Protecting Our Ocean – What Will You Do?



by Catherine Novelli

The ocean is the life blood of our planet. Covering almost three-quarters of the globe, the ocean provides food for billions of people, drives economic growth, promotes human health, spurs scientific advancement, regulates our climate and weather and provides a home to most species on our planet. We depend on it for our very lives and well-being.

We know that this remarkable resource is in trouble. Harmful fishing practices, marine pollution, rising carbon dioxide levels and a host of other threats imperil our ocean and the rich and vibrant communities of marine life within it. These threats also jeopardize the way of life for people everywhere.

Wherever you live, you can take action to help address these threats. Join people around the world in answering the Call to Action to protect our ocean by committing to take simple, concrete steps in your own life. From eating sustainable seafood to recycling your trash, your collective commitments will help determine the fate of our ocean. Show your support – join the Thunderclap and add your voice to show the world that you are ready to do your part to help protect our ocean – and we will ask your leaders to do the same.

On June 16 and 17, Secretary Kerry will host the Our Ocean conference at the Department of State. We will bring together scientists, representatives from governments around the world, the environmental community, industry and other stakeholders to discuss ways we can work together to address the threats of unsustainable fishing, marine pollution, and ocean acidification to our ocean and identify potential solutions.

You can join us for the conference. We will bring the discussion to you using social media and a live stream of the conference. I invite you to tweet and follow the #OurOcean2014 hashtag. Together, we can change our current course and chart a sustainable future – for our ocean and ourselves. The Call to Action is an important piece of this effort – we can each make a difference. You can see from his video that Secretary Kerry is ready to take action. So am I. Join us!

Secretary of State John Kerry’s video message on protecting our ocean is available on the State Department website.

This blog post by Catherine Novelli originally appeared on the State Department website on June 2. Novelli serves as the under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment at the U.S. Department of State.


Celebrating Our Ocean


Brazil Daily Life

Our ocean covers almost three-quarters of our planet.  No matter where we live, we all depend on our ocean for the food we eat and the air we breathe.

Our ocean today is at grave risk – and it’s not happening by accident. Human activity is the cause. Harmful fishing practices, even illegal fishing;  giant garbage patches; hundreds of dead zones; and rising carbon dioxide levels – all of it threatens life under the sea. That’s the bad news.

The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way. Governments, communities, and individuals can act now to reverse these trends. We can protect the ocean if we all start treating it like ‘our ocean.’

Isla Vista Memorial Paddle Out

What will you do to help protect our ocean? Sign up to make a difference at 

You can learn more at

Being a Friend to Birds & Bees




Happy May! This month on the blog, it’s all about the birds and the bees – specifically, migratory birds and other pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and bats.

Did you know? A world without pollinators would be a world without apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, peaches, or pumpkins.

Here are some more facts about pollinators, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service:

  • Bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects are all animal pollinators
  • Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce
  • It’s not just fruit, vegetable and seed crops that depend on pollinators; plants that provide medicine and fuel also need pollinators
  • Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of pollinators

For all they do for us, there are species of pollinators that are disappearing or dying due to habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants.

How can you help them?  Watch and learn from this video on how to “Be a Friend to Pollinators.”


Parks: Universal Symbol of Freedom & Democracy



This guest blog was written by Patrick M. Hudak, Regional Policy Coordinator for Europe in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science at the U.S. Department of State. 

Dr. Juraj Svajda of Slovakia credits his parents for his love of nature: “While growing up I spent summers and weekends with my parents in a beautiful part of our country – in the White Carpathian Mountains along the Czech border – in an old house where my grandparents had lived.  We had gardens and orchards, which taught me the connection between people and nature.  I also remember us going regularly to the mountains to hike, and I especially enjoyed the High and Western Tatras where I eventually settled down personally and professionally.”


