For 27-Time Hopi High Cross-Country Champs, Running Is Tradition

Rick Baker runs the cross-country program at Arizona’s Hopi High School, and he is one of the most successful coaches in sports—period. His runners have won 27 consecutive state cross-country titles in a row. Winning is great, of course—it’s a source of pride for Baker, his runners and the Hopi community. But he has a bigger mission: keeping running alive and making sure every generation is aware of its significance to the Hopi tribe. Running isn’t simply a sport for the Hopi people. It’s a tradition with deep spiritual purpose. For centuries, Hopi runners carried messages to distant villages, and they ran to springs to deliver prayers to bring rain. The young athletes Baker coaches run on the very same dusty trails their ancestors blazed in northeastern Arizona. Baker ensures his runners are aware of their history, and he encourages them to embrace their brotherhood. That’s the kind of leadership every team needs.

Fossil Fuel Industry sees the Future in Hard-to-Recycle Plastic

Fossil fuel industry sees the future in hard-to-recycle plastic

Fossil fuel industry sees the future in hard-to-recycle plastic

Plastic pollution and the climate crisis are two inseparable parts of the same problem, though they aren’t treated as such. Many countries have implemented plastic bag charges and plastic straw bans while action to phase out fossil fuels lags far behind, due in part to the inertia of the huge oil and gas companies that dominate the sector.

An investigation by The Guardian recently found that just 20 of these firms are responsible for 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. How will they adapt as fossil fuel demand wanes with the rise of renewable energy and battery power? The answer is plastic – and that shift is already well underway.

Most of the plastic that exists today has been made in the last decade. The environment appears to be drowning in plastic for the same reason that global temperatures continue to rise – fossil fuels have remained cheap and abundant.

From filling up cars to plastic toy cars.  Steinar Engeland/Unsplash ,  CC BY

From filling up cars to plastic toy cars. Steinar Engeland/Unsplash, CC BY

Cheap plastic is made using chemicals produced in the process of making fuel. Petroleum refining transforms crude oil extracted from the ground into gasoline, producing ethane as a byproduct. A decade ago, the advent of fracking – hydraulic fracturing of oil or natural gas – made the raw materials for plastics significantly cheaper.

Fracking shale gas produces lots of ethane, which is turned into ethylene – the building block for many hard-to-recycle plastic products, like packaging films, sachets and bottles. Cheap polyethylene from fracking created a glut of plastic packaging on supermarket shelves that sociologist Rebecca Altman has called “frackaging”.

There are few facilities worldwide that can dispose of or recycle this kind of plastic efficiently. They’re expensive to set up and run and there’s little demand for using the recycled material to make new products. While packaging is the single largest source of plastic demand, most of that is thrown away as soon as it’s removed, with one third of it estimated to go directly to domestic waste and either incineration or landfill. In much of the world, a lot of it goes directly into the environment.

Reducing fuel consumption won’t necessarily solve the plastic problem. Global plastic production is expected to double in the next 15 years even as demand for gasoline wanes. In 2017, 50% of all crude oil produced worldwide was refined into fuel for transport, most as gasoline. Electric vehicles and more efficient forms of public transport mean gasoline demand is falling. The oil and gas companies who own these refineries are instead gearing up to turn what is now excess fuel into plastics for packaging.

Climate change in a bottle

As demand for gasoline continues to decline in future, more plastics will be made directly from crude oil. Petroleum companies now plan to convert up to 40% of the crude oil they intend to extract into petrochemicals. These are chemicals like acetylene, benzene, ethane, ethylene, methane, propane, and hydrogen, which form the basis for thousands of other products, including plastics.

The industry predicts petrochemicals will grow from 16% of oil demand in 2020 to 20% by 2040 largely to supply the feedstocks for making plastics. The environmental consequences of making even more plastic from crude oil will be significant. More plastic pollution will enter watercourses and the ocean, while amping up production will accelerate global emissions.

Read more: Plastic warms the planet twice as much as aviation – here's how to make it climate-friendly

That’s because making plastic releases carbon dioxide (CO₂). Both transporting the crude oil to make it and then disposing of the plastic by incineration generates emissions. Most of the estimated total natural capital cost of plastic pollution – USD$75 billion per year for the consumer goods sector alone – arises from CO₂ emissions linked to producing and transporting plastic.

Expanding plastic production and sending more plastic either directly to incineration or to waste-to-energy facilities - where plastics are turned into oil and used to generate electricity or heat – mean CO₂ emissions from plastic are expected to triple by 2050 to 309m metric tonnes. Incinerating mountains of plastic waste could become one of the largest sources of C0₂ emissions in Europe’s energy sector as fossil fuels are phased out.

Annual plastic production and use currently emits as much CO₂ each year as 189 500 megawatt coal power plants.  CIEL , Author provided

Annual plastic production and use currently emits as much CO₂ each year as 189 500 megawatt coal power plants. CIEL, Author provided

Halving the use of petroleum-based plastic packaging by 2030 and phasing it out altogether by 2050 could ensure CO₂ emissions targets are still met. Achieving net zero emissions from incinerating plastic packaging means eliminating all non-essential uses of petroleum-based plastic by 2035, following a peak in packaging and other single use, disposable plastics in 2025. Replacing traditional plastics with new materials made from renewable sources like corn starch could help, as could developing a new infrastructure for industrial plastic composting.

In a climate crisis, plastic waste doesn’t look like the world’s most pressing environmental problem. But considering plastic and climate as two separate issues is a mistake. Concern about plastic pollution isn’t distracting people from a more serious problem – plastic is the problem. If we see plastics as “solid climate change”, they become central to the climate crisis.

DEIRDRE MCKAY is a Reader in Geography and Environmental Politics at Keele University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

For Young Refugees, a Mobile Phone can be as Important as Food and Water When Arriving in a New Country

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Between 2015 and 2018, more than 200,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe. Many of these young people, now in the EU, have one thing in common: their smart phones.

