Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Copenhagan Accord: Significant progress was made–an eye witness report

KIRF Co-Founder Mark Kirwin attended the United Nations sponsored COP15 Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen as well as the runner-up conferences in Bangkok and Barcelona as a volunteer mediator for Mediators Beyond Borders. As a witness to the plenaries in Copenhagen he saw first hand the difficulty of reaching accord with the many different interests, situations and perspectives represented by the international negotiators.

The COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen were not a failure. Quite to the contrary, great strides were made in weaving the diverse cultural and political differences of our world into a cohesive whole to attack climate change. Having personally observed the many contact groups negotiating text in Bangkok, Barcelona and Copenhagen, it became apparent that the negotiators were trying to create a climate change document that would be legally binding while at the same time addressing the concerns of their individual countries and groups of countries.

For instance, addressing adaptation in neighboring nations that are experiencing cross-border desertification as opposed to an island nation that faces rising sea levels and acidification is complex and multifaceted. Choosing a certain text option proposed by one country group, as opposed to another option proposed by another group, could have devastating effect on the economies of the group whose option was not chosen for the final text. Therefore, the contact group chairs worked tirelessly trying to form consensus on bracketed text and agreeable options to the text.

To complicate matters more, there were two separate treaty tracks being negotiated, one under the further commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 5), and the other for long term cooperative action under the convention (COP 15). When negotiating text in the contact groups, it was often mentioned that a particular group needed to know the decisions of another group because those decisions would have significant impact on the text that the first group was negotiating. And, due to the need for consensus, before a particular option was chosen or brackets taken off text, the contact groups were constantly seeking information from the other groups negotiating text in order to ensure cohesiveness as the treaty documents developed.

It seemed that the flow of information and the arrival of the ministers from around the world, who became involved in the negotiations, became the biggest challenges during the last few days of the conference in Copenhagen. It was apparent by most that a legally binding treaty would not result from Copenhagen due to the complex differences on key elements of the text that still existed.

However, leaders from 193 countries meet, talked and negotiated in Copenhagen to address the reality of climate change issues. And, an Accord was reached on climate change with a deadline of next year to agree upon the legally binding text and to begin funding for adaptation and setting mitigation targets by major emitters around the world.

Yes, significant progress was made at Copenhagen. And, as a taxi driver told me, “The treaty will have a major impact in our lives so it is better to get it right than rush it.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

COP15 talks in Copenhagen: World Leaders Are Here

KIRF Co-Founder Mark Kirwin is attending the United Nations sponsored COP15 Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen as a volunteer mediator for Mediators Beyond Borders. Here is his update:

A truly tremendous event is unfolding here in Copenhagen. Amid all of the street protests, press summaries, security issues and vast numbers of NGOs (many of which have provided valuable information to the Parties), is a gathering of the leaders of the world. This is an historic gathering of world leaders who are here to address the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change.

As Gordon Brown just said, "It is no use saying we are doing our best, we must do what needs to be done."

This week I spoke with delegates from around the world at the COP 15 climate change talks in Copenhagen. I spoke about mediation being used as a mechanism to resolve climate change disputes as well as about the interpretation and implementaion of the anticipated treaty. I walked by world leaders trying to reach agreement on climate change policies. Yes, it is difficult and complex, with words and numbers having significant multi-level meanings and impacts to different nations. But the negotiators are working hard. (Mark Kirwin, volunteer mediator for Mediators Beyond Borders, and Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.)

Let us continue with our hope that a positive outcome will be reached in Copenhagen.

P. Mark Kirwin, Esq.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

COP15 Climate Change Talks: COP President Resigns

KIRF Co-Founder Mark Kirwin is attending the United Nations sponsored COP15 Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen as a volunteer mediator for Mediators Beyond Borders. Today he was present at the plenary "Meetings of the Parties" to the Kyoto Protocol organized as the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). Here is his update:

At the high level segment plenary at the COP15 Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen, the chair for the AWG-KP announces no agreement based upon numbers. So, at this stage of the Climate Change Talks there is still a low consensus on the key issues and, thus far, there is no amendment to the Koyoto Protocol. The COP/CMP 5 President is trying to set in motion dialogue with the Party heads of state on the issue. In addition, security is so tight that Party heads of state are having problems getting into the Plenary sessions. Several major groups put forth that the text is not yet in the form to be considered by the high level conference as suggested by the COP chair. They request that the political aspects be considered by the high level, but the technical aspects be sent back to the AWG-KP for further work for a period of one day. Yet there are other major groups that recommend that the political bargaining to take place. Rather that reconvene the AWG-KP, there can be informal discussions on some of the remaining issues.

Today this meeting was suspended because the President of the COP resigned. She has been reassigned by the Foreign Minister as the special representative to conduct informal negotiations between the ministers of the Parties.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

COP15 Climate Change Talks, Copenhagen: Two Treaties Now

We are now halfway through the second week of the COP15, climate change talks in Copenhagen. It appears that there is general acceptance that there will not be one treaty. Instead, the parties are working on two separate tracks, one under Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the other under Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA). As a result, there are discussions of two separate treaties.

As one can well imagine, the negotiations are very tough at this stage. The ministers of the countries are arriving and now working in the negotiations. The negotiators must answer to their countries. And, the world expects results at COP15. There are strenuous objections to certain text to the proposed documents and also concessions so that no particular party is pictured as the one stalling the negotiations. The contact group chairs are working very hard to build the bridges necessary for consensus by the Parties to the text.

As I write, negotiations are underway for the contact group on other issues for the AWG-KP on further commitments for the Annex I Parties. The Parties are discussing greenhouse gases, sectors and source categories; common metrics to calculate the carbon dioxide equivalence of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks; and other methodological issues.

In the earlier session, the Draft decision -/CMP.5 for consideration of information on potential environmental, economic and social consequences, including spillover effects, of tools, policies and measures. This draft decision will now be sent to the Chair of the KP for consideration. This is one area where mediation can be used as a mechanism to resolve conflict under the potential consequences that will arise under the treaty and climate change from the local to international levels.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Promoting Mediation at Climate Change Talks, COP15

Mediator Mark Kirwin, co-founder of KIRF, is helping promote mediation as a resolution mechanism for accord at the UNFCCC Climate Change Talks with Mediators Beyond Borders. As the reality of global warming and it's increasing impacts on food production, economies, poverty, human health and energy usage is becoming more widely understood, alternative dispute resolution tools such as mediation are important tools for peaceful resolution of climate change issues.



The climate change talks are progressing towards helping countries mitigate global warming and adapt to it's impacts peacefully. Mark will be attending the upcoming COP15 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Understanding global warming: our atmosphere is like a bathtub about to overflow

Finally, I have found a cogent and easy to understand explanation of the process of global warming. It is in the article "The Carbon Bathtub" in the December 2009 issue of National Geographic. Explaining the issue of global warming in a manner that inspires people to take action has been difficult for environmentalists as well as politicians. Sadly, the most memorable visual about global warming for many is the hungry polar bear swimming fruitlessly for polar ice in the movie an Inconvenient Truth.

