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Slideshow: On the streets and under the umbrellas of Hong Kong

Photos posted by Samuel Chu to his Twitter account: @samuelmchu. Photos used with permission. Hear Samuel Chu’s  Q&A with Nell Abram here.

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Hong Kong: massive protests demanding free and fair elections continue

In Hong Kong, massive pro-democracy protests continue.  The demonstrations began last Wednesday,  triggered by Chinese authorities’ announcement that only approved candidates will be placed on the ballot in Hong Kong’s first elections since the former British colony was transferred to Chinese rule.  Many people there fear that Beijing will not deliver on promised democratic rights in the vote scheduled for 2017.

While peaceful protests are common in the largely free Hong Kong, authorities reacted to the current sp  ate of actions with uncharacteristic force.  Police in riot gear met tens of thousands of people on the streets with tear gas and batons earlier this week.  Students who took to the streets last Wednesday were joined Friday by members of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement and mass civil disobedience followed. The region’s Chief Executive,  Leung Chun-ying,  has so far refused to meet with protest leaders. The crowds are expected to swell on October 1st, a public holiday that celebrates the founding of China. For more on the pro-democracy demonstrations,  FSRN’s Nell Abram speaks with Samuel Chu from the streets of Hong Kong.

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(transcript to follow)

For a slideshow of photos taken by Samuel Chu at the Hong Kong protests, click here.

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Turkish authorities block Kurds from crossing into Syria to fight against ISIS

In Syria, fighting continues to rage between the Islamic State and Kurdish militias over a key Kurdish city near the Turkish border. But on the Turkish side of the border, anger is boiling due to Turkey’s crackdown on its own Kurdish population attempting to cross into Syria to join the fight. FSRN’s Jacob Resneck reports.

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There’s been a lot of fighting over the weekend with ISIS or Islamic State or whatever they call themselves these days trying to capture the city of Kobane. The Pentagon says U.S. air strikes over the weekend hit a few targets on the outskirts of the city, the first support it’s lent to Kurdish militants fighting to hold their ground.

In the Turkish border town of Suruc, local people here welcome the outside military help. But one man, Omer Ercin, claims it hasn’t gone far enough.

“America says it is attacking from the air—but we don’t see any results. Why?” asks Ercin, answering “Because it drops a couple bombs over in Raqqa and other places, but the genocide is happening in Kobane.’

Washington hasn’t said where its airpower flew from. But it almost certainly wasn’t Turkey.

Ankara has closed NATO bases to strikes against Islamic State and has sealed the Syrian border to its own citizens trying to fight against ISIS. That’s led to fury among Turkey’s Kurdish minority who are actually the majority in these borderlands and are being prevented from joining Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS.

Kurdish recording artist Memet Sipan arrived at the border from Istanbul but was turned away.

“If I could I would cross the border and join the militias and fight with them but now the border police are preventing me,” says Sipan.

He agrees to share a national Kurdish song in the open air.

The fighting is very close to here. At a nearby crossing just a couple miles away, men from the Syrian village of Alishar are watching a battle in the distance. Ahmet Malali is furious at the Turkish soldiers whose backs are to the battle as they watch the villagers. He’s angry, he says, because Turkish soldiers are also preventing Syrian refugees from crossing the wide open plain.

More than a hundred and fifty thousand Syrian refugees have already poured over the border in the past week. And the number could climb.

Over the weekend, pro-Kurdish political parties bussed in hundreds of people from across Turkey who quickly overwhelmed a small band of border guards and crossed into Kobane – if only for an hour. On their return they were greeted with tear gas and riot police.

So why is Turkey keeping the border sealed to Kurds wishing to defend there communities in Syria? The Kurdish militias are aligned to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, ­ a guerrilla group fighting for broad autonomy in Turkey. It’s listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the E­U and United States.

Kurdish politician Kamuran Yuksek says the militias’ fight is with ISIS – not Turkey.

“The Kurdish militias are fighting the Islamic State because it’s about their homeland. Of course they’re not interested in attacking Turkish forces.

The fight hasn’t just galvanized Kurdish men. Kurdish women are also taking up arms.

Nihayet Tasdemir, who in May was released from a Turkish prison after spending five years in pre-trial detention for suspected links to the PKK, says this fight has galvanized women to push even harder for gender equality.

“Women within the resistance movement have become more empowered,” Tasdemir explains. “Now it’s against ISIS – before it was the Turkish state and other enemies – but it’s making women stronger because they know there’s a patriarchal culture and they are fighting against this culture. ”

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has said it would join the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition , but so far has been short on specifics. The ruling party´s nationalist politics coupled with Islamist-roots make many people here suspicious that its leadership harbors sympathy for ISIS.

Or at least as far as it extends to ISIS’ fight with the P-K-K and its allies.

As the fighting continues and anger boils over among Kurds on both sides of the border, it’s clear that Turkey won’t be able to remain on the fence much longer.

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FSRN Weekly Edition - September 26, 2014

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  • U.S.-led coalition continue airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria
  • Three days of climate-related activities in New York end with promises
  • For Jordan’s Trash Pickers, Work Isn’t What it Used to Be
  • U.S. High Court convenes for Fall term – a look a the docket
  • Profile: Napa teacher trains a new generation of sustainable beekeepers


U.S.-led coalition continue airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria

A U.S.-led military offensive against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State expanded airstrikes into Syria this week, targeting the group’s command centers and oil-refineries in the country’s east. Reports of the number dead are impossible to verify, but they all include a significant percentage of women and children. Refugees continue to flee the region, reporting that the AIRSTRIKE campaign is unpopular with many civilians in a country that has been wracked by civil war for three years. The Islamist militants, also known in the West as ISIS or ISIL, now control a broad area that spans the border between Syria and Iraq. FSRN’s Nell Abram talks with Nafeez Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization about the dynamics of the Islamic State and the U.S.-led military offensive against it.

Three days of climate-related activities in New York end with promises

New York City became a world stage for climate change discussions this week – not just at the United Nations, but also in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the People’s Climate March on Sunday and Wall Street was the scene of a sit-in on Monday. The two days of activities in the streets preceded a one-day climate summit at the UN on Tuesday. From New York, Rebecca Myles brings us this round-up of the events.

View a slideshowSights and signs from the People’s Climate March

For Jordan’s Trash Pickers, Work Isn’t What it Used to Be

Few professions are more grueling, dangerous and revealing than digging through trash. In its complete dependence on the refuse of others, it is a window, of sorts, into a country’s economic soul. In Jordan, regional turmoil and the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees have strained an already depressed economy. For trash pickers, multiple factors magnify this stress, and they see and feel its accumulated impact in a unique way. From Amman, Elizabeth Whitman and Karl Morand file this report.

View a slideshow – Slim pickings in Jordan’s trash

U.S. High Court convenes for Fall term – a look a the docket

The U.S. Supreme Court begins its next session on October 6. While no “blockbuster” cases like last session’s “Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby” are expected, decisions involving free speech, exercise of religion and the 14th Amendment are on the court’s docket. From Washington, D.C, FSRN’s Ashley Westerman looks at a few of the cases the High Court is set to hear.

Profile: Napa teacher trains a new generation of sustainable beekeepers

With honey bees dying off from pesticides and diseases, Napa resident Rob Keller – is a man on a mission to save the honey bee. He has become a leading advocate for bees in his community. His approach involves methods of strengthening the genetics of local bee populations by breeding bees with the strongest DNA. And he’s committed to passing his vision on to the next generation through awareness and education: FSRN’s Karin Argoud brings us this profile.


(Music Credit: Raffaele De Leonardo via Jamendo Creative Commons)

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Profile: Napa teacher trains a new generation of sustainable beekeepers

With commercial honey bees dying off from pesticides and diseases, Napa resident Rob Keller – is a man on a mission to save the honey bee. He has become A leading advocate for bees in his community. His approach involves methods of strengthening the genetics of local bee populations by breeding bees with the strongest DNA. And he’s committed to passing his vision on to the next generation through awareness and education. FSRN’s Karin Argoud reports from Napa.

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Nestled in the gardens of Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley, Rob Keller is preparing to split a bee colony, thereby establishing two sets of hives and a second colony. Each week, he comes to take care of the apiary with students from his beekeeping class at St. Helena Montessori School.

Keller is at the forefront of building apiaries at schools. Known as “The Bee Guy” this tall redhead buzzes with energy and enthusiasm amid a swarm of middle school boys.

“If you’re looking at these colonies here today at Long Meadow Ranch – they’re big and bumping- and we’re splitting them,” he says while working. “How they’re doing around the valley overall is shaky. We lost a third of our bees this year. Some do really well that have been acclimated to their location. I think it has a lot to do with the bees too. That’s why we’re looking closely at rearing just local bees.”

Still looking for the queen, Keller grabs the microphone and plunges it into the depths of a bee box with his bare hand.

He explains the goal is to breed “for the strongest genetics we can from our local bees, and ensuring that the queens that we’ve isolated are mating with our males so that it betters the chances for a stronger overall local honey bee.”

The three middle school boys begin a heated discussion on bee stings. Henry Cutting is the most animated of the three. He and fellow student Tate Shafer describe getting stung.

“That happened to me the other day: one flew down my shirt and bit my on the shoulder and I was just losing it and flipping out and shaking all over,” said Cutting. He adds that bee stings emit a pheromone which cause other bees to “recognize you as a threat.” Cutting says it’s good “to keep calm and don’t get stung the first time, but maybe after one sting or maybe a few, you do might want to get a veil on or find the smoker.”

Beyond learning how to behave around bees, 13 year-old Liam Peace says the beekeeping class has changed the way he treats them. “I used to kill bees if they were close to me because was afraid of them,” explains Peace. “But now that I know that they’re like fine creature as long as you’re not getting them angry, there’s totally fine so there’s no point in killing them at all.”

Learning to handle bees without harming them or getting stung is key to another aspect of Keller’s lessons: collecting bees to breed them locally.

“We collect bees anywhere we can we pull them out of houses – wine barrels – anywhere we can get bees,” he explains. “We pull them out of car speakers inside a car. What we’re doing is we’re isolating them, hive them up, give them ideal conditions so they can thrive watch them for a full year.” Keller adds that “if we see the bees that really thrive in this area, we’ll take away the queen, let that colony raise a new queen from us and what you’re doing is trying to isolate genetic stock that has the resistance you are looking for that are dominant in the queen.”

After years of mass die-offs and colony collapse, prioritizing genes suited for species survival is increasingly important.

Henry Cutting, the outspoken eighth grader, says humans should now put the health of bee populations before their demands for bee products. “I think a lot of beekeepers are about getting a lot of colonies going pleasing their clients, getting a big amount of honey, but it’s great having Mr. Keller as our teacher because he’s really is teaching us to care about the bees and doing what’s best for them,” he told FSRN. “Last year, we got a small amount of honey but we made a strong base of bees, and in the long run it’s better to have a healthy good breed of bees as opposed to just reproducing in mass quantities.”

Rob Keller says there’s no silver bullet for solving the bee crisis. But through classes like Keller’s, kids are learning that they can assist in colony recovery by becoming the new stewards of sustainable beekeeping.

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Profile: Napa teacher trains a new generation of sustainable beekeepers

With commercial honey bees dying off from pesticides and diseases, Napa resident Rob Keller – is a man on a mission to save the honey bee. He has become A leading advocate for bees in his community. His approach involves methods of strengthening the genetics of local bee populations by breeding bees with the strongest DNA. And he’s committed to passing his vision on to the next generation through awareness and education. FSRN’s Karin Argoud reports from Napa.

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Nestled in the gardens of Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley, Rob Keller is preparing to split a bee colony, thereby establishing two sets of hives and a second colony. Each week, he comes to take care of the apiary with students from his beekeeping class at St. Helena Montessori School.

Keller is at the forefront of building apiaries at schools. Known as “The Bee Guy” this tall redhead buzzes with energy and enthusiasm amid a swarm of middle school boys.

“If you’re looking at these colonies here today at Long Meadow Ranch – they’re big and bumping- and we’re splitting them,” he says while working. “How they’re doing around the valley overall is shaky. We lost a third of our bees this year. Some do really well that have been acclimated to their location. I think it has a lot to do with the bees too. That’s why we’re looking closely at rearing just local bees.”

Still looking for the queen, Keller grabs the microphone and plunges it into the depths of a bee box with his bare hand.

He explains the goal is to breed “for the strongest genetics we can from our local bees, and ensuring that the queens that we’ve isolated are mating with our males so that it betters the chances for a stronger overall local honey bee.”

The three middle school boys begin a heated discussion on bee stings. Henry Cutting is the most animated of the three. He and fellow student Tate Shafer describe getting stung.

“That happened to me the other day: one flew down my shirt and bit my on the shoulder and I was just losing it and flipping out and shaking all over,” said Cutting. He adds that bee stings emit a pheromone which cause other bees to “recognize you as a threat.” Cutting says it’s good “to keep calm and don’t get stung the first time, but maybe after one sting or maybe a few, you do might want to get a veil on or find the smoker.”

Beyond learning how to behave around bees, 13 year-old Liam Peace says the beekeeping class has changed the way he treats them. “I used to kill bees if they were close to me because was afraid of them,” explains Peace. “But now that I know that they’re like fine creature as long as you’re not getting them angry, there’s totally fine so there’s no point in killing them at all.”

Learning to handle bees without harming them or getting stung is key to another aspect of Keller’s lessons: collecting bees to breed them locally.

“We collect bees anywhere we can we pull them out of houses – wine barrels – anywhere we can get bees,” he explains. “We pull them out of car speakers inside a car. What we’re doing is we’re isolating them, hive them up, give them ideal conditions so they can thrive watch them for a full year.” Keller adds that “if we see the bees that really thrive in this area, we’ll take away the queen, let that colony raise a new queen from us and what you’re doing is trying to isolate genetic stock that has the resistance you are looking for that are dominant in the queen.”

After years of mass die-offs and colony collapse, prioritizing genes suited for species survival is increasingly important.

Henry Cutting, the outspoken eighth grader, says humans should now put the health of bee populations before their demands for bee products. “I think a lot of beekeepers are about getting a lot of colonies going pleasing their clients, getting a big amount of honey, but it’s great having Mr. Keller as our teacher because he’s really is teaching us to care about the bees and doing what’s best for them,” he told FSRN. “Last year, we got a small amount of honey but we made a strong base of bees, and in the long run it’s better to have a healthy good breed of bees as opposed to just reproducing in mass quantities.”

Rob Keller says there’s no silver bullet for solving the bee crisis. But through classes like Keller’s, kids are learning that they can assist in colony recovery by becoming the new stewards of sustainable beekeeping.

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U.S. High Court convenes for Fall term - a look a the docket

The U.S. Supreme Court begins its next session on October 6. While no “blockbuster” cases like last session’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby are expected, decisions involving free speech, exercise of religion and the 14th Amendment are on the court’s docket.  Ashley Westerman reports from Washington, DC.

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With hot-button issues like marriage equality and health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act on the horizon — but not on the high court docket just yet –legal analysts are projecting a lackluster Supreme Court session this fall.

“A preliminary comment on this term, as you look at the granted cases, I’m sure you’re aware there are some interesting cases but nothing of earth-shattering importance,” Gorgetown University law professor Irv Gornstein said at the school’s Supreme Court briefing Tuesday.

But that doesn’t mean the justices won’t still be weighing in on some important and far-reaching issues.

For example, Facebook posts are the center of this fall’s biggest First Amendment case, which seeks to answer the question: should violent statements made on social media be considered real threats?

A Pennsylvania man convicted of threatening his ex-wife and a police officer via violent Facebook posts, argues he was just exercising free speech to emotionally vent – like rap stars writing lyrics. Elonis v. United States asks what the government must prove to convict someone of making a threat – actual intent, or reasonable expectation of perceived intent?

Georgetown professor Martin Lederman says the issue of free speech on internet in this case should give the justices pause.

“About how should Facebook postings, how do they, how are they perceived by their audience or audiences?” posits Lederman. “Right, there’s many different audiences. I’m not sure the court wants to create a jurisprudence of Facebook yet, so I’m sure they’ll be very cautious.”

Another First Amendment case due this term deals with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which gives inmates religious rights. The law is much the same as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Hobby Lobby cited last session to justify opting out of covering their employees’ birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

Hobbs v. Hol
t involves a Muslim man in an Arkansas prison who is fighting to grow a half-inch beard as per his religion. But the prison maintains a strict beard ban. They argue beards can hide contraband and escaped inmates can shave them to change their appearance.

Panelist and attorney Hashim Mooppan says the prison wants the right to act preemptively, even with little proof their policies are plausible. Mooppan predicts the inmate will win this one but says how the high court explains exceptions to the beard ban will be key. He says exceptions were the basis of Hobby Lobby’s argument and the standard argument used by churches to build their cases against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to cover contraceptives in their employer health insurance plans.

“Saying that, look, there are a whole host of exceptions to the contraception mandate so therefor you couldn’t possibly have a compelling interest in denying us one,” Mooppan points out. “So what the court says about things like that could have spillover effects in other cases.”

Another anticipated case that legal analysts say is still hard to predict, is Heien v. North Carolina. This case will determine if a police officer’s mistake of law fulfills the suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment to justify a traffic stop, and search and seizure.

The petitioner, Heien, was pulled over by an officer who mistakenly thought North Carolina law required two working brake lights. During the stop, cocaine was discovered in the car and Heien was charged with drug trafficking. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the discovery of the cocaine was the result of an unlawful stop.

Mooppan says it’s interesting the high court picked this case up, because a lot of people would assume Heien has a pretty strong case.

“But the government’s brief actually pulls out a lot of history from the founding era where there are a variety of different statutes that seem to, essentially, deem reasonable this sort of conduct in certain situations,” he explains. “And they’re trying to say those statutes shed light on the reasonableness for the Fourth Amendment.”

The Fall term will be another busy one at the court. Justices will also hear arguments on racial redistricting in Alabama, states’ rights to tax residents’ income and whether tossing red grouper overboard to avoid a federal conviction is comparable to Enron shredding documents.

For a full list of the Supreme Court’s Fall docket click here.

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Protests against military action in Syria and Iraq scattered and sparse

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Protests against the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria targeting the group that calls itself the Islamic State have been small-scale since the offensive began this week. Despite a call to action on Monday, events were scheduled in just 10 U.S. cities, and those that panned out were sparsely attended.  A handful of demonstrators gathered at the gates of the White House on Thursday to say “No” to military intervention in Syria and Iraq.

The contrast to anti-war actions around the country when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 is stark, perhaps because the the region itself is dramatically different. Many are torn by the brutal nature of the group the U.S. has targeted.

Turnout for a protest against the new offensive held Thursday in Los Angeles was small, but included war veterans and Arab-Americans.   FSRN’s Lena Nozizwe went to see who is protesting and hear why.

