I just can’t get one image out of my mind. Fortunately it’s not negative but perhaps is one of the most beautiful I have had circulating among my neurons for ages. Eight days ago I ‘attended’ by webinar an address and Q&A session by Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to a good number of Canadian universities, sponsored by the University of Toronto. The address was stellar, as expected, but it was the first question from a UofT student that elicited this unshakable memory. In the preface to her question she commended the president for being a global cultural icon, like Winston Churchill and…Harry Potter. To this the bemused president struck the most beautiful smile imaginable. The former actor and comedian was touched, and for a moment, enjoyed the great human emotion of happiness. But happiness isn’t likely much part of his daily routine these days, especially after the latest unfathomable attacks on his people, including those shopping in a mall. The webinar moment didn’t last long due to the current bellicose circumstances, but it was a moment of enjoyment for the embattled man and all present. I wish everyone could have experienced it.
But how is it that one nation, one man, can wield such power, to wantonly attack his neighbour, day after day, killing civilians as they shop, walk down the street or sit in their homes? How is this possible I ask myself almost everyday after hearing news from Ukraine. Well, it seems to me that the answer solely rests in Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons and their utilization under the command of one man. I am afraid of when Putin becomes unhinged enough to let loose nuclear destruction. Certainly his country nor his army is strong enough to carry out his current hate campaign without them in reserve, threatening not only Ukrainians but all the world. To me this is a cry out again for the banning of all such weapons. What use are such weapons to the world? Wouldn’t we all be healthier without them? Global health fights disease, poverty, war, misinformation, environmental contamination and all forms of human suffering. The banning of nuclear weapons should be part and parcel of our work in Planetary Health.
Because Putin’s simple possession of such a technology, the whole world is threatened, including the millions who are hungry because of him destroying Ukrainian agriculture and blockading their shipments of life saving food; and the whole of humanity suffering from the waste of resources on further armament. Why any nation would support such a person, such a nation and their egregious attack against a neighbour is beyond me, other than to make a quick buck and take advantage of discount energy, trading their citizens’ wellbeing with dead and injured bodies and incredible destruction in Ukraine. Such is our sad and ever polarizing world that we now have to reflect on (see ENDSHOTS). I cherish any moment of levity, including a brief smile.
Keeping up with the trail of human fiasco and misery read on in today’s Planetary Health Weekly (our 26th edition marking half-way through 2022, the beginning of Summer and Canada Day tomorrow) for:
CLIMATE CRISIS UPDATES:
Energy transition ‘not happening’ as fossil subsidies fuel historic missed opportunity,
Get set for decades of sea level rise,
French nuclear power crisis frustrates Europe’s push to quit Russian energy,
Texas is being roasted by record heat - but wind and solar are keeping electricity available and cheap,
Extreme weather is lashing virtually every region of the Lower 48 (USA),
American Petroleum Institute urges White House to rebuke climate goals so Big Oil can profit,
UN chief: governments’ inaction on climate is ‘dangerous,’
A massive rockfall crashed down on Lake Powell – record low water levels from drought could be to blame,
How many lives have been saved by Covid-19 vaccines?
Exploring the cause of long Covid ‘brain fog,’
Covid-19 positive patients at higher risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders,
New Covid wave may be under way (in the UK) as cases rise 50% in a week,
Covid hospitalizations rise in Europe as sub-variants fuel new wave,
Coronavirus: surge in cases prompts Hong Kong to bolster testing; infections top 1000 for 3 days straight,
Epidemiology of myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA vaccination by vaccine product, schedule and inter-dose interval among adolescents and adults in Ontario, Canada,
Drug-related deaths spiked in Ontario with Covid-19 measures: UofToronto study,
Dr. Fauci tested positive for coronavirus, THEN
Give those with monkeypox emergency support advocates tell Canada,
UN report: human rights situation in Eritrea dips to new low,
European parliament passes landslide vote on China’s alleged rights abuses in Xinjiang,
‘Great climate backslide’ takes shape as banks pour trillions into fossils,
India’s mass tree planting success: forest cover grows by half-million acres in two years,
With in-wheel motors Lightyear claims most efficient production powertrain in the world & Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX concept breaks record with 746-mile (1200 km) trip on a single charge & Lion Electric gives the big yellow school bus a jolt,
Biden wrote a stern letter to oil refiners – his government should take over the industry instead,
California’s climate reputation tarnished by inaction and oil money,
Brazil’s Indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine,
Quote from World Resources Institute's international climate director on the failure of the recent Bonn climate conference to address the needs of poor vulnerable countries,
The importance of Indigenous storytelling in tales of post-apocalyptic survival,
How to turn your garden into a carbon sink,
Archaeology sensation – an ancient city re-emerges in Iraq reservoir,
Electrocuted birds are sparking wildfires,
New book (free): “Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to Advance Earth System Science: Opportunities and Challenges,”
Climate change is a health education crisis, and lastly
ENDSHOTS: “Summery Reflections.”
