I couldn’t sleep for hours last night after plugging in my phone and seeing a pop-up of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While very political in nature it also has huge global health and ecological implications. As illegal and morally reprehensible the invasion is, it is a blatant act of bullying, intimidation and aggression on a scale the world hasn’t seen in years against the principles underlying world peace . While I don’t identify as a Ukrainian, my paternal grandparents came to Canada from their villages near Lviv, a large city in western Ukraine, though when they came to Canada in the early 1900’s it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. My father, born in Wakaw, Saskatchewan some years later spoke only Ukrainian for his first four years. I also have many Ukrainian friends and relatives. I am totally devastated this morning.
Bullying is nothing new, as any school kid will attest, and as the world witnessed earlier with Russia in Ukraine and with Trump in the U.S. exhibiting the extreme. We even here in Canada just finished a violent three week demonstration in our capital city by a bunch of bullies ostensibly concerned with Covid-19 mandates. They occupied the parliament area with force, using their trucks to not only cement their position but also seriously disrupting the lives of those living in the area with incessant honking and the constant pollution of their idling vehicles. There were flagrant displays of racism, hate and promulgation of lies, in both action and symbol. Many passersby’s and shop attendants were insulted for wearing masks, a church was attacked and the leadership encouraged followers to break the law. Local businesses reported losses of millions of dollars in revenue. A large cache of arms was confiscated at another similar border protest in Alberta. These demonstrations and occupations were declared illegal by national, provincial and municipals leaders, court injunctions were issued against them and the national government enacted the Emergencies Act to end it. After three weeks of simulated party, smugness and impunity, many were arrested and some remain in jail, where they will really come to understand loss of freedom, just as is happening in Ukraine.
As I rewrote this editorial today I stand in solidarity with Ukraine and all its supporters. Today the ENDSHOTS will not expose its usual graphic display of Covid-19 around the world and only present an anxiety busting photo essay of Mexico’s beauty with the hope it’ll give you a few moments of calm in a world of rising uncertainty and danger. Our stories today, though, in this Planetary Health Weekly(#8 of 2022) will retain focus on our two major issues:
CLIMATE CRISIS UPDATES:
Debt-stricken Tunisian farmers ‘ignored’ as government rolls out solar mega-project,
Government report finds that sea levels could soon flood NYC and Miami,
‘Great climate backslide’ takes shape as banks pour trillions into fossils,
Engineering responses to climate change: proceedings from a forum, ‘
You need a yes on all of those levels’ – experts discuss the future of ocean-based carbon removal research,
Mapped: African heritage sites threatened by sea level rise ‘to triple by 2050,’
U.S. Southwest experiencing driest conditions in at least 1200 years due to climate change,
Association between mRNA vaccination and Covid-19 hospitalization and disease severity,
Estimated 73% of U.S., for now, immune to Covid-19 Omicron variant: is it enough?
The pandemic isn’t over for immunocompromised people – the millions of people stuck in pandemic limbo – what does society owe immunocompromised people?
Vietnam complains China border controls to stop coronavirus spreading are ‘overkill,’
South Korea to give out rapid tests as omicron shatters record,
Slovakia plans to gradually ease most virus restrictions,
Asian online content farms fuelling trucker protest in Canada and the U.S.,
The benefits of getting the Covid vaccine as a Black pregnant woman, THEN
What to expect from world’s sixth mass extinction,
Worries in Laos and Thailand as upstream dams drain Mekong River,
Climate change and nutrition,
Women activists in El Salvador are organizing to prevent deforestation and loss of access to water,
Meet the Rwandan medical student using technology to transform maternal healthcare,
Experimental HIV vaccine, based on Moderna’s mRNA technology, now in clinical trial,
America 2022: where everyone has rights and no one has responsibilities,
If Canada won the Covid vaccine race, African nations lost it – here every last drop is precious,
Wet’suwet’en territory defenders appeal to the UN on Canada’s ongoing violations against them,
Video and resources: Indigenous perspectives on climate action - community Solutions
Quote on the leadership challenge of the climate crisis,
How the Koch network hijacked the war on Covid,
Musical gratitude from Yo-Yo Ma to healthcare workers (listen),
The 100 most sustainable corporations of 2022,
Crows help rid the Swedish city’s streets of cigarette butts,
New book: “The Climate of History in a Planetary Age” by Dipesh Chakrabarty,
Addressing anti-Black racism in schools, and lastly
ENDSHOTS from Mexico to combat anxiety in solidarity with Ukraine.