Digital tools are not only a means to keep in touch with friends and family. They can also become a lifeline for refugees and unaccompanied minors, according to a recent report, becoming as essential as food, water and shelter. But for many of these unaccompanied young children, out-of-date kit, lack of access to digital technologies and expensive mobile broadband packages can all act as barriers to being able to live in a digital environment.

Similarly, levels of literacy, can also significantly hinder technological development. And without structured educational provision, many young refugees can also struggle because of poor IT skills.

As researchers based in the UK and Hungary, we decided we wanted to help. And what began as a chance conversation at a conference in Prague, is now a major research project. The main aim of our two-year-long media literacy project was to understand how unaccompanied young refugees use digital technologies and social media.

We wanted to find out whether these technologies can help to foster successful integration. The fieldwork was carried out in four European countries with a high share of unaccompanied minors among asylum-seekers: Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

EU Calling

Our project involved interviews with 56 refugees, age 14-19, as well as their carers, mentors and educators. We met and observed the young people in their homes and community centres. We also carried out “digital ethnography” –- a type of online “audit” – on Facebook, with some of the children.

We found that young refugees can become easily lost when trying to access the digital world, needing multiple skills and tools to integrate successfully into a highly networked culture. The plethora of service providers, social media platforms and devices can be intimidating at first, but we were astonished at how quickly some of the young people we worked with were able to finds ways to negotiate their new digital circumstances – often after leaving war-torn countries.

A phone can be a lifeline for unaccompanied minors.  Shutterstock/Marian Fil

A phone can be a lifeline for unaccompanied minors. Shutterstock/Marian Fil

From using translating apps, to communicate with locals, to downloading music from their own countries, some of these young people learned very rapidly how these tools work. That said, this was not the case for the majority of unaccompanied young people.

And for many, mentors or guardians were often the first point of aid when it came to problems encountered online. Older refugee children who have perhaps been in the new host country for some time – or have more familiarity with digital technologies – were also found to be key in helping new and arriving young people to better understand the digital world.

Digital navigation

We also found that many of the young people did not think too critically about their online experiences. And in an era of “fake news” they may be ushered into making poor judgements on what information to trust, and which opinions to follow. So for this reason we created an app called Media+Mentor specifically for mentors or educators who work with unaccompanied refugee youth.

The idea is that the Media+Mentor app will bring mentors and carers together. The app will also point users to further resources, support and advice on the most common issues unaccompanied minors face online – such as fake news, cyberbullying or hate speech.

From our findings, it’s clear that media literacy education is essential for these young people and their mentors. Indeed, for any teenager in the EU, popular apps and platforms are useful resources for learning new things, finding relevant information or simply as a way to connect with other young people. But as a refugee in a new country it can be hard to know how to access such help.

And these children are not just crossing physical borders, but are shifting into the heightened technological spaces that all EU youth probably take for granted. It has been estimated, for example, that 83% of young people across the EU use their smart phones to access the internet – and generally use fairly up-to-date kit.

So we hope that our research could help to provide young refugee people with the skills needed to stay safe and thrive – not only in the online world, but also in a new country where they are building new lives.

ANNAMARIA NEAG is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Bournemouth University.

RICHARD BERGER is an Associate Professor, Head of Research and Professional Practice, Department of Media Production, Bournemouth University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Ghana’s Cocoa Farmers are Trapped by the Chocolate Imndustry

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

The chocolate industry is worth more than $80 billion a year. But some cocoa farmers in parts of West Africa are poorer now than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. In other areas, artificial support for cocoa farming is creating a debt problem. Farmers are also still under pressure to supply markets in wealthy countries instead of securing their own future.

In research published last year I explored sustainability programmes designed to support cocoa farming in West Africa. My aim was to identify winners and losers.

I looked at initiatives such as CocoaAction, a $500 million “sustainability scheme” launched in 2014, and concluded that they were done in the interests of large multinationals. They did not necessarily relieve poverty or develop the region’s economies. In fact they created new problems.

To sustain their livelihoods, the cocoa farmers of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana need to diversify away from cocoa production. But multinational chocolate companies need farmers to keep producing cocoa.

Diversification

Farmers choose to diversify their crops for a host of reasons. These include a reduction in the resources they need to produce a crop (such as suitable land), and a reduction in the price they can get for the crop.

Cocoa farming requires tropical forestland. This is limited; it is not possible to keep expanding to new land to keep producing cocoa. So when the land is exhausted, farmers would benefit from diversifying to products like rubber and palm oil. They do not need to grow cocoa for its own sake.

A great deal of diversification occurred during the cocoa crisis of the 1970s in Ghana. Cereal output increased from 388,000 tonnes in 1964/1965 to over 1 million tonnes in 1983/83, and decreased when cocoa was “revitalised”. The same was the case with coconut, palm oil and groundnut.

But such diversification is more recently being prevented by multinationals and other stakeholders who want cocoa cultivation to continue. Multinationals that depend on cocoa as a raw material openly (and rightly) regard diversification as a risk to their business. So they keep spending on cocoa farming inputs.

Why there’s a limit to cocoa

In West Africa, cocoa has historically been cultivated using slash and burn farming. Forest was cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot became infertile, the farmer moved to fresh forestland and did the same again.

The new land offered fertile soil, a favourable microclimate and fewer pests and diseases. Growing the cocoa took less labour and yielded more.

This explains the link between cocoa farming and deforestation in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. A recent investigation showed that since 2000, Ivorian cocoa has been dependent on protected areas. Almost half of Mont Peko National Park, for example, which is home to endangered species, as well as Marahoue National Park has been lost to cocoa planting since 2000.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the area covered by forest decreased from 16 million hectares – roughly half of the country – in 1960 to less than 2 million hectares in 2005.