To date it has been hard to get more support of global warming mitigation and this may be because the process is hard to understand and seems removed from the average person's life. According to John Sterman, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, this is because of a cognitive limitation of most humans. Dr. Sterman found out that even his smart MIT graduate students couldn’t get a grasp of how exactly CO2 is building up in the atmosphere using the standard climate change jargon. This was until he explained the process using the metaphor of a bathtub. Like a bathtub with water pouring in from a tap and the drain open, when more water pours in that can drain out, the level of the water rises and will eventually overflow. Dr. Sterman explains that this is similar to how the level of CO2 is rising in our atmosphere. More CO2 is flowing in than can drain out. See a graphic of the bathtub-like process of global warming on the National Geographic web site.

Last year 9.1 metric tons of C02 was released into the atmosphere but only 5 billion metric tons was “drained” by being absorbed by plants, soils and oceans. “At the current emissions rate, CO2 is released into the atmosphere nearly twice as fast as it is removed–so the bathtub will continue to fill,” the National Geographic article stated. The leftover 45% of “un-drained” CO2 that remains in the atmosphere is causing global warming. The excess carbon dioxide absorbs more heat radiation coming from the Earth’s surface and re-radiates it downward, warming up the atmosphere.

Where does most of the human-created CO2 come from? “Four-fifths [of the C02 emissions released by human activity] is from burning fossil fuels. Nearly all the rest is from deforestation and other changes in land use,” according to the National Geographic article.

Even if we stop increasing the amount of C02 emissions there will still be global warming for a while according to climatologist David Archer, author of The Long Thaw. It will take hundreds of years for the planet to absorb the CO2 created by industrialization. In 2008 the average amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was 385 parts per million (ppm). The pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 271 parts per million. The amount of CO2 hasn’t been this high for “at least 800,000 years, say the oldest air bubbles found in Antarctic ice cores,” the National Geographic article reports. The highest ice core reading of CO2 in the atmosphere was 299 parts per million, dating 333,000 years ago.

To stop the level of CO2 at 450 ppm, still too high according to many scientists, would require the world cutting emissions by 80% by 2050. To do this we will have to make a massive shift in our global carbon-based industrial economy to cleaner sources of energy such as wind, solar, or aquatic energy. This will require a global understanding of the climate change process and a political will to enact expensive changes. The industrial revolution created global warming. There will have to be a sustainable living revolution to un-create it. Hopefully, the Copenhagen COP15 Climate Change Talks will be a productive step forward towards stopping global warming before it's too late. The consequences of global warming include rising sea levels, more droughts, more flooding, less ice and snow and more extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina that wiped out coastal communities of the entire Gulf Coast in the United States.

Resources

Ministry of Climate and Energy of Denmark
2009, "What consequences can we expect, and what can we do?" COP15, retrieved on November 16, 2009, from: http://en.cop15.dk/climate+facts/what+consequences+can+we+expect

Sterman, John and David Archer
2009 “The Carbon Bathtub,” National Geographic, December 2009, P.26-29.

Sterman, John and David Archer
2009 “The Carbon Bathtub,” National Geographic, retrieved on November 15, 2009, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/big-idea/05/carbon-bath

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WWF funded study: We have five years to switch to a global clean-energy industrial economy or it’s too late

The world has just five years to change to a low-carbon industrial economy before climate change goes past the point of no return according to scientists at Climate Risk, an environmental research firm known for its work for global insurance companies. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sponsored their study, titled Climate Solutions 2 that was publicized yesterday. It is the first modeling analysis that puts a timetable on reducing carbon emissions that answers the question: “How long will it take [for] clean-tech industries to deliver a low-carbon economy (Climate Risk 2009)?” The above photo is of local farmers showing us another dry well near Bodhgaya in Bihar, India. Photo by Angela Rockett Kirwin, KIRF

The scientists discovered that by 2014, projected industrial growth rates would make it impossible for countries to meet the carbon targets required to keep global warming below 2°C. The report also stated that market measures such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) of carbon credits would not be enough to stop global warming on its own (WWF 2009). Market measures need to be combined with other policies such as “energy eff
iciency standards, feed-in tariffs for renewable energy and an end to ‘perverse’ subsidies for fossil fuel use according to the WWF web site (WWF 2009)”

"Climate Solutions 2 tells us that we need to start making the change to a low-carbon economy today,” said Kim Carstensen, who leads WWF’s Global Climate Initiative that sponsored the study. “The transformation will require sustained growth in clean and efficient industry in excess of 20 percent a year over a period of decades.”

Developed countries, known as Annex 1 countries during the United Nations Climate Change Talks, such as the United States, Australia, and Japan, are responsible for most of the global warming. However, Annex 1 countries have stalled in their commitments to reducing global warming. They committed to decreasing their emissions by only 11-18% by 2020 during the recent Climate Change Talks in Bangkok according to Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) (Bevington 2009). Least Developed States (LDCs) and AOSIS members have the most to lose if there is runaway global warming. LDCs have sizable rural populations who rely on the weather for their agricultural subsistence. For example, in India alone, an estimated 450 million people live off of rain-fed agriculture (Economist Magazine 2009). The AOSIS nations will be under water as the sea levels rise due to global warming. At the current level of global warming of 0.8°C, the AOSIS island nations are already suffering from “coastal erosion, flooding, coral bleaching and more frequent and intense extreme weather events” according to their web site (AOSIS 2009). Photo above was found via Google Images from Progressivestates.org.

On a positive note, Climate Solutions 2 study predicts that renewable energies such as wind and solar power will become price competitive with fossil fuels between 2013 and 2025. This conservatively assumes no more than a 2% annual rise in fossil fuel prices (WWF 2009). "This analysis shows that we can win the fight against runaway climate change … by creating stable long-term investment environments that don't seek immediate returns,” said Dr Stephan Singer of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF 2009).

The international agreement at COP15 this December will determine how its signatory nations will manage the “low-carbon industrial revolution” that is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. COP15 will be the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1993. Hopefully the COP15 negotiators will come to an accord that will prevent runaway global warming in the next five years (COP15 2009).


Resources

AOSIS

2009 “AOSIS High-Level Summit on Climate Change,” Alliance of Small Island States, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://www.sidsnet.org/aosis/summit2009.html

Bevington, Cara

2009 "After Bangkok: the Roadblocks to Barcelona and Beyond," Adopt-a-Negotiator for Climate Change, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://adoptanegotiator.org/2009/10/16/after-bangkok-the-roadblocks-on-the-way-to-barcelona-and-beyond/

Climate Risk

2009 "Climate Solutions 2," Climate Risk > News, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://www.climaterisk.net

COP15

2009 “United Nations Climate Change Conference,” COP15 Copenhagen, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://en.cop15.dk/

Economist Magazine

2009 "When the Rains Fail," Economist Magazine, September 12th, p.27.
Available online. Retrieved on October 19, 2009, from:
http://www.economist.co /displaystory.cfm?story_id=14401149

UNFCCC

2009 “Emissions Trading,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/mechanisms/emissions_trading/items/2731.php

WWF

2009 “Deadlines loom for creating new economy to avoid climate catastrophe,” World Wildlife Fund, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://wwf.org.au/news/deadlines-climate-catastrophe/

Monday, October 19, 2009

Climate Change is a social justice issue for developing countries

It's about time for America to wake up and realized that climate change is affecting real people now. And, that climate change = more poverty, more hunger, higher food prices, & more war unless something is done. Now.

