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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Inner city youth are often cast off as failures and drop outs who cause destruction in their communities. But the Earth Conservation Corps is trying to channel that energy.  They are a youth development and environmental restoration organization based in Southeast Washington D.C. The Corpos employs troubled young adults from the area and puts them to work cleaning up the Anacostia river.  The Anacostia river is not only one of the nation’s most polluted rivers but also runs through one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods; Anacostia.  

Located only a few blocks away from the US Capitol, Anacostia is choked by high crime, poverty, and heavy pollution.  It isn’t surprising that the river has just as many problems. About 20,000 tons of trash are dumped in the river each year and every time it rains in the district, raw sewage overflows into the river resulting in a total of two billion gallons of raw sewage every year.  

Corps members, who often come from criminal backgrounds, clean up debris, educate community youth about native wildlife and the environment, and investigate to find pollution sources.  Over 400 students have graduated from the Earth Conservation Corps. While in the program, members are paid minimum wage, given health insurance, and receive a $5,000 scholarship if they choose to go onto college. 

But they can’t save everyone. The Earth Conservation Corps has lost at least one member each year, many of which were the result of violence.  Diamond Teague, a 19 year old who completed 7 months in the ECC was murdered in 2003.  He was shot in the head while he was sitting on his front porch.  Another member, Aaron Teeter, was a high school dropout and former drug dealer before he joined ECC.  When he became a member, he became interested in journalism and video making.  But he too was shot in the head while sitting on his front stoop.   

The Earth Conservation Corps now documents all of it’s activities on video in hopes to tell the world about not only the environmental injustice in Anacostia but also the harsh realities young adults face every day.

Photo courtesy of Ali Sanders

For the past month Living on Earth has been featuring stories from our Planet Harmony. They’ve broadcast reports from all over the country about communities often under-represented in environmental decision-making. Well, today, one of our Planet Harmony reporters has some thoughts on the importance of bringing more voices to environmental conversation.

HAHESY: Hey this is Mwende Hahesy and I’m sitting here next to the Pacific Ocean on Westcliffe Beach, in Santa Cruz, California. I don’t consider myself an environmentalist; it’s just the state of the environment has a lot to do with the health of my family and friends. The health of a community can be measured through the health of its environment. And to me, no other community lives up to this more than the one I grew up in.

I was raised in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. When you drive through the Valley, as we like to call it, you pass through an endless succession of alfalfa fields, orange trees and dairies. It’s a pastoral piece of Americana. On the flip side, the Valley has some of the highest rates of obesity and childhood asthma in the country. And these rates are even worse for people of color. So then I have to take a step back and remind myself to give things a second look.

When I was a kid, I had severe asthma. But I was hardly a special case. I remember my daily midday asthma treatment at school. I would stand in line outside the nurse’s office and wait with at few other kids who were almost exclusively Latino.

We never really thought much of it; this was simply a fact of life. But the older I got, the more this general acceptance bugged me. The Valley was my home but it made me sick. Now that I’m older I see all the signs around me: the thick layer of smog on the horizon and the crop dusters that drop pesticides on fields near housing developments. Valley residents are unhealthy because of these very things. Why wasn’t anyone angry?

Planet Harmony has created a space. Now we can follow underrepresented communities’ struggles and accomplishments in environmental and health issues across the country and the globe.

YOUNG: Mwende Hahesy reports for Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to issues affecting communities of color. Check out more from Mwende and contribute your own thoughts, ideas and stories at My Planet Harmony dot com. That’s My Planet Harmony dot com.

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Madison, WI is following the tradition of the Whitehouse garden.  Can’t wait to see it when we go to the Farmer’s Market.  I am sure the garden will be in full bloom in time for the concert on the square :)   What a beautiful touch to the capitol area!

The history of some of America's first black soldiers and park rangers remains largely unwritten.  Bob Marley (and mangled covers) of "Buffalo Soldier" can only tell so much. "If you know your history/ then you know where you coming from/ then you wouldn't have to ask me."

Now, Congresswoman, Jackie Speier (D-Ca), is trying to pass legislation that will assert the Buffalo Soldiers' position in history.  The bill, H.R. 4491, would create a National Historic Trail marking the route traveled by the Buffalo Soldiers from their post in San Francisco to Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

In a week where the Texas Board of Education approved slanting the significance of black history out of their text books (ex. "slave trade" sanitized as the "Atlantic triangular trade”), there is a push against that tilt.

