Can they save us? Meet the climate kids fighting to fix the planet

Climate kids photo Main image: Rose Strauss, a member of the Sunrise movement, in Santa Barbara, California. Photograph: Alex Welsh/The Guardian

by Adrian Horton, Dream McClinton and Lauren Aratani

Despite being barely two years old, the Sunrise Movement has outpaced established environmental groups in the push to radically reshape the political landscape around climate change.

Closely allied with new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youth-led Sunrise Movement has helped set out a sweepingly ambitious plan to address climate change in the form of the Green New Deal. Activists have ramped up pressure on lawmakers to back the plan, staging a high-profile occupation of the office of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and, more recently, picketing Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader.

The movement comprises a small core team of young organizers, supported by a larger group of several hundred volunteers. The group’s elevation of the Green New Deal has clearly riled Trump, who has falsely but repeatedly claimed that the plan would result in the banning of cars, air travel and even cows.

The Guardian spoke to Sunrise members on how the organization has shaken the political and environmental establishment in the US.

Marcela Mulholland, 21, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A few days after Trump won, I just felt super radicalized. I couldn’t believe that climate change was happening and people were pretending as if we weren’t on this downward spiral. So I went to school wearing a sign that said “Climate change is real.” My teacher is a huge environmental activist and she told me about Sunrise.

I took the fall semester off from school to volunteer full time with them, working on the midterm elections in Orlando, Florida. We were knocking on a lot of doors, talking to people about the candidates that we endorse because they had either signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge or had climate policy.

Fossil fuel money in our politics is the main obstacle to climate policy, in my opinion. There’s only so much that public opinion can do if the politicians are bought out by fossil fuel billionaires and executives.

When you look at the polling of public opinion on climate change and the Green New Deal specifically, it’s clear that the public is already with us on this issue, it’s just a matter of turning passive supporters into active supporters.

I feel like young people have always played the role of moral clarity and being willing to be idealists about what the world should be like. I see my generation as picking up the baton from young people in the 1960s and in the civil rights movement who engaged in similar efforts. We totally see our struggle as rooted in the past activism of young people.

Rose Strauss, 19, San Anselmo, California

I grew up next to the ocean in the Bay Area. I was so sure I would become a marine biologist up until two years ago. Studying marine animals is my passion. But as I was walking along the beach year after year I realised the animals I was trying to study were disappearing faster than I could study them, which was really scary. I learned about climate change when I was 12, doing a report on the Canadian seal hunt, and I realized it was one of these issues that you can’t note and do nothing.

Doing nothing is a death sentence to my generation

I had to get political. I’m Jewish, my (extended) family was in the Holocaust. I was brought with the belief that if you become aware of something, you have a responsibility to take action.

In 10 or 11 years, when climate change is irreversible, I’m going to be trying to have kids or get married … that definitely changes the way I can talk about this issue. This is literally my future and you doing nothing is a death sentence to my generation.

Even with young people, there’s always this tendency to want to compromise, to want to talk to people and come to an agreement. That’s a really hard thing to step away from. What we found in Sunrise is that drawing a line in the sand is something that needs to be done sometimes. We can’t have a compromise on stopping climate change – we either stop it or don’t.

You should be a little bit scared if you haven’t endorsed the Green New Deal, because young people aren’t going to vote for you. We aren’t going to be behind you, You can’t claim to be environmentalist if you don’t do this. That’s the line we’re drawing, which is really helpful.

Lily Gardner, 15, Lexington, Kentucky

I grew up in eastern Kentucky. There, I couldn’t escape the generational poverty caused by the fossil fuel industry. A lot of my friends’ parents were unemployed, there were no coalmining jobs. But we’ve known that the end of coal was coming for awhile.

When my mom moved to eastern Kentucky 30-plus years ago, people told her that there were only 30 years left of coal in these mountains. But no one made any preparations. Instead, they just started to deny, and people sunk deeper into poverty. So by the time I was a child, these families had barely enough food to put on their table because they weren’t receiving Black Lung benefits, because they had family members who had died in the mines. I even had friends who were turning to opioids because they were so disenfranchised, discouraged and dismayed that they were going to end up like their parents.

People are not climate deniers because they don’t believe in facts, people are climate deniers because they’re so afraid that they cannot confront another thing that is going to put them deeper into poverty.

Climate change is something that disproportionately impacts my generation. We’re feeling the burden of it, so it makes sense that I would care the most. But I think it’s really difficult to get politicians and legislators to take our voices seriously, especially because they believe that we do not have any voting power.