Journalist Cara Bevington, attending the last UNFCCC Climate Change Talks conference in Bangkok last week for Adoptanegotiator.org, reported that wealthy countries such as the United States and Australia were (1) not committing themselves to climate change efforts at the levels spelled out in the Kyoto Protocol required to reduce global warming significantly and (2) were speaking in processual abstractions of measurements and compliance rather than commitments. She reported the plea of the lead negotiator from Lesotho, South Africa reflected the general perspective of climate change as a material social justice issue by many developing countries:

“The failure to combat climate change will increase poverty in my country, and right across Africa. The rights of my people, the rights of people from the most vulnerable countries, are compromised by climate change. We must act now,” the lead Climate Change Talks negotiator from Letho said.

Many developing countries still have a majority of their populations living as poor farmers and it's important for non-farming Americans to remember this (only 2% of Americans work in Agriculture). For example, 80% of Tanzanians work in agriculture (CIA Factbook, 2009).* More than half of India's 1.1 billion population are farmers and 25% of all Indians live below the poverty line (CIA World Factbook 2009)**. Also, about 43% of all Indian children suffer from malnutrition already according to a recent report in The Economist. The climate makes a direct impact on these people's lives if it rains or not. For example, in India alone, an estimated 450 million people live off of rain-fed agriculture (The Economist 2009) Photo above was taken during 2006 drought crises in Bihar, India. Photo by Mark Kirwin of Kirwin International Relief Foundation

The weather affects whether or not they have a job and income at best, and at worst, enough food and water for their family to live on. It's not like here in the United States where, for the average middle class person reading this blog posting, climate change may mean nothing more than higher energy and food prices...sometime later...in the future. An abstraction. Inconveniences. Right now, the most compelling image I see about climate change in the United States is an endangered polar bear. This is may galvinize the environmentally aware to take action, but it's not motivating enough for many people in the United States struggling to make it through the current recession. They need to see a human face. They need to feel empathy.

In the primarily agrarian developing countries, climate change is not "An Inconvenient Truth" but a life or death issue.*** It is hurting people and wildlife now. It is creating more political insecurity globally now. I think climate change is a human rights story and a security issue and that is the story that needs to be told if the public is to be galvanized to action. There should be more publicity on the probable outcomes of the Climate Change Talks text negotiations. How does a certain amendment change affect people materially? What will happen to a typical Ethiopian farming family if the drought due to global warming continue? How many more families will suffer the same fate in East Africa? How does that affect our national security and resource interests in Ethiopia, Somalia, or Sudan where there are more and more anti-American terrorist groups attracting impoverished youths? Real lives are at stake. Action on climate change will require some altruistic action on the part of all nations as energy sources are switched to renewable and non-fossil fuel burning sources. To get altruistic action, environmentalists and policy makers will have to elicit empathy out of voters and stakeholders. The best way to do this is to translate climate change into material impacts that are affecting real people, right now.

I just read a griping story about resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan in last Sunday's New York Times article "Held by the Taliban: 7 months, 10 days in captivity" by a journalist David Rohde. By living with the Taliban, as an unwilling prisoner, for nearly a year Rohde brought a human face to this conflict. A few of the terrorists are truly fundamentalist zealots and can't be reasoned with--but those are the minority. It seems from his reports that most join the Taliban for better life, to pull themselves and their families out of poverty and out of fear of reprisal if they don't join. It really comes down to poverty as the main driver of the growth of the Taliban's political control in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is poverty? Lack of adequate food and resources for a healthy life. Global warming is causing more poverty and ultimately, will be creating terrorist recruits.

If you want to fight terror, start with fighting poverty.

If you want to take care of the environment and help stop climate change, you must first take care of the people.

But to do this and get real action out of people, you need to show how real people and wildlife are suffering now due to climate change and solutions that will help them. Not enough people will care about climate change unless you to show real people suffering from it and tell their stories.

* I witnessed the devastating impact of the drought on children, the educational system (children can not attend school when it is hot and there is no water to drink) and the environment in rural areas near the Serengeti in Tanzania in July, 2006.

** I saw first hand the dry wells and hungry children in Bihar, India in December 2006.

***I am so grateful that Al Gore made the movie An Inconvenient Truth. That movie has done more for the welfare of people and wildlife than anything else media-wise in recent years. He is a hero.

References

Bevington, Cara
2009, "After Bangkok: the Roadblocks to Barcelona and Beyond," Adopt-a-negotiator, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://adoptanegotiator.org/2009/10/16/after-bangkok-the-roadblocks-on-the-way-to-barcelona-and-beyond/

CIA
2009 "India," The World Factbook, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from:
https://www.cia.gov /library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html

CIA
2009, "Tanzania," The World Factbook, retrieved on October 19, 2009, from:
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tz.html

Editors
2009 "East Africa Drought," The Economist Magazine, September 24th,
retrieved on October 19, 2009, from:
http://www.economist.com/world/middleeast-africa/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14506436

Editors
2009 "When the Rains Fail," The Economist Magazine, September 12th, p.27.
Available online. Retrieved on October 19, 2009, from:
http://www.economist.co /displaystory.cfm?story_id=14401149

Rohde, David
2009 "Held by the Taliban: 7 months, 10 days in captivity", New York Times, Sunday, October 19, 2009, p. A1. Available online. Retrieved on October 19, 2009, from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/world/asia/18hostage.html

Thursday, October 15, 2009

6 Fun Projects Kids Can Do To Help Stop Global Warming

What can kids do to help stop global warming? How can busy parents respond to the climate change crises while juggling work and taking care of their kids? These are real concerns. And, global warming is a serious problem that has been proven by science to be caused by humans by the burning of fossil fuels and massive deforestation in the past 200 years. This is a big problem with serious consequences that are hurting animals and people today all over the world through loss of wildlife habit and human food production. However, I think that anyone can do their part to help stop global warming--even if they are only five years old. The photo (above) of a polar bear resting on a piece of melting iceberg is by Norwegian wildlife photographer Arne Navaera.*

We have been coordinating environmental youth community service projects personally and through our non-profit KIRF using the Roots & Shoots service learning model since our kids were in pre-school**. Each project we have done with kids has been a learning experience and has made a difference. I like doing youth service projects is that kids, and young people in general, seem to be more open to change and making a difference.

Since our first youth service project in 2004 (we participated in the Coastal Cleanup that fall) our kids have gotten older but the qualities of their favorite projects have not changed.

