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Beyond Belief Network teams reported nearly 30 events and 1,000 hours of service in the month of April. We already celebrated BE. Orlando for earning April Team of the Month honors and Pikes Peak Atheists and Pikes Peak Atheist Families for capturing the April Picture of the Month. Here's what the rest of our incredible BBN teams were up to!

Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless distributed items to 200 people at their April giveaway, a group record! In addition to the regular toiletries, water, fruit, crackers, etc., 17 Austin AHH volunteers distributed two large bags of clothes, which flew off the tables. Particularly popular were the set of professional men's clothes that had been donated by supporters in San Antonio. Feminine hygiene products were provided in collaboration with Support the Girls - Austin, an organization dedicated to providing assistance to women who are low-income or experiencing homelessness.

Six Brevard Area Atheists volunteers filled 9 heavy duty garbage bags with 50 pounds of roadside trash. Month after month, the group gets out there to keep its community clean!

Volunteers from the Center for Inquiry - Michigan helped prepare raised garden beds at Well House, a Grand Rapids organization that provides housing as a solution to homelessness. The project involved turning and breaking up soil to prepare for spring planting of gardens for Well House residents to grow their own vegetables.

Thirteen volunteers from the Central Ohio United Non-Theists (COUNT) and the Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO) worked as servers at the Community Shelter Board (CSB) facility in Columbus, Ohio. It was the sixteenth joint shelter event with the two Columbus Coalition of Reason groups. To date, 72 Columbus CoR volunteers have worked 608.5 hours in 29 events with the Community Shelter Board. CSB provides housing and meals to homeless families and individual men and women in Central Ohio. Some volunteers serve dinners while others wash dishes, mop floors, file forms and clean tables.

Also in April, 5 COUNT volunteers also worked as Housewarmers at the Columbus, Ohio Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing and meals to families with children being treated at Nationwide Children's Hospital and other area hospitals. To date, 17 COUNT volunteers have contributed 905 hours from the start of their involvement with the Ronald McDonald House in 2013.

Humanist Alliance Philippines, International organized a cleanup drive of the Anilao River. After four hours of collecting trash, the volunteers distributed food to children.

Volunteers from the Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation Community Service Committee made no-sew fleece blankets for Chai Lifeline, which provides emotional support to children facing serious illnesses. This event took place after their regular Sunday School session.  Students, their parents, and a number of grandparents who had been attending Sunday School that day with their grandchildren participated in this event. They have been doing this project for the past few years. Note that not all participants were community members - grandparents and guests participated as well as adult members and their children.

Fourteen members of Minnesota Atheists volunteered on a blustery spring afternoon to sort donated canned goods and household items for distribution to local food shelves. One stalwart volunteer showed up despite having just had a pituitary tumor removed! The volunteers packed 3,535 pounds or enough for 2,946 meals! Ten Minnesota Atheist volunteers also helped out at The Family Place in April. They purchased ingredients to make a chicken and cheesy hash brown dinner. Thirteen guests were served, and plenty of leftovers remained to feed people into the next week.

South Jersey Humanists had a table at the very punk-rock Smithville Art Walk. Amidst all the dark and goth art sold at other tables, SJH offered participants a chance to get a picture with their realistic Flying Spaghetti Monster. The price of the picture was a donation to the Narenj Tree Foundation, a local group collecting essential supplies and shipping them to Syrian refugee camps. Even people who weren't interested in a photo-op with the FSM pitched in, and SJH collected $103 over the course of the day.

Volunteers from the South Texas Atheists for Reason (STAR) helped prepare garden plots at the San Antonio Food Bank for needy folks in the area. STAR continued to see impressive attendance ranging from 873 to 1,000 at the weekly discussions facilitated by humanist chaplains at Lackland Air Force Base (Pictured at the top of this post in our featured photo.) At the third meeting, they had to turn away 54 trainees because they were at max capacity for the meeting space! STAR also pitched in with the San Antonio River Authority "Watershed Wise Warriors" volunteering program to clean up the trails and remove invasive species.

