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Legal marijuana shops targeted by IRS, often forced to give 70 percent or more of their profits to the federal government

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) On November 4, the citizens of Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But unless Congress acts to reform or repeal War on Drugs-era federal tax laws, businesses that wish to sell marijuana may find it nearly impossible...

3 natural pain relievers that are as powerful as drugs, without the side effects

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Unfortunately, acute or chronic pain is something that everyone in their life experiences at one time or another. Even though this is a powerful reminder from the body that something is either healing or going terribly wrong, a way to manage the pain is often required...

Key biotech journalist in smear campaign of Seralini completely discredited

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Jon Entine -- biotech shill, character assassination operative, Forbes.com writer and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, George Mason University and the University of California at Davis -- has a long history of smearing anyone who dares to speak well-researched...

Monsanto pushes farmers to grow bee-killing soybeans

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Despite an ever-growing sales volume year after year, Monsanto's genetically-modified (GM) soybeans aren't helping farmers produce greater yields, nor are they helping the planet. The transgenic crop, which is heavily doused in neonicotinoid pesticides, is a leading...

Fukushima-scale nuclear disaster ready to happen in California or New York

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) The same company responsible for building the flawed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactor in Japan, which failed back in 2011 following a historic earthquake and tsunami, also built a nuclear facility in Shoreham, New York, that, unbeknownst to the general public...

5 must have antifungal herbs for every pantry

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Fungal infections are one of the most common diseases known to humanity. Since the prehistoric times, humans have struggled with fungal infections and have relied on herbs for their treatment and prevention. Nowadays, with the presence of modern medicine, there are now...

Herbs and spices can add flavor and health benefits to meals while reducing sodium intake

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years by ancient civilizations inhabiting all corners of the earth, offering various benefits for both physical and spiritual health. With the development of new technology, Western medicine has strayed further and further...

Huh? Researchers work to develop chlamydia vaccine for promiscuous koala bears

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) The Australian Koala Foundation reports that the koala bear population is "in serious decline" and has dropped below 80,000 in the wild. Koalas are now considered "vulnerable" by the New South Wales and Queensland governments. The main reason why isn't because of poaching...

Craving a chocolate bar? Try this simple cocoa-licious recipe instead!

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Chocolate goodies can be so incredibly tempting! Unfortunately, most commercial candy bars and treats are full of less-than-ideal ingredients. So why not try making your own chocolate treats, instead? It's the best way to control the quality of your ingredients! Even...

Votes from illegal aliens can decide U.S. election outcomes, study says

Natural News - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:30
(NaturalNews) Prior to the Nov. 4 midterm elections, a number of civil libertarians, conservatives and constitutionalists brought up concerns about voter fraud, though Democrats insist that there is no such thing or, if there is, it is extremely rare.Only, it's not. In example...

10 Climate Conscious Cities—Electric Cars, Rooftop Farms, and Other Ways They’re Preparing for the Future

Yes! Magazine - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 06:35
1. New York City

Brooklyn Grange's Navy Yard rooftop farm does more than grow vegetables. It manages more than a million gallons of stormwater each year, ultimately reducing the amount of waste water that overflows into New York City's open waterways. Photo by Valery Rizzo.

PlaNYC 2030, New York’s renowned climate change response plan, aims to simultaneously accommodate a quickly growing population and reduce emissions by focusing on infrastructure. By updating building codes, retrofitting older buildings, and encouraging sustainable design and architecture, NYC is well on the way to meeting its goal of 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

2. Bogotá

Bogotá's public transit system. Photo by DearEdward / Flickr.

Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system offers an ­alternative to traffic-snarled highways. Exclusive lanes allow Bogotá buses to travel rapidly throughout the city, ­mimicking the efficiency of rail systems at a fraction of the cost. With a 32 percent reduction in transit travel time, bus rapid transit is making the city cleaner and more accessible.

3. Portland

The newest bridge across the Willamette River in Portland Ore., named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, is designed to carry light-rail trains, buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and streetcars—but no cars. Photo by Victor von Salza.

Portland is creating “20-minute neighborhoods” to address climate change on a city-wide scale. By increasing urban density and improving pedestrian infrastructure, the city is building resilient low-carbon communities where basic needs are within a 20-minute walk or bike ride. The city aims to have 90 percent of its residents living in 20-minute neighborhoods by 2030.

