R.I.P. Bill Withers: “Ain’t no Sunshine”

Bill Withers 1976. By Columbia Records – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22536445

From The New York Times (Neil Genzlinger):

Bill Withers, a onetime Navy aircraft mechanic who after teaching himself to play the guitar wrote some of the most memorable and often-covered songs of the 1970s, including “Lean on Me,” “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His death was announced in a statement from his family, which said he died of “heart complications.”

Mr. Withers, who had an evocative, gritty R&B voice that could embody loss or hope, was in his 30s when he released his first album, “Just as I Am,” in 1971. It included “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a mournful lament (“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone/And she’s always gone too long/Anytime she goes away”) that cracked the Billboard Top 10. Other hits followed, perhaps none better known than “Lean on Me,” an anthem of friendship and support that hit No. 1 in 1972 and has been repurposed countless times by a wide variety of artists.

There were also “Use Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1977) and “Just the Two of Us” (1981), among other hits. But after the 1985 album “Watching You Watching Me,” frustrated with the music business, Mr. Withers stopped recording and performing.

“I wouldn’t know a pop chart from a Pop-Tart,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015, when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

William Harrison Withers Jr. was born on July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, W.Va. His father worked in the coal mines.

At 17, eager to avoid a coal-mine career himself, Mr. Withers joined the Navy.

How #coronavirus threatens the seasonal farmworkers at the heart of the American food supply — The Conversation #COVID19


A farmworker picks lemons at an orchard in Mesa, California.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Michael Haedicke, Drake University

Many Americans may find bare grocery store shelves the most worrying sign of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food system.

But, for the most part, shortages of shelf-stable items like pasta, canned beans and peanut butter are temporary because the U.S. continues to produce enough food to meet demand – even if it sometimes takes a day or two to catch up.

To keep up that pace, the food system depends on several million seasonal agricultural workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other countries. These laborers pick grapes in California, tend dairy cows in Wisconsin and rake blueberries in Maine.

As a sociologist who studies agricultural issues, including farm labor, I believe that these workers face particular risks during the current pandemic that, if unaddressed, threaten keeping those grocery store shelves well stocked.

Essential labor

It is difficult to accurately count the number of hired agricultural laborers in the United States, but official sources place the number at
1 million to 2.7 million people, depending on the time of year.

Most of these workers are employed seasonally to perform the hard manual labor of cultivating and harvesting crops. One-half to three-quarters of them were born outside of the United States, with the majority holding Mexican citizenship.

The H-2A visa program authorizes noncitizen agricultural laborers to work in the United States. This program allows farmers to recruit workers for seasonal agricultural jobs, provided the workers return home within 10 months.

But the H-2A program doesn’t cover enough workers to meet the needs of the food system. In 2018, only 243,000 visas were issued under the program – far less than the total number of workers needed to power the farm economy.

Government research suggests that approximately half of the remaining workers on U.S. farms are in the United States without legal authorization. These workers often live in the U.S. year-round, choosing to be in legal limbo rather than risk crossing an increasingly policed border. Some travel from state to state, following the harvest cycle of crops.

These farmworkers play an essential role in U.S. agriculture. They pick fresh fruits and vegetables, which are often difficult or impossible to harvest mechanically. They milk cows on dairy farms. In my home state of Iowa, they detassel the hybrid corn varieties – a form of pollination control – that farmers rely on.

Remove these workers, in other words, and large sectors of the American food system would grind to a halt.

Dangerous conditions

Yet there are several factors that put them at higher risk during the pandemic.

For example, social isolation is almost impossible for farmworkers, who often live and work in close proximity to one another.

Those in the H-2A program typically live in on-site, dormitory-style housing, with up to 10 people sharing sleeping quarters and restroom facilities.

The mostly undocumented workers not covered by H-2A visas frequently work for labor contractors, who arrange for their transportation to work sites in shared vans or trucks.

And once on the job, workers interact closely to harvest crops at a rapid pace.

This near-constant physical proximity to one another can facilitate the rapid transmission of the coronavirus.

Seriously susceptible

The nature of their work also makes farmworkers especially susceptible to serious coronavirus infections.

Although COVID-19 tends to be most severe in the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, farm laborers face working conditions that may elevate the risk for severe disease.

Exposure to dangerous pesticides is not unusual, and agricultural workers must also contend with lung irritants from dust, pollen and crops. This can trigger asthma attacks in farmworkers and their children and contribute to other respiratory disorders. Heath officials have found that these conditions contribute to serious coronavirus infections.

Moreover, farmworkers face a number of barriers to accessing medical care, ranging from linguistic and cultural differences to lack of reliable transportation to the limited number of medical facilities in many rural communities.

These barriers are especially high for the many undocumented farmworkers, who are not eligible for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which does cover workers on H-2A visas.

They may also be reluctant to seek medical care, not wanting to draw attention to themselves in a political climate in which immigration laws are strictly enforced. And farmworkers aren’t typically granted sick leave.

Finally, the labor contractors who employ undocumented workers generally pay only for work that is completed. This means that a day at the doctor’s office is a day without pay – no small sacrifice for a worker making less than $18,000 a year.

Impact on the food supply

But what would an outbreak of COVID-19 among farmworkers mean for the food system?

Fortunately, the risk of direct transmission of the coronavirus passing from farmworkers to consumers through food products is low.

However, widespread infections among farmworkers could make it difficult for farmers to harvest crops. Even before the pandemic, farmers in many agricultural areas were already struggling with labor shortages.

The coronavirus could make this problem worse, potentially causing the loss of crops that cannot be harvested in time. Demand for farmworkers peaks in the summer, so this problem is only a few months away.

Another concern is that fewer workers, fearful of the coronavirus, will apply for H-2A visas to work on U.S. farms, instead seeking work in their home countries. Farmers in hard-hit Italy are already grappling with a similar issue. And on the other side of this issue, the suspension of visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates may restrict the number of H-2A visas given out.

Eventually, consumers could begin to see the impact of any labor shortages in the form of higher prices or shortages of products ranging from strawberries and lettuce to meat and dairy.

There’s no easy solution, but a good start would be ensuring farmworkers are able to follow effective social distancing guidelines, are wearing protective gloves and masks, and are able to get the medical care they need without fear of lost wages or deportation.

Americans depend on these laborers to continue putting food on their tables during this crisis. A little support would go a long way.

[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Michael Haedicke, Associate Professor of Sociology, Drake University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s @EPA halts environmental law enforcement during #coronavirus pandemic — @HighCountryNews #COVID19

The air pollution that industrial plants will not have to monitor damages the respiratory system, which is especially dangerous for already at-risk populations who may also become infected with COVID-19, which attacks the lungs. Photo credit: Ryan Adams via The High Country News

From The High Country News [March 31, 2020] (Oliver Milman and Emily Holden):

The decision has caused an uproar among former agency officials.

This story was originally published by the the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended its enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to companies they will not face any sanction for polluting the air or water of Americans.

In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for breaking these rules.

Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of an imminent threat to public health, the EPA will defer to the states and “consider the circumstances” over whether it should intervene.

There is no end date set for this dropping of enforcement.

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA, said that coronavirus had made it difficult for businesses to protect workers and the public while adhering to clean air and water rules.

“This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment,” Wheeler said.

The new stance has caused uproar among former EPA officials and environmental groups who warn that the sweeping will pose a further risk to public health amid the pandemic.

“EPA should never relinquish its right and its obligation to act immediately and decisively when there is threat to public health, no matter what the reason is,” said Cynthia Giles, who was head of EPA enforcement during the Obama administration.

“I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo. This memo amounts to a nationwide moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and is an abdication of EPA’s responsibility to protect the public.”

A letter sent to the EPA by Giles and a number of other environmental advocates states that while it may be “reasonable in limited circumstances” to relax certain enforcement during the crisis, the blanket waiver of environmental requirements poses a danger to the American public.

There is particular concern over air pollution emitted by industrial facilities, which are predominantly located in communities with large numbers of low-income people and people of color. Covid-19 attacks the respiratory system, with its spread causing states to scramble for more ventilators to prevent thousands of infected people from dying.

The air pollution that industrial plants will not have to monitor damages the respiratory system, which is especially dangerous for already at-risk populations who may also become infected with Covid-19, which attacks the lungs.