Dr. Juraj Svajda of Slovakia sits in front of a sign for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (Photo courtesy: Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today, Dr. Svajda is working side-by-side with National Park Service staff at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to assess the impacts of visitors on protected areas.  His one-year research fellowship is made possible by the Slovak-American Foundation, Council on International Educational Exchange and U.S. Department of State.  Dr. Svajda intends to take what he has learned back to Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica, where he works as an assistant professor, with the hope of applying it one day to the national parks in Slovakia.  “I strongly believe that nature conservation in Slovakia needs broader engagement of the people – a bottom-up approach – rather than the top-down approach we inherited from the Communists when our protected areas were created.  This means involvement of locals, the scientists, NGOs, media, land owners and users, businesses, politicians, philanthropists, artists and volunteers as we can see here in the U.S.  It is a very broad approach and definitely better and more efficient in terms of sustainability and long-term results.”

Prior to his time at Matej Bel University, Dr. Svajda served as the Chief Ranger at Tatra National Park.  He was able to come to the United States as a part of a Sister Park agreement between Slovakia’s Tatra National Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park.  Although he no longer works directly on park management in Slovakia, he continues to be passionate about good stewardship and getting young people interested in nature conservation.  He has been “deeply impressed” by how friendly and supportive visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park have been and how well they understand the importance of research and conservation.  “Frankly speaking, I hated history when I was in school but I’ve become a great fan while reading the history of U.S. national parks to understand how your system evolved.  You were lucky to have enlightened people among your politicians but also wealthy philanthropists and other advocates a century ago who had the wisdom and vision to protect these places for future generations.  As the book title says, your national parks are the best idea in the world.”

Trails monitoring_impact on social trails2

Monitoring the impacts of “social” trails at Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo courtesy: Rocky Mountain National Park)

When asked to give an example of something he has learned during his fellowship, he replied, “Our protected areas in Slovakia are heavily visited, but we do not have the appropriate methodologies to evaluate the impacts of these visitors on the park.  At Rocky Mountain, two research techniques are used to understand how many visitors the park can accommodate as well as how much degradation should be considered acceptable.  Applying these techniques to Slovakia’s conditions can help to protect the natural resources and maintain the quality of visitor experiences.”

Dr. Juraj Svajda analyzes snowpack for avalanche hazards in Hidden Valley at Rocky Mountain  National Park. (Photo Courtesy: Rocky Mountain National Park)

Dr. Juraj Svajda analyzes snowpack for avalanche hazards in Hidden Valley at Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo courtesy: Rocky Mountain National Park)

When asked what makes the Tatra Mountains so special for Slovaks, he described them as “the symbol of our country – the highest mountains and most visited destination in our country.”  He explained that they contain a huge concentration of biodiversity in a very small area, which means they are highly sensitive to human impacts.  He worries that many people do not understand why the Tatras are so important and should be preserved for future generations, rather than developed with activities that can be placed elsewhere and which damage Slovakia’s natural and cultural heritage.  “In your country, I have a strong feeling that people love the parks and would support them even if the park administrators no longer existed.  Your parks are a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.”

Take a Walk



Myanmar Walking for Water

(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

What would you do to raise awareness on an issue?

Around the world, millions of people have to travel far to find fresh water. Women and girls in developing countries, in particular, walk an average of six kilometers every day to collect water for their families.

The task of collecting water keeps children out of school and prevents women from engaging in other, more productive economic activities. Growing water scarcity also has widespread implications for global health, food security, economic prosperity, and eco-systems.


Raising awareness on water issues is one reason why volunteers from the U.S. Department of State, the World Wildlife Fund, WASH Advocates, The Nature Conservancy, and others chose to do the State Department’s fourth annual 6K Walk for Water on a sunny, but cold and very windy day in Washington, D.C.

Why else do people walk? Check out what some of the experts from the State Department, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Nature Conservancy, and WASH Advocates had to say.


With thanks to our colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and WASH Advocates for working with us on this event. 

Happy Earth Day!


Nepal Environment Day









This concludes our series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network for Earth Day 2014.

Today is Earth Day! Over a billion people in 192 countries around the world are taking action on behalf of the environment—planting trees, cleaning up their communities, biking to work, starting recycling programs, teaching young people about environmental issues, buying locally-grown foods, and much more.

While today is certainly a monumental day, we must build off this momentum. The environmental challenges of our time are urgent, and solving them will require the sustained, coordinated efforts of people all around the globe.

