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Civil rights legend George Lakey on how progressives can win

Lakey was involved in some of the greatest protests of the 20th century. Now, he says, there is a chance to reverse the rights decades-long power grab

Its heavy out there. Neo-nazism is on the rise. The gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. Protections for women, people of colour, LGBTQ people and immigrants are under attack. Meanwhile, the planet is simultaneously freezing and burning. Yet George Lakey couldnt be more optimistic.

The civil rights legend bounces around his kitchen in suburban Philadelphia as the icy winds whistle outside. Its a huge opportunity. Huge, he grins, waving his long arms inside his cosy cardigan. I am grateful that, at age 81, I am around and vigorous enough to be able to participate in the political process because this is, in my judgment, the biggest opportunity for major change, in my country, in my lifetime. A bigger opportunity than the 60s and 70s.

Lakey should know. An activist from the age of 12, the sociologist and writer has been manning the barricades for close to 70 years. For an unfailingly polite Quaker, he has quite a rap sheet. He was first arrested in 1963 while protesting in the USs segregated south, and was most recently arrested in 2018 at a rally demanding more green energy. There have been a lot of arrests in between. He helped sail a ship to Vietnam filled with supplies for peace activists during the Vietnam war, led peacekeeping workshops in South Africa with the African National Congress during apartheid, acted as an unarmed bodyguard for human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and has campaigned for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights.

Lakey
Lakey in Myanmar in 1990. Photograph: Courtesy of George Lakey

To help a new generation of activists, Lakey has just published How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning. Its a step-by-step guide to the methods and campaigns that have led to progressive change, and an update to A Manual for Direct Action, a handbook for activists he published in 1965. Activist friends had told him they need a guide to help the teens in Florida demanding gun control, Black Lives Matter protesters, trans rights activists and the rainbow coalition of insurgencies that have sprung up in reaction to Donald Trump and the rise of the new right.

He said he didnt want to do it, then completed it in five months. Now he is off on a 20-state tour to promote it, as he did for his 2016 book, Viking Economics, which put forward the Nordic countries as a model for a better world.

Not since the 1960s has there been a better chance for real progressive change, says Lakey, and there are some strong parallels. The 60s and 70s were also highly polarised, he says. It saw a rebirth of the American Nazi party; the Ku Klux Klan was riding high. National Rifle Association memberships statistics rose enormously. It was a very big time for the right and for the extreme left.

Polarisation, instead of making a society stuck, seems to heat up society and makes it more volatile. And so that means a lot of ugliness comes to the surface, a lot of violence, a lot of nastiness. And at the same time, the sheer volatility enables us to make major changes that otherwise cannot be made.

Lakey hopes that it will be possible to roll back a decades-long power grab by the economic elites that began under Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and other rightwing politicians.

The crushing of the unions and the rise and rise of big money put progressives on the defensive, he says. That was a big mistake: instead of pushing for more, they hunkered down to protect what they had. And they lost. Its counter to folk wisdom, which says the best defence is offence. Its counter to what any general would tell you. Its counter to what Gandhi would say. He was constantly talking to his people about why they must stay on the offensive.

Part of the problem, Lakey believes, is that in the US in particular many of these issues, from womens rights to labour and the environment, were being taken up by the Democratic party, which is clueless strategically and whose big-picture thinking has also come to be dominated by the economic elite.

One notable cause that wasnt picked up by mainstream politics until recently was LGBTQ rights. Even Barack Obama was against same-sex marriage before 2012. The Democrats didnt want to touch us with a 10ft pole, Lakey says. Politicians betrayed their friends and their own convictions because it was toxic politically to associate themselves with the gay cause.

But LGBTQ people, Lacey believes, benefited from their independence, which allowed them to campaign outside the system. That campaign, outlined in detail in his book, and the fight against nuclear power offer two examples of how progressives can win. Realisable goals, nonviolent protests, targeted campaigns, remaining true to your values history has lessons to teach us, he says. His biggest fear is that we may not want to listen. We have a profound dislike of learning from our own history, he says.

There is plenty to learn from Lakeys personal history. Born in 1937 into a slate mining family in Bangor, Pennsylvania, he was briefly marked out as a potential child preacher. That was a big deal, equivalent to being a piano prodigy or something, he says. And his working-class community were excited about the celebrity his calling might bring to their church.

At the age of 12 he was asked to give his first sermon. He prayed and prayed for a subject. The message I got was to preach about it being Gods will that there be racial equality, he says, smiling broadly. In total innocence, I preached that, hoping that people would be delighted and proud of me, and say: Oh, this boy has the makings of a preacher. The all-white congregation disagreed. His words were greeted with silent disapproval. It was the end of his preaching career.

At university, he decided it was time to find a new church and joined the Quakers. But the pacifism proved problematic. My family was very pro-military, he says. I didnt want to be a pacifist. Especially after I realised my gayness. One thing was enough. A year later, having read everything that he could find about pacifism, for and against, Lakey was a pacifist, too.

I just was so driven by not only a heart that said killing another person is just plain, fundamentally wrong, but also the pragmatic arguments that came about from the extraordinary successes that I found in history when people boldly tried nonviolence and it worked, he says.

And then there was Lakeys sexuality. At university he had met, fallen in love with and married a Norwegian foreign student. I already knew that I was strongly attracted to men, but I was strongly attracted to her. And so I married her telling her that, telling her about my attraction to men. I was in the closet. Nearly everyone was in those days.

Lakey
Lakey in the 1970s. Photograph: Courtesy of George Lakey

By the early 1970s, the couple decided their situation was untenable. We were being put on a pedestal and I wouldnt have been there if they knew I was gay. We had adopted cross-racially, these cute black children. And we were living in this rough neighbourhood. So here were these wonderful, urban-pioneer idealist Quakers, you know, with the biracial family and the international family. And we were cute!

