Earth week celebrations began this year on Monday night at the National Geographic Society’s auditorium in downtown D.C. where 140 people watched environmental films and listened to a panel discussion with the filmmakers. The D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, and the National Geographic Society hosted the gathering, which also served as a forum for the city to release the Sustainable DC third year progress report and for National Geographic to publicize the upcoming BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival.
Tommy Wells, who previously served as D.C. Councilmember for Ward 6 and currently holds the position of Director of the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, introduced five short films and moderated a panel discussion with a number of the filmmakers whom he called sentinels, artists and storytellers.
“What if nature had a voice?” Dr. Will Turner, Chief Scientist at Conservation International, asked rhetorically, in remarks after Director Well’s introduction. Nature answered in first person through narrators Lupita Nyong’o, Joan Chen and Reese Witherspoon in Conservation International’s short film presentation “Nature is Speaking,” which featured sharp images of pollinated flowers, polluted sky and extreme weather, shown against a background of dramatic music.
Monday’s film showing celebrated nature in advance of Earth Day on April 22, 2016, the 46th year of the event, which marks a movement that has fought to inspire people to protect the environment. In addition to the “Nature is Speaking” shorts, the films included narratives about the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee and continuing efforts to clean up the Anacostia River. The filmmakers highlighted the importance of small invertebrates and the power of nature in urban areas, such as the District. “It is the power of the small,” Dr. Neil Losin, a biologist and filmmaker with Day’s Edge Productions, said.
The night’s event also marked another step towards the District’s efforts to make itself the greenest, most livable city in America by 2032. Wells officially released Sustainable DC’s progress report Monday night. Sustainable DC identifies an action plan to reach the District’s sustainability goals. D.C. launched the action plan in February 2013 after a stakeholder process that created a vision statement and identified implementation goals.
Sustainable DC’s recent report highlights the city’s progress toward meeting its sustainability goals. That progress includes D.C.’s direct purchase of wind power for the city’s use, naming a Food Policy Director to coordinate citywide efforts to make healthy foods accessible to all residents and opening of the Union Station to Anacostia streetcar line segment.
During brief remarks, Dr. Catherine Workman, Senior Director of the National Geographic Society’s Wildlife Protection Initiative, advertised the May 20-21 BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival, an event jointly sponsored by National Geographic and the Park Service. During a BioBlitz, scientists team up with families, students and teachers to inventory plants, animals and other organisms in national parks.
National Geographic and the National Park Service held the first BioBlitz in 2007 at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. The two entities conducted one BioBlitz every year since 2007. Now, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. National Park Service, they will hold a BioBlitz at national parks around the Washington, D.C. area along with a biodiversity festival on the Mall. BioBlitz events also are scheduled at other national parks across the county.
The last audience question at the end of the presentation served to highlight the often difficult balance between environmental protection and other legitimate interests. The questioner asked Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist with Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, about the safety of pesticides to prevent mosquitoes, which can spread the Zika virus. Earlier in the discussion, Hatfield had admonished the attendees to create habitat and to stay away from pesticides. “Don’t use pesticides in the yard,” he had said.
But in response to the question, Hatfield recognized the human health importance of preventing the spread of Zika and the uncertainty of prevention alternatives to deter the virus. In the end, the difficult question and unresolved solution did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the audience.