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Climate Change, Entangled Whales and the Bundy Militia: 15 New Environmental Books for May

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By John R. Platt

What do climate change, krill, energy development and public lands have in common? They're all among the topics of new environmental books arriving in bookstores this month.


Frankly there are more environmental books coming out this May than any one person could read, so as usual we've tried to pick what looks like the best of the best. The full list—15 thought-provoking titles—includes books for just about every reader, from dedicated environmentalists to history buffs to wildlife-friendly kids. You can check them all out below—links are to publishers' or authors' websites—and then settle down in your favorite chair or park bench for a month of great reading.

Climate Change:

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet From Climate Change by Sheila Watt-Cloutier—The weather in Inuit territory has become what the local peoples describe as Uggianaqtuq, "behaving in strange and unexpected ways." This memoir by one of the world's most important indigenous advocates recounts her efforts to save her native land—and its peoples—from the destruction of climate change. It gets our vote for the book of the month.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know 2nd Edition by Joseph Romm—Yup, you need to read this book. It not only provides the science behind climate change in an easy-to-digest question-and-answer format, it also dives into the solutions. Buy copies for yourself and your friends.

Weather: An Illustrated History: From Cloud Atlases to Climate Change by Andrew Revkin and Lisa Mechaley—To understand climate change, you need to know what's changing in the first place and how things have changed over the centuries and millennia. This book provides 100 snapshots into the history of our understanding of, and relationship with, our weather system. Revkin has been covering global warming since the 1980s and has provided some of the most essential reading on the subject, so this is another must-read for the month.

Philosophy and Climate Science by Eric Winsberg—Climate change, as Winsberg writes in the introduction to his new textbook, is not as simple as "1+1=2." It's real, but it involves complex work from dozens of scientific disciplines, and that make it hard to understand. Can exploring the philosophy of science help to connect the dots? (Hint: The answer is "yes.")

A Thirsty Land: The Making of an American Water Crisis by Seamus McGraw—Using Texas as a case study, McGraw's book proves that the United States simply isn't ready for the next big drought or flood. This is a problem that's been brewing for a long time, and climate change is about to make it worse. Gulp.

Wildlife and Endangered Species:

Trapped! A Whale's Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor—Inspired by a true story, this kids' book shows how a humpback whale got trapped in fishing ropes and nearly died—until humans came to her rescue. A gorgeous, powerful book offering important lessons for readers of any age.

The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story From the Bottom of the World by Stephen Nicol—Chances are you haven't thought about krill in a while. Well, let's change that. Nicol, a krill scientist, dives deep into the lives of these incredible oceanic species, reveals their importance in the food chain, and talks about how climate change and pollution have started to threaten species that have existed for millions of years. You'll get a thrill out of reading about krill.

No Word for Wilderness: Italy's Grizzlies and the Race to Save the Rarest Bears on Earth by Roger Thompson—The last 50 or so Abruzzo bears of central Italy are in trouble on all fronts, with threats including farmers, illegal hunting, diseases, and even the mafia. Thompson discusses the complex history of this rare subspecies—and whether or not they have a future.

Pandora's Garden: Kudzu, Cockroaches, and Other Misfits of Ecology by Clinton Crockett Peters—Does the way we treat "unwanted" species like sharks or invasive species like kudzu really reflect the threats they create, or are we just projecting elements of our own psyches into these "misfits"? This is possibly this month's most thought-provoking book.

Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children's Literature by Liam Heneghan—What do talking lions and wise spiders teach kids about the natural world? More importantly, does children's literature contain the tools necessary to teach kids about heady topics such as extinction, climate change and deforestation? Heneghan explores the answers, looking at everything from Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter.

Energy (and the Problems It Creates):

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes—Life is about transitions, and here the Pulitzer Prize-winning author explores how the world has transitioned from early energy sources like wood and water to coal and oil and now wind and solar—and how that history may reveal what to expect in the near future.

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce—An exploration of eight decades of nuclear technology, the lives it has destroyed and the landscapes it has ruined. An important look back in an era when some people have proposed renewed development of nuclear power as a low-carbon source of energy.

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy—Speaking of nuclear disasters, here's a book-length history about one of the worst. You know, a little light reading.

Public Lands:

Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West by James Pogue—Our final book this month is another timely, thought-provoking title. As armed-insurrectionist rancher Ammon Bundy tours the West talking about "range rights" and calling environmentalists "an enemy to humans," this new book offers a firsthand account of the Bundy family's seizure of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and digs deep into the roots of the anti-government militia movement. An important read for troubled times.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

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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.


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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."

 

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."

 

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.