Improve Your World: No Fracking, Yes Renewable Energy
[Editor's note: Students from the State University of New York (SUNY) School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY held their 2013 graduation ceremony yesterday. SUNY ESF's motto is "Improve Your World." Dr. Sandra Steingraber was given an honorary doctoral degree for her life's work on environmental health and science, including her work to fight fracking in New York. She was given a standing ovation for her inspirational speech (see below) and called on our future environmental scientists to take action.]
What an amazing moment. Thank you. And what makes this a special honor for me is not just that SUNY-ESF is the nation’s oldest and most venerable college of environmental science, which is my field of study, too, but also that its official motto consists of the three words that I happen to live by.
Those words—for the guests here who may not know them—are not a Latin phrase about the nature of truth and wisdom. They are a set of simple directions in English.
Improve your world.
Isn’t that great?
But embracing improve your world as your personal motto for life requires at least two things. One is to possess really good data on what’s wrong with the world. And that means staying awake and paying attention and being willing to look at hard truths without flinching.
This week, climate scientists reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have overshot 400 parts per million. That’s a problem. Carbon dioxide traps heat, destabilizes our climate, and warms and acidifies our oceans in ways that are harmful to the world’s plankton stocks. We need plankton. They provide us half the oxygen we breathe.
Last month, ecologists reported that the world’s bees are in trouble. That’s a problem. Insect pollination is an ecosystem service—aka unpaid labor donated by another species—that provides us one third of the food that we eat.
Last year, a financial analyst reported, in the science journal called Nature, soaring commodity prices and declining grain harvests due, in no small part to our increasingly unreliable climate. In order to stabilize the climate, we would need to leave at least 80 percent of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
“As a former oil analyst,” says the author, Jeremy Grantham, “I can easily calculate oil companies’ enthusiasm to leave 80 percent of their value in the ground—absolutely nil.”
That’s a big problem. How do we improve our world if there exists a fundamental conflict between the business plans of the fossil fuel industry and the conditions for life itself? We can’t.
Are you flinching yet?
Well, what if we blew up the nation’s bedrock and fracked out the bubbles of natural gas they contain and burned those instead of coal? Would that keep us from hurdling off the cliff of climate catastrophe?
The data say no.
Well, then, what if we divorced the fossil fuel industry, and, over the next two decades, transitioned entirely to wind, water and solar energy while, at the same time, reducing our per capita energy consumption by half. Would that work? In fact, that’s the only course that gives us a fighting chance.
Is it doable? The best data we have, from Stanford University, say yes.
What if we turned New York State into a model for that national plan by closing the door to fracking and convincing our governor to embrace a plan of economic development based on renewable energy? What if farmers could supplement their income not by allowing the gas industry to turn their land into an industrial proving grounds, blasting apart the bedrock under their fields and pastures with a club of toxic chemicals as though it were a piñata, but, instead, by paying them to erect solar arrays that fed into smart grids, into which we could then plug our electric cars?
Is that doable? Is it realistic? Is it more or less realistic than imagining we can carry on without pollinators, plankton stocks, uncontaminated drinking water and reliable grain harvests?
Does that plan—fossil fuel abolition—allow us to improve the world? In my mind and heart, in the way I read the data, the answer is yes.
And that brings us to the second thing that improve your world requires: the willingness to do something based on the data.
My date today is my friend and colleague Renee Vogelsang, who is an organizer for the anti-fracking movement. Do you know what’s on Renee’s email signature line? A quote from the Quaker civil rights leader and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin: "The proof that one truly believes is in action."
Now I am a contemplative person. I research a lot and write a lot. Renee contemplates too, but she almost never has a thought without acting on it. Renee and I met in 2011 when, thanks to all the research and writing I do, I became the lucky winner of the Heinz Award, which comes with a $100,000 cash prize. I decided to donate that check to the anti-fracking movement, and it became the seed money for the coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking.
It began with a handful of organizations but—thanks to Renee and her activist colleagues—New Yorkers Against Fracking has now blossomed into a mighty alliance of more than 200 groups, 1,000 businesses, 500 faith leaders, student chapters on every campus, and dozens of scientists and medical professionals. Just like the abolitionists of old, we are a powerful social movement for change.
Here’s the amazing secret about combining an unflinching willingness to look at the data with political action: it makes you happy. It gives you purpose. It makes brave. It makes you a hero.
The people who are truly depressed and scared about our environmental situation are the people who aren’t doing anything about it. They suffer from what psychologists called well-informed futility system. They suffer from what I call being a good German in the face of an ecological holocaust. But that’s a choice. Instead of closing your eyes to hard environmental truths and pretending everything is fine, you could choose to be a member of the French resistance. You could choose to be an abolitionist. You could choose to fight.
