In other words, the idea of food deserts, one of the most popular explanations for a very real obesity crisis in low-income neighborhoods, is not scientifically supported on aggregate. Kim argues the studies miss part of the story by focusing on the 30,000-foot view rather than looking at individual neighborhoods. It is a legitimate argument that I agree with, but I think there is a more important explanation for the lack of connection between the availability of good food and obesity.
The explanation is firmly rooted in something I call the housing project principle. The phrase (which has failed to catch-on, come on people!) refers to the tendency in public policy to blame and address only the most obvious symptom of a societal problem. People do not have homes? Build a housing project. People are not eating healthy, put healthy food in their neighborhood.
Policy decisions made using the housing project principal tend to be, like housing projects, well-intentioned failures. I have no doubt that simply flooding low-income neighborhoods with cheap healthy food would fail to curb childhood obesity.
Last year I shared a panel with a researcher out of Rutgers-Newark who offered one of the more interesting findings on the topic. The researcher, Molly Makris, is looking at the impact of gentrification in Hoboken, NJ through a qualitative study of the one remaining housing project in the otherwise fully gentrified high-income city. She found that the lower-income residents of Hoboken still shopped at the corner store across the street from the housing project despite the availability of cheaper healthier food at a comparable distance. Why? The corner store is a neighborhood institution, more important, it is their neighborhood institution.
Neither Markis’ research nor the studies in the New York Times mean the concept of food deserts should be crossed off the list of policy concerns. Obesity drives up the cost of health-care, and the rising cost of health-care threatens the public sector, the private sector, and the quality of life for Wisconsinites. And yes, the availability of healthy food is a necessary prerequisite for lowering the obesity rate in low-income (and middle- and high-income) neighborhoods. But it is not enough. Lowering obesity rates requires health education, opportunities and incentives for exercise, and so much more.
Thankfully, there is plenty of evidence that that philanthropic sector in particular understands the need for multi-track efforts to address obesity. Non-profits in Milwaukee and elsewhere (such as my sister’s KidFit Academy) are popping up to address food and health issues that go far beyond ending the paucity of fresh produce in some neighborhoods.
Throughout his career, Spencer Black has been known as the green candidate, despite his last name. And although his bill on clean energy jobs didn’t make it into law, he has certainly energized his district about the prospect of green jobs, so much so that the new candidates seeking to replace him as he retires are all getting ready for the race by donning their green war paint. The Democrats here are some of the greenest in the state, the Green party is prevalent, and even the Republicans are a slightly greener shade of red. (I suppose this actually makes them more of a brown, so the analogy may have to end here.)
The one Republican running to fill Black’s seat is David Redick, who calls himself a “Ron Paul-style Republican” and hopes to popularize the image of the libertarian conservative. More moderate than the average Republican on most issues, Redick still harkens back to Republican ideology to justify his beliefs. Even his environmental concerns are rooted in his high regard for individual rights:
“He says he is pro-choice and environmentally friendly in so far as he is a supporter of individual rights and property rights. Redick says when businesses emit toxins, they are violating someone else’s rights.”
These could be the rights of other businesses, whose resources are soured by the pollution, or the rights of individuals, whose health is compromised by it. Either way, the case could be made that it is indeed fiscally responsible to internalize one’s externalities. While the case for his belief in individual rights grows blurrier when taking into account his pro-choice status, it may yet fly in the highly progressive district. This does not necessarily mean that he has great odds of winning. Though he is facing five Democrats, appealing to a conservative base in Madison – even if it is a libertarian conservative base – does not really play to the numbers.
If the UW campus is any indication of what the average Madison Republican looks like, Redick may actually be missing out on his core group of people. The College Republicans often seem to try to compensate for their surroundings rather than blend into them. While more moderation can be found among the independents, they are likely to go with the Green or Constitutional Parties as a matter of principle. Fortunately, Redick holds no idealistic notion of pulling a revolutionary win. Rather, he simply hopes to bring a new twist to a grand old party.
