Bird populations in France by species specialization, 1989-2017. Graphic: CRBPO

20 March 2018 (AFP) –  Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said.

Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

“Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century.

A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%.

The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”.

The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn.

The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize.

Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years.

Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to European Union figures.

“What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

“That shows that the overall quality of the agricultural eco-system is deteriorating.” [more]

'Catastrophe' as France's bird population collapses due to pesticides

Bird populations in France, 1995-2017. CNRS results on the workshop area 'Plaine & Val de Sèvre'. Graphic: CNRS

20 March 2018 (Muséum National D’histoire Naturelle) – The latest results from two bird monitoring studies, one conducted nationally, the other more locally, have just been released. Researchers at the National Museum of Natural History and the CNRS come to the same conclusion: the birds of the French countryside are disappearing at a vertiginous speed. On average, their populations have shrunk by one third in 15 years . Given the acceleration of losses in the last two years, this trend is far from bending.

Thanks to professional and bird-watchers who identify and count birds throughout the metropolitan area, the STOC (Temporary Monitoring of Common Birds, a participatory science program run by the National Museum of Natural History within CESCO), produces annual indicators (see the latest published STOC results) on the abundance of species in different habitats (forest, town, countryside,  etc.). Surveys conducted in rural areas show a decrease in bird populations living in agricultural areas since the 1990s. Specialist species such as the skylark, the grisette or the ortolan sparrow have average one in three in fifteen years. And the numbers show that this decline intensified further in 2016 and 2017 .

These national results are confirmed by a second study carried out at a local scale on the "Plaine & Val de Sèvre" Workshop Zone carried by the CNRS. Since 1995, researchers from the CEBC follow each year, in the Deux-Sèvres, 160 zones of 10 hectares of a cereal plain typical of French agricultural territories. In 23 years, all lowland bird species have seen their populations melt: the lark loses more than one in three (-35%); with eight out of ten individuals lost, partridges are almost decimated. This decline affects all bird species in agriculture, both the so-called specialist species - mainly attending this environment - and the so-called generalist species - found in all types of habitats, whether agricultural or not. According to STOC, generalist species do not decline at the national level; the observed decrease is therefore specific to the agricultural milieu, probably related to the collapse of insects.

This massive disappearance observed at different scales is concomitant with the intensification of agricultural practices over the past 25 years , especially since 2008-2009. A period that corresponds, among other things, to the end of the fallow periods imposed by the common agricultural policy, the surge in wheat prices, the resumption of the nitrate over-amendment allowing for the over-protein wheat and the generalization of neonicotinoids, very persistent neurotoxic insecticides.

These two studies, both conducted over twenty years and at different spatial scales, reveal the extent of the phenomenon: the decline of birds in agricultural areas is accelerating and reaching a level close to the ecological disaster . By 2018, many areas of cereal plains could experience a silent spring ("Silent Spring") announced by American ecologist Rachel Carson 55 years ago about the infamous DDT banned in France for over 45 years. If this situation is not yet irreversible, it is urgent to work with all the players in the agricultural world to accelerate changes in practices; and first with farmers who now have the keys to change the trend. [Translation by Bing]

The spring of 2018 promises to be silent in the French countryside

People cross Flagstaff Hill as snow falls in Schenley Park in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, 20 March 2018. Photo: Darrell Sapp / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / AP

By Nicole Chavez and Judson Jones
21 March 2018

(CNN) – The fourth nor'easter in three weeks already is closing schools and canceling thousands of flights Wednesday as it may dump record springtime snow in the Northeast.

A day after the official beginning of spring, the storm will bring heavy snow, strong winds, and even coastal flooding to some areas. It has potential to be one of the most significant and most disruptive snowstorms this late in the season, CNN meteorologists said.

