New data released today by the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research on LawAtlas.org captures details of an emerging effort by states to limit executive authority to act in response to public health emergencies.
Legislators in nearly all US states (46) have introduced bills in 2021 to limit governors’ or health officials‘ authority during the COVID-19 pandemic or other emergencies. According to the data, between January 1, 2021, and June 17, 2021, 11 of these bills were enacted into law and became effective.
“Laws that restrict the authority of governors and health agencies to act in times of emergency could significantly impact public health by limiting their ability to take actions necessary to respond to or mitigate the crisis,” said Katie Moran-McCabe, special projects manager at the Center for Public Health Law Research and lead researcher on this project.
States have taken a variety of approaches to curbing public health authority. As of June 17, 2021:
Eleven states have a law in effect that was passed since January 1, 2021, that limits state executive authority regarding public health orders.
Nine states limited both the then-governor’s authority and the authority of a state agency or official, with all those states limiting the scope of at least one type of order.
Five states limited the governor’s authority, the authority of a state agency or official, and the authority of a local agency or official.
Some laws limit the duration of a state of emergency or limit emergency orders to a specific number of days (as in Arkansas for example). Others require approval of state health officer actions by an elected official (as in North Dakota) or prohibit the governor or health officials from requiring vaccination (as in Tennessee).
Kansas was the first state in 2021 to pass a law limiting public health emergency orders. Kansas is the only state to allow counties to issue a local order that is less stringent than a governor’s order, and that a local order may operate in the county in lieu of the governor’s executive order.
Utah is the only state that limited both state and local health officials in all of the following areas: restricting the ability to issue emergency orders, limiting the duration of emergency orders, restricting the scope of emergency orders, and establishing that emergency orders may be terminated by legislature or another entity.
The data were produced using a novel legal mapping technique, sentinel surveillance of emerging laws and policies, developed by the Center for Public Health Law Research, to track laws faster so researchers may more quickly evaluate the impact of these laws and policies on health, well-being and equity.
“The sentinel surveillance of emerging laws and policies process is an advancement in our ability to track emerging laws rapidly so we may better understand the impacts these laws are having,” said Moran-McCabe. “Our concern with these laws is that they may greatly hobble state and local officials’ ability to respond to an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic in a swift and flexible way. Evaluation will help us better understand that impact.”
Funding for the data and the development of the sentinel surveillance of emerging laws and policies process was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and research for the dataset was provided by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
More states are passing laws limiting authority to respond to public health emergencies (2021, October 26)
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One evening in July, Stephanie Felts was lying in bed trying to process simultaneous climate disasters all over the world. From a crushing Canadian heatwave to U.S. wildfires and China floods, the drumbeat triggered memories of a close call her family had with a raging inferno when they lived in Salt Lake City a few years ago.
“I just realized, OK, this is as good as it will ever be—not because we can’t do anything to make things better, but because we just won’t,” said Felts, 43, who works in financial services and now lives near Atlanta. “It makes you feel like, ‘hey, the apocalypse is starting.'”
She’s not alone. More people are finding it hard to cope with a growing sense that governments and businesses won’t do enough to slow global warming. To make matters worse, there’s the knowledge that even if humanity suddenly unified in a historic shift to renewable energy, it’s too late to avoid the grim consequences already baked in.
Perhaps not since the depths of the Cold War has such a profound, widespread despair for the future emerged. Whether one calls it climate anxiety, ecological grief or something else, deep concern about global warming is increasingly affecting many people’s everyday life. A majority of U.S. adults already say they are somewhat or extremely anxious about the effect the climate crisis has on their mental health, a poll from the American Psychiatric Association found. That’s on top of the stress of trying to protect against the coronavirus.
But while the pandemic may recede in the coming months or years, the atmospheric changes wrought by burning fossil fuels will remain for a long time to come. As this reality dawns on more people, mental health professionals all over the world find themselves racing to develop strategies to help them deal with the fallout, knowing it’s a phenomenon that may someday affect almost everyone.
In the developing world, millions have been dealing with the psychological effects of global warming for years. Rising temperatures in Nigeria are contributing to desertification, forcing herders in the north to move south to feed their cattle. The shift has precipitated confrontations with crop farmers. Fear of violence over increasingly scarce resources is not uncommon.
Last October, Amuche Nnabueze’s relatives learned that a stand of trees planted by her uncles had been cut down in a property dispute. “Now that you’ve cut the trees down, the animals that were living there are homeless,” said Nnabueze, 50, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. “The oxygen [the trees] were generating is no longer there.”