The Lakeys decided he had to come out. The reaction was everything they expected. The pedestal was removed and Lakeys guest-speaker spots dried up.

Things have changed hugely thanks to activists, he says. But this is no time for complacency. Society may seem more accepting, but I dont trust it, he adds.

Which is why he believes now is the time for action. Were dealing with thousands of years of oppression. How fast do societies really change their ways? he says. Germany looked amazingly progressive in the 20s, in the Weimar period, right? With a very strong gay liberation movement and a lot of intellectual work being done. Berlin was celebrated by Christopher Isherwood. And then, of course, the gay people were sent to concentration camps.

Its not like Im predicting [Nazi] Germany, but I think the movement still has a lot of work to do. I think as long as there are so many gay teenagers killing themselves, we have a lot of work to do.

And, again, Lakey is full of hope that change is possible. That doesnt mean that Im not enormously sad about the ugliness that goes with it. I cry over the morning newspaper in the kitchen. Its highly distressing to me that we have to be so hard on each other, that we project our pain upon others And yet to overlook the opportunity is to just experience the pain. And that would be a tremendous defeat on our part.

George Lakeys How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning is published by Melville House

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/03/civil-rights-legend-george-lakey-this-is-a-bigger-opportunity-than-the-60s

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‘Ick’: rats, roaches and rank smells dampen NYC composting program

Plans to expand program are on hold as gag-inducing pong and vermin are holding back residents, foodies and hipsters from saving food scraps

It was meant to be an ambitious environmental program but efforts at composting in New York are breaking down amid rats, roaches and rank smells.

New Yorkers are relatively good at recycling but an ick factor is holding them back from saving food scraps for reprocessing, the authorities admitted.

In a sweaty city that regularly has back to back humid days in the eighties and nineties Fahrenheit all summer, some householders are recoiling from the scheme in a cloud of fruit flies.

Now plans to expand New Yorks organics collection program are on hold as even eco-minded residents, foodies and hipsters wrestle with the idea of bags of putrid mush sitting on their kitchen counter tops awaiting disposal.

City-issued large brown plastic collection bins that are put out on the sidewalk have special fastening lids to keep out vermin but, full of deteriorating leftovers, still often exude a gag-inducing pong when opened.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a pilot program five years ago, hoping hundreds of thousands of tons of this food-loving citys leftovers and grass mowings would be churning their way through the system, to be turned into alternative energy or fertilizing compost.

But expansion has been put on hold because there is insufficient participation to be cost-effective. The city collected only about 13,000 tons last year and found that the 3.5 million people currently in the voluntary program are only separating 10.6% percent of their potential scraps.

Honestly, I think its a complete waste of time, says Anselmo Ariza, who maintains the trash and recycling bins for several blocks of apartment buildings in Brooklyn. Some people use them, but most of them just put trash and plastic bags in there.
Marzena Golonka complained that the citys weekly pickup at her apartment building in Brooklyn is not frequent enough to keep the stink and rats away.

Its vile, she says. Until sanitation starts doing their job effectively, Im not going to have a brown bin.

De Blasios goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030 depends on residents and businesses separating their organic waste, which currently makes up a third of the trash that ends up in landfills and is a major producer of greenhouse gases.

The city is still committed to expanding the program to all 8.5 million New York City residents, but right now is focused on making the system more efficient, sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia said.

We are having to overcome the ick factor, Garcia said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/07/ick-rats-roaches-rank-smells-dampen-nyc-composting-program

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A different dimension of loss: inside the great insect die-off

The long read: Scientists have identified 2 million species of living things. No one knows how many more are out there, and tens of thousands may be vanishing before we have even had a chance to encounter them

The Earth is ridiculously, burstingly fullof life. Four billion years after theappearance of the first microbes, 400myears after the emergence of thefirst life on land, 200,000 years after humans arrived on this planet, 5,000 years (give or take) after God bid Noah to gather to himself two of every creeping thing, and 200 years after we started to systematically categorise allthe worlds living things, still, new species are being discovered by the hundreds and thousands.

In the world of the systematic taxonomists those scientists charged with documenting this ever-growing onrush of biological profligacy the first week of November 2017 looked like any other. Which is to say, it was extraordinary. It began with 95 new types of beetle from Madagascar. But this was only the beginning. As the week progressed, it brought forth seven new varieties of micromoth from across South America, 10 minuscule spiders from Ecuador, and seven South African recluse spiders, all of them poisonous. A cave-loving crustacean from Brazil. Seven types of subterranean earwig. Four Chinese cockroaches. A nocturnal jellyfish from Japan. A blue-eyed damselfly from Cambodia. Thirteen bristle worms from the bottom of the ocean some bulbous, some hairy, all hideous. Eight North American mites pulled from the feathers of Georgia roadkill. Three black corals from Bermuda. One Andean frog, whose bright orange eyes reminded its discoverers of the Incan sun god Inti.

About 2m species of plants, animals and fungi are known to science thus far. No one knows how many are left to discover. Some put it at around 2m, others at more than 100m. The truescope of the worlds biodiversity is one of the biggest and most intractable problems in the sciences. Theres no quick fixor calculation that can solve it, just a steady drip of new observations of new beetles and new flies, accumulating towards a fathomless goal.

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An Oxysternon conspicillatum dung beetle from South America. Photograph: Alamy

But even as thousands of new species are being discovered every year, thousands more seem to be disappearing, swept away in an ecological catastrophe that has come to be known as the sixth extinction. There have been five such disasters in the past. The most famous (and recent) is the end-Cretaceous extinction, the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66m years ago. The most destructive was the Permian, the one that cleared the way for the dinosaurs 190m years before that.

