Thursday, March 17, 2011
While the people of Japan continue to deal with the devastation of the massive earthquake and tsunami last week, the tragedy there has reignited the debate over nuclear power worldwide. As the Washington Post reports, in the wake of the growing nuclear emergency in Japan, Germany announced that it will shut down seven of its older plants for safety inspections, and Switzerland declared a freeze on new nuclear construction.
At the same time, U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials assured Congress of the safety of the domestic nuclear fleet, as did leaders in France of theirs.
Nuclear energy inevitably elicits strong responses from both sides of the aisle. Whether it is Yucca Mountain or the Skull Valley Goshutes' suggestion to store waste on their reservation, rhetoric is rarely scarce when it comes to atomic power.
There is no question that the people of Japan deserve all the world can offer in this time of dire need, but isn't there a much deeper question here about energy policy than the immediate nuclear debate that Fukushima has elicited?
It is another entirely to ask what is at the heart of our modern energy dilemma.
That is the question we should be asking. At a minimum, as Professor McAllister rightly noted earlier this week, it is a question about our energy consumption, and our failure to heed efficiency as a goal with the same vigor that our energy policy gives it lip service.
Even more fundamentally, however, it is a question about energy planning. Nuclear plants provide roughly 20 percent of the United States' current electrical production. In France, that figure is closer to 80 percent. Turning that train around cannot happen overnight.
It could, however, happen over a longer period of time -- if we want it to.
Fukushima is not Chernobyl. But however bad the crisis in Japan ends up being, it should now be as clear as ever that when it comes to energy, we face hard choices.
These choices are not necessarily dichotomies. We can solve climate change, and nuclear power may be part of that solution -- or it might not, or it might be only for awhile. Natural gas certainly will play a role. Carbon capture and sequestration holds promise, if we are willing to pay the higher prices and energy penalties the technology entails. Renewables are always there. The number of possible resource mixes, in short, for energy production is virtually limitless.
The question, then, is not: "Whether nuclear power?"
The question is: "What do we want our energy future to be?" And, correspondingly: "Will we plan for that future, or will we leave it to chance?"
As Amory Lovins reminded nearly a decade ago, "Our energy future is...choice -- not fate."
Monday, March 14, 2011
A recent slate of reports have highlighted Congressional efforts to curb spending on environmental matters in order to prevent further deterioration of the economy. A House subcommittee recently voted to block EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, asserting that such authority would drive up energy costs and ship jobs overseas. Leadership in the House recently proposed cutting $1.2 billion (21 percent) out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellite program budget - a program used for hurricane and weather tracking. NOAA head Jane Lubchenco recently stated that this action would cause NOAA to "inevitably have a gap" in storm tracking and warning capacity. Paper and chemical industries have called on Congress to assess the cost of regulatory oversight, claiming that duplicative and burdensome regulation should be eliminated to avoid a loss of competitive advantage and preserve jobs in those industries. Congress has even taken aim at light bulbs, calling for a repeal of legislation mandating the use of more efficient bulbs. These are just a few of the many legislative proposals coming out of Congress that cut funding for environmental protection (for others, see "Losing the Future: House Republican Budget Cuts Would Strangle Innovation").
Current levels of Congressional spending are unprecedented and unsustainable. For environmentalists, who focus on sustainability of natural resources, it would seem quite consistent to express similar concern over the sustainability of the economic system that gives us the luxury to protect the environment in the first instance. Yet when high government spending and economic downturn overlap, difficult choices arise over which environmental protections to maintain. Spending on environmental protection may very well be duplicative and inefficient in some cases, such as when special interests procure wasteful subsidies - money that would be better allocated elsewhere. And often the parties complaining about environmental protection expenditures actually add to those expenditures, by increasing administrative costs through continual judicial challenges to environmental regulations. Perhaps of greater concern is the fact that an economic downturn allows the evisceration of appropriately allocated environmental protection resources under the guise of legitimate concerns over government spending. So, how can we use a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer? How can we preserve legitimate environmental protection interests while recognizing the need to move toward an economic policy that acts in a more fiscally responsible manner? Is it too much spending or rather too much inefficient spending? Where do environmental priorities rank when deciding where to tighten the belt?
- Blake Hudson
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Green Buildings: Is Your City in the Top Ten?
The U.S. Green Building Council ranked cities across the country with the most LEED certified green buildings. A total of 88 green buildings makes Chicago number one. Portland and Seattle follow with 73 and 63 green buildings respectively.
This list, however, is not comprised of just major cities. Grand Rapids, MI made the top ten with 44 LEED certified buildngs, surpassing both Los Angeles and Boston.
Following are the top 10 U.S. cities, ranked by LEED certified buildings:
2. Portland, Or.--73.
4. Washington, D.C.--57.
6. San Francisco--50.
7. New York City--46.
8. Grand Rapids, Mich.--44.
9. Los Angeles--40.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Obama administration on Tuesday formally proposed joint CAFE-CAA fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that link fuel economy to reduced emissions from vehicles. Manufacturers would need to increase fuel economy 5 percent per year from 2012 to 2016, with new cars and trucks averaging 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Alternatively, manufacturers must meet a requirement that their vehicles on average emit no more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. With current technology, the measures are essentially equivalent. Current CAFE standards require that cars average 27.5 miles per gallon and light trucks average 23.1 miles per gallon. Download 2012-2016_CAFE_GHGN_PRM EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson estimates the proposed regulations would save 1.8 billion gallons of oil between 2012 and 2016, and prevent greenhouse-gas equivalent to the output of 42 million cars.
According to the Washington Post, Washington Post story President Obama appeared at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, claiming the proposal is a boon for both the environment and the automobile industry because "it will give our auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability and predictability." The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the industry trade group, supported Obama's remarks, stating "This is really the road map for automakers to follow." AAM estimated that the required changes would cost the auto industry $60 billion by 2016, but did not provide an estimate of price increase that consumers would experience..
The proposal, if finalized in a timely manner -- i.e. before Copenhagen -- is a victory on one front of the battle to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The other front is the legislation to cap GHGs from stationary sources such as utility and industrial powerplants. According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that the Senate may not act on climate legislation until next year. The Obama administration, of course, could pressure Congress by proceeding to regulate GHGs under the existing Clean Air Act through calling for new State Implementation Plans, requiring New Source Review permits impose LAER and BACT for GHG, and imposing New Source Performance Standards for GHG. However, the Administration is unlikely to play chicken with Congress absent proof that Congress is truly dragging its feet.
The Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA almost 2 1/2 years ago determined that EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, prompting yesterday's action.
See the press release below:
EPA: Cathy Milbourn
DOT: Rae Tyson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2009
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Propose National Program to Improve Fuel Economy and Reduce Greenhouse Gases
New Interagency Program to Address Climate Change and Energy Security
“American drivers will keep more money in their pockets, put less pollution into the air, and help reduce a dependence on oil that sends billions of dollars out of our economy every year,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By bringing together a broad coalition of stakeholders – including an unprecedented partnership with American automakers – we have crafted a path forward that is win-win for our health, our environment, and our economy. Through that partnership, we’ve taken the historic step of proposing the nation’s first ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles, and moved substantially closer to an efficient, clean energy future.”
“The increases in fuel economy and the reductions in greenhouse gases we are proposing today would bring about a new era in automotive history,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “These proposed standards would help consumers save money at the gas pump, help the environment, and decrease our dependence on oil – all while ensuring that consumers still have a full range of vehicle choices.”
Under the proposed program, which covers model years 2012 through 2016, automobile manufacturers would be able to build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies all federal requirements as well as the standards of California and other states. The proposed program includes miles per gallon requirements under NHTSA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) program and the first-ever national emissions standards under EPA’s greenhouse gas program. The collaboration of federal agencies for this proposal also allows for clearer rules for all automakers, instead of three standards (DOT, EPA, and a state standard).
Specifically, the program would:
· Increase fuel economy by approximately five percent every year
· Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons
· Save the average car buyer more than $3,000 in fuel costs
· Conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil
Increase Fuel Economy and Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions:
The proposed national program would
require model year 2016 vehicles to meet an estimated combined average
emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. Under the
proposed program, the overall light-duty vehicle fleet would reach 35.5
miles per gallon (mpg) in model year 2016, if all reductions were made
through fuel economy improvements. If this occurs, Congress’ fuel
economy goal of 35.0 mpg by 2020 will be met four years ahead of
schedule. This would surpass the CAFE law passed by Congress in 2007,
which required an average fuel economy of 35 mpg in 2020.
Reduce Greenhouse Gases:
Climate change poses a significant long-term threat to
Save Consumers Money:
NHTSA and EPA estimate that
Conserve Oil and Increase Energy Security:
The light-duty vehicles subject to this proposed National Program account for about 40 percent of all
Within the Auto Industry’s Reach:
EPA and NHTSA have worked closely to develop this coordinated joint proposal and have met with many stakeholders including automakers to insure the standards proposed today are both aggressive and achievable given the current financial state of the auto industry.
NHTSA and EPA expect automobile manufacturers would meet these proposed standards by improving engine efficiency, transmissions and tires, as well as increasing the use of start-stop technology and improvements in air conditioning systems. EPA and NHTSA also anticipate that these standards would promote the more widespread use of advanced fuel-saving technologies like hybrid vehicles and clean diesel engines.
NHTSA and EPA are providing a 60-day comment period that begins with publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments are at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regulations.htm for EPA and http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.43ac99aefa80569eea57529cdba046a0/
Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
NHTSA has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed CAFE standards. The Draft EIS compares the environmental impacts of the agency’s proposal and reasonable alternatives. NHTSA is providing a 45-day comment period on the Draft EIS. Information on the submission of comments is provided at the above NHTSA Web address.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tax Incentives for the “Green” Industry
Date: Thursday, September 10, 2009
Time: 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM ET
Between Lamborghini developing a hybrid and the proliferation of “green” marketing, there can be no doubt that green is going mainstream. Congress is trying their best to encourage the green vision by enacting (and expanding) tax incentives designed to use and develop renewable and sustainable resources. Obtaining the benefit of the incentives depends on a number of items, including satisfying the statutory criteria and placing the property in service in a timely manner. However, due to some recent changes by Congress, it is not dependent on the taxpayer having taxable income to offset.
What will be covered
This presentation focuses on identifying the available tax incentives and understanding how to take advantage of them. Whether you have worked on “green” projects in the past or this is a new area for you, this webinar will present the issues that must be addressed, including the tax compliance requirements.
This 60-90 minute webinar will provide participants with a conceptual understanding and practical application of the following:
- Overview of Available Tax Incentives
- Tax Credits
- Eligibility of Taxpayers To Take Advantage of the Incentives
- The Energy Production Tax Credit
- The Energy Investment Tax Credit
- Electing a Tax-Free Grants In Lieu of Tax Credits
- Special Depreciation and Deductions
Participants will learn how to:
- Identify the availability of “green” tax incentives for commercial projects
- Recognize fundamental ideas and solutions available to plan for tax efficient usage or development of renewable energy products
- Evaluate which tax incentive may be optimal in a situation
Register quickly and easily online to secure your space now. Or, please call 1-800-372-1033 option 6, then option 1, and refer to the date and title of the audioconference. Lines are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET, excluding most federal holidays.
Don't miss this opportunity to hear a lively, dynamic presentation. Not only are audioconferences an excellent way for you to stay current, with BNA you also get:
- Quality. Count on it. Nothing is canned.
- Objectivity. BNA Tax Management provides you with the best and most objective information.
