Signs of Life

Small Stories about Big Change


Activists Step Up to the Challenge

In the largest U.S. global warming demonstration ever, tens of thousands stepped up on April 14, challenging Congress to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. For this first National Day of Climate Action, volunteers organized local events in more than 1,400 cities in all 50 states.

Thousands of people gathered at iconic natural locations threatened by global warming, including an Alaskan glacier, a maple forest in Vermont, and a coral reef off the coast of Florida.

All this started with a website called Step It Up 2007, which was created by Bill McKibben and six graduate students at the beginning of the year. The goal: to launch an environmental “civil rights” movement to stop global warming. After the first National Day of Climate Action, McKibben declared success.

Each local event “means that many people worked hard and passionately to get something going about climate change,” said McKibben. “That's what a movement is, and now there is one around global warming.”

It seems some leaders are beginning to see the light on global climate change and the energy crisis. Australia's government pledged to phase out inefficient incandescent lighting by 2010, and California assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced a bill that would ban the bulbs in his state. In February, New Jersey assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis introduced a bill that would require a complete conversion to fluorescent lighting inside the state's government buildings within three years.

Construction has begun on an Arctic “doomsday vault” containing seeds of all the world's known food crops. This “Noah's Ark of Food” will allow for the replanting of agricultural crops in case of a major global disaster. One hundred countries have backed the plan, and the Norwegian government is overseeing construction. Located on an island just south of the North Pole, and strategically positioned 426 feet above the ocean to account for rising sea levels, seeds will be kept at –4°F.

—Catherine Bailey


Ph.D. in Positive Psychology

What makes people happy? Claremont Graduate University will be investigating that question in a new Ph.D. program in positive psychology. The program is being led by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has been teaching and writing about creativity, innovation, and managing “flow” for over 15 years. “Most research on human behavior has focused on what goes wrong in human affairs: aggression, mental disease, failure, and so on,” Csikszentmihalyi says.

“We don't know enough about what makes life worth living, what gives people hope and energy and enjoyment.”

Come autumn, curious graduate students will seek to find out.

—Catherine Bailey


Rev. Yearwood. Photo by Sari Goodfriend
Photo by Sari Goodfriend.

To end this war, we have to bring new energy and new voices to the forefront.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus and organizer of the “Make Hip Hop Not War” 15-city concert tour of hip hop artists, activists, Iraq war veterans, and national leaders.



Creative Resistance to the Iraq War

As public opposition to the Iraq War grows, so do the ways ordinary citizens are taking a stand against the war. While the nationwide antiwar protests of March 17 garnered the most attention, a series of creative, decentralized movements have been spreading to local communities across the country.

One of the most visible actions has been The Occupation Project, in which peace activists from across the country have staged sit-ins in the offices of senators and members of Congress. Their goal: to pressure their representatives to stop funding the Iraq War and bring the troops home.

So far, 39 offices have been occupied in 25 states, says Jeff Leys of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which launched The Occupation Project in early February. As of April 17, 327 people have been arrested for engaging in civil disobedience.

Across the United States, people have been working to get their cities to pass Bring Home the Troops resolutions, which condemn the injustices war inflicts both at home and abroad. According to Cities for Progress, which serves as a nationwide clearinghouse for this effort, more than 270 cities have passed resolutions calling for an end to the Iraq War. These resolutions also serve to build the peace movement from the ground up and unite cities across the country in sending a strong message to Congress to end the war.

To mobilize the younger generation, the nonprofit Hip Hop Caucus organized a 15-city Make Hip Hop Not War tour featuring music and speeches from members of Congress and prominent anti-war activists, such as Cindy Sheehan. The tour aims to galvanize youth to raise their voices against a war that inordinately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. The tour kicked off in Washington, D.C., on March 24 and worked its way around the country.

—Maile Martinez and Lisa Farino

Interested?,, and

Huge Weapons Test Canceled

On February 22, the Defense Department canceled the so-called Divine Strake weapons test at the Nevada Test Site. This would have been the largest non-nuclear weapons test ever, equivalent to detonating a small nuclear weapon. The cancellation follows almost a year of grassroots organizing in Nevada and Utah, as well as a civil lawsuit, prompted by concerns about the health hazards of the resulting mushroom cloud. Although the explosives for the test were non-nuclear, heavily irradiated dust from the already-contaminated Nevada Test Site could have been carried downwind by the blast. Public outcry also moved Utah Governor Jan Huntsman to oppose the expansion of EnergySolution's nuclear waste disposal in the state.

—Lilja Otto

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WTO Protesters Win in Court

Seven years after the “Battle in Seattle,” the City of Seattle has acknowledged that the arrest of scores of peaceful WTO protesters was unconstitutional. The city has settled a class action lawsuit filed by 160 wrongfully arrested protesters. The plaintiffs will collect a total of $1 million. According to The Seattle Times, this money will first be used to pay the protesters' legal fees. The remainder will be divided into individual awards of at least $3,000. More importantly, the city has agreed to improve police training to protect—not violate—the right to peaceful assembly.

—Maile Martinez


Making it Easier to Unionize

Economic insecurity continues to grow in the United States as an increasing number of people cannot rely on full-time work to provide a livable wage, health insurance, and a pension plan. To counter this trend, labor unions and workers' rights groups are collaborating on a solution: make it easier for workers to form unions.

Unionized Workers Earn More. YES! Magazine Graphic 2007.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. YES! Magazine Graphic 2007.

The Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the House of Representatives in March and is awaiting a vote in the Senate, would allow workers to form a union once a majority have signed union cards, instead of having to wait at least 8 to 10 more weeks for an National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. Nonprofit advocates for workers' justice argue that eliminating this delay is critical to limiting management's ability to engage in union-busting activity.

