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Coronavirus has city dwellers heading for the hills. Here’s why they should stay put.

In the beginning of March, as the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in New York City, Anne Hilton Purvis, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Village Green — a real estate company that serves Upstate New York — started getting calls from clients. They were looking for “a lot of short-term rentals — three months, six months, some people wanted to buy something cash,” she said. At first, Purvis, who is a family friend of this reporter, advised prospective buyers to reach out to Airbnb hosts who might be offering up longer stints instead of daily or weekly listings.

But as the state’s outbreak worsened, and the governor imposed restrictions culminating in a shutdown of the state’s nonessential businesses, she realized it was time to stop showing houses to urbanites trying to flee the big city. “In the short term, if we can follow the rules and stay where we are, that might make this thing not so prevalent,” she said.

Cities across the United States, and New York City especially, are dealing with explosive virus transmission rates and dwindling hospital resources. It makes sense that city dwellers are itching to flee urban areas: Density, as the New York Times recently reported, is the Big Apple’s Achilles’ heel in its fight to contain COVID-19. But there are a number of reasons why they should suppress that urge.

The suburbs and rural areas aren’t necessarily safer from coronavirus than cities are. While cities do have higher populations and higher levels of social contact, living in the suburbs or countryside still requires some contact with other people —which provides opportunities for the virus to spread. Epidemiological sparks in cities can migrate to the suburbs and beyond as people move around. So it’s not really a question of if coronavirus will start circulating in earnest in Upstate New York and other rural and suburban areas, but when. Once it does, rural Americans are at a disadvantage — they’re further from hospitals and have fewer medical resources available to them. Not to mention more than one in five older Americans, who are especially susceptible to coronavirus, live in rural areas. If you leave a city for the countryside, you’re putting them at risk.

A pandemic-fueled mass exodus out of cities doesn’t just potentially put a massive strain on suburban and rural resources, it also adds fuel to another looming crisis: climate change. Density is actually good for us when there isn’t a pandemic afoot (aka the vast majority of the time). It allows for robust mass transit networks, efficient housing, bike lanes, and foot traffic. All of that, in turn, is good for mitigating climate change.

It may sound counterintuitive, since cities have historically suffered from dangerous pollution problems, but city dwellers actually have smaller carbon footprints than folks living in rural places. One report found that average emissions in NYC were less than a third of the U.S. average, mostly because New York’s famously cramped apartments use less energy than the large houses enjoyed by other Americans and because New Yorkers use public transportation instead of driving everywhere. A different study found that the average Manhattan household produces 32 metric tons of carbon each year, while households in a nearby suburb produce 72.5 metric tons on average.

If that isn’t evidence enough to convince urbanites to resist the temptation to trade their tiny dwellings for a pastoral lifestyle, they should consider this: Singapore and Hong Kong, denser cities than New York, have been generally successful in containing the coronavirus thanks to early testing, dogged contact tracing, and mass compliance from its citizens. Much of America is under mandatory social distancing measures right now not because cities are inherently bad, but because the federal government handled the outbreak poorly and Americans are loath to give up their personal freedoms.

So if you’re a city dweller who cares about reducing the spread of COVID-19 and slowing down climate change, stay where you are. Purvis knows that’s not an easy pill to swallow. “We’re a country that doesn’t like to follow rules,” she said. “But the only way to make the virus go away and not hit so many people is if we do follow all of the rules.”

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Coronavirus has city dwellers heading for the hills. Here’s why they should stay put.

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The Arctic Council brought up climate change, and the U.S. couldn’t handle the heat

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the consensus-dependent agreement regulating the Arctic. The hiccup, according to sources? Climate change. So this year, for the first time since its founding in 1996, there was no joint declaration at the Meeting of the Arctic Council.

