Notable progress, medium expectations, unprecedented, madness, more disappointment, desperation, despondency, sabotage, new normal, omnicrisis, devastating, hottest, fastest, largest, historic, highest, lowest, catastrophic.
WE made it!! With this issue of the Planetary Health Weekly, #52, we close out 2022. There are so many adjectives to describe 2022, and we’re happy to have been a part of it with you. So much has happened with planetary health, some good and lots bad, and we’re hoping our bringing you news about it has been useful and helpful to you.
It keeps occurring to me, though, since I returned last week from the COP15 Biodiversity conference in Montreal, that so much of the positive aspirations concerning the climate and biodiversity crises I’m hearing now are conversations that should have occurred 12 months ago or, actually, at least 12 years ago. Had this happened we could still be somewhat hopeful with thinking that these bare minimum actions now being proposed would be starting to happen, given the time it takes from aspiration to action, My worry now, at the end of 2022 is that so much of what we heard from the conference will carry on only as rhetoric for a few years and not really happen to the extent needed to keep alive and well the natural world we rely and depend on - our one Earth in an infinite occurrence in our ever expanding universe.
I finished last week’s message wondering if even that which was agreed in Montreal will be enough. But, what if even those optimistic ideas aren’t implemented in the way which they’re intended. I’m worried.
Earlier this week a friend sent a story about local authorities in the UK, those who are to be close and official partners in achieving the Kunming-Montreal Convention on Biological Diversity, who just approved airport expansions, oil drilling and motor highways, all of which run anathema to the document signed by their national government. Here, too, in Ontario we have a provincial government who seems hell bent to do the opposite to what our federal government has signed up for.
As usual the work falls to us all, to be knowledgeable, vigilant, assertive (even aggressive), and hell bent on getting our politicians to do what’s needed to conserve, restore and enhance our surrounding environments. We know so much, yet are not smart enough to act on the knowledge we have. Just look at the giant winter storms hitting almost every nook and cranny of North America, setting records of cold, snow and misery…but yet, who is talking about the changing climate around our globe responsible for such extremes, now only gathering steam. Just look at Covid-19, still spreading around the world and we appear to care less. If there’s one prediction I can make for the coming year that I'm sure of, it’s that things are only going to get worse, more records will be set. With our continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, year after year, we know what’s going to happen. We know what must be done.
Here are the stories in today’s Planetary Health Weekly, #52, the last of this amazing year 2022:
CLIMATE & BIODIVERSITY CRISES UPDATES:
Biodiversity Treaty: UN deal fails to address the root cause of nature’s destruction,
Nature’s high return,
British Ecological Society’s response to the New Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework,
Exxon tries to block new EU windfall tax on oil companies,
Canada’s Hudson Bay polar bear population plummets as Arctic warms,
International Cryosphere Climate Initiative – shaping policies to protect the most fragile regions of the globe,
Extreme weather, climate change are the world’s most serious risks,
Fossil fuel use in Canada will drop by 62%, modelling indicates,
Two climate activists got kicked out of the world’s largest Earth-science conference for protesting, and one says the association is ‘silencing scientists’,
Covid-19 is tearing through China,
China’s vast countryside in rush to bolster Covid defences,
Covid-19 vaccines: everything you need to know, THEN
Even after Covid the world’s vaccine strategy is failing,
The slow roll-out of the world’s first malaria vaccine,
Cancer vaccines are showing promise. Here’s how they work,
Has the mpox (monkeypox) epidemic,
Scientists create a vaccine against Fentanyl,
Twitter restores suicide prevention feature after Reuters report,
Gas and oil corporation deception? What a surprise!
Here is what is really strangling the energy transition,
Home On Native Land (New On-line Course)
Quote of the week by Joni Mitchell,
DeepL internet based translation service,
U.S. west coast aligns to ban new gas cars by 2035,
Next pandemic could be caused by horrid fungi, scientists warn,
Whistleblower: Enviva claim of ‘being good for the planet…all nonsense’,
As the climate changes, climate fiction is changing with it (four new novels),
A 'stunning' level of student disconnection, and lastly
ENDSHOTS of SUPER SNOW BEAUTY: ONE OF THE HEAVIEST SNOWFALLS EVER.
Hoping you’ll keep reading and HAPPY NEW YEAR. Wishing you all the very best in 2023 and if you or anyone you know might like to volunteer a couple hours a week with us next year, just let me know!!
Until next year, david David Zakus, Editor and Publisher
SUNRISE OVER WHITEFISH LAKE
December 29, 2022
IN COMPLETE SOLIDARITY WITH UKRAINE SEEKING PEACE AND VICTORY AND IN TOTAL DISBELIEF AT WHAT RUSSIA CONTINUES IS DOING
A major biodiversity conference, recently concluded in Montreal, Canada, was billed as the event that will decide the “fate of the entire living world”. All well then that the meeting closed with what has been hailed as a “historic” breakthrough: a deal to protect 30% of all land and water on Earth by 2030.
How historic is this deal, really? Judging from the effect of protected areas and major environment meetings over the last few decades, we should not get our hopes up. In fact, this deal may force us to reconsider the usefulness of such meetings altogether.
If there is anything that defines the history of mainstream conservation it is the steady rise of protected areas, covering about 2% of the globe in the 1960s to around 17% now. This progress was incredibly difficult, and still created many ineffective “paper parks” where species are protected from hunting and other threats in name only. Worse, it bred human rights abuses and violence as people were excluded from land that was declared off-limits.
If it took 60 years to get to 17%, how realistic is a near-doubling of Earth’s protected areas over the next eight years? And how will it, despite the pact’s rhetoric of placing indigenous peoples at the centre of conservation, ensure that the violence of the past is not repeated?
The mega-challenges engulfing the world today – from COVID-19 to climate change – have highlighted the interdependencies between people, planet, and the economy. As we chart a course to reignite global growth and drive green, resilient, and inclusive development, we must not ignore these interlinkages. Nature – meaning biodiversity and the services that healthy ecosystems provide – is central to this endeavor, especially in developing countries, where poor people in rural areas tend to rely heavily on nature’s services and are the most vulnerable to its depletion.
As the international community gathers in Montreal for COP15, the United Nations summit on biodiversity, we must reaffirm the necessity of investing in nature, in tandem with climate action. After all, half of world GDP is generated by sectors – from agriculture and lumber to fisheries – that are moderately or highly dependent on ecosystems, and two-thirds of food crops rely at least partly on animal pollination.
But these vital natural assets are increasingly compromised. Nearly one million species of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction, and 60-70% of the world’s ecosystems are being degraded faster than they can recover. According to World Bank estimates, low-income countries could lose around 10% of their GDP annually by 2030, even if ecosystem collapse is confined to just a few services, such as wild pollination, food from marine fisheries, and timber from native forests.
Nature loss is also closely connected to climate change. We now know that the two crises are reinforcing each other, and with potentially dire implications for the health of ecosystems globally. To fight climate change, we need strong, vibrant forests and healthy oceans to absorb carbon dioxide; but climate change itself is jeopardizing these systems.
Preserving biodiversity and ecosystems is the key to unlocking economic opportunities that can help communities thrive. Estimates show that adopting more sustainable ways of producing food, building cities and infrastructure, and generating energy could lead to $10.1 trillion annually in new business opportunities, creating 395 million jobs by 2030. The ocean economy alone has the potential to double (to $3 trillion) by 2030.
The new Global Biodiversity Framework contains 23 targets for the protection and restoration of biodiversity, including a target for the conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s land and water by 2030.
The BES welcomes the fact that the agreement has been reached on new targets intended to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, especially the headline commitment of effectively conserving and managing 30% of the world’s land and water.
“Effective protected areas (PAs) have the potential to be the beating heart of nature recovery and the 30×30 global commitment offers the opportunity to revitalise the contribution that degraded ecosystems can make towards restoring biodiversity" said Mark Emmerson, BES Vice-President.
Several EU member states have introduced windfall taxes on oil and gas companies in a bid to reign in excess profits, help protect their populations from high prices and help diversify energy supplies.
Some 80 million European households are struggling to stay warm due to rising energy costs, reports the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST).
Windfall profit taxes imposed by Europe could cost at least 2 billion euros by the end of 2023, Exxon Chief Financial Officer Kathryn Mikells said in December.
Exxon Mobil is suing the European Union in an attempt to force the bloc to scrap its new windfall tax on oil companies, according to reports on Wednesday.
The US oil giant argues Brussels has gone beyond its legal authority by imposing the levy.
Oil companies posted record profits this year, benefiting from soaring energy prices that have helped trigger a cost of living crisis across Europe.
The windfall tax on profits is "counter-productive," discourages investment and undermines investor confidence, Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton said on Wednesday.
He warned that the oil company will factor the tax into future decisions on whether to channel multi-billion-euro investments into Europe’s energy supply and transition.
"Whether we invest here primarily depends on how attractive and globally competitive Europe will be," Norton said.
The Financial Times first reported the lawsuit on Wednesday.
A 2021 study in the journal Nature Climate Change (as reputable as you can get) found most of the world's polar bear populations are on track to collapse by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions aren't heavily curbed.
Canada's Western Hudson Bay polar bear population has fallen 27 per cent in just five years, according to a government report released this week, suggesting climate change is impacting the animals.
Every autumn, the bears living along the western edge of the Bay pass through the sub-Arctic tourist town of Churchill, Man., as they return to the sea ice. This has made the population not only the best studied group in the world, but also the most famous, with the local bear-viewing economy valued at $7.2 million annually.
However, the Government of Nunavut's assessment finds that just 618 bears remained in 2021 — a roughly 50 per cent drop from the 1980s.
The cryosphere is a term for the regions of our globe which are covered in ice and snow – either seasonally or year-round. Climate change is happening in the cryosphere faster and more dramatically than anywhere else on earth.
Climate change is happening faster and in a dramatically more visible way in the Earth’s cryosphere: the snow and ice-dominated regions around both the North and South Poles, and in high mountains. Whether high latitude or high altitude, temperatures in these places already have warmed by at least twice the global average. As a result, the ecosystems and communities in these fragile and beautiful places are disintegrating, in some cases right beneath our feet, as ice and ground (permafrost) melt away.
The cryosphere is different, requiring different yet complementary climate solutions to those of the globe as a whole. For example, black carbon or soot, especially from sources close to these polar or mountain regions, lands on ice and snow and causes it to melt more quickly; so reductions can help slow snow and ice loss, while also improving human health closer to the source of these emissions, whether a small cookstove, or massive wildfire. Reductions of methane from human activity might also help offset emissions of this greenhouse gas coming from warming permafrost.
ICCI seeks to find new and integrated solutions for these challenges, and in particular has worked over the past decade to reduce black carbon emissions in near-cryosphere regions from agricultural sector burning, and from heating and cooking stoves.
A report last year by the World Economic Forum (WEF) puts climate change and related outcomes at the top of a list concerned with risks to human society.
According to the report — the WEF’s Global Risk Report 2022, which is in its 17th year — extreme weather and failure to act on climate change constitute the most serious risk factors the world faces over the next ten years.
“This is what scientists and many in civil society have been saying for decades,” Miriam Diamond, professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, told The Weather Network (TWN).
“Climate change is a powerful actor in and of itself. Climate change also acts as a multiplier — be it for the security of food supplies and safe drinking water, security of home and habitat against extreme weather events, and political security as people's present and future prospects come under jeopardy,” Diamond added. Certainly, many of the risks in the ranking will be exacerbated as the climate crisis worsens.
A report on the future of Canadian energy predicts a decline in fossil fuel use in the coming decades, in part due to an increase in energy efficiency. Despite this, crude oil production is expected to remain close to peak levels.
The forecast, Energy Futures 2021, predicts energy sector outlooks to the year 2050 under “current” and “evolving” policy scenarios. Authored by the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER), the report found that demand for electricity could grow by as much as 45 per cent, while the use of uncaptured fossil fuels could drop by over 60 per cent during the same period.
The chief economist of the CER, Darren Christie, announced the report by noting, “Our projections show that Canadians use far fewer fossil fuels in the future.” The report predicts that this decline in carbon output would include a notable drop of some 40 per cent of petroleum for transportation and the almost complete elimination of coal.
According to the forecast, these sector changes would come about because of a decrease in energy demand thanks to improved efficiency, an uptake in the adoption of electric vehicles, and a steep rise in the use of renewables like wind, solar, and hydro, as well as nuclear, biofuels, and hydrogen.
A December report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which found that, by 2026, “global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60 per cent from 2020 levels.” This level of growth in renewables would account for nearly 95 per cent of the global power capacity increase over the next five years.
While these trends are promising, even the most optimistic CER projections would not meet the emissions targets Canada has set.
“An unstated assumption of the CER scenarios is that Canada and the world fail to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” Nichole Dusyk, a Senior Analyst with the Pembina Institute, told The Weather Network (TWN). “While there is utility in understanding our current trajectory, there is no scenario presented in Energy Futures 2021 that describes an energy future that Canada wants or needs.”
“The government of Canada has committed to reducing emissions 40-45 per cent by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050,” Dusyk explained. “A prediction of 62 per cent decline in fossil fuel consumption does not align with the government’s climate commitments.”
