HEJE Overview 5-31-18

Hello to all our readers: we’re back today with some cross-listings from our corresponding FB page – please note that discussion here is more extended.

Environment

Urban development and climate change: Here come the consequences

Ellicott City, Maryland (Howard County) received 8.4 inches of rain in 3 hours over the Memorial Day weekend, but in the city the water was much higher – up to the waist of a 6 ft. male. This latest flooding incident comes just 2 years after another, similar flood that caused $22 million in damage, and from which residents were still recovering.

Ellicott City was founded in the 1700s, but urban development – meaning, in this case, concrete and blacktop which cannot absorb water – has made it much more vulnerable to heavy rains. It sits in a valley at the confluence of streams that feed into the Patapsco River. Recent development (urban “sprawl”) has seen the construction of housing / condos at the top of the hill – and, since condos can’t absorb water either, the water from heavy rainfall has had nowhere to go but down.

To add to the city’s problems, Gov. Hogan introduced legislation to repeal a tax on the 10 largest counties in the state which assessed property owners for stormwater cleanup (both from flooding and from sewage spillage). This repeal hit infrastructure projects designed to handle large amounts of water – and we see the result in Ellicott City and in Southwest Baltimore, which also flooded last weekend.

Nobody’s talking about climate change here, but in fact more extreme weather events – including storms carrying massive amounts of water – are directly associated with it.

Kara Brook Brown, owner of a tech firm that operated on Main Street: “There’s no reason to rebuild … There’s a real problem in that there’s been overdevelopment, and until the county and Public Works and Planning and Zoning and all of them fix it, there’s no purpose to going back in there and doing anything. And the only other alternative is to condemn the whole city and knock it all down and rebuild it in a way that has stormwater management.”

This, from a business owner who loves the city itself, but recognizes that it isn’t worth rebuilding it again according to 20th century specs.

There are two viable ways for Ellicott City / Howard County / Maryland / FEMA to proceed: (1)  substantial upgrades/ re-building of the city’s stormwater and wastewater management systems – costly but achievable, at least for the near future; (2) abandon the city and disperse its inhabitants (current population est. at 70,000) … somewhere else.

And of course there’s also a “solution 3” – rebuild and do everything just like you’ve always done.

Health & Environment

The Death toll in Puerto Rico: “Oops, we underestimated by a factor of 70″

A just-released study by Harvard University published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that deaths in Puerto Rico related to Hurricane Maria have now reached 4,645 (perhaps as many as 5,740), as opposed to the government’s estimate of 64. That’s 70 times higher, and this number would make Maria the second-deadliest hurricane since the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which resulted in 12,000 deaths.

The Harvard study surveyed almost 3,300 randomly selected Puerto Rican households and found mortality rates leaped 62 percent from September 20th through the end of 2017, compared with the prior year. Researchers counted not just deaths directly from storm injuries such as falling debris, but also those who died due to storm-related delays in medical treatment for injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses.”

Most of these deaths are related to disruptions in medical treatment, to which there were at least two major contributing factors: first, the privatization of PR’s medical-hospital system in the 1990s (after having been an admired, world-class public system in the ’70s), and the fact that electricity – necessary for many life-saving pieces of medical equipment, as well as to store medications like insulin – was so slow to be restored (in fact, around 100,000 people remain without electricity 8 months after Maria).

Note 1: data were available only through Dec 2017; it’s now nearly June 2018 and the PR government has not released data post-January 1.

Note 2: The PR government has yet to release a protocol for how hurricane-related deaths are to be counted. Given that the actual cause of each death is “clinical,” it remains the government’s responsibility to issue detailed guidelines for how deaths are to be linked with the consequences of a natural disaster like Maria.

Note 3: The official hurricane season begins on June 1. That’s tomorrow

A new anthology of essays on the Rust Belt – by actual residents of same

The uniqueness of Rust Belt cities: not so unique, really. Review (more like “summary of contents”) of Voices from the Rust Belt, ed. Anne Trubek (Belt Publishing, 2018). Summary-discussion of a book of essays by writers from the Rust Belt (as most widely understood, i.e. extending from the Northeast through the Midwest).

Some key words – phrases – terms which appear at least once:

post-industrial economy, “decline and despair,” daytime bars, fast food lines, poverty, violence, corruption, racial tension, gentrification, heroin, environmental devastation, technological advances, global, free trade, economic dislocation, outmigration, poverty, abandonment, heartbreak, municipal government corruption, political failures at state/federal level, suburban malls, interstate highways, technological changes, outsourcing, distribution centers, economic instability, disillusionment, globalization, technological change, (ineffective) immigration policies, income inequality, “crisis of wealth” … etc.

Assignment: write an essay on your own “Rust Belt” hometown using the above-listed words in a connect-the-dots fashion.

What’s happened since about 1970 (after the U.S.’s “golden age” of industrial growth between 1870-1970) is complex, yes, but it’s not incomprehensible and certainly not undocumented. And yes, each Rust Belt city’s history over the past 50 years has had unique features – but every single word quoted above can also be applied to every single Rust Belt city’s history over the past half-century.

There’s one word missing from this discussion of Voices from the Rust Belt. And of course, there are no real solutions provided, and therein lies the rub. Systemic changes to local economies brought about by systemic changes to the global economy (think offshoring, outsourcing, global trade agreements – free trade) cannot ultimately be addressed by locally-sourced solutions. Emphasis on the uniqueness of each of these Rust Belt cities tends to suggest that the solutions to their problems (think: all words in the second paragraph, above) are also unique. There will, obviously, be some one-of-a-kind features of solutions, but the big-picture solutions will be national – or rather, global. And they will be applicable pretty much everywhere – certainly everywhere in the Rust Belt.

But where are they?

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