Friday, December 18, 2009

REDD Controversial Among Indigenous Groups

Hailed by some as the one solid triumph likely to come out of Copenhagen, REDD, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plan, is garnering the ire of indigenous activist groups and environmentalists.

According to an article in Investigate West, opponents are calling REDD "a new form of colonialism," in which large corporations from developed countries could buy and sell indigenous lands as commodities, getting richer off of far-away lands "preserved" in exchange for unmitigated carbon emissions at home. There is no provision to ensure forests are maintained in their natural state, giving companies carbon offset credits for planting anything -- even a monoculture tree plantation in place of a mature, thriving ecosystem.

In Uruguay, for example, activists complained of a Pacific Northwest timber company that planted acres of pine and eucalyptus in an indigenous plains area. The natural ecosystem was not suited for forest, and indigenous people who were no longer able to survive in their native landscape were forced to move to towns and cities.

Activists are hoping their concerns about REDD and cap and trade will be heard and addressed. In the meantime, negotiations appear to be moving forward, and the agreement has generally been met with optimism.

Click here for a REDD cost and emissions reduction analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Click here for Brazil's answer to REDD: adding a provision so developed countries can only offset a small portion of their emissions through the program.

Click here for a Science Daily article that explores both sides of the REDD issue.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Victory for Low-Power FM Radio

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Local Community Radio Act (S. 592), which was sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell and John McCain. Its next hurdle will be facing the Senate. If it passes the Senate, the bill would allow for the creation of hundreds of new, low power FM radio stations dedicate to broadcasting community news and local perspectives to neighborhoods throughout the country. A full-Senate vote has yet to be scheduled, but it would represent the final step for the expansion of low power FM radio to become law. The passing of the bill in the House is a significant victory by media activists groups who have worked hard over the last few years to reach this point.

But, we’re not there yet. If you want to tell your senators to act now and support local radio, click here to sign the petition.

Of course, low-power FM radio isn’t the only battle the media reform movement is facing. Those in the movement are working particularly hard to ensure continued network neutrality. If you’re interested in learning more about network neutrality, specifically, in finding out where your House member stands on the issue, check out this new online tool, which allows you to map lawmakers’ views by state via a database searchable zip code.

As a reminder, network neutrality’s aim is to “preserve an Internet in which service providers cannot offer varying levels of quality depending on such variables as whether a content provider pays to be placed in a higher service tier.” There’s nothing more crucial to ensuring the continued access of information in the 21st century than this issue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Forests Get Attention at Copenhagen

With only two more days left in the COP15 schedule, participants, protesters and observers from all over the globe are worried that nothing substantive will be decided. Yvo De Boer arrived at the talks yesterday with a life-preserver in tow, sending a stark signal to those who still may not get it: we are in a state of emergency, and something has to change.

One piece of good news and possible consensus is the agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.) Under this program, countries would be compensated for preserving natural landscapes that, if not preserved, would result in even more emissions. Rainforest destruction is now estimated to account for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and peat bogs also act as large carbon sinks. The idea is that poor countries would be paid for preserving these carbon-holding landscapes, and more developed countries could gain carbon credits. (For example, a factory in the U.S. could earn the right to more emissions by investing in land preservation programs overseas.)

Some issues have yet to be resolved, like agreement on what exactly constitutes a "forest," and what exactly defines the land rights of indigenous people. Concern has also been voiced that oceans, which store vast amounts of carbon and are approaching dangerous levels of acidification, are exempt from the plan. But for now, REDD seems like a likely triumph in an otherwise inconclusive meeting.

The Environmental Grantmakers Association held a conference call today, live from Copenhagen. On the call, there was consensus that REDD is one of the quickest, easiest, and least expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If passed as expected, REDD would mark a step forward from Kyoto, (which the United States under the Bush administration infamously refused to sign.) The focus under Kyoto was emissions reduction, with no compensation given for preserving landscapes that naturally store carbon.

Shaun Paul, Executive Director of the EcoLogic Development Fund, participated in the call. Paul said because of governmental resistance to broad environmental legislation, now is the time to prove, through pilot projects, that sustainability works. Paul emphasized that small grants and philanthropy are particularly important and influential now, and through the projects they make possible could be the last push governments need to feel secure in signing climate legislation.

Sarah Christiansen of the Solidago Foundation, another participant on the call, said one positive outcome of Copenhagen has been the tremendous outpouring of grassroots support. Christiansen said that despite media attention to violent protest, overall protesters have been peaceful, and grassroots activists from all economic and cultural backgrounds have bonded over a common cause.

Rachel Leon of EGA called COP15 an "unprecedented event."

If nothing concrete aside from REDD comes out of Copenhagen, at least we can say that voices were heard, frustrations released and connections made for future work. The problem is, our window of future opportunity grows smaller by the minute.

Department of State Creates a New Website for Human Rights

In an important step for domestic human rights yesterday the Department of State created a new website in connection with its participation in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process. This process involves a review of the human rights records of each of the 192 UN Member States once every four years. The United States own human rights record will be reviewed in December of next year based on a report that the government will submit, as well as input from various civil society organizations.

To check out the website created, click here. An important feature of the new website will be a standard “inbox” in which ideas, comments and analysis from civil society on issues relating to human rights can be sent. They are also committed to an outreach process to engage with organizations, including not-profits, citizens groups and grassroots organizations.

The Department of State hopes that “this website will facilitate communication between civil society and the United States government before, during, and after the preparation of the U.S. report to the UN Human Rights Council.”

The creation of this website shows signs of a real dedication around the issues of human rights both here at home in the United States and abroad. It also is promising that they are engaging the communities that are involved in this issue and inviting them to be a part of the process. Let’s hope that it remains as transparent a process as possible, and that it is only the first of many steps in creating a framework of a domestic human rights agenda.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Urban Agenda presents the Green-Collar Jobs Roadmap

Urban Agenda and the Center for American Progress presented their New York City Green Collar Jobs Roadmap this morning at Philanthropy New York, facilitating a discussion between grantmakers, educators, and representatives from community groups and NGOs.

The Roadmap is the product of the Green-Collar Jobs Roundtable, an advisory board of over 170 organizations, including labor unions, job training programs and businesses. Led by Urban Agenda, the Roundtable compiled data on the current status of green jobs in New York City, and used that data to develop over 30 recommendations for an efficient path into a greener economy. Joanne Derwin, co-founder and executive director of Urban Agenda, explained that a main goal of the Roundtable, and the resulting Roadmap, is to implement real change without just adding another study to a shelf.

J. Mijin Cha, Director of Campaign Research, led the meeting with Derwin and emphasized an important new distinction in the green jobs discussion: green jobs are no longer just jobs that have something to do with environmental sustainability. From now on, green jobs must also be good jobs -- with standards such as benefits, occupational safety and health, opportunity for training and growth, and the inclusion of marginalized communities held as imperatives for the green collar economy to succeed. According to the Roundtable, from now on environmental sustainability includes human sustainability.

So where does the Roadmap go from here? One important step is to make sure Plan 2030, New York City's plan to reduce emissions 30 percent by 2030, uses green job creation as a marker of success. Another step is to include environmental education into the New York City public school systems. A final and essential goal is to shift the thinking of labor unions, businesses and the workforce in such a way that green-collar jobs and sustainability are viewed as essential components of economic development, and necessary steps to pulling the city out of recession.

Click here for an article on the environment/economy link in Social Europe Journal.

Click here for the full New York City Green Collar Jobs Roadmap.

