Climate Change Worsened the Impact of Hurricane Harvey

EcoWatch National Guardsmen assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey onto a military vehicle in Houston, Aug. 27. Army National Guard / Lt. Zachary West

Michael Mann: Climate Change Worsened the Impact of Hurricane Harvey

Michael Mann     August 29, 2017  

What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane Harvey?

There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding.

Sea level rise attributable to climate change (some is due to coastal subsidence due to human disturbance e.g. oil drilling) is more than half a foot over the past few decades.

That means that the storm surge was a half foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.

In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades, from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31 C or 87-88F). There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us there is a roughly 3 percent increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C (~1F) of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than the “average” temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere.

That large amount of moisture meant the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding.

The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.

Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean warming not just the surface but creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.

So Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human- caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge (as an example of how this works, we have shown that climate change has led to a dramatic increase in storm surge risk in New York City, making devastating events like Superstorm Sandy more likely.

Finally, the more tenuous but potentially relevant climate factors: Part of what has made Harvey such a devastating storm is the way it has stalled right near the coast, continuing to pummel Houston and surrounding regions with a seemingly endless deluge which will likely top out at nearly 4 feet of rainfall over a several days-long period before it is done.

The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth like a top with no direction. This pattern, in turn, is associated with a greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the U.S. right now, with the jet stream pushed well to the north. This pattern of subtropical expansion is predicted in model simulations of human-caused climate change.

More tenuous, but possibly relevant still, is the fact that very persistent, nearly “stationary” summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favored by human-caused climate change. We recently published on this phenomenon:

In conclusion, while we cannot say climate change “caused” hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say that it exacerbate several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life.

Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Katharine Hayhoe is successfully convincing doubtful evangelicals about climate change

The Guardian

Study: Katharine Hayhoe is successfully convincing doubtful evangelicals about climate change | Dana Nuccitelli

Dana Nuccitelli, The Guardian         August 28, 2017

A new study finds that a lecture from evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe successfully educates evangelical college students, validating the “trusted sources” approach Hayhoe speaks about climate change to students and faculty at Wayland Baptist University on November 9, 2011, in Plainview, Texas. Photograph: Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

Approximately one-quarter of Americans identify as evangelical Christians, and that group also tends to be more resistant to the reality of human-caused global warming. As a news paper by Brian Webb and Doug Hayhoe notes:

a 2008 study found that just 44% of evangelicals believed global warming to be caused mostly by human activities, compared to 64% of nonevangelicals (Smith and Leiserowitz, 2013) while, a 2011 survey found that only 27% of white evangelicals believed there to be a scientific consensus on climate change, compared to 40% of the American public (Public Religion Research Institute, 2011).

These findings appear to stem from two primary factors. First, evangelicals tend to be socially and politically conservative, and climate change is among the many issues that have become politically polarized in America. Second, there is sometimes a perceived conflict between science and religion, as Christians distrust what they perceive as scientists’ “moral agenda” on issues like evolution, stem cell research, and climate change. As Webb and Hayhoe describe it:

theological conservatism, scientific skepticism, political affiliation, and sociocultural influences have reinforced one another to instill climate skepticism into the evangelical tribe mentality, thus creating a formidable barrier to climate education efforts.

Evangelical climate leaders

There are also evangelicals who have tried to convince their peer group about the reality of human-caused climate change and our moral obligation to address it. These include the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and evangelical climate scientists like Sir John Houghton and Doug Hayhoe’s daughter Katharine Hayhoe (one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people). However, a majority of evangelicals continue to reject the reality of human-caused climate change, and there hasn’t been research quantifying the effectiveness of these evangelical climate leadership efforts.

Brian Webb and Doug Hayhoe’s study did just that by testing the effectiveness of a climate lecture delivered by Katharine Hayhoe to undergraduate students at the predominantly evangelical Houghton College in New York. Approximately half of the participants self-identified as conservatives and Republicans, 28% as liberals and Democrats, and the remainder as neither liberal nor conservative. 63% of the participants identified as evangelicals (most of the rest were of other Christian denominations).

Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture presented climate science information through the lens of an evangelical tradition. In addition to presenting scientific evidence, it included an introduction about the difference between faith and science (faith is based on things that are spiritually discerned, whereas science is based on observation). About six minutes of the 33- to 53-minute lectures were devoted to theology-based ethics.

Hayhoe lecture’s effectiveness

The participants filled out a survey before and after the lecture, detailing their acceptance that global warming is happening, its cause, whether there’s a scientific consensus, how high of a priority they consider it, how worried they are about it, and how much it will harm various groups. The results showed an increase in pro-climate beliefs for every single question after listening to Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture.

Acceptance that global warming is happening increased for 48% of participants, and that humans are causing it for 39%. Awareness of the expert scientific consensus increased among 27% of participants. 52% were more worried about climate change after watching the lecture, and 67% increased their responses about how much harm climate change will do. 55% of participants viewed addressing climate change a higher priority after attending Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture. For most of the remaining participants, there was no change in responses to these questions.

By testing three different lecture approaches, Webb and Hayhoe also concluded that the lecture was equally effective when presented in person or as a recorded video, and that adding material about common climate misconceptions didn’t make the lecture any more effective.

Facts matter – especially when they come from trusted sources

There’s been some debate among social scientists about how much facts matter in today’s politically polarized society. Some have warned about the “smart idiots” effect, in which people who are more knowledgeable are often less persuadable, essentially because they have more tools with which to reject information they find inconvenient. However, other research has shown that climate-specific knowledge does increase peoples’ acceptance of human-caused global warming. The question then becomes how to arm people with that climate-specific knowledge.

One thing most social scientists agree on is that people are more open to information when it comes from “trusted sources” – people with whom they have shared values. For evangelicals, Katharine Hayhoe is a perfect example, and this study confirms that her lectures are effective at informing evangelical college students about climate change.

