How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution

Plan to be tested in five cities in effort to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines

German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution

Plan to be tested in five cities in effort to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/german-cities-to-trial-free-public-transport-to-cut-pollution

Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to a one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby

The head of Cape Towns disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

Weve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources, says Greg Pillay. We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.

The plan being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

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Water crisis in Cape Town as ‘day zero’ approaches video report

At this critical level currently forecast for 16 April piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes 75% of the city.

Its going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out, says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayors advisory board.

In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizens home.

This will be a major burden on municipal coffers. The estimated cost of installing and running the new system for three months is 200m rand (12m). Instead of selling water, it will be given away for free, which will mean R1.4bn in lost revenue.

Cape Town reservoir satellite

The total city budget is R40bn, so this wont destroy us, but it will cause severe discomfort, says the deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, who adds that he has not had a bath at home for a year. A bigger concern is to ensure the economy doesnt collapse. We need to keep business and jobs going Clearly, there could be a severe impact. It depends on how long it continues.

Neilson stresses that Day Zero can be avoided. A lowering of pipe pressure and a public information campaign to conserve water have cut the citys daily water consumption from 1,200 million litres to 540 million litres. If this can be pushed down another 25%, the taps should stay open to the start of the rainy season in May.

But this is no guarantee. Three consecutive years of drought have made a mockery of normal seasonal patterns.

Were in a critical transition period where the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future, says Colvin.

She illustrates her point with two maps. One based on historical data shows the water risk of Cape Town is green, meaning it is among the lowest in South Africa. The other based on future climate projections is almost the complete opposite, with the city located in a middle of an alarming red heat zone.

What we didnt know was when that future would arrive, says Colvin. Businesses and investors have heard the long-term projections but they havent heard the starting gun go off. If this drought can pull the trigger then that could be a good thing. If this is seen as a pressure test for the new normal, it will help us to adapt.

The government has struggled to keep pace. Plans to make the city more resilient to climate change by diversifying the water supply with boreholes and desalination plants were not due to kick in until after 2020. But the climate has moved faster, bringing a drought so severe it would usually be expected only once every 384 years.

Dam today, gone tomorrow

Theewaterskloof
Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water source for the city of Cape Town, is at a fraction of its water capacity. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

What was the biggest reservoir in the system Theewaterskloof Dam has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry.

One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.

On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2m a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley.

The change is visible by the week, said Paul Furstenburg, restaurant manager at Theewater sports club. When I arrived here four years ago, it was like a sea, he says, pointing to photographs on the walls of high waves crashing up to the car park during a storm and dozens of boats sailing in regattas. Now, the shoreline is more than 100m back and one of the three small vessels left in the water is stranded on a sandbank. The club which would normally be thronged with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen is almost empty. The revenue has dried up too, leaving the 20 staff worried about their futures. This has gone from a holiday resort to nothing, says Errol Nichols, the safety officer. It has become a desolate place.

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A dead fish on the dry bed of Theewaterskloof dam. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

In Cape Town itself, the population is jittery. Were scared, says Amirah Armien as she queues to fill a couple of bottles at the spring beside Newlands Brewery. Water is life. What are we going to do without water?

After a run on bottled water last month, supermarkets introduced limits for each customer. Hardware shops have sold out of water tanks and pool covers. Borehole drillers are now so overwhelmed with requests that there is a year-long wait. Even dehumidifiers which are being marketed as water from air devices are out of stock.

People are freaking out, said David Gwynne-Evans, a botanist. You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. Its a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic.

He believes Cape Towns vineyards bear a large share of blame because they are water-intensive yet they have continued to expand during the drought. Wine is a luxury. We shouldnt be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.

Were scared water is life

Residents
Residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring collection point last month. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

The crisis has exacerbated prejudice and division. One homophobic pastor blames the drought on gays and lesbians. There has also been sharp criticism of the government, and feuds between the national and provincial authorities over the handling of the crisis.

Yet among the broader populace efforts to avert Day Zero have been successfully ramped up.

Many hotels have removed the plugs from rooms so guests must have a shower rather than a bath. Blue droplet-shaped signs above office toilet sinks remind users Conserve H2O. Use sparingly. There are more signs in the cubicles, which are divided into No 1 and No 2 toilets to ensure maximum efficiency. Some shopping malls have turned off the taps and installed hand-sanitiser dispensers.

At an individual level, the learning curve has been steep. Civic-minded Capetonians have become accustomed to showering or just ladling hot water in a baby bath that collects the run-off so that it can be used in first the washing machine and then the toilet.

A major topic of conversation for Capetonians is how many litres they use and how long they can go without washing their hair or flushing.

Ive never talked about toilets so much, says Fiona Kinsey, a young office worker. Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush. Now we are way beyond that.

Shame is used to maintain discipline. An online water consumption map allows neighbours to check on each others usage. Some sports clubs have installed buzzers on their showers that embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.

There is a positive aspect to this sudden shock. Many people are happy to see a greater awareness of conservation and consumption inequality. Social activists say the rich are experiencing what life has always been like in poor townships, where many residents are used to lining up at standpipes.

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For residents of informal Cape Town settlements such as Masiphumelele, collecting drinking and washing water from a communal tap has been a daily routine for many years. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Using washing water to flush the toilet is what people in townships do all the time, says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa. So is washing with buckets and scuttles. I had my first shower when I was in my 20s.

