civic engagement

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A New Bipartisan Act Aims to Make America Get Along

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Towards the end of last year, a string of faith-related attacks took place in the Tacoma, Washington area, sparking widespread shock and condemnation. In Tacoma itself they included an arson attack at the Islamic Center, break-in and vandalism at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Parish, and aggravated assault on a Buddhist nun outside the Khmer Theravadin temple. In neighboring Federal Way a Sikh gurdwara was ransacked.

In the wake of the attacks, an interfaith solidarity gathering was organized at Tacoma Community College which focused on healing through these painful experiences and forging solidarity efforts to create a safer community for everyone, no matter their faith.

“People from every faith you could think of came together and said, ‘We’re going to have your back,’” said Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington, who met with a number of religious leaders at the meeting. 

Rep. Derek KilmerRep. Derek Kilmer. Credit: The office of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

In response to the attacks Kilmer reconnected with a graduate school friend, Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith America. Patel’s organization believes religious diversity is a foundational strength of American democracy and works to make faith a bridge of cooperation. 

Together they joined forces with other bridge building leaders and a bipartisan group of nine Republicans and nine Democrats to create the Building Civic Bridges Act, in hopes that writing legislation could be part of the solution to reduce the kinds of attacks experienced in Tacoma and across the country. 

I sat down with Kilmer and Patel to learn more about this piece of legislation and to better understand what a better future for us all might look like.

Scott Shigeoka: Thank you so much for joining me. Could we start by laying out what the Building Civic Bridges Act would accomplish?

Patel: The ultimate aim of the Act is to catalyze cultural change at the national level. To achieve this the Act intends to provide training to AmeriCorps volunteers and grants to support organizations engaged in bridge building work across the U.S. This will also support national convenings that bring together practitioners, researchers, civic organizations and celebrities to really put the idea of bridge building on the map.

Kilmer: Yes, this bill will support everything from hyper-local efforts such as the interfaith group in Tacoma all the way through to the work Eboo is doing nationwide at Interfaith America.

Like Eboo mentioned, the bill [also] proposes training AmeriCorps members in the skills related to bridge building. I think that has value because they’re placed in communities across the country. They can be evangelists for this type of work. They can perpetuate this type of work. I think it’s fitting that it’s AmeriCorps because every time I’ve volunteered on a community project or responded to an emergency, I’m struck by the fact that no one is looking at whether you’re wearing a blue or red hat.

I am not sure we’re going to heal division from the top-down. It probably comes from these vitally important communities that exist across the country. 

Shigeoka: Why is this bill important for our country?

Patel: Polarization is not just an abstract challenge in American life anymore, it is alienating family members from each other, causing neighbors to not talk to each other, and destroying conversations in college classrooms. That is a problem. Personally, I think one of the treasures of American democracy is its civic culture where people from diverse identities and divergent ideologies can cooperate. The nightmare scenario is two heart surgeons that voted differently refusing to perform a life-saving heart surgery together because they refuse to work together.

Eboo PatelEboo Patel. Credit: Interfaith America.

Kilmer: I had a guy say to me, “I was on the baseball field when someone shot [Congressman] Steve Scalise because of politics.” We’re seeing the toxicity in our communities. It’s palpable. People should be able to go to their church, synagogue and mosque without worrying. Or go to the YMCA without being punched in the face because of the t-shirt they’re wearing. 

Shigeoka: Supporting efforts led by people embedded in their communities is vital, but I’m also curious what the role of Congress is.

Kilmer: One of the most exciting things about this bill is that it was introduced with nine Democrats and nine Republicans, including very conservative Republicans and very progressive Democrats. You’re seeing an overall exhaustion from people but also from their representatives. The seams are being pulled and there’s this fear it will tear, and people want to do something about it.

Shigeoka: How did you bring such a diverse group of Republicans and Democrats together to co-sponsor this kind of legislation? 

Kilmer: I met with them in their offices. I told them about the attacks on religious communities happening in my district. For a bunch of people who were in the Capitol at the time of the riots on the 6th of January, it’s not that large a leap to make. 

So the good news is there’s an appetite for doing something about it. If we want things to be different in Congress, we need to do things differently. Some of this work is coming out of the Bipartisan Working Group in Congress, where one dozen Democrats and one dozen Republicans meet each week for breakfast. We try to find common ground, but I don’t want to mislead you into thinking it’s kumbaya or trust falls. 

Patel: It’s a really cool story that this is being done completely bipartisan. [Kilmer] did not want to just get Democratic support and jam it through. He wanted the legislation to advance in a way that feels like bridging, where people with diverse identities and divergent ideologies can cooperate.

Shigeoka: What kind of support does the Building Civic Bridges Act need right now?

Patel: Right now people are refusing to talk to people they disagree with. I’d like for that to change. We brag about that we shouted down someone, versus bragging about having a positive conversation with someone we disagreed with. I’d like for people to come home and say, “I am proud I had a positive conversation with someone that I disagreed with.”

The post A New Bipartisan Act Aims to Make America Get Along appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Does This Water Have Legal Rights?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Mary Jane is a looker. Her curves hug the Isle of Pine Preserve to the southeast of Orlando, Florida, nearby residents enjoy her coolness for kayaking, and her body of water is part of rather spectacular wetlands that connect her to her twin, Lake Hart. She is also the first lake in the U.S. to make waves by filing a lawsuit.

Beachline South Residential, a developer, wants to take advantage of the region’s growing popularity and convert nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands, pine flatwoods and cypress forest just north of the lake into apartments and offices. So Mary Jane, Lake Hart, two other local waters and a marsh in Orange County have done what most Americans who feel existentially threatened would do: They’ve lawyered up. 

“We must protect this environmental treasure,” says Chuck O’Neal, the human who filed the lawsuit against the developer and the state on behalf of Mary Jane and her fellow plaintiffs in April 2021 while he was chairman of the Florida Rights of Nature Network. “Right now, there is a building boom that is leveling forests at record rates and destroying large swaths of nature. It’s important that local governments have the right to protect their environment.”

O’Neal grew up in Orange County and watched developers cement over much of the county, not least with the arrival of Disney World in the 1970s. Passionate about the local waterways, he launched Speak Up Wekiva in 2013, a campaign to galvanize support for the state’s wildlife and flora. At the time, the Floridian businessman believed the rights of nature movement was “too radical,” but he changed his mind after several weather events in 2018 caused severe water contamination and massive fish die-offs. “At that point I understood that we needed to change the legal system fundamentally.”

The Split Oak Forest Wildlife Environmental Area abuts Lake Hart, one of the five bodies of water suing the State of Florida. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife

What O’Neal is attempting with the lawsuit on behalf of the water is not just another environmental lawsuit against an eager developer. Asked why he wasn’t filing a traditional lawsuit, he responds that what’s needed is a shift in perspective. “The current laws are stacked against nature because nature is viewed as property. When you buy a property, you can do whatever you want with it. Our planet needs to take into account that these natural bodies of water, forests and animals have a right to live.” 

Looking at the history of the constitution, O’Neal believes it’s time to expand the definition of rights. “When the Constitution was written, only a certain few people were rights-bearing, generally white property-owning males. The point is that we need to instill rights in our legal system for nature.” 

O’Neal is not alone in this belief. In November 2020, Orange County voters approved a charter amendment to protect the “rights of nature” by a margin of nearly 90 percent. “And that in Florida, where people don’t agree on anything,” he exclaims. “The amendment grants nature four rights: the right to exist, to flow, to be protected against pollution and to maintain a healthy ecosystem. That, paired with the human right for all citizens to have clean water, went on the ballot and passed in 2020 with 89 percent of the votes. I consider this monumental for a county of 1.4 million people.” 

By advocating for earth laws, O’Neal is taking a page from the playbook of Indigenous Peoples all over the planet. 

“I was taught that water is alive. It can hear. It holds memories,” Kelsey Leonard, the first Native American woman to earn a science degree from Oxford University, explained in her viral TED Talk, “Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans.” 

The Indigenous leader and Harvard-educated expert in water science would have loved to name her talk “Why nature should get more rights than humans,” she says via Zoom from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, where she is a professor in the Faculty of Environment. “Humans have a fascination with trying to play God, to dominate nature. Well, nature has something to say about that. Through earth law, we’re trying to remedy the harms past legislation has created.” 

Leonard points out that Indigenous folks like herself were not citizens within the U.S. until 1924, meaning her Shinnecock ancestors were not citizens under the law. Indeed, the definition of a legal “person” has been evolving. Over the last decades, the American legal system expanded legal personhood to slaves, women, children and corporations. 

“As a Shinnecock woman and a legal scholar, I question the moral compass of the Western world where you can grant legal personhood to a corporation but not nature,” Leonard says. “If you can grant that to a corporation, why not the Great Lakes? Why not the Mississippi River? Why not the many waterways across our planet that we all depend on to survive?” 

