From beach to desert, efforts that add up

1. United States

Incarcerated individuals are helping to save a keystone plant. Sagebrush ecosystems have shrunk by half in recent decades, due in part to forest fires that have swept across the western United States.

Since 2014, people imprisoned at 18 facilities across eight states from California to Montana have tended over 500,000 plants, feeding, watering, and weeding them and monitoring their health. The seedlings’ success rates when replanted are three times that of simply planting seeds in the affected areas, according to program coordinator Holly Hovis.

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When leadership sets a positive tone for a community’s conduct, the results can be transformative. In our progress roundup, a Western U.S. program in prisons is nurturing nature. And on Australian coasts, towns and their volunteers have significantly reduced the trash on beaches.

Participants in the program learn horticulture and team-building skills that can contribute to their employability once they are released, although they are not paid for their work. “It’s all completely voluntary by the inmates, and there’s usually a waitlist for people to join,” said Ms. Hovis. “They get so much peace of mind, stress relief, and the chance to work with, not against, their peers.” Recidivism research has shown positive rehabilitative effects from garden and environmental programming.
Sources: Reasons To Be Cheerful, Insight Garden Program

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/AP/File
Sagebrush species serve as food and habitat for the greater sage grouse, which is in decline in western North America.

2. Senegal

Senegal broke a West African record with women occupying 44% of its new government’s seats. In 2010, the country became the second nation in the continent, after Rwanda, to require gender parity in government. Senegal mandates that women make up half of the candidates in each political party’s slate.

While achieving parity in local elections is still a challenge, the country ranks fourth in Africa for gender parity in parliament, according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, and 18th in the world. “In the past, women were involved in political campaigns – but we were seen as performers, wearing beautiful clothing and singing,” said Mariama Cissé Mbacké, a participant in a leadership workshop given by the Women’s Association of Senegalese Jurists. “We brought our communities together, and paved the way for men to be elected. ... But we are no longer followers. We’re claiming our spot.”
Sources: Agence France-Presse, American Jewish World Service

3. Spain

The largest solar plant in Europe is now operating in Spain. The facility in the western region of Extremadura uses 1.5 million solar panels and will produce enough energy to power over 334,000 homes. In addition to helping reduce dependence on volatile energy markets, the plant contributes to the country’s goal of generating three-quarters of its electricity from renewables by 2030.  
In recent years, solar power capacity has surged in Spain, one of the sunniest countries in Europe. Rooftop solar capacity on residential and business properties grew by 102% between 2020 and 2021, and solar energy cooperatives have made headway.
Sources: Bloomberg

4. India

Shailesh Andrade/Reuters/File
Commuters watch videos on a train in Mumbai, India, 2016. Affordability of mobile plans has improved internet access.

India’s digital revolution has connected millions of people to the internet. The government launched “Digital India” in 2015 to bring more of the population online. At the time, only 19% of India’s population accessed the internet; today, almost 60% of the country has access, supported by falling prices for mobile data. Rural India saw a 13% growth rate to 299 million internet users over the past year, or 31% of India’s rural population.

Critics point out that the government has imposed more internet lockdowns than any other democratic country. But many users have experienced a transformation in their daily lives. “We had never imagined that we would get electricity or roads,” said Jay Shriram Sharma, a resident of the village of Kanda in the Himalayas who now uses video calls from his home to speak to his grandson, a doctor in Delhi. In some of the most remote villages where digital infrastructure is the most difficult, residents can access “common service centers” to pay bills or access documents.
Sources: BBC, The Economic Times

5. Australia

Plastic pollution along the Australian coast decreased by an average of 29% in just six years. From improved household waste collection to local beach cleanups, municipalities have made a concerted effort to reduce coastal litter. Scientists surveyed 183 shore sites in 2018 and 2019, comparing the data with surveys from 2012-13, and found that litter – which is almost three-quarters plastic – fell by as much as 73%.

Jono Searle/AAP Image/Reuters
The National Day of Action on April 23, 2022, organized by Conservation Volunteers Australia, includes a beach cleanup

While the amount of waste varies significantly among regions, depending on geographic conditions or the proximity of cities, the study offers evidence that raising public awareness and investing in concrete programs can lead to positive results. “It’s an amazing testimony of how much can change and how quickly you can see that change in the environment,” said Denise Hardesty, a co-author of the study by the government’s research agency. “Almost 30% in six years is really heartening and can help people understand the impacts of our behaviours.”
Sources: The Guardian, One Earth

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