Over the last several days, we’ve shared some of the world’s most innovative green city success stories. But our work is not done yet. Through the Green Cities campaign, Earth Day Network will continue to educate and mobilize cities and communities around the world to become more sustainable. Learn more about how you can participate.

There are lots of other ways you can get involved throughout the year.

A Billion Acts of Green® is an ongoing campaign that inspires and aggregates individual acts of environmental service around the world. We reached our goal of one billion actions, and we’re now shooting for two billion! Pledge your Act of Green here.

Also, check out our Green Schools campaign. We provide educational materials to help build awareness about environmental issues.

Through The Canopy Project, Earth Day Network also plants millions of trees around the world – in the places that need them most. Trees are important in fighting climate change, providing soil stability, restoring wildlife habitat, stabilizing local economies and more. Learn how you can contribute here.

Most importantly, we must all continue our efforts to share the green message with as many people as we can. Our children’s future depends on it. Remember: a lot of little actions add up to something big.

Earth Day 2015 will be here before you know it. It’s never too early to start planning how you’re going to make a difference!

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Reykjavik & London: Leading the Way in Europe


This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

The green city movement is off and running in Europe. All across the continent, cities are taking steps to green their buildings, energy systems, and transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps no other European city embodies this trend quite like Reykjavik, Iceland. Reykjavik acquires only 19% of its primary energy, used in transportation and heating, from fossil fuel sources. The rest of the energy comes from geothermal and hydrogen power – both renewable sources. What’s even more impressive, however, is that Reykjavik gets 100% of its electricity from geothermal and hydrogen power.


By switching from fossil fuel energy to geothermal energy, it is estimated that Iceland has saved more than $8 billion over the last three decades. What’s even more amazing is that Iceland’s Natural Energy Authority estimates that Iceland is using only 20-25% of its hydropower capacity and only 20% of its geothermal capacity. Reykjavik provides the world with a glowing example of how cities around the world can be powered in the future.

Meanwhile, on another European island, the world’s largest solar bridge recently opened in London. The bridge runs across the Thames River at the London Blackfriars railway station. The roof of the bridge is covered in 4,400 photovoltaic solar panels that are expected to generate 900,000 kilowatts of energy every year, which amount to half of the railway station’s energy needs. This new installation is expected to cut carbon emissions by 511 tons per year.


From geothermal energy to solar-powered infrastructure, Europe is striving to turn its cities green, and the world is taking notice. Hopefully, the trend will continue.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Reclaiming Time By Going Green



This is fifth in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

In South America, major cities are taking steps to become more sustainable and improve quality of life for their citizens.

Bogota, Colombia is at the forefront of this movement. In February 2000, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa enacted the city’s first car-free day. Legitimized by a public referendum, the car-free day has become an annual occasion. Beginning in 2014, Bogotá expanded the day to an entire week of no car usage. In the city of 7 million people, roughly 600,000 cars were left idle each day during car-free week.

Quality of life in Bogotá has undeniably improved during the first car-free week. The air is cleaner, the streets are quieter, more people are engaging in physical exercise, and more time is being reclaimed due to not experiencing traffic.


Buenos Aires, Argentina has a different strategy for going green. Just a few months ago, the city broke ground on its project to retrofit 91,000 of its streetlights with LED bulbs that will cut energy use by 50% and significantly reduce carbon emissions. The new bulbs will also last nearly five times longer than conventional lighting. Already, over 10,000 streetlights have been retrofitted, with the rest to be completed over the course of roughly three years.


Diego Santilli, Minister of the Environment and Public Space, lists the advantages of the LED lights, “they’re more efficient: longer life-span, less consumption, lower maintenance cost, more visibility. This project will help us reach our goal of reducing greenhouses gases while also cutting operational costs.”

Bogota and Buenos Aires set a great example for other cities to follow. With their leadership, South America’s cities are well on their way to becoming better and more sustainable places to live.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Green Cities on the Rise in Africa and the Middle East


This is the fourth in series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Across the Middle East and Africa, cities are doing their part to become more sustainable. From green transportation to renewable energy, these cities are taking innovative strides toward a greener future.

Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, is in the process of designing an entire city to be completely carbon neutral.  Masdar City, as it will be called, will be a two-square-mile, zero waste to landfill, car-free city with its own highly efficient “personal rapid transport” system that will also be emission-free.  The city will also be designed to encourage walking whenever possible, and will eventually be home to 1,500 businesses, 40,000 residents, and 50,000 commuters.

Masdar City

According to Masdar City’s website, “It is a community where cutting-edge clean tech research and development, pilot projects, technology testing, and construction on some of the world’s most sustainable buildings are all ongoing.”

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Also making strides toward a greener future is Johannesburg, South Africa.  Johannesburg recently introduced a new fleet of 134 biofuel powered city buses, drastically reducing emissions and offering a way to recycle much of the city’s waste through the production of the biofuel.  Johannesburg is also working on changing its transportation infrastructure by adding walking and biking lanes along certain busy corridors in the city.

Meanwhile, cities in Ethiopia are turning to renewable energy. The Ashegoda Wind Farm — located 18 kilometers outside the city of Mekelle — is officially open for business. The 120-megawatt wind farm contains 84 turbines and is expected to contribute 400 million kilowatt hours of energy to the grid each year. Ashegoda is the continent’s largest wind farm.

As Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg, and Mekelle have shown, green cities are on the rise in Africa and the Middle East.  Hopefully, more cities in the region will follow their lead.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Songdo, Bhubaneswar & Adelaide: Taking Steps Towards Sustainability


Songdo_South Korea_Flickr_by elTrekero

Songdo in the Republic of Korea. (CC) Flickr

This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Throughout Asia and Australia, cities are taking steps to make their buildings, transportation, and energy infrastructure more sustainable.

The city of Songdo in the Republic of Korea is at the forefront of this movement. What used to be a vast wasteland of mudflats is now being built up as a completely green city, with 100% of its buildings set to meet LEED certification requirements and 40% of its land space to be reserved for parks and green space. It is being designed as a completely walkable city, so that cars will be almost completely unnecessary.  Songdo has also designed a revolutionary waste management system that will recycle most trash and 40% of wastewater.


A park in Songdo

Another prime example is Bhubaneswar, India.  Bhubaneswar recently put into place several initiatives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and encourage its residents to save energy.  Not only did they install 20 kilometers of a bike path through the city, but city officials also facilitated the move of street vendors to areas near the path to encourage more people to use it, and convinced many street vendors to install more efficient lighting systems.  On top of that, Bhubaneswar passed a mandate requiring all buildings with water heating systems to install solar-assisted water heating systems, and set up an information center in the city to inform people about climate change and environmental issues.


Bhubaneswar, India

Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is also joining the effort against climate change by introducing the world’s first completely electric, solar-powered bus.  The bus – named the Tindo after an aboriginal word for “sun” – transports residents of Adelaide completely free of charge and is expected to save 70,000 kilograms of carbon from being released into the atmosphere and 14,000 liters of diesel fuel from being used.

Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia

Whether it’s through redesigned public transit systems, energy efficiency measures in buildings, or more walkable streets, cities in Asia and Australia are doing their part to not only fight climate change, but also to propel the world into a more energy efficient and healthy future.  The examples they’ve set should be widely replicated.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.


Heart of the City: Green Buildings



The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington

The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington

This is the second in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Cities all around the world are striving to become greener and more sustainable. In North America, a few major cities are leading the way in green buildings.

Seattle’s Bullitt Center — considered the greenest commercial building in the world — is a testament to this trend. The Bullitt Center is brainchild of Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day and board chair of Earth Day Network. It seeks to meet the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous rating system for sustainability.

The building’s roof is adorned with solar panels, helping it to achieve net-zero energy. All rainwater is collected in a large cistern, and all wastewater is treated onsite. In fact, the building operates independently from municipal water and waste systems. The building is also able to effectively gauge exterior conditions – including temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and wind – and adjust accordingly, opening and closing windows, turning the heat up or down, etc.

A view from a floor inside the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Ben Benschneider)

A view from a floor inside the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Ben Benschneider)

Don’t plan to park there – it’s close to public transportation and has bike racks, but no parking spaces. Heating is partially accomplished with geothermal power, and all of the building’s wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.