Sunday Assembly Los Angeles hosted an afternoon of board games for residents of the People Concern, an organization that aims to end homelessness for LA's most vulnerable - primarily adults with mental illness - through a continuum of services and housing. SALA volunteers provided snacks and prizes and taught several games to the residents. SALA members also sorted baby clothes with Baby2Baby.

 Great work, BBN teams! To learn how you can become a BBN team, click here.

By FBB

The uncertain future of the coal industry has been a central figure in the media’s portrayal of the political turmoil disrupting a large swath of the United States. So too has the uncertain future of environmental policy that protects the land in coal-rich regions. It’s never been more important to be able to take a literal step back and get a comprehensive view of the issues. By stepping way back, satellite-distance back, in fact, we are revealing the devastation left in the wake of the most destructive form of mining. This bird's eye view is also pointing the way toward a solution.

SkyTruth uses satellite and aerial imagery to study and reveal the marks humans are leaving on the earth in their ever-expanding quest for natural resources. We have shown the impacts of natural gas drilling on the Rocky Mountain west and the growth of strip mining throughout the United States. Our FrackFinder project has enlisted citizen scientists to help analyze tens of thousands of aerial images and build datasets on natural gas fracking sites that can be used to study impacts on public health and the environment.

Our reach has been both global and intimately local. Based in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the small village of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, we have been conducting satellite image analyses on the environmental impact of Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR) in these mountains since 2007. That work has changed policy, driven scientific research, and brought previously unrecognized destruction into the public eye.

“Apocalyptic transformation of Appalachia is happening under everybody’s nose,” says SkyTruth’s president and founder, John Amos, “and nobody can see it or realize it, until you get up in the air, and take a look and see how inexorably this destruction has grown over the last few decades. It really slaps you in the face.”

Mountaintop Removal mining involves blasting away mountain ridge tops to expose coal seams for extraction. Once the seam is exhausted, coal companies dump the “spoil” (the unusable earth that remains) into the valleys below, fouling waterways and poisoning sources of drinking water. When we began analyzing satellite images of the Appalachian Mountains ten years ago, no one—not even government officials charged with overseeing the mining industry—had a reliable map of where coal companies were conducting MTR or how many mountaintops had already been leveled.

Environmental groups had been sounding the alarm, and Appalachian Voices asked us if we could measure the extent of the destruction in West Virginia. John surveyed the satellite data. His shocking results provided the visceral impact that moved the political machine.

That original work covered 59 counties and identified nearly half a million acres of new mining over a 30-year period. SkyTruth’s data allowed outside organizations and research institutions to directly link MTR to downstream water pollution and related environmental and health effects. Some of the work is currently factoring in an unprecedented legal case between the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers over mine permits.

This year, we have expanded our surveys to 74 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. Together with Duke University and Appalachian Voices, we have created an interactive, online mapping tool that displays a timeline of active mining from 1985 through 2015. “We are now taking the new tools that have become available to us through Google’s cloud computing infrastructure and the entire multi-million image archive of satellite data that is at our fingertips, and we are keeping people updated on year-to-year changes in the landscape,” John says.

Our motto is “If You Can See It, You Can Change It,” and the new map visualization tool allows everyone to see it. The map provides gut-wrenching visual evidence of the sheer scale of MTR across the Appalachians. Although it is unlikely that mountaintop removal will stop in the near future, understanding what the landscape looks like now, and what it looked like before can drive efforts to reclaim the land to a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem again. “It’s time to start thinking about transition,” John says.

SkyTruth’s work reveals the extent of the reclamation problem as the threat of coal company bankruptcies looms over Appalachia. Citizens will need diligence and evidence to ensure the courts hold companies to their commitments to repair the landscape they’ve so carelessly destroyed. But our birds-eye view also reveals the massive opportunity for economic revitalization in the region.

“Lots of people are going to have to drive lots of trucks and bulldozers and backhoes and plant trees, to reclaim this land,” says John. “That’s a lot of jobs that could help soften the blow from the continuing decline of mining in the region.” It may even be feasible to bring in outside dollars through the sale of carbon credits for forest planting. John hopes the new map SkyTruth is producing can become a springboard for that kind of thinking. “People need to be planning out what they want Appalachia to be in the future and how to get from here to there,” he says, underscoring SkyTruth’s unique ability to use images from the past and the present as tools to imagine the future.

