If we want to solve the world's problems, we first need to abolish all borders

Solutions

“Nations will revert to their natural tendency of hiding behind their borders, of moving towards protectionism, of listening to vested interests, and they’ll forget about transcending those national priorities,” said Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund back in 2013.

The problem is that, nowadays, nation-states can’t even think of solving the world’s problems on their own. The most pressing challenges for the humankind are obviously transnational and so complex that no country has enough resources to tackle them by itself.

But even in the case of issues that apparently affect just a single country, solving them always requires the conjoined effort of many states. Technology entangled the world in a web of relations and there’s no way back.

However, it’s evident that in Europe, and in the Western hemisphere in general, nationalism is making a comeback and there’s an increasing number of people that find it difficult to think beyond the boundaries of their own country. This is literally a quite limited horizon. If we want to deal with global issues such as climate change, we need to start thinking of the Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders

Of course, nation states will not disappear any time soon. But if we start thinking beyond them, we might come up with more effective solutions to the world’s problems. In other words, what we need is a view shift.

However, if changing idea is already a daunting task for our stubborn minds, changing our world’s view (again, quite literally) sounds like a desperately tough endeavor; how can a person that grew up in a world divided by rigid borders, forget all of a sudden about them?

After all, the only people who truly experience the Earth as a single entity are astronauts. From space, astronauts can contemplate the planet as a minuscule dot, lost in the sea of nothingness. From up there —astronauts say — the Earth looks like “a fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.”

Viewing the planet from the space changed many astronauts’ perspective on the planet itself and on other earthly matters. Among the many spacefarers who reported this cognitive shift in awareness  — that is known as “overview effect”  — there’s the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who said that, while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before. Unfortunately, as of June 2018, only 561 people made it to the space and experienced the Earth as a single environment.

But what if we could make experience the “overview effect” to hundreds of thousands of people? What if we could all have the chance to see the Earth as a fragile ball of life nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere? Even better, what if every child had this chance? After all, a child’s mind has not yet been molded and made rigid by decades of news about wars over borders and similar matters.

A generation of children who experienced the “overview effect” would probably become a generation of adults more prone to see the Earth beyond the narrowness of national boundaries and interests. It would probably be a generation better equipped to front global challenges such as the climate breakdown.

In a way, this is the goal of a newly established Dutch organization called Spacebuzz. Few days ago, while ruminating over these issues, I bumped into their website. Their mission statement is to become “an educational project to inspire children worldwide to become ambassadors of our planet through the experience of viewing Earth from space like an astronaut.”

In particular, they want to visit schools with a custom-made immersive VR experience and make children between the age of nine to 12 experience the overview effect as if they were astronauts hanging on in space. The project, that is encouraged by real-life ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers, is still in its launch phase but it already looks like a promising stride in the right direction. And that direction is up, to the stars, from where the Earth looks like a little fragile ecosystem.

As astronomer Carl Sagan said describing the “Blue Pale Dot”, a photograph of Planet Earth taken by space probe Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”

It is up to us to (try to) stop climate change and find sustainable ways to grow and develop. And it’s up to us to solve these problems cooperating together, beyond outdated national borders. A project like Spacebuzz might definitely help.

This article was originally published on Forbes

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  • Twitter threats, abuse, murder: what women face defending the environment

    Obstacles

    Isabel Cristina Zuleta is a human rights activist in Antioquia, northern Colombia, where she works for the Ríos Vivos Movimiento de Afectados por Represas (movement of people affected by dams). According to the NGO Global Witness, 27 activists were murdered in this country in 2017 alone. 

    Since 2010, Zuleta has opposed the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric dam on the river Cauca, Colombia's second most important. Ríos Vivos is trying to raise awareness of problems the dam could cause – including environmental damage, forced evictions, and the impoverishment of local residents whose livelihoods rely on the river.

    Because of her activism, Zuleta has faced threats, harassment, attempted forced disappearances, criminal charges as well as sexual violence. In 2013, she said she was kidnapped by agents of the government’s so-called Mobile Anti-Disturbance squad who also photographed her “partes íntimas” (‘private parts’) while she was in detention.

    According to a 2018 report by the Fondo de Acción Urgente (Urgent Action Fund, or FAU) human rights network, when Zuleta reported this treatment to the Attorney General, she was told that it “was not the important thing”, and instead she was accused of promoting attacks against the company building the dam.