Houston Elects Gay Mayor

Over the weekend, Houston, TX became the largest city to elect an openly gay mayor as city controller. Annise Parker, an open lesbian, claimed a solid victory over her rival; Parker had 53 per cent of the vote and her opponent Gene Locke (who is also a Democrat) had 47 per cent. Hardly surprising, throughout her campaign she enjoyed the support of gay and lesbian political organizations nationwide. Parker has worked in Houston as a city administrator for the past 1 years, both on the city council and as city controller. Parker will take office in January 2010; she will replace Bill White who could not run because of term limits.

This is not just a victory for gay rights, but also for women's rights as well. Her election also made her the second woman to become mayor of Houston. It will interesting to see what affect her election will have on the issue of gay rights in the state. A few years ago, Houston rejected a referendum to offer benefits to same-sex partners of city workers. Also, in the state of Texas, gay marriage is against the law.

Smaller cities in the United States, such as Portland, Oregon, Providence, Rhode Island, and Cambridge Massachusetts also have openly gay mayors.

Congratulations to Parker for becoming the first openly gay woman to be mayor of a major American city!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Jersey and DC on Gay Marriage

We followed the civil marriage debate in last week’s New York State Senate pretty closely. And obviously we were disappointed by the outcome. However, there may be a chance for New Jersey to take an important step forward on this issue later this week. A bill that would allow same-sex marriages in the state appears to be headed to its state Senate for a vote on Thursday after it was released by a committee on Monday morning. It was narrowly approved (7-6) after over eight hours of debate and testimony.

The bill includes an amendment to clarify that religious organizations would not be forced to sanction or participate in a marriage that they “disagreed with.”

It’s unclear whether or not this bill will pass in the Senate tomorrow. It has serious opponents that are organizing to block the measure. For example, The New Jersey Catholic Conference recently delivered more than 150,000 signatures asking legislators to enforce civil union law instead of approving a same-sex marriage bill.

It would be great if New Jersey passes the bill tomorrow, especially after the two significant setbacks of New York last week and Maine earlier this fall. If it does in fact pass, it would join five other states that allow gay couples to wed. Advocates hope to pass the bill in the legislature so Governor Jon Corzine (who supports the bill) can sign it into law before he leaves office next month. The timing is crucial because Republic Chris Christie, who defeated Corzine and will take over as Governor said that he would veto any gay marriage legislation.

There is also some other good news to report out of Washington D.C. Its city council voted 11-2 earlier this month to approve the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009. The United States Congress will have 30 days to take action on the act. Congress can choose to either vote on the bill, or they can choose to let it go into law as it is. If they decide not to act then same sex couples would be allowed to marry in Washington D.C.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New York Senate Rejects Same-Sex Marriage

For some time here in New York, gay rights advocates and their supporters have been pushing lawmakers to take up the gay marriage question. While our state already recognizes same-sex marriages that have been performed in other states, it does not currently allow same-sex marriage at home. So it was an extremely disappointing decision yesterday when the New York State Senate rejected the Marriage Equality Bill (S4401) by a vote of 38 to 24. Although New York Governor David Paterson supported the bill, and the state Assembly had already passed it, it clearly didn’t have enough support to pass the marriage law. Not surprisingly, not one Republic voted “Yes” for the bill, and several democrats voted against it. For a full list of how the Senate voted, click here.

Same sex couples can legally marry in five states, four of them in the northeast. Now that New York has unfortunately missed this opportunity, we’ll be keeping our eye on New Jersey, where the legislature is expected to vote on gay marriage in the next month or so. Yesterday, over two hundred New Jersey democrats, including lawmakers, lobbyists and activists, issued a letter calling for the gay marriage vote. It’ll be close; a recent poll showed that voters there support legalizing same-sex marriage by a mere four point margin. Unfortunately newly-elected Republic Governor Chris Christie said he would veto any such bill.

It’s obviously disheartening that our state missed this opportunity to take a stand for equality and put an end to gender discrimination. It’s tough to deal with set backs like yesterdays, and like the ones recently in California and Maine, but those working in the equality movement will continue to persevere. The fight is just beginning.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Copenhagen Predictions

Predicting the outcome of next week's UN climate summit at Copenhagen is almost as difficult as predicting global warming trends decades down the line. Things are looking up, though, as more world leaders than originally expected are committing to attend the conference. Ninety-eight of 192 UN member nations will send representatives to the conference, up from an expected 65 only one month ago.

The Independent published a "Copenhagen summit at a glance" today, listing the main goals and topics of discussion. A few highlights include:

1) The Copenhagen agreement, a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol ending on the last day of 2012, will attempt to hold global temperatures at 2 degrees Celcius above the pre-industrial level. Developed countries will be urged to cut their emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

2) It is expected that developing countries will not be held to such a strict standard, but will be required to show they are moving away from "business as usual" and are taking measures to grow their economies responsibly.

3) The new agreement is also expected to include provisions to halt deforestation.

It remains to be seen if these and a host of additional recommendations will be accepted by the global community. Scientists warn that meaningful policy changes to hold temperatures at or below the 2 degree rise are imperative, and any agreement resulting in less will be disastrous to human society. At the same time, constituents who have the power to influence policy have thus far been apathetic.

Perhaps because global warming progresses slowly and is not immediately apparent, people fail to see it as an imminent and prominent threat. But this lack of appreciation seems to be changing, if slowly. We don't know what the political outcome of Copenhagen will be, but if nothing else it is bringing renewed prominence to the issue.

Click to see a new art exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, showcasing thirty international artists' responses to global climate change.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fighting Homophobia One Country at a Time

Stephen Lewis is a former Canadian legislator, former Ambassador to the United Nations, former UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa and a life long activist for social justice. Unlike most current and former politicos, Stephen is genuinely passionate about injustice. On Tuesday, he spoke before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting made up of the leaders from the 53 Commonwealth nations about the developing travesty of government sponsored homophobia in Uganda. (This was an important venue for this speech as 40 of its members still criminalize same-sex conduct.) His entire speech is devoted to railing against Uganda for the introduction of the Anti-Homosexual Bill - perhaps the most horrendous piece of legislation proposed in the modern era. It can--and should--be read in its entirety.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dreaming of a Green Thanksgiving

Holidays have long been a time of over-consumption -- of gifts we don't really want, food we don't really need, and the extra gasoline we pump to reach our destinations. But holidays can also be a time to relax, reflect, and reset for the year to come. And for those of us following the progress of the climate bill and the promises of world leaders preparing for Copenhagen, this year's season has a slightly greener focus.

Scores of online advice columns are looking at ways to "Green Thanksgiving," offering easy tips such as recycling, using cloth napkins and reusable left-over containers, and starting compost heaps for extra food scraps. One article from Slate gives advice on how to choose a turkey with the smallest carbon footprint. Another from gives revelers ideas on starting a new tradition of eco-friendly Thanksgiving, not just this year but in every year to come.

This new-ish mainstream greening of tradition comes not a moment too soon. One article from the Wonk Room warns, "Global Boiling Declares War on Thanksgiving." Treeehugger lists similar articles discussing this year's shortage of Libby's canned pumpkin, due to unseasonably torrential rains in Illinois that prevented the harvest of large portions of this year's pumpkin crop.

At the same time, researchers at the Mauna Loa government observatory measured atmospheric CO2 in concentrations of 385 ppm this fall, pointing to a steady increase of greenhouse gas accumulation in line with the 2001 IPCC report's worst-case-scenario climate model. At this rate, one researcher observed, CO2 concentrations will reach 450 ppm by 2040, spiking global temperatures by up to 6.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Dwindling grocery stocks of Libby's canned pumpkin are the least of the changes and hardship we will face. But this is still a time of family and gratitude, after all, and nothing kills the Thanksgiving mood like bringing up drought and famine. Perhaps the best course this season is to give thanks not only for what we have, but what we know -- and how we can use our knowledge to affect positive environmental change.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Women's Media Center on Saturday's Health Care Vote

One of the great things about The Women’s Media Center (a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making women visible and powerful in the media) is the unique content they produce on issues crucial to women’s health. This morning they sent around a great article by Peggy Simpson, titled “Health Care Reform: Pro-choice Forces Win the First Round in the Senate.”