I hope you’ll keep reading. Best, david
David Zakus, Editor and Publisher
Reflecting On the Next Six Months, 30 June 2022
SEEKING TRUTH, PEACE, SOLIDATIRY AND VICTORY FOR UKRAINE
The countries of the world missed an “historic chance for a clean energy recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic and saw renewable energy stagnate due to a surge of fossil fuel subsidies last year, the REN 21 Secretariat reports in its Renewables 2022 Global Status Report.
“In response to an unprecedented public health crisis, countries around the world had hoped to seize the post-COVID-19 opportunity for a green and equitable recovery,” writes REN 21 Executive Director Rana Adib, in her foreword to the 238-page report. “Unfortunately, and despite record growth in renewable energy deployment in 2021, this historic chance has been lost.”
Adib points to the specific national policies behind an epic failure of policy and political will. “Despite evidence that renewables are the most affordable energy source to both improve resilience and support decarbonization, governments across the world continue to resort to fossil fuel subsidies to keep energy bills under control,” she says. “This growing gap between countries’ ambition and action on the ground is alarming and sends a clear warning that the global energy transition is not happening.”
And now, the world is going through “its biggest energy crisis on record. Although this crisis was exacerbated by the Russian Federation’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, prices for fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—were already spiking by late 2021, leading to the threat of energy poverty for billions of people.” Read more at The Energy Mix
Globally, nationally and locally, the pandemic continues in many countries though many feel it's over. Over the last week, cases have more than doubled to around 850,000/day and deaths up 20% to 1565/day; and vaccinations up substantially again, doubling to about 15 million/day. But, the pandemic is still with us, despite the widespread relaxation of public health mandates, and all the new variants (BA2.12.1 & 4/5) are great cause of concern, especially BA.5. It's important to remember that even last summer now looks better than what is going on now. Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and France are still in deep water. Even in the USA there are now about 112,000 cases per day. In Canada it's about 2200/day.
Vaccination remains the best way to keep safe from serious consequences, including long Covid, in yourself and others. Ensure to get all the shots/boosters you can and protect yourself with other public health measures.
See below for a few global stats and current hotspots.
in a report just released, the WHO-backed team said it had not received any new data that would allow it to better evaluate that theory. Members of the group from Brazil, China and Russia objected to the calls for further investigation into the “lab leak” theory.
The report also said that available data suggests SARS-CoV-2 had a zoonotic origin, which means it spread between animals in a natural setting, but that neither the animal that infected humans nor the place where this infection occurred could be identified.
“At this point, the strongest evidence is still around zoonotic transmission,” Marietjie Venter, chair of the WHO team and a virologist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, said in a Zoom call with reporters before the report was published. “However, the precursor viruses that have been identified in bats are definitely not close enough to be the virus that spilled over into humans.”. Read more at Washington Post
The federal government needs to step in with emergency support for people infected with monkeypox, says a coalition of community-based health advocacy groups.
In a letter to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos sent June 6, the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) — along with 47 other advocacy organizations — called for financial and housing support for confirmed and suspected victims of monkeypox, who are required to self-isolate until skin symptoms heal. That process can take four weeks or longer.
As of June 17, Public Health Canada reported 168 confirmed cases of the rarely fatal monkeypox, a viral disease related to smallpox, but milder.
Monkeypox symptoms include a rash of pimples or blisters on the skin that eventually form scabs before healing. The virus spreads through person-to-person contact or contact with items that have previously touched the rash or body fluids of an infected person. Read more at The Star.
Eritrean refugees and dissidents, some holding Eritrean flags, demonstrate against human rights abuses allegedly committed by Eritrea's government, outside the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2016. Credit: Associatede Press
A U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea has issued a report critical of the deteriorating situation there, noting forced military conscription, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture among the violations recorded.In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker said Eritrea’s involvement in the armed conflict in neighboring Ethiopia shines a light on the impact of the Eritrean government’s system of indefinite national military service. He described the rights situation as dire.Those who attempt to evade the draft, he said, are imprisoned in inhuman and degrading conditions for indefinite periods of time.“The authorities also punish draft evaders by proxy, for example by imprisoning a parent or a spouse in order to force them to surrender themselves,” he said. “I also received reports about the conscripts who were killed as they tried to escape from Tigray or from military training centers in Eritrea.”Ethiopia’s military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front began November 4, 2020. Since then, thousands of Eritrean conscripts have been forced to participate in the conflict.Read more at Voa News.
A detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. On Wednesday, members lined up in the European Parliamnet to condemn the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang and call for the EU to renew its focus on human rights and recalibrate its economic ties with China. Photo: AP Photo
By a landslide margin, the European Parliament has adopted a position stating that China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang hold a “serious risk of genocide”.
Lawmakers voted 513 in favour of the resolution on Thursday in Strasbourg, France. There were 14 abstentions and one vote against.
The language was part of a broader resolution condemning China’s treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic Muslims in the northwestern region. Read more at SCMP
With Bloomberg News declaring that governments’ “Great Climate Backslide” has begun, recent reports show major banks pouring more than a trillion dollars into oil, gas, and coal, even as they scramble to burnish their green credentials.
Just months ago, COP 26 President Alok Sharma praised countries’ “heroic efforts” to tackle the climate emergency, marking the end of a marathon, two-week negotiating session that delivered mixed results at best. In late January, Sharma warned that even that limited progress will “wither on the vine” without urgent action.
“Turns out the world was right to be skeptical,” Bloomberg writes. Three months after the COP, “a toxic combination of political intransigence, an energy crisis, and pandemic-driven economic realities has cast doubt on the progress made in Scotland. If 2021 was marked by optimism that the biggest polluters were finally willing to set ambitious net-zero targets, 2022 already threatens to be the year of global backsliding.”
Bloomberg points to fossil fuels making a comeback in the United States, China, Europe, India, and Japan, with clean energy stocks “taking a hammering”, prospects for a faster transition to renewable electricity “looking grim”, and emissions rising in 2021.
“That’s even as renewable energy costs have fallen rapidly and investment in clean technologies is soaring, while voters across the world demand stronger action,” the news agency writes. Read more at the energy mix.
A recent report from the Forest Survey of India (FSI) found that recent spurious tree planting activities have taken root in terms of the overall forest coverage in the nation.
The country’s forests have grown by 870 square square miles of forest cover—over half a million acres (2,261 square kilometers), over the last three years, and while that isn’t as big as a medium-sized American national park, the sum is part of an equation that includes deforestation.
A full quarter of the world’s second-most populous nation is covered in forest, which the FSI is focused on making qualitatively rich, not just quantitively. Read more at Good News Network.
The motors will be used in the Lightyear 0, a production version of the Lightyear One that made its public debut earlier this month. Lightyear aims to "leapfrog the grid" by both maximizing efficiency and equipping its vehicles with onboard solar panels that can help with charging. In cloudy climates, with an average commute of roughly 20 miles per day, the Lightyear 0 can go up to two months without plugging in, Lightyear claims.
Starting at the equivalent of $263,000, the Lightyear 0 will be built in Finland by Valmet Automotive, with motors supplied from Elaphe's facilities in Slovenia. European deliveries are scheduled to start in November, but Lightyear hasn't confirmed plans to expand to other markets. A more affordable model is also in the works, but likely won't arrive until 2024 or 2025. Read more at Green Car Reports.
In its quest to find someone to blame for high gas prices, the White House has zeroed in on a new villain: oil refiners. In a letter this week—as gas prices reached $5 per gallon—Biden called “high refinery profit margins” unacceptable, pledging to use “all reasonable and appropriate federal government tools” to bring more refined products to market and lower prices at the pump. That language doesn’t suggest that he’s considering having the government take over refining, but this would, in fact, be entirely reasonable and appropriate—and more effective than any measures he’s considering.
The U.S. has lost about 5 percent of its refining capacity since the start of the pandemic, when demand for oil cratered as travel ground to a halt at home and abroad. Given the unusual nature of the U.S. fossil fuel sector—where the state gives companies generous subsidies without control over investment decisions—the tools Biden seems willing to use to bring that capacity back online amid now-soaring demand are limited. Shuttered refineries could take six months and hundreds of millions of dollars to rev back up. Companies and their investors aren’t likely to go ahead with such an undertaking unless they can guarantee returns for the long haul. As the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers wrote in a joint response letter to the White House, “Refiners do not make multi-billion-dollar investments based on short-term returns. They look at long-term supply and demand fundamentals and make investments as appropriate.”. Read more at New Republic.