- Affordability. BNA Tax Management audioconferences are inexpensive when compared to the cost of travel to attend conferences with leading experts and practitioners. Plus, you may use a speakerphone and invite as many of your colleagues as you want to listen in -- all for the price of a single registration. See pricing for more details.
- Convenience. No airlines. No travel. No time out of the office.
In addition, you'll receive:
- Personal attention. Once you've registered, send your e-mail questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be included in the program. You'll also have a chance to e-mail your questions during the audioconference.
- Conference materials. We’ll e-mail links to the materials that will accompany the audioconference one day in advance. If you do not receive this pre-conference e-mail, e-mail email@example.com.
New Model of Decision-making Incorporates How People Change Their Minds in the Midst of Making a Decision
How do we change our minds? Theoretical neuroscientists have developed plausible models for how the brain comes to a decision based on 'noisy' and often ambiguous information, but these assume that once that decision is made, it is made for good. Now a series of experiments on subjects who were asked to move a handle to one of two positions dependent on a noisy visual stimulus has been used to develop a new model that accounts for how and when we change our mind after we make a decision. Analysis of the rare occasions where subjects changed their mind half way through selecting their answer shows that even after making a decision the brain continues to process the information it had gathered — information still in the processing pipeline— to either reverse or reaffirm its initial decision. The new theory introduces the acts of vacillation and self correction into the decision-making process.
The cites for the research follow:
Letter: Changes of mind in decision-making
Arbora Resulaj, Roozbeh Kiani, Daniel M. Wolpert & Michael N. Shadlen
GAO on September 9th published a report "Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action is Needed to Capitalize on Those Steps." GAO-09-877 . A summary, the GAO Highlights, is contained in this link.
The Economist published an article Data Diving discussing new data that allows closer analysis of whether speculators are responsible for driving up oil prices. The short answer according to the speculators is probably not. And, even if they were, in the Economist's opinion, the critical importance of liquidity overwhelms any effect on higher prices.
The regulatory question is whether the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should limit the positions that speculators such as banks, hedge funds, and others take on oil because of the harmful influence that speculators have on the market.
... whether speculation has really been responsible for spiking prices is a controversial issue. In 2008 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report dismissing the role of speculators in last year’s startling run-up in prices. But banks, hedge funds and others who bet on oil (without a use for the stuff itself) still face limits on the positions they can take, if Gary Gensler, the new CFTC head, can show that their influence in markets does harm.
New disaggregated data show more clearly the role of speculators in the market:
On September 4th the CFTC added more evidence to the debate by releasing what it said were more transparent data on market positions. Before this month, the CFTC simply classified traders as “commercial” or “non-commercial” in its weekly report on the overall long and short positions in the market. Now it has started to disaggregate them further, into producers and buyers, swap dealers and “managed money”. The third category includes hedge funds.
The new data indicate that speculators (swap dealers and managed money) were long on oil in the week to September 1st, with managed money holding a net long position by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Those actually involved in the oil business (producers and users) held positions that were net short by similar ratios. And the swap dealers and managed-money players are bigger in the market, both in terms of the contracts they hold and their own sheer numbers.
So, the speculators constitute the largest amount of the market and they take dramatically opposite positions in the market as compared with producers and users. Still, the speculators' analysts discount the ability of speculators to affect the market. I'm not market savvy enough to understand the speculators' analysis proffered by the Economist so would someone out there explain how this tells us that speculators are not influencing the market?
But analysts at Barclays Capital note that long swaps accounted for just 6.4% of total futures and options contracts, not enough to drive prices up on their own. Physical traders held more of the outstanding long positions (10.3%) and held even more short positions. This one set of numbers, in other words, does little to prove that speculators are overriding market fundamentals to drive prices. New quarterly data also released by the CFTC show that money flows to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in commodities failed to correlate strongly with last year’s price surge.
Maybe some more numbers will help us sort this out (in favor of the speculators):
There are more disclosures to come. The CFTC says it will soon release the newly disaggregated data going back three years. If those numbers, like the quarterly ETF data, are equally unconvincing on the role of speculation, the case for limiting positions will be weakened.
And the Economists' speculator-friendly bottom line:
And a strong counter-argument remains: that speculators provide crucial liquidity. Even if they also have some effect on prices, taking them out of the game could well do more harm than good. It is tempting to look for scapegoats when high prices hurt consumers. But the real culprits for oil-price volatility may be much more familiar: supply, demand and global instability.
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring. Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area. A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law
As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.
This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.
The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Many of us attempt to bring ethical perspectives to bear on issues raised by our classes in addition to ecological and economic perspectives. Although it may be a bit late for those of you who have already started class, here is the most recent statement by the World Council of Churches on eco-justice and ecological debt. In a related, but fascinating, note, the WCC as part of its current programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line -- in addition to the more typical poverty line. This would provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much. Check it out!!!
WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt
The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee adopted a "Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt" on Wednesday, 2 Sept. The statement proposes that Christians have a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. The statement addresses ecological debt and includes hard economic calculations as well as biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.
The statement identifies the current unprecedented ecological crises as being created by humans, caused especially by the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called "natural resources". Churches are being called upon to oppose with their prophetic voices such labeling of the holy creation as mere "natural resources".
The statement points out that it is a debt owed primarily by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.
In its call for action the statement urges WCC member churches to intervene with their governments to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt a fair and binding deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, in order to bring the CO2 levels down to less than 350 parts per million (ppm).
Additionally the statement calls upon the international community to ensure the transfer of financial resources to countries of the south to refrain from oil drilling in fragile environments. Further on, the statement demands the cancellation of the illegitimate financial debts of the southern countries, especially for the poorest nations as part of social and ecological compensation.
In a 31 August hearing on "ecological debt" during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Dr Maria Sumire Conde from the Quechua community of Peru shared some ways that the global South has been victimized by greed und unfair use of its resources. In the case of Peru, Sumire said mining has had particularly devastating effects, such as relocation, illness, polluted water,and decreasing biodiversity.