Forestland is finite. Slash and burn is no longer an option, because so much of the forest is gone. In West Africa, planters are now staying on the same piece of land and reworking it.

This has created its own set of problems.

Rising costs and threats

In both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, several estimates of the cost of maintaining a cocoa farm show that the investment costs required for replanting have approximately doubled. One estimate of labour investment put the replanting effort at 260 days per hectare, compared with 74 days per hectare for planting using slash and burn.

The extra labour needed for sedentary cultivation is leading to child trafficking and child labour in cocoa cultivation. Child trafficking generally occurs when planters are searching for cheaper sources of labour for replanting.

Planters who have successfully diversified into other crops have stopped using child labour. In the cocoa industry, however, the use of child labour is increasing. For example, the number of child labourers in the Ivorian cocoa industry increased by almost 400,000 between 2008 and 2013.

There has also been a massive increase in the use of fertilisers and pesticides to aid cocoa production without slash and burn.

The increased input (labour, fertilisers and pesticides) for replanting land amounts to a higher production cost. It cannot be adjusted by price setting. Cocoa producers have no control over price; they are price takers. So the higher production cost reduces the profit made by cocoa farmers.

This explains why cocoa producers in Côte d’Ivoire are poorer now  than they were decades ago.

In Ghana, the government, through the cocoa marketing board, COCOBOD, has managed the transition from slash and burn to sedentary farming. The government created a mass spraying programme to control diseases and pests. It also subsidised fertiliser and created a pricing policy that has sometimes amounted to a government subsidy this links need users to subscribe. Due to the extra free input provided by the government, sometimes supported by NGOs and multinational corporations, farmers have not become poorer in Ghana. But the approach has led to huge debt for COCOBOD. For example, COCOBOD incurred GHc2 billion (US$367 million) debt for subsidising the price of cocoa for the year 2017.

Although cocoa planters are faring well in Ghana, it is not clear that Ghana’s cocoa sector is really a success story. The shift to debt financing has artificially produced the success.

The way forward

Cocoa “sustainability” activities are not the way forward. Cocoa sustainability is a new form of colonisation in Africa, because its real goal is to prevent African planters from diversifying away from cocoa into other crops. These programmes keep the cocoa industry going under deteriorating conditions.

The way forward is to switch from cocoa to crops that do not require forestland (new or exhausted), extra fertilisers or more labour.

Research has shown that cocoa planters in Côte d’Ivoire who have diversified into other crops, such as rubber, have succeeded in escaping poverty.

But that is seen as a major threat to the supply of raw material to Western multinationals. One representative of a large chocolate multinational explained “my enemy is not my competitor in the purchase of cocoa, but the rubber industry.”

In conclusion, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have to think about what is best for them instead of what is best for the chocolate industry and consumers in the developed world.

MICHAEL E ODIJIE is a Post Doctoral Researcher at the University of Cambridge.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

The Call for Change: Women Speak Out on Sexualized Violence in South Africa

The tallies have been rising on women murdered on the streets of South Africa. From a country with a history of violence and suppression, the fight is nowhere finished. Multiday protests throughout major cities have brought the crisis to international attention. 

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

The brutal murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a University of Cape Town student who was raped and killed while at the post office is unfortunately not a standalone incident. Mrwetyana joined upwards of 30 women that had been murdered in August alone. This marks the highest rates gender-based violence the country has seen, in a month that is, ironically, also designated as the national awareness month for Women’s Rights. 

There are many reasons thought to be behind the high numbers. Culturally, it comes from a history of women being viewed as inferior and the belief that women must obey their husbands. In many parts of South Africa, there is a general acceptance of rape, including martial rape and gang rape, as not being seen as wrong. This has led to South Africa having the highest rate of domestic abuse in the world. Domestic abuse was only outlawed in 1998 and martial rape in 1993. A studied done by the South Africa Medical Research Council found that 50% of men have abused their partners. Most relevant to the recent murders, every six hours a partner kills their female counterpart and one in four men in South Africa have raped someone. 

Studies have also found that there are certain traits in men and women that can lead to a greater risk of abuse in the country. Men who have grown up with violence, without father figures, and who use alcohol are more likely to abuse. It is also tied to race and socioeconomic status, as women of color, who are unemployed, and/or are from rural communities are more likely to be victims. Psychological studies have found that domestic abuse is often used as a response to feeling powerless. Apartheid proved violence is successful as a means for control and left people with a lack of trust in the government. Men who feel helpless regress to using violence against their partners in an attempt to regain a sense of control and self-worth. They also have a lack of fear of being prosecuted due to flaws in the police system – which is legitimate when only 15% of perpetrators are convicted. 

The exceptionally high rates of HIV in South Africa pose an additional danger to rapes. The belief in a virgin cleansing myth, if you rape a virgin you will be cured of HIV, has led to high rates of abuse in children, with 50% of children being abused before they turn 18. Rates of sexual abuse have also been found to be exceptionally high in schools and often deters girls from pursuing education. Additionally, South Africa has increased rates of violence surrounding homophobia, with rates of “corrective rape” reaching 10 a week just in Cape Town. This mirrors statistics for gay black men. 

President Ramaphosa said that measures have to be taken now to address the femicide. He has proposed longer sentencing and introducing more sexual offence courts. With current rates of rape reporting lingering at 2%, there is a chance that this will cause little change. The women marching firmly believe that change is necessary, but will it be enough?





DEVIN O’DONNELL’s interest in travel was cemented by a multi-month trip to East Africa when she was 19. Since then, she has continued to have immersive experiences on multiple continents. Devin has written for a start-up news site and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience.

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Five Women to Listen to When Thinking About Climate Advocacy

Greta Thunberg commanded the world’s attention with the urgency of her words before the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, bringing to the forefront a conversation about the women who have been leading climate advocacy. While there are countless women who for decades have dedicated themselves to environmental activism, this article provides a shortlist of five women of all ages and walks of life who have promoted the common goal of a more sustainable world through their words and actions.

