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Build Your Own Solutions to the Climate Crisis With the En-Roads Climate Simulator

Climate
Slowing deforestation, planting more trees, and cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane could cut another 0.5 degrees C or more off global warming by 2100. South_agency / E+ / Getty Images

By Dana Nuccitelli

Killer hurricanes, devastating wildfires, melting glaciers, and sunny-day flooding in more and more coastal areas around the world have birthed a fatalistic view cleverly dubbed by Mary Annaïse Heglar of the Natural Resources Defense Council as "de-nihilism." One manifestation: An increasing number of people appear to have grown doubtful about the possibility of staving-off climate disaster. However, a new interactive tool from a climate think tank and MIT Sloan shows that humanity could still meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit global warming.


By itself, a carbon tax rising to around $200 per ton of emissions would bring the world about halfway to the Paris goal, according to the En-ROADS interactive tool developed by the MIT Sloan School of Management and Climate Interactive. Countries would also need to implement other aggressive climate policies targeting the many different sectors of the economy that generate large-scale greenhouse gas emissions. The tool allows a user to figure out how:

  • civilization must change the fuel mix supplying the world's energy and boost efficiency
  • the extent to which more buildings and vehicles must be electrified
  • strategies could help reduce deforestation and how to plant more trees of the optimum species at the right locations
  • carbon capture technology could be relied upon to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere

Carbon Taxes Seen as the Most Effective Tool

According to Climate Interactive's climate and energy lead, Ellie Johnston, "Behind En-ROADS is a system dynamics model that weaves the interdependencies and feedbacks of our global climate system with the actions that we need to take globally to address climate change."

The simulation begins with a default business-as-usual scenario leading to 4.1 degrees Celsius (7.3 degrees Fahrenheit) global warming above pre-industrial temperatures by the year 2100. This outcome is essentially a worst-case scenario, assuming that current worldwide climate policies and pledges (which would limit warming to approximately 3 degrees C, or 5.4 degrees F) are not successfully implemented. For context, the international Paris agreement set a target of no more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) global warming, whereas 3 to 4 degrees C warming would likely result in disastrous climate change consequences.

In the En-ROADS simulator, taxing carbon pollution is the single most effective way to bridge the gap between business-as-usual warming and the Paris target. A strong global carbon tax that eventually rises to around $200 per ton of carbon dioxide would reduce global warming from 4 to approximately 3 degrees C by 2100, erasing half of the difference between the two scenarios. The carbon tax makes already-expensive coal even costlier, accelerating its replacement by renewables, and also increases consumer demand for more energy-efficient products that become comparatively cheap as fossil fuel energy prices rise. According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, a carbon tax of $75 per ton would more than triple the price of coal and increase natural gas prices by 70 percent, with gasoline prices rising by about 70 cents per gallon.

A growing body of climate economics research supports a robust carbon tax. For example, an October 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focusing on risk and uncertainty concluded that the appropriate carbon tax is more than $100 per ton of carbon dioxide, most economically efficient if immediately implemented at that high price. As co-author Gernot Wagner at New York University described their results, "taking risk and uncertainty seriously — and applying standard tools from financial economics — dramatically increases today's carbon prices. It also reverses carbon price paths over time: high today, declining over time."

Experts for some time have debated the best way to structure a carbon tax. Some argue that the price should start low and increase over time in order to give consumers a period to adjust, thus making the tax more politically palatable. The new PNAS study argues that from a risk management perspective, the carbon tax should start high because emissions will then fall quickly, reducing the risk of catastrophic outcomes. As Wagner put it, "folks in 2300 will know more about the climate in 2300 than we know today. Uncertainty resolves itself over time." In the meantime, the reasoning follows, prudent risk management requires taking aggressive steps to avoid a possible climate catastrophe.

However, there are limits to how effectively carbon taxes alone can cut emissions. An assessment by scientists at Columbia University and the Rhodium Group of a specific carbon tax bill introduced to Congress — the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — found that its rising carbon price would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 37 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That result would more than double the 16 percent that American emissions are anticipated to fall during that same period under current policies. However, the analysis found that the bulk of these emissions reductions would come from the electricity sector, while carbon pollution from other sectors like transportation would remain relatively high. For example, the resulting increase in gasoline prices by around $1 per gallon on its own would be insufficient to dramatically reduce American vehicular fuel consumption.

Complementary Policies Are Needed

Similarly, the En-ROADS model also shows that a carbon tax alone would dramatically reduce the share of energy generated by coal, leading to continued high emissions as a result of more oil and gas production.

Oil consumption can be reduced in the En-ROADS model by strengthening vehicle fuel efficiency and electrification policies. In the real world, this approach translates to policies like vehicle fuel economy standards, which can mandate increased efficiency and thus accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. Projects to improve and electrify public transportation systems can also reduce demand for oil. Natural gas consumption can similarly be reduced by expanding energy efficiency and electrification of buildings and industrial activities. Together, the En-ROADS model suggests that these steps could curb global warming by one-half a degree Celsius.

Slowing deforestation, planting more trees, and cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane could cut another 0.5 degrees C or more off global warming by 2100. Combined with a carbon tax, these policies could achieve the Paris climate targets, if implemented globally. However, the En-ROADS tool illustrates just how difficult it will be to meet those goals, and how many different large-scale policies must be implemented to do so.

Meeting the Paris targets would require that countries around the world soon begin implementing aggressive climate policies targeting the many different sectors of the economy that generate large-scale greenhouse gas emissions. Pricing carbon pollution is one of the single most effective steps to curb emissions, but achieving the Paris goals will require additional complementary policies.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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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. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

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.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

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.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

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.