Higher water temperatures in 2016 led to the worst destruction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef ever recorded. The ACT Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, published in November, reported that 67 percent of the corals in the reef’s northern section have died–90 percent off Lizard Island–mostly due to bleaching sustained from the increased water temperature resulting from carbon emissions. The Australian government has published a long-term sustainability plan for the reef, identifying the need to make it more resilient to climate change, promising to lower carbon emissions, and pledging financial support for research into coral bleaching.
The World Bank is making strides to develop initiatives to address and raise awareness of the social impact of violence against women in Central America. One such initiative was a “hackathon”–a software program competition to combat domestic violence. For forty-eight hours, young software programming competitors developed innovative digital solutions and smart phone applications to provide Central American women with the resources to report and gain protection from abuse.
Ciudad Mujer is another successful initiative for empowering women. Established in 2011 by the Social Inclusion Secretariat of El Salvador to address that country’s soaring rate of domestic violence (one of the highest in the world), Woman’s City has grown to four centers that offer shelter, education, psychological and legal counseling, access to healthcare, and business opportunities to Salvadoran women escaping poverty, homelessness, and abusive environments.
A key component of the program is providing advice and loans to help women set up their own businesses in order to gain financial independence.
Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a sort of “brain wifi” that could bypass spinal cord injuries and enable paralyzed people to walk again. According to an article in the November 9 issue of Nature, a newly developed brain implant bypasses the spinal cord to send instructions directly from the brain to the nerves that control leg movement. Tests on Rhesus monkeys in China have enabled paralyzed monkeys to walk, and neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine of the institute has started a trial in Switzerland using a version of the technology on two people with spinal cord injuries.
A vaccination campaign begun November 8 by the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations World Health Organization has immunized more than 729,000 people against cholera in the areas of Haiti devastated by Hurricane Matthew. Since the hurricane struck in October, more than 5,800 suspected cholera cases have been reported. WHO reports that more than 1.4 million people in Haiti are in need of humanitarian assistance, about 175,000 still remain in shelters, and humanitarian aid is desperately needed to rehabilitate health facilities and ensure access to chlorinated water. An increase in suspected malaria cases has also led to the initiation of a program for fumigation and destruction of mosquito breeding sites.
The Paris climate agreement became international law on November 4,2016, with the ratification of the 2015 agreement by the requisite number of nations (fifty-five) responsible for producing 55 percent of global emissions. The agreement became law prior to the start of the 2016 UN climate conference, which was dubbed COP 22 and held November 7-18 in Marrakech, Morocco. By the conclusion of the conference 111 countries had ratified the agreement, outlined their strategies for radically cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and established a viable plan to provide financial support to developing countries‘ efforts toward climate action.
The World Trade Organization has ordered the United States to end its special tax exemption for aerospace giant Boeing, after investigating a complaint lodged by the European Union. The WTO ruled that the tax cuts granted to Boeing by the state of Washington were illegal under international trade rules and gave the United States ninety days to end the subsidy. A similar WTO ruling against subsidies, initiated by Boeing, was handed down against rival Airbus in September.
A Minnesota district court ruled in November that the state’s ban on providing transgender surgery to constituents on the state’s medical assistance program was unconstitutional. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, surgical treatments for gender dysphoria had been excluded from coverage in Minnesota since 2005–even though the same treatments were covered by the federal Medicare program and private insurance plans. The court ruling made clear that denying such procedures to transgender people violated their right to equal treatment under the law.
On November 1 the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit announced that all fifteen judges would review a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s Rowan County commissioners’ practice of opening their meetings with prayers that advance one specific religion and coerce public participation. This ruling vacates the court’s previous two-to-one panel decision in September that overturned a May 2015 federal district court judgment that the practice was unconstitutional and allowed the prayers to continue.
Karen Ann Gajewski is a contributing editor to the Humanist and a documentation project coordinator.