It’s just too difficult for me to conceive that while global heating and the climate crisis proceeds at neck breaking speed (including today in Florida, again), the oil industry (still so much backed by banks like the leader RBC) is calling for more and more investment into mining their deleterious yet still essential product. While many, if not most, of these companies claim ESG through bogus statements on websites and at shareholder meetings, they hide behind them and use them as a bogus front while staging further calamity (see Milner’s blog). Why can’t they turn their billions of profits to renewable and sustainable products? Why can't they be part of the green transition with all their experitse and wealth? Just today another record CO2 atmospheric concentration was reached.
As I return home from what has been an incredible time in SE Asia, though saddened by the continually bad environmental news, I write while jet-lagged by the 13 hour time change. Though only early mid-April, I’m amazed at the much longer nights are now in Canada than when I left, and the chill of the late afternoon is waning giving in to the coming warmth of Spring. Compared, though, to the huge heat of previous weeks (31-35+C everyday) the incredible daytime high of 20C feels lovely and should quickly dispatch all the remaining snow and ice. It was a most wonderful trip and everything went so well (as you may have seen the last five Planetary Health Weekly editorials and Endshots photo essays). I learned so much, including even new tricks for a veteran old dog traveler.
One of the many things I learned was to plan future trips only after checking the air quality index of destinations. While in Chiangmai and area, northern Thailand, I experienced the world’s worst air quality for several days and in general for the whole three weeks there, due to illegal burning of fields nearby and afar (with AQIs +/-300). I also learned much of the psychological disposition of elephants (formerly used for work and taking tourists for rides, but now living like pets), having spent various hours with them and experiencing how they, too, can be so affectionate with humans, playful and responsive. I was really taken back and affected by these encounters.
I saw the incredible on-going investment of China in Cambodia, particularly in Phnom Penh (see Endshots), which was astonishing and also learned more about the development of the country’s main port and formerly laid back beach destination, Sihanoukville, now drastically changed.
And I got to relive the amazing sunsets of Cambodia’s south coast, which I shared in last week's PHW. Their beauty and engendered peace and serenity were more than stellar. Previous to that I was amazed again (this being my fifth time) by the splendour, magnificence and extensiveness of the 9-15th Centuries Khmer structures, mostly Hindu and Buddhist temples, now available to wander around and contemplate the distant past; similar in many ways to those of the Mayan empire of southern Mexico and Central America…truly remarkable. The Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap was also outstanding.
Then there was the Old Town of Chiangmai in northern Thailand. With some buildings dating back 700 years it today is a great melange and network of incredibly beautiful Buddhist temples, museums, hotels, restaurants, live music and much more, all bounded by a canal forming a 1.5 km square. Being a tourist is always interesting as you never know who you’re going to meet, but to find in Phuket, a large island in southern Thailand, a large number of Russian tourists was unexpected; even with restaurant menus having Russian translations in addition to English and sometimes Chinese. I understand something similar is going on also in Bali, Indonesia. And then, finally for this moment, there was the cleanliness and perhaps even quiet of Bangkok. Previously a hustling and bustling city of the extreme, it’s now made all the more better by likely Covid hangovers of enhanced sanitation and still many fewer tourists. But being one of them in these two countries, and continually publishing the Planetary Health Weekly, was such great fortune. Do read on for today’s stories of the world around us in the 15thPlanetary Health Weekly of the year.
David Zakus, Editor and Publisher
CANADIAN GEESE FLY AT SUNRISE OVER ICY WHITEFISH LAKE
APRIL 13, 2023, 7:15AM
IN COMPLETE SOLIDARITY WITH UKRAINE SEEKING PEACE AND VICTORY
"N. PIROGOV AND WOUNDED ITALIAN REVOLUTIONARY J. GARIBALDI" In October, 1862, N. Pirogov (famous Ukrainian surgeon) treated Galibaldi who was wounded in leg. Pirogov's diagnosis helped avoid amputation (Artist: K. Kuznetsov) in: "The Way Artists See It" (1994; p. 113) by A. Grando, founder and director of the Central Museum of Medicine of Ukraine in Kyiv. ISBN
AND WITH THE BRAVE PROTESTERS IN IRAN (AND AFGHANISTAN)
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose 14% in March from the previous year, preliminary official data showed, highlighting the continued challenges for the new leftist government. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on Jan. 1, pledging to end deforestation after years of surging deforestation under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who slashed environmental protection efforts in the Amazon. "This rise in numbers reveals that the Amazon still suffers from a huge lack of governance and that the new government needs to act urgently to rebuild its capacity for repression to environmental crime, which had been totally destroyed by the last government," said Marcio Astrini, head of local environmental group Climate Observatory.
Brazil officially measures annual deforestation from August to July, to limit the influence of cloud cover obscuring destruction satellite images during the rainy months. For the first eight months of that period, August 2022 to March 2023, deforestation is up 39% year on year. "There are only four months left to close the final deforestation numbers. This means that a decrease in deforestation in the Amazon final rates in 2023 is unlikely. In fact, it has greater chances of increasing," Astrini says. At the end of February in Brasilia, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said that the world cannot meet its climate goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius unless it protects the Amazon rainforest.
Washington announced at the beginning of the year it intended to contribute to Brazil's Amazon Fund, which supports conservation projects in the jungle region. Norway also pledged its support last month for Brazil's efforts to attract additional donor countries for the Amazon Fund.
'A Win of Epic Proportions': World's Highest Court Can Set Out Countries' Climate Obligations After Vanuatu Secures Historic UN Vote
Pacific islander activists rallying in boats in front of the UN headquarters in New York City during the 2022 UN Climate Week.
Credit: Rachel Ramirez/ CNN
Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu won a historic vote at the United Nations that calls on the world’s highest court to establish for the first time the obligations countries have to address the climate crisis — and the consequences if they don’t. Vanuatu has long faced the disproportionate impacts of rising seas and intensifying storms. And in 2021, it launched its call for the UN International Court of Justice to provide an “advisory opinion” on the legal responsibility of governments to fight the climate crisis, arguing that climate change has become a human rights issue for Pacific Islanders. Although the advisory opinion will be non-binding, it will carry significant weight and authority and could inform climate negotiations as well as future climate lawsuits around the world. It could also strengthen the position of climate-vulnerable countries in international negotiations.
This year has already been rough for Vanuatu: It is currently under a six-month state of emergency after a rare pair of Category 4 cyclones pummeled the country within 48 hours during the first week of March. The islands’ residents are still picking their way through the storms’ rubble. Wednesday’s resolution for an advisory opinion passed by majority, backed by more than 130 countries. Two of the world’s largest climate polluters, the US and China, did not express support, but did not object meaning the measure passed by consensus.
This is the first time the highest international court is called on to address the climate crisis. The landmark decision is “essential,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in his remarks to the assembly. “Climate justice is both a moral imperative and a prerequisite for effective global climate action.” “Today we have witnessed a win for climate justice of epic proportions,” said Ishmael Kalsakau, prime minister of Vanuatu, soon after the resolution was adopted. “The very fact that a small Pacific island nation like Vanuatu was able to successfully spearhead such a transformative outcome speaks to the incredible support from all corners of the globe.”
Cynthia Houniuhi, president of Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, said she and her peers had been looking for ways to address the climate crisis head-on through various international legal pathways, until they decided on the International Court of Justice. As Pacific Island nations continue to suffer from hotter temperatures and more droughts, rising sea levels, and increasingly intense cyclones, Houniuhi realized they needed to do this. To get support for their idea, the Pacific Island students passed around a petition that garnered signatures from teachers and students. And while campaigning for the initiative, they drafted a letter and proposal that they sent to Pacific Island governments. “It was history in the making,” Houniuhi said. “I don’t want to show a picture to my child one day of my island. I want my child to be able to experience the same environment in the same culture that I grew up in.”
Cop28 President: World Needs Business Mindset to Tackle Climate Crisis
Sultan Al Jaber: 'The scale of the problem requires everyone working in solidarity. We need partnerships, not polarisation.'
Credit: Mark Felix/ AFP/ Getty Images
The world needs a “business mindset” to tackle the climate crisis, the president of the next UN climate summit has said. Sultan Al Jaber, the president-designate of the Cop28 summit to be hosted in the United Arab Emirates later this year, said he aimed to use the UN talks to set out how the private sector can limit greenhouse gas emissions and give businesses and governments a clear set of tasks and targets. “The scale of the problem requires everyone working in solidarity. We need partnerships, not polarisation, and we need to approach this with a clear-eyed rationale and executable plan of action,” he said. He was a deeply controversial choice to chair these crucial talks, at which governments will assess progress made on cutting greenhouse gas emissions since the 2015 Paris agreement, a process known as the “global stocktake”. They must then try to find ways to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, a target rapidly slipping beyond reach. The conferences have traditionally been dominated by policymakers, ministers and politicians, and civil society activists. Adnoc is planning a massive expansion of oil and gas, the Guardian revealed last week. Climate activists from around the world have attacked Al Jaber for not renouncing his Adnoc role. Romain Ioualalen, the global policy manager at the campaign group Oil Change International, said: “This is a truly breathtaking conflict of interest and is tantamount to putting the head of a tobacco company in charge of negotiating an anti-smoking treaty.” But Al Jaber said no one should prejudge his presidency, as he was committed to safeguarding the 1.5C limit and ensuring that all countries, and the private sector, would act to achieve the massive emissions cuts necessary.