4. Seoul

Sunrise in Seoul. Photo by slack12 / Flickr.

Seoul’s array of solar technology programs is breaking the city’s dependence on nonrenewable energy resources. Rooftop ­photovoltaic installations—more than 10,000 of them—will raise energy capacity by 290 megawatts per roof. With one energy ­self-sufficient village in each district, the “Sunshine City” is pushing forward into a cleaner-energy future for post-Fukushima Asia.

5. Chicago

Chicago. Photo by Ann Fisher / Flickr.

In 1995, a five-day heat wave in Chicago caused about 750 deaths. Global warming threatens to raise the annual number of extremely hot days (over 100 degrees) in Chicago from just two to 31, making future heat waves like the one in 1995 nearly certain. In recent years, the city has focused on reducing its temperature by increasing the spread of urban forest and installing four million square feet of green roofs, both of which soak up carbon and reduce urban heat-island effects.

6. Melbourne

Melbourne botanical gardens. Photo by Raider of Gin / Flickr.

Melbourne is transforming its urban landscape. Stormwater harvesting, permeable pavements, and cool roofs are helping to protect the city from the effects of climate change, and an increased urban tree canopy will provide crucial ecosystem services like carbon sequestration. The adaptation program is projected to reduce the city’s temp­erature by 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Amsterdam

Amsterdam. Photo by Moyan Brenn / Flickr.

Drawing on its long history of financial acumen, Amsterdam has created a sustainability fund of $103 million that allows businesses, residents, and communities to invest in green projects. The fund is available to everyone in the city, from individuals and start-ups to large commercial ventures. Participants are required to recover the initial investment, making the fund a smart, long-term option.

8. Barcelona

TGV in Barcelona. Photo by Aleix Cortes / Flickr.

Barcelona is improving the way the city makes decisions by gathering more accurate real-time information on the relationship between the environment and urban infrastructure. A comprehensive “Urban Platform” uses environmental sensors that detect everything from air pollution and humidity to use of parking spaces. The project provides insight into effective management of city resources, enabling the city to address climate change.

9. Boulder

Above, the Valmont power plant viewed from Boulder, Colo. The last coal unit at the plant is scheduled to retire in 2017. Photo by John Crisanti.

Instead of waiting for the federal government to implement a nation-wide carbon tax, citizens of Boulder took matters into their own hands. In 2007, the city enacted the country’s first municipal carbon tax, which funds Boulder’s climate action plan. The tax generates $1.8 million a year. In 2010, the tax prevented nearly 85,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

10. Oslo

Electric car in Oslo. Photo by Robyn Lee/Flickr.

Oslo is leading the charge toward making electric vehicles a realistic option for the average citizen. The city has built 500 free recharging stations, with 400 more in the works. Oslo has also declared that all city-owned vehicles will be emission-free by 2015.

Natasha Donovan wrote this article for Cities Are Now, the  Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Natasha is an editorial intern at YES!

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Categories: Ecological News

Media Advisory: 25 November Launch: Worldwatch Report Describes Opportunities for a Bright Energy Future in Haiti

World Watch - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 04:56

MEDIA ADVISORY: 19 November 2014

Worldwatch Report Describes Opportunities for a Bright Energy Future in Haiti

Global Launch Set for 25 November

 

Washington, D.C.—A new report by the Worldwatch Institute, in partnership with Haiti’s Bureau of the Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister for Energy Security, outlines the interconnected technical, socioeconomic, and policy potential of building a sustainable energy system in Haiti.

The Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap, to be released globally on the morning of 25 November in at the Royal Oasis Hotel in Petion-Ville, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, plans the tremendous opportunities and actionable solutions that exist to build a sustainable electricity system in Haiti.

The embargoed English press kit is available now to journalists who request access from ggourmelon@worldwatch.org.

For information about the report or launch event, or to arrange interviews, please contact: 

Gaelle Gourmelon, +1 202 745 8092 ext 510, ggourmelon@worldwatch.org

About the Worldwatch Institute:Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. Worldwatch Institute delivers the insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs. For more information, visitwww.worldwatch.org.