Dr. Sunita Nahrain presenting at the Stockholm Water Prize Symposium.  Stockholm International Water Institute . CC 2.0

Dr. Sunita Nahrain presenting at the Stockholm Water Prize Symposium. Stockholm International Water Institute. CC 2.0

Sunita Narain, India: The director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, Nahrain has worked since the 1980s to build community partnerships focused on mitigating air pollution, as well as promoting food and water security. Nahrain has been a critical voice in the formation of climate policy in India, advising both the Environmental Pollution Authority for the National Capital Region, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating pesticide contamination in foods. For her critical work Nahrain was awarded the World Water Prize in 2005, among numerous other honors throughout her career. 

Hindou Omaraou Ibrahim Speaking before the World Economic Forum.  World Economic Forum . CC 2.0

Hindou Omaraou Ibrahim Speaking before the World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum. CC 2.0

Hindou Omaraou Ibrahim, Chad: Ibrahim, a climatologist and environmental activist from Mbororo, Chad, has centered her work on the empowerment of indigenous women. She is the founder of the Association of Peul Women and Peoples of Chad, and was designated as the National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2017. Ibrahim has spearheaded 3D mapping projects of Chad’s Sahel region, the home of the Mbororo community. The mapping efforts are partnered with UNESCO and the government of Chad, and are collecting thorough data regarding indigenous subsistence farming and environmental concerns, especially the drying of Lake Chad. 

Casey Camp-Horinek, Wounded Knee AIM veterans.  Neeta Lind . CC 2.0

Casey Camp-Horinek, Wounded Knee AIM veterans. Neeta Lind. CC 2.0

Casey Camp-Horinek, United States: Camp-Horinek is a vocal environmental and indigenous rights activist on the behalf of the Ponca Nation, whose native land is located in the state of Oklahoma. Her advocacy deals directly with supporting grassroots activism against harmful industry practices such as fracking, and the construction of the Keystone XL natural gas pipeline. Camp-Horinek has dedicated herself to creating a platform for indigenous voices, serving as a board member for WECAN and presenting before the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Shalvi Sakshi, Fiji: Sakshi, a twelve-year old climate activist from Bua, Fiji, served as the youngest panelist, then ten years old, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in November of 2017 in Bonn, Germany. Sakshi urged of the dangers of rising sea levels due to deforestation and industrial contribution to rising carbon dioxide emissions. Her message is one of empowerment, emphasizing that everyone maintains the capacity and obligation to improve his or her world.

Changhua Wu Speaking before an EV20 Shanghai Media Event.  The Climate Group . CC 2.0

Changhua Wu Speaking before an EV20 Shanghai Media Event. The Climate Group. CC 2.0

Changhua Wu, China: Wu is an environmental advocate and social entrepreneur, who serves as the founding CEO of the Beijing Future Innovation Center and as the China/Asia Region Director for the Jeremy Rifkin Office. Wu has contributed extensively to important strides in clean energy policy in China, and has been recognized globally for her impact in the lowering of China’s carbon footprint. Combining her extensive background in economics, environmental policy, and journalism studies, throughout her career Wu has tied together sustainable technology, social entrepreneurialism, and environmental policy. 






HALLIE GRIFFITHS is an undergraduate at the University of Virginia studying Foreign Affairs and Spanish. After graduation, she hopes to apply her passion for travel and social action toward a career in intelligence and policy analysis. Outside of the classroom, she can be found, quite literally, outside: backpacking, rock climbing, or skiing with her friends.

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Chinese Brides Wear as Many as Five Dresses – Yet Provide Inspiration for a Sustainable Fashion Future

Across the Northern hemisphere flowers are blooming, days are warmer and birds are singing. In China, where I live, there is another highly visible indicator of the season: couples dressed in their wedding day finest are to be seen posing in the most picturesque spots around the country, with a photographer in tow.

Weddings in China have always been opulent – with elaborate, detailed embroidered dresses and a prolonged series of ritual events – but in recent decades, as the country positions itself as a global leader and incomes increase, they have become even more so. Increasing Chinese popular awareness of global wedding dress and cultural trends have added to this opulence, with ever-increasing mix between Western and local traditions.

Weddings are now so central to Chinese culture that the small district of Tiger Hill in Suzhou has become the centre of the wedding dress industry, reportedly producing up to 80% of the world’s wedding dresses. This surge in in the industry has been fed by a new generation of Chinese brides and grooms that have become not only brand-conscious but brand-reliant.

Suzhou, China.  4045/Shutterstock.com

Suzhou, China. 4045/Shutterstock.com

In a time in which sustainability has become a key goal for the global fashion industry, this trend is a worry. Here, issues in fast fashion seen all over the world, from wastefulness in production to cheaply produced goods made with poor quality synthetic fabrics, are magnified. And the wedding dress is an apt symbol for the excesses of the industry – usually a phenomenally expensive item, only ever worn once.

But despite the increasing rampant consumerism seen in Chinese wedding dresses, China does offer some kernels of hope for a world – and an industry – increasingly concerned by sustainability.

Tiger Hill

The city of Suzhou has for centuries been known throughout China as the city of silk and embroidery. But as the modern wedding culture of today’s China evolved, Tiger Hill Bridal Market area has developed: first as a centre for wedding photography studios, a place of studios and equipment, and then as a centre of wedding dress production and distribution. Situated just a few hundred metres from one of Suzhou’s famous tourist destinations, Tiger Hill, (Hu Qiu in Chinese) has morphed into a treasure trove of lace, taffeta and beads.

Shops in Tiger Hill offer every kind of imaginable incarnation of what a wedding dress could be, from a Han-Dynasty fantasy garment to a red or white princess-style gown to replicas of dresses worn by famous royal brides. While many shops cater to private customers, wholesalers who distribute the dresses via digital platforms also represent a large section of the area’s clientele.

