USA pulls out of climate agreement

Selfish and ignorant.  Those were my first thoughts when I found out the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The agreement was not perfect, but what on a such a massive scale could ever be deemed perfect?  It was inspiring to see the world come together with goals to help our planet.  195 countries, to be exact.

We all share this planet, after all.  We all breathe this air, and we all drink this water.  We all seek shelter from storms.

Supporters of the President will say the agreement was economically unfair to the USA and now the USA can be free to pursue it’s own goals.

But now, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the countries who are the outsiders on this issue.

We have willingly turned our back on diplomacy.

If worst comes to worst, we may have turned our back on the basic health and security of our children and grandchildren.

If worst comes to worst, this will be the defining moment when we have decided to condemn the entire world to higher temperatures, bigger droughts, rising seas, severe storms, migration, conflict, disease and starvation.

The USA is currently the #2 polluter in the world.  If our industries become unregulated, our levels of pollution likely rise in the name of short term profit while creating great long term harm.

Even if the US impact is small, it can push the most vulnerable countries underwater – such as the Maldives (population 325,000), Seychelles (87,000), Kiribati (102,000), and the Solomon Islands (585,000).

We must hope that despite not being part of the agreement, our industries will continue to invest in new technologies and try to find cleaner and safer ways to create energy.

We must speak out and support those who do what is good and right for the environment and criticize and hold accountable those that do not.

We must support science.

We must support one another.  This is our planet.  We share it with billions of humans, animals, and plants.

So here we are.  What we do matters.  How we vote matters.

Walk with grace, leave small footprints, but keep your eyes open and use your voice.


(Photo taken at local March for Science)








The problem with VOICE

If you watched (or read about) the State of the Union, you probably recall President Trump’s policy called VOICE, which was the administration’s plan to protect law abiding citizens by exposing crimes committed by immigrants (VOICE = victims of immigration crime engagement).

Unfortunately, like other sloppy rollouts of new policies this administration has completed, the database had a disastrous debut.  The database mistakenly included the names and detailed personal information of children and babies, and also included many adults who are not criminals.

From the LA Times:

The matches reveal the detention facility the immigrant is housed in, custody status, age, country of birth, date of birth, race, gender and aliases. There doesn’t appear to be any way to distinguish between someone who may have perpetrated a crime beyond being in the country illegally.

Attorneys representing immigrants expressed anger and worry over the release of names that were supposed to be protected.

Bryan Johnson, the Long Island, N.Y., lawyer who first noticed the error, called the release “reckless incompetence on the part of the Trump administration.”

“In their haste to pretend like they care about victims of immigrant crimes, the Trump administration released personally identifiable information regarding vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking and other crimes,” said Johnson, who defends children brought into the United States from abroad, many escaping violence.

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney in New York, said he was shocked that a quick search of the database brought up one of his clients — a 26-year-old asylum applicant from Lebanon who has been detained by immigration officials for two years.

The man had overstayed his visa and sought asylum because he is a pro-democracy leader in a youth movement back home and being persecuted by Hezbollah, Kolken said.

“If a terrorist organization is looking for him they may simply enter his name into a database and know exactly where he is,” Kolken said. “It puts his entire family back home in jeopardy.”

Supporters of VOICE will likely say the errors will be corrected, and that only a small percentage of immigrants were affected by the mistake.  But, remember: these are people’s lives and putting some of the most vulnerable in society at risk is no small error that can be easily corrected.


Photo: refugee and immigrant support rally in my hometown






Blood Diamonds

I remember at the start of the 21st century a lot of news coverage about blood diamonds, i.e. precious stones mined by abused labor to fund warlords.  But, lately, I have not heard much.  I wondered if the world’s efforts to stop blood diamonds had been successful.

Unfortunately, they have not.  That’s not to say they were a complete failure, however.  The Kimberley Process, a conflict-free diamond certification program, now has over 80 countries participating, and consumers are far more aware and ask questions about the origins of their purchases.  But, the conflict-free certification system has major flaws.

Here is an example of how a conflict diamond can still easily be traded: a diamond is mined by child labor, it is then illegally transported to an approved country and mixed with conflict-free diamonds which are shipped to a third country (often UAE or Switzerland) and are certified by them. Then a fourth country (like Belgium) will buy the jewels and sell them to a consumer, likely from a fifth country (like the USA).

As the World Policy Institute warns, “The entire system rests largely on the integrity of African diamond producing and exporting governments, diamond dealers, and conduit countries like the United Arab Emirates.”

Clearly, changes need to be made to the Kimberley Process to make the trade more transparent and honest.


An excerpt from a 2015 Time Magazine story:

“Consumers who care can trace the fish on their plate back to the patch of sea it was taken from. They can choose fair-trade apparel that benefits the cotton farmers and seamstresses who produced their clothing. But the lineage of one of the most valuable products that many consumers will ever buy in their lifetime remains shrouded in uncertainty, and too often the people who do the arduous work of digging those precious stones from the earth are the ones who benefit the least. The only way that the blood will finally be washed away from conflict diamonds is if there is a true fair-trade-certification process that allows conscientious consumers to buy Congo’s artisanal diamonds with peace of mind—just as they might a cup of coffee.”

photo: public domain, the Hope Diamond, Wikipedia

Conflict Minerals

From CBC News:

“Robin Wright stars in a documentary called When Elephants Fight, the name taken from the African proverb, ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ It means that in conflicts between the powerful, it is the weak who are hurt.”

