Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Uncertain Migration for Marine Mammals

'Tis the season for gray whales to embark upon their annual 6,000 mile migration from the coast of Baja California to the Arctic. The species has been around for over a million years, making the north-south-north trek with the seasons and food supply. But scientists are starting to take a closer look at whale migration as an indicator of the state of the Arctic ecosystem, as atmospheric and ocean temperatures rise.

Arctic sea ice extent in the past three years has been lower than any other time in the past thirty years, when scientists started keeping track. Since life thrives on the sea ice edge, conditions change for larger marine animals when that ice edge recedes farther from the shore. Additionally, scientists are finding that the amount of marine life decreases as ice sheets shrink, a discovery that has grave implications for animals at all steps along the Arctic food chain. Whales, in particular, are having a tough time finding the fatty crustaceans they prefer and are resorting to larger amounts of krill and shrimp. It is not yet known exactly how shifts in the food chain due to warming will affect other Arctic animals, or the whales on a long term scale.

Scientists are feeling particularly pressed to speed their studies of Arctic biodiversity in the wake of President Obama's announcement that previously untouched coastal areas will be opened to oil drilling. The newly vulnerable areas will include coastlines off of northern Alaska, so scientists are scrambling to fill knowledge gaps about Arctic biodiversity before this begins.

Although Obama promised the drilling will just be a stepping stone to a greener economy, "part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy," even a small amount of drilling could reap horrific rewards on the fragile Arctic ecosystem.

Read about varying opinions of the Obama administration's announcement here.

Read Jonathan Hiskes' ( take on "drill, baby, drill."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Human Rights First Announces Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award

Yesterday, Human Rights First announced that Guatemalan indigenous rights activist and genocide survivor Jesus Tecu Osorio was recently selected to receive the prestigious 2010 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award for international human rights defenders. Tecu was chosen from a pool of more than 50 extraordinary human rights activities from around the world. Human Rights First will bestow the Medal of Liberty on Tecu at a ceremony in New York City in May 2010.

“Jesus Tecu was only a child when he witnessed the murder of his family during a massacre that killed nearly everyone in his remote Guatemalan village. Instead of seeking revenge, Jesus channeled his energies into pursuing justice for the genocide in Guatemala and working to secure a more peaceful future there,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino.

According to Human Rights First, Tecu is now a leading human rights activist seeking justice for the genocide in Guatemala and promoting the rights of indigenous Mayans. And even though he remains at extreme risk he remains undeterred in his fight for justice. In Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Tecu has established three human rights organizations that provide critical services to indigenous Mayans: the New Hope Foundation, the Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence, Maya-Achí (ADIVIMA) and Rabinal’s Community Legal Aid Clinic. He is also a witness in prosecutions against high level Guatemalan military officials taking place now in Guatemala and Spain, as well as in proceedings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In addition to these activities, he has been a leading advocate in seeking accountability for damages to communities affected by the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

The Medal of Liberty which Tecu will receive is named in honor of Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the International League for Human Rights. It is presented by Human Rights First every other year to a human rights organization or activist outside of the United States that has made a distinguished contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights. In alternate years the ACLU selects a U.S.-based winner.

For more information on Jesus Tecu click here. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty, you can do that here. You can also link to the original Human Rights First press release here which has more information about Tecu, his family and his background.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Two Overbrook Grantees in the News

Two Overbrook grantees are in the news, proving yet again that good ideas and persistence over time really work!

Late last week, the Product Policy Institute celebrated the nation's first "framework" product stewardship bill, signed into law by Maine's Governor John Baldacci. Although many voices contributed to the law's passage, PPI has been setting the stage for extended producer responsibility legislation throughout the country since its inception in 2003.

"Framework" legislation sets up a system of standards that applies to all products, leveling the playing field so producers have comprehensive guidelines for production and recovery, rather than a patchwork of regulations requiring new rules for for each individual market. Producer responsibility laws have been passed in 31 states, but thus far have focused on individual products such as TVs, computer monitors, printers and other electronics. Maine's new law is the most comprehensive in the country and will act as a template for a national framework. It also expands the reach of products traditionally targeted by producer take-back programs, including guidelines for products such as pharmaceuticals and house paints.

