New research shows climate action will save lives in the short term. Our leaders will not care.

A new study has found that decarbonizing the U.S. energy system would save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and this will do nothing to make those in power move any faster.

A new study adds to the case for urgent decarbonization of the U.S. energy system, finding that slashing air pollution emissions from energy-related sources would bring near-term public health gains including preventing over 50,000 premature deaths and save $608 billion in associated benefits annually.

I’m going to make a brief aside here. At this point I have no faith that anyone with the power to make a difference on climate change will actually do so any time soon. Those empowered by our system have made it clear, through decades of inaction, that they have no interest in doing anything to prevent that system from destroying us all.

It’s also worth noting that the ideas of saving lives and money don’t actually hold any value to the people running our world. That number of premature deaths isn’t far off from the number killed by the US for-profit healthcare system, but because that system makes a few people very rich, it’s protected by both major parties. It doesn’t matter that a universal system would save money and lives, because that’s not the point. Likewise, the folks running the U.S. government are perfectly fine pouring trillions of dollars into endless war all over the planet. They do not care about lives lost or money wasted, as long as they get some personal benefit in the process.

That said, I like research like this. I think this kind of thing is useful in making the case that there are far fewer downsides to climate action than some would have us believe. It’s also useful for making the case that those who claim to care about life, money, or climate change are just lying for votes, for as long as they’re not doing everything they can for real climate action. When it’s clear that the truth is not enough to move the powerful to action, we need to consider how research like this can be used.

Published Monday in the journal GeoHealth, the analysis by Mailloux and fellow UW-Madison researchers focuses on emissions of fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, and of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the electric power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors.

Those sectors account for 90% of U.S. CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the paper notes. The bulk of the emissions from the sectors comes from fossil fuel use, though the study points to “a substantial portion” of particulate pollution stemming from wood and bark burning and “a small portion” resulting from non-combustion sources.

“Many of the same activities and processes that emit planet-warming GHGs also release health-harming air pollutant emissions; the current air quality-related health burden associated with fossil fuels is substantial,” the analysis states.

The study also notes that “the current pace of decarbonization in the U.S. is still incompatible with a world in which global warming is limited to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” and that “deep and rapid cuts in GHG emissions are needed in all energy-related sectors—including electric power, transportation, buildings, and industry—if states and the country as a whole are to achieve reductions consistent with avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.”

The researchers measured the potential benefits of the removal of the air pollution, ranging from all-cause mortality to non-fatal heart attacks and respiratory-related hospital admissions, using the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO-Benefits Risk Assessment tool.

They also looked at the impacts of both U.S.-wide and regional action on the reductions; they found that nationwide actions delivered the biggest benefits, though “all regions can prevent hundreds or thousands of deaths by eliminating energy-related emissions sources within the region, which shows the local benefits of local action to mitigate air quality issues.”

According to the analysis, the pollution reductions would save 53,200 premature deaths and provide $608 billion in annual benefits. The avoided deaths account for 98% of the monetary benefits. But apart from avoidance of human lives lost, the particulate matter reductions offer further benefits including up to 25,600 avoided non-fatal heart attacks, as well as preventing 5,000 asthma-related emergency room visits and avoiding 3.68 million days of work lost.

I know the tone of this post has been gloomy. It might be possible for me to not be consumed by frustration at the state of things, but if so, I’ve yet to figure out how. That said, it is good to know that the right choice will have benefits beyond “merely” keeping the planet hospitable to human life. As much as I’m afraid I’ll be saying this until I die of old age, it’s good that the only real obstacles to a better world are political. It means that we know we can do things differently, and make a better world in the process.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the lives saved by taking these measures would be disproportionately poor and non-white. I’m in favor of real, targeted reparations, but the reality is that most actions we take to benefit all of humanity will benefit all humanity, if we actually do the work right. It should come as no surprise that those people most subjected to the ravages of pollution are also those with the least social and political power.

This study will do no more to move our so-called leaders than have the studies that came before it, but as with those prior studies, it makes it clear that we need to take matters into our own hands. Those who we’ve foolishly empowered to solve problems for us will not act until it is far too late. Sometimes that knowledge makes me despair, but then I remember that if we can figure out how to actually take the steps, a better world is within reach.

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When I was one year old, the government of Philadelphia firebombed its own people

The United States is a country that was founded on white supremacy, and that has yet to actually address the myriad of atrocities and injustices that followed from that aspect of the nation’s founding. The current “CRT” panic from the right wing is a not-so-subtle effort to prevent the teaching of any history that might undermine fanatical patriotism, particularly among white students. From what I can tell, the conservative movement is horrified that people have been learning about things like the 1921 pogrom in Tulsa Oklahoma. Personally, I love to see it. Lately I’ve heard a lot of fascists online talking about their belief that history is cyclical, and that “their time” is coming, especially with the recent backlash against social progress. There’s a degree to which belief in such cycles can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you have hugely popular people like Joe Rogan spreading a mix of fatalism, bigotry, and machismo, and talking about ancient prophecies, I think there’s a real danger of people trying to create hard times, or at minimum shrugging off dangerous trends in society.