Each successful project has these qualities:

(1) It is fun
(2) It is social (it usually involves doing something with friends or other family members)
(3) It costs almost nothing
(4) It is easy to do

Below are a few fun activities with the above qualities that almost any kid can do to help stop global warming and climate change:

(1) Ride a bicycle at least once a week. Riding bikes together is a fun and playful activity in itself. And, if a parent works close to home, riding to work or school with their kids can make a morning commute a fun activity. I remember how happy my kids and I were after riding with my 3 year old daughter riding a Trail-a-bike hitched to my old Diamondback mountain bike and my son speeding along on his own bicycle when I used to ride to work and their pre-school/daycare. Another option is riding bikes together as a family on the weekends instead of driving someplace to have fun. Simply by riding a bicycle instead of having their parents drive, kids can reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. (Ages 3+--using a Trail-bike or bike seat for the young ones) The photo above is from the Adam's Trail-a-bike web site.

(2) Turn the lights off. Nearly all of the electricity in our town's local utility company comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. If kids use less electricity from non-renewable energy powered sources then they are helping to stop global warming. This can be re-enforced by having your child do a run around to "check the lights" before leaving the house and turning the lights off after he or she leaves a room that is empty. (Ages 5+) The photo of the energy efficient light bulb on right is from Google images.

(3) Use reusable non-plastic bags when shopping and in bag lunches. What are plastic bags made out of? Petroleum products. We try not to use disposable plastic bags. For school lunches, the kids can use reusable lunch containers in their lunch box or reusable lunch bag. Schools and camps can re-enforce this choice by giving out "No Bag" lunch awards such as is done at our kids' California Junior Lifeguard (JGs) summer camp programs. (Ages 5+, 9+ for JGs ) The photo on right of aluminum food storage containers is from Reusablebags.com.

(4) Make a reusable shopping bag out of an old t-shirt. This is really fun creative project using a kid's t-shirt that they may have outgrown. As a resusable shopping bag the t-shirt can have a new life as bag for groceries, soccer clothes, beach stuff, taekwando clothes, almost anything. Using reusable shopping bags conserves paper and plastic which are produced using fossil fuels. (Ages 10+) The photo below is of three reusable bags I made out of our son's old t-shirts. Photo by Angela Rockett Kirwin (me).

Time: 30-45 minutes per bag.
Supplies: old t-shirt, thread, sewing machine, scissors, pins.
Directions: Turn the t-shirt inside out. Pin the bottom open end together and sew it. Cut the sleaves off and cut the neck seam off and hem the arm holes and the neck hole. turn in inside-in and voila! You got a reusable shopping bag with handles and maybe cool graphics, too.

(5) Make a reusable gift bag out of an old piece of clothing. I got this idea from the reusable gift bags sold in Patagonia's retail stores that are made of remnant cloth. Instead of throwing away the fabric scraps Patagonia reused them to make gift bags and added matching ribbon to serve as a tie. (Ages 8+) The photo below is a reusuable gift bag used as a swim suit+goggles bag that was made from one pant leg of a pair of old Patagonia boardshorts, Mens XL. It was made by a nine year old and is modeled by her cat. Photo is courtesy of Jeanne Tanner and was taken by her daughter.

Time: 30-45 minutes per bag
Supplies: thread, sewing machine, pins, scissors, ribbon and old pants, t-shirts, skirts...anything that you can get a large rectangular panel of cloth out of.
Directions: measure out how big a bag you need and then double the width and add 2 inches. (For example, for a small gift bag about 8"x10" requires a fabric about 10"x 20".) Fold, pin and then seam the top edge of the bag, wide side, sewing. Fold the fabric in half, inside in, top seams facing in, and sew the bottom part together. Stop, rotate the fabric 90 degrees and sew the side until you get 3/4 to the top. Stop. Take a piece of ribbon (for 10" tie strings, cut off 20" of ribbon), fold it in half and tuck it on the side seam's path with the fold part sticking out (and the long strings inside your inside-in bag. Then continue with finishing the side seam and sewing in the ribbon. Turn your new bag reusable gift bag inside-in and you are done.

(6) Conserve paper. In addition to eschewing wrapping gifts in store-bought wrapping paper that ends up in the trash, kids can conserve all kinds of paper and recycle used paper. Kids can use GOOS (Good On One Side) plain white paper that is re-used from the printer for art projects. Another way for them to use less paper is have them use both sides of a piece of paper and type reports single-spaced for home work projects if it is appropriate for the assignment and okay with the teacher. Conserving paper helps stop global warming in two ways: (1) Less paper used means less trees destroyed and this is a good thing because trees are the best at absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere* and (2) manufacturing and transporting paper requires burning fossil fuels which contribute to global warming. (Age 9+) The photo above shows a Maasai school girl watering her tree seedling that is guarded from goats with acacia thorns. She planted this tree for her Roots & Shoots reforestation project at her school in the Lake Eyasi region of NW Tanzania. Photo by Angela Rockett Kirwin (me).

Our young children have done all these activities with little assistance from adults, so I know that they are doable and fun.

I believe that our generation and the generations before ours created global warming and it is our generation and the generations after ours that can un-create it. I feel bad that our kids will inherit the mess that we are leaving them. It will take time but we owe it to our kids to teach them to learn from our mistakes that have caused climate change in the first place. Each person, even a five year old, can make a real difference. As environmental activist, humanitarian and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has said, "...every individual matters, every individual has a role to play and every individual makes a difference."

Or in other words, "Be the change you want to see," said Mahatma Gandhi.

:) A

* Read how wild polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct due to global warming: "On Thin Ice" by Daniel Glick, National Wildlife Federation.

** Find out about more age-appropriate community service projects for kids that help animals, the environment and the human community at rootsandshoots.org.

*** Learn about how all plants consume carbon dioxide but trees are best and what you can do at environment.about.com . You can read more about how forests mitigate global warming and a status update on the old growth redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest in the article "The Super Trees" in National Geographic Magazine, October 2009.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Heritage seeds as a sustainable solution to water scarcity, food scarcity & global warming

As a sustainability response to climate change and global warming, one strategy that you don’t hear about a lot is farming using heritage seeds. Heritage food plants are plants native to an area and that propagate naturally (as apposed to sterile hybrid seeds sold by many seed companies). From a humanitarian point of view, they are culturally and biologically native to arid drought-afflicted areas, are nutritious and are more likely to be adopted (or re-adopted) by rural communities as a food source. As a native food they can be considered a validation of an indigenous person's identity and traditional culture as well as a practical and drought-resistant agricultural product. The photo above is of Angela Kirwin, KIRF Co-Founder, at a soil remediation project in Arusha, Tanzania. Local farmers are trying to re-claim farm land ruined by soil erosion by planting indigenous trees and food plant varieties.

The effects of global warming have caused widespread droughts, malnutrition and starvation. An estimated 25,000 people (adults and children) die every day from hunger and related causes accroding to the United Nations Food Programme (2009).