Mohamed Jhimi, president of an agricultural development group in Tozeur, says local farmers are facing mounting debts and water shortages (All photos: Aida Delpuech)
On 20 January, a day which is far too dry for the season, Mounir Kadri takes stock at the foot of one of his date palms. “This year is a complete disaster. Last year, I managed to sell my harvest for 12,000 Tunisian dinars ($4,200). This year, because of the drought and diseases, I could only sell it for 4,000 dinars ($1,400)”, he says.
Mounir relies on dates for his livelihood, like nearly half of Tozeur’s inhabitants. This oasis – over 4,000 years old – is the largest in Tunisia. Located at the edge of the Sahara, in the southwest of the country, the city wants to be “top of the class” for environmental management and aspires to energy autonomy.
The country aims to produce 30% of its electricity from renewables – hydro, solar and wind power – by 2030, according to its updated national climate plan. If it reaches that goal, national carbon intensity will fall 45% compared to 2010. Read more at Climate Home News
The megadrought that has been plaguing the Southwestern U.S. for at least two decades is causing the region to experience its driest conditions in 1,200 years. Researchers analyzed tree ring patterns, which provide insights about soil moisture levels over long timespans, and found that the current megadrought has exceeded the severity of one experienced in the late 1500s and is the driest since the year AD 800, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The study area included southern Montana to northern Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. The term "megadrought" is used to describe a severe and intense drought that spans a couple of decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Globally, nationally and locally, the pandemic continues to inflict serious damage with Omicron still spreading widely, complete with much angst in everyone. The situation is gradually improving in Canada and elsewhere, but cases continue to spike in other countries, though counting isn't good at all these days. But, it's not near being over yet, despite what some say about learning to live with the virus, which is rushed at best.
Over the last week there were about 12 million new cases (down ~20% though monitoring is insufficient now) and 68,000 deaths (down abou 12%). About 142 million people received a vaccine, up ~10%, while COVAX distribution is catching up with access being the issue at the moment, especially for those in Africa.
"It is the plague in seemingly all sincerity." Bob Woodward
A customer enters a restaurant past a sign posted to the door requiring masks on Feb. 9, 2022, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Question Does prior COVID-19 vaccination reduce hospitalizations for COVID-19, and among patients hospitalized for COVID-19, does prior vaccination reduce disease severity?
Findings In a case-control study that included 4513 hospitalized adults in 18 US states, hospitalization for a COVID-19 diagnosis compared with an alternative diagnosis was associated with an adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 0.15 for full vaccination with an authorized or approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Among adults hospitalized for COVID-19, progression to death or invasive mechanical ventilation was associated with an aOR of 0.33 for full vaccination; both ORs were statistically significant.
Meaning Vaccination with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was significantly less likely among patients with COVID-19. Read more at Jama Network
"Looking at the bleak reality before me—as a Black person, as someone with asthma, and as a pregnant person—I could not risk the health and safety of my life and my future baby, so I got vaccinated as soon as it was available to me," writes Candace Bond-Theriault. This week, the writer shares her personal story about getting pregnant during the heat of Covid-19, and the decision she made about vaccination given the greater likelihood that pregnant people—especially women of color—are to experience severe health outcomes from contracting the virus and giving birth.
I am so grateful that my maternal intuition was spot-on. We now have scientific proof that getting vaccinated while pregnant can provide antibodies to one’s fetus. A study conducted by New York University in the fall highlighted that elevated antibody levels were found in cord blood from pregnant women vaccinated against Covid. And just this week, a new CDC study shows that infants born to pregnant people who were vaccinated during their pregnancy were 61 percent less likely to be hospitalized for a Covid infection compared with babies born to unvaccinated pregnant people.
The CDC suggests that people who are breastfeeding should get a vaccine and booster dose when they are eligible because they will be able to pass antibodies to their babies via breast milk. The CDC also recommends that people trying to get pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future, get vaccinated as soon as they can.
Credit: The impacts of biodiversity loss could have wide-ranging impacts
About 65 million years after the last mass extinction, which marked the end of dinosaurs roaming the planet, scientists are warning that we are in the early throes of another such annihilation event. Unlike any other, this sixth mass die-off — or Anthropocene extinction — is the only one caused by humans; and climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and industrial agriculture all play a hand.
In mass extinctions, at least three-quarters of all species cease to exist within about 3 million years. Some scientists believe that at our current rate, we could be on track to lose that number within a few centuries.Read more at DW.
“When there is little water coming down from the north, the lower region will have less water,” says a Lao official who works closely with the Mekong River Commission.
Laotians and Thais who depend on the Mekong River for life’s necessities — food, water, income — fear the mighty waterway may be drying up.