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U.S.-led coalition continue airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria

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A U.S.-led military offensive against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State expanded airstrikes into Syria this week, targeting the group’s command centers and oil-refineries in the country’s east. Reports of the number dead are impossible to verify, but they all include a significant percentage of women and children. Refugees continue to flee the region, reporting that the airstrike campaign is unpopular with many civilians in a country that has been wracked by civil war for three years. The Islamist militants also known in the West as ISIS or ISIL now control a broad area that spans the border between Syria and Iraq. FSRN’s Nell Abram spoke with investigative journalist and Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development Dr. Nafeez Ahmed to discuss the dynamics of the Islamic State and the U.S.-led military offensive against it.

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Three days of climate-related activities in New York end with promises

New York City became a world stage for climate change discussions this week – not just at the United Nations, but also in the streets. Hundreds of thousands participated in The People’s Climate March on Sunday and Wall Street was the scene of a sit-in on Monday. The two days of activities in the streets preceded a one-day climate summit at the UN on Tuesday. From New York, Rebecca Myles brings us this round-up of the events.

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The United Nations climate summit wrapped up Tuesday evening with an assortment of non-binding pledges from member nations.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon was optimistic about the outcome. “Today was a great day – a historic day,” he said in closing statements. “Never before have so many leaders gathered to commit to action on climate change. I thank every one of you who came to New York with ambition and commitment. I asked for bold announcements from Governments, business, finance and civil society in five key areas. The Summit delivered.”

Among one of the more celebrated initiatives to come out of the talks involved promises of ending deforestation and restoring one million square miles of forest worldwide by 2030. Co-signers included the United States, the entire European Union and Canada. Brazil, home to part of the world’s largest forest – the Amazon – did not endorse because its officials say they were not included in the negotiations.

An initiative supported by big bankers and large industries involves putting a price on carbon in order to create a worldwide carbon credits market. Critics of this measure say it not only creates the illusion of emissions reductions, but also fuels financial speculation and allows the rich to pollute the poor.

The role of financial institutions in shaping climate policy was part of what prompted around two thousand protesters to “Flood Wall Street” on Monday. Demonstrators staged an hours-long sit-in around the brass bull, the financial district´s iconic sculpture.

“We came because we’re Unitarian Universalists and we came because our religion tells us that we need to protect the earth,” said Sarah Redmond, one of the protesters risking arrest. “And I have six grandchildren and I want them to have a livable planet, and everyone else’s kids. ”

As the sun set, police gave an order to disperse and later arrested the more than 100 people who had refused to leave the area – including a person in a polar bear costume.

Many of those who participated in the Flood Wall Street action on Monday had come to New York for the People´s Climate March on Sunday.

Organizers of the People’s Climate March estimate more than 400,000 people participated; quadrupling their expectations for what they were already billing as the largest climate march in history.

The march drew people from around the U.S. and even from other countries. It sought to unite a variety of different causes which intersect with climate issues, including indigenous land recognition, environmental racism, the anti-fracking movement and more. Signs included slogans like Wake Up and Smell the CO2, There is no Planet B, and Nature is not a luxury. Sister events in 158 countries took place in Berlin to Istanbul to Rio.

“For every war, and every tank and every soldier, the US military uses so much fossil fuel it has added to the climate change problem,” said Madelyn Hoffman, a New Jersey-based peace activist. “We use more in the process of waging war then we get in return so it is a net energy loss. We want to see the nation get off oil, and the world and go into renewables. And if we stop the wars we can save those resources too – human, financial, environmental, all those resources.”

Now that the UN climate summit is over and the out-of-town demonstrators have returned home, many are now looking ahead to the next time world leaders plan to meet on the climate issue. The next UN meeting will take place in Lima, Peru in December and a larger, more formal summit is scheduled for next year in Paris.

Between then and now, the leaders who made promises in New York this week can show the international community their pledges are serious…or just more hot air.