The district, like many in China, has undergone rapid transformation since the turn of the new millennium, fuelled by an increasing number of consumers with a growing disposable income and associated wedding budget. Tiger Hill Wedding Market is now the place to buy your wedding dress in China as well as around the world online. Brides-to-be can source dresses at all price ranges, from ¥100 to ¥100,000 (approximately £9 to £9,000).

Shopping for dresses in Tiger Hill. © Sara Sterling, Author provided

Shopping for dresses in Tiger Hill. © Sara Sterling, Author provided

But a key difference between Suzhou and other wedding dress markets is the prevalence of a rental culture, similar to the Western practice of suit and tuxedo rental for grooms and groomsmen.

This is a hangover from the pre-Deng Xiaoping Open era before the late 1970s, in which extravagant consumption practices were simply not available. And with a minimum of three dresses involved in the Chinese wedding day, it is no small wonder that renting remains well-established.

Multiple dresses

In the UK and other Western countries, it is becoming increasingly popular for brides to wear two versions of a bridal dress on the wedding day, with one reserved for the formal ceremony itself and the other for the evening reception, designed with comfort and ability to dance in mind.

But in China, brides wear up to five dresses. While two or possibly three dresses may have been standard in previous decades, this number has increased in recent years. The ideal bride in China is multi-dimensional, with dresses that represent not only different sections of the wedding day schedule, but different levels of the self. From a tightly fitted and hand-embroidered qi pao, to a voluminous white or cream-coloured dress reminiscent of the days of Marie Antoinette, brides aim to show themselves in different aspects throughout the day.

The photoshoot.  Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com

There is one for the morning, when the bride is picked up by her groom after a series of verbal challenges and games. There is one for the walk into the banquet hall and arrival and one for the ceremony. Then another for the series of toasts as the bride and groom make their way around to the dozens of tables of well-wishers and red packet-givers, and perhaps even one more dress for the final hours of the evening.

This might sound over the top and rather wasteful. And indeed, increasing consumer demand for a larger number of dresses for each significant event of the wedding day has placed pressure on the wedding dress industry to produce a larger volume of dresses to meet these requests.

But it doesn’t have to be, especially if China doesn’t lose the tradition of renting these dresses. And with the price of rental dresses, or a rental dress package, costing up to tens of thousands of yuan, dress rental is still commonplace amongst Chinese brides, due to both economic necessity as well as the nature of the ceremony, with its multiple dress changes.

SARA STERLING is a Lecturer in Industrial Design at Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Thailand’s Modern Take on the Buddhist Temple

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew offers a modern take on the Buddhist temple. Built in the early aughts, this peaceful place of worship—known as the Temple on the Glass Cliff in English—is most notable for its five white Buddhas. You can see them for miles around. They are nestled together in meditation poses, arranged in descending order from tallest to smallest. The striking figures sit atop a five-level pagoda shaped like a lotus flower and covered in colorful mosaic tiles, stones and pottery. See why this temple is worth the five-hour drive from Bangkok.

Removing the Ghosts of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico’s Sea

Raimundo Chirinos has devoted his life and career to protecting Puerto Rico’s waters. And in the wake of Hurricane Maria, his devotion matters more than ever. Among its many assaults, the Category 5 storm pulled fishing gear from the island’s shores into the ocean, creating “ghost traps.” These misplaced traps inadvertently catch fish and other species, disrupting the ecosystem and the local fishing economy. More determined than ever to protect his island’s waters, Raimundo has hired local dive fishermen to help him locate ghost traps, creating economic opportunity and community in the wake of devastation.

This School on a Bus Is Bringing Education to Everyone

Shelia Hill grew up in San Francisco’s Sunnydale Projects. It was a rough neighborhood. She got into trouble when she was young and dropped out of school. She thought it wasn’t for her. Hill’s attitude changed after she had her own children. One day, her son asked why he should bother going to school since she didn’t. It was a lightbulb moment. Hill realized that she had to do better for herself and her family. She learned how to read and got her high school diploma through Five Keys, an organization that gives members of underserved communities a chance to restart their education. Today, Hill works for Five Keys as community ambassador. She goes out into neighborhoods considered education deserts on the Five Keys bus and encourages residents to board the mobile classroom where they can study with a teacher and earn their GEDs. Hill doesn’t want anyone to feel ashamed for not finishing school. So she always makes sure to share her own story, letting people know there was a time when she couldn’t read. And she’s big on follow-up with potential students. “I’ll call them. I’ll bug them. I’ll text them. I’ll email ’em. Whatever it takes,” she says. “I just want you to get your education. That’s it.”


What the US Could Learn from Thailand about Health Care Coverage

Newborn babies in a Bangkok hospital on Dec. 28, 2017.They are wearing dog costumes to observe the New Year of the dog.  Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Newborn babies in a Bangkok hospital on Dec. 28, 2017.They are wearing dog costumes to observe the New Year of the dog. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) draws to a close on Dec. 15. Yet, recent assaults on the ACA by the Trump administration stand in marked contrast to efforts to expand access to health care and medicine in the rest of the world. In fact, on Dec. 12, the world observed Universal Coverage Day, a day celebrated by the United Nations to commemorate passage of a momentous, unanimous U.N. General Assembly resolution in support of universal health coverage in 2012.

While the U.N. measure was nonbinding and did not commit U.N. member states to adopt universal health care, many global health experts viewed it as an achievement of extraordinary symbolic importance, as it drew attention to the importance of providing access to quality health care services, medicines and financial protection for all.

Co-sponsored by 90 member states, the declaration shined a light on the profound effect that expansion of health care coverage has had on the lives of ordinary people in parts of the world with far fewer resources than the U.S., including Thailand, Mexico and Ghana. Can the U.S. learn anything from these countries’ efforts?

