Break Free: Stop Dirty Fossil Fuels, Expedite Transition to 100% Renewable Energy
A global platform “Break Free” was launched today featuring a series of peaceful, escalated actions aimed to disrupt the fossil-fuel industry’s power by targeting the world’s most dangerous and unnecessary fossil fuel projects.
This May, thousands of people from around the world will join actions taking place across six continents which aim to stop dirty fossil fuels and speed up the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Major actions are currently planned in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, U.S., Germany, Philippines, Australia and more, led by the communities that have spent years already fighting dangerous fossil fuel projects.
On the back of the hottest year in recorded history, communities worldwide are demanding governments move past the commitments made as part of the Paris agreement resulting from the summit held last December. In order to address the current climate crisis and keep global warming below 1.5 C, fossil fuel projects need to be shelved and existing infrastructure needs to be replaced, now.
“The science is clear: we need to keep at least 80 percent, if not more, of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” Payal Parekh, global managing director of 350.org, said. “Communities worldwide are experiencing first hand the consequences of climate change and the damage inflicted by the fossil fuel industry. It’s up to us to break free from fossil fuels and accelerate the shift towards a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy. It’s in our hands to close the gap between what current commitments will achieve and what science demands is necessary in order to protect our common home.”
The climate movement’s commitment to scaling up its resistance to the fossil fuel industry comes at a time when renewable energy is already more affordable and widespread than ever before. These new tools give communities at the front lines of climate change new ways to respond to the crisis and build their own power.
“Moving towards 100 percent renewable energy is possible with the political will to make the change,” Arif Fiyanto, coal campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said. “There are no major economic or technical barriers to a future supported by renewable energy. Any new infrastructure built to support fossil fuels expansion, such as coal mines, power plants, oil rigs and export terminals will be a waste of money and further lock us into a path to irreversible climate change.”
Post-Paris, the fossil fuel industry is running scared with prices plunging and companies going bankrupt. Now, ramped up civil disobedience will show that the industry’s social licence to operate is fast evaporating. Such peaceful civil disobedience brings people from all walks of life and not just seasoned climate activists, to challenge both politicians and polluters to accelerate the unstoppable energy transition already underway.
One such example is last year’s Ende Gelände (Here And No Further), which saw 1,500 people take part in a daring act of civil disobedience to shut down Europe’s biggest source of CO2 emissions. On the urgency at hand, Hannah Eichberger from this grassroots anti-coal alliance said: “It’s time now for a grassroots energy transition that does not only exchange one source of energy for the other but that tackles the root causes of natural destruction and social injustice: profit-driven corporate power.”
The struggles against the fossil fuel industry and the environmental, social, economic and political destruction they’ve wielded has been underway across regions for many years.
"Fossil fuels have brought horrendous pollutions to the Niger Delta alongside unimaginable human rights abuses while severely harming communities, Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian activist from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said. “Crude oil is already history and has no future. We cannot allow fossil fuel addicts to burn the planet. The time for the shift is now. No one will set us free. We must break free ourselves, now."
These peaceful worldwide mobilisations taking place in May serve as an important point in the climate movement’s trajectory to increase pressure on the fossil fuel industry. The global struggle to finally break free from fossil fuels will continue making this a struggle the world cannot ignore.
Here are highlights from some of the planned actions across six continents:
U.S.: Activists are targeting six key areas of fossil fuel development: new tar sands pipelines in the Midwest with an action near Chicago; fracking in the Mountain West with an event outside Denver; "bomb trains" carrying fracked oil and gas to a port in Albany, New York; Shell’s devastating refinery pollution north of Seattle; action around offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic and Gulf coasts taking place in Washington, DC; and dangerous oil and gas drilling in Los Angeles. These diverse actions will all escalate critical local campaigns that target the unjust practices of the fossil fuel industry that burdened the poor and people of color with the bulk of the industry’s pollution.
Germany: Last year 1,500 people entered the pit of a lignite coal mine in the Rhineland and in May hundreds more are coming to Lusatia, where local communities have struggled against mining and resettlement for years. There they will engage in civil disobedience to stop the digging in one of Europe’s biggest open-pit lignite mines, which the Swedish company Vattenfall has put up for sale. The action will show any future buyer that all coal development will face resistance and demonstrate the movement’s commitment to a different kind of energy system that prioritizes people and the planet over corporate power and profit.
Nigeria: In the Niger Delta actions will be held in three iconic locations that epitomize the decades old despoiling of the region. The actions will show clearly that Nigeria, nay Africa, is better off without the polluting activities of the fossil industry. They will also underscore the fact that people's action remains the viable way to save the planet from mankind's addiction to fossil fuels.
Turkey: Community leaders in the Izmir region will confront the illegal tactics behind the coal industry’s plan to build four more dirty coal plants near their homes, in addition to the one operating illegally. They will gather at the gates of a massive, growing spoils mountain used by nearby coal plants against a court order to dispose of dangerous waste from the burning of dirty coal. This action will unite several fights against individual coal plants into a unified stance against the current Turkish government’s plan to dramatically expand the use of coal in the country.
Australia: As an election approaches, climate activists will bring the country’s growing climate movement to the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle and demonstrate their resolve to both make the climate a key issue in the coming election and their determination to continue resisting coal no matter who is in the prime minister’s chair.
Brazil: Indigenous people and climate activists will join hands for four different peaceful actions addressing key parts of the country’s oil and gas infrastructure—from where the gas is fracked in Indigenous land, to its risky transportation, to where it is burned. The exact details are being kept confidential, but thousands of participants are expected across more than a week of action in all areas of the country.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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