Other climate scientists can follow Hayhoe’s successful example by identifying groups whose membership is predominantly skeptical about human-caused global warming, with whom the individual scientist shares a commonality that will make him or her a trusted source of information. This could consist of religious beliefs, political leanings, or other shared values. This study has shown that the trusted source approach is an effective one at breaking through individuals’ resistance to the realities of human-caused climate change.

This miracle weed killer was supposed to save farms. Instead, it’s devastating them.

Washington Post   Business

This miracle weed killer was supposed to save farms. Instead, it’s devastating them.

By Caitlin Dewey      August 29, 2017 Hadden, a soybean farmer, walks through a field he’s planted that shows signs of being affected by the herbicide dicamba. (Andrea Morales/For The Washington Post)

BLYTHEVILLE, ARK. — Clay Mayes slams on the brakes of his Chevy Silverado and jumps out with the engine running, yelling at a dogwood by the side of the dirt road as if it had said something insulting.

Its leaves curl downward and in on themselves like tiny, broken umbrellas. It’s the telltale mark of inadvertent exposure to a controversial herbicide called dicamba.

“This is crazy. Crazy!” shouts Mayes, a farm manager, gesticulating toward the shriveled canopy off Highway 61. “I just think if this keeps going on . . .”

“Everything’ll be dead,” says Brian Smith, his passenger.

The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.

Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.

The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.

The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.

Government officials and manufacturers Monsanto and BASF deny the charge, saying the system worked as Congress designed it.

Leaves and a stalk from a soybean plant showing signs of being affected by dicamba. (Andrea Morales/For The Washington Post)

The backlash against dicamba has spurred lawsuits, state and federal investigations, and one argument that ended in a farmer’s shooting death and related murder charges.

“This should be a wake-up call,” said David Mortensen, a weed scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

Herbicide-resistant weeds are thought to cost U.S. agriculture millions of dollars per year in lost crops.

After the Environmental Protection Agency approved the updated formulation of the herbicide for use this spring and summer, farmers across the country planted more than 20 million acres of dicamba-resistant soybeans, according to Monsanto.

But as dicamba use has increased, so too have reports that it “volatilizes,” or re-vaporizes and travels to other fields. That harms nearby trees, such as the dogwood outside Blytheville, as well as nonresistant soybeans, fruits and vegetables, and plants used as habitats by bees and other pollinators.

According to a 2004 assessment, dicamba is 75 to 400 times more dangerous to off-target plants than the common weed killer glyphosate, even at very low doses. It is particularly toxic to soybeans — the very crop it was designed to protect — that haven’t been modified for resistance.

Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri researcher, estimates that more than 3.1 million acres of soybeans have been damaged by dicamba in at least 16 states, including major producers such as Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. That figure is probably low, according to researchers, and it represents almost 4 percent of all U.S. soybean acres.

“It’s really hard to get a handle on how widespread the damage is,” said Bob Hartzler, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that [dicamba] is not manageable.”

The dicamba crisis comes on top of lower-than-forecast soybean prices and 14 straight quarters of declining farm income. The pressures on farmers are intense.

One Arkansas man is facing murder charges after he shot a farmer who had come to confront him about dicamba drift, according to law enforcement officials.

Thirty minutes down the road, Arkansas farmer Wally Smith is unsure how much more he can take.

Smith’s farm employs five people — including his son, Hughes, his nephew, Brian, and the farm manager, Mayes. None of the men are quite sure what else they’d do for work in this corner of Mississippi County.

Dicamba has hit the Blytheville — pronounced “Bly-vul” — region hard. For miles in any direction out of town, the soybeans that stretch from the road to the distant tree line are curled and stunted. A nearby organic farm suspended its summer sales after finding dicamba contamination in its produce. Dunigan, (center) a consultant from Craighead County, raises questions about the volatility of dicamba to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) during the governor’s “Turnrow Tour” at the Adams Estate in Leachfield, Ark. (Andrea Morales/For The Washington Post)

At the Smiths’ farm, several thousand acres of soybeans are growing too slowly because of dicamba, representing losses on a $2 million investment.

“This is a fact,” the elder Smith said. “If the yield goes down, we’ll be out of business.”

The new formulations of dicamba were approved on the promise that they were less risky and volatile than earlier versions.

Critics say that the approval process proceeded without adequate data and under enormous pressure from state agriculture departments, industry groups and farmers associations. Those groups said that farmers desperately needed the new herbicide to control glyphosate-resistant weeds, which can take over fields and deprive soybeans of sunlight and nutrients.

Such weeds have grown stronger and more numerous over the past 20 years — a result of herbicide overuse. By spraying so much glyphosate, farmers inadvertently caused weeds to evolve resistant traits more quickly. Marty Matlock, Executive Director of the Office for Sustainability at the University of Arkansas, Ken Cook, President and Co-founder at Environmental Working Group, and Veronica Nigh, Economist at American Farm Bureau Federation, discuss how to manage risks in biotechnology, selective breeding and genetically modified crops and possible tools and resources farmers can use to solve longstanding issues. (Washington Post Live)

The new dicamba formulations were supposed to attack those resistant weeds without floating to other fields.

But during a July 29 call with EPA officials, a dozen state weed scientists expressed unanimous concern that dicamba is more volatile than manufacturers have indicated, according to several scientists on the call. Field tests by researchers at the Universities of Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas have since found that the new dicamba herbicides can volatilize and float to other fields as long as 72 hours after application.

