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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Baltimore Code Red: climate change, public health, and environmental justice

Interesting reporting by NPR, Capital News Service, and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Great job.

Below, on the right side, the green-shaded "income" map, upper midline scraggly "L" shaped area in the darkest green. That's where Cheryl and I now live (point of the red arrow, just west of York Road) in the "Homeland District," north of nearby Johns Hopkins University and south of equally nearby Towson University.

I can attest to the stultifying heat this summer in Baltimore. There were days I never went outside at all, it was just too hot. And our affluent neighborhood is a heavily wooded, bucolic, relatively cooler "shire."


Having lived in Las Vegas for 21 years (1992-2013), I am hardly a stranger to blistering heat, but this is way different. And, it's only likely to get worse across a breadth of climate parameters.

I could not recommend the Code Red reporting more highly. Kudos to the Howard Center, CSN, and NPR.
URBAN HEAT ISLANDS VIVIDLY ILLUSTRATE the price humans will pay in the world’s growing climate crisis. With an abundance of concrete and little shade, they get hotter faster and stay hotter longer. And the people who live there are often sicker, poorer and less able to protect themselves.

Rising temperatures in these neighborhoods will mean more trips to the hospital for heart, kidney and lung ailments. Drugs to treat mental illness and diabetes won’t work as well. Pregnant women will give birth to children with more medical problems.

Solutions exist. But growing more trees, repairing the frayed social fabric of a neighborhood or rebuilding streets and sidewalks to reflect heat are expensive — and take time. For cities like Baltimore, the clock is ticking…
Speaking of "investigative journalism," recall my prior citing of this fine book (scroll down in the linked post):

I will have to email James (he gave me that book). He is surely aware of the Howard Center (he's at Stanford).

apropos of our climate issues, from one of my current reads:

...[P]eople with low consumptions want to enjoy the high consumption lifestyle themselves. They have two ways of achieving it. First, governments of developing countries consider an increase in living standards, including consumption rates, as a prime goal of national policy. Second, tens of millions of people in the developing world are unwilling to wait to see whether their government can deliver high living standards within their lifetime. Instead, they seek the first world lifestyle now, by emigrating to the first world, with or without permission: especially by emigrating to Western Europe and the US, and also to Australia; and especially from Africa and parts of Asia, and also from Central and South America. It's proving impossible to keep out the immigrants. Each such transfer of a person from a low consumption to a high consumption country raises world consumption rates, even though most immigrants don't succeed immediately and increasing their consumption by the entire factor of 32.

Is everybody's dream of achieving a first world lifestyle possible? Consider the numbers. Multiply current national numbers of people by national per capita consumption rates (the oil, metals, water etc.) for each country, and add up those products over the whole world. The resulting sum is the current world consumption rate of that resource. Now repeat this calculation, but with all developing countries achieving a first world consumption rate of up to 32 times higher than their current ones, and no change in national populations or in anything else about the world. The result is that world consumption rates will increase by 11 fold. That's equivalent to a world population of about 80 billion people with the present distribution of per capita consumption rates.

There are some optimists who claim that we can support a world with 9.5 billion people. But I haven't met any optimist mad enough to claim that we can support a world with the equivalent of 80 billion people. Yet we promise developing countries that, if they will only adopt good policies, like honest government and free market economies, they too can become like the first world today. That promise is utterly impossible, a cruel hoax. We are already having difficulty supporting a first world lifestyle even now, when only 1 billion people out of the world's 7.5 billion people enjoy it.

We Americans often refer to growing consumption in China and other developing countries as "a problem," and we wish that the "problem" didn't exist. Well, of course the so-called problem will continue: the Chinese and the people of other developing countries are just trying to enjoy the consumption rates that we already enjoy. They wouldn't listen if we were so silly as to tell them not to try to do what we are already doing. The only sustainable outcome for our globalized world that China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, African countries, and other developing countries will accept is one in which consumption rates and living standards are more nearly equal around the world. But the world doesn't have enough resources to sustainably support the current first world, yet alone the developing world, at current first world levels. Does that mean that we are guaranteed to end up in disaster?
Note: we could have a stable outcome in which first world and other countries converged on consumption rates considerably below current first world rates. Most Americans would object: there is no way that we will sacrifice our living standards just for the benefit of those people out there in the rest of the world! As Dick Cheney said, "the American way of life is non-negotiable." But the cruel realities of world resource levels guaranteed that the American way of life will change; those realities of world resources cannot be negotiated out of existence. We Americans certainly will sacrifice our consumption rates, whether we decide to do so or not, because the world can't sustain our current rates... [Jarrod Diamond, Upheaval, pages 413 – 415]
More; I just finished this book yesterday.

In the past the pace of change was slow and incremental, but over the last century it has become fast and furious. Global temperature is rising, along with unusual weather patterns. Forests are burning. Deserts are expanding. The seas are rising. The rate of species extinction is accelerating.

Many alarmed observers have called for efforts to “save the planet” by reversing, or at least slowing, the changes we have wrought. Others, though, have been swayed by the belief system of climate change deniers who insist that the relevant research is a hoax.

The astrophysicist Adam Frank believes that those concerned with our current situation are right to worry. Human actions, he says, are indeed having adverse consequences, and, he argues, are on target to drastically modify the physical and biological constitution of the Earth. But we won’t destroy it. Quoting Lynn Margulis, originator of the endosymbiotic theory of multicellular life, Frank says: “Gaia is a tough bitch.” Our planet, Frank reminds us, has survived significant geophysical disasters and mass extinctions in the past and will persist. But if we don’t make corrections soon, it may not persist in a way that will support the current configuration of organisms, including us.

Bacteria and archaea, the ultimate survivors, will surely make it. Large multicellular organisms with voracious energy appetites may have a harder time. We know from past mass extinctions that opportunities arise for those who survive. The biological experiments that result will likely create a very different profile of life on Earth. And without us mucking around the way we do, the natural order of things might reach a more stable equilibrium. The philosopher Todd May, pondering such issues, recently asked, “Would human extinction be a tragedy?” He concluded that the world might well be better off without us. But his key question was, Would a world without our kind be a tragedy, given that we have achieved such remarkable things as a species?

Autonoetic consciousness is ultimately personal and selfish, and at its worst moments, narcissistic. Self-consciousness, according to Christophe Menant, is also the root of evil. At the same time it may be our sole hope for a future.

With our autonoetically conscious minds, we have constructed conceptual guidelines, such as morality and ethics, to help make difficult decisions, for example, about our way of life. Only self-conscious minds can come to the realization, as Todd May’s mind did, that we have an obligation to confront our selfish nature for the good of humankind as a whole. But in the end, this is a value judgment, one based on the assumption that our achievements are special.

Autonoesis allows us to care about our differences, and bemoan their possible demise. There’s nothing wrong with that. But perhaps we can sustain some version of our way of life without asking too much from other organisms. Doing so might well avert drastic changes in the configuration of life—the balance of biological power—that climactic change can bring. Remember, small mammals with low energy needs rose to the top of the food chain when conditions became less favorable for larger, energy-demanding, reptilian predators that had dominated with abandon.

We persist as individuals only if we persist as a species. We don’t have time for biological evolution to come to the rescue—it’s too slow a process. We have to depend on the more rapid avenues of change—cognitive and cultural evolution, which, in turn, depend on our autonoetic brains and their choices. In the end, it is indeed consciousness in which we must place our trust.

LeDoux, Joseph. The Deep History of Ourselves (pp. 377-380). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I am soon to again be a grandfather. What kind of world will my grandson inherit?

One specific area of journalism I hope takes root at The Howard Center is that of credible and effective "Science Journalism." In a time of rampant aggressive denialism, the need is increasingly acute. The Code Red effort is a nice step in that direction.

BTW, see my February post "Selling Science."


Baltimore inner harbor: What's in the water?


The world is getting hotter, but climate change doesn’t mean bitter cold weather will disappear.

Cold weather causes serious, life-altering problems for people with chronic health conditions.

In Baltimore, low-income people struggling to pay heating bills in drafty homes are most at risk, and the government is struggling to protect them.
Read all of it here.


More to come... #CoveringClimateNow

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