1. United States
The New York City Fire Department is led by a woman for the first time in its 157-year history. Laura Kavanagh was promoted to the highest position of Commissioner by Mayor Eric Adams after an eight-month stint as Acting Chief. Ms. Kavanagh now oversees some 17,000 employees, including emergency medical workers and 911 dispatchers, as well as 141 female firefighters, the most in the department’s history.
“The people of the FDNY have given me lasting faith in something that I grew up with and have known to be true for a long time, where you build a community, you create a force multiplier that does extraordinary things,” Ms. Kavanagh said. .
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These are not achievements to achieve alone. But sort your trash into 45 categories like Kamikatsu, Japan does, and you, too, may be close to achieving zero waste in your city. And in Mexico, lawmakers consolidated same-sex marriage rights for the country.
Like other fire commissioners, Ms. Kavanagh comes from outside the ranks: She previously worked for former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and earned praise from several union leaders in her time as acting commissioner. Mayor Adams has appointed several women to senior administrative positions, including First Police Commissioner, Sanitation Commissioner, and Deputy Mayor.
Same-sex marriage is legal throughout Mexico. Following state-by-state legalization in progress since 2009, Tamaulipas, on Mexico’s northeastern border with the United States, became the latest state where lawmakers voted to recognize same-sex marriage, cementing LGBTQ rights in the whole country.
“Today we and our families are more visible, more equal, and we are a country with more justice,” said activist Enrique Torre Molina.
Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice had blocked state laws banning same-sex marriage in 2015. Some states took years to design and vote on laws to comply with the ruling; a quarter of the country did the work in September and October. Rights advocates in Latin America have seen recent victories, with Cuba legalizing same-sex marriage in September, though it remains illegal in most of Central America and much of the Caribbean.
3. United Kingdom
Three female European bison were introduced to West Blean and Thornden Woods in Kent in July, as part of a larger project to restore the area’s natural biodiversity. But no one knew that one of them was pregnant. “I wanted to shout it from the rooftops” after seeing the calf, said Tom Gibbs, a bison ranger at the Kent Wildlife Trust.
Considered a keystone species and ecosystem engineers, bison are being brought back across the continent. They have even been known to take down trees in ways that reduce the chance of flooding. In the time since the species became extinct in the wild in the 1920s, it has been reintroduced to Poland, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.
Gazans are returning to their beaches after a massive cleanup. Every day for a decade, millions of gallons of raw sewage have been dumped into the Mediterranean Sea from the Gaza Strip. But after electricity supplies have improved and repairs have been made to the wastewater treatment infrastructure, bathers can safely re-enter the waters. With 2.3 million people in just 141 square miles, the beaches offer one of the few public spaces for people to gather and relax.
In a region where the water treatment system has been in disrepair and drinking water is in short supply, a blockade by Egypt and Israel makes it difficult to obtain materials such as cement and pipes that are needed for maintenance and repairs. But a group of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists convinced the Israeli government that the current situation was “lose-lose,” said Gidon Bromberg of EcoPeace Middle East. “You can never disconnect from a shared environment. … Addressing the climate crisis and water security are things that bring benefits to both parties. It is about creating a healthy co-independence.”
Much of Gaza’s sewage is now being treated, helping wildlife in the Gaza Valley, one of the largest but most polluted wetlands in the Palestinian territories. A $66 million United Nations Development Program project aims to convert the damaged nature reserve into suitable outdoor recreational space.
The city of Kamikatsu, Japan has figured out how to reuse or recycle 80% of its waste. When pollution from burning and dumping became an overwhelming concern, the community of 1,500 declared in 2003 that it would be a zero-waste municipality. In 2008, it recycled 58.6% of its waste, well above Japan’s average of 20%.
The city converted an incinerator into a recycling center where residents sort items into 45 sorts. Plastics must be cleaned and glasses must be insulated by color. As a result of their efforts, Kamikatsu has reduced incineration spending by 33% and earns about $21,000 each year from the sale of paper, metal and other recycled materials. Local businesses like Hotel Why extend sustainability practices by grinding only the amount of coffee guests request and having them cut the desired amount of soap from a larger bar upon check-in.
Consumer habits are changing too: Attached to the recycling center is a swap shop for unwanted items that can be reused by someone else, free of charge. A local store owner, Takuya Takeichi, noted the change in thinking and behavior that is required for the city’s program to be successful. “It fostered a sense of caring for things,” he said. “We may have more than one burden, but I think we all gain wealth in our minds.”