New Arctic protections agreed by Canadian government and Inuit community

New Arctic protections agreed by Canadian government and Inuit community


By Tom Lawson
24 August, 2017
Canada’s largest national marine conservation area is to be created to protect a large, biodiverse area of Arctic water

The Canadian government and Inuit group the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have reached an agreement to create a new marine conservation area in Arctic waters.

Located predominantly in Lancaster Sound (known as Tallurutiup Imanga by Inuit people) in northern Canada, the reserve will cover more than 50,500 square miles of ocean and will more than double the total area of Canada’s marine protected waters.

The area is one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of the Canadian Arctic and provides habitat for narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, seals, walruses and polar bears.

“These waters have supported the lives of Inuit since time immemorial,” said P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents 14,000 Inuit, including communities that border the new reserve.

“For almost five decades, Inuit have strived to ensure these incredible resources continue to provide our traditional way of life and our survival.”

The new protections will ban mineral extraction, but allow shipping to continue. Although the protection boundary has been agreed upon, an enforcement date is yet to be announced.


UK coastal seabird haven is made a marine special protected area

UK coastal seabird haven is made a marine special protected area


By Lucy Purdy
7 September, 2017
A stretch of the Northumberland coastline which is known as an important site for Arctic terns and Atlantic puffins has been granted greater protection

Part of the coastline in Northumberland which is one of the most important sites in the UK for seabirds such as Arctic terns and Atlantic puffins has been given greater protection by government conservation body Natural England.

The newly designated Northumberland marine special protected area (SPA) stretches 12 miles from the coast into the North Sea, covering an area larger than 120,000 football pitches.

It is the most important site in the UK for Arctic, common and roseate terns, the second most important site for sandwich tern, and the third most important site for Atlantic puffin.
International designation is designed to help ensure any disturbance to the birds’ essential open water feeding areas is minimised, so the birds can feed safely.

Chris Corrigan, director of RSPB England, said: “It is fantastic to see these special places being recognised and given the protection they so need and we hope to see more designations in the very near future.

It is fantastic to see these special places being recognised and given the protection they so need

“As the UK moves closer to leaving the EU, we urge the government to continue to recognise the significance of protecting these sites, based on scientific evidence, and that they continue to protect and manage these sites to the same or even higher standards than those currently secured by European law for generations to come.”

Natural England has also announced extensions to Hamford Water SPA in Essex and Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA in Cumbria, adding an area bigger than 150,000 football pitches to the existing marine protected area network.


Could a natural history GCSE reconnect young people with nature?

Could a natural history GCSE reconnect young people with nature?


By Lucy Purdy
11 April, 2017
Experts agree that children have far too little contact with the natural world. Could lessons about flora and fauna – a natural history GCSE – be the answer?

In a bid to reconnect young people with nature, a petition has been launched calling for the introduction of a GCSE in natural history. It urges the government to develop the qualification in order to ‘make nature part of British society again’.

“Re-engagement with Britain’s natural history has never been more urgent,” reads the petition, which has been proposed by radio and TV producer Mary Colwell. “Young people need the skills to name, observe, monitor and record wildlife. It is vital to understand the contribution nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically both in the past and today.”

Young people need the skills to name, observe, monitor and record wildlife

Colwell is a keen advocate of nature conservation, and last year made a solo 500-mile walk from the west coast of Ireland to East Anglia in order to publicise the plight of the endangered curlew. As a result of her efforts, the Irish government established a taskforce to try to protect the bird.

Colwell describes her reaction to the first State of Nature Report, published in 2013, which reported that 60 per cent of wildlife had declined over the last 50 years. Out of those species assessed, one in ten faced extinction, it reported. “Much loved creatures were slipping away,” wrote Colwell. “Hedgehogs, skylarks, lapwings, cornflowers, curlew, common lizards, many butterflies, all of them edging closer to the edge of the abyss.

“We are in a new territory, British society has never been so hands off and ignorant when it comes to nature. We can no longer name common species or know the basics of their life cycles and what they need to survive. It is therefore not surprising that as nature thins out we hardly notice. It is a perfect storm. As we lose species we lose interest.”

In response, Colwell proposes a syllabus focusing not on biological processes but about observing and recording nature through the seasons, an amateur-naturalist tradition which was once commonplace in the UK.