CBC had a fascinating and troubling story about DRC’s conflict minerals.

In the USA, section 1052 of the Dodd-Frank Act seeks to prohibit companies from buying conflict minerals, such as tin, tantalum, and tungsten.  President Trump wishes to repeal this law, seeing it as being too much regulation on business.

Fortunately, companies such as Intel disapprove.  Intel, Apple, and other high tech companies rely on the “Three T” minerals for mobile and computer parts, but understand the moral need for conflict-free minerals.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined by child and slave labor.  The money goes to warlords who have little regard for human rights.


Video: YouTube, Stand With Congo


Waris Dirie and the campaign to stop FGM

Supermodel and actress Waris Dirie was a victim of female genital mutilation.  She is now an activist, seeking to outlaw the procedure and hoping to educate communities in the dangers of the practice.  This video from the Desert Flower Foundation can be found on YouTube.

The one area where I disagree is that I believe FGM can be considered a cultural and religious practice.  Culture can be defined as simply as common practices in a social group.  And, religious leaders over the centuries have interpreted religion differently – the Shafi’i school of Islamic law, for example, has encouraged FGM.

That is not to say that culture and religious belief should be set in stone – clearly, FGM is brutal and wrong.  The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is Chinese foot binding.  Foot binding mutilated girls for life and was a widespread cultural practice, even in the early 20th century.  The history of foot binding goes back to the 10th century.

There were outspoken critics who wrote articles, educated communities, and spoke to the press in the late 1800s.

In 1912, the government finally banned the practice.  Numbers declined significantly in the 1920s as women’s rights became a worldwide discussion.

By 1949, the only cases of foot binding were scattered in the most rural, small communities.

The same can happen for FGM – so, please, talk about it.  The more people are aware, the more likely things will change.



FGM Facts

Photo: Johnuniq, Wikipedia

Female Genital Mutilation is still prevalent in Africa, as you can see in this map.IMG_1634

FGM is not considered a reason for seeking asylum. Yet, as I mentioned in my previous post, FGM is an abusive practice.

Young women often do not have a choice, and the practice is becoming common increasingly at younger ages.  Disturbingly, in some regions infants now undergo the procedure.

80% of FGM cases are type 1 or 2, which means an excision of the clitoris.  15% of cases are type 3, an excision of all external genitals.  The scar needs to be opened for the woman to have intercourse or give birth, causing tremendous pain.  This practice is common in the countries with high levels of FGM, such as Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan.  The fourth type of FGM (5%) injures the genitalia (such as by burning, piercing, or scarring).

I find this map interesting as countries with high FGM rates are some of the ones facing the threat of famine (such as Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen).  They are among the poorest countries on earth.

Hurting women doesn’t just hurt a woman’s individual health and human rights – it damages an entire country’s well being.








Female Genital Mutilation

On this blog, I will sometimes veer off topic.  But, what I’ve discovered is how issues all connect.  One of the reasons elephants are suffering is due to extreme poverty of the human population.  One of the reasons poverty exists is due to poor education.  Poor education is often due to a lack of women’s rights.  A lack of women’s rights often coincides with poor healthcare.  And, the circle goes around and around.

In a recent post, I discussed the Maasai.  They are one of the many cultures in Africa that practice female genital mutilation.  Although there have been campaigns in recent years against this practice (and countries such as Kenya have officially banned it), it still exists and is still supported by many.

FGM is a traditional practice that represents the change from childhood to adulthood.  It is considered in certain communities to be an act of celebration, love, and pride.  Therefore, it is hard for those who think of it as part of their cultural tradition to recognize that FGM is abusive.  Westerners who come to Africa to criticize the practice are routinely dismissed since Western culture has its own problems.

FGM has no medical benefits.  It only causes harm to a woman’s health.  She is more likely to suffer from painful menstruation, urinary tract infections, childbirth complications, psychological distress, and sexual pain and trauma.  The procedure itself is risky, with high rates of infection, heavy bleeding, and permanent scarring.

As more adolescent and teenage girls are being educated, there has been more resistence to FGM.  Yet, this has pushed the practice onto younger girls, thus defeating the cultural idea that it is a celebration of womanhood.

What can be done?  Continue to support women’s education – it will take a while to change a culture with deep roots, but the massive changes that have occurred in the past decade are in large part due to women’s education.  Organizations like Camfed are a great way to support women’s education in Africa.  Also support medical programs such as Medecins Sans Frontiers, which does amazing work not only by treating ill patients but also by educating communities on health issues.

I also recommend checking out the Desert Flower Foundation which directly addresses FGM.

FGM is often seen as a moral obligation by families to keep their daughters pure and loyal to their eventual spouse.  But, there is nothing moral about the practice.  The idea that women are seen as the “problem” – the temptress, the vixen, the one that lures men to misbehave – is a problem worldwide.  So, by supporting and standing up for women in your own family, your own community, and worldwide, you can be part of the solution to achieve a better society for all.