Unnatural

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“It is generally accepted among environmental geographers that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. In every phase and aspect of a disaster – causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction – the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus.”

This essay and others at Understanding Katrina were written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, addressing the political and social issues laid bare by the devastation. They call the supposed “naturalness” of disasters a form of ideological camouflage for the fact that many dimensions of a disaster are preventable.

Even when the hazard itself is natural, like the earthquakes devastating Mexico, the effects are socially determined. Meanwhile, the battering ram of  hurricanes in the last month was doubly so, exacerbated by the unnatural role of climate change that the government and special interests continue to let go unchecked. It’s easier – and more convenient – to dismiss disasters as an Act of God than to address them as failures of government, infrastructure, and preparedness.

Nettled

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In Book I, Part V of Les Miserables, we are reintroduced to Valjean as Mssr. Madeleine, who, in between committing a series of agricultural good deeds, pauses to spend a near full page amiably lecturing the local farmers about the beneficial uses of nettles, with a less amiable aside on the failings of society. As a character moment, I’ve always been fond of this quote in its gentle ridiculousness, but it also quietly captures not only Valjean’s worldview but also the broad theme of the book, the vast potential that is snuffed out by the failures of an oppressive society that doesn’t just neglect the powerless and unfortunate, but actively rips them out by the roots.

 

What has the EPA done for NY23?

Last week, as Scott Pruitt tried to defend the proposed decapitation of the EPA in front of the House Appropriations Committee, both Democrats and Republicans made it clear that the elimination of 50% of the EPA’s programs and 31% of its budget wasn’t going to fly. Lawmakers on both sides cited the damage to their home districts that would be done by removing federal support for environmental protections and programs. Projects countering chemical contamination, water pollution, and ecological degradation are popular, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-state program which was slated for elimination earlier this spring. A bipartisan group of representatives from districts around the Great Lakes signed a letter calling for the GLRI’s continued funding, but missing from the list of signatures was Tom Reed of my district, NY 23rd. Reed, a well-entrenched and vocal supporter of 45, has a long history of opposing environmental protections in favor of industry (more at the New NY 23), and of opposing his constituents’ best interests in favor of his own.  In light of this, it seems like an appropriate moment to take stock of what the EPA has done in this district.

The map above shows the grants disbursed in the NY 23rd since 2007. In the last ten years, grants from the EPA to cities, towns, school districts, tribal nations, and universities in our district have totaled almost $40 million. Read more

Excavating the News 5/27: Jupiter Rising

This week, in the middle of the shoving contest between headlines and/or world leaders, there were a number of important science news items that came out. Even with the international antics and new developments in the Russia collusion story, one of the biggest stories all around was the new budget released on Tuesday, which proposes deep cuts to Medicaid, SNAP, and Social Security disability benefits. The president’s wishlist for chopping domestic programs also includes severe cuts to science and health research funding. NIH, NSF, USGS, EPA, FDA, the CDC, and practically everything else in the science-agency alphabet soup face budget cuts, while other programs would be eliminated entirely, like ARPA-E, the Dept. of Energy’s energy research group; NOAA’s grant and education program; and NASA’s Office of Education. The proposed cuts even reach as far as California’s earthquake early-warning system, which would lose its federal funding, killing the project. Read more

Excavating the News

Reading the torrent of news this week feels like fishing in a firehose. It’s difficult to pick out any but the biggest stories from the stream when every hour brings a new exposé from the NYT or WaPo, but as Sen. Schatz of Hawaii puts it:

I want to do a better job keeping track of the science and environmental attacks  “issues” going on around us, so I’m going to start putting together a roundup of the main science-related news stories from the week, focusing on the ones having to do with the current political situation, and posting summaries here. I won’t pretend to be comprehensive, but I will put funny stories from the NY DEC newsletter at the end in case the rest of the stories are too depressing. Read more