These Baby River Turtles Will Distract You from the COP26 Fallout

Clockwise from top left, Extinction Rebellion protesters wave banners featuring the group's hourglass logo, a grey wolf huddles in the snow, two endangered river turtles sit on a log, and monarch butterflies sit alight on wildflowers.

The last two weeks have seen some groundbreaking moments for the environment, with COP26 providing a constant source of both good and troubling news.

Meanwhile, over 100,000 protestors marched through Glasgow in the name of real climate justice, conservationists released thousands of river turtles in Peru, and monarch butterflies made an unexpected but very welcome comeback on the California coast.

The U.S. is set to undo the Trump-era removal of grey wolves from the endangered species list, while Google is trialing cutting-edge solar technology at its Mountain View headquarters. Here’s this week’s positive environmental news.

Photo features two endangered yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtles.
Yellow spotted river turtles are endangered, and provide unique ecosystem services. | Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Peruvian conservationists released thousands of baby turtles

The good news: Around 3,000 baby river turtles were released into a Peruvian river. The animals were hatched from eggs kept on artificial beaches before being transferred to the location of their release, Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. The turtles are the latest of 9,000 saved by the concerted conservation efforts of experts and advocates in the region since 2019. 

As reported by CNN, one spectator chanted “Go! Go be happy!”

The impact: Yellow spotted river turtles, known locally as taricayas, are classed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable. Some people eat both their meat and eggs, and they remain popular pets due to the exploitative American turtle trade. In general, freshwater turtles help keep river ecosystems clean and healthy via their feeding habits.

“The importance lies in the conservation of the species in the area because it has already been threatened for a long time,” says Sabrina Pipa, a biologist who works on the protection of freshwater turtles. “The objective is the repopulation of the species.”

Did you know? While hatchling taricayas measure just five centimeters long, adult females can grow to around 45 centimeters and live for up to 30 years (nearly three times the lifespan of the average labrador retriever). They are a type of side-necked turtle, which means they bend their heads to the side before tucking into their shell rather than directly retracting it.

How you can help: Learn more about the WWF’s freshwater conservation in the Peruvian Amazon here, or “adopt” a turtle here. Read about community-based conservation of three endangered Amazon river turtle species (including taricayas) from People Not Poaching. You can support Amazon protection efforts in general via Amazon Watch, the Rainforest Action Network, Survival International, and many other organizations.

Photo shows Monarch butterflies landing on flowers at the Rinconada Community Garden in Palo Alto, California.
Monarch butterflies are important pollinators and good indicators of overall ecosystem health. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Monarch butterflies are rebounding in California

The good news: Thousands of rare Western monarch butterflies have been spotted in coastal California, where the iconic insects migrate annually to spend the difficult winter months. While the annual Thanksgiving count has yet to begin, these early estimates indicate that the monarch population has bounced back after last year’s all-time low.

The impact: Over 1,300 monarch butterflies were counted at a Pacific Grove site last month (where no butterflies were found in 2020), in addition to 8,000 at Pismo State Beach (up from just 300). According to the Good News Network, there appear to be over 10,000 of these pollinators accounted for so far, up from a shocking total of 2,000 last year.

Did you know? Despite a decline of 99 percent over the last 40 years, monarch butterflies were denied an endangered species listing following last 2020’s low count. UK-based charity Butterfly Conservation suggests that both butterflies and moths are “indicators of a healthy environment,” and areas that are rich in these insects are likely home to a myriad of other invertebrates, collectively providing pest control and pollination services to their diverse ecosystem.

How you can help: Get involved with this year’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count here, which runs from November 13 through to December 5, 2021. Learn about how to help butterflies and moths in your garden (or local park) here, and discover more unexpected pollinators here

Photo shows grey wolves from Minnesota. Restoring the animals' endangered status will offer much-needed protection to the keystone species.
Grey wolves are a keystone species whose endangered status was removed prematurely. | Layne Kennedy/Getty

The grey wolf may be officially endangered again (but that’s a good thing)

The good news: The U.S. Department of the Interior is set to review the endangered status of the American grey wolf after the Trump administration controversially stripped its protection just over a year ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a statement in September announcing a comprehensive status review for grey wolves after receiving two “substantial, credible” petitions requesting this.

The impact: Endangered status provides animals with federal protection from all harm and interference in order to promote health species-wide. Wolves are a keystone species, which means that all other flora and fauna within their ecosystem are dependent on their health and survival. For over 40 years, Yellowstone National Park saw its biodiversity degrade due to falling numbers of its top predator, the wolf.

