Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Paul Krugman has a hopeful column, although the hope part depends on rational responses from governments… so perhaps not so hopeful. Still, it’s something:
This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?
I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.
But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.
On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.
On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity. . .
Obama is taking steps against excessive use of antibiotics by signing an executive order. Because of evolution, which actually does work, natural selection favors pathogens that can resist the antibiotics used, so such pathogens proliferate. In this case, however, the selection is not really “natural”: since humans are administering the antibiotics (in large numbers), we are in effect artificially selecting pathogens for antibiotic resistance—that is, we are engaged in a stupendously large program to breed pathogens that we cannot kill with our current medications.
Why one earth would we do such an insane thing? Money! You can make a lot of money by breeding superstrong pathogens that we cannot kill. Of course, eventually such pathogens will become a real problem, with people once again dying from small infections, but the beauty part is by then the money will have been made!
That is actually the “thinking” (if one can call it that) behind the great pressure to continue the super-pathogen breeding program.
Of course, Obama all to frequently seems incapable of committing himself to effective action. He may indeed have good intentions, but they are frittered away in compromises, half-measures, and backing down. Kerry Grens writes in The Scientist:
President Obama yesterday (September 18) signed an executive order and announced a National Strategy to fight antibiotic resistance. His administration also offered up a $20 million reward for developing a fast diagnostic test that could identify highly resistant bugs.
The National Strategy is a five-year plan including goals such as slowing the spread of drug-resistant bacteria; accelerating the development of new antibiotics, vaccines, and drugs; and enhancing the surveillance of antibiotic resistance. The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) also released its report outlining similar strategies.
“What’s new here is there is a highly federal focus that’s highly coordinated,” Eric Lander, the cochair of PCAST and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told CNN. “We are endorsing a variety of specific goals in order to get our arms around this problem. If we’re producing antibiotics at a greater rate than we’re losing them, then we win in the long run.”
Those in the infectious disease community appeared pleased by the attention on antibiotic resistance.“The President’s engagement and actions in fighting antimicrobial resistance are a great step forward, but follow-up with resources and leadership in implementation will be critical,” Jesse Goodman, the director of the Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship at Georgetown University Medical Center, said in a statement e-mailed to The Scientist.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, expressed disappointment in the lack of focus on antibiotic use on farms. “Just as the administration is taking steps to deal with abuse of antibiotics in humans, it must take steps to curb the overuse of antibiotics in animals, which consume about 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States. Shying away from taking these needed steps will not yield the ‘substantial changes’ that PCAST says are necessary,” Mae Wu, health attorney at the NRDC, said in a statement. The FDA has spearheaded efforts to get drugmakers to change their labeling to help curb the use of antibiotics for beefing up livestock.
Emphasis added. And Obama? He went home. He will do nothing about the core of the problem, just kind of tap around the edges.
I am so disappointed in this Administration. Plenty of fire in the belly for going after whistleblowers, protecting torturers, making more and more of government secret, letting the NSA and CIA do whatever they want, and so on—but actual constructive change? I think he used it all up in the Affordable Care Act.
Very interesting article pointed out by The Younger Daughter. Anna Fels points out that the drinking water for some communities contains trace amounts of naturally occurring lithium, and it seems to do a power of good. From the article:
. . . Lithium is a naturally occurring element, not a molecule like most medications, and it is present in the United States, depending on the geographic area, at concentrations that can range widely, from undetectable to around .170 milligrams per liter. This amount is less than a thousandth of the minimum daily dose given for bipolar disorders and for depression that doesn’t respond to antidepressants. Although it seems strange that the microscopic amounts of lithium found in groundwater could have any substantial medical impact, the more scientists look for such effects, the more they seem to discover. Evidence is slowly accumulating that relatively tiny doses of lithium can have beneficial effects. They appear to decrease suicide rates significantly and may even promote brain health and improve mood.
Yet despite the studies demonstrating the benefits of relatively high natural lithium levels present in the drinking water of certain communities, few seem to be aware of its potential. Intermittently, stories appear in the scientific journals and media, but they seem to have little traction in the medical community or with the general public.
When I recently attended a psychopharmacology course in which these lithium studies were reviewed, virtually none of the psychiatrists present had been aware of them.
The scientific story of lithium’s role in normal development and health began unfolding in the 1970s. Studies at that time found that animals that consumed diets with minimal lithium had higher mortality rates, as well as abnormalities of reproduction and behavior.
Researchers began to ask whether low levels of lithium might correlate with poor behavioral outcomes in humans. In 1990, a study was published looking at 27 Texas counties with a variety of lithium levels in their water. The authors discovered that people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium. The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.
Almost 20 years later, a Japanese study that looked at 18 municipalities with more than a million inhabitants over a five-year period confirmed the earlier study’s finding: Suicide rates were inversely correlated with the lithium content in the local water supply.
More recently, there have been corroborating studies in Greece and Austria.
Not all the research has come to the same conclusion. . .
The article’s conclusion:
Some scientists have, in fact, proposed that lithium be recognized as an essential trace element nutrient. Who knows what the impact on our society would be if micro-dose lithium were again part of our standard nutritional fare? What if it were added back to soft drinks or popular vitamin brands or even put into the water supply? The research to date strongly suggests that suicide levels would be reduced, and even perhaps other violent acts. And maybe the dementia rate would decline. We don’t know because the research hasn’t been done.
For the public health issue of suicide prevention alone, it seems imperative that such studies be conducted. In 2011, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Research on a simple element like lithium that has been around as a medication for over half a century and as a drink for millenniums may not seem like a high priority, but it should be.
Evolution can produce some amazing outliers on various attributes—-and this guy has several.
Ben Richmond writes in Motherboard:
You are a walking vector of disease—not just you, but all of us. Especially the children. In fact, it takes just hours for the microbes living on your body to cover your home. But how long does it take for an invading, diarrhea-causing human norovirus to spread across your house, office building, hotel, or hospital? Not long at all, it turns out, thanks to you and your grubby, disgusting hands.
Chuck Gerba, a professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona, just presented a study at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapywhere he found that the norovirus basically screams across surfaces.
It takes just hours from the time a virus is introduced on a tabletop or doorknob for it to appear all over the building’s fomites, or surfaces capable of sustaining microbial life, as well as everyone’s hands.
“Within 2 to 4 hours, between 40 to 60 percent of the fomites sampled were contaminated with virus,” Gerba told me.
In order to clock the viral spread, . . .
Important note later in the article:
“What we found was that if we provided these households with hand sanitizers or disinfecting wipes, we could reduce the amount of virus they’re exposed to by 99 percent,” Gerba said. “Because colds and flus go around all the time, it’s probably a good idea to use them at least once a day. We found once to three times a day using a hand sanitizer is all you needed. If no other time of the year, then at least during cold and flu season.”
And note: Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Interesting report. I have to say that I think BP will avoid paying most of the fine, and will pay the little that it does only after decades of delaying tactics. (Cf. the Exxon Valdez settlement: that took 20 years, and it was a smaller amount of money.)
Obviously, no executive of any company is being held responsible, and no one will serve any prison time, despite making decisions that caused the preventable deaths of 11 men. And corporations see writing checks for fines and settlements as just a part of doing business.