    In August, Zuleta told 50.50 that activists had received a myriad of recent threats, including: people approaching them to say they cannot protest, or threatening to kill them; people tailing them on the streets; and death threats via text messages, phone calls and Twitter. The next month, two family members of activists from her organisation were murdered.

    “I think that land and environmental defenders, we confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk”, Zuleta told 50.50 via a WhatsApp message voice recording. However, “without this land we don’t have any life possibilities”, she added. “We cannot negotiate our lives”.

    We confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk.

    In November, seven men were found guilty of murdering Berta Isabel Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous campaigner who'd long battled to block the construction of a dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lenca people.

    The supreme court ruled that Caceres’ murder was ordered by executives of the company Desarrollos Energeticos SA behind the Agua Zarca dam project because of delays and financial losses linked to protests led by the activist.

    Cáceres was 44 years old when she was shot dead in her home on 2 March 2016, after receiving death threats for years. Her murder shocked the world and brought greater international attention to the plight of human and environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

    According to Global Witness, at least 207 human, land and environmental rights activists were murdered around the world in 2017 – 60% in Latin America. This region is also home to the country with the most recorded deaths: Brazil, where 57 people were killed, 80% defending the Amazon rainforest.

    While most of these recorded murders were of men, the NGO noted that women activists also “faced gender-specific threats including sexual violence”.

    It said in a report: “They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility; sometimes from within their own communities, where macho cultures might prevent women from taking up positions of leadership”.

    They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility.

    The FAU network also monitors the situation of women defenders in the region and provides them with logistical and financial support. In 2018 they published another report that highlighted the ongoing challenge of impunity for perpetrators of violence.

    They also drew attention to the specific vulnerabilities and different types of violence that women activists face – including criminalisation, threats, harassment, attacks and femicides (gender-based killings of women and girls).

    One of the cases covered in their report was that of Lottie Cunningham, at the Centre of Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) civil society organisation.

    She works with more than 100 indigenous communities who've faced attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, crop burning and forced evictions. Denouncing these human rights violations has earned her repeated death threats.

    One of the messages she received said: “In our country trash exists like these people who dedicate their lives to diffusing trash… against the government… I’m sick of these trash [people] and if I have to defend my blessed Nicaragua against this trash then it will be an honour to do so”.

    Cunningham was also followed in the streets and told there were “rumours” she would be murdered.

    Another case covered by FAU's report was that of Macarena “La Negra” Valdés, in Chile. In August 2016, one of her children found her hanged from the beams of her own home. She had also received death threats for months before this.

    Valdés had campaigned against the construction of another hydroelectric power station by the Austrian-Chilean company Global Chile Energías Renovables, in Paso Tranguil, where she was a leader in her community, the Mapuche.

    Her former partner, Ruben Collío, told 50.50 that Valdés was murdered in "a clear attempt to delegitimise our fight and try to make us react with violence”. He said: “It is so hard to ignore this basic instinct and fight them with their laws”.

    Collío insisted she hadn't shown signs of depression, but authorities claimed her death was the result of suicide. He said her family requested a second autopsy – which showed that her body had been arranged to simulate this.

    He is still fighting for justiceTwo years after her death, state prosecutors have not acknowledged the second autopsy; Collío and the Mapuche community continue to search for evidence to prove she was murdered.

    At the regional level, the FAU is calling for the UN resolution 68/181, which was adopted by the general assembly in December 2013, and focuses on protecting women human rights defenders, to be enforced and respected.

    Cases of violence must be better documented, FAU says. It's calling for new observatories to focus on this – as well as more thorough, independent investigations into threats against women defenders of land and human rights.

    This article is republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Bérengère Sim, a freelance journalist based in Mexico. Read the original article here.

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  • Hema is working to produce a vegan rookworst

    Solutions

    Last Monday, we wrote an article asking Dutch retail chain Hema to consider introducing a plant-based alternative of their rookworst, the beloved smoked sausage that is a staple of traditional Dutch cuisine.

    Hema didn't shy away from our request and, on Twitter, a company's spokesperson replied that efforts to produce a vegan rookworst are indeed underway: 

    We can only be happy about Hema's decision to look into the feasibility of a vegan smoked sausage.

    However, as indicated, it might take a while before we'll be able to cheerfully sink our teeth into a vegan rookworst.

    Replicating its peculiar texture (in the words of a connoisseur, the fat that "splashes out" when you bite it)  and distinctive meaty flavor in a plant-based recipe doubtlessly represents a remarkable challenge. 