And here’s another secret: taking action makes you a better environmental scientist. There is a difference between being able to analyze environmental data objectively, which I believe in, and being neutral about the environmental crisis, which I don’t believe in.
It turns out that it’s nobody’s job to take the hard truths of environmental data into the political arena and make sure they inform our laws and policies and our economic structures. We have to do that work ourselves.
And doing it is what makes science moral.
Doing the work of political action has taken me to all kinds of places—to the White House, to the European Parliament, to town halls and church basements. And last month, it took me to the Chemung County Jail. As an inmate. I was sentenced to 15 days of incarceration for an act of civil disobedience that involved blockading a compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake. This lake is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people and under it, in abandoned salt caverns, the gas industry seeks to store billions of gallons of fracked, pressurized explosive petroleum gases trucked in from out of state.
Inside cell #1 in cell block 5D, I wrote my annual Earth Day lecture with a stubby pencil on scraps of paper and then managed to smuggle it out. I consider it to be the most important scientific statement I’ve ever made.
And, while incarcerated, I learned some new skills—like how to walk up and down a set of stairs while wearing ankle manacles, handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.
It’s a good skill to have. And it’s easier than walking down a hospital corridor while pushing an IV drip and wearing a backless, blue cotton gown, which is the uniform of a cancer patient—an identity of mine for 30 years.
The actions that caused me to wear an orange jumpsuit were not neutral.
But neither were the actions taken by the industries in my hometown that contaminated the air and water of my childhood with chemical carcinogens and caused me to grow up as one data point in a cluster of cancers.
I was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20 and it was that experience that led me to environmental science in the first place.
Today I wear an academic robe. But I would rather wear an orange jumpsuit so that my children do not have to wear a blue hospital gown. Wouldn’t you?
I’ll close with an invitation, which you are the first to receive. To all you newly minted environmental scientists and those who love you, to all those who take up the motto improve your world as your life’s work, join me in Albany on June 17—which is the 128th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s arrival in New York. On June 17, we will rally and march to declare New York’s independence from the fossil fuel empire: no to fracking; yes to renewable energy.
I believe this will be the lunch-counter moment of our age, and I warmly invite you to march with me. My invitation is especially extended to SUNY ESF’s illustrious graduate, Commissioner Joseph Martens of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Join us, Joe!
What we love we must protect. That’s what love means.
And to all of ESF’s graduates today: Congratulations, stumpies! In the days ahead, I look forward to blending your institution’s motto, improve your world, with that of my own organization: NOT ONE WELL.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Tim Radford
German scientists now know why so many fish are so vulnerable to ever-warming oceans. Global heating imposes a harsh cost at the most critical time of all: the moment of spawning.
Nearing the Brink<p>Since <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/abundant-fish-need-cool-seas-and-protection/" target="_blank">fish in the temperate zones already experience a wide variation</a> in seasonal water temperatures, it hasn't been obvious why species such as <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/sardines-swim-into-northern-waters-to-keep-cool/" target="_blank">cod have shifted nearer the Arctic, and sardines have migrated to the North Sea</a>.</p><p>But <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/ocean-warming-spurs-marine-life-to-rapid-migration/" target="_blank">marine creatures are on the move</a>, and although there are other factors at work, including overfishing and <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/fish-cant-smell-well-in-more-acidic-seas/" target="_blank">the increasingly alarming changes in ocean chemistry</a>, thanks to ever-higher levels of dissolved carbon dioxide, temperature change is part of the problem.</p><p>The latest answer, Dr Dahlke and his colleagues report in the journal <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aaz3658" target="_blank">Science</a>, is that many fish may already be living near the limits of their thermal tolerance.</p><p>The temperature safety margins during the moments of spawning and embryo might be very precise, and over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, marine and freshwater species have worked out just what is best for the next generation. Rapid global warming upsets this equilibrium.</p>
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.
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.
One of the initial reasons social distancing guidelines were put in place was to allow the healthcare system to adapt to a surge in patients since there was a critical shortage of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. In fact, masks that were designed for single-use were reused for an entire week in some hospitals.
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By Jake Johnson
Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.
"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."
The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."
In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."
"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."
Today the 6 Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces are unveiling final language. The Climate Task Force accomplished a gr… https://t.co/gz3broq2qe— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)1594240617.0
The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.
Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."
"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."
Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."
"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.
On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.
Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.
"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."
We rein in #pharma's greed by: 1) Allowing Medicare to FINALLY negotiate Rx drugs FOR ALL AMERICANS 2) Using Rx d… https://t.co/6k9iUCLMp7— Abdul El-Sayed (@Abdul El-Sayed)1594238411.0
Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."
Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."
"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."
"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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