Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill: North Carolina Governor Doubles Down

(Anti-LGBTQ North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory)

Republican leadership in North Carolina can’t take a hint.

After sparking a massive controversy earlier this year with the so called “bathroom bill” designed to marginalize trans people, the Tar Heel State’s Governor Pat McCrory is lashing out again at the state’s LGBTQ community.

The bathroom bill – HB2 – was rushed through the state legislature in response to a city ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that gave trans residents the right to use restrooms corresponding to their gender. HB2 forbids transgender North Carolinians this basic civil right. Furthermore, the law does more than merely nullify Charlotte’s law, but goes as far as neutralizing local legislation designed to prevent workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community broadly.

The latest affront from North Carolina’s bigoted governor came in the guise of a “compromise’ which, in reality, amounts to a reaffirmation of the state’s willingness to enshrine discrimination in its legal code. McCrory offered to convene a session of the state’s general assembly to repeal HB2 if Charlotte willingly repealed the initial law that set off this totally unnecessary firestorm.

McCrory’s singular commitment to persecuting the transgender community of North Carolina is shocking, even if you only consider the economic backlash and national isolation it has caused. A number of businesses – from Paypal to Deutsche Bank, General Electric to Whole Foods – have boycotted North Carolina. Nationally touring musicians have refused to perform in the state. And, in the latest news, the NCAA has pulled seven NCAA championship games out of the state.

Combine these developments with the generally low support that North Carolinians have for HB2 – hovering around a mere 35 percent in one poll – and the Republican establishment’s fixation on this issue is confusing to say the least.

New York AG Investigates Trump Foundation

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While the Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton has drawn scrutiny for the international dealings of the Clinton Foundation, her opponent for the White House is mired in his own host of controversies relating to his philanthropic enterprise.

On Tuesday, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office was opening an inquiry into the The Donald J. Trump Foundation. Schneiderman told CNN:

We’ve inquired into it. We’ve had correspondence with them. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or hold a press conference. But we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.

The investigation emerges following a string of reports from the Washington Post that Donald Trump may have used contributions to his namesake foundation for personal expenses. The Republican presidential candidate also received heat on the campaign trail for asserting that his campaign raised $6 million for veterans charities, including $1 million donated by the real estate tycoon himself.

These claims have never been verified.

The Trump Foundation is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month, the philanthropic entity was fined for a political donation to a group supporting the reelection bid of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. Bondi was tasked with deciding whether or not to pursue fraud charges against the now defunct Trump University. The fake institution of higher education scammed thousands of people through deceitful sales practices designed to prey on people’s financial insecurities.

The Trump campaign has lashed out, calling the New York Attorney General a “partisan hack.” But if the foundation’s own foot print is anything to go by, uncovering further malfeasance would hardly be a big surprise.

Report Shows Sugar Industry’s Deceit

A damning report released by the American Medical Association on Sunday, September 11 reveals how the sugar industry played a large role in covering up sugar’s negative health impacts. Penned by Cristin E. Kearns, the report details how the Sugar Research Foundation (SRG) helped isolate fat as the primary cause of heart disease.

During the 1950s, when coronary heart disease was growing increasingly common, SRF helped torpedo studies that showed sugar’s hand in the burgeoning health crisis. As Kearn remarks:

The industry sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD in the 1950s and 1960s, a debate still reverberating in 2016. The industry would subsequently spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach ‘people who had never had a course in biochemistry…that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems.

Indeed, looking back to the 60s and 70s, ads touted sugar’s health benefits as an energy-inducer. While that erroneous claim may no longer grace billboards, the long-lasting effects of the sugar industry’s obfuscation of the dietary risks posed by its cash crop are immense in magnitude. In the United States – second only to Mexico as the most obese nation on earth – added sugar pervades our foods, contributing to a number of pressing heath issues associated with obesity.

The sugar industry’s meddling didn’t end there. Industry interests also worked with the National Institute of Health to construct a dental health program for kids that precluded limiting sugar from daily diets. Sugar – of course – is the leading cause of cavities and tooth decay.

The insidious influence of commercial interests hostile to public health also spanned the Atlantic Ocean. An early whistleblower who correctly identified the risks posed by sugar, John Yudkin was a British professor who composed a prescient book that made headlines at the time but that ultimately led to his marginalization within the field. “If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar,” Yudkin wrote, “were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned.”

Working with government nutritionists, the sugar industry marginalized Yudkin’s findings and – just as in the United States – accomplished this largely by underscoring fat’s role in heart-related ailments.

