Biodynamic Growth

This past summer I was presented with an interesting perspective that I had never considered before.

I spent a week in June interning for Barrington Area Conservation Trust, learning about a prairie that they are restoring.

Navraaz Basati from Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) told the other interns and I that “nature is never balanced” and that it’s in a constant state of what she called “biodynamic growth.”

That was a new concept for me. It made me rethink a statement I made in my last post, “World Environment Day,” about my backyard environment: “It’s a beautiful system that regenerates and balances itself.”

I think people commonly say nature has a balance when referring to humans disrupting that balance. I always thought of different parts of an ecosystem sitting on a fragile scale, and removing just one piece could make the whole scale tip over.

In this way, it’s true that diverse and specific components are necessary to keep an ecosystem healthy, and that moving one piece can trigger a damaging domino effect. This could happen when one keystone species goes extinct, or if an invasive species is introduced.

What Raaz meant is that in a flourishing ecosystem, the competition is constant. Every single plant is constantly competing for space. When I went back to the prairie two weeks ago, it looked different than it did in June, because things are constantly changing and growing.

The competitive nature of a thriving ecosystem creates a perpetual state of imbalance. Balance implies stagnancy, and nature is not stagnant. The imbalance provides opportunity for biodynamic growth.

The plants’ roots are working the soil, moving nutrients around. Thousands of insects are fighting to stay alive long enough to reproduce. Birds fight over space. Small mammals dig new burrows. The entire prairie must adapt to drought, but if it suddenly rains a lot, the prairie could look different as the water-loving plants finally overpower some drought-resilient plants that have thrived all summer.

It’s a dynamic, growing system.

This post isn’t an endorsement of either view, it’s just food for thought. I think it’s a fascinating new way to view nature, and something to consider the next time you’re out enjoying the great outdoors. Keep an eye out for the competition: Which plants are thriving? Which are merely existing? And where do you see biodynamic growth creating a change in your environment?

Other fun facts I learned from BACT:

  • European buckthorn (an invasive species) is allelopathic, which makes its berries poisonous to birds and its presence harmful to amphibians.
  • The walnut tree (a native species) is also allelopathic! It produces a chemical called juglone that discourages many types of plants from growing near it.
  • Oak trees and birch trees communicate with other trees/plants through their roots! They can recognize the nutritional needs of others and send nutrients to them through the mycorrhiza — a symbiotic relationship between trees & fungi — on their roots.
  • Have you ever seen a plant with a perfect little circular hole cut into the middle of its leaf? Leaf-cutter bees cut those circles of leaf to place near their eggs, so the larvae will have something to eat when they hatch.

World Environment Day

It can be difficult to celebrate something as enormous and vague as “our environment.”

This spring I watched three baby robins hatch, grow feathers, and learn to become independent and important parts of my backyard’s forest ecosystem–right under my deck!

Witnessing little moments of growth in my own backyard helps me appreciate my environment so much more. It’s a beautiful system that regenerates and balances itself.

This year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) made the World Environment Day theme #GenerationRestoration, to inspire action.

In environmental science, a species’ role in an ecosystem is called its “niche.” Every organism has one; they’re all important somehow.

Humans have a niche too, a pretty big one. And we aren’t acting solely off of instinct; we have the intelligence and resources to decide how much (or how badly) our interactions with other parts of our ecosystem affect the ecosystem as a whole.

The point is, we can do better.

Nature is naturally regenerative; it goes in a circle. Humans don’t usually work like that; we go in a line. Circles are eternal. Lines have beginnings and ends.

What scientists have been saying for years is that we appear to be hurtling ourselves at record speeds towards what could be an end.

But we can do better.

We can reimagine our environmental impact, our niche. We can recreate our pollutive systems and make them greener, more circular. We can restore damaged ecosystems. With worldwide action, we can be the generation to restore Planet A.

Now get off your phone or computer; go outside, celebrate World Environment Day.


Citizens’ Climate Lobby: first impressions

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on building political will for a livable world.

This basically means that they lobby members of Congress from both parties to support climate legislation; specifically the Energy Innovation Act.

I got involved in CCL within the past three months. I’ve never joined a grassroots climate organization like this before, so I thought I’d share my first impressions and the experience I’ve had for others who might be interested!

This post isn’t endorsed by CCL or anything, I just wanted to share the next step I’m taking on my climate advocacy journey 🙂

Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Learn more about the organization on CCL’s website.

Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act H.R. 763

Learn about carbon fee-and-dividend and the bipartisan climate solution CCL is working to get passed.

