I. Scientists Talk About Healthier Seas
Plastics and other debris from the land are an increasing threat to ocean waters and reefs, according to scientists at a recent Pew-sponsored symposium for science journalists. (Maarten Wouters/Getty Images)
Last October, a group of renowned marine researchers offered ideas for dealing with the forces harming the world’s marine environments, particularly the earth’s changing climate and overfishing. The scientists spoke on a panel, “Can We Save the Oceans From Ourselves?” organized by Pew at the 2017 World Conference of Science Journalists in San Francisco, which attracted some 1,400 journalists from nearly 70 countries. Among other topics, the panel discussed why fish are leaving their traditional waters and the health of coral reefs worldwide.
Addressing ocean threats is considered especially important now because of rising water temperatures and the destruction of key marine habitats. Most of the heat from global warming—90 percent—is absorbed by the oceans. In addition, marine species can tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures before they flee. “When the oceans heat up, animals vote with their fins and move elsewhere,” said biologist Malin Pinsky of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, whose research project charts the changing locations of marine life.
For example, some lobster populations have moved nearly 200 miles from their historic home waters over the past 50 years, he said, yet they’re not moving fast enough to respond to the dramatic temperature shifts in the ocean and to find a suitable habitat.
About half the fish caught around the world don’t live in a single country’s waters. Communities that depend on knowing where to find certain species—such as lobstermen in Maine and fishermen along the U.S. Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico—must quickly adapt to the animals’ movement or risk their livelihoods.
What’s more, knowing where fish live, and where they’re moving, would help provide a more accurate picture of marine populations, which is essential when determining how to rebuild depleted stocks and what fisheries management measures to pursue. The scientific community should consider migration issues in the framework of a “global ocean,” Rashid Sumaila, an environmental economist and 2008 Pew marine fellow at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told the audience.
“Fish don’t need visas, and they don’t care about geographic boundaries,” Sumaila said, stressing the importance of increased cooperation between countries and fisheries managers as well as data sharing about the fish they observe.
As important as it is to learn where marine species are migrating, it’s also crucial to protect the places where they live—particularly coral reefs, which provide numerous benefits to marine and terrestrial life. The reefs offer safe havens where many economically important species of fish spawn. Living reefs are also directly responsible for millions of jobs in the recreation and tourism industries, largely in support of people who snorkel and dive to see fish and their habitat firsthand. Reefs also shield coastal communities from storm surges and erosion, and have been the source of many new pharmaceuticals.
But coral reefs are also severely threatened by climate change, overfishing, and pollution on land. Notably, more than half of the reefs in the Caribbean Sea have been decimated in the last 40 years, with contaminated runoff partly to blame.
One panelist discussed how treating wastewater in terrestrial ponds full of algae—which use nutrients from wastewater to grow, then convert them into oils via photosynthesis—could help keep harmful nutrients and pathogens out of the ocean. As a bonus, these oils could then, under proper conditions, be turned into a viable biofuel, which would provide a sustainable way to help protect coral reefs.
The idea is just one that scientists are exploring to help improve and protect the health of our seas. “We are seeing rapid changes in the oceans,” Pinsky said, “but there are tools we have to reduce the impact.”
II. How Students Get Into Philly High Schools
Students on a break between classes at South Philadelphia's Academy for Palumbo High School. (Lexey Swall/GRAIN for The Pew Charitable Trusts)
While students in the School District of Philadelphia aren’t required to attend a particular high school, they must participate in a centralized application process if they want to go anywhere other than the school in their neighborhood. Since the majority of the 24 neighborhood schools are rated as low-quality by the district’s accountability system, most eighth-graders look to go elsewhere. Their options, in addition to publicly funded charter schools, include 21 highly competitive “special admission” programs, all of which have academic standards for admission, and 121 less-competitive programs listed as “citywide admission.”
Working with data from the school district, Pew analyzed where eighth-graders ended up attending high school in 2015-16 in an effort to understand how the application process was working and who wound up at the special admission schools.
Pew found that acceptance to these schools hinged on three factors: minimum scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, student and parent preferences, and admission decisions by the independent schools. However, while test scores were a key factor, some students—11 percent—who lacked minimum scores got in, and some who had the scores were rejected. These factors resulted in student bodies at special admission schools that differed from the district’s ninth grades as a whole, with the special admission schools having fewer Latinos and blacks, smaller percentages of low-income students, and a higher percentage of girls.
The research also found that some eighth-graders with qualifying test scores didn’t try to get into the special admission schools. Others were accepted but turned down the offers to enroll somewhere else. And a number of students, once enrolled, did not come to school when the academic year started. Opting out at these decision points was more common among certain groups of students, particularly Latinos. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. called the disappearance of any qualified applicant from the special admission pipeline a “lost opportunity” for the district and the student.
Citing Pew’s report, the school district recently changed the admissions system for its citywide trade and technical education high schools, replacing the application process with a lottery system for the 2018-19 school year. The aim of the new system, district officials said, is to promote fairness and equity.
