New Report Details How Fossil Fuel Industry's Climate Destruction Also Exacerbates Human Rights Abuses
By Julia Conley
In addition to having a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities around the globe which have contributed the least to climate-warming fossil fuel emissions, the climate crisis has exacerbated the human rights violations already perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report.
The grassroots climate action group 350.org examined ten global communities which have suffered from heavy pollution, deforestation, displacement, and other violations as multinational corporations like Chevron and Shell — in addition to smaller fossil fuel entities and corrupt governments — have placed profits over human rights.
"The pollution and contamination often caused by fossil fuel industry activities mainly affect the poorest populations, as well as the climate crisis," said Aaron Packard, manager of the Climate Defenders program at 350.org, in a statement. "Vulnerable communities are being doubly exposed to losses or scarcity of land, fish stocks and water, for example."
350.org surveyed the region of Ogoniland in Nigeria, where Shell Oil has dumped an estimated nine to 13 million barrels of crude oil into the Niger Delta since 1958.
The company's activities in Ogoniland have led to polluted air and water as well as decimated natural habitats, violating the rights of the 832,000 people who live there.
The local government has also worked with Shell to suppress the right of people in Ogoniland to fight against the pollution.
"Protests against widespread and persistent oil pollution have been brutally repressed, with loss of life and a series of other egregious human rights violations," the report reads. "Victims of severe human rights abuses associated with oil extraction in the Niger Delta are still awaiting for remediation of the harm caused to their lands, water, and livelihood, in spite of multiple victories before courts and human rights bodies."
Shell's activities in the Niger Delta are just one example of how the fossil fuel industry has led to an estimated 45,000 premature deaths due to pollution, crop losses resulting from drought and other climate extremes, and other environmental results of the carbon emissions.
The report also points to coal power plants in the Muğla region of Turkey, where companies have done "severe environmental harm" since 1983. Emissions from the plants have been linked to premature deaths from heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer, while the companies have forced communities to leave the area as they ramp up their operations.
The European Court of Human Rights recognized in 2005 that the communities had a right to bring legal action against the plants, but the companies have not ceased their extraction of coal and the resulting pollution. Governments, 350.org wrote, must pass legislation to rein in the fossil fuel industry.
The recognition by courts of human rights is "no replacement for effective legislation concerning environmental harm," the report states, "and human rights remedies are no replacement for effective preventive and remedial measures against environmental harm caused by fossil fuel companies."
Other cases detailed in the report include threats to water security in Australia and the contamination of rivers and fish stocks in indigenous territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
"Even in the face of the clearest scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels is literally setting the planet on fire, this sector continues to invest in the same old model and often misinforms society about the climate crisis and its causes," said Packard. "In doing so, companies are actively disregarding the right of entire populations to a healthy environment, sufficient and quality food, and a political and social scenario of stability."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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