‘Waste’ Activist Fights Sanitation Crisis Affecting the Rural Poor in the U.S.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Nicole Welle | November 26, 2020

Activist and author Catherine Coleman Flowers’ work spurred a study in 2017 that revealed environmental and sanitation problems in rural America.

The 2017 study discovered that more than one in three people in Lowndes County, a rural county in Alabama, had tested positive for hookworm. This parasite was previously thought to have been eradicated in the United States because it usually only infects people in areas without access to proper waste management and sanitation, but this study revealed that it is not an issue confined to “developing” countries. The large number of infections in rural America revealed significant gaps in access to basic sanitation and led activists to look further into the cause of the issue, according to an Iowa Public Radio article.

When looking at rural areas in Alabama, Flowers found that many families lacked access to an on-site septic system and were sometimes facing fines and jail time when they could not afford to have one installed. Lowndes County has dense clay soils and a high water table, so families living there need access to a special, more expensive septic system that can cost around $28,000. Most families, both poor and middle-class, do not have the resources to have one installed and are forced to deal with improper sanitation and legal action.

The current septic system technology was designed before climate change caused sea levels and water tables to rapidly rise and changed rainfall patterns. Flowers says that the next steps toward solving the sanitation problem in Lowndes County and elsewhere will require people to acknowledge climate change and work towards developing new, more affordable technologies that will account for rising sea levels.

Social inequality and coping with climate change


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Coastal communities are among the most vulnerable as climate change alters global conditions (flickr)

Julia Poska| November 1, 2018

As climate changes around the world, certain areas will become inhospitable to human life; coasts will flood, city water supplies will face crises, and islands will disappear. Unfortunately, people living in such areas cannot always cope with the change, according to a new study published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 

“Many of the people most at risk from environmental changes have the fewest freedoms and therefore the least ability to adapt in the face of such difficulties,” said lead author Jon Barnett in a media release.

Worldwide evidence compiled by Barnett and other researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Exeter suggests that protecting human rights and freedoms is key  to reducing the impacts of climate change for the vulnerable. Freedom of movement is especially important, as it  provides those facing environmental threats the option to leave.

The Australian researchers highlighted the perils threatening Pacific Islanders in their report. The tiniest islands of Micronesia and Melanesia could be underwater in a matter of decades as sea levels rise. Policies in Australia and New Zealand that welcome islanders to move to mainland create security for those people, who typically have minimal economic and political resources.

 

 

On The Radio – Pace of sea level rise tripled since 1990


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A new study found that sea levels are rising nearly three times faster than in previous centuries. (Chris Dodd/flickr)

Jenna Ladd| June 12, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study that found sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than in the past. 

Transcript: Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

This new finding is one of the strongest indications yet that a much-feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in May’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies.

The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about almost a half an inch per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds they rose by almost one and a quarter inches per decade.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

IPCC issues 2014 Climate Change Report


Copyright: © Belspo / Nevens
Copyright: © Belspo / Nevens

This year’s climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the impacts from climate change are already occurring.

With over 300 authors from 70 countries, this report is a worldwide scientific collaboration. They state that world leaders have a limited time to reduce carbon emissions to avoid disastrous warming.

Major impacts from climate change include sea level rise, large-scale shifts in temperatures that would disrupt human life and natural ecosystems, increased diseases, and decreased or disrupted food production or food quality.

The authors argue that today’s governments are not prepared for the consequences of climate change, and stress how today’s actions determine our future.

View the full report here.

Opinions, reactions, and summaries of the report can be found at The New York Times, USA Today, or The LA Times, among many others.