About the Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap:Haiti’s electricity sector stands at a crossroads. Haiti depends on imported petroleum for 85% of its electricity generation, diverting 7 percent of its annual gross domestic product to importing fuel. Still, only 25% of the Haitian population has regular access to electricity, bringing barriers to advances in economic opportunity, health, education, and social equality. According to the Worldwatch Institute’s new Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap report, tremendous opportunities and actionable solutions exist to build an electricity system that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable using the country’s tremendous renewable energy and energy efficiency potentials (www.worldwatch.org).

Categories: Ecological News

Hey, Monsanto! Were Anniston and Nitro just conspiracy theories too?

Farm Wars - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 02:09
Sure, we trust you when you say that THIS latest and greatest, new and improved product, unlike the others, is perfectly safe. I’ll bet that’s what you say to all of your victims.
Categories: Ecological News

8 Main Street Job Creators Who Are Rebooting the Economy—Starting with Those Who Need it Most

Yes! Magazine - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 01:44

Photo by Shutterstock.

Our culture is obsessed with them. Often young, with a pioneering spirit, entrepreneurs embody a certain kind of American dream; come up with brilliant ideas for products or services that meet (or even better, create) a market need and a viable business plan, find investors and make lots of money. OK, it’s slightly more complicated than that—but let’s go with it.

The goal is to strengthen local economies in every corner of the United States.

While everyone's heard of Steve Jobs and the like, less known innovators and entrepreneurs are creating an economy where everyone has opportunities, no matter their background. They invest in businesses that provide well-paying jobs to English-language learners in Oakland, California; they create networks of investors to revolutionize the food system in Alabama; and they mentor small-business owners to help local enterprises thrive in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies (BALLE), a nonprofit that supports visionary local economy projects, chose 17 of these leaders for its third cohort of BALLE Fellows. For 18 months, Fellows will share strategies that have worked in their regions—like lowering interest rates on loans for small businesses that provide jobs to the formerly incarcerated; and developing “investor clubs” that make it easy to invest in communities. The goal is to strengthen local economies in every corner of the United States.

José Corona
Oakland, California

Photo courtesy of Jose Corona.

José likes to say that his dad, who emigrated with José and the rest of his family from Mexico, was a social entrepreneur before it was trendy. José saw his dad grow a successful agricultural business in Watsonville, California, treat his employees well, pay them fairly, and provide benefits. His dad even helped a few of his workers start their own farms.

José now works with entrepreneurs developing businesses that do things like make natural nut butters, roast coffee, and sell local meat, as the CEO and president of Inner City Advisors (ICA). He feels like his work is exactly what he needs to be doing, practicing the values his dad instilled in him: integrity, trust, relationships, and “hustling in the right way.”

Although the Bay Area's tech boom has caused an explosion of employment, José says it's still difficult for many people to find employment—like people who have been incarcerated, are learning English, or have lower education levels.

ICA isn’t a training program for job seekers. Instead, it mentors startups and small businesses to help them recruit and train workers.

José works with Premier Organics, a company that makes natural peanut butters and other products. Premier Organics hired Mauricio, originally from South America, as one of their first employees on the production line. Mauricio was responsible for manually putting labels on jars. With advising from ICA, Premier Organics offered Mauricio long-term job training, which allowed him to advance from line operator to team leader—and then to manager. He is now the operations manager for the whole company.

ICA also launched the Fund Good Jobs initiative that invests in small businesses that provide living-wage jobs with benefits and opportunities for advancement. In 2013, ICA companies created almost 3,000 jobs—and the average wage for ICA company jobs is $14.50 per hour (twice the federal minimum wage).

Jessica Norwood
Mobile, Alabama

Photo courtesy of Jessica Norwood.

After years of working on political action committees and electoral campaigns in Washington, DC, and New York City, Jessica moved home to the Gulf Coast of Alabama for some much needed rest in the summer of 2005.

Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit. The destruction caused by the storm was amplified by the already overstretched infrastructure and poverty of the region.

Jessica witnessed families and neighbors who had barely survived on minimum wage before the storm struggle to pay for the gas they needed to evacuate—and then for food and lodging once they left.

When people in the Gulf Coast started returning to their homes, Jessica saw families returning to public housing only to find the buildings padlocked, leaving many without other housing options. In low-income neighborhoods throughout Alabama, schools that had closed during the storm never reopened.