Regulators did not have access to much of this data. Although Monsanto and BASF submitted hundreds of studies to the EPA, only a handful of reports considered volatility in a real-world field setting, as opposed to a greenhouse or a lab, according to regulatory filings. Under EPA rules, manufacturers are responsible for funding and conducting the safety tests the agency uses to evaluate products., a highly competitive plant that grows in cotton and soybean fields and has developed resistance to some pesticides, grows tall over soybean fields weakened by nearby dicamba use. (Andrea Morales/For The Washington Post)

And although pesticide-makers often supply new products to university researchers to conduct field tests in varied environments, Monsanto acknowledged it did not allow that testing on its commercialized dicamba because it did not want to delay registration, and scientists said BASF limited it.

Frustrated scientists say that allowed chemical companies to cherry-pick the data available to regulators.

“Monsanto in particular did very little volatility field work,” said Jason Norsworthy, an agronomy professor at the University of Arkansas who was denied access to test the volatility of Monsanto’s product.

The EPA and chemical manufacturers deny that there was anything amiss in the dicamba approval process.

“The applicant for registration is required to submit the required data to support registration,” the agency said in a statement. “Congress placed this obligation on the pesticide manufacturer rather than requiring others to develop and fund such data development.”

Manufacturers say that volatility is not to blame. In a statement, BASF spokeswoman Odessa Patricia Hines said the company brought its dicamba product to market “after years of research, farm trials and reviews by universities and regulatory authorities.”

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, thinks some farmers have illegally sprayed older, more volatile dicamba formulations or used the herbicide with the wrong equipment.

The company, which invested $1 billion in dicamba production plants last year, has deployed a fleet of agronomists and climate scientists to figure out what went wrong.

“We’re visiting every grower and every field,” Partridge said. “If there are improvements that can be made to this product, we’re going to do it.”

Regulators in the most-affected states are also taking action. In July, Arkansas banned spraying for the remainder of the season and raised the penalties on illegal applications.

Missouri and Tennessee have tightened their rules on dicamba use, while nearly a dozen states have complained to the EPA.

The agency signaled in early August that it might consider taking the new dicamba herbicides off the market, according to several scientists who spoke to regulators.

The agency would not comment directly on its plans. “EPA is very concerned about the recent reports of crop damage related to the use of dicamba in Arkansas and elsewhere,” an agency representative said.

Meanwhile, a class-action lawsuit alleges that dicamba manufacturers misrepresented the risk of their products. The Smiths are considering signing up. Monsanto says the suit is baseless.

There are also early indications that dicamba may not work for long. Researchers have shown that pigweed can develop dicamba resistance within as few as three years. Suspected instances of dicamba-resistant pigweed have been found in Tennessee and Arkansas.

A spokeswoman for Monsanto said the company was “not aware of any confirmed instances of pigweed resistance” to dicamba. farmer Brad Rose’s truck kicks up dust while heading down a road near his farm. (Andrea Morales/For The Washington Post)

Some critics of chemical-intensive agriculture have begun to see the crisis as a parable — and a prediction — for the future of farming in the United States. Scott Faber, a vice president at the Environmental Working Group, said farmers have become “trapped on a chemical treadmill” driven by the biotech industry. Many farmers say they think they could not continue farming without new herbicide technology.

“We’re on a road to nowhere,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The next story is resistance to a third chemical, and then a fourth chemical — you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where that will end.

“The real issue here is that people are using ever-more complicated combinations of poisons on crops, with ever-more complex consequences.”

In Blytheville, at least, one consequence is increasingly obvious: It’s a short, scraggly plant with cupped green leaves and a few empty pods hanging near its stem. At this time of year, this plant should have more pods and be eight inches taller, Mayes said.

“This is what we’re dealing with here,” he said, before shaking his head and turning back to his truck. “We go to work every day wondering if next year we’re still going to have a job.”

Caitlin Dewey is the food policy writer for Wonkblog. Subscribe to her daily newsletter:

Stanford Scientists: Switch to Renewables Would Save 7 Million Lives Per Year, Create 24 Million Jobs

EcoWatch   Climate News Network National Museum of African American History and Culture is the first Smithsonian museum to have solar panels. Solar Solution

Stanford Scientists: Switch to Renewables Would Save 7 Million Lives Per Year, Create 24 Million Jobs

By Tim Radford     August 25, 2017

Californian scientists said a fossil fuel phase-out is achievable that would contain climate change, deliver energy entirely from wind water and sunlight to 139 nations, and save up to 7 million lives each year.

They said it would also create a net gain of 24 million long-term jobs, all by 2050, and at the same time limit global warming to 1.5°C or less.

The road-map is entirely theoretical, and depends entirely on the political determination within each country to make the switch work. But, the researchers argued, they have provided a guide towards an economic and social shift that could save economies each year around $20 trillion in health and climate costs.

The scientists have provided the calculations for only 139 of the 195 nations that vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming to “well below” 2 degrees C because these were the nations for which reliable energy data was publicly available.

But these 139 nations account for perhaps 99 percent of all the carbon dioxide emitted by human combustion of fossil fuels. And the clean-energy answer covers all economic activity—electricity, transport, heating and cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Workable Scenario

“Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Mark Jacobson of Stanford University’s atmosphere and energy program.

“There are other scenarios. We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

Jacobson and 26 colleagues reported in the journal Joule that their road-maps to a new energy world free of fossil fuels and of nuclear energy can be achieved without the mining, transporting or processing of fuels.

According to their road-maps, 139 nations could be 80 percent complete by 2030 and entirely committed to renewable sources by 2050. Jobs lost in the coal and petroleum industries would be more than compensated for by growth in the renewable sectors, and in the end, there would be more than 24 million new jobs worldwide.

Energy prices would become stable, because fuel would arrive for free: there would be less risk of disruption to energy supplies because sources would be decentralized. And energy efficiency savings that go with electrification overall could reduce “business-as-usual” demand by an estimated 42.5 percent.

Lives Saved

“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5°C degrees global warming and beginning the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates four to seven million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term full-time jobs by these plans,” professor Jacobson said.

“What is different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we are trying to examine not only the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, job benefits and cost benefits.”