“Excusing the potential release of excess toxic air pollutants and other pollution that exacerbates asthma, breathing difficulty and cardiovascular problems in the midst of a pandemic that can cause respiratory failure is irresponsible from a public health perspective,” the letter states.

“This is not about reporting and paperwork,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

“If you’re flying blind because you’re not monitoring for pollution and the public’s flying blind because you’re not reporting it, a lot of problems that come to light when you do those things are going to stay hidden,” Schaeffer said.

In one example, oil refineries will not be compelled to report on and reduce their carcinogenic benzene emissions. Ten refineries, most of them in Texas, have already been exceeding limits.

The relaxation of environmental laws follows lobbying from the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group, which sent the EPA a letter this week calling for the suspension of rules requiring repair of leaky equipment as well as monitoring of pollution.

The EPA’s move goes even further than this request, although the regulator said it expects businesses will comply with laws “where reasonably practicable” and that it will not tolerate flagrant, intentional breaches of the law.

However, Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, indicated that the move may be challenged in the courts. “While there may be no limit to the lengths Trump and Wheeler are willing to go for corporate polluters, there is a limit to what the public will allow,” Brune said. “This illegal and reckless action will not go unchecked.”

Oliver Milman and Emily Holden are environment reporters for Guardian US. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

#Snowpack news: @Northern_Water directors give preliminary recommendation for a 70% quota

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Colorado’s above-average snowpack for the second consecutive year has created similar reservoir storage excess, which is good news for farmers, city municipalities and residents.

On Thursday, Northern Water board of directors gave a preliminary recommendation of a 70% water quota, the same as last year when Colorado had robust snowpack.

The board sets a quota of 50% in November then increases or decreases the water quota as the water season plays out.

…Tuesday. Snowpack, reservoir storage, stream flows and a projected April precipitation forecast are all indicating ample water, which prompted the board to make its initial recommendation. A final decision will be made at next week’s board meeting.

“We anticipate this summer that farmers will have the water supply they need for the summer growing season,” said Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesperson. “And the same will be true for businesses and residents throughout the year.”

That’s not only good news for farmers but recreationists as well. Horsetooth Reservoir is already more than 90% full, and Stahla said he expects an ample water supply at the popular reservoir throughout the boating season…

How snowpack is faring in each of Colorado’s basins

As of Tuesday, average snowpack over the eight basins statewide was at 108%, marking the second consecutive year of above-average snowpack. It’s the third time in four years the state’s basins have hit that mark.

The South Platte River Basin, which includes Fort Collins and Denver, led the state at 118% of average, which is just shy of where the basin was during last year’s big snow year.

Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center, said the key snowpack station for the Poudre River is at Joe Wright Reservoir. It was at 111% of the median.

The North Platte River Basin and Yampa/White River Basin each were at 113%; Upper Colorado River Basin was at 111%; Arkansas River Basin and Upper Rio Grande River Basin were at 101%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin was at 100% and the Gunnison River Basin was at 98%…

What to expect in April

April is the city’s third wettest month with normal precipitation of 2.06 inches, trailing May and June. Average snowfall is 6.2 inches, but Schumacher said April, like March, has shown it can bring snowstorms producing 12 inches or more of snow.

Four of the city’s top 10 snowstorms have occurred in April, with all dumping more than 20 inches on the city.

Westwide SNOTEL April 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

@ColoradoStateU researchers predicting active 2020 Atlantic #hurricane season

Hurricane Harvey near the coast of Texas at peak intensity late on August 25, 2017. By ABI image captured by NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite – RAMMB/CIRA SLIDER, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61938876

Here’s the From Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

Colorado State University hurricane researchers are predicting an above-average Atlantic hurricane season in 2020, citing the likely absence of El Niño as a primary factor. Tropical and subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently warmer than their long-term average values and are consequently also considered a factor favoring an active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

The tropical Pacific currently has warm neutral ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) conditions; that is, the waters are slightly warmer than normal in the eastern and central tropical Pacific. CSU currently anticipates that these waters are likely to cool relative to their long-term averages over the next several months. Consequently, they do not anticipate El Niño for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. El Niño tends to increase upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic, tearing apart hurricanes as they try to form.

The tropical Atlantic is somewhat warmer than normal right now. Warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic provide more fuel for tropical cyclone formation and intensification. They are also associated with a more unstable atmosphere as well as moister air, both of which favor organized thunderstorm activity that is necessary for hurricane development.

16 named storms

The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team is predicting 16 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. Of those, researchers expect eight to become hurricanes and four to reach major hurricane strength (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.

The team bases its forecasts on a statistical model, as well as two new models that use a combination of statistical information and forecasts from dynamical models from the UK Met Office and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. These models are built on 25-40 years of historical hurricane seasons and evaluate conditions including: Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels (the change in wind direction and speed with height in the atmosphere), El Niño (warming of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific), and other factors.

So far, the 2020 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1960, 1966, 1980, 1996, and 2008. “1966, 1980, 1996 and 2008 had above-average Atlantic hurricane activity, while 1960 was a near-average hurricane season,” said Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science and lead author of the report.

The team predicts that 2020 hurricane activity will be about 140 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2019’s hurricane activity was about 120 percent of the average season. The 2019 season was most notable for Hurricane Dorian which devastated the northwestern Bahamas and for Tropical Storm Imelda which caused tremendous flooding in portions of southeast Texas.

The CSU team will issue forecast updates on June 4, July 7 and August 6.

This is the 37th year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued an Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast. Recently, the Tropical Meteorology Project team has expanded to include Michael Bell, associate professor in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science, and Jhordanne Jones, graduate research assistant in the same department. Bill Gray, who originated the seasonal forecasts, launched the report in 1984 and continued to author them until his death in 2016.

The CSU forecast is intended to provide a best estimate of activity in the Atlantic during the upcoming season – not an exact measure.

As always, the researchers caution coastal residents to take proper precautions.

This is the 37th year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued an Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast. Recently, the Tropical Meteorology Project team has expanded to include Michael Bell, associate professor in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science, and Jhordanne Jones, graduate research assistant in the same department. Bill Gray, who originated the seasonal forecasts, launched the report in 1984 and continued to author them until his death in 2016.

The CSU forecast is intended to provide a best estimate of activity in the Atlantic during the upcoming season – not an exact measure.

As always, the researchers caution coastal residents to take proper precautions.

“It takes only one storm near you to make this an active season,” Bell said.

Landfalling probability included in report

The report also includes the probability of major hurricanes making landfall:

  • 69 percent for the entire U.S. coastline (average for the last century is 52 percent)
  • 45 percent for the U.S. East Coast including the Florida peninsula (average for the last century is 31 percent)
  • 44 percent for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville (average for the last century is 30 percent)
  • 58 percent for the Caribbean (average for the last century is 42 percent)
  • The forecast team also tracks the likelihood of tropical storm-force, hurricane-force and major hurricane-force winds occurring at specific locations along the coastal United States, the Caribbean and Central America through its Landfall Probability website.

    The site provides information for all coastal states as well as 11 regions and 205 individual counties along the U.S. coastline from Brownsville, Texas, to Eastport, Maine. Landfall probabilities for regions and counties are adjusted based on the current climate and its projected effects on the upcoming hurricane season.

    The CSU team updates the site regularly with assistance from the GeoGraphics Laboratory at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

    Funding for this year’s report has been provided by Interstate Restoration, Ironshore Insurance, the Insurance Information Institute and a grant from the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation.

    Extended range Atlantic Basin hurricane forecast for 2020

    Released April 2, 2020

    Tropical Cyclone Parameters Extended Range
    (1981-2010 Climatological Average Forecast for 2020
    in parentheses)
    Named Storms (12.1)* 16
    Named Storm Days (59.4) 80
    Hurricanes (6.4) 8
    Hurricane Days (24.2) 35
    Major Hurricanes (2.7) 4
    Major Hurricane Days (6.2) 9
    Accumulated Cyclone Energy (106) 150
    Net Tropical Cyclone Activity (116%) 160
    * Numbers in ( ) represent averages based on 1981-2010 data.

    State hurricane probabilities forecast April 2, 2020 via Colorado State University. Click on the image to go to the landfall probabilities website.