Utah Youth Climate Activists Hold Wake for the Great Salt Lake

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Sunday, September 25, 2022

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. On a hot morning in early August, a group of college- and high-school-aged climate activists decided to hold a funeral. They were drinking hot cocoa on a camping trip to Antelope Island, an island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake that has recently become a peninsula due to the lake’s receding waters, when they thought of it. “When someone is dying, we sit with them and we spend time with them,” said Muskan Walia, a 20-year-old math and philosophy student at the University of Utah and an organizer with Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, a youth-founded organization. “So we thought, why don’t we do the same for the lake?” Like many other waterways and lakes in the Western U.S., the Great Salt Lake is currently in an unprecedented and dire situation due to the ongoing megadrought. In July, its surface elevation fell below 4,190.2 feet, the record low set in October 2021. Since then, it has dropped over a foot further. The decline threatens the estimated 10 million migratory birds that stop annually at the lake, as well as the flies, brine shrimp and finely adapted microorganisms lower on the food chain, which are already beginning to die off due to increased salinity. It is also creating toxic dust storms that make the air harder to breathe for Salt Lake City’s 1.3 million residents. On September 3, more than 100 people gathered on the Great Salt Lake’s dry bed to mourn the lake’s decline with the student activists. Following the funeral, the activists staged a die-in, simulating collective death in a cemetery of handmade gravestones. The action both drew attention to the crisis at the lake and underlined the climate crisis’ connections to other movements: Die-ins, which became a common feature of protests during the environmental and anti-war movements of the 1960s and ’70s, have recently been used to protest police brutality and school gun violence. Four of the youth activists—Alan Gutiérrez, 22, Natalie Roberts, 15, Lorali Smith, 17, and Walia—spoke with High Country News about the event. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. High Country News: How did you get involved with activism about the Great Salt Lake and the climate crisis? Alan Gutiérrez: I grew up in Salt Lake City surrounded by constant talk about the air quality and other aspects of the environment that were under attack. A lot of the issues directly affected the community I live in, the West Side, which is where the majority of our Black and brown community lives. So, my motivation for getting involved was basically to voice that Utah and Salt Lake City consistently fail our Black and brown and Indigenous communities—not only environmentally but also in terms of education and access to other resources. Muskan Walia: I’ve lived in Utah for the majority of my life, but even though the Great Salt Lake is my backyard, I hadn’t been there until being part of Utah-YES. Going there as a group—to a dried-up lakebed in raging heat—was my first time at the lake, and for a lot of the others who organized this action, it was theirs, too. It really speaks to the way that for us youth, all we know are the impacts that generations before us had. Even though we’re the ones speaking up, the only landscape that we know is something that is dead and being forgotten and left behind. HCN: What was the day of the die-in like? MW: We started off by welcoming people into the space and setting the tone for the day. A local writer named Milo (Emilia) read from their book of poems, lake words. While that was happening, the others set up the funeral. They had made gravestones, and written on them what they thought might kill them if legislators and stakeholders fail to act. Other adults and youth, even little children, had also brought their own gravestones. It was really, really heartwarming, even for something that was so sad. We gave an introduction to Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, and a land acknowledgement, and then there was a procession. For five minutes we walked in a single-file line from where the speakers were to where we had set up the gravestones. We walked in silence—we had decided that was how we were going to show respect to the lake. I read a eulogy that came from my perspective of being from a community of color that has really been at the front lines, and what that’s felt like. I drew some parallels about how we knew the abandonment of the lake was going to happen because of the way communities have been abandoned by our decision-makers. While I was reading that eulogy, the youth dropped one by one and lay on their backs. And then we took a moment of silence to acknowledge and really take in what could be the effect. For those minutes, the student activists were just lying there—on the hottest day in September, with bugs going up their noses and into their mouths, eating them as if they were already dead. And they just stayed there perfectly still. To continue with the theatrical piece, I tapped on the microphone, and had others tap on their chest, like a heartbeat, signifying that the students in the cemetery could go ahead and get up. That heartbeat signified that there’s hope and that we’re still alive, so let’s go and let’s continue. Grey Jensen via High Country News HCN: What do you want viewers to take away from the event? Lorali Smith: A lot of climate catastrophes seem to disappear (from the public eye): We have this moment of fear and excitement about it, and then people don’t really do much. So, for me, the most important part is for this to remain a pressing topic and something that we have conversations about, so that change does happen. Natalie Roberts: The other important thing is that the solutions are right there. They’re incredibly visible. We’re diverting so much water from these tributaries that are going into the Great Salt Lake. We know what it’s being diverted for—alfalfa, development. So, if we can combat that diversion, which isn’t easy but is definitely attainable, we’d be able to solve part of the crisis that’s happening at the lake. HCN: What does climate justice mean to you? AG: When it comes to these issues, you have to care about many other issues because these scenarios are not happening individually. If you care about climate, you have to care about Black liberation, about queer liberation, all of these movements, because they all intersect with each other. And if you want to fix an issue, you have to be able to find solutions that include everyone. In Salt Lake City, a lot of the solutions that are being proposed are either very classist or leave out a voice that needs to be at the table. MW: A lot of environmentalists come to it from places of privilege; they’re worried about snow and skiing. But for youth organizers of color, this is our life. This is our autonomy and our agency. So, climate justice to me is giving agency back to communities of color. We’re not in this for the skiing. This is our lives.

