In Kind

Cutting Class for Climate; Maddy Fernands Isn't Wasting Any Time

In Kind: Thanks for talking to me today! So you’re already on strike?

Maddy Fernands: Yes. I’m on strike right now at Minnesota Capital and it’s my second consecutive Friday striking. It’s really exciting. We’re leading up to the 15th of March and it will be big.

I: So March 15 is really a culmination of activity. What’s that been like?

M: The movement was started by Greta Thunberg in Sweden. She struck at the Swedish Parliament every Friday starting in August. That’s how she started the organization Fridays for Future. She recognized the fact that the Paris climate agreement and COP24 weren’t successful in accurately addressing the magnitude of climate change, or really addressing it at all. They were just more fluff added to the catastrophic policy failure of inaction. Since she started to strike she has grown into an international superstar for her denouncement of the U.N., so now people all over the world, in almost every country, are striking with her. The weekly strikes happen on Fridays and our big strike will take place on the 15th of March in solidarity with Greta and all the other strikers for climate action.

I: What kind of participation have you been seeing? Thousands of people? Millions?

M: Striking every Friday is hard for a lot of people because they have to miss school. I think some people make that sacrifice because they know that climate action is the necessity. What purpose will education serve if we don’t have a future to use it in? So in terms of the turnout regularly, I’d say that there’s still a lot of people who come out every week. On March 15th, turnout is likely to be into the millions. We are preparing for that event with mass participation in mind because we want it to be one big show, a big demonstration that people want climate action to happen now. I think that the strike on the 15th will be a really great time to show that.

I: Have you been seeing a lot of support from the adults in your life?

M: Yeah. But I think that adults, because they created this climate crisis, have a lack of urgency about climate change. It just hasn’t been the biggest issue of their life. On the other hand, when it comes to us young people, climate change has been here for our whole lives. I don’t remember a time when climate change wasn’t on my mind. From my perspective, it has always been one of the biggest problems facing humanity. I feel like climate change is this whole looming cloud, but that urgency is something that adults do not experience. I think that is why there’s not a lot of action occurring against climate change. That is why we need as many young people as possible to inform that urgency and make sure that is felt. Dianne Feinstein dismissed so many young people by saying that she knew better, that everything she’s already doing is sufficient when it truly is not. It’s hard for a lot of adults who engage the fact that what they’re currently doing is not sufficient.

I: Are you thinking about policy changes right now, leveraging this movement to get adults to change the law?

M: I think one of the main goals of our movement is to change the conversation around climate change. The Green New Deal has done a really good job of moving the conversation from what is supposedly politically possible to what is necessary, because what is necessary should always be at the top of the policy list. A more just, safe, happy, and thriving world should be our priority. I think with this strike we’re demonstrating that climate action is not just politically possible, but that if you don’t support us in this fight against climate change we will vote you out. We as young people can put pressure on politicians. One of our biggest asks right now is the Green New Deal. Our movement supports that resolutions because of what it stands for, not necessarily as it’s currently written. Right now it’s not specific enough to address all the inequities that come with climate change. However, we have a lot of outlines as to what a better policy solution might be. Together, we’re working toward the goal of having an equitable transition to a renewable economy under the IPCC guidelines.

I: Have you had any problems organizing at scale and across international boundaries?

M: This movement has changed my perspective about what organizing means. Before I was involved in the climate strike I was involved in other climate action, and I’m currently a part of Minnesota Can’t Wait, a statewide group that is currently drafting up legislation - not a resolution -  containing actual legal language for a Minnesota Green New Deal. But when it comes to national and international organizing, I honestly have never experienced the amount of interest that the youth climate strike has gotten. People care about the strikes and we’ve gotten picked up by a lot of really major news organizations. A lot of people have taken notice. It’s really powerful on both the national and international scale. This movement has defied the odds and expectations for what is possible for young activists.

I: Do you feel like you owe anything to previous climate movements? 

M: I think that we need to recognize and acknowledge the fact that indigenous folks started and have always been the leaders and proponents of the climate movement. We can’t just whitewash this moment. It’s important to recognize the initial indigenous leadership and respect their leadership in the new movement, our movement. We should also acknowledge that there have been many successful movements, specifically those surrounding pipelines, that have we’re kind of going off of. For example, the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline and DAPL inspires us to bring that sort of people power to climate advocacy. Additionally, there’s a lot of youth movements that we think of as blueprints. March for our Lives was a very big influence because of how they were able to organize after a travesty and mobilize youth across the country. We want to do a similar thing when it comes to climate action and advocacy. It’s important that the youth is at the forefront of our movement because we feel the urgency of climate action. 

I: Are you doing any partnering, especially to make sure that the movement remains intersectional?

M: We’re partnering with a lot of organizations, including the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, and Earth Guardians. There are a bunch of different movements that have different viewpoints on climate change and do different things. We want to work together to make our movement more intersectional, more inclusive, and accessible to a bigger audience. 

I: How are you keeping the movement together financially?

M: We take two different forms of donations currently. There’s an online shop where you can purchase sustainable clothing that has US Youth Climate Strikes branding on it. Part of the proceeds go to our movement. We’re also fundraising currently through GoFundMe and have raised $6,000 so far [note: $10,406 as of publishing]. We’re going for $15,000 because striking is expensive. We’re also trying to get a stage at some of our bigger locations, like DC, NYC, and Miami, for the March 15 strike.

I: Are your parents involved at all?

M: It’s more of a youth movement. Our parents are supporting us in various other ways. For example, the mother of one of the other leaders of the youth climate strikes, Alexandria Villaseñor, is a graduate student at Columbia University. She studies climate, so she helps us a lot by talking about the basic climate science and connecting us to climate change experts. We have a lot of other adults who are on the sidelines, but it’s truly a youth-led movement.

I: How do you deal with climate anxiety? Do you do support people emotionally or count on them to show up prepared for the fight?

M: Climate anxiety is becoming pertinent to our movement. I have personally had very emotional experiences thinking about the problem because there is the potential for a very catastrophic future. It’s very scary in that aspect, but I think we need to remember the fact that we can still fight climate change. Our movement is trying to provide that support within our group by having conversations about our anger, frustration, and sadness when it comes to climate change. As we grow as a movement and develop more organizational structure, that will be a bigger part of what we do. Support is one of the most essential parts of what we want to do. To take action, you first need to not feel hopeless.

I: Does your movement try to talk to politicians who are resistant to climate action? Are you hoping that you’ll be able to vote them out once you reach voting age?

M: The reason that politicians are in opposition to climate action is not because of the will of the people. The majority of Americans believe in taking action on the climate. Politicians’ reasons have to do with the money of fossil fuel organizations and companies. Politicians are so deep in the pockets of fossil fuel corporations that they fail to see the will of the people. I think that is one of the main issues when it comes to legislative action on climate change. To solve that, I think we have to make it politically impossible not to act. If we make the will of the people strong enough, then we can fight the money from fossil fuel donors and we can make sure that politicians will feel the burn if they don't support climate action. I think we’ve seen that already in how all the the major Democratic Senate candidates have supported the Green New Deal. It has become politically bad for them to not do so. I think that is what our goal is: to make it so that climate action is bipartisan, necessary, and understood at the magnitude and scale that scientists describe to us. I think politicians will follow suit if the general public changes its mind and is very much in opposition to not acting. I think that’s already happening. We’re trying to change the mind of the general public by having strikes, by showing that young people are angry about how there’s no progress on climate change currently.

I: What role has social media played in your movement?

M: Social media has actually played one of the major roles in our movement. With young people, it’s really hard to do outreach any other way. Social media is a really great resource and we have some amazing people on our team. For example, on our branding team, we have Feli Charlemagne from Florida. He is amazing at graphic design. People outside the movement are interested in how we are able to be so professional and how we’ve organized so quickly. That’s one reason that it’s almost hard to stay away from our movement. People are looking into it because we’re making it a success. It’s likely that every state will have a strike of some kind on March 15. We’re trying to make sure that all young people have some kind of access to it, whether on social media or because we’ll have it in every single state. I think that young people really appreciate that. They appreciate being heard and I think that a lot of young people are particularly worried about the climate. Climate change belief and desire for action is a much higher priority when young people are polled. They feel that this is a time when they can express their feelings. I personally feel that this movement has given me and many of my peers a platform to show our anger and frustration and try to get something done.

I: Do you feel like you will continue mobilizing, especially as members of your movement become voters?

M: The March 15 strike is not the end of us - it’s just the beginning. There are some past climate movements that lost momentum after their initial big events, and we want to make sure that that is not something that can be said about us. We want to make sure that once we have this event, the movement doesn’t stop and in fact gets even stronger with our momentum. We have some long-term plans too. We’ve been contacted by the U.N to potentially speak at the climate summit in September of 2019. We will also continue to grow our movement, from the national and local scale to the international scale, and collaborate with other movements. We want to make sure that we are heard and seen by the media, by the regular bystander, by everybody.

I: Do you have any specific events coming up after March 15?

M: Yes! In early May there will be another international climate strike, so we’re going to try to get people out for that one as well. There’s a chance that this will be a recreation of the March 15 strike, but we want to give it a twist. When continuing momentum, it’s important to change the strategy to keep the attention of  the public's and the media. This first strike will just be a grassroots-organized strike. For the next one, we might do some sort of demonstration. I know that in New York City, they’ll be doing a die-in. After that, I think we’ll want to do something similar. We want the next strike to culminate our intersectionality and to use symbolism. It’s going to be bigger than ever, more important than ever, more urgent than ever. That’s our goal.

I: What do you see happening that gives you hope?

M: The Green New Deal and the fact that all of these grassroots climate groups are being heard is really powerful to me. The fact that the Green New Deal has become the center of the political landscape is something that’s amazing to me. I was there on Day 1 last November when the Sunrise Movement sat in Nancy Pelosi’s office. I was participating in Minnesota, but I was there at the beginning. They didn’t have momentum at all back then, and now they’ve grown it to an internationally known movement. I think that sort of power is brought to these movements and is given to them by the press. It’s powerful and hopeful because people are paying attention and they want to do something.

Donate to or learn more about the Youth Climate Strike on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Welcome to In Kind Wellness

We're happy to announce that we will start uploading a series of meditation and yoga tutorial videos under the name, In Kind Wellness! Guided inspiration can be streamed on our Facebook Watch and YouTube pages.

This introduction tutorial will walk you through a guided meditation that is an easy way to begin a daily meditation practice. You will be guided through the creation of your space, choosing a mantra, and implementing a set of starter motions.