Another concern is the forecast growth of Canadian crude oil production, which is expected to reach a peak of 5.8 million barrels a day not until 2032. By 2050, it will have declined only to 4.8 million barrels, according to the CER report.
One key criticism of the CER forecast was the fact that there was no modelling of a route that would attain net-zero emissions or achieve the target of 1.5°C of warming.
“Planning for climate success requires energy modelling to net-zero emissions,” Nicole Dusyk stated. a Senior Analyst with the Pembina Institute, in talk with The Weather Network (TWN)
NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus and ecologist Rose Abramoff each told Insider they acted on their own behalf when they climbed onstage during a plenary event at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, an association of 60,000 advocates and professionals in the Earth and space sciences.
All week at the meeting, scientists had been presenting their latest research on the ways human activities are changing the planet, leading to increasing weather extremes and ecosystem collapse.
Abramoff and Kalmus see these catastrophes unfolding in their own research, and they've both been arrested multiple times this year as part of climate protests. They wanted to galvanize other scientists to act on their own research, too.
Source above: Twitter, December 19, 19, 23 and 23, 2022, respectively
The pandemic continues all over the world and and no where now more than China. With their changing policies from what almost totally protected them before, the virus is rampant, causing huge numbers of infections, sicknesses and deaths. Canada is still experiencing about 300 deaths per week or 40/day, much of it in Toronto. Information about Covid-19's prevalence and outcomes remains hard to find. Many erroneously feel it's over. It's not, but for seemingly most areas of Canada it has sharpl y declined. Thank goodness!!i What's so sad now is that leadership has mostly disappeared.
Over the last week, cases are about the same at 570,000/day or 4m/week (though this is only registered cases); deaths are down about 10% to about 1700/day (and Canada is up to about 40/day); and vaccinations are way up (by about 3X) to about 9 million/day (perhaps because of the big vaccine campaigns now in China).
Vaccination, despite ongoing concerns about waning effectiveness and slander against it, along with other proven public health measures (including the seasonal flu shot), remain the best ways to keep yourself and others safe from serious consequences.
See below for a few global stats and current hotspots.
After nearly three years of self-imposed isolation, China is opening up again. The domestic travel restrictions, mass-testing requirements and draconian lockdowns of the “zero-covid” policy were scrapped in early December. On January 8th China will reopen its borders, too. People arriving from abroad will no longer have to quarantine. More flights into China will be allowed. Visas will be granted to business travellers and students (though not yet to tourists). And Chinese nationals will be allowed to travel abroad without needing to provide the authorities with a reason.
But for a sense of how much the covid situation in China has changed look at Japan and India. They are now demanding that incoming Chinese travellers take a covid test first. In the span of a couple of months, China has gone from being a country with an incredibly small number of infections to, perhaps, the world’s largest covid hotspot.
China's thinly resourced countryside is racing to beef up medical facilities before millions of factory workers return home for the Lunar New Year holiday next month from cities where COVID-19 is surging.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines have reached billions of people worldwide, the evidence is overwhelming that no matter which one you take, the vaccines offer life-saving protection against a disease that has killed millions. The pandemic is far from over, and they are our best bet of staying safe.
There are four types of vaccines in clinical trials: whole virus, protein subunit, viral vector and nucleic acid (RNA and DNA), each of which protects people, but by producing immunity in a slightly different way
Despite the record speed at which they have been developed, COVID-19 vaccines have still been subject to the same checks, balances, and scientific and regulatory rigour as any other vaccine, and shown to be safe.
Four weeks ago, Seth Berkley (chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and founder of IAVI) visited Mulago National Referral Hospital, in Kampala, where he used to work. Today, it is home to one of Uganda’s Ebola isolation wings. During his visit, he witnessed some of the challenges that the government and health-care workers were facing to contain this terrible outbreak without the most effective tool there is: vaccines. The Sudan strain of ebolavirus has killed 56 people and spread to 9 districts in Uganda, including the capital city of 2 million people and regions that border other nations. If it spills into neighbouring countries, it could trigger a regional crisis.
All of this could have been avoided. No effective vaccines or treatments have been approved against Sudan ebolavirus. If the world had learnt its lesson from previous Ebola outbreaks and COVID-19, vaccines could have been ready for clinical testing at the outbreak’s start. The fact that they aren’t is a global failure.