To know if we are really in the midst of a sixth extinction, scientists need to establish both the rate at which species arecurrently vanishing, and the rate at which they would go extinct without human activity (known as the background rate). In 2015, using a census of all known vertebrates, ateamof American and Mexican scientists argued that animalspecies are going extinct up to 100 times faster thanthey would without us a pace of disappearance on aparwith the extinction that took out the dinosaurs.

But as Terry Erwin, the legendary tropical entomologist, pointed out to me, these sixth-extinction estimates are biased towards a very small portion of biodiversity. When it comes to invertebrates the slugs, crabs, worms, snails, spiders, octopuses and, above all, insects that make up the bulk of the worlds animal species we are guessing. Conservationists are doing what they can, without data on insects, he said.

To really know whats going on with the state of the worlds biodiversity, ecologists need to start paying more attention tothe invertebrates and spend less time on the cute and cuddlies Erwins term for the vertebrates. (Years of hearing about the wonders of gorillas and humpback whales can make a staunch bug man resentful.) After all, there are far, far more of them than there are of us.


We live in an invertebrate world. Of all known animal species, less than 5% have backbones. About 70% are insects. Fewer than one in every 200 are mammals, and a huge proportion of those are rodents. Looked at from the point of view of species diversity, we mammals are just a handful of mice on a globe full of beetles. The great majority of those beetles are herbivores native to the tropics. So if you really want to understand the total diversity of life on Earth and the true rate at which it is disappearing you need to figure out how many types of beetle munch on every variety of tropical tree.

But before you can count species, you have to name them. Thats where the taxonomists come in. The idea of species has been notoriously hard for biologists to define, especially since organisms so often exist on a continuum, becoming harder and harder to distinguish the closer they are to each other. The most widely accepted definition comes from the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, who defined species as groups of animals that breed with one another, but not with others at least not in the regular course of events. (If you force a zebra and a donkey together to make a zonkey, youve created one hybrid, not disproved the fact that they are two different species, since such a mating would not normally occur in nature.)

Taxonomists do not just name individual species; they also have to figure out how species are related to each other. Over the centuries, many scientists have tried to fit the worlds creatures into a coherent system, with mixed results. Aristotle tried to classify all life forms based on their essential traits, and in particular, the way they moved. Sedentary animals gave him the most trouble. He seems to have spent a lot of time on the island of Lesbos, puzzling over whether sea anemones and sponges were animals, plants, or plant-like animals.

The real revolution in taxonomy came in the 18th century, during the age of Enlightenment. It was largely the work of one man, Carl Linnaeus, who was hailed as the Isaac Newton of biology. Linnaeus was an odd figure to rise to such heights: a brilliant, headstrong, egotistical showoff with a prodigious knack for remembering the sexual characteristics of plants. He made one major expedition to Lapland, in Swedens north but mostly relied on the discoveries of others. He inspired 17 apostles to venture into the world in search of specimens to complete his system. Seven never came home. Based on their collective work, he named 7,700 species of plants and 4,400 species of animals.

Later biologists found much to quibble with in Linnaeuss system. For instance, he grouped hedgehogs and bats together as ferocious beasts, and shrews and hippos together as beasts of burden. Linnaeuss lasting achievement was not increating the groups themselves, but the system by which allsubsequent species would be named. He decreed that all species should have a two-part name. The first part indicates the genus to which a species belongs, and the second part is the species name.

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The Neopalpa donaldtrumpi moth. Photograph: Vazrick Nazari/ZooKeys

This is a brilliantly efficient system for both naming and sorting. With it, we can tell in an instant that we, Homo sapiens, are both related to, and distinct from, our evolutionary relatives Homo erectus and Homo habilis. It is also a source of considerable fun for taxonomists. Presidential names the bushi, obamai and donaldtrumpi (a remarkably coiffed moth) reliably grab headlines. Less frequently, species names invoke politics or recent events. A Brazilian mayfly received the species name tragediae, to commemorate the catastrophic collapse of a dam in 2015. Taxonomists are also not above the occasional pun or rhyme. Terry Gosliner, an expert on nudibranchs, or marine sea slugs, once giving the name Kahuna to a species belonging to genus Thurunna from Hawaii, to make Thurunna kahuna.

Gosliner found his first nudibranch while still at high school. Since then he has travelled the world in search of them, and has named more than 300 in his 40-year career. As denizens ofcoral reefs, sea slugs are particularly sensitive to rising sea temperatures. Some scientists think climate change and ocean acidification might cause reefs to vanish entirely in the next 50 to 100 years. Gosliner tends to be a bit more optimistic, emphasising the reefs ability to bounce back from stress. But while corals reefs face peril in the seas, an even greater crisis could be developing for insects on land the true dimensions of which entomologists are only beginning to grapple with.


Before entomologists could ponder the terrifying possibility of an insect mass extinction, they first had to come to grips with the true scale of insect diversity. They are still struggling to do that now. But for many, the breakthrough moment camein 1982, with a brief paper published by a young beetle specialist named Terry Erwin.

Erwin wanted to figure out how many species of insect lived on an average acre of rainforest in Panama, where he wasworking. To do this, he covered a single tree in sheeting and fogged it, by blasting it with insecticide from a device resembling a leafblower. He waited several hours while dead bugs cascaded on to the plastic sheeting he had spread on the ground. He then spent months counting and sorting them all. What Erwin found was startling: 1,200 species lived on this one tree. More than 100 lived on this particular tree and nowhere else. Scaling this result up, Erwin estimated that there are 41,000 different species in every hectare of rainforest, and 30m species worldwide.