Dee Watson, a teacher, describes the situation as a euphoric stage in which most people are looking out for others in a positive way.

Whats amazing is to mix and talk in the queue with every strata of society. We all need water so it brings people together, says Watson. For now at least, most people are laughing and joking. But its scary that some people are being greedy and panic-buying.

There have been acts of benevolence. At the start of the drought, Newlands spring where water flows freely from underground was a site of mud, crowds and chaos as people jostled to get at the taps and informal labourers competed to carry water for tips.

People were getting hurt, remembers Riyaz Rawoot, a local resident who says he spent R25,000 from his own pocket to organise the spring with the construction of multiple access points and provision of uniforms for the water carriers.

Im not making any money. I just want to be of service. Until now it has been fun, but it is becoming more stressful as more people come, he says. Im worried about Day Zero. People are scared and they dont trust the government, so they might panic and try to get water any way they can.

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A social leveller? Cape Town residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Neighbours are already unhappy that their previously quiet street is now a hive of activity, with people carrying water containers in squeaky shopping trolleys back and forth from the spring to cars parked along the main road. Its a nightmare, says one of the residents of the Cresswell House senior citizens community. They come all through the night. Its so noisy we cant sleep.

It is also far from clear that drought is a social leveller. Wealthy homeowners have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply. Joggers who go out at 5am say they can hear the phut phut of sprinklers being used to water lawns before most people are awake. Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.

At the other end of the income spectrum, there are worries. The government has promised that standpipes will continue to flow in informal settlements after Day Zero, but there is scepticism in the Kanini neighbourhood of the Langa township. The one pipe that serves 20 families tailed off here last Thursday without explanation. Some locals feel they are being punished because of a public outcry about the waste at a street car-washing centre at the neighbouring settlement of Joe Slovo.

Im worried everyone is worried. It will be a crisis for us, says Nowest Nmoni, who makes a living by brewing Umqombothi beer in oil drums. If we lose water, we lose our income.

Q&A

Living in Cape Town? Share your experiences

If you live in Cape Town we’d like to find out how the water shortage is affecting your daily life.Tell us what you think about the measures put in place and what steps you’re taking to save water using our encrypted form here.

Your stories will help our journalists build a complete picture of the situation and we’ll use some of them in our reporting.

Maintaining social programmes will also be a challenge. City officials say hospitals and prisons will run as normal because they have access to aquifers, but questions remain about 819 schools, half of which do not have boreholes. There would be sanitation risks if their toilets were unable to flush, but the authorities insist they will remain open.

The objective is no school closures. We dont want kids on the street compounding issues, says deputy mayor Neilson.

When the Brazilian city of So Paulo faced drought catastrophe in 2015 the army drew up secret plans to take control of reservoirs and water supplies fearing violent unrest, but officials in Cape Town play down such security fears. Though thousands of South African Defence Force and police personnel will be deployed after Day Zero to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs and other strategic areas, they say, the number of officers at each site will be determined by risk assessments of each locations past history of protest or gang activity.

This isnt going to be martial law. It will be low profile, says JP Smith, an alderman responsible for safety and security. There might be some trouble about people cutting queues, but I dont foresee a big increase in crime. The bigger problem will be congestion.

For him, it is a moot point. He believes Day Zero will be avoided. The premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, however, believes there is a 60% chance that it will occur.

While the debate rages about what will happen, who is to blame and whether the city will be drawn together or pulled apart, Pillay and his colleagues at the disaster risk management office are obliged to prepare for the worst something other cities may soon be obliged to do.

We dont want to create panic. We can avert Day Zero, he says. We had hoped that rainfall would replenish the dams, but it hasnt happened. What this signalled to me what that climate change is reality. If you doubted it before, you cant now.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-cape-town-turns-off-taps

Volkswagen Apologizes for Testing of Diesel Fumes on Monkeys

The controversy over Volkswagen AG’s diesel-emissions cheating took another twist when the carmaker apologized for a test that exposed monkeys to engine fumes to study effects of the exhaust.

The company said the study, conducted by a research and lobby group set up by VW, Daimler AG, BMW AG and Robert Bosch GmbH, was a mistake. The New York Times reported earlier about a 2014 trial in a U.S. laboratory in which 10 monkeys inhaled diesel emissions from a VW Beetle.

“We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals,” Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW said in a statement. “We’re convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place.”

The revelations show the rocky road for Volkswagen as it emerges from its biggest crisis after the 2015 bombshell that the company installed emissions-cheating software in some 11 million diesel vehicles to dupe official tests. They also do little to help the poor public perception of the technology under scrutiny for high pollution levels in many European cities. In an additional twist, the Beetle model used in the test was among the vehicles that were rigged to conform to test limits, The New York Times reported.

Daimler said separately it would start an investigation into the study ordered by the European Scientific Study Group for the Environment, Health and Transport Sector. BMW too distanced itself from the trial, saying it had taken no part in its design and methods. Bosch said it left the group in 2013. The study group, financed equally by the three carmakers, ceased activities last year and the project wasn’t completed, VW said.

“We believe the animal tests in this study were unnecessary and repulsive,” Daimler said in a statement. “We explicitly distance ourselves from the study.”

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-28/volkswagen-apologizes-for-testing-of-diesel-fumes-on-monkeys

    On its 100th birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming

    Benjamin Franta: Somebody cut the cake new documents reveal that American oil writ large was warned of global warming at its 100th birthday party.

