Monday, July 17, 2017

Climate Justice and Inequality

It's no secret that environmental justice cannot be separated from racial justice and economic justice, so that even the EPA features a page that advocates for the "fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."

So it's important to keep up with current models and predictions, especially with regard to our growing understandings of the impacts of climate change. A recent study from Rutgers University, "led by Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Kopp of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Amir Jina of the University of Chicago, and James Rising, also of UC Berkeley," is providing some important glimpses of what those impacts will look like if things proceed on their present course.

And it's not good. As the title puts it, "Climate change damages US economy, increases inequality."

First, there will be winners and losers. The South and lower Midwest, "poor and hot already, will lose the most, with economic opportunity traveling northward and westward. Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit the most as health, agriculture and energy costs are projected to improve."

Second, these losses will be characterized by "economic restructuring and widening inequality." As the temperature goes up, the GDP will go down (.7% per degree Fahrenheit), "with each degree of warming costing more than the last." The social costs of extreme heat will include a tendency to increase "violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air conditioning costs, and threaten people's lives." As Hsiang puts it, "If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country's history."

Third, the impacts will not go away. We are on pace to a 6-10°F warming by the end of this century, which will bring "costs on par with the Great Recession -- except they will not go away afterwards and damages for poor regions will be many times larger. ... Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s."

The real value of this kind of research is to give us a realistic picture of what we are facing and both motivate us and direct us to act. It is increasingly clear that there are already people who can profit from climate change, valuing their greed over the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable communities both here and abroad.

As Thenjiwe McHarris, a national organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, reminded us at the People’s Climate March,
"This must be a deliberate, strategic choice made as a means to not only end the legacy of injustice in this country, but in an effort to protect the earth." (SOURCE)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Too much support?

Supporting the development of social skills, emotional regulation, and reflective practice in children is an essential part of cultivating cultures and communities that value and embody justice, compassion, and equality. And research on such topics is especially valuable to us as reflective practitioners. 

Research moves in cycles, leading to new questions and explorations, which is why I am curious about the follow up to a recent study about an inverse relationship between a parent's support and a teacher's assessments of a child's social skills. I did not have access to the full study of 203 third graders and their mothers, but the abstract spelled it out a little:
"Mothers’ supportive reactions predicted greater social adjustment in children as reported by mothers. Inverse associations, however, were found with teachers’ reports of children's social adjustment: mothers’ supportive reactions predicted fewer socioemotional skills and more problem behaviors. These contrasting patterns suggest potential unperceived costs associated with mothers’ supportiveness of children's negative emotions for third-grade children's social adjustment in school and highlight the importance of considering associations between socialization practices and children's various social contexts." (SOURCE
Dr. Vanessa Castro, a co-author of the study, suggested three possible reasons for the discrepancies. First, the parents could be the cause of the problem by "hovering or providing too much support." Second, the children need the support because they have "social and emotional problems." Third, the children act differently when at home than at school. The summary ended with an appeal that it "may be helpful for parents to consider other strategies to guide their children to develop their own skills in emotion regulation and social interaction." (SOURCE)

Although it's not possible for me to draw conclusions from a summary like this, it is a useful exercise to identify some of the questions that are raised. For example, why does the study prioritize the assessment of the teachers over the assessment of the parents? What might the discrepancies say about classroom management, school cultures and policies, and social dynamics between students? And who chooses and how do we choose which values are most important socially? 

Similarly, what might we discover if we focus in on family habits? Are the different participants providing similar types of support? Are there any important differences between participants, in circumstance, demography, or skill? And, if so, do those differences correlate with different outcomes? Are teachers and parents using the same measures? Are there different measures, for example, when thinking about long-term development and short-term behavior? 

I observed many of these kinds of dynamics during my brief time (three semesters) as a third grade remedial reading instructor in a public school. I am not suggesting that the answers are clear or easy, which is what makes research like this so important. I am suggesting that it is important for us to always fold the answers back into the process of learning, and keep asking questions. 

In the meantime, Melinda Wenner Moyer's article on some related topics, "Mommy Will Make It Better," is well worth the read, and includes references to other important studies. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eating Your Feelings

"'We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food,' said Chu-Hsiang 'Daisy' Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author." (SOURCE)

It can be an exhausting cycle, with stress, overeating or eating junk food, and lack of sound sleep all working together to aggravate one another. More than once (more than 100 times?), I found myself reaching for the ice cream during last year's nonstop stress. So many times, I could not find a reasonable way to make the world better, but I could temporarily feel better with a slice of pizza - or three or four slices, and another bowl of ice cream.

Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, points out that eating like this is an instinctive strategy to avoid unpleasant feelings, but that feelings of "diminished self-control" can also lead to unhealthy food choices. "When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms."

In reading and reflecting on this, I became more familiar with the sense of giving up, of giving in to a mild form of despair, of thinking, 'why bother?' when it comes to 'eating my feelings.' And, not surprisingly, I have found it more satisfying to work mindfully with these underlying feelings of grief, frustration, and powerlessness.

And when I do go ahead and eat that ice cream, it is easier to stay with it, savor it, and eat the treat, instead of my suffering.

Michigan State University. "Eating your feelings? The link between job stress, junk food and sleep." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2017. <>.

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