Category Archives: Making Things Better

Stephen and Tabitha King foot bill for troops’ ride home

Horror writer and all-around mensch Stephen King and his wife, author Tabitha King, are donating $12,999 so that members of the Maine Army National Guard currently training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., can come home to Portland and Bangor for the holidays, the Bangor Daily News reports.

This amount is short of the $13,000 that had been requested, but King didn’t want any form of the unlucky number 13 to be associated with the troops. The remaining dollar came from one of King’s assistants, Julie Eugley.

A total of 150 members of the Brewer-based Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Unit, will be going back to Maine by bus, courtesy of the Kings. The guardsmen are scheduled to ship off to Afghanistan in January.

King has been involved with a number of charities, including the Jimmy Fund and others that deal with AIDS, hunger and poverty.

http://scifiwire.com/2009/12/stephen-and-tabitha-king.php

Gore Tackles Palin, Fights Back On ClimateGate: ‘What In The Hell Do They Think Is Causing It?’

As world leaders convene in Copenhagen for the global climate conference, Former Vice President Al Gore has been making the interview rounds pushing back on “ClimateGate” and promoting his new book , Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

In a wide-ranging interview with Slate, Gore talks about environmental policy, why the Copenhagen meeting matters, and the hacked climate science emails. The emails, Gore stresses, were “taken wildly out of context” and the uproar surrounding them is “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

His frustration with the hacked-email fallout is palpable. “The basic facts are incontrovertible. What do they think happens when we put 90 million tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it and presto!–physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn’t trap heat anymore?” Gore asked, and pressed his point harder: “And when we see all these things happening on the Earth itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it?

Slate asked about Gore’s conversation with President Obama on Monday, but the climate change leader declined to discuss it, saying only that they had talked about Copenhagen, and the Senate legislation, and that he’d like to keep the rest of their conversation private.

Gore also appeared on CNN Tuesday night, in a lengthy interview covering similar ground. Watch it below. On Wednesday, he was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell, who tweeted preview bits of their conversation. To Mitchell, on Palin’s controversial Washington Post op-ed, Gore’s message was simple: “It’s a principle. It’s like gravity. it exists.”

Follow link for video of the interview – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/09/gore-tackles-palin-fights_n_385712.html

Malaysian Rainforest Tribes Establish ‘Peace Park’ to Push Back Loggers

photo: Bruno Manser Fonds

by Matthew McDermott

Here’s one solution to holding back loggers: Bruno Manser Fonds reports seventeen Penan communities in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia have proclaimed a new tropical forest reserve on their lands. The newly inaugurated Penan Peace Park will preserve their last remaining undisturbed forests from development, allowing tourism and preserving their culture.

Our Heritage Must Be Preserved
A former regional chief in the region, James Lalo Kesoh described the necessity of establishing the park:

As nomadic hunter-gatherers, we Penan people have been roaming the rainforests of the Upper Baram region for centuries. Even though we have settled down and started life as farmers sicne the late 1950s, we still depend on the forests for our food supply, for raw materials such as rattan for handicrafts, for medicinal plants and for other jungle products. Our entire cultural heritage is in the forest and needs to be preserved for future generations.

The Penan Peace Park consists of about 1630 square kilometers around the Gunung Murud Kecil mountain range, near the border of Indonesia.

The Penan people in the region have opposed logging in their rainforest for the past three decades, repeatedly blocking roads and taking direct action against encroachments.

penan peace park map

Hat tip to Mongabay on this one…

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/12/malaysian-rainforest-tribes-establish-peace-park-push-back-loggers.php

Cinderella fruit: Wild delicacies become cash crops

mg20427331.200-1_300by Charlie Pye-Smith

IF YOU had come here 10 years ago, says Thaddeus Salah as he shows us round his tree nursery in north-west Cameroon, you would have seen real hunger and poverty. “In those times,” he says, “we didn’t have enough chop to eat.” It wasn’t just food – “chop” in the local dialect – that his family lacked. They couldn’t afford school fees, healthcare or even chairs for their dilapidated grass-thatch house.

Salah’s fortunes changed in 2000 when he and his neighbours learned how to identify the best wild fruit trees and propagate them in a nursery. “Domesticating wild fruit like bush mango has changed our lives,” he says. His family now has “plenty chop”, as he puts it. He is also earning enough from the sale of indigenous fruit trees to pay school fees for four of his children. He has been able to re-roof his house with zinc sheets and buy goods he could only dream of owning before. He even has a mobile phone.

From Salah’s farm we gaze across the intensively cultivated hills which roll away towards the Nigerian border. “Ten years ago, you’d hardly see any safou [African plum, Dacryodes edulis] in this area,” says Zachary Tchoundjeu, a botanist at the World Agroforestry Centre‘s regional office in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé. “Now you see them growing everywhere.”

The spread of African plum through these hills is one small part of a bigger movement that could change the lives of millions of Africans. The continent is home to some 3000 species of wild fruit tree, many of which are ripe for domestication. Chocolate berries, gingerbread plums, monkey oranges, gumvines, tree grapes and a host of others could soon play a role in ensuring dependable food supplies in areas now plagued by malnutrition (see “Future fruits of the forest”).

One of the architects of the programme is Roger Leakey, a former director of research at the World Agroforestry Centre. He calls these fruit trees “Cinderella species”: their attributes may have gone unrecognised by science and big business, but the time has come for them to step into the limelight.

“The last great round of crop domestication took place during the green revolution [in the mid-20th century], which developed high-yielding varieties of starchy staples such as rice, maize and wheat,” says Leakey. “This new round could scarcely be more different.” Sparsely funded and largely ignored by agribusiness, high-tech labs and policy-makers, it is a peasant revolution taking place in the fields of Africa’s smallholders.

The revolution has its roots in the mid-1990s, when researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre conducted a series of surveys in west Africa, southern Africa and the Sahel to establish which indigenous trees were most valued by local people. “We were startled by the results,” says Tchoundjeu. “We were expecting people to point to commercially important timber species, but what they valued most were indigenous fruit trees.”

In response to this unexpected finding, the World Agroforestry Centre launched a fruit tree domestication programme in 1998. It began by focusing on a handful of species, including bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis), an indigenous African species unrelated to the Indian mango, African plum – not actually a plum but a savoury, avocado-like fruit sometimes called an afrocado – and a nut tree known locally as njansan (Ricinodendron heudelotii). Though common in the forests and as wild trees on farms, they were almost unknown to science. “We knew their biological names, but that was about all,” says Ebenezar Asaah, a tree specialist at the World Agroforestry Centre. “We had no idea how long it took for them to reach maturity and produce fruit, and we knew nothing about their reproductive behaviour.” Local people, in contrast, knew a good deal about them, as the trees’ fruits have long been part of their diet.

Rural Africans consume an enormous variety of wild foodstuffs. In Cameroon, fruits and seeds from around 300 indigenous trees are eaten, according to a study by researchers at Cameroon’s University of Dschang. A similar survey in Malawi and Zambia found that up to 40 per cent of rural households rely on indigenous fruits to sustain them during the “hungry months”, particularly January and February, when supplies in their granaries are exhausted and they are waiting for their next harvest (Acta Horticulturae, vol 632, p 15).

Some of these so called “famine foods” have already been domesticated by accident, says ethnoecologist Anthony Cunningham of People and Plants International, an NGO based in Essex Junction, Vermont. He cites the example of marula (Sclerocarya birrea), a southern African tree in the cashew family with edible nutty seeds encased in a tart, turpentine-flavoured fruit. “Long before the development of agricultural crops, hunter-gatherers were eating marula fruit,” he says. “They’d pick the best fruit, then scatter the seeds around their camps.” These would eventually germinate and mature into fruit-bearing trees, ensuring, in evolutionary terms, the survival of the tastiest. Marula is now fully domesticated and the fruit is used to make juice, a liqueur called Amarula Cream and cosmetic oils.

Article Continues - http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427331.200-cinderella-fruit-wild-delicacies-become-cash-crops.html

In Just 4 Short Years, Kiva Hits $100 Million In Microloans

kiva-microloansby Jaymi Heimbuch, San Francisco, California

Back in 2005, Warren wrote about Kiva, and making history on a one-to-one basis. Kiva was a brand new idea, an easier, more human-centered way for struggling business owners to get the helping hand they need. Now, four years later, Kiva has hit a record – $100 million in microloans.

As of October 31, Kiva has facilitated the movement of $100 million between people, helping small businesses stay above water. “What’s even more amazing to me is that it took over 1 year to raise our first $1 million . This year alone, we’re on track to raise nearly $60 million.”

TechCrunch notes, “The company has brought together 573,000 lenders (people like you and me putting in $25 or more towards a specific project), and 239,000 entrepreneurs.”

We are big supporters of the microlending system. Many of us TreeHugger writers have invested funds in Kiva, and a similar system that offers a return on investments called MicroPlace was part of our Holiday Gift Guide for Philanthropists last year.

It’s an amazing way to help people help themselves, and redistribute wealth. Congratulations Kiva, on such a significant achievement.

More on Microlending
Green Investing with Microloans
MicroPlace and How Micro Loans Make a Big Difference (Video)
How to Go Green: Investing

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/11/in-just-4-short-years-kiva-hits-100-million-in-microloans.php

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Stein Family Says Thank You, Looks To The Future

After a whirlwind week that saw their family featured on the front page of The Huffington Post and $30,000 raised to help them pay their overwhelming medical bills, the Stein family is back with a message of gratitude and hope for the HuffPost community.

TampaBay.com visited the Steins at home on Sunday morning. They discuss how amazed they are that the Huffington Post came out in such strong numbers to support them. Gary Stein thinks of them as a symbol of the hardships faced by families across America.

If you are one of the more than 900 people who gave to the Stein family, thank you for your generosity. As the Impact section grows, there will be more opportunities to give, volunteer and take action with the causes you care about.

Thank you for following this story, and thanks for your continued commitment to making an impact.

Follow link for Video – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/18/stein-family-says-thank-y_n_325281.html

Rethinking Capitalism: How Very Enterprising

Interesting quote from (for some) and unlikely source

“Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end.  Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” Benedict decried the “speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard to the long-term sustainability of the enterprise and its benefit to the real economy,” declared the pope in an encyclical issued by the Vatican this past summer.

Friday, October 2, 2009 (the Washington Post)

The curious thing about Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism: A Love Story.”, however, is that while many of its small points are exaggerated or misinformed, Moore’s largest point is essentially correct: that the economic system no longer works for the majority of Americans.

For me, the most powerful moments in the movie weren’t the interviews with displaced homeowners, laid-off workers or grieving widows, but those with a trio of Catholic clergymen who minced no words in declaring the moral bankruptcy of modern American capitalism. It was clear they had come to their conclusions not from any radical ideology or deep understanding of economics but from the inequity and insensitivity they observed in their parishes. As it happens, their outrage is shared by their boss, Pope Benedict XVI.

“Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end,” declared the pope in an encyclical issued by the Vatican this summer. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” Benedict decried the “speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard to the long-term sustainability of the enterprise and its benefit to the real economy.”

What’s going on here is not simply the moralizing of clerics and filmmakers. Nor, I think, is it merely a reflection of the difficult economy. After nearly two decades of booms and busts that have yielded little in the way of economic gain for the typical household, Americans have developed a profound distrust of the markets, financiers, big business and the capitalist ethos.

I got a taste of that last week when I attended a day-long ceremony celebrating the opening of the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland’s business school. The school’s dean, Anand Anandalingam, explained that the impetus for the center came not from the administration or even the faculty but from business students who were looking for more meaning and social purpose in their careers than simply making a lot of money for themselves and for shareholders.

The first speaker was Seth Goldman, the founder of Bethesda-based Honest Tea, who was treated as something of a rock star by the students who packed the auditorium. Goldman doesn’t apologize for getting rich by selling healthy, organic beverages, or taking on as his partner and largest investor Coca-Cola, a company best known for peddling sugared and caffeinated beverages. As Goldman explained to the audience — and later in a video interview for The Post’s On Leadership Web site — his aim is to change the culture and values of the beverage industry before they change him.

Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine, got a round of applause from the Maryland students when he declared that in a knowledge economy, the way companies compete is to attract the best talent — talent that these days is motivated less by money than the desire to work in a place where they can learn, grow and have an impact on the world.

Also on hand was Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor who has been celebrating the achievements of Corporate America for decades. Kanter is still celebrating, but these days she’s cheering for companies that have gone beyond maximizing shareholder value, and even beyond corporate social responsibility, to embrace a more ambitious mission of the world’s problems. In a new book, “SuperCorp,” she argues that companies that imbue their culture with a social ethic wind up making more money for their shareholders, not only because their employees are more motivated but also because their focus on a transcendent external goal makes them less resistant to internal change.

None of this is meant to suggest that a new form of capitalism is about to take hold. But it is a reminder that the big reason capitalism has proven the least-bad economic system is that it is best at correcting its own excesses. After all, only in a capitalist country can you turn a profit making movies about the evils of capitalism.

Steven Pearlstein can be reached at pearlsteins@washpost.com.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/01/AR2009100104837.html