    It was a typical November day in New York City. The year: 1959. Robert Dunlop, 50 years old and photographed later as clean-shaven, hair carefully parted, his earnest face donning horn-rimmed glasses, passed under the Ionian columns of Columbia Universitys iconic Low Library. He was a guest of honor for a grand occasion: the centennial of the American oil industry.

    Over 300 government officials, economists, historians, scientists, and industry executives were present for the Energy and Man symposium organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business and Dunlop was to address the entire congregation on the prime mover of the last century energy and its major source: oil. As President of the Sun Oil Company, he knew the business well, and as a director of the American Petroleum Institute the industrys largest and oldest trade association in the land of Uncle Sam he was responsible for representing the interests of all those many oilmen gathered around him.

    Four others joined Dunlop at the podium that day, one of whom had made the journey from California and Hungary before that. The nuclear weapons physicist Edward Teller had, by 1959, become ostracized by the scientific community for betraying his colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer, but he retained the embrace of industry and government. Tellers task that November fourth was to address the crowd on energy patterns of the future, and his words carried an unexpected warning:

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. But I would […] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [….] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [….] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you cant smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?

    Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [….] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.

    How, precisely, Mr. Dunlop and the rest of the audience reacted is unknown, but its hard to imagine this being welcome news. After his talk, Teller was asked to summarize briefly the danger from increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere in this century. The physicist, as if considering a numerical estimation problem, responded:

    At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent [about 360 parts per million, by Tellers accounting], if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels. By that time, there will be a serious additional impediment for the radiation leaving the earth. Our planet will get a little warmer. It is hard to say whether it will be 2 degrees Fahrenheit or only one or 5.

    But when the temperature does rise by a few degrees over the whole globe, there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise. Well, I dont know whether they will cover the Empire State Building or not, but anyone can calculate it by looking at the map and noting that the icecaps over Greenland and over Antarctica are perhaps five thousand feet thick.

    And so, at its hundredth birthday party, American oil was warned of its civilization-destroying potential.

    Talk about a buzzkill.

    How did the petroleum industry respond? Eight years later, on a cold, clear day in March, Robert Dunlop walked the halls of the U.S. Congress. The 1967 oil embargo was weeks away, and the Senate was investigating the potential of electric vehicles. Dunlop, testifying now as the Chairman of the Board of the American Petroleum Institute, posed the question, tomorrows car: electric or gasoline powered? His preferred answer was the latter:

    We in the petroleum industry are convinced that by the time a practical electric car can be mass-produced and marketed, it will not enjoy any meaningful advantage from an air pollution standpoint. Emissions from internal-combustion engines will have long since been controlled.

    Dunlop went on to describe progress in controlling carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbon emissions from automobiles. Absent from his list? The pollutant he had been warned of years before: carbon dioxide.

    We might surmise that the odorless gas simply passed under Robert Dunlops nose unnoticed. But less than a year later, the American Petroleum Institute quietly received a report on air pollution it had commissioned from the Stanford Research Institute, and its warning on carbon dioxide was direct:

    Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and these could bring about climatic changes. […] there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe. […] pollutants which we generally ignore because they have little local effect, CO2 and submicron particles, may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.

    Thus, by 1968, American oil held in its hands yet another notice of its products world-altering side effects, one affirming that global warming was not just cause for research and concern, but a reality needing corrective action: Past and present studies of CO2 are detailed, the Stanford Research Institute advised. What is lacking, however, is […] work toward systems in which CO2 emissions would be brought under control.

    This early history illuminates the American petroleum industrys long-running awareness of the planetary warming caused by its products. Tellers warning, revealed in documentation I found while searching archives, is another brick in a growing wall of evidence.

    In the closing days of those optimistic 1950s, Robert Dunlop may have been one of the first oilmen to be warned of the tragedy now looming before us. By the time he departed this world in 1995, the American Petroleum Institute he once led was denying the climate science it had been informed of decades before, attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and fighting climate policies wherever they arose.

    This is a history of choices made, paths not taken, and the fall from grace of one of the greatest enterprises oil, the prime mover ever to tread the earth. Whether its also a history of redemption, however partial, remains to be seen.

    American oils awareness of global warming and its conspiracy of silence, deceit, and obstruction goes further than any one company. It extends beyond (though includes) ExxonMobil. The industry is implicated to its core by the history of its largest representative, the American Petroleum Institute.

    It is now too late to stop a great deal of change to our planets climate and its global payload of disease, destruction, and death. But we can fight to halt climate change as quickly as possible, and we can uncover the history of how we got here. There are lessons to be learned, and there is justice to be served.

    Benjamin Franta (@BenFranta) is a PhD student in history of science at Stanford University who studies the history of climate change science and politics. He has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and is a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

    The Ten Worst Things Scott Pruitts EPA Has Already Done

    No part of the government has been untouched by the Trump revolution. Multiple Cabinet departments are headed by people opposed to their core missions, the judiciary is being transformed at an unprecedented rate, and thanks to the new tax cut, even the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security are now in line for legislative slaughter.

    But nowhere is the takeover clearer than at the Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by Scott Pruitt, who made his name suing the watchdog on behalf of fossil-fuel interests. In one year, Pruitt has destroyed the foundations of the agency, firing scientists and replacing them with industry lobbyists; undoing critical regulations that protect our air and water; and favoring industry interests over public health.

