Climate Change “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth

October 8, 2015 by  
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By Michael T. Klare |

Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.


Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature. This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters. At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.

Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable. In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.

Take the disruption of the North Atlantic Current, the pivotal event in The Day After Tomorrow. Essentially an extension of the Gulf Stream, that deep-sea current carries relatively warm salty water from the South Atlantic and the Caribbean to the northern reaches of the Atlantic. In the process, it helps keep Europe warmer than it would otherwise be. Once its salty water flows into sub-Arctic areas carried by this prolific stream, it gets colder and heavier, sinks to lower depths, and starts a return trip to warmer climes in the south where the whole process begins again.

So long as this “global conveyor belt” — known to scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — keeps functioning, the Gulf Stream will also continue to bring warmer waters to the eastern United States and Europe. Should it be disrupted, however, the whole system might break down, in which case the Euro-Atlantic climate could turn colder and more storm-prone. Such a disruption might occur if the vast Greenland ice sheet melts in a significant way, as indeed is already beginning to happen today, pouring large quantities of salt-free fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its lighter weight, this newly introduced water will remain close to the surface, preventing the submergence of salty water from the south and so effectively shutting down the conveyor belt. Indeed, exactly this process now seems to be underway.

By all accounts, 2015 is likely to wind up as the hottest year on record, with large parts of the world suffering from severe heat waves and wildfires. Despite all this, however, a stretch of the North Atlantic below Iceland and Greenland is experiencing all-time cold temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What explains this anomaly? According to scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Pennsylvania State University, among other institutions, the most likely explanation is the arrival in the area of cold water from the Greenland ice sheet that is melting ever more rapidly thanks to climate change. Because this meltwater starts out salt-free, it has remained near the surface and so, as predicted, is slowing the northern advance of warmer water from the North Atlantic Current.

So far, the AMOC has not suffered a dramatic shutdown, but it is slowing, and scientists worry that a rapid increase in Greenland ice melt as the Arctic continues to warm will pour ever more meltwater into the North Atlantic, severely disrupting the conveyor system. That would, indeed, constitute a major tipping point, with severe consequences for Europe and eastern North America. Not only would Europe experience colder temperatures on an otherwise warmer planet, but coastal North America could witness higher sea levels than those predicted from climate change alone because the Gulf Stream tends to pull sea water away from the eastern U.S. and push it toward Europe. If it were to fail, rising sea levels could endanger cities like New York and Boston. Indeed, scientists discovered that just such a slowing of the AMOC helped produce a sea-level rise of four inches from New York to Newfoundland in 2009 and 2010.

In its 2014 report on the status of global warming, the IPCC indicated that the likelihood of the AMOC collapsing before the end of this century remains relatively low. But some studies suggest that the conveyor system is already 15%-20% below normal with Greenland’s melting still in an early stage. Once that process switches into high gear, the potential for the sort of breakdown that was once science fiction starts to look all too real.

Tipping Points on the Horizon

In a 2014 report, “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” Working Group II of the IPCC identified three other natural systems already showing early-warning signs of catastrophic tipping points: the Arctic, coral reefs, and the Amazonian forest. All three, the report suggested, could experience massive and irreversible changes with profound implications for human societies.

The Arctic comes in for particular scrutiny because it has experienced more warming than any other region on the planet and because the impact of climate change there is already so obvious. As the report put it, “For the Arctic region, new evidence indicates a biophysical regime shift is taking place, with cascading impacts on physical systems, ecosystems, and human livelihoods.”

This has begun with a massive melt of sea ice in the region and a resulting threat to native marine species. “For Arctic marine biota,” the report notes, “the rapid reduction of summer ice covers causes a tipping element that is now severely affecting pelagic [sub-surface] ecosystems as well as ice-dependent mammals such as seals and polar bears.” Other flora and fauna of the Arctic biome are also demonstrating stress related to climate change. For example, vast areas of tundra are being invaded by shrubs and small trees, decimating the habitats of some animal species and increasing the risk of fires.

This Arctic “regime shift” affects many other aspects of the ecosystem as well. Higher temperatures, for instance, have meant widespread thawing and melting of permafrost, the frozen soil and water that undergirds much of the Arctic landmass. In this lies another possible tipping-point danger, since frozen soils contain more than twice the carbon now present in the atmosphere. As the permafrost melts, some of this carbon is released in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and other such gases. In other words, as the IPCC noted, any significant melting of Arctic permafrost will “create a potentially strong positive feedback to accelerate Arctic (and global) warming.” This, in fact, could prove to be more than a tipping point. It could be a planetary catastrophe.

Along with these biophysical effects, the warming of the Arctic is threatening the livelihoods and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of the region. The loss of summer sea ice, for example, has endangered the marine species on which many such communities depend for food and the preservation of their cultural traditions. Meanwhile, melting permafrost and coastal erosion due to sea-level rise have threatened the very existence of their coastal villages. In September, President Obama visited Kotzebue, a village in Alaska some 30 miles above the Arctic Circle that could disappear as a result of melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and ever bigger storm surges.

Coral Reefs at Risk

Another crucial ecosystem that’s showing signs of heading toward an irreversible tipping point is the world’s constellation of coral reefs. Remarkably enough, although such reefs make up less than 1% of the Earth’s surface area, they house up to 25% of all marine life. They are, that is, essential for both the health of the oceans and of fishing communities, as well as of those who depend on fish for a significant part of their diet. According to one estimate, some 850 million people rely on coral reefs for their food security.

Corals, which are colonies of tiny animals related to sea anemones, have proven highly sensitive to changes in the acidity and temperature of their surrounding waters, both of which are rising due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As a result, in a visually dramatic process called “bleaching,” coral populations have been dying out globally. According to a recent study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, coral reef extent has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and all reefs could disappear as early as 2050 if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue.

“This irreversible loss of biodiversity,” reports the IPCC, will have “significant consequences for regional marine ecosystems as well as the human livelihoods that depend on them.” Indeed, the growing evidence of such losses “strengthens the conclusion that increased mass bleaching of corals constitutes a strong warning signal for the singular event that would constitute the irreversible loss of an entire biome.”

Amazonian Dry-Out

The Amazon has long been viewed as the epitome of a tropical rainforest, with extraordinary plant and animal diversity. The Amazonian tree cover also plays a vital role in reducing the pace of global warming by absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. For years, however, the Amazon has been increasingly devastated by a process of deforestation, as settlers from Brazil’s coastal regions clear land for farming and ranching, and loggers (many operating illegally) harvest timber for wood products. Now, as if to add insult to injury, the region faces a new threat from climate change: tree mortality due to a rise in severe drought and the increased forest fire risk that accompanies it.

Although it can rain year-round in the Amazon region, there is a distinct wet season with heavy rainfall and a dry season with much less of it. An extended dry season with little rain can endanger the survival of many trees and increase the risk of wildfires. Research conducted by scientists at the University of Texas has found that the dry season in the southern Amazonian region has grown by a week every decade since 1980 while the annual fire season has lengthened. “The dry season over the southern Amazon is already marginal for maintaining rainforest,” says Rong Fu, the leader of the research team. “At some point, if it becomes too long, the rainforest will reach a tipping point” and disappear.

Because the Amazon harbors perhaps the largest array of distinctive flora and fauna on the planet, its loss would represent an irreversible blow to global biodiversity. In addition, the region hosts some of the largest assemblages of indigenous peoples still practicing their traditional ways of life. Even if their lives were saved (through relocation to urban slums or government encampments), the loss of their cultures, representing thousands of years of adaptation to a demanding environment, would be a blow for all humankind.

As in the case of the Arctic and coral reefs, the collapse of the Amazon will have what the IPCC terms “cascading impacts,” devastating ecosystems, diminishing biodiversity, and destroying the ways of life of indigenous peoples. Worse yet, as with the melting of the Arctic, so the drying-out of Amazonia is likely to feed into climate change, heightening its intensity and so sparking yet more tipping points on a planet increasingly close to the brink.

In its report, the IPCC, whose analysis tends, if anything, to be on the conservative side of climate science, indicated that the Amazon faced a relatively low risk of dying out by 2100. However, a 2009 study conducted by Britain’s famed Meteorological (Met) Office suggests that the risk is far greater than previously assumed. Even if global temperatures were to be held to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the study notes, as much as 40% of the Amazon would perish within a century; with 3 degrees of warming, up to 75% would vanish; and with 4 degrees, 85% would die. “The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” said Met researcher Vicky Pope.

Of Tipping Points and Singularities

These four natural systems are by no means the only ones that could face devastating tipping points in the years to come. The IPCC report and other scientific studies hint at further biomes that show early signs of potential catastrophe. But these four are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.

