Friday, June 05, 2020

Flooding disproportionately harms black neighborhoods

It probably does but the claim that the flooding is caused by climate change is pure assertion

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in 2017, the neighborhood that suffered the worst flood damage was a section of southwest Houston where 49% of the residents are nonwhite.

When Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana in 2005, the damage was the most extensive in the region's African American neighborhoods.

Of the seven ZIP codes that suffered the costliest flood damage from Katrina, four of them had populations that were at least 75% black, government records show.

Flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods, an E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments shows.

The concentration of flood damage in urban areas with large black populations may contrast to images of hurricanes hitting affluent coastal areas and riverine floods swamping rural, largely white communities.

But urban flooding and its disproportionate impact on minorities and low-income residents are becoming a growing concern as climate change intensifies floods. At the same time, urban development is creating more impervious surfaces in cities, and aging municipal sewer systems are overwhelmed by the increasing water.

"The [flood] risk to the nation is concentrated in the metro areas," flood expert Doug Plasencia said yesterday at a national conference on flooding. "Socially vulnerable populations add to the complexity."

A major concern about flooding in cities is that the residents who are most vulnerable — those who live in the lowest-lying areas or in neighborhoods without green space to absorb water — are often poor and members of minority groups.

"The reality is that you typically find in our floodplains many of society's vulnerable populations," Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, said at the conference yesterday. "When you look at the entire urban community, there are profound impacts due to urban flooding that go beyond physical property damage [and include] the risk of injury and loss of life."

Urban flooding has the potential to exacerbate the racial inequality that is an undercurrent of the nationwide protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man in custody by Minneapolis police. Some protesters have denounced broad and persistent societal inequalities including the disproportionate number of blacks dying from COVID-19.

Climate-related issues also can have disparate impacts.

"Urban flooding is a growing source of significant economic loss, social disruption and housing inequality," Texas A&M University flood expert Sam Brody told yesterday's flood conference.

Research has shown that in states such as Illinois and Michigan, the costliest flood damage occurs in Chicago and Detroit — major cities with large black populations.

A report published in March 2019 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that while urban flooding affects a wide range of demographics, it is most harmful to minorities, low-income residents, and others without the resources to handle the damage and disruption.

"While severe storms fall on the rich and poor alike, the capacity to respond to and recover from flooding is much lower in socially vulnerable populations that even in the best of times are struggling to function," the report concluded.

In Houston, the researchers found that "the poorest residents are most likely to live on the lowest-lying land, and so are most subjected to higher flood exposure."

In Chicago, residents of a middle-income black neighborhood told researchers that they "receive less flood protection and are given lower priority."

The study was requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an effort to understand the causes and impacts of urban flooding.

A 2018 report on urban flooding by the University of Maryland and Texas A&M's Galveston campus found that many city sewer systems "are in poor condition" and unable to handle excess water from rainfall or river overflows.

Flood damage is "especially problematic in low-lying urban areas, where stormwater infrastructure deterioration, population growth, and development have accelerated over the last several decades," the study found.

E&E News analyzed $31 billion in claims for flood damage paid by FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program between January 2010 and August 2019 and the ZIP codes in which the flood damage occurred.

The analysis found that nearly 20% of the claim dollars were paid in ZIP codes where at least one-quarter of the residents are black.

Those ZIP codes, however, made up only 13% of the U.S. population, suggesting that flooding disproportionately affects neighborhoods with a substantial black population.

The disparity was particularly acute in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina notoriously destroyed many black neighborhoods such as New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

E&E News analyzed flood insurance payments related to Katrina and found that homeowners in just seven ZIP codes received nearly half of the $13 billion in flood claims. Four of those ZIP codes had populations that were at least 79% black, E&E News found.

The flood insurance data does not include properties that were damaged by floods but were not insured. Many people who live in flood zones do not have flood insurance.

"Urban flooding definitely merits national attention," said Berginnis of the floodplain association. "We are going to have worsening urban flooding problems due to development and climate change."


Vatican steps up push for green policies

At a time when jobs and growth have never been more critical, especially for the poor, the Vatican has stepped up its involvement in economics.

But it has lurched further left, stepping up its push for green policies and redistribution.

The church has launched a year-long celebration of Pope Francis’s controversial green encyclical Laudato si’ (Praise Be) to mark its fifth anniversary.

In that treatise the Pope called for “enforceable international agreements” and “globally regulatory norms” to cut Greenhouse gas emissions. He also advocated extending international bureaucratic control to re-slicing the economic pie, not enlarging it

“The time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth,’’ the encyclical said. It advocated “stronger and more efficiently organised international institutions” with functionaries appointed by agreement among nations, and “empowered to impose sanctions”.

As part of the Laudato si commemorations, Pope Francis is staging a three-day seminar for 2000 “young economists, entrepreneurs and change-makers’’ from 115 countries in Assisi in November. The Vatican has also launched new environmental awards and is hosting online webinars under the theme “The Economy of Francesco …moving towards a post-covid better world.’’

The May webinar featured British economist Kate Raworth, who will be a keynote speaker at Assisi. Answering questions online, Professor Raworth, a senior research associate at Oxford University’s Environment Change Institute, recommended that young people commit to “living within a 1.5deg world’’ (limiting global warming to within 1.5C). Doing so, she said, would involve steps such as going vegan, using public transport instead of cars, limiting long distance flying to once every 7 or 8 years and short haul flights to once every 2 or three years, downscaling the size of their homes and buying clothes only once a year.

Professor Raworth is the creator of the “doughnut model’’ of economics, which advocates limiting economic GDP growth within “social and planetary boundaries’’. She describes herself as a “renegade economist’’.

Other speakers in Assisi will be Nobel prize winning economists, Amartya Sen from India and Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh. Both are specialists in development economics. UN adviser and Bernie Sanders backer Jeffrey Sachs, who is a regular Vatican adviser despite his outspoken support for population control and abortion, is another keynote speaker. He believes the Assisi event will be “world changing and exciting’’ for coming generations at a time young people were striking for the sake of the climate. Others keynote speakers will include ecofeminist, anti-free trade campaigner and agricultural economist Vandana Shiva from India and Canadian professor Jennifer Nedelsky, who specialises in feminist theory, legal theory and human rights.

In his Pentecost address on Sunday, Pope Francis urged nations emerging from COVID-19 to “end the pandemic of poverty’’ in the world. “When we come out of this pandemic, we will no longer be able to do what we have been doing, how we have been doing it,’’ he said. “No, everything will be different. All the suffering will have been useless if we do not build together a more just, more equitable, more Christian society, not in name, but in reality, a reality that leads us to Christian behaviour.

“If we do not work to end the pandemic of poverty in the world … this time will have been in vain. From the great trials of humanity, including the pandemic, we emerge either better or worse. We do not come out the same.’’

But the key to reducing poverty and rescuing those who had “fallen through the cracks’’ was pro-growth policies to encourage investment and jobs – not socialism and redistribution -- Australian economist Judith Sloan, a commentator for The Australian, pointed out.

“Growing the economic pie and opportunities to participate in the workforce are the ways to provide for those in need,’’ Professor Sloan said. Social justice demanded sound, rational policies to address the serious economic problems facing the world post-pandemic.

The “Economy of Francesco’’ and Laudato Si also raise the question: why is the Vatican meddling in economics to such an extent?

Christian moral teaching has long set out broad principles to be applied in wider society -- respect for life, the dignity of human beings, care for God’s creation, fair pay and conditions for workers, and a preferential option for the poor. But the church has traditionally left it to secular authorities to determine the prudential means for achieving the common good.

Laudato Si and the big-tax, low growth policies of most of those leading the “Economy of Francesco’’ process blur the demarcation between church and state, crossing the line between God and Caesar in a way that would, ironically, endanger the wellbeing of those most in need.

As Margaret Thatcher said: “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions–he had money as well.’’


The Dangers of Scientific Censorship—on Climate and COVID

Excuse me for wandering somewhat afield, as I’m prone to do, but I think that this stellar piece by the notorious Los Angeles Times begs for clarification. Let me say right upfront: I understand that the corona virus is a deadly killer. It likes to pick on the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems. I do not underestimate the seriousness of the current pandemic in any way.

But please recall it was the august LA Times editorial board that, a few years ago, pompously declared, “We will no longer entertain submissions of opinion by scientists (or lay-folk) advancing contrarian positions in the climate change controversy.” Why? Because the editorial board agreed with those who had (arbitrarily and capriciously, I would argue) declared the debate over. Other media would soon follow suit. And shame on those that did.

But back to the present: Several tenured virology professors at Stanford hold contrarian views in certain respects to the conventional CDC and NIH official positions. Their departure from convention may in some sense help explain the internal review undertaken by the university.

The LA Times writer indulges in a little gratuitous editorial comment that at one time was verboten in a legitimate news story, accusing the professors of “… publicizing research that has been corrupted by speed, sloppiness and opacity.”

Would that she and her colleagues applied this very same standard when publishing the results of research that advocates for the catastrophic anthropogenic climate-change narrative. Far, far too many of these studies involve computer modeling that is arcane, and deliberately so. They are shielded from public scrutiny so that a qualified, independent third party is denied the opportunity to verify the results. And that is paraded about as science?

So what is the offense of the three Stanford researchers? It is surveying for the presence of antibodies to the COVID virus that seem to indicate many in the population at large have been infected by the virus but did not present with typical symptoms of cough, fever, and chest pains, and so went undiagnosed. If true, the important finding would suggest that far more people have been infected than officially counted, and consequently the effective death rate from contracting may be far less than previously believed. This finding would also tend to undercut the official position that the overall death rate is somewhere in the range of 1.5%.

Never mind the reasonable assumption that a walking cohort of silent carriers would help explain the sudden and otherwise somewhat mysterious speed of its spread around the globe, once the virus had escaped from the confines of Pandora’s Box in Wuhan, China. The officially sanctioned authorities, represented by the two officials constantly at the President’s side during the daily White House press briefings held until recently, have consistently taken a dim view of any alternatives that depart from their own mode of thinking. First, we are instructed: Don’t wear a mask. Now by all means wear one out in public. Gloves good, now gloves bad.

No wonder a wondering public would tend to lose faith in what the media tell it. NIH can also be understood as “Not Invented Here” without any significant loss of accuracy. Who are these interlopers that dare intrude at our party?

So what is the Washington medical establishment to do about insubordination out on the West Coast? They forthwith sic the Stanford University administration on the three offending professors because the academic bean-counters on campus get the message they are living under the implied threat of the federal agencies canceling millions in research grants. Those boys know how to play rough when they deem it necessary.

Surely somewhere in the middle of this highly politicized crisis lie key elements of the truth. Does it not seem obvious that every time the President has offered his candid layman’s opinion about an established drug like HClQ that has been around for more than 50 years and is routinely prescribed for treatment of malaria and lupus and generally without serious side effect, the immediate response of the media is to blow their collective tops? If Trump says “white” they will say “black.” And vice versa.

It’s a good thing the 18th-century English doctor Edward Jenner did not have a CDC and the US mainstream media around in his day. If he had, he might never have discovered the smallpox vaccine. Before the arrival of the vaccine, that recurrent plague reportedly killed a whopping 30% of those unfortunate enough to contract the disease.


Peter Ridd’s Fight For Academic Freedom In Climate Science

This week the Federal Court appeal hearing took place for the case of Peter Ridd, Australian scientist, who was fired by his university after he had criticized Great Barrier Reef science.

Australian scientist and journalist Jennifer Marohasy is following the case closely and reports about the latest chapter in this sad saga:

To be truly curious we must confess our ignorance. The person who knows everything would have no reason to question, no need to experiment.

If they went in search of evidence, it could only be to confirm what they already knew to be true. Knowledge then would be something that conferred prestige, rather than something to be built upon.

It was because of Peter Ridd that I had to know if all the coral reefs off Bowen were dead, or not. I went looking for mudflats with a Gloucester Island backdrop after the first judgment was handed down, which was back last April 2019.