Introduction to a Guided Meditation

Developed by Amanda Raquel Martinez

00:00 — Introduction

00:22 — Setting Up Your Space

01:29 — Choose aMantra

04:23 — Gyan Mudra

06:39 — Breathing Meditation

13:03 — Conclusion

California Cities Now Require 100% Electric Busses by 2029

California has yet again cemented themselves as a leader in the fight against climate change. Over the past few years they have enacted several forward thinking laws that have pushed their state to become a cleaner, more energy efficient location. California's Clean Air Agency has taken this even farther recently, by asking city transit agencies to make the change from fossil fuel driven buses to electric ones.

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Starting as early as 2023, transit must replace as much as 25% of their buses with electric. The amount will raise to 50% by 2026, and by the end of the decade, no transit company will be able to buy a bus that runs on fossil fuels such as diesel and gas.

Many cities have already begun to make these changes voluntarily. There are currently over 100 emission free buses on roads around California as we speak. These buses were purchased voluntarily, with no government mandates pushing the change.

The new rule won't include all buses in California. The mandate is for public transit only. School buses and privately owned buses will not be part of the change—for now anyway.

These changes to California's law did not come quickly or easily. Public transit is an important part of the natural gas industry, and losing the 5th largest economy in the world's transit will hurt their bottom line. These companies aren't the only ones that pushed back—some transit companies were against the changes too.

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Despite some who question the decision, the vote for accepting this mandate was unanimous. This may be in the hopes of stemming California's serious air quality issues. Several of California's cities have some of the worst air quality in the world, despite the many changes California has made to improve it.

The average transit bus can travel as much as 40,000 miles in a year, which is 4 times as much as the average car. It also consumes about 4 times as much gas per mile as the average car or truck. Combined, public transit is responsible for as much as 20% of the state’s transit related emissions, and this switch will remove as much as one million metric tons of carbon emissions from the air.

That's a huge amount for a relatively small change, and it could turn the tide for many smog choked cities around the state. Unfortunately, it doesn't come without a price. Emission free buses are significantly more expensive than traditional types. A normal, diesel powered bus costs about $500,000, a significant investment as it is. Cleaner burning natural gas buses costs $550,000 and electric buses can cost as much as $800,000.

While these initial costs are steep, they do cost less to run, and may pay for themselves over time. Until more of these buses are brought into daily use, it will be impossible to know for sure whether the buses are a good financial investment, even if there is no doubt they are a good investment for the future of our children, and for the environment.

Girls Who Code: Bringing Women Back to Technology

Right now, the United States is suffering from a huge computing crisis. It's not a virus or a new technology, but simply a lack of skilled coders. Right now there are 500,000 computer science jobs open, but only 40,000 graduates to fill them. With coding and other jobs in the computer field becoming more important to businesses everywhere, that gap is only widening. One of the reasons? Half of our future generation is being ignored as potential people to fill the gap.

Men vastly outnumber women in the computer science field, and a common answer to this problem is that it starts with the educational system. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2015, women accounted for only 18% of all computer science degrees earned for that year, and even less for women of color. This is reflected in the job market where, according to the Observer, women in tech represent only 25% of computing jobs- while also earning less of a salary than their male counterparts 63% of the time.

Some people even argue that women will never be a major part of the sciences, not from anything people are doing, but due to personality differences in men vs. women. Their arguments, however, are false and don't measure up to studies. This can be shown not only in paper, but in countries outside the US. In India, half of the students in computer science classes are female, and they perform just as well in examinations.

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Despite the conflicts on the gender gap, the fact is jobs need filling, and women weren't being catered to. At least until Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that reaches out to girls and organizes workshops for them to learn computer programming. These workshops can also be hosted by community organizers and leaders that register an independent workshop through the Girls Who Code website. These workshops can even be found throughout the US in all 50 states.

Girls Who Code focuses on computer clubs, for children as young as third grade, and has both camps and summer program for kids 6th grade through 12th grade. Their efforts have been highly effective. Those who complete the program often go on to graduate in computer science, at a rate of 15 times the national average. 

Their success is so great, they are projecting to help close the gender gap by 2027. Girls Who Code has already helped 90,000 girls, and continues to help more every day. Their efforts have been especially beneficial to minorities that are underrepresented in technology, such as black and Latina women, and low-income girls that may not have the same opportunities available to them. By choosing a computer science degree, they choose a better life for themselves, by helping to diversify tech or by ending the cycle of poverty. 

“...what we are doing is preparing students to be able to tackle STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]-related fields and to feel relatively comfortable with it as the technology changes and the workforce changes.” -Tracy Gray, the Managing Director of the American Institutes for Research

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Bootcamps and workshops like the ones that Girls Who Code put on are not only important now because of the amount of job openings, but are also important for the future. As the work force becomes more and more digital, with more traditional jobs being phased out due to forces like automation and artificial intelligence, teaching girls and women to code better prepares them for the future of work- a future where coding will be table stakes for many jobs.

When women get jobs in technology and even out the gender differences in companies, those companies also go on to preform better. According to a study reported by Forbes, "tech companies with a higher proportion of women employees, especially in leadership roles, perform better - both financially and in terms of creativity and innovation."

Even if girls can't find a good coding job, the odds are good they have a strong future in the tech industry—but only if they have the qualifications to apply. Girls Who Code still has a great deal of work to do. There are thousands of girls to be reached. Without programs like this one, they can slip through the cracks, and miss out on a career they might find themselves enjoying.

#MarchForOurLives, #ThisIsZeroHour, and How Youth Movements Are Saving Us

Effecting real change in this world is difficult, even when you are an adult with all the experience that goes along with it. When you are young, the road to change can be even more difficult. If you don’t have access to a car, can’t vote, or don’t have the security and freedom that can be afforded to you when you’re older, starting social movements can be logistically challenging.

Yet historically, young people have made some of the biggest impacts on the world. Malala Yousafzai is one such person. She blogged for the BBC about the Taliban and life under their rule, at great risk to herself. When she was just 15, she was shot in the head for it. She miraculously survived the injury, and in 2014 at the age of 17, she became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She now travels the world and speaks to groups of people on the importance of educating women, especially in countries where the majority of those who are illiterate are female.

Malala Yousafzai isn't the only youth to change the world for the better. It was a youth movement that started the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and a 15 year old boy who discovered a cheap way to test for pancreatic cancer. Even the massively attended and covered Women's March from 2017/8 felt like an older generation of protestors passing down the baton to a younger generation. In 2014, the youth were the ones represented as a majority in the Ferguson, MO protests that were in reaction to the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police. All over the world, the youth make a difference, and major youth movements are eliciting massive change as we speak.

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One of these movements is #MarchForOurLives, a campaign started by the students who were survivors of the Parkland shooting in February 2018, and currently being enacted by them all over the country. Young people who are fed up with mass shootings becoming an all too familiar reality, and the ease in which guns are available, are marching in major cities all across the US and demanding better gun control. Among the proposed actions are to reinstate funding to the CDC looking at gun violence as a health issue, ending the restrictions on the ATF, universal background checks, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. There are many more reasonable actions they want taken, and their efforts may well make a difference where adults have failed. 

The students involved will be driving from city to city in a campaign called #RoadToChange, and protesting gun violence in each one. They are also actively educating and registering people to vote at each stop. It is a powerful way to draw attention to the children who were shot and killed, afraid to go to school, and the much larger problem of guns in America. Protests so far have been held in 9 different states, and have made real progress. In Utah, organizers met with the Utah Gun Exchange, and reported on Twitter that they had a productive conversation with them.

The amount of people that Road to Change will be able to not only reach, but to be able to talk to and share ideas with face to face, is impossible to ignore. By listening to opposing viewpoints and making connections with the people most likely to protest change, #MarchForOurLives is well positioned to make a lasting impact on gun control.

Taking up another critical issue, #ThisIsZeroHour is a movement started by a 16 year old named Jamie Margolin. Jamie started Zero Hour due to her irritation with politicians who were standing by and pretending climate change did not exist. Already involved in a lawsuit against her home state, Washington, and their lack of effort to stop climate change, Jamie is no stranger to confrontation. She gathered her friends together to help her arrange a movement too big to be ignored.

Zero Hour is the fruit of their efforts. Their goal is to stage a massive protest, localized in Washington DC, but with sister marches nationwide. On July 21st, thousands of youth will march on the National Mall in protest to the insufficient attitude politicians have had toward climate change. The day before, they will be making art around the city in an effort to draw attention to their cause. These simple acts may be small by themselves, but as more and more youth gather, it makes a momentum that is very hard to ignore.

“I decided it was unfair that I can’t vote, I don’t get to choose who is in power, I’m too young to be in power, but I get to pay the price for the decisions that politicians make today. It’s not fair that I’m being left with this world that is falling apart.” -Jamie Margolin

Jamie isn't stopping at the march either, on July 19th, she will be bringing the demands of her movement to politicians. Though the march is directed at people best able to make the changes they want to see, politicians, they will not be going by the White House. Jamie wants to make it clear that this isn't solely about President Trump, but at the alarming problems her generation will be left with if nothing is done.

With record breaking storms and horrific wildfires sweeping the country, her point is well made by the environment as well as the protest. While we have not yet seen a category 6 hurricane, the growing possibility of one occurring due to climate change has been brought up frequently by scientists. Last year, hundreds of people lost their lives to the violent storms and fires created by a changing climate. If this continues, Jamie and her friends are concerned there won't be a planet left for her.

ZeroHour is yet another example of youth making a difference where perhaps no one else can. The Florida government has actually banned the use of the terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” in official government documents. This attitude is one shared by many government officials through out the United States, but it may not be there for long. The march against climate change is expected to be a catalyst to change that.

All around the world, young people are making a difference. Despite not having the ability to vote, curfews, and the general contempt towards the thoughts of the younger generation, real progress has been had at the hands of children. We have yet to see whether real change can be made this time, but if history is any indication, they have a fighting chance at making their voices heard.

The Impossible Burger and Earth's Future

An Impossible Burger has been ordered at the Salty Dog in Brooklyn, New York. The thick red patty is placed on the grill, and the heavenly smell of cooking meat fills the air. The burger is cooked to still slightly pink perfection, crispy and brown on the outside, and nestled into a bun with a crown of lettuce and tomato. A handful of golden fries are laid alongside, and the burger is taken out to the hungry guest. The patron bites into the juicy burger, enjoying the glorious sin that is perfectly cooked beef.

Except there is no beef in it.

The Impossible Burger is part of the artificial meat movement, a growing phenomenon where meat is consumed in every possible manner, without ever once slaughtering an animal to get it. Gone are the days where carnivores had to choose between their ideals about the environment, and their desire to sink their teeth into a fresh and juicy steak.

Faux meat, such as the Impossible Burger, uses the power of heme to make their burgers so realistic. Heme, which is found in animal blood and is responsible for much of the flavor we associate with meat, is also found in the roots of legumes. These foods have come a long way from the lackluster bean patties of yesterday, but they aren't the only option now for carnivores with a conscience.

Another option currently being worked on by scientists is lab grown meat. While lab grown meant has been around for over a decade, you haven't seen it in the supermarket yet because of its costs. The first burger patty grown without the need to slaughter a cow cost $323,000 to produce. The cost of it now? $11.

While it may be a few more years before these lab produced meats become widely available, the growing demand for meat that doesn't impact the environment has been heard loud and clear by investors all around the world.  The reason for this shift isn't about our emotional bond with livestock, although this has been the main reason people have stopped eating meat in the past. It is due to a far more urgent reality: Agriculture is currently responsible for 16% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Outside of the energy sector, agriculture has the largest impact on global warming.

While 16% might seem like a small amount, this is actually around 6 billion tons of GHGs flooding into our atmosphere every year. Most of those carbon emissions come from livestock, from ruminants in particular. As Earth's temperatures rise, the alarming state the world is in has put extensive pressure on countries around the world to do something about it, and fast. Island nations such as the Maldives and Nauru may completely disappear due to climate change, and some nations have already been forced to relocate due to rising sea waters.

Greenhouse gases aren't the only issues the intensive farming of animals is causing the planet. 80% of amazon forest clearing is so that farmers can raise cattle in the cleared areas. This magnifies the problem by removing carbon sequestering trees while at the same time adding methane producing cows. 

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The deforestation is responsible for yet another crisis the planet is facing, the mass extinction of animals. On any given day, 150-200 animal species go extinct. These include animals we are familiar with, such as the West African black rhinoceros, which was declared extinct in 2011. Others are animals we don't even know about yet, dying because of narrow ranges destroyed by habitat loss. While extinction is a normal part of nature, this is several times the normal rate of extinction, and much of it is attributed to agriculture.

These alarming statistics are pretty conclusive evidence against keeping livestock, but culture is a powerful thing. For the majority of first world citizens, the idea of losing their beloved burgers is a hard one to accept, and it is easier to turn a blind eye on global warming or point at other, easier things to fix, than to change your lifestyle to match your ideals.

While this may seem like a petty excuse, it is one that needs to be addressed if real change is going to take place. Ending meat consumption is hard, and big business doesn't make it any easier. We are constantly surrounded by advertisements tempting us to eat more and more, and meat as well as other animal products are heavily subsidized.

When a bunch of carrots costs more than a burger off the dollar menu, choosing the option that is better for the planet gets a whole lot harder. If the true price of meat, dairy, and other animal products were reflected in the prices, meat eaters themselves might well find the strength to stop the cycle themselves. For some, who may even want to make the switch to a healthier lifestyle such as veganism or even a Mediterranean diet, which is less environmentally destructive, it is impossible. They are simply priced out of the market.

Source:  Eater

Source: Eater

In the Fake America controlled by subsidies, milk sometimes costs less than $2 a gallon, and eggs can go for as little as $0.99. If the true prices were reflected on the store shelves instead of in our taxes, that gallon of milk could be as much as $6 a gallon, and so could the eggs.

In the mean time, those who care about the environment and truly want to save the planet are surrounded by difficult choices every day. It's thanks to incredibly realistic faux meats like The Impossible Burger, and lab grown meats that don't require the intensive farming cheap meat does, that other options are now on the table.

We need to make a shift in our diets in order for the next generation to have a future at all. That much is clear. Doing so requires a social shift that may seem impossible, but with the help of scientists and other researchers all around the world, that change is becoming easier every day. 

Click here to find where to try the Impossible Burger.

How Microloans and Direct Giving are Modernizing Poverty Alleviation

It can be hard to imagine what true poverty looks like. In developed countries, we think of people who are on food stamps to survive, or perhaps have to live on the streets. Yet in some areas of the world, true poverty means going an entire week without eating any food, or not having access to a bathroom at all.

Extreme poverty exists all over the world. People die for lack of shelter and food, and get by on as little as sixty-five cents a day. Many people living on this amount don't have enough money to eat, let alone to find a way to better themselves. Without a helping hand, they have no way to break the cycle and climb out of their poverty. They are locked into extreme poverty forever.

Source:  GiveDirectly

Source: GiveDirectly

It is this reason that charities such as Give Directly are creating a way to provide microloans and direct giving to people in extreme poverty. Participants in this experimental program are given roughly $1,000 over multiple payments. The money through this particular program are given with no strings attached, and the people who get it can do what ever they want with it.

Most people immediately better their lives with the money. If money is gifted to them in a large amount, the money is typically used to provide a stable source of income for them. They might use the money to purchase a cow to sell milk from, or to buy a motorcycle to transport other people around on for pay. The new source of income is long term and permanent, and often means the ability to eat and support themselves far into the future.

Source:  GiveDirectly

Source: GiveDirectly

Smaller payments are typically used on nutrition. One woman expressed her gratitude at being able to eat regularly, instead of going several days without food at a time. Despite being given the money with no strings attached, it was used responsibly by almost every person who received the funds. Give Directly shares what the people do with the money on their website, and you can see how the money was spent on a feed that is constantly updated.

Give Directly mentions on their website that their direct giving is also meant to be a testing ground for a universal basic income. The idea, that all people everywhere should be provided enough money to survive off of regardless of whether they can work, has been bandied about for quite some time. The idea can be traced back as early as the 1500s, as a possible way of deterring theft. The idea has come back at regular intervals since then, all the way up to today when the Finnish government is currently testing basic income on 2,000 unemployed citizens.

There is no doubt from the data that unconditional money is a big boost to those living in extreme poverty, but even when unconditional money isn't available, micro-loans can be a great help too. Micro-loans are loans as low as $10 or as much as $500.

The credit allows people in extreme poverty the chance to create income for themselves. Mohammad Yunus first started the practice as early as the 1970s, by offering women in a village in India small cash loans. Through the loans, the women were able to go into business for themselves, and create a stable income.

These small loans are a great help to those in extreme poverty, because they often don't have access to loans at all. In some countries, there is almost no access to secure banking whatsoever. This means no safe place to keep savings, as well as no reliable financial institutions willing to give out loans. As many as 2.5 billion people live this way, and that can make bettering themselves extremely hard.

Micro loans can be a big help to people in these areas. Similar to the problems addressed by Give Directly, micro loans can provide those in extreme poverty with the ability to go into business. By being able to afford a big purchase, such as a dairy animal, chickens for eggs, seeds for planting, or a vehicle to drive people around in, they can change their lives for the better.

Financial access is a key part of climbing out of poverty. It's a common saying that it takes money to make money, and also that it is expensive to be poor. A little extra cash flow, regardless of how it comes in, can have a huge impact on the standards of living for those in extreme poverty.

Whether the method is in the form of a gift, a loan, or a basic income, more money can bring instant relief to those with little hope of bettering themselves. While any company can turn a positive situation into a negative situation, the truth is that bettering the financial situations of the poor will never happen unless we invest in them. A financial gift or even a loan can make the difference in the lives of billions of people, if we only try.

To donate to GiveDirectly, visit their website.

California Now Requires Solar Roofing on All New Housing

The California Energy Commission voted in a unanimous 5-0 vote on Wednesday to change energy efficiency standards on newly constructed homes. These new standards will require all new homes to have solar panels installed on them, effective January 2020. It is a huge step for California, which is already a leader in green energy, and has been praised as a giant step in California's efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

These new requirements may increase the prices on new homes in an already pricey market, but should save new home buyers overall. The new requirements are projected to cost new home buyers an extra $40 a month on their mortgage payment, but save them double that in energy costs. This means an overall benefit to home buyers, if they can handle the initial purchase or rental of solar panels.

Adding solar panels to all new homes, and all condominiums and apartments three stories or smaller, is not just a step towards efficiency, but also California's ambitious climate change goals. In 2017, state legislation was passed requiring California to cut its greenhouse emissions as much as 40% by 2030. This ambitious goal will be greatly helped by the new requirements.

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The requirements received remarkably little opposition from the building industry group which was present during the vote. The change has been expected from them for a long time, and their only negative comment was that they wished for a longer time to implement the new regulations. When asked for their opinions, the vast majority of builders and their representatives expressed their support for the new regulations.

The lack of protest most likely stems from the affordability of solar panels in California. Right now it is so cost effective compared to traditional electric, over 15,000 home owners choose solar panels as an option for their new homes anyway. As it is, California now produces so much wind and solar panel, they often have to cease production or give away energy to other states to avoid overloading the grid. Some people are concerned that requiring solar on every new home will strain the grid farther, but others see the choice as simply turning solar into an appliance rather than a utility.

Only time will tell whether or not California's efforts will be successful or not. If the new requirements end up being a boon to the economy as many people predict, California's new building requirements will serve as a model for other states to follow. Should it fail or have other problems, other states will see it and think carefully before proceeding down the same path.

Most Californian's seem to agree with the new requirements, and are happy to embrace these changes, but they still have another trial ahead of them. In order to become permanent, they need to get a final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission. It is expected to be up for review in November, and is expected to be approved and adopted into the state's building codes.

How YouTube is Changing the Face of Education

When people think of advanced learning concepts such as calculus or quantum physics, they often think of a university or other place of higher learning. At the very least, high school might come up in a person's mind. Yet a surprising number of students are learning advanced concepts on a social media platform called YouTube. This might be surprising to some, considering the popularized idea of YouTube might bring up thoughts of the recent controversies with one of their biggest vloggers Logan Paul, but more and more, people are turning to the platform to learn.

YouTube is a video based platform that allows people to upload and share their videos. The people who watch them can vote on whether they like it or not and leave comments. YouTube has spawned a diverse number of videos, from classics like music videos, to vlogs, to educational videos on how to do just about anything.

If you are a visual learner, YouTube can be a fantastic tool for understanding new concepts. If you've never changed a tire before, or don't know how to do your taxes, there's a video that will walk you through it. Always wanted to compete your dog but can't afford the $200 a month in lessons? You can follow along with a video and get your dog show ring ready in no time.

Many YouTubers are catching on to just how useful the educational side of YouTube can be. The CEO of Youtube, Susan Wojcicki, noted at the 2018 Code Media Conference that the educational related views alone on YouTube reached one billion a day.

Inside of the classroom, YouTube is just as useful as outside of it. The short, easy to understand videos available can explain difficult concepts as well as text books, and in some cases better. As a popular example, Brian Cox has videos on quantum mechanics, where he explains advanced concepts so simply anyone could understand them.

When you are having trouble absorbing information for your class, YouTube can be a life saver. While this is a boon for homework, the educational field itself has had mixed results with it. Some schools have banned the use of YouTube, citing the inappropriate comments also available on the website. 

