Teen Birth Rate Hits Historic Low but Help is Still Needed

2There is something else to celebrate this holiday season! According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of teenage births in the United States has reached a historic low, dropping to 29.4 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. This compares to a rate of 31.3 in 2011 and 61.8 in 1991.

To account for the decline, experts point primarily to “a mix of greater access to birth control and better sex education.” Over the last few years, the FDA has made birth control available over-the-counter to girls as young as 15. The Affordable Care Act has mandated insurance companies to cover contraception in health plans. And the Obama administration has disbursed $155 million in teenage pregnancy prevention grants to states, school districts, and non-profit organizations.

A number of economic and cultural factors may have also played a role. The recession, and resulting decline in youth employment, may have reduced teenagers’ confidence in their ability to support a child. Changing norms may have altered teenagers’ perceptions of the appropriate age for childbirth. Finally, popular TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” may have enhanced teenagers’ “understanding of the challenges of [pregnancy] and parenting, and how to avoid it”.

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Whatever the reason, the decline in teen births is a societal victory. After all, studies suggest that teenage mothers are at a higher risk of leaving school and facing un- or under-employment. They also often suffer from social isolation, abuse, stress, and depression. The children of teenage mothers also pay a price. In general, they experience weaker intellectual development and more behavioral problems than their counterparts.

But don’t crack open a bottle of champagne just yet. The teen birth rate in the US remains higher than in many other developed countries. Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, for example, all enjoy lower rates. Furthermore, US rates vary considerably by race and geography. While the rate for white females is 20.5, the rates for black and Hispanic females are 43.9 and 46.3, respectively. The rates are also lowest in New England (under 17.0) and highest in the south (above 50.0 in Arkansas and Mississippi).

Therefore, support for teenage mothers in the US is still needed. To help, please donate to A Young Mother’s DREAM, The Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective, or our partners, A Women’s Pregnancy Center and Advocates for Adolescent Mothers.

Flickr Photo Credit: Joshua Rappeneker


Ontario to Become First Jurisdiction in North American to Ban Coal

coal power plantLast month, in a star studded ceremony, the government of Ontario announced legislation to ban the burning of coal in the province. Known as the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act, the legislation is expected to pass with the support of all major opposition parties. This would make Ontario the first regional jurisdiction in North America to prohibit burning of the fossil fuel.

The expected impacts are considerable. As the name of the act implies, the ban will reduce emissions of key pollutants including nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, particulate matter, and greenhouse gases. All else equal, this will lower the incidence of related health issues, such as asthma and chronic lung disease. It will also improve environmental outcomes by stemming smog, acid rain, and climate change. Together, these benefits are expected to save Ontario an estimated $4.4 billion per year.

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Of further note is the symbolic impact of Ontario’s groundbreaking legislation. In the words of former Vice President Al Gore, who participated in the announcement, “Thank God for the people of Ontario providing such leadership… if [the world was able to do] what Ontario is announcing today, then half of the CO2 would fall out in a single generation…We need to get busy and follow Ontario’s lead”.

But amidst all the praise for Ontario’s announcement, there is also some criticism. First, in the 2003 election, the Liberals agreed to phase out all coal by 2007. This deadline was “pushed back” repeatedly until 2013. Secondly, the province is only able to “kick its coal habit” due to new and refurbished nuclear and natural gas plants. While preferable to coal, these energy sources are not as green as solar and wind.

Still, [it’s the opinion of this writer] that Ontario’s legislation to ban coal is a step in the right direction. Other North American jurisdictions should look to Ontario’s example—particularly the Midwestern and Appalachian states where coal accounts for 50 to 96% of the energy mix.

To learn more about coal power, please contact the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Climate Reality Project, Environmental Defence, and our partner, Clean Air Cool Planet.

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Op4G's Non-Profit of the Month: WorldTeach!

world teachA holiday present has come early for WorldTeach! The non-profit has been selected as Op4G’s Non-Profit of the Month for December!

Established by a team of Harvard students, WorldTeach envisions a world “where all children, regardless of the wealth or poverty of their families, communities, or nations, have the opportunity for a quality education”. To realize this dream, the non-profit sends volunteers to 24 developing countries in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The volunteers teach English, IT, math, science, accounting, or HIV/AID education, and promote responsible global citizenship.

Since 1986, WorldTeach has funded or subsidized over 7,000 volunteers. For more information about WorldTeach, or to support their volunteers, please click here.


Four Years After the Quake, Recovery Lags in Haiti

Haiti CrisisIn recent months, the world has endured several devastating natural disasters: the earthquake in Pakistan, flooding in Cambodia, and the massive Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These disasters remind us of another tragedy closer to home – the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

Approaching its 4th anniversary, the 7.0Mw Haitian earthquake claimed the lives of approximately 250,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands more.  It also destroyed (or severely damaged) 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings, leaving over a million people homeless. The resulting humanitarian disaster remains one of the worst of the 21st century.

So what is the status of Haiti today? The country and its foreign partners have made progress on several fronts. As of 2013, they have removed most of the 10 million cubic meters of debris and housed 158,000 affected families. They have provided grants, training, and over 470,000 temporary jobs. They have vaccinated 3,000,000 children and constructed new hospitals. Moreover, they have enhanced preparedness for future disasters. But these achievements are overshadowed by the crippling challenges Haiti continues to face.

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According to The Economist, more than 350,000 Haitians still live in tents or substandard housing in “hillside shanties and seaside slums”. Unemployment hovers at around 75%. A cholera epidemic, which has taken over 8000 lives, continues to spread. Furthermore, the underlying, long-term problems inflicting Haiti remain unaddressed. Yet, aid for the tiny Caribbean country is running out. Many non-profits have disbursed their funds and are struggling to attract new donations given “donor fatigue”. Others have succumbed to corruption, squandering funds on exorbitant salaries, travel, and consultant fees. Finally, as highlighted by the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, many aid pledges have simply gone “unfulfilled”.

Op4G’s partners, however, remain committed to serving the people of Haiti. Greater Good: Haiti focuses on delivering primary school education programs and sustainability projects in under-served communities, while A Chance for Kids works for the “relief and betterment” of Haitian children. Please help create lasting change in Haiti – support these non-profits today!


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Op4G's $500 Sweepstakes Winner: Lucky Dog Animal Rescue!

puppyLucky Dog Animal Rescue is lucky indeed! The non-profit is Op4G’s $500 sweepstakes winner for November!

Founded in 2009, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is dedicated to saving homeless and abandoned dogs and cats from high-kill shelters. It holds adoption events every Saturday and Sunday throughout the DC metro area, helping the animals find new loving homes. Moreover, it educates pet owners on responsible pet care to prevent future animal abandonment.

As Lucky Dog has no facilities of its own, the non-profit depends on a team of dedicated “fosters” to provide temporary homes for the animals. Trained volunteers conduct home visits and screen adoption applications for each pet.

To date, Lucky Dog has saved over 6000 dogs and cats – and the $500 from Op4G will allow the non-profit to save 5 more! To learn more about lucky dog, or to take surveys on their behalf, please click here.

Flickr photo credit: Lisa Wiedmeier


Survival of the Fattest: The Effect of Shrinking Sea Ice on Polar Bears

polarOver the last month in the Canadian Arctic, around 1000 polar bears have gradually migrated to the coastal areas around Hudson Bay. After spending the summer on land, the bears are preparing for their return to sea ice.

The sea ice is critical to the bears’ survival. It “provides a vital platform to hunt ringed and bearded seal”, as well as other prey. This rich diet helps replenish the fat reserves of the world’s largest bears (weighing up to 1300 pounds). It ensures that after the ice melts, the bears can survive another lean summer on land.

But, like many animals, polar bears are falling victim to climate change. Since 1979, “sea ice cover has declined by about 30% in the Arctic”. Furthermore, the length of the sea ice season has fallen by approximately 30 days.

Consequently, “polar bears have been coming to land earlier and leaving later in recent years”. As the bears lose nearly 2 pounds/day on land, they are “60 pounds lighter on average than [polar bears] three decades ago”.  This weight loss has profound effects on the species. Lighter bears are not only less robust, they also produce smaller cubs “which can struggle to survive”. Hence, the polar bear population in Churchill, Manitoba (the “polar bear capital of the world”) has dropped by 22% since 1987. Without intervention, “two-thirds of all polar bears will be gone by 2050—and perhaps extinct in the wild by the end of the century.”

Unfortunately, polar bear conservation is no simple task. According to Polar Bears International, the traditional solution is to protect critical habitat, “but we can’t really build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures.” Nor can we simply wait for polar bears to re-adapt to life on land: “They can’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in 50 or 100 years.” Therefore, a better approach is to stem the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and, by extension, climate change.

This requires a concerted effort by many actors: governments, businesses, and individual citizens. To learn how you can combat climate change, please contact Clean Air Cool Planet. Also, to support threatened wildlife, please donate to the WWF or our partners, Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and Noah’s Ark.

Flickr photo credit: Staffan Widstrand