According to Leonard, the visible destruction of climate change with its wildfires, droughts, and floods drives home the insight for many people that human “dominion” over the earth has devastating consequences if no one is authorized to speak up for nature and its creatures. “The status quo has allowed us to destroy nature,” she states. “If we are maintaining the status quo, we are not going to do what we need to address climate change. We are at a pivotal point.” 

In 2008, Indigenous Peoples led Ecuador to become the world’s first country to formally recognize the “Rights of Mother Earth,” a ruling that the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN) and others subsequently used successfully against a construction company that dumped rubble into a river. As a result, the government was forced to clean up the river. Any citizen in Ecuador can now go to court on behalf of nature. 

“Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles,” asserts GARN. Recognizing the inherent right of nature to remain intact would be a wholesale shift of perspective after centuries of regarding it as a resource to be owned, used and exploited. 

New Zealand’s Whanganui River. Credit: Jason Pratt / Flickr

In 2017, four rivers in Colombia, India and New Zealand won legal rights, including the Whanganui River, ​the longest navigable river in New Zealand. The Māori fought for more than a century against the British Crown to save the Whanganui River and finally reached agreements over the last decade that recognize personhood of the waterway and a former national park known as Te Urewera. In a novel decision, the courts decided that neither the Māori nor the Crown owned the river but that the river is its own being. The Māori and the New Zealand government agreed to share guardianship of the environment. 

The U.S. is far behind in these efforts but some communities have started the process. For example, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, passed an anti-fracking law that includes the provision that, “Natural communities and ecosystems… possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish.” 

Some version of nature rights laws now exist in about 20 countries, including Canada, Bolivia and Uganda, as well as half a dozen Tribal Nations in the U.S. (including the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, the Yurok and the Menominee) and dozens of cities and counties. 

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“This process is one of democratization,” Leonard says. “The majority of the world’s religions and cultures have always acknowledged that water is living.” She also believes that earth laws will enable communities to address the threat of climate change much more swiftly and comprehensively.

Ultimately Leonard, and the rights of nature movement more broadly, is calling for nothing less than a fundamental shift in our relationship with our environment, using a responsibility-based legal framework instead of a property rights-based one.

“We can start to honor the original treaties between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Peoples for water protection,” she says. “We can appoint guardians for the water that ensure the water’s rights are always protected. We can also develop water quality standards that have a holistic approach, that ensure the well-being of the water before our human needs. And moreover, we can work to dismantle exclusive property ownership over water.”

If you look at it from this perspective, granting nature rights isn’t a new idea at all. For millennia, people considered themselves as part of the natural world.

Despite these convincing arguments, Mary Jane et al. have little chance of winning in court. As soon as Orange County voted for the bill of rights for its waters, state legislators snuck a last-minute amendment into a sewage bill that prohibits local governments from granting legal standing to a “part of the natural environment.” O’Neal is waiting for the upcoming hearing on April 26 to see if his case will be dismissed before it has even started. The governments of India as well as courts in Ohio have similarly struck down regional attempts to establish earth laws. 

“That’s why it’s important to build consensus, a broad network,” Leonard says. “It is not something that should only be on the shoulders of Indigenous Peoples. It’s about transforming hearts and minds.”

Despite its challenges, O’Neal, like Leonard, believes that the movement might be as hard to stop as a mighty river. “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.”

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India’s Women Are Building An Alternative To Toxic Masculinity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

It was the event of a lifetime for the residents of Mandkola, a village with a population of 10,000 in the north Indian state of Haryana. In early March 2022, a couple hundred women and young girls set aside their daily chores to march to a nearby government school with two common goals: empowerment and justice.

As everyone came together, an elderly woman in a bright red saree spontaneously rose to address the crowd. “We have gathered here to kickstart [Mandkola’s] first women’s panchayat,” she said. “With this we mark the beginning of a new movement in our village.”

Traditional panchayats are assemblies of male elders — usually from the Jat community, Haryana’s largest caste group — which meet every few weeks to determine the rules governing their village or a number of nearby villages. They also exist to settle disputes between members of their community. Although they have no sanction under the law, the centuries-old form of local government dominates how many village communities in northern India function.

Panchayats are generally considered regressive and extremely patriarchal, passing strict rules dictating things such as what women are and aren’t allowed to wear, what they can and can’t learn at school, and who they can marry — all at gatherings local women are not allowed to attend. Those who fail to follow the rules dictated by their panchayats put themselves at risk of harsh punishments, including orders to rape or kill.

But a growing movement of female-led, or “lado” [daughter] panchayats is emerging across northern India to challenge the toxic aspects of the traditional panchayat model and reinvent it as a force for progressive change.

Women and young girls stand united at Mandkola village's first lado panchayat.Women and young girls stand united at Mandkola village’s first lado panchayat. Credit: Safina Nabi

The idea was first conceived by Sunil Jaglan, a social worker and village leader from Bibipur, a village in the district of Jind, Haryana, who became a well-known rural gender activist after the birth of his first daughter in 2012. That year, in Jind, Jaglan organized the first ever panchayat at which women were allowed to participate. The event, while still male dominated, saw at least 200 women attend and several speak, and focused specifically on the under-reported crime of female infanticide in India.

“It took me and a few like-minded Khap leaders [village elders] two months to make the event happen due to strong resistance from senior Khap leaders,” says Jaglan. “They were of the opinion that historically there is no place for women to participate in panchayats.”

2012 and the years that followed saw the early signs of progress towards a kind of grassroots governance in northern India in which women were empowered rather than subjugated. But it was the country’s Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and the subsequent explosion in child marriage — notably of girls — that sparked a wholesale push to create panchayats by women, for women, rather than just ones in which they could participate.

“Women and young girls from across northern India were contacting me during lockdown saying they wanted to tackle the worrying increase in girl child marriages,” says Jaglan. “It was this that sparked the beginnings of women-only panchayats. Of course, Covid-19 was a very difficult time for many but out of that came an overwhelming desire from women to create structures that instill greater equality in their communities.”

Inspired by the need for change, and using his contacts and past experience, Jaglan organized meetings to discuss the idea of initiating female-only “lado” panchayats. Somewhat to his surprise, he says, the idea was widely accepted.

In June 2020, the first lado panchayat took place — online as a result of Covid — at which 160 women and young girls took part, predominantly logging in from villages across the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Rajasthan. In the months that followed, a further eight online lado panchayats took place, all discussing the subject of child marriage. Bar Jaglan, who joined to support the initiatives, no men were present.

Sunil JaglanSunil Jaglan, a rural gender activist in northern India who helped initiate the lado panchayat movement. Credit: Safina Nabi

As Covid measures eased up and in-person meetings were again permitted, Jaglan helped organize the first physical lado panchayat in September 2021 in Nalwa village. Located in Haryana’s Hisar district, Nalwa is infamous for child marriages so it was hailed a momentous occasion to see the community’s women come together to discuss the idea that girl child marriage should be prohibited by law. At the meeting, women from Nalwa initiated a campaign to send postcards to Prime Minister Modi declaring their wish to ban girl child marriages. 

In December 2021, the Union Cabinet finally raised the minimum age of marriage for Indian women from the present 18 years to 21 years. This issue had long been discussed and many factors contributed to making the increase happen, although it is widely felt that the postcard campaign and related momentum of discussion at the lado panchayats helped push the government to actually implement it.

According to Professor Kiran Bala, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at K R Mangalam University in Gurgaon, Haryana, political participation such as that taking place at the lado panchayats is an important tool of empowerment in any society.

“When marginalized sections — here women — are supported by male members of their society to deliberate, raise voice and take important decisions on the behalf of society, the society develops with exponential speed,” says Bala.

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To date, four physical lado panchayats have taken place in northern India, most recently Mandkola’s historic event in March. Here the women present discussed issues they felt most urgently needed to be addressed, the most prominent being the lack of access to high school, college or university for girls in the village.

“Our daughters can only study up to class eight,” said an elderly woman from the crowd. Many among the audience cheered in agreement, prompting the panchayat to hold a discussion on the matter. 

Like every lado panchayat, the one at Mandkola ended with the formation of a committee. Under the leadership of Sonam Mahabali, the newly-elected head of the panchayat, or “lado pradhan,” the committee prepared a resolution with a charter of demands which were then submitted to the local, district and state authorities. A concrete outcome of the event is a plan to push for at least one high school for female students in every surrounding district.

Mahabali, a young woman from Mandkola who aspires to become a teacher, spoke at the panchayat of how she has to travel to a district college five kilometers from her home, often on foot. 

“I do not want my four younger sisters or the girls of this village to face what I currently face,” she says. “My only desire to participate in this program is to work for the betterment of women.”

