Environment

WATCH: Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey Lead All-Star Lineup for Eye-Opening Video Series on the Environment

A host of celebs lend their voices to "Nature Is Speaking."

Photo Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Conservation International isn’t the first non-profit organization to use celebrities to further its message, but its video series, Nature Is Speaking, is unprecedented in the importance of the messages it is conveying and the sheer extent of celebrity involvement with the project. Reese Witherspoon, Liam Neeson, Kevin Spacey, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Edward Norton, Penelope Cruz, Ian Somerhalder, Robert Redford, Lupita Nyong’o and several other celebrities yet to be announced have contributed their voices to the project.

HOME

Reese Witherspoon narrates “Home,” a video emphasizing the importance of environmental stewardship and the interconnectedness of our actions on Earth. “See me for who I am. Home sweet home,” says Witherspoon. “I am your home. If you don’t take care of me, I cannot take care of you.”

OCEAN

The “Ocean” is narrated by Harrison Ford. Decades of pollution, overfishing and negative impacts from climate change have depleted marine life and critical habitats in the world's oceans. According to UNESCO, 30-35 percent of critical marine habitats across the globe have been destroyed and an estimated half of the biodiversity in the ocean will be on the brink of extinction by 2100 if current trends continue.

The pervasive threats our oceans face are emblematic of how we treat the oceans as an infinite pool of resources and a dumping ground for all the waste we can’t make room for on land. These attitudes are transforming the world’s oceans from biodiversity hot spots to underwater deserts devoid of signs of life. “One way or another, every living thing here needs me,” says Ford. “If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive, it’s as simple as that.”

ICE

Liam Neeson is “Ice." The entire west Antarctic ice sheet is on the verge of collapsing into the ocean, and could result in global sea level rises of three meters. In the Arctic, temperature increases directly linked to climate change have caused sea ice to melt 12 percent per decade, with some estimates suggesting the Arctic could be free of sea ice in parts of the year by 2030.

As the world continues to warm at the current unprecedented pace, we are entering unchartered waters as to what the future Arctic may look like. The Arctic exerts a major influence on moderating global climate and shorter term weather patterns. Changes in the Arctic have feedback loops to areas where far more of us live. Arctic sea ice increased significantly between 2013 and 2014 due to cool temperatures, a deviation from bleak upward trends of temperature increases, but researchers who collected the data warn the anomaly is not a signal of divergence from long term sea ice melting trends.

Depending on the climate models, by the year 2100, the average temperatures in the U.S. are predicted to rise between 3 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 12 degrees Fahrenheit. For every 2 degrees of warming, models predict a 15 percent decrease in average Arctic sea ice. These ice melts are already contributing to global sea level rises. Since 1870, global sea levels have risen 7.5 inches. Studies project sea levels to rise between one to four feet by 2100. Sea level rises of these magnitudes put several coastal cities and islands in jeopardy of being consumed by ocean water.

As the ice melts, the species that depend on it to survive, such as polar bears, the top of the Arctic food chain, are under threat from extinction. Studied polar bear populations have decreased between 20 to 40 percent over the past few decades, and researchers directly linked the losses to significant sea ice losses in polar bear habitats

“I keep the world cool,” says Neeson as ice. “Well, I used to. Humans keep warming this planet. I try to warn you. I send pieces of me melting into the ocean. You do nothing. I raise sea levels. You do nothing. It has taken you decades to notice.”

CORAL REEF

Ian Somerhalder is the Coral Reef

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, increased ocean temperatures caused by climate change are the leading cause of coral bleaching. Coral depends on algae to survive, which is very sensitive to temperature changes. If warm temperatures remain constant for a long period of time, the coral dispels the algae, leaving it colored white, and eventually leading to the death of the coral if the stresses are prolonged. In 2005, the United States lost half its coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea due to a massive bleaching event. NASA reports estimate 27 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been completely destroyed over the past 50 years, with estimates based on current trends suggesting an additional one percent will be lost annually over the next 30 years.

"Some people think I'm just a rock, when in fact I am the largest thing alive on this planet," says Somerhalder. "I grew for almost 250 million years and then humans came along and almost one-fifth of me is gone."