In the piece, Simpson discusses the historical impact of Saturday’s vote, but, one of the real victories is for the feminist community. She writes, “[f]or the feminist community, as well as the anti-abortion lobby, the vote also meant that the Senate bill would not contain the House-passed Stupak amendment, which would vastly extend the 1976 Hyde amendment banning federal funds for abortion.” Simpson also discusses the challenges that lay ahead.

To read the piece in its entirety, click here.

Peggy Simpson worked 17 years for the Associated Press, in Texas and Washington, D.C.; covered economics and politics for the Hearst Newspapers, served as Washington bureau chief for Ms. Magazine and reported on Eastern Europe’s transition from communism to a Democratic market economy, as a freelancer during the 1990s. She has also taught at Indiana University, George Washington University and at the American Studies Center at Warsaw University. She currently is a freelancer writer in Washington.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Multiple Factors Imperil Oceans

A new study published in Nature finds the oceans' capacity to store CO2 is diminishing, even as global emissions show no sign of significant reduction. This news has grave implications for the earth's atmosphere, which has been sharing an anthropogenic carbon burden with the oceans since the Industrial Revolution.

The study's research team, led by Dr. Saman Khatiwala of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Georgia Institute of Technology, found the oceans' rate of uptake for CO2 began slowing in the 1980s and decreased by 10 percent between 2000 and 2007. As the water becomes more acidic, it loses its capacity to act as a carbon sink, shutting the door to emissions that are left to the atmosphere.

In addition to atmospheric effects, an article in the Boston Phoenix connects ocean acidification to a frightening and burgeoning loss of ocean life. Brian Skerry, an underwater photojournalist profiled for the article, describes changes he's seen in ocean life throughout his long career. Areas once thick with life are now dead zones, depleted by overfishing, bottom trawling, acidification and rising water temperatures.

Using the near extinct bluefin tuna as an example, Skerry says, "These are animals that cavemen painted on their walls, that Plato wrote about, wondering about their travels through the Earth's oceans. Yet we're wiping them out."

Daniel Pauly's September New Republic article, Aquacalypse Now, warns, "eating a tuna roll in a sushi restaurant should be considered no more environmentally benign than driving a Hummer or harpooning a manatee. In the past 50 years, we have reduced the populations of large commercial fish, such as bluefin tuna, cod and other favorites, by a staggering 90 percent."

Accelerated commercial fishing methods are one reason for the depletion of ocean life. New methods include GPS fish finders, radar, sonar technology and automated trawlers. An ocean that once teemed with life simply cannot compete with the appetites of the walking world.

In addition to overfishing, acidification caused by CO2 leads to a decrease in the carbonate ions crucial to the development of mollusks, shellfish and coral reefs. Warming adds another challenge to the mix -- the melting Greenland ice sheet adds a freshwater layer to the Atlantic, preventing the overturning of nutrients that spur the growth of plankton.

Although the news is sobering, Daniel Pauly ends his story on an empowering note. There's no need to end fishing, or to expect an end to fish. What we must do, says Pauly, is demand our political representatives put a stop to the "fishing industrial complex." The Nature study gives us another option. Regulating emissions and supporting climate change legislation is one more way to restore our oceans.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Struggle for Civil Marriage for Same Sex Couples

As we await the New York Senate's action on the bill to provide civil marriage to same sex couples, we need to remind ourselves of the journey we've been on. The struggle to win rights and protections for same sex couples has been a rollercoaster of wins and losses, including on November 3rd the most recent defeat in Maine and the most recent victory in Washington (where voters upheld the Washington law passed earlier expanding legal protections for domestic partners to include all rights and protections held by married couples, with the exception of the word “marriage”). While there have been many setbacks along the way, the trajectory is strongly positive. In 2000, for example, no state extended the freedom to marry to same sex couples and only two – with 0.6% of the U.S. population – offered any recognition of same sex couples. Today, five states have marriage equality and another ten offer other forms of relationship recognition. These 15 states contain 37% of the U.S. population. The Civil Marriage Collaborative has supported state-based organizations fighting for same-sex marriage rights in every state where advances have been won. If we’ve learned anything along the way it’s that there is no quick and easy way to winning equality. Instead, it is perseverance – particularly when the going is the hardest – that pays huge dividends.

Journalist Detained in Iran

Yesterday, New America Media announced that correspondent Shane Bauer is among the three Americans who have been detained in Iran since July 31, when they were held on the Iran-Iraq border while hiking in Kurdistan.

According to his website, Shane Bauer is a freelance journalist and photographer based in the Middle East. A fluent speaker of Arabic, his work has largely focused on the Middle East and North Africa, where he has spent much of the past six years. He is a Middle East correspondent for New America Media and his work has been published in the US, UK, Middle East, and Canada including outlets such as the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, Le Monde Diplomatique (German edition),,, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Democracy Now!, E: The Environmental Magazine, and Black Entertainment Television.

Sandy Close the Executive Editor and Director of New America Media/Pacific News Service, issued the following statement yesterday in response to reports from Tehran that Bauer, his girlfriend Sarah Shourd and their close friend Josh Fattal are accused of espionage.“

We are deeply concerned that the Iranian authorities appear to be accusing Shane and his friends of espionage, an allegation that is both disturbing and absurd. We appeal to the Iranian authorities to treat this case for what it is and show compassion and leniency. The simple fact is that three friends went hiking and may have strayed across the Iranian border by mistake. Shane Bauer is a gifted writer and photographer whose regular freelance reporting for NAM from the Middle East has shed much-needed light on events in the Arab world. He had offered to report for us on the elections in Iraqi Kurdistan during his trip to the region, on what was first and foremost a vacation with friends. Our thoughts are with Shane’s family at this difficult time and with the families of Sarah and Josh. We continue to hope that they will be released soon.”

If you would like to show your support for Shane, Josh, and Sarah please join visit

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Plastic and Other Garbage Accumulates in Oceans

A story in today's New York Times warns that scientists estimate five or more vast swaths of trash exist in oceans worldwide. Plastic and other human detritus are pervasive throughout the oceans, but gyres, whirl-pooled areas of swirling water currents, bring the trash together in large, floating bunches. The best known of these toxic gyres is the Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated at twice the size of Texas and floating about 1,000 miles off the coast of California.

Old fishing nets, bottle caps, light bulbs and other garbage fill in the patch, but the plastics that make up the majority of ocean trash are particularly damaging. Plastics take an estimated 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. When exposed to sun and water in the ocean, they appear to decompose at a much faster rate, but actually just break down into tiny "nurdles" and microscopic particles that fish ingest.

Even more troubling are the toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCBs that plastic readily absorbs. When plankton and small fish swallow tiny plastic bits, they ingest the attached chemicals. Smaller marine animals are in turn eaten by larger ones, and the toxic chemicals pile on up the food chain in a process called bioaccumulation. Journalist Marla Cone's 2006 book Silent Snow describes this process in disturbing detail, as it relates to indigenous people living in the Arctic who subsist on high-food-chain animals such as seal. As the "kings" of the food chain we've become, human beings are at risk of absorbing high levels of toxins accumulated by animals living in polluted environments.

Author Alan Weisman's chapter on nurdles in his 2007 book The World Without Us offers a detailed view of the lifespan of plastic.

The positive side of this sobering news is that awareness breeds action. With the Obama administration taking steps to regulate our treatment of the oceans (see yesterday's post), scientists have a better chance of finding an audience for their discoveries and warnings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Obama Administration Looks to the Oceans

A White House task force is recommending a new National Ocean Council, which for the first time will attempt to develop national policy surrounding the United States' use and treatment of oceans, coastlines and lakes. As industry demand for ocean space grows, the new Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force is working to consolidate the 140 laws and 20 federal agencies currently presiding over the nation's use and treatment of our waterways.