The study is an extension of earlier research by professor Jacobson at Stanford: he has presented a master plan for renewable energy for all 50 U.S. states, and along with other researchers presented detailed arguments for the most efficient use of wind power, and even proposed that as a bonus wind turbines could sap the ferocity of hurricanes.

His is not the only group to calculate that the U.S. could free itself of fossil fuels and their associated costs. Nor is his the only group to make the case that clean power can save money and lives in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But the new study recognizes that global conversion from fossil fuels to sunlight, water and wind power won’t be easy. The European Union, the U.S. and China would cope better because there is greater available space per head of population: small densely-populated states such as Singapore would face greater challenges.

There is also the challenge of political will: President Trump has announced that rather than work with the rest of the world to reduce the risks of climate change, the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement, and other researchers have repeatedly pointed out that the Paris accord is itself not enough, and is not being acted upon with sufficient vigor, anywhere.

Nor will the process be without contention. Professor Jacobson has lately been the focus of a bitter academic argument about whether fossil fuels can be entirely phased out without recourse to clean coal, nuclear energy and biofuels.

But the study in Joule excludes nuclear power because of the high costs, the hazards and the problems of disposing of waste. Biofuels and coal in any form also cause pollution.

Costs Slashed

The Stanford team wants to see what could be called a clean break with the past. Space shuttles and rockets have already been powered by hydrogen, aircraft companies are exploring the possibility of electric flight; underground heat storage—to cope with fluctuating demand—would be a viable option, and shared or “district” heating already keeps 60 percent of Denmark warm.

The switch to renewables would require massive investment, but the overall cost would be one fourth of what fossil fuel dependency already costs the world.

“It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost,” said Mark Delucchi of the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Berkeley, a co-author.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can.”


We need to start protecting our rivers before plastic pollution enters our oceans.


August 24, 2017

We need to start protecting our rivers before plastic pollution enters our oceans. Follow the journey of Gary Bencheghib and Sam Bencheghib as they push onwards to the Java Sea down the world’s most polluted river on plastic bottle kayaks.

We need to start protecting our rivers before plastic pollution enters our oceans. Follow the journey of Gary Bencheghib and Sam Bencheghib as they push onwards to the Java Sea down the world's most polluted river on plastic bottle kayaks.Read more: via Make A Change World #PlasticBottleCitarum

Posted by EcoWatch on Thursday, August 24, 2017

‘Open carry’ and open debate don’t mix

Chicago Sun-Times

EDITORIAL: ‘Open carry’ and open debate don’t mix

Sun-Times Editorial Board     August 18, 2017 nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper-sprayed after the “Unite the Right” rally was declared an unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Look at the photo accompanying this editorial. Is that a group of people with whom you would want to get into a heated argument?

We’re guessing no. There is something about a semiautomatic rifle that makes for a one-sided debate. Say goodbye to your cherished right to speak your mind.

Is this really what lawmakers and the federal courts had in mind in recent years as they have supported ever more lax “open-carry” and “concealed carry” gun laws?

What we see here is not Americans protecting themselves, as lawmakers likely envisioned, but Americans scaring the bejeebers out of other Americans. We see two constitutional protections — free speech and the right to bear arms — in fundamental conflict, and guns are winning.

The sight of heavily armed white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month was the predictable outcome of the expansive view of gun ownership that the courts and many state legislatures have taken in recent years. Open-carry laws have made it legal for people to carry powerful weapons even at the most contentious public gatherings. Illinois is one of just five states that prohibits people from openly carrying handguns, and it is one of just six states and the District of Columbia to prohibit the open carry of long guns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Even as authorities grow more lax about firearms of all kinds, gun carriers are growing more assertive, showing up at rallies in military-style clothing and body armor and toting big guns. Charlottesville wasn’t the first time people came to a rally armed to the teeth. In June, hundreds of people, many carrying rifles and wearing body armor, showed up at a park in Houston that includes the city zoo, alarming crowds of families with young children.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it no longer would represent white supremacist groups that want to bring loaded guns to their demonstrations. The ACLU believes fervently in free speech, but not in speech dictated only at the barrel of a gun.

When the Founding Fathers drafted the First Amendment, guaranteeing our right to assemble, there was a reason they included the word “peaceably.”

When a photo at the top of the news screams with meaning

Chicago Sun-Times

EDITORIAL: When a photo at the top of the news screams with meaning

Sun-Times Editorial Board      August 22, 2017 Police say these two suspects committed three armed robberies Friday morning, and may have pulled a fourth a short time later in East Chicago. | Hammond Police

What do you see?

All day on Tuesday, a report about two young men suspected of committing three armed robberies in Hammond in less than an hour drew more online readers than any other Sun-Times news story.

You can bet it wasn’t the words that pulled readers in. The news was breaking and details were sketchy.

It was the photo that mattered. It screamed with meaning.

In that photograph, taken by a surveillance camera, here’s what we see:

We see two young men, probably only teenagers, who should be getting ready for school in the fall or working jobs. They are running down a sidewalk in broad daylight with guns, and we wonder where they got the guns. We know it’s easy enough.

We wonder who the young men are pointing their guns at, and we admit we’re grateful it is not us. We wonder if they are running through a neighborhood where people are afraid to step outdoors because of people like them.

We see how one young man grips his gun with two hands, like he’s done this before. Or did he learn it from watching TV? Guns are everywhere on TV. Was he younger when he first held a gun? Did it feel heavier then?

We notice how the other young man keeps his right hand in his pocket. Even as he aims his gun, he projects an unsettling casualness. We wonder how somebody so young can be so apparently disengaged.

We see the hoodies and the clean white gym shoes and the neat haircuts. Take away the guns, and the two young men look like every good kid we have ever known. We can’t pretend they are made of entirely different clay. Too easy.