The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls. Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.

Were the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to fail, for example, there would be nothing we could do to turn it back on, nor would we be able to recreate coral reefs or resurrect the Amazon. Add in one other factor: when natural systems of this magnitude fail, should we not expect human systems to fail as well? No one can answer this question with certainty, but we do know that earlier human societies collapsed when faced with other kinds of profound changes in climate.

All of this should be on the minds of delegates to the upcoming climate summit in Paris, a meeting focused on adopting an international set of restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Each participating nation is obliged to submit a set of measures it is ready to take, known as “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs, aimed at achieving the overall goal of preventing planetary warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius. However, the INDCs submitted to date, including those from the United States and China, suggest a distinctly incremental approach to the problem. Unfortunately, if planetary tipping points are in our future, this mindset will not measure up. It’s time to start thinking instead in terms of civilizational survival.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare


Hillary Ad: GOP has admitted Benghazi Investigation Bogus

October 8, 2015 by  
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Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola | (The Young Turks) | – –

“Hillary Clinton responded to Kevin McCarthy’s recent gaffe admitting the political motivations for the Benghazi committees.

Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola (Think Tank), hosts of the The Young Turks, break it down. . .

“Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has leveraged House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) recent comments about the Select Committee on Benghazi into a television ad attacking Republicans.

A 30-second ad released by the campaign on Monday night begins by saying, “The Republicans finally admit it.”

The ad then includes a clip of McCarthy’s recent comments about the political success of the Benghazi committee…

The Clinton ad then notes, “Republican have spent millions attacking Hillary because she’s fighting for everything they oppose.”

The Young Turks: “Hillary Ad Hammers Republicans On Bogus Benghazi Investigation”

In final Failure for Bush/Cheney, many in Iraq seek Russian Alliance

October 8, 2015 by  
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By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iraqi government in Baghdad, threatened by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and frustrated by the Obama administration’s foot-dragging in taking it on, seems increasingly tempted by a Russia alliance.

Leaders of the Iraqi Shiite militias visited Moscow this week to seek Russian airstrikes against Daesh, according to the Egyptian newspaper Mada. Faleh al-Fayyadh, head of the Popular Mobilization Units or Shiite militias and Iraq’s national security adviser are said to have been among the delegation.

The US has been appalled by the notion that the Sunni cities of Iraq now under Daesh rule should be conquered, like Tikrit, mainly by hard line Shiite militias. The US has argued to PM Haydar al-Abadi that he should put off further big offensives until a much bigger Sunni contingent of troops can be recruited, who could take the lead in the fighting and so avoid inflaming sectarian tensions. But these Sunni troops have not actually materialized, and Daesh in Ramadi threatens Shiite cities such as Karbala, and some Iraqi Shiites are tired of waiting on the US.

Also this week the head of the Iraqi parliament’s Defense and Security Committee, Hakim al-Zimili said, “I think the upcoming few days or weeks Iraq will be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes and that depends on their success in Syria. . . we are seeking to see Russia have a bigger role in Iraq . . . definitely a bigger role than the Americans [have now].” Al-Zimili had been a member of the Sadr Bloc, and was deputy head of the Health Ministry in 2006-2007, when it was accused of tracking Sunni insurgents who went to hospital and kidnapping them.

Saad Hadisi, a spokesman for the government in Baghdad of Haydar al-Abadi, said, “We need to develop cooperation with these countries [Russia, Iran, Syria] for the defense of Iraq and to protect our people.”

But Sunni parliamentarians are objecting to any Iraqi alliance with these three countries. Unfortunately for them, they can be voted down by the Shiite majority.

The socialist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan would be happy, spokesman Saadi Ahmad Pira, about a Russian air campaign against Daesh. The minions of the phoney caliphate are not far from PUK base Sulaymaniya. The Massoud Barzani-led Kurdistan Regional Government, on the other hand, worries about Great Power rivalries in Iraq and seems more cautious about a Russian intervention.