I think there’s a misconception that we’re advocating for something that’s unattainable, that we are throwing ourselves out there, that we’re becoming extreme, when we’re not. We are advocating for what is necessary to ensure that I have a livable future at all.

Jeremy Ornstein, 18, Watertown, Massachusetts

Sometimes it’s hard because people don’t take us seriously. A lot of us who are going to be most heavily impacted by climate change can’t vote. I couldn’t vote until six months ago.

We want to be part of the debate which we’ve been excluded from because we don’t have the money to buy in to elect politicians who will back us. When politicians don’t listen and don’t represent us, we have the ability to say, “OK, we’re going to show up at your office.”

We’re telling them to go, go, go because we don’t have time to do it any other way

I was there that night when Scott Wagner called Rose Strauss “young and naive”. It was so defeating for me. The next day, it was like “Oh my God, it’s happening.” It picked up steam, and then we were so energized and excited. Not everyone’s story will go viral. But the more stories we have, it’s like a moral, emotional, value-driven path forward for our country.

My official role is helping to put on a tour for the Green New Deal. We’re taking the Green New Deal to every city and town across America, first in seven or eight flagship stops in places that represent real political leadership or really devastating climate impact or economic inequality.

We’re giving anyone who wants to do this the blueprint, and we’re telling them to go, go, go because we don’t have time to do it any other way.

Saya Ameli, 17, Boston, Massachusetts

The first thing that I saw looking out of the airplane window [when I moved to the US] was just how green Boston was. I saw all the trees, the bushes lining the sidewalks. It was a really stark contrast from Tehran. My family and I used to go hiking in the hills behind my Tehran house and once we got to the summit, we just saw this almost gray canvas covering the city. Looking up, we saw the blue sky.

It made me realize that it could be different. With a little more government regulation, awareness and action, we could change the way the city looks and feels.

The movement really has grown since it’s started out. Just looking back in November, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came out with the Green New Deal. Sunrise was able to send hundreds of people to Washington DC to support her and advocate for the Green New Deal.

Senator Mark Houston has been really helpful and the Massachusetts lead on supporting the Green New Deal. Just a few days ago, Sunrise actually took to his office to thank him and his staffers for their support. The only legislator left on the lower level for Massachusetts is Representative Richard Neal. Currently, Sunrise is at his office, asking him to sign on.

It really is too late to have a debate on whether or not climate change is a hoax, especially when we’re already seeing people suffering the consequences; my heart goes out to all those people that have their school torn down or their houses broken because of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

If our leaders aren’t willing to really address the crisis that we’re facing right now, then they need to be replaced.

People say that young people are naive or too inexperienced but every time we get something done, we prove that we aren’t that stereotype. We may be young, but we are not naive. We understand the real-life consequences of climate change on our present and future, and we’ve decided to do something about it.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/can-they-save-us-meet-the-climate-kids-fighting-to-fix-the-planet

Church advocates: Latin Americans understand God’s presence in nature

Latin America photoMembers of a rescue team pray before working in a collapsed tailings dam owned by a mining company in Brumadinho, Brazil, Feb. 13, 2019. (Credit: CNS photo/Washington Alves, Reuters.)

By Barbara Fraser

LIMA, Peru – Throughout Latin America, people whose lives and land have been affected by industries that extract natural resources, such as mining or oil operations, find strength in their spirituality, church leaders say.

“In many communities, there is a profound bond between the people, as community, and the presence of God expressed in the land, the trees, the rivers,” said Moema Miranda, a lay Franciscan who heads the Churches and Mining Network in Latin America.

That understanding has become stronger since Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si’, “on Care for Our Common Home” in 2015.

“Pope Francis says that everything is interrelated, and that human beings have an intrinsic value” that is often overlooked in cases where mining companies come into conflict with local communities, Miranda said.

The most recent example was the collapse of a dam that sent a flood of toxic water and mud cascading through a valley in Brumadinho, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Jan. 25.

The disaster at the Vale mining company’s Feijao Mine left more than 150 people confirmed dead and at least as many missing in what Brazilian Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte called “a criminal tragedy.”

“The bodies of the human and nonhuman victims remain buried and probably will never be found,” Miranda said at a Feb. 20 panel discussion, part of a workshop on extractive industries and spirituality organized by the Churches and Mining Network.

“This is not an isolated case,” she added, noting that the collapse of a similar dam at another mine owned by Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco flooded the town of Bento Rodrigues in November 2015, killing 19 people and sending a cascade of polluted mud down the Doce River.