Bill Sheehan, PPI's Executive Director, thinks Maine's framework legislation will encourage other states to follow. "I think it's a real breakthrough. We're really excited to finally see it happening, and with business support," he said. "It's going to keep the momentum building."

Click here for PPI's explanation of extended producer responsibility framework legislation, and the importance of standardizing rules.

The other Overbrook grantee in the news today is Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff (see my post from March 11). The Story of Stuff project launched its newest video early last week, the Story of Bottled Water, and in just a couple of days garnered over 120,000 viewers. As reported in today's New York Times, the International Bottled Water Association is fighting back with its own "true story" video, replete with footage of trickling streams and interviews with beverage industry people insisting on the virtues of their companies' environmental intentions. You be the judge and read the article here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New American Media is Looking for Your Voice

New America Media, in partnership with COMCAST just launched its newest TV program, “New America Now," which debuted on March 20, 2010 (on COMCAST Hometown Network, Channel 104).

The show is anchored by Filipino-American broadcaster Odette Keeley. The show's format is that of a news magazine and it highlights the unique stories and perspectives of the country’s increasingly global society through the lens of the ethnic media that serve minority communities. From young activists moving the immigration reform movement; to the impacts of the recession on minority-owned businesses; to profiles of hometown heroes in your neighborhoods; and 1-on-1 with ethnic news outlets; reflections on the news of the day from leading thinkers --- New America Now can be your global-local news window.

And New America Media wants your voice in the show! They are looking to highlight the stories of you and your communities. If you're interested, please send them any video reports, clips or leads for news you would like them to cover or feature on “New America Now.”

'New America Now" will air monthly until May and then twice a month starting June. The show also airs via COMCAST on Demand in the Public Affairs Section under COMCAST Hometown.

For further information or to get more involved please contact: Odette Keeley:, 415-503-4170

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults

There’s a new report available from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE). It’s titled “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults” and it shows that contrary to stereotypes, “LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty, face social and community isolation, and lack appropriate health care and long-term care.”

The report examines the unique barriers and disparities faced by LGBT elders. It also offers detailed and practical solutions, providing a roadmap for LGBT and aging advocates, policymakers, and anyone interested in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to age with dignity and respect.

According to the report’s abstract, in addition to the challenge that Americans face as they age, LGBT older adults also have the added burden of a lifetime of stigma; familial relationships that generally lack legal recognition under the law; and unequal treatment under laws, programs and services designed to support and protect older Americans. The report examines three areas of particular difficulty for LGBT elders (note: these are just the bullet points to read full details please download the entire report here).

- LGBT elders are less financially secure

- LGBT elders find it more difficult to achieve good health and healthcare

- LGBT elders are more likely to face social isolation

In addition to examining the challenges faced by LGBT elders, the report also provides very much needed detailed and comprehensive policy analysis and recommendations on how to best move forward to combat these problems.

The report was authored by both MAP and SAGE, in partnership with the American Society on Aging, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and the Center for American Progress, with a foreword from AARP. The report has received coverage from, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, as well as other online media. With the release of the report, MAP is also creating a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Honeybee Deaths Linked to Pesticides

Honeybee die-off got a little worse this year, according to an ongoing federal survey. Colony Collapse Disorder, the still unexplained plague that compels bees to abandon hives and fly off to die, is forging ahead full force with no solution in sight. Bee die-off likely has a mixture of causes, such as parasites, viruses, bacteria and poor nutrition. But outrageously increasing rates of honeybee disappearance points to pesticides as the main culprit.

Almost all food crops are grown with some sort of anti-insect agent. Even products labeled "organic" are likely grown with pesticides, although they must be derived from natural, never synthetic, ingredients. (Click here for a list of requirements and prohibitions for organic farmers.)

The massive bee die-off is concerning, first of all because it signifies something very wrong and off-balance with the planet's natural processes. More specifically and immediately, bees gone missing are not around to pollinate the crops we eat, crops that make up about one third of our diets. Commercial beekeepers reported record losses this year, and have found themselves unable to fill orders from farmers in need of pollinators. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, two federal agencies and regulators from California and Canada found high levels of synthetic chemicals both in pollen and in hives, hives described as "laden" with pesticides. On the heels of the Environmental Working Group's publication of the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables, it seems evident, even without a federal study, that bees would be adversely affected by chemicals that are dangerous to human beings.