With record-breaking carbon emissions and temperatures, the U.N’s mass extinction prediction, and local governments constantly rolling out carbon reduction plans (like NYC, LA, Washington), it’s no surprise that climate change was one of the big issues at the meeting. The intergovernmental convention brings together leaders from the eight countries neighboring the Arctic every couple years to draft an agreement for the sustainable use of the region’s resources.

“A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience,” Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini wrote in a 10-page statement. Only when the statement touched on climate issues, like pollution, carbon sinks, and loss of biodiversity, did he use the tell-tale “a majority.”

“I don’t want to name and blame anyone,” Soini said of the agreement’s failure to pass.

Reuters’ sources reported that Pompeo disagreed with phrasing in the document that stated climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic. He didn’t want the most recent information on climate science included in the report, diplomats present at the council told the New York Times.

His refusal to sign meant that no declaration could be passed. Instead, the council members each signed a statement committing to proceed with Arctic development sustainably, but that didn’t mention climate change.

Pompeo has a different story — he claims that he backed out because of concerns that the unbinding agreement would not hold Russia and China accountable enough moving forward.

On Sunday, the day before his refusal, he made a policy speech where he sang praises for an Arctic less swathed in ice sheets. He lauded the potential oil, gas, and metal extraction in newly uncovered regions, while simultaneously warning of the threat a squabbling Russia and China would pose. Not once did he mention climate change, nor the communities most immediately affected by retreating sea ice and warming seas. Still, acknowledging the economic potential created by the Arctic’s warming seemed at odds with his refusal to sign an agreement that assigned a name to the effect.

Funny, then, that he should tell the council that “collective goals … are rendered meaningless, even counterproductive as soon as one nation fails to comply,” in explaining why the U.S. would not sign the agreement. Exemplary performance, Mr. Pompeo.

You can see his whole speech here:

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The Arctic Council brought up climate change, and the U.S. couldn’t handle the heat

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Riveting Moments From Donald Trump Inauguration Protests—Updated

Mother Jones

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In the coming days, crowds of Donald Trump supporters will take to the streets to welcome the new president, including at Thursday’s Make America Great Again rally at the Lincoln Memorial and Friday’s inaugural parade outside the White House.

But a whole lot of people are organizing to protest Trump, including more than 1 million people who are expected to participate in women’s marches around the world.

Here are highlights from some of the protests. Come back here for more news as we update this story.

January 20

Mother Jones reporters are on the scene covering the protests ahead of today’s swearing-in ceremony:

January 19

Tensions are high as protesters confront Trump supporters attending the “Deploraball,” an inauguration celebration at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Protesters rally outside the Trump International Hotel in New York, joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, filmmaker Michael Moore, actor Alec Baldwin, and other high-profile speakers.

January 18

Hundreds gather for a “Queer Dance Party” outside of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s Chevy Chase house. Firas Nasr, founder of WERK for Peace, tells DCist that the event is meant to show that “homophobia and transphobia is wrong and should be resisted.” As Indiana’s governor, Pence had a poor record on LGBT rights, signing a bill to protect businesses that discriminated against gay people.

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Riveting Moments From Donald Trump Inauguration Protests—Updated

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New Study Suggests Police Shoot Whites More Frequently Than Blacks

Mother Jones

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In a new paper using an interesting approach, Roland Fryer finds that police officers treat blacks and Hispanics more roughly than whites, but they don’t shoot them any more frequently:

The results obtained using these data are informative and, in some cases, startling. Using data on NYC’s Stop and Frisk program, we demonstrate that on non-lethal uses of force — putting hands on civilians (which includes slapping or grabbing) or pushing individuals into a wall or onto the ground, there are large racial differences. In the raw data, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to have an interaction with police which involves any use of force.

In stark contrast to non-lethal uses of force, we find no racial differences in officer-involved shootings on either the extensive or intensive margins. Using data from Houston, Texas — where we have both officer-involved shootings and a randomly chosen set of potential interactions with police where lethal force may have been justified — we find, in the raw data, that blacks are 23.8 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to whites. Hispanics are 8.5 percent less likely.

Analyzing data from cities in California, Texas, and Florida, Fryer found that lethal force was used more often against whites than blacks.1This is from the New York Times:

In officer-involved shootings in these cities, officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon. Both of these results undercut the idea that the police wield lethal force with racial bias.

….A more fundamental question still remained: In the tense moments when a shooting may occur, are police officers more likely to fire if the suspect is black?

To answer this question, Mr. Fryer focused on one city, Houston. The Police Department there allowed the researchers to look at reports not only for shootings but also for arrests when lethal force might have been justified. Mr. Fryer defined this group to include suspects the police charged with serious offenses like attempting to murder an officer, or evading or resisting arrest. He also considered suspects shocked with Tasers.

And in the arena of “shoot” or “don’t shoot,” Mr. Fryer found that, in tense situations, officers in Houston were about 20 percent less likely to shoot a suspect if the suspect was black. This estimate was not very precise, and firmer conclusions would require more data. But, in a variety of models that controlled for different factors and used different definitions of tense situations, Mr. Fryer found that blacks were either less likely to be shot or there was no difference between blacks and whites.

Fryer calls this “the most surprising result of my career.” Needless to say, it’s based on limited data and a new way of looking at police shootings, so Fryer’s results should be considered tentative. And it’s worth keeping in mind that lesser uses of force are far more common in encounters with blacks than whites:

“Who the hell wants to have a police officer put their hand on them or yell and scream at them? It’s an awful experience,” he said. “I’ve had it multiple, multiple times. Every black man I know has had this experience. Every one of them. It is hard to believe that the world is your oyster if the police can rough you up without punishment. And when I talked to minority youth, almost every single one of them mentions lower level uses of force as the reason why they believe the world is corrupt.”

Food for thought. Fryer is a careful and high respected researcher, and he was motivated to conduct this study by the events in Ferguson a couple of years ago. Both of his conclusions are worth taking seriously.

1The results weren’t statistically significant, so technically Fryer’s conclusion is that there’s no difference between the shooting rate of whites and blacks.

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New Study Suggests Police Shoot Whites More Frequently Than Blacks

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New Yorkers Rally To Show Love For Paris

Mother Jones

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Up to 2000 New Yorkers rallied to show support for Paris Saturday in the wake of Friday’s attacks. Mayor Bill deBlasio spoke, people added their names to an impromptu memorial, and the crowd sang the Marseillaise. “I think it’s important for us to stay together and remain calm,” 22-year-old Andrew Congee told me. “To show how strong the French country is and how important it is for us to enjoy life.”

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New Yorkers Rally To Show Love For Paris

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New York City Is Not the Bohemia You May Think It Is

Mother Jones

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Greenwich Village, 1917:

On a cold winter’s night in January 1917, socialist artists mounted to the top of Washington Arch and strung up some balloons. Gertrude Drick then read aloud the document she and Ellis had prepared, declaring the secession of Greenwich Village from the America of big business and small minds. They called on President Wilson to extend protection to their domain as one of the small nations, the “Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square.”

“Declaration of Independence of the Greenwich Republic” John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Delaware Art Museum.

Greenwich Village, 2015:

Capital One Opening Coffee-Shop-Meets-Bank Concept on Union Square

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New York City Is Not the Bohemia You May Think It Is

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What’s the greenest megacity? Hint: Not NYC

What’s the greenest megacity? Hint: Not NYC

By on 1 May 2015commentsShare

Take Paris’s transportation system, Tokyo’s water infrastructure, Moscow’s combined heat and power supply, and Seoul’s wastewater services, and you’ve got yourself a pretty sustainable megacity. Sorry, New York — turns out you don’t bring much to the table, except maybe that can-do attitude.

That’s what a group of researchers found when they analyzed how energy and materials flow through the world’s 27 megacities (metro areas with populations of 10 million or more people). As of 2010, these sprawling metropolises housed more than 6 percent of the world’s population, and they’re only expected to grow in number and size. So in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers were all like, “Hey! Unless we want to end up with a bunch of bleak, garbage-filled dystopian wastelands, we should probably greenify these puppies.”

Here’s the big picture:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

The takeaway? Megacities consume a lot of resources. That’s not too surprising, given how much they contribute to global GDP. Still, when the researchers looked at each city’s unique “metabolism,” they found plenty of room for improvement.

Let’s start with New York, which definitively sucks when it comes to energy use, water use, and waste production:

Click to embiggen.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

“The New York metropolis has 12 million fewer people than Tokyo, yet it uses more energy in total: the equivalent of one oil supertanker every 1.5 days. When I saw that, I thought it was just incredible,” the University of Toronto’s Chris Kennedy, lead researcher on the study, said in a press release.

This might come as a surprise to those of us in the U.S. who have come to know the city as somewhat of an urban sustainability darling, thanks to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That’s because New York the megacity is much different than New York the city. When you account for the sprawling suburbs, Kennedy said over the phone, “New York has a completely different face to it.”

We already knew that suburban sprawl led to more energy consumption due to increased transportation demand, but Kennedy and his colleagues found another reason to dislike the ‘burbs: Electricity consumption per capita strongly correlates with land use per capita. It’s pretty intuitive, when you think about it — a house in the suburbs is going to require more electricity than a tiny apartment in the city. That wouldn’t be so bad if all that electricity was coming from clean, renewable sources, but it’s usually not.

And then there’s the issue of wealth. “”Wealthy people consume more stuff and ultimately discard more stuff,” Kennedy said in the press release. “The average New Yorker uses 24 times as much energy as a citizen of Kolkata [formerly Calcutta, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal] and produces over 15 times as much solid waste.”

The researchers report that the Tokyo metropolis, meanwhile, has a better public transportation system and is better designed for energy efficiency. The largest megacity, with a population of about 34 million people, Tokyo also has a remarkably efficient water supply system with leakages down to about 3 percent. (Rio de Janiero and Sao Paolo have leakage rates at around 50 percent.)

Moscow (pop. 12 million) stands out for its central heating system that harvests waste heat from electricity generation and uses it to service most of the buildings in the city — a more efficient way to heat a city than having a bunch of smaller systems.

London stands out as the only megacity to reduce electricity consumption as its GDP has grown. The researchers attribute this to a 66 percent increase electricity prices.

All this is to say that megacities are complicated beasts that should learn from one another. This is especially true for cities in developing countries, which have much lower “metabolisms” than their developed world counterparts due to poverty and resource shortages. These cities will surely grow. The question is: Can they get greener as they go?

Unfortunately, Kennedy said, no megacity has a master architect. “You can never start from scratch. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and adapt and change.”

Kennedy and his colleagues plan to put out a followup paper later this year with specific recommendations for how megacities can do just that. In the mean time — Hey, NYC, you might want to glance up from your climate action plan for a minute. The suburbs are making you look bad in front of all your megacity friends.

Megacity metabolism: Is your city consuming a balanced diet?

, Eurekalert.



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What’s the greenest megacity? Hint: Not NYC

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NYC Building Collapse Was Probably Gas-Related

Mother Jones

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Update: The New York Daily News reports that at least two people are missing, as firefighters continue to contain the fire. The injury toll has risen to at least 19, with four people in critical condition.

An apparent gas explosion caused two New York City buildings to collapse on Thursday, injuring at least a dozen people, with at least three in critical condition.

Fire crews first responded to calls of a building collapse at 3:17 p.m. on Second Avenue near Seventh Street in Manhattan. Less than an hour later, about 250 firefighters rushed to the scene as the fire upgraded to a seven-alarm blaze. Two other buildings were damaged in the fire, and at least one of them is at risk of collapsing. Thursday’s blast comes a year after a gas explosion destroyed two buildings in East Harlem and left eight people dead. National Transportation Safety Board investigators later found a crack in the city’s aging gas pipeline near one of the buildings.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference with reporters that preliminary findings suggest the explosion may have been caused by plumbing and gas work. He added that Con Edison inspectors arrived at the site more than an hour before the blast to examine private gas work being done at one of the buildings, but found the work had not passed inspection. No gas leaks were reported before the explosion. A Con Edison spokesperson told the New York Times a few of the buildings on Second Avenue had been “undergoing renovations” since August. The gas and electric utility company planned to shut down gas in the area.

We’ll continue to update as we learn more.

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NYC Building Collapse Was Probably Gas-Related

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Jonathan Gruber Says Nothing New, Gets Hammered For It

Mother Jones

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Jonathan Gruber is one of the intellectual godfathers of Obamacare. Here’s what he said last year about it:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” he said during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October, 2013. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

….”In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which explicitly said that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” he said. “You can’t do it politically, you just literally cannot do it. It’s not only transparent financing but also transparent spending.”

I gather this has created a mini-firestorm, and obviously I understand why. If you imply that a bill was structured to take advantage of the “stupidity” of the American voter, that’s just bound to come back to haunt you. So the radio yammerheads are having a field day, and I guess I don’t blame them.

But if we can take just a half step up from radio yammerhead land, did Gruber say anything that isn’t common knowledge? I’m not playing faux naive here. I’m serious. Basically, Gruber said two things.

First, he noted that it was important to make sure the mandate wasn’t scored as a tax by the CBO. Indeed it was, and this was a topic of frequent discussion while the bill was being debated. We can all argue about whether this was an example of the CBO scoring process being gamed, but it has nothing to do with the American voter. Rather, it has everything to do with the American congressman, who’s afraid to vote for anything unless it comes packaged with a nice, neat bow bearing an arbitrary, predetermined price tag.

As for risk-rated subsidies, I don’t even know what Gruber is talking about here. Of course healthy people pay in and sick people get money. It’s health insurance. That’s how it works. Once again, this was a common topic of discussion while the bill was being debated—in fact, one that opponents of the bill talked about constantly. They complained endlessly that healthy young people would pay relatively higher rates than they deserved, while older, sicker people would get a relative break on their premiums. This was no big secret, but the bill passed anyway.

It’s true that the average Joe didn’t know anything about this, but not because the average Joe is stupid. It’s because most people simply don’t pay attention to this stuff even slightly. The fraction of the electorate that cares about the minutiae of policymaking could be stored in a pickle jar. That’s just life.

So basically, Gruber foolishly made a comment about the stupidity of the American voter—a comment that wasn’t even right, I think. But that’s it. Everything else he said was common knowledge during 2009 and 2010 among the pickle jar set. If you cared about policy, you knew this stuff. If you didn’t, you didn’t. But that’s true of everything, isn’t it?

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Jonathan Gruber Says Nothing New, Gets Hammered For It

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Friday Cat Blogging – 7 November 2014

Mother Jones

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Remember I told you that 56-year-old human reflexes were no match for 11-month-old kitten reflexes? Well, if you throw in a bad back, it’s game over. Unless these guys are snoozing, I’d guess that only about one picture in ten is even close to catblogging material these days.

Still, one in ten is one in ten, so here are today’s pictures. On the left, Hopper is sitting on the window sill, waiting for a bird to fly by and entertain her. On the right, Hilbert has taken up shop on Marian’s chair in our newly rearranged living room (rearranged to make room for a more back-friendly chair for Kevin). He actually spent most of the night on Wednesday sleeping in our bed with us. Progress!

In other news, my sister recommends that all of you with cats try this. She’s coming over to visit tomorrow morning, so we’ll try it then. Let us know in comments how it goes.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 7 November 2014

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