Exactly a year ago, the NRDC invited me down for a rare look at the Pacific gray whales mating in Baja, Mexico. Back then, Trump was dismantling every environmental protection he could get his hands on, and the NRDC was fighting back, suing the Trump administration over 100 times.
What a difference a year makes. In just under a month, President Biden has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, and signed a sweeping package of executive actions aimed at building a clean economy and a sustainable future. Overseeing this agenda is our nation’s new climate czar, Gina McCarthy, who became the President of the NRDC after leading the EPA under Obama. McCarthy’s appointment is a boon for environmentalists, giving the NRDC a new wind in its sails.
In 1969, a young lawyer named John H. Adams was eating lunch outside his law offices in New York when he watched giant lumps of raw sewage float by on the Hudson River. When he learned how much toxic waste was dumped into the harbor, he and a horrified group of like-minded attorneys formed the NRDC, which stands for Natural Resources Defense Council. They have become like the Marvel Avengers of the environmental movement; an elite team of attorneys and volunteers who use policy making and the court system to win protection for the climate, the ocean, and wildlife. Since their formation, they’ve helped set the guidelines for much of America’s major clean air and water policy.
Which brings me back to gray whales. In 2000, Mitsubishi endangered the last breeding ground for the Pacific gray whale by planning an industrial salt factory in the San Ignacio Lagoon in Mexico. The NRDC successfully blocked it with an international coalition led by super lawyer Joel Reynolds. As a budding ocean educator, I was introduced to Joel and the NRDC through producer and activist Laurie David. They invited me on my last pre-pandemic trip deep in the heart of the Baja peninsula.
This week marks a year since this trip. While I’ve been staying home during the pandemic, I’ve used this breather to connect with other environmentally like-minded people. As the co-chair for the NYC hub of Oceanic Global, we created a hybrid-media discussion club—think “book club” but for documentaries and podcasts as well as books—that has allowed a wide range of activists to gather virtually in order to learn from one another. This time has allowed us to share, learn, and inspire each other towards environmental action. This sort of intimate weekly interaction would not have seemed possible in pre-pandemic life. Although looking through my photo journal of the gray whales makes me long to be in nature once again, I’m comforted knowing that these same whales are in the lagoon right now—breeding, playing with their newborns—just as I witnessed a year ago. I can’t help wondering if they miss curiously spyhopping to catch a glimpse of us?