Credit: Oil pumps and drilling equipment in an oil field in Kern County, where the majority of California's oil and gas production is centered. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
As California struggles to adapt to historic droughts and wildfires fueled by the climate crisis, state legislators are taking money from fossil fuel companies and dragging their feet on climate action, activists and members of a legislative climate caucus said during a press call Tuesday.
California’s woeful progress on climate solutions earned the state a near failing grade from an environmental group that evaluates politicians’ voting records, budgets and policies in order to hold government officials accountable.
The state’s failure to pass meaningful climate measures last year prompted the California Environmental Voters, or EnviroVoters, to give the state its first “D” since the group began issuing its annual scorecard in 1973.
“This is the first time in history we’ve ever given California a score this low,” said Mary Creasman, CEO of EnviroVoters, formerly the California League of Conservation Voters.
“This is unacceptable in a state like California,” she said. “Everybody is paying attention to what California does, and looking at us to create the models for action.”. Read more at inside climate news.
SPOTLIGHT ON INDIGENOUS WELLNESS
Brazil's Indigenous Communities Fear Mining Threat Over War in Ukraine
Credit: Strategy cover
Maurício Ye'kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals - and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land."It's got worse in the past few years," Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.He's only 35, but it's the younger generation that concerns him - boys increasingly being lured into illegal work."The young people are the best boat drivers," he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights. Read more at BBC.
Quote Of The Week:
Credit: Kiara Worth / IISD-ENB
“This UN meeting (Bonn Climate Conference, June 16) elevated the severe losses and damages that vulnerable countries face from climate change higher than any negotiations have before but failed to clarify how to address the problem. While developed countries acknowledged the need to address such damages, they rebuffed requests from vulnerable nations to work toward establishing a new funding mechanism.
“Perhaps the most decisive outcome from these talks is that developed countries now realize that the chorus calling for solutions to loss and damage is only getting louder and addressing this issue is a central measure of success for the UN climate summit in Egypt.
“Now the pressure is on for leaders to pick up the slack and use upcoming diplomatic gatherings to deliver the political momentum that is needed ahead of COP27. Key opportunities include the G7 Summit and Petersberg Dialogue.
“Heightened attention to growing impacts must also lead to stronger climate action across the board, from dramatically cutting emissions and protecting forests to providing support for vulnerable countries facing the increasingly severe consequences of an overheating world.
“At Bonn, countries did move the ball on assessing countries’ collective progress on tackling the climate crisis, known as the Global Stocktake. If done right, the Global Stocktake could culminate next year with countries agreeing to new political commitments that deliver breakthrough climate solutions across sectors, access to finance and more.
“The benchmarks for success for COP27 are now coming into focus. It is vital for major emitters to strengthen their emission reduction targets and for developed countries to demonstrate solidarity with vulnerable nations by rallying behind financial support to address loss and damage, build resilience to climate impacts and accelerate a just transition to cleaner sources of energy. The world will also be watching Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt's COP27) to hold countries, businesses, cities and others accountable for the stunning number of commitments profiled at COP26 last year.”
International Health Trends and Perspectives (a new journal based at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly Ryerson University, Toronto) is dedicating a special issue to the topic of Planetary Health to highlight research, theoretical and community based contributions of scientists, scholars and activists globally. It is inviting manuscripts that are solutions and equity-focused. See the call for papers and details here: https://bit.ly/3tDixHT
November 21-23, 2022: Canadian Conference on Global HealthJoin us in Toronto for the 28th Canadian Conference on Global Health (CCGH). This year's hybrid event will explore the theme of: "Inclusive Global Health in Uncertain Times: Research and Practice".
FYI#1 SPOTLIGHT ON MEDIA
The Importance of Indigenous Storytelling in Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Survival
In Blood Quantum, Indigenous survivors are immune to a plague that transforms others into zombies. Credit: Elevation Pictures)
Almost 100 years later, the "Dig for Victory" slogan has been repurposed by the UK's Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The gardening charity aimed to mobilise the biggest gardening army since World War Two to fight the biggest threat of the 21st Century: climate change. The tools at their disposal? Planting trees, using rainwater instead of sprinklers, and making compost.
If every one of the UK's 30 million gardeners planted one medium-sized tree and let it grow to maturity, they would store the same amount of carbon as is produced by driving 284 billion miles (457 billion km), 11 million times around the planet, research by the RHS shows. If every gardener produced 190kg of compost each year, they would save the amount of carbon produced by heating half a million homes for a year.