“Britain’s reputation for recording its natural history was unsurpassed anywhere in the world,” writes Colwell. “Those skills are disappearing as new generations are increasingly disconnected. The UK also has outstanding nature writing, art, poetry, film and radio. It has always been integral to our culture and heritage.”

We are in a new territory, British society has never been so hands off and ignorant when it comes to nature

If the petition reaches 10,000 signatures, the government is required to respond to it. And 100,000 signatures will require it to be debated in parliament. At the time of going to press, almost 7,000 people had signed the petition which expires on 9 July.

In 2015, authors including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo joined forces to protest nature-related words being cut from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The likes of ‘acorn’ and ‘catkin’ were dropped to make room for words such as ‘broadband’ and ‘cut and paste’.

And last year, it was revealed that three quarters of UK children now spend less time outside than prison inmates do. The time spent playing in parks, woods and fields has shrunk, and a fifth of the children did not play outside at all on an average day, the Dirt is Good poll found.


The school helping traumatized children thrive

The school helping traumatized children thrive


By Melissa Hellmann
10 May, 2017
Staff at a US high school created an environment built on empathy and redemption. Using a framework called trauma-informed care, they acknowledged childhood trauma when addressing behavioural issues – and suspensions dropped by 85 per cent in just a year

A few months into her freshman year at Lincoln Alternative High School, Kelsey Sisavath got into a fight with a girl outside of class. She was sent to the principal’s office and arrived still fuming. There was a time at Lincoln, a school once known as a last resort for those who were expelled from the area’s other high schools, when fights often ended in suspensions or arrests.

But principal Jim Sporleder didn’t immediately scold her. Instead, he asked how she was doing, then left her alone in the office with a granola bar, a water bottle, and some tissues to dry her tears. When he returned half an hour later, Sisavath was feeling calm enough to talk. “If he would have asked me the details and talked about punishment right away, it probably would have just pushed me even more off of the edge,” she reflects.

At the time, her personal life was riddled with pain. For years, Sisavath had bounced back and forth between her mother, who was addicted to opiates, and her emotionally distant father. Just two years earlier, she had been sexually assaulted by a stranger. All of these experiences left her feeling emotionally and physically neglected. In the eighth grade [the equivalent of UK year 9] she started hanging out with kids in gangs and skipping class to smoke marijuana.

That kind of behaviour followed her to high school, where she could have faltered. But Sisavath’s experience at Lincoln was different. Sporleder and the staff created an environment built on empathy and redemption through a framework called trauma-informed care. It acknowledges the presence of childhood trauma in addressing behavioural issues. The practices vary depending on the environment, but they begin with the understanding that childhood trauma can cause adulthood struggles such as lack of focus, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide.

Practices begin with the understanding that childhood trauma can cause adulthood struggles such as lack of focus, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide

Lincoln Alternative High School is in the small city of Walla Walla in south-eastern Washington. It had been a place for students with disciplinary issues, those removed from the area’s other high schools, ordered there by a judge, or those who had performed poorly in middle school.Tucked in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, Lincoln’s brick edifice and cherry-red doors now serve as a place of opportunity for many students. At Lincoln, the first trauma-informed high school in the US, the graduation rate increased by about 30 per cent and suspensions dropped by almost 85 per cent a year after implementing the framework. The school’s success, along with the efforts of relentless community leaders, convinced service providers throughout the city to adopt trauma-informed care in their own fields.

Childhood trauma can cause adulthood struggles

The tipping point began in 1998 with a landmark study of more than 17,000 patients in southern California that showed the pervasiveness of trauma. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study asked participants if they had experienced any of 10 types of childhood trauma, called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

ACEs include direct emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; a mother treated violently; a family member with substance dependence or mental illness; parental separation or divorce; a household member who was imprisoned; and emotional and physical neglect. The more types of trauma a person had experienced, the study found, the more predisposed they were to social, behavioural, and emotional problems and the adult onset of chronic illness. Nearly two-thirds of the participants were found to have experienced at least one traumatising childhood event. Some specialists have since added other ACEs, such as experiencing racism or witnessing violence.

The more types of trauma a person had experienced, the study found, the more predisposed they were to social, behavioural, and emotional problems

Around the same time as the ACE study, a group of researchers and paediatricians at Harvard University and elsewhere were conducting research showing that toxic stress – the frequent or continual strain on a young child without adequate adult support – could negatively impact the child’s brain development. Out of this research came an increased interest in trauma’s impact on the brain. Educators and doctors began wondering if childhood trauma could be prevented, or if its impacts could be minimised.

