The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity

The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity

ENVIRONMENT

The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity

Lyndsay Walsh

22 May 2020

 

“Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal

Pouring redemption for me, that I do

The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,

Grow with nature again as before I grew.”

 

From Patrick Kavanagh’s Canal Bank Walk

 

‘Green’ is a word synonymous with Ireland. From the promotional videos used by Fáilte Ireland down to the shamrock bowl presented to the White House every March 17th, Ireland prides itself on this association. Green is also a word associated with environmentally-friendly practices, but the ‘green’ that Ireland prides itself on is certainly not of the ecological variety. Firstly, Ireland ranks among the worst in Europe in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita and is consistently accused of being a ‘climate laggard’. Secondly, we have a poor record on the protection of natural landscape and the biological diversity within them; even as the world declared a Biodiversity Crisis we still fare comparatively poorly. With people realizing the importance of nature and green spaces during their confinement in lockdown, and it being the International Day for Biological Diversity, let’s see how Dublin city stacks up. 

 

Planning for Biodiversity

Dublin City has a biodiversity action plan which is the main tool used by Dublin City Council when considering biodiversity in the city. The language within the plan is non-committal and weak,  and many key objectives such as ‘ensure that all plans, programmes, strategies, works, and permissions within Dublin City, comply with biodiversity legislation’, are legal requirements regardless. The plan was criticized by environmental groups when it was released, saying it would not be enough to prevent biodiversity loss and that it lacked ambition in its scope. This is a general trend for such biodiversity plans, where little resources and ambition are put into considering how biodiversity can exist in urban environments. It is estimated that 90% of Ireland’s protected habitats are in bad condition, yet Dublin’s action plans are aimed at maintaining current levels of biodiversity and habitat conditions, rather than improving them.

 

“There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife”

 

Dublin city appears to tick the box on green spaces, with Phoenix park being the largest capital park in Europe, but green spaces do not equate with biodiversity. Monoculture parks of mown grass host very low biodiversity, and lack of education and awareness play a part in this. This lack of ecological awareness is both top-down and bottom-up. One element of the Irish Climate Action Plan is to plant 8,000 hectares of new forestry annually, most of which will be outside of Dublin. However, 70% of this will be coniferous trees which do not host as much biodiversity as native broadleaf forest – yet such plantations are more commercially profitable.

 

Citizens taking the lead 

 

There is a wealth of wonderful initiatives led by citizens to promote biodiversity in Dublin, including (but certainly not limited) to the All Ireland pollinator plan, Crann, Birdwatch Ireland, and the herpetological society. The National Biodiversity Data Centre also has a plethora of workshops and information on recording and encouraging biodiversity. The amount of grassroots initiatives for biodiversity conservation in Dublin shows that the public will is there, the government just needs to harness this and foster it. Education is also an important component as people may be willing to, for example, plant wildflowers but they may plant invasive species and end up doing more harm than good.

The biodiversity action plan helps Dublin maintain its biodiversity – but there is not much of that in the first place. The number of resources that it would take to make Dublin more biodiverse may be better spent in targeting areas which have small human populations. There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife. In the meantime, initiatives to preserve what is already in Dublin, such as the UNESCO biosphere reserve North Bull Island, should continue and be encouraged by the government. Preserving these habitats is important not only for the intrinsic value of biodiversity but also in preventing further Zoonotic disease outbreaks and supporting overall ecosystem functionality. So, celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity by going for a walk or cracking the window and listening to the birdsong. Then begin plotting how to make one of the next Irish government’s priority improving biodiversity, to make Ireland truly ‘green’.

 

 

Featured photo by Freddie Ramm

 

 

From post-apocalyptic scenery to post-Covid era: How will we travel tomorrow?

From post-apocalyptic scenery to post-Covid era: How will we travel tomorrow?

BUSINESS & POLITICS

From Post-Apocalyptic Scenery to Post-Covid Era: How Will We Travel Tomorrow?

Rachel Husson

21 May 2020

Welcome to STAND’s series: “A closer look at tourism”! In the first article we looked into the way tourism is consumed around the world and introduced you to some disastrous consequences of mass tourism. In the second piece, we tried to answer frequently asked questions related to unethical tourism and how the latter can be dealt with. In this last contribution, we’ll observe the world as we pressed pause during the lockdown, and will try to offer alternatives for a better future of tourism.

 

What’s happening now?

While mainly responsible for spreading the pandemic, the aviation sector had it backwards. Almost all leisure planes are rooted to the spot. Many other ways to get around are no longer operational. In addition, most countries have imposed more or less restrictive lockdowns. So, this is definitely not the time to travel, either internationally, or nationally.

 

We see videos and pictures of famous and usually crowded places now deserted. It’s the new curiosity. What does the world outside my condo look like on lockdown? I don’t know about you, but I feel like I never wanted more to enjoy the beauties of the world now that I would get to enjoy those alone. Is this a symptom of the way we travel? We generated mass tourism, yet we despise it. Can we have it both ways? This is something for us to meditate while in quarantine.

 

How to adapt tourism and prevent site deteriorations in the future?

Here are different solutions to mass tourism we witness so far:

 

The most radical one is to close the sites endangered by tourism. Thailand’s Maya Beach is a concrete example. In 2000, the film “The Beach” starring Leonardo Di Caprio unfolded on Maya Beach, in the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi Le. The scenery is truly majestic and makes everyone dream. A victim of its own success, the 200-meter-long beach saw about 5k tourists every day, coming by speedboats.

 

In 2018, the decision to close the site was unavoidable to preserve the seabed. It sent a strong statement and raised awareness about the consequences of mass tourism. The tourists themselves often agreed with the decision, reckoning that it’s probably the only way for their (potential) grandchildren to enjoy the site in later years. The locals on the other hand were torn about the decision. Up to 16% of the Thai population earn their livings from tourism. But they don’t want that kind of tourism anymore. They aspire to sustainable tourism: finding the right balance between maximizing profits and minimizing impact on the environment.

 

Yet, the closing solution is only partly satisfying. First, tourists kept coming even though they were stopped 300 meters away from the beach and couldn’t take a swim anymore. Then, it led loads of tourists to neighbouring beaches. Eventually, it didn’t solve the issue, just moved the problem. Indeed, it seems impossible to close all the endangered sites (except during the pandemic, you got me!).

 

Implementing quotas is another solution, often favoured by the public. Access to France’s Mont-Blanc is limited to 214 mountaineers per day; The Waves in Arizona can be witnessed by 20 lucky tourists a day, picked by a lottery; Dubrovnik’s Mayor authorises only 4k cruise-tourists to visit the medieval Croatian city each day (trying to avoid ending up like Venice in Italy); etc.

 

In Thailand, they concurrently hold quotas and sustainable training in the Similan islands – the first in the country. Before leaving the mainland, tourists are encouraged to be mindful about the precious ecosystem on the islands and told which rules to follow, including not taking back any rock or coral as a souvenir. While on the idyllic islands, visitors are constantly monitored by the guides and by rangers, who can fine any reluctant tourist. It’s been two years that the limit of 3850 tourists a day has been in place. The guides say they’ve seen a difference and are convinced it’s a great decision. But, from outsiders’ eyes, the quota seems still very high, as the beaches are still packed.

 

“In Costa Rica, responsible trips with the discovery of local traditions, close to the inhabitants and their true way of life, are widely organised and promoted.”

Some countries bet on lux tourism to limit mass tourism. In Bhutan, you can only reach some areas if you concede to pay a 250$ tax per person per day. This allows the locals to benefit greatly from tourism economics while limiting the number of visitors to set foot in their region. But let’s be honest, it deepens the already huge social disparities in travelling. 

 

Some Governments decided to tackle the consequences of tourism head on. Palau’s authorities were the first to change the national laws in regards to environmental protection. You won’t enter the Palau island, unless you’ve signed on your passport a pledge to respect the island environment drafted with the help of children from all over the island. “I take this pledge as your guest to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. […] The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”

 

Finally, eco-tourism can be an alternative. In Costa Rica, responsible trips with the discovery of local traditions, close to the inhabitants and their true way of life, are widely organised and promoted. UNESCO emphasizes that the control of large numbers of visitors can be dealt with by organising circuits to spread the flood of tourists on the sites. But the organisation reckons that it’s an art that has to be learnt, it’s a peculiar way to cope with mass tourism. On the other hand, tourists must agree to get off the beaten track and enjoy the variety of things to see beside the mainstream attractions.

 

Beyond this non-exhaustive list of answers to mass tourism, of course what really needs to change is the way travelling is conceived. Being on holiday doesn’t give you the right to forget any good manners. It doesn’t make you a lord or a lady, above the laws, with people working for you. And foremost, travelling is not about showing off! Enjoy being away from home to learn a new way of life, a new culture and respect it. Always keep a critical mind when you’re suggested activities on the ground. What seems ethical at first sight, may not always be. Also, never underestimate the power of social media. Raise awareness of mass tourism consequences, share your experiences in making your trips ethical, and unfollow Instagramers that are not willing to change their way of travelling. In the end, never forget the power YOU have to set the right example and make things change. 

 

 

Featured photo by Ibrahim Rifath

 

 

Why the UK’s Contact-Tracing App is not the Solution

Why the UK’s Contact-Tracing App is not the Solution

OPINION

Why the UK’s Contact-Tracing App is not the Solution

Olivia Moore

21 May 2020

On the 4th May, the British government announced its plans to develop a contact-tracing app which would enable digital contract-tracing on a larger scale, in order to ease restrictions while at the same time maintaining public safety. The app is currently first being tested on the Isle of Wight, which has a population of 141,000 and will subsequently be launched to the rest of the UK in June. 

 

The app works specifically to let people know if they have been in close contact with an individual who subsequently reports positive for Covid-19. Whenever two users come in close contact, Bluetooth signals from each device perform a digital “handshake”, while keeping the data anonymous. This is then used to track down people to alert them of the need to quarantine, far more rapidly than the traditional methods. This is reliant on users to voluntarily “opt-in” to record details of any symptoms when they start to feel unwell. So if that person actually tests positive for Covid-19, a message will be pinged to people found to have been in close contact with them in the last 28 days (based on their anonymous IDs) and recommend them to self-isolate. If they take a test proving negative, then they may be released from this self-isolation on the app. Any data will not be stored for longer than 28 days and will be wiped when the pandemic is over, and the use of the app is finished. 

 

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has suggested that “test and trace” strategies could slash rates of transmission by 50-65%. However, it is widely opinionated that such an app in the UK will likely raise more problems than it will solve. 

 

For one, although China adopted a location-health status tracking app earlier in their suffering of the pandemic, there is a lack of reliable data pertaining to its usage and it is difficult to determine any app’s effectiveness in limiting the transmission of Covid-19. 

 

Furthermore, it is not easy to capture sufficient participation on an app to make a significant impact on contact tracing outside of an authoritarian state like China. The UK is aiming for 50% usage for the population to at least use such an app. Still, in countries like Singapore, where a contact-tracing app is already available, and voluntary, only 12% of the population use it. Under such circumstances, this means that the statistical likelihood of two people who have the app massing by each other is only 1.44%.

 

“Many are concerned that, upon emerging from the current crisis, a tool will have been created that enables widespread data collection on the population”

Of course, Google and Apple have claimed that the government could just automatically install the software on everyone’s phones. However, a dispute has arisen that pitted the UK government against these companies, which are pedalling a competing outline and design for contact-tracing. In fact, the UK is one of the few countries that have decided to create an app that is actually incompatible with the contact-tracing API that is currently in development by Google and Apple. Instead of decentralising any data and information across devices like Apple and Google intend to do, the UK will pool its information in a single database operated by the NHS. The UK government argues that this will provide a greater insight into the transmission of Covid-19 and warn of the most at-risk users. 

 

Many academics, security researchers and privacy groups working to restrict government data collection argue that this will cause new issues in the area of state surveillance – the UK government has previously suggested that other organisations will be allowed to use the data and information that has been collected for future public health research. This is something that Apple and Google forbid; and another reason the UK has had to build its own app without the help and guidance of such companies. Many are concerned that, upon emerging from the current crisis, a tool will have been created that enables widespread data collection on the population, or on targeted sections of the population, for surveillance. 

 

Some experts have raised concerns that patient confidentiality is being compromised through the handling of extremely sensitive data, like location data, on a very large scale. Researchers have already identified problems with the app, particularly with storing unencrypted data on handsets and weaknesses in the registration process that could allow attackers to steal encryption keys . Matt Hancock, British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has claimed that the data would only be held for as long as required, according to the highest security and ethical standards, and any user-to-user information will be anonymous. However, an early draft-memo from the UK government has indicated that such an app will potentially be able to de-anonymise the data to enable the government departments to identify individuals and their smartphones. Does this mean that the data was never anonymous in the first place? Surely this creates a significant risk of compromising a vast amount of private data. The dangers of storing both the location and health status, of what could potentially be every person in the country are huge. 

 

In fact, critics also claim that the British app will not work effectively unless it uses code provided by Apple and Google. An Australian app with a similar design was criticised for its technical problems; Germany recently switched to support the Apple-Google requirements, as also used by Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Many experts agree that there is no way to build a contact-tracing app without the help of Apple and Google who are moving extremely fast and are capable of providing a unified system that works across borders, that is already in use by a lot of countries. 

 

A further branch of the problem is the viability of the app’s usage. Both Google and Apple input restrictions on how apps can use Bluetooth in both iOS and Android by blocking devices from pinging on another, even in close quarters, if the phone is locked or the app is closed. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of any contact-tracing app. Although Google and Apple can rewrite such rules for their own contact-tracing app, because they control the operating systems, it means that it is far harder for individual countries like the UK to overcome such problems themselves. The UK government has implied that it has resolved such issues, claiming that it is possible for such an app to work in urban environments that have a mix of old and new iOS devices in constant use, but this still remains a long way from the reliable mechanism that is so necessary to trace the spread of a deadly disease.

 

“A prerequisite of a successful app must be free, or at least affordable, Covid-19 testing that is widely available to the entire population on a large-scale”

In addition, Bluetooth contact-tracing is not consistent with the possible infectivity range, which is not limited to two metres and cannot pass through physical barriers like walls and ceilings, unlike Bluetooth connection. Thus it will likely miss most of the potential infection vectors as well as provide considerable false positives.

 

South Korea has taught us that, to be most effective, contact-tracing relies on widely available testing, so a prerequisite of a successful app must be free, or at least affordable, Covid-19 testing that is widely available to the entire population on a large-scale. It is crucial that such testing be available prior to the use of a contact-tracing app – otherwise, it is merely unchecked surveillance that cannot provide sufficient or valid information to users or public health services. Even the initial target for tests-per-day in the UK – 100,000 – falls far below the required testing capacity for an effective contact-tracing app. 

 

And what happens if people refuse to self-isolate upon receiving an alert? Of course, Britain is not likely to force people to quarantine against their will. But perhaps a live nurse who has manually contact-traced a transmission is more persuasive than a text message?

 

In such a vein, it can be agreed that public health services are already very good at contact-tracing using the traditional, conventional, manual methods due to the great deal of experience in tracing the spread of other infectious diseases. Surely the support and resources should be directed towards these already existing and effective practices?

 

A tracking app will, in the best-case scenario, have limited efficiency and in the worst-case scenario, give people a false sense of security leading to another wave of infections. If it is not properly managed it will create the danger of more abuses and greater vulnerability than before: I am unsure whether experimenting with such untested technology and wide power afforded to the government is a good idea during a crisis. As Carly Kind, director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, stated, “A bad app is definitely worse than no app”.

 

 

Featured photo by Daria Nepriakhina

 

 

A Closer Look at Tourism: Frequently Asked Questions

A Closer Look at Tourism: Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to STAND’s series: “A closer look at tourism”! If you’ve missed the first article looking into the way tourism is consumed around the world and introducing you to some disastrous consequences of mass tourism, you’ll find it here. In this piece, we’ll try to answer frequently asked questions related to unethical tourism and how the latter can be dealt with. In the next contribution, we’ll observe the world as we pressed pause during the lockdown, and will try to offer alternatives for a better future of tourism.

 

Does social media have an educational role to play? 

Contributing to the problem, social media should take some responsibilities. I don’t know about an educational role per se, but it should definitely promote and raise awareness on what “a good Instagram” picture truly costs. 

Beyond the platforms themselves, we, as followers, have to take responsibility, social-media wise as well, and be more demanding. Social media only have the power we let them have. A good start would be to only follow Instagramers that claim to travel ethically, and actually do so. Then, we might also want to look a little deeper than a few pretty pictures – posted by people whose job is to make you dream – before choosing a travel destination. Read articles, look up the history of the place you lust after, steeped into the culture, and try to understand the rudiments of it. Remember that monuments are more than just a pretty background. 

 

Being listed as UNESCO World Heritage, blessing or curse?

The goal of the World Heritage label is to protect incredible natural and cultural sites around the world, even though it neither directly leads to funding for the protection, nor provides actual physical protection. 

Once listed, monuments are put in the spotlight and receive a lot of new attention. Being listed brings more tourists, which therefore brings more money. The local population that directly benefits from tourism, lives better than before. Indeed, the UNESCO label creates employment, but in an unequal way. The label means that “Westerners”, mainly represented in the preservation domain, bring with them the “business mentality” which might be in real contrast with lifestyles in some parts of the world, and therefore create a change in the local cultures. 

Also, the economic rise deepens social class disparities. The neighbourhoods close to the preserved sites are often the target of huge investments to transform the area, making it more “tourist friendly”. This leads to brutal evictions, often among the poorer classes, and allows the rich (foreigners) to inhabit the brand-new districts. Once again, power disparities are strengthened by economic growth.

Moreover, the label means new constraints. When a site is listed, an agreement is closed. Guidelines imposed by the Heritage Organisation have to be closely followed. They are strict, especially regarding the obligation to conserve the monument the way it used to be; “identically as before”. However, often the locals do not wish to live in the past, to live in outdated times. Worse, in some scenarios, traditions and customs have been exploited by the tourism industry in listed areas. In some parts of the world, there is a deep duality between heritage preservation experts and local actors’ practices.

 

The label is meant to protect, yet it leads to mass tourism. And UNESCO is well aware of the problem. For the last five years, it has revitalized the conversation within the Organisation. So much so that now, a tourist management plan is an important and strict requirement to be listed as World Heritage. If the plan is not good enough, not developed enough, there is no chance you’ll get listed.

 

Why are Chinese tourists portrayed as the evil incarnation of mass tourism?

When you think of mass tourism, you see Chinese tourist groups walking down the street as a pack. That’s one widely spread stereotype. Chinese tourists are often represented as being disrespectful, unmanageable, with a bad attitude, and much too numerous. All these critiques are baseless to them, and they have a hard time understanding them. They find the generality especially hard to swallow. 

Often, they respond that it’s the result of a cultural shock. The Chinese culture values the bond between people highly. Community is a real feeling for them. They have indeed a “collective culture”. They were taught to live together, in what we would call “a pack”. Most of them aspire to connect with locals when visiting, but they’re often very shy. They will let anyone in, but will have a hard time taking the first step to talk to you. As is often the case, stereotypes and prejudices are based on a lack of different cultural knowledge and interest. 

 

How to travel differently? 

As I’ll address various responses to mass tourism in the next article of this series, I want to answer this question here by proving that you don’t necessarily need to get away to travel. Especially as we’re all stuck at home right now, and we wish we could travel. But travelling is not always an option anyway, even when we’re free to move. So here are a few tips to fool your head and heart into thinking that you’re away! 

  • Look up (new) ethical vlog travelers, travel podcasts, Instagram accounts, and follow their previous adventures! Some might even tell you how they reinvented their concept of traveling. 
  • Enjoy expats’ testimonies from all around the world. They can contrast your culture to the one they’ve learnt to live in. Comparing cultures, without judging, is always a great way to learn more about our own!
  • Explore new ways of travelling. Get inspired and set new rules for your next trip to respect ethical and eco-tourism. Thinking of those guidelines ahead of time will increase your chance to stick to them while on vacation.
  • Take the time to list what you would love to visit in your own country! We always tend to go far far away on holiday, when wonders wait for us so close. In addition, look at the bright side: your journey will be cheaper, and definitely more eco-friendly.
  • Immerge yourself in global fiction novels or movies narrating a journey. Here are a few book suggestions: “And the Mountains Echoed” written by Khaled Hosseini and set in Afghanistan; “The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor” by Sally Armstrong and taken place in New Brunswick; “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly and set in Myanmar; “Il Bel Centro” written by Michelle Damiani and taken place in Umbria, Italy. 

 

Here are some movies ideas: Michael McGowan’s “One Week” about a road trip in Canada; the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” trilogy filmed over two decades; the two “Mamma Mia” musicals starring a collection of incredible actors; Sidney Pollack’s “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redfort; “The Bucket List” with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

  • Dupe your taste buds and try cooking recipes from around the world! Food is such a huge part of the fun of travelling. Get inspired here!

 

 

 

 Keep calm. Stay home. And wait for the last piece of the series coming soon!

 

 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity

With people realizing the importance of nature and green spaces during their confinement in lockdown, and it being the International Day for Biological Diversity, let’s see how Dublin city stacks up.

From post-apocalyptic scenery to post-Covid era: How will we travel tomorrow?

In this last contribution of the series “A closer look at tourism”, we’ll observe the world as we pressed pause during the lockdown, and will try to offer alternatives for a better future of tourism.

Why the UK’s Contact-Tracing App is not the Solution

Many are concerned that, upon emerging from the current crisis, a tool will have been created that enables widespread data collection on the population, or on targeted sections of the population, for surveillance. Concerns are further fed by security threats recently discovered with the UK’s beta app.

A Closer Look at Tourism: Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to STAND’s new series: “A closer look at tourism”! We answer frequently asked questions related to unethical tourism and how the this can be dealt with.

Five Stages to Freedom and the New Zealand Confusion

On Friday May 1st Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a five stage plan for reopening Ireland after the coronavirus lockdown. This plan will go into effect on May 18th and will continuingly unlock restrictions at three week intervals if Covid-19 numbers continue to be stagnant or lessen. If Covid-19 numbers increase then Ireland may go back into lockdown as a result. The biggest take away from this is that most people are not going to have a bit of craic until stage 4 or 5.

Corporations, Human Rights and Accountability

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An interview with Friends of the Earth “We need to showcase the behaviours we want to see”

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STAND News Explains: Cahersiveen Controversy

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Betty Nyagoha from Nairobi, Kenya talks about the Gatoto school and COVID-19

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A Biodiversity Crisis in Ireland

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Sarah Benson of Women’s Aid Ireland Talks Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Sarah Benson of Women’s Aid discusses the particular vulnerabilities many people are currently facing in Covid-19 lockdown in relation to domestic violence and what supports are available.

Documenting the Lesbos Human Experience with Fellipe Lopes

On the Greek island of Lesbos is the Moria refugee camp, constructed for 3,100 people but now with a population of more than 20,000 men, women and children.

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STAND News talks to IWA about their work during COVID-19

STAND News talked to Joan from the Irish Wheelchair Association about how they're aiding the disabled community during COVID-19.See how you can help out here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsoJTx-r1n0
What Does Bernie Sander’s Exit Mean For An Imperative Green New Deal?

What Does Bernie Sander’s Exit Mean For An Imperative Green New Deal?

“Let us go forward together. The struggle continues.” This memorable tweet has since garnered close to one million likes and 122,000 retweets since Bernie Sanders typed the words on April 8, 2020; ending his campaign but not the movement. 

 

The disappointment felt around the world at the news of the Vermont Senator’s exit from the US Presidential race was bigger than him. It was even bigger than the movement which had overcome barrier after barrier, just to fall at the unfair final hurdle. It was grief for the planet and those in the Global South who will suffer from the repercussions of the second term of Trump, and arguably the first term of Biden. 

 

With the coronavirus pandemic shaking the world, we cannot go back to normal, and Bernie’s push for universal basic income and healthcare for all is now more than ever far from “radical”. The threat that countries are using the pandemic to roll back environmental protections is also causing unease. For example, Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia recently banned anti-fossil fuel protests, which was barely noticed in the US media as a result of Trump’s gross mishandling of the virus response – which is still leading to mass death. We are heading towards the worst recession since the Great Depression, but recovery programmes cannot return to high emissions.

 

One of the reasons why Sanders and his message resonated with young people was his climate policies – not just empty lip service like that of Biden, who has been close to fossil fuel lobby groups and major corporate interests for his entire career. The candidate, who is set to go head-to-head with the current President, once told the Sunrise Movement to “vote for someone else” after they asked him to ban fracking. 

 

Sanders has been a leader of climate policy, unveiling a Green New Deal plan in August of 2019 that supporters referred to as a “game-changer.” Co-sponsored by Senator Ed Markey and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who has been supporting Sanders since his heart attack last year – the bill was ground-breaking in its promise of millions of green jobs, justice for those who have been exploited and clean energy, paid for by the culprits of the earth’s deplorable carbon emissions. 

 

The democratic socialist earned the endorsement of major climate justice groups, including Greenpeace and the Sunrise Movement, which expressed its heartbreak at Sanders’ loss: “We’re not going to sugarcoat it: Our hearts are heavy,” Aracely Jimenez, a spokeswoman for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said in a statement

 

“The ball’s now in Joe Biden’s court. To avoid a repeat of 2016, he needs to show young people that he’s going to stand up for them by embracing policies like an ambitious Green New Deal that led young voters to Bernie.” Jimenez added that gathering the young generation to defeat Trump would be significantly harder unless Biden takes on progressive policies. Obama’s own Biden endorsement video encouraged a pivot leftwards, with the former President even stating that he would run on a more progressive platform if he were seeking the nomination in 2020.

 

Biden has called the Green New Deal “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” yet, there is an undeniable air of mistrust surrounding him, especially with those under 35. While socialist policies are now in the public conversation since Covid-19 hit, Biden remains sceptical of adding a national Medicare-for-all system into the climate package. Sanders was the hero of “healthcare is a human right”. What is Biden a hero of? He has yet to make a convincing case that he genuinely believes in any significant policy at all.

 

“Sanders was certainly more ambitious in many of his public discussions on climate policy than Biden I would say. But, perhaps only marginally so,” said Dr Constantine Boussalis, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Trinity College Dublin.

 

Biden is certainly promising to bring the US back to, and actually beyond, the Obama-era policy positions. He has set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, which is consistent with emission pathways that limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era.  

 

“He has promised to push for a large investment in clean energy and has said that the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement in force,” Dr Boussalis added. “For sure, there is room for improvement with his climate plan, but in the context of the election, the main point is that Biden is miles beyond Trump on environmental policy.”

 

Is the fact that Biden is “beyond Trump” good enough for the planet’s survival? The Sunrise Movement, 350.org and Greenpeace all gave mediocre grades to Biden’s climate plan, which foresees a slower transition from fossil fuels. Biden has said he would approve no new fracking permits on federal land or waters, but existing permits should be evaluated on a case by case basis. This directly contrasts with Sanders’ pledge to “keep fossil fuels in the ground”. 

 

Following coronavirus, the Cop26 talks on climate will be a chance to completely transform the global economy into a sustainable one. Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris accord takes legal effect on November 4, but if a Democrat wins the Presidential election, it could change the course of the world’s most powerful economy and second biggest emitter. The US could establish vital climate leadership if the political will is there – which it currently isn’t. Moderate politicians like Biden often enact moderate results, but Sanders and the progressive movement may shift Biden’s agenda leftwards enough for the climate to have a glimpse at hope.

 

 

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

 

 

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