My first taste of CCL was when I attended a Zoom meeting with the CCL State Co-Coordinator for Illinois, my older sister (who had already been involved in CCL for some time), and another young woman around my age.

My sister invited me to the meeting because the other girl was also brand new to the organization and was asking about ways she could get involved.

Mike, the State Co-Coordinator, gave us an overview of the organization by screensharing a presentation he already had on his computer.

My first thoughts: I liked that CCL focused strictly on climate change–the environmental issue I find most important due to its time sensitivity and global impact. I liked that they organized their volunteer actions into five “levers” of political will: Grassroots Outreach, Grasstops Engagement, Media Relations, Lobbying Congress, and Group Development.

The other teen girl and I were most interested in media. Mike expressed a lot of interest from the chapter in recruiting more youth volunteers. He encouraged us to come to chapter meetings and the weekly informational sessions on Wednesday nights (these conflicted with my dance schedule).

After that meeting, Mike sent us a follow-up email. I also received an email saying I had been signed up for CCL, and that gave me my account password.

When you join CCL, either by attending a meeting or hitting “Join CCL” on their website, you get an account that gives you access to the CCL Community website.

The Community website is actually pretty cool; it can be overwhelming to navigate at first, but it has lots of resources for new volunteers. I especially like the trainings, which teach you about topics like CCL Media Basics, Understanding the Basics of Congress, Communicating with Progressives/Conservatives, or the Science of Climate Change.

I also really like how besides your chapter, they have dozens of other action teams you can join via the community website: Youth, Social Media, LGBTQIA+, Conservatives, Christians, etc.

(Remember, to access this^ you have to first join CCL and create an account, or if your local chapter leader has your contact info, they might set up an account for you like mine did.)

About three weeks later, I received an email inviting me to a chapter meeting. The chapter meetings for my county happen over Zoom the second Saturday of each month in the morning. I also followed up with Mike about potentially increasing our chapter’s social media reach; they had a Facebook and a Twitter, but no Instagram or TikTok.

Mike introduced me over email to the volunteer who runs the Twitter and Facebook for our chapter, and the three of us met on Zoom 30 minutes before the chapter meeting.

I talked to them about my ideas for reaching more young people through the social media platforms my generation uses the most (and of course plugging how I already had experience running an environmental social media campaign!). They allowed me to create both an Instagram and a TikTok for my chapter, which I currently run!

Then we went to the chapter meeting (also over Zoom). At least in my county/congressional district, the CCL volunteers seem to be older adults; I think my sister and I were the youngest ones there. This was in January, so we talked about the Capitol riot on January 6 and how that might affect climate legislation and bipartisan efforts. We talked about action steps for the month, and the Energy Innovation Act.

I haven’t been able to make it to a chapter meeting since then, but a couple weeks ago I went to my first lobby meeting!

I guess CCL organizes it so that as many chapters as possible all over the country meet with as many Members of Congress (MOCs) as possible all in one week. My congressional district group (organized as a Group through the CCL Community website) scheduled a Zoom meeting with IL-06 Congressman Sean Casten for Tuesday afternoon.

I didn’t realize until afterwards, when I saw other district’s posts on social media, that we were pretty lucky to get to meet with him, because some other volunteers only got to meet with their representative’s legislative assistants. It’s no surprise–Members of Congress have very important jobs and very busy schedules!

We had a planning meeting the Saturday beforehand to establish roles. Roles during lobby meetings include notetaking, time-keeping, appreciation, and asking questions. The congressional liaison (the guy in charge of being CCL’s representative for the district; he’s the one who contacts Casten’s office and sets up meetings) asked me if I wanted to do one of the jobs. I said I could maybe do appreciation, although I had never been to a lobby meeting before and didn’t really know how to do anything.

So the liaison introduced me to Laura, who had done appreciation before, and told me to give her my email and she would help me write the appreciation as a mentor.

Laura and I scheduled a time to call each other the next day. I put her on speaker phone and we both looked through Casten’s House website. We looked at climate-related bills he had introduced to include in the appreciation, and I typed it out in a Google doc; it only had to be like 30 seconds of speaking, so if you’re offered a role in your first CCL lobby meeting, I would recommend appreciation or maybe time-keeping.

On Tuesday, there was a pre-meeting, the actual meeting, and a post-meeting debrief, all over Zoom. During the actual meeting with Casten, we started with introductions. I was introduced last, because I was doing the appreciation. Then the people who had planned to ask questions asked their questions, and Casten answered them. At the end, the person whose role was to do the secondary ask did the ask, which seems to usually include asking the MOC to support/endorse a bill or policy.

