Thursday, September 18, 2014

09/01/2014 at 10:11pm

via USDA Economic Research Service  

Rural and metro counties traveled the same path to reach the bottom of the employment bust after the last recession.

But early in the economic recovery, those paths diverged – with nonmetro counties showing few signs of job growth while metro’s prospects have improved at a much faster pace.

A new study from the USDA Economic Research Service finds that nonmetro counties started shedding jobs even before the recession officially started in December 2007. And, while the nation as a whole has finally clawed its way back to pre-recession job numbers, nonmetro counties have seen virtually no growth in jobs in the last three years.

The chart above tells the story. The green line represents the number of jobs in nonmetro counties (or the “employment index”); the blue line is metro jobs.

The two lines roughly parallel each other through the bottom of the employment cycle and into the early months of jobs recovery.

But from there, the lines diverge, with metro employment increasing and nonemtro employment remaining flat. “As a result, the gap between the metro and nonmetro employment indices has grown rapidly in the past three years,” the report states.

08/29/2014 at 11:15am

Via ProPublica ProPublica's interactive news feature includes timelines of the changing shape of the Louisiana coastline.

ProPublica has an excellent project that looks at the water levels in southern Louisiana. The state has lost 2,000 miles of coast in only 80 years. By 2100, "everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — [will] be underwater." The impact on coastal communities is already pronounced. Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne describes his village in the Louisiana wetlands:

“Right here in Delacroix, when you come down the road, the only land you have is right where the houses are, and the road. That’s it,” he said. “The land’s not there, the woods are not there, and the local people — they only have about five local people after Katrina that came back.”

That world fell apart because the delta that sustained it was dying. ... 

Delacroix residents say after the [oil industry] canals were dug, the wetlands that once nourished them fell apart, allowing storm surges to roll across their community and carry away even more of their marshes. Meanwhile, the physical barrier of the wetlands had been breached by bridges and asphalt roads, bringing modern-day New Orleans closer.

In the space of 50 years that destruction removed not only acres of productive wetlands, but erased entire cultures from southeast Louisiana.

“For me, it’s hard to believe how quick it all went,” Serigne said.

“You tell these young people what was here, and they look at you like you’re crazy or something. They can’t imagine, because they never saw it,” he said.

“In 20, 30 years I don’t see this land being here. I think it will be all gone.”


New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman seems to have a bit of a double standard when it comes to telling other folks what they should put in their bodies.

The man who regularly harps on his readers for things like drinking milk or eating foods that aren’t pure enough by his standards says drinking alcohol is a “private matter.” In his embarrassingly confessional column, Bittman says his alcohol consumption is so private, in fact, he can’t even tell his doctor the truth about it. He's afraid his doctor will scold him for over-indulging.

Yikes. This is worse than we thought. Apparently Bittman goes to a physician who doesn’t read the New York Times.

08/29/2014 at 7:11am

Photo by Shawn Poynter Bennie Massey, right, in maroon shirt, dances with attendees of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's "Appalachia's Bright Future" conference in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch, Kentucky.

This weekend, two residents of the small town of Lynch, Kentucky, will travel to the other side of the country to help celebrate connections back home.

The Eastern Kentucky Social Club holds its annual reunion on Labor Day weekend. This year, the event is in Burbank, California, 2,300 miles from Lynch, where the headquarters of the club is housed in the town’s former black high school.

But covering a lot of miles is nothing new for members of the club. In fact, that’s the whole point of the group, which formed in Cleveland around 1970 as a reunion of people who had moved away from Lynch.

For nearly 45 years, the Eastern Kentucky Social Club has provided a connection among Lynch residents and thousands of African Americans from Eastern Kentucky who have migrated to other places. The story of the social club is a prominent thread in the history and fabric of Lynch.

Lynch was established in 1917 in Harlan County by U.S. Coal and Coke Company, which built schools, churches, hospitals and houses. At its peak in Lynch, U.S. Coal and Coke employed 4,000 people and owned 1,000 structures housing people of 38 ethnic backgrounds. By 1945, Lynch and the nearby coal town of Benham had a combined population of nearly 10,000 people, according to the 2004 book African American Miners and Migrants: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club by Thomas E. Wagner and Phillip J. Obermiller.

Today, Lynch has about 750 people and is still one of the most racially and ethnically diverse communities in eastern Kentucky. The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and many of Lynch’s original structures remain.

After mining’s peak in the 1940s, people began to leave Lynch to find work in cities to the north: Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland. But for many, Lynch would always be home.

In 1969, two men were having a drink in a Cleveland bar and started talking about pulling together a reunion of people they grew up with in Lynch. In 1970, the first reunion was held in Cleveland.

08/28/2014 at 7:40am

Courtesy of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Joan Kopacek and John Gleneau participate in the first Rural Climate Dialogue, held this June in Morris, Minnesota.

A first-of-its-kind community dialogue in rural Minnesota shows that residents with diverse political viewpoints can reach consensus on climate-change policy when the conversation addresses the unique needs of rural areas.

The success of this first Rural Climate Dialogue underscores the importance of honest, frank discussion about climate change in rural America.

Fifteen community members of Morris, Minnesota, a town of about 5,000 people in the west-central part of Minnesota, participated in the dialogue in June. The event was an intense, three-day, deliberative forum to discuss risks posed by climate change and to develop a shared, community-based response to changing weather patterns and extreme weather events.

The community members were randomly selected but demographically representative of the entire Morris population. Participants had access to resources and experts in a wide variety of subjects, including agriculture, energy and climatology. Surveys of the town’s energy use and costs were compiled by local high school students as a way of involving youth in the discussion and making the dialogue relevant to the broader community.

At the end of the three days, the participants produced their own independent recommendations on how the Morris area should respond to climate change. The top concerns were:

  • How low-income households would deal with the rising energy and food costs.
  • How extreme weather would affect agriculture, which is the community’s economic foundation.
  • How to make more community members aware of climate impacts.
  • And how to address those impacts in ways that serve the community’s best interests.

Courtesy of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy High school students helped compile information that was used in the community dialogue. At the same time, the community members pinpointed local opportunities to strengthen the agricultural economy. These included promoting increased diversity of crop rotations, using water more efficiently and helping the Morris area residents increase their awareness of climate change and identify ways to be resilient to its impacts.

The community members, despite holding diverse political opinions on climate change, emerged from the dialogue with consensus that the community had to take steps to address climate change.

Given unbiased information and the space to formulate their own conclusions, it appears that rural residents want climate action just as much as their urban counterparts, if only a different type of climate action.

08/27/2014 at 12:21pm

Photo by Gerry Broome/AP An Appalachian Voices employee checks the Dan River in Danville, Virginia, for coal ash in a February, 2014 incident. That spill led to recently enacted changes in state law.

There's lots of news from North Carolina regarding coal ash:

First, the state environmental agency is fining Duke Energy for contaminating groundwater around a retired power plant near Wilmington. Leeching from unlined coal-ash pits has been occurring for years, reports the Associated Press:

A letter sent to Duke [Power] says monitoring wells near dumps showed readings exceeding state groundwater standards for boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other chemicals. Thallium is a highly toxic poison.

In a separate incident in February, a Duke Energy coal-ash spill polluted 70 miles of the Dan River on the North Carolina-Virginia border. That led to passage, earlier this month, of a new law to help regulate coal-ash and clean up toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says he will likely sign the legislation, even though he says it unconstitutionally sets up a commission where a majority of members are appointed by the Legislature. The governor, not a legislatively appointed commission, should oversee enforcement of the coal-ash rules, McCrory said

McCrory retired from Duke Energy in 2008 after working for the utility for 29 years. “The electricity company's executives have remained generous in supporting his political campaigns,” reports Michael Biesecker of the Associated press.

08/27/2014 at 7:10am

Last winter, Native Americans adapted an old practice of private challenges to the new platform of social media. A swarm of Canadian cold-water plunges resulted.

I remember getting in trouble as a teenager. The story beat me home.  I was stunned at the velocity of information in a small community. The chain went like this: Something happened. People talked. And the story spread. Fast.

I guess that’s why social media, to me, is an old form of storytelling. It’s how we naturally tell stories, spreading the word to one friend (or follower) in real time. And then another. And again. But while the forum is essentially the same, there are two new twists: the use of digital tools and the increased size of our network. (A generation ago our “network” might be a few friends gathered for coffee at the trading post. Today it’s a thousand friends on Facebook, their thousand friends, and definitely more on Twitter, Tumblr or Snapchat.)

The ice-bucket challenge to raise money to prevent ALS — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or Lou Gehrig's Disease is a great example of how social media works.  The brilliant campaign has earned more than $70 million with the goal of creating a world “without ALS!”

Every day my Facebook feed has new posts from someone taking this challenge.

Of course this whole challenge thing is familiar anyway. It’s a lot like the Winter Challenge that spread across Canada and Indian Country. Carielynn Victor, from Chilliwack, B.C., told Global News Canada that the idea was not a new one, but the concept of taking it public was new.

So why ALS? It’s a fabulous cause and worth doing. That said: What if Indian Country could harness social media to affect the diseases that are killing most of our friends and family?

08/26/2014 at 7:15am

Robin Rather, CEO of Collective Strength. "Over the past decade or more, way too many pundits have just stopped thinking of rural areas as equally important and have fallen all over themselves thinking that cities are the answer to the world’s sustainability problems.  I don’t buy that at all." 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Next week’s “Cross Currents” conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, looks at the intersection of rural community development and creativity. The event, sponsored by Art-Force and the National Rural Assembly, will examine how partnerships between creative-arts organizations and agriculture-related enterprises can promote economic and social well being in rural communities.

The opening speaker for the event (Wednesday, September 3) is Robin Rather, a fifth-generation Texan and CEO of Collective Strength, a communications and marketing firm. Rather, who is the daughter of former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, spoke with one of the conference’s organizers, Janet Kagan, about the role of rural America in building more vibrant communities for everyone. An edited version of this conversation is below.

Janet Kagan: The focus of your work ranges from transportation to city and regional planning, and from workforce housing to renewable energy -- critical issues in urban and rural communities.  How do you traverse between these two contexts?

Robin Rather: I was born in Houston and am a fifth generation Texan on both sides of my family.  I spent the school year in cities including Washington, D.C., and London but spent every summer with my grandmother in a small rural town on the banks of the Colorado River.  To this day, I consider myself a hybrid:  both a city and a country girl.  I have a ton of first cousins who still live in Bastrop County(Texas), and their kids and grandkids are still there.

There really is no rural without a city nearby and no real city exists without a rural counterpart nearby. They are part of the same ecosystem and are, in truth, completely inter-dependent.  I have no trouble integrating the fundamental issues of our time -- jobs, energy, water, air, and land -- into either an urban or rural mind-set.  It is not either/or. It is both. 

Over the past decade or more, way too many pundits have just stopped thinking of rural areas as equally important and have fallen all over themselves thinking that cities are the answer to the world’s sustainability problems.  I don’t buy that at all.   Cities have something to offer as we move forward, but rural areas have just as much and arguably even more.  As an example, let me point to Maurice Strong, a respected businessman , and as an executive at the United Nations considered one of the grandfathers of the sustainability movement.  He states, “…the future health of our planet will be determined in our cities.”  With all due respect -- really?  (See also this Fast Company article.)