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. On a hot morning in early August, a group of college- and high-school-aged climate activists decided to hold a funeral. They were drinking hot cocoa on a camping trip to Antelope Island, an island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake […]

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Is your company making this foundational mistake?

For more than 15 years I’ve worked as a C-suite brand strategist for Big Retail executives. My purview has included everything from compiling dossiers for new product launches to scouting locations for new branded hotels to writing CEO speeches. As the years went by, I did more focused work for fewer executives, becoming integrated into their individual careers and not just their current corporate affiliations. With every ascending professional shift, they moved key members of their current team from one company to the next. And I was part of that luggage set. Whether a brand president or CEO, the people I worked with were hired as transformational leaders, charged with making change. And an early signal of that impending change in the organizational structure was a revision of foundational materials: mission, vision, values (MVV). What surprised me at first, and then grew to frustrate me, was how automatically these leaders hired outside agencies to do this elemental work. Why did such smart businesspeople, proven achievers with a gut sense of the market, doubt they could do this on their own? Maybe they considered this elemental work as solely creative—therefore outside their leadership domain—rather than squarely strategic, integral to identifying long-term goals and how to achieve them—something top executives are very good at. To be clear, I don’t think that external agencies are the enemy. There is real value in making solid partnerships, and plenty of work that can be sent their way. But when it comes to foundational materials, it is better to lose the layers and stay as close to the bone as possible. Or, as I would tell my clients: Please. Use your words. Outsourcing a company’s core identity often results in a kind of corporate word soup full of trendy buzzwords and phrases rather than the kind of clear and authentic language that can articulate a new vision, designed to meet changing needs: straightforward and streamlined language connected to a specific business, grounded words with clarity and utility that people can understand, rather than virtue-signaling phrases (“empowerment”) or obfuscating clichés (“paradigm shift”). Working on foundational materials with colleagues as part of a brand evolution can also help transformational leaders understand how the people around them think, and ultimately develop their own company language to better reflect their changing position. Whether outsourced or produced in-house, the process is always a challenge. Misalignment can occur whenever an MVV is altered arbitrarily (often by committee) to fit specific agendas rather than the overall corporate identity and purpose. Careless language—such as inserting a buzzword like “sustainability” without considering the commitment required—inevitably causes a disconnect between principles and practices. When ill-informed changes, no matter the source, are not challenged by transformational leaders, a mission statement can be reduced to a mere marketing message rather than a progressive management tool. After 45 years with the mission to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” Patagonia issued a new mission statement: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” That’s as close to the bone as words can get, yet a significant declaration of evolving environmental activism. There’s no escaping jargon. It’s an occupational hazard for those of us who work in communications, and here’s an example of my own: When an MVV works together as three interlocking documents, it forms a Purpose Pact. These documents contain the principles that tell outsiders who a company is, what it does, and how it gets that work done. In addition, they can also provide employees with an action framework and simple common vocabulary: bedrock company philosophy that guardrails group behavior and gives creativity a place to stand. When written in practical and realistic language with actionable core values and quantifiable objectives—instead of vague and even misleading language with unidentifiable and unachievable goals—these statements create alignment by becoming the default way of thinking for the whole company. They can inspire staff, attracting and retaining talent, and help to fuel growth. Ultimately, that’s just good business. Francine Maroukian, two-time James Beard Award winner, is a former food and travel writer-turned-commercial-pragmatist, who now works as an operative researcher for C-Suite executives in big retail.

