A new study, from a team of human geographers, analyzed satellite imagery of 913 major flooding events around the world from 2000 to 2018 and then compared population estimates in these same locations and discovered the population in flood-prone areas has grown by up to 86 million people, 10x faster than previously thought. Much of the population growth in floodplains has been part of the rural-to-urban migration in the Global South. www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/08/04/tens-millions-people-have-been-moving-into-flood-zones-satellite-imagery-shows/
The headline that seemed to emerge from the recent release of the 2020 Census results was that the U.S. was becoming less "white." (What is less frequently mentioned is that at least some of that "decline" was due to a proliferation of other boxes to check.) Census data shows that the Midwest and Rust Belt diversified the fastest from 2010 to 2020. In many cases, the counties that diversified fastest were also those likely to have seen overall population declines between 2010 and 2020. (Map from www.wsj.com/articles/where-is-america-diversifying-the-fastest-small-midwestern-towns-11628860161.)
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato is famous for advocating the rule of philosopher-kings. This Aeon piece by a philosophy professor at Saint Mary's College instead suggests we would be better served by philosopher-citizens.
"In a climate of norm-breaking politicians, increasing polarization and distrust, and rising despair about the lack of productive political discourse, it is easy to wish our own leaders were more like Plato’s wise, magnanimous rulers, who selflessly promote the ideal city’s collective flourishing. ... In Plato’s account, a strong man who promises to fight for the people is chosen democratically but his untethered desires usher in a swift slide to tyranny. For Plato, to avoid this unhappy end, we need benevolent, virtuous rulers who are ruled by reason rather than their irrational desires. In other words, we need philosopher-kings. ... But, as much as we may want a figure to bring us together, the incentives and obstacles that constrain politicians make it impossible (and undemocratic) to expect even the most magnanimous leader to right this ship. ... But what if Plato is right about the importance of the philosopher for the flourishing city and wrong about the role she or he should occupy there? What if instead of a few philosopher-kings magnanimously steering the unruly mob, we focused on building a democracy full of philosopher folks? These folks could grow in the virtues that philosophers value and, as they do, demand better of their democratically elected leaders. Folks who expect transparency, who demand truth, who ask curious questions, and who recognize the limitations of their knowledge and the limitations of their leaders could ensure better engagement from the bottom up. ... I have begun to see this as a real option—the only option, in fact—for two reasons. First, building up philosopher folks provides some sense of hope that our collective, democratic future might be better than our present. Second, I have seen evidence that this is possible play out among students in my course, “Dialogue and Civil Discourse.” ... [T] here are several virtues, I believe, that are preconditions for productive political engagement and therefore imperative for philosopher folks to develop: intellectual humility, attention, curiosity and empathy. These virtues are required for being a clear thinker, a good knower and an engaged participant in a democracy. ... If philosopher folks commit to growing in these virtues essential for good engagement, we can imagine a future better than the present, in which polarization does not automatically short-circuit productive engagement. After all, these virtues are not the provenance of the political right or left."
"Extirpation" is one the biogeography terms my geography students learn in the course of their studies. This map shows the current range of the jaguar (in green) as well as its historic range, from which the jaguar has been extirpated (in yellow).
c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/photos/22252/images/magazine_medium/Jaguar_map2_WWfall2021.png (Map from www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2021/articles/restoring-the-jaguar-corridor.)