In the midst of these challenges, Jessica saw many reasons to hope. Online networks of people popped up to help separated loved ones find each other Neighbors shared tools like shovels and saws to assist in cleaning up damaged houses.

Through all of this, she said she learned that “we are innovators, we are producers and we are our each other's best assets.”

While they don’t invest huge amounts of money, it’s enough to catalyze other funders.

Jessica began connecting young people who were excited about rebuilding the South, and in 2007 founded the Emerging Changemakers Network.

After the first three years, Network members included town mayors, state representatives, and business owners, many of whom had less time to volunteer but were still looking for ways to improve their communities. They had other resources to offer, like disposable income to invest.

The Network decided to focus its investments on Alabama's food economy. Before anyone put up money, Jessica said the Network first sought to understand the food economy as a whole, talking to everyone from grocery store owners to farmers to the bankers that lend to them.

Emerging Changemakers launched “SOUL’utions,” a network of investment clubs that pooled money from people in the same town or city to invest in solutions in their area. One group provided a loan for a group of small farmers to purchase a tractor.

Jessica says that while they don’t invest huge amounts of money, it’s enough to catalyze other funders, like the Department of Agriculture or the Ford Foundation.

Alfa Demmellash
Jersey City, New Jersey

Photo courtesy of Alfa Demmellash.

During college at Harvard University in the early 2000s, Alfa was inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank, which pioneered a microlending model that helped alleviate poverty for women in Bangladesh.

The summer after she graduated, she spent time in the neighborhoods on MLK Drive in Jersey City, just a short drive away from the burgeoning downtown area. While volunteering at soup kitchens and other social service agencies in majority low-income and African-American neighborhoods, she wondered if this microlending practice could be applied there.

Alfa remembers people in those neighborhoods telling her that she and friend Alex Forrester were “do-gooder” college kids, and that they wouldn’t stick around. She said they felt an immediate responsibility to stay, listen, and learn.

Alfa and Alex met Harvey George, who ran Friends of Lifers Youth Corp, Inc., a youth program helping people who were formerly incarcerated find housing and jobs. Alfa was immediately inspired by the way he, who had spent 17 years in prison, mentored and counseled the people who passed through his soup kitchen. They were often distressed and hopeless. He helped them create their own opportunities.

The pair started raising money from family and friends to make small loans to people in Jersey City who were eager to start or grow their own businesses, from florist shops to accounting firms. They soon realized, though, that it was not access to loans that the entrepreneurs lacked, but the skills to manage a small business—and the social connections to grow it.

So they decided to shift their focus from offering loans to providing business education. They started Rising Tide Capital, Inc., and opened the Community Business Academy. Academy courses included customer service and marketing, and the program offered mentorship from established business-owners and a support network of fellow entrepreneurs. The initial class included founders of businesses that included a greeting card company, catering service, and cleaning company. Harvey George was one of the first students.

Since then, the program has graduated more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and runs courses in three cities in New Jersey, with two courses in Spanish.

Carlos Velasco
Phoenix, Arizona

Photo courtesy of Carlos Velasco.

Carlos grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador. During those years, much of the country was experiencing 70 percent unemployment. But, he said, neighbors looked out for each other and there was a real sense of community.

When he needed something to eat, his grandmother would send him to the tiendita, the corner store. The owner would give him what he could, no questions asked.

“We didn’t have money,” he said. “But we didn’t have the issues we have [here in the United States]: disconnection, crime, diabetes, a sense of people not knowing who they are.”

He moved to the United States when he was twelve. At school, he felt the social pressure to do well and achieve something great. He says now, in many neighborhoods in Arizona, he doesn’t see that motivation in many young people.

In the area near Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, for example, there are Jack in the Boxes, several Circle K’s—convenience stores that are pretty different from the tiendita Carlos visited growing up—and other chain restaurants and retailers. Entry-level and management jobs at large chains are the only employment options many young people feel they have.

The accelerator program has supported restaurants, a cake-selling business, mechanic shop, and a coffee shop, among many others.

In addition, Carlos says the chain stores crowd out locally owned businesses, particularly Spanish-preferred businesses or those owned by people who have immigrated to the United States.

In response to these challenges, Carlos and his colleagues at Fuerza Local, a community organization that supports locally-owned, Spanish-preferred businesses in Phoenix, developed a Spanish-language business accelerator program. The program offers 12 classes on topics like customer service and marketing, encourages participation in an online, group savings tool, and, upon graduation of the program, provides a line of credit at MariSol Credit Union.

The accelerator program has supported restaurants, a cake-selling business, mechanic shop, and a coffee shop, among many others. The second cohort of business-owners graduated in July.

Aaron Tanaka
Boston, Massachusetts

Photo courtesy of Aaron Tanaka.

Aaron has been organizing and learning from the residents of low-income areas like Roxbury and Dorchester in Boston for almost 10 years. In 2005, he helped start the Boston Workers Alliance (BWA), a community organization of unemployed and underemployed workers. They began work on the “Ban the Box Campaign,” advocating for legislation that bars employers from asking applicants if they have a criminal record.


Land, Co-ops, Compost: A Food Economy Emerges in Boston's Poorest Neighborhoods

The campaign won a key victory in 2010 when the Massachusetts state legislature passed a criminal record reform bill including a Ban the Box provision. Aaron learned two important things from the campaign: that organizing work must be led by those most impacted, in this case people with criminal records; and that even if this campaign and others like it solved discrimination in hiring processes, there still would not be enough jobs.

There is such a need to organize around issues that are directly and immediately impacting people’s lives, like minimum wage and paid sick leave campaigns, Aaron said. So it doesn’t feel like there is time to take on the underlying causes of economic inequality and injustice.

Aaron began to find ways to support civic leaders and organizers in long-term visioning about what an economy that benefits all kinds of people could look like. He co-founded the Center for Economic Democracy.

Last year, the BWA campaigned for the allocation of $1 million of the city of Boston’s budget for a youth-led, participatory budgeting process. Aaron and the Center for Economic Democracy supported the process, in which dozens of youth participated and decided to fund the renovation of a park and playground in the Franklin neighborhood, provide laptops to three public high schools, and create “Designated Free Wall Space” for graffiti and other visual artists to showcase their work, among other projects.

Aaron says this process was just one way to open the conversation about democratizing the economy and alternative approaches to public finance.

Jay Bad Heart Bull
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Jay Bad Heart Bull.

Before moving to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Jay thought that most people in the Twin Cities would have plenty of employment opportunities at one of the many Fortune 500 and biomedical companies in the area. He had completed high school and tribal college on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota and the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, and witnessed widespread unemployment in rural regions.

When he arrived in Minneapolis, though, he soon realized that the Native community in Minneapolis was not benefiting from the city's wealth and opportunities. Further, he saw that the money coming into the community, through grants or social services, quickly left.

This move was a message to the community that people could keep their dollars circulating locally.

When Jay became the president and CEO of the Native American Community Development Initiative (NACDI), he set out to change that. In 2008, he and the team at NACDI recruited the Woodlands National Bank, a Native-American owned bank based in Hinckley, Minnesota, to open in South Minneapolis. He says this move was a message to the community that people could keep their dollars circulating locally.

NACDI then bought an office building in South Minneapolis by raising grant money and financing the remainder through the Woodlands Bank. Owning property in the neighborhood where they work opened many more opportunities. NACDI began leasing space in the ground floor of their building to a Native American man to run a coffee shop, which provides jobs for youth from the South Minneapolis neighborhood.

NACDI also opened an art gallery, All My Relations, featuring Native American art. Now, NACDI and other community organizations in South Minneapolis use the art gallery space to host events, like fundraisers and candidate forums during local elections.

Euneika Rogers-Sipp
Stone Mountain, Georgia

Photo courtesy of Euneika Rogers-Sipp.

Just before starting high school, Euneika and her family moved from a rural community in North Carolina to the suburbs outside Atlanta. From there, she left for college in London in the mid-1980’s. Euneika says her experience leaving the rural South—and then, the South altogether—is typical of the exodus that has been happening in largely African-American, poor, and rural communities for decades.

The difference is that Euneika returned. She felt pulled by a love of family, tradition, and place, but also an urgency about the environmental degradation she saw when she visited. She started Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families to help restore the social and economic fabric of the South's rural areas.