Of course, Peter was cleared by Judge Vasta in the Federal Court of all the misconduct charges that had resulted in his sacking. Yet the University appealed, and that appeal was heard this last week.

The university appealed because the modern Australian university can’t let a comprehensive win by a dissident professor go unchallenged.

The modern university is all about prestige, and they probably thought that eventually, Peter would run out of money, the money needed to defend himself in the courts. But they don’t know Peter, or the team backing him.

Yesterday Peter thanked both the Union and also the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) for their support.

Peter also wrote:

    The Federal Court appeal hearing is over, and the lawyers have done their work. We now wait, possibly for some months, for the three judges to make the decision. In essence the appeal was about defining the limits of academic freedom, and what a university scientist can say, and how he or she might be allowed to say it.

    For example, was I allowed to say that due to systemic lack of quality assurance, scientific results from Great Barrier Reef science institutions was untrustworthy?

    JCU said I was not, [not] even if I believed it to be true.
    I am certainly not ashamed of anything I said, how I said it, or of my motivation.

    Irrespective of the outcome of the appeal, I can now focus on other matters.

    First, I will work tirelessly to raise the problem of hopeless quality assurance of the science of the GBR, including the effect of climate change on the reef. I am hoping that the Senate Inquiry will come out of Covid hibernation soon. I will also be pushing AIMS to release their missing 15 years of coral growth data, and JCU to release its buried report on possible fraud at its coral reef centre. It is shameful the contempt with which these institutions treat the people of the region.

    Second, I will work with those agricultural organisations that show a determination to fight, which is sadly far from all of them, to demonstrate that the recent unfair regulations on Queensland farmers are based on shoddy science.

    Third: I will work to encourage governments at both state and federal level to force universities to behave like genuine universities and not the glossy public relations companies that they have become. Governments must mandate the introduction of genuine and enforceable guidelines on academic freedom such as those outlined in the Commonwealth governments (unimplemented) review by ex-High Court judge, Robert French.

My IPA colleague Gideon Rozner has an important article in The Australian newspaper that provides much more context. The piece includes comment that:

    The Ridd case has resonated around Australia — and has attracted significant attention worldwide — for good reason. It confirms what many people have suspected for a long time: Australia’s universities are no longer institutions encouraging the rigorous exercise of intellectual freedom and the scientific method in pursuit of truth. Instead, they are now corporatist bureaucracies that rigidly enforce an unquestioning orthodoxy and are capable of hounding out anyone who strays outside their rigid groupthink.

    JCU is attempting to severely limit the intellectual freedom of a professor working at the university to question the quality of scientific research conducted by other academics at the institution. In other words, JCU is trying to curtail a critical function that goes to the core mission of universities: to engage in free intellectual inquiry via free and open, if often robust, debate. It is an absurd but inevitable consequence of universities seeking taxpayer-funded research grants, not truth.

    Worse still, it is taxpayers who are funding JCU’s court case. Following a Freedom of Information request by the Institute of Public Affairs, the university was forced to reveal that up until July last year, it had already spent $630,000 in legal fees. It would be safe to assume that university’s legal costs would have at least doubled since that time. The barrister who JCU employed in the Federal Court this week was Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s most eminent lawyers. Barristers of his standing can command fees of $20,000 to $30,000 a day. And all of this is happening at the same time as the vice-chancellor of the university, Sandra Harding — who earns at least $975,000 a year — complains about the impact of government funding cuts.

    While Australian taxpayers are funding the university’s efforts to shut down freedom of speech, Ridd’s legal costs are paid for by him, his wife and voluntary donations from the public. As yet, neither the federal nor the Queensland Education Minister has publicly commented on whether JCU is appropriately spending taxpayers’ money and, so far, both have refused to intervene in the case.

Gideon Rozner is tireless and has also put together a fascinating 3-part podcast providing background into Peter Ridd’s fight for academic freedom. He interviewed me for this series.

The saga will continue for the next few years, whatever the judges decide. As will my interest in all things to do with the Great Barrier Reef.



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