Despite rallying to produce billions of doses of vaccines in the face of COVID-19, when it comes to developing vaccines to prevent a disease in the first place, the world is still asleep at the wheel. There is still no incentive for markets to deliver vaccines that can prevent outbreaks, even when the technology is available. If we can’t even have vaccines ready for known severe threats such as Ebola, then what hope is there for future unknown pandemic threats?
Ghana, Kenya and Malawi took part in a pilot study of the RTS,S vaccine in 2019. Credit: Amos Gumulira/AFP via Getty
John Bawa, who leads vaccine implementation in Africa at the
global non-profit organization PATH in Accra, has been working for more than a
decade on the first vaccine against malaria. And he has become used to hearing
the same question: “Where is your vaccine?” So, last year, when the World
Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of the vaccine, known as RTS,S
and marketed as Mosquirix, in children living in countries hardest hit by the
disease, “it was a great relief for us”, he says. “Now I have my vaccine.”
The WHO’s recommendation was a historic milestone. RTS,S took 30
years to develop, and is not only the first malaria vaccine, but also the first
vaccine for any parasitic disease. Although the efficacy of the shot is modest
— about 50% in the first year — it is
expected to save tens of thousands of lives each year. One study estimated that,
if the vaccine were rolled out in countries with the highest burden of malaria,
it could prevent 5.3 million cases and 24,000 deaths in young children each
Credit: Micrograph by STEVE GSCHMEISSNER, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Typically, vaccines help protect us against diseases. But cancer vaccines are different; they are potential therapies for treating people who already have cancer. These treatments have been years in the making, and failures have been frequent, but they’re now starting to show some promise.
In the last decade, technological innovations like genome sequencing have allowed scientists to take a closer look at tumor cells and their genetic abnormalities. This is helping them design vaccines aimed at much more specific targets. At the same time, we’ve been learning a lot more about the immune system and how it recognizes and destroys a patient’s tumor, says cellular immunologist Stephen Schoenberger at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego.
Cancer vaccine research is still in the nascent stages, says Nina Bhardwaj, a hematology and medical oncology expert at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. But early results from clinical trials testing dozens of vaccine candidates against a variety of cancers look encouraging, she says.
The goal is to roll out vaccines that destroy cancer cells, but some scientists are also testing vaccines that might one day prevent a high-risk individual from developing cancer.
What are cancer vaccines?
The purpose of all vaccines, be it a cancer vaccine or COVID-19 vaccine, is to educate the immune system and provide a preview of the target that needs to be identified and destroyed to keep the body safe. The COVID-19 vaccine teaches the immune system what the SARS-CoV-2 virus looks like so when the pathogen infects, immune cells can quickly locate the virus and kill it. Similarly, a cancer vaccine educates immune cells about what a tumor cell “looks like,” enabling them to seek and destroy these cancer cells.
The ability of a cancer vaccine to teach the immune system is what distinguishes it from other immunotherapies that utilize therapeutic agents such as cytokine proteins and antibodies and include strategies like genetically engineering a patient’s immune cells to fight cancer.
Experts says that cancer vaccines can potentially destroy cancer cells that might have survived other treatments, stop the tumor from growing or spreading, or stop the cancer from coming back.
Some therapeutic cancer vaccines rely on removing immune cells called dendritic cells from a patient’s blood sample and exposing them in the laboratory to the key proteins obtained from the individual’s cancer cells. These educated cells are then returned to the patient with the expectation they will stimulate and train other immune cells, such as T cells, to detect and destroy the cancer.
Monkeypox – now renamed mpox to avoid the racist and stigmatising language used for the disease that originated in Africa – seems to have disappeared from the headlines. But has the disease really gone away? World Health Organization (WHO) data now suggests that while the threat has lowered, it has not disappeared completely.
In May this year, cases of the disease, that causes fever, muscle aches and boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world. In response, in July, WHO classified it as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), signalling its highest level of alarm.
According to WHO, as of 19 December, there have been more than 83,000 cases in 110 countries and 66 deaths. Encouragingly, the number of new cases globally weekly has decreased by 49.3% ;in the past week compared to the previous week, with 265 new cases worldwide compared to 523 cases from 5 to 11 December. Currently the Region of the Americas is deemed to have a higher risk than the African region. Most cases reported in the past four weeks were from the Region of the Americas (90.5%) and the European Region (4.9%).
The ten most affected countries worldwide are: USA (29,513 cases), Brazil (10,293), Spain (7,416), France (4,110), Colombia (3,908), UK (3,730), Germany (3,675), Peru (3,587), Mexico (3,509), and Canada (1,459). Together, these countries account for 85.7%of the cases reported globally.
