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You should be excited about this SCOTUS decision, too

You should be excited about this SCOTUS decision, too

By on 29 Jun 2015commentsShare

Amid big huzzahs for the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage last week, there was another, less-heralded 5-4 vote that also deals a stiff blow to decades-old discriminatory practices: The court’s ruling on a Texas case involving housing discrimination.

On June 25, SCOTUS found that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The court cited the legal concept known as “disparate impact” — the idea that policies can still be discriminatory (and therefore illegal) even if the discrimination is not intentional. Disparate impact is an important concept in civil rights law, since proving intentional discrimination is extremely difficult in court. Disparate impact, however, per the New York Times’ take on the news, “can be proved using statistics.”

As Brentin Mock pointed out in January, while this particular case specifically addresses housing discrimination — the plaintiffs argued that state officials were sanctioning too many subsidized housing developments in African-American neighborhoods, perpetuating the very segregation they were meant to address — its outcome has huge ripple effects on environmental justice, too. Zoning laws, which are typically responsible for the siting of hazardous waste facilities and other polluting industries, can be called up under the Fair Housing Act. And showing the disproportionate impacts of pollution on low-income communities of color in court is far easier, Brentin wrote, than proving “there was malice in the heart of the developer who placed the housing projects near the landfills.”

Still, bloggers and analysts maintain, the court undermined its own historic ruling by limiting the ways that the disparate impact claim can be used. According to Quartz, for instance:

Unfortunately, the court tempered its own ruling by limiting disparate-impact claims to cases where a law or policy raises “artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers.” That gives lower courts a lot of leeway in interpretation. And it said that purely statistical evidence of disparate impact isn’t enough; plaintiffs must also prove that a law or policy caused that impact, which will often be hard.

So, this is hardly the end of the road. But now that the nation’s highest court has finally, officially recognized disparate impact, it should be far more possible to address real injustices that do exist — regardless of whether anybody intended them to.

The other big US Supreme Court Decision we should be celebrating is one no one’s talking about

, Quartz.

Justices Back Broad Interpretation of Housing Law

, New York Times.



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Terrifying video shows smog taking over the earth

desolation of smog

Terrifying video shows smog taking over the earth

By on 30 Jan 2015 5:16 pmcommentsShare

If you lived your entire life on NASA’s International Space Station, watching the earth like some sort of space-age Rapunzel, you’d probably imagine that life on the blue planet looks a little like this — and only partly because Harry Potter has been your only companion all those lonely years in space. Mostly, it’s that the earth’s atmosphere actually does resemble a powerful wizard fire battle right now.

Spoiler: It’s not actually magic. The video above, produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center between September 2006 and April 2007, shows the paths of air pollution particles (called aerosols) traveling across the globe and, scientists believe, strengthening storms and cyclones.

Since Asia has some of the worst air pollution on the planet, scientists are starting their hunt for an aerosol-weather connection there. Jonathan Jiang and Yuan Wang from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that China’s extreme smog leads to worse weather patterns outside of tropical regions. Here’s Quartz with an explanation:

They found that the current pollution patterns, such as heavy pollution from China, lead to stronger cyclones outside of tropical regions. That’s because when storms form across the Pacific, more water condenses onto the increased aerosols. This condensation releases energy, making the storms even more powerful.

OK, China may be particularly grimy right now, but that’s just where the scientists started their research. If you sit down for three minutes and actually watch the globe turn (take this as poetically as you please, but I’m talking about the above vid), you’ll notice aerosol hot spots on almost every continent save the poles. Unfortunately, we can’t holler “stupefy” to halt these dueling forces — well, I dunno, has anyone tried yet?

Watch Asia’s air pollution spread across the globe

, Quartz.



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