These 4 breathtaking islands have found amazing ways to make their own natural energy.
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The Wilderness Society

Located off the grid? How about making your own?

Islands are their own little worlds. It's part of their awesomeness. But being cut off from the mainland can also be a serious challenge. Larger land mass means more space and more people ... and that usually means more support for roads, electricity, cable lines, and all the other technological amenities of modern living.

But just because you're surrounded by water doesn't mean you have to be stuck in the Stone Age. In fact, the inconvenience of connecting back to a mainland-based power grid might just provide the motivation to find an alternative solution — like it did for these four islands that found sustainable ways to make their own independent energy.


1. Samsø, Denmark

The island of Samsø is located off the central-east coast of Denmark in the Kattegat sea. It's about 44 square miles in area with a population of around 4,000 people and has been functioning on 100% self-sustainable wind- and biomass-generated electricity since about 2007. In fact, they've reached the point where they're producing so much clean electricity that they're able to export their surplus.

They also have a cool interactive map that shows how their renewable energy system works.

Samsø photo by David Huang/Flickr.

2. El Hierro

Samso used to have support from the Danish government and was connected to the mainland power grid. But the remote island nation of El Hierro wasn't so lucky. An autonomous community of Spain located in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, El Hierro used to ship in diesel fuel from the mainland to power their electric grid.

But in the summer of 2014, they started to break away by constructing a new wind- and water-turbine farm. The $110 million plant is on track to provide 100% of the island's electricity by the end of 2015.

El Hierro photo by Jose Mesa/Flickr.

3. Tokelau

In addition to being the free domain host for my very first personal website back in 2003, the tiny Pacific island of Tokelau (population: 1,400!) also has the distinction of being the first almost-nation to run entirely on solar power.

If we're being technical, Tokelau is still designated as a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand, according to the United Nations. But the installation of this solar grid was actually part of the long-term plan to end Tokelau's dependence on New Zealand and establish themselves as a fully independent and self-governing entity.

Tokelau photo by Cloud Surfer / Wikimedia Commons.

4. Kodiak Island, Alaska

The residential electricity rate in Alaska in June 2015 was nearly the highest in the U.S. and 63% higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even though places like Kodiak Island were already relying on hydropower for 80% of their electricity, they were still burning millions of gallons of diesel fuel each year.

But with a little help from the Alaska Energy Authority, the second largest island in the United States now gets 99.7% of its energy from wind and hydro. Which, sure, might not be exactly 100%. But considering the fact that their goal was to reach 95% renewable energy by 2020, I'd say 99.7% by 2015 is pretty good. (Alaska as a whole aims to reach 50% renewable energy by 2025.)

Kodiak Island photo by Wanetta Ayers / Wikimedia Commons.

And while these other islands aren't quite there yet, they have plans to become self-sufficient and sustainable by 2050:

Hawaii

In June 2015 — just ahead of President Obama's announcement of the Clean Power Plan — Gov. David Ige of Hawaii committed his island-that's-a-state to achieving the goal of 100% renewable power by 2045. Two months later, they opened the first fully closed-cycle Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plant in the U.S.

This is a particularly good idea for Hawaii, which couldn't even harvest its own fossil fuels if it wanted to.

Hawaii photo by Xklaim/Wikimedia Commons.

Marshall Islands

A Pacific island nation in free association with the United States, the Republic of Marshall Islands also released a new plan for an eco-friendly future, starting in the summer of 2015. This tiered plan aims for them to reduce carbon emissions 45% by 2030 with the ultimate goal of achieving zero emissions by 2050.

Marshall Islands photo by Stefan Lins/Flickr.

The country's minister of foreign affairs, Tony de Drum, said it best in the press release announcing this initiative: "Our message is simple: If one of the world's smallest, poorest and most geographically isolated countries can do it, so can you."

Sometimes a little competition is all it takes. Let's hope the rest of the world accepts the challenge.

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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."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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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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