He vowed to turn his business background into an asset for the talks, saying that no previous Cop president had come with such entrepreneurial and management experience. He pointed to the UAE’s achievements in renewable energy, overseas development aid, in diversifying beyond oil so that 75% of its GDP was now non-oil based, and said that would enable him to motivate other oil-producing countries to come up with similar plans. He wants the private sector to play a significant role at the summit, arguing that companies – including oil and gas firms – will be pivotal to tackling the climate crisis.
“The energy sector must work as a partner with other sectors to help decarbonise entire economies,” he said. Both public finance and private will be needed, to shift the global economy to a low-carbon footing, Al Jaber said. “The common threat to all the progress I am talking about is capital,” he said. “Last year $1.4tn was invested in clean technology globally. We need four times that amount. And we need to make sure that investment reaches the most vulnerable communities across the global south. “The bottom line is finance needs to be much more available, accessible and affordable. We need to stop talking about a just transition for the global south, and start delivering.”
Tropical forests play a critical role in the hydrological cycle and can influence local and regional precipitation. Previous work has assessed the impacts of tropical deforestation on precipitation, but these efforts have been largely limited to case studies. A wider analysis of interactions between deforestation and precipitation—and especially how any such interactions might vary across spatial scales—is lacking. Here we show reduced precipitation over deforested regions across the tropics. Our results arise from a pan-tropical assessment of the impacts of 2003–2017 forest loss on precipitation using satellite, station-based, and reanalysis datasets. The effect of deforestation on precipitation increased at larger scales, with satellite datasets showing that forest loss caused robust reductions in precipitation at scales greater than 50 km. The greatest declines in precipitation occurred at 200 km, the largest scale we explored, for which 1 percentage point of forest loss reduced precipitation by 0.25 ± 0.1 mm per month. Reanalysis and station-based products disagree on the direction of precipitation responses to forest loss, which we attribute to sparse in situ tropical measurements. We estimate that future deforestation in the Congo will reduce local precipitation by 8–10% in 2100. Our findings provide a compelling argument for tropical forest conservation to support regional climate resilience.
Tropical forests play an important role in moderating local, regional and global climate through their impact on energy, water and carbon cycles. Crucially, tropical forests control local-to-regional rainfall patterns. Evapotranspiration from tropical forests is a strong driver of regional precipitation contributing up to 41% of basin mean rainfall over the Amazon and up to 50% over the Congo. Evergreen tropical forests are dependent on high annual rainfall for their survival and productivity, and forest–rainfall feedbacks have been highlighted as an important determinant of tropical forest stability, amid concerns that the exacerbating impacts of droughts and deforestation could threaten their viability.
Rapid loss of forests is occurring across the tropics. Tropical deforestation warms the climate at local-to-global scales by changing the surface energy balance and through emissions of carbon dioxide. The impact of tropical deforestation on precipitation is less certain with a range of processes operating at different scales. Small-scale deforestation over the southern Amazon has been shown to increase precipitation frequency owing to thermally and dynamically induced circulations. At larger scales, deforestation reduces precipitation recycling leading to a reduction in precipitation. Over Indonesia, deforestation has been linked to declining precipitation, and exacerbation of El Niño impacts. Global and regional climate models predict annual precipitation declines of 8.1 ± 1.4% for large-scale Amazonian deforestation by 2050, but an observational study of the impacts of tropical deforestation on precipitation across spatial scales is lacking.
Here we present a pan-tropical assessment of the impact of forest loss on precipitation based on measurements. We use a satellite dataset of forest cover change over the period 2003–2017 to identify areas of forest loss, with a focus on evergreen broadleaf forests of the Amazon, Congo and Southeast Asia.
U.S. Leadership Saved Millions from HIV. Starving Kids Need the Same Support. This Crisis Mirrors the HIV/AIDS Epidemic before President George W. Bush Launched PEPFAR. Opinion by David Miliband
A mother holds her malnourished baby in Banadir Maternity and Children Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 1, 2022.
Credit: Ed Ram/ AFP/ Getty Images
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has saved 25 million lives since 2003. Two decades on, a similar act of U.S. leadership is needed to tackle a growing humanitarian crisis already causing millions of preventable deaths: acute malnutrition in children. Food insecurity has more than doubled since 2020. The war in Ukraine is part of the issue. Prolonged drought and political instability mean East Africa is facing famine following five failed rainy seasons, and a looming sixth. This combination of conflict and climate change is also driving hunger and starvation in Afghanistan, Yemen, Mali, and beyond.
While there is no easy solution to these long-term problems, there is also no excuse for failing to fix the symptoms. Half the children under 5 in Somalia, the epicenter of the current crisis, could become acutely malnourished this year. Untreated, these children lack the strength to walk, cry, smile or fight off infections. They are up to 11 times more likely to die than their peers. Globally, acute malnutrition affects 60 million children every year.
