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Nature

Some of the most powerful photos from National Geographic’s 2021 ‘Year in Pictures’

nat geo, year in pictures, aphghanistan
via National Geographic

Nat Geo's 'Year in Pictures 2021'

Even though 2021 was a year marred by a global pandemic, National Geographic still found a way to add 2 million photos to its vast archives this year. The publication is commemorating the tremendous work its photographers have done in 2021 by sharing some of their most remarkable shots in the January issue as part of its Year in Pictures campaign.

National Geographic hopes its readers will see it as more than “a collection of pretty photographs,” Whitney Johnson, director of visuals and immersive experiences, told National Geographic. 

The images were chosen as powerful examples of human resilience in the face of a pandemic and climate crisis.

“In many ways, there are messages of hope, there are messages of compassion for one and another,” said Kathy Moran, deputy director of photography at National Geographic. “A number of the images featured show that there is hope, resilience, and there are solutions to many of the problems that we are facing as a society.”

National Geographic was kind enough to share some photos with Upworthy that embody 2021’s turbulence—from political rancor and climate change to COVID-19 developments and conflicts around the globe.

You can see more images on its Year in Pictures site. (You just have to provide your email.)


Dar Yasin/AP PHOTO

With a cooler of COVID-19 vaccines in hand, Nazir Ahmed looks for shepherds and nomadic herders in the meadows of Tosamaidan, southwest of Srinagar in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In the race to vaccinate against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, healthcare workers have gone to extreme lengths to reach remote communities.

From Srinagar, it took Ahmed and a half dozen colleagues three hours driving and then walking to reach this isolated spot. They spent four hours searching for people and vaccinated more than 10.

Photo by Lynsey Addario

Firefighters spent months in 2021 battling to contain California's Dixie fire, which burned nearly a million acres and destroyed most of Greenville, a town with population of around 1000. The number and size of wildfires across western North America have increased in recent years, driven in part by climate change, which intensifies hot, dry conditions that suck water from living and dead plants, making them likelier to burn.

Part of the solution, scientists agree, is more widespread use of "good" fire: controlled, low-intensity burns that clear leaf litter and brush from the forest floor, reducing the fuel for wildfires.

Photo by Mel D. Cole

Police officer Michael Fanone struggles against Trump supporters after they dragged him down the steps of the U.S. Capitol. At a rally earlier that day, then President Donald Trump falsely claimed that he'd won the 2020 presidential election "in a landslide" and urged supporters to go to the Capitol, where the House of Representatives was certifying the election results.

"You'll never take back our country with weakness," Trump said. Five people died as a result of the attack. Some 140 police officers were injured. More than 600 people have been arrested. The assault on the Capitol is the focus of a congressional investigation.

Reuben Wu/National Geographic

Stonehenge, built some 5,000 years ago in southern England, first underwent conservation work in 1901 after one of the sarsens and its lintel fell—a concern for public safety. Preservation this past September involved repairing cracks and repacking joints with mortar to stabilize the stones and protect them from erosion.

Two months earlier, a judge had ruled that plans to move the nearby highway underground to reduce traffic and noise were unlawful, suspending a project many archaeologists worried would destroy undiscovered artifacts. Photographer Reuben Wu layered 11 exposures taken over 30 minutes to create the lighting effects in this image.

Photo by Kiana Hayeri

The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, after a 20-year occupation, ended what’s been called America’s longest modern war. But the war there goes on for Hafiza, 70, seen here. She has lived near the city of Faizabad since the Taliban took over her home village in 2019.

Her sons’ choices leave Hafiza grieved and on uncertain ground: Two of them fought with the Afghan National Army, one with a militia and one with the Taliban. The fighting in Afghanistan was among dozens of ongoing conflicts around the world in 2021—recent to ancient, international to regional, stoked by greed, creed or history.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

Having lived in small towns and large cities in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Midwest, and after spending a year traveling around the U.S. with my family, I've seen first-hand that Americans have much more in common than not. I've also gotten to experience some of the cultural differences, subtle and not-so-subtle, real and not-so-real, that exist in various parts of the country.

Some of those differences are being discussed in a viral thread on Twitter. Self-described "West coaster" Jordan Green kicked it off with an observation about East coasters being kind and West coasters being nice, which then prompted people to share their own social experiences in various regions around the country.

