An Earth Day 2021 Interview with Catriona MacGregor

An Earth Day 2021 Interview with Catriona MacGregor

In honor of Earth Day, the 22nd of April, Thursday, Soulivity Magazine will be holding their virtual event, brought to you by our platform and Beyond Words Publishing! We had the opportunity to sit with one of the guest speakers of Catriona MacGregor as we spoke about the importance of preserving one's environment amidst deteriorating climate change. 

Interviewer: Scientists have predicted that the long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heatwaves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. What is your opinion? 

Catriona: I have over 40 years of experience in habitat management and species protection working in over 7 countries. I oversaw one of the nation's largest sanctuaries – over 600 miles. The program led to the comeback of an endangered species and was awarded a blue ribbon in conservation by the Governor.

Since this is my life's work, I know that climate change is occurring and we are already experiencing many of the devastating effects. However, you do not need to be an expert, a scientist, or spend a significant time outside in nature – like I do – on the land and in nature to know this.

Many of your readers may already have experienced the direct impact of climate change including drought and fire infernos. In fact, Today's fires are hotter, faster, and more destructive than ever. In 2020 alone, California's wildfires burned 4.2 million acres, damaged or destroyed 10,500 structures, and killed 31 people. In addition, other places are experiencing abrupt and significant changes in weather – sometimes, as much as a 30 or 40-degree swing in less than 24 hours. An example of this is Colorado's roller-coaster ride from 90-degree weather to a snowstorm in 24 hours.

While you have listed a variety of problem areas, there are many other factors to consider as significant problems and we are also unfortunately now in the midst of these massive changes.

We are in big trouble and more and more people are becoming aware of this. Besides focusing on the downside – I would like to mention that there are things that we can do to address these adverse effects of climate change. 

Of course, the most important thing is to have every country of the world come together to make a firm commitment to stop polluting our atmosphere. It would also be a huge leap in the right direction if all countries set up workforces to naturally restore the environment and partner with nature as best we can.

For example, some of your readers may not be aware that it was the plants that created our life-supporting atmosphere, to begin with. That, before there were photosynthetic organisms, there was no oxygen in the atmosphere and the somewhat barren Earth could only support primitive bacteria-type single-celled organisms.

The plants changed all of that; and, through photosynthesis, created a terrific environment for evolution to spring forth – including complex life forms – like mammals birds and (of course) humans.

If we start taking the power of plants seriously, we can at least begin to get a handle on this situation by not cutting plants down (which we are still doing at a rapid rate), start planting new trees and plants, and applying certain types of plants in specific places in the world – that tend to grow quickly and tend to produce a great deal of oxygen, which will purify the atmosphere. 

Human beings tend to become very ego-focused on just what they believe that they can do alone. We forget that we have plants – master alchemists and terraformers – that we can partner with to solve our problems. 

My ancestors understood the full power of the plant kingdom and referred to trees as the ancestors of humankind. Of course, they were right – as without plants –the human race would not exist.

Interviewer: Do you believe organizations are doing enough work to help fight the deteriorating earth due to the negative impacts of the ongoing climate change crises? 

Catriona: Unfortunately – our world is caught in the grip of a monstrosity of our own making. The many corporations that drive our modern society are driven on an endless command to "grow" at all costs. Even if this means that our home—the Earth—becomes uninhabitable. 

Corporations are compelled to generate increasing profits year after year. They have no incentive to operate for the welfare of the public or the Earth. This has allowed the worst aspects of human nature (traits like greed and domination) to swallow up the Earth by way of the corporate "machine." 

Governments are also often controlled by corporate owners to support their unsustainable actions, products, and technologies. This is done directly and indirectly by way of tax write-offs, start-up subsidies, and land grants. In the United States, the government hands over billions of tax dollars to "prop up" the research, exploration, and extraction activities of fossil fuel industries like oil, coal, and gas. Subsidies for oil extraction and coal mining are so egregious that former President Harry S. Truman declared that he knew of "no tax loophole in the tax laws so inequitable as the excessive depletion exceptions enjoyed by oil and mining interests. If taxpayers refused to subsidize these industries, they would cease to make money for their owners, who kept everything for themselves. Instead, we would be implementing the many alternatives and sustainable ways available to power and live our lives. 