Related video:

Arirang News: “Iraq may soon request Russian airstrikes against Islamic State on its soil”

Armed Extremists plan “Global Rally” to Stalk American Mosques

October 8, 2015 by  
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Bridge Initiative Team | (Tracking islamophobia)

Against the backdrop of increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric, a coalition of online activists is calling on “patriots” to organize protests in front of mosques across the United States. Dubbed the “Global Rally for Humanity,” events are planned in at least 20 cities nationwide on October 9th and 10th. Claiming that “[h]umanity is attacked daily by radical Islam,” the organizers’ Facebook page serves as a de facto headquarters for interested parties, and offers instructions for citizens to start a rally in their own cities.

One of the demonstrations’ major promoters is Jon Ritzheimer, who organized a rally outside a Phoenix mosque in late May. Some participants brandished military-grade weapons at that event, which garnered international media attention. In the wake of the Phoenix protest, Ritzheimer called for an international, two-day event to protest Islam. The global rally, scheduled for the second weekend of October, appears to be the result of Ritzheimer’s initial plan.

As the Center for New Community, an organization that tracks Islamophobic and nativist activity, points outs, some of the organizers have told participants to leave weapons at home, but others have encouraged demonstrators to carry their weapons openly. Back in August, Ritzheimer said attendees should exercise their Second Amendment rights “in case [they] come under that much anticipated attack.” Ritzheimer, who has become known for his expletive-ridden Facebook videos about Muslims, has also received media attention for his plot to arrest supporters of the Iran nuclear deal.

The Center for New Community has plotted the planned U.S. protests, which have their own respective Facebook pages, on this map.

The broader picture

The planned demonstrations are the latest ripples in a rising tide of American Islamophobia. They come at a time when major presidential candidates have taken aim at Muslims, and in the wake of an intense national conversation about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim boy arrested earlier this month for bringing a homemade clock to his ninth-grade class. On social media, some Americans’ concerns about the Syrian refugee crisis have been expressed through rhetoric that demonizes or dehumanizes Muslims.

Though not widely reported at the national level, there have been other incidents of hostility facing Muslims and their institutions. In Texas and Tennessee, demonstrations have been held outside of schools which teach Arabic or about Islam. And in Sterling Heights, Michigan, opposition to the construction of a mosque culminated in a massive protest, in which one attendee shouted “I don’t want a mosque anywhere!”

The prevalence of positive responses

But, in many cases, these incidents have been met with a positive countervoice. Before the Ritzheimer rally in May, the Twitter hashtag #NotMyAmerica circulated with messages of appreciation and admiration for the Muslim community. A nearby Christian church organized a counter-rally, which drew a sizeable number of participants. And Arizona’s interfaith community held a solidarity vigil with the targeted mosque, expressing their support and rejecting the divisive protest. Usama Shami, president of Islamic Community Center of Phoenix said, “This hate is the exception. A lot of people don’t have the same faith, but when it comes to the freedom of worship, the faith community as a whole stands shoulder to shoulder.”

Just as they did in May, civil rights groups, interfaith initiatives, and other coalitions are now mobilizing to organize a response to these upcoming rallies. In Toledo, Ohio, Catholic and Muslims leaders already had a dialogue planned for October 8th. In light of the planned rallies, the organizers now see their event as an important “counter demonstration.”

But what may be even more important to note is that these acts of coming together—interreligious dialogues, joint service projects, reciprocal field trips to houses of worship—don’t occur only in response to grand displays of fearmongering like the upcoming “Global Rally.” They happen frequently throughout the country, and are proactively organized not as a reaction to tragedy, but out of a genuine desire to build relationships. It’s a reminder that, though American society still has work to do in breaking down Islamophobia, there are countless examples of America’s ideal of pluralism already being carried out.

Via The Bridge


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CAIR: “Video: CAIR Urges U.S. Mosques to Take Safety Measures Ahead of Anti-Islam Hate Rallies”

Spicy miso ramen #ftw #chelseaeats (at SAKURAMEN)

October 8, 2015 by  
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Spicy miso ramen #ftw #chelseaeats (at SAKURAMEN)

Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival

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The 6th annual Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival kicks off Friday October 9th with an opening reception at Popps Packing with new work by Hamtramck artist and performer, Jessica Frelinghuysen. This will also be your first opportunity to get a hold of maps and schedules.

The festival resumes Saturday at 12pm with a heroic bloody mary brunch at BUMBOS, including amazing eats provided by the friendly owners of Hamtramck’s newest most excellent bar. From there the festival takes over the city as artists on the south side of Caniff open their home studios and music rises from backyards and empty lots. The whole thing moves from south to north as the day rolls on, culminating in a frenzy of events and performances and opportunities to imbibe in delicious beverages at Lo Behold, the Bier garden in the vacant lot on Campau , Elijah’s, and yes, back to Bumbos.

