3 dire reasons why I'm so mad the debates didn't bring up climate change.

The epic, dramatic three-part saga known as the presidential debates is finally over.

Coincidentally, our supply of good whiskey is also done. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

They were some of the craziest debates we’ve ever seen, but one glaring, ozone-sized hole stood out: climate change. None of the moderators asked about it.

Here's the thing: Climate change factors into nearly every topic the candidates spoke about. Climate change is about our planet, about conflict, about health, about science, about jobs, about international relations — so it's wild that we didn't hear about it at all. As science-loving dudes, we're frustrated.


In honor of the debates ending, here are some examples of why talking about how our planet is changing really, really matters. This is the stuff that should have been discussed:

Take national security and the refugee crisis, for instance.

Refugees in Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Our politicians may still be making up their minds about the validity of the warming of our Earth (real talk: Scientific consensus around this is real. It's not a political issue.), but our armed services divisions are already calling climate change a "threat multiplier" and "accelerant of instability." They're integrating it into all their plans.

What does an "accelerant of instability" mean? Take the Syrian refugee crisis: The conflict in Syria is a massive, messy tragedy, but climate change played a role in at least part of it, according to Columbia University professor Marc Levy. Severe drought and ruined crops — both potential effects of climate change — exacerbated Syria's already unstable system prior to the crisis.

The rest of the world is not immune, either. There are already climate refugees in places like Kiribati, Vanuatu, and, yes, even the United States.

OK, that was one thing, but there was another big topic on everybody's mind: jobs and the economy. Well, guess what...

Floodwaters flow into the Carey Tunnel in New York during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Climate change costs a lot. Superstorm Sandy cost New Yorkers $50 billion. This year alone, at least 12 over-a-billion-dollars-lost weather and climate disasters have hit the U.S. And, yes, climate change is likely contributing to these kinds of storms, wildfires, and droughts.

Other costs include funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency and building climate-proof infrastructure like seawalls and flood control — all of which takes considerable dough. By 2100, the U.S. could be paying nearly $2 trillion every year because of climate change.

It's not all bad news, though: Renewable energy could also create a ton of new jobs. While the shrinking opportunities in unclean energy are rightly on some people's minds (lookin' at you, Ken Bone), new initiatives could help workers make the transition to renewable jobs.

Climate change could even affect our health care.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

It’s a good thing that Obamacare got rid of that stuff about pre-existing conditions, because climate change is now a pre-existing condition that makes health issues worse for certain people.

Warmer temperatures may mean more mosquitoes and ticks and more habitable places for the little blood-suckers. That might also mean more insect-borne diseases like malaria and Zika. Heat stroke could go up too, as well as air pollution.

So why do we need to talk about climate change? Because it affects our health. It could even make our allergies worse (noooooo).

Let's get real: There’s a reason the entire United Nations met in Paris last year to talk about our changing planet.

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

195 nations came together at the 21st Conference of the Parties, and the fact that they all actually agreed on something was historic. That puts climate change directly at the center of international diplomacy.

Regardless of who is sworn into office on Jan. 20, climate change will be a huge part of the job for the next four years.

If we can’t even talk about our planet, maybe the current debates aren’t the best way to help us live more informed lives.

We deserved a chance to hear the candidates talk about climate change, to at least hear whether Donald Trump still thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax (except when he doesn't). And we deserved to hear about what Hillary Clinton plans to do to help us adapt as our planet changes.

We can’t be discussing our kids' futures without also discussing what kind of future we’re giving them. That's why the climate change conversation matters.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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