What Exactly is the Civilian Climate Corps? Meet the Mother of Environmental Justice: Hazel Johnson, Looking for Hope in Piney Point, and Happy Anniversary, Mark Trail!

by | Apr 15, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Looking for hope at the Piney Point fertilizer dam break near Tampa Bay, plus what is the Civilian Climate Corps anyway? Meet the mother of the environmental justice movement, our climate champion Hazel M. Johnson, and Happy 75th anniversary, Mark Trail!




Just like the arctic cold snap that sucker-punched Texas in February, the recent news of a large reservoir at an abandoned fertilizer plant at Piney Point near Tampa Bay, FL that became unstable in late March, which then prompted Florida officials to pump millions of gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay to prevent the reservoir’s walls from bursting does not offer any positive action climate news.

That’s because that water contains phosphorus and nitrogen – ingredients in fertilizer that can fuel massive algae blooms. Those blooms have the potential to devastate marine ecosystems. Toxic red tide would be a worst-case scenario, and a red tide outbreak is already underway just down the coast. Red tide is made up of naturally occurring algae that in small clusters cause little harm. In massive blooms, however, they can be deadly.

But as with February’s arctic outbreak in Texas, we at The Climate Daily are looking for possible solutions. Currently, the only proven method of mitigating red tide outbreaks is to spray a clay solution that neutralizes the red tide while sinking it to the ocean floor, but this very effective method of red tide mitigation has not gained widespread adoption in the US.

Certain bacteria can also kill algae blooms and red tides through a process called denitrification, but no company, group or individual has yet to create a bacterial solution large enough to handle major spills like the one near Tampa. We will be sure to update you if any progress is made.

DEEPER DIVE: Piney Point Update, The Conversation, Red Tide Remedies, NCCOS, Frontiers in Microbiology



 There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Civilian Climate Corps that President Biden announced his administration would establish as soon as possible. 

Biden’s “Civilian Climate Corps,” was originally announced in his first week in office and is included in his American Jobs Plan presented earlier this month. The announcement came at the same time Democratic members of Congress Joe neh-GOOSE Neguse (Colo.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Democratic Senators Chris Coons (Del.), and Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján both of (N.M.) introduced a bill to establish the Civilian Climate Corps. If passed, the Civilian Climate Corps Act would authorize the administration to utilize existing national service programs and coordinate with federal and non-federal entities to create a Civilian Climate Corps.

The CCC would facilitate projects helping disadvantaged communities build resilience to climate change, including efforts to conserve and restore public lands, assist natural disaster-prone communities, utilize natural climate solutions, replace vulnerable infrastructure, protect biodiversity, and enhance ecological resilience.

“The launch of a 21st Century Civilian Climate Corps would put …hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work addressing our public lands maintenance backlog and restoring our forests,” said Cong. Negoose in a written statement.

The announcement comes just days ahead of the 88th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a national service program that employed millions of Americans during the Great Depression to complete conservation projects across the country. That CCC was often called Roosevelt’s “tree army” because part of the mandate of that CCC was to plant 3.5 billion trees. Maybe we should call Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps Tree Army 2.0. 

DEEPER DIVE: Cong. Joe Neguse, Civilian Climate Corps Act Full Bill, CCC Summary, FastCompany



Meet Hazel M. Johnson. For more than 30 years, Her relentless advocacy to clean up her Southside Chicago community inspired a generation, and she is recognized as the mother of the environmental justice movement. Johnson lived in Altgeld Gardens Homes a South Side, Chicago, housing project. Originally built to house Black American WW2 veterans, it was initially touted as the “Garden Spot of America,” but it was in fact built on a toxic dump site of the Pullman Rail Co.

After her husband died from lung cancer in 1969, Johnson began investigating the impacts of the neighborhood’s environmental conditions on its residents including skin and respiratory problems that her seven children suffered.

Johnson documented the chronic health problems present in her community to better understand the impacts of the area’s air and water pollution. Her community was exposed to hazardous fumes from surrounding factories and asbestos used during construction of the buildings, had the highest cancer rate in the city. The community was also supplied with contaminated drinking water.

Her new awareness about the impacts of environmental hazards on people’s health prompted her to agitate against the Chicago Housing Authority, who she charged failed to properly maintain Altgeld Gardens, and for failing to address environmental hazards. Johnson was elected to the Altgeld Gardens Local Advisory Council in 1970.

In 1979 Johnson founded the non-profit organization, People for Community Recovery, focused “on fighting environmental racism as it affected the residents of Altgeld Gardens public housing project.” People for Community Recovery got the city of Chicago to test the well-sourced drinking water supplied to Maryland Manor. Those tests revealed the presence of toxins like cyanide in the water. The 1984 findings resulted in the introduction of water and sewer lines to the area, a crowning achievement for Johnson and PCR. 

Johnson was given the 1992 President’s Environment and Conservation Challenge award in recognition of her environmental justice work. Hazel Johnson died on January 12, 2011, the very day the Illinois General Assembly, designated “the portion of 130th Street from the Bishop Ford Freeway to State Street in Chicago as the “Hazel Johnson EJ Way”.

Of her work Johnson explained: “It’s all very well to embrace saving the rain forests and conserving endangered animal species, but such global initiatives don’t even begin to impact communities inhabited by people of color.”

DEEPER DIVE: LATimes, Wikipedia, National Catholic Reporter, ChicagoTalks



Speaking of unsung heroes, this month marks the 75th anniversary of another environmentalist who probably impacted millions without them even knowing about it. I’m talking about the one and only, comic strip environmental icon, Mark Trail….



You mock, but I learned a lot about respect for nature and environmentalism from that guy.

I’m not mocking. I’m appreciating. I too became an accidental environmentalist by reading Mark Trail weekly.

Mark Trail was originally created by American cartoonist Edward Benton Dodd and debuted in April, 1946 in the New York Post. The namesake main character is a photojournalist and outdoor magazine writer whose assignments lead him into danger and adventure. They also inevitably lead him to discover environmental misdeeds, most often solved with a crushing right cross—that is according to Wikipedia.

The comic strip is centered on the themes of wildlife education and natural history. Mark Trail, the character, “reflects a reverence for God’s creatures, nature, and the conservation of woods, water and wildlife”, said artist and naturalist, Tom Hill—who worked with Dodd over the years.

The comic strip has won more than 30 conservation awards from private organizations and government agencies, including the American Waterfowl and Wetland Association, the Georgia Wildlife Association, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Ed Dodd died in 2016 at age 91. The comic strip continued on in reruns until October 2020. That’s when webcomic artist Jules Rivera took over, and gave Mark Trail a major makeover. Rivera—creator of Love, Joolz, says, “I want to respect the legacy, but there are going to be jolts galore.”

She got that right. The tone is more 21st Century, the art and humor is more Millennial/Gen Z, and the characters are absolutely more diverse and inclusive. But the theme remains the same: educating others about nature conservation and wilderness survival. And I think she’s added just enough spice to the old man to keep him around another few decades. Happy 75th anniversary, Mark Trail–an icon for nature, environmentalism and science.

DEEPER DIVE: Wikipedia, Ed Dodd, Mark Trail Artwork, MarkTrail.com, JulesRivera