Green wrote:

"When I describe East Coast vs West Coast culture to my friends I often say 'The East Coast is kind but not nice, the West Coast is nice but not kind,' and East Coasters immediately get it. West Coasters get mad.

Niceness is saying 'I'm so sorry you're cold,' while kindness may be 'Ugh, you've said that five times, here's a sweater!' Kindness is addressing the need, regardless of tone.

I'm a West Coaster through and through—born and raised in San Francisco, moved to Portland for college, and now live in Seattle. We're nice, but we're not kind. We'll listen to your rant politely, smile, and then never speak to you again. We hit mute in real life. ALOT.


So often, we West Coasters think that showing *sympathy* or feeling *empathy* is an act of kindness. Sadly, it's really just a nice act. Kindness is making sure the baby has a hat. (s/o to breenewsome and BlackAmazon)

When you translate this to institutions or policy, you'll see alot of nice words being used, & West Coast liberals/radicals are really good at *sounding* nice. But I've seen organizers & activists from other places get frustrated because nothing happens after ALOT of talk.

Nothing happens after the pronoun check-ins and the icebreakers. It's rare we make sure that people's immediate needs are addressed. There's no kindness. You have people show up to meetings hungry, or needing rides home, and watching those with means freeze when asked to help.

As we begin to 'get back a sense of normalcy' or 're-calibrate' to what people in Blue States™ think is Right™ and Just™, I want us to keep in mind the difference between Niceness and Kindness. If something sounds nice, doesn't mean that it's kind."

Of course, there are genuinely kind and surface nice people everywhere you go, so no one should take these observations as a personal affront to them individually. Generalizations that lead to stereotypes are inherently problematic, and broad strokes like "East coast" and "West coast" are also somewhat meaningless, so they should taken with a grain of salt as well.

In reality, a small town in South Carolina is probably more culturally similar to a small town in Eastern Oregon than it is to New York City, and there are some strong differences between various subregions as well. A more specific cultural comparison, such as "big cities on the West coast vs. big cities in the Northeast" might be more accurate as far as generalizations go, but regardless, many people related to Green's observations based on their own experiences.

To kick things off, a slew of responses poured in from people describing how New Yorkers can be cold on the surface while simultaneously reaching out their hand to help you.

Several people explained that the hustle required to afford the expense of living in New York explains why people skip the niceties. It's about valuing people's time; wasting it with nice words is ruder than just quickly helping out and then moving on.

Many people chimed in with agreement with the original post (even some Canadians confirming that their East/West differences aligned with ours).

"No sense of urgency" is definitely a West coast vibe, but is generally viewed a positive out here. And "inconveniencing everyone around them" might be a subjective observation. Maybe.

Plenty of people with bicoastal experience weighed in with their stories of how their experiences lined up with the basic premise of the thread, though.

Though certainly not universally true, the tendency for West coasters to be more hands-off might extend back to the frontier days. The pioneer and gold rush mindset was necessarily individualistic and self-sufficient. In my experience, West coasters assume you don't need help unless you directly ask for it. But people don't ask because of the individualistic and self-sufficient thing, so automatic helpfulness just hasn't become part of the dominant culture.

Things got even more interesting once the South and Midwest entered the chat.

But the takes on warm/nice/kind thing varied quite a bit.

One thing that seems quite clear if you read through the various responses to the thread is that specific states and cities seem to have their own cultures that don't break down as simply as East/West/Midwest/South. There's an entire book about how the U.S. can actually be subdivided into 11 different regions that are almost like nations unto themselves. Even this map from 1940 included 34 different cultural regions in the U.S.

And don't even get a Californian started on the differences between Northern CA, Southern CA, and the Central Valley. "Culture" can even be narrowed down even to specific neighborhoods, and people's experiences and perceptions vary for all kinds of reasons, so once again, generalizations only go so far before they fall flat.

If you're curious about what the data says about all of this, a cursory search of surveys about which states are the kindest brings up a fairly mixed bag, but people seem to find Minnesota quite friendly. A Wallethub ranking of charitability by state based on 19 factors including volunteerism also placed Minnesota at number one, followed by Utah, Maryland, Oregon, and Ohio. Pretty hard to make a regional generalization with those states.