Viewing those disasters and others in light of Francis’s call to safeguard “our common home” leads people of faith to ask “what kind of house do we want to build in Latin America?” said Italian Scripture scholar Sandro Gallazzi, who works with the Brazilian Church’s Pastoral Land Commission in the northern city of Macapa.

Noting that the prefix “eco” comes from a Greek word meaning “house,” Gallazzi said economic decisions reflect “how the (home) should function.”

“The economy clearly favors the interests of a small minority of people at the cost of the suffering and exploitation of thousands upon thousands of people,” he said, echoing the pope’s words.

The economic boom that began in Latin America in the early 2000s spurred an expansion of mining and oil and gas concessions in the region, with governments saying the export of raw materials like minerals yielded revenues necessary for reducing poverty in their countries.

“But in many communities, people say, ‘I want my land, not to get money from it, but so I can continue to have clean water, or (they say) I am rich, I have a good life because I have forest. I’m not interested in (the company’s) money,’” Miranda said.

That has led to conflicts between mining companies and communities throughout the region.

In Peru, nearly two-thirds of the conflicts affecting communities involve environmental issues, said Javier Jahncke, executive secretary of Peru’s Muqui Network, part of the Churches and Mining Network.

Latin America’s mining regions tend to be places where people are affected by other violations of their rights, Miranda said. The areas are often home to small farmers and lack good transportation, education and health services.

The Churches and Mining Network, which began work in 2014, grew out of an awareness that “resistance in defense of life in general is grounded in spirituality,” she said.

The ecumenical network now includes about 70 religious communities and church groups in 15 countries.

The members engage in dialogue with bishops about issues related to mining and extractive industries, Miranda said. The network also provides training to people who live in communities affected by mining, to help them understand and defend their rights.

That activity is increasingly dangerous for grassroots leaders who protest the construction of mines, dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects, or the clearing of forests for industrial ranching and farming.

Global Witness, a London-based nonprofit organization that tracks violence against environmentalists, recorded 201 murders in 2017, of which 57 occurred in Brazil. That is also the country where Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was killed in 2005 for defending the rights of small farmers against ranchers in a remote area of the Amazon.

Despite the political and economic power behind projects that threaten their lands, people say “we won’t leave this place,” Miranda said. What gives them strength, however, is “not just a rational principle – it is a profound connection to the place where you are, to which you belong, and a response to a cry that comes from the earth, but which is heard by God.”

 

 

 

 

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-americas/2019/02/25/church-advocates-latin-americans-understand-gods-presence-in-nature/

House passes first major gun control legislation in nearly quarter of a century

Gun photoNancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill on 26 February. For now the measure is a mostly symbolic gesture, not likely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

By David Smith

Gun control campaigners celebrated a precious win on Wednesday when the US House of Representatives passed its first major legislation on the issue in nearly a quarter of a century.

Members of Congress approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales, including online and at gun shows, by 240 votes to 190. But for now it is a mostly symbolic gesture, not likely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Even so, Democrats characterised it as a significant move towards relaxing the gun lobby’s grip on Washington and addressing a national epidemic of gun violence, including the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, last year that prompted a fresh surge of activism.

The bill, HR 8, bans firearms transfers by a person who is not a licensed dealer but its exemptions include “gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense”, the House judiciary committee website says.

In a debate on the House floor on Wednesday, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said: “Here are the facts: nearly 40,000 lives are cut short every year from gun violence. An average of 47 children and teenagers are killed by guns every single day.

“It’s all about the children, the children, the children. We read about the tragic mass murders that have happened in our country and they stir us to action, hopefully. Here it’s been they stir us to a moment of silence, and now finally to action.”

Democrats made the case that 97% of Americans support background checks, including 94% of gun-owning households. More than a hundred gun violence survivors, student activists and other campaigners, including Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, watched from the House gallery.

The bill passed largely along party lines with only eight Republican members voting in favor and two Democrats against. A late, Republican-backed amendment requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) to be notified when illegal immigrants attempt to buy a firearm.

The bill is the first of two that Democrats are bringing to the House floor this week as part of an effort to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control, which in June 2016 saw Democrats stage a sit-in protest over 26 hours. The other would extend the review period for a background check.