Despite Africa having countries that are endemic for mpox, they have had virtually no access to the vaccines, nor to smallpox vaccines that had previously been used to protect against mpox. Africa only just received its first batch of mpox vaccine as a donation from South Korea a few weeks ago, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
This is a critical time to suppress the epidemic by rolling out the vaccine in an equitable way, say experts. A paper in The Lancet in October warned that just because monkeypox is currently controllable, it may evolve and might not be easily controllable in future.
More than 150 people die every day in the U.S. from synthetic opioids. Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Researchers at the University of Houston say they have a potential solution that could be a “game-changer” in the fight against opioid overdoses: a new vaccine that blocks fentanyl from entering the brain. In a study published in Pharmaceutics, scientists tested their vaccine on 60 rats. The immunized animals could produce anti-fentanyl antibodies that stop the drug’s effects, allowing it to exit out of the body via the kidneys. This blocks the “high” caused by fentanyl, and it would theoretically make it easier for people to quit using the drug or avoid a relapse.
The next steps for the researchers are to get FDA approval for the vaccine and to begin clinical trials. The team hopes their vaccine could be sold within three or four years.
“The fact that they’re doing research to find these things gives us hope, because we have to do something,” Van Guilder tells KTRK. “What we’re doing today is not working” says Van Guilder, director of community affairs and overdose prevention at Greenhouse Treatment Center in Texas.
Twitter Inc has restored a feature that promotes suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking up certain content, after coming under pressure from some users and consumer safety groups over its removal.
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a trove of documents last week that show while gas and oil mega-corporations have been mouthing their commitment to clean energy “transition,” they’ve actually been peddling what, in the West, would be called “bull pucky.” In the common vernacular of our time, it’s a practice known as “greenwashing,” which amounts to putting lipstick on the pig of their planet-killing pollution.
Right out of the chute, let’s be clear that these enormous mega-corporations are not in business to break even or save the planet. They are wholly dedicated to making as much money as possible as quickly as possible. They don’t do that by “transitioning” to clean energy, they do it by selling gas, oil, and petroleum products.
Anyone who thinks these corporate giants didn’t know that fossil fuels would threaten the very existence of mankind on the planet might want to consider this article in the Washington Post that opens with: “In November 1959 Edward Teller, ‘the father of the hydrogen bomb,’ told a group of oil company executives and scientists gathered at Columbia University that continued burning of fossil fuels would warm the planet, potentially melting the ice caps and submerging New York and other coastal cities — posing a threat to civilization comparable to a global nuclear war.”
Going on 64 years later, Teller’s chilling analogy is coming true. Only instead of instant annihilation from nukes, we’re experiencing a slower, but no less deadly, self-immolation as the Earth overheats. Now we’re wiping out a record number of species at a breakneck pace in the 6th Great Extinction Event, the predicted sea level rise is accelerating, and huge areas of the planet are running out of fresh water and facing desertification.
Here Is What Is Really Strangling the Energy Transition
Credit: Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times
For generations, tobacco was the king of crops in the region known as the Carolina Sandhills, the best way to coax cash out of the sandy soil. But the long decline of smoking in America idled many tobacco fields, and now farmers are eyeing a new crop.
Instead of converting sunshine into bright-leaf tobacco, some of them want to convert it into electricity. This sunny region of the east-central Carolinas is an excellent place to build solar farms, with its plentiful land, sparse population, gentle terrain and need for economic development.
But the farmers, and the solar developers who are looking to cut deals with them, are stuck. The power lines running through the Sandhills region and a larger area of the Carolinas surrounding it are too small and antiquated to move solar power to the booming cities and factories where it is needed.
The situation is a microcosm of a large and growing problem.
Huge backlogs of renewable energy projects have built up around the world as developers are refused permission to pump their power into the grid. The projects go on waiting lists that can now stretch for years, and many ultimately drop off when the delays become intolerable. In the United States, enough renewable energy projects are backlogged right now to achieve a largely clean electric grid by 2030. But without urgent action, most are unlikely to get built.
One major victory RAVEN is celebrating is the launch of a ten-module online course, Home on Native Land. This has been available for the month of December exclusively to our monthly donors, but will be launching nationally in January 2023! Three years in the making, Home on Native Land looks at Canadian law and the very outdated colonial law that is the foundation of Indigenous dispossession in Canada. Throughout the ten modules you’ll also learn about some of the Indigenous laws and legal systems that have governed this land and its peoples long before the Canadian Constitution.