So I think it’s worth remembering both the kinds of things that can come from a racist law enforcement system, and remembering that this stuff is not remotely cyclical. Even a cursory glance at history shows “hard times” happening all over the world on any given date. Sadly, state violence against black neighborhoods didn’t end in the 1920s. On May 13th 1985, the Philedelphia Police Department firebombed a neighborhood:

In case it wasn’t clear, officials made the decision to let the fire spread:

In May 1985, after attempts to evict the group from its home in West Philadelphia, the city flew a helicopter over it and dropped a bomb. The explosives resulted in a raging fire, which the fire department refused to control. Various accounts suggest that police began shooting at members attempting to flee. Only two people escaped, and six adults and five children died in the blaze.

This is all bad enough, but because the U.S. is what it is, it gets worse. See – ordinarily when people die, regardless of the circumstances, their remains are treated according to the wishes of loved ones. It’s generally considered bad form to just… keep the remains without permission.

A forensic pathologist produced reports on the human remains found in the debris, including two sets of bones identified as belonging to Tree Africa, 14, and Delisha Africa, 12.

Mike Africa Jr., a current MOVE member who spent his childhood with the group, remembered Tree as fearless, someone who would find the tallest tree in the park and race to its peak. “No one could climb higher than she could,” he said in an interview this month. “She never feared the way up.” Delisha, he said, was always right behind her.

After an investigation into the bombing,the remains were given to anthropologist Alan Mann by the city Medical Examiner’s Office, according to the MOVE Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission letters, for further analysis. At the time, he worked at the University of Pennsylvania. When Mann transferred to Princeton University in 2001, he reportedly took the bones with him.

Researchers connected to the schools also used the girls’ bones in an online forensic anthropology teaching video, without permission of the relatives’ families.

That the MOVE bones were still being held by the universities was not widely known before revelations published this week by online news site Billy Penn. It has led to public outrage as controversy builds over American museums’ display and study of human remains. Just last week, the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology pledged to repatriate another group of problematic human remains known as the Morton Collection.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday that he was “extremely disturbed” by the mishandling of the girls’ remains and that the city is reviewing its internal records from the time of the bombing.

On Thursday, MOVE member Pam Africa told The RemiX Morning Show her organization had never been contacted about the remains.

“None of these monsters have called one MOVE person,” Africa said. “Tree has a mother, Consuela Africa, who did 16 years in jail.”

Fortunately, last year the remains were found after Philadelphia’s health commissioner Thomas Farley was found to have ordered their destruction without notifying anyone – let alone the family. This stuff isn’t ancient history. I was a year old when this happened, and Farley’s attempt to destroy the remains was in 2017. White supremacy is still very much the default in how a lot of the United States operates. Black Americans have been saying this for decades, it has become pretty fucking clear in recent years just how right they were.

Right now the country is in the grips of a massive, well-funded effort to roll back as many civil rights as possible. Whatever you may have been told, the “moral arc of the universe” is a comforting fiction. There is no inevitable good outcome for us. If we want the world to get better, we have to understand what it was, what it is, and we have to work to make it into something that it never has been before.

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Are the rich safe from climate breakdown? Yes, and we should do something about that

Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist, and a climate activist. He’s doing work that’s desperately needed, and deserves our support. That said, I’m not sure whether I agree with how he framed a wildfire in California. The fire destroyed several multimillion dollar mansions near Laguna Beach on May 12th, prompting Kalmus to point out that the rich aren’t safe from Earth breakdown.

This feels like one of those times when something is technically correct – no human is safe from climate breakdown – but maybe less correct from both a practical and a tactical perspective. I admit that this may be a bit of a petty hair to split, but for some reason my brain hasn’t been cooperating today, but it’s happy to provide whatever this post is. I want to say again, because the internet seems to thrive on bullshit controversy, that I’m not “attacking” Peter Kalmus. If you want to categorize this post, you can view it as a well-meaning propagandist musing aloud about his craft. Ok? Ok.

There are three reasons why I think this post may be a little misguided. The first is that in practical terms, the rich are safe from climate breakdown. They’re safe from it in their heads, and their wealth will protect them from it for a long time. I think it’s fair to assume that everyone who owned those mansions had good insurance plans for them. Maybe there are some people with houses like that who would be ruined by the loss, but my impression is that for the most part, people with homes like that tend to have other homes in other locations. They can relocate without much difficulty. They might lose things of sentimental value, and they might even become slightly less wealthy, but that’s not the same as what happens when a normal person’s home burns.

The amount of safety will depend on how obscenely rich they are, but for the people at the top – the ones who could make a real difference on the climate issue if they cared to – it could well be more than a lifetime before their wealth runs out, if we don’t change how the world works, and take it away from them.

My second quibble is with what seems like an appeal to the wealthy. I see the value in trying to get those with power to do something, but I don’t think this accounts for who they really are – they’re people whose lives have demonstrated to them that they really can spend their way out of any problem. They are also people whose power and wealth came from having the means to make the world better, and choosing to enrich themselves instead. My impression of history is that they won’t learn the error of their ways until they are forced to by circumstance. If climate change is that circumstance, then it may be too late for the rest of us by then – it will take time for the wealthy to exhaust their resources.

Remember – these are people who can just buy themselves a state-of-the-art bunker on a whim, and stock it with a decade’s worth of food and water, without even considering where that money’s going to come from. They will try to create a neo-feudal climate hellscape with order enforced by paramilitaries fitted with shock collars, and by the time that fully falls apart on them, everything will be much, much worse. I don’t think they believe that they’re not safe, and I don’t think we can afford to wait for them to find out.

Finally, I worry that appeals like this perpetuate the idea that we have to ask our rulers to save the world. To quote Frederick Douglass, power concedes nothing without a demand, and I think the whole world will be far better off if we get our acts together and make that demand as soon as possible. The alternative is waiting until climate change scours away all of their power, and if that’s the path we take, they’ll use as many of us as human shields as possible to protect themselves. How many people will die by then? How much of our dwindling hope will be gone?

We should proceed as though the wealthy are safe from this global catastrophe, at least in the time frames that really matter right now. They’re safe for the same reason everyone else is not, and that should make us angry. They’re safe from climate change, and as long as that’s the case, humanity itself will continue to be in danger.

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Green spaces are good for your brain.

I like greenery. I like the idea of cities that are covered in plant life, for a whole host of reasons, many of which I’ve gone into before. It’s fair to say that I’m already pretty convinced that this is a good idea, but now another piece of evidence has come along:

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study found that exposure to greenspace around one’s home and surrounding neighborhood could improve processing speed and attention, as well as boost overall cognitive function. The results also showed that lowered depression may help explain the association between greenspace and cognition, bolstering previous research that has linked exposure to parks, community gardens, and other greenery with improved mental health.

“Some of the primary ways that nature may improve health is by helping people recover from psychological stress and by encouraging people to be outside socializing with friends, both of which boost mental health,” says study lead author Marcia Pescador Jimenez, an assistant professor of epidemiology. “This study is among the few to provide evidence that greenspace may benefit cognitive function in older ages. Our findings suggest that greenspace should be investigated as a potential population-level approach to improve cognitive function.”

For the study, Pescador Jimenez and colleagues from SPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Rush Medical College estimated residential greenspace with a satellite image-based metric called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). They measured psychomotor speed, attention, learning, and working memory among 13,594 women aged 61 on average and primarily White, from 2014 to 2016. The women were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II, the second of three studies that are among the largest investigations into the risk factors for chronic diseases among US women.

Adjusting for age, race, and individual and neighborhood socioeconomic status, the researchers found that greenspace exposure was associated with psychomotor speed and attention, but not learning or working memory.

In addition to depression, the researchers also examined the potential roles of air pollution and physical activity in explaining the association between greenspace and cognitive function, and they were surprised to only find evidence of depression as a mediating factor.

“We theorize that depression might be an important mechanism through which green space may slow down cognitive decline, particularly among women, but our research is ongoing to better understand these mechanisms,” Pescador Jimenez says. “Based on these results, clinicians and public health authorities should consider green space exposure as a potential factor to reduce depression, and thus, boost cognition. Policymakers and urban planners should focus on adding more green space in everyday life to improve cognitive function.”

While the study shows evidence of this association, the greenspace metric that the researchers used to measure greenspace exposure does not differentiate between specific types of vegetation. In a new project funded by The National Institute on Aging, Pescador Jimenez will apply deep learning algorithms to Google Street View images to better understand which specific elements of greenery, such as trees or grass, could be the driving factors for health.

The researchers also hope that their study is replicated among other racial/ethnic populations and assesses associations with cognitive decline over longer periods of time.

“The distribution of green spaces in cities is not uniform,” says Pescador Jimenez. “Increasing everyday access to vegetation across vulnerable groups in urban cities is a crucial next step to achieve health equity.”

That last point is key. Not only is distribution of green spaces not uniform, but there’s also almost always a strong racial element in determining the healthiness of one’s surroundings. If you want more on that, Mano Singham did a good writeup to go with John Oliver’s video on environmental racism in the United States. Unfortunately the racial and economic microcosms we often see in my home country are often replicated at a global scale. This is part of why I focus so much on politics – if we can’t change how humanity is run, then even if we manage to survive climate change, we’re going to keep running ourselves into crisis after needless crisis. Among other things, I think that means improving the quality of life of those at the bottom, and uplifting the rest of us as they catch up, and resources allow. Improving where people live should be a big part of that.

Tips for accessing reproductive healthcare in the United States

Whether or not the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade has the exact language as the leaked memo, I think it’s safe to assume that the GOP will continue their relentless effort to make reproductive healthcare inaccessible. That won’t reduce the need for abortion and contraception, but it will make safe reproductive care difficult to access, and impossible for some. In some parts of the U.S., the “right” to an abortion exists only on paper, because of the logistical barriers that have been put in place. When confronted with unjust laws, it is right and just to break those laws, and when it comes to something like health care, I would say it’s our duty to do what we can to help those in need of care, to whatever degree we’re able. To that end, I’m linking some relevant resources. I’ll try to update this as I come across more materials, and I hope you folks will fill in any gaps in the comments. As with everything else, we’re at our strongest when we work together.