On the brighter side, at least pesticides have been targeted as a probable (and significant) cause of colony collapse disorder. And if a large-scale disappearance of honeybees is linked to an immediate loss of revenue in agriculture, chances are the bees' plight will get attention beyond the scientific and environmentalist communities.

And finally, just last week the New York City Board of Health repealed the ban on beekeeping in the city. A meetup group has already formed around spreading the knowledge and practice of urban beekeeping. The first line of the meetup invitation reads in all caps: "WE'RE LEGAL IN NYC!"

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Future for Nuclear Waste?

The French nuclear energy company Areva announced it is developing a new technology that could answer the most common question posed by opponents of nuclear power: what do we do with the waste?

If the new technology is successful, fission-fusion reactors could permanently destroy the radioactive uranium isotopes produced during nuclear fission, drastically reducing the need to find geological repositories for nuclear waste. The waste would never be completely eliminated, but Areva says it could be reduced to the point at which one or two geological repositories could store all the world's waste, as opposed to the hundreds predicted if nuclear takes off as a major global energy source in coming decades.

Research on fission-fusion systems is nothing new, but the current greenhouse gas crisis is pushing nuclear forward as a possible front-runner in the quest for a coal and oil-free economy. President Obama recently announced eight billion dollars in federal loan guarantees for the first construction of new nuclear plants since the 1970s, and proposed up to $54 billion for nuclear in next year's budget. A recent Gallop poll shows 62 percent of Americans favor a resurgence of nuclear power, the highest percentage since polling began on this subject in 1994.

If a resurgence of nuclear power is inevitable as policymakers look for viable green technologies to replace coal and oil, then Areva's breakthrough is encouraging. But a large faction of environmentalists remain wary and unimpressed. Although the new fission-fusion reactors may greatly reduce the problem of waste disposal, they do nothing to address the great environmental and human health hazards associated with uranium mining. Read about it on the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research web site here.

And sadly, in the wake of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall's death, we are reminded of generations of victims of cancer and respiratory disorders linked to uranium mining, victims Udall began advocating for as early as the 1970s. With the scramble to find carbon-free energy sources, many advocates are eager to use the new disposal technology as evidence that the nuclear record is clear. Udall's legacy, with any luck, will remind proponents that this story is far from over.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March 2010 Letter from Chair and President

The following is the March 2010 Letter From The Overbrook Foundation Chair and President. It is taken directly from our website.

In early 2009, the Foundation posted a letter from its Chair and President outlining steps being taken to address the impact of the global financial crisis on its grantmaking programs (Click here to read the 2009 letter). We are writing now to update you on Foundation plans for grantmaking in 2010 and over the next several years.

Our endowment experienced significant volatility in 2009 as financial markets continued their decline early in 2009 and then made a remarkable rebound. As of December 31, 2009, the endowment totaled $111.6 million as compared to $187.3 million just two years ago. (As of March 15, 2010 the endowment’s unaudited value is estimated at approximately $126 million.) We know that our grantees have experienced similar challenges; and, we are concerned about the implications for support for all nonprofits dependent on fundraising from government, foundations and individuals in 2010 and thereafter.
We seek to respond prudently to this very serious financial situation and change in our endowment, while at the same time remaining focused on the work of our grantees around critical concerns and the likely enormous opportunities in human rights and the environment in 2010 and over the next several years.

We will continue to play an activist leadership role in the philanthropic community. Our program officers are heavily involved in organizing and managing funder collaborative partnerships such as the U.S. Human Rights Fund and the Civil Marriage Collaborative; creating vital new non-profit organizations to advance change; e.g., Catalog Choice,, and assuming leadership roles in a variety of foundation associations such as the Sustainability Funders Work Group. Through these various efforts, the Foundation believes it is able to influence the direction of significant philanthropic resources to those issues most central to its human rights and environment mission. We will use all of these mechanisms moving forward to protect and strengthen the fields in which our grantees are active.

We believe that the impact of the financial crisis will be felt for some years to come and that as a consequence the Foundation’s grantmaking ability will also be reduced. This is despite a commitment by Directors to fund grantmaking in excess of the mandated 5% payout requirement. To effectively manage this reduced grantmaking ability, directors are committing the Foundation to a strategic review of its environment and human rights programs during 2010 with the objective of redefining its priorities for grantmaking over the next three to five years. We expect to announce the outcomes of that review by the end of the year.