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Meet the ‘Future Generations’ Commissioner of Wales

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Sophie Howe has a uniquely forward-looking job. Since 2016, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has been tasked with ensuring her country’s public institutions are taking into consideration how their actions affect Welsh citizens who haven’t been born yet. In that time, Howe has intervened on transport planning, education reform, gender and racial equality, and climate change. She has called for a trial of the four-day working week and has been a vocal advocate for a Universal Basic Income, which will soon be piloted by the Welsh Government.

Howe’s role is thought to be the first of its kind worldwide, but after early promising signs other nations are following Wales’ lead. In September 2021, Scotland announced that it, too, was appointing a Future Generations Commissioner, and in November, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres endorsed a proposal for a Special Envoy for Future Generations, which could impact the 193 member states. We spoke to Howe about the impacts so far, and those still to come.

How did your role come about?

When the Welsh parliament was first established, there was something called the Government of Wales Act that had a clause in it that said sustainable development should be a “central organizing principle.” But what that meant in practice was not a lot. They were words, not action. The Environment Minister would present a report to the Senate once a year, and all we were really doing is standing still. 

Sophie Howe, Wales Commissioner for Future Generations. Credit: Matt Horwood

One minister was really frustrated by that and she managed to get commitments that there would be, in the next term, legislation for sustainable development. At the time, the UN Sustainable Development Goals were being developed and we held a conversation with people in Wales where we asked: “What’s the Wales you want to leave behind your children, your grandchildren, and future generations to come?” They came up with a set of long-term goals of what they wanted Wales to look like in the future. And then the act was developed around that. 

What is the crux of the problem you are trying to address?

You can’t have sustainability without looking at the long-term impact of the things that you do. It’s like applying a “good ancestor” test. Are the things we’re doing now going to screw over the next generation or the generation after?

We think Wales has got a model that the rest of the world should follow. It’s all about really addressing short-termism in governance and government. And that short termism is endemic in every government across the world. That’s why we’re in the climate crisis. It’s why you’ve got widening inequality and you’ve got life expectancy in many places plateauing. So we’re saying that we think, across the world, there needs to be stronger mechanisms to force governments to think long term.

What are the biggest issues that need to be tackled?

The big one, of course, is climate change. We’ve put more carbon into the atmosphere knowingly than any other time during human history. We haven’t cared, we’ve done it anyway, mainly because of economic benefits, and we haven’t wanted to make tough decisions. 

With the pandemic situation, we were all kind of surprised by this pandemic. But if you look at the global risk registers of future risk, the risk of a pandemic has been on there for quite a number of years. So we can’t say that we didn’t know it was a risk, but we were completely unprepared for it. We have to have a society that is prepared.

And if you think about the aging population: In Wales, by 2036, we’re going to have double the number of over 65, and over 80s, high numbers of people living with dementia, and so on. Yet we’ve got a care system which already can’t cope with that. Who is thinking about the long term? How are we going to make sure it’s not catastrophic in the future?

When you start joining all of those dots, we should be looking for solutions to these problems in an integrated way.

What exactly do you do day to day?

I spend a lot of time meeting with government ministers and officials to talk through new policy areas they might be exploring. I commission research, such as I’ve done on the reduced working week and universal basic income. Recently I’ve worked with housing associations to try and bring them together with the government to find a solution about how jointly they could fund decarbonization.

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A lot of it is building a movement. When the act first came in, not many people knew about it. They were like: “What is this?” But now, there’s an increasing number of organizations who aren’t even legally required by the duty, but are signing up to its principal. Even parts of the private sector want to get on board with it, because it’s a long-term plan. We’ll be working with the Welsh Football Association, because they want to build their strategy around football’s contribution to the wellbeing goals. A lot of it is providing advice. A local council might want to have a new strategy on food poverty — how would they do that through the lens of each generation back? It’s sort of promotional, a lot of advice and support.

Are current political systems inherently short-sighted?

That is the underlying problem. Politicians are interested in what they’re going to be able to do in the next five years in terms of how it’s going to get them elected or not. So in Wales, our act is trying to to accept that the seven long-term goals don’t change from one political cycle to the next. Our goal of a prosperous Wales takes us away from an obsession with GDP towards the focus on wellbeing.

It talks about a productive, innovative, low-carbon society, one that uses resources efficiently and acts proportionally on climate change. It talks about skills and access to decent work. There are legal obligations on Welsh Ministers to set these objectives which maximize their contribution to these goals. How they go about doing that is what changes during political cycles, but the goal itself doesn’t change. We’ve got as close as I think you possibly can, in a democratic system, to a long-term approach, and we think that’s what’s needed across the world.

What have you achieved since 2016?

The earliest test of the legislation was when the Welsh government got powers it didn’t previously have, like the ability to borrow money. There was a proposal to spend the entire borrowing capacity on building a 13 mile stretch of motorway to deal with the problem of congestion around a place called Newport. I intervened in that and asked how the interests of two generations had been applied to that decision. How was it in line with prosperous Wales? How is it aligned with our goals around ecological resilience? The road was going through a nature reserve. And 25 percent of the lowest income families in the region don’t even have access to a car. The government changed its mind on the basis of the Future Generations Act and stopped that road. Instead, what we’re seeing is a new transport strategy for Wales, which puts roads right at the bottom of the priority list. There’s a moratorium on all road building; every scheme that’s been approved has stopped. 

We’ve also reformed the school curriculum, so that it’s in line with the Future Generations Act. So the outcomes from our school curriculum are not to learn Latin, but to create healthy, active and confident learners, ethical and informed citizens, creative and enterprising individuals, because those are the sorts of skills that are going to be critical for the future. 

I’ve been advocating a universal basic income, which was seen as a kind of pie-in-the-sky idea two years ago. But when you start talking about the long-term health impacts of poverty, the changing nature of work, all these people working in the gig economy, and not having a safety net, then a UBI actually becomes quite a sensible conversation. And two weeks ago, the Welsh Government announced their first pilot on a universal basic income. 

We’ve massively increased investment in improving the quality of people’s homes to meet carbon emissions targets, and to improve people’s health and to create jobs in the low-carbon economy. We’ve got a strategy to be a zero-waste nation by 2050. I could go on and on.

What’s been difficult about the job?

I can’t force anyone to do anything or stop anyone doing anything. I’m unelected. My job is to hold to account, as far as the role can, how the act is being implemented. My role is to be their conscience, the conscience of future generations. And to call them out when they’re not thinking about future generations. I have powers of review. I can look at a particular public body or a particular issue, and give recommendations on ways that they should improve, which they are legally required to respond to. But ultimately, it’s up to politicians to operate within the legal framework that they have, because they are the ones who are elected.

What we’re trying to do here is the biggest cultural change program that Wales has ever seen. Everything gone in the past is almost the opposite of what we’re trying to do with the Future Generations Act. So what I’ve spent a lot of time doing is trying to unpick a lot of that stuff, which is the system, which works against us. That’s been the biggest challenge. But actually, we have these new obligations now, and we need to do things differently. That’s quite a slow process. But things are changing. You’ve got to start somewhere.

What’s next, after 2023? Will you run for re-election? Will the role develop?

My term comes to an end next year, and there’ll be a new commissioner. But part of our mission is to take the Future Generation concept to other parts of the world. So at the moment, there’s a private member’s bill going through the UK Parliament to have a Future Generations Act for the UK. There’s also legislation going through the Scottish Parliament. There’s interest from the Irish government in something similar. I’m in Germany at the moment talking to the regional government in Gutenberg about how they could do something similar and the UN Secretary General, we’ve been working with him around a UN declaration on a Special Envoy for Future Generations. I’ll continue on a mission to see how more countries across the world can adopt this approach and an increasing number are really interested.

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Democracy Comes to Michigan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/03/2022 - 7:00pm in

The following Q&A is the product of two separate interviews that have been edited and condensed.

This year, Michigan is preparing to hold the most competitive election the state has seen in decades. It has completely redrawn its congressional districts, changing from a state that was heavily gerrymandered to one that allows for fair and competitive elections. We ran a story in 2020 about the citizen-driven campaign that led to this moment. Now, the state’s congressional maps have been redrawn in a way that lets voters — and not politicians — determine who will represent them. 

Why this matters

In the United States more than 90 percent of federal voting districts have been drawn in such a way that their election outcomes are more or less predetermined. Only 40 U.S. House seats out of 435 are considered competitive. Clearly, this is NOT democracy. 

Michigan 14thMichigan’s 14th congressional district before it was redrawn. Credit: Wikipedia

This clever mapmaking is called gerrymandering and it comes in two flavors: packing and cracking. 