Others have a different view. At Columbia college, Mr. Mike Perkins frequently shows YouTube videos in his Case Management class. He uses YouTube to show his students real examples of the cases they might encounter. Language teachers also frequently use YouTube, because it offers interesting videos in different languages for their students to practice with. 

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While many teachers can and do use YouTube to help their students, it does have a drawback besides the inappropriate materials. Many school faculty reject YouTube for a completely different reason—its Wikipedia like management. Because anyone can upload videos, and there is no way to validate how true the information is, it can't always be taken seriously.

Fortunately, YouTube has responded with a compromise that has allowed YouTube and education to combine in helpful ways. YouTube EDU is a program established in 2012 that has been lauded by the Association of American Educators. It allows people in the educational field to hand pick which videos they want their students to see. This makes it so that a respected person can verify the facts themselves, and allows teachers to make full use of the benefits of YouTube without the potential drawbacks.

YouTube is rapidly becoming an important part of the educational sphere, both for its usefulness for the teachers, and for one other important feature. YouTube is changing how we learn because it is free to use. In a world where education is often out of this world expensive, it is a welcome relief and in some cases life saving.

In developing countries, getting an education can be an impossible task. Many children are forced to quit school because their parents can no longer afford the tuition fees, or they must work in order to help support their families. Luckily, thanks to the power of this social media platform, it doesn't have to mean the end of a chance for a better life for them.

YouTube has created an opportunity for them to learn skills that can help improve their lives. In India, women are changing the lives of their families through skills they have learned off of YouTube. One enterprising teenager learned to make bangles, bracelets, and other things off of YouTube. She sold them in nearby villages, and her skills earn her double what her father makes in a day. 

In other countries, YouTube does much the same thing. In Kabul, Danielle Moylan was able to help herself and others escape from the stress of living in a war zone through learning yoga. She used YouTube to help herself learn the techniques, and was even able to get enough training from watching videos that she was able to qualify as a yoga instructor. She now teaches others and helps give them a break from the every day tension in their life.

Stories like these are becoming more common. YouTube does not cost anything except for the price of the internet you need to access it, and in many countries the internet is readily available and free or cheap to use. According to the World Bank, the poorest households in the world are more likely to have access to a mobile phone than they are a toilet. 

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While this isn't necessarily a good thing in itself, it does provide hope for people of every demographic. YouTube is free to use, so even the poorest person in the world can still afford to get education and learn important skills through its power. Thanks to the power of YouTube, men and women of every age are learning how to build wind mills for their villages, gaining new status as business women in developing countries, or simply understanding the basic concepts of algebra for their math class.

YouTube is a powerful education tool, and one that should not be ignored. Thanks to this social media platform, anyone can learn how to do anything at any time. It is a gift to the world that can't be ignored.

The Origin and Impact of Earth Day

As Earth Day's 50th Anniversary approaches, it pays to look back on the start of this important holiday, and understand how it came to be. In the 1950s, before Earth Day was even being considered as a concept, no one gave much thought for the environment. The chemical industry was at its peak, and there was little in the way of protection for the environment. When most people thought of environmentalism, they didn't think about protecting the oceans from things like plastic and oil spills, instead they thought of things like setting aside land for animals and protecting old growth forests. 

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In the 1960s, this all began to change. The first major ripple to hit the status quo was Rachel Carson's book, “Silent Spring.” The book brought to the attention of the average man or woman the damage being done to the environment by the chemical industry. It was a very popular book at the time, and it changed the minds of many people about how they viewed the environment.

Silent Spring got people thinking about the environment, and a series of environmental disasters helped launch people into action. Among them were major oil spills off of the California cost, and pollution so bad in the great lakes, a river leading to Lake Eyrie actually caught on fire. 

Source:  Sierra Club

Source: Sierra Club

These disasters coupled with many others galvanized environmentalists into action. Determined to make an impact, they began to plan a grass roots movement to help take a stand for the good of the planet. That grass roots movement was a concept called Earth Day, and it launched April 22nd, 1970. Over 20 million people left their homes to attend events around the United States in an overwhelming show of support for this movement. Their efforts had a profound impact. The government hastened to create legislation to protect against some of the worst atrocities that big business was having on the environment. 

The same year as Earth Day had its first event, the United States came out with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These two bits of legislation changed the world for the better. Instead of being allowed to spew what ever dangerous chemicals they wanted into the air or dumped into streams, factories now had to meet specific standards.

Years before Earth day started, twenty people in a small town called Donora died from air pollution expelled by a factory. According to the EPA, the Clean Air Act is credited with preventing as many as 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and as many as 83,000 hospitalizations. The clean water act as had an equally large impact. When the Clean Water Act first went into effect, only 1/3 of the United State's water was safe to be used. This climbed to over 2/3rds.

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These successes alone both had a strong impact on improving the environment, and with the installation of a new agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, also a direct reaction to Earth Day, the environment suddenly had a fighting chance for good.

Earth Day then took a back seat on the world's stage until 1990, when environmentalists again rallied to the cause. This time not 20 million, but 200 million people. This time their goal wasn't to stop the flow of toxins being let loose into the air and water, but to make Earth Day a global event. Their focus this time was on recycling.

Once again the efforts of environmentalists around the globe were impactful. Their events gained global attention to the impact throwing out aluminum cans and other highly recyclable items had on the world. The average person learned that when they threw something away, they needed to realize that there is no “away”. There is just our one planet.

The 1990 Earth Day celebrations were mainly created by two foundations developed specifically for the vent. The Earth Day 20 Foundation, and Earth Day 1990. These foundations were lead by many of the same people who had been essential in the first Earth Day. These people included Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was the original founder of the 1970 Earth Day, Edward Furia who was the Project Director for Earth Week, 1970 and Denis Hayes, National Coordinator for Earth Day 1970.

Their efforts spread Earth Day from just the United States to 161 countries. A team of climbers on Mount Everest brought down two tons of garbage left by other hikers on the way to the summit, and as many as 20,000 people at a time visited Times Square in New York for Earth Day related events.

Source:  NBC

Source: NBC

Earth Day 1990 was once again a success, and it would eventually lead to Senator Nelson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton five years later. It put environmentalism back in both the political and the public eye. 

By the time Earth Day 2000 rolled around, the number of participating countries had climbed even higher to 184 countries participating. The focus this time was on global warming, and the possibly cataclysmic results.

The impact of this Earth Day was profound. Now businesses and politicians were very aware of how much the environment meant to people, and they scrambled to take advantage of it.

Just two years after Earth Day 2000, California passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, the eventual end goal being that at least half of California's utilities come from renewable sources by 2030. Given the size of the state, it was a huge success for environmental activists everywhere.

Electric and hybrid cars became a fashion statement, and consumers flocked to get more gas efficient vehicles. With the rising costs of gasoline, having a cheap way to refuel made them even more popular.

By the time Earth Day 2010 rolled around however, environmentalism was facing threat. While people still wanted to protect the environment, the oil industry was starting to fight back. Some people even stated that climate change was fake, and that there were no signs of the green house effect after all. Despite all this, environmentalists still gathered, and companies that were hesitant to change began to yield to the demands of people all around the world.

The changes from Earth Day have become pervasive throughout business and politics alike. Most companies now have a link on their website addressing sustainability and what their company is doing to reach it. Even companies that have nothing to do with the environment in their business, are making an effort to appeal to consumers by changing how they do business.

In some cases this is changing over to using only sustainable energy, using biodegradable materials, or using recycled materials in their products. The change in big business is becoming more common, and politics has been following behind, albiet at a somewhat slower pace.

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Recently the Paris Climate Accord brought together many of the world's greatest powers. In total, 175 countries signed the pledge, agreeing to lower greenhouse emissions and deal with their own countries carbon footprints. Despite the agreement not going into effect for several years after the agreement was signed, many countries began making ambitious changes right away.

China in particular, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, has already made strides toward their goal. They have introduced coal caps in high coal consumption areas, introduced new legislation to make new buildings increasingly environmentally friendly, and started fining companies that polluted too much.

This has made them a world leader in the environmental front, and put them ahead of many other countries who are also struggling to support their environment. Another notable country making big changes to help the environment is Finland.

While Finland doesn't produce nearly the same amount of carbon emissions as China does, it has made notable strides in its own right. As one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. While reducing carbon emissions is an important part of the climate accord, so is sequestering as much as the green house gas emissions being produced as possible. This means forests, which are one of the greatest ways to help keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Finland has some great policies in place to help maintain their forest, and even have tourism based on how pristine and beautiful their landscape is. Their success at managing their sustainability has even gotten its own name, “The Finnish Model,” and is being used as an example of how to create sustainability in other countries. With an EPI of 90.68, Finland is leading the way in sustainability, and will hopefully be a model closely followed by other countries in their struggles against climate change.

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Thanks to Earth Day in many respects, the environment has gotten a helping hand from countries all around the world. As glaciers melt and weather phenomenon related to global warming sweept the globe, more people are realizing that climate change is part of the problem.

The next major Earth Day celebration will be 2020. This anniversary is an important one because it will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and environmentalists everywhere are already gearing up to tackle it.

Many of the topics for Earth Day 2020 will be the same, but some new campaigns are being added in. One of the most important ones is the threat of plastic pollution in the world's oceans, and drawing awareness to the problems this plastic is causing.

Thanks to the throw away culture big business has created, we are accustomed to getting nearly every disposable item in its own plastic bottle or bag, and then throwing it away when we are finished with the disposable item inside. We throw it away, without considering the fact that there is no “away.”

While some of this material gets recycled, a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Vast quantities of plastic have ended up in the Oceans, creating huge rafts of floating debris in the gyres that form in the ocean. This plastic isn't just ugly—it kills wildlife. Sea turtles commonly mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and eat them, often resulting in death. Those that survive may not reproduce due to the plastic in their guts. Sea birds, fish, and other wildlife also end up eating and dying from the plastic, and the plastic itself causes changes in the PH of the ocean.

This will no doubt be a huge part of the campaign, and with the success of Earth Day's past, we can hope that this Earth Day will help provide more help to the environment by shedding light on this terrible problem caused by plastic pollution.

Earth Day has been around for 48 years, and it has seen sweeping change in how people view the environment. From the complete ignorance of what was going on and the terrible damage being done to the world, to knew science constantly being added, the last 48 years has seen major change in the world.

In 50 more years, we can hope that we will have changed our ways and become a more sustainable world, with greenhouse gas under control, throw away plastics banned, and more thoughtful people paying attention to what they do. These changes won't come without a fight though. It starts with individual people who choose to make changes in their own life, and also add their voice to others so that their government hears their demands.

Change can be as simple as carrying a reusable plastic bag to the market, or planting your own garden so your food does not have to travel thousands of miles in order to get to your plate. We can change the world just by making small changes in our own lives, a vital and important aspect of Earth Day itself. With our combined effort, we can make this planet a good one for the next generation. Hopefully, the world as a whole will try, and Earth Day 2070 will be a remarkable one.

