Rescue Dogs Become Conservationists and More Good Climate News

Clockwise from top left. Photo of a canine member of Rogue Dogs conservation teams, a mock-up of the 8th wonder ocean cleaning platform, the notorious Bronx Expressway, and someone working in the center of a vibrant green space in the woods.

Rescue dogs are getting a new lease on life by helping with the conservation of rare animals, and in the UK, a grassroots network is advocating for advertising-free cities in order to promote human health and sustainability over profits. Meanwhile, the Welsh government is offering free tree planting to every household in the country to help tackle climate change.

Back in the U.S., New York City could see even more urban greening, this time through a renovation of the notorious Cross Bronx Expressway, while a London-based architect has designed an ingenious, self-sustaining “continent” with the potential to help clean up ocean waste. Here’s this week’s good climate news.

Photo shows one of the canine teammates from Rogue Dogs detection teams, aiding environmental conservation.
These rescue dogs are aiding conservation. | Rogue Dogs

Rescue dogs are helping wildlife conservation

The good news: Washington-based Rogue Detection Teams (RDT) is rescuing dogs from shelters and training them to track rare wildlife. The organization’s human-canine partnerships support scientific research and conservation efforts around the world, with particular experience of working with sensitive and International Union for Conservation of Nature-listed species such as the pangolin, cheetah, orca, and spotted owl.

(The latter was even the inspiration for co-founder Jennifer Hartman and her very first detection dog, Max, a blue heeler cross.)

The impact: By combining dog rescue with noninvasive conservation work, RDT has a huge impact on animals’ lives, wildlife science, and the environment in general. The canine halves of the various teams are a ragtag collection of breeds united by their love of fetch and aptitude for tracking elusive and often endangered creatures. RDT’s successful and ongoing stories include the investigation of butterflies, martens, and the Sierra Nevada red fox.

Did you know: Dogs’ noses contain up to 300 million olfactory receptors compared to humans’ six million, making their sense of smell around 40 times better than ours. As shown by RDT’s dog coworkers, they can pinpoint scents even in water or underground, and the organization emphasizes its absolute trust in their skills and abilities.

Human-canine bonding can be traced back at least 15,000 years, and RDT depends on the powerful relationships developed by the dogs and their handlers, who frequently live and travel together full-time. (I know, sign me up.)

How you can help: You can learn more about Rogue Detection Teams here and support its work by purchasing crates, food, beds, and more from the organization’s Amazon Wish List. There are a variety of other, similar groups also providing or facilitating detection dogs for conservation, including the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines, Conservation K9 Consultancy, Working Dogs For Conservation, and Conservation Dogs Collective.

This grassroots network advocates for ad-free cities

The good news: The Adfree Cities network (a collective that grew out of Bristol’s Adblock) unites a variety of different groups behind a vision of “happier, healthier cities” that replace corporate advertising with community services, art, nature, and urban greening.

According to the organization, repurposing the resources and physical space used for advertising in this way could benefit everyone from humans to wildlife. (For context, the media company Clear Channel alone has around 4000 billboards in the UK, while the U.S. has a total of approximately 340 thousand—regularly observed by 71 percent of Americans.)

The impact: Digital billboards, in particular, are extremely bad for wildlife, bad for the environment, and bad for us, both directly and indirectly. They are expensive and typically purchased by the largest companies, which are often the least ethical. (Think McDonald’s.)

A single digital billboard also uses the same amount of electricity as 15 homes over a 24-hour period, and even solar-powered varieties still contribute to the growing problems of e-waste and light pollution—both of which drain biodiversity and human health.

Did you know? Some cities are already taking legislative action against particularly harmful advertisements for the good of residents. London banned junk food ads back in 2019, while Bristol restricts anything related to gambling, alcohol, and payday loans, as well as junk food.

Earlier this year, Liverpool became the first UK city to ban advertisements for airlines and fossil fuel-related industries such as combustion engine vehicles, and the city of Norwich has said it will only support “ethical advertising” moving forward. Internationally, cities such as São Paulo, Chennai, Grenoble, Tehran, Paris, and New York are all also working to ban, limit, or replace outdoor advertising to some extent.

How you can help: Learn more about Adfree Cities and support the network’s projects here, or get involved directly with a local anti-advertising group near you. Other organizations such as Brandalism, Badverts, and more are organizing and carrying out anti-billboard actions across the UK. Learn more about the negative effects of advertising here, here, and here, and learn more about the potential for urban rewilding in general here.

Photo shows someone working in the center of a vibrant green space in the woods.
Every household in Wales will be entitled to its own tree. | Lourdes Balduque/Getty

The Welsh government is giving all households a tree

The good news: Every Welsh household will have the option to plant a tree as part of the government’s climate change commitment. It follows a 2020 pledge to create a national forest by distributing new trees and better maintaining existing, irreplaceable old-growth woodland. People can plant their trees themselves or elect to have one planted on their behalf, enabling everyone in Wales to take part regardless of access to private land.

