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When some koalas needed friends, these farmers stepped up.

A new coal mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

When some koalas needed friends, these farmers stepped up.
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League of Conservation Voters

The Liverpool Plains of Australia are a tawny green stretch of land in New South Wales, Australia.

Nestled between two mountain ranges, the land is incredibly rich, with fertile soils, a large aquifer, and large swaths of woodland.


Image via Tim J Keegan/Flickr.

It's also sitting on tons of coal.

Something the Australian government and the Shenhua Group — a Chinese mining company — would love to get their hands on. Australia is positively addicted to digging the stuff out of the ground — it's one of the largest coal exporters in the world — and depends on it for 70% of its electricity.

"Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world," said then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014.

But farmers don't want to live next to a coal mine.

The Anglesea coal mine in nearby Victoria is an example of Australian pit mining. Image via Takver/Flickr.

The government's approved a massive 1,000-foot-deep open-pit mine right in the Liverpool Plains to get at the coal. The mine would raze large swaths of land and could pollute the aquifer that locals depend on to live, farm, and ranch.

The land's already bought and sold and the government's already signed the approval. However, farmers have now challenged the government's approval of the mine in court.

They say the miners didn't think about the koalas.


Image via Marc Dalmulder/Flickr.

The mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

The Liverpool koala population are already in trouble from the recent droughts and brush fires. Koalas aren't good at keeping cool and need big shady trees to protect them. If the trees are cut down, the koalas overheat.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

"If we don't plant enough big trees, we will find koalas perish if heatwaves increase," Matthew Crowther, a researcher from the University of Syndey, told Guardian Australia in 2013. More than a quarter of the local Liverpool Plains koala population died in a 2009 heat wave.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

And climate change is only going to make things harder.

Koalas eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves. But as the weather gets hotter and drier and carbon dioxide levels rise, eucalyptus trees are changing how their leaves grow. They'll have less protein, less nutrients, and more bitter, toxic tannins. Koalas may start to starve.

This is serious enough that the IUCN — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — specifically named them as one of the animals most at risk from climate change.

Of course, the animals could just eat more or be more picky about which trees they live in, but there's only so much to go around. This'll mean that many koalas may need to travel long distances to stay fed. Scientists are predicting that koala populations may need to move to the south and east.


Koalas are not particularly fast or agile, so being on the ground puts them in a lot of danger from dogs and other predators. Image via Frankzed/Flickr.

And though traveling on the ground is something koalas could do, there's one particular problem the Liverpool koalas will have.

Namely, a giant freaking mine in the way.

Not only would the mine be, you know, a giant barren pit full of giant, dangerous machinery, it would also require new roads and railway lines to be built, which would only make it harder for koalas to migrate.

Plus the fact that burning this coal would release more carbon makes this mine a double whammy against koalas.

"Scientists are not optimistic of the ability of this highly specialised species to adapt to a changing climate," said a 2009 report by the IUCN (PDF). Though koalas are still widespread, they may not stay that way in the future.

The Australian federal government does not currently protect koalas as a threatened species, but farmers hope that by highlighting their plight, they can stop the construction of this mine and save their land (and an Australian icon) while they're at it.

Image via Kate Ausburn/Flickr.

If you're interested in lending a hand not just to koalas but to all animals threatened by fossil fuels and climate change, you can help by signing the League of Conservation Voters' petition telling Congress to support the Clean Power Plan.

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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."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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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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