The sugar industry’s decades-long lobbying efforts are a haunting example of how a special interest can shape public perception. Both nonprofit organizations focused on the social good and social enterprises genuinely concerned with human progress need to take these examples to heart, turning away from duplicity and innovating healthy programs, products, and services that are pro-growth and pro-people and that do not require deceit in order to generate profit.

Merkel Suffers Electoral Defeat to Anti-Immigrant Nationalists

This past Sunday saw a stunning defeat of Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the hands of an ascendent radical right-wing party known as the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).

The local defeat took place in Merkel’s own parliamentary constituency in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. While the results do not threaten CDU’s hold on power nationally, they provide a sobering look at voter sentiment just a year out from national elections.

Merkel’s governing party not only fell behind AfD in this past weekend’s elections, but was also defeated by the center-left Social Democrats, leaving CDU in third place in what has historically been a safe district for the party.

Analysts point to the Germany government’s policy on refugees as the primary catalyst for the rise of populist, anti-immigrant sentiment among the nation’s population. Frauke Petry – leader for the AfD – credits Merkel’s open border policy for her own party’s success:

The CDU is falling apart, but not only [in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania]. We see that in many regions of Germany where the CDU bases, the party bases, don’t agree with Merkel’s policy anymore. We want that the German government closes German borders to illegal migration… We need controlled borders. We need a change of legislation on a German level, but also an EU level, to avoid illegal migration.

CDU candidate Lorenz Caffier agreed, stating that “there was only one subject during the campaign, and that subject was the refugee policy. The refugee question was decisive.”

In 2015, Merkel’s government accepted more than 1 million refugees – mainly Syrians fleeing the intractable conflict in their home country – making it the single most open nation in Europe. Over the past year, several attacks linked to Islamists have heightened fears of immigration and provided fuel for nationalists to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment.

Far from being unique, Germany is a piece of a larger puzzle. Far-right nationalist parties are succeeding across Europe. In France, the National Front has made great strides in recent years, taking advantage of voters’ insecurities stemming from immigration and terror attacks.

Earlier this year, Petry sparked outrage when she suggested that the border patrol shoot immigrants attempting to cross illegally into Germany. This language is a big deal. Since the horrors of WWII, Germany has celebrated a culturally liberal spirit that has shamed many other nations with an emphasis on multiculturalism and acceptance.

These historical tendencies – however – are now under threat from rising populist parties that offer few solutions to their voters’ economic and cultural fears other than promises of international isolation and the marginalization of disadvantaged communities. While the issues that have caused the largest displacement of people in a century are complex and variegated, further disenfranchising desperate populations will only abet the very terrorists that have contributed to refugees’ plight.

Not only is a more humane treatment necessary to promote the general social good, but it’s integral to any meaningful security policy designed to keep Western nations safe.

Italy: Volunteers Show En Masse to Help Earthquake Victims

(A seismic graphic showing the distribution of aftershocks from this month’s horrendous earthquake in Central Italy.)

On August 24, a devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck central Italy, claiming the lives of hundreds of area residents while ravaging the mountain town of Amatrice, where 224 of the 291 victims lived. The incident has displaced more than 1,000 people.

The scenes from the aftermath are heartbreaking – a visceral reminder of horrific outcomes that natural disasters can unleash. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi discussed the earthquake in an address to the nation:

Right now we feel terrible pain. Italy is a family that has been hit and struck, but we are not going to be stopped.

Unfortunately, the healing process may hit some speed bumps. Authorities and analysts are concerned that the mafia may try and fit its way into the rebuilding process. Organized crime still plays a large role in Italian society, intertwined with the international drug trade and racketeering and responsible for countless murders.

As Franco Roberti – head of the country’s dedicated anti-mafia agency – relayed to reporters concerning the potential of meddling by various mafia syndicates:

There are risks, it is useless to hide it The risk of infiltration is always high. Post-earthquake reconstruction is a tasty morsel for criminal organizations and business interests.

While authorities work to ensure that the healing process precludes interference from criminals, there have been some glimmers of hope and signs of a deeply entrenched commitment to the social good. More than half of the responders who helped Amatrice and the surrounding areas in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake were volunteers – specialists who commit large amounts of time to honing skills integral for emergency situations.

Among the volunteers, a group of 20 migrants from Africa pitched in, helping clear rubble in the search for survivors.

Witnessing such selflessness and a drive to support the social good without profit is both commendable and paramount for the best possible functioning of society. Supporting individuals such as those that stepped up in Italy – as well as the organizations that help coordinate their efforts – is imperative for private businesses, government bodies, and individuals alike.

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