Heroes

A down-and-dirty look at a groundbreaking discovery that could save the planet.

Want to stop climate change? You're gonna have to get your hands dirty.

A down-and-dirty look at a groundbreaking discovery that could save the planet.
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League of Conservation Voters

There's an amazing way to combat climate change, and it's not based on elaborate or expensive technology.

In fact, it's right under our feet.

Soil.


GIF via "Despicable Me."

Yup, you know — that stuff that your parents told you to stay away from when you were wearing your nice clothes. The place where worms crawl around and do their thing. The substance crudely known in some circles as "dirt."

Soil can absorb excess carbon and mitigate climate change according to author and food guru Michael Pollan, who draws on research emerging from around the world.

"Climate change can be overwhelming, yet there is real hope," he says in a video released by the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. "We now know how to put carbon back in the soil, where it belongs."

In the video, titled " Soil Solutions to Climate Problems," he explains how soil can affect climate change.

Here are five important points he makes.

1. Damaged soil actually puts excess carbon into the atmosphere.

Soil gets damaged when the microscopic creatures that call it home are destroyed by over-tilling and use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. When they die, the carbon that was stored in the soil gets released, adding billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year.

GIF via Center for Food Safety/YouTube.

2. Some soil now actually lacks carbon because it's lost so much.

Everywhere we find desertification, runoff, and drought, we have soil that's lost microscopic life and carbon. Most farmland these days needs increasing amounts of synthetic inputs to keep producing the same amount of food, and food grown without the natural carbon cycle has decreasing nutritional value. Soil carbon loss is a threat to world food security.

GIF via Center for Food Safety/YouTube.

3. Things don't have to be this way. Soil can also absorb excess carbon that's in the atmosphere.

The secret lies in something we learned about in elementary school: photosynthesis. We all know that plants pull in carbon from the atmosphere; what most of us don't know is that they also send a lot of it down through their roots into the soil.

Soil microbes love carbon and take it from plants in exchange for nutrients. When the soil microbes die, the whole system gets messed up. But when we bring life back to the soil, plants return to sucking carbon out of the air and storing it in the ground, making for happy soil microbes, plants, and farmers.


GIF via Center for Food Safety/YouTube.

4. Getting more carbon into soil not only combats climate change, it's good for the land.

Nature is a total badass. When natural systems are intact, everything works right. Repopulating our carbon-loving microbe friends restores soil structure, which helps the soil hold and purify water (this explains the connection to desertification, drought, and runoff). Also, thriving soil helps plants pull in nutrients, making them healthier and more nutritious for humans to eat. Healthier plants also fend off insects without pesticides, and compost replaces synthetic fertilizer. When the carbon-microbe system is working, farmers save money on water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Boom.

GIF via Center for Food Safety/YouTube.

5. The idea is getting an audience on the international stage.

Soil and agriculture are entering the conversation and have the potential become breakthrough topics at COP21 in Paris, the international climate change meeting that wraps up on Dec. 11, 2015. The French government has proposed that other nations join it in increasing their soil carbon by 0.4%, which would translate to billions of tons of carbon drawn down from the atmosphere if applied worldwide. Many nations and organizations have already signed on to the proposal, marking a big step in the road to creating actionable steps for governments and farmers around the world.

GIF via Center for Food Safety/YouTube.

Soil, right? Boo-yah. Can we get a happy dance for soil microbes?

GIF via MTV.

What this means, in a nutshell, is that we have a major solution to climate change that doesn't require new or expensive technology that also has huge benefits for farmers and nature.

Healthy soil is better for the water and food systems and is good business. The main thing we can do is spread the word. The more people who know about the importance of healthy soil, the more traction world leaders will have to support farmers in transitioning to methods that are better for the soil.

Inspired? Empowered? Good.

GIF via "The Big Lebowski."

Watch “Soil Solutions to Climate Problems" here and learn more about why soil is so important to the climate debate.

And if you're so compelled, consider signing this petition to continue our fight against climate change!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."