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13 Useful Tips for Climate Action From the IPCC Report

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If you’ve come across any of the recent headlines on the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, you’re probably feeling pretty low. The doom and gloom levels were off the charts. And understandably so. Major nations across the globe—especially Canada—are dragging their heels when it comes to climate change action. Canada, sadly, doesn’t have any climate legislation.

But maybe that’s because Canada and other nations were waiting for a group of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists to come up with a report for policy makers—you know, something to outline useful guidelines to keep in mind when looking to get your country out of the climate doghouse.

Sunrise over washed up icebergs at the black sand beach Breiðamerkursandur in Iceland. Photo credit:
Ade Russell/ Flickr

Here are some of the IPCC report’s most useful guidelines for responding to the multiple and growing threats of climate change:

1. Start by making changes at the local level where and how they make sense.

There’s no single catch-all solution when it comes to a complex problem like global climate change. The report’s authors recommend taking a local approach that addresses “risk reduction and adaptation strategies” that attend to specific socioeconomic processes and needs. Oh, and don’t wait for the perfect local strategy—just pursue all solutions simultaneously, even if they overlap.

2. We need change on all levels—from individual to government.

The report is clear on this: federal governments should be fostering and supporting climate action on the subnational or municipal level. Federal governments can do this by protecting vulnerable groups—like constitutionally-protected First Nations in Canada, for example—and having a diverse energy portfolio that doesn’t invest too heavily in highly polluting resources, like tar sands bitumen, for example. The authors also recommend governments spend time and money providing information to citizens, construct robust policy and legal frameworks to limit climate change-related risks and work with the private sector to ensure communities are adapting to a changing environment.

3. Make everything better for everyone and that will help the climate issue. Seriously.

If you work hard to “improve human health, livelihoods, social and economic well-being, and environmental quality” you’re pretty much guaranteed to make progress on the climate file. Governments should start working double-time on these fronts as a part of their climate change adaption and mitigation efforts. Co-benefits!

4. Don’t be single-minded.

Climate change in a way is the result of pursuing the objectives of a small sector of society. If we started to recognize “diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts and expectations” that could “benefit decision-making processes.” So, if local communities are suffering as a result of new refineries, coal-fired power plants, oil export pipelines or the expansion of the tar sands—take the interests and needs of those local communities to heart. Giving too much sway to vested fossil-fuel interests is exacerbating climate change, after all. And anyway, “Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change.” We’ve got to stop ignoring these alternative perspectives.

5. Be inclusive and gain support when decision-making.

Governments can be a little bad at this—including diverse groups in decision-making processes. But it turns out, the brightest minds are telling governments to be more sensitive to context when thinking through decisions, and to make those decisions in concert with more diverse groups represented in the process.

6. Use the economy.

Economic instruments can “foster adaptation by providing incentives for anticipating and reducing impacts.” Investing in renewable and clean energy is a good place to start. And “improved resource pricing” might help too. Requiring companies to pay high prices for access to things like freshwater (for fracking companies, for example) or to extract carbon-intensive resources (the tar sands industry, for example) just makes sense.

7. Invest in research and science.

This is a recommendation fit for Canada: do science. Insufficient research, monitoring and observation can get in the way of making the right decisions and keeping the money flowing in the right direction.

8. Plan and plan for the long-term.

We tend to think short term, especially in the political realm. But that doesn’t work so well when we’re trying to resolve a long-term challenge on the immediate level. The report recommends getting serious about planning for the long term, to think ahead. This is crucial if we want to avoid making vulnerable groups more vulnerable.

9. Figure out how much adaptation will cost.

There’s little knowledge of the true costs of climate change adaptation on a global scale. Somebody, anybody, please start assessing this so we know when to put resources and where.

10. Limiting climate change is a great way of avoiding adaptation costs. Who knew?!

“Co-benefits (there’s that word again), synergies and tradeoffs” are just some of the great things that will come about from getting serious about addressing climate change. If we start using water, energy and land more efficiently, for example, we’re both limiting the causes of climate change while also preserving key resources for the future. Co-benefits come from many activities including energy efficiency, clean energy, reduced pollution, reduced water consumption, greening cities, recycling, practicing sustainable agriculture and forestry, preserving forests that also act as carbon stores. The benefits of practical and long-term decision-making just seem to be endless.

11. Start immediately.

It turns out the sooner we get started limiting climate change, the more time we’ll have to adequate prepare for adaptation. Mitigation, the report’s authors state, “reduces the rate as well as the magnitude of warming.” So, best to get started right away.

12. Seriously. Start immediately.

If we let climate change get worse, we’re just making more work for ourselves. The best time to take advantage of those great co-benefits and synergies is now. The longer we wait, the more those benefits will decrease. And that’s already happening in some places: “In some parts of the world, insufficient responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development.”

13. Overhaul your systems. Change it all, if it needs changing.

“Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.” These kinds of changes don’t just help us respond to climate change but also help “improve livelihoods, social and economic well-being, and responsible environmental management.” And these kinds of transitions are a big deal when they’re supported by national governments. “Transformation is considered most effective when it reflects a country’s own visions and approaches to achieving sustainable development in accordance with their national circumstances and priorities.” But to do this well, we need to keep learning, be iterative, deliberate and innovate.

Well there you have it: the flipside of all those heavy risks and dark tales of drought, famine, violence and extinction.

The authors of the report make a compelling case for meaningful national change at the federal level. We just need to keep these guidelines in view as we work to implement future-oriented policy and practice at the local and federal level.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.