But neither bill stands much chance of success in the face of the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from Donald Trump. John Thune, the Republican majority whip in the Senate, told CNN it is “unlikely” his party will take up the bill for debate any time soon.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/27/house-gun-control-legislation-passed

UN identifies South Sudan’s mass rapists, killers and torturers

UN photo 1Violence continues despite South Sudan’s main warring parties signing a peace deal last September [File: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters]

A United Nations report says its investigators have identified alleged perpetrators of pervasive rape, killings and torture in South Sudan’s civil war – violence they believe was driven by oil revenues.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on Wednesday said the army, national security, military intelligence, rebel forces and affiliated armed groups committed serious human rights breaches.

The UN body had drawn up a confidential list of suspects including army and opposition commanders, two state governors and a county commissioner.

Its 212-page report detailed people being held for years and tortured in secret, vermin-ridden detention centres, children being run down by tanks, rape of girls as young as seven, and babies being drowned, starved or smashed against trees.

In some stricken areas, 65 percent of women and 36 percent of men may have been sexually abused, according to the report.

Peace deal

Although South Sudan’s main warring parties signed a peace deal in September, widespread violence, especially rape, has continued.

Andrew Clapham, a member of the three-person commission, said it was outraged by reports of further fighting between government forces and the rebel National Salvation Front, which was not part of the peace agreement, in the Yei River area.

“There are thousands of civilians who have been forcibly displaced following a scorched-earth policy in which the parties to the conflict are attacking the villages, torching the homes, killing civilians and raping women and girls,” Clapham said.

The United States, Britain and Norway jointly expressed their alarm at the reports of escalating violence in Yei.

“These military actions, and the trading of blame, must stop,” they said in a joint statement.

Clapham said that more than 5,000 refugees had reached neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and up to 20,000 people were expected to be displaced by the latest fighting.

Oil and conflict

The report cited a close connection between oil and the conflict.

A law ensuring that South Sudan’s oil-producing regions and communities received two and three percent of its oil revenue respectively had triggered a redrawing of provincial boundaries and ethnic conflict.

“We feel the national security services are very much involved in the siphoning off of the oil money,” said Clapham.

The Human Rights Council should get to the bottom of the sums involved and where the money was going, he told reporters, noting that health and education spending was “minuscule”.

“If you are involved in oil extraction in that area and you are asked to assist one side or the other, you could be accused of complicity in war crimes. There are Council members that we think have a responsibility to look more carefully at this.”

At war since 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence.

The South Sudan commission, set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, is tasked with collecting evidence that could be used to prosecute individuals for major atrocities in the conflict.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/identifies-south-sudan-mass-rapists-killers-torturers-190220160817331.html

UN raises $2.6bn in donations for Yemen humanitarian aid

UN photoThe UN raised $2.6 billion for Yemen, calling it the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

by Barbara Bibbo
A UN pledging conference for Yemen has raised about $2.6bn of the $4bn needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country, where about 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of hunger, UN officials said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the main donors, pledging $500m each and contributing to a 30-percent increase of total pledges from last year.

But the two Gulf countries, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, are also active participants in the ongoing conflict, which has caused what the UN describes as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis have seized control of the capital Sanaa, the Hodeidah port and most of the northeastern part of the country.

The war has caused a humanitarian emergency of catastrophic proportion, according to the UN, especially due to the almost total disregard for international humanitarian law by both the parties.

Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday praised the Gulf countries’ contributions and abstained from any criticism of their role, despite insistent requests from the media to clarify the contradiction in their position as donors as well as parties in the conflict.

“This is a pledging conference and any contribution is welcome despite a country’s role in the war,” he said.

Asked to comment on the ongoing UN investigations for war crimes allegedly committed by all parties in the conflict, Guterres said they will continue as expected.

Humanitarian catastrophe

About 24 million people, 80 percent of the population, need humanitarian aid and protection, UN officials said at the conference.

About 20 million people cannot feed themselves reliably, out of which about 10 million Yemenis are just one step away from famine, according to UN figures.

Since last year, due to the continued fighting and a collapsing economy, an additional two million people fell into the humanitarian crisis.

The worst affected by the conflict are the children. About 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of starvation, according to a report quoted by Guterres.

Eight children a day are being killed as they go to school or play outdoors and from other conflict related causes, according to UNICEF.

About 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition with life threatening consequences.

According to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, every ten minutes in Yemen a child is dying of a preventable disease because of the lack of essential health services. More than two million children not being able to go to school.

“Today Yemen is the worst place on earth for a child,” Cappelaere told Al Jazeera. “I invite the parties to think of their own children when they sit at the negotiating table next time.”