As radio journalist Sam Eaton reported in his segment titled “Sowing seeds that will take the heat” from the “Sustainability Desk” for Marketplace on National Public Radio, “
…as a warming climate threatens mainstream agriculture, these unique genes in these little known seeds could turn out to be crucial for feeding the planet. (Eaton 2009).”

Unfort
unately, heritage or non-hybrid seeds are becoming rare: in 1981 there were an estimated 5,000 non-hybrid or heritage seed varieties, by 1998 the number has gone down to about 600 according to environmental activist Barbara Kingsolver, co-author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Kingsolver 2007:52). This is compared to an estimated 80,000 plant species that have been eaten in human history according to Indian crop ecologist and heritage food conservationist Vandana Shiva (Kingsolver 2007:49).

Today, d
ue to industrial monoculture farming, three-quarters of all human food comes from just eight species. And, of those eight species, most come from only three plants: “genetically modified corn, soy, and canola” according to Kingsolver (Kingsolver 2007:49). Furthermore, 98 percent of seed sales worldwide are handled by only six very huge and very politically influential companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Mitsubishi and Dow (Kingsolver 2007:50). These food plants have been bread for profitable traits such as increased shelf life, uniformity of fruit size and not survival traits such as drought resistance. What is worse, the plants are sterile so (1) they can’t adapt to changes in climate naturally and evolve more successful strains and (2) the plants are a burden to economically disadvantaged communities who depend on these seeds for food and must buy a new batch of them each growing season.

Ethnobiologist Gary Paul Nabhan is one of many scientists, botanists, and backya
rd gardeners who are committed to saving indigenous plant food varieties by collecting and sharing their heritage seeds. They do this for many reasons: in response to global climate change, to preserve native traditions and foods, for more nutritious plant food varieties, and for potential pharmaceutical discoveries. From a business point of view, heritage seeds answer the market’s current demand for tasty and exotic heirloom/heritage varieties of plant and animal foods.

Nabhan has been writing about the correlation between chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes and the con
sumption of non-traditional processed and fast foods by Native Americans in the Southwest for over thirty years (Nahban 2004: backcover). He published some of his findings about the correlations between health, adaptation and diet in the book Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity . As Nabhan explains, “…each ethnic cuisine reflects the evolutionary history of a particular human population as it responded to the availability of edible plants and animals through local foraging and through trade, and to the prevailing frequencies of diseases, droughts, and plagues within each population’s homeland (Nabhan 2004:1)”

Nabhan is the co-founder of the Renewing American’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance, a program of Slow Food USA, and is the Director of Center of Sustainable Environment at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona (SlowFoodUSA). He is working with other scientists such as the Suzanne Nelson for Native Seeds/SEARCH to distribute seeds of native Southwest crops such as maize and beans to local Native American farmers in the hot Southwest deserts (Eaton 2009).

Another scientist who studies the correlation between diet and indigenous diets is medical doctor Daphne Miller. She
writes extensively about the Tarahuma Native Americans ("Running Indians") who live in the Copper Canyon network of Northern Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains in her book The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World.... They subsist on native foods they have cultivated for centuries. Among the Tarahuma communities who abide by their traditional culture, subsistance and eat their traditional foods, there are virturaly no instances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. These same chronic diseases that plague neighboring Native American communities in northern Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico who have adopted a Western diet of processed and fast food. For the details, recipes and sources of heritage foods check out Miller's book.

So far, these heritage seeds are thriving in the desert heat while the conventional hybrid varieties have not according to
journalist Sam Eaton in his segment titled “Sowing seeds that will take the heat”. Native seeds are once again producing good food in their native land. Sustainably.

….

Resources

Easton, Sam
2009 “Sowing seeds that will take the heat”, Marketplace
, National Public Radio. http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/08/25/pm-seed-savers/, accessed August 27, 2009.

Kingsolver, Barbara with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
2007 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,
New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, pp. 370.

Miller, Daphne
2008 The Jungle Effect: the healthiest diets from around the world–why they work and how to make them work for you,
New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, pp. 370.

Nabhan, Gary Paul
2004 Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity,
Washington, DC: Island Press, pp. 232.

Native Seeds/SEARCH
2009
Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House. http://www.nativeseeds.org/ accessed September 2, 2009.

Seed Savers Exchange
2009 A
non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. http://www.seedsavers.org/ accessed September 2, 2009.

Slow Food USA
2009
Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance. http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/details/raft/ accessed August 27, 2009.

United Nations World Food Programme
2009 Hunger Stats. http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats accessed September 1, 2009.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bioethics of Poverty or "Structural Violence"

The greatest bioethics issue of today is the existence of economic and social barriers to health and adequate medical care. In the United States, with the lack of universal healthcare, these barriers are growing with the poverty rate that has the increased by 20 percent between 2000 and 2004 according to a National Health Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2) According to the same survey, more 40 million people of all ages in the United States went without health insurance in 2005.

Poverty and lack of insurance are structural barriers that deprive people of their health and, eventually, their life. Uninsured children in the United States are at a greater risk of experiencing health problems such as obesity, heart disease and asthma that continue to affect them later in life says Steven Woolf, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University. (3)

Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician and human rights activist in Haiti, calls these structural barriers of poverty “structural violence.” He defines structural violence as “Large-scale national and international structures that place limits on the ability of individuals to act in ways that protect their health.”(4) An example of structural violence is malnutrition. An estimated 842 million people in the world are hungry or are food insecure.(5)

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, being healthy and having access to adequate medical care is not just an ideal for Americans. It is an entitlement for everyone worldwide, rich or poor.(5) Farmer believes this to be true and has devoted his life to treating the poor and fighting the economic and social barriers to health that continue hurt and kill them. These barriers are behind the current epidemics of treatable diseases such as Tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes in all countries among the impoverished according to Farmer.

Farmer condemns social scientists and medical ethicists who ignore this problem of poverty in developing countries. “Surely it is an ethical problem, for example, that in the coming year an estimated six million people will die of tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS—three treatable diseases that reap their grim harvest almost exclusively among populations without access to modern medical care.”