All in all, the demographics seen in Assembly District 77 make for a refreshing change in political scenery. Not just because the grass is greener here, but the political parties too. Instead of the traditional landscape of blue and red, District 77 showcases a splendid view of aquamarine, neon green, and even a rich brown.
Or “Shout-Out” to the Department of Natural Resources. Normally, I have a tendency to find a fault with the “Department of No Response” – either because I did not get a turkey permit in their spring lottery, or I haven’t heard enough about what is being done to address CWD, or I disagree with a conservation policy of theirs. Not today. Today, I give thanks that we have good people in charge of our natural resources who truly appreciate how precious they are.
Yesterday, a story was released concerning the Chief Forrester, Paul DeLong, who mistakenly shot a female turkey during the spring season when only male turkeys are legal to hunt. Upon realizing his error, he turned himself in and requested to be treated as any citizen in accordance with the law. In addition to paying a fine of more than $200, DeLong opened himself up to criticism given his position. And clearly, the irony of the situation is attracting attention.
Wild turkeys are not exactly scarce in the state (although by my track record you’d think they were endangered), and the loss of one bird is no conservation crisis. What is important, though, is the example he is willing to set as a public figure. Additionally, by providing an individual story, he provides a means of connecting the DNR to the hunters they regulate. In fact, this may have just been the cheapest PR job the DNR ever conducted. And what better way to do so than by offering forth the stories of past hunting successes and failures that characterize many a deer camp in the fall.
It delights me to offer some good news early in the week and to put a positive spin on things rather than just criticizing them. So feel free to take this opportunity to give thanks for the Wisconsin DNR, but with a legally harvested turkey please.
In January of this year, when Asian carp DNA was found in Lake Michigan, we began to ask ourselves if an invasion of the Great Lakes could be prevented. The governors of Michigan and Wisconsin went to the president and the Supreme Court to request authority to close the locks that connected the Mississippi, now a home to thousands of the fish, and Lake Michigan. Their response: the Supreme Court first ruled that the locks could remain open (this came before the discovery of the DNA), and later declined to hear any further suits. The president was also happy to keep the locks open and throw a few dollars and some fish poison at the matter. A mere six months later, we are beginning to see where all of these efforts have left us.
More specifically, we are beginning to see Asian carp. On June 23, 2010, the news broke that the fish were in fact discovered above both the locks and the electrical barriers which had been constructed to contain the fish. Although testing, and possibly additional fish-poisoning will be implemented, the reaction from authorities has been as follows:
“Meanwhile, federal officials say they will do their best to keep it business-as-usual for the barges, tour boats and recreational boat owners who use the navigation locks to move between the waterways and Lake Michigan.”
Ironically, this is the same phrase that they have been using for years, as an October 2008 article shows:
“A letter the Journal Sentinel obtained suggests that the Coast Guard has a history of being more interested in maintaining business-as-usual on the canal than protecting the future of a system of lakes that provide drinking water for 40 million people and sustain a commercial and recreational fishery valued at more than $7 billion a year.”
Fabulous. What about business-as-usual for all of the employees in the fishing industries in Michigan, Wisconsin, Canada, and other states adjacent to the Great Lakes that these fish might spread to? But of course, there is an economic explanation for this as. It is quite easy to measure an immediate and tangible economic threat. For example, closing the locks would indeed affect the barges and tour boats that pass through them (unless the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or a privately contracted company is finally brought in to begin construction on ecological separation). They all have bottom lines they can point to for damage estimates.
On the other side, there is no magic number. The fishing industry can try to put a value on itself, but ultimately, it does not know what kind of effect the fish will have on its bottom line. Additionally, the economic loss due to water quality degradation, which could include increased fish-stocking efforts, decreased tourism, water treatment operations, and of course, carp control projects for the Great Lakes and the tributaries the fish may spread to are all unaccounted for.
