Hottest Year Ever Recorded + Collapsing Oil Prices = Broken Fossil Fuel Economy
"I read the news today, oh boy." —John Lennon
Two overlapping news stories in the past few weeks must focus our attention on the need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and to transition our global economy to a more just and resilient system, especially for the world's poor and vulnerable peoples.
First, it was widely reported that 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded in human history. Specifically, the global temperature was not just higher than ever, but it rose faster than ever and the 5-year period, 2011-2015, was also the hottest 5-years ever. Climate change is real, is happening right now and seems to be accelerating in speed and intensity with every passing year.
Second, global oil prices continue to collapse, now below $30/barrel. This sent world stock markets down and had a number of negative impacts on human rights issues around the world. A New York Times article last month reported the devastating impact that falling oil prices are having on poor and marginalized people in Russia. Oil is Russia's biggest export commodity, makes up more than 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and around 50 percent of its federal budget. As oil prices dropped, the Russian government began making cuts to social spending, focusing on cuts to the poorest people first. Retirees, teachers, factory workers—all have seen large cuts to their incomes and struggle to get by.
Near-disastrous news stories are also pouring out of other countries that export large amounts of oil. News from Nigeria, Angola, Ecuador and Brazil is describing serious economic problems, with cuts to social spending for poor people first in line to make up for government shortfalls from oil revenues. Venezuela is said to be teetering on international bankruptcy and default of its $120 billion in foreign loans due to the collapse in oil prices. The Venezuelan government is nearly in chaos as tens-of-thousands of workers have been laid off, numerous multi-million dollar infrastructure projects have been delayed—including housing for the poor—and government spending on social programs has already been cut 24 percent with bigger slashes looming.
Further, in almost all of the exact same countries that are now suffering from the low oil prices, the exploration and extraction of oil has had—and continues to have—extraordinarily negative impacts on many of the same poor and indigenous people. When global oil prices were high, the march of oil companies was relentless across the rainforests of South America as well as the dry plains of Africa. And in both of those places, poor, rural and indigenous peoples' homelands were under assault by oil companies. Now that oil prices have plunged, oil drilling and production is still occurring, yet the economic system that helps support poor people is further collapsing.
Even worse, the world's indigenous, poor, rural and marginalized people have and will continue to suffer the brunt of climate change chaos as global temperatures increase. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes and flooding have wreaked havoc in the Philippines, in Haiti, as well as in New Orleans and New York over the last decade. These events can compound for the most vulnerable people—as one simple statistic among dozens that could be reported, poor women are disproportionately impacted and are 14 times more likely to die in climate change events.
Clearly, the fossil fuel economy is broken and is collapsing around us.
Paradoxically, in some cases, fossil fuel extraction and development is funded by international aid organizations in hopes of creating jobs and strengthening local economies in poorer countries. A recent analysis by Oil Change International indicated that the World Bank spent $3.4 billion (U.S.) in 2014 funding various fossil fuel development schemes around the globe.
We see this type of World Bank development as the exact opposite of the direction international aid and philanthropy should go. It is creating a vicious cycle of poverty, climate change impacts and debt and is forcing a malicious addiction to a collapsing fossil fuel economy.
At Global Greengrants Fund, we are working with coalitions of groups and philanthropists where we take a dramatically different approach to international aid and granting. We aim to fund alternative solutions that help address underlying systemic problems and create systemic change. We want to help create economies that are more local and sustainable, that do not rely on fossil fuels extraction and that move the world away from a dependence on international economic cycles such as the rise and fall of oil prices.
In addition, this year Terry Odendah began a new role serving as co-chair of the EDGE Funders Alliance which is an international coalition of philanthropists working specifically to fund efforts that change the underlying system and move global economies in a more sustainable direction. EDGE Funders, as the name suggests, fund at the “edge"—to create global social change. Here are some examples of what EDGE funders focus on and provide grants for:
- We understand our work within a global context in which international policies as well as global economic interests and influences impact societies at all levels and we recognize the systemic nature of many of the economic, social and ecological challenges facing humanity.
- At Greengrants, we fund mostly grassroots work in local communities around environmental and social justice, so that people who are most affected have the tools to make change and amplify their voices. Other EDGE Funders do complementary work at the various levels of systemic social change.
- We make grants around sustainable economic and environmental development, rather than western-style economic growth and resource extraction.
- We help people to “do something" and “take action," which can come in many forms, but here are two examples—public demonstrations against extraction and youth empowerment so that young people can speak directly to decision-makers.
- We promote “movement building" domestically and globally.
- We fund to promote equality and diversity.
- Finally, we especially try to make grants that recognize the interconnectedness of the above items. We don't just fund labor movements or environmental organizations or women's empowerment programs, but rather try to find and fund the intersection of these activities. As just one example: By funding indigenous women to sell sustainably extracted products, we are helping to empower women, develop an alternative economy and protect the ecosystem.
Rather than promote massive development schemes that can cause havoc to cultures, economies and the environment, we support creating a transition to a new economy and ecology that focuses on what we sometimes call the “resilience solution." Resilience, in an increasingly climate-changed and unstable world, will likely come about for people, cultures and environments that are more diverse, decentralized, democratic and more efficient and egalitarian with their distribution of natural and economic resources.
Did you read the news today? Oh boy. It's time to take action to change the system. The global fossil fuel economy not only is collapsing—it must collapse—so we can build a new, just and resilient economy to replace it.
Terry Odendahl, PhD, is president and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist, writer and consultant to Global Greengrants Fund.
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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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