2019
May
21
Tuesday

Here’s an item from ABC News: “A Nepalese mountain guide reached the peak of Mount Everest for the 24th time, breaking his own world record for most summits – that he set less than one week earlier.”

And here’s a confession: I’ve never understood mountain climbers. If I had to work that hard to travel, I’d head for someplace warm rather than cold. And with restaurants that serve something other than dehydrated food that’s spent a week jostling in a backpack next to climbing socks.

Yet here I am, reading in awe. Yes, he really did climb Everest twice in the same week.

Kami Rita says he was doing his job. “I did not climb for world records, I was just working. I did not even know you could set records,” he told the Hindustan Times.

OK, it’s a job – an especially dangerous one. What about the people who do this for, well, fun?

Enter Alison Levine, a 5-foot-4-inch mountaineer who was team captain of the first U.S. women’s Everest expedition and has completed the Explorers Grand Slam, which means climbing the highest peak on each continent and skiing to both the North and South Poles. That’s a feat fewer than 100 people have accomplished. In her book, “On the Edge,” she writes:

“Never let failure discourage you. Every time you get to the base of a mountain (literal or metaphorical), you’re presented with a new opportunity to challenge yourself, to push your limits beyond what you thought possible.”

And now to our five stories of the day, which include a look at the fits and starts toward a new nuclear treaty, addressing global warming one tree at a time, and summer movies for people who don’t like summer movies.

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1. The drumbeat to impeach is growing. Can Nancy Pelosi stop it?

Punishing a political opponent’s acts might seem tempting, even just. But in the past, Americans have not rewarded retribution at the ballot box.

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From the start, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls to impeach President Donald Trump.

She’s called the move divisive. She refused to budge even as rumblings grew among House Democrats that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report had enough to start impeachment proceedings on obstruction of justice grounds. On Monday night, Ms. Pelosi told Democratic leaders that impeachment would take away from the party’s legislative agenda and undercut ongoing investigations into the president by other congressional committees.

But the pressure is mounting, and it’s unclear how long Ms. Pelosi can hold the line.

An April CNN poll found that 69% of Democratic voters want Congress to take that step (though only 37% of Americans overall agree). Billionaire Tom Steyer this month launched a $1 million ad campaign accusing Democrats of doing nothing while the president got away with obstruction and corruption. Even Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan said over the weekend that the president should be impeached for obstruction of justice.

At the meetings, some Democratic leaders pressed Ms. Pelosi on the issue, arguing that impeachment would give them access to documents and information that the Trump administration has so far refused to provide.

“The initial aim was to investigate and then see what we have. The problem is we can’t get any information,” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings tells reporters.

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The drumbeat to impeach is growing. Can Nancy Pelosi stop it?

From the start, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls to impeach President Donald Trump.

She’s called the move divisive. She refused to budge even as rumblings grew among House Democrats that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report had enough to start impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump on obstruction of justice grounds. On Monday night, Ms. Pelosi told Democratic leaders that impeachment would take away from the party’s legislative agenda and undercut ongoing investigations into the president by other congressional committees.

But the pressure is mounting, as the Trump administration continues blocking Democrats’ every effort at investigation. It’s unclear how long Ms. Pelosi can hold the line.

“The more they stonewall, the more powerless people feel, and the more they want to take this immediate action,” says Krystal Ball, a political commentator and host on The Hill’s digital news channel. “The pressure comes from that sense of powerlessness and disgust.”

An April CNN poll found that 69% of Democratic voters want Congress to move forward with impeachment. Billionaire Tom Steyer this month launched a $1 million ad campaign accusing Democrats of doing nothing while the president got away with obstruction and corruption. Even Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said over the weekend that the president should be impeached for obstruction of justice.

All the while, Mr. Trump has stayed on war footing with congressional Democrats, almost daring them to go ahead. “If it’s an impeachment proceeding, then somebody should call it that,” Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, told The New York Times this month. “If you don’t call their bluff now, they’ll just keep slithering around for four, five, six months.”

At the Monday meetings, some Democratic leaders pressed Ms. Pelosi on the issue, arguing that impeachment proceedings would give them access to the documents that the administration has refused to provide. The situation intensified Tuesday after former White House counsel Don McGahn failed to obey a Judiciary Committee summons. Even members less explicitly in favor of taking that step say the White House is pushing them toward doing so.

“The initial aim was to investigate and then see what we have. The problem is we can’t get any information,” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee, tells reporters. “The caucus is slowly moving toward saying, ‘Well, what do we do?’ Because he’s not leaving us with any choices.”

This group of lawmakers – reluctant to move toward impeachment but also increasingly willing to take that step – could be the tipping point for Ms. Pelosi, says Kris Miller, who teaches American government and legislative politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before this week, the loudest calls for impeaching the president had come mostly from progressive members in solidly blue districts, she says. Now, some combination of institutional duty and being boxed in by the administration’s stonewalling has caused a rise in this third camp.

“Their numbers are not huge, but they’re growing quickly,” Professor Miller says. “I think that changes a lot for the caucus overall.”

Still, Ms. Pelosi isn’t entirely out of options – yet. Democrats have managed to put the Trump administration on the defensive in one court case: On Monday, a federal district court judge ruled that the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to the House Oversight Committee. Judge Amit Mehta rejected the Trump legal team’s argument that the committee had no authority to investigate the president.

There’s also a view that if Ms. Pelosi could hold her caucus together until a little closer to the 2020 primaries – if the burst of voices calling for impeachment dies down in the next day or two – she might be able to more successfully make the case that the best way to defeat Mr. Trump is through the ballot box.

And while some Democratic presidential candidates have voiced support for impeachment, “It’s not absolutely in their interest to have all this going on while they’re trying to introduce themselves to the public,” says John Fortier, of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The argument that impeachment may not be good for [the Democratic Party] politically is a strong one.”

One big wild card could be the special counsel’s testimony, if it takes place. A public hearing relatively soon might be enough to defuse the pressure on Democrats to take drastic action, Professor Miller says.

For now, every option seems to be on the table. “Everybody in the Democratic caucus – including Pelosi – wants to hold the administration to account,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal told a group of reporters Tuesday.

“The question is … how do we best do that?” says Representative Jayapal, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus and called for impeachment over the weekend. “And that is an ongoing discussion.”

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2. How US abortion wars translated into battle over 4 words at UN

What happens when the U.S. fight over abortion rights spills onto the international stage? The impact could go beyond abortion to protecting the victims of sexual violence in warfare.

Rodi Said/Reuters/File
A Yazidi woman who fled the Islamic State sits with a child at a refugee camp in northeastern Syria in 2014. Many Yazidi women captured by ISIS were forced into sexual slavery. Debating a U.N. resolution in April on sexual violence in warfare, the French ambassador said it is 'incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.'

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For the first time, the Trump administration has scored a victory in imposing the language of its staunch anti-abortion position in the international arena. In a Security Council debate over a resolution on sexual violence in conflict, the U.S. ­succeeded in having the words “sexual and reproductive health” stripped from a United Nations text.

Removing the phrase, code for abortion among conservative groups, set off a caustic debate, revealing deep global fissures over women’s rights. Was it an attack on women’s health and rights, or the welcome elevation of the sanctity of unborn life on the global stage?

For Arthur Erken of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the wording dispute is “unfortunate.” On the whole, the international community agrees that sexual violence in conflict must be stopped, and victims receive care. Finding a silver lining, Mr. Erken says the Trump administration has continued the U.S. priority of saving women’s lives and empowering girls, and notes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the UNFPA’s executive director. “He actually said there is more that unites us than divides us,” Mr. Erken says, “and we feel that is something we can work with.”

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How US abortion wars translated into battle over 4 words at UN

For some, it’s an attack on women’s health and rights. For others, it’s a welcome and long-overdue elevation of the sanctity of unborn life on the global stage.

After a couple of years of trying, the Trump administration appears to be making headway in its efforts to take its conservative views on reproductive health policies, including a war on abortion, to the United Nations.

But for many of the United States’ closest allies, from Britain to France and Germany, the initiative signals an alarming shift away from Western values they have long promoted together, including women’s rights and gender equality. Instead, they see their traditional friend and leader moving toward the camp of socially conservative countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others that have not been at the forefront of promoting women’s issues at the U.N.

Starting early in the Trump presidency, the administration took a series of actions to strip reproductive health allocations from U.S. foreign assistance. Now the Trump administration has scored a victory in imposing the language of its staunch anti-abortion position in the international arena.

In the U.N. Security Council debate late last month over a German-sponsored resolution on sexual violence in conflict, the U.S. succeeded for the first time in having the words “sexual and reproductive health” stripped from a U.N. text. The U.S. threatened to use its veto if the offending phrase was not removed, and ultimately it was.

To many, the phrase might seem to offer little to fuss about, but removing it set off a caustic debate, revealing the deep fissures that continue to mark the international community over the issue of women’s rights.

For human rights advocates, removal of the words “sexual and reproductive health” from a U.N. resolution represents a worrisome setback for women’s equality globally, because the words had over the past quarter century become the standard phrasing used to confirm women’s rights, in particular access to prenatal care and other features of reproductive health, and to promote women’s empowerment.

Making matters worse, these advocates say, is that it is now the U.S. that has “switched camps” and is bringing the setbacks that American women’s reproductive health is facing domestically to the international stage. The wave of restrictive abortion legislation moving through a growing number of U.S. states and fomenting bitter debates on women’s rights is seen moving to the international arena.

Seth Wenig/AP
Members of the U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution concerning sexual violence in warfare, at the United Nations headquarters, on April 23.

“It’s not news to anyone how important this issue is to Trump’s base, but the U.S. bringing its culture wars to the Security Council is completely inappropriate when the protection of civilian victims of sexual violence – women and children – is what’s at stake,” says Anne Marie Goetz, a clinical professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and an expert in women’s empowerment in peace-building.

But to the community of socially conservative organizations and anti-abortion advocates, particularly in the U.S., the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” had become code for abortion. Worse still, its recurring use suggested to these groups a normalization of abortion and its spread into international policy.

Foreign policy opportunity

For those organizations, the arrival in Washington of a socially conservative administration – both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are evangelical Christians who have said their faith directs them in everything they do – represented an opportunity to reverse the absence of anti-abortion convictions in U.S. foreign policy.

“We’re seeing this administration elevate the pro-life cause in foreign policy like never before, and we’re very grateful for the U.S. position on this [sexual violence] resolution, because it tells us things are changing,” says Stefano Gennarini, vice president for the Center for Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights, or C-Fam, in New York.

Mr. Gennarini calls accusations that the U.S. is infecting the consensus-driven policymaking at the U.N. with its own cultural battles “ridiculous” – but at the same time he insists it would be wrong to conclude that the arrival of a socially conservative administration in Washington means the global fight for “conservative family values” is won.

“Keep in mind that while it’s clear the pro-life cause is moving to the forefront of a conservative U.S. foreign policy,” he says, “it’s also true that the [abortion rights] side is more assertive also and is not about to back down.”

The U.S. position infuriated allies who have relied on American heft on the Security Council to help promote what for decades have been seen as common Western values – including the rights of women – and to ward off backsliding from those values.   

As the French ambassador to the U.N., Francois Delattre, told his council colleagues the day of the resolution vote, “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Some women’s rights advocates said the U.S. action was particularly stinging because it comes at a time when sexual violence in conflict is on the rise and has gained global attention. Harrowing examples of victims of sexual violence in conflict – from the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Yazidis and other victims of Islamic State – not getting care and being forced to carry to term the offspring of rape seem to have multiplied in recent years.

Conservative appointments

U.S. officials said during the debate on the resolution that while the U.S. agrees that more must be done to care for the victims of sexual violence, it could not agree to any language, explicit or implicit, that suggests acceptance of abortion. After the council vote, the White House indicated the adopted resolution was more “in line” with U.S. priorities.

Those priorities during the Trump administration have included setting a standard of “protecting life in global health assistance” that bars funding for foreign organizations that include abortion information or access among their services, and cutting funding in 2017 for the U.N. Population Fund, or UNFPA, the U.N.’s lead agency on sexual and reproductive health issues.

Dr. Goetz, who worked on women’s issues at the U.N. for nearly a decade, says the Trump administration has been making increasingly conservative appointments to U.S. government agencies, such as USAID and Health and Human Services, that play important roles in setting international policies on women’s health and empowerment.

Those appointees have sought to strike the “sexual and reproductive health” language from documents in other U.N. forums, such as the Commission for the Status of Women. But she says the U.S. has been unsuccessful there because other venues, including the U.N. General Assembly, work by consensus. Only in the Security Council does the U.S. have veto power.

U.N. officials are not happy about what the recent debate on the sexual violence resolution may portend for reproductive health globally, but they also suggest that, given a rising global clamor over abortion, and not just in the U.S., the outcome could have been worse.

“Of course it’s unfortunate that the words ‘sexual and reproductive health’ were taken out, but overall it is not a bad resolution,” says Arthur Erken, director of communications and strategic partnerships at UNFPA in New York. He notes that the resolution includes a reference to boys and men as victims of sexual violence in conflict – a first – and that it “reaffirms” the Security Council’s commitment to earlier resolutions on the issue in 2009 and 2013 – both of which include the “sexual and reproductive health” language.

“That tells me that even though the specific words may have been taken out, the resolution is still a confirmation of international support for getting vital services to the victims of sexual violence in conflict,” he says.

‘Finding the silver lining’

Indeed for Mr. Erken it is “unfortunate” that the issue of sexual violence in conflict got mired in a debate over wording, since on the whole the international community agrees that the scourge must be stopped, and that when it does occur its victims must receive care.

Noting that on average 830 women die each day during delivery or as a result of complications from pregnancy – 500 of those in conflict zones – he says saving as many of those lives as possible, often with simple provisions of basic maternal care or the presence of a midwife, is something all sides of a festering abortion debate can support.

And that takes Mr. Erken to a view of the evolution in U.S. reproductive health policy that is what he calls “finding the silver lining.”

Yes, he regrets the U.S. cutting of funding for UNFPA, but more because the agency values the prestige of American political support than because it needs U.S. dollars. (Other countries more than made up the gap when the U.S. pulled its funding.)

But Mr. Erken says the Trump administration has continued a long U.S. priority of saving women’s lives and empowering girls. And he notes that, for all the focus on the administration’s social conservatism and hostility to the U.N., Mr. Pompeo in October 2018 became the first secretary of state to hold a meeting with the executive director of UNFPA.

“He actually said there is more that unites us than divides us,” Mr. Erken says, “and we feel that is something we can work with.”

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3. Russia looks for US to propose ‘bigger, better’ arms control

With the end of the INF treaty this year and the New START treaty set to expire soon, Russians are anxious to establish a new arms control regime with the U.S. But they are still waiting for the Trump administration to make an offer.

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Only a few months ago, many were declaring the half-century-old paradigm of U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control all but dead. But when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, Mr. Pompeo said that “arms control” was on the agenda. Now Russians are wondering whether a new, bigger deal may be in the cards.

Like many ideas put out by the Trump administration, the fresh talk of arms control might mean almost anything. Analysts say it might just be a distraction, to introduce an upbeat note into an agenda loaded with issues that Russia and the U.S. bitterly disagree about. But there might just be a new and bigger concept coming that Russia could be willing to discuss.

“The Americans have signaled a willingness to talk about more general principles of strategic stability rather than counting missiles and warheads,” says Andrey Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council. “That would be issues like militarization of space, and artificial intelligence, and other things that might destabilize the situation. It’s not about reduction of arms, but reduction of risk.”

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Russia looks for US to propose ‘bigger, better’ arms control

It’s become something of a signature play by the Trump administration to reject or tear down an existing framework of agreements, then pledge to replace it with something much, much better.

Russian security experts, who have attentively watched recent United States approaches to North Korea and Iran, among others, are wondering about Washington’s apparently newfound priority for “arms control.” Is Russia about to be offered a whole new deal, in an area that is traditionally of huge importance to Moscow?

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher because no details have been offered by either the White House or the Kremlin following President Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Sochi with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week. And the return to talk of arms deals comes only a few months since many started declaring the half-century-old paradigm of U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control all but dead.

Earlier this year the U.S. pulled out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which banned a whole class of nuclear missiles as the Cold War was ending, and Russia followed suit. No one thinks the agreement can be revived. The last remaining strategic arms accord, the New START treaty signed almost a decade ago, expires in less than two years, and no negotiations to extend it are yet on the horizon.

Like many ideas put out by the Trump administration, the fresh talk of arms control might mean almost anything. Analysts say it might just be a distraction, to introduce an upbeat note into an agenda loaded with issues that Russia and the U.S. bitterly disagree about, like Iran and Venezuela. But there might just be a new and bigger concept coming out of Washington, one that Russia could be willing to discuss, some analysts say.

“The Americans have signaled a willingness to talk about more general principles of strategic stability rather than counting missiles and warheads,” says Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. “That would be issues like militarization of space, and artificial intelligence, and other things that might destabilize the situation. It’s not about reduction of arms, but reduction of risk. We do believe that the U.S. needs arms control in some form; that there is a consensus that it strengthens national security can be verified with Russia, and serves to promote stability.”

Mr. Kortunov says he had a chat with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton last year, at a breakfast meeting in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, in which Mr. Bolton strongly suggested that the Trump administration wants to leave an imprint on nuclear arms control that would distinguish it from its predecessors.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Russian servicemen drive RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile systems during the Victory Day parade in Red Square in Moscow on May 9.

“Bolton said that all these existing deals are too small and narrow, and that we need to come up with something big – a new principle of strategic stability,” Mr. Kortunov says. “One of the ambitions they might have is to do something that would put Trump in a whole different league from Obama. It’s not at all clear what that means for us. But would Russia be willing to talk about it? Probably. We’ve had a lot of disappointments with Trump in the past few years, and it’s a big question for us whether he can deliver anything he talks about. But maybe at least we could hope for some kind of confrontation management.”

Both the U.S. and Russia are in the midst of sweeping modernization of their nuclear deterrent forces, and neither would probably be willing to cut their arsenals below the levels stipulated in the New START treaty, say experts.

One complaint the U.S. has raised about the old framework of arms control is that it is bilateral and does not include new nuclear missile powers like China. Even though the U.S. and Russia still possess over 90 percent of all existing nuclear weapons, it’s a legitimate point, analysts say.

“It may be possible to prolong the New START treaty, but do we really need it in its present bilateral form?” asks Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies in Moscow, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He says the old deterrence framework of mutual assured destruction still works, but it is fast being eroded by the emergence of new powers. The issue facing the U.S. and Russia now is how best to expand the arms control framework to include these new countries.

“It doesn’t look likely that China and other countries will agree to join the process now, but the sooner the U.S. and Russia prolong the treaty we have, the sooner we can move on to finding ways to bring in others,” Mr. Zolotaryov says. “It’s becoming urgent to solve these new questions about nuclear deterrence, to minimize the risk that nuclear weapons will be used.”

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal, says that more than two years of dealing with the mercurial and contradictory style of the Trump administration have left Russia’s foreign policy community bemused and divided over whether to try to deal with it, or just wait it out.

“Some people are saying we really need arms control, because it’s the only way to avoid a ruinous arms race. Others say there is nothing we can get from the U.S. at this point, so why bother? The only practical thing we really have to talk about is extending New START. That would be a cheap and easy way to create the impression of activity,” he says.

“But it’s a strange picture. Despite the fact that our relations over the past three years have been a disaster, there are many people who hear Trump saying positive things [about relations with Russia] and seeming to resist the people who embody the old approaches, and it makes him look good to some Russian commentators. Apparently that includes Putin. In spite of everything, there is this feeling that Trump is different, that he is the guy to tear down this post-Cold War system,” he says. “So, if he invites Russia to dance one more time, we will probably be willing to dance with him.”

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4. Cash for trees: Homegrown carbon offset program bears fruit

Depending on whom you ask, carbon offsets might be a vital component of climate action or an ineffective – even colonialist – way to assuage guilt. A Uganda nonprofit may have found the key difference.

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The programs always sound good on paper: Corporations looking to reduce their carbon footprints can offset their emissions by paying people in developing countries to plant trees. But in the past two decades, tree-planting carbon offset projects have been accused of a range of ills, from grabbing land from local communities for plantations to planting invasive foreign species to, simply, not being very effective.

In rural Uganda a local nonprofit aims to show the world that carbon offset programs can be both effective and equitable. One key difference: It pays the communities it works with for the use of their land, rather than forcing them off of it.

It’s a model that’s been paying off for Marie Gorreti Kemiyonga and her family. Not long after receiving her first payment from Trees for Global Benefits, she used the money she earned to start a small piggery. About a year later, the family sold the pigs and used their earnings to build a new tin-roof house with a small solar panel to provide electricity inside. Now, when she flicks on her light switches, she thanks the trees.

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1. Cash for trees: Homegrown carbon offset program bears fruit

When Marie Gorreti Kemiyonga flicks on her light switches in her two-room house in this rural district of western Uganda each evening, she thanks the trees.

A decade ago, Ms. Kemiyonga and her family were farmers living in a mud brick hut with a grass roof when they were approached by a local organization called the Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST) with what seemed like a rather strange proposal.

Plant trees on two hectares (five acres) of their land, and in return, they would be paid about 3.5 million Ugandan shillings (a little less than $1,000) over the next 10 years. 

Though she found the idea odd, Ms. Kemiyonga couldn’t see a downside, so she said yes. Soon, she was laying out rows of spindly saplings on the steep stony hills below the family’s homestead, and in the dark soil just behind the hut. Not long after receiving her first payment, she used the money she earned to start a small piggery. About a year later, the family sold the pigs and used their earnings to build a new tin-roof house with a small solar panel to provide electricity inside.

All around her, others in Rubirizi were profiting from the trees too. Some paid their children’s school fees, or started new businesses, or even purchased old secondhand cars. 

For many of Rubirizi’s residents, selling their omwooya, or air, felt like a windfall (no pun intended). But for ECOTRUST and its investors, the farmers were actually the ones providing the service, as part of a carbon offset project called Trees for Global Benefits. It worked like this: Companies and individuals who wanted to zero out their own pollution could pay Ugandan farmers to grow trees, which were meant to soak up the same amount of carbon dioxide that the buyers were emitting elsewhere. 

Worldwide, these carbon offsets have become one of the major ways that the world’s largest polluters try to reduce their environmental footprint. But they are not without controversy, particularly when they involve the planting of trees.

Carbon colonialism

In the past two decades, tree-planting carbon offset projects have been accused of a range of ills, from grabbing land from local communities for plantations to planting invasive foreign species to, simply, not being very effective. Trees, after all, can die, burn down, or otherwise not produce the benefits promised to investors. That means they are often more expensive than other carbon offsets like renewable energy, and can also be more complicated to set up and maintain. 

But more complicated doesn’t necessarily mean worse, some environmentalists say. It can also – under the right circumstances – mean that more people benefit too. 

“As long as it’s done ethically, with a clear benefit to the communities [planting the trees], then it can work,” says Saliem Fakir, head of the policy and futures unit at the World Wide Fund for Nature, South Africa. “You can’t be so puritanical that you don’t pursue projects that are overall good. But you also have to be wary of potential side effects.”

Those side effects are something many in Uganda know well. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of Western companies cut deals with Uganda’s National Forestry Authority to plant massive tree plantations on protected land, which they used to sell carbon credits. One group, a Norwegian forestry company called Green Resources, leased rights to nearly 12,000 hectares of forest land, and then, in short order, began evicting entire villages of people living on the land, destroying houses and crops and arresting people who “trespassed” at what had once been their homes. Similar land grabs happened in other parts of the country. That led many detractors to label the tree-planting outfits “carbon colonialists” – Westerners once again using Africa to extract a natural resource without concern for how it would affect local people.

“These companies would say ‘we’re planting trees and that’s good for the environment,’ which allowed them to completely push aside these other issues like local people’s livelihoods and biodiversity,” says Klara Fischer, an associate professor of rural development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who has written about the negative impacts of such tree plantations in Uganda. “Because the climate change threat is so strong and focused in people’s minds, it almost eclipsed everything else.”

An equitable model?

But ECOTRUST says it approached the Trees for Global Benefits project differently. For one thing, it paid the communities it worked with for the use of their land, rather than forcing them off of it. 

For instance, before Ms. Kemiyonga and her husband signed up to plant trees in 2009, they had about four hectares of land, which they used to grow millet, groundnuts, and beans. The ECOTRUST representatives explained that if they set aside some of that land for growing trees, they could make money in two ways. 

First, as the trees grew, they’d be paid in regular installments. And once the trees reached maturity, some could become a source of income of their own. And the family would be allowed to prune their forest for firewood, too.  

That sounded like a good arrangement, so the family agreed. 

And ECOTRUST was convinced that the family would benefit in other, less immediate ways as well. The village where Ms. Kemiyonga and her family live in western Uganda sits perched on the edge of one of the country’s vast natural rainforests, Kalinzu. The lush green forest is the second largest in the country, and a hotbed for biodiversity. But over the past 20 years, it has been severely threatened by encroachment from neighboring communities, which cut the forests for timber, charcoal, and agricultural land. 

Indeed, overall forest cover in Uganda has declined from 24% of Uganda’s total land area (4,933,271 hectares) in the 1990s to 9% (1,956,664 hectares) in 2018, according to the National Forestry Authority. 

But now, the country is trying to reverse that trend. In 2014, Uganda joined the Bonn Challenge, a global pledge to restore deforested land, committing to repairing or growing 2.5 million hectares of trees by 2020.

Pauline Nantongo Kalunda, the executive director of ECOTRUST, says the Trees for Global Benefits program is contributing to that goal – without turning its back on people who live in the places where forests are being restored.

She says that in the last 16 years, the project has been responsible for planting 6,200 hectares of new forest, which can hold about 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide. And a wide range of local and international companies have bought carbon credits through the project, including local companies like the Uganda Breweries and international ones like Max Hamburger, a Swedish chain that bills itself as selling the world’s first “carbon positive” hamburger.

“The program helps complement the ecological role of [forest reserves],” says Xavier Mugumya, the climate change coordinator at the National Forestry Authority.

No silver bullet

But the project has also run into hiccups along the way. 

Some farmers, for instance, were initially hesitant to join the project because of rumors that Trees for Global Benefits, like other carbon offset projects in the country, wanted to steal their land (ECOTRUST says it has calmed this fear by enlisting farmers in its program to educate others in the region about its benefits). 

What’s more, in recent years, a number of farmers have also lost seedlings to drought, cutting into the income they receive from the program. A 2013 study of communities enrolled in Trees for Global Benefits, meanwhile, found that in some places, the project widened inequality because it gave community members who already had access to significant land a way to earn more money from that land. (The program initially required its participants to have around three hectares of land in order to participate). Those with less or no land, meanwhile, could not enroll in the program and continued to struggle.

But for Ms. Fischer, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the issue is less about the success or failure of a single carbon offset project like Trees for Global Benefits. It’s more about how Westerners see the role of those projects in their own fight to lead environmental sustainability.

“We can’t think we’ll solve climate change just by outsourcing,” she says. “You can’t say, OK, I can plant trees in Uganda and then not do anything to change my lifestyle at home. There has to be action on both sides.” 

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

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5. Superhero fatigue? Try these alien-free summer movies.

Blockbusters are a part of summer, like cut grass and the ice cream truck. Sometimes, though, people want to be transported by a story that doesn't depend on special effects.

Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures/AP
Himesh Patel (l.) and British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran star in ‘Yesterday,’ directed by Danny Boyle. The movie, which revolves around people not remembering The Beatles ever existed, is one of 2019’s summer releases.

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Yes, they do exist: engaging movies that don’t involve costumed do-gooders saving the galaxy or actiony Everymen escaping from helicopters full of baddies.

This summer, Hollywood is offering lots of antidotes for action overload. Music is a common theme in these films, and it’s likely that fans of both Bruce Springsteen and Luciano Pavarotti won’t be disappointed. Perhaps the most anticipated in this category – one that likely makes record executives sweat – features a world where suddenly no one has ever heard of The Beatles. “Yesterday” explores what an aspiring songwriter, who does remember the Fab Four, does with that information. 

Family relationships are also part of this summer’s fare, as is a documentary about the extraordinary power and beauty of vast bodies of water. Not surprisingly, that well-timed aquatic extravaganza aims to make a splash in August. 

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Superhero fatigue? Try these alien-free summer movies.

This summer at the movies, exploding cars will do triple somersaults through the air. Sharks the size of Greyhound buses will menace swimmers. Supervillains will level well-known landmarks (in the new Spider-Man movie, London Bridge really is falling down). And The Rock will drive off a cliff in a vehicle that’s chained to a helicopter.

Just like any other summer, really.

But if you prefer movies where the most special effect is an unexpected laugh or tear, here are a few counter-programming options for the blockbuster season.

In “Late Night,” Emma Thompson plays a talk-show host with David Letterman-like acerbic wit and a Conan O’Brien-like pompadour. But her schtick has grown stale. When the blame falls on her staff of all white male writers, a TV executive hires a minority woman named Molly (Mindy Kaling). But it turns out Molly lacks prior experience in comedy writing. Can she save her boss’s show? Kaling, who made her mark in “The Office” and “The Mindy Show,” also wrote the comedy, which received rave reviews at this year’s Sundance festival. (U.S. release date: June 7)

The scenario of “Yesterday” is so implausible that, by comparison, the upcoming blockbuster in which Godzilla battles a giant moth seems merely far-fetched. Danny Boyle’s comedy depicts a world in which The Beatles have been completely forgotten. (Help!) Only one person, aspiring songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), hasn’t been affected by the global amnesia. So he starts to pass the Fab Four’s songs off as his own compositions. In the process of becoming a huge pop star, he even fools his manager (played by Lily James) into believing that he’s a songwriting genius. (June 28)

Three years ago, Ron Howard directed a smash-hit documentary about John, Paul, George, and Ringo titled “Eight Days a Week.” His latest nonfiction music film is about a man who wore a tuxedo to work: “Pavarotti.” It chronicles the life of the late, great Italian opera singer, including his humanitarian efforts. This is a chance to hear “Nessun Dorma” in Dolby surround sound. (June 7)

Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
‘Blinded By the Light’ features the music of Bruce Springsteen. It is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who also helmed ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’

“Blinded by the Light,” this summer’s other notable music-themed movie, is about Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fan. Javed (Viveik Kalra) wasn’t born in the USA – he’s British and of Pakistani heritage – but he feels a spiritual connection to The Boss. Growing up in the London suburb of Luton in 1987, the budding writer draws inspiration from the songwriter’s anthems as he tries to fit in at school and meet his own family’s expectations. Plan on a feel-good drama by director Gurinder Chadha, who also helmed “Bend it Like Beckham.” (August 14)

Family secrets play a large part of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s best-selling comedic novel, the Richard Linklater-directed adaptation is about a 14-year-old girl trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Spoiler alert! Mom (Cate Blanchett, in the titular role) absconded to Antarctica. And, no, it wasn’t because Bernadette really, really likes penguins. You’ll have to see the movie to find out what drove her to the far ends of the earth. (August 16)

Last summer, comedian and rapper Awkwafina stole so many scenes in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s 8” that she’s on Hollywood’s most-wanted list. In “The Farewell,” she may have met her match: a grandmother played by Chinese television actress Shuzhen Zhao. Awkwafina plays her Chinese-American granddaughter, Billi, who ventures to China for a family reunion. But the family has a tragic secret they’ve agreed to withhold from the elderly matriarch. You may wish to stash a pack of Kleenex in your seat’s popcorn-holder for this one. (July 12)

There are plenty of icebergs, too, in “Aquarela.” You’d be forgiven if you said the title sounds as if it’s a superhero spinoff story about Aquaman’s sister. In fact, it’s a visually sumptuous documentary about the extraordinary power and beauty of vast bodies of water. It even features an ocean wave seemingly double the size of that in “The Perfect Storm” – except this one wasn’t computer generated. Not surprisingly, this well-timed aquatic extravaganza aims to make a splash in August. (August 16)

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The Monitor's View

College grads with well-packed parachutes

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For college grads headed into the job market, the news is good. A low unemployment rate should make the job hunt easier than in recent years. What kind of graduates are today’s employers looking for? Those educated in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are in high demand. Yet STEM prowess isn’t the only skill employers seek. Liberal arts degrees are bankable as well. Employers complain they have a hard time finding hires with “soft” skills.

Graduates will still face doubting elders who question whether they’re up to the tasks needed in the workplace. Not so, says Purdue University’s Brian Leung. Today’s young people are a generation toughened by events from the threat of school shootings to the looming threat of global warming.

His confidence is echoed by Simon Peck, group managing director at Engine, a marketing and advertising firm. He writes that not only are young people “more socially, ethically, and environmentally conscious than their predecessors – this is the generation that coined the term ‘woke’ after all – they’re also more independent thinkers, willing to disrupt the status quo in favor of a more sensible solution, be it dating apps over dinner dates or Airbnb over hotels.”

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College grads with well-packed parachutes

By the end of the 2018-19 academic year America’s colleges and universities will have handed out nearly 3 million associate (two-year) and bachelor’s (four-year) degrees. And nearly a million more students will graduate from advanced master’s and doctoral programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

For those headed into the job market, the news is good. A low unemployment rate, driven in part by baby boomers exiting into retirement, should make the job hunt easier than in recent years.

What kind of graduates are today’s employers looking for? Those educated in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are in high demand. They’ll step into work that will shape innovative areas from robotics and artificial intelligence to genetic engineering.

Parents who’ve paid high tuition fees and students who’ve racked up loan debt can be comforted that these STEM graduates will likely jump into well-paying jobs. For many graduates, in fact, paying down debt will be a top priority: According to research conducted by Bloomberg, student loan debt hit a record high of $1.465 trillion in December 2018.

Yet STEM prowess isn’t the only skill employers seek. Liberal arts degrees are bankable as well. Employers complain they have a hard time finding hires with “soft” skills. Ninety-three percent of employers, for example, say that the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems – abilities honed in liberal arts courses – are more important than a graduate’s major, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Graduates will still face doubting elders who question whether they’re up to the tasks needed in the workplace. Not so, says Purdue University’s Brian Leung in a recent newspaper essay. Today’s young people are a generation toughened by events from the threat of school shootings to the looming threat of global warming. These “students demonstrate themselves to be resilient, engaged citizens who have learned the importance of calling out injustice,” writes Professor Leung, director of creative writing in Purdue’s English department.

His confidence is echoed by Simon Peck, group managing director at Engine, a marketing and advertising firm in London. He writes that not only are younger people “more socially, ethically, and environmentally conscious than their predecessors – this is the generation that coined the term ‘woke’ after all – they’re also more independent thinkers, willing to disrupt the status quo in favor of a more sensible solution, be it dating apps over dinner dates or Airbnb over hotels.”

Wherever it may be, finding a secure spot in the 21st century economy is an important step for graduates. But as this year’s myriad graduation speakers will no doubt echo, students who go on to do their part to make the world a better place will bear the true mark of a life well led.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Conflicting opinions, without conflict

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When clashing political views threatened a longtime friendship, today’s contributor found that learning more about God as Love enabled her to nurture compassion and patience rather than anger and intolerance, and harmony was restored.

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Conflicting opinions, without conflict

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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After years of enjoying shared interests and an enriching and supportive friendship, as politics, health care, and other major issues increasingly dominated the news I found I was at odds with every opinion of one of my good friends. If I expressed my views, we argued; if I kept silent, I felt stifled.

It wasn’t that my friend had to agree with my views, or I with hers. I just wanted to preserve the friendship and to restore the kindness in our communications.

With no solution emerging, I turned to prayer, something that has been helpful to me so consistently. When I feel close to God, I feel inspired to do good; my heart feels uplifted, and I feel united heart to heart with my neighbor.

At first my prayer was to mentally draw a big heart of love, put the problem in it, and turn it over to God without thinking more about it. This was comforting but, I soon realized, not enough.

I decided to look closely at the values my views were based on. They included the desire for safety, stability, balance, truth, wisdom, and freedom. I knew these were the kinds of values behind my friend’s views too. Then I realized that these are actually universal qualities because they are spiritual, from God.

The Bible teaches that God is Love (see I John 4:8). Divine Love, God, governs all creation with safety and wisdom. Love’s care is stable; there is no imbalance. Love’s truth is naturally expressed in God’s spiritual offspring, both male and female. When our thoughts and actions are inspired by this spiritual reality, we experience more peace.

This wasn’t easy. My first attempt to apply and affirm these ideas left me overwhelmed. However, I felt a deep conviction that I should persist. I found a supportive statement in the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. It reads, “We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives” (p. 248).

From studying Christian Science, I understand these “perfect models” to be a spiritual perception of the nature of life. They start with the understanding that God is good and therefore produces only good. Personal opinions cannot alter, influence, or change the spiritual fact of everyone’s true goodness as Love’s divine expression.

Humbly, I opened my thought to expressing more qualities of Love, such as compassion and patience. I mentally claimed that God is always present and governing. As I consistently did this, my friend’s views no longer irritated or angered me; they no longer threatened my feeling of safety and security. I felt secure in knowing God’s care is universally inclusive.

This friendship of many years continues. We still have different opinions about things such as politics and health care, but respect, kindness, and good humor have been restored. And I learned an important lesson: In God’s love, there is unvarying peace and joy.

Christ Jesus said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). Our “closet” is mental – turning to God in prayer. Shutting the door includes establishing mentally that nothing can separate us or anyone from the limitless good divine Love has for all of us. And we are “rewarded” with inspiration that meets our needs.

Each of us can, through prayer, truly know God as Love and learn more about our very special relation to God as Love and to one another as God’s precious children. This lifts intolerance and anger from our hearts and minds.

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Viewfinder

Daisy chain

Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/AP
Daisies appear in raindrops on a blade of grass in Laatzen, in northern Germany, May 21.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 22nd, 2019 )

That’s a wrap for today. Come back tomorrow when we look at what’s at stake in EU parliamentary elections.

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May 21, 2019
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