Post has been supplied by SkyTruth.

By Guest post from SkyTruth

Waste and Change

23 May 2017

In Yendi, in the Northern Region of Ghana, the government and the people are still developing infrastructure including waste collection systems. Like many developing regions in the world, the waste created really has nowhere to go. It ends up in fields, on farms, and in the waterways. This blocks the rain water from moving to the natural valley on the outside of town. The city depends on this river valley for potable water throughout the year. This creates an opportunity for malaria and other waterborne diseases to increase, harms crop production, and, especially during the driest part of the year, significantly decreases the available water for the city to process for its citizens, which can even stop public availability. Families, including children, end up having to walk miles a day during these months just to have water to drink.

Coming into Ghana, seeing the incredible amount of inorganic waste littered or unprocessed was a huge shock. But as I have researched and talked with friends, I have begun to get a clearer picture of the roots of the problem. Plastic as a commodity has only been around for about 100 years, and in Ghana for far less time. Before the presence of inorganic waste creation, especially in the rural communities, just tossing waste on the ground was no problem. Anything you made or used was decomposed in a relatively short amount of time and became part of the earth once again. So when items such as plastic and other inorganics were introduced people assumed the same. Why think any differently?

Now, just a few decades later, people are realizing the truth, but they have very little process or means for decreasing this waste production, for changing this pattern, or for creating solutions. But this is changing. Like many places around the world, Ghanaians are increasingly becoming aware of the issue and finding answers. But, seeing the trash and litter in the extreme amounts here in Ghana has really opened my eyes to the incredible need for attitudinal change of everyone around the world. (Pictured right: using plastics in fence-making.)

I know there are people reading this who have seen the photos of landfills. They've seen the images of children and the impoverished digging through the rubbish or even living in it. They've seen the statistics on the dying sea life, the impossibility of current use sustainability, and the warnings from scientists. But, in my experience, this hasn't changed most people's patterns, including my own until recently, in any significant way. And, in my opinion, this comes down to a few different things. I think in developed countries with the necessary infrastructure the trash we create goes in a bag and bin and then "disappears." It's taken to a dump away from view and forgotten about. But, there are literal mountains of garbage all around the world (for example Mount Trashmore and the Great Pacific garbage patch.) In day-to-day life, we have grown used to using these products for short-term convenience with no thought to long-term effect. We consume far more than we need and are content with pushing the negative costs aside. Also, I think companies that produce plastic and other inorganic waste don't care about the planet, and I don't think they don't care about you. I think they are focused on short-term gain more than Mother Earth. Not only do I think their action are selfish, but I see these businesses wielding immense power over our government and the education of the general public on the true imminence of this problem. And it is imminent.

In the ocean, there is currently an estimated eight million tons of waste. That's enough to fill five grocery bags for every foot of coastline. That doesn't include what is on land, and that number is growing by millions of pounds every year. This also doesn't include the pollution from oil, electricity, water use, mining, deforestation, and so many other activities. Even if you don't accept climate change science, you have to realize that this is not sustainable. This is an issue of self-preservation as well as environmental compassion. We cannot continue to consume with no consequence. We cannot continue to treat this planet like our space and resources are unlimited.

So what do we do?

We decide to change our habits. We become informed and conscientious. We support business, science, and diplomacy that aim to attain a sustainable world. We decide to appreciate and respect what we have. We accept our personal responsibility. We strive for a greener, more beautiful tomorrow.

And there are innumerable solutions. We all know the three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. These are so important, but it can go beyond this. It has to go beyond this. There are companies and organizations working hard to innovate, educate, and create new ways to process the waste we make, clean up the old, and innovate biodegradable technologies. This can and should look different in every region and every country. In order for work to be truly effective, it must be individualized to the culture, people, and needs. In places like the US, this comes down to consuming considerably less, using the recycling provided, and voting for governmental, environmentally-conscious regulations.

In countries like Ghana, people are finding secondary uses for the waste (rope, backpacks, etc), using organic materials like leaves to wrap food (pictured left), and starting grassroots initiatives that can potentially produce work for people in their communities. Currently, HSC volunteer Lukeman and I have been working through such ideas with the hope of helping people create income and clean their neighborhoods by using the plastics as building material. Ghanaians are creative, intuitive, hard-working people. They want to create a community that is clean, efficient, and healthy. I believe in people. I believe that we can have a green, wonderful, futuristic world that cares for our posterity and makes nature a priority. But, this will take work. This will require keeping each other and our leadership accountable. This will take sacrifice. This planet, our planet, is worth it.

By Jude Lane, HSC Ghana Volunteer

A large part of the work our Humanist Service Corps (HSC) team does in Ghana is empowering women to realize their full potential as equal members of society. As in many parts of the world, there is still much work to be done. When the team lived in Bimbila, they worked closely with partner organization Songtaba to reintegrate women accused of witchcraft and living in exile. You can read more about these efforts on the Applied Sentience blog here.  Now that the team has moved to Yendi, they look forward to building relationships with the people in this community and working with new friends to foster grassroots efforts to empower more women and, therefore, their whole community. It's well-known that to help a community, the best way to begin is to empower the women in that community. There's a Ghanaian professor named Akua Kuenyehia who recently participated in a panel at 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She talked about how empowering women is not just advantageous for the women themselves, but for the entire country. Please read more about her talk here.

HSC is currently designing a project with BIRDS, our newest partner, to empower women to seek leadership positions in the community including running for office. Recent news in Ghana suggests that the country is poised to appoint its second successive female chief justice! News of woman in such a powerful position in Ghana only supports our work and message locally.

Please make your gift today to ensure we can sustain our culturally-responsible grassroots work saving lives and fighting for women's rights! 

By FBB

BE. Orlando is our Beyond Belief Network Team of the Month for April! Each year BE. Orlando hosts a humanist outreach tent at Central Florida Earth Day. The festival itself is an environmental advocacy event, and 100% of the proceeds benefit local animal rescue agencies. This year they donated a gift basket from a local family-owned nursery to support the fundraising efforts.

This is also the third year BE. Orlando organized a blood drive at the festival, and they do the same thing at Veg Fest in the fall. Across the two festivals over the past three years BE. Orlando has helped 120 blood donors impact nearly 350 lives!

There were more than 250 vendors at Earth Day, and the March for Science occurred in the same location, so there were plenty of visitors to BE. Orlando's booth. The BE. Orlando table featured a "lives saved" display of red dots for every life saved at the festival blood drives since 2014, as well as photos and information about BE. Orlando, an Ask an Atheist Day display and a board for people to add positive messages about BEing (Just BE....________.) The group had a donation jar and raised $41 to support the meal they served in April at the Ronald McDonald House.

For the dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, volunteers prepared a healthy and creative variety of Italian-themed foods, including pasta dishes, veggie dishes, salads, bruschetta, appetizers, and more. This was in addition to the monthly meal BE. Orlando serves the second Wednesday of every month at SafeHouse of Seminole. This month’s meal theme was “Breakfast for Dinner”, and BE. Orlando's chef team had an amazing time preparing mini egg souffles, breakfast casseroles, organic apple walnut fruit salad, meats, potatoes, french toast casserole and more – there were more than 20 different dishes prepared by the team! The group strives to make fun food for kids, healthy options, vegetarian and vegan options, and yummy comfort food at every event.

Also in April, BE. Orlando learned that an elderly man in their area had been caring for two colonies of feral cats for the last 20 years, and the local rescue/feral cat management agencies were unable to help. This gentleman has experienced some illness in the past months and needs assistance. Volunteers met with him to provide guidance and ideas, as well as to determine additional ways the group could help. One of the major challenges was financial resources, so BE. Orlando is planning some supply drives to help him out. It was a great opportunity to educate volunteers about the challenges associated with feral cat colony management, TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs, health care, and the challenges faced by animal rescue agencies, such as lack of volunteers and funding.

Congratulations to our BBN team of the month, BE. Orlando! You are humanism at work!

By FBB

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