Showing posts with label Pandemics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pandemics. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Where people go, there too, goes Covid-19! Surprising? Perhaps not. But, if more solid science will help to convince the doubters - here it is!


A busy London pub. Photo by Steve Parker.

Reopening places such as restaurants, fitness centres, cafes, and hotels carries the highest risk for transmitting SARS-CoV-2, according to a modelling study based on data from the United States published in Nature. Reducing occupancy in these venues may result in a large reduction in predicted infections, the model suggests. The study also highlights disparities in infection risk according to socioeconomic status.

To assess how changes in movement might alter the spread of the  virus, Jure Leskovec and colleagues use phone data (collected this spring) to map the movements of millions of people from different local neighbourhoods. They combined these data with a model of transmission. This allowed them to identify potential high-risk venues and at-risk populations. The simulations from their model accurately predict confirmed daily case counts in ten of the largest metropolitan areas (such as Chicago, New York City and San Francisco).

The level of detail of the mobility data allowed the researchers to model the number of infections occurring, by the hour, at nearly 553,000 distinct locations grouped into 20 categories — termed “points of interest” — that people tended to visit regularly. Their model predicts that a small number of these locations, such as full-service restaurants, account for a large majority of infections. For example, in the Chicago metropolitan area, 10% of the points of interest accounted for 85% of the predicted infections at points of interest. The model predicts that compared with higher-income groups, lower-income populations are more likely to become infected because they have not been able to reduce their mobility as substantially and because the places they visit tend to be smaller and more crowded, which increases the risk of infection. For example, grocery stores visited by lower-income individuals tended to have 59% more people per square foot than those visited by higher-income individuals, and their visitors stayed 17% longer on average.

By modelling who is likely to be infected at which locations, the authors were also able to estimate the effects of different reopening strategies, and they suggest that their model can inform reopening policies. For example, capping the occupancy of a venue at 20% of its maximum capacity is predicted to reduce new infections by over 80%, but would only reduce the overall number of visits by 42%.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Why deforestation and extinctions make pandemics more likely

A public domain image.

As humans diminish biodiversity by cutting down forests and building more infrastructure, they’re increasing the risk of disease pandemics such as COVID-19. Many ecologists have long suspected this, but a new study helps to reveal why: while some species are going extinct, those that tend to survive and thrive — rats and bats, for instance — are more likely to host potentially dangerous pathogens that can then jump to humans. Details here.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Global death rate from rising temperatures projected to surpass the current death rate of all infectious diseases combined

The Climate Impact Lab
A PinP photo.

This summer, the world is experiencing record hot temperatures: A weather station in Death Valley, California, clocked one of the hottest temperatures ever observed on Earth. Simultaneously, the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating mortality impact and economic fallout are demanding society prioritize public health like never before. Details here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Beyond Covid 19 - Defeating the virus is just the beginning!

by Larry Powell
The task of building a safer, healthier planet, surely, will only begin anew once we have defeated this beastly pandemic. So, are there lessons we can learn from Covid that we can actually use to blunt the assault of that other existential threat - manmade climate change?

Smoke obscures the sun in one of the increasing number of
wildfires in recent years - infernos which are starting earlier,
lasting longer and burning more intensely.
A Wikimedia photo.

The steps being implemented globally to counter the deadly virus, Covid 19, have surely been sweeping, drastic and unprecedented. 

And rightly so.

While we could argue over which crisis is more grave, one important reality seems clear. As with every other contagion to have attacked human civilization in past, Covid 19, too, will pass. 

Sadly, if we do not take steps which are similarly drastic to the ones now happening during the pandemic, that will not be the case with the climate crisis. This time, we must resolve to change in ways that are sustainable and ongoing.

Sadly, events unfolding before Covid clearly showed, we were simply not taking the bold and decisive steps to avoid climate disaster that we are now taking to combat the virus. Covid 19 reared its head just last year. The origins of the climate crisis emerged at least a-century-&-a-half ago at the dawn of the industrial revolution. And the signs of climate breakdown have been manifesting themselves with terrifying clarity for generations - longer, more severe and deadly storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and dying oceans. 

Only the proud, the wilfully blind or the ignorant will not have heard the warnings of our best experts by now - if we do not take reduce or eliminating our use of fossil fuels forthwith, parts of the planet will morph into "hothouses," where even the healthiest among us, will not survive.

Covid 19 has resulted in the drastic limiting of air travel, closure of polluting industrial plants, and banning of large gatherings on a scale that is historic and unprecedented. Ironically, these are all steps, if taken years ago, that would have likely helped blunt the climate crisis, too. 

Instead, we've been going ahead full-tilt with building more pipelines (including the one in BC that's trampling indigenous rights in the process), extracting more fossil fuels (including ones most damaging to the environment), and electing leaders who either deny the science, promote policies which lead to further, widespread destruction of the rain forests and oceans, or all of the above! Those efforts have surely been nothing short of misguided, vapid or wilfully harmful.

The very things climate scientists have been warning us against,  are now unfolding, as I write this. Flooding has devastated Fort MacMurray, Alberta, a scant four years after wildfires raged through, destroying thousands of homes and businesses. 

The tragedy of the Australian bushfires emerged in all its horror, for all to see, scant months ago.

Yet our news media remain shamefully reluctant to even ask whether any of this might be because of manmade climate change. So the residents (or their leaders) don't talk about it, either. To me, it's the elephant in the room...hard to ignore...but, they're doing it!

They simply don't (or won't), see the connection between unlimited air travel, unlimited and unfettered events like the World Cup and the Olympics, and increasing greenhouse gas concentrations that are leading us down a calamitous road. 

Eerily, some of the very steps being so desperately taken to beat down the virus - closing industrial plants and limiting air travel and large crowds - are among those which will help alleviate our climate crisis, too. Sadly, those measures will need to carry on after the virus has gone, simply because the ones taken, so far, are short-term and will not be enough to bring about the kind of transformation needed.

After all, the relentless burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has not "taken a pause," to wait for Covid to end.
All of the disastrous climate phenomena I've already mentioned, are continuing, unabated. (Sadly, even tho greenhouse gas levels are now dipping dramatically due to Covid-related lockdowns of industry and travel, it will not slow down the heating of the planet for some time. So, folks, our job has just begun. And we, like in the pandemic, are all in this together!

Please also read:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Defending climate in the age of Covid 19.

by Larry Powell
An Australian sun, shrouded in bushfire smoke.
A public domain photo.
As Kermit the frog famously said, “It isn’t easy being green.” And, in a world which is, by necessity, now consumed in the battle against a pandemic, it’s even harder. It’s almost as if that other “existential threat,” manmade climate change, has been forgotten, even tho it never really received the attention it deserved in the first place! 

It’s both encouraging and bewildering to watch just how this latest, terrible and unprecedented chapter in our history, is playing out; Encouraging because so many of us are actually heeding the advice of our best minds in epidemiology by hand-washing, physical-distancing and self-isolating. This is surely saving countless lives from the deadly maw of the “Covid beast.”

By contrast, our climatologists - who’ve been warning us for a generation that our planet is on a dangerous trajectory toward “hothouse Earth” if we don’t eliminate or drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - have been treated quite differently. While our top doctors now dealing with Covid are rightly hailed as heroes, our climate scientists are ignored, defamed or even threatened with death.  

Meanwhile, calamitous events related to a changing climate are not going away as the virus plays out. Ice caps and glacier are still melting. Sea levels are still rising. Global temperatures, along with greenhouse gas levels continue to spiral upward. 
Australian bushfires.
Photo credit - World Weather Attribution.
Yet news media are all but ignoring such important events if they are not Covid-related. Did you know, for example, that hundreds have already died and thousands more are in hospital in Australia after inhaling smoke from the bushfires there last winter? (More than 30 people, thousands of livestock and billions of wild animals died in the actual fires.) 

A crack team of climatologists has determined those fires “down under” (which ruined an area the size of more than 40 Riding Mountain National Parks), were made much more likely due to manmade climate change.
Unharvested crop in a Manitoba field. Unusually bad weather
made 2019 an extremely poor year for both cattle & grain producers.
A PinP photo.
 On the Canadian prairies, it's shaping up to be yet another bleak growing season for farmers. According to the farm paper, "The Co-Operator," five million tonnes of canola, wheat and other crops remain in the fields following terrible weather last year. And this year's spring seeding is being delayed, too thanks to "significant" rain and snow across the region this month.

As we speak, Alberta is scrambling to deal with a new wildfire season - a job now made infinitely more complicated by Covid-19. How will fire crews even get in to areas of the province almost certainly to be plagued by monster fires similar to last year, with the travel and other restrictions now in place? 

And as long as we keep electing politicians like Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, things will only get worse. Instead of pledging hard-earned tax dollars to help the legion of laid off oil workers - his own citizens - get retrained in sustainable, renewable energy projects, Kenney has pledged billions to the TransMountain pipeline, to carry greatly-devalued and highly-polluting Alberta "tar" to tidewater.

Meanwhile, Covid 19, like pandemics before it, will pass.

However, without immediate and urgent action to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - and a new-found respect for our climatologists - disastrous climate breakdown will not! 

Ironically, the tough love being applied to help us fight the pandemic, are the same kind of measures that could help us blunt the climate onslaught. It seems likely that travel restrictions - the cancellation of millions of flights by high-flying, climate-destroying jet planes - and the closure of polluting industrial plants, are already resulting in historic drops in harmful toxins and greenhouse gas levels. 

People staying in their homes has offered a reprieve for embattled species whose traditional habitats we have occupied and destroyed. While all of this won’t result in an immediate stabilization of the crisis, it will surely be a step in the right direction. But this will only work if we somehow maintain those very tough measures, to some degree, over time.

Will it be easy? Of course not. And anyone who tells you that we can save the planet from environmental degradation while still maintaining the level of economic activity we've all become accustomed to, is lying.

So the key to a better world will depend on the wisdom, not just of our leaders, but all of us, too. Not to mention our willingness to make the profound sacrifices and societal changes needed to make it all happen. 

Will we recognize that there are lessons to be learned, even from a pandemic? Or will we simply pick up where we left off once it's over and come “roaring back” in a rush to reclaim all the bells and whistles we seem to think we actually need? 

Tragically, I expect the latter will be the more likely scenario.

Please prove me wrong!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What does conservation have to do with Covid-19?


Bush meat for sale in Togo.
Photo by 
As the news continues to be dominated by the Covid-19 crisis, CEO Jonathan Barnard reflects on the conversations about conservation that have arisen from the pandemic. Story here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Coronavirus latest: pandemic could have killed 40 million without any action

Updates on the respiratory illness that has infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed several thousand. Story here.

Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?

The Guardian
Scientists are tracing the path of Sars-CoV-2 from a wild animal host – but we need to look at the part played in the outbreak by industrial food production. Story here.

Massive B.C. coal mines are about to get a new owner. Why some are worried about Glencore’s record

THE NARWHAL Coal mine at Tumbler Ridge, B.C.  Jeffrey Wynne ,      If the sale goes through, the company will inherit a contamination proble...