Sunday, March 19, 2017

California's poor flock to Texas as West Coast homes and jobs fall out of reach

[Dallas News] They got tired of California dreamin'.
Skyrocketing home prices and fierce competition for jobs in the Golden State are prodding poor families to pack up and head to Texas. Our state was the top destination for low-income residents leaving California between 2005 and 2015, according to a recent data analysis by the Sacramento Bee.
In that time period, about 293,000 impoverished people left California for Texas and nearly half that figure moved into California from our state, for a net loss of 156,000 people, the Bee reported.
The fact that people are moving in large numbers to Texas is an indicator that the state has economic growth and opportunity, said state demographer Lloyd Potter.
"Of course, the ideal is for Texas to be adding more higher-income, higher-skill kinds of jobs relative to lower-income, low-skill, low-education kinds of jobs," Potter said. "But you need the whole spectrum in a functioning economy."
In past decades, many Californians have resettled next door in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon, said James Gaines, chief economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A& M University.
They still do. The Bee's analysis shows that after Texas, those three states are the largest recipients of California's low-income migration.
But Texas has become a more attractive choice for tens of thousands of poor Californians. Gaines points to jobs and housing as reasons.
"Texas is simply — overall, in any measure — a much lower cost-of-living state," the economist said. Read More


Tailoring food security and livelihood assessments for urban settings

[Relief Web] By 2008, for the first time in history more people lived in cities than in rural areas. Today the world’s urban population stands at about 3.9 billion, but it is expected to surpass six billion within 30 years. Close to 90 percent of the increase will be concentrated in developing countries in Asia and Africa, particularly India, China and Nigeria .
Estimates vary but it is likely that more than one billion people live in urban slums, the fastest growing human habitat.
Urbanization can be seen as an indicator of economic progress, but unplanned urban expansion raises many challenges.
Many urban residents struggle to pay the high cost of city living (rents and food) or to afford sufficient food to meet their minimum nutritional requirements.
Unhygienic, crowded living environments with poor access to basic services, lack of security of tenure, unemployment, violence, public health risks and poor sanitation may further undermine their food security. These underlying causes of food and nutrition insecurity are often exacerbated by an increasing number of climate change related disasters, and by international and domestic hikes in the cost of food and fuel. Due to a high dependency on markets for food, urban populations are particularly vulnerable to food price fluctuation.
The urban poor may have a less diverse range of coping strategies to employ in the face of food insecurity than do their counterparts in rural areas: for example they cannot access land to grow their food and inter-generational support networks tend to be weaker.
Managing urban areas is one of the major development challenges of the 21st century. This challenge includes ensuring access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets the dietary needs and food preferences of all urban residents at all times to allow them to lead active and healthy lives.
However, food security assessment tools specifically designed and tested for urban settings are limited because the humanitarian community has traditionally focused on assisting people in rural areas. The characteristics of vulnerability in urban settings are generally more complex and require a different approach to identification and targeting. More subtle vulnerability assessment and targeting tools are needed to take into account this complex dynamic. This work is urgent as urbanisation gathers pace. Download PDF Report

Interview: preparing for climate and disaster migration

[Open Democracy] As sea levels rise, lands dry out, and disasters linked to natural hazards become more common, more and more people are going to be forced to move. Are we prepared?
Atle Solberg: My name is Atle Solberg, I work for the Platform on Disaster Displacement. The objective of the Platform on Disaster Displacement is to follow-up on the work started by the Nansen Initiative, and to implement the recommendations of the Protection Agenda – a toolbox to better prevent and prepare for displacement and to respond to situations when people are forced to find refuge, within their own country or across the borders.
Cameron Thibos (oD): What do we mean by climate and disaster forced migration and displacement? How does that distinguish between other types of forced migrants?
Atle: Within the climate change negotiations they have talked about three types of human mobility that may be caused by or linked to climate change. One is migration, which is predominantly voluntary. There are also examples of displacement, which are predominantly forced. And then you have planned relocation.
That is one way of looking at it. We talk about disaster displacement, and by that we are talking about people who are forced or obliged to flee because of disasters caused by natural hazards. These could be hurricanes or tropical storms, but there is also the slow onset of events like rising sea levels or desertification. When we refer to disaster, we are talking about disasters caused by natural hazards: geophysical, metrological, or climatological. We are not talking about man-made disasters, or those that may be linked to conflict.
Cameron: How do the protection needs differ for those displaced by natural disasters and climate change, as opposed to other types of forced migrants – for example refugees of war?
Atle: In general terms, everyone who is forcibly displaced would normally have immediate and specific protection needs linked to their displacement. Those will often be similar, and in that sense they don't always differ. People forcibly displaced will very often be separated from their family, and they may have lost their house or belongings. People may be injured and in need of medical assistance.
Some categories of people are more vulnerable than others in displacement, such as women and children, and people might not be able to return because their home is destroyed or it is too dangerous. So it's not that their protection needs are necessarily very different. They might be quite similar regardless of whether you are forcibly displaced because of skirmishes due to an armed conflict, because of an earthquake, or if you must be evacuated to avoid a hazard. Read More

Saturday, March 18, 2017

An ancient memorization strategy might cause lasting changes to the brain

[The Verge] Weird as it might sound, there are competitive rememberers out there who can memorize a deck of cards in seconds or dozens of words in minutes. So, naturally, someone decided to study them. It turns out that practicing their techniques doesn't just improve your memory — it can also change how your brain works.
There’s been a long-standing debate about whether memory athletes are born with superior memories, or whether their abilities are due to their training regimens. These tend to include an ancient memorization strategy called the method of loci, which involves visualizing important pieces of information placed at key stops along a mental journey. This journey can be an imaginary walk through your house or a local park, or your drive to work. The important thing is that you can mentally move back through it to retrieve the pieces of information you stored. (The ancient Greeks are said to have used it to remember important texts.) 
Boris Nikolai Konrad, a memory coach and athlete who’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for memorizing 201 names and faces in just 15 minutes, chalks his superior memory abilities up to training with this and other mnemonic techniques. “It's a sport like any other,” Konrad told The Verge. Only, he adds, “you're not moving that much.” But practicing is key.
To find out what’s going on in top-level rememberers’ brains, Konrad teamed up with neuroscientist Martin Dresler at Radboud University in the Netherlands. They recruited 23 of the top 50 memory competitors in the world. All were between the ages of 20 and 36. Then, the scientists scanned the memory athletes’ brains while they were just relaxing, and also while they memorized a list of 72 words.
The team, and their co-investigators at Stanford University, found that the memory athletes’ brains don’t appear to be built any differently from yours or mine, according to results they published in the journal Neuron. “That was quite surprising, since these are really the best memorizers in the world,” Dresler says. “And still, they didn’t show a single memory structure, any single region or collection of regions that was anatomically strikingly different from normal control subjects.”
Even so, their brains don’t work the way yours or mine does. The athletes were able to recall at least 70 of the 72 words they studied — compared to an average of only 39 words for the non-athletes they were compared to. What’s more, while the professional rememberers’ brains were structurally similar to the control group, the memory athletes’ brain scans showed unique patterns of activity, where brain regions that are involved in memory and cognition were statistically more likely to fire together. Read More

Saving corals from the effects of climate change

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why the Earth’s magnetic poles could be about to swap places – and how it would affect us

[Cosmos] The Earth’s magnetic field surrounds our planet like an invisible force field – protecting life from harmful solar radiation by deflecting charged particles away. Far from being constant, this field is continuously changing. Indeed, our planet’s history includes at least several hundred global magnetic reversals, where north and south magnetic poles swap places. So when’s the next one happening and how will it affect life on Earth?

During a reversal the magnetic field won’t be zero, but will assume a weaker and more complex form. It may fall to 10% of the present-day strength and have magnetic poles at the equator or even the simultaneous existence of multiple “north” and “south” magnetic poles.

Geomagnetic reversals occur a few times every million years on average. However, the interval between reversals is very irregular and can range up to tens of millions of years.

There can also be temporary and incomplete reversals, known as events and excursions, in which the magnetic poles move away from the geographic poles – perhaps even crossing the equator – before returning back to their original locations. The last full reversal, the Brunhes-Matuyama, occurred around 780,000 years ago. A temporary reversal, the Laschamp event, occurred around 41,000 years ago. It lasted less than 1,000 years with the actual change of polarity lasting around 250 years.

The alteration in the magnetic field during a reversal will weaken its shielding effect, allowing heightened levels of radiation on and above the Earth’s surface. Were this to happen today, the increase in charged particles reaching the Earth would result in increased risks for satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical infrastructure. Geomagnetic storms, driven by the interaction of anomalously large eruptions of solar energy with our magnetic field, give us a foretaste of what we can expect with a weakened magnetic shield.

In 2003, the so-called Halloween storm caused local electricity-grid blackouts in Sweden, required the rerouting of flights to avoid communication blackout and radiation risk, and disrupted satellites and communication systems. But this storm was minor in comparison with other storms of the recent past, such as the 1859 Carrington event, which caused aurorae as far south as the Caribbean. Read More

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Mindfulness: The Portal Into Finding Your Purpose

[Finer Minds] Let’s face it, to “find your purpose” is a buzz phrase these days. In a society where we’re overworked, hyper-connected and stretched to the max, we’re beginning to viscerally realize that our daily rhythms aren’t sustainable. There’s been an increase in articles, books and TED talks focusing on the art of finding our true purpose in this lifetime. But what does this really mean?
First of all, as we embark on the journey of excavating our true purpose, there’s a need to shift from external to internal consciousness. As children, we were taught to look to parents, teachers, adults and society for direction on how to be in the world. But how much were we taught the art of attending to our internal landscapes?
This is where I possess a tremendous amount of gratitude for growing up in a hybrid Buddhist/Christian home. Witnessing my mother meditating at our ancestor’s shrine daily was a sacred gift I received as a child. Experiencing my father’s love and acceptance of Eastern spirituality while simultaneously following the path of his Presbyterian upbringing was the lesson of a lifetime. Without naming it mindfulness, presence was woven into the fabric of my daily life.
The beauty is, mindfulness is a tool we all can use to awaken ourselves to purposeful living, as we begin to cultivate that refuge within. Each mindful moment we infuse into our lives is a moment of transformation. First of ourselves, then, of those we interface with, and beyond. I mean, aren’t we all simply attempting, to the best of our ability as humans, to live meaningful lives full of joy, love and abundance?
Here, I lay out 3 ways to practice mindfulness as a portal into finding your purpose:
1. Align with the Heart
Your body holds the wisdom. Make it a practice to pause throughout your day, drop into the body and breathe through the heart chakra, this energy center where we give and receive love. Tuning into the emotional energy of the heart is key to sensing into what it would mean to align with wholehearted living.
Make a commitment to come into the present moment 3 times a day and breathe intentionally through the heartspace for 5 minutes each time. These three mini heart-centered meditations will begin to prime you for the work of purpose excavation. Read More