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Local Environmental Leaders’ New Year’s Wishes 2021

by Don Corrigan

What will 2021 bring for environmentalists, nature advocates and outdoor enthusiasts? Will the pandemic of 2020 offer some hard lessons about nature’s fragility? Will America rejoin the world forum on Climate Change? Will St. Louis cultivate more open spaces and find ways to reduce the region’s carbon footprint?

Environmental Echo contacted more than a dozen local environmental leaders and asked for their 2021 prognostications and their New Year’s wishes for the planet, the country and for their own piece of planetary turf in the heartland of the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys. Their answers were as varied as the organizations for which they advocate and represent.

Rejoin Paris Climate Accord

Pictured: Richard Thoma

Richard Thoma of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society said he is looking forward to the United States reentering the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement for countries around the world to limit greenhouse gas emissions. “In 2021, let’s put our money where our mouth is and actually do something about this global threat,” Thoma said.

“Cities too, like St. Louis, could get involved in creating more green space as part of this effort,” Thoma added. “Wouldn’t it be neat in 2021 if St. Louis and other cities around the world took those blighted neighborhoods filled with abandoned buildings, raised them to the ground, and then replaced them with parks?”

Pictured: Sister Cheryl Kemner

Sister Cheryl Kemner, with the environmental advocates of the Franciscan Sisters, said her wish for 2021 is a renewal of hope for the future and a return to and fulfillment of the Paris Climate Agreement.

She said she prays for restoration of our relationship with nature, so we see its beauty, its intrinsic value, and that this leads to an appreciation and protection of nature’s diversity.

“I pray for a renewal that establishes ‘harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God’ as cited in Laudato Si,” said Kemner. “I wish for sustainable lifestyles attained by living simply … I pray for a healthy planet that is sustainable, a planet that has the time to rest and renew itself.”

Richard McFall of Bearing Witness in the Heartland to Climate Change said his wish for 2021 is that on Day One of the Biden Administration the U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. “This will be such welcome news after four years of denial and rollbacks. Even more encouraging are commitments from business and community leaders around the U.S. and world to become net-carbon neutral,” McFall said.

“And while the COVID crisis has been devastating, I believe it has brought us together in our appreciation of nature, to accept what scientists say, and to prepare us for making the changes that will be needed to confront the climate crisis,” McFall said.

Connect With Nature Now

Mitch Leachman of the St. Louis Audubon Society said 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things, unfortunately, a lot of it not very good – and far too much of it is downright tragic. Still, he said, it has been very encouraging to see all the people out of doors – hiking, biking, birding and picnicking. It proves we need nature, more than it needs us.

“For 2021, I wish we all take time to just BE with nature. As important as ‘doing’ nature is, we must connect our souls with that which surrounds us,” said Leachman. “We are a part of nature, and we are better people when rooted to it. Listen to the water bubble and gurgle in the creek. Listen to the wind in the trees, blowing the leaves. Listen to the bees and beetles as they forage and fly. Listen to the birds as they peck, call and flit over head. Listen to yourself as you breathe – and simply be in nature.”

Pictured: David Lobbig

David Lobbig, Curator of Environmental Life for the Missouri Historical Society, said his wish for 2021 is that we are moved to live in a righteous relationship with the Earth’s biodiversity. He said we must do this because our agency in preservation and nourishment of the planet is now a crucial responsibility for everyone’s existence

“Our right action is nowhere more potential than in our homes, in our real and virtual shopping carts, and emanates outward to how we organize our social groups, businesses, government,” said Lobbig. “The joys of good stewardship of the natural world are never ending and bring a holiday everyday – this is what I hope we can learn, live, and share.”

Pictured: Larry Levin

Larry Levin of the Ozark Land Trust said his wish for 2021 is that everyone in the region, who has the ability to do so, takes the time to appreciate the beauty of our Ozark region in person. Pandemic or not, one can get out in nature to hike, bike, run, float or otherwise experience the natural and breathtaking diversity of the Ozarks, Levin insisted.

“From the St. Louis area to Northern Arkansas, the exploration possibilities are practically endless,” said Levin. “Connecting personally with nature builds personal and collective appreciation for what we have and what we need to protect for future generations.”

Address Regional Issues

Pictured: Bonnie Harper

Bonnie Harper of the Open Space Council said her wish for 2021 is that the global pandemic comes to an end and for everyone to stay healthy and do their part as a community. Her wish is for the same energy and passion to slow the spread of COVID-19, also be poured into slowing and reversing our most pressing problems damaging our environment.

“Also, think what a difference we could collectively make if each St. Louis metro area resident removed one invasive bush honeysuckle plant in 2021, or swapped out a disposable item for a reusable item, or planted one tree,” said Harper. “There are so many wonderful environmental organizations in the St. Louis area doing great work and providing communities the tools and resources to take these simple actions. Join them, support them!”

Pictured: Kimberly Cella

Kimberly Cella of Citizens for Modern Transit said her wish for 2021 is a broader understanding of the essential nature of public transit and its ability to help move us toward a more carbon free environment.

“It’s imperative that community members, elected officials, business leaders and other influencers realize the benefits of transit go well beyond the ride,” said Cella. “And, whether they choose to take the bus or ride the train or not – a safe, reliable and integrated public transit system is key to keeping the St. Louis region viable and sustainable.”

Pictured: David Stokes

David Stokes of Great Rivers Habitat Alliance said his wish for 2021 is that locally and nationally we began to realize that building more levees is not going to protect us, protect wildlife, or protect the environment from increasing flooding.

“After major flooding, we all want to help the people who have been hurt by it,” said Stokes. “The simplest solution is to build levees, which we have been doing to America for centuries. Levees will protect the land behind the new levee, but they do nothing to decrease the amount of water. In fact, by limiting the spread of the water, they make the floodwaters go faster, higher, and ultimately, more destructive for someone else.”

Danya Stock of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said: “All of us at MCE wish for an end to practices that threaten our natural resources; and, a world in which no single group or community faces disadvantages in dealing with environmental hazards, disasters, or pollution.”

Stock also cited MCE team members’ wishes that in 2021, Americans realize “the amazingness of nature;” the glory, vitality, essential to health and all creatures; our incredible fortune to be living in a state filled with some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic rivers and streams; and realize we must all do our part to protect what gives us so much joy.

Do It For the Children!

A number of comments for this end-of-year wish list focused on the need to save the planet and to start thinking about what is being left behind for our children and grandchildren. Children need to get outdoors, which is a good place to start to transform youngsters into passionate advocates for nature’s gifts, for wildlife preservation, for protection of the planet.

Lesli Moylan of Missouri Environmental Education Association said her wish for 2021 is that MEEA can facilitate some much-needed dialogue and instruction to help our teachers and our young students to learn and develop the wider perspectives necessary to implement solutions to so many outdoor and environmental challenges.

“I wish that in 2021 we will come to understand that access to nature, and living in a healthy ecosystem, should be a basic human right,” said Moylan. “That we realize that equity is part and parcel of sustainability, and that diversity and inclusion will bring the innovation we need to multi-solve our way out of our current predicaments. I wish that in 2021 we broaden our definition of nature and the great outdoors, valuing nature just outside our homes, businesses, and institutions as much as remote and ‘wild’ nature. I want us to honor the many ways people interact and connect with nature.”

Pictured: Jesse Hoagland

Jesse Hoagland of Green Spiral Tours said she wishes that in 2021 a thousand children blow on a thousand dandelions and make thousands of wishes. She said she herself has a thousand sweet wishes for our children’s sweet future – a future that was stolen by pandemic in 2020, like so many other sacred things that were taken away.

“But first there must be the jagged green leaves of ‘dandy’ lions,” said Hoagland. “Dandelion means ‘dente de lion,’ the tooth of the lion. The lion means truth, and like dandelions, once the truth is released, there’s no stopping what comes next. I wish for the roar of dandelions this summer, and a future filled with a thousand wishes from our precious children.  I wish for a dandelion summer.”

Pictured: Bob Criss, photo by Ursula Ruhl.

Bob Criss, an expert on water issues with Washington University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said his wish for 2021 is simple: that the children of our country can attend regular school again, see their teachers again, visit museums and parks, enjoy playgrounds unencumbered by police tape, and have many opportunities to experience the outdoors.

“I hope that they can see skies filled with stars, fields teeming with butterflies, and springs and streams filled with fish and amphibians, as I did as a child,” said Criss. “I hope they can live in a world where dedication and accomplishment, and appreciation for nature’s gifts, count more than inheritance and selfishness.

“I wish that our world be governed by leaders who understand the importance of these matters, so that children can honor, respect and emulate them,” said Criss. “I wish we would use our many opportunities to advance by redirecting long-standing subsidies from institutions that degrade the planet, to forward-looking technologies that offer the promise of growth and environmental health for young and old, but especially for our children.”

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