Although climate change is perhaps the most prominent environmental issue in the news these days, the state of the oceans takes a close second. Algal blooms caused by fertilizers and other pollutants are killing marine life at alarming rates, as are excessive levels of acidifying CO2. About 22 million tons of CO2 are absorbed by the oceans every day. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas, swirls 1,000 miles off the coast of California. And every eight months, oil in amounts rivaling the Exxon Valdez spill collectively seeps into oceans from runoff on driveways and roads.

Is this a tragedy of the commons, or an opportunity for positive change? Luckily, the Obama Administration is tackling the problem as opportunity, calling for new ideas and regulation related to marine spatial planning. Demand for ocean and coastal space is growing faster than ever. Along with traditional uses such as commercial fishing and shipping, oceans are now being tapped for oil reserves, deepwater wind farms, wave and tidal power. At the same time, commercial interests require oversight to ensure protection of marine life and water quality.

Click here for a detailed read of the White House task force plan.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Al Gore's "Our Choice"

Al Gore spoke last night before a packed audience at The American Museum of Natural History, continuing the public awareness crusade he began with 2006's An Inconvenient Truth. While his first book (also an Oscar-winning documentary) focused on the problems of climate change, Gore's new book focuses on the tools we have to mitigate and reverse it.

Pacing the stage without notes, Gore spoke calmly and candidly about the state of the global environment and his views on what can be done to secure a cleaner, healthier future for all. "We have all of the tools and all of the solutions for three or four climate crises, and we only have to solve one," Gore said.

At its base, Our Choice is a detailed, step-by-step analysis of alternative energy methods we can use to shrink our dependence on greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels. Early chapters break down solar, wind, and geothermal alternatives. Gore also details nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration options, which remain highly controversial.

If he had stopped there, Gore's Our Choice would have served as a detailed textbook for environmental studies classes nationwide. But he ventures beyond dry explanations with chapters echoing his 2007 The Assault on Reason, with titles such as "Changing the Way We Think," and "Political Obstacles." At the Museum, Gore spent a significant portion of his presentation talking not about climate change, but about the amount of television the average American watches each day, and the neurobiological explanations for society's sluggish reactions to alarming news about global warming.

At the beginning of the summer, I blogged about a talk between the New York Times' environment reporter Andrew Revkin and Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. When asked his opinion on the single most influential step individuals can take to mitigate climate change, Pachauri, without skipping a beat, implored the audience to stop eating so much meat. Al Gore, when asked the same question by an audience member at the Museum, had a different answer. Change our laws and policies, Gore said, which we are in a uniquely privileged position to do as citizens of the United States.

Gore remained positive throughout his talk, and despite spiking levels of CO2 and dire predictions of a dreary outcome at Copenhagen, he has hope that continued education and outreach coupled with innovation will solve the climate crisis. We simply cannot, in Gore's words, "give the back of our hand" to our children and future generations. According to Gore, future generations will have one of two questions to ask, looking back at the critical choices we are currently making. They will ask either 1) "What were you thinking?" or 2) "How did you find the moral courage to solve this problem when so many said it was unsolvable?" As in An Inconvenient Truth, Our Choice frames society's response to climate change as a moral issue.

Gore exited the Museum's stage to a standing ovation. Look at for the latest developments in climate change policy and suggestions on what you can do in your community to instigate change.

Maine Voters Reject Same Sex Marriage

Well, the New York Times called it a "stinging setback for the national gay-rights movement" and they are certainly right.

Yesterday Maine voters narrowly decided to repeal the state’s new law allowing same-sex marriage. Although early returns from the polls showed an extremely close contest, this morning, with 87 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 53 percent of voters had approved the repeal (Question #1 on the ballot), ending what has certainly been an exhaustive and emotional referendum on the national gay-marriage movement. Polls leading up to yesterday's vote had suggested a much closer race.

With this apparent repeal of the same-sex marriage law, Maine will become the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Although five other states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont) do have legalized same-sex marriage in their states, in each of these cases, the same-sex marriage laws came through court rulings and legislative action, not through ballot initiatives voted on by citizens.

Sadly, also in New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who, as we blogged about yesterday, supports gay marriage, lost to Republican Christopher Christie, who strongly opposes it.

While what happened in Maine yesterday is certainly disappointing news, I have no doubt that the gay rights movement will continue to persevere. One of the silver linings from yesterday’s disappointing outcome in Maine is that voter turnout was above average for the state, which typically tends to favor gay marriage. So let us remember that this is not the end of the fight to support same sex couples, it is only the beginning. We are sure that those fighting for gay rights will continue to be energized in this fight.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gay Marriage on Election Day

It’s an election day and there are several important issues on the ballots in states across the country, particularly when it comes to gay marriage. Today the state of Maine will vote on gay marriage, and if it wins (e.g. if Question #1 on the state’s ballot is rejected), it would be the first time that voters in the Untied States would approve same-sexy marriage. Public opinion surveys in Maine show a virtual dead head on the Question 1, which would cancel the marriage statute that passed the legislature in may and was signed by Gov. John E. Baldacci (D).

In Washington state, Referendum 71 is asking voters to approve or reject a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor this past spring that would extend to same-sex couples scores of rights currently reserved for married spouses, including ensuring extended work leave for people with critically ill partners and preserving pension benefits for the surviving partner in the event of the other’s death. This week, the Washington Poll, released through the University of Washington, found even stronger support for this law, essentially an “everything but marriage” law, with a 56-39 lead, with 5 percent still undecided.

There are also important races as several states elect governors today. A bit closer to home, in New Jersey, voters will elect a governor, and the Human Rights Campaign has officially endorsed Governor Jon Corzine for reelection based on his strong support for LGBT equality, including his repeated pledges to sign a marriage equality bill that could still be passed by legislators later this year. Likewise Virginia voters will choose a new governor and have a chance to send more fair-minded lawmakers to the state’s House of Delegates in Richmond. Building on Human Rights Campaign’s work in 2007 helping to elect a more fair-minded state senate majority, the organization has endorsed Creigh Deeds for governor.

We will be keeping an eye out on these races, particularly in Maine and in Washington. If you haven’t done so already, make sure to get out and vote in your state today.

Monday, November 2, 2009

President Obama Ends US HIV Travel Ban

It was a historic moment last week when President Obama announced the end of the discriminatory US HIV Travel Ban.

So what does that mean exactly? Well starting in 2010, people living with HIV will no longer be barred from entering the United States, and they will no longer turned away at borders, no longer forced to hide their condition and interrupt medical treatment.
Here’s a quote from President Obama:

“Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease — yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic — yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country. If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year.”

The Foundation would like to acknowledge the hard work of Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity and justice and promotes the rights to health for all. Physicians for Human Rights has been at the forefront of the movement to end the HIV travel ban. They have helped organize thousands of Americans who wrote moving comments to the Centers for Disease Control, urging them to end the ban.

Their efforts, along with those of everyday Americans who have taken steps to protect the health, dignity and human rights of people living with AIDS worldwide is not something to be understated. This decision is surely an uplift to human rights worldwide. It is, as Physicians for Human Rights wrote in a press release last week, “a monumental policy change.”

Friday, October 30, 2009

American E-Waste Piles Up

The United States has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to dealing with electronic waste. As reported yesterday in Scientific American, the US is one of the largest producers of e-waste in the world, yet we have no federal regulation in place to monitor toxic chemicals that go into our electronic products, and no federal regulation to monitor where they go when we're done with them.