This estimate quickly became famous, and controversial. Erwin is widely respected in the field. He has been commemorated in the names of 47 species, two genera, one subfamily and one subspecies a good gauge of respect in the entomological community, where, according to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, naming a species after yourself is forbidden by custom, but not law. Still, many entomologists are sceptical about Erwins wilder estimates, and more recent studies have tended to revise the 30m number down somewhat. But Erwin remains intransigent. Its like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, these kids out here taking potshots at me. None of them have any data, he told me recently. Theyre just sitting in that office throwing numbers around. He thinks the real number might be as highas 80m, or even 200m and that a large number of these species are in the process of vanishing without anyone being around to even notice.

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A nudibranch sea slug, Chromodoris kuniei, from the Solomon Islands. Photograph: Alamy

Everywhere, invertebrates are threatened by climate change, competition from invasive species and habitat loss. Insect abundance seems to be declining precipitously, even inplaces where their habitats have not suffered notable new losses. A troubling new report from Germany has shown a75%plunge in insect populations since 1989, suggesting thatthey may be even more imperilled than any previous studies suggested.

Entomologists across the world have watched this decline with growing concern. When Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences with a particular expertise in ants, arrived in Madagascar in 1993, he expected he would be able to describe some new species, but he had no idea of the extent of the riches he would find there. Everything was new. It was like it was in the 1930s, Fisher said. In that time, he has identified more than 1,000 new species of ant, including some whose adults feed exclusively on the blood of their own young, agroup he has nicknamed the Dracula ants.

A thousand ants is quite a lot, but scientists have identified 16,000 species so far. To a layperson like me, they all seem basically alike. Some are brown, some are black, some are cinnamon-coloured, but other than that, they look pretty much like the (invasive, Argentine) ants that swarm my kitchen in California every time it rains. To an expert like Fisher though, they are as different from one another as warblers are to a birder. Under a microscope, each ant positively bristles with identifying features in their flagellate hairs, their segmented antennae, and most of all, in their mandibles, which under magnification look like diabolical garden shears.

In the decades since Fisher started making expeditions to Madagascar, deforestation has accelerated, and today only 10% of its virgin forests remain intact. Fisher says that in 50years I cant imagine any forest left in Madagascar. According to Wendy Moore, a professor of entomology at the University of Arizona, who specialises in ant nest beetles, There is a sense of running out of time. Everyone in the field who is paying attention feels that. Because many insects depend on a single plant species for their survival, the devastation caused by deforestation is almost unimaginably huge. Once a certain type of forest vanishes, thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds ofthousands of species will vanish, Erwin told me. Deforestation is taking out untold millions of species.

While we still dont have a clear idea of whats happening to insects at the species level, we are in the midst of a crisis at the population level. Put simply, even if many kinds of insects are holding on, their overall numbers are falling drastically. The alarming new data from Germany, which was based on tracking the number of flying insects captured at a number of sites over 35 years, is one warning sign among many. According to estimates made by Claire Rgnier of the French Natural History Museum in Paris, in the past four centuries, as many of 130,000 species ofknown invertebrates may have already disappeared.

Various kinds of anecdotal evidence appear to support these observations. The environmental journalist Michael McCarthy has noted the seeming disappearance of the windscreen phenomenon. Once, he writes, any long automobile journey, especially one undertaken in summer, would resultin a car windscreen that was insect-spattered. In recentyears this phenomenon seems to have vanished.

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A violin beetle, Mormolyce phylloies. Photograph: Alamy

Although insecticides have been blamed for the declines in Europe, Erwin thinks the ultimate culprit is climate change. The location he has been observing in Ecuador is pristine, virgin rainforest. Theres no insecticides, nothing at all, hesaid. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, in the time he has been there, something has changed in the balance of the forest. Studying the data, Erwin and his collaborators have found that over the past 35 years, the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out. And if the forest goes, Erwin tells me, everything that lives in it will be affected.

If this trend were to continue indefinitely, the consequences would be devastating. Insects have been on Earth 1,000 times longer than humans have. In many ways, they created the world we live in. They helped call the universe of flowering plants into being. They are to terrestrial food chains what plankton is to oceanic ones. Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months. After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.


Conserving individual insect species piecemeal, as is done with most endangered mammals, is extremely difficult. Not only are the numbers mind-boggling, but insects and other invertebrates dont tend to have the same cachet. Polar bears and humpback whales are one thing; soft-bodied plant beetles from the Gaoligong mountains of Yunnan are quite another.

Not long ago, I took a trip to the first wildlife refuge established with the express purpose of protecting an endangered insect, the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, about an hours drive north-east of Berkeley, California. The reserve is small only 55 acres, hemmed in on three sides by a chain-link fence, and by the San Joaquin river on the fourth and, in truth, the Dunes do not dazzle the eye. The terrain resembles an unlovely, overgrown plot of land intended for development at some unspecified point in the future. The day I went, three vultures huddled around the body of a cat while the turbines of a wind farm spun lazily on the opposite bank of the river.

Once, however, these dunes were a miniature Sahara, home to a number of animals and plants that existed nowhere else. It took decades before that fact became apparent to biologists, and by then, it was very nearly too late. When white settlers arrived in California, the dunes were seen simply as a source of raw materials. The dune sand was unusually well-suited for brickmaking, and between the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the postwar housing boom, most of the sand was mined out and turned into buildings. Once the dunes were gone, most of the land they formerly stood on was built up.

It wasnt until the 1960s that biologists began to realise howspecial the Antioch Dunes were. By that point, only three native species remained. There were two plants the Contra Costa wallflower and the Antioch Dunes evening primrose and one insect, the Langes metalmark butterfly. The metalmark butterfly is tiny, with a wingspan about the size of thumbnail. A pretty brown-and-orange with white spotting, they are weak flyers, capable of travelling a maximum 400 metres (1,300ft) after they emerge from their chrysalises forseven to nine days every August.