Everything we make or use starts as a gift from the Earth, including gold, silver, water, trees, air, and soil. Yet, the true value of these is ignored. There are no safeguards on protecting them because clean air, water, trees, and pollinators, like bees, do not count in our modern economic policies and equations. 

One cannot eat money or build a home out of it, yet we treasure money more than the real things we need to survive, like clean air, clean water, trees, and fertile soil. 

According to E. F. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful, "A businessman would not consider a firm to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital. How then could we overlook this vital fact when it comes to the Earth?" If countries counted "natural capital" and even its destruction from industries like oil, coal, and natural gas, they would operate at too much of a loss to be economically viable. They simply would not exist! 

There is a simple solution to this problem – no corporation should be allowed to exist unless it does so for the benefit of humankind and the Earth. We already have a model for this and it's called non-profit corporations. NGOs or non-profit corporations must have a beneficial impact or they cannot exist.

Of course, the biggest barrier to shifting our corporate model is corporate owners that have their hands on the pens of policymakers and lawmakers.

We can take a page from the ways and wisdom of indigenous peoples. At the International Bering Sea Forum (that I led and brought together people from 5 countries),  we began with a story important to the indigenous Yup'ik people and many others native peoples. In the story, known as "Through the Eye of the Needle," a Yup'ik youth called Amik goes on his first hunting expedition alone. As Amik leaves his grandmother's humble home and heads towards the sea, he knows his solo journey is part of becoming a man. During his travels, he comes across many animals that he kills. Amik considers bringing back what he has gathered or hunted to share with his Grandmother and his people, but instead, he eats everything himself. In an odd twist, as Amik eats and consumes, he can eat more and more. 

A large part of the story's telling is a detailed description of all of the animals that Amik hunts and eats. Thus, to tell it well requires a good hour or more.  Jumping ahead here, in the end, Amik is even able to eat an enormous whale all by himself! Near the end of the day, after consuming enormous numbers of animals, Amik realizes that he has turned into a towering giant. Amik becomes homesick and heads back to his grandmother's house. When Amik arrives, towering over the treetops, he realizes that he is far too large to fit in his humble home. 

The many corporations that drive our modern society are very much like monstrous Amik. They cannot ever be filled or satisfied.

Interviewer: Do you believe that we don't have enough activists who advocate for a healthier ecosystem on Earth Day and a healthier land for us to live in? 

Catriona: The main thing that concerns me is that our present industrial societies are heavily influenced by corporations and their owners to drive profit for a few without regard to other life. 

The second thing that concerns me – and this has been growing rapidly – is that young people and children are out of touch with nature and natural processes. Surveys have concluded that a child between 8-12 today spends less time outside than prisoners who at least get an hour a day out in the yard. That's shocking to me…

Growing up I would go outside to play after breakfast, and it was hard for my mother to get me back inside for lunch…and, even harder to get me back inside for dinner later in the day.

 During the time I spent outside, I learned a great deal about nature, the animals, and the world we live in. Of course, at that time, there was no such thing as the internet – or cell phones – or Nintendo.

 It is estimated that today one in eight Americans suffers from Internet Addiction Disorder. Addiction is considered the correct diagnosis when indulgent use takes over people's lives – up to 30 percent of South Koreans under 18 have this disorder.  Ten percent of China's teenagers suffer from internet addiction; Chinese officials who run internet addiction centers refer to it as "electronic heroin." 

Demonstrable shifts occur in the brains of people suffering from Internet addiction, especially those that start using it at a young age as the brain is developing. These shifts leave the addicted person with an inability to control their attention or make executive decisions. It also impedes their emotional processing making it harder for them to read human emotions and socialize effectively. We may even be altering our evolutionary path by changing our brains.

Our reliance upon a computerized and technological world has gone too far. We are replacing the real world with phantasms on the screen. We are becoming a society out of touch with reality, which leaves us blind, deaf, and dumb to what is happening just outside our door. 

Not only are many out of touch with nature, but some also find the illusory world on the screen more stimulating and attractive because they can apply optimum control to what they choose to experience. This effectively erases the natural world's influence on one's experience and understanding because no one pays enough attention to the natural world. 

