I just wrapped up three days at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa learning about climate change and practical solutions.
I was there with about 350 others from 19 countries, and we heard from a lot of really inspiring speakers talking about progress in wind energy, climate-smart agriculture and other areas. But the best part for me was getting to hear from Al Gore, who was there speaking on all three days.
Seeing his film An Inconvenient Truth when it came out had a profound effect on me and I still think it’s one of the best environmental documentaries. But even if you’ve seen the film many times, there’s something about being there in the room and hearing from Gore in person that fills you with hope and inspires you to act. As one attendee put it:
— Deana Rutherford (@clocksailor) May 6, 2015
I’d say I’m pretty well informed about climate change and I know some of the science Gore covered. Even so, there were plenty of moments in the presentation that really surprised and stuck with me. Here are just four of them.
1. How Fragile Our "Pale Blue Dot" Truly Is
Near the start of his presentation, the former vice president shared the famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 space probe from more than 3.7 billion miles away. I’ve seen the picture many times before, but sitting with hundreds of others in a hushed room and thinking about our place in the universe, I felt I was really seeing it for the first time.
After showing this picture, Gore presents another that shows the tiny sliver of atmosphere hovering above our home. Essentially, this thin bubble is all that keeps our blue planet from the vastness of space.
And that outer layer is all we’ve got. “Maybe if polluters realized how little we had, they’d stop treating our atmosphere like an open sewer,” Gore said. In the room you could’ve heard a pin drop.
2. He's a Pope Francis Fan
Pope Francis does things very differently, and the environmental community is taking notice—big time. “I’m no Catholic, but with a Pope like this, I would consider converting,” Gore joked.
The Pope won Gore over with strong remarks that humanity needs to protect the creation that we’re all part of. Then he followed up by convening a summit of Catholic leaders, leading scientists, and UN representatives to discuss how protecting the environment can also help us end poverty. He’s already publicly acknowledged that humans are causing climate change and now he’s working on an encyclical statement on what the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide should do about it. For years, we’ve seen solving climate change as a scientific challenge. Thanks in part to Pope Francis, we’re starting to see it as a moral one too.
3. Politicians Can Change Their Minds
I try to live in a way that sets a model for my children, and one of the most important things I can do is show them the value of speaking up. When something really matters like climate change, just complaining to yourself isn’t going to solve the problem. I’ve always believed that if working parents speak up, we can make a difference.
So it was heartening to hear Gore say over and over that we can make politicians change their minds and take a stand on climate change. Talking to your local representative, your city council, your county official, your senator—anyone—is free to you and takes only minutes. They’re required to listen—and furthermore, it could even change their mind.
4. The Climate Crisis is Entirely Solvable ... Now
One of the amazing stories Gore shared was about a young boy in a small village in Malawi. Relying upon articles in Popular Science magazine and using scrap materials, he created a functioning windmill to provide his village with electricity for the first time ever. Imagine—thanks to the ingenuity and drive of this one boy, this village in Africa skipped right over all the pitfalls of fossil fuels that those of us in the West are dealing with now and went straight to free, renewable energy.
If a 14 year-old boy can build a working windmill to power his village in Malawi, we can solve the climate crisis
Just imagine what would happen if the rest of the planet—especially those of us in richer nations—put the same kind of effort and commitment into developing clean energy and solving the climate crisis as this boy. And we can. The solutions are here. We just have to make it happen.
If you’re interested in attending an upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, the next one will be July 9-10 in Toronto, Canada. Click here to learn more.
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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