Farmer goes on to say that these same social scientists who, in the course of their field research and analysis have observed the day to day suffering caused by poverty but have neglected to document it, or explore it, in their ethnographies, are not only unethical but are in fact may be committing “a human rights abuse.” (7) Farmer asserts that social scientists are complicit in the maintenance structural violence by the powerful elite if they do not document it when they see it. The struggle for social and economic rights is as much a social and political issue as it is a public health issue according to Farmer. (8)

But what can doctors and public health officials to counteract structural violence? As Farmer said himself, these human rights abuses are caused by “large-scale national and international structures”. Here are some recommendations from his book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor for physicians and public health officials:

1. Make health and healing the symbolic core of the agenda. Farmer cites the example of the Physicians for Human Rights and their partner organizations, which have argued that access to care should be construed as a basic right.(9)

2. Make the provision of health services central to the agenda. Farmer recommends that health workers listen to their patients and partner with local community-based health organizations to figure out the best ways to bring care to those in poverty. Collaborations with people local to a community are necessary to address the increasing inequalities here in the United States as well as in developing countries according to Farmer. However, he cautions that “States, not ‘Western” human rights groups, are best placed to protect the basic social and economic rights of populations living in poverty...State failure cannot be rectified by human rights activism on the part of NGOs.” (10)

3. Establish new research agendas that emphasize analyzing political and economic causes of inadequate health care. Farmer recommends “ serious scholarly work” that studies the health effects of war, political-economic disruption and the pathogenic effects of social inequalities, including racism, gender inequality, and the growing gap between rich and poor.”(11) He cautions that the research must not further imperil or victimize the poor and marginalized populations. He quotes R. Neugebauer, “ Public health research on violence and victimization among these groups must vigilantly guard against contributing to emotional and social harm.” (12)

4. Assume a broader educational mandate for health workers to educate the public about inadequate health care due to structural violence. Education is central to the task of combating social and economic barriers to health and medical care Farmer says. However, instead of teaching a select group of students with an expressed interest in health and human rights, there should be a broader educational mandate to teach all students about human rights issues in academia. Health workers and social scientists who are committed to easing the suffering of those victimized by structural violence should make a greater effort to publicize their observations in the popular media so people in affluent societies can better make the connection between health and human rights. (13)

5. Achieve independence from powerful governments and bureaucracies. Farmer says it best: “We need to be untrammeled by obligations to powerful states and international bureaucracies. A central irony of human rights law is that it consists largely of appeals to the perpetrators.”(14)

6. Secure more resources for health and human rights. As more social and political rights have been attained in some countries, economic and social rights have suffered from structural adjustments such as privatization, deregulation and entrepreneurial programs that favor those of means and further disadvantage the poor. (15)

Structural violence is responsible for millions of deaths each year. Each year about 16 million children worldwide die from preventable and treatable causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition.(1) We may not be able to eradicate structural violence globally. However, to lesson structural violence even a tiny bit, would save at least one life. To a family, that one life is of vital importance.

Resources

(1) Bread for the World, retrieved on May 2, 2008 from http://www.bread.org/learn/hunger-basics/
(2) Rice, Sabriya. “Poverty and poor health are intertwined, experts say.” CNN.com Septermber 4, 2006, retrieved on May 2, 2008 at http://edition.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/08/29/poverty.health/index.html
(3) Ibid.
(4) Farmer, Paul. “Social Scientists and the New Tuberculosis.” Ed. Elizabeth D. Whitiaker. Health and Healing in Comparative Perspective. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. 372-384.
(5) Rice, Sabriya. “Poverty and poor health are intertwined, experts say.” CNN.com Septermber 4, 2006, retrieved on May 2, 2008 at http://edition.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/08/29/poverty.health/index.html
(6) Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005. XXV-23.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Farmer. 2005. 238
(10) Farmer. 2005. 239-240
(11) Famer. 2005. 241
(12) Neugebauer, R. “Research on Violence in Developing Countries: Benefits and Perils.” American Journal of Public Health 89 (10): 1473-74
(13) Farmer. 2005. 242
(14) Farmer. 2005. 243
(15) Farmer. 2005. 243

Monday, June 01, 2009

Scientific explanations of helping others through altruistic behavior and why we started KIRF



I like helping people. I discovered this after I finished the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships and tore my Achilles tendon while training to qualify for next year's race. During this time in my life, each day was designated as either a training day, a rest day or "lost day" when I couldn't train due to work. Basically, it was a life that was mostly about me: my triathlon training, my sales goals at Diamondback Bicycles,  and my social life at work and in the triathlon community.

When the micro-tears on my right Achilles tendon threatened to turn into a rip straight through the tendon that would require surgery and months of re-hab, I had to finally stop running and cycling. No more training rides or runs with my triathlon friends. I dropped out of Ironman Canada. I then put my energy into finally becoming a good swimmer. I swam Masters five days a week instead of the usual three days a week in between bike days and run days.  That lasted for about a month when I blew out my right shoulder. Then I had to stop swimming, too.

I cut my hair short and we got a dog. At least I could walk the dog. Six months into re-had, I got pregnant with our first child, a healthy, hungry and blue-eyed bald-headed little boy. As a new mom I discovered the joy and reward of giving myself to helping another person. It wasn't about me anymore and honestly, I did miss working out and doing long trail runs with my friends. But when I did, I missed my beautiful little boy more.

Two and half years later our daughter was born. By then, I was in full-mommy-mode and basically never saw our old triathlon friends much at all. The tires on my Baby Jogger wore out before my road bike tires. Months turned into years between triathlons. Over time, I realized that I needed more than a daily workout or a race PR to feel alive and accomplished. I would rather spend hours with my kids than sitting on a bike seat far from home on a 50-mile training ride--all the while feeling guilty and rushed. For the next decade I stopped doing long-distance triathlons. I just my annual sprint triathlon in Carpinteria or marathon race. They were much easier to train for. I only had to workout once a day!  One by one, our old triathlon friends were replaced by new parent friends that we met through our kids.

As the kids got older, they needed me less and things just got plain easier all around. In June 2005 I stopped working full-time and started volunteering at the kids' school and for a local land conservancy. I needed to exercise my altruistic care-taking muscles that I developed being a parent.

In 2005, husband and I started a non-profit organization to help survivors* of natural disasters the week after we returned from living through the Andaman Sea tsunami disaster with our kids during a family vacation in Thailand in December 2004. My husband gave our foundation a big name that reflected his big plans for it: Kirwin International Relief Foundation, or "KIRF" for short. But, it's really just the us two volunteering our time, writing grant proposals and infusing it with any cash we have left over from paying the bills. I like to think of KIRF as our way of doing something really rewarding with our lives and to leave behind a legacy, a
"we made a difference" in addition to our children. Our non-profit foundation is also a way we can exercise our altruistic muscles since neither of us in a classical "helping profession" like medicine, counseling or teaching.  I design and build web sites and he's a trial attorney and certified mediator.

Through our foundation, we fund sustainable and culturally appropriate projects that help people regain their economic self-sufficiency. For example, we purchase supplies that people tell us that they need after a disaster. We don't just give them left-over stuff from well-meaning companies who also benefit with a tax right off on un-sellable stuff. The need I discovered for cultural competency when doing field work, of building rapport with the locals and the many inefficiencies and mistakes made by larger non-profits inspired me to pursue a masters degree in cultural anthropology at California State University Northridge (CSUN) last year.

Much of our sustainable development work and educational scholarship programs we fund were inspired initially by my mother-in-law Diane Kirwin. She started an educational non-profit for lowest caste and street children in the northern state of Bihar in India. Her non-profit is now an Indian Charitable Trust called KIRF India. She has been helping street children, usually Dalit caste kids, get an academic education, medical care and nutritious food in Bihar, India since 2003.