I have one more thing to add: The kinds of organizing and networking I periodically talk about are humanity’s original multi-tool for dealing with big problems. Having a network and knowing who in it believes what is a way for people to seek help. If you aren’t likely to need help yourself, it puts you in a position where others know that you might be able to provide it. Also a general reminder – if you’re planning to do something that could get you in trouble, don’t post about it online, and consider who might have access to your modes of communication.

This resource was last updated on the sixth of May, 2022.

There’s more on that thread that’s worth looking at.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

The Democrats are not blameless: Some thoughts about how we got here

It looks like we’re fast approaching an end to abortion rights in the United States, as guaranteed by the 1973 Supreme Court case known as Roe v. Wade. From what I can tell, overturning this case won’t just put reproductive rights in jeopardy, but a number of other civil rights as well. I might write more about that in the future, but there’s no shortage of commentary on the subject right now, and for today I wanted to talk about what it looks like when the people in power actually want to deliver on their promises.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Democratic Party’s inability to deliver on their progressive promises isn’t just a matter of bumbling incompetence. There’s probably an element of that, but to me it looks like they don’t actually want to deliver, when it comes to left-wing policies. Some individuals within the party probably do, but the leadership? Not so much. They don’t do any of the things I’d expect them to do, were that the case.

The Republican Party are to blame for all of the vicious and harmful things they do, but not only do they represent a minority of the country, everybody knows they represent a minority, and they’re fairly often in the minority in government as well. When they are in government, the GOP seems to be far more effective at accomplishing their goals than their counterparts. I think we would be wise to look at how they do things, and take pointers about what can be done in pursuit of our goals, and on what it looks like when political leaders actually want to deliver on their promises.

Not everything will work as well for the left as it does for the right. Conservatives basically “win” every time they delay or roll back a change. They don’t care about the people being hurt by the status quo, so there’s no real sense of urgency about anything except stopping change. That means that it’s far, far easier for them to play a long game, and build up their political power through state and local politics. Conservatives also tend to push the interests of those in power, which means financial support, and an expectation of gentle treatment by the authorities. After the insurrection attempt on January 6th 2021, I saw some of the more revolution-hungry folks in the online left saying that that’s what we should be doing. The most common rebuttal was that there’s no way law enforcement would have such a gentle response to an insurrection attempt by a left-wing mob. We face different obstacles, so it stands to reason that we’ll need different tools at least some of the time.

That said, the GOP shows us what it looks like when a party actually has goals. I’ve said before that I feel the Democrats – or at least the party leadership – view politics as a sort of game. What seems to matter most to them is that the rules be followed, and that the two sides be as evenly matched as possible. Even if they might like to see some progressive change, it’s not something they’re willing to fight for. The Republicans, on the other hand, actually want a lot of the stuff they say they want, and so they do everything they can to get it. When they followed through on their promised Muslim ban, the GOP didn’t bother waiting for some committee to tell them what the courts would probably say, they just wrote the ban and tried it, knowing it would probably be shot down.

Knowing that there would be no penalty for trying.

It was shot down, they adjusted it to fit what the ruling said and tried again. That was shot down, and they adjusted and tried again. Rather than caring about “doing it right”, or playing by the rules, they have a goal in mind, and try everything they can think of to achieve it. The Democratic party only seems to be able to do that when it comes to things like funding the Pentagon. There’s a degree to which it’s useless to speculate on their “real” motivations, but they certainly don’t act as if any of the progress they promise is a real priority, and they haven’t acted like that at any point in my life.

I don’t know whether we have any shot at getting people like Biden or Pelosi to actually fight for the things they claim to want, but I think this is at minimum a good thing to consider when deciding whether they’re doing a good job. It’s been 49 years since Roe v Wade, and there has been a relentless effort – including terrorism – to end the right to abortion. Everyone knew this was coming, and yet for all the times the Democrats held power, and for all their endless campaigning about being the True Protectors™ of reproductive rights, they never followed through. They never actually made the right to abortion law.

And it sure as hell looks like they never actually tried.

Nobody in the party leadership is going to be directly hurt by this. They’re all rich. They’ll all be able to get abortions and any other reproductive care they need, and getting it isn’t going to cause them any financial or legal hardship. The same was true during the “Obamacare” fight – the people who took single-payer and the public option off of the table before negotiations started were never at risk of losing their access to healthcare. It’s not hard to see what it looks like when politicians actually want to achieve their stated goals, and I see no real evidence that anyone in the leadership of the Democratic party ever wanted anything more than endless fundraising off of the precarity of rights they never really intended to secure. It sure seems like they knew they were the only option for people who care about reproductive rights, and rather than deal with the problem, they chose to hold it over people’s heads for votes and contributions.