The concept of ecological debt has been shaped to measure the real cost that policies of expansion and globalization have had on developing nations, a debt that some say industrialized nations should repay. Dr Joan Martinez Alier, a professor at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, said climate change, unequal trade, "bio-piracy", exports of toxic waste and other factors have added to the imbalance, which he called "a kind of war against people around the world, a kind of aggression."
Martinez went on saying: "I know these are strong words, but this is true." He beseeched those present, at the very least not to increase the existing ecological debt any further.
The WCC president from Latin America, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, said ecological debt was a spiritual issue, not just a moral one. "The Bible is an ecological treatise" from beginning to end, Ortega said. She described care for creation as an "axis" that runs through the word of God. "Our pastoral work in our churches must be radically ecological," she said.
September 3, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Religion, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Good news: world fisheries could avoid collapse by using new management tools in both developed and developing countries
Planet Ark reported that Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and colleagues are publishing a paper in Science that suggests world fisheries may avoid a total global collapse by using proven management tools in both the developed countries and the developing countries. This is notable because Dr. Worm had predicted total global collapse of fish and seafood populations by 2048. But, the effort will require rebuilding 63 percent of fish stocks worldwide and applying proven management tools not only to the ecosystems primarily affected by developed countries, but also those primarily affected by developing countries. These management tools include: restrictions on gear like nets so that smaller, younger fish can escape; limits on the total allowable catch; closing some areas to fishing; certifying fisheries as sustainable; offering shares of the total allowable catch to each person who fishes in a specified area. Researchers indicated that fishing limits must be set well below the maximum sustainable yield, which is the highest number of fish that can be caught in an area without hurting the species' ability to reproduce. Maximum sustainable yield should be an absolute upper limit, rather than a target that is frequently exceeded.
Worm's optimism was provisional, because the current research only looked at about one-quarter of the world's marine ecosystems, mostly in the developed world where data is plentiful and management can be more readily monitored and enforced. Of the 10 major ecosystems studied, scientists found five marine areas had cut the average percentage of fish they take, relative to estimates of the total number of fish. Two other ecosystems were never overexploited, leaving three areas overexploited. The fisheries in the study were the Iceland Shelf, Northeast U.S. Shelf, North Sea, Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf, Celtic-Biscay Shelf, Baltic Sea, Southern Australia Shelf, Eastern Bering Sea, California Current, and New Zealand Shelf.
Strict fisheries management in the developing world has put increasing pressure on fisheries controlled by developing countries, particularly African countries that struggle to provide food for their populations. To deploy effective fisheries management globally will require addressing the management capacity and governance problems of developing countries and reducing the poverty that makes effective management and governance so difficult.
July 30, 2009 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Corruption and poor governance are generally recognized as a key obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, ecological sustainability, social equity, and economic development as well as realizing human rights in many developing countries. The problem has been that the weapons that the United States and other governments have used against corrupt leaders who plunder their countries' resources and violate their citizens' human rights were relatively blunt: military invasion, assassination, promotion of coup d'etat, suspension of trade and aid, etc. But yesterday a French judge opened a judicial investigation about corruption of three African leaders. So another, more nuanced weapon has been added to our collective arsenal.
Meanwhile, the Europeans aren't just taking African leaders to task. Spain is also investigating lawyers and others from the Bush administration regarding their roles in approving torture tactics against alleged terrorist suspects. Certainly we all know that the leaders of developing countries have no monopoly on corruption or human rights violations!
As posted in Intl Law Girls,
Reuters reports from Paris that a French juge d'instruction has opened an investigation into whether assets held by the Presidents of 3 oil-rich African countries came to them by way of public corruption.
► Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea's President since 1979, and family: At least 1 property, 1 bank account, and more than 4 million euros worth of luxury vehicles. Among them is the Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine depicted above, said to have been bought by Obiang's son. (photo credit) Obiang has been dubbed among the few "African despots who make Robert Mugabe seem stable and benign" by The Independent of London.
► Denis Sassou-Nguesso, since 1979 the President of the Republic of Congo (commonly called Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from the neighboring state whose capital is Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo): 24 properties, 112 bank accounts, and more than 172,000 euros worth of luxury vehicles. In Sassou-Nguesso's country, slavery of 1 ethnic group by another is reported to persist.
'This is a decision without precedent, because it is the first time that a judicial investigation has been opened concerning the alleged misappropriation of public funds by incumbent heads of state. From now on it is possible to identify and pursue those who, repeatedly and deceitfully, impoverish their own countries.'
Sunday, May 3, 2009
As this report on the new studies published in Nature indicates, the global warming problem is and always has been understood to be a matter of the total loadings of GHG emissions in the atmosphere, not a matter of timing. The timing of the GHG emissions only matters over the course of centuries because eventually greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere decompose. I don't think that anyone familiar with climate policy has ever believed otherwise. So, on that score the new studies are not new, but they may alter how the problem is conceptualized for policy purposes.
Policy cannot simply divide the total allowable emissions among nations and be done with it. First, absent intermediate goals tied to deadlines, countries cannot monitor each others compliance with reduction targets. Second, it creates a tendency for nations to believe that they can just wait until 2050 or whatever when technology will save them and voila they will become carbon neutral. Our experience in the Clean Air Act attainment with NAAQS was that, faced with a deadline and no requirement for annual progress, states just planned to do something at the last moment and when their plans didn't work, they threw up their hands and said, "OH well."
We cannot afford to use that model of regulation with respect to climate. Instead, we need to use technology-forcing technology based standards (e.g. no new coal plants without CSS; CSS retrofit for existing fossil-fuel plants by 2020) along with streamlining the ability of renewables to come online and planning ala the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments with annual progress requirements and contingency measures built into the plan. Those approaches would be far more successful than the "consume up to the last moment" strategy that may be encouraged by the total emissions approach.