For more than 15 years I’ve worked as a C-suite brand strategist for Big Retail executives. My purview has included everything from compiling dossiers for new product launches to scouting locations for new branded hotels to writing CEO speeches. As the years went by, I did more focused work for fewer executives, becoming integrated into their individual careers and not just their current corporate affiliations. With every ascending professional shift, they moved key members of their current team from one company to the next. And I was part of that luggage set. Whether a brand president or CEO, the people I worked with were hired as transformational leaders, charged with making change. And an early signal of that impending change in the organizational structure was a revision of foundational materials: mission, vision, values (MVV). What surprised me at first, and then grew to frustrate me, was how automatically these leaders hired outside agencies to do this elemental work. Why did such smart businesspeople, proven achievers with a gut sense of the market, doubt they could do this on their own? Maybe they considered this elemental work as solely creative—therefore outside their leadership domain—rather than squarely strategic, integral to identifying long-term goals and how to achieve them—something top executives are very good at. To be clear, I don’t think that external agencies are the enemy. There is real value in making solid partnerships, and plenty of work that can be sent their way. But when it comes to foundational materials, it is better to lose the layers and stay as close to the bone as possible. Or, as I would tell my clients: Please. Use your words. Outsourcing a company’s core identity often results in a kind of corporate word soup full of trendy buzzwords and phrases rather than the kind of clear and authentic language that can articulate a new vision, designed to meet changing needs: straightforward and streamlined language connected to a specific business, grounded words with clarity and utility that people can understand, rather than virtue-signaling phrases (“empowerment”) or obfuscating clichés (“paradigm shift”). Working on foundational materials with colleagues as part of a brand evolution can also help transformational leaders understand how the people around them think, and ultimately develop their own company language to better reflect their changing position. Whether outsourced or produced in-house, the process is always a challenge. Misalignment can occur whenever an MVV is altered arbitrarily (often by committee) to fit specific agendas rather than the overall corporate identity and purpose. Careless language—such as inserting a buzzword like “sustainability” without considering the commitment required—inevitably causes a disconnect between principles and practices. When ill-informed changes, no matter the source, are not challenged by transformational leaders, a mission statement can be reduced to a mere marketing message rather than a progressive management tool. After 45 years with the mission to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” Patagonia issued a new mission statement: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.” That’s as close to the bone as words can get, yet a significant declaration of evolving environmental activism. There’s no escaping jargon. It’s an occupational hazard for those of us who work in communications, and here’s an example of my own: When an MVV works together as three interlocking documents, it forms a Purpose Pact. These documents contain the principles that tell outsiders who a company is, what it does, and how it gets that work done. In addition, they can also provide employees with an action framework and simple common vocabulary: bedrock company philosophy that guardrails group behavior and gives creativity a place to stand. When written in practical and realistic language with actionable core values and quantifiable objectives—instead of vague and even misleading language with unidentifiable and unachievable goals—these statements create alignment by becoming the default way of thinking for the whole company. They can inspire staff, attracting and retaining talent, and help to fuel growth. Ultimately, that’s just good business. Francine Maroukian, two-time James Beard Award winner, is a former food and travel writer-turned-commercial-pragmatist, who now works as an operative researcher for C-Suite executives in big retail.

SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from […] The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from 134 countries, to honour six young laureates from all around the world who are working tirelessly to advance inclusivity and solidarity. Zulaikha – along with the other five – received a donation to carry out a field project and advance her cause on the ground. This was the fourth edition of the Young Activists Summit – ‘Together we thrive’ – which has reached over 3 million people on social media. Zulaikha is an anti-racism activist who led a protest against her school’s racist hair policy in Pretoria, which made nationwide and worldwide news. She said: “What triggered me to start to organize this protest was that (…) we were being forced to assimilate to what we were not, we were being told we couldn’t wear our hair as it grows naturally, we could not speak in our own groups with our friends in our African languages. That became a war on who we are, we were forced to erase our blackness, and it triggered me to do something. I knew I had to defend my identity, (…) I had to take a stand, not just for me but for my identity and the identity of my ancestors.” The others honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit are: Pashtana Durrani, 24, Afghanistan – Founder of LEARN Afghanistan, a network of underground schools for girls. Keely Cat-Wells, 26, UK/USA – Founder of C-Talent, a talent agency which promotes disabled talent and changes mindsets through entertainment. Sameer Jha, 21, USA – Founder of the Empathy Alliance which advances safe classrooms for LGBTQ+ students. C’est Prévue Emmy Lusila, 22, DRC – Founder of an orphanage for street children. Sebastián Benfeld, 21, Chile – Co-founder of Escazu Ahora, a movement advancing a pollution-free environment and protecting environmental defenders. The Summit is co-organized by the United Nations Office at Geneva, the NGO dev.tv, Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) and its Genève Vision label, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico

Here's what $3 billion could do to avert the next tropical storm blackout.

Puerto Rico could get $3 billion dollars for rooftop solar energy and battery storage if Congress approves a Biden administration request made earlier this week. The help is sorely needed.  The archipelago has been repeatedly hit by blackouts after a series of devastating hurricanes that crippled the electricity grid. In 2017, Hurricane Irma, which narrowly missed the main island but caused widespread blackouts, was followed by another — Maria — which killed over 4,000 people. Maria’s damage to Puerto Rico’s grid was so great that it took 11 months for power to be fully restored to the main island.       Both Puerto Rican activists and United States officials believe that investing in solar energy systems will help residents keep power on in their homes during what are certain to be more frequent and destructive storms in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico’s energy grid has been criticized for years for its unreliability under normal circumstances, even without the storm damage to power lines and generators. While a growing number of Puerto Rican households are taking the initiative to install solar panels on their rooftops, the majority of households continue to rely on electricity through the mainstream power grid, or run diesel-powered generators. Generators, however, are expensive and pollute the air.  But high costs and environmental considerations are only part of the picture. Electricity blackouts on Puerto Rico in the wake of tropical storms have exacerbated the already devastating public health and safety crises that followed. Researchers have estimated that in the three months after Hurricane Maria there was a 62 percent increase in mortality,  Many deaths following the hurricane occurred in isolated and mountainous regions where residents were unable to access outside water or medical facilities. But the lack of electricity at home may have been the biggest factor in the high mortality, as residents were unable to boil water, refrigerate food and certain medicines, or run air-conditioning in their houses. While a growing number of Puerto Ricans are installing solar panels on their rooftops, it remains too expensive for many. Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo via AP Images After Hurricane Fiona hit in September, residents who had installed solar panels on their homes were able to maintain their power even as the energy grid failed yet again. In spite of this, most households in Puerto Rico simply cannot afford to switch to solar without financial assistance offered by the federal government. The majority of census tracts in Puerto Rico are defined as disadvantaged, frequently due to high local energy costs coupled with low household incomes. Puerto Ricans as a whole pay some of the highest energy bills in the United States. In San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, the average cost to install solar panels for a household is nearly $12,000. While that’s less than what the average household on the U.S. mainland would have to pay for home solar, the cost is too much for most Puerto Ricans; the territory’s median household income is around  $21,000.  Before Hurricane Maria in 2017, household adoption of solar energy on Puerto Rico appeared to be more motivated by reducing electricity bills. Now, simply being able to turn the lights on has become just as strong a motivation. The archipelago is also considered a favorable location for widespread solar power adoption. A preliminary study in 2021 from the National Lab of Renewable Energy concluded that transitioning to rooftop solar energy could produce up to four times the current energy needs of Puerto Rico. This potential is largely due to its high amount of exposure to sunlight throughout the year.  While some Puerto Ricans may acknowledge the value of allocating financial resources to rooftop solar energy, others are not convinced that relying on federal funds will lead to any fundamental changes on the ground.  “Since Maria, the U.S. government has made many allocations of funds that never arrive or their impacts are not seen in Puerto Rico,” said Arturo Massol Deyá, the executive director of Casa Pueblo, a Puerto Rican organization that supports community self-management projects. Instead, Massol Deyá said, Casa Pueblo and other organizations are working to develop an independent electricity grid centered on solar energy projects that are run for and by local communities in Puerto Rico.   “We’re working to break the dependency model,” he said.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico on Dec 2, 2022.

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