US and Thailand: A study in contrasts

I came to understand these changes as I researched and wrote my book, “Achieving Access: Professional Movements and the Politics of Health Universalism.” The book offers a comparative and historical take on the politics of universal health care and AIDS treatment, featuring Thailand as the primary case. For me, Thailand’s remarkable achievements also put into perspective some of the work we still have to do here in the United States with respect to health reform.

Before the reform, Thailand had four different state health insurance schemes, which collectively covered about 70 percent of the population. The reform in 2002 consolidated two of those programs and extended coverage to everyone who did not already receive coverage through the country’s health insurance programs for civil servants and formal sector workers.

Thailand’s universal coverage policy contributed to rising life expectancy, decreased mortality among infants and children, and a leveling of the historical health disparities between rich and poor regions of the country. The number of people being impoverished by health care payments also declined dramatically, particularly among the poor.

However, Thailand’s reform had other important consequences that aimed to make the reform sustainable as well. Sensible financing and gatekeeping arrangements – that tied patients to a medical home near where they lived and provided fixed annual payments for physicians to cover outpatient care – were instituted to curb the kind of cost escalation that has historically been a hallmark of the United States (though it has slowed lately). The reform also improved the quality of care for patients in remote areas by mandating that qualified providers in community hospitals collaborate more extensively with rural health centers.

A computer screen promoting this year’s open enrollment, which will run 45 days. In years past, open enrollment continued for months.  Ricky Kresslein/Shutterstock.com

A computer screen promoting this year’s open enrollment, which will run 45 days. In years past, open enrollment continued for months. Ricky Kresslein/Shutterstock.com

The United States, by contrast, seems to be moving in the opposite direction, both in terms of insurance coverage and health outcomes. Although recent Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were narrowly defeated, lawsuits that aim to terminate popular pre-existing conditions protections continue. In addition, the Trump administration has sought to weaken the reform in other ways: including by cutting the open enrollment periods, which ends Dec. 15 and lasts 45 days; cutting outreach and advertising for open enrollment; and threatening to suspend risk adjustment payments to private insurers, which help to stabilize the market.

Moreover, effective repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate through a provision in the 2017 Tax Reconciliation Act that reduces the penalty for not having insurance to zero in 2019 will have the effect of reducing the number of insured. This will have an effect on health insurance markets, likely reducing the number of younger and healthier people that help give balance to health insurance risk pools and that help keep overall costs down. And without the financial protection afforded by health insurance, those who are uninsured may face rising rates of medical bankruptcy, to say nothing for the loss of access to sorely needed medical care.

Learning from Thailand

To be sure, the Thai and American contexts are very, very different. While health spending stands at around 4 percent of GDP in Thailand, in America nearly 20 percent, or one-fifth, of the country’s total economic output is spent on health. Yet, in some ways, that makes Thailand’s achievement all the more remarkable. And while no program is perfect, Thailand’s reform is one of the reasons that health costs in Thailand have remained so low, despite such a dramatic increase in coverage.

The use of generic drugs in Thailand is a strategy to keep costs low.  Room's Studio/Shutterstock.com

The use of generic drugs in Thailand is a strategy to keep costs low. Room's Studio/Shutterstock.com

Reformers also drew on other innovative policy instruments to keep costs down, including the Government Pharmaceutical Organization that produces generic medication for the universal coverage program and the use of compulsory licenses, which allow governments to produce or import generic versions of patented medication under WTO law.

The Affordable Care Act similarly sought to improve access, while curbing costs. Some of the most important mechanisms to curb costs fell victim to the legislative process however. Most notably, lobbyists succeeded in killing the “public option,” a government (as opposed to private) health insurer with much lower administrative costs that aimed to bring costs down among private health insurers through competition with them.

Although the reform in Thailand was popular among the masses, it also saw its share of detractors. Medical associations that represented doctors who saw the policy as a threat came out against it. Likewise, beneficiaries of the existing programs for civil servants and employees of large, tax-paying businesses feared that their own benefits would be diluted by a new single payer program. Despite progress expanding access to everyone, the new program introduced in 2002 still sits alongside separate programs for civil servants and employees of large, tax-paying businesses.

What the contrast makes clear, however, is that reforms done properly can expand access while at the same time instituting measures that help to contain costs. The U.S., in my view, should pursue similarly creative and constructive reforms that seek to do both.

What does that look like in the United States? To me, that means preserving the ACA’s individual mandate and protections related to pre-existing conditions; creating (or expanding) a public insurer like Medicare to compete alongside private insurers and keep costs down; addressing the lack of price transparency in our nation’s hospitals; and actively negotiating with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to bring costs of drugs and health care down for millions.

Done sensibly, developing nations like Thailand are proving that they do not have to join the ranks of the world’s wealthiest nations for their citizens to enjoy access to health care and medicine. Using evidence-based decision-making, even expensive benefits, like dialysis, heart surgery and chemotherapy, need not remain out of reach. Policymakers in all countries can institute reforms using tools that promote cost savings at the same time they improve access and equity.

While efforts to implement universal coverage are not without challenges, these results suggest that leaders in Congress would do well to learn from countries like Thailand as they chart a fiscally responsible path forward on health care.

JOSEPH HARRIS is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION



Surfing Under Northern Lights

Adventure photographer Chris Burkard is an expert at photographing surfers who ride the coldest, most punishing waves on the planet. He's used to battling the elements in order to get the perfect shot, but one fateful storm in Iceland nearly broke him. Still, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to capture an epic adventure under the greatest light show on earth.

Antarctica

This movie was shot during a 20 day trip to Antarctica in December 2014 to January 2015.

Kalle Ljung started from Ushuaia in Argentina and went to Port Williams in Chile, rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Drake Passage towards the Melchior Islands in Antarctica. She spent 16 days in the Antarctic and got to experience the most amazing scenery and wildlife before she returned back to Ushuaia.