Since January 2005, our non-profit KIRF has helped out in seven countries: Thailand, India, Burma, Cambodia, Peru, Mexico, Tanzania and the United States. Most of our projects cost a few thousand dollars. In countries like Thailand, the exchange rate amplifies our buying power exponentially. For example, $10,000 in funds to purchase supplies in Thailand in January 2005 was like having $70,000 here in the United States. With about that much, we funded the rebuilding of a co-operative fish farm, and purchased dry goods, food supplies, school supplies and two fishing boats for three coastal villages that got destroyed by the tsunami flooding in Thailand as part of our tsunami relief work.

I've been asked more times than I can remember, "Why did you come to help us?" or "Why did you start your foundation?" I've had really nice people tell me, "Oh, you are going to heaven."  And, I've had others, mostly Thais, insist that we help others to gain merit (for good karma).

Why do we volunteer to help others? I do not have a single or simple answer. When pushed for an answer I would often tell them that it's our way of giving back since our lives were spared during the tsunami disaster in 2004. But the real answer is that it just feels normal. It is also an extremely rewarding --if intense--experience. And, it can even be a lot of fun–albeit exhausting fun. The typical disaster relief day begins with a run from my host's home or a hotel at 6am in the morning, then goes from about 8 am in the morning until 9 or 10pm at night. It ends usually around midnight after I make my last journal entry and finish my notes and accounting from the day.  The 15-hour work days of disaster relief include meeting and engaging with other humanitarians, figuring out how to get what where, a lot of driving (and sometimes getting lost) on bad or non-existent roads and meeting with the people who are at their limit. Also, fundraising before and after a natural disaster relief trip is always an un-fun challenge.

But, the truth is, it seems like the right thing to do. I hesitate to give that answer because I don't want to imply that everyone has an obligation to help others by volunteering as a humanitarian. That's judgmental, self-centric and as ludicrous as saying everyone has an obligation to have children, or everyone should strive be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. And, that's not how I feel anyway.

So, in my Evolutionary Anthropology course last semester I was delighted to be assigned a book that explained altruism from an evolutionary perspective: Unto Others: the Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior by Elliot Sober and David S. Wilson.

From an evolutionary standpoint, altruism can be explained as an adaptation that helps to promote survival. But, to promote the survival of whom? Certainly not the individual altruist according to this definition: “a person unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others (Dictionary 2009).” This is true in our case at least, in that our "KIRF work" has cost us personally in time, money, and, even, this is difficult to say, but precious time away from our family and loved ones.

An altruistic act is one that gives others a reproductive advantage while putting the altruist at a reproductive disadvantage (Campbell 2/18/09). Yep, that's us. By why do we do this?

According to scientists such as W. G. Hamilton, and many of the scientific community until the recently, altruism was best explained as an extension of individual selection and called “kin selection” (Moore 2001:58). Kin selection is an evolutionary adaptation to promote one’s genetic code by sacrificing oneself in order to help one’s kin (Sober 1998:58). Known as the “father of modern kin selection theory,” Hamilton was one of the first to promote kin selection as more in line with the new individual and genetically based evolutionary model called the Neo-Darwinian or Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution (Moore 2001:166). The Modern Synthesis Theory combined Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection with heritability of traits and genetic research in the Twenties and Thirties. Richard Dawkins elaborated on kin selection and called it the “selfish gene theory” that claimed that we are “controlled by our genes whose only interest is to replicate themselves (Moore 2001:87).” However, kin selection, based on the modern syntheses’ gene-centric and individualistic theory of inheritance, does not explain the evolutionary adaptive altruistic behavior of non-genetically related (non-kin) individuals.

Group selection is the better theory in predicting altruistic behavior in humans and non-human primates according to Elliot Sober and David S. Wilson in Unto Others: the Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Group selection is “when an allele (or gene) increases in frequency if it bestows an advantage to the group, regardless of its impact on the individual (Campbell 2/25/09).” In other words, Charles Darwin had it right when he explained that a group of altruists would be reproductively more successful than a group of non-altruists. He didn’t specify that they had to be kin (Sober 1998:5). A population increases faster with more altruists according to John Maynard Smith with his Haystack model in 1964 (Sober 1998:68).

On the psychology side of research, studies done by Daniel Batson have shown that the key to altruism is not self-interest (genetic or otherwise) but is empathy. His research has shown that most people have an innate willingness to help a stranger when they feel empathetic about them (Richardson 2005:217).

And, back to the biologists, altruistic behavior is not limited to humans. Biologists have documented several examples of group selection with the presence of altruists increasing group fitness in non-humans. For example, the brain worm (or liver fluke) relies on the altruistic and suicidal behavior of several individuals in a population to promote its survival as a group (Sober 1998: 27). An experiment with guppies shows that even non-human creatures such as fish choose to associate with altruists. In the experiment, it showed that even guppies preferred the company of altruists of their own species who risked sacrificing themselves through dangerous predator inspection behavior. (Sober: 1998:140).” With that in mind, and the greater ability of humans to detect altruistic behavior through cultural transmissions and communication, (compared to guppies), helping others seems normal and biologically natural.

So, according to science, altruism is an evolutionary adaptive behavior that increases the fitness of groups in both humans and non-humans and it's trigger is empathy.

That seems to make sense to me. I can't tell you how many times, after helping a brave family by giving them some mundane items that I bought for them for their temporary shelter, after an earthquake or hurricane leveled their family home and turned their lives upside down, that I've had to fight back tears at their courage. And, I feel unworthy of their gratitude for the little that we could give. If there's one thing that I know for sure (to paraphrase her Oprah Winfrey), is that doing disaster relief is living with lot's of empathy. Too much at times It would be actually, easier to do my job helping others if I had less of it, from an emotional perspective. Just a few months ago, during Inauguration Week in Washington, DC, we helped out a transitional living facility (a fancy name for homeless shelter for little kids and their mothers) by purchasing and delivering play and educational supplies for the Homeless Children's Playtime Project (HCPP). After playing with the shelter's young residents one night, how I badly I wanted to do more for these kids who are being cheated out of so much in life. That part of being altruistic and feeling empathy is not easy at all. Yes, I cried.

But, it feels natural and so good to make a difference, too– even if its a little. At least, I know I did something. And, those that I helped know that I believe that they are worth helping. That in itself is a gift. It's a good feeling to have someone else go out of their way to help you.

Now, even science recognizes the worth of helping others. Science calls it "altruism" or "group selection"– an evolutionary adaptation that improves a specie's fitness.

I find that re-assuring and cool.

Thank you for reading this. For more information about how we help go to our main website KIRFaid.org or learn about our most recent projects on our Facebook page Facebook.com/KIRFaid.

Thank you,

:)Angela R. Kirwin (edited 6/12/13)

Note: A more thorough scientific exploration of group selection theory and the fitness advantages  and cultural evolution of religious groups is by David Sloan Wilson. It is called Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society



Resources

Campbell, Christine
2009 Human Behavior: Evolutionary Perspective, Unpublished lectures for Anthropology 423, Spring, California State University, Northridge, CA

Dictionary.com
2009 “Altruist”, Dictionary.com, retrieved on May 14, 2009, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/altruist

Moore, David S.
2001 The Dependent Gene, New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company

Richardson, Peter J. and Robert Boyd
2005 Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Sober, Elliot and David Sloan Wilson
1998 Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

*I hate the term "victims" because it doesn't recognize their often heroic efforts to prevail under truly horrific physical and emotional traumas; it's undignified.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

KIRF gets media coverage in Ventura County Star "Ventura family fulfilling needs worldwide"

KIRF got some publicity yesterday (finally!). Journalist Alicia Doyle wrote a nice full page article about our "KIRF work" that was published in the Communities section of the Ventura County Star newspaper.

The article wrote about our "client-driven/ informal aid network" direct relief model of helping others help themselves. KIRF gives in-kind donations and services directly to those in need with the help of local and informal experts such as teachers, medical workers, etc.This model ensures that people who need help the most also get exactly what they need to regain economic self-sufficiency and a life with dignity that is also within their own cultural norms and beliefs.

They printed the photo of us and the kids standing with chai dealer Naseem and his large family at his extended family home that was taken in Bodhgaya, India on December 25, 2006. The photo was taken by Mark's mom, Diane Kirwin. The other photo showed the Mark providing food staples and living supplies to Moken (aka "Sea Gypsies" of the Andaman Sea) several months after they were stranded on a deserted island by the tsunami without adequate food and water. You can read Mark's poignant field report about tsunami relief and helping the stranded Moken at KIRFaid.org.

The article mentioned disaster relief projects that KIRF has undertaken all over the world since its inception in January 2005.

The article also mentioned KIRF's latest project helping the Homeless Children's Playtime Project (HCPP) in Washington, DC last month. KIRF purchased educational toys, art supplies and furnishings for HCPP's play room at the NCFN Shelter in DC. We got to deliver the supplies and play with some of the young beneficiaries of the new toys at the transitional living shelter, too.

The HCPP non-profit serves homeless and chronically ill children by giving them a safe and enriching place to play after school. The "wish list" supplies were purchased with funds donated by KIRF's generous supporters here in Ventura. The airfare and hotel expenses are paid for by us out of our personal funds--like always.

Our "photographer" for this article, Diane Kirwin is an inspirational person in her own right. She is the Director of KIRF India which is a separate non-profit (and certified Indian Charitable Trust with an Indian board of trustees) that is devoted to providing primary and secondary education in rural villages, job training, medical care and public health resources such as clean drinking water and nutrition to landless peasants and street children of the Dalit caste in and around the famed Buddhist holy place and World Heritage Site of Bodhgaya, India.

Click here to read the Ventura County Star article about KIRF online >

Click here to read a copy of Ventura County Star newspaper article about KIRF, February 18, 2009 (PDF, 10.3 MB) >

Friday, February 06, 2009

"Giving where we are needed" and KIRF work

I've been meaning to post this quotation by John Records, a homeless activist, that describes why I enjoy doing "KIRF work". I read it in the Sun Magazine last month in the Letters section. Here it is:

"We may have more time than we think we do. And we might find a greater happiness from giving where we are needed than from being entertained." ~John Records, founder of homeless rehabilitation center Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), from the September 2008 issue of the Sun Magazine's "Leave the Light On" article.

I like that.

By "KIRF work" I mean doing a service project to help others or help the planet either here locally in Ventura (with an Earth Day beach cleanup, for example) or in a distant community such as in Washington, DC recently or in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

For example, in Chiang Mai we bought an ice cream maker and new freezer for a sustainable business school-based venture set-up by the Support the Children Foundation in December 2006. Our purchases made it possible for them to generate income to fund for their healthy lunch program for disadvantaged children and HIV foster children. The local non-profit Support the Children Foundation is ensuring that this program continues. The Chiang Mai project took a lot of effort to coordinate. I spent days preparing handouts and a poster and did two cookie sales with the Ventura College Anthropology Club to fund it. How did I find the Support The Children Foundation? I emailed friends and family until I found them through my sister-in-law. She recommended me speaking with her former college roommate who is a public health doctor stationed in Singapore and works with the Thai founders of Support The Children, who are a husband and wife team of two physicians who attended medical school in the U.S. Finding them and setting up the KIRF project, fundraising for it, and working in Chiang Mai on this project with our children was a effort. However, we were gong to be in Chiang Mai anyway to visit family so the travel was already taken care of. However, all that coordination took time.

But it was time well spent. The genuine gratitude and happiness of the school principal when he found out about the ice cream making equipment we bought his school made it worth it. Also, it was meeting the kids at the school, meeting the farmer who donated milk for the ice cream at his farm, meeting a local foster care family who was taking care of their HIV+ grandson, and the long day we spent shopping in Chiang Mai accompanying our Thai local experts from the Support the Children Foundation shop was an enriching and heartwarming experience that we will never forget. We still in keep in touch with Support the Children founders. I consider them dear and inspiring friends. The memory of that KIRF work project still makes me happy when I think out it. I am grateful that I had that experience and we made a difference.

That is "KIRF work".

:) A

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ventura Family Witnessed History and Helped Homeless Children in Washington, DC

Ventura, California (February 3, 2009): Ventura volunteers Mark, Angela, Kai and Makani Kirwin of Kirwin International Relief Foundation (KIRF) headed to Washington, DC on January 16 to provide assistance for homeless children to heed President-Elect Obama’s request for Americans to do a community service project to honor the spirit of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. He called it a National Day of Service. While in DC they also attended the inauguration.

On the Saturday before the Inauguration, the Kirwins met up with volunteers for the a local Target and Best Buy to purchase wish list items for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project non-profit that serves homeless children at several Washington, DC transitional living shelters. The Kirwins’ two children helped the volunteers chose the best toys and art supplies—stuff that they know kids like. Carpooling with the volunteers they delivered about six shopping carts of needed educational toys, art supplies and furnishings to a local shelter later that day. The Kirwins and their children returned to the shelter on Wednesday and helped build some play structures and played with the kids. Ironically, the shelter’s Playtime was closed on the National Day of Service for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

“Their lives are hard and several of them have suffered a lot. It was so gratifying to see them excited about their new toys and have fun in a loving and safe environment,“ Angela Kirwin said. “Every kid needs to feel special sometimes.”

The Homeless Children's Playtime Project (www.playtimeproject.net) non-profit serves children in local emergency and transitional homeless shelters by giving them a safe and enriching place to play in the evenings. “This is the one place they can go be with their peers and get a lot of love and attention,” Nicole French, a Site Coordinator at the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, said. “Now with KIRF’s help we’re able to make the space more hospitable and kid-friendly for Playtime,” Ms. French said.

The wish list items were purchased with funds donated by KIRF's generous supporters. Angela and Mark pay for their airfare and hotel expenses out of their personal funds.

KIRF is a tax-exempt public charity 501(c)(3) organization as a member of the International Humanities Center (www.ihcenter.org). Donations are tax deductible to the full extent permissible by law. Our Tax Identification Number is 33-0767921.

For more information please go to the KIRF web site: www.kirfaid.org.