People walk on the Vancouver Convention Centre West roof, one of the largest green roofs in North America: a six-acre behemoth bigger than four football fields. (C) AP Images

People walk on the roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre, one of the largest green roofs in North America — a six-acre living roof bigger than four football fields. (C) AP Images

Meanwhile, 150 miles north in Vancouver stands the Vancouver Convention Center. Opened in 2009, the facility achieved LEED Canada Platinum Certification—the first time a convention center has done so—and received a COTE 2011 Top Ten Green Project Award.

What makes the building so green? For one, it’s home to a six-acre living roof — the largest of its kind in Canada. The roof houses 400,000 native plants grasses and 240,000 bees. It serves many functions, including acting as an insulator to maintain indoor temperatures, and helping to effectively utilize stormwater.

The building also makes use of low-volume flush and flow fixtures to reduce potable water consumption by 73 percent, and 100 percent of the building’s greywater and blackwater is treated through a wastewater treatment plant that provides all the building’s irrigation needs.

As for heating and cooling, the building uses a sea water pump to cool the building during the summer and heat the building during the winter. The building is almost entirely covered in glass, minimizing the need for artificial lighting. Radiant flooring is used wherever possible, allowing for superior air circulation.

The Vancouver Convention Center at night. (CC) Wikimedia Commons/by Bobak Ha'Eri

The Vancouver Convention Center at night. (CC) Wikimedia Commons/Bobak Ha’Eri

Seattle and Vancouver are proving that more energy-efficient and sustainable buildings are at the heart of green cities. Here’s hoping other cities follow their lead.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Earth Day & Green Cities



This is the first in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network in honor of Earth Day 2014.

The first Earth Day – on April 22, 1970 – was the birth of the modern environmental movement. Twenty million Americans took to the streets in cities all over the country to demand that something be done about the destruction of the environment. The events of that day led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Since then, Earth Day and the global environmental movement have grown exponentially. Today, more than a billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day-related activities. It is the largest civic observance in the world.

The theme of Earth Day 2014 is “Green Cities.” Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, our cities have to evolve.

It’s time for us to invest in efficiency and renewable energy, rebuild our cities and towns, and begin to solve the climate crisis. With a focus on transportation, green buildings, and clean energy, the Green Cities campaign will mobilize a global movement to accelerate this transition.

How will we do this? First, we will work to find and highlight best practices from green cities all around the globe. These success stories — from energy-efficient buildings to public transportation infrastructure to microgrids — will make up a catalog of replicable policies and initiatives for other cities to emulate. Over the course of the next week, in the lead-up to Earth Day, we’ll share some of our favorite green city success stories from every corner of the globe.

We’ll also work closely with a handful of spotlight cities, including Jackson, Mississippi and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to help them become more sustainable. Specifically, we’ll work with them to transition to LED streetlights, improve the solar permitting process, and implement a green buildings plan.

And finally, as always, we’ll work with cities and partners around the world to plan and execute events on Earth Day — everything from trash clean-ups to rallies to tree-plantings.

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.   


Happy National Oceans Month!


Big Sur, California (NOAA/Ocean Service)

June is National Oceans Month in the U.S. Much like people in other nations, Americans look to the oceans as natural treasures, a source of food and energy, and a foundation for their way of life.

US Best Beaches Ocean City

Playing Their Part

Our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes provide jobs and attract visitors from around the world. They provide a habitat for scores of species and they are vital to transportation, economy, and trade, linking the U.S. with countries across the globe and playing a role in national security.


Reducing pollution, preventing habitat loss, supporting sustainable fisheries, and preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change are all challenges that the White House is taking action to address through the U.S.’s National Ocean Policy.

The U.S. government is working in coastal regions with states and tribes to support communities as they develop the solutions that work best for them. Through these steps, we can safeguard these treasured ecosystems and conserve our ocean resources.

During National Oceans Month, let us remember our obligations to good ocean stewardship. Let us celebrate the bounty our marine ecosystems provide by sustaining them for generations to come.

We celebrate this month is to reaffirm our responsibility to keep our oceans and coastal ecosystems healthy and resilient.

How will you celebrate your ocean and waterways?

Learn more about the ocean we share and are working to protect at Our Ocean.