Our expectation and our goal is that we will preserve the viability of the Foundation and continue to advance its mission as we work through these very difficult times. Despite these challenges, we look forward to working with you in the coming year to move forward a progressive agenda for change.


Kathryn G. Graham, Chair

Stephen A. Foster, President and CEO

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Success for Voter Action and Washington State

I love getting to blog about successes! Here’s another one for you from a former grantee of the Foundation, Voter Action. With the close of the 2010 Legislative Session, Washington State had an effort to pass a dangerous online voting bill. However, the bill (HB 2483) was defeated! According to Voter Action, HB 2483 would have permitted military and overseas voters to fax and email voted ballots, without paper back up, putting our military and overseas voters ballots at risk as well as seriously undermining the security of our elections. Top experts in cybersecurity have agreed that online voting is fundamentally insecure and an actual risk to national security. Of course even though this bill was defeated, the idea of online voting remains very popular and the risks and ramifications are still widely misunderstood. As Voter Action points out, even the New York Times editorial said, internet voting is "still in beta." We agree that beta, or any testing phase, is not good enough for our elections!

Interested to know if internet, email or fax voting has been introduced in your state? Visit here to download resources on how to build a similar effort and replicate this success.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Victory for WITNESS and the Endorois People

Last week WITNESS sent out via e-mail its mid-year Performance Evaluation Dashboard. In its dashboard, you can find an overview of everything they have accomplished over the last six months – and it’s a lot!

But they were very proud of one victory in particular. Because the organization’s campaigns are aimed at creating systemic change, often a lot of work goes on behind the scenes before that change is realized. According to WITNESS, we just witnessed one of these landmark moments and that was the Endorois people’s victory reclaiming their ancestral lands in Lake Bogoria in Kenya.

The story goes something like this: in 1973 the Endorois were evicted from their lands to make room for a wildlife preserve. For decades, they tried unsuccessfully to persuade government and local authorities to let them return to their land and share the revenues generated by the reserve. In 2003, the Endorois' case was brought to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; working with local partner CEMIRIDE, WITNESS provided video advocacy strategy and training to strengthen the Endorois' case with evidentiary videos, marking the first time video has been used as evidence by the African Commission.

After a fight for justice that spanned generations, the African Commission ruled that the eviction violated the Endorois' right to development compromising their rights to property, health, culture, religion, and natural resources. This February the African Union adopted that ruling and dictated that Kenya ought to take steps to return the land and compensate the Endorois within three months. This is a landmark decision with unprecedented and far-reaching implications for the rights of indigenous peoples across the African continent.

If you haven’t visited WITNESS’s The Hub, now would be a great time to do so. You can watch "Rightful Place: Endorois' Struggle for Justice.” Congratulations to all the hard work done by everyone at WITNESS to make this victory possible.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous Addresses the Board

Last week during its Board Meeting, Benjamin Todd Jealous, President of the NAACP addressed the Foundation's Directors and staff. Jealous described current challenges facing the NAACP as it enters its second century of work. They include several of ongoing interest to the Foundation: sentencing of juveniles to life sentences without the possibility of parole, anti-trafficking, immigration reform and domestic criminal justice reform. He noted the role of the NAACP in building consensus around these issues which are particularly harmful to “black and brown” people and pointed out that they have led the NAACP and an emerging movement of advocates to call on the U.S. to address them as human rights violations.

Jealous noted that their resolution requires moving beyond currently guaranteed civil rights found in our constitution and instead requires that the U.S. be held accountable to human rights guarantees found in the charter of the U.N., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various human rights conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory or should become one. He positions the NAACP as a human rights organization because it consistently seeks to advance solutions beyond those limited by focusing on civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. and instead seeks the much broader protections found in human rights treaties and agreements.

Lastly, he also talked about the need to rebuild the NAACP, after the setback following the lost of its most significant donor. His goal is to rebuild and revitalize it so that it can resume its role as a major moral force, both domestically and internationally; e.g., by opening an office in New York to work exclusively with the U.N. on human rights issues.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Story of Stuff Book Hot off the Press!