In the Slovenian Alps, an Island on an Emerald Lake Beckons

Just over 30 miles northwest of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, you’ll find an alpine lake that looks straight out of a fairytale. With a cliff-side castle, an emerald green, fresh water lake and some of the best views of the Julian Alps, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Lake Bled and its island church for a storybook cover. And as you cross the lake in a traditional wooden boat, learn the legend of the bell that lies below these emerald green waters.

‘Climigration’: When Communities Must Move Because of Climate Change

Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation.  srv007/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC

Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation. srv007/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Climate change increasingly threatens communities all over the world. News of fires, floods and coastal erosion devastating lives and livelihoods seems almost constant. The latest fires in Queensland and New South Wales mark the start of the earliest bushfire season the states have ever seen.

What happens when climate change causes extreme events to become chronic, potentially rendering some communities unviable? This question is fuelling a new strand of global research focused on “climigration”. Climigration is the planned relocation of entire communities to new locations further from harm. And it has already begun.

It takes a lot to convince a community to move. But extreme events disrupt communities socially, economically and physically. Buildings and infrastructure are damaged, as are community cohesion and morale. Lives may be lost; many others are changed forever.

When extreme events disrupt communities, responses usually occur in one of two ways. We can try to repair damage and continue as before, which is known as resilience. Or we try to repair and fortify against future damage in a process of adaptation. Climigration is an extreme form of climate change adaptation,

This article draws on our recently published research, which investigated how land-use and strategic planning frameworks can prepare for climigration.

From imagination to reality

Climigration is no longer a concern for the future; it is a challenge today. The notion of strategically relocating entire communities has quickly moved from imagination to reality.

For instance, in 2016 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided US$1 billion to help communities adapt to climate change in 13 states. The grants included the first direct allocation of federal funding to move an entire community.

Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is the first US community to undergo federally sanctioned climigration. The move has been forced by the loss of coastal land to rising seas and storm surges. Last December, the state bought land at residents’ preferred site to develop their new community.

Property damaged by extreme weather and later abandoned on Isle De Jean Charles.  Maitri/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC-SA

Property damaged by extreme weather and later abandoned on Isle De Jean Charles. Maitri/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Climigration options were previously considered in Alaska. Climate-induced coastal erosion has threatened the viability of the village of Newtok for many years. Its residents voted in 2003 to relocate to higher ground but the relocation looks unlikely to be completed before 2023.

In Australia, more than 100 households in Grantham, Queensland, were relocated to higher ground with government assistance after devastating floods caused by an exceptionally strong La Niña in 2011.

Critical factors in climigration

Climigration is, of course, not a phenomenon restricted to the US and Australia. It is a growing concern for many countries.

Our research sought to establish a framework for effective climigration planning. We systematically reviewed international case studies of community relocations undertaken because of environmental hazards. As part of this we developed a hierarchy of influencing factors in planning for climigration.

We found that the degree to which a community agrees on the need to relocate is a crucial influence. Consensus generates social capital, which supports action and improves the prospects of successful outcomes.

Perception of the timing and severity of risks is another critical factor. Immediate, obvious risks are more likely to motivate action. Motivation can be low if risks are seen as a problem for the distant future, even if impacts may eventually be devastating.

Political, economic and logistical support from government moderately influences the success of community relocation. Relocation may still occur without government support, but this is not preferable and the chances of success are lower.

Strong local leadership can improve the capacity of communities to face the reality of relocation and then to resettle. Strategic leadership from outside agencies is a complement to local leadership, not a substitute.

How to plan successfully for climigration

Strategic and land-use planning systems will be central public agencies in many climigration cases.

Planners already have relevant skills and training. These include community consultation, mediation and stakeholder engagement. Planners can coordinate land acquisition and development applications. They can provide temporary housing, infrastructure and transportation.

Planning for climigration also requires other professional input, including disaster management, social psychology and engineering.

Strategic planning for climigration should begin as early as possible. Vulnerable communities can be identified using risk mapping.

Residents of bushfire-prone areas that become impossible to defend might have to consider moving. Dean Lewins/AAP

Residents of bushfire-prone areas that become impossible to defend might have to consider moving. Dean Lewins/AAP

Alternative sites can then be shortlisted and potential logistical demands identified.

Securing land for relocation may place planners in the middle of competing forces. They need to be careful and deliberative to balance the expectations of residents, government, and the market.

Consultation is vital to secure community consensus in the event of climigration. It is a key tool for planners to explain risks and engage residents in crucial decisions.

Specific policy frameworks for climigration are preferable but not essential. When used, they can improve coordination and reduce the risk of negative outcomes.

A confronting concept

While climigration is not yet a common planning issue, it is likely to become an increasingly urgent agenda. Climigration events like those in Louisiana, Alaska and Queensland are just the first wave.

There are limits to the feasibility of climigration. It might only be viable for small towns and villages. Undoubtedly there will be cases where climigration is rejected as too much of challenge.

Triage-based planning could be helpful in deciding which communities to relocate.

Accepting the notion of climigration may be the biggest challenge for planners. The idea that the only viable future for a community is to be relocated elsewhere is unusual and confronting. Managing climigration through planning practice may prove more straightforward than adjusting to the idea in the first place.

TONY MATTHEWS is Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning at Griffith University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

How Women Entrepreneurs are Changing Indian Society

In India, the proportion of women in paid work is among the lowest in the world, at just over 23% – a figure which contrasts sharply with the corresponding rate of over 78% for men.

Opportunities for women to enter employment in the country are limited by a range of factors. These include a dominant tradition of female domestic responsibility, and a prevailing social patriarchy.

Deeply entrenched cultural expectations mean that women are more likely to stay at home. And when they do work, it is mainly on an informal basis, without the luxury of secured wages and contracts.

