Dear EarthTalk: I really enjoy the various Survivor TV series, but what is the environmental impact of such productions on their remote locales?
—Rachel Maxwell, Port Washington, NY
When Survivor first aired in the summer of 2000, environmental groups cheered producers for choosing nature as the setting for such a high profile series. And by the time the series was only a year old, it was garnering green praise from all over, including from Australian environmental officials, who played host during the show's second season.
Ian Sinclair of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water, said in an interview at the time, "The impacts were pretty minimal. All rubbish was removed. No vegetation was destroyed. The tracks and the bare area that were re-seeded are probably the only visible signs of impact
" But Survivor 2 was only granted use of the site on very strict terms, including protection of local flora and fauna as well as guarantees of waste cleanup. As Survivor competitor Colby Donaldson showed when he illegally picked up pieces of coral, such guarantees were sometimes dishonored, however unintentionally.
But bigger trouble began brewing for the show in 2001 in Kenya when a local land trust complained that vegetation and animals living in that country's Shaba National Reserve—where that season was being filmed—were being disrupted by all the production-related activities. "The presence of more than 200 workers and the heavy commercial trucks busy supplying provisions and other operations in the reserve has scared away all the animals," said a press release by Kenya's Waso Trust Land Project. The story was carried in newspapers around the world, bruising the show's otherwise spotless environmental reputation.
Since then, though, perhaps because of the flap, Survivor has been a more responsible environmental actor with each successive season, often garnering accolades from local governments monitoring operations. Authorities in Thailand were skeptical about hosting American productions after crew from the film, The Beach, were charged with damaging one of the country's most pristine national parks in 2000. But they were pleasantly surprised after Survivor's producers displayed great environmental sensitivity when taping the show's fifth season there. More recently, the government of Palau, where the series was set in 2004, reported that it found "no significant environmental impact [or] damage" from hosting Survivor.
Despite the show's recent good track record during filming, some environmental groups are now concerned that Survivor's popularity may well cause some of the pristine and far-flung locales where it is filmed to become overrun with tourism. In fact, the Palau Conservation Society has had to re-double efforts to manage tourism growth which has spiked since the island nation began hosting Survivor.
Dear EarthTalk: What are religious leaders and organizations doing to communicate the importance of safeguarding our natural environment?
—Peter Toot, Taos, NM
Perhaps it's not surprising that those who care for God's creation take environmental issues seriously. But only in recent years have Sunday sermons and other religious services put green topics front and center.
Much of the credit for increases in such "faith-based" environmentalism can go to the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), which was founded in 1993 to "weave the mission of care for God's creation across all areas of organized religion." NRPE has forged relationships with a diverse group of religious organizations, including the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
These organizations work with NRPE to develop environmental programs that mesh with their own varied spiritual teachings. For instance, some 135,000 congregations—counting Catholic parishes, synagogues, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches and evangelic congregations—have been provided with resource kits on environmental issues, including sermons for clergy, lesson plans for Sunday school teachers, and even conservation tips for church and synagogue building managers.
Even Evangelical Christians, known for their conservative take on most issues, are going green. The Colorado-based National Association of Evangelicals is urging its 30 million members to pursue a "biblically balanced agenda" to protect the environment alongside fighting poverty. Indeed, it was an Evangelical minister, Reverend Jim Ball, who started the influential "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign promoting hybrid cars back in 2003. More recently Ball has worked with likeminded Evangelicals to craft a faith-based policy statement on global warming.
Another key organization is the Forum on Religion and Ecology, which holds conferences that bring religious leaders together from all over the world to discuss religion's role in ecological matters.
Earth Ministry, an association of 90 churches around Seattle, takes a more "hands-on" approach. It organizes hikes, book parties, and volunteer support for local agricultural projects, helping to educate thousands of people along the way. Some congregations also conduct church "greenings," like replacing church lightbulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescents and virgin copier paper with recycled paper.
Some more hard-hitting environmental actions have sprung up at the congregation level as well. In Mississippi, Jesus People Against Pollution brought together local churchgoers to pressure authorities to clean-up local toxic waste sites. And in Detroit, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart turned a former crack house into a community vegetable garden. Meanwhile, New York's Hamburg Presbyterian Church "adopted" a nearby creek and won it designation as a protected habitat. And just like good environmentalists everywhere, Hamburg Presbyterian's parishioners continue to monitor the creek to ensure that it remains vibrant and healthy.
CONTACTS: National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), www.nrpe.org; Earth Ministry, www.earthministry.org; National Association of Evangelicals, < a href="http://www.nae.net">www.nae.net.