Major snowfalls in eastern US are becoming more frequent. The return period (y axis; 0 to 15 years) of varying snowfall events (x axis; 0 to 18 inches) for weather stations during two periods: cold Arctic (1950–1989; blue) and warm Arctic (1990–2016; green). Lower values indicate more frequent snowfalls (shorter return period). The time series that were found to be significantly different at the 95% confidence level are shown in bold lines and include Atlanta, Boston (Blue Hill), Des Moines, Detroit, Helena, New York, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Washington. Graphic: Cohen, et al., 2018 / Nature Communications

By Ken Branson
13 March 2018

(Rutgers Today) – Scientists from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) have linked the frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States to Arctic temperatures.

Their research was published today in Nature Communications.

“Basically, this confirms the story I’ve been telling for a couple of years now,” said study co-author Jennifer Francis, research professor of marine and coastal sciences in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer.”

The research is timely given the extreme winter of 2017-2018, including record warm Arctic and low sea ice, record-breaking polar vortex disruption, record-breaking cold and disruptive snowfalls in the United States and Europe, severe “bomb cyclones” and costly nor’easters, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at AER and lead author of the study.

In their study, Cohen, Francis, and AER’s Karl Pfeiffer found that severe winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern United States when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when the Arctic is abnormally cold. Their findings also show that winters are colder in the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia when the Arctic is warm.

Paradoxically, the study shows that severe winter weather in the western United States is more likely when the Arctic is colder than normal.

The researchers found that when Arctic warming occurred near the surface, the connection to severe winter weather was weak. When the warming extended into the stratosphere, however, disruptions of the stratospheric polar vortex were likely. These disruptions usually cause severe winter weather in mid- to late winter and affect large metropolitan centers of the northeastern United States.

“Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern U.S. and warm, dry conditions to the West, while the Arctic has been off-the-charts warm,” Francis said. “Our study suggests that this is no coincidence. Exactly how much the Arctic contributed to the severity or persistence of the pattern is still hard to pin down, but it’s becoming very difficult to believe they are unrelated.”


Ken Branson, 848-932-0580, 908-797-2590,

Warm Arctic Means Colder, Snowier Winters in Northeastern U.S., Study Says

As the Arctic warms the continents become colder. Northern Hemisphere surface temperature anomalies plotted for 500 hPa PCH anomalies binned on the intervals a [−3.0, −0.5], b [0.5, 3.0] and 500 hPa PCT c [−3.0, −0.5], and d [0.5, 3.0] for all winters 1950–2016. Climatological averages computed over the period 1981–2010. Where difference was found to be statistically significant above 95% is hatched in light gray (e.g., [−3.0, −0.5] to [0.5, 3.0]). We also tested for field significance in all plots and the differences were found to be highly significant. Ocean mask was applied south of 60° N. Graphic: Cohen, et al., 2018 / Nature Communications

ABSTRACT: Recent boreal winters have exhibited a large-scale seesaw temperature pattern characterized by an unusually warm Arctic and cold continents. Whether there is any physical link between Arctic variability and Northern Hemisphere (NH) extreme weather is an active area of research. Using a recently developed index of severe winter weather, we show that the occurrence of severe winter weather in the United States is significantly related to anomalies in pan-Arctic geopotential heights and temperatures. As the Arctic transitions from a relatively cold state to a warmer one, the frequency of severe winter weather in mid-latitudes increases through the transition. However, this relationship is strongest in the eastern US and mixed to even opposite along the western US. We also show that during mid-winter to late-winter of recent decades, when the Arctic warming trend is greatest and extends into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, severe winter weather—including both cold spells and heavy snows—became more frequent in the eastern United States.

Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States

About 5.5 miles south of Pecos, radar analysis detected more than 1 inch of subsidence near new wells drilled via hydraulic fracturing and in production since early 2015. There have also been six small earthquakes recorded there in recent years, suggesting the deformation of the ground generated accumulated stress and caused existing faults to slip. Graphic: Jin-Woo Kim and Zhong Lu, 2018 / Scientific Reports

By Margaret Allen
20 March 2018

(SMU) – Analysis indicates decades of oil production activity have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks

Two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas, may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to a new study that found alarming rates of new ground movement extending far beyond the infamous sinkholes.

That’s the finding of a geophysical team from Southern Methodist University, Dallas that previously reported the rapid rate at which the sinkholes are expanding and new ones forming.

Now the team has discovered that various locations in large portions of four Texas counties are also sinking and uplifting.

Radar satellite images show significant movement of the ground across localities in a 4000-square-mile area — in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years, say the geophysicists.

“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis.

“These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Lu said. “Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”

The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. The images cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin.

The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.

The SMU researchers caution that ground movement may extend beyond what radar observed in the four-county area. The entire region is highly vulnerable to human activity due to its geology — water-soluble salt and limestone formations, and shale formations.

“Our analysis looked at just this 4000-square-mile area,” said study co-author and research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, a research scientist in the SMU Department of Earth Sciences.

“We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that,” Kim said. “This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement.”

Lu, Shuler-Foscue Chair at SMU, and Kim reported their findings in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, in the article Association between localized geohazards in West Texas and human activities, recognized by Sentinel-1A/B satellite radar imagery.

The researchers analyzed satellite radar images that were made public by the European Space Agency, and supplemented that with oil activity data from the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The study is among the first of its kind to identify small-scale deformation signals over a vast region by drawing from big data sets spanning a number of years and then adding supplementary information.

The research is supported by the NASA Earth Surface and Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at SMU.

Imagery captures changes that might otherwise go undetected

The SMU geophysicists focused their analysis on small, localized, rapidly developing hazardous ground movements in portions of Winkler, Ward, Reeves and Pecos counties, an area nearly the size of Connecticut. The study area includes the towns of Pecos, Monahans, Fort Stockton, Imperial, Wink and Kermit.

The images from the European Space Agency are the result of satellite radar interferometry from recently launched open-source orbiting satellites that make radar images freely available to the public.

With interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR for short, the satellites allow scientists to detect changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye and that might otherwise go undetected.

The satellite technology can capture ground deformation with an accuracy of sub-inches or better, at a spatial resolution of a few yards or better over thousands of miles, say the researchers.

Ground movement associated with oil activity

The SMU researchers found a significant relationship between ground movement and oil activities that include pressurized fluid injection into the region’s geologically unstable rock formations.

Fluid injection includes waste saltwater injection into nearby wells, and carbon dioxide flooding of depleting reservoirs to stimulate oil recovery.

Injected fluids increase the pore pressure in the rocks, and the release of the stress is followed by ground uplift. The researchers found that ground movement coincided with nearby sequences of wastewater injection rates and volume and CO2 injection in nearby wells.

Also related to the ground’s sinking and upheaval are dissolving salt formations due to freshwater leaking into abandoned underground oil facilities, as well as the extraction of oil.

Sinking and uplift detected from Wink to Fort Stockton

As might be expected, the most significant subsidence is about a half-mile east of the huge Wink No. 2 sinkhole, where there are two subsidence bowls, one of which has sunk more than 15.5 inches a year. The rapid sinking is most likely caused by water leaking through abandoned wells into the Salado formation and dissolving salt layers, threatening possible ground collapse.

At two wastewater injection wells 9.3 miles west of Wink and Kermit, the radar detected upheaval of about 2.1 inches that coincided with increases in injection volume. The injection wells extend about 4,921 feet to 5,577 feet deep into a sandstone formation.

In the vicinity of 11 CO2 injection wells nearly seven miles southwest of Monahans, the radar analysis detected surface uplift of more than 1 inch. The wells are about 2,460 feet to 2,657 feet deep. As with wastewater injection, CO2 injection increased pore pressure in the rocks, so when stress was relieved it was followed by uplift of about 1 inch at the surface.

The researchers also looked at an area 4.3 miles southwest of Imperial, where significant subsidence from fresh water flowing through cracked well casings, corroded steel pipes and unplugged abandoned wells has been widely reported.

Water there has leaked into the easily dissolved Salado formation, created voids, and caused the ground to sink and water to rise from the subsurface, including creating Boehmer Lake, which didn’t exist before 2003.

Radar analysis by the SMU team detected rapid subsidence ranging from three-fourths of an inch to nearly 4 inches around active wells, abandoned wells and orphaned wells.

“Movements around the roads and oil facilities to the southwest of Imperial, Texas, should be thoroughly monitored to mitigate potential catastrophes,” the researchers write in the study.

About 5.5 miles south of Pecos, their radar analysis detected more than 1 inch of subsidence near new wells drilled via hydraulic fracturing and in production since early 2015. There have also been six small earthquakes recorded there in recent years, suggesting the deformation of the ground generated accumulated stress and caused existing faults to slip.

