Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016 Update - United Nations Office, Geneva Switzerland - 2016 Scientific Research Conference

Today's focus was the Rights of Nature. To those of you in the United States, this may sound strange but on the global front this topic has been getting quite a bit of attention.

As a quick summary, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature sums it up as follows:
"Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights.  It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world.  It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people –  have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.  The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant."
Several countries have passed laws in respect to the rights of nature. For example, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to add the rights of nature. The "Law of the Rights of Mother Earth"  is a Bolivian law that was passed by Bolivia's Plurinational Legislative Assembly in December 2010. New Zealand is another country has been on the leading edge of the Rights of Nature, and our neighbor to the north, Canada, is now also exploring the possibilities. Likewise, local efforts are also underway in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries on the Rights of Nature.
In the United States, while the concept hasn't had a lot of attention nationwide, it has in some communities. For example, in Pittsburgh, PA in 2010, the city passed an ordinance to ban hydrofracking within the city. Likewise, across the US a variety of issues such as toxic waste, biosolids or sewage sludge application, and mineral extraction, have provided the impetus for similar ordinances. Santa Monica, CA added the recognition of Rights of Nature to the City's Sustainable City Plan. While all the ordinances are different, there are three key elements are: 
  • Reasserting the community's rights to decide what goes on within their community; 
  • Limiting corporate personhood rights, and 
  • Recognizing the rights of natural communities or Nature.

Overall, the premises of the Rights to Nature law are as follows:
  • Recognizes that Nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital, integral cycles.
  • Natural ecosystems can be named as a rights bearing subject. 
  • Humans and government agencies have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of natural systems. 
  • Damages are granted specifically to restore the ecosystem. 
  • Codifies the concept of sustainable development by disallowing activities that would interfere with the functioning of the natural systems that support human and natural life.
  • Is not the same as human rights to nature.
There is also an effort underway for the United Nations to make a declaration concerning the "Rights of Nature". We'll probably see more about this in 2018. 

Tonight there's a dinner at the Botanical Gardens which basically wraps up our work here in Geneva. So I'm off to say "Au Revoir" to my newly discovered colleagues from around the world. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016 Update - United Nations Office, Geneva Switzerland - 2016 Scientific Research Conference

This morning was super busy in Geneva as our focus was “Participatory Research, Citizen Sciences and Fab Labs for Peace and Development”. In more simple terms, today’s theme was involving citizens in meaningful projects to help scientists. Nature Abounds, my nonprofit, currently has three citizen science opportunities – Watch the Wild, IceWatch USA, and our Senior Environment Corps’ water quality monitoring program.

Some presenters for the day shared information about their specific projects. We heard from folks from Germany, France, Switzerland, Cameroun, England, Australia, United States, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, and Bolivia.

Five presenters, including myself, got into more of the development and management of citizen science programs. For example, how do you match a volunteer with an opportunity, how much training do they need, how do you keep your volunteers engaged, how do you make your data credible so that it’s actually used by scientists, making data being collected standard across programs and countries, etc…

Once the presentations were concluded, we broke into five subgroups based on the presentations. In the subgroups, we discussed the aspects of various topics presented. For example, what’s the difference between data and information, and how to make sure our data collected becomes meaningful information for scientists. My group consisted of participants from France, Belgium, Peru, Germany, United States, and Switzerland.

Just before breaking for lunch, I was approached by a couple from Tunisia, and they told me they really enjoyed my presentation as they were looking to design a new citizen science program, and they’d like my help with the design. We exchanged contact information and will stay in touch.

For lunch, I dined with Becky, a vibrant teacher from England and Claire, who lives not far away from France. Most of our conversation centered around Donald Trump, and how they were in shock how we was elected, especially after England experienced something similar not long ago. By the end of the conversation though, Claire became my tour guide for this Saturday, where she will be taking me to CERN, which is not far from my hotel.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research where physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. At CERN, they use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles and provide insights into the fundamental laws of nature. So Saturday, I’ll be in geek girl heaven.


This afternoon, we are concentrating on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, basically funding efforts to involve volunteers in scientific research. Until the next update...


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Organization Working On Climate Change - We Need Your Support!

Now that the election is over and our environmental movement took a huge blow with the results, I’ve received numerous messages from friends that want to know what organizations would be good to support, and especially those working on climate change. My list is below:

First and foremost, a shameless plug for Nature Abounds, the organization I co-founded and am President. Nature Abounds is an emerging national 501c3, found in 2008, with currently over 8,000 supporters across all 50 states. Our main goal is to engage folks in environmental issues whether it be through volunteer opportunities (action and outreach) and stewardship. Climate change is a major priority for us as it touched upon pretty much all aspects of our lives…air, water, habitat, health, etc… Climate change has been woven into all of our opportunities as well as programs and will continue to be. Not only do we engage folks in wildlife, water quality, and weather monitoring, but we engage them in educating the public, their friends and family, as well as our leaders about climate change and things they can do to help.

Finally, we just acquired another nonprofit program related to biodiversity, and adapting to the effects of climate change will play a major part of how we develop the program as we take it from a relatively locally-focused program to a national scale. Climate is such a big issue for Nature Abounds that we have a second website dedicated just to climate change - http://www.climatechangeambassador.org/

In addition to engaging volunteers and others in climate change action, I also work on the regulations regarding climate change and its effects. For example, we worked with other organizations on methane regulations as well as carbon dioxide regulations. We understand that we must work with other organizations to have a larger voice for the issues we care about.  Likewise, we believe that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can contribute to making the world a better place. Finally, with a small staff of only four, we keep our overhead expenses low, while harnessing the passion of our supporters. To expand what we’re doing to make an even bigger impact, your support would be greatly appreciated.

Nature Abounds’ websites:
Nature Abounds’ Facebook pages:

Other organizations doing significant work on climate change –

Environmental Defense Fund –
Union of Concerned Scientists –
The Conservation Fund –
Earthjustice –
Natural Resource Defense Council –
National Wildlife Federation –
Freshwater Future (Great Lakes focus)
National Audubon Society
350.org –
Seaturtle Conservancy –
Save the Frogs –
Leonardo DiCarprio Foundation –
Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
Zero Waste for Zero Loss – a brand new nonprofit that will also be working on climate change. They currently do not have a webpage or Facebook page, but when they do, I’ll add their information to the list.

Looking beyond nonprofits, please also support nonprofit news outlets that cover the realities of climate change as well as institutions that are teaching our future generations about environmental issues like climate change as well as how to combat them. One major player in environmental education is the Vermont Law School. Their website can be found at http://www.vermontlaw.edu/ and the school can be followed on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vermontlaw/ .



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Refugees - The Facts

There are so many posts lately about how horrible it is that the United States is accepting refugees and it's mostly blamed on liberals supporting terrorists, blah, blah, blah. As a lot of you know, one of my major pet peeves is when people don't do the research and make a complaint or statement based on nothing, and this is a great example. Here are the facts about why the United States will accept refugees, and I'm sure that many of you will find it shocking that it has nothing to do with supporting terrorism. And while many folks want to just blame President Obama or Hillary Clinton for the refugee crisis, that's just simply not true.

Many refugees have lost their homes due to war destroying their home and livelihood, and we're seeing see many more refugees on the move due to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise wiping out some island nations or coastal villages. Interestingly, when you start connecting the dots in the Middle East, you can actually track quite a bit of the turmoil to drought conditions where people were uprooted due to losing their agricultural livelihoods due to a lack of water. I could get into this further, but we'll save this "refugee and climate change" topic for another day.

Anyway, over the past several decades, 142 countries have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol. The United States signed on to the protocol in 1968 while President Lyndon B. Johnson was President. For anyone that still wants to connect President Obama or Hillary Clinton to this, he was only 7 years old at this point, and she would have been an 18 year old college student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Under the protocol agreement for the United States specifically, the term "refugee" is defined as ‘A person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” Also note here, that the term "illegal immigrant" is not a correct description/term for a "refugee".

So...what rights do refugees have under the agreement? In addition to not being sent back to their home countries, refugees have several other rights, including:
- The right to not be punished for illegally entering countries that signed on to the treaty,
- The right to housing,
- The right to work,
- Access to education,
- Access to public assistance,
- Access to courts,
- The right to get identification and travel documents.

There you have it...the facts about refugees and our obligations. We also have to remember that many of our ancestors came to the United States as refugees, and it's probably not a stretch to say that they weren't terrorists.

Finally, if you're interested in more information about the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol, here's the link to a list of what other countries are involved with dates on when they signed their commitment.


Finally, feel free to share this post as you please. I'm 100% in favor in spreading the facts.

@United Nations