There is a lifesaving treatment for acute malnutrition: a fortified peanut paste known as ready-to-use therapeutic food, or RUTF. A daily dose for just a few weeks helps up to 92 percent of children. Though cheap and simple enough for community health workers to give out even in remote areas, it reaches just 1 in 5 of the children who need it. PEPFAR investment put rocket boosters on the delivery of known solutions to HIV. It helped drive the coverage of treatment from 4 percent to 75 percent globally and enabled governments and nongovernmental organizations to scale methods of prevention. It succeeded thanks to presidential leadership, bipartisan support, legislation, sustained funding, local ownership, and accountability at every level. It showed that neither political gridlock nor humanitarian catastrophes are inevitable.
Based on recent cost analyses, the International Rescue Committee roughly estimates that a “PEPFAR for nutrition” would need an annual investment of $2 billion to $3 billion over the next decade. It could turbocharge prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in three ways. First, it could set targets. Second, a president’s emergency plan for nutrition could scale practical solutions, as PEPFAR did for HIV. Third, a substantive U.S. financial commitment could catalyze additional investment, both from recipient nations and from private donors.
In a world where 345 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from, tackling food insecurity requires long-term reforms. Meanwhile, the millions of children suffering from acute malnutrition cannot wait. If the United States can build on one of its greatest global public health successes, they won’t have to.
UN Food Chief: Billions Needed to Avert Unrest, Starvation
Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12 to 18 months, the head of the Nobel prize-winning UN World Food Program warned. David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.” In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to U.S. ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23-billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food, “Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 per cent of it, quite frankly,” he said.
WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5-billion to $7.4-billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350-million a few years ago to $1.7-billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year. Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11-million last year. Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.
Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multi-billionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis. In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”
“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.
With $400-trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
Collagen, in powdered form is one of the developed world’s most popular health supplements – a business worth an estimated $4.7 billion in 2022. Recommended by several leading lifestyle influencers a daily dose is claimed to work wonders for hair, skin, nails and joints. In addition, due to its ‘excellent blending properties and ‘smooth flowability’ it is increasingly used as a component of what are known as ‘processed food products’. A major issue arises though as much of the supply of commercial collagen is produced from the hides of cattle raised on newly cleared land in Brazil. Investigators have shown it is inextricably linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss, land invasions and violence against indigenous peoples. Collagen seems to be a classic product of late-stage capitalism – so profitable it excites the greed of the biggest multinationals yet so damaging to the environment that details of its production have to be veiled in secrecy, as they involve unacceptable damage to both people and nature. Too often all this is hidden under the catch-all ‘commercially sensitive’ label. Like palm oil (multiple uses) and coltan (raw material for mobile phones), collagen is a contradictory product providing for (Western) humanity’s present desires at a planetary cost that is increasingly problematic.
One of the leading companies involved in the collagen trade is Vital Proteins Inc. a subsidiary of the giant Nestlé Corporation, one of the world’s biggest food producers - and one of the most unprincipled multinational corporations on the planet. Nestlé has been involved in major scandals for decades involving misleading baby milk advertising and recycling claims, unethical food sources etc. According to analysts CBInsights Nestlé would like you to believe they have left all this disreputable behaviour behind as they now claim to be ‘prioritising health and sustainability across their portfolio.’ Look a bit closer and you see that this admirable objective is an aim in the context of their ‘growth strategy’. In other words sustainability comes second to maximising profit, and as they admit on their own website ‘preserving natural capital becomes increasingly crucial …for the future of our business.’ But meanwhile they continue to ignore this warning.
Vital Proteins also claims the moral high ground with a commitment to ‘doing business in a way that respects people and the planet’. But not just yet, it would seem. Following the exposé of their Brazilian supply chain by the Bureau of Environmental Investigations they admit they won’t be ‘deforestation free’ until 2025. Meanwhile forest clearance and attacks on indigenous people continue. This is about as cynical as greenwashing gets: it means ‘we intend to behave properly but in the meantime, we are making too much money to be bothered’. Since presumably they were aware of their own supply chain before being exposed, their ‘way of doing business’ may be a form of words of fairly recent origin. Vital Proteins certainly seem like a perfect fit for Nestlé.
My question is, why is it that big corporations can’t find reputable ways of doing business instead of being unscrupulous, destructive and dishonest, all kept secret and denied until revealed by activists and journalists? And then, instead of changing policy they go on to try silencing the investigators or even question their motives. Greenwashing seems to be ingrained in the corporate mindset.
A major trend in recent years is the move towards ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) disclosure, as a way of claiming compliance with growing international standards. Some of these standards, especially those to do with biodiversity are ill-defined, and while the basic morality underpinning a whole enterprise or its methods go unquestioned, the value of this exercise is unclear. The ESG claims of companies like Purdue Pharma, Smith & Wesson, Johnson & Johnson are all first rate, yet all three have had to pay out billions due to what courts found were ‘irresponsible marketing’ strategies leading to tragedies great and small. As some of the ESG rating agencies admit, the disclosure process is aimed at reassuring investors, not at changing corporate behaviour. Whatever its value the whole ESG movement is gaining momentum internationally, notwithstanding the ridicule of right-wing commentators such as the Wall St. Journal, who regard the whole process as a distraction from the main purpose of business – to maximise profit. But should profitability be the sole purpose of business, whatever the cost to others and the environment?
When management of the giant Swedish timber corporation STORA found out that clear-felling (their preferred harvesting method) was extremely damaging to the overall forest ecosystem, they decided that the entire company needed a changed mindset – even if it meant their profits were reduced. If their business was based on the forest, then the health of the forest was their responsibility – not a concept that big business seems too familiar with – and company policy should reflect that. Basic classes in forest ecology were provided for all staff, and a fresh approach to their entire business was introduced; the enhancement of their extensive forest holdings was to be the primary objective. As a result, harvesting methods were changed, replanting schemes redesigned and detailed forest monitoring established – and all this was done not to satisfy some inspectorate, or to raise their ESG profile, but because it became part of the philosophy of the company. What they soon realised was that they could still produce timber and enhance the biodiversity of the forest at the same time; it wasn’t difficult, but it just needed a new way of thinking, a new set of priorities. The company’s standing improved and staff recruitment became competitive. Short-term profitability had been sacrificed for long term benefit. Quite a turnaround for a company regarded previously as operating primarily at the low value end of the timber business.
The natural state of the planet is deteriorating fast and scientists warn that critical tipping points are being rapidly approached. Deforestation of the Amazon is still accelerating – according to INPE, Brazil’s satellite research agency. If big business is ever to take climate change and the conservation of biodiversity seriously it will only happen with a STORA-style upgrade in the prevailing philosophy, the corporate mission. It is not enough to claim good ESG results, or to increase overall profitability, if dubious practices in core activities and the supply chain persist. Any company, and especially giant multinationals like Nestlé or their subsidiaries, should not feel free to make money at any cost. If respect for Earth and its people are not taken into account, public relations froth like Vital Proteins’ canard ‘our way of doing business’ gains unquestioning acceptance and humanity sleepwalks towards disaster.
One way forward is the independent certification of actual performance; this has been pioneered by voluntary bodies such as the Forest Stewardship Council (wood products) and the Marine Stewardship Council (seafood), while the Soil Association certifies organic produce. All three have come in for some criticism; they tend to certify the products of big corporations and a means of certifying artisanal (small-scale) production is still in the planning stage largely due to cost. However, these bodies are helping define appropriate standards for different industries where care of the environment is a primary concern and not to be ignored in the pursuit of profit. Many large companies object to paying for independent certification, at the same time limiting their disclosure of ESG due to ‘commercial sensitivity’. The sort of complete rethink that STORA achieved seems to be beyond the ambition of most large corporations, while the bottom line and today’s share price occupy their overwhelming attention.
In the meantime, if you want to purchase collagen powder, I suggest you look carefully for a product which causes no deforestation, violence or corruption – now and not at some unlikely pledged date in the future. Such products are available – you just have to ask for them.
Edward Milner, London, UK
SPOTLIGHT ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Hawaii Transportation Department Must Face Kids' Climate Lawsuit, Judge Rules
Credit: REUTERS/ Marco Garcia
A judge in Hawaii has rejected a bid by the state's transportation department to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of 14 young people who claim it is violating the state constitution by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Judge Jeffrey Crabtree in Honolulu ruled on Thursday the youth plaintiffs could pursue their claims that the Hawaii Department of Transportation is shirking its duty to protect the environment by promoting and funding highway projects that lead to more fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. Crabtree rejected the state's argument the plaintiffs had no tangible injuries on which to base their case since they claimed climate change effects are "already baked in."
"Transportation emissions are increasing and will increase at the rate we are going," Crabtree said. "In other words, the alleged harms are not hypothetical or only in the future."
Hawaii Deputy Attorney General Lauren Chun said the state "stands behind its record as a national leader in addressing climate change" and will continue to work towards meeting its climate goals.
The case will move forward to trial in September, only the second youth-led climate case in U.S. history to do so, according to Our Children's Trust, which is representing the plaintiffs along with Earthjustice. The young plaintiffs were between the ages of nine and 18 when they filed the lawsuit in June, claiming the department is violating a provision of the state’s constitution that guarantees a right to a clean and healthful environment. They said investments in infrastructure like highways run counter to state goals to reduce emissions to zero by 2045.
"The ruling makes it clear that the state government will be held accountable to comply with its own commitments to address the climate crisis," Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust said in a statement. Youth plaintiffs are set to go to trial in a similar case in Montana this June.
Protecting Brazilian Amazon Indigenous Territories Reduces Atmospheric Particulates and Avoids Associated Health Impacts and Costs
PM2.5 Temporal Trends. Temporal trends of PM2.5 released by forest fires (in µg) in the Brazilian Legal Amazon, with the wind dispersion effect of 500 km square, and the study area location. The Brazilian Legal Amazon boundary is shown in gray on the maps, together with the Indigenous territories present in the region.
Indigenous territories are considered important for conservation, but little is known about their role in maintaining human health. Here we quantified the potential human health and economic benefits of protecting these territories in the Brazilian Amazon, by using cardiovascular and respiratory diseases cases, pollutant and forest cover data. Between 2010 and 2019, 1.68 tons of Particulate Matter of small size (PM2.5) were released every year, with negative effects for human health. A lower number of infections was also found in municipalities with more forested areas, and with a low level of fragmentation, which probably is related to the potential capacity of the Amazon Forest to absorb PM2.5 (26,376.66 tons year−1, 27% of this absorption capacity in Indigenous territories). Our estimates indicate that by protecting Amazon Indigenous territories, over 15 million of respiratory and cardiovascular cases could be avoided every year, with ~$2 billion USD being saved only in health costs.
The PM2.5 generated by the burned Amazon Forest presented a high correlation with the observed fires (r = 0.89) and had an impact on populations within 500 km of the fire event. In addition, most of the pollution is concentrated in the western and southern Amazon, with small variations from year to year that probably occur given the direction and speed of the winds.
How much PM2.5 could potentially be absorbed by forest areas and Indigenous territories:
During the analyzed years, the Amazon Forest had the potential capacity to absorb an average of ~8,5 billion µg of PM2.5 (8,448,858,000) every 500 km year−1, with a total of 26,376.66 tons year−1 for the entire region. The Indigenous territories alone were responsible for 27% of this potential absorption (7192 tons year−1), with only five territories (Vale do Javari, Yanomami, Alto Rio Negro, Mekragnoti, and Trombetas; numbers 1–5 in Fig. 3) being responsible for 8% of the total potential absorption capacity of the entire Amazon. Spatially, the lower absorption capacity was concentrated in the southernmost part, which corresponds to the Brazilian arc of deforestation region (Supplementary Fig. 2).
How is PM2.5 affecting human health?
During the same period, there were 1,429,134 cases of respiratory and cardiovascular infections related to forest fires in the 772 municipalities that compose the Brazilian legal Amazon (an average of 142,913.4 cases per year), or an average of 586.87 cases per 100,000 population. In addition, 168,663 cases were reported in the Indigenous territories (227 cases per 100,000 population). The year 2011 had the highest number of cases and incidences (>160,000) within municipalities, followed by 2010 and 2013 (>150,000), while 2016 presented the lowest (119,123). For the Indigenous territories, 2019 showed the highest incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, while 2010 was the lowest (Figs. 2,3), with an increase of 165% from 2010 to 2019.
In Big Climate Move, EPA Set to Unveil Tough Limits on Auto Emissions
The EPA plans to issue tough long-term tailpipe emissions standards soon to speed the transition to electric cars and reduce a major source of U.S. carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.
Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Image
The Biden administration will soon unveil stringent limits on auto tailpipe pollution, aiming to ensure that as many as two-thirds of all new passenger vehicle sales are electric by 2032, according to three people briefed on the proposal. The Environmental Protection Agency plan — the toughest ever from the EPA on auto emissions — threatens to spark a fight with several automakers, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss proposals that have not yet been made public. That battle could determine how quickly and cheaply Americans can purchases EVs and grow what’s now just a small fraction of the country’s auto market.
Environmental groups see the auto emissions rules as enormously consequential in meeting the overall U.S. climate goals. The transportation sector is the country’s biggest source of planet-warming gases, and Detroit and President Biden have often aligned on boosting the sales of EVs — which have no tailpipe emissions — as their fastest way to address climate change. But the most aggressive options in the EPA’s proposal are so stringent that many automakers, especially those slowest to adopt electric cars and trucks, will see it as more aggressive than what they can realistically meet, the people said.
Biden has promised more aggressive rules for cars since he was a candidate. During his first year in office he paired new near-term standards for vehicle emissions with voluntary targets he agreed to with automakers for electric vehicles, hydrogen-fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles to make up 50 percent of U.S. sales by 2030. The new proposal could go even beyond that. It includes four different options, the most aggressive of which would set emissions reduction requirements so stringent that automakers would have to boost electric vehicles’ share of the market to between 54 percent and 60 percent by 2030, according to two of the people.
The EPA rules limit the emissions each auto company’s fleet of sold vehicles will produce. So while the rule changes wouldn’t order or require auto companies to sell a certain number of electric vehicles, it would set emissions limits so tightly the only way to comply would be to sell large percentages of EVs. “Tailpipe emissions pollute the air we breathe and worsen severe weather,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement cheering news of the proposals. “The race to cleaner air, a safer climate and more made in America jobs — is on.”
Microsoft’s New AI can Simulate Anyone’s Voice with 3 Seconds of Audio
An AI-generated image of a person's silhouette.
Credit: Ars Technica
Microsoft researchers announced a new text-to-speech AI model called VALL-E that can closely simulate a person's voice when given a three-second audio sample. Once it learns a specific voice, VALL-E can synthesize audio of that person saying anything—and do it in a way that attempts to preserve the speaker's emotional tone.
Its creators speculate that VALL-E could be used for high-quality text-to-speech applications, speech editing where a recording of a person could be edited and changed from a text transcript (making them say something they originally didn't), and audio content creation when combined with other generative AI models like GPT-3.
Unlike other text-to-speech methods that typically synthesize speech by manipulating waveforms, VALL-E generates discrete audio codec codes from text and acoustic prompts. It basically analyzes how a person sounds, breaks that information into discrete components (called "tokens") thanks to EnCodec, and uses training data to match what it "knows" about how that voice would sound if it spoke other phrases outside of the three-second sample.
In addition to preserving a speaker's vocal timbre and emotional tone, VALL-E can also imitate the "acoustic environment" of the sample audio. For example, if the sample came from a telephone call, the audio output will simulate the acoustic and frequency properties of a telephone call in its synthesized output (that's a fancy way of saying it will sound like a telephone call, too). And Microsoft's samples (in the "Synthesis of Diversity" section) demonstrate that VALL-E can generate variations in voice tone by changing the random seed used in the generation process.
Perhaps owing to VALL-E's ability to potentially fuel mischief and deception, Microsoft has not provided VALL-E code for others to experiment with, so we could not test VALL-E's capabilities. The researchers seem aware of the potential social harm that this technology could bring. For the paper's conclusion, they write: "Since VALL-E could synthesize speech that maintains speaker identity, it may carry potential risks in misuse of the model, such as spoofing voice identification or impersonating a specific speaker. To mitigate such risks, it is possible to build a detection model to discriminate whether an audio clip was synthesized by VALL-E. We will also put Microsoft AI Principles into practice when further developing the models."
Climate at a Glance for Teachers and Students, illustrated with graphs, charts and citations, claims to be the latest data and research “to show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis”. However, a lengthy and detailed fact-check found that the book was filled with misleading claims. The fact-check was carried out by news organisation AFP and a number of scientists, including some from groups which Climate at a Glance cited as sources. Susan Joy Hassol, director of the non-profit science and outreach project, Climate Communications, said the book was “full of disinformation”.
“It is outrageous that such propaganda was sent out to more than 8,000 US middle and high schools with the goal of infecting the minds of children".
One report said that five schools received copies in Wyoming, a conservative-leaning state with a large oil and gas industry presence. The book was sent to schools in 30 states. The dissemination of teaching materials denouncing global warming to American schools has been part of Heartland’s strategy for at least a decade.
Glen Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, noted that teaching climate change is now part of state science standards and other forms of guidance. “Teachers are learning more about climate change and they’re less vulnerable to a propaganda campaign of this sort,” Mr Branch added. Ms Hassol also said that confidence in teaching students about climate change has been increasing. “As a result, the vast majority of teachers are not fooled by this nonsense, and promptly dump the materials in the recycling bin,” she told The Independent. “Therefore, I would not expect this campaign to have much effect. It may instead be viewed as a last ditch effort by a dying industry.”
Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives
by Siddharth Kara
Credit: Book Cover
An unflinching investigation reveals the human rights abuses behind the Congo’s cobalt mining operation—and the moral implications that affect us all.
The revelatory New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller
Cobalt Red is the searing, first-ever exposé of the immense toll taken on the people and environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by cobalt mining, as told through the testimonies of the Congolese people themselves. Activist and researcher Siddharth Kara has traveled deep into cobalt territory to document the testimonies of the people living, working, and dying for cobalt. To uncover the truth about brutal mining practices, Kara investigated militia-controlled mining areas, traced the supply chain of child-mined cobalt from toxic pit to consumer-facing tech giants, and gathered shocking testimonies of people who endure immense suffering and even die mining cobalt.
Cobalt is an essential component to every lithium-ion rechargeable battery made today, the batteries that power our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the Congo, often by peasants and children in sub-human conditions. Billions of people in the world cannot conduct their daily lives without participating in a human rights and environmental catastrophe in the Congo. In this stark and crucial book, Kara argues that we must all care about what is happening in the Congo—because we are all implicated.
During the COP27 climate meeting in Egypt in November, Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados, a Caribbean island nation vulnerable to hurricanes and sea level rise said, “We believe that we have a plan.” She proposed what is known as the Bridgetown Initiative, which calls for a tax on fossil fuel revenues and the use of the International Monetary Fund to shift “billions to trillions” of dollars into initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.
According to Avinash Persaud, an economist leading the Bridgetown Initiative, climate change already costs developing nations a huge percentage of their annual GDP. He remarked in reference to global warming, “We are burning up and we are drowning in the same year, that’s climate change for you.”
Economic expert Vera Songwe from Cameroon, who co-leads the U.N. Independent High-Level Expert Group on Climate Financing, which reported last year that more than $2 trillion annually will be needed to address the climate catastrophe by 2030, claimed that the globe has now reached a new turning point. “If you combine all these crises we have today, it feels like we just came through a war.” She added that among these issues, climate change is currently the most serious and persistent concern and that it is “permeating every aspect of global economic development.”
What's in Melatonin- and Is it Giving You Nightmares?
A micrograph captures crystals of the hormone melatonin. Millions of American adults take supplements of the naturally occurring hormone to help sleep.
Credit: Micrograph by Alfred Pasieka, Science Photo Library
The dosing in these popular over-the-counter sleep supplements can vary wildly from what's printed on the label, which can result in side effects.
As many as one in three U.S. adults aren’t getting the seven to eight hours of sleep they need. To fall and stay asleep, over six million American adults are turning to melatonin supplements, sold over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores across the country. Many of these users report side effects like nightmares. What’s causing them? And what’s in the melatonin tablets, liquids, and sprays we’re taking?
Melatonin and vivid dreams?
Dr. Kin Yuen, a sleep medicine specialist at the University of California San Francisco, says higher doses of melatonin make dreams (and nightmares) more vivid and make us more likely to remember them after waking. One theory is that because melatonin increases time spent in REM cycles (when we dream), nightmares have a higher chance of appearing. Taking melatonin to help sleep when you’re experiencing emotional distress also presents a conundrum: are resulting nightmares a product of the melatonin, or the distress that caused poor sleep in the first place? Currently, the reason many melatonin users experience nightmares remains unconfirmed. However, the fact that melatonin is widely available and doesn’t require a prescription in the U.S. and Canada—though it’s regulated in Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe—may hold a partial answer.
Because melatonin is sold as a supplement, like vitamins, and not a medication, its regulation is limited. As a result, the amount of melatonin in a supplement can vary wildly, and may contain dangerous contaminants. A landmark study that looked at 31 different melatonin supplements found melatonin content often varied greatly from the listed amount. One supplement had 478 percent more melatonin than what was listed on the label, another supplement had 83 percent less. Almost one in three supplements tested also contained significant levels of serotonin, which can act in opposition to the supplement’s intended effect. If someone taking another medication like an SSRI antidepressant took serotonin-contaminated melatonin, it could lead to serotonin overdose. Medical-grade melatonin can be prescribed by a doctor and may help patients take a more pure, predictable dose.
How to use melatonin safely
Bertisch says it’s generally safe for short term use in adults, like for getting over jet lag. Bertisch says many parents are administering melatonin to their kids, but data on how this active hormone affects minors is very limited, especially over time. One theory is that melatonin supplements could affect fertility, though again, research is minimal at this point.
Experts agree parents should check with a doctor before administering melatonin to kids. Also, given the lack of research on extended use, be careful about using melatonin long term, even if you’re an adult.
See What a Year Looks like in Svalbard, Norway, the Fastest-Warming Place on Earth
Svalbard's bay of Sassenfjorden
Melting fjords, increasing avalanches, imperiled wildlife. In this article, a photographer documented the effects of climate change through all four seasons in Svalbard, Norway. The Norwegian archipelago's smaller fjords once froze over in winter, but warmer temperatures now keep the water flowing in some year-round. On Svalbard, Stefano Unterthiner saw an environmental peril- and a warning sign for the rest of the world.
June 22-23, 2023: Positive Zero Transport Futures and Mobility Network will host the Emerging Mobility Scholars Conference at the University of Toronto. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows across Canadian institutions are invited to join in person at the University of Toronto to exchange ideas and showcase research relative to mobility and climate change.
Publisher and Editor: Dr. David Zakus Production: Emily Aurora Long, Julia Chalmers and Eunice Anteh Social Media: Shalini Kainth, Mahdia Abidi and Ishneer Mankoo Website, Index and Advisory: Edward Milner, Carlos Jimenez, Gaël Chetaille, Evans Oppong, Jonathan Zakus, Dr. Aimée-Angélique Bouka and Elisabeth Huang
Bloggers: Edward Milner, Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, Aisha Saleem and Dr. Jay Kravitz (RIP)