Overbrook grantee Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff video hit the mainstream long ago, and it's about to reach an even broader audience as a book! For those of us who longed for more after the end of the 20 minute movie, Story of Stuff the book is the answer. Click here to learn how to find it, buy it, and to listen to it online as Annie reads an excerpt.

While visiting New York on a book tour, Annie graced Christiane Amanpour's studio at CNN, spoke to a rapt audience at the 92nd Street Y, and even braved an interview on the Colbert Report. She did great! Check out Annie's interviews by clicking the links above, or check out the book (printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink.)

The Story of Stuff film was followed by The Story of Cap and Trade, and will soon be joined by The Story of Bottled Water and The Story of Electronics. As original project funders, it is certainly exciting to see where Annie and her team have taken it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Two New Studies Reaffirm Climate Change is All Too Real

An international team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks found a section of the Arctic ocean seafloor primed to release massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The methane, previously thought to be permanently sealed underground by frozen permafrost, is beginning to leach through cracks as the planet warms and the permafrost melts.

Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and the recent research shows a faster acceleration toward climate change may be in our immediate future.

Co-leader of the research team, Natalia Shakhova, found that current levels of atmospheric methane hover around 1.85 parts per million, compared with the geological record high of .7 ppm. Current methane levels in the atmosphere are the highest they've been in 400,000 years. This new research out of Fairbanks adds a previously absent component to climate models, and will likely shift scenarios of what our climate will look like.

Research out of the UK Met Office also points to accelerating climate change in our future. An international team of scientists analyzed over 100 papers published since the IPCC's last report in 2007. The team's findings support the IPCC's classification of human-caused global warming as "unequivocal." The review compared the expected natural shifts in climate with scenarios that take human influence into account. The atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and evidence of warming we've already seen are unprecedented.

Check out the Arctic methane story here.

Read about the new anthropogenic global warming study here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Climate Change Scientists On the Defensive

Climate Change science continues to face escalating attacks, despite increasing evidence in science journals, news media and the blogosphere that the planet is warming.

A recent post by Tom Yulsman in the CEJournal shows graphs from the National Snow and Ice Data Center tracing shrinking sea ice cover in the Arctic from 1979 to the present. Here is more data on the Arctic melt season from NASA.

At the same time, a story posted Monday by Kate Sheppard on Mother Jones details a new lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against the Environmental Protection Agency, feared to be just the beginning of an onslaught of attacks on proposed environmental regulation, waged by business lobbies taking advantage of recent scandals involving the IPCC's credibility and the supposed "Climategate cover-ups."

The Chamber of Commerce lawsuit involves the EPA's endangerment finding classifying greenhouse gasses as dangerous to human health. Because of this finding, emissions can now be legally regulated under the Clean Air Act. Although the Chamber of Commerce does not have much legal ground to stand on, the suit will give them another chance to voice skeptical views of climate change, muddling the perceptions of factions of the public that are already on the fence about climate change.

Al Gore wrote a clear and compelling Op-Ed for the New York Times last Sunday, reiterating that gaps in scientific knowledge always exist, but overwhelming evidence points toward unequivocal anthropogenic global warming.

Unfortunately, as Don Braman of George Washington Law School said, "If you have people who are skeptical of the data on climate change, you can bet that Al Gore is not going to convince them at this point." (See my post from last week.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DC to Legalize Gay Marriage?

Well it looks like my hometown of DC may take a step forward tomorrow when it comes to gay marriage! According to the office of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), today makrs the end of the 30-day period that Congress would have to act in order to prevent the same-sex marriage bill from becoming legal. Twice last year the Washington, DC city council voted to recognize same-sex marriage in DC. According to the charter however, Congress has 30 legislative days to prevent this from happening by passing a resolution. Such a resolution (H.J. Res 72) was introduced by Rep. Jason Caffetz (R-UT), but the measure has stalled in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Since today is the 30th day in the countdown, we'll keep an eye out to see what happens today and tomorrow. Let's hope that there will not be Congressional Action and that gay marriage will become legal in our nation's capitals! If it is legal, the first marraige licenses can be issued to same-sex couples tomorrow and the first same-sex marriages could take place as soon as March 9th.