Lawyers have to leave science to the scientists and use extreme care when they are working on a cross-disciplinary basis. But scientists need to be just as wary of providing policy concepts unencumbered by an understanding of past performance of various regulatory approaches.
From: Naomi Antony, Science and Development Network
Published April 30, 2009 10:40 AM
Scientists put carbon ceiling at a trillion tonnes
Scientists hope a new approach to assessing carbon build-up in the atmosphere will simplify issues
for policymakers and economists. Two papers published in Nature today (29 April) show that the
timings of carbon emissions are not relevant to the debate — it is the total amount of carbon dioxide
emitted over hundreds of years that is the key issue.
Rather than basing negotiations on short-term goals such as emission rates by a given year,
the researchers say the atmosphere can be regarded as a tank of finite size which we must not
overfill if we want to avoid a dangerous temperature rise.
Climate policy has traditionally concentrated on cutting emission rates by a given year, such as
2020 or 2050, without placing these goals within the overall context of needing to limit cumulative
Both papers analyse how the world can keep the rise in average surface temperatures
down to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This figure is
widely regarded as the threshold beyond which the risk of dangerous climate change
rapidly increases. Policymakers around the world have adopted this limit as a goal.
The first study, led by Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, UK, found that
releasing a total of one trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
between 1750 and 2500 would cause a "most likely" peak warming of two degrees
Celsius. Emissions to 2008 have already released half of this. Allen said in a
press briefing this week (27 April): "It took 250 years to burn the
first half trillion tonnes and, on current predictions, we'll burn the next half
trillion in less than 40 years."
The second study, led by Malte Meinshausen at the Potsdam Institute for Climate
Impacts Research, Germany, used a computer model to demonstrate that to avoid
exceeding two degrees Celsius by 2100, cumulative carbon emissions must not exceed
0.9 trillion tonnes. "We have already emitted a third of a trillion in just the past nine years,"
David Frame, a co-author of the Allen paper and researcher at the University of
Oxford, said that these findings make the problem "simpler" than it's often
portrayed. "[The findings] treat these emissions ... as an exhaustible resource. For
economists, this way of looking at the problem will be a huge simplification," Frame
said. "Basically, if you burn a tonne of carbon today, then you can't burn it tomorrow
" you've got a finite stock. It's like a tank that's emptying far too fast
for comfort. If country A burns it, country B can't. It forces everyone to consider
the problem as a whole."
In a separate essay, Stephen Schneider of the Woods Institute for the Environment at
Stanford University in the United States, discusses what a world with 1,000 parts
per million of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere might look like.
This article is reproduced with kind permission of the
Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net).
For more news and articles, visit www.scidev.net.
Nature Abstract of Allen letter:
Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne
- Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
- Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
- Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
- Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
- Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK
Global efforts to mitigate climate change are guided by projections of future temperatures1. But the eventual equilibrium global mean temperature associated with a given stabilization level of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations remains uncertain1, 2, 3, complicating the setting of stabilization targets to avoid potentially dangerous levels of global warming4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Similar problems apply to the carbon cycle: observations currently provide only a weak constraint on the response to future emissions9, 10, 11. Here we use ensemble simulations of simple climate-carbon-cycle models constrained by observations and projections from more comprehensive models to simulate the temperature response to a broad range of carbon dioxide emission pathways. We find that the peak warming caused by a given cumulative carbon dioxide emission is better constrained than the warming response to a stabilization scenario. Furthermore, the relationship between cumulative emissions and peak warming is remarkably insensitive to the emission pathway (timing of emissions or peak emission rate). Hence policy targets based on limiting cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide are likely to be more robust to scientific uncertainty than emission-rate or concentration targets. Total anthropogenic emissions of one trillion tonnes of carbon (3.67 trillion tonnes of CO2), about half of which has already been emitted since industrialization began, results in a most likely peak carbon-dioxide-induced warming of 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.3–3.9 °C.
- Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
- Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
- Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
- Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
- Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK
May 3, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, April 30, 2009
To date, the United States has confirmed a total of 109 human cases of swine influenza A H1N1: 1 in Arizona, 14 in California, 1 in Indiana, 2 in Kansas, 2 in Massachusetts, 1 in Michigan, 1 in Nevada, 50 in New York City, 1 in Ohio, 10 in South Carolina and 26 in Texas. Other suspected cases are being investigated. 5 hospitalizations and a death have been registered. The dead case is a child of 22 months old, from Mexico who died in a hospital of Houston, Texas area.
The most recent cases detected as well as the registered death suggest that more serious cases could appear in the United States.
From 17 to 29 April, Mexico has reported 1,918 suspected cases of influenza with severe pneumonia including 84 deaths. The suspected cases were recorded in all Mexican states. Most of them in the Federal District, Guanajuato, State of Mexico, Aguascalientes, Queretaro and San Luis Potosí. The majority of these have occurred in previously healthy young adult people. There have been few cases in individuals under 3 or over 59 years old. 933 of the suspected cases are currently hospitalized.
The number of probable cases of swine influenza A H1N1 remains at 286, and a total of 97 cases has been confirmed. The considerable variation in the number of confirmed cases as of today is due to the recent laboratory confirmation of samples collected in previous weeks. The number of confirmed dead cases remains at 7. This figure is also subject to variations depending on the new laboratory information.
In Canada, to date 19 human cases of swine influenza A H1N1 have been confirmed (2 in Alberta, 4 in the province of New Scotland, 6 in British Columbia and 7 in Ontario) some of them with recent trip history to Cancun, Mexico. All the cases developed a mild form of influenza like illness. 2 of the cases presented, in addition, gastrointestinal symptoms. All of them are currently recovered and none required hospitalization. Laboratory tests were conducted in Winnipeg, Canada. `Indigenous` transmission is not discarded since not all the confirmed cases have trip history to Mexico.
The press has reported information on suspected cases in several countries of the Region; however this information has not been confirmed.
International Health Regulations (IHR)
At the request of the Director-General (DG) of WHO, the IHR Emergence Committee has been summoned and is advising the DG on the event. On its first day of deliberation, 25 April, it concluded that the present event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
On 29 April 2009, the DG decided to elevate the pandemic alert to Phase 5. In order to come to this urgent decision, the DG considered epidemiological information from the most affected countries, as well as the result of the scientific meeting held that same day. The latter indicated existence of sustained outbreaks of swine influenza A H1N1 at the community level in more countries within the Region.
The decision to increase the pandemic level of the alert should permit Member States to provide the required leadership and coordination as well as to consider the possibility of executing their contingency plans.
The DG recommends not closing borders or restricting travel. However, it is prudent for people who are sick to delay travel. Moreover, returning travelers who have become sick should seek medical attention in line with guidance from national authorities.
Production of seasonal vaccine should continue, but at the same
time, WHO is making all the efforts to facilitate the process of
development of a vaccine against swine influenza A H1N1.
The Committee will continue to advise the DG on the basis of the available information.
At this time, enhanced surveillance is recommended. On its Web page, PAHO has published orientations for the enhancement of surveillance activities, which are directed to the investigation of:
- Clusters of cases of ILI/SARI of unknown cause
- Severe respiratory disease occurring in one or more health workers
- Changes in the epidemiology of mortality associated with ILI/SARI; increase of observed deaths by respiratory diseases; or increase of the emergence of severe respiratory disease in previously healthy adults/adolescents.
- Persistent changes observed in the response to the treatment or evolution of a SARI.
The following risk factors should also cause suspicion of swine influenza A H1N1 virus:
- Close contact with a confirmed case of swine influenza A H1N1 while the case was sick.
- Recent travel to an area where there are confirmed cases of swine influenza A H1N1 have been confirmed
Virological surveillance of swine influenza A H1NI
It is recommended that National Influenza Centers (NIC) immediately submit to the WHO Collaborating Center for influenza (CDC of the United States) all positive but unsubtypable specimens of influenza A. Shipment procedures are the same as those used by NICs for seasonal influenza specimens.
The test protocols for the detection of seasonal influenza by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) cannot confirm swine influenza A H1N1 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United Sates are preparing testing kits that will include the primers and probes as well as the required positive control samples. The kits will be sent in the first week of May to those NICs that currently use the CDC protocol.
Infection prevention and control in health care facilities
Since the main form of transmission of this disease is by droplets it is recommended strengthening the basic precautions to prevent their dissemination, for example the hygiene of hands, adequate triage in the health facilities, environmental controls, and the rational use of the personal protective equipment in accordance with the local regulations.
The complete guides “Epidemic-prone & pandemic-prone acute
respiratory diseases Infection prevention & control in health-care
facilities” are available at:
Click on the Map to enlarge
Prevention and Control of Respiratory Diseases in Health Facilities
(Available in English)
- General Recommendatios for the organisation of Health Facilities in Countries where cases of Influenza A(H1N1) Virus have not yet been reported
(Only available in spanish)
- Control de infección: Precauciones estándares en la atención de la salud
- Enfermedades respiratorias agudas con tendencia epidémica y pandémica. Prevención y control de infección en la atención de la salud
- Reconocimiento temprano, notificación y manejo del control de infección de enfermedades respiratorias agudas de potencial preocupación internacional
- Recomendaciones para el control de infección de la influenza aviar en centros de atención de la salud
Updates on Swine influenza
- Aide Memoire - WHO Pandemic Phase Descriptions and Main Actions by Phase
- Infection prevention and control in health care in providing care for confirmed or suspected A(H1N1) swine influenza patients
- Sequencing primers and protocol
- Protocol for antiviral susceptibility testing by pyrosequencing
- Viral gene sequences to assist update diagnostics for swine influenza A(H1N1)
- Instructions for shipments of swine influenza A(H1N1) specimens and virus isolates to WHO Collaborating Centres for influenza
- Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response. A WHO Guidance Document
- Interim WHO guidance for the surveillance of human infection with swine influenza A(H1N1) virus
- Advise on the use of Oseltamivir
- Epidemic-prone & pandemic-prone acute respiratory diseases Infection prevention & control in health-care facilities Summary guidance
- Infection Control Strategies for Specific Procedures in Health-Care Facilities. Epidemic-prone and pandemic-prone acute respiratory diseases.A Quick Reference Guide
- Guidance to Influenza Laboratories diagnosing swine influenza A/H1N1
- Health Establishments Preparation for Unusual or Unexpected Cases or Clusters of Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI)
Reposted: Assessing Community Mitigation Efforts that Should be Implemented - Second Guessing the CDC
Original 4/26 post
I admit that there are enormous information asymetries between the CDC and me -- as well as an enormous difference in expertise. I have been worried that CDC was moving too slowly -- perhaps because it has never dealt with a pandemic within institutional memory and perhaps because the White House is worried about the impact that pandemic precautions will have on the economic situation (assuming that this is a false alarm - and the flu does not spread or it remains milder than the Mexico strain). The CDC's actions seem consistent with the WHO analysis that we cannot contain the international spread of the disease -- the cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn -- and all we can do is mitigate and ride out whatever this disease has in store for us.
It is gratifying to see that the US supply of Tamiflu is up to 50 million courses. That's enough to cover 15% of the population, though a tad short of the 25% goal that the federal government set. Together with the available supplies in state and local government stores, corporate stores, and health care provider supplies, it looks like there is a good chance that there is enough Tamiflu in the US to cover any probable outbreak of swine flu.