The impact: The scheme was announced during National Tree Week. Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters has said that he hopes it will engage people directly in the fight against global warming, as well as providing countless physical and mental health benefits across the country. Wales must plant 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 and 180,000 hectares by 2050 if it is to successfully meet its climate crisis-related targets.

Did you know? Reforestation is essential moving forward. In addition to its huge, positive impact on human health and the climate, it will also help the UK to salvage its rapidly failing natural environment. Over the last 20 years alone, the UK has lost approximately 13 percent of its tree cover, and Britain is in the bottom 10 percent of world countries for biodiversity. The fallout of the industrial revolution is still felt nationwide, and the mining industry, in particular, had a significant negative impact on the beautiful valleys of south Wales.

How you can help: Tree planting is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to tackle climate change, and individuals can make a difference right now by supporting reforestation charities and initiatives through donations and volunteering or by taking action themselves.

You can also write to your local representative about the need for further reforestation, more green spaces, and the need to preserve existing forested areas. (While planting new trees is extremely worthwhile, it cannot offset the destruction of long-standing and ancient woodland, as with the loss of old-growth trees to the much-maligned HS2 development.)

Photo shows the notorious Bronx Expressway from above.
The Cross Bronx Expressway could be transformed to help the community. | Charles Rotkin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

One of New York’s worst freeways is going green

The good news: New York City’s six-lane Cross Bronx Expressway could be transformed over the coming years to reduce its negative impact on the local community. The Department of Transportation plans to assess the prospective $1 billion project which would see two miles of the busy road turned into tunnels, reducing traffic noise and pollution via air filtration and potentially introducing green spaces and walkways.

This follows years of campaigning and advocacy for a capping project by community organizations such as Loving the Bronx.

The impact: According to research by a group of Columbia University students, capping the Cross Bronx Expressway would save residents around $317 each in future healthcare costs and add approximately one and a half months to their lives. The expressway has a long-acknowledged legacy of environmental racism, from it’s original displacement of thousands of New Yorkers between 1948 and 1972 and its continuing contribution to health problems for the 220,000 people (the majority of whom are Black and Brown) who live nearby.

Many Bronx communities are literally divided by the huge expressway, which carries around 300 high-polluting diesel trucks per hour, and the area has some of the highest asthma rates in the entire country, which are in turn contributing to increased risk from COVID-19 and other respiratory conditions.

Did you know? The project will be funded from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last month. It includes over $500 billion for upgrades to highways, roads, bridges, and the overall modernization of the nation’s city transit systems. This also follows the passing of the Reconnecting Communities Act, which specifically seeks to identify and redress any mitigating infrastructural barriers to mobility and health, particularly those related to environmental racism.

How you can help: Get involved with local community organizations to advocate for change where you live, from urban greening and grassroots projects to writing to government representatives and lobbying. You can learn more about the topic of environmental racism here, and specifically the impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway on the local community here. Read about the huge potential for urban greening to improve city life here.

Photo shows the prototype for the "8th Continent," a floating structure that could help clean up ocean plastic.
An architect has designed a self-sustaining ocean recycling unit. | Jacques Rougerie Foundation

This self-sustaining ‘continent’ recycles ocean plastic

The good news: An award-winning prototype for an ocean recycling unit imagines an entirely self-sustaining way of tackling marine plastic. Senior architectural designer Lenka Petráková first developed this idea as part of her master’s thesis after studying the growing problem of ocean pollution. Named “the 8th Continent” after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s unofficial nickname, Petráková has said that potential patrons such as Elon Musk and other entrepreneurial tech figures could help realize her unique and futuristic design.

The impact: Petráková’s 8th Continent is modeled on living organisms and contains five distinct sections housing living quarters, greenhouses, a water desalinization plant, and biodegradable waste collectors. The floating research station has the appearance of a lily and has been designed specifically to clean up its namesake.

Ocean plastic is a huge problem. At least 14 million tons of the stuff end up in the sea every single year. Plastic makes up 80 percent of all marine debris, bringing entanglement and death to countless aquatic sea creatures and plants.

Did you know? The 8th continent might be one of the most futuristic prototypes so far, but it isn’t the only technology developed to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Environmental engineering nonprofit the Ocean Cleanup has trialed several models for removing ocean plastic, and in October of this year, its newest and deceptively simple system (nicknamed “Jenny”) managed to pull 20,000 pounds of plastic from the water. (Ocean Cleanup aims to remove 90 percent of all floating ocean plastic by 2040.)

How you can help: Learn more about the 8th Continent and Petráková’s other architectural projects here, and donate to support the Ocean Cleanup’s work here.

Cutting back on plastics in your own life where possible and ensuring everything is recycled and processed properly helps to keep packaging and other waste from entering the global water system. Learn more about circularity here.

Looking for more good climate news? Read the previous installments here.