"The festival is artist initiated," says Steve Hughes of Public Pool art space. “That is, as organizers we just provide a framework for it to happen. But we don’t know just what we’re going to find from one location to the next. That’s the beauty of it. It’s completely organic. It’s homegrown. It’s 100% Hamtramck.”

See the full schedule here

Volunteer Spot for Parent Teacher Conferences and More

October 8, 2015 by  
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Scheduling Parent Teacher ConferencesWith Volunteer Spot

When you work with multiple people and groups, it can be next to impossible to find a date or time that works for EVERYONE. I know this all too well as a Girl Scout leader. If I plan a meeting on a Tuesday, chances are it won’t work well for at least one family.

My solution and what I’ve used in the past as a teacher, Volunteer Spot.


When I was teaching for, everything was virtual with my students and parents. I taught 3rd grade and had to regularly conference with my parents and do DIEBLES testing with my 3rd graders to make sure they were making progress with their reading and meeting benchmarks. With so many 3rd graders to test and parents to conference with, Volunteer Spot was my saving grace.

Volunteer Spot Conference Sign-Up
Example of a past Volunteer Spot Conference sign up from when I was teaching 3rd grade.

I set my conference times, putting them all into a calendar with Volunteer Spot and then sent the parents a link through email, inviting them to sign up for one, 30 minutes conference spot. I could see who signed up and who did not sign up, for follow-up. My parents appreciated my consideration for their time and allowing them to choose what worked best for their family schedule. Like I said, you can’t pick a meeting date or time that will work for everyone.

It was that simple. If fact, watch this quick video that describes how to use Volunteer Spot for parent teacher conferences. They do a far better job at explaining it than I do.


Everyone is busy and on the go, which is why I love Volunteer Spot. It makes everyone simple from how to share the invite (a link, embed on a website, email from Volunteer Spot, share via social) to reminding participants automatically one to three days before the event/conference. The automatic email was something that saved me a ton of time as a busy teacher. It also helped increase my conference attendance. Parents would thank me for the reminder email because they almost forgot!

Volunteer Spot Sign Up for Parent Teacher Conferences

Volunteer Spot has so many features and potential for making everyone’s life easier that can be used for church groups, Girl Scout troops and for planning events where money needs to be collected. This has also been an issue for me in the past but with Volunteer Spot, I can have my Girl Scout Troop parents, sign-up that their family can attend a camp outing and pay, at the same time. An excellent way for any coach to collect money for uniforms, trips, etc.  There is a small fee associated with each transaction, be sure to read the fine print.

Volunteer Spot for Collecting Money for Events and Field Trips

If you’re a teacher, a coach, troop leader or anyone that organizes events, conferences and tries to get everyone on the same page, consider Volunteer Spot. It’s FREE to sign up and use, only premium features require payments. For example, adding a waiver for parents to sign, is a premium feature.  I’m currently planning a few trips with my Girl Scout troop and even though the wavier is a paid premium feature, I could see this being very useful!

Have you used Volunteer Spot?? Share with me your stories and why you love it!! I’d love to hear them!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, I am being compensated for my time. This is my own true story and experience with Volunteer Spot, which is why I share it and recommend it. 

The post Volunteer Spot for Parent Teacher Conferences and More appeared first on Green and Clean Mom ™.

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The Michigan Man Podcast Episode 269: Northwestern Preview

October 8, 2015 by  
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Wildcat voice Dave Eanet joins the show.

In this edition of the Michigan Man Podcast, Northwestern radio voice Dave Eanet joins to preview Saturday's matchup between the Wildcats and Michigan Wolverines.

Book Blast: Tanner’s Devil by Sylvia Hubbard

October 8, 2015 by  
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Source: Book Blast: Tanner’s Devil by Sylvia HubbardFiled under: Uncategorized

It’s Baaaaack! Sign Up For “Run Of The Dead” Race Through Historic SW Detroit Cemeteries

October 8, 2015 by  
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The Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) will host the 2015 “Run of the Dead” from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Patton Park Recreation Center, 2301 Woodmere St., Detroit. The USTAF-certified 5K/10K race will take hundreds of competitors through two of Southwest Detroit’s most historic cemeteries in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday

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