The conflict is emblematic of how, thanks to climate change, large swaths of the African Sahel and savanna are expected to become the front lines of a competition for resources.
Mariana Menezes said she celebrated when the Paris Agreement was signed. Living near Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, Menezes said she “felt like we were going to manage to solve everything.” But in 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was going to withdraw from the pact, she was crestfallen. “I feel like I was naïve, and sort of ill-informed,” Menezes said. “I started getting really worried, thinking, ‘oh no, we’re not going to make it.'”
She started reading more about the crisis. The more she learned, the worse it got. “I became very anxious. I couldn’t sleep,” said Menezes, 44, a mother of three. “I was thinking about my children.”
In Colombia, people are bracing for an increase in average temperature of as much as 0.9 degrees Celsius by 2040, which could reduce agricultural productivity in a coffee-growing country where more than 40% of the population is already poor. Luis Gilberto Murillo, Colombia’s former environment minister, warns that the developing world already faces life-and-death choices tied to global warming.
“These communities’ concern isn’t necessarily that we’re facing the great catastrophe of climate change, and that in 10 years they won’t exist,” he said. “These communities have no guarantee they’ll still exist in two years.”
The sheer number of people across the globe susceptible to climate-induced stress has fostered a sense of urgency among mental health professionals seeking to understand the issue. Virtually anyone “could be affected by climate anxiety, regardless of their own personal vulnerability or relative safety,” according to Susan Clayton, a psychology professor and researcher at The College of Wooster in Ohio.
Several studies have found a sizable minority saying the changing climate already affects their normal functioning. Seattle-based counselor Andrew Bryant said people are anxious about both global warming and being directly affected by a climate disaster. New York psychiatrist Janet Lewis said individuals are struggling with the everyday dissonance of daily activities—things they know are harmful, like eating red meat or driving a gas-burning car.
Lewis, who practices in upstate New York, used to get laughs from colleagues about her climate-related work when she began in 2015. Now there’s increasing evidence that rising temperatures are associated with more violence, including suicide.
The Climate Psychiatry Alliance, of which Lewis is a member, is working with the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America to create training materials for mental health professionals. The American Psychological Association already has a course for practitioners, and Australian nonprofit Psychology for a Safe Climate has produced a professional development series. Other efforts around the globe are also in the works.
Among practitioners, a lack of awareness of climate-related mental health issues creates a risk of misunderstanding. If someone expresses trepidation about having kids because of the climate crisis, a professional not aware of the issue “might think of it as a defense against some deeper, more personal anxieties,” said psychiatrist Elizabeth Haase.
Mental health experts emphasize that communicating with friends and family remains an effective way to cope—not everyone needs a therapist. Still, only 37% of Americans say they talk about global warming on a regular basis with people close to them, according to a survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Exploring the nature of the problem is key to finding ways to psychologically cope, according to Clayton. Climate change is real, so it’s rational to be worried. It’s in flux, so complete adaptation is impossible. And it’s uncertain, so anxiety may be more likely than fear. Normally, Clayton said, it’s possible to face a challenge in at least two ways: solve it or change your attitude towards it. But no one person can slow global warming or climate change, so a sense of powerlessness may take hold—spurring a retreat into denial.
But there’s a third way, she said: finding purpose in the “struggle” to find solutions, from everyday behavior like recycling and buying sustainable food to advocacy. Lewis said people need to be “in touch with their own agency, their own ability to act and influence change rather than being shut down, overwhelmed or just retreating.”
The idea of “re-earthing,” or strengthening the connection between individuals and the planet, is gaining support as a way of both increasing environmental awareness and staving off despair, according to clinical psychologist Elizabeth Allured. Along similar lines, Portland, Oregon-based psychologist Thomas Doherty said he encourages people to explore their environmental identity. Though a relatively new concept, some broad classifications could include “egocentric” (inspired by personal benefit), “altruistic” (concern for others), or “Earth-based” (seeking to protect the natural world for its own sake). People often showcase a mix of these motivations, according to Doherty.
Different environmental identities lead some to try different paths—from working to save endangered species to securing access to clean water or reducing waste. Doherty has treated everyone from a teenager dealing with climate grief to a septuagenarian economist and environmentalist grappling with the sense of having “lost” the battle. He also offers courses for practitioners.
“If you don’t really have any kind of environmental-identity basis, it’s like an empty box that you’re trying to put a heavy thing on,” Doherty said. “It just collapses.”
Rowan Ryrie, 39, discovered her climate identity after wondering for a long time how parents like her could organize around global warming issues. After attending a demonstration in Oxford, in the U.K., she chose to embark on a bigger environmental enterprise.
Eventually, she co-founded a global advocacy network called Parents for Future. Menezes in Brazil and Nnabueze in Nigeria steer national groups that are part of the organization. “I feel connected with parents all over the world who are trying to do the same climate work that I’m trying to do,” Ryrie said. “That’s really heartening. It gives me a lot of hope.”
In Nigeria, Nnabueze, who is also an artist, makes sculptures out of litter and works to reclaim indigenous knowledge on waste management through skills such as basketweaving, a more sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Stephanie Felts in the U.S. writes open letters to her daughters, posting them to the Good Grief Network, a digital space to discuss distress over topics ranging from global warming to the coronavirus. She said sharing her thoughts with like-minded people can bring relief.
Then there’s Sophia Kianni, a 19-year-old Iranian-American activist who founded a nonprofit that translates climate research into 100 languages, all while serving on a United Nations advisory group and attending college. Kianni came up with
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Ask a farmer, a scientist, and a conservation professional to define soil health, and you might come up with three rather different answers. That mismatch may be at the root of lower-than-ideal adoption of soil conservation practices, according to a new study from the University of Illinois and The Ohio State University.
“We all use the term ‘soil health,’ but upon further discussion, it’s often clear different groups don’t really have the same working definition or interpretation of the term. When we keep talking past one another, assuming we know what the other person means, that’s a potential barrier to greater adoption of good soil management practices,” says Jordon Wade, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, and lead author on the study. Wade conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU.
Importantly, the study also finds farmers care far more about soil health than scientists and conservation professionals think.
“Many academics think farmers don’t value soil health, but our results clearly show it’s a major priority for them. We end up spending so much time trying to convince farmers that soil health is important, but they’re already there,” Wade says. “We need to move on and start recognizing farmers as our colleagues and our equals in what we’re trying to achieve.”
Wade and his colleagues sent paper and digital surveys to hundreds of Midwestern farmers, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) employees, and agricultural researchers, evaluating their conceptualizations and prioritization of soil health and common soil tests. The researchers employed a mental models approach, a type of survey method that tests assumptions about causal relationships among various concepts or factors.
In addition to finding farmers prioritized soil health at a higher level (8.5 out of 10) than academics and NRCS professionals expected (4.9 and 5.7, respectively), the survey revealed surprising agreement about how the groups conceptualized soil health.
“Famers, NRCS personnel, and agricultural researchers all agreed that soil health positively affected crop productivity and farm profitability,” says Margaret Beetstra, co-author on the study and John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “And all groups reported bidirectional linkages, or feedback loops, between soil health and soil fertility, biological functioning, and soil physical functioning. This was an unexpectedly high degree of agreement across groups, which broadly refuted our hypothesis that farmers and academics conceptualize soil health differently.”
The researchers noted slight differences in soil health conceptualization within groups, however, meaning there isn’t necessarily one right way for groups to communicate about the topic.
“If I, as a researcher, am talking about improving soil health, I might be thinking about how this could reduce inputs, but an NRCS conservationist might not be,” Wade says. “This means that our takeaways from a conversation about soil health could be quite different.”
When asked about how they used and valued various soil tests, farmers and academics tended to be more similar than NRCS professionals, who, according to the survey, rely more heavily on in-field measurements (e.g., “by feel” or how the ground works up with a tractor) than standard agronomic soil tests (e.g., pH, organic matter, extractable nutrients). All groups said they value soil health tests that incorporate measurements of soil microbial activity, but the survey revealed farmers just aren’t using them.
“Our finding that farmers find soil health tests valuable, but often don’t use them suggests some kind of barrier exists, such as availability or cost of these tests,” Wade says.
The study suggests communication and research strategies around soil health could focus less on whether or not soil health is important and more on the perceived benefits and how to measure them. “With more stakeholders pushing in a similar direction, the hope is that we keep improving soil health across the Midwest,” Wade says.
Andrew Margenot, study co-author and Wade’s current faculty advisor at U of I, works closely with Illinois farmers on soil health and fertility issues. He says, “Many farmers in Illinois with whom we worked have noted potential links between soil health and water quality for a given practice, and also, importantly, how some practices may yield benefits on soil health but not necessarily water quality. Given the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy goals of decreased nutrient export to surface waters, this study reinforces that we researchers should be more explicit in articulating—and working with farmers to quantify –how practices that improve water quality may also bolster soil health.”
The article, “Soil health conceptualization differs across key stakeholder groups in the Midwest,” is published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.
J. Wade et al, Soil health conceptualization differs across key stakeholder groups in the Midwest, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (2021). DOI: 10.2489/jswc.2021.02158
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