Monday, June 26, 2017

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Threats to Democracy

By: Tiffany Monroy
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA

On June 22nd, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a conversation with U.S. Senator and former Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Sarah Chayes, a Senior Fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law program, facilitated the discussion on threats to democracy.

Senator Sanders, having recently returned from a European tour, reflected on his experience abroad, discussing looming threats to democracy and the resulting implications of those threats. Authoritarianism emerged as the most central of these threats. He highlighted the troubling universal shift in an authoritarian direction, not just in the United States, but also abroad. He described a resurgence of a politics of bigotry and resentment, led by leaders who only serve to further the growing divide between people.

The distinction between partisanship and the threat of authoritarianism to our democracy is critical, the Senator from Vermont expressed. Disagreement is not of surprise to anyone. In fact, it is a fundamental and important aspect of democracy. Still, he argued, we should be prepared to listen and engage with disagreement. No matter our perspective, we must do everything in our power to promote the system that allows us the ability to hold opposing views. The President’s recent budget proposal serves as a perfect example. Debate over the proposal can and will be had, but it is in the ability to debate in the first place that the beauty of our system lies.

Authoritarianism poses a threat to the system we cherish. Our democracy faces the threat of a system in which opposing views are not only discouraged, but eliminated. The threats to our democracy are tangible. Blatant disregards towards the sanctity of the Judicial branch and a shift in affection towards once-scorned authoritarian leaders are merely latest examples. The threats are not solely domestic, though. Authoritarianism implies a disengagement with the international community. U.S. disengagement from issues abroad would create a vacuum, Senator Sanders explained, that would allow for a climate of terror to prevail. What are we saying to those abroad who fight each day to establish and preserve democracies, if the United States, the model of democracy, does not fight to preserve our own? We must oppose these threats. We must preserve our system and reject this shift towards intolerance and injustice. Simply put, we must oppose authoritarianism, not only for the sake of our democracy, but also for the sake of the democracies of our neighbors.

So, what is the way forward? Coming together. Senator Sanders called for each of us to come together, no matter our views, to raise the issue and talk about moving forward. “Our duty is to respect our constitution and democracy, we must come together to protect the country we love, improve democracy, and stand up against those who want to move us towards authoritarianism,” he explained.

Acknowledging our differences is merely the first step towards eliminating authoritarianism from our system. The world in which we live faces problems, and it is our job to come together, not as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, left or right, but as Americans. We must recognize our disagreements, put them aside, and remind ourselves that democracy is the common denominator.

Monday, June 19, 2017

2017 Nature Summit: Celebrating World Environment Day at the Embassy of Canada

By Alexandra S. Gross
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA

On June 5, 2017, UN Environment’s North America Office brought together an enthusiastic, multi-talented set of panelists who convened to share their individual ideas and experiences in regards to environmental advocacy. The Nature Summit was hosted by the Embassy of Canada in Washington, DC to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day. The theme, “connecting people to nature,” ignited in-depth discussion among speakers and guests pertaining to the development of effective, innovative strategies for promoting environmental awareness. Given the abundance of conflicting voices in the current public sphere surrounding issues of climate change and sustainable action, it is critical now more than ever before to strengthen the the global community’s engagement to protecting the planet.

The day’s program was moderated by David de Rothschild - British adventurer, ecologist, environmentalist, storyteller, and head of the Sculpt the Future Foundation. De Rothschild emphasized that all members of society, especially its leaders, must strive to fully embrace the intersection of communication, technology, science, and psychology when forming solutions to international problems. Such partnerships can be enormously valuable when it comes to the specific challenges of protecting endangered species, preserving healthy ecosystems, and reducing mankind’s carbon footprint and its harmful behaviors.

√Člisabeth Lacoursi√®re, Director of Outreach and Marketing for Parks Canada, was one of the first panelists to speak and shared her firm belief that the more exposure people gain to experiences in nature during their early lives, the more likely they will be to protect and care for it throughout their lifetimes. Sean Southey, CEO of PCI Media Impact and Chair of IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, built on her idea and challenged the audience with the thought-provoking question, “When exactly was the moment you first fell in love with nature?” Audience members were quick to share their favorite childhood experiences, moments of wonder, and memories of simple yet meaningful lessons they had learned from the time they had spent outdoors. Southey went on to argue that these first narratives train and make a lasting influence individuals’ environmental values and behaviors. Leyla Acaroglu, social scientist, entrepreneur, and sustainability expert, also had much to add concerning how it is essential to promote a stronger love of nature in people rather than instill a fear of it. She insisted that “we all need to think differently - immediately” if we are to develop real solutions rather than fall back on reductionist ways of addressing problems.

WED2.jpgWhile the Summit’s core focus was on the topic of nature, much of the conversation centered around the ways in which technology holds the potential to be one of the best assets in building curiosity and appreciation of nature within the community at large. Lauren Bowker, founder of THEUNSEEN, spoke on her “environmentally sensitive” materials house; groundbreaking fashion pieces that essentially change in color as they chemically react with the surrounding elements of the physical world. Darrell Hartman, co-founder of Selva and Jungles in Paris, discussed his video, photography, and journalism projects that beautifully spotlight stories of nature and culture from various countries. Sol Guy, music and media producer, spoke passionately about modern civilization’s need to learn from groups that are more deeply connected to nature, “the original environmentalists” as he put it, in order to rekindle mankind’s connection to the planet. MIT student Xin Liu, engineer and media artist, captivated the audience’s attention by sharing highlights from her latest virtual reality project that allows individuals to experience the life of a tree. She explained that her work stems from her vision of “enabling technology as a powerful resource that helps people to reconnect with nature.”

Every single effort that people make to advocate for environmental protection contributes toward the larger movement of inspiring others to seek meaningful action. World Environment Day serves to remind us that we inhabit the planet together as global citizens and must therefore work together to preserve its wellbeing. This goal, which has further been called to attention by the mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, cannot be achieved without the constant dedication, mindful decisions, and active participation of people at all levels of the population - and the first step is advocacy.