How to Be More Gracious

The word “Gracious” is not one we hear too often anymore. Yet today this word still conjures images of a person we'd like to have in our lives. Adding a touch of graciousness to ourselves is a great way to benefit both yourself and the community, and it is something that you can do without any special training or skill. Here are three amazing ways you can show graciousness in your day to day life.

 

Show forgiveness to others

In today's world, forgiving others almost feels like a taboo. We live in an elitist culture, and social media as well as our work culture has driven us to feel the need to strive for perfection. This has touched every aspect of our lives, from parenting to pets. 

Our friends, family and co-workers make mistakes from time to time, just as we do. Chiding your coworker for being late (especially without hearing the circumstances as to why they were late), correcting their parenting style on a Facebook photo, or making someone feel like a bad dog owner for feeding the wrong foods are all things we do without thinking of it.

Instead, consider a more forgiving attitude. Understanding that people make mistakes and not embarrassing them over it is a salve on the spirit that they will remember long after the moment has passed.

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Be a little more thoughtful

Maya Angelou once said, “They may forget what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.” When ever you interact with someone, you are leaving behind a memory of how you made another person feel.

Fortunately, you don't need to be over the top to show thoughtfulness in your day to day life. It can be as simple as smiling at the doorman, and saying hello. It can be sending flowers or a hot meal to someone who has lost a loved one. It can be making sure your co-worker gets off 15 minutes early so he can go pick up his kid, or washing your kids favorite Minecraft shirt so he can wear it again.

Thoughtfulness is a wonderful way to help develop graciousness in your life.

 

Show gratitude for what others do for you

While we aren't supposed to expect a spotlight on the kind things we do in life, it can feel like we are invisible when no one ever thanks you for a task done well. Remembering to thank the store clerk for helping you find whole wheat pasta, or a co-worker who saved you from having to speak to a chatty client for an extra 30 minutes, remembering to thank a person for what they've done can be the highlight of their day. Being thankful also helps others to know that you notice their actions, and appreciate them.

There are dozens of other ways to show graciousness, but these three skills are foundation skills in graciousness. Through adding these skills into your day to day life, you can help the world to become a better place, and make more people smile when they see your face.

Here Are 3 Ways That You Can Support Your Local Community

We all want to make the world a better place. Some of us show it in different ways, like sorting out all our recycling or having meatless Mondays to try and reduce our impact on the environment. Making the world a better place doesn't have to be about the world though, it can also be about your community.

Often small changes in our behaviors can have a huge impact on others, sometimes even saving their lives. Through helping your community, you can create a ripple effect that is seen around the world. Here are 3 amazing ways you can help your community, and start that ripple.

Shop Local

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

One of the biggest impacts you can make on the community is by choosing to shop as locally as possible. From choosing your vegetables at the farmer's market, to buying your books at the tiny used book store on the corner, you are changing lives for the better. Your money is going directly to the families in your community, and staying in the community.

That means when you buy your lettuce from Farmer Joe, you are paying for his daughter's violin lessons. If you buy it at the super market, you're paying for Big Bucks CEO to make $1200 an hour. Shopping local can make a vital difference in your community, and can have the largest reaching impact.

Volunteer

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

Not everyone has time to volunteer. We have busy lives, and some of us work full time, or have children that keep our hands full all the time. If you do have some free time, volunteering can make a huge impact on some of the things you feel most passionate about. If you love animals, volunteering at a shelter can help see those strays dwindle. Understand what it is like to escape domestic abuse? Volunteering for a shelter for women or men who have been abused can help heal old wounds. Some of the rules for volunteering can be pretty demanding. If you can't promise the hours you need to or have limited time for a formal volunteer location, you can volunteer in smaller ways.

Volunteering can be as simple as shoveling and salting your elderly neighbors walk during a snow storm, or tutoring a child who otherwise couldn't afford the lesson. These things may seem small, but they can have a lasting impact on both the person you help, and the people who inspired by seeing you to pitch in.

Speak up

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Sometimes you don't even have to do anything besides a phone call or a note to make a difference. If you see a store clerk doing something extra, let a manager know. If you see your neighbor, ask how they are doing and check in to see if they need anything. Face to face communication can make a huge impact in the world, starting with brightening a person's day.

The first step to taking care of your community is to simply care, and you're doing that just by reading this article. Get out there, and start building a better world, one step at a time.

Image source: Flickr

Action Hunger: A Welcome Step in the Fight Against Homelessness

Homelessness is a pervasive problem that effects everyone, and happens in every single country. Millions of people are forced to sleep out on the streets, where they endure treatment that should never be allowed with our fellow human beings. Spikes are put up to discourage them from finding places to sleep, and everywhere the homeless go, they are asked to go “away.” The unfortunate truth is, there is no away.

Dozens of charities have been created to help those who are homeless. They offer food, shelter, resources, and help in truly resolving the issue by preparing the homeless to find permanent shelter. While these amazing charities are doing a great job of assisting homeless, they can only go so far. Action Hunger's goal is to help fill in the gaps that even the best charity can leave out, by offering the homeless free vending machines with the items they most desperately need.

While it may not seem like much to a person with a roof over their head, free sanitary supplies, socks, fresh fruit, and other indispensable items can make a big difference to those going without. As an added benefit, items from these vending machines can only be gained with a key card, both insuring that the items go to the people they are intended for, and also that those who need it are checking in with the services meant to help them. 

Most of the fresh food items in the vending machine are foods that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, effectively combating both the hunger of the homeless and food waste at the same time.

Source:  Action Hunger

Action Hunger strives to provide comfort and help to England's most vulnerable people, while at the same time complimenting other charities. The vending machine is designed to allow only 3 items to be taken per day, insuring that those who use them are not completely dependent on them. Since working with professionals and checking in regularly is considered the key to breaking the cycle of homelessness, making these vending machines dependent on seeing those professionals may help get them off the streets.

Homelessness has become more and more pervasive over the years. Funding for affordable housing has been cut, and the prices of rent and mortgages have skyrocketed, making rough sleeping the only option for many people. On top of that, the reaction of many cities isn't to provide help for those who need it, but to make homelessness a crime. This has resulted in desperate people with no where to go, and no other option but to keep walking. 

Action Hunger is an amazing charity that gives care and attention to the people who need it most. The homeless are often cast out by society, and are too often turned away rather than giving them the help they need. Thanks to Action Hunger and the many charities working hand in hand with them, there is hope that the cycle can be broken. 

Image Source: Action Hunger

 

Black Panther, Love Simon, and the Importance of Representation in Film

In 2008, one of the top grossing films of the year was Batman: Dark Knight at just over one billion dollars. In the movie, the DC comic book hero Batman (Bruce Wayne) must save Gotham city from a villain named the Joker before it is too late. In this action packed film, one thing stands out. You might first guess what stands out is the amazing acting or the great cinematography, but in this case it is something else entirely. There are relatively few people of color in the cast. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Jai White as Gambol are the only two named characters in the movie that are not White. While there are one or two more unnamed characters who are also of color, the majority of the cast is for the most part Caucasian. The director, producers, and even the screen play writers are all also White, with just one female among them. This may seem relatively normal, and not something that stands out at all, and while the truth is it is normal, it really shouldn't be.

Source:  CNN

Source: CNN

This might still be the case today, yet fast forward ten years later to 2018, and the box office is an entirely different place. 2018 has featured an array of unique titles that are changing the face of film. One such movie is Black Panther, a movie which has already earned $644,000,000 and is still continuing to bring in money. In Black Panther, the story focuses on the Marvel super hero, also called Black Panther. When the main character's father dies, T'challa becomes the king of an African country named Wakanda, and assumes the role of Black Panther to defend it and the world against harm. In a lot of ways it has the same characteristics as Dark Knight. It is still a strong man fighting against crime with the odds stacked against him. Yet this time in an exciting twist, the main character is a person of color, and so is very nearly all of the cast. In a world where only a tiny fraction of main characters are anything but Caucasian males, it is a surprising twist to the normal we see in films.

In another film out this year, Love Simon, a teenage boy who is in the closet experiences high school drama at its finest. This heart warming high school drama follows Simon as he discovers another possibly gay person at the school, and begins communicating with him through messages. Drama ensues when these messages are discovered by another high schooler, and used as black mail. Eventually, he is forced to come out to his friends and family, and suffers school ridicule because of it. Thankfully the story has a happy ending, with Simon finding his true love and his friends and family supporting him. 

Source:  NPR

Source: NPR

Another example of the widening of cinematic scope that is occurring in 2018, is the Lara Croft remake. In this film we follow the main character, a female archeologist, through ancient tombs and hazardous ruins around the world as she seeks to complete her mission to find her father. In this high action film, the main character is not only female; but also presented as highly intelligent, resourceful, and capable. This flies in the face of the traditional “damsel in distress” trope, showing Lara (and for that matter, womankind’s agency). These stories are incredibly different from each other, but they are also the same: They feature characters from real life not typically seen in film. 

While there have been a few films that feature Black protagonists, women, or even gay men, they are extremely rare. Since the first silent films started rolling in theaters, the actors of Hollywood have been overwhelmingly white. Major characters are predominantly male and straight. When women and people of color are depicted, they are often minimized, or given one demential roles that don't truly show them as they truly are. As early as the 1960s, scientists have been analyzing this lack of minorities in major roles, and worrying about what the world wide ramifications of this may be. In 1976, it even got a name. “Social Annihilation.”

The theory of social annihilation was created by George Gerbner, an immigrant to the USA from Hungary, who specialized in the study of communication. He coined the term to describe the lack of minorities in film and other media, and to make a point. Seeing yourself, or people who look like you, portrayed in film and fiction matter. When you don't see yourself, you start to think that this is normal. That your place in society is to be invisible, and to let these people who don't look like you take the lead.

In particular, when a person of color is portrayed as a specific way in virtually every film, a person of that same color may come to think that is what the world expects of them. If you are Asian, you must be geeky and goofy as well. If you are Latino, you must be part of a gang. This can lead to catastrophic effects on the minds of the minorities who watch these films. Some may say that movies are just movies, but when you start to wonder if the only role you are supposed to play in the world is as a ditsy receptionist, or a goofy sidekick, you might hesitate to follow your dreams and go to college. After all, it isn't what the world expects of you. Why try?

This may seem a little extreme, but scientists throughout the past few decades have perceived it as a very real threat. Just a couple years after George Gerbner brought up social annihilation, he spoke again, this time with many other voices joining him. This time instead of in a detailed article it was in a short, four chapter long book called, “Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media,” published by Oxford University Press.