As of today, 19 states have their own laws for e-waste, but these have little influence over large manufacturers. A patchwork of individually-tailored state laws as opposed to one comprehensive set of guidelines makes it difficult for large manufacturers to comply, and easy for them to turn a blind eye.

A team of researchers at the University of California found that obsolete electronics in US households add up to more than 1.36 million metric tons of potential e-waste. Most of our e-waste is sent out of our own backyards to Africa, China and India, where items are sold second-hand or broken down for their copper and iron components. But without regulation in the manufacturing stages, toxic chemicals from the used electronics leach into the environments where they end up after having been discarded by US consumers.

The Senate introduced a bill in July of 2009 that, if passed, will be the federal government's first step toward monitoring which chemicals are allowable in the manufacture of electronic devices, as well as the ways in which electronics can be legally recycled. But this initial bill focuses on research. Although it is a clear step forward, it is still leagues behind where we could and should be -- working not only on research, but on fully-formed manufacturing, recycling and disposal methods.

While we wait for the government to catch up, there are things we can do as individuals to promote responsible electronics recycling. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an Overbrook Foundation grantee, has been a staunch defender of electronics recycling laws in the city of New York. Search their site for current information on the state of e-waste in NYC. The Council on the Environment of New York City is another great resource, with two e-recycling events happening this weekend in New York.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wisconsin Passes Producer Responsibility Bill

There’s good news in the world of sustainable consumption and production! Last week Wisconsin’s Governor Jim Doyle signed into law a new producer responsibility bill for electronics. That makes Wisconsin state the twentieth with such a statewide e-waste law. This bill was sponsored by Senator Mark Miller (D-WI), who was one of the first state legislators to introduce such a bill in the US, nearly eight years ago.

This law that Governor Doyle passed is modeled on the Minnesota producer responsibility law, which calls on manufacturers of computers, TVs and printers to meet collection goals tied to what they are selling. It also includes a ban on use of prison labor and it includes a disposal ban.

This is a significant victory in a lot of ways. While only two states such passed laws this year (Indiana is the other), Wisconsin’s new law is actually a very strong one. According to Barbara Kyle, the National Coordinator at the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, “We’d rather pass fewer laws with teeth, than see states pass weak bills that don’t really mean much. This has collection goals tied to sales, for computer, TV and printer manufacturers. Adding printers into the mix is an important development for meaningful laws.”

This bill also continues a strong show of support for producer responsibility laws. Wisconsin is the fourth state in the Midwest (along with Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana) that have recently passed such laws, which goes a long way in showing that regional momentum definitely helps in getting bills passed.

Additionally, and not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s bill was opposed by manufacturers, who clearly lobbied against it (mostly via their industry associations). A strong coalition of recyclers, local governments, NGOs, schools, and some other businesses were able to overcome these lobbying efforts to get this bill passed. It shouldn’t be understated the amount of time and energy that goes into passing a bill over the objections of a regulated industry.

Let’s hope this momentum from the Midwest carries into other regions. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have effective producer responsibility laws in every state. For a full list of laws by state, be sure to check out this great resource.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jobs in Navajo Nation...At What Cost?

Native American communities are still feeling the deleterious effects of decades of uranium mining on their land, even though many mines have been closed since the 1980s. But outcry from Navajo communities over health risks and desecration of sacred lands apparently means nothing to energy companies that are lining up for permits. With the proposed Senate climate bill and upcoming talks in Copenhagen focusing on reducing CO2, many energy industry leaders are placing their bets on nuclear as the "clean and green" power of the future.

But the Navajo Nation knows first-hand that nuclear is far from safe. "This has multi-generational effects," said Early Tulley, Vice President of the Navajo group Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. "I won't even live long enough to see what it does to people in 500 years." Tulley's wife and daughter have both battled cancers they attribute to radiation contamination on their land.

Since Uranium mining began in the 1940s, The Navajo Nation has been ravaged by kidney disease and cancer, diseases that had previously occurred so rarely among Navajo that words to describe them did not even exist in their native language. Now the Navajo know what cancer is, and they have spent decades petitioning the government to acknowledge its link to uranium mining.

Mining companies counter the horror stories of rampant illness with assurances that today's methods and oversight of mines are much more stringent than they were in the past. In situ leaching, a uranium extraction method in which chemicals dumped into an aquifer leach out uranium, was recently described by an industry executive as perfectly environmentally safe. The water contaminated in the process is purified at the end of the process, but generations of Navajo who have seen their families suffer from poisoned environments will not accept industry assurances blindly.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar instituted a two-year moratorium on awarding new mining claims in New Mexico, but the issue is still up for debate. There is no doubt that opening new uranium mines will add jobs and rejuvenate the economy in the Navajo Nation, but at what cost?

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Victory for Net Neutrality

We’ve blogged often about the importance of network neutrality. Well there’s been an important and historic development. Yesterday, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Net Neutrality, which follows through on its earlier promises to preserve an open Internet.

Over 1.6 million people have supported Net Neutrality in the past few years and more than tens of thousands came out in the last week to stand behind the FCC. Yesterday’s vote was an extremely important step forward in securing an open Internet and it was a decisive victory for the public interest and civil rights organizations, small businesses, Internet innovators, political leaders and the public who will all be impacted by this decision.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn voted in favor of the rulemaking; Commissioners Meredith Attwell Baker and Robert McDowell gave partial support to the proposal.

The proposed rules would codify the four open Internet principles that now guide the FCC’s oversight and enforcement of communications law. The FCC also proposed rules that would codify two new principles prohibiting Internet service providers from discriminating against content or applications and ensuring that network management practices be transparent.

The FCC is seeking public comment on these proposals, with initial comments due by January 14, 2010 and reply comments due by March 5. Free Press will send an announcement out as soon as you can start filing official comments.

This victory is no doubt in part due to the hard working folks in the media reform movement. Congratulations to them all! Let’s hope this is the first in a series of victories for Network Neutrality.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Saturday -- Climate Action in Your Neighborhood!

Author Bill McKibben's web site is initiating a world-wide day of climate action this Saturday, October 24th, with events as widespread as a black-tie gala in Shanghai to a group hug in Yukon Territory, all in the name of protecting the environment.

"350" refers to the atmospheric CO2 level McKibben and others want world political and business leaders to focus on as a stabilization goal. The earth hasn't seen 350 parts per million since 1987, a huge leap from pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm, but not even close to the 400-550 ppm to which some scientists fear we are currently headed. Among scientists, 350-550 ppm is considered the range in which drastic and irreversible climate change will occur, such as massive sea level rise, changes to ecosystems, agriculture and animal migrations.

"Our job is to change the political reality," McKibben said, "because the physical and chemical reality is not going to change." has reaped the rewards of social networking sites, and since the idea for an International Day of Climate Action was posted, it has spread virally around the world. Saturday, over 4,000 events are planned in 170 countries, with 1500 in the United States alone.

Go to the site to search your zip code for events happening near you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nuclear Power Controversial as Ever

The United States is currently reviewing 18 new construction applications for nuclear power plants, and is considering doubling the allowable temporary above-ground storage limit for radioactive waste. This would raise the current 20 year limit to 40, with the idea that in 40 years researchers will have come up with a solution for permanent storage. But scientists and industry leaders are no closer to consensus than they were when the first nuclear power plants began operating in the '50s. Many remain skeptical about the proposed extra twenty years, wondering if they will bring us anything more than dangerous waste piled up in our backyards.

Power utilities are championing nuclear power as the new "green" fuel since its production does not produce any greenhouse gases. But many environmentalists, as well as citizens living near nuclear plants, argue the waste is too dangerous to be considered "clean," even if the actual power generated does not hurt the environment.

Quoted yesterday in Bloomberg News, Georgui Kastchiev, senior scientist for nuclear safety at the University of Vienna's Institute for Risk Research said, "New plants will continue to be built with no concern for where to put the spent fuel. A solution to the problem is constantly being moved to some point further in the future."

No one debates a viable solution for safe, long term nuclear waste storage remains elusive. Where industry leaders and anti-nuclear activists differ is their perception of the level of risk taken when nuclear waste is stored in above-ground casks. Although designed for 20 or more years of storage, casks are vulnerable to weather and terrorists attacks. Storing waste underground is equally controversial because of unpredictable seismic shifts that could release radioactive waste into soil and groundwater.

Even so, fifty new plants are currently being built worldwide. China is building 16 with 90 proposed, and the United States is reviewing 18 applications. Japan and India have also expressed interest in building nuclear power capacity in coming years.

One General Electric executive went as far as to call spent fuel an "opportunity," pointing to the unused energy in the waste.

Meanwhile, the long debated repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain has been abandoned, after $9 billion in utility company funds paid for investigating the safety of the site.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Media Analysis of the Status of Women

There’s a major media analysis of the status of women underway and it’s called, The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. The report is spearheaded by Maria Shriver, with powerhouse partners including the non-profit The Center for American Progress, The Rockefeller Foundation, NBC News and Time Magazine. The basis of the project is a nearly 500 page report and national poll on where we, as women, are today.

Progressive Women’s Voices alum Courtney Martin wrote a conclusion of the report, and The Women's Media Center (WMC) is singled out in the Media chapter as a place to look for answers: "We would do well to trumpet the analysis of The Women's Media Center..." WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem writes exclusively on the WMC website about the potential for good news and bad news in the multi-million dollar effort:

"You have to pay attention to understand that the immediate cause of workforce parity is not women's advancement but men's job loss: three out of four paychecks eliminated by the recession have been in construction, manufacturing and other fields that are better paid and therefore still overwhelmingly male."

You can read Gloria Steinem’s full essay "It's Not a Man's World or a Woman's Nation” online. You can also watch the CNN Headline News's Joy Behar Show discussing the report with Joy and Judith Regan. Check that out here. Women’s Media Center also placed our SheSource expert Heidi Hartmann of the Institute for Women's Policy Research in MSNBC's coverage of the report, which you can watch here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Money Talks for the Planet

Experts in the biological, ecological and social sciences concluded the DIVERSITAS conference in Cape Town today (see my 10/14 post), revealing some startling and positive preliminary research on the real costs and benefits of ecosystem services.

DIVERSITAS participants weighed the cost of environmental degradation against the cost of preserving coral reefs, forests, coastlines, grasslands, and more. While the upfront cost of preservation and clean-up is sometimes significant, in every single example the rate of return was found to be positive. Pavan Sukhdev of the United Nations Environment Programme and head of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project presented research on the economic worth of coral reefs worldwide, breaking down specific aspects of the cost benefits of a healthy reef. According to Sukhdev, the breakdown looks like this:
  • Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000);
  • Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000);
  • Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)
  • Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)
Combined, Sukhdev says global coral reef services have an annual value of about $172 billion.

Although his research appears to be great news, and just the "eureka!" moment industry leaders and policy makers need, Sukhdev says we are far from the path we need to be on to salvage coral reefs. Sukhdev says coral reefs are unlikely to survive in an atmosphere with CO2 levels above 350 parts per million, but the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found CO2 already at 379 ppm in 2005.

DIVERSITAS participants found similarly positive cost-benefit ratios when looking at deforestation. According to their research, cutting deforestation rates in half has a net value of about $3.7 trillion, not to mention an added benefit of absorbing 4.8 gigatonnes of carbon each year that would otherwise spew into the atmosphere.

Click here for a chart listing the various biomes studied and their respective costs and benefits.

At its conclusion, the 600-plus participants of the DIVERSITAS conference proposed an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which would work similarly to the IPCC.

"We call on governments and non-governmental organizations to join us in establishing IPBES as soon as possible," the concluding statement implored. "The fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Content from New America Media

There’s two great pieces of content recently thanks to New America Media, a nationwide association of over 700 ethnic media organizations representing the development of a more inclusive journalism (NAM), based in San Francisco, California. On Tuesday night, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer aired NAM editor Marcelo Ballve's report from Honduras on the political crisis there, including his exclusive interview with ousted President Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy.

This report is the first step in a partnership between NAM and the News Hour to integrate NAM’s editors and ethnic media partners into the News Hour's reporting grid -- to widen the News Hour lens and expand visibility for the ethnic media sector. We hope that it’s the first of many News Hour collaborations. Please take a look at Marcelo's report by clicking here Zelaya Forecasts Dim Prospects for Honduras Negotiations.

Additionally, Richard Rodriguez, who has been an editor at New American Media since 1988 recently wrote “Final Edition: Twilight of the American Newspaper” for the November edition of Harper’s Magazine. His piece details the plight of American newspapers over the last decades and surveys the current media system with respect to how digital technologies are affecting the industry. Also if you’re interested in reading another essay Rodriguez’ wrote for Harper’s Magazine, “The God of the Desert,” which appeared in the January 2008 issue, click here.

These two reports out of New American Media are thriving examples of how the ethnic media continue to play a thriving role in our changing media landscape.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cape Town Conference Warns Against Ignoring Global Biodiversity Loss

Scientists and policy makers are joining forces this week in Cape Town to address the growing problem of global biodiversity loss. DIVERSITAS, the international program hosting the Cape Town conference, will address questions on the future of biodiversity conservation. Now that we have the science to back up our observations, the DIVERSITAS panel will ask, what are we going to do about it as a global community?

Loss of animal and plant life has been on the scientific "radar" for years, but scientists' responses to the data are changing. Increasing numbers of scientists are joining with interdisciplinary teams in the hopes their research can be translated to tangible policy change, focusing on biodiversity loss as it relates to the world economy and the UN Millennium Development Goals to improve the lives of the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities.

Georgina Mace, Vice-Chair of the DIVERSITAS program, reflected this new melding of environmental protection with human rights. "Biodiversity is fundamental to humans having food, fuel, clean water and a habitable climate," she said.

Mace also acknowledged the intrinsic value of healthy ecosystems, saying "It is hard to imagine a more important priority than protecting the ecosystem services underpinned by biodiversity."

Use of the phrase "ecosystem services" reflects the growing point of view that biodiversity loss is equivalent to economic loss. It is difficult to quantify ecosystem services, but saving a place for the environment in the world economy could help lawmakers and industry leaders shift their views and actions toward the environment.

Two of the main topics to be addressed this week in Cape Town attempt to answer questions surrounding ecosystem services: how can we economically quantify the impacts humans have on the environment, and what are biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation worth? The program will also address possible economic incentives for the prevention of habitat destruction.

One of the clearer examples of ecosystem degradation as related to economic loss is the "major freshwater biodiversity crisis," according to Klement Tockner of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin. Tockner says healthy freshwater ecosystems aid in water purification, disease regulation, agriculture and more. Tockner has done research on carbon sequestration in freshwater ecosystems, finding that about seven percent of the carbon humans emit annually is now absorbed by aquatic systems and their species. The seven percent can be quantified and directly related to health.

Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of DIVERSITAS, reflected on the growing need to put a tangible value on biodiversity. "Ecosystem services are difficult to value, which has led to policy neglect and the irreversible loss of species vital to a well-functioning environment," she said.

Georgina Mace summed up the overriding feeling of the program in Cape Town, saying, "Meaningful action should have started years ago. The next best time is now."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

President Obama and LGBT Rights

In case you missed it, President Obama addressed the Human Rights Campaign (the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization) this past weekend in Washington D.C. and announced publicly for the first time that he has added gay rights initiatives to his “near-term” agenda. The issue of gay rights is an area where Obama has been criticized since taking office, by not coming out in strong support of many of the issues that face the LGBT community. He is however, only the second president (besides former President Bill Clinton) to address this community openly and directly.

