In 2022, the World Bank estimates, remittances around the world will reach $630 billion. Remittances are the amounts being sent abroad to support family members by workers in  foreign countries. It’s an astounding figure representing a 4.2% increase over the previous year. It’s particularly astounding when one remembers that the amount sent abroad are usually sent by migrants, people who do not earn much. There are exceptions surely, but many may not be legally in a country, and earn little. In order to send money to their family they endure a subsistence level existence, perhaps even more so because the costs of wiring money have gone up. These are the people often discriminated against, people whom in the United States, those on the political right are wont to call criminals. I  can’t help but respect them. I’ve called attention to them before and I’m doing it again.  As a group they make a difference in the economy of their respective country. In the Philippines for example the remittances sent make up 10% of GDP. Remittances slowed during the pandemic and border closures, still remittances to Mexico rose 27% to $32.8 billion and migrants sent 35% more to Guatemala. Ukraine also counts on remittances for 10% of its GDP. Inflation and higher interest rates may affect future remittances, still workers helping supporting their families, most often migrant workers, have and will continue to give and be inspirations for how to share.

Recycling Plastic

Recycling plastics is a worldwide problem, each year millions of tons of plastic are dumped polluting the top of Everest, the deepest oceans and thousands of places in between. Any effort that could help towards recycling plastic is therefore good news. One of the most promising way is found in the saliva of wax worms.  It began when an amateur beekeeper was cleaning out beehives removing the wax worms which normally feed on the wax in the honeycombs. They were placed in a plastic bag. Several hours later, the bags had holes, the kind of holes that suggest a chemical breakdown.  The saliva of wax worms it turns out have some 200 enzymes, out of these 2 work to decompose polyethylene and does so at room temperature over a few hours. Polyethylene makes up about 30% of plastic production. It is used in bags and packaging and makes up a large portion of plastic pollution.  Using wax worms saliva  does require more research, perhaps the chemical breakdown could create valuable chemicals or even help to create a new plastic. The enzymes  could overcome what has been a bottleneck in plastic degradation, and the fact they work at normal temperature without requiring high heat is an advantage. Commercial applications are a ways off, but scientists would love to be able to have home kits available to anyone to be able to recycle plastic bags, maybe into useful products.

Indigenous Slavery Website

When we think about slavery we associate it with African Americans, but that’s an incomplete story. Indigenous populations were held as slaves as well.  The site  “Native Bound-Unbound: Archive of Indigenous Americans Enslaved” will rectify the omission. Through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation a website will be built to digitize and piece together the information behind the lives of the millions of indigenous people whose lives were affected by slavery.  The finished product will be like a database which has assembled information about the lives of enslaved African Americans and their descendants.  The site will contain any document available, baptismal records, letters, oral histories, so that Native Americans can search for any  family members or  descendants who were enslaved. 

 From the 16th century at the time of Columbus to the end of the 19th century, the enslavement of Native Americans coexisted along that of African Americans, not only in the United States but in the whole hemisphere. Apache members were enslaved in the American Southwest and sold to work mines in Mexico. The Reche Mapuche people were enslaved in Chile and sold to work in Peru.  Mormon settlers in Utah purchased Native Americans and converted them. As it was for African Americans, those enslaved were striped of their tribal identities and many descendants do not know the link to their heritage.

It may be a painful story but its being recognized, aired and made available for future generations is something for us all to embrace.

No Hunger in Belo Horizonte

About 275 miles north of Rio de Janeiro there’s a city of 2.5 million people with no hunger. It’s Belo Horizonte, a technological industrial hub which had all the social divisions and hunger similar cities have in the US and elsewhere. But back in 1993 the city did something rather notable and rare, it enacted a municipal law that established the right to food. It went further, it established what was needed to make it real. It created a commission of  government officials, farmers, labor leaders and gave them a mandate, “ to provide access to food as a measure of social justice.”  The cost of all this, less than 2% of the city’s annual budget. The pioneering effort is made up of about 20 interconnected programs, as one might expect all sustainable. A core idea is to connect food producers to consumers, bypassing middle people, and the mark ups retailers can’t help charging. That involves  delivering food directly to public schools, nursing homes, daycare centers, clinics, charitable organizations, it means regulating some prices, it calls for food stands, something like farmers’ markets and  what can be called public restaurants who charge a fixed price.

It is not an approach that might fit a large urban center like Los Angeles, but many of its ideas could be adapted.  Food stands,  delivering food to daycare and nursing homes in certain neighborhoods for example. The cost of social services for those who are food insecure, and often unemployed or homeless as well, is much more than 2% of  annual budgets.  Yet any attempt would have to start with the notion underlying the effort of Belo Horizonte that  to provide access to food is a measure of social justice.