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42 Nobel Laureates Urge Trudeau to Act With 'Moral Clarity' and Stop Climate-Wrecking Teck Frontier Mine

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Greenpeace activists unfurl banners after building a wood and card 'oil pipeline' outside the Canadian High Commission, Canada House, to protest against the Trudeau government's plans to build an oil pipeline in British Colombia on April 18, 2018 in London. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

In an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, 42 Nobel laureates implored the federal government to "act with the moral clarity required" to tackle the global climate crisis and stop Teck Resources' proposed Frontier tar sands mine.


"The importance of leadership in the coming few years cannot be understated," reads the letter, published Friday in the Guardian's opinion section. "Governments are lagging scandalously behind what science demands, and what a growing and powerful people-powered movement knows is necessary."

"There is enough carbon embedded in already operating oil, gas, and coalfields and mines to take us beyond 2°C, let alone 1.5°C," the letter continues, referencing key temperature targets of the 2015 Paris climate accord. "The implications of this are clear: there is no room for expansion of the fossil fuel sector. There is no room for the Teck Frontier tar sands mine."

According to the letter:

Projects that enable fossil fuel growth at this moment in time are an affront to our state of climate emergency, and the mere fact that they warrant debate in Canada should be seen as a disgrace. They are wholly incompatible with your government's recent commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And with clear infringements on First Nations rights, such projects fly in the face of rhetoric and purported efforts towards reconciliation.

The response to the climate crisis will define and destroy legacies in the coming years, and the qualifications for being on the right side of history are clear: an immediate end to fossil fuel financing and expansion along with an ambitious and just transition away from oil and gas production towards zero carbon well before mid-century.

Signatories to the letter are from all around the world and have received Nobel prizes in chemistry, economics, literature, medicine, peace, and physics dating back to 1973. They include Canadian author Alice Munro, awarded a literature prize in 2013, and Canadian biologist Jack W. Szostak, awarded a medicine prize in 2009.

The tar sands project, first proposed in 2011, has pitted environmentalists in Canada and across the globe against conservatives in Alberta, where the mine could create thousands of jobs while producing about 260,000 barrels of oil daily and four million tons of climate-heating emissions annually. Trudeau's cabinet is expected to weigh in sometime this month.

"Teck still hasn't committed to building Frontier if it's approved," Bloomberg reported last week. "The Vancouver-based company's current focus is on advancing the project through the regulatory process, and further decisions will depend on the outcome of that process, market conditions, and other considerations, said Chris Stannell, a Teck spokesman."

Although Trudeau often presents himself as committed to addressing the climate crisis, the Liberal prime minister and his government have been criticized for decisions that conflict with scientists' warnings that the world must rapidly move to 100 percent renewable energy to avert climate catastrophe. One such decision was the Trudeau government buying the Trans Mountain pipeline and long-delayed expansion project in 2018, which Indigenous people and climate activists continue to challenge in court.

Among those opposed to the Frontier mine are leaders and members of Extinction Rebellion, Indigenous Climate Action, the Tiny House Warriors and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, who have held protests aimed at pressuring the Canadian government to block the contested project.

"Ultimately, this mine will be so devastating to the climate, and we're in a climate crisis," Extinction Rebellion member Sarah Flynn told CBC News in January, "so the short-term advantages of the jobs and the income that this mine will offer will be far outweighed by the climate devastation that the whole world will experience."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs told the Toronto Star last month that Trudeau should "walk the walk" of transitioning to a green economy. Phillip noted that "there were commitments made during the last election that the Trudeau government would make decisive moves toward renewable energy and this is an opportunity to follow through on those promises."

In an op-ed for the Guardian earlier this month, author and activist Bill McKibben wrote that "it's disturbing in a different way to watch leaders pretend to care — a kind of gaslighting that can reduce you to numb nihilism. Trudeau, for all his charms, doesn't get to have it both ways: if you can't bring yourself to stop a brand-new tar sands mine then you're not a climate leader."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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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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