Obama has a lot of work to do to support gay rights during his presidency. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Bill Clinton in 1996) remains a formidable obstacle to equal rights for gay couples. Obama highlighted his commitment to repeal the act and promised to afford all rights to two men and two women in committed relationships that married couples have now. Additionally, the military policy of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” has most certainly run out its course of usefulness and must be eradicated. Obama did promise to sign into law the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, among many other promises (which would repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”).

On one hand this feels like a historic moment, with a promise for a call to action for many of the key issues that are being discussed. President Obama is saying the right things. On the other hand, it’s taken Obama nearly a year to talk about these issues. Critics also say they are concerned with Obama’s unwillingness to present a timetable on many of these objectives. But speaking up for gay rights was and is the right thing for him to do, although in my opinion, he should have done it several months ago. But what bothered me most about Obama’s speech was that in his speech he said everything just shy of "I support gay marriage." Those four words, although small, would speak far beyond their terseness to the gay community and its supporters.

If President Obama can follow through on his promises, it will certainly go a long way toward building the presidency he hopes to pursue. If you want to watch President Obama’s entire speech, you can click here to view it. Following the speech, the Human Rights Campaign’s President, Joe Solmonese, released this statement acknowledging the historical importance of the speech.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

GFEM Funder Briefing

Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media is please to present a funder briefing call and toolkit release tomorrow from 12-1pm (EDT).

An unprecedented $7.2B in federal Broadband Stimulus funding is being distributed over the next 12 months for building out high-speed Internet access specifically to unserved and underserved communities. Beyond wiring these communities, there is government support for tele-health and economic development projects, online learning, technology training in schools and libraries, and much more.

Yesterday, the Benton Foundation released Philanthropy's Role in Creating a Connected America - a toolkit to help funders make the most of this historic opportunity. GFEM was pleased to have contributed to the production and distribution of this timely resource for the philanthropic community.

If you’re interested in discussing these issues further and part of the philanthropic community, please RSVP to join GFEM and our co-sponsors on Thursday, October 8th, for a lively discussion with colleagues featured in the toolkit and it's authors. We will hear how funders have gotten involved and how you can also: from convening informational sessions with grantees and providing funds for technical assistance, to actively coordinating and submitting regional proposals.

Presenters on tomorrow’s call will include:
- Laura Efurd, ZeroDivide
- Jill Nishi, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
- Cecilia Garcia, Benton Foundation

If you have any questions, please contact Jeff Perlstein, at, or to receive the call-in number.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Developing Nations Angry in Approach to Copenhagen

With only two short months before the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, alliances are forming and tempers are flaring. Guardian environment editor John Vidal reported yesterday that a group of 130 developing nations is accusing the United States of planning to dismantle the structure of the Kyoto Protocol, in a back-handed effort to dump the responsibility of cutting emissions on the developing world.

Yu Qingtai, China's special representative to the climate talks, blames the UN Annex 1 countries (developed nations) for the continued lack of progress in emissions reductions and climate change mitigation. Lumumba Di-Aping, Sudanese Chair of the developing country conglomerate G77, echoed China's sentiment. Di-Aping characterized the U.S. and European Union's hedging as a "total rejection of their historical responsibilities."

Developing nations have long expressed discontent with what they see as a lackluster plan from the developed world, but the recent uproar was most likely a reaction to the Obama administration's admission that the U.S. Senate will not vote on a national climate bill in time for the Dec. 7 launch of the Copenhagen convention. The U.S. has also suggested dismantling the basic structure of the Kyoto Protocol, in which global emissions goals are agreed upon and bound by specific targets and timelines. The U.S. has proposed, with tacit agreement from the E.U., that legally binding plans be pushed aside in favor of individual national promises that would not be held to specific standards.

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that developed nations need to cut their emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 in order to avoid a larger than 2 degree Celcius global temperature rise. But an analysis by the Alliance of Small Island States reports the United States' pledge thus far would only reduce emissions by 16-23 percent, a revelation especially troubling to eroding islands surrounded by rising ocean levels.

Environmental groups from all over the world will converge in Copenhagen at the beginning of December, and there is still hope that world leaders will come up with a meaningful plan of action. Unfortunately, the convention will first have to overcome an increasing rift between nations.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chamber of Commerce Losing Members

The United States Chamber of Commerce is losing members fast due to divisive views on climate change, an issue businesses have traditionally ignored.

In an inspiring turn of events, several businesses have dropped membership, citing discontent with the Chamber's stance against federal regulations that would curb carbon emissions. The Chamber does support incentives for clean energy, but still refuses to support any kind of legal requirement or regulation against spewing greenhouse gas.

As being green becomes a more and more prominent political issue, it is also an issue of fashion and public support. Consumers are starting to look at companies' political and environmental records before they buy. (See my post on GoodGuide.) Nike, for example, dropped off the Chamber's board issuing a statement that explicitly points to environmental policy as a key issue for the shoe and active wear company. Although Nike will remain a member in order to keep a pro-environment voice in the Chamber, the company resigned from the board as a statement that it supports climate change legislation. Like Nike, others that have left the Chamber say their views are no longer being correctly voiced, and they feel misrepresented.

The most recent drop-out is Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear plant operator. In a now widely distributed statement, Exelon chairman and chief executive John Rowe reflected a pragmatic point of view. "The carbon-based free lunch is over," Rowe said.

Many businesses see the writing on the wall and wish to be a part of crafting new legislation, as opposed to passively waiting for it to descend upon them. Others are actively fighting any kind of federal regulation, and are even going so far as to deny climate change is real. Grist posted a story last August about the Chamber's call for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on climate change, in which the EPA would be forced to defend the science behind climate change before it could regulate emissions.

It is astounding that climate change naysayers still exist, even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change works on its fifth assessment report, and world leaders from across the globe prepare to convene in Copenhagen to create a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Last weekend's Tavis Smiley Show from Public Radio International featured, among others, an interview with Congressman Marsha Blackburn about the proposed climate change bill in the Senate (Blackburn prefers to be called "congressman" as opposed to "congresswoman.") When Smiley asked Blackburn if she even believes climate change is real, she replied that the people of Tennessee see climate change in their own backyards, four times a year, winter, spring, summer and fall. Smiley was perhaps too polite to point out that what Blackburn was referring to is season change.

Despite the prominence of voices like Blackburn's, it does seem to be a waning prominence, and one undermined further by news of major businesses dropping out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to speak up for climate change legislation.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Google Earth Tackles Climate Change

Users of Google and Google Earth will soon be able to peer into the planet's future, using a variety of climate change scenarios through 2100. In anticipation of the United Nations Climate Change Convention in December, Google is partnering with the Danish government to launch a new component which will allow users to click on different emissions scenarios and time periods as they scroll around the globe.

The climate scenarios are gleaned from data in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Users can find the region of the world they live in and choose a decade they would like to look at, as well as the problem they're interested in (temperature and precipitation change are two choices ready now, but Google plans to add more in coming weeks such as water demand and species turnover.) In a video tour, Al Gore leads viewers through the new climate change options of Google Earth.

The effects of climate change are appearing in the news with alarming frequency. One hopeful result of the Google Earth tool is that people will be able to more immediately see climate change as a real and global problem that cannot be ignored. The option of scrolling through different results from varying emissions scenarios will also give difficult topics a visual component, and one that can be "played" with at home as opposed to a classroom or lecture hall. Another upcoming feature will be a regional "tracker," which will allow users to see what communities around the world are doing to mitigate changes and adapt to those beyond their control.

