Empowering the World

ONE OF THE most destabilizing facts of the last five years is this: The price of a solar panel has fallen 75 percent. The engineers have done their job, and that offers many possibilities.

We usually look at what the developed countries are doing with renewable energy, such as the fact that there were days during summer 2014 when Germany was generating three quarters of its power from solar panels (Germany!). But the most amazing miracles—and it doesn’t really stretch the word “miracle”—are happening in the poorest places, where for the very first time lights are blazing on.

Take rural Bangladesh, where fossil fuel has barely penetrated  in the 200 years of its ascendancy in the West. There’s no grid—at night it just goes dark. Until the last few years, when low-cost solar panels and innovative financing arranged by groups such as the Grameen Bank have allowed the very rapid spread of solar panels. How rapid? As many as 80,000 new connections a month, which is far more than in the United States. Fifteen million Bangladeshis live in solar-powered houses already, and the government is hoping to have the entire nation hooked up by 2020.

That means that kids can study at night. It also means that families don’t have to waste as much as 30 percent of their income on kerosene. It also means that they don’t have to breathe those kerosene fumes, and that the black soot the lamps throw off won’t be melting glaciers. It also means that everyone can charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous in Bangladesh. In fact, places like Bangladesh leapfrogged the whole telephone pole thing and went straight to mobile; now they’re leapfrogging coal and gas and going straight to solar.

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July 2015
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Concerned with Violence Against Muslims, Islamic Organization Visits Myanmar

Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS c

Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS courtesy Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO via Flickr

At the end of a three-day tour, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation told Buddhist-majority Myanmar to repeal “laws restricting fundamental freedoms” after more than 240 Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs during the past year.

Before the OIC delegates left Myanmar on Saturday, they visited minority ethnic Rohingya Muslims who fled the violence and are now living in squalid camps along the border with Bangladesh in Myanmar’s Arakan state, also known as Rakhine.

Headed by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC delegation called on the government to continue legal reforms, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

On Eid al-Adha, Tradition Gives Way to Online Innovation

Screenshot from Photo via RNS.

Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere went online to buy live cows and goats for the traditional Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, known as Eid al-Adha, because shopping on the Internet was easier than going to crowded street markets to buy the animals.

“The purchase of sacrificial animal [online] has gained popularity as it is found to be the most convenient way of buying an animal for the ceremonious day,” Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper reported Wednesday.

Do Americans Really Care How Their Clothes Are Made?

Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Ranjana Akhter, 35, holds a picture Wednesday of her missing daughter. Photo by Calum MacLeod/USA Today.

Just two more months, the daughter promised her mother by telephone, then she’d be home for good.

Making shirts in this packed metropolis of 12 million people, Sheuli Akhter, 20, made decent money — about $140 a month — by the impoverished standards of rural Bangladesh. But she missed the family benefiting from the wages of her hard work.

Her mother, Ranjana Akhter, was found sobbing near the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory where her daughter worked, days after the eight-story complex collapsed and killed more than 1,100 workers. Viewing dozens of corpses a day, the 35-year-old woman still hoped her daughter had somehow survived.

The victims retrieved from the debris were crushed and unrecognizable in the South Asian heat.

“I am looking for her body, but they are all decomposed now. It’s getting harder to identify,” said Ranjana Akhter, tears falling from her eyes.

The scale of the mismanagement and breadth of the human tragedies in Bangladesh powerfully illustrated what years of abuse, inhumane conditions, and unthinkable danger could not: Garment workers in Third World countries take enormous risks to earn a living in Bangladeshi-owned companies that produce clothing for Western retailers.

Why Am I Flying to Kenya When I Have So Much Work to Do At Home?

Kenya faces environmental degradation and crop damages due to effects of climate change. Photo by domdeen/

Is there anything more important to us than the air we take into our lungs every few seconds? The water that keeps us and all living things going? The soil that roots our food and our communities? Or the weather patterns that knit these elements all together?

What happens when these things begin to deteriorate — or rapidly change their behavior?

That is why I’m in Kenya with Cal DeWitt — well known Christian environmental scientist and teacher — and a group of eight others from the US and Canada: scientists, teachers, activists, and a film-maker. 

Atheists Postpone Protests After Bangladeshi Disaster

Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy RNS.

Several atheist protests planned for Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates were postponed in the wake of Wednesday’s building collapse that killed at least 244 people in that country’s capital, Dhaka.

A coalition of secularist advocacy groups originally planned to rally in London and several cities in the U.S. and Canada over the arrests of four atheist bloggers who were charged with blasphemy in the officially Muslim nation.

Atheists Rally Around Jailed Bangladeshi Bloggers

An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.

New Documentary Highlights Disastrous Climate Change in Bangladesh

The Atlantic profiles a new documnetary called Bangladesh: On The Frontlines of Climate Change:

"Ami Vitale's beautifully shot documentary visits the communities on the Bay of Bengal that are already suffering the consequences of global warming. Vitali, a photojournalist, made the switch to video to tell the story of one mother who, fearing that increasingly violent weather patterns will harm her family, seeks justice."
Watch the short film and find our more here

Why Adapt?

Demonstrator at a climate change rally in Calgary, Canada, 2007. Image via Wylio

Demonstrator at a climate change rally in Calgary, Canada, 2007. Image via Wylio

Climate change affects the poorest the hardest. Most things do. In the parts of the world where climate change is most prevalent, it is those who have done the least to cause it that are bearing the brunt of its effects.

It is the Malawian farmer whose crops have failed because the seasonal rains didn’t start at the usual time. It’s a Bangladeshi who can see the sea-levels rising around her town year after year, and has nowhere to go. It’s even an American family whose food bill grows ever larger because of the stresses that a changing climate is having on food security worldwide.

These are neither the people nor the organizations that have spent decades turning a blind eye to their responsibility as good stewards of our environment. They are not the people who, in the face of more and more extreme weather patterns, turn an issue of human survival into an ideological war.

It is for them that we must adapt.