III. Americans More Worried Than Excited About Automation Technology
Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to automate a wide range of human activities and dramatically reshape the way Americans live and work in the coming decades. A Pew Research Center survey of 4,135 U.S. adults published in October finds that many Americans anticipate significant changes from various automation technologies in the course of their lifetimes—from the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles to the replacement of entire job categories with robots. While those surveyed expect certain positive outcomes from these developments, their attitudes more frequently reflect worry and concern over the implications of these technologies for society as a whole.
The survey, conducted in May, presented respondents with four different scenarios relating to automation technologies. Collectively, the scenarios speak to many of the hopes and concerns embedded in the broader debate over automation and its impact on society. The scenarios were: the development of completely autonomous vehicles, robots and computers that could perform many jobs currently done by humans, fully autonomous robot caregivers for older adults, and a computer program that could evaluate and select job candidates without human involvement.
The survey finds that people express more worry than enthusiasm about these technologies. They are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72 percent) as enthusiasm (33 percent) about a future in which robots and computers are capable of doing many jobs currently done by humans. They are also about three times as likely to express worry (67 percent) as enthusiasm (22 percent) about algorithms that can make hiring decisions without human involvement. By comparison, views of driverless vehicles and robot caregivers are more balanced between worry and enthusiasm.
Those surveyed also express a number of concerns about the outcomes they anticipate from these technological developments. For instance, 76 percent expect that economic inequality will become much worse if robots and computers are able to perform many of the jobs currently done by humans. A similar share (75 percent) anticipates that the economy will not create many new, better-paying jobs for people if this scenario becomes a reality. And 64 percent expect that people will have a hard time finding things to do with their lives if forced to compete with advanced robots and computers for jobs.
In the case of driverless vehicles, 75 percent of respondents anticipate that this development will help the elderly and disabled live more independent lives. But a slightly larger share (81 percent) expects that many people who drive for a living will suffer job losses as a result. And although a plurality (39 percent) expects that the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents will decrease if driverless vehicles become widespread, 30 percent say autonomous vehicles will make the roads less safe for humans. Similarly, 7 in 10 Americans (70 percent) anticipate that robot caregivers will help alleviate the burden of caring for aging relatives—but nearly two-thirds (64 percent) expect these technologies to increase older adults’ feelings of isolation.
IV. A Brighter Future for Pacific Bluefin Tuna
A Pacific bluefin tuna breaches the surface as it chomps through a school of delicate anchovies off the California coast. (Ralph Pace)
The Pacific bluefin tuna is among the most depleted species on the planet, having been fished down more than 97 percent from its historic numbers to a population so low that Pew called in July 2016 for a two-year moratorium on fishing the species. For years, this prized fish has been in dire need of strong policies that would reverse its decline, but the two organizations responsible for its management—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission—had failed to take the necessary action.
That changed in August. At a joint meeting of the organizations, the Pacific bluefin’s primary fishing nations—Japan; Mexico; South Korea; Taiwan, Province of China; and the United States—agreed on a long-term plan that could rebuild the population from its current status of 2.6 percent of pre-fishing levels to 20 percent by 2034. If properly implemented, this agreement would start the species, and the fishing industry that depends on it, on a path toward sustainability.
Perhaps most significant was that Japan, which catches and consumes more Pacific bluefin than any other nation, dropped its long-standing resistance to taking action to rebuild the species’ population. That shift followed strong international pressure and growing media attention in the country on the fish’s plight.
Although the work has only begun, the August agreement could signal a move toward a greater focus on conservation at regional fisheries management organizations. “Fishing nations and their fleets now hold the key to a sustained recovery for Pacific bluefin,” says Amanda Nickson, who directs Pew’s international fisheries work. “If they can uphold the new rules, this vital species could rebound sooner than many of us had expected.”
V. 50-State Reports Reveal Various Approaches to Prison Health Care
The amount of money states spend on providing health care to incarcerated individuals varies greatly—from a high of $19,796 per person in California to a low of $2,173 in Louisiana in fiscal year 2015—and total overall health care costs represent about a fifth of states’ prison expenditures, Pew recently found. While these programs juggle multiple priorities to manage their budgets, from trimming waste to controlling the cost of pharmaceuticals, they also have a ripple effect. “Nearly all incarcerated individuals will eventually return to society, so treatment and discharge planning—especially for those with a substance use disorder, mental illness, or infectious disease—play an important role in public health efforts,” says Maria Schiff, who directs this aspect of Pew’s work on states’ fiscal health.
To help understand how states can better manage the many issues involved in prison health care, as well as which approaches afford the best health and financial outcomes, Pew and the Vera Institute of Justice administered two 50-state surveys and interviewed more than 75 state officials to create two reports on the subject. The first focuses on updating research on spending trends in prison health care, incorporating data on whether states are monitoring the quality of this care—and if so, how they are doing it—as well as the strategies they use to care for individuals after release. The second report takes an in-depth look at prescription drugs, assessing how they were purchased, which drugs were most costly, how these drugs affected the overall health care budget, and whether copayments or federal discounted drug pricing programs were used to help pay for them.
The goal of both of these reports is to provide administrators and policymakers with practical information about how different jurisdictions are funding and delivering health care in prisons, as well as to offer ideas for how states might borrow from one another’s approaches to help improve this care while managing the costs of delivering it.