The news may be bad, but the tools and minds ready to deal with it are heartening! Check back in with Google Earth in the coming weeks to see how the new climate change tool progresses.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congratulations to Breakthrough

The Overbrook Foundation just wants to add a quick congratulations to Mallika Dutt. Dutt, the Executive Director of Breakthrough is being honored with the American Courage Award by the Asian American Justice Center, one of the nations leading civil rights organizations. This award goes out to an individual who has shown extraordinary courage or commitment to the cause of civil rights.

The award ceremony will take place on Thursday, October 1st at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., with Congressman John Lews (D-GA) providing opening remarks. Anita Botti, the Deputy Director of the President’s International Women’s Initiative InterAgency Task Force, will present Dutt with the American Courage Award on behalf of Ambassador-at-Large, Melanne Verveer.

If you’re in the DC area, you should join Breakthrough for the award ceremony. For more information, email June Jimenez or call 202/296-2300, x138.

13th Annual American Courage Awards
Thursday, October 1, 2009
6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
National Press Club 529
14th St. NW, 13th Floor
Washington, D.C.

Congratulations again to Dutt and the entire staff of Breakthrough. We couldn’t be more thrilled that you are being recognized for such innovating work that uses the power of popular culture, media, leadership and development to transform public attitudes and advance equality, justice, and dignity.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reporters Without Borders Releases Report on Mexico

In a follow up to my post on Friday, I thought I'd mention taht, Reporters Without Borders released the report today detailing its latest trip to Mexico. The release coincides with a Reporters Without Borders news conference in Washington at which the speakers will included Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a Mexican journalist who fled to the United States and is now waiting to be granted refugee status (watch a video about it here).

With a total of 55 deaths of journalists since 2000 that were clearly or probably linked to their work, and eight journalists missing, Mexico is the western hemisphere country where press freedom is most endangered. The creation of a Special Federal Attorney's Office for Combating Violence against the Media in February 2006 has unfortunately changed nothing and has not helped to combat impunity.

The purpose of this Reporters Without Borders visit was to examine the investigations into several recent murders and disappearances of journalists with the aim of gaining insight into the workings of the Mexican criminal justice system and what causes it to malfunction. It was led by secretary-general Jean-François Julliard. The delegation met with journalists, press freedom activists and government officials, including secretary of interior Fernando Francisco Gómez-Mont Urueta, the number two in the federal government.

The report's findings are unfortunately damning for the authorities, both local and federal. The passivity or negligence of the excessive number of entities dedicated to defending press freedom in all branches of the government (executive, legislative and judicial), and their tendency to cancel each other out, are not the only reasons why the Mexican media's ordeal continues.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another Mexican Journalist Murdered

If you’ve been following either the Foundation's blog, or stories coming out of Mexico, you’ll have heard about the unabated violence against journalists in Mexico. Well, two days ago, on September 23rd, the editor of Mexico’s online Radio Visión's website, Noberto Miranda Madrid was murdered in the northern state of Chihuahua. This brings the number of deaths of journalists in Mexico since 2000 to 55.

Madrid’s death comes as Reporters Without Borders is preparing to release a report of its latest fact-finding visit to Mexico that took place this past July. The report titled, "Behind the scenes of impunity in Mexico," rightly condemns the passivity of the authorities (and their apparent involvement in some cases). The report will be released during a news conference (to find out more about that conference, click here).

"The state of Chihuahua and its border city, Ciudad Juárez, are symbols of the uncontrollable violence resulting from the war between the drug cartels and the all-out military response from the federal authorities," Reporters Without Borders said. "Norberto Miranda clearly paid with his life for not conforming to the prevailing self-censorship in his coverage of this reality. The Juárez cartel was probably behind his murder."

According to local police sources, Miranda was murdered by three hooded men who forced their way into the Radio Visión office in Nuevo Casas Grandes, about 200 km from Ciudad Juárez, asked for Miranda and shot him in cold blood after he identified himself. Miranda’s murder came two days after freelance photographer Jaime Oma Gandara San Martin was stabbed to death in the state of Chihuahua.

Aged 44, Madrid wrote op-ed pieces under the pen-name of El Gallito (Little Rooster). His last column on September 22nd, (which can be read here) referred to the deaths of 25 people in Nuevo Casas Grandes since the start of the month in reprisals blamed on the Juárez Cartel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Women from Across the Globe Lead Panel on Climate Change

This morning I attended a panel discussion sponsored by The Women's Media Center and the TckTckTck campaign, held in honor of Climate Week and the fast approaching UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Women's Media Center President Carol Jenkins hosted the panel, entitled "Global Women Taking Action on Climate Change," and introduced a group of eight women who were forced to take action in their local communities when natural disaster hit.

For those of us who follow the news and watch the developments of both national and international climate change legislation, it is no surprise to hear stories of floods, droughts, melting ice and other disasters that are starting to pop up with increasing frequency. I can't say I was shocked by any of the stories I heard today. However, it was undeniably powerful to hear the same basic story repeated by women hailing from lands as far apart as the Arctic Circle, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Pacific Islands and the Bronx, to name a few. Rising waters, melting ice, dry lands, high winds -- these are all threats that can no longer be relegated to an isolated "fluke," or just a problem that "they" have. The panel served not only as a rallying cry for grassroots work to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but also a wake-up call that significant action in the US congress and Copenhagen is crucial.

Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, began the morning's comments by connecting the environmental issues of pollution and climate change to human rights issues. Carter was followed by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist who traveled by dog sled for the first ten years of her life -- living in a world completely foreign to Carter's in the Bronx, yet sadly comparable in its sense of environmental disenfranchisement. "This is much more than about melting ice," she said. "This is about families and children."

Ursula Rakova of the Carteret Islands began her comments with this statement: "Once upon a time my island was a tropical paradise. It is a tropical paradise no more." Sharon Hanshaw of Biloxi, Miss. spoke of the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which left her not only homeless but helpless, when her own government seemed not to be listening. But she soon realized she was not helpless, and co-founded the group Coastal Women for Change.

The rallying cry of the morning was simultaneously inspiring and sad; the panelists have all fearlessly taken the climate crisis into their own hands and voices, yet at the same time it is difficult not to wonder why they have to. Individuals create change, but good governmental leadership can make those changes infinitely easier. Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, spoke about the climate conference that is soon to take place in her city. "Kyoto wasn't what we hoped for, so we need all the pressure we can get," she said. The crowd applauded, and we can only hope that sentiment is shared by UN leaders in December.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Web Day!

Today, September 22, people all over the world are celebrating OneWebDay!

OneWebDay was founded by Susan Crawford, (now an advisor of President Obama on science, technology, and innovation policy). It's a global event which is celebrated every September 22 since 2006. Think of it like an Earth Day for the internet.

Over the past four years, OneWebDay has attracted a global network of partner organizations and individual activists committed to broadening the public’s awareness of Internet and Web issues while deepening a culture of participation in building a Web that works for everyone. Every year it provides an opportunity for communities to celebrate the power of Web for positive change, to take action to protect what is precious about it, and to educate the public and policy-makers on key social, economic, and political Web issues. This year's has a specific them, One Web For All and it’s all about digital inclusion, digital literacy, and working to close the digital divide.

OneWebDay organizers are calling attention to efforts that work to ensure that anyone who wants it has access to the Internet and the skills they need to engage in our new communications environment. The fight for digital inclusion is now on the cutting edge in the long struggle for social and economic justice. It's time to recognize that access to a fast, affordable, and open Internet is essential for every child in school, every entrepreneur with a new idea, and anyone who wants full access to our government and the democratic process. These are no longer privileges, they are necessities.

If you want to show your support for OneWebDay and digital inclusion efforts, sign the 2009 pledge to Free the Internet and End the Digital Divide. There are some great activities you can participate no matter where you are in the United States or abroad (they are expecting events in over 50 cities in 20 countries). To find out more about OneWebDay and what you can do to be involved, click here.