Everything about this situation makes me angry.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Tegan Tuesday: Congrats! You’re poor now!

Every January since 1981, the US Department of Health and Human Services updates the poverty guidelines (aka the poverty line) based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). The poverty guidelines outline the eligibility criteria for a number of US assistance programs such as Medicaid or SNAP. The poverty thresholds were initially created in 1963 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration (SSA). To quote from Health and Human Services,

Orshansky used a factor of three because the Agriculture Department’s 1955 Household Food Consumption Survey found that for families of three or more persons, the average dollar value of all food used during a week (both at home and away from home) accounted for about one third of their total money income after taxes.

In May 1965, the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity adopted Orshansky’s poverty thresholds as a working or quasi-official definition of poverty. In August 1969, the U.S. Bureau of the Budget (predecessor of the Office of Management and Budget) designated the poverty thresholds with certain revisions as the federal government’s official statistical definition of poverty.

Because of this metric, it’s assumed by the Powers That Be that approximately one third of household income is spent on rent, one third spent on food, and the remaining third spent elsewhere – that these ratios have remained unchanging for nearly a century. These are the same metrics that influence whether or not you can rent an apartment based on your income – property management often won’t allow you to spend more than a third of income for rent. Obviously there are ways and means around every system, and I mostly dealt with that in my own life by working with small scale landlords and trying to keep my rent spending below half of my income. When I initially became the primary breadwinner of my household, Abe and I were living in the Boston area, and so our rent was close to 75-80% of my income. And yet, we were ineligible for assistance, as the poverty line for a two-person household was $16,460 a year in 2017 — aka, less than our cheap Boston apartment by approximately $400. We could barely make rent, but we weren’t officially poor as the US government defined it. Note: this and all other statistics used in this article are based off of the rates for the contiguous US – Alaska and Hawai’i have higher numbers to account for their much higher living costs.

The CPI-U is based on the record of approximately 80,000 items each month gathered by thousands of data collectors. There are eight major spending categories (food and beverages; housing; apparel; transportation; medical care; recreation; education; other) and rates of increase can be sorted out by category, by region, or a few other divisions. My concerns with it’s value, as it’s currently set up, as a metric for poverty or government assistance programs can be quoted directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:

One limitation is that the CPI-U may not be applicable to all population groups. For example, the CPI-U is designed to measure inflation for the U.S. urban population and thus may not accurately reflect the experience of people living in rural areas. The CPI-U does not produce official estimates for the rate of inflation experienced by subgroups of the population, such as the elderly or the poor. Note that we do produce an experimental index for the elderly population that is available upon request; however, because of the significant limitations of this experimental index, it should be interpreted with caution.

Another limitation is that the CPI-U cannot be used to measure differences in price levels or living costs between one area and another as it measures only time-to-time changes in each area. A higher index for one area does not necessarily mean that prices are higher there than in another area with a lower index. Instead, it means that prices have risen faster in the area with the higher index calculated from the two areas’ common reference period. Additionally, the CPI-U is a conditional cost-of-living measure; it does not attempt to measure everything that affects living standards. Factors such as social and environmental changes and changes in income taxes are beyond the definitional scope of the index and are excluded. [source]

Because these are self-reported spendings from average, (I assume) middle-class Americans, they almost certainly don’t accurately reflect the spending habits and needs of the demographics that would be eligible for assistance! This is frustrating in a number of ways, and while I can certainly spitball reasons for why those demographics aren’t represented, it doesn’t change the fact that this seems to a problem built into the system. The spending habits of the non-poor was one of the reasons why the UK developed the Vimes Boots Index, after all. But unlike the UK system, I see no evidence that the US reports are built around luxury goods. They are just likely to be middle class. Apparently it was only in 2019 that telephone surveys were replaced as the primary means of data collection, so just think about who was likely to answer phone surveys on spending habits in the past decade – that’s who’s spending the index was based around.

As an additional contrast to the UK, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rent was one of the many things that was included as a metric for the CPI-U. According to the BLS, the CPI Housing survey covers approximately 0.11% of all rental properties in the US, with 32,000 units in the survey. I initially felt that was an outrageously small sample size, but a friend with more experience in population-sized datasets assures me that it’s a fairly normal ratio, so long as it is truly a representative sample. I was unable to find any clear details about how the housing survey is spread across the US, so please let me know if you have any ideas or further information! But I will optimistically assume that these rental properties are a true representative sample and are fairly spread across the US.

But rejoice! Look at how much the poverty line has increased this year! This means that more Americans are eligible for benefits and are able to take advantage of this opportunity. The higher the cut-off rate for government assistance, the more households that are eligible.

This image is a graph showing the total increase to the US poverty line, without accounting for inflation, since the year 2003. The increase varies from year to year, with the one from 2021 to 2022 being obviously larger than any other year.