We see they are African-Americans, and this matters greatly. It is a heavy burden, now as always, to grow up a black man in America. If the gangs and drugs don’t get you, the racist stereotyping might. How can anybody claim otherwise less than two weeks after hundreds of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia? And after the president of the United States failed to condemn the racists properly?

At what age does a young black child look in the mirror and begin to believe the lies might be true?

We study this photograph and we want to say this:

Young men with guns are the problem, not young black men with guns. Young people of any color who grow up in poor and dangerous neighborhoods, who are left by adults to run the streets, who go to bad schools, who can’t find work, who begin to wonder if they stand a chance, who come to believe they have no future — that’s the problem.

We know nothing specific about the two young men in the photo, not even their names. But whatever their full stories might be — whatever bad breaks they may have caught — they must be taken off the street. People who rob other people at gunpoint can’t walk free.

But we look at this photograph, and we wonder how it ever got to this. Why do we bicker over essential school funding? Why does our nation spend so much on the military and so little on jobs programs? Why do so many politicians favor a tax cut for the rich but oppose a living wage for working people?

The photograph is a Rorschach test. What do you see?

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The Opioid Epidemic’s Biggest Culprit Isn’t Heroin Anymore — It’s Something Deadlier


What Is Fentanyl?

The Opioid Epidemic’s Biggest Culprit Isn’t Heroin Anymore — It’s Something Deadlier

Stephanie Haney         August 22, 2017!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/169/n/43908841/tmp_ghhqdv_897a1e66ddda8df9_Jessica1.jpgPart of a series of images Jessica* created with photographer John Trew to portray the emotions associated with addiction. Photo courtesy of John Trew.

Andrew, an HVAC engineer, looks better than your average 37-year-old, college-educated man from Canton, OH. Clean-shaven, wearing a fitted maroon polo shirt and black dress pants. Athletic. Energetic. Flirtatious.

He sits on the patio of a local restaurant, sipping his cocktail, skimming the menu at the kind of place you take your kids to after soccer practice.

“Yesterday I had one glass of wine, today I had two. Tomorrow, I don’t know,” Andrew says, both hands cupped around a sweaty vodka-soda with lime. “But it’s not heroin.”

But it wasn’t heroin two weeks earlier, either, when the husband and father of three woke up on the floor of his sober-living house to six men shaking him. They told him it took two doses of Narcan, an opioid blocker, to revive him after he overdosed on carfentanil for the sixth time this year.

It wasn’t heroin, because if you ask drug users, people in recovery, medical personnel, and law enforcement, they’ll tell you that drug has all but dried up in the state of Ohio, a state leading the country in fatal opioid overdoses, according to the Center For Disease Control.

If it were heroin, it would’ve been made from morphine, which is derived from naturally occurring opium.!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/165/n/43908841/tmp_tuJVD9_142166ff08955b64_Andrew1.jpgAndrew, 37, looks out from the patio at a restaurant in Canton, OH, on Aug. 18. Photo courtesy Stephanie Haney.

Carfentanil — a synthetic form of fentanyl — is generally used to sedate very large animals, like elephants, and it’s 10,000 times stronger than morphine. It’s the new drug of choice for those manufacturing and selling illicit drugs in the Buckeye State, which was home to a record-setting 4,149 accidental deaths due to fatal overdoses in 2016.

Fentanyl itself is another popular option. The drug is “50 to 100 times more potent” than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Oftentimes, drug users don’t realize they aren’t getting quite what they bargained for until it’s too late.

Andrew noticed the switch about six months ago, when he started “falling out” — or losing consciousness — after doses he had previously considered normal.

“I was shooting up all day, every day,” he said, as he stretched out his arms to show dark bruises where his veins had collapsed under his skin. And then finally, one day, he overdosed.

The casual observer probably would never know that Andrew was battling opioid addiction at this very moment, but the crisis that’s hit America hard doesn’t discriminate.

Drug overdose deaths have now become the leading cause of accidental deaths in the US with 52,404 fatalities in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine; 33,091 of those deaths, which equates to more than six out of 10, involved an opioid.

And it’s getting worse. While official numbers aren’t in yet, a New York Times preliminary report has the total number of drug overdose deaths for 2016 at more than 59,000, which it described as “the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.”

Addiction started for Andrew in 2009, when he started taking his mother’s oxycodone, which she had been prescribed after a medical procedure — he says because he “didn’t want her taking all of that.” He also had a longstanding Adderall prescription added to the mix.

His opioid and Adderall abuse went undetected by his wife until the Summer of 2016, when she noticed he was running out of the ADHD drug before the end of the month. After she made a call to his doctor, his prescription was revoked, and Andrew turned to cocaine. The way he tells it, his wife got fed up, took their kids, and left him, and one week later, he was shooting up heroin.

What Can We Do to Stop the Epidemic?

It’s not that uncommon of a story, and it can happen to anybody. President Donald Trump addressed that issue in his press briefing from New Jersey on Aug. 8.

“Nobody is safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural communities,” he said. “Everybody is threatened.”

But what’s debatable is Trump’s view that amping up incarceration is the answer to the problem. In the same briefing, he pledged to increase federal drug prosecutions and implied he’d fight to lengthen sentences for convicted federal drug offenders. This is in stark contrast to the Obama administration approach to dealing with drug users.

Two days later, Trump told reporters in New Jersey, “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”

What methods the Trump administration will ultimately employ to combat the epidemic aren’t exactly certain at this time.

What we do know is that his comments about “upping federal prosecutions” were made despite a preliminary report issued on July 31 by his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The report almost exclusively recommended addressing shortcomings in access to treatment for addicts, along with prescription drug reform and stopping the influx of synthetic opioids (like fentanyl and carfentanil) from other countries, like China.

That approach is more in line with what people who are living in the throes of the epidemic think would be helpful.

Incarceration Doesn’t Work For Everyone

One of those people is Tugg Massa, 42, from Akron, OH. He’s a recovering addict and founder of Akron Say No to Dope, a nonprofit organization that serves Summit County, where as many as 250 people died last year from drug overdoses. Those deaths were largely attributed to the introduction of carfentanil in the area in June and July of 2016, according to

Both fentanyl and carfentanil are a whole lot cheaper on the street than morphine and heroin, he explained, which is why they’re being cut with anything and everything people use to get high — usually unbeknownst to the drug user.

“It’s not like it was when I was growing up,” Tugg said. “Not to glorify drug use of any kind, but it’s a lot more dangerous now. It’s not heroin. Heroin won’t even get the people out there using drugs high anymore because this fentanyl and carfentanil are so strong.”

He knows what he’s talking about, as someone who used drugs for 27 years. Tugg’s been sober since Oct. 10, 2012, the day he was arrested for illegal manufacturing of methamphetamines.!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/171/n/43908841/tmp_wLah64_e0a9bf31fee81da0_TuggMassa_2.JPGTugg Massa, 42, checks the call log for Akron Say No to Dope’s 24/7 helpline from his organization’s thrift store and boutique in Akron, OH, on Aug. 14. Photo courtesy Stephanie Haney.

When Tugg got caught, he was making meth to support his own opioid habit. He spent two years in prison for that charge, where, despite his surroundings, he got clean and earned his GED.

“It was difficult,” he said of his time there. “There’s a lot of drugs in prison. I had a drug dealer on one side of my cell and a drug dealer in the other cell next to me.”

Although he successfully overcame his addiction while incarcerated, he feels strongly that being locked up is not for everyone. Instead, Tugg is a major advocate for drug court, where people get the option of undergoing treatment in lieu of conviction. That means if they make it through a 12-month program, their convictions are dropped.

Treatment Is Crucial — When the Timing Is Right

Sheriff Steve Leahy of Clermont County, OH, generally agrees with Tugg about the need for more access to treatment, but also says it needs to be worked hand in hand with the judicial system.

“You can’t throw everybody’s ass in jail,” he said. “But what you also can’t do is hug your way out of it.”

Sheriff Leahy speaks from experience as both a member of law enforcement and someone who has witnessed firsthand a loved one’s battle against opioid addiction. His ex-wife’s struggles gave him valuable insight into what might work in his community.

He points out that some people simply aren’t responsive to treatment, possibly because they’re not ready for it at that point in their addiction.

“I think there are just some people who do need to be in jail or incarcerated. Maybe because they’re selling as a pusher or they are committing crimes and burglaries and other felonies,” he said. “You have to protect the community at large. Also, with the same breath, sometimes the only way to protect an individual from themselves is by having them locked up until you can get them to a point of treatment.”!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/173/n/43908841/tmp_LQ9f1u_09b5bbcbc73090e4_Jessica4.jpgPart of a series of images Jessica* created with photographer John Trew to portray the emotions associated with addiction. Photo courtesy of John Trew.

Whatever they’re doing in Clermont County seems to be working. The death toll skyrocketed to 94 in 2015, placing Clermont at the top of the state for accidental overdose deaths, according to Leeann Watson, associate director of Clermont County’s Mental Health Recovery Board. That figure was up from 68 in 2014 and 56 in 2013, Watson said, who is also co-chair of the opiate task force. But in 2016, the number dropped slightly to 82 deaths.

One tool that Leahy believes in is his county’s community alternative sentencing program, which people can choose to participate in while they are incarcerated.

The program is administered in a wing of the county jail dedicated exclusively to those who have volunteered for treatment. It’s an opportunity for convicted drug offenders who are ready to tackle sobriety to make the best use of their time.

“You have to have the buy-in of the court system, which includes the probation department and other mental health and addiction specialists,” Leahy said. “It’s kind of a multi-pronged attack.”

Court Programs Can’t Help When Drugs Don’t Show Up on Tests

Andrew, who was placed on probation in January after officers found a needle in his car when he got pulled over for speeding, hasn’t had to face a choice like those convicted in Sheriff Leahy’s jurisdiction yet.

Not after trying out replacement drug therapy with Suboxone and methadone; not after attending treatment facilities in both Mexico and Florida; not after witnessing two people die from opioid overdoses in his own home on two separate occasions. And not even after his own latest overdose.

When his sober-living housemates revived him just two weeks ago, the police were called and he was taken to the hospital.

If he had tested positive for drugs at the hospital, he would’ve been kicked out of the sober-living house and sent to jail for violating probation.

The crazy thing is, his drug test came back negative.

“I’ve been given a lot of grace,” he says.

“Grace” for Andrew, this time, came in the form of a standard urine test that didn’t detect the particular concoction of street opioids that shut his system down.

Yes, you read that right. The standard drug tests administered at many hospitals that treat overdose victims don’t pick up carfentanil and the street versions of fentanyl that are killing people in record numbers.!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/174/n/43908841/tmp_pQcwOi_c6ff6a6847a67aff_Andrew2.JPGEven after six near-death experiences and witnessing two fatal overdoses in his own home from opioid use in the past year, Andrew says he still can’t promise he won’t ever use opioids again. Photo courtesy Stephanie Haney.

“You have to know what you’re looking for,” said Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of Science and Technology at Quest Diagnostics.

Dr. Allison Chambliss, assistant professor of Clinical Pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, elaborated, “Fentanyl and carfentanil are structurally distinct from the other major opioids, and so do not get detected up by the routine urine opioid drug screens out there that are designed to pick up morphine, codeine, and heroin.”

Even if you might have an idea what you’re looking for, oftentimes the proper tests simply aren’t run — either because they’re too expensive or the facility where the victim is being treated doesn’t have the proper equipment.

Usually it’s only large reference and specialty toxicology labs that have the tools required to carry out these kinds of tests, even though they could be run on urine or blood samples, just like more general opioid tests, Chambliss said.