So who were these forgotten stewards of the land?  They were two black-only cavalry regiments and 2 infantry regiments that fought in the Indian Wars, in the American Southwest from 1866 through 1890.  The Buffalo soldiers supposedly were named by the Cheyenne in the winter of 1867 because their dark curly hair resembled a buffalo's coat.  Besides their role in the Indian Wars, the Buffalo soldiers' lesser known contribution to the land was their service as the nation's first park rangers.  Two of the companies stationed in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, endured long days on horseback, surviving on slim rations, guarding the parks.  And they did it with style- their round-brimmed hat later gave inspiration to Smokey the Bear's preferred headgear.

The "Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act" has just passed the House and is up for vote in the Senate.

Take a listen to Living on Earth's profile of a Buffalo Soldier performing a reenactment at Yosemite National Park.

With the Gulf spill as backdrop, new Senate legislation sets out to keep billions of dollars in subsidies from flowing to the oil industry. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) says his new bill would close oil-friendly corporate tax loopholes that add up to $20 billion in ten years. That’s almost as ambitious as what President Barack Obama laid out in his proposed budget for 2011, but is just a fraction (perhaps a tenth) of what taxpayers could save if the government stopped all subsidies, says Doug Koplow of Earth Track, a research group that tracks energy subsidies.

"If those numbers are correct," Koplow said, "that means they’re already doing the political calculations to get supporters of the oil industry on board." And no doubt political calculations will be necessary to pass an anti-oil bill in this Congress. Sen. Menendez knows– his other bill to raise the $65 million liability cap for oil companies has been blocked from twice so far by Senate Republicans, most recently by Senator Inhofe (R-OK), who said he’s concerned about the consequences for small, independent oil companies. Menendez made this appeal to his fellow Senators in a press release: "The flow of revenues to oil companies is like the gusher at the bottom of the Gullf of Mexico: heavy and constant…Unlike the geyser in the Gulf we can shut down these loopholes quickly and permanently when we pass this legislation."

It’s gardening season again but for urbanites that doesn’t have to mean just growing a pot of basil on the porch. “Garden Girl” Patti Moreno tells Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb why she digs city gardening.

Check out Patti Moreno’s Website: Garden Girl TV for dozens of how-to videos .


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Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? The manufactured smell of a rose may come with some hidden chemical thorns. A new report suggests a number of unlisted ingredients in fragrance products may cause harm. Ebony Payne reports.

Check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ full report and the Fragrance Industry’s response.

(Photo: Mallyhon)


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I just read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot so it is fresh in my mind as I sit in my living room watching Law & Order.

The book chronicles the story of the late Henrietta Lacks – the unknowing donor of cervical cells that would go on to become the first human cells capable of remaining alive outside of the human body. The cells allowed scientists to study cancer and permitted doctors to save lives.

The cells were known worldwide as HeLa, although Henrietta Lacks – the woman they came from – remained anonymous for decades. Once doctors found out her identity her family was visited by a whirlwind of syringes and unexplained tests without informed consent. Her family was left without a wife/mother, without answers and without the peace and the justice they deserve. The ghosts of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study nod knowingly.

The book takes readers on a journey through 50 years of family history, decades of scientific inquiry, years of diligent interviews and first hand accounts from the Lacks family themselves.

And tonight, Law and Order hard boiled that history into prime-time drama.
This episode, entitled "Immortal," is about a murder (aren’t they all??). Tonight the fictional murder victim was the descendant of a man who provided the first human cancer cells to survive outside of the body. Nathan Robinson replaced Henrietta Lacks. NaRo cells stood in for HeLa cells. Those cells also being responsible for curing cancer and saving lives. Hema Labs, the faux billion dollar biomedical company benefiting from those cells, stood in stark contract to the poor black descendants who can’t afford health insurance. Though the murder was fiction, they were on point regarding the story’s complexity and emotion wrapped up in historical injustice.

As much as I love Law & Order you just can’t do the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family justice in 42 minutes bookended by commercials for America’s Got Talent. Oprah has joined forces with HBO to produce a full length tv movie about the book. Perhaps Harpo Films will do it justice. I’d say that like most stories that hit the screen, your best bet is to flip straight to the source.

And now I leave you with a quote from the show.

"You violated my privacy so you could win your case, Mr. Cutter. You’re no better than Hema Labs."  - Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), Law&Order Season 20, Episode 21 "Immortal"

Book cover photo from

Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that kept me stuck abroad, is still erupting and stranding travelers. And while most people are trying to evacuate the area around the volcano, photographer Sean Stiegemeier flew right in. Stiegemeier captured the volcano in a stunning fast-forwarded video. There is no fire or lava spewing on camera, but there is plenty of ash and smoke – the culprits behind Europe’s closed airspace and electrical storms.

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveil their long-awaited climate change bill– an attempt to get clean and dirty industries to support a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. One of the big compromises in the legislation is a controversial provision encouraging an expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling.
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