Heroes

Watch the final moments before Scotland's last coal plant shut down.

Hats off to the workers at Longannet power station.

Watch the final moments before Scotland's last coal plant shut down.

"For the first time in more than a century, no power produced in Scotland will come from burning coal."

That's according to Hugh Finlay, the generation director for energy firm ScottishPower. The company's last coal-burning plant in the country, Longannet power station, closed on March 24, 2016, making Scotland one of the first nations in the world to officially end its reliance on the dirty energy source.


Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images.

“It was uneconomic to continue," a ScottishPower spokesperson told The Guardian, noting increased carbon taxes on the aging facility — once the largest in Europe — made operations increasingly costly.

This is a big deal for Scotland, which has its eyes set on a 100% clean energy future.

Scotland has big green goals, and it's not just talking the talk.

By 2020, Scotland wants all of its electricity demand to come from renewable sources, as CNBC reported. The funny thing is, they just might pull it off.

Europe's largest onshore wind farm (seen above) is located in Eaglesham, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images.

Data released last June showed half of Scotland's energy came from renewables in 2014 — up significantly from 2010, when that figure stood at just about 24%. The upward trend will only continue.

"Renewable energy is a central element of our strategy for a successful Scotland," Fergus Ewing, the country's minister for energy, enterprise, and tourism, wrote in a 2013 report. The country's efforts won't just be better for the planet, he noted — they'll boost job creation and investment opportunities as well.

But for the folks at Longannet power station, the closing was a bittersweet affair.

While prioritizing green energy creates jobs for the future, other roles are lost to a changing economy. And no one knows that better than the workers at Longannet.

“It’s been a great place to work — a great bunch of guys to work with,” one worker said in a video, seen below, that captured the moment the plant shut down. “I’ll miss the vibrancy of Longannet when I leave."

“Longannet has contributed more electricity for the national grid than any other power station in Scotland’s history," Finlay said in a statement. "It is a sad day for everyone at ScottishPower."

More than 230 jobs will be lost due to the closure, and roughly 1,000 indirect jobs outside the plant could be affected, The Guardian reported.

Still, moving away from coal is something to celebrate because it's in all our best interests.

Our addiction to coal is a big contributor to our collective carbon footprint, which is the driving force behind climate change. Luckily, we're curbing our addiction.

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images.

New data revealed at the UN's climate talks in Paris found 2015 could be the very first year global carbon emissions stalled — or even declined — during a period of economic growth. China — one of the world's biggest coal users — is moving away from its dirty energy habit, which is a big reason behind the benchmark.

"[China is] restructuring its economy," said Professor Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia in the U.K., who led the study. "But there is also a contribution from the very fast growth in renewable energy worldwide."

As the team at Longannet knows well, going green can be tough. But Scotland is showing the world how it's done...

...one coal plant at a time.

Cheers* to a clean energy 2020.

*with Scotch, of course. GIF via "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."

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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."

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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