In packing, the party in power draws the maps to concentrate the opposition’s voters into a single district, leaving them uncompetitive in all of the surrounding districts. Cracking is exactly the opposite. The party in power draws the lines so that the opposition’s voters are scattered across many different districts, making them an electoral minority in all of them. 

Through this kind of creative map drawing, politicians are in effect choosing voters rather than voters choosing politicians. Both parties do this, and it’s hard to fight it because once the lines have been drawn to one party’s advantage they generally want to keep it that way. Which is why the best way to break the gerrymandering cycle is to take it out of the hands of politicians altogether. 

Michigan did this, and other states can, too.

How Michigan Did It

Step 1: Passing a ballot initiative

In 2016, a young woman named Katie Fahey posted a comment on social media: 

The response was enormous, and by the following year her appeal had birthed a nonprofit, non-partisan organization called Voters Not Politicians. VNP’s goal was to get enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would allow Michigan’s district lines to be redrawn — this time, by voters, not biased political interests. 

After a lot of legwork and creative door-to door campaigning, they did it. The ballot initiative, Michigan Proposal 2, passed in 2018 and this past year the state’s congressional lines were redrawn. Politicians were expressly excluded from the process. 

With Michigan’s first un-gerrymandered elections coming up this year, I decided to follow up with Jamie Lyons-Eddy and Kim Murphy-Kovalick at Voters Not Politicians. I also spoke to Rebecca Szetela, Brittini Kellom and Doug Clark — three of the 13 folks who actually re-drew the district lines. I talked to them about how it all happened. 

David Byrne: As you probably know, we ran a piece in 2020 after the ballot initiative passed, and now we’re celebrating the fact that the redistricting has actually happened without politicians involved. So first of all, I want to hear how a grassroots campaign can get an initiative on the ballot without the politicians either getting rid of it or digging into it and making it work for their ends.

Jamie Lyons-Eddy: They tried, but we were so under the radar when we started. It literally was that Facebook post from Katie Fahey who was then 27 years old.

I was one of the original people who answered that Facebook post, as was Nancy [Wang]. Nancy is now the executive director [of VNP]. We happened to have the exact right group of people come together and we were so excited and motivated and serious.

I was the only person who had knocked on a door before, so I turned out to be the field director and I organized the 428,000 signatures that we turned in. We somehow did it all with volunteers — the day we turned in all those signatures we had no one on payroll. We made Katie quit her day job after that, to run the organization.

David Byrne: In Michigan, if you get the 316,000 signatures an initiative can go on the ballot…

Jamie Lyons-Eddy: Correct. A constitutional amendment requires 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. So our requirement was 316,000 signatures, but we overshot that. We had 4,000 people collecting signatures around the state. 

Note: Michigan is one of a handful of states in which citizens can add an initiative to the ballot. In states where that is not the case, it would be much harder to make this happen.

David Byrne: Is that where you had all these costumes and other fun ways of drawing attention to this issue?

michiganCredit: VNP

Jamie Lyons-Eddy: Usually a signature collection effort like this doesn’t convert very well into a campaign, but we ended up having thousands of people who campaigned for Yes on 2.  We continued with the costumes and the songs and the buttons and the signs and all that kind of stuff. 

legosA political science professor named Kevin Deegan-Krause made a gerrymandered district out of Legos. Credit: Kathy Hug

Once we were on the ballot we actually survived a [Michigan] Supreme Court challenge. We thought survival was unlikely because it was a Republican-controlled Supreme Court. Once we got past that, we got a lot of funding from big funders. But still, we kept that grassroots energy going. 

David Byrne: How do you think you survived that challenge? On paper, it seems very unlikely.

Jamie Lyons-Eddy: There was a particular justice — Justice [Elizabeth] Clement. There are some judges and justices who are more interested in actually following the law than the politics, [and while] they’re maybe nominated by one party or another they’re not strictly partisan. She did the right thing. There was nothing wrong with our language. There was no real reason to kick it off other than a political reason, and they declined to do that.

David Byrne: When you’re out there trying to get people involved, going all over the place, how do you explain gerrymandering? It’s a complicated thing. I mean, if you just knock on somebody’s door: “We’re trying to end gerrymandering.” They might go, “Well, who’s that?”

Kim Murphy-Kovalick: It had become part of the national conversation. At that point, we would use those maps and we would show people where they lived and say, “Look at Saginaw [a county and city in Michigan]. The districts are actually split in half between the city and the township. Why do you think that is?” And everybody who lives in those areas gets it right away.

We used that in these town halls all over the state as a way of teaching how gerrymandering actually works. There was a brilliant ad campaign at the end, kind of that cartoon-style stuff.


Step 2: Drawing a new map

So, after Voters Not Politicians got this ballot initiative passed, the task of redrawing the actual map fell to a commission of citizens who identified with different political parties. 

I interviewed some of these commission members to ask how this process actually worked. Brittni Kellom is aligned Democratic, Doug Clark is aligned Republican, and Rebecca Szetela isn’t aligned with either major party. 

David Byrne: How exactly were these random members of the commission selected? I know there were four who self-reported as Democrats, four as Republicans and five as non-aligned with either party. How were those people found?

Doug Clark: We had a campaign by the Department of State to advertise for commission members and that was done through a number of publications and TV ads and so forth. There was an application form you needed to fill out and commit to about 15 different criteria such as availability, what the pay scale would be and so forth. There were 9,300 applicants. 

David Byrne: Woah.

Doug Clark: Yeah, it was quite a bit. To narrow that down, the Secretary of State randomly selected 200 people out of the 9,300, and those 200 applications got sent to the legislature, which had the ability to review those and eliminate a certain number of people. They brought it down to about 180, I believe. Then the Department of State in Michigan hired a firm to come in and randomly select the four Democrats, four Republicans and five non-partisan people. So that’s how the commission was formed. And the commission worked very well together over the course of the year and a half we’ve been together. 

David Byrne: When you say “worked well together,” that leads me to my next question. What happens if there was a disagreement? If someone’s proposing a line on the map and someone else goes, “No, no, no.” 

Rebecca Szetela: There were definitely disagreements, there’s no doubt about it. Every minute of our meetings was filmed and recorded and there were times when things got heated, there were times when people disagreed. But I think there was a baseline respect that people had for each other and for the process, and people would talk things through. Sometimes we would take a strategic break and let everyone walk around and stretch their legs and come back to the table. And we were able to work through all the differences. 

A ceremonial burning of Michigan’s highly gerrymandered District 11. Credit: VNP

David Byrne: What is the actual process of drawing the new lines?  

Rebecca Szetela: We made a decision as a commission that we were going to start from scratch, and that was based on public feedback we had received that they didn’t want us starting with or referring to the old maps. We divided the state into regions, and then we started going down our list of criteria. We started drawing maps based on communities of interest, and then we moved on to the Voting Rights Act, and then we started looking at partisan fairness, and we just tried to be systematic in going down the list, drawing maps and constantly making adjustments. We came up with multiple maps for each type of district to allow for alternative theories on how we should draw lines. And then those ended up being presented to the public.

David Byrne: When you say “communities of interest” does that mean communities that are known to vote one way or another?

Doug Clark: Not necessarily. It often means people who have things economically in common. People with certain jobs in common such as farming, such as manufacturing, because we do have those pockets in Michigan. Religion — we have a huge Arab-American community, a huge Bangladeshi community and a huge Amish community in Michigan. Our view was not political, that was not one of the major factors of communities of interest at all.

This was counter intuitive to me — I would have thought they would have looked at past voting records, demographics, income, etc. To me, their approach to “communities of interest” cleverly avoids focusing on politics.

Rebecca Szetela: I would add that the definition of communities of interest was very flexible so that voters could come to us and say, this is my community of interest and this is what I think you should incorporate into the map. And the commission would then take that information and weigh it along with other requests. So it was a very flexible process.

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David Byrne: Okay, so people start drawing the lines on a map. What kinds of conversations happen then, about adjusting the lines and redrawing and all that sort of thing?

Rebecca Szetela: We actually took turns. One commissioner would take a turn and draw a district, and then it would be passed to another commissioner and they would add on or make adjustments. We did it very much collaboratively. If there was a significant dispute or difference of opinion about where the lines should be placed we would create what we called an alternative map, and so maybe we would have one map that would have those two cities together and another map that would have those two cities apart. We came up with lots of alternatives, everybody’s ideas were allowed to be incorporated, and ultimately we refined those down to what the public supported at our final hearings and voted on one of those maps. 

David Byrne: I read that Black voters in Detroit had an issue with the fact that they were going to be divided up into different districts. They felt they were going to have less representation than they might have under the old district lines and this became an issue. How was that resolved?