Then again, there's the whole "Minnesota nice" thing, which brings us full circle back to the original thread.

So many elements go into the culture of a place, from population density to the history of settlement to the individual personalities of the people who make someplace their home. And nothing is set in stone—the atmosphere of a place can change over time, as anyone who's visited a city a decade or two apart can attest.

One thing that's true, no matter where we live, is that we play a role in molding the culture of our immediate surroundings. If we want where we live to be friendlier, we can be friendlier ourselves. If we want to see people help one another, we can serve as that example. We might stand out, but we also might inspire others who yearn for the same thing.

"Be the change" might seem a bit cliche, but it truly is the key to shifting or world in the way we want it to go, no matter what part of the country—or the world—we live in.


This article originally appeared on 01.22.21

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.


Education

8 classes that should be required for all students before they hit adulthood

If we want to prepare kids for adult life, we've got some glaring gaps to fill.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Why aren't we teaching students the things they really need to know as adults?

I remember sitting in advanced algebra and trigonometry class in high school wondering if I was really ever going to use any of what I was learning. Math at that level meant nothing to me in a practical sense. I planned to study English and education to become an English teacher, so I couldn't imagine why I'd need to learn the ins and outs of trig.

As it turned out, some of what I learned came in handy in the functions class I was required to take to fulfill my math requirement in college. But again, I found myself sitting in class with zero idea of why I was learning this level of math and suspecting that I was never going to actually use that knowledge in my adult life.

Now I'm a middle-aged adult and I can say with absolute certainty that I was right. In 27 years, I have not used anything I learned in functions. Not once. Not even a little bit. I agonized my way through that class to eek out a B-minus and to promptly forget everything I'd learned because it was utterly useless to me.

To be clear, higher math isn't useless—it's amazing. It was just completely useless to me.



You know what would have been useful? Learning about financing a car or a mortgage or understanding how and why and where to invest money. In all that time I was doing trigonometric proofs and calculating polynomial functions, I could have been learning all the various real-life math-related decisions I'd have to make as an adult.

I see the same thing happening with my kids in high school and college. It totally makes sense for students who are interested in going into math and science fields to take math beyond basic algebra and geometry. But for those who aren't—why? There are so many more valuable things for them to take the time to learn—things that every single person really needs a basic knowledge of, such as:

Basic Psychology/Mental Health Maintenance

Every one of us has a brain and mental health is an issue for a huge percentage of people. Even those of us who don't struggle with mental illness benefit from learning about how our minds work, gaining strategies for managing our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and understanding why people do the things they do.

How many people would have been saved by learning how to spot a narcissist before getting into a relationship with one? How many people could mitigate an anxiety spiral right when it starts because they learned to recognize the signs earlier? How many people would appreciate the support and understanding of everyone having a basic understanding of their mental health disorders?

Basic Sociology/Human Behavior

Similarly, every one of us lives in a society. Understanding social connections, relationships and group behavior might kind of come in handy. If we don't understand the causes and consequences of human behavior, we're going to be confused by society at best and allow or enable atrocities to occur at worst.

From learning how cults and conspiracy theories work to recognizing how our prejudices can blind us to reality, sociology has useful knowledge we all need to internalize.

Media Literacy

If we're going to be bombarded with media 24/7, we'd better know how to process it. Understanding how journalism works, what makes a source credible, how information can be skewed and how to recognize misinformation and disinformation is vital. What is bias and how can it be mitigated? How can we recognize when an outlet values accuracy?

So many of the problems the U.S. is facing currently are due to people watching or listening to dubious news sources. Mandatory media literacy courses would (hopefully) go a long way toward changing that.

The Stock Market and Other Investments

I underestimated how much I'd need to know about the stock market when I was younger. None of that economic stuff interested me, but I wish I understood it better now.

But really, it's investing in general that we need to understand more about when we're younger, especially since starting young is the No. 1 best advice any financial advisor will give you.

How Banking, Credit and Credit Cards Work

Every single one of us uses a bank or credit union and credit is a huge part of adult life. And yet most people I know have had to piece together how credit and credit cards actually work through advice from friends and family and good old trial and error, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Taxes

Good gracious, right? Not just how to do taxes, but what taxes get used for.

