatory one-hour orientation is held for all participating chaperons, youth and their parents. Participating chaperons also participate in additional training related to the roles and responsibilities of being a chaperon.

During the Exchange

rural_0083Four six-day exchanges from urban to rural Oregon take place the same week in April. Urban 4H youth travel to multiple communities in Harney County, Grant County, Wallowa County and Klamath County. A few weeks later, youth from rural Oregon travel to urban Portland for a 5-day exchange.

Traveling to their host community takes several hours and generally includes brief stops at historical and/or natural landmarks within the state. A lunch stop is held at a local 4-H Extension office along the route.

Once youth and their chaperons arrive at their host county 4-H office, the program begins with a potluck dinner with all the host families and visiting youth and chaperons. The potluck is designed to give youth and chaperons the opportunity to meet their host families, participate in icebreaker activities, and learn about the guidelines and expectations for the week.

During their stay with their rural host family Portland youth work alongside ranchers and farmers from rural eastern Oregon to learn the joys and challenges that comes with real rural life. Some activities include: caring and feeding livestock, vaccinating animals, branding cattle, chopping wood, and cleaning barns. Urban youth learn that ranching and farming is a 24-hour around the clock profession and caring for their livestock involves even checking on their livestock at 2 am. Urban youth also attend a school for the day in their rural community host school. In some cases urban youth who are use to attending school with 500+ students in three grades are surprised to find some rural schools with less than 100 students in 12 grades.

SruralB_0202Likewise, rural middle school youth visit Portland to learn about the joys and challenges of urban life. Rural youth live and work alongside urban families and explore issues relevant to Portland such as transportation, greenspaces preservation, urban agriculture and water management. Rural youth learn how to use public transportation, visit a farmers market and/or community gardens, tour a waste treatment plant , or visit a recycling center. They also attend school for a day. Unlike back home in their community, rural youth visiting urban Portland walk to school or ride their bike. In some cases rural youth learn that urban students get to school by public transportation.

On the sixth and final day of the exchange, visiting youth and chaperons and their host families return to the local 4-H Extension office to participate in a debriefing activity and to say final goodbyes.

Post Program

Once youth return from their experience living with a host family across the urban-rural divide, the program does not stop. Participating youth are divided into teams of 3-4 youth. Each team is expected to prepare and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation to the rest of their school about what they learned during the exchange.

More important, however, many youth continue their education beyond the 4-H program. Over 1/3 of the youth who have particpated in this program reported that they went back to visit their host family in the summer and took their own family with them. Several families in one Portland community also began a beef cooperative with their 4-H host ranch family.

rural_1098-1Program Impacts

Outcome evaluations indicated significant changes in attitude, knowledge and understanding of socioeconomic and environmental issues from both sides of the divide. A four year evaluation found changes in knowledge and attitudes among both urban and rural participants. 119 urban participants and 43 rural host family members participated in the study.

Urban participants reported significant changes in attitudes in:

1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of living of rural Oregonians; 2) Understanding the beliefs and practices for managing the land by rural Oregonians; 3) Understanding how the actions of urban Oregonians impact rural Oregon natural resource management; 4) Their awareness of rural Oregon stereotypes; 5) Knowing the commonalities urban and rural Oregonians have in managing their land; 6) Their belief that ranchers have a respect and understanding of how to best manage their land.

Rural participants reported significant changes as well in:

1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of urban youth; 2) Their belief that most urban Oregonians are open to hearing all sides of natural resource issues; 3) Their awareness of urban Oregon stereotypes; 4) Their belief that urban Oregonians have a respect and understanding of how to best manage urban natural resources.

IMG_1022.JPGToday, over 600 youth and family members have participated in this program since it began in 2006. Many of these 600 Oregonians will likely spend the rest of their lives living and working in their same respective part of the state. They might never step foot on the other side of divide. But from this day forward, they will have a different idea about the kind of people they share the state with and how they are managing their natural resources. And when that time comes when another issue around the managementt of our natural resources divides this state, these 4H youth, 4-H leaders and 4-H host families will have someone they know and trust that they can reach out to and get their input and insights on the issue.

To learn more about this program, the program sponsors and partners, or how to become involved, please contact us:

Maureen Hosty, 4-H Youth Development, Metro 4-H
Phone: 971-361-9628
E-mail: Maureen.hosty@oregonstate.edu
Website: www.4hwildlifestewards.org






Since the program began in 2006, there have been a total of 34 Exchanges between urban and rural Oregon. Three hundred and eight urban youth youth and 74 urban adult chaperons have traveled across  Oregon to live and work alongside 130 rural families (a total of 434 Rural Oregonians). The program has since expanded from 4 counties to 8 counties: Multnomah, Grant, Klamath, Wallawa, Harney, Wheeler, Gilliam and Morrow. 4-H Faculty and staff are busy preparing for the 2016 Exchanges which will take place March 31-April 5th. Participants in the exchange will be recruited from 4-H Youth and Adults from 4-H Clubs and 4-H Partner Schools. For more information about this program please contact: Maureen Hosty OSU Extension Faculty Portland Metro Area 4-H 3880 SE 8th Ave #170 Portland, OR 97202 PH 971-361-9628 | cell 503-360-6060 | fax -971-361-9628 maureen.hosty@oregonstate.edu

All Photos: Lynn Ketchum