The U.S. government started to adopt California rules in 2020, after the move gained widespread support in 2019. It backed that up with legislative action to end gasoline car sales earlier this year, but full implementation of the California rules hasn't occurred yet.
Oregon has been a longtime follower of California's zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate requiring EV sales, and it also this week finalized its adoption of the California rules. That forms a West Coast EV bloc of sorts that will be increasingly challenging for automakers to ignore.
California, however, took the lead in effectively banning the sale of new gasoline passenger vehicles and light trucks that don't lean on electrification, with a 2020 executive order. That's largely earned the support of the state's dealers, as the portion of fully electric vehicles in the state passed 15% earlier this year—up from 5.1% in 2019.
Vermont is already along for the mandate the West Coast states are adopting. And this week, the entire nation of Canada announced its own proposed 100% ZEV sales target for 2035 that will essentially align it with rules in British Columbia and Quebec, which already represent 35% of that nation's market.
Despite the lack of a national mandate, as EVs and plug-in hybrids become the new-car norm, and gasoline models the fringe, automakers may see the North American shift with increased urgency.
Next Pandemic Could Be Caused by Horrid Fungus, Scientists Warn
Credit: Getty Images
Disease experts are worrying that the next pandemic could be caused by fungi rather than a virus, National Geographic reports — a terrifying possibility, scientists say, given how little we know about the organisms. Many fungi have been known to grow resistant to treatments, heightening the stakes.
"What we worry about all the time in the fungal world, is fungi’s potential to cause human disease," Tom Chiller, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told NatGeo. "There’s a lot of stuff out there we don’t even understand."
Fungi can evolve at extremely fast rates, turning into infections that are increasingly difficult to treat with antifungals. They can also force the immune system to turn against itself, a life-threatening condition known as sepsis. In a particularly alarming detail, the magazine even reported that fungi can form balls inside the body that can displace entire organs.
According to the report, mortality rates shoot up by 25 percent in the case of antifungal-resistant pathogens. The use of fungicides in the agricultural industry, for instance, allows resistant fungi to grow stronger and develop potentially dangerous immunities.
While they mutate more slowly than bacteria or viruses, generally speaking, fungi can adapt and reproduce in a great range of environments.
Whistleblower: Enviva Claim of ‘Being Good for the Planet… All Nonsense’
As it turns out, Mongabay reporter Justin Catanoso found a management whistleblower who pointed him in the direction of clearcuts that the company was making: Catanoso watched as a feller-buncher machine grappled down a fifty-acre forest and fed the old oaks straight into a chipper, producing tons of wood to be turned into pellets. The whistleblower said that was par for the course: “We take giant, whole trees. We don’t care where they come from. The notion of sustainably managed forests is nonsense. We can’t get wood into the mills fast enough.”
Enviva is the largest maker of wood pellets burned for energy in the world. The company has, from its inception, touted its green credentials.
It says it doesn’t use big, whole trees, but only uses wood waste, “tops, limbs, thinnings, and/or low-value smaller trees” in the production of woody biomass burned in former coal power plants in the U.K., EU and Asia. It says it only sources wood from areas where trees will be regrown, and that it doesn’t contribute to deforestation.
However, in first-ever interviews with a whistleblower who worked within Enviva plant management, Mongabay contributor Justin Catanoso has been told that all of these Enviva claims are false. In addition, a major recent scientific study finds that Enviva is contributing to deforestation in the U.S. Southeast.
Statements by the whistleblower have been confirmed by Mongabay’s own observations at a November 2022 forest clear-cut in North Carolina, and by NGO photo documentation. These findings are especially important now, as the EU considers the future of forest biomass burning as a “sustainable” form of renewable energy.
EDENTON, North Carolina — The operator of a Tigercat tractor used its claw-like arm to skillfully scoop up what just days before had been a sizable old oak, as the clear-cut of a thickly wooded 52-acre (21-hectare) site in this coastal Southeastern U.S. town neared completion.
The Tigercat operator fed the big oak, along with several skinnier trees, into a 4-ton whole-tree drum chipper. With a roar, it instantaneously ground the long trees into a torrent of small wood chips that flew out a chute into a tractor-trailer. In less than 30 minutes, the trailer was filled with 40 tons of chips. Then another tractor-trailer backed up to take the first one’s place. The chipping and loading process continued — another forest patch cleared.
FYI #5: END OF 2022 FICTION READING - FOUR NEW BOOKS
As the Climate Changes, Climate Fiction Is Changing With It
Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
In four new novels set in the present and future, writers confront the contradictions of our climate-addled age.