    The trajectory is clear: Prioritize polluters freedom over personal freedom, health, and environmental protection. Here are the top 10 worst actions Pruitts EPA has taken in 2017:

    10. Corruption

    Pruitt is probably the most suspect member of the Trump administration, which is saying a lot. At his confirmation, he lied to Congress (a felony) about his private email account, which he used for communicating with industry representatives. When he served as Oklahomas attorney general, Pruitt was discovered to have simply cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his own stationery.

    And then theres the money. Since taking office, Pruitt racked up $58,000 in taxpayer-paid travel bills for flights to and from Oklahoma (where he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in 2020), often on the flimsiest of pretexts. The EPAs inspector general is investigating.

    Pruitt also spent $40,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuels. (How that counts as environmental protection is anyones guess.) And he retained a shady PR firm that has previously done opposition research on journalists, at the cost to taxpayers of $120,000a contract voided when the news of it broke.

    9. Slashing the Budget to Tidbits

    The EPA is, in large part, a law-enforcement agency. Yet can you imagine any other law-enforcement department slashing its budget by more than 30 percent in one year? The result is a deliberate anarchy as polluters know the EPA cant (and doesnt want to) do its job. Enforcement actions have dropped by more than 30 percent from Obama administration levels, and more than 20 percent from George W. Bush levels. Demands that polluting factories clean up their act have plummeted nearly 90 percent. The cops are just not walking the beat.

    For example, Superfund enforcementi.e., making polluters pay for cleaning up the toxic messes theyve madehas been cut 37 percent, causing many cleanups to simply stop altogether (PDF). In 2017 alone, programs that have been completely eliminated include those that reduce radon in schools, control runoff pollution from roads, and certify lead-paint-removal contractors, among many others. And thats by design: Candidate Trump promised to eliminate all of the EPA, leaving only tidbits. Pruitt is his hatchet man. But even these budget cuts dont include the largest shrinking of the agency…

    8. Hollowing Out the Agency

    Its not just EPAs budget being cutits the agency itself. More than 700 employees have left or been forced out. Thats just the beginning: Congress is set to appropriate $60 million to buy out the contracts of EPA staff, whose positions will be eliminated. Many high-level enforcement jobs remain vacant.

    Other key posts have been filled by former industry shills, like Nancy Beck, a chemical-industry lobbyist whos now ostensibly in charge of regulating toxic chemicals. Whistleblowers have reported a culture of fear and suspicion, with longtime staffers assumed to be disloyal to the new regime.

    Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast these cuts are motivated not by budgetary concerns but by opposition to the EPAs core mission. Its easy to think of it as reducing bureaucracy, Holstein said, but when you consider the fact that EPA is such a small agency to begin with, with a budget thats basically what it was in the 1970s (adjusted for inflation), its pretty clear that further reductions in staff is all part of a strategy to undermine and hollow out EPA as an effective public health agency.

    7. Disaster Failure

    One of the most stark examples of the EPAs incapacity came after Hurricane Harvey, when the unfolding storm disaster caused factories to release nearly 6 million pounds of pollution into the air. The EPA was slow to respond, but quick to issue a press release congratulating itself. In one case, a chemical plant exploded, triggering evacuations, and the EPA was found to have simply not shown up at the scene until after the explosion happened.

    By coincidence, the EPA had just withdrawn the Chemical Disaster Rule, which would require companies to disclose which hazardous materials they had on site. That withdrawal didnt affect the Houston response, but it indicated that the next such disaster might be even worse; the EPA is not a disaster-response agencyits value comes from monitoring risks over the long term, which now it wont do as efficiently.

    This will only get worse. Global climate disruption has already increased the frequency of extreme weather events. If the EPAs budget is slashed by a third, and if climate change is not allowed to be spoken of, let alone factored into risk analysis and resource allocation, Harvey is just a tiny taste of what is to come.

    6. Secrecy

    You wouldnt know the EPA is a public agency from Pruitts unprecedented secrecy. He has demanded that employees not take notes at meetings with him, ordered a denial of Freedom of Information Act requests, and implemented gag rules that ban staffers from talking about a host of environmental issues. Until pressured, he refused to release his meeting calendarnot surprisingly, given what it reveals (see No. 5).

    And once again, theres the enormous waste of money. Pruitt has retained his own round-the-clock security detail, costing taxpayers $830,000. No EPA administrator has ever done that. He also installed a secure phone booth in his own office for $33,000, and special locks that cost $6,000.

    The reason for all this secrecy is obvious

    5. The EPA Is Now an Industry Puppet

    As he did in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt is taking his orders from the polluters hes meant to regulate. The New York Times recently tracked who Pruitt met with on a single day, April 26: top executives from a coal-burning utility, the board of a huge coal-mining company, and lobbyists from General Motors. No environmental or public health groups.

    The remainder of the six-month period the Times examined was similar: chemical manufacturers, Shell Oil, truck manufacturers, the National Mining Association, Oklahoma oil lobbyists; not to mention the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and CropLife America, a trade association run by pesticide manufacturers.

    The effects of these close contacts have been obvious.Sometimes, theyve been plums handed out to specific companies, like the aforementioned Devon Energy, which had agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for illegally emitting 80 tons of toxic pollution each yearuntil Pruitt simply voided the settlement and let it go with a slap on the wrist.

    More often, the effects are far broader…

    4. Regulatory Rollback

    Pruitts EPA has eliminated regulations that:

    • Verified emissions from a companys industrial expansion are what the company says they are. (Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value.) (PDF)
    • Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation in Alaskas Bristol Bay. (The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the worlds largest sockeye salmon population.)
    • Required the tracking of methane emissions (this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court).
    • Required data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies.
    • Monitored fracking.
    • Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals theyre storing.
    • Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water (even though the EPAs analysis showed it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it). (PDF)
    • Set tighter emissions standards for trucks.
    • Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.

    Still under rollback review are restrictions on smog, coal ash, mining waste, mercury, and benzene pollution. Even the popular Energy Star appliance certification program has been slated for reduction.

    3. The Clean Power Plan

    Power plants account for approximately 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Without tackling power plants, you cant address climate change. And without unified federal action, you cant address power plants.

    The Clean Power Plan was born on Aug. 3, 2015, when it was finalized by President Obamas EPA, and it died on March 28, 2017, when President Trump called for a review. To no ones surprise, in October, the EPA recommended a total repeal.

    Its hard to overestimate how important and game-changing the Clean Power Plan was. It called for a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030. It offered incentives for investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs. It set state-by-state targets that took into account each states unique needs. And now its dead.

    2. The War on Science

    In the era of alternative facts, its no surprise that science, the scientific method, and scientists have all come under attack at Pruitts EPA.

    To take one example, Pruitts climate denialism (more on this later) defies the unanimous consent of the scientific community, choosing the fake science of fake think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which regularly churns out bogus scientific reports to create the perception that there is significant disagreement about climate change.

    Another example was Pruitts decision that scientists who have received EPA funding within three years can no longer serve on the agencys 12 scientific advisory committees. While that may sound like a smart conflict-of-interest provision, its actual effect will be to exclude the majority of scientific experts from serving on the committees, and to replace them with industry experts instead.

    For good measure, Pruitt has also defied economics as well. In fact, renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuel energy, but Pruitt endlessly repeats the lie that regulatory rollbacks are needed to save jobs.

    All this has happened away from the spotlight. To the average person, said Holstein, the EPA seems like a murky government agency and nobody really knows how it works. But everyone who is familiar with it knows that its science and technology capabilities are at the heart of its success in protecting all of us from pollution.

    1. Climate Change Denial

    Finally, in terms of real-world consequences, theres nothing that tops climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 people will die each year between 2030-2050 from factors directly attributable to climate change. That doesnt even count the mass migration crises that rising sea levels and changing crop zones will bring about. There is full scientific consensus that human emissions are warming the planet; over a five-year period, 928 peer-reviewed articles affirmed this fact, while zero opposed it.

    Pruitt has stuck the EPAs head in the scientific sand. The phrase climate change has been erased from the agency website. Any offices working on climate change have been closed or reassigned. Pruitt has even created a blacklist of EPA employees who had worked or published on the issue. Meanwhile, Pruitt claims to have advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, which he did, even though the rest of the world has signed it and is moving forward without the U.S.

    Nor is Pruitt alone. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was previously the chief for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls climate change a hoax. Pruitt has also hired Inhofe aide Byron Brown to serve as his deputy.

    Pruitt has gotten in a little trouble for these actions. After stating on CNBC that I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see, the EPA inspector general referred the matter to the EPAs scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, since EPA officials are required to reflect scientific consensus in their comments. (In response, a right-wing group demanded an investigation of Grifo.)

    But theres little that can stop Pruitts anti-science crusade, absent congressional action, which, with the present Congress, seems highly unlikely. After going through some of this litany with the EDFs Holstein, I asked him if there was anything that any of us could or should do.

    Holstein said the most important actions to watch for in 2018 may be in the obscure realms of budget cuts and regional office closures. There are also a lot of things well be looking at in terms of whether administration will lower the hurdle for pollutants, reduce enforcement at EPA and at the Justice Department, and try to dial the budget down at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which often studies climate change] and other science agencies.

    When I asked if there was any hope, given the awful news from 2017, Holstein took the long view. What I say to people who want to give up is: Dont do it, he said. We have built over the last 40 to 50 years a bipartisan national legacy of bedrock environmental protections and safeguards and we should fight for them. The fact that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt would like to help polluters avoid responsibility doesnt change one bit the fact that we have nearly a half century of national and public commitment to a cleaner environment and healthier communities.

    Besides, Holstein added, we have a great deal at stake.

    Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-ten-worst-things-scott-pruitts-epa-has-already-done

    Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

    Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

    Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

    The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

    More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

    Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

    Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

    We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

    If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

    The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

    Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

    The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

    Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

    Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

    Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

    More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

    Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

    The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

    Penguins starving to death is a sign that somethings very wrong in the Antarctic | John Sauven

    Overfishing, oil drilling, pollution and climate change are imperilling the ecosystem. But ocean sanctuaries could help protect what belongs to us all, says Greenpeace director John Sauven

    The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life dont need is additional strain on food supplies.

    Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary the largest protected area on Earth which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

    In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a pale blue dot.

    Our planet is a blue planet, echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBCs landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.

    The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, thats the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.

    It wasnt long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.

    humpback
    A humpback whale dives for krill in Wilhelmina Bay, off the Antarctic Peninsula. The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. Photograph: Charles Littnam/WWF/EPA

    All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.

    Heres the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.

    This ocean treaty wont be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.

    Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.

    The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adlie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.

    The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.

    Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but its not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.

    Creating the worlds largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.

    John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/13/penguins-starving-death-something-very-wrong-antarctic

    Exclusive: footage shows young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe for Chinese zoos

    Rare footage of the capture of wild young elephants in Zimbabwe shows rough treatment of the calves as they are sedated and taken away

    The Guardian has been given exclusive footage which shows the capture of young, wild elephants in Zimbabwe in preparation, it is believed, for their legal sale to Chinese zoos.

    In the early morning of 8 August, five elephants were caught in Hwange national park by officials at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).

    These captures are usually kept as secret as possible. The Guardian understands that in this case the usual procedure was followed. First, a viable herd is identified. Then operatives in a helicopter pick off the younger elephants with a sedative fired from a rifle. As the elephant collapses, the pilot dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay. When things quieten down, a ground-team approaches the sedated elephants on foot, bundles them up, and drags them on to trailers.

    The footage, a series of isolated clips and photographs provided to the Guardian by an anonymous source associated with the operation, documents the moment that operatives are running into the bush, then shows them tying up one young elephant. The elephants are then seen herded together in a holding pen near the main tourist camp in Hwange.

    Elephant
    In this part of the footage, a young female elephant is seen being kicked in the head repeatedly by one of the captors. Photograph: The Guardian

    Finally, in the most disturbing part of the footage, a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tightly tied to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal, still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on her body, twist her trunk, pull her by her tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.

    Altogether, 14 elephants were captured during this time period, according to the source, who asked to remain to anonymous for fear of reprisal. The intention was to take more elephants, but the helicopter crashed during one of the operations. It is estimated that 30-40 elephants were to be captured in total.

    The elephants that were taken are now in holding pens at an off-limits facility within Hwange called Umtshibi, according to the source. One expert who reviewed the photographs, Joyce Poole, an expert on elephant behaviour and co-director of the Kenya-based organisation ElephantVoices, said the elephants were bunching huddling together because they are frightened.

    The
    The young elephants in their enclosure. According to experts, they are bunching, huddling together because they are frightened. Photograph: The Guardian

    Audrey Delsink, an elephant behavioural ecologist and executive director for Executive Director for Humane Society International Africa, also reviewed the photos and footage. She believed that most of the elephants were aged between two and four. Basically, these calves have just been weaned or are a year or two into the weaning process. In the wild, elephants are completely dependent on their mothers milk until they are two, and are not fully weaned until the age of five.

    A number of the calves, she said, were displaying temporal streaming a stress-induced activity. Many of the gestures indicate apprehensive and displacement behaviour trunk twisting, trunk curled under, face touching, foot swinging, head-shaking, ear-cocking, displacement feeding, amongst others. Zimparks were approached but did not make a comment.

    The buyer for the young elephants is a Chinese national, according to inside sources who asked not to be named. Last year he was associated with a case involving 11 wild hyenas, who were discovered in a truck at Harare international airport that had been on the road for 24 hours without food or water and were reportedly in an extremely stressed condition, dehydrated and emaciated and, in some cases, badly injured.

    One
    One of the hyenas found in a consignment at Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Photograph: The Guardian

    The legal live trade in wild animals

    The capture of the baby elephants is just one of a number of operations that have taken place in Zimbabwe and across the continent over several decades. Nine elephants were reportedly exported from Namibia to Mexico in 2012, six from Namibia to Cuba in 2013, and more than 25 from Zimbabwe to China in 2015. In 2016, the US imported 17 elephants from Swaziland despite objections from the public and conservationists. From 1995-2015, more than 600 wild African elephants and 400 wild Asian elephants are reported to have been traded globally, according to a database kept by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

    Under Cites, trading live elephants is legal, with a few stipulations. The destination must be appropriate and acceptable, and the sale must benefit conservation in the home country. But elephant conservationists and animal welfare advocates point out a number of flaws in the system. There are no criteria setting out what appropriate and acceptable means and what is really contributing to conservation, explained Daniela Freyer of Pro-Wildlife, a German-based organisation that seeks to improve international legislation protecting wildlife. Currently, it is entirely up to authorities in the importing countries to define and decide. There are no common rules and no monitoring of the conditions of the capture, the number of animals being traded, where they will end up or the conditions in which they will be kept at their destination. There is also no monitoring of the requirement that a sale benefit conservation.

    For example, Zimbabwe and China are the biggest players in the live elephant trade, but Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager at Humane Society International (HSI), says they have found little information from the importing countries on the animals arrival. We dont know how many facilities in China have received the elephants imported from Zimbabwe during the last few years. We dont know the status of these animals.

    Attempts to comply with the few Cites stipulations such as appropriate and acceptable destinations are sometimes dismissed. In 2016, a Zimbabwe delegation of Zimparks and ZNSPCA inspectors travelled to China to access the facilities, where they found that most of the zoos showed signs of poor treatment of the animals. But their recommendation that a shipment of 36 elephants remain in Zimbabwe until the holding facilities in China were completed and assessed for compliance by Zimbabwe, was ignored.

    On September 16 Chinese papers announced in cheery headlines that three elephants two females and a male, aged approximately four years old had arrived at the Lehe Ledu wildlife zoo. Photographs of the elephants from Chinese media were analysed by Poole, who noted that the face one of the females looked pinched and stressed. The elephant appears to have begun to wear her tusks down on the bars, rubbing back and forth in frustration. Poole added that the sunken look, dark eyes and mottled skin are common for young, captured elephants. In the wild, you only see the pinched, sunken look in sick or orphaned elephants.

    The zoo has said that it is providing more than 1,000 square metres of indoor space and 3,000 sq metres outdoors. The animals have six full-time babysitters and every meal is prepared carefully, based on scientific recommendation.

    A video posted on YouTube celebrating the arrival of the elephants at Lehe Ledu zoo.

    Finally, questions have been asked about whether Zimbabwe is complying with the Cites stipulation that the sale of the elephants must benefit their conservation in the wild. The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, was reported in the Guardian last year as saying the sale of the elephants was necessary to raise funds to take care of national parks in Zimbabwe, which have been ravaged by drought and poaching. But in the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, using funds from the sales of elephants to pay off a military debt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    The international body governing the trade, Cites, is increasingly coming under fire for its role. The scientific literature states that captive facilities continue to fall far short of meeting elephants natural needs for movement, space and extended social networks, with negative effects on health, behavior and reproduction, said Anna Mul, a legal adviser on animal law at Fondation Franz Weber, an organisation that is lobbying Cites to end the trade of live elephants.

    A spokesman for CITES said: The triennial CITES conference held last year (CoP17) agreed that appropriate and acceptable destinations was defined as destinations where the importing State is satisfied that the recipient of the live animals is suitably equipped to house and care for them. CoP17 also agreed on a process to assess if additional guidance on this matter is required. Further, both the importing and exporting countries are now required to be satisfied that any trade in live elephants should promote the conservation of elephants in the wild. In addition, the exporting Party must also be satisfied that animals are prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants in trade… CITES does not address the way in which the animals are captured or stored prior to export.

    But for now, China continues to import the vulnerable elephants at almost conveyor-belt speed. According to Ho, some pressure to stop the practice is beginning to be felt, but the country is influenced by the view that breeding is conservation. And then, of course, there is a willing partner in Zimbabwe and the thrill of seeing African elephants by the visitors.

    Its a win-win, she said, for those who are financially profiting from the legal trade in the calves. But its a lose-lose for the animals, both imported and left behind.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/03/exclusive-footage-shows-young-elephants-being-captured-in-zimbabwe-for-chinese-zoos

    Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?

    Exclusive: in America, the worlds richest country, diseases that thrive amid poverty are rampant, the first study of its kind in modern times shows

    Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.

    These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places usually associated with them in the developing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.

    Scientists in Houston, Texas, have lifted the lid on one of Americas darkest and deepest secrets: that hidden beneath fabulous wealth, the US tolerates poverty-related illness at levels comparable to the worlds poorest countries. More than one in three people sampled in a poor area of Alabama tested positive for traces of hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite that was thought to have been eradicated from the US decades ago.

    The long-awaited findings, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, are a wake-up call for the worlds only superpower as it grapples with growing inequality. Donald Trump has promised to Make America Great Again and tackle the nations crumbling infrastructure, but he has said very little about enduring chronic poverty, particularly in the southern states.

    The study, the first of its kind in modern times, was carried out by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in conjunction with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), a non-profit group seeking to address the root causes of poverty. In a survey of people living in Lowndes County, an area with a long history of racial discrimination and inequality, it found that 34% tested positive for genetic traces of Necator americanus.

    Lowndes

    The parasite, better known as hookworm, enters the body through the skin, usually through the soles of bare feet, and travels around the body until it attaches itself to the small intestine where it proceeds to suck the blood of its host. Over months or years it causes iron deficiency and anemia, weight loss, tiredness and impaired mental function, especially in children, helping to trap them into the poverty in which the disease flourishes.

    Hookworm was rampant in the deep south of the US in the earlier 20th century, sapping the energy and educational achievements of both white and black kids and helping to create the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it had disappeared altogether by the 1980s.

    But the new study reveals that hookworm not only survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. None of the people included in the research had travelled outside the US, yet parasite exposure was found to be prevalent, as was shockingly inadequate waste treatment.

    The peer-reviewed research paper, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, focuses on Lowndes County, Alabama the home state of the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and a landmark region in the history of the nations civil rights movement. Bloody Lowndes, the area was called in reference to the violent reaction of white residents towards attempts to undo racial segregation in the 1950s.

    It was through this county that Martin Luther King led marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in search of voting rights for black citizens, More than half a century later, Kings dream of what he called the dignity of equality remains elusive for many of the 11,000 residents of Lowndes County, 74% of whom are African American.

    Raw
    Raw sewage is carried through a PVC pipe to be dumped only a few yards away from a nearby home. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

    The average income is just $18,046 (13,850) a year, and almost a third of the population live below the official US poverty line. The most elementary waste disposal infrastructure is often non-existent.

    Some 73% of residents included in the Baylor survey reported that they had been exposed to raw sewage washing back into their homes as a result of faulty septic tanks or waste pipes becoming overwhelmed in torrential rains.

    The Baylor study was inspired by Catherine Flowers, ACREs founder, who encouraged the Houston scientists to carry out the review after she became concerned about the health consequences of having so many open sewers in her home county. Hookworm is a 19th-century disease that should by now have been addressed, yet we are still struggling with it in the United States in the 21st century, she said.

    Our billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates fund water treatment around the world, but they dont fund it here in the US because no one acknowledges that this level of poverty exists in the richest nation in the world.

    Flowers took the Guardian on a tour of Lowndes County to witness the conditions in which hookworm continues to proliferate. One stop was at a group of mobile homes outside Fort Deposit that graphically illustrated the crisis.