Stockholm Agreement

Addressing the media on Monday, Guterres admitted that the humanitarian response cannot suffice to address the Yemeni crisis without the parties’ serious engagement in the peace negotiations.

“There cannot be a humanitarian solution to humanitarian problems,” he said.

The UN chief admitted that the implementation of the agreement reached between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis in December was meeting “obstacles”.

The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement signed in December 2018 and Security Council resolution 2451 endorsing that agreement, called for a ceasefire in the Hodeidah governorate and a mechanism for exchanging prisoners amongst other confidence building measures.

However, little progress has been achieved since the parties met in Sweden with the each repeatedly accusing each other of not abiding by the agreement.

While violence in Hodeidah has diminished, the conflict continues or has escalated in some areas like Hajjah, while the humanitarian crisis remains catastrophic.

Out of 10 million on the verge of famine, nearly 240,000 of those people are right now facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

Almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare, and nearly 18 million don’t have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.

More than three million people – including two million children – are acutely malnourished.

About 3.3 million remain displaced from their homes, including 685,000 who have fled fighting along the west coast since June 2018.

Amidst the conflict the economy continues to unravel. The exchange rate is about 600 Yemeni Rial to a US dollar – from about 400, which was the level it recovered to following substantial injections of foreign exchange into the Central Bank by Saudi Arabia in late 2018.

As the rate falls, the price of food for ordinary people rises.

Response Plan

The Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 requires about $4bn to reach 15 million across the country.

The pledges made in Geneva will go towards increasing the number of people reached with emergency food aid to 12 million every month, from the 10 million of December last year, amongst other essential health and assistance plans.

According to Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, donations made last year were divided amongst 200 agencies that reached people in all of Yemen’s 333 governorates.

But the UN operations also met with delays and blockades due to restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers and convoys by both parties in the conflict.

In particular, the blockade of the Hodeidah port which alone normally handles 70 percent of food imports entering Yemen and a lifeline for the entire population, has had disastrous consequences so far.

Access to mills

Guterres on Tuesday also announced the UN had regained access to a stocking facility that can potentially feed some 3.7 million people for up to one month.

“We have a good news, we have access to the Red Sea Mills again,” said Guterres.

That was later confirmed by Herve Verhoosel, World Food Programme senior spokesperson.

“I can confirm that the WFP assessment team has gained access today to the Red Sea Mills for the first time since September 2018 when they were cut off by fighting in the area,” said Verhoosel.

At that time there were 51,000 metric tons of wheat in storage at the mills, which is enough to feed 3.7 million people for one month, and represents a quarter of WFP’s wheat flour milling capacity in the country.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/raises-26bn-donations-yemen-humanitarian-aid-190226161139569.html

Religious superiors voice shame over child abuse failings

Shame photoCredit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

By Hannah Brockhaus

Rome, Italy,(CNA/EWTN News). Superiors general of men’s and women’s religious communities expressed sorrow Tuesday for sexual abuse committed within religious congregations and orders ahead of a Vatican meeting on child sex abuse.

The Feb. 19 statement noted the summit’s focus on “the sexual abuse of children and the abuse of power and conscience by those in authority in the Church, especially bishops, priests and religious.”

“We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our Congregations and Orders, and in our Church,” the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG) wrote.

“Our shame is increased by our own lack of realization of what has been happening,” it continued. “We acknowledge that when we look at Provinces and Regions in our Orders and Congregations across the world, that the response of those in authority has not been what it should have been. They failed to see warning signs or failed to take them seriously.”

The organizations said they hope the Holy Spirit will work powerfully during the Feb. 21-24 meeting on the protection of minors in the Church, and that they are ready to implement whatever is decided in terms of accountability for those in authority. Representatives of UISG and USG will attend the summit.

“New steps forward can be imagined and decisions can be made so that implementation can
follow speedily and universally with proper respect for different cultures,” they said, adding that “the abuse of children is wrong anywhere and anytime: this point is not negotiable.”

The same statement also said that the Church and wider society needs a “different culture” – one where children are treasured, and safeguarding promoted. They listed education, healthcare, formation, and spirituality, as areas in which the work of religious can help the Church safeguard children from sexual abuse.

It went on to say that the leadership provided by Pope Francis on this issue is “key,” and that they join with the Holy Father in reaching out to survivors and to “humbly acknowledge and confess the wrongs that have been done.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/religious-superiors-voice-shame-over-child-abuse-failings-63124