FLOWER

Lupita Nyong'o is a Flower

There are more than 300,000 known species of plants in the world, and around 260,000 of those species are flowering plants. Plants produce the oxygen we breathe and help absorb carbon we emit through fossil fuel use. Habitat destruction and global warming are harming many plant species, which directly impacts all species on Earth. Twenty percent of Earth's plant species are threatened from extinction, with human activity as the primary cause. 

"I feed people. Every potato. Me. Every kernel of corn. Me. Every grain of rice. Me," says Nyong'o. "People underestimate the power of a pretty little flower because their life does start with me and it could end without me."

SOIL

Edward Norton is the Soil

It takes 500 years for nature to replace one inch of eroded soil, but abuse by human activity destroys 75 billion tons of soil a year. Estimates based on current rates of soil degradation suggest Earth has 60 years of topsoil remaining. The collapse of the Mayan civilization has been directly attributed to depleted soil and serves as a parable for the future of mankind if nothing is done to fix it. We do not have another planet Earth to use if we destroy this one. Making drastic changes to the way we use our resources needs to be at the forefront of mainstream human activity.

"Without me, humans cannot exist, but you treat me like dirt," says Norton. "I am broken, aching, overused, sick, because of you. You have withered me away to less than half of what I used to be just a hundred years ago." 

RAINFOREST

Kevin Spacey is the Rainforest

study published earlier this year by some of the world's leading ecologists found that 70 percent of the forests on the planet are within a kilometer of the forest's edge due to habitat fragmentation from human activity. These human-caused pressures were found to decrease biodiversity from 13 to 75 percent in all areas studied, with the downward trajectory continuing over time. Eighty percent of the world's forests have already been completely destroyed, according to the World Resources Institute.  

"I have been more than generous. Sometimes I gave it all to them. Now, gone forever," says Spacey. "I make air. Have they thought about that? Humans, so smart, they'll figure it out. Humans making air. That'll be fun to watch." 

WATER

Penelope Cruz is Water

Studies have shown that water shortages around the world, including in the United States, are directly linked to overpopulation. These shortages are expected to increase in severity and quantity as global populations continue to exponentially increase. Currently, one out of every nine people on Earth does not have access to clean drinking water, leading to 3.5 million deaths annually. As populations increase, so does the demand for clean water in direct correlation with pollution from waste water, pesticides from agriculture, and industrial waste. 

"To humans, I am simply just there. I'm something they just take for granted," says Cruz. "Where will humans find me when there are billions more of them around. Will they wage wars over me like they do everything else? That's always an option, but its not the only option."

REDWOOD

Robert Redford is the Redwoodfeaturing his daughter Lena Redford as a young girl posing questions to a redwood tree about the plight of nature. 

Redwoods have been on this planet for over 200 million years, and on average live between 500 to 800 years old, though many are much older. Their long lifespan enables them to grow over 300 feet tall; the tallest trees in the world. Despite their immense size, they are under threat from droughts and deforestation. According to the Sempervirens Fund, 95 percent of old-growth coast redwoods have been destroyed by logging since the practice began on the Pacific Coast in the 1850s. 

"Then all of a sudden there were humans, and all hell broke loose," says Redford. "They changed wolves into dogs. Rivers into lakes, and us into wood. They started using the planet like it was put there just for them, acting like they got an extra one laying around. If they don't figure out they are part of nature, rather than just using nature they probably won't be around to see you grow up." 

MOTHER NATURE

Julia Roberts is Mother Nature.

Throughout human history, civilizations that thrived and survived did so under the belief that people and their environment should co-exist and that human decisions should be in tune with nature. Today, industrialized societies' belief systems assert humanity's dominion over nature. This attitude has manifested in extensive land development, increasing urbanization and the unsustainable use of natural resources as though the bounties of nature were infinite. Humans are a biological species living in a biological world, yet our lifestyles are destabilizing the deep connections and dependencies we have with nature, with devastating consequences. If swift action isn't taken to mitigate the impacts of human activities on the environment, the resiliency of nature will be induced at the expense of humanity. 

"I have been here for over four and a half billion years: 22,500 times longer than you," says Roberts. "I don't really need people, but people need me. When I thrive, you thrive. When I falter, you falter, or worse. I have fed species greater than you and I have starved species greater than you."

Chelsea Skojec is a writer based in Gainesville, Florida. Her work has appeared in the New York Observer, Huffington Post and LiveScience. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ChelSkoj.

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