Rebecca Szetela: The historic districts in Detroit [a city that is about 77 percent Black] were extremely packed, so much so that our voting rights expert was actually shocked at how concentrated these districts were. You would have 80 to 90 percent what we call BVAP, which is Black Voting Age Population, and so using the data we had from our expert — Lisa Handley was her name — we could actually go with much lower BVAP percentages [in the newly drawn districts] and still allow minority voters to elect their candidates of choice. 

David Byrne: So in unpacking that district, there was a consideration that people in that district could still have some representation in the various new districts.

Rebecca Szetela: We followed that advice and the advice of our voting rights attorney as well, and we drew districts that had lower percentages [of BVAP voters] than they had had before, which actually resulted in there being more districts where those voters should be able to elect their candidates of choice. So I think at the end of the day it should result in better and more representation.

Step 3: Getting the maps accepted

David Byrne: Did the legislature or the courts get involved at any point?

Rebecca Szetela: So the legislature did not get involved at all and the process was specifically designed to not have the legislature be involved. The whole point of the commission was to have people who were not actually politicians to draw the lines. We did have some court decisions that came down while we were drawing, but it was not related to the drawing of the lines itself. We had one issue that had to do with the timing of getting the maps done that was before the courts. The courts were not involved with the process at all while we were drawing the lines.

Jamie Lyons-Eddy: What we required in the amendment is you have to have a majority to vote the maps in. So two of the Republicans, two of the Democrats, and at least two of the unaffiliated had to agree on the maps. And they did… There was a process if they got deadlocked and couldn’t get there, but they never had to go to that process.

They did what politicians all over the state and the country can’t do. They came together across parties and agreed on these maps. Which we think is just an enormous success. 

David Byrne: I assume these new lines will apply in the next election. 

Rebecca Szetela: As far as we know, they will. We have had one challenge from the Detroit caucus plaintiffs group that was dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court. We had another challenge in the Western District of Michigan where a portion of that has been dismissed as well, and we still have one portion of that pending. And we have a current lawsuit by the League of Women Voters that’s before the Michigan Supreme Court that no action has been taken on. So as of right now, it appears the maps will be used in the upcoming elections and that will continue until we hear otherwise from the courts.

The post Democracy Comes to Michigan appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Service-Learning in Philosophy Courses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 22/01/2022 - 1:17am in

“Moral problems, like global and local food insecurity, aren’t just abstract problems; they are practical problems with practical solutions. It’s important not just to present students with the problems, but also to empower them with real-world actions they can perform to help alleviate these problems.”

That’s Mylan Engel, professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University, in an interview at Engaged Philosophy (previously).

Mylan Engel (right) and his Philosophy of Food students packing food at Feed My Starving Children (photo via Engaged Philosophy)

Professor Engel, who teaches courses in, among other things, animal ethics, environmental ethics, and philosophy of food, makes use of service-learning in his instruction. He says:

The students in my “Philosophy of Food” course are expected to complete at least 21 hours of community-engaged service during the course of the semester. Service activities include:

• Volunteering at Feed My Starving Children
• Planting seeds in NIU’s greenhouse
• Working in NIU’s Communiversity Garden
• Preparing and sharing a vegan dish at the end-of-the-semester Sustainable Supper

In addition to the above activities, which we all perform together as a class, students are expected to identify a food-related issue/problem they are passionate about and spend at least 5 hours working on a project designed to address that problem.

Students “gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the practical significance of philosophy. They also gain a sense of empowerment” from the work, Professor Engel says.

In this brief video, he and his students talk about the benefits of this kind of coursework:

You can learn more about the service-learning projects and lessons Professor Engel uses in the full interview.

The Engaged Philosophy website is a useful resource for those interested in bringing service learning and civic engagement into their courses, with information about various service learning projects, sample syllabi, other interviews, and more.

Do you make use of service-learning, civic engagement, or other hands-on projects in your philosophy courses? Let us know about them. Are you trying to figure out how to make use of these teaching tools for a particular philosophical subject? Let’s hear about it. Discussion welcome.

The Year in Cheer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

When you think back on 2021, your mind may naturally drift to the difficult parts: fires, floods, conflicts, variants. To focus on the negative is only human. But if you’ve been taking your daily dose of RTBC, you know that there have been green shoots sprouting and bright spots shining in every dark nook and cranny. As we stumble into 2022, here’s a look back at a few of the positive changes we reported on in the last year — 192 of them, to be precise. Happy New Year!

To prevent the Sahara Desert from spreading southward, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent. 

A California law that gives non-car commuters a cash payout helped increase transit ridership by 50%

After decades of efforts, China has gone from 30 million cases of malaria to zero, essentially eradicating the disease.

The total number of incarcerated people in the U.S. fell by 13% between 2010 and 2020.

Up to 400 Spanish companies will reduce their employees’ working week to 32 hours while keeping salaries the same. 

El Paso Community College used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt

A French ban on single use plastics for many fruits and vegetables will reduce plastic packaging by one billion units per year. 

Credit: Kilogramme

A Vancouver company has upcycled 33 million chopsticks since 2016 into everything from cutting boards and shelves to dominos and furniture. 

Sanitation workers in Turkey have rescued over 6,000 books from the trash — and they’ve opened a library so the public can check them out. 

A solar-powered fridge that can last for up to two weeks without electricity is being used to transport vaccines to over 50 countries. 

Sweden has delivered the world’s first batch of steel produced without fossil fuels, and industrial quantities of it could be on the market within five years.

41 women topped the new Fortune 500 list, more than at any other time in the six decades that the list has been published. 

300 women showed up to a women-only party in Nigeria to dance without fear of sexual harassment. 

Credit: Aisha Ife/Wine and Whine/Minority Africa

Due to the pandemic, China’s seasonal springtime shift occurred 8.4 days earlier than it has in recent years — and leaf coverage increased by nearly 18 percent.

After a town in Arizona converted a juvenile detention center into a youth hangout, juvenile arrests in the county dropped by 55%.

The U.S. is phasing out HFCs in refrigerators, which could eliminate emissions equivalent to 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, about as much as a billion cars emit in a year.

Ecuador will add 23,000 protected square miles to its current 50,000 square miles of the Galapagos Islands.

The Netherlands is making all of its train stations accessible to its 320,000 visually impaired citizens.

Scientists in Bastia, France are deploying 150,000 oysters to help depollute their port.

oysters Stella MareCredit: Peter Yeung

Milan is saving 260,000 meals per day as the first major city to enforce a citywide food waste policy.

Overfishing has been eliminated in 91% of U.S. fish stocks. 

India pledged to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

In Barcelona, hundreds of children are riding their bikes to school together in a vivid display of impromptu street reclamation.

In the past eight years, the number of worker-owned co-ops in the U.S. has increased 36%. The business model offers employees, on average, more than $7 more per hour than standard businesses.

A research startup is developing a “bee vaccine” for pollinators to protect them from harmful pesticides.

A Shanghai dance troupe in wheelchairs has performed over 70 shows.

Over 100 countries have agreed to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Photo: Matías Rebak.

80% of Napa Valley winemakers are using owls to control their rodent populations.

19 U.S. states have enacted laws that allow mobile home park residents to collectively buy the land they’re living on.

A simple letter-grading system that shows how eco-friendly grocery items are led to a 10% reduction in meat consumption.

The United Nations is aiming to ecologically restore 350 million hectares of land in 70 nations by 2030.

Washington, D.C. converted 20 acres of sewershed into green infrastructure with curbside rain gardens, permeable parking lanes, permeable sidewalk pavers, “landscape infiltration gaps” and new street trees.

In Congo, deforestation is 23% lower than the national average in forests managed by the communities that live in them.

Photo: Peter Yeung

Wooden cat houses in Istanbul are providing shelter for the city’s estimated 125,000 strays.

11 cows were potty-trained by German researchers, showing the potential for a substantial reduction in agricultural emissions.

Paris is greening its public housing — in its tallest residential building, energy bills have fallen by 47%.

A stretch of beach worth $75 million was returned to the Black family it was taken from 97 years ago.

Incarcerated men in California are training dogs in a program that has saved and placed more than 680 rescued pooches into homes.

Photo: Rita Earl Blackwell

By comparing current satellite imagery with aerial photos from World War 2, researchers have found that the islands of Micronesia and parts of Kiribati have increased in total area by two to three percent.

New York’s highest court has agreed to hear a case about granting legal rights to a 50-year-old elephant in the Bronx Zoo.

When a denim company was forced to go green by new environmental laws, it reduced water use by 75% and chemicals by 65% — and is now selling its ultra sustainable product to the world’s biggest brands.

Burn patients who were immersed in a virtual world of icebergs and snowmen felt up to 50% less pain when having their bandages changed.

A program in Montana connecting medical patients to lawyers has helped more than 130 people find financial and legal stability during their recoveries.

140 refugees living in Kenyan refugee camps have been trained in online freelancing, helping them earn a better income and giving them more independence in the workforce.

In Austin, Texas, working-class folks who have been priced out by gentrification will be given priority for 560 new units of affordable housing.

This month, “Orca,” the world’s biggest direct air capture plant, opened in Iceland, and will pump 4,000 tons of captured CO2 underground per year.

Los Angeles is painting more than 250 city blocks with a reflective paint that is lowering temperatures in those neighborhoods by two degrees Fahrenheit.

Cool pavement LAPhoto: StreetsLA

After Nassau County in New York removed race from social welfare forms, the percentage of Black children placed into foster care dropped 36%.

After going carbon-neutral and vegan, one soccer club has quadrupled its visitors and quintupled the amount of food sold at the stadium.

Shandon Elementary in California will become America’s first public school to mill its own flour on site.

Ten advocates have helped 325 people eliminate nearly 40,000 days in jail, saving society $4.9 million.

A South Korean scheme is letting rural residents hail a taxi for 100 won — or about nine U.S. cents.

New legislation is capping phone call costs for incarcerated folks at 14 cents per minute, and some states are offering free video calls and emails.

600,000 acres of intensively farmed English countryside could be returned to wildlife over the next 50 years.

100,000 employees are finding affordable, quality childcare through a new app that partners with employers to subsidize babysitters. 

babysittingCredit: Ihor Bulyhin / Shutterstock

In North Carolina, a former prison has been turned into a farm run by at-risk teenagers, and 95% of the youth involved with the program have avoided recidivism.

Scientists have found that a new method of repairing coastal ecosystems doubled survival rates of many of the restored environments.

Millions of dirt floors that harbor insects and disease are being replaced with a cheap flaxseed resin developed by students. 

A French biotech company has set up a factory near Bordeaux that is capable of producing 2,500 liters of organic fertilizers from urine per day.

boliviaCarrot harvesting in Sikimira.

A new pollution skimming boat is capable of clearing 20 tons of trash per day from rivers and lakes. 

Scottsdale, Arizona’s advanced water treatment plant is transforming 20 million gallons of wastewater daily into drinkable H2O that exceeds bottled water standards. 

At California’s “tribal colleges” 88% of Native American students say they feel a sense of belonging on campus.  

An African startup has provided free, clean energy to 150 households and over 9,000 students by harnessing kinetic energy from roads and turning it into emissions-free electricity. 

40,000 hair salons in the U.S. donate their clippings to be turned into mats that absorb up to nine times their weight in oil spills. 

A Cleveland program that offers legal representation to tenants in housing court has helped 93% of clients avoid eviction

A South African database of 513 experts across 49 categories is working to amplify women’s voices in the media. 

Organizations are working to make sure 746,000 eligible voters held in local jails can exercise their democratic rights.

A German contest has given 843 people 12 months of no-strings cash to see how it might change their lives. 

Bolivian farmers have decreased malnutrition by 15% by harnessing the power of rainwater. 

Europe’s first solar powered restaurant is serving up refined, emissions-free gastronomy to dozens of diners per day. 

Beirut is using 60,000 tons of rubble from last year’s devastating explosion to rehabilitate quarries and build new sidewalks, trash bins and benches

Alexandria, Virginia, has created a hotline to ask its citizens how they would spend the $60 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan. 

The Orkney islands in Scotland are splitting water molecules to turn hydrogen into clean, green energy for their 22,000 residents. 

A digitization project is ensuring that over 4,000 historic destinations for LGBTQ travelers aren’t lost to history. 

A sustainable gardening program for incarcerated people in Oregon grew 365,536 pounds of food last year, 97% of which went into the prisons’ kitchens. 

A New York City program that dispatches social workers to mental health crisis calls has increased the percentage of people who accept responders’ help by 13%.

A 100-mile stretch of coral reef in Mexico is the world’s first natural asset protected by an insurance policy. 

reef repairCredit: Oliver Gordon

Seattle’s 80-80-80 policy requires the regional transit authority to use 80% of its surplus land for housing and ensure 80% of that housing is affordable to people earning 80% or less of the area’s median income. 

A California company is offering 12 annual “Moon Days” for full-time female employees to use during their menstrual periods. 

A policy in Quebec that charges companies for generating packaging that must be recycled generates $250 million for the province’s cities per year. 

Indigenous tribes are helping to remove some of the two million dams across the U.S. that impede fish from swimming freely. 

Thirteen states and 29 municipalities across the country have passed anti-discrimination protections to include hair styles and textures

A musician has reached more than 150,000 patients on her mission to “humanize” hospital sounds

Credit: Yoko Sen

After Boston stopped automatically prosecuting people for small crimes, violent offenses went down by 64%, and even traffic offenses decreased by 63%. 

More than 166,000 people have participated in a global project to help voice recognition devices understand more languages. 

After getting elected to stated office in Wisconsin, a restaurateur who pays her employees $15 an hour on top of tips is fighting to make higher wages standard statewide. 

A foundation led by a former oil executive has capped seven abandoned oil and gas wells, one of which had been emitting as much greenhouse gas each year as 500 cars.

A program in Colombia is tripling wages for thousands of waste pickers.

Organizations are diversifying the 200 refugee resettlement partners in the U.S. by making sure new arrivals are greeted by someone whose culture they recognize as their own.

Companies are increasing their productivity by reducing their work days to five hours while offering the same amount of money. 

Volunteers have planted over 75 million seagrass seeds, restoring over 9,000 acres of carbon-capturing grass off the coast of Virginia.

seagrassCredit: Aileen Devlin / Flickr

A crowdsourced street safety app is keeping people safe in 71 cities across 16 countries. 

A program in Kansas City is using a nine-acre farm to teach refugees agricultural, sales and English skills. 

Between 2016 and 2020, at least 13 states expanded the right to vote for people with felony convictions, amounting to millions of newly enfranchised citizens. 

A movement to save vanishing historic and vibrant LGBTQ establishments has raised over $117,000

A California organization that helps people with criminal records become lawyers has 200 participants. 

Eight islands in the Pacific have found a way to keep foreign fleets from sailing away with all their fishing profits, netting them $160 million for social programs. 

A “rewards” system for shopping locally in Akron, Ohio has driven $500,000 worth of economic activity to locally owned businesses. 

A new app that keeps leftover food from ending up in the trash is saving around 200,000 meals a day. 

In an effort to take representation into their own hands, a new Indigenous modeling agency has signed supermodels from six Indigenous Nations. 

indigenous modelsCredit: Supernaturals Modeling

The Ivory Coast is preventing 4.5 million tons of emissions per year with a clean energy generator that will run entirely on cocoa byproducts

An Alberta initiative is reintroducing its first bison herd on Indigenous land 150 years after the species was nearly eradicated. 

Some 87,000 citizen scientists used mobile apps to study environmental changes affecting cicadas’ 17 years cycle. 

A new Washington state bill is helping to fill a few of the 54 million spare bedrooms in the U.S. by legalizing group homes. 

A church in California is using its land to build a 12-unit affordable apartment complex. 

Over 500 people affected by domestic violence have found help through a fake cosmetics shop that alerts the police when an order is placed. 

A group in Kenya has trained 619 religious leaders to be allies to the LGBTQ community. 

kenya faith leaderCredit: PEMA Kenya

A startup in Portland, Oregon has helped ten people involved with gun violence transition into green sector jobs

An African tech accelerator projects that venture capital funding for African startups will reach a record $10 billion by 2025

One CCA in California has gone from providing 16% renewable energy to its customers to over 60% by handing over the reins to the community. 

A “transit to trails” initiative in Seattle is opening up breathtaking natural spaces to city-dwellers with a $2.75 bus ride. 

A novel program offering drug recovery assistance to people on parole has been completed by 22 out of 50 participants. Only six have recidivated. 

An initiative paying miners to help restore the riverbeds they’ve mined has already funded five restoration projects, with ten more slated for this year. 

After one Paris school district diversified its public schools, flight to private schools fell from 24% to 16%. 

trailhead directCredit: King County Parks

78% of employees at a company that implemented menopause-friendly policies feel better about their workplace. 

Arnsberg, Germany, where over 20% of citizens are over 65 years old, is a leader in senior-friendly urban development thanks to its Department of Future Aging

Stockton, California, gave some of its residents $500 a month, no strings attached, and full-time employment among them rose by 12 percentage points. 

A six-month experiment in Santa Rosa, California helped over 200 unsheltered individuals by managing their tent city and supplying them with health care and housing solutions. 

An anti-pollution initiative has identified over 5,000 toxic sites around the world for cleanup. 

Conservation dogs” are sniffing out invasive species that cost the U.S. economy over $120 billion a year. 

“Bee B&Bs,” “bee stops” and “honey highways” have generated a 45% increase in the number of solitary bee species in Amsterdam between 2000 and 2015. 

beesCredit: Hashoo Foundation USA / Flickr

A small Italian town has increased its population from around 300 to over 700 by fashioning itself as a hub for resettling refugees

Washington D.C. is offering free canoe rides with a catch: paddlers have to recycle some river trash. A similar program in Europe has collected 10 tons of trash in two years. 

North America’s first tree-free pulping facility is capable of turning 240,000 tons of straw waste per year into paper products. 

Official government policies in the U.K. are fighting loneliness and increasing feelings of well-being in 76% of respondents. 

Abilene, Texas announced that, as of the end of 2020, it had reduced chronic homelessness to “functional zero.” 

The Seattle Seahawks gave back to the Indigenous community that inspired their logo by offering a once-in-a-lifetime football camp to 250 participants ages seven to 18. 

Portland’s ‘Hygiene Hub‘ offers four essential services to its unsheltered population: bathrooms, showers, laundry and medical care. 

99% of citizens in Bududa, Uganda who deliberated policy options voiced their support for girls as well as boys to go to school

France is letting drivers trade in their cars for a 2,500 euro credit that can be used to purchase an electric bike. 

At a prison restaurant serving world-class cuisine to the public, recidivism rates among the incarcerated chefs and waiters is 21% lower than average.

A sea grass responsible for 10% of the ocean’s carbon sink and capable of yielding 3.5 tons of marine rice per hectare is exciting European chefs and climate scientists alike. 

Nearly 40 different right-to-repair bills are being considered in 25 U.S. states, aiming to make product information more readily available and devices easier to open.

stilbruchPhoto courtesy Hamburg Sanitation Department

After Baltimore suspended prosecutions for minor crimes like drug possession and prostitution, the violent crime rate dropped by 20%. Now the city is making the change permanent. 

Singapore is launching a massive urban farming initiative to locally produce 30% of its food supply by 2030 even though only one percent of its land is dedicated to agriculture.

A French bill was passed by a margin of 98 to three criminalizing accent discrimination

By converting used EV batteries into solar power generators, campers are helping to save the 11 million tons of lithium-ion batteries expected to be discarded between now and 2030. 

By placing output sensors on board salting trucks, communities in upstate New York have cut their salt usage in half, saving the ecosystems of nearby lakes and streams. 

A community-owned project in Bath, England, has built five solar farms and 15 rooftop solar projects that generate enough electricity to power 4,300 homes. 

A Canadian program providing cash payouts to low- and middle-income families reduced child poverty by 33% in two years

Eleven “saree libraries” across Gujarat, India are providing free access to top-end clothes for over 4,700 low-income women. 

An 18-story high-rise made entirely of wood has saved over 2,400 metric tons of carbon emissions

Volunteers in Minnesota have rescued and recycled over 600 plywood boards from storefront windows.

Citizen-caretakers are making sure 760,000 of Berlin’s trees stay well hydrated.

A divorce court in China ordered a man to pay $7,700 to his ex-wife for the household chores she did while they were married. 

The Cherokee Nation is reviving their language by offering a two-year program of 40-hour-per-week lessons — and paying students $10 an hour to learn. 

cherokeeCredit: Cherokee Nation

Cities around the world are creating micro-forests in spaces no bigger than a tennis court that can attract up to 600 species of native plants and animals. 

A community of 13 tiny houses in Portland is providing structure, stability and a path to permanent housing. 

The English National Opera set a goal to help 1,000 Covid patients heal their lungs by belting out tunes

Durham, North Carolina has forgiven $2.7 million in fines stemming from around 50,000 traffic violations, some of which were 40 years old. 

A program in Eugene, Oregon that replaces armed police with social workers answers around 23,000 calls per year, saving the city over $8.5 million.

A fund that makes loans to the smallest businesses has been operating continuously for 167 years

A program in San Mateo, California is building housing for farmworkers that costs less than $3 per day.  

In Philadelphia, 317 landlord/tenant pairs have avoided eviction proceedings through a mediation program that helps them work out a solution face-to-face. 

A 2019 bill prohibits Oregon landlords from terminating month-to-month leases without cause after the renter has lived there for 12 months. 

Welsh landowners are committing to fulfilling 65% of their basic needs — including food, water, energy and waste — using only the land they live on

54% of cars sold in Norway in 2020 are fully electric — add plug-in hybrids to the mix, and that figure tops 80%. 

Miami is switching to electric school buses thanks to a student’s science fair project that found 5,000 parts per million of CO2 inside her bus.

In November 2019, Italy’s first tuition-free culinary school opened its doors to its first nine students. 

italyPhoto courtesy Uno Chef per Elena e Pietro

In the spring of 2020, the Regional Indigenous Seed Growers Cooperative distributed 11,000 packets of seeds to 270 Indigenous communities. 

A “Calm Hotline” in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, designed to de-escalate men’s emotions before they lead to violence, has decreased incidents of domestic violence by 43%. 

Turin, Italy, has transformed a 700-meter stretch of former tramway into a public park

Watts, Los Angeles, has decreased violent crime by over 70% in housing developments as a result of gang intervention programs. 

Over 540 libraries across the U.S. have eliminated fines for overdue items.

Colorado has converted six RVs into mobile addiction treatment clinics to reach people far from urban centers.

A megachurch with more than 30,000 members is running a free counseling center with eight licensed clinicians to close the mental health gap in Black communities. 

After New Zealand put gold stars on the bins of folks who properly sort their cans and bottles, the amount of material able to be recycled went up from 48% to 80%. 

Paris will double its dedicated pedestrian space on the Champs Elysées by 2030.

Wildlife bridges in Wyoming have resulted in an 81% decrease in collisions between wildlife and cars. 

After adopting a four-day work week, Microsoft found that worker efficiency rose by 40%.

Edmonton boasts close to 400 “garden suites’‘ across the city, pulling more people into existing neighborhoods instead of building out.

edmontonCredit: Amber Bracken

“Hempcrete” is a concrete alternative that can sequester 19 pounds of carbon per cubic foot — roughly the annual emissions of three refrigerators. 

Oregon has issued 3,100 roadkill salvaging permits over the past two years, providing a free source of food for struggling families. 

A Midwest organization is offering a 24-hour hotline and free unlimited counseling sessions for farmers far from access.

Nearly 80% of Europeans would rather repair their devices than replace them.

One month after receiving a one-time cash gift of $5,800, 50% of homeless people moved into stable housing and 70% of them became food secure. 

A program in the Czech Republic using meals to break down barriers between natives and immigrants has connected 1,676 families

A program in Tulsa, Oklahoma is creating career pathways for the approximately two million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. working in low-skill jobs. 

An Indiana city with 140 roundabouts has saved lives, reduced injuries from crashes and lowered carbon emissions. 

Over 520,000 Kenyan refugees were given the right to work after three decades of restrictions. 

A program offering $10,000 to people willing to move to Tulsa has brought in 1,200 workers plus 600 additional residents accompanying them. 

A tech company has created a fully repairable computer that sells for less than $1,000. 

More than 2,500 local and state down payment assistance programs are helping homebuyers surmount a hurdle that often keeps homeownership out of reach. 

Amsterdam’s opt-in system for junk mail saves 6,000 tons of paper per year. 

junk mailPhoto courtesy of Last Advertisement

A German company will have recycled 2,000 tons of electric-vehicle batteries by the end of the year. 

Adopted otter pups are helping California kelp forests expand by up to 600%

A program lending free e-bikes to Vermonters reports that 17% of people who borrowed one had bought one of their own within 12 months. 

20 students traveled to four different U.S. states through a domestic exchange program connecting teens to different cultures. 

43% of participants in a support program that pairs people who are unhoused with housed volunteers reported an increase in happiness

An U.K. government program is helping five million renters make sure they don’t lose their security deposits unjustly.

Alaskans are taking cues from Indigenous builders to replace houses built 50 years ago with sustainable architecture that can withstand the elements. 

A nonprofit in Portland has helped over 50 Black homeowners age in place while preventing communities from being splintered by gentrification. 

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Does Your City Need a ‘Youth Council’ for Climate Change?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

In June, with representatives from Montreal to Guadalajara in attendance, the city of San Antonio, Texas officially opened its new North American Friendship Garden. A thriving green space to celebrate cross-border sustainability efforts, it includes, among other features, a large “bug hotel” to support pollinating insects. The structure, beautifully designed by a local artist, quickly became one of the most buzzed-about elements of the new space

So did the cohort that created it: a group of teenagers working with the mayor’s office.

The teens were members of San Antonio’s Youth Engagement Council for Climate Initiatives, a mechanism for incorporating young voices into municipal climate action strategies. Established last year to help execute the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, the youth council has already made significant impacts that are visible across the city.

The bug hotel is just one example. Initiated by the youth council’s biodiversity subgroup, the squat, cylindrical, terracotta-esque structure is packed with non-toxic, organic materials that the youth council members helped collect from their backyards. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators can enter through a series of large, diamond-shaped holes in the structure’s sides and enjoy dark, cool areas to rest or nurture their young. The same group made related policy recommendations to the city council that San Antonio’s green spaces include pollinator habitat protection. 

Another cohort of the youth council worked with the city’s transit agency on a pilot program to add rooftop gardens to bus shelters. ​​The low-maintenance rooftop gardens, designed in collaboration with graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture, increase habitat for local pollinators and help cool the city by mitigating the urban heat island effect. Laura Fuller, communications and design manager at EcoRise, an Austin-based nonprofit that has supported the creation of youth climate councils that advise the mayors of San Antonio, Austin and Houston, says the city is now discussing replicating the pilot, creating more green bus stops across the city “thanks to the ideas and action of a handful of local high school students.” 

For what the youth councils contribute to the city’s climate action plans, they get at least as much in return, offering young people the opportunity to influence policy and hold leaders accountable for their action (or inaction) on the climate. They also teach practical skills and open new career paths for a future generation of climate leaders. “The impact these programs have on students has been amazing,” says Fuller.

Youth councils harness the energy — and anxiety — that make young people particularly inclined to take climate change seriously. In a recent global survey of people ages 16 to 25, almost 60 percent of respondents said they were very or extremely worried about climate change. The vast majority believe climate action should be America’s top policy priority, a sense of urgency that has translated into political action, as young people turn out to vote and run for office on climate platforms in ever-growing numbers. 

“We inherit the state of the environment from past generations, and will pass on the environment to future generations,” says 23-year-old climate activist Mark Haver. Haver got involved in climate justice work after seeing the destructive impact of climate change in his hometown of Ellicott City, Maryland, which was struck by record-breaking floods in 2016 and 2018, destroying the city’s downtown. Now, Haver serves as Chair of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Youth Policy Advisory Council

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Youth council members elsewhere are motivated by similar first-hand experiences. Texas cities are already bearing the brunt of climate change in sweltering heat waves, deadly cold snaps and flash flooding — events that are growing more common and severe. Young people from frontline communities have shown up to serve on local youth councils because the majority believe that it is still possible to prevent the worst long-term effects of climate change if serious action is taken. 

In Tempe, Arizona, where extreme heat warnings have become commonplace during the long summer months, two recently launched youth climate councils have created cooling plans and projects for a more heat-resilient city.

“We have high school students, college students … that want Tempe to be a livable and cool place for decades to come,” says Braden Kay, sustainability and resilience director for the City of Tempe and a driving force behind the creation of the new youth climate councils there. He says youth councils are “about the city coming alongside of those actions.”

While the climate councils in Tempe have just inaugurated their first cohorts, the groups have already held a community tree planting day in cooperation with the City of Tempe’s urban forester. Youth council members have also pitched installing new shaded bus stops and community gardens, similar to initiatives in San Antonio. 

According to EcoRise, results like these are possible when youth councils are given access to sufficient funding and resources. In Tempe, for instance, youth councils have access to policy experts, city administrators, climate scientists, experts in racial justice and local Indigenous practitioners. Funding for the Tempe program is provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

“I think what’s really exciting to me, and what stands out from our work is we are spending these resources and using these assets to provide the youth councils with a menu of options and support structures for how to do the work,” says Kay. Haver agrees, adding that partnerships with subject matter experts and other youth climate leaders were also vital to his council’s biggest successes. 

As global temperatures continue to rise, empowering young people and fostering relationships between the current and the next generation of climate experts, activists, and policymakers are more critical than ever before. “Being able to bring youth to the decision-making table and have our voices heard in a very legitimate and credible way really does elevate this intergenerational partnership for environmental justice,” says Haver.

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How Berlin Lets the Whole City Care for Its Trees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

A mix of alder, maple and Japanese cherry trees line Berlin’s Horseshoe Estate, a large-scale 1920s housing complex and UNESCO World Heritage site in the south of the German capital.

But according to Sebastian Herges, a 42-year-old resident of the estate, over the past few years those valuable species have begun to suffer due to Berlin’s increasingly extreme weather, which has seen summers become longer and drier and winters become wetter and stormier. “We noticed the change in weather and have not been able to sleep since then [out of concern for the trees],” he says.

City trees like those by Herges’ home are drying up due to climate change, putting a strain on Berlin’s ecosystem. In 2018, Berlin was the sunniest city in Germany with 2,308 hours of sun, and since then there have been persistent droughts. According to Berlin city hall, there were 7,000 fewer trees at the end of 2019 than in 2016, as the heat took its toll.

To get to the root of the problem, CityLAB, a municipal body that develops cutting-edge projects for Berlin’s metropolitan area, launched a project known as Gieß den Kiez, or “pour the neighborhood,” in May 2020.

The online platform allows citizens to coordinate the watering of Berlin’s trees using an interactive map containing information on 760,000 of the city’s one million trees, including species, age and water needs (often as much as 50 liters per day), as well as how often they have been watered. The platform also instructs users on correct irrigation and the location of Berlin’s water pumps, minimizing transport and supporting the use of graywater — wastewater without fecal contamination.

The project is underpinned by an “open source” ethos, with its code published online — meaning the platform can be easily reproduced by other cities — and tools that are freely available such as OpenStreetMap, an alternative to Google Maps, and public German Weather Service data.

“Water is one resource, energy is another, as are trees,” says Julia Zimmermann, who is in charge of the Technologiestiftung Berlin-backed project. “We realized that by combining the data we had, and providing it to the public, we could help solve several problems all at once.”

More than 2,000 citizen-caretakers are now registered and actively watering trees, and over 5,000 trees have been “adopted” through a function that allows users to subscribe to specific trees. It’s providing huge savings to Berlin, since the cost of traveling to and watering each tree is estimated to be between seven and eight euros, she says.

Sebastian Herges joined as soon as the platform launched and is now one of the most active users, regularly communicating with others via the project’s Slack channel. “We decided to get involved because commitment reflects the power of society,” he says. “We consider projects like this to be indispensable, because here you learn how trees are watered. There is an educational gap that needs to be filled for everyone.”

berlin“A city without trees isn’t very livable.” Credit: Ronny Siegel / Flickr

Susan Day, professor of urban forestry at the University of British Columbia, believes projects like Pour the Neighborhood could have growing importance with the onset of climate change.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that healthy human life depends on the vegetation that surrounds us,” she says. “It affects the physical environment through things like  temperature and water quality. But it also affects your health – being exposed to nature, encouraging more outdoor activity. A city without trees isn’t very livable.” 

Mature city trees store carbon and create a cooling effect that helps to reduce urban heat, adds Day, and properly watering trees could be more impactful than simply planting new ones. When trees are planted and they are young and new, they generally need watering and irrigation for years. Cities are best served when they seek professional urban forestry consultation on the kinds of tree species that are planted, the geology of the locations chosen, and the maintenance required.

“This project could be very important,” adds Professor Day.

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Herges says that in the Horseshoe Estate alone there are 80 young trees, which require extra care and attention. “Yes, we can feel the effect of watering them,” he says. “Without us they would have been affected much more.”

However, scaling the project to other cities might not be straightforward. Berlin has two particularities: excellent collation and publication of data (every year authorities in each of Berlin’s 12 districts survey and measure almost every tree) and the presence of some 2,000 free water pumps around the city, a legacy from when West Berlin was isolated, in case citizens needed emergency water for drinking or fires.

Professor Day also points out that the varying geography and topographies of cities could impact the effectiveness of any citizen-led watering system. “They vary sometimes in unexpected ways,” she says. “It depends on the hydrology of the city and the species. Is there plenty of soil? If the roots of trees are confined underground, they are like a potted plant, and rely more on watering.”

Yet the open-source nature of the project means that it’s purpose-built for reuse. And already another German city, Leipzig, launched its own version this year. “Someone working for Leipzig saw the code for our project online and used it without even contacting us,” says Zimmerman. “In one and a half weeks he had it running. It proves that open source works.”

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Where's the Virtue in the Humanities?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/03/2014 - 10:29pm in

How can the Liberal Humanities own up to – and promote – its public service as a matrix of civic virtue? Whether in banks or on the battlefield, in the NHS or in national newspapers, the need for virtuous leadership is now patent. An education in the humanities is, in fact, an education in virtues that are at once intellectual and civic, underscoring its importance for non-economic public flourishing. Such moral formation would be much more effective, however, were it openly professed and discussed. But the predominant liberal ideal, aspiring to neutrality on the Good Life, tends to suppress such profession. How, then, can Liberal Humanities own up to – and promote – its public service as a matrix of civic virtue?

Part of Humanities and the Public Good series (