As governments and companies race to slash their emissions, there is increasing interest in the ability of natural landscapes, such as forests, wetlands and mangroves, to protect against the risks posed by climate change. Horticulturalists say the humble garden can also serve as a powerful tool in this fight.
"Gardens are becoming shop windows for the wider environment, demonstrating the dangers of pests and threats of climate change and showing what can be done to tackle it," says Simon Toomer, curator of living collections at Kew Gardens in the UK.
To cope with climate change, gardens must become more resilient to hotter and drier conditions in the summer and more rainfall in the winter, the RHS warns.
Credit: A wildfire that raged through central Chile in 2014 is thought to have been caused by electrocuted birds.MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
In 2014, a wildfire ripped through central Chile, destroying 2500 homes and
killing at least 13 people. A year later, a blaze in Idaho burned more than 4000 hectares, an area nearly 12 times the size of New York City’s Central Park. Both conflagrations had one thing in common: Experts believe they were started by birds.Our feathered friends love to perch on power lines, which can be a great place to rest and launch an attack. But if a bird touches the wrong wires together, or somehow forms an electrical pathway to the ground, it can get fried. Falling to the floor like winged Molotov cocktails, birds can spark an inferno if they hit an especially dry, tindered patch of earth.More than three dozen fires started this way in the United States from 2014 to 2018, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of such blazes. “The ecological and economic losses are substantial,” says Antoni Margalida, a conservation biologist at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology who has studied the impacts of wildfires caused by birds and other fauna in Spain but who was not involved with the work.
Humans are responsible for the vast majority of wildfires in the United States. Lightning and even heat from the Sun can also spark blazes. But flaming birds have gotten less attention.To better document this fowl play, Taylor Barnes, a biologist at EDM International, an engineering consultancy firm in Colorado, collected data on wildfires across the United States. He and his colleagues used Google Alerts to monitor fires started by birds between 2014 and 2018, using keyword pairs: “fire” and “eagle,” for example. They filtered out any findings unrelated to power lines, such as those referring to vehicles. “The Pontiac Firebird came up a lot,” Barnes says.
Archaeology Sensation: An Ancient City Re-emerges in Iraq Reservoir
Southern Iraq has been suffering from extreme drought for months. Since December, large amounts of water have been diverted from the Mosul Dam, Iraq's most important water reservoir, to prevent harvests from drying out.
Due to the low water level, the remains of a 3,400-year-old city that disappeared decades ago emerged on the edge of the reservoir.
"I saw on satellite images that the water level was falling but it wasn't clear when the water would rise again. So, we had an unknown window of time," says German archaeologist Ivana Puljiz, a junior professor at the University of Freiburg.
But archaeologists knew that the site — known as Kemune — was interesting. They had been there before.
"Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to Advance Earth System Science: Opportunities and Challenges: Proceedings of a Workshop" (Free PDF)
Credit: Book Cover
The Earth system - the atmospheric, hydrologic, geologic, and biologic cycles that circulate energy, water, nutrients, and other trace substances - is a large, complex, multiscale system in space and time that involves human and natural system interactions. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) offer opportunities to understand and predict this system. Researchers are actively exploring ways to use ML/AI approaches to advance scientific discovery, speed computation, and link scientific communities
In May, Temerty Medicine held our annual Education Achievement Celebration at Hart House, which is a marvellous occasion to recognize our faculty members' outstanding teaching and educational development. I had the honour of delivering the C. I. Whiteside Education Achievement Keynote Address, which allowed me to raise an issue I think we – students, faculty, staff, and alumni – need to spend more time discussing and addressing: climate change.
It is a significant and daunting challenge. And, especially after two years of dealing with a global pandemic, tackling yet another worldwide challenge can seem overwhelming. However, we regularly confront “co-morbidities” when delivering care. In our work, we must be able to address multiple problems simultaneously. And we do so as part of a team, so the burden doesn't fall on any one person. We also recognize that these challenges do not have quick fixes. It will take an enduring commitment by each of us and others to address these profound tests.
Publisher and Editor: Dr. David Zakus Production: Aisha Saleem & Julia Chalmers Social Media: Mahdia Abidi, Shalini Kainth and Ishneer Mankoo Website, Index and Advisory: Eunice Anteh, Gaël Chetaille, Carlos Jimenez, Evans Oppong, Jonathan Zakus, Dr. Aimée-Angélique Bouka & Elisabeth Huang
Bloggers: Edward Milner, Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, Aisha Saleem and Dr. Jay Kravitz