This book, though short, adds a lot of clarity into the understanding of just what it means to not see yourself presented in media, or worse, to see yourself only ever presented in a negative light. It likened television as a new sort of religion or culture, and that media was being used to resist change.

Though it is now 40 years later, the book reads scarily true and accurate. We are still using media to normalize violence, to stereotype minorities, and to whitewash the world around us. Evidence of this is plentiful, and much more recent than the 70s. In fact, just three years ago in 2015, “Pan” was released (and summarily flopped). It's greatest note in history is not its huge price tag or the lack luster reviews, but the outcry created when “Tiger Lily,” a Native American character, was played by a white woman. Played by one despite the fact that a Native American (Devery Jacobs) and a Kenyan/Mexican (Lupita Nyong’o) auditioned. 

This is a relatively common practice, and we repeatedly see the few fictional characters that are traditionally of color given to people who aren't. Bible stories are often shown as white, even though technically speaking most or all of the characters should have been Middle Eastern or Black. “The Last Airbender” and “Ghost in the Shell” also had their ethnic characters whitewashed out by Hollywood.

Source:  Paste Magazine

Fortunately, things are starting to change. When a rumor started that Disney's live action remake of Mulan might have white main characters, the backlash was so strong Disney had to put out a statement saying that the characters would retain their ethnicity. A small victory, but a victory none the less. While Hollywood still struggles with adding diversity to its cast despite the overwhelming demand for it, more minorities are being seen as major characters. The biggest drive for this may not be social change, the concern of scientists, or the will of the people however. It may be as simple as how much diversity pays off at the box office.

In 2017, Hollywood hit it big with several movies starring minorities. “Get Out” grossed a shocking $253.5 million world wide, despite a paltry $4.5 million dollar budget. In this satirical horror, Chris Washington, a Black man, visits the family of his White girlfriend Rose Armitage, for that first awkward “meet the parents” dinner. At first he thinks the family is just trying to accept his race in a kind way, but as time goes on he realizes to his horror that is not what is happening at all. The movie itself is terrific, refreshing, and original. While it may not be a surprise to those who watched it that it would be a hit, to Hollywood this may have been a rather big shock. After all, the lead was not only Black, but an unknown actor at that. The director was also a first timer, making this an exceptional but very interesting case.

Source:  NPR

Source: NPR

That very same year, Wonder Woman also took the world by storm, with not only a female heroine playing a strong role, but with a female director as well. The movie follows the story of Diana, the person who would become Wonder Woman. Her life begins on an island protected from the world and its people, where she learns to be a brave and fearless warrior. When a man washes ashore on the island with troubling consequences, Diana sets out with him to try and help save the world. As the story progresses, she embraces her role as Wonder Woman and faces every challenge thrown at her. It is once again an exciting story with a great plot, and audiences loved it. Wonder Woman fetched over $800 million at the box office, and is getting a sequel thanks to the fantastic turn out.

It's no surprise that movies featuring minorities are hits at the box office. A study done by USC’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative took a look at 39,500 speaking parts in over 900 films. Of those 39,500 parts, only 30.5% were female, and only 3% were Latino. Considering there are five million Latinos living in Los Angeles alone, this is a huge market not being tapped into.

Latinos are one of the most loyal movie goers, with a quarter of the Latino population visiting the movie theaters regularly. As Netflix and Hulu command a greater share of movie goers, it makes sense to yield to the pressure and add more minorities to movies. Especially at a time when what used to make up the majority of movie goers, Caucasians, are actually declining in how often they visit. With this shift in who is putting down money in the box office, it makes sense to start catering to the people who are paying for the movies in the first place.

This brings us back to 2018, with the continuation of the fantastic progress made with Wonder Woman and Get Out. The promising new movies we spoke of earlier, Black Panther, Love Simon and Lara Croft, are both hits in their own unique ways. Black Panther may well end up the highest grossing super hero of all time, and while Love Simon had a less adventurous box office weekend at just $11.5 million, it is one of just a hand full of movies to receive an A+ rating from Cinema Score. Since Love Simon cost only 17 million to make, it is likely that it will make a small profit for 20th Century Fox before it leaves movie theaters.

These movies are important because they are showing people of color as protagonists, LGBTQ people as normal, and women as leaders. They are giving the minorities that go to the movies every month, a very rare and important chance to see themselves portrayed as someone important. 

Because this change is relatively new, we can only guess at how the future may change if Hollywood continues to embrace diversity the way it is. Wonder Woman may inspire young girls to choose to reach for the stars, because they saw a strong and brave super hero winning against the odds. Perhaps young Black men will be inspired by Black Panther in much the same way, or a closeted gay teenager may watch Love Simon and realize he's not alone.

As Michael Morgan, former professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts so eloquently put it, “Stories Matter.” While we might be quick to blow off the movies we watch, or the television we turn on out of boredom, as simple light entertainment, they have a profound effect on us. Stories don't just tell us how things are, but often how we think they should be. They tell us our place in society, and what is right or wrong. Stories can inspire us to a great future, or teach us to mistrust others. 

While Lara Croft, Love Simon, and Black Panther may just be stories, they may also teach a generation to feel like their actions matter. It may cause people who otherwise wouldn't try to challenge themselves, and the result may well be something more solid than stories---new medicines, new technologies, from new faces in this busy world. Letitia Wright's character in Black Panther may just inspire a new generation to close both the gender and race gaps in our tech sectors- something that is becoming more and more of an obvious issue we need to solve. 

In a unique study done by Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll. The study looked at over 2,000 people who voluntarily left the tech industry in order to find out why. The answer was disturbing. Racist jokes, stereotyping, and bullying were so common that it was simply easier to leave than it was to stay. While this study is far from the movies we have discussed during this essay, it is by no mean unrelated. Stereotyping starts in the stories we tell ourselves, and that guy on tech support who is always played by an Indian man with a heavy accent is part of the problem- or that tech CEO played by a Caucasian male. By changing how underrepresented people are portrayed, we can change how they are perceived in the work place, and thus change the very core of why people are leaving in the first place. Movies like Black Panther are vitally important, because they are the first steps toward the change that will hopefully be seen around the world.

With any luck, the movies we have seen in the box office this year will continue to be a thriving example of the movies we see next year, and give the current generation a fresh new chance at life. We can only guess at what the potential of such stories may be, but if they can undo even a sliver of the damage done by years of being marginalized, it will be well worth the effort.

 

Image source: Forbes

 

T-Mobile is Committing to 100% Renewable Energy by 2021

In an exciting show of support for the fight to end climate change, T-Mobile has made the commitment to use 100% renewable energy by 2021. This comes in response to the RE100, which is a collaborative led by The Climate Group. It's goal is to get the most influential companies in the world to switch over to 100% renewable energy. So far 129 companies have signed onto the pledge, and the RE100 has spread from North America to other countries such as India and China as well.

Through changing these top businesses over to 100% renewable energy, RE100 head Sam Kimmins hopes that it will drive the rest of the world to make the switch to renewable energy. Large businesses changing how they run won't just help reduce their carbon footprint—it may help change infrastructure itself. In a quote, Sam Kimmins said about T-Mobile's commitment, “It's great to see T-Mobile US shifting to renewables for its power consumption. As a large electricity consumer in the US, they can truly transform energy systems by bringing significant renewable capacity online – all of that while delivering real value to their customers. I congratulate them for a great commitment.”

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

T-Mobile answered the call and has already made large strides toward this goal by unveiling their plans to assist in the creation of a wind farm in order to help support their energy requirements. T-Mobile is no stranger to wind farms. They already have a long term agreement with a wind farm in Oklahoma that went online in December, 2017 for 160MW of energy. The wind farm is owned and operated by  Enel Green Power North America (EGPNA). The new farm will also have a commitment from t-mobile of 160MW. Together, these two farms will produce about 60% of the energy the carrier requires. They plan to purchase the rest of the power from renewable sources, to reach 100% in just three short years.

John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile, is excited to be a part of the project. When asked about the project he said, “...And it’s not just the right thing to do – it’s smart business! We expect to cut T-Mobile’s energy costs by around $100 million in the next 15 years thanks to this move. Imagine the awesome things we can do for our customers with that!” 

While the other giants in the industry are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, T-Mobile is thus far the only carrier to accept the 100% renewable energy challenge. T-Mobile has set up a petition asking two of the other mega carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, to take the challenge as well. You can support this by signing their petition, or tweeting using the hash tag #cleanupwireless in order to lend your voice to their cause.

T-Mobile joins other leading companies such as Nike, Google, Facebook and Microsoft in their pledge to convert to 100% renewable energy through this project. 

 

Image source: Flickr

Need Inspiration? Here are 3 Tips to Kickstart Your Creativity!

Trying to figure out how to get your creative juices flowing once again? Regardless of whether you're a founder, artist or hobbyist, there are times when you plateau in your creativity and have no choice but to figure out how to get back on track. For the most part, creativity fuels you up with the energy and inspiration you need to generate solutions and achieve your business or life goals; failure to engage creative thinking can leave you stuck in one spot, and that's bad. 

So what now? 

Well, if you feel like you haven't been creative in a while, we'll recommend you join us as we explore a few tips on how to escape the creative block and get things back on track. 

Let's dive in!  

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

1. Do Something That Makes You Happy

First off, you'll want to create time to do something you love, and yes, we're talking about a hobby. The thing is, love has a special connection to creativity, and of course, it's crucial to have a balance. That said, you won't be wrong to give yourself to doing something that pleases you, it could be a hobby like swimming, running, crafting or even playing an instrument. Just be sure that whatever you do helps you relax and at the same time gives your creativity a big boost. 

Speaking of which, it's also great to try something you've never done in your life — more like that one thing you've always wanted to do. Trust me, doing this can fire up your creativity and bring in a lot of great ideas. So what kind of activity are we talking about here? Well, it's up to you to decide! Skydiving and bungee jumping are sure to work great — just be sure that you're not scared of heights though. 

2. Just Relax and Meditate

Sometimes all you need is just to relax — this simple act can refresh your mind and get your creative juices flowing in no time. The good thing is, there are a whole lot of ways to unwind and relax — you can just take a walk on the beach or engage in a sports activity that tickles your fancy. As mentioned earlier, it's all up to you to decide! 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

We also suggest you practice meditation, especially if you're looking to silence those hectic thoughts that are constantly bugging your mind. That said, you won't be wrong to start following several different meditation techniques right now! At the end of the day, you'll experience an inner calm which will eventually pave the way for more creative thoughts to flow. 

3. Let the Music Take Control

You might not know this, but music can give a much-needed boost to your mood and creativity. Even Steve Jobs used music to set the right mood and keep his creativity in check. So what kind of music works? Well, both new and old music is sure to do your mind a solid. For the most part, new music helps you to feel connected currently while old music grounds you. It's also great to turn on your stereo and just dance — moving your body can actually get your creative juices flowing, and that's huge. 

And that's it — three foolproof ways to get out of a rut today! Remember there are still other things you can try like reading, spending time in nature or even going on a vacation, but these should be a great start! And oh, don't forget to keep a journal with you at all times — you wouldn't want to forget those bright ideas as they start flooding in. Good luck! 

 

Image source: Flickr

At Last, We’re Saving the Bees!

“Save the bees” is and has always been more than a catchy campaign slogan. For a few years now, we’ve been direly warned by scientists near and far about the dangers of a world without bees, or without enough of them. Bees are vital for our agriculture, after all! Fear and decline in bee populations around the world have had millions, nay billions, of people on the edge of their seats wanting for an opportunity to do more. Thanks to yet another scientific advancement in the world, we’re finally doing it. We’re finally saving the bees!

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

The population of wild bees and other pollination-powerhouses has been declining for some years now, and it’s not a regional problem. An assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has revealed that this decline in population has now become a global problem. The problem has gotten so severe that the UN is towing the line of needing to declare a full-scale threat to global food supplies. The solution, they propose, is protecting the populations of critters that are responsible for pollinating our crops. Some of those crops are pollinator-dependent and can’t produce enough quantity of crops, or can’t produce crops that are worthwhile and healthy without having the help of bees and other pollinating animals and bugs. These dependent crops include “nearly all your fruits and many of your vegetables”, says Simon Potts from IPBES. Such examples are apples, mangoes, and even cocoa beans. No cocoa means no chocolate.

A UN group charged with monitoring and assessing climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has determined that 9% of the European bee and butterfly population is currently under threat of extinction, as up to 40% of the respective populations has already died off. There are ways that this can be rectified, the obvious one being a greater force towards more sustainable living. But beyond eco-harmful lifestyles, there are other things that are major culprits behind the decline of bee and butterfly populations. Namely, the use of pesticides.

The pesticides that we’ve used for decades on both an industrial and a personal scale have been cutting bee populations way back because of the harm they cause to the bugs, which ultimately resulted in an inability to pollinate or reproduce.. Lucky for us, and for the bees, scientists have gone to work, and they’ve discovered that there was a certain kind of pesticide that didn’t harm bees. In fact, the bees were completely resistant to it! This pesticide is called tau-fluvalinate, and the brilliant minds behind its discovery published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal for the world to see.

The hope with this new discovery of a harmless pesticide is that it will still work to repel insects that cause damage to crops, such as mites and other pests, but don’t cause any harm to insects that seek to only pollinate the plants. One of the authors of the study, Professor Ke Dong, put it like this: “For the first time, we are showing that unique structural features in bee sodium channels interfere with the binding of tau-fluvalinate to bumble bee sodium channels.” In other words, the pesticide will still be absorbed into the body of the bee, but they won’t stick around and cause damage.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Unfortunately, it will still be a while before the pesticide will be released to the market widespread. Scientists need to make sure that they’re 100% certain their pesticide won’t cause any further harm to the populations of pollinating insects, mainly the bees, and that there will be no harmful circumstances that they didn’t anticipate. It’s for everybody’s sake that they take their time.

Lucky for the bees, Professor Ke Dong and his research team aren’t the only ones helping to tackle the problem of diminishing bee populations. The Cheerios brand recently purchased and created a 3,300-acre bee habitat so that our little pollinating friends may have a place to thrive and repopulate. Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, a classic rock band, has a foundation in his name that advocates for environmental protection and preservation, and they’ve helped to protect bee populations as well.

We’re not hopeless, but we’re not out of the woods yet either. Our planet still needs us, and right now, our bees need us the most. If you want to help on your own, the best thing you can do is plant flowers where you can. Flowers help keep bee populations up and help the earth through pollination. They’re helping to save the bees; will you join them?

A Brief History of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park became the first National Park in the United States on March 1st, 1872. It was established as a public park to serve as a spot for excitement and adventure for the people. The establishment of the park sparked a worldwide national park movement and today many nations now have national parks or preserves. The park has become famous all over the world for its naturally breathtaking scenery and geothermal wonders.

America's first national park is named after the river that runs through it. Within the park's massive boundaries, visitors can find mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and some of the most concentrated geothermal activity in the world. The park has 60% of the world’s geysers, as well as hot springs and mud pots. At 3,472 square miles, the national park is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The park offers several recreational opportunities including camping, boating, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing. 

The land area of the park spreads into parts of the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with 80 percent of the park comprising of forest and the rest, grassland, which is home to unique species of plants. The park is well known for its many lakes, wildlife, and geothermal features. One of its most popular thermal features is the Old Faithful geyser. The Old Faithful, capable of spewing water about 180 feet into the air, earned its name as a geyser when early explorers noted that it erupts once every 60 minutes. However, after decades of earthquakes which have altered its network of underground fissures, the eruptions have slowed down. Nowadays, the geyser often takes about 90-minute breaks in between eruptions.  Yellowstone has the nation’s oldest herd of bison and largest free-range herd. It is also an iconic spot for the Lower Falls and Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone National Park is a host to millions of visitors every year. It covers a wide expanse of land, about 2, 219, 789 acres. The park is home to one of the largest calderas in the world, having over 10, 000 thermal features. It is also the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Over 7 species of hoofed mammals (moose, elk, bison, pronghorn), grizzly bears, several types of other mammals, birds, fish, and gray wolf, resides in the park. The park has one of the largest petrified forests in the world, with trees that have long been buried by soil and ash and transformed into mineral matter.

Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is a reservoir of hot magma five miles deep, fed by a gigantic plume of molten rock welling up from hundreds of miles below. The heat is responsible for many of the park's famous geysers and hot springs. As magma rises into the chamber and cools, the ground above the park periodically rises and falls. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone caldera is the largest super volcano on the continent and is considered an active volcano. The caldera was formed after a massive explosion of magma which occurred nearly 600,000 years ago and has erupted with great force a number of times in the last 2 million years. This resulted from an immense heat formed below the earth’s mantle, pushing a large plume of magma towards the earth’s surface. The caldera was formed as a result of the volcanic depression that occurred when a magma reserve emptied and caved in. This was what led to the birth of what is known as the nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness of Yellowstone today, a recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. 

Yellowstone is located almost entirely within the state of Wyoming, with northern boundaries into the state of Montana and eastern boundaries spilling into Montana and neighboring Idaho. It therefore has five (5) entrances paving way to the national park. The North Entrance is open all year round to wheeled vehicles, and is also the busiest route due to its easy access and plowed road. The West Entrance is open from April 20 - November 4 to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12. The Northeast Entrance leading to Cooke City, is open all year round to wheeled vehicles while the South & East Entrances are open from May 11 – November 4, to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12.

The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park depends on your interests, as the park is open all year round to visitors. Many visitors are attracted to the park’s dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Each season offers visitors a distinct experience ranging from hiking to watching wildlife adventures and guided tours to fall-foliage tours. Springtime at the park is known for abundant wildlife, boisterous waterfalls, and feral weather. The spring season has the most crowds at the park, while winter time is for solitude. The park also offers lots of different and exciting ways to enjoy the winter season. 

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

At Yellowstone, wintertime is synonymous with fewer crowds, freezing temperatures, and hot geyser basins. Every year in early November, most roads leading to the park close to regular traffic as the winter season approaches. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis, and snowcoaches, become the primary means of transportation as roads are closed, lakes and rivers freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland. Limited services and restrictions to vehicle access makes a winter visit a challenging one. Most stores, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodges are closed during the winter season, which also contributes to this challenge.

The only exception to restricted vehicular movement is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, which is open to regular traffic all year. Once enough snow accumulates (usually by mid-December), roads open to “over-snow” travel only. This means the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach, or through the non-commercially guided snowmobile access program. Over-snow travel usually ends in mid-March, when the plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to normal cars in mid-April. Visitors can also indulge in the ranger-led programs offered at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park has a tour bus system, nine visitor centers, and over 2,000 campsites. Park partners and other businesses are also known to offer a variety of guided activities and trips during winter.

Yellowstone is also home to more than 199 species of exotic plants, 1,150 species of native plants and a countless number of fires including the biggest fires in America. Much of the Yellowstone's landscape has been shaped by the fires. In the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the national park was burnt. After the fires of 1988, scientists learned that even though much was burned down, due to the minerals in the ashes and the sunlight that was able to reach the forest floors after decades, the soil was enriched, therefore allowing new plants to be born, which allowed more food for animals. Although the fires were reported as horrifying and life threatening to the park, the fires rejuvenated Yellowstone's wildlife and ecosystem. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Why Land Conservation Matters

Land conservation is aimed at protecting sensitive natural areas such as the Yellowstone National Park or areas rich in cultural or historic value to be enjoyed by people and biodiversity in the future. There is a growing need to protect areas of land from destruction. This is due to the increasing activity of development, urbanization, and industry, resulting in the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitats.

Land conservation helps to preserve ecological function through the maintenance of natural diversity. Yellowstone National Park helps to reduce the accelerated population decline of animals and endangered species. This is especially needed in the park where scientists have presumed that the volcano present therein was capable of burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of harmful volcanic ash — a mix of splintered rock and glass — and blanket the Midwest. The resulting ash could endanger the lives plants and animals, crush roofs, and destroy the beautiful landscape of Yellowstone. This therefore goes to show that land conversation cannot be overemphasized in the restoration of our ecosystem.

While Yellowstone started out as a single park, it quickly grew to become a part of a much larger National Parks System- and from there a symbol of land conservation. In a time where protected lands that are crucial to the health of our environment seem more in more danger, it is important to remember the importance of our parks. Happy Birthday Yellowstone, and here's to hundreds more!

 

Image source: Yellowstone National Park

The Kind Feed: How Social Media Can Be Repurposed for Good

I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

 

Social media has become a source of anxiety for many users. Today’s social media has become a surrogate platform for news, activism, debate, and the sharing of ideas and experiences. Second to those newfound purposes, it’s a platform for social connection. Joining a site under the pretense of social connection and falling into the habit of using it for other purposes takes its toll.

What makes most social media sites less-friendly from social connection in this day is, in part, the lack of kindness expressed by users. People are taking their aggression and bad moods out on their social media feeds, whether it be in the form of: heated arguments, pointing out negative traits on public posts, or seeking to disagree with the provocative (or otherwise) posts that their friends make. This is turning what should be a fun, friendly environment into a platform filled with toxicity and negativity.

To be fair, it’s not exclusively the fault of the users. There are other reasons why negativity has found such a home in social media. But not being to blame isn’t enough to protect users from the effects that this influx of negativity causes. Frankly, people are losing their sense of empathy and their ability to see the person on the other screen as a living, breathing human being. People are being affected from the small scale in their personal daily lives, to the large scale on a societal level. With 2.46 billion users across all popular platforms of social media, that’s a pretty large wing span with which to spread a wave of negativity. It has to change.