Last week was a sad and angry week for many Great Lakes dwellers and lake users, as well as those that are connected to their health via recreation or industry. These fish have been working their way up the Mississippi River since the 1970s, and have been at the foot of Lake Michigan for years. Our inability to value our natural resources, both in economic and moral terms, has let a preventable problem go unsolved. We may still have a chance to keep the fish from establishing a viable population in the Great Lakes, but it will take outrage and initiative comparable to that exerted in the oil spill crisis. The companies that profit off of the government-funded, man-made canal should be a part of the plan to implement ecological separation along the canal, since others will bear the negative externalities of its past, present, and future use. In the spirit of being pro-active, and because it’s hard to talk about carp without wanting to watch them, I will leave you with this news coverage of the annual Redneck Fishing Tournament.
While Wisconsin branches of the BP franchise are feeling the pain of the oil spill, Wisconsin itself is in danger of sacrificing the health of its waterways. Though there has been no oil spill, a dangerous foreign additive can be found in waters in and around the state: various species of invasive Asian carp.
Most people are familiar with these fish, which have been popularized by videos showing them leaping out of the water and hitting people on the head or getting skewered by an aerial bow-fisherman. Their presence is even felt in some of the state’s waterways. Since January, when carp DNA was found in Lake Michigan, attention has again been turned to them. Unfortunately, despite the lessons that are being taught by the crisis in the Gulf region, we seem not to be paying attention to the parallels in our own waters.
First, the quality of our water resources does have a real and large effect on our industries, and those whose livelihoods rely on them. Although these fish are not as visible a presence as a plume of oil of disputed size, their destructive powers are no less worrisome. Because they consume large amounts of plankton, a key species for which native fish also compete, they can greatly impact not only other fish species, but all those that depend on native fish as well. Once established, they are extremely difficult to “clean up” and can become a permanent feature of their new habitat. Overall, the $7 billion annual fishing industry, not to mention the tourism and recreation industry, has a lot to lose should these aquatic invaders make their way to the Great Lakes.
Second, the value of prevention is often underestimated. Last week, after many calls from Illinois tourism and shipping companies to keep the locks connecting the Mississippi and Lake Michigan open for business, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated it will not try to close them. This comes after the President and the Supreme Court gave the same response earlier this year. While this would only have been one of the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the fish it rests on an attitude that prefers short-term profits over long-term economic viability.
Other solutions have been discussed. Two electric barriers are already in place, and a third one is scheduled to be completed this year. More effective than this would be ecological separation, which would allow for the passage of ships without the transfer of water over a barrier.
True, this would be a costly solution, reaching even into the billions of dollars. But it is important to remember that we’ve spent the last few weeks criticizing BP for putting profits before safety and responsibility. How can we hope that they are learning the value of investing in prevention if we ourselves are not willing to display it? And we should indeed look at this as an opportunity to prevent more ecological destruction. Regardless of whether carp have established a viable population in Lake Michigan, history would suggest that it is likely that bighead and silver carp will not be the last invasive species to enter the lake through this waterway. That is, unless we take steps now to make sure that accessing the Great Lakes is not possible for future aquatic invaders.
Filed under: Environment — Christian Schneider @ 2:09 pm
University of Wisconsin campuses have a well-deserved reputation for being safe havens for liberal thought. But at the UW-Fox Valley, something odd is happening – it appears a backlash is underway.