Against this backdrop, the idea of female entrepreneurship in India faces major challenges. Setting up a business can require significant efforts outside of normal work times, and can lead to women being perceived as irresponsible if they dedicate time to entrepreneurial activities.

But it seems as if things may be changing. My research on women entrepreneurs in India reveals they are contesting social, cultural and family pressures to challenge the status quo in Indian society. They are also empowering other women while providing innovative solutions to major social problems.

Some of the women I spoke to greatly inspired me with their stories. One manufacturing business founder, Pinky Maheshwari, was challenged by her son to make environmentally friendly paper. She went on to create handmade paper made out of cotton that is embedded with seeds. These can then be planted and grown into trees when the paper has served its purpose.

Her award-winning ideas have won appreciation and support from the highest levels of Indian government. She is, she told me, motivated by the idea of empowering others, and “hires women from rural and small towns so that they earn a livelihood and get acknowledged for their creativity”.

She added: “I have employed largely women and I support them in any way I can.”

A similar spirit shone through other women entrepreneurs I interviewed. Padmaja Narsipur, the founder of a digital marketing strategy firm, supports women “re-starters” to join her workforce after a break in their working lives.

She said: “Women re-starters are highly qualified and committed. I have been one myself. I have built a workplace where trust in employees, giving flexible hours, work from home options, is built into the DNA and it is paying off.”

The CEO of Anthill creations, Pooja Rai has a vision to create “interactive learning environments in public spaces with a primary focus on sustainability”, by using recycled materials to build accessible play areas in remote parts of India.

These are just some of the many Indian women entrepreneurs I met who are creating businesses of real purpose. Despite the cultural obstacles, they are changing perceptions and creating innovative businesses that have a real impact on their communities and beyond.

Their work is rewriting the rules for business, families and society while challenging the mindset that there is limited scope for them to create good businesses.

With a blend of social purpose and business acumen, Indian women are embarking on a journey to change perceptions and creating prosperity for themselves and for the nation.

This is the new face of women entrepreneurship in India. And there is evidence that public policy is increasingly supportive of this transformation while society is beginning to celebrate their successes.

Indian society is gradually becoming progressively egalitarian with much needed government initiatives such as “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) designed to improve the prospects of young girls.

Improved access to social mediaeducation, and social enterprises are all contributing to change. These are giving momentum to the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in India.

MILI SHRIVASTAVA is a Lecturer in Strategy at Bournemouth University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Greta Thunberg’s Voice Speaks Just as Loud as Her Words

Thunberg during her impassioned speech to world leaders at the UN’s 2019 Climate Action Summit.  Justin Lane/EPA

Thunberg during her impassioned speech to world leaders at the UN’s 2019 Climate Action Summit. Justin Lane/EPA

“Do you think they hear us? We’ll make them hear us!”. This was the rallying call Greta Thunberg gave to 250,000 people in New York’s packed streets, and millions worldwide who were taking part in the largest climate protest in history. In political chambers and on the streets, her cutting and inspiring words have awakened countless people to the climate and ecological emergencies. But beyond them, her voice contains a message that’s just as powerful.

The sound of Thunberg’s voice has become as distinctive as her bluntly precise rhetoric and diminutive figure, as evidenced by her recent uncredited opening monologue on indie rock band The 1975’s album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.

There’s a certain poetic justice here. After first learning of the environmental crisis facing the planet, Thunberg was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, depression, and selective mutism, and describes herself as “only talking when necessary”. The very presence of her voice in the public sphere alone therefore signals the urgency of the climate and ecological crises.

And in making her voice heard, its unique characteristics tell their own important story.

The sonic fingerprint

The human voice is like a fingerprint made of sound waves. Unique to each speaker, its composition is determined by an array of factors ranging from the size, age and sex of the speaker’s body to their emotional state and social background.

As a result, when a person vocalises, the voice connects the individual to the collective. When we speak, we carry and communicate our own personal identity to the community we enter. When we listen, we’re listening not only to the meaning of the words spoken but also the non-linguistic information communicated by the speaker’s sonic fingerprint.

The most salient characteristic of Thunberg’s vocal fingerprint is perhaps her age. Just as Malala Yousafzai’s youthful tones gave her drive for female education such sway, Thunberg’s voice is a clear reminder of her 16 years – and by extension, the adolescence of the thousands of school strikers she has galvanised. She frequently frames the climate crisis as a generational conflict between the adults who are exacerbating the problem and the children who will pay the price. It is the youth in her voice, over and above her chastising words, that makes this role reversal so powerful.

The political landscape surrounding the climate and ecological crises is constantly changing. So is the human voice. How she alters her approach to public speaking as her voice shifts into adulthood could be important if she is to keep having an impact – she will only sound like a student for so long.

A voice through a crowd

The wide reach of Thunberg’s public speeches also turn an issue too often expressed with faceless statistics and global trends into a human one.

On paper, it would be easy to write off Greta’s words as another opinion among many. But as well as physical characteristics, our voices communicate our emotions. Thunberg’s terse and sombre monotone makes tangible the emotional significance of the deepening crisis facing her generation.

In embodying the issue of climate breakdown, Thunberg’s voice also makes it personal. When she speaks, we are reminded that she is one individual – and that her actions alone inspired hundreds of thousands to join her. As the title of her recent collection of speeches says, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

Thunberg and her followers argue for systems change, but they do so as a chorus of individual voices. The quarter-million strong unified chant of Thunberg’s name at New York’s climate strikes reminds us that when individuals are empowered and brought together, they can each play an important part in tackling climate and ecological breakdown.

The voice is not just a vehicle for language. The unique sounds of every human voice tell their own story alongside the words they carry. For Thunberg, this is the story of a generation let down and determined to effect change – whether leaders like it or not.

As the movement she started continues to gain momentum, this message will underpin everything she and her followers say. Whether people are listening is another story.

DAMIEN POLLARD is a PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge Centre for Film & Screen at the University of Cambridge.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION