French drains, barrels for rain, and a wind-energy bullet train


Along with environmental strategies from the Americas to North Africa, we highlight legal advances in India and the United Kingdom that help correct errors of the past.

1. United States

New Orleans residents are banding together to build green infrastructure, preventing flooding before storms hit. Chronic flooding has long been a problem across the Gulf South, and climate change is making matters worse. Experts say New Orleans’ public infrastructure, including its levee system, isn’t enough to keep flooding at bay. That’s why the nonprofit Water Wise Gulf South is helping communities in marginalized areas design and build alternatives to traditional “gray” infrastructure, using a water management approach that protects, restores, or mimics the water cycle in nature.

Why We Wrote This

In our progress roundup, action on climate change and fossil fuels comes from the top down and bottom up. While Morocco’s rail system moves to renewables to power its fastest trains, citizens in New Orleans are building their own flood prevention mechanisms.

So far, over 500 residents have taken part in workshops to learn how to implement do-it-yourself projects at home, and many of them have participated in “Visioning Workshops” to plan community infrastructure. In the 7th Ward, residents have installed 25 rain barrels, eight French drains, seven rain gardens, and two permeable parking pads, and planted more than 500 trees. Last fall, they began work on their first bioswale, a vegetated stormwater runoff system that captures and filters water. “Government is slow and we can’t wait for government to catch up to us,” says 7th Ward resident Angela Chalk, who helped install the bioswale. “All of us in these communities realize we have to get this right and that climate change is not waiting. We can’t wait.”
Next City

2. Mexico

The tequila splitfin – once declared extinct – has been reintroduced in the wild. The orange-tailed fish, which fits in the palm of a hand, was nicknamed “little rooster” before it disappeared from the Teuchitlán River in central-western Mexico in the 1990s, likely due to pollution, poaching, and the construction of a dam.

Chester Zoo/Cover Images/Newscom
The reintroduction of a tiny fish once declared extinct from Mexico's Teuchitlán River is an International Union for Conservation of Nature case study in success. Females do not bear the same colorful markings as male splitfins.

In 1998, Chester Zoo in England offered Michoacana University of Mexico five pairs of the splitfins from collectors’ aquariums, whose offspring scientists cared for over the next 15 years. Following a promising test in large artificial ponds, scientists released 1,500 of the fish into the river – first in floating cages, then in the open. Now, the population continues to expand.

Researchers employed a local education campaign including puppetry, games, and facts such as the fish’s efficiency in keeping dengue-carrying mosquitoes under control. Residents, many of them children, are calling themselves “river guardians” and helping keep the river clean. “We couldn’t have done this without the local people – they’re the ones doing the long-term conservation,” said Professor Omar Dominguez from Michoacana University. The project is a 2018 International Union for Conservation of Nature case study in successful reintroductions.
BBC, The Associated Press

3. United Kingdom

Britain expanded legal pardons for gay men criminalized under historical statutes. The new law builds on Turing’s Law, named for the code breaker and World War II hero who was convicted of “gross indecency” and died in 1954. The 2017 statute pardoned men convicted of nine since-abolished offenses; this year’s law covers all convictions linked to consensual same-sex activity.  
The move is one piece of the U.K.’s commitment to “righting the wrongs of the past,” as Home Secretary Priti Patel said. New pardons can’t change the past: Men criminalized for their sexual orientation often faced discrimination throughout their lives.
Rights advocates point out that individuals must still apply to have their convictions removed, but legal pardoning represents a step forward.

Simon Dawson/Reuters/File
A supporter of the Gay Liberation Front holds a flag to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group in London, June 27, 2020.

“It recognizes the extraordinary scale of injustice done to so many people over a long period of time, and offers, as far as possible, restitution,” said Paul Johnson, a professor of social sciences at the University of Leeds. “It draws a line under five centuries of state-sanctioned persecution of gay people and says: ‘never again.’”
Thomson Reuters Foundation, NBC News, The New York Times

4. Morocco

A high-speed rail service between Casablanca and Tangier is switching to renewable energy. The Al Boraq line, inaugurated in 2018 as Africa’s first bullet train, stretches 200 miles across Morocco with trains that travel at 186 mph – comparable to traveling between New York and Washington, D.C., in 90 minutes. Now, Al Boraq trains will use 100% wind energy as part of the National Railways Office’s plan to increase renewable energy usage to 50% in 2023, before transitioning entirely. The office says it can avoid the production of 120,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions each year through these efforts and other partnerships.

Morocco started to become a regional leader in clean energy in the mid-2000s, committing to renewables to boost economic competitiveness and reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels. Despite missing a 2009 goal of 42% renewable energy by 2020, the government hasn’t let up on its ambitious targets. Morocco plans to produce 52% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, with 20% solar, 20% wind, and 12% hydropower. If successful, the North African country would be at the global forefront of clean energy.
Morocco World News, BBC

5. India

An Indian court held two mining companies legally accountable for polluting the local environment – and now they must help clean up. For 10 years, farmer Manbodh Biswal fought for compensation for the damage the Talabira-I coal mine inflicted on his land in the eastern state of Odisha. “We used to harvest two crops a year but now just manage to grow some vegetables,” said Mr. Biswal, who like many in India lives in a region rich in minerals but poor in other resources. “Our access to the farms has been restricted by hills of excavated earth from the mines. Irrigation water is polluted, coal dust is everywhere.”

Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters/File
A laborer works at the Mahanadi coal fields in Odisha state in 2012. Coal accounts for 70% of India’s electricity.

Now, three years after the mine closed, the National Green Tribunal has ordered Hindalco Industries and Raipur Energen to pay 100 million Indian rupees ($1.32 million) to rehabilitate the “critically polluted” area, helping restore the farmland of Mr. Biswal and other villagers. Since 2008, some 123 coal mines have shut down across India, but pollution continues to burden communities. For environmentalists and social justice advocates, the court win – a feat deemed “quite rare” by Mr. Biswal’s lawyer – is a sign that land and community restoration are being taken seriously.  
Thomson Reuters Foundation

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