Danica Schaffer-Smith is a PhD student at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Schaffer-Smith is interested in global change ecology, natural resource management and geospatial analysis. Her dissertation research focuses on describing the extent and variability of inland surface waters used by migratory shorebirds in California over approximately 30 years.
Aashay Patel is an undergraduate student at UNC Chapel Hill.
Ariana Nicholson is a senior high school student at the Carolina Friends School in Durham.
An eerie silence suddenly encompassed the entire Upper West side of Manhattan. With our hands raised in the air, the only thing we could hear was the sound of the helicopter’s wings beating the air above us. As the clock struck one, a distant roar could be heard from what felt like miles behind us. The wave of sound from the roar began to get louder and louder when finally, we all joined in screeching and hollering, ending the moment of silence by sounding an alarm to the world.
We made the long journey from North Carolina to New York City to show that we refuse to tolerate this any longer, putting aside homework, sleep and social opportunities. We are the generation that has never seen a world at average global temperatures. We are the generation that will lose the most to catastrophic climate disruption, and it’s time we had a voice in what our world decides to do about it.
It can sometimes feel like we, as committed environmentalists, are in the minority and that the cause is hopeless—but the People’s Climate March made it clear that climate change is a mainstream issue. We stood as 400,000 people united for one cause. The combination of big businesses sustaining the fossil fuel industry and the laissez-faire attitude of the world’s governments has gone on for far too long.
This isn’t just about polar bears—it is about all of us and represents one of the major social justice issues of our time. People right here in North Carolina are directly affected by negative impacts from fossil fuel extraction (remember the Duke Energy coal ash spill?). Rising sea levels due to climate change will also displace people from the outer banks of NC, where so many have fond memories of family vacations. It is clear that we need to change the system that is endangering our future on this planet.
The People’s Climate March may be over, but this is just the beginning of making our voices heard. Hot on the heels of the march, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it would divest its $860 million fund of fossil fuel investments. Pledges from other companies the same day has doubled the value of divestment commitments as compared to January of this year.
Things are heating up in our backyard as well. On Thursday, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees resolved to favor clean energy investments with their $2.2 billion endowment over coal and other fossil fuels. Duke students are hopeful that UNC’s initiative has made their University feel the heat. Duke too can be a leader in this movement and reflect the university’s stated goals for sustainability by investing in our future. UNC has put on the full-court press and now the ball is in Duke’s court.
Students working on the Divest Duke campaign have collected more than 1,500 student signatures this semester to support their petition to rid Duke University’s $7 billion endowment of association with the top 200 fossil fuel companies that contribute to carbon emissions over a 5-year period. The students argue that their education should not be financed by companies that are contributing to global-scale social harms from climate change. Students submitted a proposal to Duke’s Advisory Committee for Investment Responsibility (ACIR) last January. This committee supports President Richard Brodhead in making recommendations to the Board of Trustees in accordance with the Board’s Guideline on Socially Responsible Investing. We anticipate a formal response to the fossil fuel divestment proposal in November. In the meantime, Duke students continue to reach out to organizations, alumni, and faculty to join their coalition.
North Carolina students will also be coming together at a Climate Justice Summit to be held in November—this will be the first intergenerational gathering of its kind in North Carolina. We can build a better future, but we all have to be at the table to do so. We hope that students and community leaders at this summit will be able to lay down building blocks for a resilient future in North Carolina.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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