Financial literacy is what I'm saying. We need mandatory financial literacy classes. (Florida has actually just become the first state to require personal finance education to graduate, so yay Florida.) I think I was required to take economics in high school, but it was much more high-level economic theory than personal finance. We need personal finance first, then the bigger picture.

First Aid/Safety/Self-Defense

Most of us probably got some first aid and/or CPR training in health class, but how comprehensive was it? Did it include infant CPR? Do we know how to recognize if someone is having a stroke? Signs of infection?

What about basic everyday safety, like why you shouldn't leave a car running in a garage or common household fire dangers or how to spot asbestos?

Self-defense seems like a no-brainer. Basically, a "How to Stay Alive and Keep Others Alive" course that includes most everything you need to know to protect yourself and your loved ones on a daily basis.

Navigating our Healthcare and Health Insurance System

Ugh. I've been an adult for almost three decades and everything about our healthcare system confuses and frustrates me. Maybe if we required schools to teach young people how it works, it would shine a big spotlight on how ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated it is because no one could possibly explain it in a way that's understandable. Maybe that would push lawmakers to actually do something about it, because honestly, it's just a gigantic mess.

There are surely others, but those are the major subjects that come to mind as vital after being an adult for a long while and seeing what my own kids need to have a decent grasp on as they make their way into the world. And honestly, there are some classes that adults should be required to take well into adulthood. Parenting classes, for example. Or local government and voting.

All subjects and courses have value to some people, but if we want students to be prepared for adulthood, we should make sure they are given the vital knowledge and skills every person actually needs and will use.


This article originally appeared on 03.25.22

A size 21 Nike shoe made for Tacko Fall.

A local reporter at Hometown Life shared a unique and heartfelt story on March 16 about a mother struggling to find shoes that fit her 14-year-old son. The story resonated with parents everywhere; now, her son is getting the help he desperately needs. It's a wonderful example of people helping a family that thought they had nowhere to turn.

When Eric Kilburn Jr. was born, his mother, Rebecca’s OBGYN, told her that he had the “biggest feet I’ve ever seen in my life. Do not go out and buy baby shoes because they’re not gonna fit,’” Rebecca told Today.com. Fourteen years later, it’s almost impossible to find shoes that fit the 6’10” freshman—he needs a size 23.


The teen's height doesn't stem from a gland issue; he comes from a family of tall people. Both his parents are over 6 feet tall.

Eric plays football for Goodrich High School in Goodrich, Michigan, but doesn’t wear cleats, which led to a sprained ankle. He also suffers from ingrown toenails that are so severe he’s had two nails on his biggest toes permanently removed.

Last year, the family was lucky enough to stumble upon five pairs of size 21 shoes at a Nike outlet store. It was discovered they were made especially for Tacko Fall, the NBA player with some of the most enormous feet in the game. To put things in perspective, Shaquille O’Neal wears a size 22.

However, Eric soon grew out of those as well. The family was left with one more option: have orthopedic shoes made for Eric at the cost of $1,500 with no guarantee he won’t quickly grow out of those as well.

After his mother’s heartfelt plea to Hometown Life, the family got much-needed help from multiple companies, including Under Armour and PUMA, who are sending representatives to Michigan to measure his feet for custom shoes.

CAT has reached out to make him a custom pair of boots. Eric hasn't had any boots to wear for the past five Michigan winters.

Kara Pattison started a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the family to help them purchase custom shoes for “the rest of the time Eric has these feet.” It has raised nearly $20,000 for the family in just over a week.

“The success of this fundraiser is well beyond what was ever expected,” Pattison wrote on the site on March 18. “The Kilburns plan to open a bank account dedicated to Eric's future footwear and some specialized sports equipment. He can use this to get a helmet that fits for football along with pads. They will also look into a football and track jersey for him.”

The sense of relief felt by Rebecca, Eric and the rest of the Kilburn family must be incredible. It has to be frustrating to be unable to provide your child with something as basic as footwear.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Rebecca told Hometown Life. “I have been this puddle of emotions, all of them good…It’s the coolest thing to be able to say we did it! He has shoes! I am not usually a crier, but I have been in a constant state of happy tears…We are so grateful.”


This article originally appeared on 03.23.23