Looking beyond punitive traditions

On the first day of her freshman year in 2012, Sisavath noticed that her high school was different. The hallways were plastered with large posters that listed traumatic experiences such as emotional abuse beside examples of how to build resilience. On one, the words ‘attachment to a caring adult’ accompanied a colourful cartoon of an adult and child ice-skating. Sisavath started adding up her own childhood traumas as she walked past the posters and soon realised that she had experienced seven of the 10 ACEs.

At Lincoln, students and teachers mingled in a natural way, unlike traditional school settings, where student cliques often dominate campus. Even during bouts of cold weather, principal Sporleder stood bundled up at the school’s entrance greeting students with a high-five and a smile. “I’m happy that you’re here,” he said as students rushed past him.

But the relationship between students and staff at Lincoln wasn’t always so symbiotic. When Sporleder first arrived at the school in April 2007, he says, about five or six gangs roamed the halls. The building was in a constant state of chaos. Students freely hurled profanities. So Sporleder took a hard line by handing out automatic three-day out-of-school suspensions for every “f___ you”.

Then, in the spring of 2010, he attended a workshop in Spokane, Washington, on the impacts of stressful childhood experiences. Keynote speaker John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, explained how toxic stress overfills the brain with cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Sporleder suddenly understood that his students’ behaviour wasn’t completely in their control; their brains were affected by toxic stress. “It just hit me like a bolt of lightning that my discipline was punitive and it was not teaching kids,” he says. He hunted for curriculum to bring this understanding into the classroom, but found none. So he set out on a mission to bring trauma-informed care to his students.

Most of the students he oversaw at Lincoln had experienced multiple forms of trauma, and were in poverty and on free or reduced-price lunches. “That’s like running the trauma hospital,” Sporleder says. “We were dealing with crisis after crisis after crisis.”

It just hit me like a bolt of lightning that my discipline was punitive and it was not teaching kids

He brought a researcher into the school to train the teachers in trauma-informed care and started replacing out-of-school suspensions with in-school ones. He allowed students to ask for a break when they could sense that their traumas were being triggered. Staff members visited the homes of students who skipped class to try to work what was wrong and how they could help them return to school. The school also provided students with free on-campus counselling and basic health care through a health clinic that received initial funding from a local medical centre. There, students could get birth control pills and ibuprofen. “I don’t know what it is,” Sisavath remarks about the staff at Lincoln. “They just have such a great connection with kids and it’s unreal.”

So what changed in the US psyche in the past 20 years for trauma-informed care to gain momentum? Jane Stevens, a veteran health reporter who created a social journalism network called ACEs Connection after learning of the Kaiser study, says her network and the work of many leaders in the movement has helped raise awareness. She likens it to the slow and steady progress of every scientific revelation. “It’s sort of like plate tectonics in geology: For hundreds of years, people thought that the continents never moved,” she says.

Although scientists proposed well beforehand that plates moved, “it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that plate tectonics was accepted and integrated into geology; and then in earthquake-prone zones, the science was the foundation for changes in building codes, engineering codes, urban planning and emergency response.”

A city gets involved

Walla Walla now serves as a model for resilience-building in the burgeoning trauma-informed care movement. Today, an electric utility provider, the Division of Children and Family Services, the police department, and others in the city have committed to raising awareness of traumatic childhood experiences and to providing internal resources to foster a safe and healthy community.

Theresa Barila was instrumental in introducing ACE awareness to Walla Walla. Today, she is the director of the Children’s Resilience Initiative, a community response to childhood trauma. Walla Walla county sheriff John Turner has incorporated some of those practices into law enforcement. Barila trained all of the deputies to acknowledge that toxic stress affects brain architecture.

“I think it just added another layer of understanding to some of the issues that [deputies] come across in the field, and it’s easier for them to manage their own emotions toward people that are being unruly toward them,” Turner says.

Along with crisis intervention and mental health training, trauma-informed practices gave deputies a deeper understanding of human behaviour. It helped them to exercise patience with people who exhibit disorderly behaviour and to de-escalate situations.

“It might be something in the person’s physiology, anatomy, or brain structure that they can’t help,” Turner adds. “It’s easier to not take it as personally, and it’s easier to deal with the actual situation, as opposed to dealing with the emotions of it.”