Her first project was in Gees Bend, Wilcox County, one of the poorest counties in Alabama. For years, the women of Gees Bend have been making vibrant and colorful quilts. Euneika saw this as one example of the gap between rich cultural heritage and the lack of economic opportunity in the rural South. So, she helped turn the quiltmaking into a cottage industry, and supported the town in building up a cultural tourism economy.

She has since been working with other towns across the Southeast to encourage cultural tourism there, collaborating with other local craft makers, and people who want to open restaurants, open their homes for homestays, or lead tours. In addition to bringing much needed economic opportunity to the region, she hopes cultural tourism will restore a connection to place—for the people who grew up there, and for others who want to experience and understand the history of the South.

Andrea Chen
New Orleans, Louisiana

Photo courtesy of Andrea Chen.

Andrea started her career as a high school English teacher in New Orleans. She soon realized that many of her 11th- and 12th-grade students were reading on a fourth-grade level. While developing teaching strategies to bring them up to level, Andrea also dug deeper to figure out why.

There are a lot of factors, like an underfunded education system, that play into it. But, she said, a lot of the problem came down to poverty.

She and some friends started Propeller, a business incubator and co-working space designed to bring together social entrepreneurs and policymakers inspired to tackle problems like blighted land, failing schools, and food shortages.

Propeller runs a 10-month fellows program that supports entrepreneurs starting businesses with a social goal, like providing healthy food to schools or offering doula and childbirth education services to low-income women in New Orleans.

To find out more—and meet BALLE's other fellows—visit bealocalist.org.

Mary Hansen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mary has a hard time staying in one place but is also known to write, edit, and be a die-hard Steelers fan. She is an online reporting intern at YES!

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Categories: Ecological News

EU Court Rules Against UK For Failure to Tackle Air Pollution

ENN Climate - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 22:27
A landmark judgment by the European Court of Justice compels the UK Government to act as soon as possible to reduce air pollution in British cities, writes Keith Taylor - and a good thing too for our health, safety and wellbeing. But it's not just the UK that benefits: every EU country must also comply with the ruling.
Categories: Ecological News

Explaining Burma's missing 9 million people - evaporation, or genocide?

The Ecologist Magazine - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 22:02
The best way to deal with embarrassing, inconvenient facts is to ignore them, writes Guy Horton. And this is precisely what the international community is doing over Burma's demographic anomaly - 9 million people who ought to be there, but aren't. Their absence is prima facie evidence of genocide - but as we all celebrate the 'brave new Burma', no one wants to know.
Categories: Ecological News

Climate history of western US is more complex than previously thought

ENN Climate - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 21:24
The climate 150 million years ago of a large swath of the western United States was more complex than previously known, according to new research from Southern Methodist University, Dallas. It’s been held that the climate during the Jurassic was fairly dry in New Mexico, then gradually transitioned to a wetter climate northward to Montana. But based on new evidence, the theory of a gradual transition from a dry climate to a wetter one during the Jurassic doesn’t tell the whole story, says SMU paleontologist Timothy S. Myers, lead author on the study.
Categories: Ecological News

Want to See How Governments Are Making Real Progress? Look to the Cities Tackling Our Biggest Problems

Yes! Magazine - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 20:30

Photo by Martha Williams.

If you’ve been looking to the federal government for action on big challenges such as poverty, climate change, and immigration, this has been a devastating decade. Big money’s dominance of elections, obstructionism by the Tea Party, and climate denial have brought action in Washington to a near standstill. But while the media focuses on the gridlock, a more hopeful story is unfolding. Cities are taking action.

Cities can’t afford to wait for the ideological wars to play out.

Climate change is a case in point. Cities are already experiencing the damage caused by an increasingly chaotic climate. Many are located along coastlines, where rising sea levels coupled with giant storms bring flooding and coastal erosion. Some low-lying areas are being abandoned.

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Others cities face protracted water shortages due to diminishing rainfall and shrinking snowpack. And cities are subject to the urban heat island effect that can raise temperatures to lethal levels.

Cities can’t afford to wait for the ideological wars to play out.

On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast, flooding lower Manhattan, filling subway tunnels, twisting up the boardwalk along the beaches in the Rockaways, and turning Long Island and New Jersey communities into disaster zones.

