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Renewable Energy Soars in 2015

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2015 has been a big year for renewable energy in the U.S., with solar and wind power growing like crazy—providing more than 5 percent of the nation's electricity for the first time—and the country's first offshore wind power project finally under construction.

The truth is, 2015 has been one in a series of very good years for these pollution-free, renewable resources—years that are helping us get on track for the low-carbon future we need and need now.

In 2015, reports found solar jobs grew by 31,000 and wind power jobs by more than 22,000, as part of windspread clean energy deployment. Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs / Flickr

With its dizzying price declines and impressive job gains, this growth in solar and wind power has come, in large part, as the result of smart federal policies—smart federal policies that Congress wisely renewed and reinstated last week.

These policies don't just help level the playing field for clean energy—fossil fuels have received federal subsidies for almost a century, after all—they also drive renewable energy demand, thereby speeding economies of scale, spurring competition in the marketplace and investment in new technologies. The production tax credit (PTC) for wind power, the solar investment tax credit (ITC) and the ITC for offshore wind power will keep us on the right track.

Together, these tax credits will help our country go a long way toward realizing the bold clean energy goals of a large majority of the American public, 69 percent of whom endorse federal subsidies for renewable energy.

Just how good is our clean energy situation getting? Well, recently, the U.S. Department of Energy released these very happy-making charts (below) that emphasize renewable energy's huge growth and equally huge price declines in recent years.

In 2015, those particularly excellent trends continued. Though we won't have complete data until next spring, the country will likely install 7.4 gigawatts of solar energy through Dec. 31 of this year. That's enough to juice up more than 1.6 million homes and a full 24 percent rise over 2014. Wind power is also flying, with almost 3.6 gigawatts—1 million homes-worth—coming online in the first three quarters of this year and more than 13,000 megawatts now under construction.

These U.S. Department of Energy graphs show how the prices of wind and solar power have plummeted as installation has soared. We saw more of the same in 2015 and can expect similar growth in 2016 and beyond, thanks to Congress's renewal last week of key clean energy tax incentives. Photo credit: U.S. DEP

This year also found several regions where pollution-free, solar and wind energy became cost-competitive with conventional power. That power, fired by coal and natural gas, masquerades as cheap but actually foists expensive public health and environmental problems on us all.

2015 had some especially good news about offshore wind power, too. Not only did construction begin on the Block Island Wind Farm, off the Rhode Island coast, but the U.S. Department of Energy reported in September that a total of 13 offshore wind power projects are in advanced phases of development. With federal policies that supplement the offshore wind power ITC—its current timetable is too short for most offshore wind power projects—we can help get many of those projects off of their drawing boards and into the water.

Wind and Solar Jobs Are Soaring

In 2015, solar and wind energy employment also soared. In January, the National Solar Jobs Census reported that solar jobs had climbed to almost 174,000, up by more than 31,000 over the previous year, with another 36,000 solar jobs projected in 2015. (Industry jobs are up by a mind-boggling 80,000 since 2010.) In August, the Department of Energy reported that wind energy jobs jumped to 73,000, up from 50,500 over the previous year, thanks to a short-term extension of the PTC.

Also in August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from the nation's electric sector introduced its Clean Energy Incentive Program, designed to bring more clean energy online faster; it will begin in 2020, two years before the Clean Power Plan as a whole. Overall, the Clean Power Plan can jumpstart enough renewable energy to supply, by 2030, about 12 percent of the nation's electricity. And we can push those deployment graph slopes further upward—we can install even more wind and solar power—now that the PTC, the solar ITC and the offshore wind power ITC have been secured. They'll help us keep that momentum going until the Clean Energy Incentive Program kicks in. As they have already, incentives that increase deployment lower clean energy prices. And the cheaper renewable energy is, the more it will become of the energy source of choice, replacing polluting power.

2015: A Year of Innovation and Progress

This year has seen amazing advances in renewable energy. Here are just some of them:

• New wind power technologies, like taller turbine towers, more powerful rotors and digital innovations, that can soon make every part of the country a wind power producer.

• Huge solar growth.

• Exponential increases in energy storage that can capture excess wind and solar power and use it when it's needed most.

Department of Energy funding for potentially revolutionary technologies, like a morphing wind turbine blade that can increase generating capacity 10 times and a new kind of offshore wind power that produces electricity much in the way a lightning cloud does, by sending an electrical charge through water vapor.

• And, let's not forget those billions in new clean energy research and development capital pledged by some of the world's wealthiest individuals at the Paris climate talks just three weeks ago.

In 2015, we've made so much progress in solar and wind power. And now, with the help of smart, federal clean energy incentives, we're on track for much, much more. 2016 promises to double the total amount of solar installed in the U.S. (think about that: double!). There are more than 13,000 megawatts of wind power in the works, too and much more likely to come, now that Congress has extended the PTC. Thanks to the perceptive heads in Congress who worked out a bipartisan agreement, there's no end to that progress now.

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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.

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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.