In Andrew’s case, the standard test was apparently run, and it came back negative for opioids. He was released from the hospital and was able to go back to the sober-living facility with no probation violation recorded.

Even after that close of a call, where he narrowly escaped losing his liberty — and his life — he admits, “I still can’t promise I’ll never use opioids again. It’s too good.”

“Ready” and “Rock Bottom” Look Different For Everyone

Tugg pointed out that in his ministry of recovering addicts, “They have to come to me. I can’t go chasing people down.”

He shared Sheriff Leahy’s sentiment that drug users have to be ready on their own, which many addicts describe as their “rock bottom” moment. For him, it was a letter from his daughter while he was in prison, asking him, “Who do you think you are?”!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/176/n/43908841/tmp_k8N1Ns_ca4508f9568c656a_Jessica3.jpgPart of a series of images Jessica* created with photographer John Trew to portray the emotions associated with addiction. Photo courtesy of John Trew.

Rock bottom for *Jessica, 26, from Los Angeles looked very different.

Having used drugs since the age of 13, Jessica became addicted to opioids at 16 after trading away cocaine for “tar” and not realizing that it was, in fact, heroin.

At one of her worst moments, she was homeless, on the street, doing whatever was necessary to score drugs. At another, an obsessed partner held her against her will for half a year.

Jessica says her captor forbid her from speaking to anyone else, eating, showering, or even using the bathroom outside of his presence. She finally convinced this man that her going to treatment would be better for their relationship, which is how she escaped that situation.

“When I got to treatment, I had to learn how to form sentences again. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know how to raise my head and look somebody in the eye,” she said. “Even just eating was a big thing. I didn’t know how to do that anymore. I had to learn how to stop asking permission for things, which was really hard. That’s something that I still struggle with today.”

But even being held against her will wasn’t what brought her to the realization that she needed to get clean.

Her epiphany came in 2012 at the age of 21, when she had “everything” in every materialistic sense of the word. She was living with a wealthy man — who supported her $400-a-day heroin habit — in a beautiful home in Southern California. She said it was hitting an emotional bottom that finally did her drug use in over a period of four months when she was trying to overdose every single day.

“It was a feeling of desperation that was something I hadn’t felt before,” she said. “That true desperation of, ‘I have everything in the world, but I am nothing,’ that’s what was different this time than all the other times. I finally realized that I as a person had no self-worth.”

“I would be looking in the mirror at myself, because I was an IV user, and I would shoot in my neck, so I would have to be in front of a mirror. I’d be standing in front of a mirror, looking myself in the eyes as I’m injecting my neck with heroin trying to die,” she said. “Praying that you don’t wake up this time, that is the scariest feeling in the whole world,” she said.

Today, she’s five years sober and has been working for the last two and half years at a sober treatment facility in Texas, which she credits with helping to maintain her sobriety.

The Street View of How to Fight the Opioid Crisis!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2017/08/20/178/n/43908841/tmp_N7TDyF_612b794489d2ab96_TuggMass_ThriftStoreBetter.jpgSigns advertise free Narcan class outside New Beginnings, the thrift store and boutique Tugg runs in Akron, OH, in support of Akron Say No to Dope. Photo courtesy Stephanie Haney.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen to the wide-scale handling of this epidemic nationwide, if and when the opioid crisis is officially declared a national emergency, but Jessica and the other people we interviewed for this story have a wish list.

Sheriff Leahy, Jessica, and Tugg all agree that more in-house treatment facilities are crucial in this fight.

“When someone is ready to get off of drugs, we need to address that right then,” Tugg said. “We need more beds. No wait time.”

Jessica noted that in addition to more beds, facilities need more time.

“Long-term treatment is what’s working. The 30 day treatment centers are not long enough. You can’t work through all the trauma that you’ve caused to yourself as an addict. Your first week, you’re detoxing. Your second, third week, you might be going to groups and start having emotions again, and your fourth and fifth week, you’re planning your discharge already. So you’ve really only gotten a week of actual treatment,” she said.

“Starting to form new habits takes a long time. You can’t learn that in 30 days, which is why I stayed in treatment for a year and a half,” Jessica said. “A lot of treatment centers are only 30 days, which is why they’re always full because people, they’ll go in, 30 days, get out, relapse, and go back in. The long-term places are getting people and holding them and really turning them back out to be productive members of society.”

From a law enforcement perspective, Leahy would also like to see funds available for “one or two more” directed patrol officers, meaning members of law enforcement that are assigned a specific task for a particular purpose. In his community, that purpose would be to have more of a presence to help stop the flow of drugs across jurisdictional lines.

“And maybe a reinstitution of D.A.R.E. or something similar to that,” Leahy said. “We can do whatever we’re doing now, but we’ve got to get to the young people.”

At the federal level, Trump alluded to the fact that he’s talking with China about “certain forms of man-made drugs that come in” during his press briefing.

That prospect got Tugg excited.

“We need to put sanctions on China. If they’re not going to regulate what they’re sending over here, then there should be sanctions against them,” he said. “The fentanyl and carfentanil that’s going around, they can get it right through the mail from China and get it dropped off right at their house.”

Andrew says he got his last batch of opioids from his housemate, who is connected with one of the major drug cartels in Mexico. He won’t say how it arrived in Ohio.

We asked what advice he would give — after everything he’s experienced — to someone who was considering trying opioids for the first time today.

“I would say, ‘Pull out your phone and look up epitaph, because you’re gonna want to know what that word means,'” he says. “And then tell everyone you love that you love them. And then flip a quarter. Because there’s a 50/50 chance you’re gonna die.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of these sources.

If you or someone you know is in need of drug-related treatment or counseling, you can reach the Substance and Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on its Treatment Referral Routing Service helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

If you’re in the Summit County, OH, area, you can call Akron Say No to Dope’s 24/7 hotline at 855-246-LIVE (5483).