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  • Spacebuzz wants to send 100 million kids a year to space (sort of)

    Solutions

    Last December, I published on Forbes and subsequently on Kinder World an article on why — if we want to tackle today’s global challenges — we need to start thinking of planet Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders.

    Ruminating over these issues, I bumped into a freshly-launched Dutch organization called Spacebuzz that is working towards this goal.

    In particular, they want to help children aged 9-12 experience the so-called “overview effect”, a cognitive shift in awareness reported by many astronauts that make them experience our planet as a boundaryless “tiny, fragile ball of life."

    Since the logistics of shipping throngs of mini Buzz Lightyears to space might get a bit arduous, Spacebuzz figured out a nifty workaround.

    They created an experience that combines VR and AR technology to give children a first-hand (or first-eye...) taste of the overview effect.

    Sounds cool? Not cool enough for the Spacebuzz folks that decided to set up the VR/AR experience inside a real looking space rocket mounted on a truck and use it to tour schools across Europe.

    Now, this is cool.

    And since I like cool things, I reached out to Hidde Hoogcarspel, the founder of Spacebuzz foundation. I wanted to know more about the foundation’s work and where it’s headed. The answer? Far, really far.

    To infinity and beyond

    When we discussed Spacebuzz’s plans, Hidde pitched me his many ideas with a contagious, exuberant passion. The guy had a dream, that was doubtless.

    Together with Dutch investor Zoran Van Gessel, he raised a pretty penny to build the epitome of coolness — a slick space rocket on wheels — but that was not all. Actually, in the long term, the rocket is not even that important.

    “Our goal for the future is that people all around the world will be inspired by our mission and will ask us the VR video to replicate the Spacebuzz experience in their own country. The video is all you need to set it up,” Hidde told me.

    Spacebuzz’s moonshot is that, in a few years, 100 million children will get to experience the overview effect yearly.

    The hope is to raise a generation that — conceiving planet Earth as our shared home we need to look after together — will be cognitively better equipped to tackle global issues such as climate change.

    But Spacebuzz’s plans aren’t just a bunch of grand ideas high up in the sky. The project is minutely detailed and well thought-through too.

    “Children will embark on a journey that is composed of three phases: the pre-flight training, the mission, and a post-flight mission debrief,” adds Hidde, “during the post-flight mission debrief, for example, the kids will be asked to hold a ‘press conference’ to share some insights about their experience.”

    To guarantee that the experience will actually have a positive impact on the children’s education, Dr. Max Louwerse, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Tilburg, will supervise Spacebuzz missions’ results.

    Moreover, WeTransfer founder Bas Beerens and astronaut André Kuipers —  the second Dutch citizen to ever make it to space — are Spacebuzz ambassadors. Kuipers' voice will also guide the children during their missions.

    If Kuipers has been the second, physicist and astronaut Wubbo Ockels was the first Dutch citizen to ever travel to space, having participated in a flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.

    I'm not mentioning this information just to feed the curiosity of all the nerds of Dutch astronautics history out there, but because also Wubbo Ockels played a pivotal role in making Spacebuzz come together.

    Wubbo Ockels’ dream

    “His ideas profoundly influenced my world’s views,” Hidde told of Wubbo Ockels, “his dream is Spacebuzz’s dream."

    The Dutch astronaut and physicist spent his scientific career researching how to make our life on planet Earth more sustainable.

    For example, he developed a proof of concept for a 15-meter-long electric coach-like limo car capable of carrying 23 passengers at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour. The car is called “Superbus” and the assonance with “Spacebuzz” is no coincidence.

    Wubbo Ockels died of kidney cancer in 2014. Before he died, he delivered a moving speech in which he expressed his dream to transmit the knowledge he gained as an astronaut to all the people in the world.

     “Suppose that I can transfer the experience which I have to you,” he said, “then you would go out and see the Earth and you would see the blue sky. Not the blue sky that you see outside. In space, you see you’re the only one. You’re the only planet, you don’t have another one. And so you have to take care.”

    “I had the idea to create Spacebuzz before I heard Wubbo’s last speech,” Hidde confided me, “But when I finally listened to it, it was really a powerful confirmation: yes, this is our vision - I thought - this is the dream we want to pursue.”

    If you want to help Spacebuzz realize this dream, you can support them thanks to the widget below. A Kinder world is just a click away 👇🏻

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