In the mid-1990s, wolves were reintroduced to the area, and today scientists celebrate it as one of the most persuasive, successful rewilding stories in recent history. But the removal of protections for these animals prematurely has the potential to undo all of that. (When left unprotected, wolves are often hunted for sport.)

Did you know? The reintroduction of wolves remains one of the most controversial rewilding topics in the world. Advocates highlight the animals’ incredible importance in boosting overall biodiversity, while critics—overwhelmingly those involved in farming and recreational hunting—fear that wolves will negatively impact their revenue. There is a clear correlation between successful rewilding projects and public education, specifically for wolves.

How you can help: Learn more about the topic from the California Wolf Center and can even sponsor a wolf. Rewilding Britain covers the prospect of reintroduction in the UK here, and Rewilding Europe discusses the successful return of the Eurasian wolf here. The WWF has compiled a list of 10 fascinating wolf facts here, and both Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) currently have ongoing campaigns.

Photo shows Google's new "dragonscale" solar roofing.
Dragonscale solar roofing could show the way for other businesses to embrace renewable energy. | Chris McAnneny / Heatherwick Studio

Google is leading by example with ‘dragonscale’ solar

The good news: Google’s Bay View and Charleston East offices in Mountian View, California, are the first to receive “dragonscale” solar rooftops. The striking roofs combine around 90,000 overlapping solar panels, which could provide 40 percent of structures’ electricity needs when made operational in 2022. Google aims to operate entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030.

The impact: The unique dragonscale-looking design enables Google to overcome some of the common challenges of solar panels. The prismatic shingles and their unique coating minimize reflective glare, which can distract both drivers and pilots. (This coating also gives dragonscale its unique sparkle.) The sloping design will also generate power for extended daylight hours to combat California’s “duck curve”—an imbalance between peak demand and renewable supply.

Did you know? Google’s innovation could help lay the groundwork for others to implement their own solar generation systems in the coming years. In 2020, renewable energy expanded at its fastest pace in over two decades, which the IEA has described as the “new normal.” In the EU, renewables actually surpassed fossil fuel-based energy generation.

How you can help: As noted in the last Good Climate News, switching to a sustainable energy supplier (or at least the most sustainable one available to you) helps to minimize your own carbon footprint and demonstrates to utility companies that their customers want renewables. The Department of Energy has a solar guide for homeowners here, as does How Stuff Works

Photo shows Extinction Rebellion protesters outside the entrance to the COP26 site earlier this month.
COP26 has been a disappointment, but grassroots protest and people-power provides a ray of hope. | Peter Summers/Getty Images

Over 100,000 protestors marched for climate justice during COP26

The good news: While much of the COP26 climate event has been filled with greenwashing and well-crafted PR (skewered by Greta Thunberg as more “blah, blah, blah”), environmental activists from all over the world descended on Glasgow to make their voices heard.

Countless smaller protests preceded November 6, the Global Day for Climate Justice, which saw more than 100,000 people (and over 100 distinct groups) march in the city. Furthermore, coinciding protests took place in other cities to show solidarity with those in Glasgow and the cause overall (more than 100 nationwide, plus additional events in a further 100 countries).

We must demand that our leaders stop holding meaningless summits and start taking meaningful action.

Vanessa Nakate

The impact: Protest works, and it enables marginalized voices to be heard in a way that conventional politicking often does not. Those involved with actions outside of the official COP26 repeatedly highlighted both the shortcomings of such an event and the compelling power of grassroots political action. Continued state violence against environmental advocates (both in the build-up to COP26 and during, including the arrest of 21 scientist activists) also shows this disparity.

“Leaders rarely have the courage to lead,” commented Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate, who spoke during Saturday’s march. “We must demand that our leaders stop holding meaningless summits and start taking meaningful action.”

Did you know? At Glasgow Green, the assembled specifically heard from Indigenous activists, many of whom have no formal representation at the official event itself.

As noted in the Washington Post, the demonstrations united diverse individuals and groups fighting for social, racial, and economic justice in all forms. Those operating outside of the official event (which, coincidentally, featured more big oil representatives than any one country) were far more able to speak about the need for radical, systemic change.

“The fight for climate justice and the fight for social justice must go hand in hand,” said Roz Foyer, general secretary for the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

How you can help: If you would like to get involved in taking action in your community, there are countless regional and national grassroots environmental groups best discovered directly. Social media is one of the best ways to find out about local protests, while many U.S. cities have dedicated “activist calendars”—for example, San Francisco’s Indybay.

If you recently attended or are planning to attend a protest, you can get free legal advice from the UK-based Green and Black Cross here. You can also learn more about how to support protesters at one of the organization’s workshops, and donate to support its valuable work here.

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