They say climate change may be a factor in recent droughts in the region, but believe the direct cause of their troubles are the many dams China and Laos have built upstream that siphon off water for agricultural and other uses before it reaches them. Experts say the dams make the impact of periodic droughts in the Mekong basin worse and rob the river of the "pulse effect" that spreads water and nutrients that support fisheries and farming. Read more at Radio Free Asia.
Why it matters: About 800 million people worldwide lack food. Many more have deficiencies in essential nutrients. 76% of the world’s population gets most of its daily nutrients from plants—yet climate change is already causing droughts and flooding that can destroy staple food crops. If extra CO2 in the atmosphere makes those crops less nutritious, it will be even harder to feed the world’s growing population.
The details: In most of the places where food is grown today, crop yields are likely to be lower because of more frequent heat waves, worse air pollution, floods and droughts. Read more at HarvardSchoolPublicHealth.
Women in a rural part of El Salvador are leading an effort to stop urban development that could result in deforestation and loss of access to water. The Ciudad Valle El Ángel project involves the construction of stores, hotels, and houses in Apopa municipality, an hour north of the capital, San Salvador. It calls for clearing 351 hectares (867 acres) of forest and diverting 17 million liters (4.5 million gallons) of water a day from the Chacalapa River watershed.
The community has started working with other local organizations to stage protests, sit-ins, and letter-writing campaigns, and has also filed numerous lawsuits.Read more at GoodGoodGood.
Marie Chantal Umunyana, a medical student and internet entrepreneur, is the brain behind Umubyeyi Elevate, a digital health platform transforming maternal healthcare in Rwanda
Marie Chantal Umunyana, a medical student and internet entrepreneur, is the brain behind Umubyeyi Elevate, a digital health platform that provides information on maternal health, child health and parenting to the people of Rwanda.
Umunyana and her staff accompany parents on their prenatal, postnatal,and parenting journeys, providing them with all of the necessary knowledge to keep them healthy and informed.
She was one of 19 Rwandan start-up entrepreneurs chosen by MASHAV, Israel’s agency for international development cooperation, to participate in a start-up accelerator program on innovation business ecosystem in October last year. In a Q&A with Pan African Visions, Marie Chantal Ununyana sheds like on her ground breaking work, its impact on the healthcare sector in Rwanda, growing recognitions and more. Read more at Pan African Visions.
An entrance to a Moderna building in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Bill Sikes/AP
Researchers have started administering doses of an experimental HIV vaccine that uses the breakthrough mRNA technology in Moderna’s coronavirus shot.
U.S. biotech firm Moderna and the nonprofit International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) are exploring the use of mRNA technology, which prompts the body to make a protein that triggers an immune response (the technology also is used in Pfizer’s coronavirus shot). Researchers will monitor 56 HIV-negative adults for six months in the Phase 1 clinical trial, typically the first step in a long road to study the safety and efficacy of a vaccine. Read more at Washington Post.
The conflict between Neil Young and Joe Rogan over the anti-vaccine propaganda Rogan spreads through his podcast triggered a heated debate over the boundaries of free speech on platforms like Spotify and whether one entertainer — Young — had the right to tell Spotify to drop another — Rogan — or he’d leave himself. But this clash was about something more than free speech.
As a journalist who relies on freedom of speech, I would never advocate tossing Rogan off Spotify. But as a citizen, I sure appreciated Young calling him out over the deeper issue: How is it that we have morphed into a country where people claim endless “rights” while fewer and fewer believe they have any “responsibilities”?
That was really Young’s message for Rogan and Spotify: Sure, you have the right to spread anti-vaccine misinformation, but where’s your sense of responsibility to your fellow citizens, and especially to the nurses and doctors who have to deal with the fallout for your words?
This pervasive claim that “I have my rights” but “I don’t have responsibilities” is unraveling our country today. Read more at New York Times
If there was a global race for COVID-19 vaccine, wealthy nations won it, and countries like Angola lost. The rollout left Canada awash in doses. In Africa, meanwhile, every drop is precious.
LUANDA, ANGOLA The sun is high in the sky as the plane’s wheels make gentle contact with the runway, an expanse of faded tarmac that gives way to red earth in the distance.
A crowd has assembled, but they’re not here to greet the tired-looking human arrivals descending the stairs to the runway. Airport workers swing open the cargo hold of the white-and-gold Emirates jet to reveal crates protecting what has become the most sought-after liquid on Earth — COVID-19 vaccine. Read more at The Star
The submission to the U.N. by Hereditary Chief Dinï ze’ Woos (Frank Alec), Gidimt’en Checkpoint Spokesperson Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), and Gidimt’en Checkpoint Media Coordinator Jen Wickham details how forced industrialization by Coastal GasLink and police militarization on Wet’suwet’en land is a violation of Canada’s international obligations as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In their submission, they write: “Ongoing human rights violations, militarization of Wet’suwet’en lands, forcible removal and criminalization of peaceful land defenders, and irreparable harm due to industrial destruction of Wet’suwet’en lands and cultural sites are occurring despite declarations by federal and provincial governments for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. By deploying legal, political, and economic tactics to violate our rights, Canada and BC are contravening the spirit of reconciliation, as well as their binding obligations to Indigenous law, Canadian constitutional law, UNDRIP and international law.”