Pros and Cons of the meeting:

Pros: I, a high school student, got to meet and talk with my congressional district Representative in Congress about an issue I think is super important! It’s important to show MOCs that their constituents care about climate change, so the more people that come to lobby meetings, the better. Getting involved like this is how real change is made–by getting the people in charge to implement real climate solutions.

Cons: Casten is very familiar with the energy industry, and some of the stuff he said about “market forces” went right over my head. Some of the CCL volunteers had environmental studies degrees, or had spent their careers in the energy industry, but as a high schooler I could only follow along as best I could (maybe if I did more trainings or listened to more laser talks I would have understood more).

Because of this, the post-meeting debrief was kind of boring and I honestly didn’t pay that much attention, but the liaison said he thought my appreciation was really good and even sent me a follow-up email thanking me for participating. They especially liked that I mentioned that I attend a high school in Casten’s district; I guess high schoolers don’t often participate in the lobby meetings, at least in my district.

So that’s my experience so far! I would definitely recommend getting involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby for a few reasons:

  • You don’t have to be an expert to get involved; you can just be a regular person who cares about climate change.
  • You learn how to advocate for climate legislation through the CCL Community trainings.
  • You get involved in politics in a nonpartisan way.
  • Even if your reps in Congress don’t support the Energy Innovation Act specifically, you can still advocate for climate solutions in general–anything to show that climate change is important to constituents.
  • There are lots of ways to get involved based on your personal interests/skills (probably even more in non-COVID times) and lots of groups/action teams to join.
  • If you’re my age, it’s a great way to show your reps in Congress that Gen Z cares about climate change!

Again, I’ve only been involved for a few months, but if you have any questions, you can comment below this post! Remember to subscribe to the Protecting Planet A blog so you can get emails about my future posts 🙂



some thoughts on the new year

So…2020’s over (finally). Despite the craziness of the past 365 days, I’m so grateful I launched my dream platform last year. I built a team, website, and Instagram, and spent hours researching and creating captions, graphics, and blog posts.

I want 2021 to be a year of creativity and growth for me and Protecting Planet A. Although it’s full of uncertainty, I also think it’s full of hope! I’ve noticed how eager people are to leave 2020 behind, but also keeping their expectations low for the new year. The problems brought to the forefront in 2020 haven’t gone away overnight, but 2021 provides a “fresh start”, and signifies to many the closing of a hectic and unprecedented chapter.

2021 has to be a year of climate action, because we are running out of time to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. I would love to aid Gen Z’s mobilization this year toward demanding climate prioritization in government.

For me, 2021 is going to include a lot of grinding to meet my goals. I want Protecting Planet A to expand to other platforms. I also have pageants, college visits, and environmental advocacy to do!

Usually around this time people say something like “cheers to making this year the best year yet!” But I doubt expectations are that high. So “cheers to making 2021 better than 2020, and a year of gratitude, hope, and faith!”


Start Here if You’re New

My name is Hannah Etienne, and I’m a junior in high school who created Protecting Planet A. It started as an environmental pageant platform, then an Instagram account, then a Girl Scout Gold Award project, then a website, and now it is all four of those things.

I’ve always had a passion for protecting the environment, so I took AP Environmental Science my sophomore year of high school. I felt that so much of the material in the class should really be common knowledge. I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is for people to be educated about the Earth that they live on and the climate crisis.

Not only that, but it’s important for people to understand that environmentalists aren’t people that just care about trees and turtles. The health of our planet and the health of humanity is so interconnected, which is why I’m striving to keep Protecting Planet A intersectional.

I don’t know everything about environmental science, or environmental policies, or climate change. I strive for progress not perfection. But if there’s any chance you’re willing to learn with me, and help Protecting Planet A become an organization that can truly make a difference, please consider following the Instagram and subscribing to the blog. I’m launching a social media campaign on Instagram for my Gold Award that will hopefully be super educational but also super interesting (not that those two things don’t go together…) and I’m going to keep the captions as short as I can, don’t worry 🙂 I want people to easily digest and remember the information, so that they can apply it to their everyday lives.

A major part of protecting the environment is going to have to come from policy. Large corporations and governments with lots of money and influence are going to have to start prioritizing clean energy for us to really stand a chance against global warming.

But I know this can be intimidating, and I don’t want people to forget about the problem just because they feel like they can’t do anything to help. You can find actionable steps you can personally take to help the Earth on the Protecting Planet A Instagram, and on this website.

That’s all for now (thanks for reading all the way down to here!) and if you gave me a follow @protectingplaneta or @hannahetienne_, just know that I really appreciate it.