The virulence of the flu is still a question mark. No one has convincingly indicated why the Mexico experience is so much different. Certainly, there appears to be rapid human-human transmission, but most cases outside Mexico have been mild. Even so, the CDC is not placing much weight on the mild illness manifested to date in the US. In Dr. Besser's words, the CDC expects a full spectrum of disease to occur -- meaning serious illness and some deaths in the U.S.
The death toll in Mexico is reportedly about 10%, which is vastly more virulent than the 1918 flu, which killed between 20 - 50 million people (including my paternal grandmother) and reduced global domestic product between 2.4 - 16.9%. That flu killed roughly 2% of its victims, which were dominantly young, healthy adults -- the Mexico flu has killed 10% of its victims, again dominantly young, healthy adults. At that rate, we could see more than 50 million deaths with this flu if it spirals out of control. But then again, we can't simply extrapolate from the current "kill rate" because that likely reflects the most serious illnesses, not the norm.
So what should a responsible community in an unaffected state do at this point? My community, for example.
To begin an analysis of what communities should be doing, start with the pandemic severity index. Based on current data from Mexico, the case/fatality ratio appears to be Category 5. However, based on current data (admittedly still sparse from the US), the ratio has been category 1. It increased to category 4 with the first death, but has fallen back to category 3 as more confirmed cases occur in the US without additional deaths (4/29 and 4/30 update) Since CDC and WHO have still not explained the difference in ratio between genetically identical viruses, one could simply split the difference and call this a category 3 pandemic. However, since the good results in the US seem attributable to rapid treatment with effective anti-viral drugs and anti-viral supplies may not remain sufficient to treat everyone who is infected or at high risk due to close contact with infected persons, it might be prudent to treat this as a category 4 pandemic.
While there are 50 million courses in the US stock, that only covers roughly 17% of the US population with a single treatment. Preventative treatment for those in health care and public safety positions who are frequently exposed will consume up to 15 million of those courses, reducing treatment coverage down to about 12%. Assuming that both US stocks and other stocks held by state and local governments, health providers, and corporations are used only to treat the seriously ill, that should be enough for the first wave. But, the second or third waves, perhaps next fall before a vaccine is available, will be met with insufficient stores of anti-viral drugs and the virus may mutate to become resistant to the current drugs. So, it would seem wise to depend on non-pharmaceutical approaches to reduce disease incidence and conserve treatment course. In other words, to use community mitigation measures to increase social distancing so that we can contain the virus outbreaks without everyone getting exposed and a bunch of people needing treatment. (4/30 update)
It is this uncertainty that has led CDC to issue interim guidance on community mitigation because previous planning had been done based on the PSI categories
The next question is when should we act? That depends upon the WHO phase/US stage. Note that the WHO phase has been declared at a phase 5. The US stage should be considered a stage 5 (cases spread throughout the US). That means that all of the measures in the plan should be activated now. I can only speculate why the WHO and US CDC are moving more slowly -- perhaps because they believe that no one can react more rapidly. As of 4/30, it appears to me that all states, even unaffected states, are implementing their pandemic response plans. Still a day or two late and a dollar short.
But, assuming a Category 3 or 4 PSI pandemic is occurring and that we are at stage 5, what should happen? It seems to me that all of the community mitigation measures and interventions in category 4,5 should be recommended except that I would close schools for a week (and depending upon events up to 4 weeks) at this time rather than up to 12 weeks.If you click on the image below, you will be able to read the recommended measures in a separate window.
4/29 PM update
Even a day makes a difference! WHO is now considering increasing its phase to Phase 5. The US now has a death rate that exceeds 1%, so the Pandemic Severity Index in the US is a Category 4 severity, especially given the death rate in Mexico which appears to be in excess of 2% and thus a Category 5 severity. So NOW would be the time to begin all of those community mitigation efforts in every affected state....and at least most of them throughout the US.
It seems as though state and local governments are now acting aggressively to close schools whenever a probable case is identified. That appears to be an adequate response. In Oregon, state officials have suggested that closures will be for about a week -- which is enough time for exposed students to become symptomatic, seek treatment, and be diagnosed as probable cases (although not confirmed). Response seems to be catching up to the situation.
Swine Flu spreads worldwide -- at least 32 nations have suspected cases, 11 nations have 257 (+ at least 13 not yet reported) confirmed cases with 8 confirmed deaths
Thursday, April 30th regular AM Update
WHO Update 6 added the Netherlands to the list of countries, with one confirmed case. The cases from Costa Rica and Peru have not yet been reported to WHO. The additional New Zealand cases have not yet been reported to WHO. WHO's Canadian count has jumped from 13 to 19. WHO's UK count has increased from 5 to 8. The total count of confirmed cases reported to WHO is now 257.
Thursday, April 30th early AM Update
There's so much to take in that the PM update has become an early AM update.
WHO has not published another update on international reported, confirmed cases. Based on news reports, confirmed cases include Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (14), Spain (10), the United Kingdom (5), Costa Rica (2) and Peru(1). In both New Zealand and Spain, there are large numbers of suspected cases that have not yet been confirmed.
Wednesday, April 29th AM Update
WHO has announced reported confirmed cases in 9 nations; a total of 148 reported confirmed cases; in addition to US and Mexico, confirmed cases include Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5). The US has reported 91 confirmed cases and 1 death, currently providing a case/fatality ratio of just over 1%. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed cases and seven deaths. That would be a case/fatality ratio over 25%, however, the vast bulk of Mexican cases and deaths have not yet been reported and confirmed. Assuming the number of suspected cases (2517 with 159 suspected deaths) turn out to be accurately identified, this provides a case/fatality ratio of 6+%. That is about 3 times as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 20- 40 million people. Fortunately, we have large quantities of anti-viral drugs and have been planning for this event for several years now, so deaths should be extremely limited.
