Indigenous Solutions to Climate Crisis Could Lie in Archaeology, Experts Say
By Ian Morse
For the first time last August, indigenous groups felt the global community was taking seriously their potential contributions to climate crisis policy.
Indigenous peoples have long been labeled among the "most vulnerable" to climate impacts, but considering the local knowledge accumulated over millennia was another question, scientists and native groups have said.
Now, two archaeologists – a professor and museum curator — are urging policymakers to look to their field to determine the origins of vulnerability and uncover local solutions.
"There's plenty of opportunity to draw on a huge resource, which is centuries and, in many cases, thousands of years of strategizing and experimenting with what works and what doesn't work in a particular landscape to deal with climate change," Kristina Douglass, archaeologist at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview.
Unearthing oral histories and a rich archaeological record can lead to more accurate markers of vulnerability and may unlock more precise methods to address climate impacts, Douglass writes in a recent paper with Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas section at the British Museum.
"We identified the islands in the Caribbean and the southwestern Indian Ocean that are extremely vulnerable, particularly because they have these colonial legacies that have really lessened peoples' ability to access long-term knowledge of environmental change," Douglass says.
The U.N. ranks indigenous peoples on the world's islands among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, but the authors believe that obscures the thousands of years of indigenous knowledge that has been eradicated. In some cases, acknowledging or even recovering those tactics can help communities endure the impacts of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses vulnerability to climate impacts through several stresses on physical, biological and human systems.
"Those indicators don't take into account those historical injustices that have contributed very much to a lack of adaptability to climate change impacts and increased vulnerability," Douglass says.
Communities in the southwestern Indian Ocean and Caribbean Sea, where Douglass and Cooper are respective specialists, survived in the face of climate twists and turns before European colonizers arrived, the authors say. For many, the knowledge and tools to adapt disappeared when sedentary, market agriculture was encouraged and imposed.
Now, many face rising sea levels, stronger storms, more frequent droughts, and declining fisheries — but the tactics they would have used to maintain resilience are either unviable or lost to history.
Douglass cites the example of the prickly pear cactus. As French colonial policies on Madagascar required people to stay in one place, local communities began using the prickly pear as an additional hydration source for themselves and their livestock to buffer the loss of water in drought.
In the 1930s, French officials unleashed a pest, the cochineal, to destroy the cactus. This devastated accumulated wealth in cattle and land, and pushed locals into a cash crop economy, which put them at greater risk of famine in ensuing droughts.
"The prickly pear is a very clear-cut example of how particular policies that were put in place during the French colonial period on Madagascar were in this case directly aimed at changing local livelihoods, because it was thought that cattle pastoralism was not a productive use of land," Douglass says.
Migration had long been a method of mitigating the impacts of climate change, but forced cash crop cultivation and delineated fisheries keeps people in one place.
"What's happening now is a lot of development policy that's sort of top-down policy — that could be aimed at mitigating climate or at improving livelihoods, et cetera — all of that is encouraging people to stay put," Douglass says.
In the Caribbean, indigenous customs were more completely eradicated after the arrival of Columbus, but there remains paleoclimatological evidence that sea level rise, storm surges, and increased precipitation was a more common occurrence, and archaeological evidence indicates people lived in a more adaptive way.
"The environmental injustice of the Caribbean is that the islands have gone through these massive changes that do put them at risk, because things like monoculture has come in and chopped down all the trees, there are big stresses on water supplies, there's a real sort of centralized food distribution system," Cooper said in an interview.
Household construction, for example, was more resilient for its ability to be quickly rebuilt with locally available materials. Archaeological evidence shows that when storms came, those elements may have been lost, but the house posts stayed firmly in the ground for often hundreds of years.
"So the impact of the hurricane means that you can recover very quickly, whereas today, the concrete houses still get smashed down, then you come out of your shelter and the cost of recovery is huge," Cooper says.
"I think it's very important to really acknowledge the impact of those historical environmental impacts in order to then learn the lessons and try and be resilient in the modern day," he says.
The IPCC helps inform global decision-making and government policies on climate change, but it has faced criticism for disregarding the insights that indigenous knowledge could bring.
A working group in 2008 has been the only collection of work focused on indigenous peoples, and scholars have called for the U.N. to take traditional knowledge seriously.
A 2016 perspective paper in Nature Climate Change found the IPCC reports exhibited "limited critical engagement with the diversity, range, and complexities of indigenous knowledge systems." The report found that diverting from the human dimensions of climate impacts "directs attention away from the underlying root causes of vulnerability, and constrains the potential for linking adaptation to broader policy goals or decolonizing processes."
In the IPCC's 2019 report on climate and land, the authors wrote that, "Agricultural practices that include indigenous and local knowledge can contribute to overcoming the combined challenges of climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, and combating desertification and land degradation."
Indigenous peoples' organizations expressed their support of the IPCC statement, writing, "The freedom to govern ourselves, leverage our traditional knowledge, and adapt to our changing circumstances is essential to realizing a more sustainable and climate-resilient future."
The next step, the authors say, is to collect traditional knowledge and incorporate it into U.N. and government policy. As a start, Douglass has begun recording oral histories when she works in sites in the southwestern Indian Ocean islands.
"It would be a very worthwhile investment to collect oral histories to map ancient trading routes and ancient social networks and just to understand how people have adapted in the past," she says. "It would not cost that much."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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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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