Saturday, July 05, 2014

all weather is local | three maps that have nothing — and everything — to do with youth work

This map shows states with significantly higher and lower than average deaths from drug-poisoning in 2011—including suicides, homicides, unintentional and unknown. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dark blue states reported significantly higher rates of drug-poisoning deaths in 2011 than the national average of 13.2 per 100,000 population (drug-poisoning = overdose); light blue states report significantly lower rates.

North Dakota saw fewer than 20 drug deaths per 100,000 people in 2011 (they're the white rectangle in the northern tier of states). By comparison, West Virginia was awash in drug-related deaths, with just over 36 per 100,000 people.

The patterns defy conventional expectations, with New York at 9.7 per 100,000, New Mexico at 26.3; California at 10.7, Kentucky at 25 (It's a shock to the system to find that that New York and California do not have higher drug death rates than New Mexico and Kentucky).

The national death toll from drug-poisoning in 2011 was 43,340—not 850 deaths per state + DC, but spread irregularly and all over the map because of...what? Not total population. Not population density. Not ethnic/racial composition. Not red/blue political majorities. If none of those, then what?

+ + +

A few years ago I was in Kenya to look, among other things, at Compassion's Child Survival Program. This initiative provides prenatal care to pregnant poor women and then maintains the connection with mother and newborn through early childhood with growth monitoring, immunizations, female literacy, food supplements, family planning and other interventions.

This map reports Infant Mortality Rates by country. Infant Mortality Rate is calculated by the number of deaths before the age of one per 1,000 live births (not the deaths per 100,000 population in the drug-poisoning map above).

Index Mundi - click here for interactive map
At the time of my visit, Kenya's infant mortality rate was around 50—meaning about five children in a hundred died before turning a year old. But the community around the Compassion Child Survival Program we visited reported an estimated infant mortality rate somewhere around 300—meaning, for every hundred children born in that area, around 30 died within a year. Imagine living in a community where your neighbors lost about one infant in three...

But that was before Compassion planted the Child Survival Program center there. Once they were up and running, the estimated infant mortality rate was near zero. In the years since the center opened, there had been only one infant death in the community. Compassion learned to deliver the right interventions, at the right time, to the right families, in the right way.

+ + +

This map is from a new project called, Risky Business, that assesses a range of regional economic scenarios related to climate change between now and the next century or so. The project is a nonpartisan coalition of political conservatives, moderates and liberals working to understand the likely impacts of climate change on natural resources, business productivity, and economic outcomes in the U.S. economy. - click here for interactive map

The initial report shows how already existing climate change factors are likely to reshape regional economies if A) we do nothing different, B) we make modest reductions in the risk factors that contribute to climate change, or C) we make significant changes in those negative contributors.

The economic risks and burdens of climate change aren't the same in every part of the country for the simple reason that the U.S. is big and geographically diverse.

So, sea level rise is a profound economic and national security risk in the Far West where I live. Add in increasing risks of fresh water shortages and wildfires and it doesn't take a genius to anticipate serious threats to natural resources, property, productivity and economic growth in the West.

In the Northeast and Southeast where my spouse and I were raised, economic and health dangers merge in a scale called the Humid Heat Stroke Index that measures the impact of increasing humidity and heat on the safety and productivity of people who must work outdoors (agriculture, construction, transportation, and so on). Add to that the increased costs of cooling indoor spaces for the rest of the workforce, plus the risks associated with coastal flooding, and the future in the East Coast looks hot, sticky, physically hazardous and very expensive if we continue doing business as usual.

And so it goes across all six geographic and economic regions, each with its own assets and liabilities (not to mention its own microclimate zones) which must be weighed and balanced in a long view economic picture. Try to average them all out and you get an almost useless picture of possible futures. As Risky Business Co-Chair, Tom Steyer, said, "Talking about climate change in terms of U.S. averages is like saying, 'My head is in the refrigerator and my feet are in the oven, so overall I'm average.'"

+ + +

Perhaps you see a pattern here...

  • Economists, scientists, policymakers, elected officials and courts can't lead the U.S. into a secure future by ignoring the distinctive conditions of life on the ground. Mississippi is not Montana and it's no good pretending they don't face unique challenges and opportunities going forward.
  • Compassion opens Child Survival Programs in infant mortality hotspots to address the needs of children and mothers at high risk. Outside those hotspots, Compassion's work focuses mainly on child development through the school-age years—but as Duffy Robbins noted on that same trip: "You can't develop children who don't survive." Compassion looks at conditions on the ground, and does what it takes.
  • American's die from drug-poisoning at different rates in parts of the country. So it behooves anyone working with teenagers to know something about the rate of drug-related deaths where they live and work. And then, whether high or low, it makes sense to learn how to deliver the right information and interventions, at the right time, to the right people, in the right way. 
Part of the "work" in youth work is figuring out how to be the right people with the right skills and practices to nurture teenagers into adulthood whole and healthy. We don't measure this work against the scale of national averages; we measure this work in the real and hyperlocal circumstances of the real people we serve.

Am I in a drug-death hotspot? a gun-violence free fire zone? a microclimate of high teenage pregnancy? Whatever the case, borrowing a notion from Reinhold Neibuhr, what can I do but pray for the grace to take this world as I find it—not as I would have it—and seek God's kingdom and will as if my life depended on it...which I imagine in some way it does.

Youth work is not national or even regional; youth work is practiced in microclimates. 

This is why massive umbrella strategies and programs for youth work often fail. Grand strategies and programs are not the stuff of youth work—youth workers are the stuff of youth work: men and women so tuned to conditions on the ground that they make a difference by being there; by the content of their character; by the company they keep in relationships they sustain and relationships that sustain them; by the knowledge, insight, wisdom, skill, craft and sound practices they apply in their own microclimates, season after season, for as long as they're able.

Whatever the forecasters and prognosticators think, report, publish, or offer for sale, youth workers have to reckon with the downpour or drought that's playing out right where they are—because, as anyone can tell you, all weather is local.

No comments: