Healthy Rivers, Healthy Planet

Berklee Lowrey-Evans

"It's hot in here, it's hot in here, there's too much carbon in the atmosphere!" As I heard this chant led through a megaphone this past Saturday, I had to smile. For those of you who attended sporting events at a US high school or college, or, like me, were a cheerleader, this chant should bring back some memories - yet with an all-too-important twist. Fifteen years ago the threats of climate change hadn't yet entered mainstream consciousness. Today, it can't be avoided. Even people who don't believe in climate change(!) are talking about it. And hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people around the world are taking action to stop it.

The International Rivers crew holding a Healthy Rivers banner
The International Rivers crew holding a Healthy Rivers banner
By David Feng for

This past weekend, my friends/colleagues and I - and thousands of other people - came together to create the Bay Area Mega Massive Mobilization. The local gathering was but one of over 2,000 events in 175 countries, collectively called Moving Planet. This international day of action was created by to call for the essential transition to sustainable energy sources, and a rethinking of how we literally move around our planet. Around the world, people rode bikes, walked and gathered together to celebrate their communities and the power they have to make collective change.

I was so excited to come into work on Monday and watch a slideshow of photos from the Moving Planet events around the world. One of my favorites is from Nisab, Yemen. It's of an older man and a young boy, maybe 5 years old. They're in the desert, with a village or town in the background. As I look at their expressions, I almost start to cry (as most of my friends will tell you, I'm pretty emotional). I wonder what they're thinking, if the man knows that he is part of this massive global movement for change, if the boy will ever have the chance to travel to one of the islands that's currently at risk of disappearing from the rising oceans. I wonder at the story behind the picture - who reached out to these two lone people, what's the general feeling in Yemen about the threat of climate change and what governments are or aren't doing about it. And then the slideshow continues, to photos from Vietnam, Burundi, Egypt, Norway, Georgia, South Africa, Nepal, Texas, Thailand, Fiji, China, Guam, Nigeria, Mongolia, Kosovo, Guatemala, Rwanda, Tennessee, South Korea, Tonga, Chile, and on, and on, and on. And now I'm ready to cry again, from the certainty that we are a movement, we're not alone, there is hope.

Rivers and Climate Change

You may be wondering how our work at International Rivers ties into the movement to get the world off fossil fuel dependence. Unfortunately, many governments are using the threat of climate change as an excuse to build more big hydroelectric dams. They're making the false claim that if they don't build dams, they'll have to build coal plants. But there are so many more options now, from solar and wind to micro-hydro, energy efficiency and decentralized energy grids. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the world's energy needs, except sustainability. Any type of development that disrupts ecosystems and shatters communities is fundamentally unsustainable. Big dams are unsustainable.

Although water covers about 71% of the surface of the Earth, only 0.6% of that water is found in rivers, lakes and ponds. You can add in the water held in polar ice caps and glaciers, but still only 3% of the Earth's water is freshwater. Yet every living thing on this planet requires water to survive. If we disrupt the hydrological cycle, we disrupt the web of life. Think of rivers as the world's arteries, and dams as arterial plaque. If enough arteries in a human body are blocked, you'll die. If enough rivers are blocked on the Earth, our planet could die. That's a risk we shouldn't prove true.

What's Next?

Today I'm making the commitment to use my bike more and my car less, even in the rain. To pick up the phone to call my government representatives about investing in sustainable energy, instead of only taking action online. To continue to work with our partners around the world to protect their rivers, because healthy rivers are vital to a healthy planet and healthy communities. To go to more events and connect with more people who are working on different aspects of the movement for a sustainable future. As I witnessed on Saturday in San Francisco and in the pictures of the thousands of events that day around the world, we are the many, we are the masses, we know what we want, and we have ideas on how to get there. And when we organize, we are a force to be reckoned with.