    An eight-year-old child was sitting on the stoop of one of the trailers. Below him a white pipe ran from his house, across the yard just a few feet away from a basketball hoop, and into a copse of pine and sweet gum trees.

    The pipe was cracked in several places and stopped just inside the copse, barely 30ft from the house, dripping ooze into a viscous pool the color of oil. Directly above the sewage pool, a separate narrow-gauge pipe ran up to the house, which turned out to be the main channel carrying drinking water to the residents.

    The open sewer was festooned with mosquitoes, and a long cordon of ants could be seen trailing along the waste pipe from the house. At the end of the pool nearest the house the treacly fluid was glistening in the dappled sunlight a closer look revealed that it was actually moving, its human effluence heaving and churning with thousands of worms.

    Ruby
    Ruby Dee Rudolph, 66, noticed her septic tank was slowly sinking unevenly into the ground. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

    This is the definition of Make America Great Again, said Aaron Thigpen, 29, a community activist who assisted with the hookworm study. This is the reality of how people are being forced to live.

    Thigpens cousins live in the trailer park, and he has talked to them about the perils of piping sewage from their homes and dumping it in the open just a few feet away. They are disgusted about it, theyre sick and tired of living like this, but theres no public help for them here and if youre earning $700 a month theres no way you can afford your own private sanitation.

    He added that people were afraid to report the problems, given the spate of criminal prosecutions that were launched by Alabama state between 2002 and 2008 against residents who were open-piping sewage from their homes, unable to afford proper treatment systems. One grandmother was jailed over a weekend for failing to buy a septic tank that cost more than her entire annual income.

    People are scared. They dont like to speak out as theyre worried the health department will come round and cause trouble, Thigpen said.

    The challenge to places like Lowndes County is not to restore existing public infrastructure, as Trump has promised, because there is no public infrastructure here to begin with. Flowers estimates that 80% of the county is uncovered by any municipal sewerage system, and in its absence people are expected and in some cases legally forced to provide their own.

    Even where individuals can afford up to $15,000 to install a septic tank and very few can the terrain is against them. Lowndes County is located within the Black Belt, the southern sweep of loamy soil that is well suited to growing cotton and as a result spawned a multitude of plantations, each worked by a large enslaved population.

    The same thing that made the land so good for cotton its water-retaining properties also makes it a hazard to the thousands of African Americans who still live on it today. When the rains come, the soil becomes saturated, overwhelming inadequate waste systems and providing a perfect breeding ground for hookworm.

    Ruby Rudolph lives just beside the main Selma to Montgomery road where King led the protest walk. On the other side of the road theres a brown history placard to mark the spot where her grandmother, Rosie Steele, ran a campsite for the weary marchers.

    After they moved on and the campsite was cleared, Rudolph said, her grandmothers grocery store was set on fire in an arson attack. She was 13 at the time, and can remember the flames leaping into the night sky.

    Rudolph, now 66, does have her own septic tank at the back of her house, which she shows us in the sweltering 41C (105F) heat. But it doesnt function properly and when it rains the tank spills over, spreading raw waste all over the yard. Thats better than when it flushes back into the house, and Ive had that too, she said.

    Shes been told a replacement system would cost her at least $12,000, which is beyond her means. She runs through her finances: she gets up at 4am every day to do an early shift at a Mapco convenience store, which brings in less than $1,200 a month. From that amount she has to pay $611 for her mortgage and theres the electricity bill that can be more than $300 a month when its hot and the air conditioning is busy. Theres not a lot left to put toward a new tank.

    Perman
    Perman Hardy, 58, stands with her grandson Carlos near the pipes that carry sewage from a relatives nearby trailer home into the woods, approximately 30ft from the back door. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

    Perman Hardy, 58, lives in nearby Tyler in a collection of seven single-storey homes all occupied by members of her extended family. Only two of them have septic tanks, the rest just pipe raw waste into the surrounding woods and creeks.

    Hardy is one of the lucky ones with a treatment system of her own, but like Rudolphs it is often overwhelmed in the rains with faeces washed back into her home. Last year the stench was so bad she had to vacate the property for two weeks over Christmas while it was professionally cleaned.

    Hardy has traced her family back to slaves held on the Rudolph Bottom plantation about five miles away. The road that leads to the old plantation from her house is still called to this day by white neighbors Nigger Foot Road, she said, though she and other African Americans call it Collerine Cutoff Road.

    As a child, Hardy worked in the cotton fields after school and, mindful of that and her familys slave history, shes determined to see a better future for her grandchildren. I dont want the same for my boys. But its still a struggle. Its the 21st century and we shouldnt be struggling like we still are today.

    The daily hardship faced by Hardy, Rudolph and fellow inhabitants of Lowndes County is reflected in the Baylor studys glaring statistic of 34% testing positive for hookworm. The sample size was low 67 people participated with 55 giving stool samples, all of whom were African American but the results are so stark that the Houston scientists now want to conduct a larger survey across the region.

    We now need to find how widespread hookworm is across the US, said Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research team along with Rojelio Mejia. Hotez, who has estimated that as many as 12 million Americans could be suffering from neglected tropical diseases in poor parts of the south and midwest, told the Guardian the results were a wake-up call for the nation.

    This is the inconvenient truth that nobody in America wants to talk about, he said. These people live in the southern United States, and nobody seems to care; they are poor, and nobody seems to care; and more often than not they are people of color, and nobody seems to care.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/05/hookworm-lowndes-county-alabama-water-waste-treatment-poverty