An area 4.3 miles southwest of Imperial shows significant subsidence from fresh water flowing through cracked well casings, corroded steel pipes and unplugged abandoned wells. Water has leaked into the easily dissolved Salado formation, created voids, and caused the ground to sink. Radar analysis by the SMU team detected rapid subsidence ranging from three-fourths of an inch to nearly 4 inches around active wells, abandoned wells and orphaned wells. Graphic: Jin-Woo Kim and Zhong Lu, 2018 / Scientific Reports

“We have seen a surge of seismic activity around Pecos in the last five to six years. Before 2012, earthquakes had not been recorded there. At the same time, our results clearly indicate that ground deformation near Pecos is occurring,” Kim said. “Although earthquakes and surface subsidence could be coincidence, we cannot exclude the possibility that these earthquakes were induced by hydrocarbon production activities.”

Scientists: Boost the network of seismic stations to better detect activity

Kim stated the need for improved earthquake location and detection threshold through an expanded network of seismic stations, along with continuous surface monitoring with the demonstrated radar remote sensing methods.

“This is necessary to learn the cause of recent increased seismic activity,” Kim said. “Our efforts to continuously monitor West Texas with this advanced satellite technique can help sustain safe, ongoing oil production.”

Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation possible in a few years

The satellite radar datasets allowed the SMU geophysicists to detect both two-dimension east-west deformation of the ground, as well as vertical deformation.

Lu, a leading scientist in InSAR applications, is a member of the Science Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO (called NISAR) InSAR mission, set for launch in 2021 to study hazards and global environmental change.

InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A/B. The satellites orbit 435 miles above the Earth’s surface. Sentinel-1A was launched in 2014 and Sentinel-1B in 2016 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.

The Sentinel-1A/B constellation bounces a radar signal off the earth, then records the signal as it bounces back, delivering measurements. The measurements allow geophysicists to determine the distance from the satellite to the ground, revealing how features on the Earth’s surface change over time.

“Near real-time monitoring of ground deformation at high spatial and temporal resolutions is possible in a few years, using multiple satellites such as Sentinel-1A/B, NISAR and others,” said Lu. “This will revolutionize our capability to characterize human-induced and natural hazards, and reduce their damage to humanity, infrastructure and the energy industry.”

Radar images show large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates

By Amy B Wang
23 March 2018

(The Washington Post) – More than 150 short-finned pilot whales stranded themselves Thursday on the southwestern tip of Australia, stunning parks officials and prompting a massive rescue effort to save as many as possible.

The mass beaching likely took place sometime Wednesday night to early Thursday morning, local time, at Hamelin Bay, Western Australia, according to the state's parks and wildlife service. Videos of the scene showed dozens of the animals piled against each other on the shore, many with their tails still wiggling, as onlookers expressed concern. Some whales were fully on dry land, while others were in shallow waters.

It's unclear exactly when the distressed animals were discovered — but by 9:30 a.m., about 75 of the whales had died, the parks service said. Officials soon shut the beach down, issued a shark alert for the area and rushed equipment and trained volunteers to the site to try to return the pilot whales to deeper water.

“The strength of the animals and the windy and possibly wet weather conditions will affect when and where we attempt to move them out to sea,” Jeremy Chick, incident controller for the parks and wildlife service, said at the time. “The main objectives are to ensure the safety of staff and volunteers as well as the whales' greatest chance of survival.”

Despite their efforts, by noon, dozens more had died, leaving only 15 of the stranded whales alive. By 4 p.m., that number had dwindled to seven surviving whales.

‏150 short-finned pilot whales stranded at Hamelin Bay, Australia, 23 March 2018. Parks and Wildlife Service staff with veterinary assistance and support of Sea Search and Rescue trained volunteers worked to ensure the welfare of the 6 surviving whales. Photo: Australia Parks and Wildlife

The rocky beach terrain and rough seas — as well as the now dozens of dead whales surrounding the live ones — were hampering rescue efforts most, officials said then.

“The conditions are challenging but we are doing all we can to give these animals the best chance of survival without risking the safety of staff and volunteers,” Chick said, noting they would try to use boats to move the surviving animals to deeper water.

“Once we have moved the whales out we will monitor the situation closely as it is possible the whales will come back into shore and re-strand,” he said. “This has often been the case in previous mass strandings.”

At 7 p.m., the parks and wildlife service announced that all of the surviving pilot whales — six at final count — had at last been returned to deeper water. A photo of the scene showed a startling line of dark whale carcasses dividing the otherwise pristine beach and clear water. [more]

Nearly 150 beached whales die after mass stranding in Australia

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


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