Acts of understanding, patience, and kindness have helped transform strangers into partners and friends. To Annett Bovent, a parent in Walla Walla, ACEs awareness helped illuminate the roots of her own problems and connected her to her neighbours. “People care. Before, I always felt like I was alone, and I don’t feel that way anymore,” she says. Suddenly, the town seemed to transform from black and white to colour.

Suddenly, the town seemed to transform from black and white to colour

“I feel like, to me, the information is common sense, but it was like I was the only one who heard it. And now it’s like everyone wants to know.”

For Sisavath, trauma-informed care has had a lasting impact on her life. She graduated last spring with honours and is currently working part time at a Dairy Queen restaurant while she attends a local community college. She says she doesn’t take things as personally as she once did, and has learned that behaviours often derive from childhood trauma. Her high school experience also sparked an interest in psychology and philosophy, which she hopes to pursue in college.

“There’s so many things that happen outside of the classroom that can’t be helped in school,” she explained. “If every teacher knew the techniques, knew what to do, knew how to support these kids, it would make a huge difference.”

This article was originally published in YES Magazine.


How using alternatives to palm oil could help create a more sustainable world

How using alternatives to palm oil could help create a more sustainable world


By Positive News
29 July, 2015

Diversifying away from palm oil is a challenging issue, but one that’s vital to ensure the longevity of the environment, our health and the economy, says Bhavani Shankar

Palm oil is the world’s most popular edible oil. Consumption has grown spectacularly over the last few decades – from five million tonnes and 13% of vegetable oil consumption in 1980 to 57 million tonnes and 35% of vegetable oil consumption in 2013. It is used in a wide range of foods such as biscuits and confectionery, instant noodles and processed milk products.

This trend carries major risks for health and the environment, and there is a case to be made for promoting a wider range of edible oils.

Food industry favourite

Oil palm, the source of palm oil, yields substantially more oil per hectare than most competing crops. This lowers oil production costs, which means food production is cheaper and, ultimately, more affordable.

There are other reasons why palm oil is a food industry favourite. It has properties that favour food processing: for example, it increases the shelf life of foods by resisting the oxidation that spoils them, and it is ideal for deep frying because it withstands high temperatures.

Palm oil also brings wider economic benefits. Over the last three decades, production has generated significant employment in the main producing countries, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, and it has brought them substantial profits and trade. Indonesia, for example, exported US$18mn-worth of palm-oil products in 2012, and the industry there employs up to four million people.

“Strategic thinking must underpin enlightened policymaking to diversify away from palm oil in the food system.”

“Strategic thinking must underpin enlightened policymaking to diversify away from palm oil in the food system.”

However, palm oil is higher in saturated fat than many other oils, and so linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. And large-scale oil palm cultivation has contributed to tropical deforestation, leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

The companies that have profited from the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations and palm oil production have done little to mitigate for these impacts and costs. Although palm oil could be produced more sustainably, this is difficult given the sheer scale of production in locations with extensive tropical forest and poor monitoring systems to prevent forest clearance. And efforts to reduce the health risks of highly saturated fat will inevitably mean some degree of substitution with other oils.

A shift from palm oil

These are all good reasons to move away from the palm oil-dominated status quo.

To do this, researchers first need to better understand how the economic, environmental and health aspects of the problem relate to each other. Research in this area too often fails to promote understanding of how actions recommended in one area might play out in another – and this leads to uncertainty or lost opportunities for action. For example, lowering palm oil use by removing production subsidies could bring both health and environmental benefits, but these co-benefits may be missed when advocates focus only on one of these areas.

Unclear scientific evidence about the health impacts also holds back progress. Where there are substantial vested interests and the evidence is less than clear cut, any doubt will be used to block change. Addressing this will take definitive studies based on clinical trials of palm oil’s effects on cardiovascular disease.

The relevance of policy

Policy strategies and support also play a critical role in engendering change. There are many relevant policy areas, such as agricultural zoning laws that may restrict the land available for plantations, forest policy, excise duties, food processing standards, nutritional labelling and public health promotion campaigns.

No less important is the need to improve understanding of each country’s political realities. This might involve determining which ministries intersect in setting policy, which hold more power, or how industry, consumer and environmental organisations influence policy.

Advocates for change must also consider alternative oils based on local crops. This is important because a policy of replacing palm oil mainly with imported oils may feed conspiracy theories over vested interests and falter as a result, even if the underlying economic logic is sound.

