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Four Stories for World Environment Day

Environmental awareness is more important now than ever.

Today is World Environment Day, the United Nations-created effort to raise awareness around environmental protection. With temperatures continuing to rise and the United States' recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, global conservation efforts have become more important than ever. In honor of today's celebration of our planet, here are some of our more recent stories about the environment, the people working to protect it, and the consequences that can result from failing to do so.

The Buffalo's Burden

Unzipping the tent, I was stunned to see 1,500 pounds of towering, living flesh: an adult bison, no more than three feet from my nose, gently ignoring me as it nibbled on the grass, its great god-like head dreadlocked with mud and swaying softly as it ate. And at the sight of the creature I found myself frightened and awed and full of love and respect and a desire to talk.

"Hey bud," I said.

Suffocating the Ocean

In 2013, low-oxygen water showed up off the California coast just north of San Francisco. The following year, crabbers pulled in dead crabs in Half Moon Bay, just below San Francisco. Further south, the Monterey Bay Aquarium registered a decline in the oxygen content of the water it pumps in from the ocean.

"It seems like something has changed," says John Largier, head of the Coastal Oceanography Group at the University of California–Davis. He tries to remain skeptical, but he suspects "large-scale global change."

The People Risking Life and Limb to Protect the Environment

It is well documented that our planet, along with its biodiversity and life-sustaining resources, is severely threatened. Lesser known is that some of the bravest among us, our environmental defenders, are putting their lives on the line on a daily basis. According to Global Witness, hundreds of activists, indigenous leaders, and environmental journalists have been killed in the past five years. Still more have faced intimidation, legal threats, and brutal violence over their efforts to protect the planet and its resources.

Trump's Paris Decision Is a Challenge to Global Governance

According to many experts, and by his own admission, Trump wants to pursue American primacy at the expense of global governance. As two Trump advisors outlined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, his administration seeks to re-establish American supremacy by asserting military and economic strength. He wants to strong-arm the world, and not just on climate.

In that context, it's easy to see the Paris Agreement as a 21st-century version of the League of Nations: a nascent attempt to establish mechanisms for international collaboration. In 1933, Adolf Hitler withdrew from that organization, charging that the rest of the world was working to prevent Germany from achieving military might.