According to Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor researcher at Cornell University, 75% of employers hire anti-union consultants during NLRB election campaigns and 25% fire at least one pro-union worker.

In a recent study by Rutgers University and Jesuit Wheeling University, 46% of workers in NLRB elections reported being pressured by management, while only 14% of workers in card-check campaigns reported being pressured by union organizers.

Much of the energy for changing labor laws is coming from national workers' rights organizations and the non-union workers they are mobilizing.

Kim Bobo, executive director for Interfaith Workers Justice, explains why Christians, Muslims, and Jews are coming together across the country to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act and other labor laws. “It grows out of our concern for people living in poverty,” Bobo says. “One of the fastest and most effective ways for people to get out of poverty is to get them working in unions.”

Sarita Gupta, Executive Director at Jobs with Justice, stresses that a revitalized labor movement would also help to rebuild the shrinking American middle-class.

In addition, she emphasizes that a strong, unionized workforce doesn't just benefit individual workers, it also strengthens local communities. “When workers are paid well, they contribute to a strong local economy,” she explains. “And when workers only need to work 40 hours each week, they have time to participate in their communities.”

—Lisa Farino

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Universities Waste Not

The University of California has become the first U.S. university system to address the growing problem of waste from electronic devices. Under its new Environmental Sustainability Policy, California's 10-university system will only buy electronic products certified by EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool). EPEAT evaluates computers, laptops, and monitors for harmful chemical content, ability to be recycled, and product longevity. The new e-waste policy also requires producers to take back and either recycle or reuse computer components.

The University of California system has more than 200,000 students on 10 campuses and buys an estimated 10,000 computers each month, resulting in nearly 1 million pounds of e-waste annually. Each campus has developed or is developing e-waste drop-off sites where students can conveniently recycle personal electronics such as cell phones, computers, and music players.

The state of California remains at the forefront of progressive environmental policy. In February, the state passed laws requiring electronics to be recycled in an effort to keep mercury and other toxins out of landfills. In 2003, 515,000 tons of electronics were thrown away in the state.

—Zach Kyle


Cars Compete for Corn. YES! Magazine Graphic 2007.
Source: USDA Economic Research Service.
YES! Magazine Graphic 2007.

Bio-Fuel Competes with Food

The rise of ethanol as an alternative fuel may mean corn will feed more gas tanks and fewer hungry people. The rapid surge in demand for corn to produce ethanol took experts by surprise, and resulted in a 50 percent increase in corn prices last year.

As recently as April 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted that the ethanol industry would use 2.6 billion bushels of corn per year by 2010. Their current projection is a demand of 3.7 billion bushels in 2008, representing 29.2 percent of total corn use. In 2001, ethanol represented 7.2 percent of use.

“The food and energy economies, historically separate, are now merging,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. “In this new economy, if the fuel value of grain exceeds its food value, the market will move it into the energy economy. As the price of oil climbs, so will the price of food.”

The effects of the price jump are far-reaching. Farmers are planting corn instead of rice and soybeans, which are also rising in price. The escalating cost of corn also translates into higher prices for pork, beef, and dairy, which depend on corn for animal feed.

The U.S. doesn't utilize corn as a staple food, but 20 nations do. In Mexico where the price of tortillas jumped 60 percent, tens of thousands protested in the streets, forcing the government to regulate tortilla prices. More dire problems will arise in impoverished nations. The USDA projects a marked drop in corn exports in the coming year.

The energy industry is ramping up for increasing ethanol production. Currently, 116 ethanol plants are operating in the U.S., 79 are under construction, and an additional 200 are planned.

Sweden has built the world's largest biogas plant as part of its commitment to non-grain energy. Already boasting the world's first biogas-powered train and 800 buses that run on the gasoline alternative, Sweden plans to build 200 new plants to heat homes and sustain its growing fleet of biogas-powered cars.

Biogas is methane produced by fermenting organic waste, including cattle dung, sewage, slaughterhouse waste, and food byproducts.

Biogas has significant potential for industry. It supplies 75 percent of the energy used to make the paper YES! is printed on. Methane collects at the bottom of a landfill and is piped eight miles to the mill in Saint-Jerome, Quebec.

—Zach Kyle


No to Genetically Engineered Rice

Forty-one of the world's largest rice exporters, processors, and retailers promised in February not to purchase genetically engineered (GE) rice.

The world's rice supply was contaminated in 2006 by an experimental variety of GE rice produced by Bayer, a multinational biotech company. The incident caused a sharp drop in rice prices and subjected the global rice industry to recalls, canceled orders, and brand damage. Some countries and companies banned all U.S.-grown rice. Although some types of GE rice have been approved in the U.S., the Bayer variety has not been approved.

U.S. rice exports are expected to decline overall as a result of the contamination, and several class-action lawsuits have been filed by U.S. rice farmers against Bayer. However, Bayer continues to seek approval for its GE rice.

Farmers in Mali, located in Sub-Saharan Africa, recently voted against allowing GE crops. The non-binding decision was made by a “citizens' jury” consisting of 45 farmers, who cross-examined 14 witnesses including scientists, government officials, and farmers from South Africa and India with first-hand experience of growing GE crops.

—Rik Langendoen

Interested? International Institute for Environment and Development:

School librarian on hearing all 12 million U.S. copies of the last Harry Potter book will be printed on 30 percent post-consumer waste paper. At nearly 22 million pounds, this is the largest purchase of FSC-certified paper to be used in a single book printing. The first 100,000 copies will be printed using 100 percent post-consumer waste fiber.


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