This year’s cut off income for a single person household is $13,590 a year, or $1,132.50 per month. That is still outrageously (and intentionally) low. (Note: I did track the rate of change across multi-person households as well, but they follow roughly the same path as that of a single person, so I have simplified the data for ease viewing.) This surely is reflective of the current state of affairs, as the CPI-U takes into account the recent food hikes and the energy price increases and rents that always, always go up (albeit these are based on four-year old data, as that’s how long it takes to process the CPI-U). This $13.5k must be similar to the poverty rate of previous years. Factoring for inflation, however, actually tells a very different story.

The image is a graph showing the US poverty index from 2002 to 2022, adjusted for March 2022 rates. Since the high point in 2009 at just under 14800, the overall trend has been downward, with a slight recovery in the mid 2010s

This graph shows the income rates for a Single Person Household as given by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and run through the inflation calculator provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. So each number, assigned in January of the given year, has been factored to represent the spending power of the USD in March 2022. And allowing for inflation, fewer and fewer American households are eligible for government assistance. This assistance could be housing aid, cheaper health insurance, or the various programs lumped together as ‘food stamps’. The only saving grace for poor Americans is that wages have also stagnated over the past two decades, so many people who were near the cut-off point might have slipped into eligibility without having to lose a dime.

It’s not a lie that this year’s poverty index has risen more than any other year in the past twenty – the average increase (not accounting for inflation) is 2.17% and this year’s is a 5.51% from 2021. But inflation has completely overrun everything else, making it harder and harder for the average American to stretch their dollar even as far as it did two years ago. I think it should go without saying, but just in case, I don’t think that anyone should be struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

The past decade has involved a great deal of unlearning my own shame and stigma with being labeled ‘poor’. I am poor – I grew up poor, and for most of my adult life, I have been poor. I have known people with less than me, but I have never been so comfortable as to not worry about food insecurity. It’s probably pretty clear from the guest posts I have done here, but ready access to affordable and healthy food is one of my biggest concerns for the planet. While the new poverty line won’t bring help to as many American households as it should, hopefully it will have an impact on more than it did previously. If you or someone you know is eligible for assistance based off of the new numbers, please start the process to apply. It absolutely sucks – US food and housing assistance have some of the worst bureaucratic hurdles to jump over. But for anyone making under $20k a year, every little bit helps. And even those of us who aren’t near the cut-off point – now’s a good time to start investing in household food storage and larger food networks. Exiting the pandemic, we all could use a little social activity. Why not make it a supper club or a regular potluck? This is social and network building, while also not straining any given household’s resources. More and more people are going to be considered ‘poor’ rather than ‘comfortable’ or even simply ‘middle-class’, and the sooner we can build solidarity among the working poor, the sooner we can build enough momentum to change the system.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Video: What is (and is not) anti-fascism?

Way back in 2017, Abigail Thorn published The Philosophy of Antifa – an hour-long breakdown of what “antifa” means, what it doesn’t mean, and what motivates those who make antifascist action a priority. It’s an excellent video, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Now, Leon of Renegade Cut has published his own video on anti-fascism. It delves into the history of opposition to fascism, going back to Italian WW1 veterans organizing to oppose Mussolini.

More importantly, it looks at what caused various anti-fascist resistance movements of the past to fail – very often too long of a delay before organized opposition. This is a sobering and vitally important look at history and at our current conditions. If long videos are hard for you, I recommend treating it like a podcast or an audiobook – I often listen to this sort of thing while I’m doing dishes or playing a video game. I wish this stuff was just a matter of niche historical interest, but unfortunately it’s still very relevant to the challenges we face today, so it’s my opinion that everyone should check this out:

The history of climate science, for a denier in my comments.

Someone apparently objects to my comment moderation policy, and seems to have that delightful conservative reflex of trying to make people they disagree with angry. I’m posting this not to put a target on the commenter, but because he serves as a useful reminder that there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know this stuff. I would say that it is partly their own fault, but not entirely. We know for a fact that the fossil fuel industry has known about this for decades, and that they responded by pouring millions of dollars into a decades-long propaganda campaign. The amount of misinformation on this issue has been staggering. In my opinion those responsible are guilty of crimes against humanity. That said, I don’t think everyday deniers are entirely blameless.

At this point, I feel that ignorance on such a big issue – and it’s big even if you’re in denial about the science – is at least partly a choice. All of this information is publicly available. Almost all of it I learned after I graduated college. Getting a bachelor’s degree in biology definitely gave me the tools to better evaluate the science for myself, but any scientist knows that that’s nowhere close to expertise in any branch of science. I’m more trained than a “layman”, but I don’t think that’s saying much.

Even without that training, the world is full of people who have explained this stuff in a myriad of different ways. For whatever reason, those explanations haven’t gotten through to this particular commenter, so I figured I’d put in my oar.

“Bigots, doomers, and trolls will have their comments edited or deleted. ”
Guess I should do my best to be considered one of those. BTW I consider YOU a ‘doomer’. It isn’t that I do not ‘believe’ in ‘climate change’. Rather I recognize no reason why it should not – unpredictably, but likely conforming to past patterns of experience in large part. It is fun to hear you refer to disbelief in anthropogenic global warming / climate change as a matter for a ‘conspiracy theory’ – although when government levies a tax it is no secret what their theft is about. Nor is it especially credible that man should be responsible for change decades hence. Such a projection is still the speculation it ever was. Not even the I.P.C.C. calls its computer emulation of the function of crystal balls factual – though if one is silly enough it can be called credible. There is no data – nor can there be. Things which have not happened remain unmeasurable..