Adults and teens (APUSH students?) interested in expanding their knowledge of history, particularly U.S. history, might want to check out "15 Minute History," the history podcast series from the University of Texas at Austin. Although not every episode is equally good, the series does a good job of bringing to the fore some of the lesser-known stories of U.S. history. The podcast is available from wherever you get your podcasts; the website offers supplementary material for each episode. 15minutehistory.org/
The 19 cities shown on this map have been designated by the U.S. Department of State as potential resettlement targets for Afghans and others with Special Immigrant Visas. These cities were chosen based on cost of living, available housing, support services, and a history of being welcoming of immigrants. Dozens of U.S. mayors (as well as those of European cities) have specifically requested more refugees. Why do mayors want refugees? They see them as "crucial to their growth and prosperity. ... Refugees’ economic contributions far outweigh the initial costs of resettlement, as numerous studies have found. One such study, commissioned by the city of Cleveland, found that while in 2012, the city spent about $4.8 million on support for refugee resettlement, the refugees who’d settled there in the previous 12 years had contributed $48 million to the city’s economy. A similar study in Detroit found that refugees who had settled there between 2007 and 2016 contributed from $229.6 million to $295.3 million to the local economy, creating between 1,798 and 2,311 new jobs in 2016. In 2004, economist Kalena E. Cortes found that refugees 'work four percent more hours, earn 20 percent more in income, and develop their English language skills 11 percent faster than economic immigrants.' Refugees earn higher incomes than other immigrants, which means that their tax contributions are higher, too. ... Moreover, refugee communities have a high rate of entrepreneurialism. A 2017 report found that the percentage of refugees who operate their own businesses is greater than that of other immigrants or native-born citizens."
(Map mine; quote from www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/28/why-do-us-mayors-want-more-refugees/.)
July 2021 was officially the hottest month on record, globally, since these records have been kept. One can hardly be faulted for seeking out air conditioning. In fact, rising incomes in the developing world, even more than rising temperatures, are expected to cause AC use to triple by 2050. In 2016, electric fans and air conditioning accounted for nearly 10% of global electricity consumption. By 2050, that too may triple, putting increased pressure on often balky electricity grids. Even if the energy to power air conditioners comes from entirely renewable sources, AC units themselves leak hydrofluorocarbons which are greenhouse gases thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide, making even hotter summers more likely. www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/08/10/demand-for-air-conditioning-is-set-to-surge-by-2050
Based on declining water levels in Lake Mead, the U.S. declared the first ever "Tier 1" water shortage on the Colorado River last week, a measure that will force cuts in water apportionment along the river, especially in Arizona. This article from Bloomberg CityLab considers the impact on Phoenix and Arizona in general.
"The state of Arizona has been in drought since 1994. In that time, its population has almost doubled to 7.2 million people as of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority of that growth has been in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties, which cover the area around and between Arizona’s two largest cities Phoenix and Tucson. Both cities — along with native tribes, farmers, and municipal and industrial users — draw a substantial portion of their water from the Central Arizona Project, a system of canals and aqueducts that carries water from the Colorado River, more than 300 miles to the northwest. ... With the announcement [of the Tier 1 shortage] came cuts to CAP’s water supply. Early next year, supply will drop 30%. ... Arizona is one of seven states in the Colorado River Compact, a water-sharing agreement that goes back nearly 100 years. Given the drought conditions, in 2007 the members adopted interim guidelines to clarify how they would share the shrinking amount of water. By 2019, those guidelines were no longer adequate, and the states adopted the Drought Contingency Plan, which established a series of triggers for water reductions based on levels in Lake Mead. Members of the Colorado River Compact are granted different levels priority access to water in the event of a shortage much the way loan- and bondholders get priority access to capital in the event of a bankruptcy. Not only is Arizona among the first group to see reductions, it will also see far greater reductions than other areas, at least initially. ... There’s a hierarchy of users within CAP, as well. Farmers—who represent just 1% of the state’s economy but use 74% of its water—will bear the brunt of the first cuts."
When Kathy Hochul is sworn in as governor of New York tomorrow following the formal resignation of current governor Andrew Cuomo, she will become the first female governor of New York. This topological map from Statista shows which states have had female governors (in blue, NY already listed) as well as the 19 states (in gray) that have not. www.statista.com/chart/25515/number-of-female-governors-by-state
Although many of the claims about critical race theory made in this piece by a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center are quite debatable, his re-introduction of Isaiah Berlin's analogy of the fox and the hedgehog is interesting and useful:
"The political philosopher Isaiah Berlin turned an obscure fragment by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus ('The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing') into an intellectual’s cocktail-party game. In a famous essay, published as a book in 1953, Berlin suggested that the world is divided between hedgehogs and foxes—between those who believe in One Big Thing (one all-sufficient super-explanation), and those who are content with a more modest, irrational and even incoherent idea of history’s unfolding. Karl Marx was a supreme hedgehog: Everything, for him, was about the conflict of economic classes. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a restlessly improvising fox. The world’s hedgehog population tends to expand in times of stress and change. Lately it has exploded in the U.S. Hedgehogs are thick on the ground, all of them advancing One Big Thing or another—each peering through the lens of a particular obsession. ... The hedgehog’s trajectory may begin on the side of undeniable and important truth—for example, the truth that slavery was a great wickedness in America (as it was elsewhere in the world), and that race prejudice has been a chronic American dilemma and a moral blight that has damaged and scarred the lives of millions of black American citizens over generations. All true—a truth to be acknowledged and addressed. But hedgehogs, who deal in absolutes, are liable to get carried away. Their truth changes shape as it coalesces into a political movement and gets a taste of power and begins to impose itself programmatically. Its ambitions swell, it grows messianic.... The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (younger brother of Reinhold) explained the fallacy thus: 'There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.' It is an error embedded in human nature. ... Niebuhr meant that it is an error to assume that one’s own particular fixation (whether it be money or race or class or religion or environment or animal rights or transgenderism or whatever) is the One Big Thing."
The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has developed real-time maps and forecasts for harmful algal blooms around the U.S. Maps and forecasts for beaches in Texas, Florida, Maine, and the shores of Lake Erie are already up and running, with similar data in the works for California and the Pacific Northwest. coastalscience.noaa.gov/research/stressor-impacts-mitigation/hab-forecasts/
For those interested in learning more about Central Asia, including Afghanistan, the University of Indiana's Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center offers free videoconferences on a variety of topics, from the science and technology of the Silk Road to Aral Sea ecology to Inner Asian music and more. To put current events in context, there's also one that looks at the history and human geography of Afghanistan. The only catch: there's a minimum of 5 participants to reserve a slot. The center also offers educational materials for free loan (user pays postage). iaunrc.indiana.edu/resources/video-conferencing.html
Haiti's M7.2 earthquake last weekend is believed to have been triggered by the same fault as the M7.0 earthquake that leveled parts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, in 2010. Most of the Caribbean is seismically active, as this map shows. The strongest earthquake to hit the Caribbean in modern times was the 1843 earthquake in Guadeloupe (part of the eastern arc of Caribbean islands known as the Lesser Antilles), which could be felt as far away as NYC and is thought to have had a magnitude as high as 8.5, which would have been more than 10x more powerful than Haiti's recent earthquake! cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/vAbzhEgRFTmUyweedLUVw-1200-80.jpg
Before there was a COVID vaccine, it was a safe bet that any COVID DNA (well, actually, RNA) that was detected by a PCR test was due to a COVID infection. Today, though, the testing picture has gotten more complicated. A PCR test, which is the gold standard of COVID testing, is designed to look for the presence of genetic material. But it can't distinguish between genetic material from a live virus or a dead one, among other things. For example, if someone has been vaccinated and is later exposed to the virus, her body should kill it off -- that's the whole point of the vaccine -- but until the body clears it, the bits of genetic material from that dead virus will still generate a positive result on a PCR test. In this piece from The Washington Post, a pair of medical professionals argue that from a public health efficiency standpoint, we should be requiring less testing of asymptomatic people and need to move from the binary "virus detected/virus not detected" standard we have been using for 18 months to a more nuanced look at viral load: www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/07/21/covid-testing-vaccinated/
Wildfires in California, British Columbia, Europe, and North Africa regularly make the news. But wildfires burning in Siberia are bigger than all of the others put together. "Siberia is so vast that huge fires can burn without threatening any major settlements, transportation systems or infrastructure — but are still part of a swath of infernos that together are larger than all the other blazes around the world. On one level, the Siberian fires are part of an annual cycle. But many climate experts see the staggering scope of this year’s fires as another sign of greater fire risks on a warming planet that is potentially being made even hotter by huge carbon emissions from the blazes. Russia is fighting more than 190 forest fires in Siberia that have closed airports and roads, forced widespread evacuations and sent a pall of smoke across the North Pole. But it has abandoned dozens more fires covering thousands of square miles, with no effort to fight them. ... More than 8,600 [Russian] firefighters, agricultural workers, soldiers and other emergency workers are fighting forest fires that have burned more than 62,300 square miles since the beginning of the year, according to Greenpeace. That’s an area nearly twice the size of Austria. ... Last year, Russian fires burned 4.7 billion trees, seven times more than were planted, according to a Greenpeace study using satellite images. In one month, Russian fires emitted carbon equal to Sweden’s total carbon dioxide emissions for the year."
Not surprisingly, an analysis of public school data from 33 states finds a sharp decline in public school enrollment during the pandemic, with more than 1 million students not showing up as expected last fall. The declines were steepest in the lower grades -- nearly 10% of kindergartners, amounting to more than 340,000 students, didn't enroll in school last fall -- in the lowest (and, secondarily, the highest) income neighborhoods, and in schools with virtual-only instruction. This map, from The New York Times, shows the year-over-year change in kindergarten enrollment, by state. (from www.nytimes.com/2021/08/07/us/covid-kindergarten-enrollment.html)
What is the political philosophy baked into cryptocurrency? The answer depends on the cryptocurrency. This piece by an Irish professor specializing in digital society issues considers the political philosophy of ether and the Ethereum blockchain.
"Cryptocurrencies are best understood by examining the community structure and cultural values they exhibit, rather than the economic activity they create. ... Each culture embeds its values into their blockchain. ... The Ethereum blockchain is often conceptualized as a shared world computer. This computer is agnostic about what happens on it. Ethereum says we are just the infrastructure and how you organize yourselves is up to you. ... But to be the neutral infrastructure is deeply political because it expands Ethereum from an economics experiment, like Bitcoin, into an experiment in public goods provisioning. ... The Ethereum community collectively creates the infrastructural conditions for new forms of governance. These new forms are alternatives to the inherited ones and implicitly propose to replace them. These surrogates will provide functions previously provided by corrupted democratic states and neoliberalism, but in more decentralized ways. Ethereum is 'minarchist.' Minarchism is a libertarian position advocating a night-watchman state. Associated primarily with philosopher Robert Nozick, minarchism advocates an almost completely anarchist position where all government functions are eliminated except those related to security (police, army, justice). In Nozick’s hands, the night-watchman state is a right libertarian concept, but in Ethereum’s it morphs into a left libertarian one. The community mutually provides and maintains a shared public good, the Ethereum world computer, but after that it’s hands-off, i.e. libertarianism. ... What unites cryptocultures in achieving their various aims is a 'hash, bash, cash' model of decentralized organization. Users hash it out by treating the blockchain as a shared locus of cultural truth and ensuring it remains so. Bashing it out refers to the discourse and cultural values expressed socially among the community. Cashing it out refers to the centrality of money in the cryptocultural experience: investing, trading, exiting. All these experiences bind the community as a culture. We hash, bash, cash for different reasons, and the assumptions found in one cryptoculture do not carry into another. In Ethereum’s case, the community hashes, bashes and cashes in order to provide and maintain a shared world computer, a public goods infrastructure. That’s the mutualism. This infrastructure then houses experiments in hypergovernance, that’s the minarchism. Ethereum’s political philosophy is mutualist minarchism."
As we are already seeing, changes in the climate do not have the same impact across all regions. This geo-graphic from Statista summarizes the changes in key elements of physical geography -- precipitation patterns and temperature -- forecast in this week's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by region. www.statista.com/chart/25511/scientific-consensus-climate-change-patterns-world-regions
Teens in Montgomery County with an interest in health care have the opportunity to volunteer with the Wheaton Rescue Squad. The First Aid Unit is open to young people age 14-20 and provides stand-by first aid at community events. Those age 16 or 17 can join the Cadet Corps, which involves going on ambulance calls. For more information, see www.wvrs.org/volunteer/requirements/cadet-program/
And therein lies the rub: just days after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its bleak report on global warming, the Biden White House asks the OPEC+ group to pump more oil to bring down gasoline prices, which are at or near a seven-year high. OPEC+ refers to the official members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, shown in dark blue on this map, and other major petroleum producers who often coordinate with OPEC but are not members of OPEC, shown in light blue on this map. www.insightsonindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Break_through.png
The area north of the Arctic Circle accounts for 6% of the Earth's surface area but is one of the hottest areas of geopolitical rivalry. Roughly 40% of this area is land -- parts of the U.S., Canada, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia -- and another third belongs to these same countries' continental shelves, but the balance is international water. DP World, the huge Dubai-based maritime logistics company, recently signed a deal worth up to $2 billion to help Russia expand ports, operate sea lanes, and develop ice-resistant container ships to move goods between Europe and Asia along Arctic sea routes. www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/world/europe/arctic-shipping-russia-dubai.html
NASA is forecasting that the second half of an oscillation now underway in the moon's orbit -- a moon wobble, as reported in many media outlets -- will significantly increase sunny day flooding at high tide in U.S. coastal areas. San Francisco, for example, is likely to see a 5x increase in high-tide flooding by 2030. "But 'it’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact,' study lead author Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. 'If it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot under water. People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.'" www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article252736353.html
Although COVID infection rates are arguably becoming a less useful metric because of low-viral load positive tests, hospitalizations remain an important indicator of community threat. This map from the Centers for Disease Control looks at new COVID hospitalizations per 100 available hospital beds over the last week. The counties shown in blue are near or exceeding local hospital capacity. (The counties shown in gray lack sufficient data because of state reporting limitations.) covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view
After two years of deliberation, a World Health Organization advisory committee of bioethicists and scientists have released recommendations to establish guidelines for human gene editing, both somatic and germline (heritable).
"The Committee recognizes that current, potential and speculative human genome editing research will go beyond national borders, as will possible societal effects. This applies equally to somatic, germline and heritable human genome editing, although the latter is generally considered to be of greater ethical concern. Therefore, governance for this technology is needed at national levels (domestic policy including laws, regulations and guidelines) and transnational levels (including conventions and treaties, as well as coordination of cross-border movement of researchers, clinicians (including clinician or physician scientists) and research participants or patients). ... The Committee concludes that innovation in human genome editing should be driven by anticipated benefit to individuals and society in human health and collective well-being. In turn, good governance of emerging technologies should ensure that adequate protections are in place for people most in need of the potential benefits of human genome editing and people most likely to experience the potential harms, who may or may not be the same people. Equity of access to, and benefit from, human genome editing has been foundational to the Committee’s discussions."
You can read the entire 100+ page governance report, including the questions for consideration and the sample scenarios, the summary of recommendations, or the position paper by following the links here to download the desired documents: www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240030404
A recent report from Greenpeace East Asia finds that subsidence, rising sea levels, and flooding events, like the one to hit central China recently, are posing a growing threat to key cities in East and Southeast Asia. This map compares at-risk populations and projected economic impact across the seven cities studied: www.statista.com/chart/25152/risk-of-rising-sea-levels-flooding-in-asia
Blog sharing news about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning
This blog also appears on Facebook: