The Paris climate accord has been approved! Now here's what that actually means for you.
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The Wilderness Society

For the first time in history, representatives of 195 nations agreed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rejoice! Hooray! The world is saved!


GIF from "Captain Planet," obvi.

Well. Sort of. Ish. For now.

The so-called "Paris Agreement" was signed into effect Saturday evening, Dec. 12, 2015, after two weeks of grueling negotiations (and technically one day after what was supposed to have been the end of the Conference of the Parties, but that's OK).

It is a landmark step in slowing the effects of climate change across the globe. The mere fact that 195 nations actually came together and agreed on something is a pretty remarkable feat in itself, especially considering that the last 20 times the United Nations tried to get together to address global warming, all ended in resounding shrugs.

GIF via MTV News/Kanye.

While the historical importance of this cooperation is certainly worth celebrating, it's also an easy distraction from the more ... lackluster aspects of the climate deal.

Imagine those 195 nations involved in the agreement are 195 friends who all went out for dinner one night.

Now imagine the nightmare of trying to split the bill 195 ways. The Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn't want to go in on the $300 bottle of wine that the United States bought for the table. And the Marshall Islands had two more pieces of calamari than Brazil did, so Brazil wants them to pay the difference. Then, of course, there's Monaco, who only got a salad and yes OK paid for exactly what they ate plus a stingy tip, but they didn't factor in the tax and everyone else wants them to split the cost of the appetizers, too. And we haven't even gotten started on entrees yet!

Let's just say there was a lot of compromise involved. But hey, at least everyone had a good time, right?

Actual footage from the signing of the agreement. GIF via New York Times.

For example, there was a whole lotta hemming and hawing about the difference between a 1.5° and 2°C global temperature increase.

We know the overall climate is warming and we need to stop it before it gets worse. But there's some disagreement on what "worse" means, exactly.

The general consensus has been that 2 degrees Celsius is the cutoff for rising global temperatures by the end of the century. Any hotter than that, and it gets increasingly difficult to predict just how unpredictable the ecological damage could be. Also, 2 degrees seemed like a pretty attainable goal for most countries.

There are others, however, who were pushing to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees. And while that half-degree might seem like splitting hairs, there are some parts of the world where it could be the difference between life and death.

GIF from "Anchorman."

The result of all this back-and-forth? The global temperature increase will be capped at ... um ... well, we're gonna cap the global temperature increase.

Basically, every country gets to set its own limits for greenhouse gas emissions. These limits will be publicly available through the UN website so all nations can be held to proper public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, there's not really any requirement for these emission reductions other than "less than what we're doing now." Amid the fancy legalese of the formal agreement, it actually says: "Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" (emphasis mine).

That's remarkably vague and noncommittal, especially for a legally binding contract. But the parties will reconvene every five years to review their progress and maybe-possibly increase those limits. So that's something?

The upside of the Paris Agreement: Everyone agrees that we need to take climate action.

Even if specific action is still left to the discretion of each nation, this is a big move in the right direction.

While the issue of global warming is hardly "solved" and we're not any closer to saving the planet once and for all (if such a thing is even possible), at least we acknowledge there's a problem, and we're committing to fix it.

Yes, there are some changes that will happen in your country and some things that might be integrated into your day-to-day lives. But you might not even notice them, and they might not be enough to make a difference.

That might seem like cold comfort. But it all depends on what we do from here on out.

So let's pledge as individuals to embrace climate-conscious lives whenever possible.

Vote with your dollars and go green when you can. You don't have to buy solar panels for your home — just pay attention to what you recycle. Walk, bike, or carpool when you can (and maybe next time you buy a car, aim for electric). Be aware of the world as you move through it, and consider the impact that actions might have on the future of our planet. And whenever there's an option that involves less fossil fuels, I implore you to take it.

That might be as vague and noncommittal as the Paris Agreement. But everything has to start somewhere.

Let's get started.

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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."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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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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