Says Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’: “We urge the United Nations to conduct a field visit to Wet’suwet’en territory because Canada and BC have not withdrawn RCMP from our territory and have not suspended Coastal GasLink’s permits, despite the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calling on them to do so. Wet’suwet’en is an international frontline to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and to prevent climate change. Yet we are intimidated and surveilled by armed RCMP, smeared as terrorists, and dragged through colonial courts. This is the reality of Canada.”
Over thirty water protectors were to appear in BC Supreme Court in Prince George on February 14 after the RCMP invasion on Wet’suwet’en territory in November 2021. In the three large-scale police actions that have happened on Wet’suwet’en territory since January 2019, a total of 74 people have been arrested and detained, including legal observers and journalists.
The top of an offshore wind turbine at Burbo Bank, UK. Credit: Ørsted Ørsted sold its last oil and gas assets in 2017 and is now the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power. It is the only energy company to have its net zero strategy validated under the Science Based Target initiative.
This experience informs a handbook for decisionmakers, Getting on track for 1.5 °C, setting out key actions to supercharge decarbonisation.
“Taking the necessary action to stay within 1.5 °C is in essence neither a technology, nor an economic challenge. It’s a leadership challenge.”
“Energy is still responsible for over 70 % of global emissions, and without an immediate ramp-up in action, the world will not halve emissions by 2030, and our shot at a 1.5 °C future is lost.”
Lockdown measures drove down cases in the U.S. and likely saved millions of lives globally. But the decline of in-person shopping and work, combined with factory shutdowns in places like China, disrupted the economy. A 2020 report from the corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found the hardest-hit industries would take years to recover.
Before long, business-aligned groups — particularly those connected to fossil fuels — began targeting the public health measures threatening their bottom lines. Chief among them were groups tied to billionaire Charles Koch, owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately held fossil fuel company in the world.
The war on public health measures began on March 20, 2020, when Americans For Prosperity (AFP), the right-wing nonprofit founded by Charles and David Koch, issued a press release calling on states to remain open.
Crows Help Rid This Swedish City’s Streets of Cigarette Butts
A startup in the Swedish city of Södertälje, which is located near Stockholm, has recruited the help of local crows to pick up discarded cigarette butts from the city’s streets and public spaces. In fact, there’s a movement afoot in places as varied as California and the Netherlands to ban the sale of filtered cigarettes to help tamp down on their prevalence in our environment.
According to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation, more than one billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, which represents 62% of all litter. To clear the streets, Södertälje spends around 20m Swedish kronor (over $2,200,000), so the hope is that the birds can help cut these costs.
"The Climate of History in a Planetary Age" by Dipesh Chakrabarty
Credit: Book Cover
For the past decade, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has been one of the most influential scholars addressing the meaning of climate change. Climate change, he argues, upends long-standing ideas of history, modernity, and globalization. The burden of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age is to grapple with what this means and to confront humanities scholars with ideas they have been reluctant to reconsider—from the changed nature of human agency to a new acceptance of universals.
Chakrabarty argues that we must see ourselves from two perspectives at once: the planetary and the global. This distinction is central to Chakrabarty’s work—the globe is a human-centric construction, while a planetary perspective intentionally decenters the human.
ADDRESSING ANTI-BLACK RACISM (New advisory from the Ontario College of Teachers provides practical advice on how to recognize and address anti-Black racism in all learning environments.)
Diversity, equity and awareness are critical elements of every safe and supportive learning environment. But what does this look like for Black students and how can Ontario Certified Teachers (OCTs) overcome long-standing and historical legacies to break down deeply entrenched systemic barriers?
"It's important to remember that anti-Black racism is not new and has been embedded in the educational system for generations," says Amorell Saunders N'Daw, principal of Amorell & Co, partner at KBRS, where she is also the equity, diversity and inclusion lead, and the lead writer for the College's Professional Advisory on Anti-Black Racism. "The focus on its adverse impacts has been amplified and requires meaningful action and sustainable change."
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, Evans Oppong, Jonathan Zakus, Dr. Aimée-Angélique Bouka & Elisabeth Huang Blogs: Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, Aisha Saleem and Dr. Jay Kravitz