This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Turkey's President Erdogan Wants a Higher Birth Rate

Yesterday's big demographic news was the speech by Turkish President Erdogan in which he urged women to avoid birth control and have more babies. Well, not just any woman. As BBC News reported, he was specific about the call for babies going out to Muslim women.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Muslims to reject contraception and have more children. In a speech broadcast live on TV, he said "no Muslim family" should consider birth control or family planning. "We will multiply our descendants," said Mr Erdogan, who became president in August 2014 after serving as prime minister for 12 years. His AK Party has its roots in Islamism and many of its supporters are conservative Muslims.
To be sure, fertility has fallen to replacement in Turkey in very recent years, but the population is still very young and so there will continue to be more babies born than people dying for several decades. The UN demographers project Turkey's population to grow from its current 78 million to 94 million by mid-century. But that obviously is not the issue with Erdogan, who made a similar proposal last year, as I noted then. Last year's pronatalist proposal by Turkey was matched by one from its next-door neighbor, Iran. Despite Turkey being predominantly Sunni Muslim and Iran being predominantly Shia Muslim, the two countries have nearly identical population sizes (right around 80 million in each case), and at or below replacement fertility. The real issue in both countries, at least in my view, is that low fertility is associated with greater education and labor force participation for women, which raises their status in society and raises their expectations about their role in society. The male leaders of Iran and Turkey do not seem to appreciate this trend, even though in the long run we know that it will create better societies in both nations.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Refugees at Risk

The usual idea of a refugee is someone who is seeking safety because of violence or threats of violence against them and their family members in the place where they were living. But getting to a place of safety is not a sure thing, as we are repeatedly reminded. In the past three days there have been at least 700 deaths of refugees, largely from Africa, trying to reach Europe from Libya via the Mediterranean.
Three days and three sunken ships are again confronting Europe with the horrors of its refugee crisis, as desperate people trying to reach the Continent keep dying at sea. At least 700 people from the three boats are believed to have drowned, the United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday, in one of the deadliest weeks in the Mediterranean in recent memory.
The latest drownings — which would push the death toll for the year to more than 2,000 people — are a reminder of the cruel paradox of the Mediterranean calendar: As summer approaches with blue skies, warm weather and tranquil waters prized by tourists, human trafficking along the North African coastline traditionally kicks into a higher gear.
It just incomprehensible to me that human traffickers can be so callous and essentially murderous, based on stories of towing a loaded boat into the sea and then cutting the rope and letting the boat drift. 

The Mediterranean is not the most dangerous refugee route, however, as Tracy Moran reminds us, writing for OZY. The waters in Southeast Asia are even worse, at least on a per person basis.
According to a recent UNHCR report, roughly 33,600 refugees and migrants — primarily Rohingya and Bangladeshis en route from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia — traveled through the region by sea last year, mostly through the Bay of Bengal. Of these, 370 died before reaching land, falling victim to “starvation, dehydration, disease and abuse,” the report says. This means roughly 1.1 percent of those setting off perished, while in the Med, 3,771 of an estimated 1.4 million died, for a rate of .375 percent, according to U.N. figures.
Again, the problem is not rough seas, but the people smugglers who abuse and take advantage of people who are trying to flee abuse and discrimination.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Will a SuperBug Get You?

For all of us born since the end of WWII, the likelihood of dying from bacterial diseases has dropped dramatically because of the widespread use of antibiotics. The news resurfaced recently that we are overdoing it on antibiotics, and even scarier news emerged yesterday with the announcement that a woman in the U.S. was attacked by a bacterial disease resistant to what health scientists call the "last antibiotic." This was obviously a big story, covered by BBC and the NYTimes, among many others.
American military researchers have identified the first patient in the United States to be infected with bacteria that are resistant to an antibiotic that was the last resort against drug-resistant germs.
The patient is well now, but the case raises the specter of superbugs that could cause untreatable infections, because the bacteria can easily transmit their resistance to other germs that are already resistant to additional antibiotics. The resistance can spread because it arises from loose genetic material that bacteria typically share with one another.
The bacteria are resistant to a drug called colistin, an old antibiotic that in the United States is held in reserve to treat especially dangerous infections that are resistant to a class of drugs called carbapenems. If carbapenem-resistant bacteria, called CRE, also pick up resistance to colistin, they will be unstoppable.
What I found particularly interesting is that the gene for resistance to colistin was first noticed just this past November in China, where it is used in pig and poultry farming--exactly the problem associated with overusing antibiotics. We can attribute this almost directly to the rise in the standard of living in China and its associated increase in demand for pork among the Chinese, as I noted a couple of months ago. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More Young Adults are Hanging Around With Their Parents

Pew Research just released a report on living arrangements of young adult Americans (ages 18-34) showing that an increasing fraction are living with their parents. The title of the report is "For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds," and the NPR story about it has the headline "For First Time In 130 Years, More Young Adults Live With Parents Than With Partners." Neither headline is technically inaccurate, but they can be misinterpreted. For example, as you can see in the graphs below from the Pew report, it is still the case that a majority of young people--whether male or female--are NOT living with their parents, even if the percentage has been increasing since 1960.

The explanations offered for this trend, such as the Great Recession, also miss two important demographic trends: (1) the cohort size phenomenon within the U.S.; and (2) the population growth in developing countries phenomenon [and, yes, I still use that phrase even if the World Bank doesn't]. The birth cohort issue is that in 1960 the young adult population in the US was comprised largely of the small cohorts of people born in the Depression, who were pushed along in life by being too young for involvement in WWII but old enough to be catering to the baby boomers. They were the "Lucky Few" that Woodie Carlson has written about (an excellent book--I recommend it). They were a fluke, not really part of a trend that has somehow reversed itself. And, of course, part of their luck was in becoming adults just before developing countries like China, in particular, created a cheap labor market, building on the drop in death rates produced by the spread of medical technology--especially antibiotics--after WWII, as I discuss in detail in the book and have mentioned in this blog before because it is so important to world history.

Seen in proper historical context, the increase in young adults living at home is part of the global demographic transition, not a uniquely odd event.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Demographics of the Austrian Presidential Election

On Sunday voters in Austria went to the polls to decide who would be their next President--a far-right candidate (Norbert Hofer) or the Green Party economics professor (Alexander Van der Bellen). Let's hear it for the economics professor, who won by a very slim margin, as noted by the NYTimes:
The result averted the prospect of the first right-wing populist head of state in post-Nazi Europe taking office in a democratic election. Yet the close result illustrated how deeply divided Austria is between left and right, and how thoroughly the centrist elites who have run the country since 1945 have fallen from public grace.
Those divisions are demographic and spatial. The NYTimes summarizes them as follows:
Polling experts said Mr. Van der Bellen had won the election with support from city dwellers — particularly in Vienna, which voted 61 percent for him — women and the highly educated.
Thanks go to PopulationData.Net for linking us to the details of that demographic analysis, which appears in the French paper, Le Monde. Graphs in the story show the rather remarkable divide between men and women in their support for the candidates (see below), with women more likely to vote for Van der Bellen while men were more likely to go for Hofer. 


The higher the level of education, the more likely were people to vote for Van der Bellen, and the map below shows that support for Van der Bellen came from the urban part of Austria, whereas the rural populations were more likely to support Hofer.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Gates Foundation Works to Prevents Early Deaths--What About Preventing Births?

Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann is CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and today she put out an online newsletter helping the public understand what they do. You cannot fault the work of the Foundation in terms of trying to prevent illness and early death around the world. But we have to remember that the world explosion in population size is a result of declining death rates that have not been matched by declines in the birth rate. If you go to Dr. Desmond-Hellman's letter, you will find an opportunity to send comments. My comment was as follows:
You folks do incredible and important work helping to save lives and I applaud you tremendously for those efforts. But remember that for each life saved, the planet needs to have one less baby born. Giving women throughout the world access to methods of reproductive control is incredibly important. I have the impression that the Gates Foundation does some of this and perhaps you don't need to highlight it in your letter, but some reassurances to those of us in the population health community would be nice.
I encourage you to write something similar. We want them to continue their current work, but to also continue supporting every possible effort to provide women with means of fertility control. We know that Melinda Gates is generally in support of this, as I have noted before, but this is too important to just take for granted.

Friday, May 20, 2016

We Are Overdosing on Antibiotics

There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The Greeks reminded us centuries ago that we should look for balance, and they were right. The recent discussion has been with respect to too much in the way of pain killers, which then leads to addiction, overdose, and suicide. Now, once again, the alarm is being raised about the overuse of antibiotics. Almost three years ago, the Centers for Disease Control issued a report about this problem, as I discussed at the time. This week's Economist reports on a new study put out in the UK by the Wellcome Trust raising the warning flag yet again.
Alexander Fleming, who first noticed penicillin’s effects, warned of the dangers of resistance almost as soon as the drug had been shown to be a success. But the fact that these are old worries does not mean that they are not serious ones, nor that they cannot get worse. This week sees the publication of the final recommendations of a review on resistance to antimicrobial drugs led by Jim O’Neill, formerly chief economist at Goldman Sachs, on behalf of the British government and the Wellcome Trust, a medical charity. According to Lord O’Neill and his colleagues 700,000 people die each year from infection by drug-resistant pathogens and parasites. And they say that if things carry on as they are that figure will rise to 10m by 2050, knocking 2-3.5% off global GDP. Already the cost to the American health-care system of dealing with infections resistant to one or more antibiotics is $20 billion a year.
As the Economist points out, we know what to do, even if the solutions are not simple (just as with the pain-killer issue), but we have to get busy.
Because antimicrobial resistance has no single solution, it must be fought on many fronts (see article). Start with consumption. The use of antibiotics to accelerate growth in farm animals can be banned by agriculture ministries, as it has in the European Union. All the better if governments jointly agree to enforce such rules widely. In both people and animals, policy should be to vaccinate more so as to stop infections before they start. That should appeal to cash-strapped health systems, because prophylaxis is cheaper than treatment. By the same logic, hospitals and other breeding grounds for resistant bugs should prevent infections by practising better hygiene. Governments should educate the public about how antibiotics work and how they can help halt the spread of resistance. Such policies cannot reverse the tragedy of the commons, but they can make it a lot less tragic.
Taking no action will almost certainly slow, if not reverse, the global improvement in life expectancy that took place after penicillin was shown to be so effective during World War II.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"New" Oldest American is a Sociologist Born in Russia

There has been a bit of a shakeup this past week in the category of oldest living person. Last Friday we found out that the oldest person in the world had died at age 116 years, 311 days. She was Susannah Mushatt Jones, who lived in Brooklyn, so she was the oldest American, as well as the oldest in the world. The NY Daily News reported the story:
The supercentenarian died at 8:26 p.m. Thursday evening at her senior home in Brooklyn, the Gerontology Research Group’s [GRG] Robert Young told the Daily News. She was the last known American to have been born in the 1800s, and there is currently only one more person in the world verified as having taken breath in the 19th century. GRG, which works with the Guinness Book of World Records, said that the oldest person is now Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, an Italian born on Nov. 29, 1899.
Jones, known to loved ones as “Miss Susie,” told the Daily News last year that she credited her long life to getting sleep, not smoking and not drinking, though she admits that she loves and often eats bacon.
Jones's death elevated a 113-year-old Jewish woman named Goldie Michelson of Worcester, Massachusetts to the position of oldest American, although of course she is still three years younger than Emma Morano-Martinuzzi of Italy. Forward.com has the breaking news:
Michelson (neé Corash) was born in Russia in 1902 and emigrated with her family to Worcester at the age of 2. Her father, Max, was a medical student in Russia who opened up a dry goods store in the Water Street area of Worcester.
She attended the Women’s College of Brown University, which later became Pembroke University, and received a master’s degree in sociology from Clark University in Worcester. Her thesis at Clark was titled “A Citizenship Survey of Worcester Jewry” and examined why many of the city’s older Jewish-immigrant residents did not pursue American citizenship or learn English.
She told the Worcester Telegram in 2012 that her thesis was inspired by her time working with Jewish women’s organizations, like Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women. Michelson was also active in other community groups, including one that supported the founding of Brandeis University.
She attributes her long life to her habit of walking. Note that people always give themselves credit for their long lives, rather than offering the possibility of a good set of genes, or just plain luck. Of course, who am I to say otherwise?



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are GMO Crops Good or Bad?

The National Academy of Sciences has just produced a committee report on the safety of GMO crops. You can download a PDF copy for free, if you want all the details. Or, you can find a summary in the NYTimes, which points out the good news and bad news from the report. The good news is that the committee found no evidence to suggest that eating genetically modified organism foods is bad for your health. The bad news is that there is not the strong evidence that we might have hoped for that GMO foods are increasing crop productivity. 
The committee concludes that the use of crops has generally provided economic benefits for the farmers and can increase their output in certain cases, for instance, by protecting crops from insect damage. Nonetheless, it says that nationwide, the introduction of the crops does not appear to have accelerated the rate at which corn, soybean and cotton yields were already improving.
“There’s no change in the slope, at least no significant change in the slope,’’ Dr. Gould said in presenting the results Tuesday, saying the finding was somewhat puzzling. While the influence on yields could conceivably be greater in developing countries, the report questions how essential genetic engineering will be to feeding the world as the population grows.
The crops themselves are not environmentally dangerous, but the way they are planted, maintained, harvested may still be environmentally harmful, although that was not a focus of this study. The reality is that we cannot continue to use large amounts of water and pesticide without some serious environmental issues. Overall, then, as positive as this report might seem on the surface, it points to some serious work that still needs to be done if we are to find food for a continually larger global population. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This Glyph Says It All About Population Growth

My son, Greg Weeks (Professor and Chair of Political Science at UNC, Charlotte), is currently in Santiago, Chile, doing a few days of intensive research there. Today he was at CEPAL, which is the population and development wing of the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Tim Miller, Population Affairs officer at CEPAL (holding an MA in Demography from Berkeley) took Greg up to the roof of the building housing CEPAL, where they have several glyphs (archeological style carved symbols), one of which represents population growth in Latin America. Greg snapped this photo of it:



When you see that, you know exactly what you're looking at. Despite falling fertility throughout the region, improving mortality and a still young age at marriage keep the birth rate higher than the death rate and the population of Latin America is projected to continue to increase over the next few decades, as it has for the past 100 years or so.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Refugee Movements into Europe are Slowing

Two reports out this week demonstrate that the flow of refugees into Europe is undergoing another shift. You'll recall that the first big shift came when the dangerous trip from Libya to Italy was replaced by the somewhat safer trip from Turkey to Greece. But the European Union has been working with Turkey to keep those people from leaving Turkey and so the flow through there has dropped substantially, as reported by the NYTimes.
The number of migrants arriving in Greece dropped 90 percent in April, the European Union border agency said on Friday, a sign that an agreement with Turkey to control traffic between the two countries is working.
The agency, Frontex, said 2,700 people arrived in Greece from Turkey in April, most of them from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, a 90 percent decline from March.
Under the EU's agreement with Turkey, all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally across the sea are sent back.
In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and faster progress in EU membership talks.
This change especially affects Syrians, since that country borders Turkey and it was the most logical (logistically speaking) route to Europe. But that doesn't mean that others aren't back to the boats out of Libya, as BBC News has reported. 
In a report, the House of Lords EU Committee says Operation Sophia does not "in any meaningful way" disrupt smugglers' boats. Operation Sophia began in June 2015.
The destruction of wooden boats has forced the smugglers to use rubber dinghies, putting migrants at even greater risk, the document says.
At the time the conflicts in Syria and Iraq had begun fuelling an unprecedented flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe. But the majority leaving Libya - itself wracked by fighting and human rights abuses - are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Nonetheless, the flow of migrants into Europe from MENA has definitely slowed, as the chart below shows:



Saturday, May 14, 2016

Obama Administration Steps Up Deportations of Central Americans

For reasons that are not at all clear to me--nor to anyone else to whom I have spoken--the Obama administration announced yesterday that are going to step up deportations of Central Americans whose requests for asylum have been administratively turned down. As the NYTimes notes, the ostensible reason is to send a message to Central Americans that the border is not open, so don't come. If, in fact, the border is as well patrolled as the administration claims that it is, that shouldn't be a problem. Rather, these people are being deported back into situations that will put them, once again, in harm's way, and they are being deported in most cases without proper assistance to make their case.
Many women and children said they were running from murderous violence by gangs, especially in El Salvador and Honduras, where criminal organizations control city barrios and have expanded their reach into rural villages. The families applied for asylum, but the vast majority — 86 percent, according to a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a group that studies federal data — went to court without lawyers. Court records show that asylum seekers have a very low chance of success without lawyers.
In some cases, advocates succeeded in stopping deportations at the last minute by providing legal counsel to the families.
Keep in mind that the gangs in Central America are largely a product of earlier deportations of young people (mostly men) who learned how to create gangs and generate gang rule by living in the U.S. And, of course, the U.S. has historically contributed as much to the instability of the region as it has helped the region positively. This is a joint problem that requires a joint solution, rather than just willy-nilly sending people back.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Additional Study Linking Zika Virus to Fetal Brain Problems

Yesterday I discussed two new studies published linking the Zika virus to fetal brain problems, helping to confirm and explain the findings from Brazil that the virus is linked to an increase in babies born with brain deficiencies (as if Brazil doesn't have enough problems already!!). Today's San Diego Union-Tribune had yet another story--this one published in Nature--with results leading to the same kinds of conclusions.
The Brazilian strain of Zika virus has been shown to cause brain defects in an animal model, according to a study by scientists from Brazil and UC San Diego.
This is the first direct evidence of how Zika attacks; a mechanism that has been inferred in other studies, but not lab-demonstrated.
The results may prove useful in testing vaccines against the virus, the study said.
Working with pregnant mice, researchers found that the virus crossed the placenta and into their pups, reducing growth in the brain and the rest of the body.
The brain defects were similar to the microcephaly reported in some babies whose mothers were infected with Zika while pregnant.
The key point here is that this evidence highlights the importance of reducing the exposure to the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus if you are pregnant. This is going to continue to be a big issue as we approach the summer Olympics in Brazil. Anyone who is pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant should stay out of Brazil and any other place where the Zika virus has made an appearance, given the evidence published this week.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Insights Into How the Zika Virus Affects Humans in Utero

A few days ago the San Diego Union had a front page headline detailing a study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine that demonstrated how the Zika virus actually affects the brain an unborn child--for all the doubters out there who didn't believe the early stories of brain damage in utero from the Zika virus.
The Zika virus damages fetal brains by triggering an immune response that impairs development and causes some brain cells to die, according to a study from UC San Diego scientists.
Damage might be preventable by developing a drug that interferes with the immune reaction, said scientist led by senior author Tariq Rana, professor of pediatrics at UCSD School of Medicine.
The study, published Friday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, has unveiled one significant part of that mechanism, Rana said. It’s available online at: http://j.mp/zikatlr3.
Rana and colleagues didn't experiment on human brains, but on the nearest thing: 3D miniature brain "organoids" grown from human embryonic stem cells. The organoids feature many aspects of actual fetal brains, making them a good model for Zika's effect, Rana said.
A couple of days later, the NYTimes had a headline about the Zika virus that I assumed was based on the UCSD research, but no, it was about yet another study at The John Hopkins University that had also discovered a link between the Zika virus and fetal brain damage.
The laboratory’s initial breakthrough, published in March with researchers at two other universities, showed that the Zika virus attacked and killed so-called neural progenitor cells, which form early in fetal development and generate neurons in the brain.
In April, the team and other collaborators published a study in the journal Cell showing that this assault by Zika resulted in undersize brain organoids: Damaged progenitor cells created fewer neurons, leading to less brain volume.
That may explain the smaller brains and heads, a condition called microcephaly, of some babies exposed to Zika during pregnancy.
So, with two independent studies coming out with explanations for this horrific phenomenon, I think we can now concentrate on the idea that this is a real problem that needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Life Expectancy Gap Closes Between Whites and Blacks in the U.S.

The NYTimes has a front page story today detailing the narrowing of the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites in the U.S. This is a classic "good news/bad news" story. The good news is that death rates from several key causes among blacks have declined; the bad news is that death rates from some causes--especially drug overdoses and suicide among males--have risen among whites. This latter bad news has been covered in the media, as I have noted before, whereas the good news generally has not. Sabrina Tavernise, who wrote the story, did a nice job of rounding up experts to comment on the story. My favorite is from my long-time mentor and friend, Sam Preston, who succinctly summed up the situation:
“Blacks are catching up,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania. “The gap is now the narrowest it has been since the beginning of the 20th century, and that’s really good news.”
 Here are some of the details:
The suicide rates or black men declined from 1999 to 2014, making them the only racial group to experience a drop. Infant mortality is down by more than a fifth among blacks since the late 1990s, double the decline for whites. Births to teenage mothers, which tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64 percent among blacks since 1995, faster than for whites.
Blacks are still at a major health disadvantage compared with whites. But evidence of black gains has been building and has helped push up the ultimate measure — life expectancy. The gap between blacks and whites was seven years in 1990. By 2014, the most recent year on record, it had shrunk to 3.4 years, the smallest in history, with life expectancy at 75.6 years for blacks and 79 years for whites.
 The chart below shows the rise in life expectancy for both blacks and whites since 1900, and the gradual, but nonetheless clear narrowing of the gap.





Thursday, May 5, 2016

Demographically Induced Disaster Looms for Nigeria

In 1950 Nigeria was already the 14th most populous country in the world, but it had "only" 32 million people back then. At the moment the population is estimated to be 183 million, putting it 7th most populous in the world. But UN projections suggest that it could reach nearly 400 million by 2050--a more than 10-fold increase over a century--at which point only India and China would be more populous. The reason for this continued rapid growth is, of course, high fertility. The latest Demographic and Health Survey (2013) showed that the average woman in Nigeria is having 5.5 children. This is not much lower than the 6.0 children per woman back in 1990. Furthermore, the usual predictors like education are not playing their usual roles. For example, fertility levels have been going up, not down, among the most educated women. This could all spell disaster soon for Nigeria. Indeed, it may already be disaster, as a Reuters story suggested yesterday. The story begins with these three main points:
* Nigeria set to become third most populous nation by 2050
* Infrastructure cannot keep pace amid budget crisis
* Unemployed join Boko Haram or head to Europe
Ouch! The story then adds some depressing details.
President Muhammadu Buhari's budget plan for this year boosts investment in new roads, railways and power supply in the hope of dragging his nation of 188 million out of deep poverty.
But in Lagos, home to 23 million, spending is quickly outpaced by the growth of the city's population by thousands every day, from both a high birthrate and the migration of people from rural areas looking for work.
Some 1.2 million commuters head into Lagos each day. The three connecting bridges from the vast slum districts on the mainland are jammed until late morning.
"There are too many unemployed people," said Antoine. But while complaining about the crowds, the 37-year-old wants plenty of children himself.
"My parents had 12 so don't expect me to go for two children only, but rather six or seven," he said.
As is true also in Venezuela, a huge chunk of Nigeria's federal budget comes from oil and the drop in oil prices has hammered the economy. In the meantime, no one wants to talk about or use birth control, perhaps partly because of the demographic divide--Christians in the South, Muslims in the North--and neither group wants to give any ground demographically.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Climate Change Will Bring a Bigger Mess to the Middle East

Yesterday I discussed the fact that we now have climate change migrants in the U.S. On top of this is news that climate change could make parts of the Middle East uninhabitable, or even more uninhabitable, if you want to take account of the already large stretches of desert. Drought in Syria has been blamed for helping contribute to the civil war in that country, as I have discussed before.  But this new assessment generates concern about the fate of the entire region.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute say “very hot” days in the region have “doubled” since 1970.
"In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy," says Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute and Professor at the Cyprus Institute.
Keep in mind that the Max Planck Institutes house some of the very best German researchers, so we need to take this seriously.
The study also looked at the amount of “fine particulate air pollution” in the region and found that dust in the atmosphere over Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria jumped 70 percent since the start of the century. This, they say, could be due to an increase in the number of sand storms caused by climate change.
The researchers created two models -- one in which global temperatures are capped by reductions in greenhouse gases, and another, a “business as usual” model where nothing is done to stem climate change.
Under both scenarios, the future of the region is not good, they say, adding that “climate change can result in a significant deterioration of living conditions for people living in North Africa and the Middle East, and consequently, sooner or later, many people may have to leave the region.”
So, we have a situation where drought leads people to fight over one type of scarce resource--water--while the other scarce resource in the region--habitable land--is also being undermined. These developments will severely test the world's ability to put the region back together if and when the violence ends. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

America's First Climate Change Migrants

As climates change around the globe, the ability of people to stay where they are is clearly threatened. We tend to think of this mainly in terms of developing countries, but today's NYTimes has the story about the first "official" environmental migrants in the U.S. The story's headline uses the term "refugee" but the story itself notes that the whole idea behind a planned resettlement of several dozen people in Louisiana is to keep them from becoming refugees.
Louisiana officials have been coping with some of the fastest rates of land loss in the world — an area the size of Delaware has disappeared from south Louisiana since the 1930s. A master plan that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars envisions a giant wall of levees and flood walls along the coast.
Now, to be fair, the problem is due both to direct climate change (more weather volatility) and the very human activities that have been contributing to climate change.
For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.
What little remains will eventually be inundated as burning fossil fuels melt polar ice sheets and drive up sea levels, projected the National Climate Assessment, a report of 13 federal agencies that highlighted the Isle de Jean Charles and its tribal residents as among the nation’s most vulnerable.
The U.S. government has set aside $48 million to move people, but so far a new location has not been finalized, and not everyone wants to move. Eventually, those who choose not to migrate will likely wind up as refugees rescued from the swamp. There is obviously no easy solution here. Younger people will clearly benefit by the move, whereas the resistance comes largely from the older generation.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

There Are More Children in the U.S. Than We Thought

There is almost constant angst in the rich countries of the world about low birth rates and the potentially dwindling number of children who need to grow up and support the rest of us in old age. Indeed, this week's Economist has an article reviewing that theme. But there's some good news, if you want to think about it this way, from a report released this week by Child Trends (authored by demographer William O'Hare). It shows that the 2010 Census in the U.S. undercounted young children more than we might have thought. Now, to be fair, the overall census undercount in the 2010 census was essentially zero, when you combine people who were counted more than once (who are disproportionately non-Hispanic white homeowners), and those who were not counted at all (who are disproportionately black and Hispanic renters). The 2010 post-enumeration survey estimated that undercount among Hispanics was about 1%, but the Child Trends report suggests that about 5% of children under age 5 were left out of the census, and they were disprortionately Hispanic. Since a large share of those missed seem to be here in California, the LA Times covered the story, although the report was released at a Capitol Hill briefing aimed clearly at influencing decisions about the 2020 Census.
Author William O’Hare, a social and health psychology researcher who used to work for the Census Bureau, compared birth, death and immigration records in each county to the county level results of the 2010 census.
He and the study's other authors found that the Census Bureau should have identified more than 21 million Americans 4 or younger in 2010, but only counted about 20 million. Of those missing million people, about 40% were Latino, he said.
About three-fourths of the uncounted children live in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona or New York, according to the study.
O’Hare said the undercount is likely caused by the high number of Latino families living in rentals, in high poverty areas or in complex living arrangements where a child might not live with a legal guardian — all situations that traditionally make it harder for the census to count people.
But he said the Census Bureau needs to do more research to understand why the children aren’t being counted. He said some adults may not understand that children should be included in the census answers or are afraid to respond over fears of how it might affect their own legal status, even if the child is a legal resident.
The report admits that solutions to the problem are not easy to sort out, but this almost certainly will be factored into planning for the 2020 Census. In the meantime, we can celebrate the fact that we have more kids than we thought. Now we have to make sure they get a good education.