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Soils and Oceans Omitted From Paris COP21 Agenda

Climate

As our planet's atmosphere races past 400 ppm of carbon dioxide and "climate chaos" weather becomes the norm, many hopes and concerns are being directed to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, to be held this December in Paris.

Will world leaders agree to shift away from carbon-centric energy and food production to more renewable energy sources and regenerative agriculture?

The elephant in the room in Paris—and it's quite a big elephant—is that for some reason the world's government leaders, and many climate groups, have omitted the planet's two leading carbon sinks, soils and oceans, from the main climate agenda. They now plan to discuss whether land use should even be part of the discussion.

Really? In this age of fascination with high technology, we choose to ignore the earthworm (tiller of the soil) and ocean plankton (our indispensable oxygen generator) at our peril. Did you know that two out of every three breaths you take come via phytoplankton? Relying primarily on solar, wind and hybrids as the solutions to climate change is a path toward disaster.

The good news is that we can help heal our acidic oceans, moderate the planet's erratic weather and produce abundant food by refocusing on soil sequestration (which, as a bonus, improves not just soil quality but also water-holding capacity) across farmlands, rangelands and forestlands.

My recent EcoWatch article provides an easy-to-understand overview on the potential of regenerative ag to solve the climate crisis, and gives links to organizations working on this vital issue. One country taking a positive step forward is France, which just announced an innovative plan to raise the amount of carbon in its soils by 0.4 percent a year. Why is the media not reporting this—especially since France is hosting the climate conference?

Today about 1 percent of the oceans' plankton dies annually from ocean acidification, which has increased by 30 percent in the past hundred years—mostly caused by industrial ag's high carbon pollution, with Exxon and transportation coming in as a distant second. We now know that 20 to 30 percent of all manmade greenhouse gases in the atmosphere come from industrial agriculture. The leading greenhouse gas emission sources contributing to that total are GMO corn and soy crops, centralized cattle and pig confinement operations and rice grown with synthetic fertilizers.

A recent study by University of Maryland researchers, reported as '“Green Revolution Changes Breathing of the Biosphere," detailed how a computer model linked stronger seasonal oscillations in carbon dioxide to intensive agriculture. (A note to those who represent Greenpeace, 350.org and other climate NGOs: Please reread the last two paragraphs; otherwise you might keep letting the main climate culprits go scot-free).

A Journey Well Traveled

When we discover a powerful truth on the personal or societal level, such as our need to redress the mistreatment of our soils, it's useful to reflect on how we arrived at that realization. Thousands of years ago, most societies—from Europe to Asia to what we now call the Americas—had a deep respect and caring for the Earth. Cultures from the Celtic to the Chinese to the Inca honored nature as a shared mythos that was central to daily life.

But by the last mid-century, people accepted that rivers in Ohio should be on fire, while also accepting pandemic air pollution. Then the flower children of the '60s and '70s rejected the supposed bounty of industrial food systems, and today the wellness revolution is stronger than ever. People are waking from the modern industrial-ag nightmare. That McDonald's is edging toward bankruptcy is one of the current signs that the times are indeed a-changin'.

Living in a Biological World

Paying attention to the health of our soils and oceans is now a matter of life and death. That may come as shock to most Americans, as our educational system and media teach us many things—except how the Earth works. We can learn how to be a doctor (except that they forget nutrition) or a carpenter (but they forget how forests grow) or a farmer (except that they forget the importance of soil health and earthworms) or an urban planner (but they forget how to conserve water). This hyperspecialization has yielded technocrats who don't understand the laws of nature.

We have spent trillions of dollars on failed nuclear power when we have the best nuclear reactor in the universe: the sun, which is wireless and 93 million miles away. From grade schools to universities, brainwashed thinking is still pervasive. Our challenge today is to educate enough people and leaders to shift our lifestyle before we irreparably damage the Earth's life-support systems.

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Return the Carbon, Heal the Oceans

We were all taught in kindergarten to returns things to where they belong. Today the fate of 90 percent of all species depends on humanity returning excess atmospheric carbon to the soil. If we fall short in this imperative, the oceans will become so acidic that most plankton will die and those 90 percent of the planet's life forms will vanish. GreenWave, an innovative Connecticut-based firm, has a unique approach that works to restore oceans, communities and coastal economies by growing kelp, which thrives on converting CO2 into biomass.

If you don't believe that the oceans are in trouble, just read this 2010 piece from Germany's leading magazine Spiegel: "Phytoplankton's Dramatic Decline: A Food Chain Crisis in the World's Oceans."

Per the article's lead, plankton “is the starting point for our oceans' food chain. But stocks of phytoplankton have decreased by 40 percent since 1950 ... It is an astonishing collapse, say researchers, and may have dramatic consequences both for the oceans and for humans."

The New York Times also warns of the dying of our oceans in its article “Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas" by Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the British government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As the article states:

“Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world's seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals, and other marine organisms to grow and reproduce."

Last summer, a giant, toxic algae bloom was found to stretch all the way from Alaska to California.

Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington State, told Reuters, “It's the longest-lasting, highest-toxicity, and densest bloom that we've ever seen." Trainer added, “A single clam can have enough toxins to kill a person." This toxic bloom has forced the crab season to be shut down in parts of the West Coast, and in California's Sonoma County this past summer, a golden retriever died moments after swimming in the Russian River and swallowing some of the blue-green algae.

The climate movement seems fixated on the melting poles and what might occur by 2100 with oceans rising by X amount of feet. The reality is that this will all become a moot point if the oceans become mostly biologically dead in the next several decades. Whales, dolphins, salmon and plankton are already disappearing in this great sixth extinction.

If the oceans die, humanity will have no future. I challenge any climate-change advocate who sits down to talk to Fox TV viewers to, instead of discussing the dangers of climate change, a warming Earth, and melting icebergs, talk about the simple fact that manmade CO2 is falling into the seas and causing ocean acidification, resulting in dying plankton, less oxygen to breathe, etc. Americans will be receptive to this perspective, as many feel a connection to the ocean even if they live far away from it.

For the forthcoming Paris talks, the link between soils and oceans is not on the agenda. This is due in part to a corruption of the political process by chemical giants like Monsanto, which wants to prevent people from discovering that its Roundup product kills soil life and diminishes carbon storage. Scientists at American or Canadian public universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) all realize that speaking such hard truths is a major career buzz kill. In fact, The Atlantic just published a piece on South Dakota-based USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, who was forced off a plane while en route to give a talk on GMOs, bee health and pesticides.

Isn't it time for Monsanto to be charged with crimes of fraudulently subverting science and policy, as in Exxon's legal case? Many new groups, such as Kiss the Ground, producers of The Soil Story (full disclosure: I serve as an advisor, and Nutiva is a sponsor), are working to educate people on soils. Representatives of Kiss the Ground will be in Paris during the talks, with an art installation under the Eiffel Tower on soils and carbons.

The Soil Can Heal Us

We can still reverse this dire ecocide by paying close attention to farming diversity and the linkages between agriculture and the oceans and soils. The first meter of soil contains more carbon than does the entire atmosphere (even despite the overload at 400 ppm CO2). While climate chaos is scary and depressing to think about, the good news is that we have an app for it—one with 500 million years of proven R&D: soil sequestration using photosynthesis. Today we call this carbon farming, as well as regenerative agriculture, agro-ecology, permaculture or biodynamics. Carbon farming and other natural agricultural systems improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered into stable organic matter in the soil.

And the word is getting out. Consider the recent article "Restoring Global Soil Quality Is One of the Best Things We Can Do for Climate Change."

And in February 2016 the book The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops & Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation & Food Security, by Eric Toensmeier, will be published by Chelsea Green.

What One Person Can Do

1. Become educated on regenerative ag with these resources:

  • Project Drawdown, which showcases a hundred of the best climate ideas, including planned grazing

2. Make the majority of your food choices local and organic. Reduce your meat or dairy consumption (and do select pasture-raised products).

3. Stop consuming CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat and dairy products.

4. Stop investing in your 401K or mutual funds if they include Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Heinz, General Mills, Coke, Pepsi, etc.

5. Help spread the word about the power of soils to reverse climate change.

Perhaps Tom Newmark, a cofounder of the Carbon Underground Project, says it best: “Many NGOs view carbon and agriculture as the 'enemy.' The regenerative movement sees carbon as our friend, and agriculture as our natural ally to help our friend carbon return to the land."

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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.


Nurses wear PPE prior to caring for a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Sharp Grossmont Hospital on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

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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Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

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.

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Grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho won't be subject to a trophy hunt thanks to a federal court decision Wednesday upholding endangered species protections for these iconic animals.

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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

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