While these technologies are powerful tools that help us in many ways, they are rapidly altering our lives and distracting us from a virtual world. 

Meanwhile, our real world is slipping away. No band-aid technological solutions or "quick fixes" will save us. Deep learning about our planet and being guided by her ways is essential if we are to survive and thrive. 

Fortunately, alongside these very serious impediments to securing action and activists to prevent catastrophic earth changes are some extremely well-run and thoughtful projects and programs. 

One of my all-time favorite environmental programs is STRAW, short for "Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed". I became familiar with STRAW over a decade ago and attended one of their restoration days. I was asked to lead a peer-to-peer evaluation of their work. 

STRAW started small but has grown impressively. It is an education and restoration program that has engaged over 46,000 students in over 550 restorations on creeks and wetlands. To date, young people eight years old and up have planted over 50,000 native plants, restoring over 33 miles of habitat. 

Each year, STRAW conducts 45 to 50 restoration projects that include planting native plant species and restoring stream beds. One of the STRAW's most important achievements is the quality of its work. Children who may have never before held a worm in their hands or spent much time outside are completing restoration projects that rival professional companies' work. These projects improve water quality and create healthy new habitats for wildlife, making way for the return of songbirds, fish, and other native species. 

STRAW is a real "cure" for those suffering from "Eco-anxiety." It offers a healing antidote by involving people, young and old, in creating a better world. It is hopeful activism and one example of how human beings can partner with Nature to heal the planet.

Interviewer: What do you think we, as a community, can do to help contribute towards healthier earth and a healthier ecosystem this Earth Day or every day in general?

Catriona: There are three things that I recommend:

  • Get involved in restoration either directly or by supporting others doing restoration work.
  • Educate yourself, youth, and children about nature and natural processes; limit time on cell phones, computers, and Nintendos; and, get outside. Take camping trips for the family vacation, start a garden in your backyard, take care of your native trees, turn off the TV at night, and go out and look at the stars.
  • The obvious harm to the planet and humankind being caused by corporations must stop. Demand that harmful corporations be replaced by corporations that exist foremost to benefit humanity and the earth – not to put barrels of money in corporate owners' pockets.. Boycott bad corporate actors that harm the environment, divest from companies and stocks that destroy nature, and ask your college university, or institution to do the same.

Interviewer: Scientists Know That Recent Climate Change (which is also negatively affecting the earth) Is Largely Caused By Human Activities. What is your opinion? 

Catriona: I led a science media program for over 15 years. The program was featured in National Geographic as one of the country's best science education programs. 

Over this time, I was able to interview hundreds of scientists, innovators, and leaders. For example, I interviewed scientists like John Warner, the recipient of the 2014 Perkin Medal, widely acknowledged as the highest honor in American Industrial Chemistry. Warner received the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring and named one of "25 Visionaries Changing the World" by Utne Reader and people like, Dr. Christian Frankenberg, a NASA award-winning scientist who oversaw a project to "see the Earth  Breathe" by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence and CO2 levels on Earth via a satellite that launched on July 2nd, as well as, hundreds of other innovators and leaders.

So, my answer incorporates not only my own knowledge, experience, and research, but what I learned from these experts.  I hope you do not mind that I will be taking some time and space to explain this important point. If people understand that it is human-caused,  they will understand that we can take action to try to remedy the problem. Some believe it is a complicated issue – although this was not always the case.

Just thirty years ago, during the 1990s, there was a more cohesive understanding within the majority of the human population about climate change and its impact on the planet. Unfortunately, as public awareness began to take hold, corporate owners in the oil and gas industries recognized that people were not only getting wise to this disaster but were beginning to pinpoint those largely responsible for it.

They were aware that their "business model" would lead to devastating climate change as early as 1977. According to investigations by "InsideClimate News" and Harvard University, this was eleven years before global warming became a public issue. Yet, instead of revealing this information that affects all life on the planet, the company not only refused to go public, but it did a deep dive into obfuscation of the truth. 