Just two weeks later, Munich Re, a major insurance company, reported that weather-related disasters in North America had increased five-fold over the previous three decades, causing $1.06 trillion worth of damage. And the disasters are just starting, the report said.

While Congress debates whether climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy, Houston is spending $200 million to restore wetland ecosystems in anticipation of increased flooding. The 4,000-acre Bayou Greenways project will absorb and cleanse floodwater while creating space for trails and outdoor recreation.

“Houston’s best defense against extreme climate events and natural disasters is grounded in its local efforts to leverage ... its bayous, marshes and wetlands,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in a press release.

In Philadelphia, if you look up while waiting for a bus, you might find you are standing under a living roof. Philadelphia is dealing with excessive storm water runoff by encouraging rain gardens, green roofs—large and small—and absorbent streets that allow water to soak through into the soil.

Given the threat posed by runaway climate change, one would expect ambitious national and international action to reduce greenhouse pollution. But cities are out in front, taking action to reduce their own climate impacts with or without federal support. From New York to Seattle, cities are adopting efficient building standards, taxing carbon, switching to energy-efficient street lighting, promoting local food, and financing building-scale conversion to solar energy.

Cities are responsible for a new surge in bicycling, not just on the crunchy West Coast, but in old industrial cities. In September, Bicycling Magazine named New York the number-one U.S. city for bicycling, noting its hundreds of miles of bike lanes, ambitious bike-share program, and long-term commitment to cycling. “One million more people will come to New York City by 2030, and there’s simply going to be no more room for cars,” Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, told Bicycling.

Chicago, named number two, is set to meet its goal of creating 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015, and it will soon have the nation’s largest bike-share program.

These developments are in part thanks to enlightened city officials, including those looking for low-cost ways to attract young, entrepreneurial residents.

But cities are getting more bike-friendly in large part because of persistent pressure by activists. For more than 20 years, Critical Mass bike rides have taken over streets in more than 300 cities around the world, with large groups riding together and claiming the right to a safe ride.

Chicago will have built 100 miles of protected bike lanes by next year, and the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 calls for a 645-mile network of bikeways, up from the current 215 miles, to be in place by 2020. The goal is to make sure every city resident is within a half-mile of a bike path. Photo by John Greenfield.

A citizens’ group in Minneapolis made the point about bike safety by building pop-up bicycle-only lanes, using DIY plywood planters to separate the bike riders from automobile traffic. Bicycle advocates in Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Calif., Fargo, N.D., and Lawrence, Kans., followed suit.

These urban climate solutions are not only homegrown. Increasingly, cities are sharing their best climate innovations. In September, the mayors of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Houston announced the Mayors National Climate Change Action Agenda. The initiative will be built on other urban collaborations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Responsive to the poor and excluded

Cities are leading in other realms, too, where the federal government has failed to act.

Immigration reform is stalled at the national level. But Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and New York City are issuing identification cards to undocumented residents, allowing them to open bank accounts, sign leases, and access city services.

On issues of poverty and inequality, cities have a mixed track record. Some neglect poor and minority neighborhoods or steer polluting projects and noisy highways to those areas. Others promote policies that displace the most vulnerable residents, making desirable land available to the wealthy and well-connected. Some cities have even criminalized homelessness.

But in many cities, strong people’s movements are electing leaders with a greater connection to the poor and middle class.

The top 1 percent of New Yorkers took in 32.3 percent of the city’s total personal income; the bottom 50 percent shared just 9.9 percent.

New York City, one of the most unequal cities in the country, is a case in point. The top 1 percent of New Yorkers took in 32.3 percent of the city’s total personal income in 2009, according to the city’s comptroller. The bottom 50 percent shared just 9.9 percent.

But organizations like the Working Families Party have spent years building a grassroots power base, and their work paid off when they helped elect Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2013. Today, de Blasio is working to boost the minimum wage and is requiring developers to offer affordable housing. And thousands of new prekindergarten slots opened up this fall, with the goal of universal access to free pre-K.

Richmond, Calif., and Newark, N.J., also have progressive mayors elected in cities with strong popular movements. Both were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis and the predatory lending that especially targets poor people and people of color. And both cities are now exploring using eminent domain to reduce home mortgages to current market value and restructure loans so that current homeowners can retain ownership.