Tapping into trends

National trends such as changing consumer preferences could also be leveraged. For example, major food manufacturers in Thailand have moved from using palm oil to rice bran oil in potato crisps and snacks – a change that appears to be driven by the industry’s own assessment of health trends among Thai consumers. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity for public health messages to influence consumer opinion and promote a broader choice of oils.

Worldwide, more palm oil is now being sourced sustainably due to industry partners’ uptake of the certification initiative promoted by the non-profit organisation Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. About 20% of global palm-oil production is RSPO-certified, and certification reassures consumers that the palm oil in foods they buy comes from sources that meet sustainability criteria. Policymakers could build on this. For example, the UK government is working with the food industry and NGOs to promote and monitor the use of certified palm oil in the United Kingdom.

Alongside policy change, it’s essential to think through complex technical issues such as how to substitute oils in food production and ensure stable oil supplies in the food chain. Thailand, for example, may have replaced palm oil with rice bran oil in potato chips, but this may be less feasible in other foods. Supplying rice bran on a large scale could also be problematic due to other bottlenecks such as low yields and competition with high local demand for bran as feed.

This illustrates why strategic thinking must underpin enlightened policymaking to diversify away from palm oil in the food system. Such thinking must consider the environmental, health, economic, political as well as operational aspects of this complex issue.

First published by SciDev


The new UN sustainable development goals: what’s different?

The new UN sustainable development goals: what’s different?


By Positive News
25 September, 2015
This weekend the UN sustainable development goals will be agreed upon at a summit in New York. Asghar Zaidi explains how the new goals aim to cover a much broader range of issues and be more widely applicable than those they are replacing

At the end of one of the largest summits at the United Nations headquarters in New York, government representatives from all over the world will sign a commitment to new global development goals. These will replace the millennium development goals, setting objectives for bringing peace and prosperity, and reducing the impact of climate change.

UN member states have agreed on a list of 17 broad goals and 169 more specific targets. These goals are not legally binding but they will be important. They are aimed at eradicating hunger and poverty, while at the same time promoting peace, prosperity, health and education and combating climate change.

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the millennium development goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, which were aimed largely at poorer countries, the SDGs are designed to be universal. The idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development.

It is therefore not surprising which countries are predicted to meet the goals first. Sweden, according to one report, will lead the pack, while Norway, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland are likely to be close behind.

Different from millennium development goals?

The SDGs follow the tradition of the MDGs, which arose as a product of the consensus built in the United Nations during the 1990s. However, they cover a much broader range of issues. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGs weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change.

This is thanks to the huge number of people who contributed their views on what the goals should be through massive consultations. Not only governments but also charities have been involved this time around. In total, more than seven million people have given their views.

“The idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development.”

So, thanks to contributions from organisations such as HelpAge International for example, older people are now explicitly mentioned in the 12 of the 17 goals. And, in a number of targets, there is a broader commitment that “all indicators should be disaggregated by sex, age, residence (urban/rural) and other characteristics, as relevant and possible”. However, they could do more to break the information down by specific age groups.

Behind the pledges are two broad ideals: “no one will be left behind” and the aim “to reach the furthest behind first’. This implies that every individual in the world will benefit from the rights and opportunities on offer and that the most vulnerable will get the highest priority in the human development agenda.

These commitments could not come at a more opportune time – nor the idea that no goal is met unless it is met for everyone. Billions of people around the world continue to live in poverty, in societies where inequalities are rising. And it’s clear that people on the margins – children, the elderly and disabled people – are being affected most seriously by global health threats, natural disasters, conflict and violence.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”. And of course, there will be questions about how effective they will be.

How will we measure progress?

The SDGs and their targets will be followed-up and reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by the specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will also develop its own indicators.

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Most importantly, the statistical work required at the outset will include specific information on the baselines for those targets and for many countries the baseline data does not yet exist.

The development of this indicator framework will be difficult. It must address all the SDGs and all the targets but it must also be pragmatic about how they will be implemented by national authorities. The pledge to leave no-one behind would imply the need for more data and information on different social groups, and in many countries the existing statistics are currently not suitable for this purpose.

The SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda that will have people and their prosperity at their core. The hard work of ensuring that the SDGs are implemented and deliver on their commitments will test our commitment to ending the most serious problems we face today.

First published by The Conversation


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