I tend to allow a little leeway for discussion, disagreement, and so on. My problem comes when we enter the realm of advocacy, or when we start going in circles. The “doomers” in question are those who think our extinction due to climate change is inevitable and near, and therefor we shouldn’t bother doing anything about it. It’s the flip side of those who say the problem isn’t happening, so we shouldn’t do anything about it.

As to your claim that it’s “not especially credible”, I’m afraid the only two reasons why you’d say that are dishonesty or ignorance. I’ll assume – for now – that it’s ignorance, and we’ll see where that goes. To begin with, you seem to think that the field of climate science is a relatively new one.

It’s not.

We’ve known how CO2 interacts with heat in our atmosphere since 1856. When I say “known”, I mean that Eunice Foote was able to measure it then. Her work has since been confirmed countless times by countless people, and versions of it are still used as science fair projects to this day.

The first prediction that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels would raise this planet’s temperature was in 1896, by Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrhenius. This wasn’t just a guess. He and many others had found evidence of past ice ages, and were studying what could cause such a thing to happen, when another scientist approached him with his evidence that carbon dioxide from burning coal was actually accumulating in the atmosphere. The prediction was made not based on random guesswork, but based on the measurable physical properties of carbon dioxide, and the measurable rate of increase in the atmosphere.

That was 126 years ago, also known as 12.6 decades.

When Arrhenius made the prediction, he calculated it would take around 3,000 years for the climate to warm enough for palm trees to grow in Sweden, and he was pretty happy about the idea. That was based on fossil fuel consumption in the 1890s, you understand. The rate of consumption has gone up a bit since then.

Already you can see that this isn’t a prediction NOW about something happening in the future, so much as a prediction from the past that we’ve checked over and over and over for over a century, and that has turned out to be accurate, no matter how many times we run the numbers.

This is what science is. It’s a method for taking information we know, and using it to make predictions, which are then tested.

The field of climate science continued after Arrhenius’ work, of course. The term “climate change” goes back to the 1930s, if memory serves, but it was in the late 1950s when things really kicked off. That’s when Charles Keeling started making some noise about what his CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa observatory were showing. This graph is known as “Keeling Curve“:

1958 is also when the first televised warning about climate change appeared on Bell Telephone Science Hour:

I want to emphasize, again, that all of this was literal decades before that warming was measurable. This is not something scientists came up with after the fact to explain warming that was being seen, it’s something scientists successfully predicted decades before it happened. In the case of Arrhenius, he predicted it and then died of old age decades before it happened. It was also – in case I need to tell you this – decades before computer models or the IPCC existed.

The creation of the IPCC was the moment when governments realized that they should at least look like they were doing something about this problem. That’s what the “I” of that acronym is – “Intergovernmental”.

That came almost a century after the first prediction of global warming caused by human activities, and it came because the evidence had already been overwhelming for years

This is no different from Eratosthenes measuring the circumference of the earth in 276 B.C.E., literally thousands of years before we were able to actually circumnavigate it whenever we wanted, or even go into space and take a look from the outside. It’s no different from our ability to predict that a dramatic increase in the number of new smokers THIS year, will lead to a measurable increase in cases of lung cancer a few decades down the line.

Every aspect of your life involves technology that came from predictions made decades or centuries before those predictions were realized. This is not the divine revelation of prophecy, it’s just a basic understanding of the material realities of our world.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Have you enjoyed this pandemic? Because climate change could soon bring us the next one

One of the warning signs of a false conspiracy theory is that it has an answer for everything. Any evidence against is just proof that the conspiracy is bigger than they thought. This is not a universal rule, of course, but it’s well-known enough that I’ve seen it cited to accuse both the theory of evolution and the theory of anthropogenic global warming of being conspiracy theories.

Certainly, there have been conspiracies associated with climate change – deliberate efforts to mislead the public, and to prevent real action – but the problem here is a category error. People who make this argument are applying a general rule about theories explaining human activities to scientific theories explaining observed phenomena, backed up by reproducible research. That said, I really sympathize with those who have that reaction to climate change. What we’ve done to our planet is happening at a scale far beyond our normal frame of reference, and it’s affecting every part of the surface of this planet. That means that no matter what happens, it really is reasonable to ask, “how did climate change influence this?”

That goes for political and cultural shifts, volcanoes, and yes – pandemics:

As the Earth’s climate continues to warm, researchers predict wild animals will be forced to relocate their habitats — likely to regions with large human populations — dramatically increasing the risk of a viral jump to humans that could lead to the next pandemic.

This link between climate change and viral transmission is described by an international research team led by scientists at Georgetown University and is published April 28 in Nature(“Climate Change Increases Cross-species Viral Transmission Risk,” doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04788-w).

In their study, the scientists conducted the first comprehensive assessment of how climate change will restructure the global mammalian virome. The work focuses on geographic range shifts — the journeys that species will undertake as they follow their habitats into new areas. As they encounter other mammals for the first time, the study projects they will share thousands of viruses.

The scientists say these shifts bring greater opportunities for viruses like Ebola or coronaviruses to emerge in new areas, making them harder to track, and into new types of animals, making it easier for viruses to jump across a “stepping stone” species into humans.

“The closest analogy is actually the risks we see in the wildlife trade,” says the study’s lead author Colin Carlson, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. “We worry about markets because bringing unhealthy animals together in unnatural combinations creates opportunities for this stepwise process of emergence — like how SARS jumped from bats to civets, then civets to people. But markets aren’t special anymore; in a changing climate, that kind of process will be the reality in nature just about everywhere.”

You may remember some of the more charming representatives of the U.S. population making racist jokes about the habits of Chinese people, following reports about the origin of the virus. It sort of seems like the “lab leak” theory has gotten more popular of late, but the racism hasn’t gone anywhere. The lesson we should take from the COVID-19 pandemic is similar to the lessons of this research. Humans going into new habitat in search of resources brings us in contact with new diseases, some of which might infect us. Likewise, the rising temperature will force animals out of their historic homes, making new diseases more likely to bring themselves to us.

Of concern is that animal habitats will move disproportionately in the same places as human settlements, creating new hotspots of spillover risk. Much of this process may already be underway in today’s 1.2 degrees warmer world, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not stop these events from unfolding.

An additional important finding is the impact rising temperatures will have on bats, which account for the majority of novel viral-sharing. Their ability to fly will allow them to travel long distances and share the most viruses. Because of their central role in viral emergence, the greatest impacts are projected in southeast Asia, a global hotspot of bat diversity.

“At every step,” said Carlson, “our simulations have taken us by surprise. We’ve spent years double-checking those results, with different data and different assumptions, but the models always lead us to these conclusions. It’s a really stunning example of just how well we can, actually, predict the future if we try.”

As viruses start to jump between host species at unprecedented rates, the authors say that the impacts on conservation and human health could be stunning.

“This mechanism adds yet another layer to how climate change will threaten human and animal health,” says the study’s co-lead author, Gregory Albery, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology in the Georgetown University College of Arts and Sciences.

“It’s unclear exactly how these new viruses might affect the species involved, but it’s likely that many of them will translate to new conservation risks and fuel the emergence of novel outbreaks in humans.”

Altogether, the study suggests that climate change will become the biggest upstream risk factor for disease emergence — exceeding higher-profile issues like deforestation, wildlife trade and industrial agriculture. The authors say the solution is to pair wildlife disease surveillance with real-time studies of environmental change.

“When a Brazilian free-tailed bat makes it all the way to Appalachia, we should be invested in knowing what viruses are tagging along,” says Carlson. “Trying to spot these host jumps in real-time is the only way we’ll be able to prevent this process from leading to more spillovers and more pandemics.”

“We’re closer to predicting and preventing the next pandemic than ever,” says Carlson. “This is a big step towards prediction — now we have to start working on the harder half of the problem.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the previous spread of SARS, Ebola, and Zika, show how a virus jumping from animals to humans can have massive effects. To predict their jump to humans, we need to know about their spread among other animals,” said Sam Scheiner, a program director with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research. “This research shows how animal movements and interactions due to a warming climate might increase the number of viruses jumping between species.”

That last paragraph is interesting to me. For one thing, it’s an entirely understandable bid to get folks outside the scientific community to pay attention. Sensationalism seems to be all that works these days, and that works well when the material in question is sensational by nature.

For another thing, I think that the focus on the direct threat to humans hides at least a couple threats that are less obvious. The one that concerns me is the risk of diseases spreading not just to humans, but to the species we rely on for food.

That’s right! This was a secret agriculture post! I tricked you, and now you’re invested in hearing the final point!

Which is that while pandemics affecting us are scary and dangerous, we should also be very worried about pandemics affecting our crops. We depend on a terrifyingly small number of species for most of our food, and they’re no less vulnerable to disease than we are. I’m not sure how much we can do about this aspect of the problem, beyond “deal with climate change”, but I can think of a couple things.

First, obviously, I still want to move food production indoors. That doesn’t guarantee crop safety, but it certainly helps limit what the crops are exposed to. Second, as we invest in the infrastructure and power sources we need, we should also invest in diversifying our food sources. I guess this could be based on local taste and decisions, but I think that governing bodies ought to actually spend money on it, as a partial defense against pathogen-related crop failures.

The scientists who warned about the dangers of a pandemic were largely ignored, and hundreds of thousands of people died because of it. That number is dwarfed by those killed by ignoring climate scientists, but in both cases, the fact that we knew better (as a species) – the fact that we could have heeded warnings and done better – means that we still can. We can do better, and the path we’re on isn’t one we’re required to follow to destruction.

We can set a new course.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!