Seattle is leading the nation by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, following a successful grassroots initiative in the nearby city of Sea-Tac, and an insurgent city council race that focused on a higher minimum wage. Popular movements across the country are pressing for better pay and human rights for the working poor.

Why cities?

What is it about cities that enables them to move forward while the nation as a whole is stalled?

Benjamin Barber, political scientist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World, thinks a lot about what makes urban leaders effective problem solvers.

City leaders can’t afford to be ideologues, Barber said in an interview with YES! Magazine. “Their job is to pick up the garbage, to keep the hospitals open, to assure fire and safety services and that police and teachers do their jobs.”

This pragmatism requires civility. “Mayors simply can’t afford to trade in bigotry,” he said. “A businessman like [former New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg has to deal with the unions, and a progressive like de Blasio has to deal with business and developers.”

“Cities are points of intersection, communication, sharing, and travel. Cities have always contained multitudes.”

Perhaps this focus on getting work done explains why nearly two-thirds of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center have a favorable view of their local government, at a time when just 28 percent approve of the federal government.

Along with pragmatism, cities have the advantage of multiculturalism and the innovative spark that goes with it, Barber says. “Cities are points of intersection, communication, sharing, and travel,” he said. “And cities have always—to paraphrase Whitman—contained multitudes.”

Nations, on the other hand, are a more recent idea, more oriented around independence than interdependence, and more competitive. “The last 400 years of nation-states ruling the world has gone very badly, with war, genocide, rivalry, and very little social justice as a consequence,” Barber said.

Cities are solving problems while nation-states are failing, Barber said. So it’s time to put cities in charge. Of the whole world.

Barber laid out a plan for a global parliament of mayors in his recent book, and now he’s working with city officials on bringing the idea to reality.

Should cities rule the world?

Mention global governance, and some people imagine black helicopters. But Barber insists he is not proposing a top-down system. Instead he sees mayors and other city leaders reaching consensus on solutions and then bringing the policy ideas home. The result, he said, would be a sort of horizontal, pragmatic, noncoercive form of global governance.

Cities could agree on a universal minimum wage, for example. Such a move would remove incentives for companies to relocate to low-wage regions. Metropolitan regions are where most economic activity is happening, Barber said. So if enough cities agreed on a minimum wage, companies would just have to pay it, thus helping to alleviate poverty and inequality.

If Detroit were redefined to include the well-off suburbs, it would be the fourth most prosperous U.S. metropolitan region.

A first step in making this vision a reality is to incorporate the suburbs and central cities into metropolitan regions. Such a move would make sense for cities whether or not they rule the world. If Detroit, for example, were redefined to include the well-off suburbs, instead of being bankrupt, it would be the fourth most prosperous metropolitan region of the United States, Barber said.

From that foundation, cities could lead even in arenas like immigration that are not normally part of urban decision-making. If more cities begin issuing their own immigration documents, “you’re going to have a fast track to citizenship inside cities, since 85 or 90 percent of undocumented workers are in cities,” Barber said.

A global parliament of cities “is a means to regulate the global economy, address climate change, deal with immigration and global trade,” he said.

It’s a bold idea that is capturing the imagination of an international group of urban leaders. On Sept. 19, mayors, city planners, and others met in Amsterdam. If all goes as hoped, Barber said, 600 mayors could join him in London in September 2015 to launch a pilot parliament.

Not everyone thinks cities are up to the challenge. Following the Amsterdam meeting, Reinier de Graaf, a Dutch architect and city planner, wrote in European Magazine, “The current vitality of cities is largely based on the luxury that more heavy duty political responsibilities are kept at bay.”

But British journalist Misha Glenny found the proposal intriguing. In a column for the BBC he wrote: “This group of can-do politicians may end up rewriting constitutions across the globe … by doing what they always have—getting on with the job.”

The idea is worth exploring when so much else isn’t working, Barber said.

“In a time of pessimism about democracy, pessimism about government, a sense of too many problems, I believe the cities movement is a powerful note of hope and optimism,” he told YES!

“Moving the focus from states to cities is a new brief for democracy,” he said. “It’s a new brief for hope. And a new sense that maybe we can, after all, control some of the forces that seem to be pushing us toward an unsustainable, unjust world, so we can move instead in the direction of the more sustainable and more just world.”

Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is co-founder and editor in chief of YES! Magazine.

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