Agriculture a culprit in global warming, says U.S. research

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Agriculture a culprit in global warming, says U.S. research

by Ellen Wulfhorst Thomson Reuters Foundation    August 22, 2017,Jpeg/jpeg_q/70/resize_w/1230

While soil absorbs carbon in organic matter from plants and trees as they decompose, agriculture has helped deplete that carbon accumulation in the ground

NEW YORK, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Agriculture has contributed nearly as much to climate change as deforestation by intensifying global warming, according to U.S. research that has quantified the amount of carbon taken from the soil by farming.

Some 133 billion tons of carbon have been removed from the top two meters of the earth’s soil over the last two centuries by agriculture at a rate that is increasing, said the study in PNAS, a journal published by the National Academy of Sciences.

Global warming is largely due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from such activities as burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees that otherwise would absorb greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

But this research showed the significance of agriculture as a contributing factor as well, said Jonathan Sanderman, a soil scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts and one of the authors of the research.

While soil absorbs carbon in organic matter from plants and trees as they decompose, agriculture has helped deplete that carbon accumulation in the ground, he said.

Widespread harvesting removes carbon from the soil as do tilling methods that can accelerate erosion and decomposition.

“It’s alarming how much carbon has been lost from the soil,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Small changes to the amount of carbon in the soil can have really big consequences for how much carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere.”

Sanderman said the research marked the first time the amount of carbon pulled out of the soil has been spatially quantified.

The 133 billion tons of carbon lost from soil compares to about 140 billion tons lost due to deforestation, he said, mostly since the mid-1800s and the Industrial Revolution.

But the findings show potential for the earth’s soil to mitigate global warming by absorbing more carbon through such practices as better land stewardship, more extensive ground cover to minimize erosion, better diversity of crop rotation and no-till farming, he said.

The world’s nations agreed in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases generated by burning fossil fuels that are blamed by scientists for warming the planet.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark Paris accord in May, saying it would undermine the U.S. economy and weaken national sovereignty.

Supporters of the accord, including some leading U.S. business figures, said Trump’s move was a blow to international efforts to tackle global warming that would isolate the United States.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

America is richer than ever — but you’re probably not

Yahoo Finance

America is richer than ever — but you’re probably not

Rick Newman      August 21, 2017 life on display. REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson

If you measure America’s well-being by the nation’s overall wealth, these are the best days ever.

But does it feel that way? Obviously not. Disaffected working- and middle-class voters just sent a bomb-thrower at the White House, to dismantle institutions they feel are failing. Economic alienation fuels white supremacists who feel everybody’s getting ahead but them. Roughly 10 million working-age men who ought to be in the labor force are sitting at home instead. An astonishing 60% of Americans feel the nation is on the wrong track.

What, exactly, is the problem? How can the nation be so rich, yet so torn? It starts with the concentration of all that wealth, which resides with a smaller portion of the population than it has in decades. Consumers also feel more jittery about the economy than they used to, revealing long-lasting scars from the housing bust and financial meltdown nearly a decade ago. Government policies haven’t helped much, with many Americans convinced Washington has made the middle class worse off, not better off, while further enriching a ruling class that needs the money least.

First, the good news. The high-flying stock market, combined with a steady recovery in home prices during the last several years, has pushed total household net worth in the United States to about $95 trillion — nearly $30 trillion more than before the last recession began in 2007. As a percentage of disposable income, household net worth just hit a new peak, which means that wealth in the United States relative to the size of the population is now at the highest level on record. We’re rich!

View photos    Household net worth as a percentage of disposable income.

Or rather, a few of us are rich. Bank of America Merrill Lynch points out that, like income, wealth in the United States is held by a declining percentage of the population. In 1992, 54% of all financial wealth was held by the top 10% of earners; today 63% is. The latest numbers from Gallup show that just 52% of Americans own stocks — the lowest percentage on record — down from 65% in 2007.

Home equity is a larger source of wealth for many middle-class families than financial assets, but the trend here is discouraging, too. According to BAML data, the top 10% of earners now control 30% of household wealth, up from 25% in 1992. The homeownership rate, normally around 65%, peaked at 69.2% in 2004, during the housing boom, then bottomed out at 63.4% in 2015, as millions foreclosed or found themselves locked out of the housing market by tight credit or affordability problems. The homeownership rate has only recently begun to tick back up.

View photos     More evidence the rich are getting richer.

The bottom-line story is a familiar one: The rich are getting richer, with the middle and lower classes missing out on most of the gains. Widespread frustration with a backsliding middle class is one of the forces that helped Donald Trump win the presidency last year. And now, the same phenomenon is hamstringing the very economy Trump has vowed to shake from the doldrums. While job creation has been strong, wages are rising slowly, consumers remain reluctant to spend and growth is stuck around 2% per year, a solid percentage point short of the robust growth rates of the 1980s and ‘90s.

The rich don’t spend based on market performance

BAML links growing wealth inequality with relatively weak consumer spending — which would normally be stronger at such high levels of overall wealth. The reason it’s not is that affluent people enjoying most of the wealth gains are less likely to spend the extra money than lower-income folks on a budget. The “wealth effect” is supposed to make consumers more optimistic and willing to spend when their home equity rises or the value of their investing or retirement portfolio goes up. But since the wealthy generally have everything they want, they’re less likely to splurge based on the direction of the stock or housing market. And lower-income people aren’t going to spend more if they don’t feel wealthier.

A declining portion of Americans seems to be enjoying a sense of prosperity. Or, if they do feel it, they’re less likely to think it will last than they once felt. In that way, pessimism and caution beget a self-fulfilling cycle of under-performance in the economy. For Trump to defeat that, he needs to convince people they’re really better off, and likely to stay that way. For now, too many doubt it.