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A black garden ant, Lasius niger. Photograph: Alamy

After the Dunes Reserve was established in 1980, the butterfly enjoyed a brief resurgence. Today, it is struggling. Atlast count, there were only 67 individuals in the park. The Langes lay their eggs on one plant and one plant only: the naked-stemmed buckwheat, which is currently being choked out by weeds. The only other population of Langes is kept in acaptive-breeding programme at Moorpark College in Simi Valley, California. If something should happen to these, it would be the end of the species.

In a bid to save the butterfly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently begun a bold experiment in habitat restoration, covering much of the refuge in sand. Spread a metre deep, thesand suffocates invasive plants, allowing the species that originally evolved on the dunes to reclaim their lost ground. If we can bring back the environment, we can bring back the butterfly, wildlife refuge manager Don Brubaker told me. The day I visited, his co-worker, refuge specialist Louis Terrazas, spotted a hopeful sign. The seasons first shoots of native primrose had just started peeking out above the sand. Given time, this remnant of a remnant might spring back to life.

When I asked Brubaker if his painstaking efforts on behalf of the Langes was worth all the trouble, he replied: Why protect the species? Why not? Because its what we do wereenabling the planet to keep functioning.

In some ways, the tiny ranges of invertebrates like the Langes Metalmark Butterfly make them perfect targets for protection. Sarina Jepsen is the director of endangered species and aquatic conservation at the Xerces Society, a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit focusing on invertebrates. She told me that for insects, often small patches of land can make ahuge difference, unlike what is needed for, say, wolf or tigerconservation. We dont necessarily need hundreds of thousands of acres to make a difference with these species, she said. Even so, the amount of work that goes into saving even asingle species can sometimes feel overwhelming. It isnt enough to save one in a lab. You have to rescue whole environments the products of complex interactions betweenplants, animals, soil and climate that have built upover millennia.

At a certain point, it becomes clear that to even think about extinction in terms of individual species is to commit an error of scale. If entomologists most dire predictions come true, the number of species that will go extinct in the coming century will be in the millions, if not the tens of millions. Saving them one at a time is like trying to stop a tsunami with a couple of sandbags.


Like many of the species they study, taxonomists are presently at risk ofbecoming a dying breed. Faculty hires, museum posts and government grants are all declining. Fewer students are drawn to the field as well. All too often, taxonomy gets dismissed as old-fashioned and intellectually undemanding, the scientific equivalent of stamp collecting. Molecular biology, with its concern for DNA, proteins and chemical processes within individual cells, dominates curriculums and hoovers up grant money. All the university courses are oriented towards it, andso is the funding, says Terry Erwin.

Meanwhile, the new species keep piling up. Already today, as Im writing, ZooKeys and Zootaxa, two of the largest and most prolific taxonomic journals, have announced the discovery of a potter wasp from South America, a water scavenger beetle from the Tibetan plateau, an erebid moth, an Andean scarab beetle, two Korean crustaceans and awhole genus of parasitoid wasps (dont worry, were safe the bastards prey on aphids), and it isnt even noon yet.

What to do with this onrush? Many taxonomists I spoke to admit that it simply isnt manageable. Brian Fisher confessed that many taxonomists find themselves awed at some point bythe immensity of what we dont know. Kipling Will, of the University of California, Berkeley, who has spent two decades studying one subfamily of ground beetles, told me, while gesturing at boxes of samples that had just flown in from Australia: We do what we can. I have so much undescribed material. It takes decades just to get where we are. With any species, it takes time to do a proper dissection, test their DNA, compare them to their nearest relatives, and compile all the information necessary to publish something as new. With so many invertebrates being found each year, its common for them to spend years, or even decades, in a queue waiting for their coming-out party.

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A long-legged spider crab, Macropodia rostrata. Photograph: Alamy

So what to do? And why bother? There are plenty of practical reasons to worry about the fate of invertebrates. They are avital part of the ecosystems that function as the heart, lungs and digestive system of our planet. Some might carry, inside their exotic biochemistries, cures forany number of diseases. Recently, chemicals harvested from sea slugs have been tested in clinical trials in the US for use as cancer-fighting drugs. Others could be used as natural alternatives to pesticides. But ultimately, its not certain that any of these will be enough on its own. The answer could havemore to do with aesthetics, or enthusiasm for the living world the quality EO Wilson named biophilia.

When you ask people who work in invertebrate taxonomy why they have devoted their lives to a particular type of insect, snail or clam, the word you hear most often is beautiful. Their eyes light up in front of their chosen genus or subclass. The occupants of a case full of slightly iridescent, mostly black beetles will be described as rather huge and incredibly beautiful. (Huge is relative, too they are the size of the final joint of a little finger.) Surrounded by jars full of tiny sea slugs, they will gush about their beauty and the glorious variety of their colour, shape and behaviour. Amy Berkov, a professor of tropical ecology at the City College of New York who works on wood-boring beetles, came to entomology from a background in art and chose her new field, in part, because theres nothing more amazing than looking at insects. Even theant specialists generally a pretty hard-nosed-bunch willtrade Latin names of rare ants with the affection you usually hear reserved for old friends.

Its easy to care about the cute and cuddlies. Soon well beliving on a planet that has lost its last mountain gorilla, itslast leatherback turtle. A world without tigers or polar bears; what a sad place that will be.

But to think about the coming invertebrate extinctions is to confront a different dimension of loss. So much will vanish before we even knew it was there, before we had even begun to understand it. Species arent just names, or points on an evolutionary tree, or abstract sequences of DNA. They encode countless millennia of complex interactions between plant and animal, soil and air. Each species carries with it behaviours we have only begun to witness, chemical tricks honed over a million generations, whole worlds of mimicry and violence, maternal care and carnal exuberance. To know that all this will disappear is like watching a library burn without being able to pick up a single book. Our role in this destruction is a kind of vandalism, against their history, and ours as well.

Take Strumigenys reliquia, one of the ants I heard discussed with such warmth at the California Academy of Sciences. Strumigenys is a predator, a native of the undergrowth, and very rare. It was first discovered in 1986 by Phil Ward of the University of California, Davis. He spotted this incredibly rare species on a two-hectare patch of woods a few miles from his office. It has never been seen anywhere else. Ward thinks there is a reason for this. California rivers were once flanked by giant forests of hardy, flood-resistant, evergreen oaks. Geologists think these riverine forests were a feature of the landscape for at least 20m years. Accounts from early settlers and explorers give an idea of what they might have been like. They write of flocks of geese blackening the sky, salmon choking the streams and grizzly bears gathering under the oaks to feed on acorns in troupes of a hundred or more.

Today, except for a few scattered acres like the one Ward found in Yolo County, those forests are gone. They were chopped down long ago for firewood and ploughed under tomake way for tomato farms and almond orchards. The salmon, the geese and the grizzlies have all gone too. Onlytheant remains. Only it remembers.

Main image: Alamy; Getty; Guardian Design; Sara Ramsbottom

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/14/a-different-dimension-of-loss-great-insect-die-off-sixth-extinction

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Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet | George Monbiot

Growth must go on and its destroying the Earth. But theres no way of greening it. So we need a new system, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Everyone wants everything how is that going to work? The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption. The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly. In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced in this case by the media.

With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts. Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant. Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunas, portable watermelon coolers and smartphones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes tothe PancakeBot: a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, theTaj Mahal, or your dogs bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you dont have room for it. For junk like this, were trashing the living planet, and our own prospects ofsurvival. Everything must go.

The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who dont. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had relatively small benefits.

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings ahundredfold. Ive come to believe thatthe recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people theyvegone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.

None of this means that we should not try to reduce our footprint, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes ofthe system. It is the system itself thatneedsto change.

Research by Oxfam suggests that the worlds richest 1% (if your household has an income of 70,000 or more, this means you) produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal PlosOne finds that while, in some countries, relative decoupling has occurred, no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years. What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More important, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency.

A global growth rate of 3% means thatthe size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

Those who justify this system insist that economic growth is essential for the relief of poverty. But a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the worlds people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 (84) of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone.

When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the worlds treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers: smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever lessrelation to general welfare.

Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all areillusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, basedon private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation areone beast with two heads.

We need a different system, rootednot in economic abstractions butin physical realities, that establishthe parameters by which we judgeits health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, aworld of private sufficiency and publicluxury. And we must do it beforecatastrophe forces our hand.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/black-friday-consumption-killing-planet-growth

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Waiting for the tide to turn: Kiribati’s fight for survival

The 33 islands of Kiribati, a remote and low-lying nation in the Pacific Ocean, are under threat from climate change. But the islanders have not given up hope

Kiribati is one of the most isolated countries in the world. As you fly in to the main island of South Tarawa, located less than 100 kms from the equator, a precariously thin strip of sand and green materialises out of the ocean.

On one side, a narrow reef offers some protection to the inhabitants and their land at low tide, at least. On the other side, a shallow lagoon reaches kilometres out to sea. The 33 islands of Kiribati pronounced Kiribass are extremely shallow; the highest point is just two metres above sea level. Looking out of the aeroplane window, there is no depth to the scene sea dissolves seamlessly into sky, a paint palette of every blue

The
Children
  • Pictured above: The island of South Tarawa; children playing chicken with the passing boats on the Nippon causeway that joins Betio with the rest of South Tarawa. All photographs by Mike Bowers.
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The only road

Cars
  • Pictured above: Cars on the Nippon causeway.

Kiribati is estimated to have a population of just over 100,000, with more than half making their home on South Tarawa. Theres only one road on the island and everything travels along it: schoolchildren, hospital patients, food, water, workers, taxis, mini busses, private cars, and motor scooters.

When I was last here four years ago the road was in a very poor state a reflection of the countrys perilous economic position. Potholes and washaways were common, and the speed bumps were severe enough to rip out the front end of your car unless great care was taken.

Australia provided just under 30% of the A$77m (US$60.4m) cost of the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. It was the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since the second world war, and has made a substantial difference to the quality of life on South Tarawa. However, Kiribati is facing greater challenges which infrastructure alone cannot repair.

Betio,
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  • Pictured above: Betio, at the southern end of Tarawa; the main land-fill site on South Tarawa.
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Rising sea levels

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  • Pictured above: Some houses on the lagoon side around the village of Eita have been isolated by salt water from sea incursions and storm surges.

Climate change is a huge concern. Rising ocean waters are threatening to shrink Kiribatis land area, increase storm damage, destroy its crop-growing lands and ultimately displace its people long before the islands are submerged.

Lack of fresh water is an immediate problem. Fresh water lies under the atolls and islands of Kiribati in what are known as a water lenses. Fresh water, which is less dense, floats on top of the denser salt water in a convex shape giving the sources their name. However, king tides and sea incursions are polluting the once-reliable sources and ruining the taro plant pits, known as babai pits, which depend on them.

Claire Anterea, one of the co-ordinators of Kirican, the Kiribati Climate Action Network, says she fears the extraordinary impact on our islands.

Having yesterday witnessed the effects of sea incursions on vegetable growth on the island of Abaiang, she says: It has just moved me into tears. Like, oh my God, this is very serious. [The sea] is two or three metres from the babai pit [where taro plants are grown].

I feel hopeless in one way that our people are suffering, but I also have the hope within our people that they will try to find a way to adapt.

Claire
Salt
A
  • Pictured above: Claire Anterea fishes off the island of Abaiang; salt water from the sea incursions into the plant-growing areas of Tebunginako village has rendered the soil unable to sustain even coconut trees; a local football match played at the main stadium in Bairiki, South Tarawa, on a flooded pitch.
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Moving homes

Maria
  • Pictured above: Maria Tekaie stands beside a fallen coconut tree where the sea has washed away the village of Tebontebike on the southern end of Abaiang.

At the southern end of Abaiang in the village of Tebontebike, Maria Tekaie leans against an uprooted coconut tree that used to be 100 metres from the shore. The village had to be moved recently, as did the babai pits, due to the incursion of the sea.

The 65-year-old expects to have to move again: My children are worried and have started to talk about where else they can go. This is the only piece of land for us and they love it here, she said.

I just want the world to know, and my request to them is that we need help to protect our land because if we try to build something like a seawall the waves are stronger and we dont know what option that we have. We just need help from you.

Eighty minutes north along the bumping and tortuous dirt road is the village of Tebunginako. Its the most graphic example of sea inundation. Toroua Beree, 63, says: I moved away from this village because they dont have any more life on this piece of land.

I talk about life because before this land was full of banana, babai, coconut trees, so many coconut trees, so many trees we get food from, but now how can those trees continue to live when you dont have fresh water to give them? This is community land and so everybody has a right to live on it but now it seems like the sea has taken that away.

A
A
Children
  • Pictured above: A village resident of Tebuginako, Abaiang island, looking out from the village maneaba or meeting house; a fisherman waits for the tide to turn on the Anderson causeway; children from the village of Nanikai on South Tarawa performing acrobatics on the beach.
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Entrepreneurship

John
  • Pictured above: John Kaboa at his Tebero Te Rau Bungalow resort on the island of Abaiang.

John Kaboa, 28, and his wife, Tinaai, run the Tebero Te Rau bungalow resort on Abaiang. Their optimism is typical of the spirit and entrepreneurship that runs hand in hand with fear and despair.

The accommodation sits on stilts over the water and the resort is powered with solar panels and a small, portable generator. Kaboa grows enough vegetables and fruit such as cabbages, egg plants, papaya, pumpkin, watermelon, longbean, sweet pepper, taro, giant swamtaro and coconut tree to supply his kitchen. He also buys local produce from farmers on the island in preference to buying imported products. And he has become involved in production of copra, the dried kernel of coconut which is used to extract oil for cooking, hair oils, shampoo, margarine and detergents.

Kaboa says he is hoping to get enough money so that I can support my family to move to other countries if Kiribati will covered by the seawater. But I still really love my paradise country.

Elsewhere, I meet a Swiss man who is growing vegetables hydroponically in PVC pipes. Each pipe has been elevated on racks to keep the plants safely away from the crabs who are a constant menace to crops grown in the ground.

Tinaai

Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?

Exclusive: in America, the worlds richest country, diseases that thrive amid poverty are rampant, the first study of its kind in modern times shows

Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.

These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places usually associated with them in the developing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.

Scientists in Houston, Texas, have lifted the lid on one of Americas darkest and deepest secrets: that hidden beneath fabulous wealth, the US tolerates poverty-related illness at levels comparable to the worlds poorest countries. More than one in three people sampled in a poor area of Alabama tested positive for traces of hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite that was thought to have been eradicated from the US decades ago.

The long-awaited findings, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, are a wake-up call for the worlds only superpower as it grapples with growing inequality. Donald Trump has promised to Make America Great Again and tackle the nations crumbling infrastructure, but he has said very little about enduring chronic poverty, particularly in the southern states.

The study, the first of its kind in modern times, was carried out by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in conjunction with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), a non-profit group seeking to address the root causes of poverty. In a survey of people living in Lowndes County, an area with a long history of racial discrimination and inequality, it found that 34% tested positive for genetic traces of Necator americanus.

Lowndes

The parasite, better known as hookworm, enters the body through the skin, usually through the soles of bare feet, and travels around the body until it attaches itself to the small intestine where it proceeds to suck the blood of its host. Over months or years it causes iron deficiency and anemia, weight loss, tiredness and impaired mental function, especially in children, helping to trap them into the poverty in which the disease flourishes.

Hookworm was rampant in the deep south of the US in the earlier 20th century, sapping the energy and educational achievements of both white and black kids and helping to create the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it had disappeared altogether by the 1980s.

But the new study reveals that hookworm not only survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. None of the people included in the research had travelled outside the US, yet parasite exposure was found to be prevalent, as was shockingly inadequate waste treatment.

The peer-reviewed research paper, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, focuses on Lowndes County, Alabama the home state of the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and a landmark region in the history of the nations civil rights movement. Bloody Lowndes, the area was called in reference to the violent reaction of white residents towards attempts to undo racial segregation in the 1950s.

It was through this county that Martin Luther King led marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in search of voting rights for black citizens, More than half a century later, Kings dream of what he called the dignity of equality remains elusive for many of the 11,000 residents of Lowndes County, 74% of whom are African American.

Raw
Raw sewage is carried through a PVC pipe to be dumped only a few yards away from a nearby home. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

The average income is just $18,046 (13,850) a year, and almost a third of the population live below the official US poverty line. The most elementary waste disposal infrastructure is often non-existent.

Some 73% of residents included in the Baylor survey reported that they had been exposed to raw sewage washing back into their homes as a result of faulty septic tanks or waste pipes becoming overwhelmed in torrential rains.

The Baylor study was inspired by Catherine Flowers, ACREs founder, who encouraged the Houston scientists to carry out the review after she became concerned about the health consequences of having so many open sewers in her home county. Hookworm is a 19th-century disease that should by now have been addressed, yet we are still struggling with it in the United States in the 21st century, she said.

Our billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates fund water treatment around the world, but they dont fund it here in the US because no one acknowledges that this level of poverty exists in the richest nation in the world.

Flowers took the Guardian on a tour of Lowndes County to witness the conditions in which hookworm continues to proliferate. One stop was at a group of mobile homes outside Fort Deposit that graphically illustrated the crisis.

An eight-year-old child was sitting on the stoop of one of the trailers. Below him a white pipe ran from his house, across the yard just a few feet away from a basketball hoop, and into a copse of pine and sweet gum trees.

The pipe was cracked in several places and stopped just inside the copse, barely 30ft from the house, dripping ooze into a viscous pool the color of oil. Directly above the sewage pool, a separate narrow-gauge pipe ran up to the house, which turned out to be the main channel carrying drinking water to the residents.

The open sewer was festooned with mosquitoes, and a long cordon of ants could be seen trailing along the waste pipe from the house. At the end of the pool nearest the house the treacly fluid was glistening in the dappled sunlight a closer look revealed that it was actually moving, its human effluence heaving and churning with thousands of worms.

Ruby
Ruby Dee Rudolph, 66, noticed her septic tank was slowly sinking unevenly into the ground. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

This is the definition of Make America Great Again, said Aaron Thigpen, 29, a community activist who assisted with the hookworm study. This is the reality of how people are being forced to live.

Thigpens cousins live in the trailer park, and he has talked to them about the perils of piping sewage from their homes and dumping it in the open just a few feet away. They are disgusted about it, theyre sick and tired of living like this, but theres no public help for them here and if youre earning $700 a month theres no way you can afford your own private sanitation.

He added that people were afraid to report the problems, given the spate of criminal prosecutions that were launched by Alabama state between 2002 and 2008 against residents who were open-piping sewage from their homes, unable to afford proper treatment systems. One grandmother was jailed over a weekend for failing to buy a septic tank that cost more than her entire annual income.

People are scared. They dont like to speak out as theyre worried the health department will come round and cause trouble, Thigpen said.

The challenge to places like Lowndes County is not to restore existing public infrastructure, as Trump has promised, because there is no public infrastructure here to begin with. Flowers estimates that 80% of the county is uncovered by any municipal sewerage system, and in its absence people are expected and in some cases legally forced to provide their own.

Even where individuals can afford up to $15,000 to install a septic tank and very few can the terrain is against them. Lowndes County is located within the Black Belt, the southern sweep of loamy soil that is well suited to growing cotton and as a result spawned a multitude of plantations, each worked by a large enslaved population.

The same thing that made the land so good for cotton its water-retaining properties also makes it a hazard to the thousands of African Americans who still live on it today. When the rains come, the soil becomes saturated, overwhelming inadequate waste systems and providing a perfect breeding ground for hookworm.

Ruby Rudolph lives just beside the main Selma to Montgomery road where King led the protest walk. On the other side of the road theres a brown history placard to mark the spot where her grandmother, Rosie Steele, ran a campsite for the weary marchers.

After they moved on and the campsite was cleared, Rudolph said, her grandmothers grocery store was set on fire in an arson attack. She was 13 at the time, and can remember the flames leaping into the night sky.

Rudolph, now 66, does have her own septic tank at the back of her house, which she shows us in the sweltering 41C (105F) heat. But it doesnt function properly and when it rains the tank spills over, spreading raw waste all over the yard. Thats better than when it flushes back into the house, and Ive had that too, she said.

Shes been told a replacement system would cost her at least $12,000, which is beyond her means. She runs through her finances: she gets up at 4am every day to do an early shift at a Mapco convenience store, which brings in less than $1,200 a month. From that amount she has to pay $611 for her mortgage and theres the electricity bill that can be more than $300 a month when its hot and the air conditioning is busy. Theres not a lot left to put toward a new tank.

Perman
Perman Hardy, 58, stands with her grandson Carlos near the pipes that carry sewage from a relatives nearby trailer home into the woods, approximately 30ft from the back door. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

Perman Hardy, 58, lives in nearby Tyler in a collection of seven single-storey homes all occupied by members of her extended family. Only two of them have septic tanks, the rest just pipe raw waste into the surrounding woods and creeks.

Hardy is one of the lucky ones with a treatment system of her own, but like Rudolphs it is often overwhelmed in the rains with faeces washed back into her home. Last year the stench was so bad she had to vacate the property for two weeks over Christmas while it was professionally cleaned.

Hardy has traced her family back to slaves held on the Rudolph Bottom plantation about five miles away. The road that leads to the old plantation from her house is still called to this day by white neighbors Nigger Foot Road, she said, though she and other African Americans call it Collerine Cutoff Road.

As a child, Hardy worked in the cotton fields after school and, mindful of that and her familys slave history, shes determined to see a better future for her grandchildren. I dont want the same for my boys. But its still a struggle. Its the 21st century and we shouldnt be struggling like we still are today.

The daily hardship faced by Hardy, Rudolph and fellow inhabitants of Lowndes County is reflected in the Baylor studys glaring statistic of 34% testing positive for hookworm. The sample size was low 67 people participated with 55 giving stool samples, all of whom were African American but the results are so stark that the Houston scientists now want to conduct a larger survey across the region.

We now need to find how widespread hookworm is across the US, said Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research team along with Rojelio Mejia. Hotez, who has estimated that as many as 12 million Americans could be suffering from neglected tropical diseases in poor parts of the south and midwest, told the Guardian the results were a wake-up call for the nation.

This is the inconvenient truth that nobody in America wants to talk about, he said. These people live in the southern United States, and nobody seems to care; they are poor, and nobody seems to care; and more often than not they are people of color, and nobody seems to care.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/05/hookworm-lowndes-county-alabama-water-waste-treatment-poverty

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