Tuesday April 28th update (PM):
According to AP, the confirmed Canadian cases now number 13, rather than six. AP report Both Spain and Israel now have 2 confirmed cases according to WHO, with WHO reporting 2 confirmed New Zealand cases and 2 confirmed UK cases, rather than the 3 NZ cases previously reported..
Denmark, Columbia, Czech Republic, Australia, and Russia have joined the list of countries with suspected cases.
Tuesday April 28th update (AM):
Israel and New Zealand have confirmed cases. Switzerland added to suspected case list .Washington Post link The Washington Post has a nice map, but it only tracks North American cases. WP map The New York Times has a global map showing both confirmed and suspected cases. NYT graphic However, both of the maps are lagging behind -- the NYT didn't pick up the 3 confirmed New Zealand cases or the suspected cases in the EU.
New Zealand news link
There have been six lab-confirmed cases of mild swine flu in Canada and one in Spain, which became the first country in Europe to confirm a case after a man who returned from a trip to Mexico last week was found to have the virus. Spain has 26 suspected cases under observation and a New Zealand teacher and a dozen students who recently travelled to Mexico are being treated as likely mild cases Countries including Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Guatemala, Costa Rica and South Korea are all testing suspected cases of the flu. In the first confirmed cases in Britain, Scotland's health minister says two people tested positive for swine flu.
The Scottish cases bring the number of nations with confirmed cases to five and the number of nations with suspected cases to 14.
Influenza A(H1N1) - update 6
30 April 2009 -- The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 17:00 GMT, 30 April 2009, 11 countries have officially reported 257 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection.
The United States Government has reported 109 laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death. Mexico has reported 97 confirmed human cases of infection, including seven deaths.
The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (19), Germany (3), Israel (2), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (3), Spain (13), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (8).
CDC Swine Flu Report - April 30th: South Carolina added to list of states with confirmed cases (10 cases) and Texas also adds 10 more cases
Swine Influenza (Flu)
Swine Flu website last updated April 30, 2009, 10:30 AM ET
# of laboratory confirmed cases
|TOTAL COUNTS||109 cases||1 death|
|International Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
See: World Health Organization
In response to an intensifying outbreak in the United States and internationally caused by a new influenza virus of swine origin, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 5 on April 29, 2009. A Phase 5 alert is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”
The United States Government has declared a public health emergency in the United States. CDC’s response goals are to reduce transmission and illness severity, and provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by this emergency. CDC is issuing and updating interim guidance daily in response to the rapidly evolving situation. CDC’s Division of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) continues to send antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment, and respiratory protection devices to all 50 states and U.S. territories to help them respond to the outbreak. The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is susceptible to the prescription antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir. In addition, the Federal Government and manufacturers have begun the process of developing a vaccine against this new virus.
Mexico to take 5 day break at home to stop spread of swine flu -- but ever optimistic Americans are going about business as usual
The NY Times reported this morning:
As the swine flu virus appeared in new locations as far apart as Peru and Switzerland on Thursday, Mexicans braced for a national shutdown of offices, restaurants, schools and even the stands of soccer stadiums in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease. In nationally televised speech on Wednesday night, the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, said that many public services would be closed Friday through Tuesday, encompassing a long holiday weekend. Most government offices and many private businesses will be ordered closed, restaurants, schools and museums will remain shuttered, and spectators will be barred from all professional soccer matches. Churches are expected to be nearly empty on Sunday.
...in Mexico, the epicenter of the disease, Mr. Calderón urged much broader precautions [than those being taken in Britain]. People should stay inside their homes during the holiday hiatus, he said, and the shutdown and restrictions could possibly be extended further into next week. The Mexican minister of health, Jose Cordova, said all nonessential federal services will shut down, and Mexico City extended the federal ban to include health clubs, gyms, museums and movie theaters.Police stations, airports, bus stations and the capital’s subway system were to remain open under the federal plan, along with banks, food stores, pharmacies and gasoline stations.
Contrast this reaction with that of NYC:
|Anna Garcia and daughter|
The difference in New York City and Mexico City is not a difference in the virus. It is a difference in the length of time that the virus has been active and a difference in the level of government response. Time will tell which response is more appropriate -- but I'd prefer that the government follow the precautionary principle and err on the side of caution. The federal government seems to be doing that, but most of the decisions about community mitigation measures are in the hands of the state and local governments, not the federal government. With uneven response, the likelihood that everyone in the United States will get an opportunity to be exposed to this flu is high.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
There will be a pandemic -- the question is
how severe? Dr. Chan says WHO is now
mobilizing every resource - financial
resources from donor countries and the World
Bank, vaccine and drug manufacturers,
governments - in order to ramp up
preparedness and response. The time to act
The WHO Statement:
29 April 2009
Ladies and gentlemen,
Based on assessment of all available information, and following several expert consultations, I have decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5.
Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world.
On the positive side, the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.
Preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment, and we are now benefitting from this investment.
For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real-time.
I thank countries who are making the results of their investigations publicly available. This helps us understand the disease.
I am impressed by the work being done by affected countries as they deal with the current outbreaks.
I also want to thank the governments of the USA and Canada for their support to WHO, and to Mexico.
Let me remind you. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour.
WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.
WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical, and virological levels.
The results of these ongoing assessments will be issued as public health advice, and made publicly available.
All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.
At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and other ministries, to the pharmaceutical industry and the business community that certain actions should now be undertaken with increased urgency, and at an accelerated pace.
I have reached out to donor countries, to UNITAID, to the GAVI Alliance, the World Bank and others to mobilize resources.
I have reached out to companies manufacturing antiviral drugs to assess capacity and all options for ramping up production.
I have also reached out to influenza vaccine manufacturers that can contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine.
The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?
It is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. We need to continue to monitor the evolution of the situation to get the specific information and data we need to answer this question.
From past experience, we also know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries.
No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.
Above all, this is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity. After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.
As I have said, we do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.