Tree stumps and old phones as solutions, not throwaways

Two of our stories here are about giving new life to old things. But in Alabama, new technology made possible a find that brings fresh perspectives to ancient human civilization in North America.

1. Mexico

Sustainable forestry is replacing illegal crop production in Mexico’s Golden Triangle. The area is known as one of the country’s primary regions for marijuana and opium production, but some residents are working to transform that reputation. Four communities from the Tamazula Municipality in Durango joined together two decades ago to center sustainable forest management, long one piece of the region’s history, as an alternative, reliable livelihood.

Why We Wrote This

We’re used to getting rid of what is no longer useful. But in our progress roundup, we found farmers who stopped clearing the land to improve their crops and a country subsidizing repairs to keep electronics out of the trash.

The biggest challenge for business is transporting the wood long distances on dirt roads that trailers can’t navigate, which makes the journey expensive. Despite the obstacles, the communities now manage around 180 hectares (445 acres) of forest, producing 35,000 cubic meters (1.2 million cubic feet) of wood every year and providing a living for 1,000 families.

“The people who were previously producing drugs are now taking care of the forest,” said José Rojas, regional director of the Committee for the Economic Development of Durango. “Thanks to the forest, these people have roots in their communities, and they have a secure and sufficient family income with which we can break down inequality.”

2. United States

A discovery of the largest ancient cave art in North America is shedding new light on civilizations on the continent from A.D. 100 to 900. Etched deep within a limestone system in Alabama known nondescriptly as 19th Unnamed Cave to avoid detection and potential damage, the life-size masterpieces are too faint to view with the naked eye. Using 3D photogrammetry, a process that overlaps photographs to create 3D models, researchers uncovered over 5,000 square feet of ceiling designs in dark, damp passages just 2 feet high. Artists likely scraped the drawings into the mud by crouching or lying on the floor.

The team spent two months capturing 16,000 images of the cave art; a computer program revealed sprawling drawings, including an 11-foot figure resembling a rattlesnake. Researchers had previously thought these sorts of etchings were limited to the American Southwest. The discovery of southeastern rock art “emphasizes that ideas are flowing back and forth across this continent before European contact,” said Stephen Alvarez, photographer and co-author of the study that published the findings.
National Geographic

3. Niger

Luc Gnago/Reuters/File
Shepherds sit under a tree near the Niger River in Niamey, Niger. Over 200 million trees have recovered in the country since the 1980s. Instead of aggressive clearing of land, farmers are working around vegetation and tree stumps which can regenerate.

Farmers in Niger have allowed historically wooded landscapes to regenerate naturally, benefiting the whole country. The western and southern regions were once home to rich woodlands, but colonialism and government policy throughout much of the 20th century favored land clearing to make room for commercial agriculture, and periodic droughts made matters worse.

In the early 1980s, a handful of farmers began allowing trees to grow back from stumps after noticing crops like cassava, sweet potatoes, and sesame grew better with the shade and moisture from vegetation. News spread of their success, and since then, researchers estimate that farmers have encouraged at least 200 million trees to grow back across 15 million acres.

Farms with trees are producing an additional half-million tons of cereal grains each year, which will help support a population of
25 million that is set to double in the next 20 years. Women are using the trees to make products they can sell, like oil and soap. While Niger’s grassroots effort has received less international attention than coordinated tree planting programs, Dennis Garrity, the former head of the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, called the initiative “the most outstanding environmental transformation I can think of in Africa.”
National Geographic

4. Austria

The Austrian government now offers a “repair bonus” to those who choose to fix rather than toss old devices. Even when repair is possible, the price can deter consumers. So in 2020, the city of Vienna subsidized repair costs in a pilot project that saved 35,000 items. In April, Austria took the model nationwide, with a focus on electronics – the fastest-growing source of waste in Europe. The government now pays 50% of the cost to repair electronic and electrical devices, up to €200 ($211) per fix.

The repair bonus is financed with €130 million from the European Union COVID-19 recovery fund, and to meet growing demand, training programs for skilled repair professionals are expanding. At the EU level, “right to repair” legislation is gaining ground to push companies to include repairability as part of the design process, and ensure better access to repair manuals and spare parts. Sepp Eisenriegler, who owns a repair center in Vienna, is looking forward to the day when fixing products becomes more widespread, but says for now, “the repair bonus is an excellent crutch to compensate for the failure of the market.”
Reasons to be Cheerful

5. Indonesia

Tatan Syuflana/AP
Activists hold posters reading “stop sexual violence” and “free Indonesia from sexual violence” during a rally commemorating International Women’s Day in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 8, 2022.

Indonesia outlawed forced marriage and sexual abuse. Under the legislation, nine forms of sexual violence were criminalized, including assault, harassment, and exploitation, creating a framework to prosecute sex crimes. Abusers are required to pay restitution to victims, who are also guaranteed access to counseling. The National Commission on Violence Against Women proposed the bill 10 years ago, which first underwent parliamentary deliberations in 2016.  

The commission has documented growing numbers of assault cases but estimates that only one-third of crimes are reported. Women are often blamed for sexual violence, long considered a private matter. “When I heard the knock [of the gavel], my mask was just filled with tears,” said Imbaniasih Achmad, who has campaigned for the legislation since her daughter was raped seven years ago. “I think my voice was the loudest in the room. I kept screaming thank you and thank you.”
The Guardian, CNN

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