For example, ExxonMobil spent millions of dollars promoting climate change denial and misinformation. This was the same unethical approach used by the tobacco industry to lie about smoking's health risks. Many more people developed cancer and died from smoking because tobacco companies obstructed the truth. Unfortunately, today, oil company-led propaganda campaigns have blurred the truth about climate change and its causes. 

This has directly resulted in today in public confusion and inaction. Unlike smoking (where it was easier to directly link individuals' smoking habits to their illnesses), understanding a global problem is a challenge for a layperson – especially one who is not aware of changes in weather, and wildlife. 

In 1989, the company also led the creation of the infamous "Global Climate Coalition," which starkly questioned the authentic science behind global warming. This coalition, a disguised industry-led lobbying group, prevented the US from signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, which sought to limit greenhouse gases. This diabolical tactic was responsible for stopping other countries, such as China and India, from signing the treaty.

This all came to light during an eight-month-long, in-depth, investigation of former Exxon employees, scientists, and federal officials. The investigation unearthed Exxon's senior scientist, James Black's sobering message to Exxon's management committee: "…there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels." He warned them that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—a number consistent with the scientific consensus! Black continued to warn them that: "…present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical." 

It's hard to believe that these corporate leaders chose to protect their profit margin over the welfare of life on Earth. People who make such decisions would ordinarily be deemed insane in a healthy, sustainable society. 

Today, too many people, especially in America and in some other Western nations, actually believe either that planetary global warming does not exist or that it is actually good for the planet.

These beliefs are largely responsible for defeating national and international measures to limit carbon releases. It's devastating that a "win" for a corporation like an oil company is considered an acceptable "loss" for the world. These oil company executives are making the world unsafe for all life, including their own children, grandchildren, and descendants. 

Today, I am saddened to hear people say confidently that "global climate change is naturally caused." They argue that humans have little to do with the warming trend and that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, a harbinger of climate and temperature changes, have always gone up and down. They may not be aware that they are, in fact, spouting one of the major lies developed and spread by the corporations. 

However, real science tells a different story; climate change and CO2 levels prove that it is human-caused and dangerous. For example, there are three distinct types of carbon isotopes: 14C, 13C, and 12C. 

The isotope associated with carbon from burning fossil fuels has risen dramatically since the 1900s. Meanwhile, the naturally derived isotope associated with carbon created by trees has gone down.

In fact, sequences of annual tree rings going back thousands of years indicate that at no time in the last 10,000 years have the naturally occurring carbon isotope ratios in the atmosphere been as low as they are today. Not only are naturally occurring carbon isotopes falling but so is Earth's atmosphere's oxygen level. Oxygen levels are falling 2,000 times faster over the past 150 years alone than in the last 800,000 years.

Greenhouse gases absorb energy and will thus allow less infrared radiation to escape into space. This is exactly what satellites are finding. From 1970 to 1996, satellites discovered that less energy is escaping into space and proved via "direct experimental evidence of a significant increase in the Earth's greenhouse effect."

Moreover, if global warming were predominantly caused by forces outside of the planet—for example, by a hotter sun, another oil industry-created myth—then the outer layers of Earth's atmosphere would be heating up as well. However, this is not the case: 

"Climate models predict that more carbon dioxide should cause warming in the troposphere but cooling in the stratosphere. This is because the increased "blanketing" effect in the troposphere holds in more heat, allowing less to reach the stratosphere. This would contrast with the expected effect if global warming were caused by the sun, causing warming both in the troposphere and stratosphere. Instead, satellites and weather balloons confirm a cooling stratosphere and warming troposphere, consistent with increased carbon dioxide." 

Some "climate change deniers" will rely on ice samples taken from the Vostok core at the Earth's polar region to support their argument that the Earth's present warming trend is a naturally occurring cycle, and thus ok? 

They refer to an ice-drilling project between Russia, the United States, and France at the Russian Vostok station in East Antarctica. This yielded the deepest ice core ever recovered, with layers of ice going back 800,000 years.

While the drilled ice samples show that the Earth has gone through cycles of warming and cooling trends, there have not been periods in Earth's history when temperatures were warmer than they are now. The rate of climate change today is far more rapid than the climate shifts that occurred in the past. 

The Vostok ice cores show us that the rate of change in CO2 over the past million years is tame compared to today's rate. Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 changed less than 0.15 ppm per year. Today's rate of change is, in fact, twenty times faster! 

Even if climate change were a "natural occurrence", it's still a forerunner to mass extinction and will undoubtedly impact the human race. For example, in the end-Triassic extinction 200 million years ago, CO2 doubled from 2,000 to 4,400 ppm, triggered by massive volcanic eruptions. This happened over a relatively short time period of 1,000 to 20,000 years and wiped out 75 percent of all land species and 95 percent of all marine species. 

If humankind had been around at that time, we would also have become extinct! 

If we compare this past event to our present global warming, the rate of change that occurred then is literally just a fraction of the rate of change occurring now!

 In April 2020, our planet had 419 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, and this is rising rapidly! (For updates, go to carbon-dioxide/.) 

Already, we are observing the beginning of end-Triassic conditions.

 In that period, oceans became acidic soups devoid of oxygen, suffocating almost all marine life. Unfortunately, dead zones are now appearing in many different locations in our oceans. Extinction events are not something that changes back to safe levels quickly. The end-Triassic extinction showed that it could take millions of years for life to recover and for new species to evolve. It is estimated that it took between five to 30 million years for life to begin to reappear after that mass extinction. 

As if historical records were not dire warnings enough about the impact of increased CO2, we have also to add two other very important trends that are affecting Earth today. These trends were not taking place during the period of the Triassic. One, we have allowed massive deforestation from clear-cutting, forest fires, and soil and water contamination. Over the past 200 years, humanity has wiped out approximately 50 percent of the Earth's forest cover.

Thus, not only are we pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, but we are also wiping out the very species we need to help regulate our climate. The reality is that not only has humanity never faced this type of rapid and devastating change under these dire circumstances, neither has the Earth. 

For those that continue to ignore the realities of global warming and its causes and damage, a final but important point is that the fossil fuel industry is outdated. It lags far behind new, more sustainable, and less expensive technology. In fact, the design for the combustion engine used in most vehicles is over 100 years old!

Moreover, the oil and gas industries pollute the land and water through their pipeline and tanker oil spills and fracking. By inventing newer and better alternatives to generate energy and investing in them with our tax dollars, we can do better. It's time to let go of these "dinosaur" technologies and apply the new methods that run far more efficiently and safely. 

Additional reference points for people to explore further:

Eric Steig, "How do we know that recent CO2 increases are due to human activities?" RealClimate: Climate science from climate scientists, December 22, 2004, archives/2004/12/how-do-we-know-that-recent-sub2sub-increases- are-due-to-human-activities-updated/. 

Charles Choi, Earth's Atmospheric Oxygen Levels Continue Long Slide, Live Science, September 22, 2016, https://www.livescience. com/56219-earth-atmospheric-oxygen-levels-declining.html accessed on February 2020 

J.E. Harries et al., "Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997," Nature 410, no. 6828 (2001): 355-357. 

Kevin Trenberth, "Global Warming is Happening," National Center for Atmospheric Research, accessed March 25, 2020. 

Peter Rejcek,"Going Deep: Drilling project to retrieve longest ice core ever from the South Pole," In-Depth Newsletter, National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility, Spring 2015. 

Shaun A. Marcott et al., "Centennial-scale changes in the global carbon cycle during the last deglaciation," Nature 514, nos. 616-619 (October 2014). 

Morgan F. Schaller, James D. Wright, and Dennis V. Kent, "Atmospheric PCO2 Perturbations Associated with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province," Science 331, no. 6023 (March 2011): 1404-1409. 

Catriona MacGregor has led Vision Quests and Nature Quests for twenty years in the US & Scotland benefitting participants from 8 countries. Called "Nature Girl" since childhood, Catriona is a descendant of the indigenous people of Scotland. Catriona managed the largest coastal sanctuary in the United States, stretching over 600 miles. Her program led to the comeback of an endangered species & was awarded the Blue Ribbon in Conservation by a former US President. Catriona's book Partnering with Nature: The Wild Path to Reconnecting to the Earth won a Gold medal. Her newest book Secrets of a Celtic Mystic: Sacred Earth Prophecy can be purchased at her site or Amazon.

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