In his third autobiography, the famed abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass lingered on the impact of a novel that he deemed “a work of marvellous depth and power.” When “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published in 1852, Douglass wrote, “nothing could have better suited the moral and humane requirements of the hour. Its effect was amazing, instantaneous and universal.”
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” sold 1 million copies, inspired stage adaptations, songs and merchandise, and became wildly popular across the U.S. and the United Kingdom, where it sparked anti-slavery petitions and rallies. Southern writers were so incensed by its contents that they hurried to publish “Anti-Tom” novels defending slavery in response. Estimation of Uncle Tom’s influence hasn’t waned; writing in The New Yorker in 2011, the historian Annette Gordon-Reed called it “one of the most successful feats of persuasion in American history.”
Whether or not Abraham Lincoln really did refer to its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, as “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war” hardly matters: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” established a precedent for protest literature, setting the stage for reform-minded books like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and showed what it was possible to achieve with a story, well-told.
Is it still possible for literature to change the world, or at least to change minds? For today’s writers of climate fiction, it’s a question that has never been more pressing. In 2022, unlike in Stowe’s 19th century, “novels don’t necessarily have the reach of a film or TV show,” said Amy Brady, the executive director at Orion Magazine and co-editor of a new anthology called “The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate.” “But I think that climate fiction can get to people who wouldn’t otherwise think about climate change or want to talk about it.”
The tools of fiction can be useful for forging connections with audiences who may feel distant from the frontlines of the climate crisis or who have trouble personalizing such a complicated, sprawling topic. “Climate fiction can help readers to be more empathetic,” Brady said, “and to see climate change as a part of larger global systems and a part of history” in a way that scientific studies and news articles may not.
Fiction can also make threats that might otherwise seem amorphous or far-off feel immediate and visceral, turning the metaphorical into the real, if only on the page. In “Anthem,” which takes place in a dystopian near-future, author Noah Hawley starts a section titled “Now” with this chilling premise: “The summer our children began to kill themselves was the hottest in history.”
The climate crisis, in “Anthem,” is one of many intractable problems fuelling a global conflagration of teenage suicides, so many that society soon collapses into heartsick chaos, with weeping parents marching in the streets, desperate for a cure for their children’s despair. No one seems to realize that despair is born not only of the knowledge of the harm being done to the planet but of the shock that so little is being done by adults to rectify it. “Did grown-ups know this?” one of the protagonists wonders, after first learning about the dangers of global warming.
The world of Sequoia Nagamatsu’s “How High We Go in the Dark” is somehow even darker than the violent, anarchic America the characters inhabit in “Anthem”; we spend a chapter at an amusement park created for the purpose of quickly and painlessly euthanizing kids. “How High We Go in the Dark” peers centuries into a future wrecked by climate plague, a virus unearthed in melting permafrost which kills children in unfathomable numbers. Both books transform an abstraction (we are making the planet unsafe for future generations) into a nauseating reality that is much harder to shrug off. Like George Orwell’s “1984,” these books offer a warped reflection of our present—and a warning about our future.
“Anthem” and “How High We Go in the Dark” share elements of sci-fi and fantasy, genres that were once the sole province of writers who wanted to explore climate change in fiction. In 2016, the novelist and essayist Amitav Ghosh posited that the 2010s could someday be known as “The Great Derangement,” his term for “a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognizing their plight.” Ghosh lamented the lack of serious engagement with climate change in literature, particularly outside of science fiction and fantasy, and predicted an “imaginative and cultural failure” if more writers did not act to fill the climate silence.
Professors are reporting record numbers of students checked out, stressed out, and unsure of their future.
In 20 years of teaching at Doane University, Kate Marley has never seen anything like it. As many as 30 percent of her students do not show up for class or complete any of the assignments. The moment she begins to speak, she says, their brains seem to shut off. If she asks questions on what she’s been talking about, they don’t have any idea. On tests they struggle to recall basic information.
“Stunning” is the word she uses to describe the level of disengagement she and her colleagues have witnessed across the Nebraska campus. “I don’t seem to be capable of motivating them to read textbooks or complete assignments,” she says of that portion of her students. “They are kind kids. They are really nice to know and talk with. I enjoy them as people.” But, she says, “I can’t figure out how to help them learn.”
Publisher and Editor: Dr. David Zakus Production: Julia Chalmers Social Media: Shalini Kainth, Mahdia Abidi 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