Hope isn’t lost. The positivity movement is a strong one. A light has been cast on toxic practices on social media, and people aren’t standing for it anymore. There are benefits to spreading kindness on social media, not the least of which is undoing some of the toxicity that has previously been spread.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

The Personal Level

On a smaller scale, social media affects users in a major way. People are spending massive amounts of time on their phones; this time is measured in hours where a slightly more than a decade ago it was measured in minutes. However, the time spent on social media and on our phones is a topic for another day- the focus here is about what people can do with social media by being kind, and how it can benefit them in return.

The draw to social media is a simple and fruitful one. It allows one to keep a connection alive with people who otherwise may have easily drifted away, such as college friends, high school buddies, coworkers from a former job, distant relatives, and the like. It also offers an easy approach to making new friends with a wealth of groups for just about any topic or hobby under the sun. Simply put, it’s easy to keep these connections alive without needing to actually put effort forth on an individual basis. This might sound negative, but the result is that people are able to keep a larger community of people around them than they used to.

Beyond keeping connections and making new ones, social media gives people a stage with which to stand on and share their lives with an audience… only, unlike an actor, they get to choose their audience and thus don’t need to share fiction. It’s also a place for things like: new recipes, local places, the opening of new cafes or restaurants, cute videos, art, and more. Seeing these things on a feed give little bursts of happiness and intrigue right at one’s finger tips!

Social media also provides a break from the fast pace of real life. It’s a way to press pause on the world’s happenings all around. In a way, it’s an escape. But unlike reading or video games, it’s an escape into the real-world. The virtual real-world. Things are more real than in a novel on social media even though the happenings are detached from one’s own life. People can breathe. They can read what their friends are up to, the updates on loved ones’ lives, and see what people are sharing and talking about. It’s a way to keep up with the world while pressing pause on one’s own. This break helps relieve stress.

However, that break can also cause stress if people aren’t using it to spread positivity and kindness. People have to be mindful of how they’re spending their time on social media in order to put the kindness out that they want to receive. For example, scrolling past an update of a friend getting a new job or a relationship announcement or the like without engaging leaves friends wanting for that friendly connection. So, when it comes the time for that person to post good news, the wanting friend doesn’t feel inclined to engage. Social media, in this way, is give and take. Like any gift, giving and receiving feels good. Missing those opportunities diminishes the experience as a whole.

That same idea of giving and taking works with what people choose to share. If one only shares bad news or politically charged posts, it’s going to warn others off engaging. This makes social media feel competitive and stressful and not at all like a “break”. Putting kindness and good news and lighthearted posts out into the social sphere feels like giving a gift and doesn’t generate any stress or anxiety.

Social media is recreational. It’s supposed to be a positive experience, it’s supposed to feel good. It provides people with a break from their hectic lives and opens up a chance to have fun and give or take a smile. Beyond that, social media has an even greater power when it’s not used for negativity.

 

The Larger Scale

Without needing a passport, users can travel the world. Social media doesn’t require a pass through customs or a long flight. It doesn’t require exhausted research and years of study. With social media, users can connect to their communities, their culture, and the world.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

For one, there’s opportunity to learn about people from all over the world and connect with people from different walks of life even in one’s own community. There’s plenty to learn and plenty of people to engage with. This openness to other cultures and experiences breeds empathy and understanding, plus offers a type of education that can’t be obtained in traditional schools. 

Social media also offers a way to contribute to the world in various ways. People can share information to spread the word about things that are worth talking about, they can launch campaigns to get people involved in local and international problems and put efforts forward to take action to solve those problems, and they can contribute to charities and funding projects that are meaningful.

On an individual basis, people may not be changing the world by way of social media. But for those who recognize these amazing opportunities that social media presents them with, the combined efforts pack a punch. Petitions from social media have turned to law, they’ve prompted action, they’ve made real change in the world. Fundraisers have helped everything from an individual recovering from a medical procedure and dealing with the financial fallout from it, to helping bring much needed resources to underprivileged societies. The reach is literally global.

The ball is in the user’s court, every user. The world is within reach, but how will the opportunity be seized? Often times, comments on popular posts show the clash between users of different backgrounds. But that negativity gives a lasting impression that spreads. If people take this opportunity to engage and learn and spread kindness, the world becomes a more productive and more friendly place.

 

Kindness Doesn’t Work Alone

Lucky for the users who believe in kindness and using social media for friendliness and positivity, they’re not alone. Tech gurus behind platforms like Twitter and Facebook are aware of the trends behind their services, and they’re paying attention.

For example, Facebook conducted a study in 2013 that analyzed over three million posts. They separated the posts by whether the content was positive, negative, or neutral. What they found was exactly what was covered above: when people see positive posts, they post more positive things. In other words, negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity. Positivity also leads people to be more active on Facebook, and to engage more with their friends. 

Twitter, on the other hand, found that their algorithm is being taken advantage of with negative posts. Twitter works by showing users posts that it thinks users will want to see the most, and these posts are ones that have been engaged with the most with replies, retweets, and favorites. However, as any user on Twitter can attest to- Twitter users like to argue and are likely to engage with something that they disagree with. This results in negative and controversial posts, even if they contain misinformation, to be projected to a wider user base (even if the truth is more positive).

The fact that Twitter and Facebook are using resources to look into how their users are using their social media platforms, and how their algorithms for the media feeds affects the user’s experience, is good news.  It means that these tech giants are paying attention. Presumably, they want users to have a more positive experience. If positive experiences result in more activity, it stands to reason that they’ll do whatever they can to make their platforms more friendly, less toxic places for users to be.

It’s understandable that associating kindness and positivity with social media isn’t always an easy connection to draw. After all, social media breeds trolls, harassment opportunities, and even negativity from people that matter. It’s easy to get lost in this labyrinth of negativity, and many often do.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

How can you make social media a kinder place for yourself?

  1. If you see a post you don’t like, stop yourself and think before responding. Ask yourself if your reply to this post is going to make the difference you want it to. Will your opinion change their minds, or just start an argument? Will a sarcastic reply make a valid point, or just make somebody feel bad? Will you contribute to negativity? Then, ask yourself if that’s how you want yourself to be portrayed to the world.

  2. If you’re in a difficult situation, find the high road and take it. Engaging in negativity won’t create a positive result for either participant. It’s best to end the conversation on a high note and walk away.

  3. Consciously put kindness into the world. Offer genuine compliments when you see the opportunity, congratulate somebody on a new life event, send an old friend a random message and let them know you’re thinking of them. Before you post or comment, always ask yourself first, “does this contribute to a kinder world?”

  4. Think of how others see you. Sure, you might have had a bad day and wanted to blow of steam by trash talking some stranger on a random post. But people don’t see that context. They only see the comment. This is an impression that they’ll hold on to. It’s good to make sure you have control over the impression you want to give to others.

Kindness and empathy are things that are often missing from today’s social media world. While social media has largely become a negative place, it still provides an opportunity for each and every user to put kindness into their own world and the world around them.

 

Image source: Flickr

The Hippocratic Oath for the Everyday Person

The Hippocratic Oath is the oath taken by doctors to do no intentional harm to those that they treat. It’s a simple concept, but why reserve it for doctors?

 

Kindness has an immense power to make us feel better about ourselves and lead happier lives. Being on the receiving end of kindness also has its obvious benefits. But kindness takes effort and forethought. Because of this, it’s taken a back seat to other forms of instant gratification like scrolling through social media, taking selfies, and talking negatively about people. These things feel rewarding in the moment, but in the long run, they offer us no tangible benefit. It’s time for a change. We need to be kind to each other again.

Source:  Ritesh Agarwal

As humans, we’re born into kindness in the form of nurturing. Whether this is done by one’s mother, a caretaker, a labor and delivery nurse, or some other positive figure in one’s life, we all learn to grow and function under the kind eye of a nurturing person. We’re the only mammals who aren’t born self-reliant creatures. We need others. This never changes. We never stop needing others, whether we care to admit that or not. 

 

So, if kindness is literally programmed into our DNA, why is it so difficult for us to make a regular habit of?

 

I blame the internet.

 

The internet makes it easy to be unkind because there’s always a veil between you and the person you’re harming. You are causing harm, they just aren’t aware of it. Many people don’t consider the mean things they say to be harmful because the person isn’t aware of it. But they don’t need to be. The act of saying it or thinking it is enough to cause negativity to multiply within yourself. That’s a toxicity that prevents you from growing and meeting your potential for happiness in your own life. Is it worth it? The instant gratification of saying something negative about somebody else to make yourself feel good isn’t worth it in the long-run. But foregoing that instant gratification is what makes kindness so difficult for us.

 

In order to become a kind person, it takes practice. Negativity and cruelty are like any other negative habits. They have to be broken and replaced with positive habits. You have to be able to put your ego and cheap thrills aside and find your own motivation for being more positive. Once you do this, it’s smooth sailing.

Source:  Jojo Nicdao

Source: Jojo Nicdao

When we’re kind by habit, we gain more benefits than just the obvious increase in happiness and positivity. We improve our physical health, as well. It’s true! When we’re kind, we’re less stressed and the body releases less of the stress hormone cortisol. This keeps our heart healthier and helps to slow down the aging process. It also helps us improve our relationships and connections with others. When we’re negative and cruel, the people that overhear us or are in the conversation with us will take that personally. Even if they’re laughing along with you, the subconscious will raise red flags and they won’t be able to trust you as much. After all, if somebody sees what you talk about when somebody isn’t there, they’re going to wonder if you do the same to them when they aren’t there. Plus, it’s said that “your vibe attracts your tribe”. If you’re happy and kind, it stands to reason that you’ll befriend other people along that same wavelength. Happiness begets happiness. There’s more for everybody!

 

When you’re trying to practice kindness more in your own life, it helps to remember the “golden rule”. Remember the one that you probably heard a million and a half times in grade school? The golden rule states that you should only treat others how you’d like to be treated. When you’re learning to be kind, it helps to ask yourself how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end of your statement or action. Doing this will give you a perspective about your behavior and will help you to see what’s right and wrong when you understand how your actions and statements affect people. This is how you learn to take the Hippocratic Oath in your own life. You do no harm. You shall not cause any sadness or pain to others intentionally.

 

From there, you can keep moving forward with kindness. There’s never too much kindness in the world. Try incorporating small acts of kindness into your day every day. Give somebody a compliment, pay for somebody’s coffee in line behind you, catch up with an old friend, offer to help somebody carry their groceries to their car. Whatever you do, spreading kindness in the world will never be a mistake. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

 

Image source: Flickr