"If the current forecast pans out, this nor'easter will dump more snow on Washington, Philadelphia and New York than the three earlier storms combined," CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

More than 70 million people are under a winter storm watch, warning or advisory from the southern Appalachians to Boston. […]

Washington will likely see 4 to 6 inches of snow, with some models hinting at much higher totals for the District. Areas west and north of the city are likely to see close to a foot of snow.

"It's been 75 years since Washington has had 5 inches of snowfall or greater this late in the season," Miller says.

Philadelphia could see up to a foot of snow. The City of Brotherly Love may get its biggest snowfall after the first day of spring in more than 100 years.

In New York City, snow will start Wednesday morning. Ten inches to more than a foot is forecast in the area before the storm departs early Thursday.

But Central Park in Manhattan may only receive 4 to 6 inches of snow, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, explaining it's more likely snow will accumulate in areas at higher elevations.

"If New York gets 12 inches of snow -- the National Weather Service currently has a high-end potential of 13 to 21 inches -- it would be its largest snowfall ever recorded after the first day of spring," Miller says.

The current record is 11.8 inches, set on 21 March 1958. […]

These late winter storms are likely to become more frequent with climate change. A study last week in the scientific journal Nature Communications ties extreme winter weather, specifically major snowstorms in the Northeast, to warming Arctic temperatures. [more]

Nor'easter closes schools, delays flights as record spring snow likely

Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape march from Kyebi to Accra, Ghana, to protest bauxite mining in the Atewa forest reserve, 17 March 2018. Photo: Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape

By Neil Nii Amatey Kanarku
19 March 2018

(Citi News) – Members of a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape are embarking on a six-day walk from Kyebi in the Eastern Region to Accra, in a bid to put pressure on government to preserve the Atewa forest reserve against any form of mining activity.

The walk, which began on Saturday, 17 March 2018, is aimed at drawing government’s attention to rescind its decision to mine bauxite in the Atewa forest reserve.

“The walk will cover a total estimated distance of 95 km, starting from the forest landscape in the East Akyem District to the capital city, Accra. Six (6) selected water heroes from the forest landscape will engage in the walk; carrying water collected from the Densu River, Ayensu and Birim (which take their source from the Atewa Forest) to the President of Ghana,” a statement from the group said.

The walk dubbed: “Atewa Walk For Water” an event being organized ahead of this year’s world water day celebration is currently in its second day and will end on 22 March 2018.

Vice President Dr. Alhaji Bawumia in 2017 led a high powered government delegation to sign a $15 billion agreement with Chinese investors to mine bauxite at Atewa in the Eastern Region and Nyinahin in the Ashanti Region, a move the group believes will negatively affect the whole country.

In an interview with Citi News, the leader of the group, Darryl Bosu, stated that the country would benefit immensely from conserving the Atewa Forest reserve instead of what it will get from mining bauxite in it.

“Over 3 million Ghanaians benefit directly from the Atewa forest reserve, 3 main rivers like Ayensu, Densu and Birim take their source from the Atewa, and these rivers provide water for majority of people in the Eastern Region and the Greater Accra region on a daily basis.”

“What do we think will happen to these rivers should government embark on their decision to mine bauxite in the forest. A lot of companies thar use water will collapse, farmers who rely heavily on these rivers which flow through their farms to water their farm produce will have no water to do that, and it will end up affecting their cultivation which will cause food shortage. Villages which do not have access to potable water and rely on these rivers for their daily livelihood will also go through torrid times.”

Bosu added that, “the negativity far outweighs the immediate economic benefits the country stands to gain should they mine the bauxite”. [more]

Group begins 6-day walk to protest mining in Atewa forest

Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape march from Kyebi to Accra, Ghana, to protest bauxite mining in the Atewa forest reserve, 17 March 2018. Photo: Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape

By Leticia Osei
17 March 2018

(Ultimate FM Online) – Hundreds of residents on the fringe communities of the Atewa Forest Reserve on Saturday commenced a six-day walk from Kyebi to Accra (95km) to protest government’s decision to mine bauxite in the Atewa Forest Reserve in the Eastern Region.