It all began in November, when Campus Dean Dr. James Perry suggested on his blog that the campus should have more “green” parking spaces. Apparently, the campus has set aside certain choice parking spots for students with Priuses (Prii?) or other “low emitting and fuel efficient” (LEFEV) vehicles. Dr. Perry suggested expanding the number of “green” spaces, to encourage more students to buy these cars, saying:
The Fox plan includes creating a sustainable a community [sic] to the best of our ability. I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Soon after this post went up, students caught wind of the plan to expand the green parking space program. (You know, students – the ones who actually have to drive to campus and fight for a parking spot.) Dozens of them started posting comments, just destroying Dr. Perry’s rationale for more handicapped-style “green” spots. Many of them pointed out the pure folly of trying to ascribe environmental sainthood to people merely because they drive a Prius. Here are some samples:
Also, just because my hypothetical Civic GX with its ridiculous gas mileage has a higher green score, that justifies me parking closer? Am I better because of it? Hey, if I have Solar Panels on the roof of my house does that mean I get to cut in line the cafeteria? If I use only biodegradable cups, does that mean I get to register for classes before everyone else? The comment you left at the end “Not everyone at Fox has a LEFEV. Those people just need to walk a bit further.” is essentially a statement saying “Suck it up and deal with the fact that those other people are better then you.” Perhaps I should sit at the back of the bus to campus if I don’t own a Green vehicle either.
Ignorant can mean both. The tone of your blog implied both.
While there isn’t no Prius available for $50,000, some (myself included) live at or below poverty levels and aren’t quite in the position to cough up enough money for a new or newish car. I don’t have $22,000+ or the means to fund a new car.
I’m sure that even students that are a bit financially better off than myself aren’t quite able to buy a fuel efficient vehicle.
Thanks, though, for the snide aside. Thought you’d be more in touch with the average salary in our current political climate.
It defeats the purpose to provide green parking when you are in turn forcing cars who have higher emissions to drive around a lot longer searching for a parking space.
If you are looking for a way to reward those who are green, find a fair way to reward not just those who are wealthy.
It should also be noted that the green spots are rarely full. Why should more be added? To further aggravate those who can’t park in those stalls, and never will be able to because of the inability to afford such a vehicle? Parking gets crowded at UWFox, and there is little need for these spots already. I don’t view these spots as beneficial as is, and would be quite frustrated to see even more go up.
I challenge you, Dean Perry, to do 1 thing: Count the number of green-vehicles, and count the number of non-green vehicles. The ratio doesn’t need to be counted to be known: very few to very many. Ask yourself: are more of these green spots truly necessary? The answer, I would hope, is evident.
“I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Fair enough, but when people choose to live 20+ miles from where they work, it seems a little silly to reward them with a special “green” parking perk just because they can afford a newer more fuel efficient vehicle. I can probably drive a tank from where I live and leave a smaller carbon footprint than someone driving a Prius from Larsen or Winneconne.
How do we measure each person’s green footprint? Maybe that’s a task that we can request the campus to work on. Maybe we will only issue GREEN parking stickers to those who have the highest green footprints?
The lesson, as always, is that environmentalism is wonderful when discussed in the abstract. It’s great for picking up girls in bars. But it means an entirely different thing when it means having to walk your butt an extra half mile in the freezing Wisconsin cold.
In July, having completed the Herculean task of driving the state deeper into deficit, Wisconsin lawmakers sought respite in their home districts for the summer. Now they have returned, to take up much weightier issues, most notably figuring out who gets the run the Department of Natural Resources.
Currently, the DNR secretary is picked by the Governor to oversee the state’s environmental policy. This wasn’t always the case, as the DNR Board of Supervisors used to pick the secretary (George Meyer was the last board-appointed leader, until Governor Tommy Thompson signed a law giving himself the authority to pick.)
Now, with Democrats in full control of all branches of state government, environmentalists are applying a full court press to have the law changed back to board-controlled appointment power. They believe that if the board picks the secretary, somehow they will be less “political” than if the governor picks. Because, as we all know, the Sierra Club (who would essentially then control the board) is above politics.
Today, several environmental groups (Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Conservation Congress) issued a press release which proves the “public” supports granting the DNR board appointment authority. The list contains the names of 270 various conservation groups across the state who are supposedly on board with the law change (and as we know, the Legislature generally does whatever the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association asks.)
Of course, some would consider these groups attempting to influence state legislation to be “special interest groups.” But not campaign finance watchdog Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – who has already come out in favor of the legislation. You see, the the WDC, “special interests” are merely “groups that push conservative legislation.” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is a special interest – the Sierra Club is “the public.”
McCabe has spent years railing against groups who conceal their campaign donors and attempt to influence state legislation. Yet here we have a list of 270 such groups attempting to gain control of the DNR secretary, and you’ll hear deafening silence from the so-called “good government” groups. (It has been pointed out time and again on this blog that McCabe’s group itself is a special interest that conceals its donors and attempts to push state legislation – such as a single payer health program.)
So I anxiously await the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign press release decrying this special interest influence, and calling on the Wisconsin Sharptailed Grouse Society to open their books for public scrutiny. Holding my breath.
It just goes to show that this bill has nothing to do with saving the air, water, and fish, and has everything to do with which humans get to order us around. There’s a long way between appointment authority and cleaner water.
Filed under: Environment — Christian Schneider @ 11:16 am
If any one thing characterizes the Jim Doyle gubernatorial administration, it is his willingness to change his mind given his circumstances. For instance:
When running for Governor, he specifically supported eliminating the “Frankenstein Veto,” saying governors shouldn’t be able to write their own laws merely by making the budget into a word puzzle. As governor, Doyle flipped completely and said he believed this authority was a necessary power for the executive.
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Doyle ripped Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk over her plan to release prisoners early, positioning himself as the “law and order” candidate. As governor, Doyle has proposed essentially what Falk sought to do – release “nonviolent” prisoners early to save money on prisons.
Facing a budget deficit in 2003, Doyle strongly emphasized how important it was for the government not to raise taxes. His budget in 2009, coupled with an already-enacted budget “repair” bill, raises taxes by $2.2 billion. Doyle also has repeatedly warned of the dangers of using budget tricks and one time money to balance the budget, then gone on and done exactly what he’s warned against in record numbers.
Finally, Doyle has flipped on a position that will rile his supporters. Environmentalists, who already feel some skepticism toward Doyle for his support of streamlining DNR permit processing, have been pushing for the Department of Natural Resources secretary to be picked by the Natural Resources Board, and not the governor. Attorney General Doyle supported shifting appointing authority back to the board. Governor Doyle clearly does not.
Here’s an excerpt from a blow-off form letter Doyle has sent to environmentalists, as posted at Wispolitics.com:
“I recognize that there are legitimate arguments on both sides, but I believe that a system that has a strong board and a quality secretary appointed by the Governor is the most effective.”
Yes – I am certain Doyle has been sitting in his office rubbing the top of his head in anguish over this change in position. In fact, look for Doyle to have another epiphany when there’s a Republican governor in the East Wing. We’ll no doubt be hearing from him again about how awful it is for the governor to have appointment power.
More importantly, at what point do we start to tune out what Doyle says and start focusing on what he actually does? Quoting him in news stories is easy; digging into his contradictory policies is a lot harder. Let’s hope the regrettable decline in news coverage in this state doesn’t let politicians off the hook so easily.
Filed under: Environment — Christian Schneider @ 12:45 pm
For those waiting patiently for Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette to chime in on the issue of gas prices, here’s his press release of today, in its entirety:
Sacrificing our coasts will not bring down – and keep down – energy prices. Drilling our coasts will not solve the problem of high natural gas prices. It simply takes too long to develop a natural gas field to impact prices in the short term. The estimated long-term drop in natural gas prices from drilling new sites is so small that the average American would likely not notice it at all.
The honest answer to our oil problem is to use less of it, and that means better fuel economy faster and a shift toward renewable energy. Instead of the failed policies of the past, it’s time to break our addiction to fossil fuels by shifting our priorities-and our policies toward creating a clean energy economy.
Instead of offering real solutions on energy, global warming and transportation, we are being given false solutions and empty promises. Congress should continue to raise the fuel economy of our cars, encourage the use of renewable energy like wind and solar power, and adopt other, existing energy-saving technologies that cut pollution, curb global warming and create good jobs. These solutions do not require us to put our beaches and our favorite vacation spots on the chopping block.
Thanks for weighing in, Doug. Now you can get back to guarding the state seal.