The Protest March led by Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape marched from Sagyimase to Kyebi to petition the East Akyem Municipal Assembly, and Okyenhene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin for the day of the exercise.

The government of Ghana has announced plans to leverage bauxite deposits in parts of Ghana for a $15 billion financial package from the Chinese government.

The Atewa Forest which is a Global Biodiversity Significant Area is part of current plans of Ghana to develop an integrated bauxite industry in Ghana.

However, the Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape -a group made up of representatives of several NGOs, Youth Groups, Interfaith Groups, Forest Fora, Farmer Based Associations, Opinion Leaders, and Community Leaders that have the best long term interest of the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area and all the areas surrounding Atewa Forest vehemently oppose the intended bauxite mining.

In a petition presented to Okyenhene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, the group enumerated the significance of the Atewa Forest reserve and the negative impact the intended bauxite mining will have on the forest which the brunt will be felt by millions of Ghanaians hence called on the Overlord of Akyem Abuakwa State to add his voice for government to rescind the decision and instead turn Atewa Forest into a National Park. [more]

Hundreds begin 95KM Protest march against gov’t’s plans to mine bauxite in Atewa Forest

Annual average U.S. unemployment rates, by race and education, 2017. Graphic: EPI

By Lauren Victoria Burke
15 March 2018

(NNPA Newswire) – Late last year, The Washington Post wrote that African Americans were the only group that showed no economic improvement since 2000.

They based their conclusions on Census data. This year, there was even more sobering news in a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The new study issued found “no progress” for African Americans on homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years.

Much of what was included in the EPI study was stunning data on African American economic progress. Fifty years after the famous and controversial Kerner Commission Report that identified “white racism” as the driver of “pervasive discrimination in employment and education” for African Americans, EPI concluded that not much has changed.

The EPI study stated the obvious and pointed to glaring statistics.

Regarding the justice system, the share of incarcerated African Americans has close to tripled between 1968 and 2016, as Blacks are 6.4 times more likely than Whites to be jailed or imprisoned. Homeownership rates have remained unchanged for African Americans, over the last 50 years. Black homeownership is about 40 percent, which is 30 percent behind the rate for Whites.

Regarding income, perhaps the most important economic metric, the average income for an African American household was $39,490 in 2017, a decrease from $41,363 in 2000.

A press release about the report said that, “Black workers still make only 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by white workers, African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty than Whites, and the median White family has almost ten times as much wealth as the median Black family.”

In 2017, the Black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, and still roughly twice the White unemployment rate. In 2015, the Black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968 and trailing a full 30 points behind the White homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period. [more]

It’s all about the Money: Stats on African American progress are sobering

By Janelle Jones, John Schmitt, and Valerie Wilson
26 February 2018

(EPI) – The year 1968 was a watershed in American history and black America’s ongoing fight for equality. In April of that year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and riots broke out in cities around the country. Rising against this tragedy, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 outlawing housing discrimination was signed into law. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute as they received their medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win the U.S. Open singles title, and Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives.

The same year, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, delivered a report to President Johnson examining the causes of civil unrest in African American communities. The report named “white racism”—leading to “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing”—as the culprit, and the report’s authors called for a commitment to “the realization of common opportunities for all within a single [racially undivided] society.”1 The Kerner Commission report pulled together a comprehensive array of data to assess the specific economic and social inequities confronting African Americans in 1968.

Where do we stand as a society today? In this brief report, we compare the state of black workers and their families in 1968 with the circumstances of their descendants today, 50 years after the Kerner report was released. We find both good news and bad news. While African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites. In several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968.

Following are some of the key findings:

  • African Americans today are much better educated than they were in 1968 but still lag behind whites in overall educational attainment. More than 90 percent of younger African Americans (ages 25 to 29) have graduated from high school, compared with just over half in 1968—which means they’ve nearly closed the gap with white high school graduation rates. They are also more than twice as likely to have a college degree as in 1968 but are still half as likely as young whites to have a college degree.
  • The substantial progress in educational attainment of African Americans has been accompanied by significant absolute improvements in wages, incomes, wealth, and health since 1968. But black workers still make only 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by white workers, African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as whites, and the median white family has almost 10 times as much wealth as the median black family.
  • With respect to homeownership, unemployment, and incarceration, America has failed to deliver any progress for African Americans over the last five decades. In these areas, their situation has either failed to improve relative to whites or has worsened. In 2017 the black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, and is still roughly twice the white unemployment rate. In 2015, the black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968, and trailing a full 30 points behind the white homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period. And the share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 and 2016 and is currently more than six times the white incarceration rate. [more]

50 years after the Kerner Commission

Median income gain or loss since 2000 for American ethnic groups. Graphic: The Washington Post

By Richard Rothstein
1 March 2018

(EPI) – In 1967, young black men rioted in over 150 cities, often spurred by overly aggressive policing, not unlike the provocations of recent disturbances. The worst in 1967 were in Newark, after police beat a taxi driver for having a revoked permit, and Detroit, after 82 party-goers were arrested at a peaceful celebration for returning Vietnam War veterans, held at an unlicensed social club.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission to investigate. Chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner (New York City’s mayor John Lindsay was vice-chair), it issued its report 50 years ago today. Publicly available, it was a best-seller, indicting racial discrimination in housing, employment, health care, policing, education, and social services, and attributing the riots to pent-up frustration in low-income black neighborhoods. Residents’ lack of ambition or effort did not cause these conditions: rather, “[w]hite institutions created [the ghetto], white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it… [and is] essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.”

The report warned that continued racial segregation and discrimination would engender “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” So little has changed since 1968 that the report remains worth reading as a near-contemporary description of racial inequality.

Of course, not everything about race relations is unchanged. Perhaps most dramatic has been growth of the black middle class, integrated into mainstream corporate leadership, politics, universities, and professions. We’re still far from equality—affirmative action remains a necessity—but such progress was unimaginable in 1968. Today, 23 percent of young adult African Americans have bachelor’s degrees, still considerably below whites’ 42 percent but more than double the black rate 50 years ago.

In the mid-1960s, I assisted in a study of Chicago’s power elite. We identified some 4,000 policymaking positions in the non-financial corporate sector. Not one was held by an African American. The only black executives were at banks and insurance companies serving black neighborhoods. Today, any large corporation would face condemnation, perhaps litigation, if no African American had achieved executive responsibility.

In other respects, things are pretty much as dismal now as then—the commission condemned “stop and frisk” policies and equipping police with military weapons “that have no place in densely populated urban communities.” Some conditions are now worse: the “two societies” warning has been fulfilled, not only in our economic and social live, but in the racial polarization of politics exposed in the last election. It threatens the foundations of our democracy.

The commission said the nation faced three alternatives. First, continue present policies, resulting in more riots (or rebellions—the commission debated what to call them), economic decline, and the splintering of our common national identity. This is the course we have mostly followed. Second, improve black neighborhoods, what the commission called attempts to “gild the ghetto,” something we’ve half-heartedly tried with little success for the last 50 years—for example, with enterprise zones, empowerment zones, extra funding for pupils from low-income families, and charter schools. These, the commission predicted, would never get sufficient political or financial support and would confirm that separate can never be equal; they would fail to reverse our “two societies” trajectory. Or third, while doing what we can to improve conditions in disadvantaged neighborhoods, we could embrace programs to integrate black families into white communities. We’d have to remove discriminatory and financial barriers that prevented African Americans from moving out of overcrowded, low-income places that lacked access to good jobs, schools with high-performing students, adequate health services, even supermarkets with fresh food. It was this alternative the Kerner Report strongly favored.

Surprisingly, the report was unanimous, even gaining support from commissioner Charles Thornton, CEO of Litton Industries, then one of the nation’s most powerful corporations. Johnson had appointed this Texas conservative to ensure modest recommendations, but even commissioners initially inclined to blame riots on “outside agitators” were radicalized by visiting black neighborhoods.

The report’s integration proposals need updating, but not much. One was a law banning discrimination in housing sales and rentals. Two months after the report’s release, horror over Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination gave President Johnson political support to pass the Fair Housing Act. But enforcement provisions waited another 20 years, and remain weak. The report suggested rent supplements for low-income families and tax credits for low-income housing developers. These were adopted—supplements are commonly termed “Section 8 vouchers” and the government now issues developer tax credits. Yet these programs now reinforce segregation because most recipients can use vouchers only in low-income neighborhoods and developers mostly use credits to build in such areas. Both programs could instead prioritize rentals and construction in integrated communities. For this to happen, we’d need to prohibit suburban zoning ordinances that bar construction of townhouses, low-rise apartments, even single family homes on modest lot sizes.

The commission called for constructing low-rise public housing on scattered sites throughout metropolitan areas. Yet shortly thereafter, after the Supreme Court prohibited placement of public housing exclusively in black neighborhoods, federal and local governments responded by ending public housing construction altogether

The commission also recommended subsidies for black homebuyers, something we’ve never seriously considered. They are needed because in the mid-twentieth century, the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration unconstitutionally prohibited African Americans from purchasing affordable suburban homes, contributing to today’s overcrowding and segregation in urban black neighborhoods. Suburban property appreciation now makes those homes unaffordable to working-class families of either race. We’ll never desegregate if this historic wrong remains unremedied.

Is it too late to adopt the Kerner Commission’s third alternative? Racial polarization—the almost inevitable result of persistent residential segregation—may make it so. But perhaps re-reading the report can awaken a passion to reform what the commission didn’t hesitate to term an “apartheid” nation.

EPI is cosponsoring an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission.

A version of this piece ran in the New York Daily News.

Many of the policy recommendations from the Kerner Commission remain relevant 50 years later

By Valerie Wilson
26 February 2018

(EPI) – Anniversaries of major events are nearly irresistible opportunities to reflect on the past, often with the hope that there has been some progress. So it is this year, 50 years after the Kerner Commission Report on Civil Disorders found systemic inequality and racial discrimination to be at the root of riots across America.

In a new report, Janelle Jones, John Schmitt and I present statistics showing what life was like for African Americans in this country 50 years ago compared to now. That document is a straightforward, unfiltered presentation of the facts, covering a wide range of economic, social, and health outcomes. In the spirit of reflection, I want to use this blog post to focus on racial economic inequality in the labor market, which directly affects approximately 20 million African Americans who get up every day and either go to work or go to find work.

The bottom line is simple. Despite decades of policies, programs, protests and outstanding achievements by African American men and women in many aspects of American life, race far too often remains a deciding factor in the economic status of African Americans relative to whites.

Great strides have been made toward raising educational attainment among African Americans and closing the education gap relative to whites, especially with regard to completing high school. In 1968, just over half (54.4 percent) of African American adults age 25-29 were high school graduates, compared to nearly three-quarters (75.0 percent) of whites. In 2016, 92.3 percent of African American adults age 25-29 were high school graduates with 22.8 percent having gone on to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher (up from 9.1 percent in 1968). Among whites, 95.6 percent are high school graduates and 42.1 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher (up from 16.2 percent in 1968).

The important thing to understand about education is that it is undeniably important for economic mobility—at higher levels of education, African Americans have lower unemployment rates, and higher earnings than they would otherwise. Believe me, I do all I can to encourage and prepare my children—and any others who will listen—to get a college education. But education has not been enough to eliminate racial economic inequality. This is reflected in the persistent gaps in unemployment rates, median hourly wages, median household income, and poverty rates.

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the black unemployment rate in 1972, it has almost always been about twice the white unemployment rate—in good economic times and in bad, as well as at every level of education.

Comparing unemployment rates by education we find that in 2017, having a bachelor’s degree substantially reduced the unemployment rate for African Americans, from 9.5 percent for those who only had a high school degree to 4.1 percent for college graduates and 3.0 percent for those with advanced degrees. However, African Americans with advanced degrees still had an unemployment rate higher than whites with a only a bachelor’s degree (2.3 percent) and African Americans with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate that was closer to the unemployment rate of whites with only a high school diploma (4.6 percent). [more]

50 years after the riots: Continued economic inequality for African Americans

Cover of 'The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It', by Yascha Mounk, published on 5 March 2018. Graphic: Harvard University Press

By Ganesh Sitaraman
17 March 2018

(The Guardian) – Over the past few years, I have frequently been reminded of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005. Wallace began with the story of two fish swimming together, when an older fish swims by and says “Morning boys, how’s the water?” After the old fish swims away, one says to the other, “What the hell is water?”

Over the last year or two, there’s been a lot of discussion about what drove Trump voters and Brexit voters to the polls. There’s been concern as specific constitutional and political norms break down. But with so many people running from tweet-storm to tweet-storm, there has been comparatively less attention to what happened to the water – to the root causes of the global crisis of democracy. [For more on the global trend toward autocracy, see my collection of posts on fascism. –Des]

Yascha Mounk’s extraordinary new book, The People versus Democracy, provides a clear, concise, persuasive, and insightful account of the conditions that made liberal democracy work – and how the breakdown in those conditions is the source of the current crisis of democracy around the world. He reveals the water in which liberal democracy has been swimming unthinkingly all these years.

The success and stability of liberal democracy, Mounk argues, was premised on three assumptions about social life. […]

The consequence, Mounk argues, is that liberal democracy is coming apart. On the one side, we see the rise of “illiberal democracies” – governments that claim to represent the “real” people of the nation, but have little regard for individual rights or constitutional norms. Many refer to these movements as populist. At the same time, others flirt with what Mounk calls “undemocratic liberalism,” a style of governance which preserves rights but at the expense of democratic engagement and accountability. Think of this as government by elite technocrats who have little faith in ordinary people.

What is so troubling is that these two responses might be mutually reinforcing. Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard University, doesn’t make much of this point, but it is worth resting on for a moment. When populists gain power, their opponents are likely to see the virtues of undemocratic liberalism. When undemocratic liberalism gains steam, many ordinary people will feel locked out and that public policies are unresponsive to their demands – pushing them to want to overthrow the elites. In the ensuing cycle, the loser is liberal democracy, which is assaulted for both its liberalism and its democracy. [more]

The three crises of liberal democracy

Children play an eductional game at the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia, 17 March 2018. Photo: World Water Forum

BRASILIA, 18 March 2018 (AFP) – Brazil, the country with the world’s greatest fresh water reserves, hosts an international conference next week on growing fears over the fragility of drinking water supplies in a heating planet.

Under the slogan “sharing water,” the 8th World Water Forum will bring together 15 heads of state and government, 300 mayors and dozens of experts in the Brazilian capital Brasilia from Sunday to March 23.

An estimated 40,000 people are expected to attend, organizers say.

Participants will meet against the backdrop of the drama in Cape Town, which until earlier this month was projected to run out of water as early as July, forcing the closing of household taps and extreme rationing.

That crisis has now eased, with the local government saying that a campaign to bring 60 percent reduction in consumption has done enough to avert the shut-off. [Somebody had better tell the people at How many days of water does Cape Town have left? –Des]

But the drama is a reminder that many of the world’s biggest fresh water systems are under pressure from pollution, overuse, dams, and climate change.

“There are more reservoirs, more cars, more industry and more people. Counter measures to protect supplies remain very slim compared to the impacts we’re seeing,” Ney Maranhao, head of Brazil’s National Water Agency, told AFP. [more]

World water problems on tap at Brazil conference

A graphic showing how the water level in a Cape Town reservoir has dropped , 3 January 2014 - 14 January 2018. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

By Amal Ahmed
17 March 2018

(Popular Science) – Day Zero: that’s the ominous label officials in Cape Town have bestowed on the day that water will run out. A three year drought in the region drained reservoirs faster than expected. They were full at the start of 2014, but estimates from the end of January 2018 show that water levels are now at 26 percent of capacity. When the level drops to 13.5 percent, officials plan to shut off pipes and start controlling water distribution to residents. Cape Town’s residents will receive a daily ration of 25 liters of water—the average American, by contrast, uses fifteen times as much per day. A black market is sure to emerge, but the city’s poorest, who have long been bearing the brunt of this crisis, will probably not be able to afford the exorbitant prices.

When Day Zero will arrive is anyone’s guess. It’s been pushed back several times already, as water conservation efforts have proved successful, according to local news reports—it might not even hit until 2019 if usage remains low.

But while conservation efforts may stave off the inevitable, there’s one thing city planners and water management can't predict: when it will rain again. Until the drought is over, Cape Town will remain on the brink of an environmental and public health disaster. But the South African city is just one of many localities across the globe to face extreme water shortages in recent years—and one of many more to come. The World Resources Institute recently crunched data on water consumption and projected climate patterns, and predicts that by 2040, most regions in the world will be facing some level of water stress, and 33 countries could face “extremely high” stress.

Cape Town is one of the most dire cases we’re seeing today. But across the globe, water troubles are already straining the lives of millions of people. [more]

The people of Cape Town are running out of water — and they’re not alone

By Graham Readfearn
14 March 2018

(The Guardian) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic. A previous study also found high levels of microplastics in tap water.

In the new study, analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.

In one bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics, according to the study.

Scientists based at the State University of New York in Fredonia were commissioned by journalism project Orb Media to analyse the bottled water.

The scientists wrote they had “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water” compared with their previous study of tap water, reported by the Guardian.

According to the new study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene – the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps. The bottles analysed were bought in the US, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand.

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water – the dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials. […]

The brands Orb Media said it had tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

A World Health Organisation spokesman told the Guardian that although there was not yet any evidence on impacts on human health, it was aware it was an emerging area of concern. The spokesman said the WHO would “review the very scarce available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment.” [more]

WHO launches health review after microplastics found in 90% of bottled water

The 10-year struggle: prime property markets since the 2008 financial crisis. Prime house price indexed in loical currency (100 = Q4 2007). Graphic: Financial Times

By Nathan Brooker
14 March 2018

(Financial Times) –  In the stormy spring of 2008, the UK’s worsening property downturn was yet to hit Sloane Street in central London. A full year after the start of the credit crunch and the run on Northern Rock — which started a slide that would see more than 20 per cent chalked off the average house price — the local Savills office was still processing bumper sales.

“We had a fantastic, booming year in 2007,” says Jonathan Hewlett, head of their London region. “At the uber end values continued rising into 2008.” Receipts came in for £50m, £60m, even £70m homes. “Then Lehman Brothers crashed and everything changed,” he says. “The banking system appeared to be in meltdown.” He remembers taking calls from worried clients wanting to slash 35 per cent from their asking price.

“It was bleak,” says Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank. “From October 2008, the market pretty much stopped.”

When it picked up again about six months later, the prime London market — and other prime markets around the world — started behaving differently to the way they had before.

“The idea of the global city had been around in the 1990s and 2000s, but what happened after 2008 is that these cities synchronised,” says Yolande Barnes, head of World Research at Savills. “They started acting much more like each other, much more like independent city states, than they did their home markets.”

Based on its annual Wealth Report index, the research team at Knight Frank has collected data from eight global cities, showing how their prime property markets have performed in the 10 years since the financial crisis — and, with the exception of a few outliers, the same forces seem to be acting on them. [more]

How the financial crash made our cities unaffordable


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