February 20, 2012
New Series: Environmental Adventures in China
I’m delighted to be joining the Environmental Law Prof Blog as a contributing editor. This year, I’ll be blogging about my environmental experiences in China, where I’m spending 2011-12 as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Zhongguo Haiyang Daxue (Ocean University of China). I am teaching a full schedule of American law courses while researching Chinese environmental governance, joined by my husband, 4-year old son, and 73-year-old mother. In our small two-bedroom apartment, we live like a typical Chinese family, with three generations and an only child.
To be sure, the living is not always easy—but perhaps our most important lesson of all will be to learn what it means to downsize from American consumption levels and live a little more like the rest of the world. (And this is a sobering lesson indeed.)
In light of our rich reservoir of experience here, my blogging will be less academic and more experiential—less about the fact that Beijing will finally begin monitoring air pollution at the 2.5 micron level, and more about how life changes when you are immersed in those particulates day after day. (For more academic reporting, see the excellent Chinese blog, China Environmental Law.) To summarize the overall sentiment of the series, anyone complaining about excessive environmental regulation in the U.S. really ought to spend a year living in China.
Better still, they should bring their young children or aging parents.
This first post provides some context for my series of through-the-looking-glass observations about what it’s like to plunge into China’s modern industrial revolution as an American environmental law professor. No amount of legal research could have prepared me for the differences in environmental perspective that I would encounter here (and even my undergraduate degree in Chinese language and culture falls short). So I hope that sharing these stories will help illuminate some of the cultural gaps we will inevitably encounter as Chinese and American partners work together to solve our global environmental challenges.
I thought I'd start by explaining a little bit about where many of these stories come from. We are fortunate to be living in the beautiful city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, which is on the coast of northeastern China across the Yellow Sea from South Korea. Qingdao is home to about seven million people—a small (!) city by Chinese standards. It is a wonderful place of disarmingly friendly people, complete with weather-worn mountains overlooking a peaceful sea. Home to several of China’s biggest brands and among the ten busiest commercial shipping ports in the world, Qingdao has won several awards for green development. And yes, it is where the famous Chinese beer comes from (“Tsingtao” is just a different Romanization for “Qingdao”!)
Ocean University is one of China's key comprehensive universities under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education. It has about 30,000 students and faculty and ranks among the top 10% of universities nationwide. The law school has an especially dynamic environmental program, offering master's and doctoral degrees and hosting seven research institutes addressing marine law, coastal zone management, sustainable development, and other important topics. (Of note, the Law School is currently inviting applications from both students and faculty for some very intriguing programs of exchange--about which I've posted separately here.)
The Dean and faculty have been extremely welcoming, and the students are delightful. Teaching them is especially gratifying because they are so hungry for the kind of engaged and participatory teaching that we regularly use in American law schools. Most of them have never before been asked what they themselves think, or to work all the way through a doctrinal problem, or to question their instructors. It is truly a privilege to be part of this cross-cultural exchange, and I will always be grateful to both the China Fulbright Program and my hosts here at Ocean University for the opportunity.
Nevertheless, the challenges of living here—specifically, the environmental challenges—can be harrowing. In the next few months, I’ll blog about the experiences of living without clean air, potable water, or faith that products in the marketplace won’t make us sick. I'll write about the many ways that established environmental problems foster newer ones, like the consequences of poor public water quality on the ever-increasing stream of waste products to cope with it. I'll write about our palpable homesickness for the kind of government oversight we take for granted to protect us in circumstances ranging from pharmaceutical to pedestrian safety. (For all the chest-thumping in some American circles about the perils of socialism, China is a Tea Partier's dream in many respects—as far away from the Nanny State as most would ever wish to venture.)
Yet I’ll also write about the environmental realms in which the Chinese put Americans to shame—for example, the amazing public transportation system in cities like ours, which can be navigated cheaply and conveniently by bus at all hours (and has a subway system in the making). Or the full-scale embrace of alternative sources of energy, with a solar water heater on every roof. Or the national government’s commitment to price carbon on at least some level--a part of the new Five Year Plan beginning experimentation in seven cities. Or the general willingness among most Chinese to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.
But since this is a blog and not a novel, I'll save my first tale for the next post--a story about how Colorado's Rocky Mountain Arsenal led to surprising insights among my Natural Resources Law students about their own experiences in China. Stay tuned!
February 20, 2012 in Air Quality, Asia, Climate Change, Energy, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Quality, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
November 12, 2011
McAllister on Regulation by Third-Party Verification and Co-Regulation in Mexican Environmental Law
She is too humble to mention this herself, so I will take this opportunity to note that Lesley McAllister was selected as the Stegner Center Young Scholar this year. As the Young Scholar, Professor McAllister will be visiting the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law this coming Monday and Tuesday, November 14 and 15. Here is the blurb:
Lesley McAllister will join the Stegner Center as our seventh annual young scholar. The Young Scholars Program, which is made possible by the generous support of the Cultural Vision Fund, is designed to recognize and establish a relationship with promising scholars early in their academic careers. Recipients are selected based on their accomplishments, the quality of their academic work, and their promise in the field of environmental and natural resources law and policy.
While at the University of Utah, Professor McAllister will give two talks. The first starts at noon Mountain time on November 14; it is "Regulation by Third-Party Verification." The second begins at 12:15 Mountain on November 15; it is "Co-Regulation in Mexican Environmental Law."
Both events are open to the public. If you're in Salt Lake, please join us. If you'd still like to participate but can't make it to Salt Lake, you can watch online.
September 07, 2011
The Tea Party, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Climate Change - Too Sure of Themselves?
As Cara Horowitz posted about earlier on Legal Planet, some recent polling data emerged today regarding politics and global warming, looking at the views of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and the Tea Party. The report was put together by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. The data contained lots of interesting information, but the most interesting tidbit to me was that:
"Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are 'very well informed' about global warming than the other groups. Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they 'do not need any more information' about global warming to make up their mind."
Certainly being a specialist in an area does not always make one correct, but reading reports and keeping up with the science of climate change is part of what many of us do for a living. For me personally that is a task separate and apart from my politics, as there is plenty on both sides of the political spectrum with which I both agree and do not agree. So while I have to rely on the understanding and processes of the scientists engaged in the research, due to my woeful scientific incompetence (I am not, after all, a climate scientist), I can still be somewhat sure from my review of the materials that 95% of scientists truly do maintain a consensus position on the human contribution to climate change, ocean acidification, etc. Yet I have seen the mindset reflected in the poll when discussing the science of climate change, where I can throw paper after paper and report after report at someone and within minutes they are responding that it just cannot be true, that the debate is still open, etc. Speed readers? I don't think so.
It reminds me of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but before I get into that let me make very clear that what I am discussing is a derivation of the actual effect. The actual effect is seen across all segments of society regardless of political affiliation, and involves less capable people overestimating their abilities while those more capable underestimate their own abilities relative to others. But I wonder how this combines with political affiliation to cause people to purposefully put themselves in a position of being "less capable." By that I mean is there a bias toward not believing in climate change that is ideological, but that causes those people to exhibit some Dunning-Kruger-esque view that they are "very well informed" about global warming - more-so than folks who actually trust the science - and that they "do not need any more information"? This is certainly not an argument on my part that members of the Tea Party are less "capable" from an intellectual perspective. I have many, many extremely capable acquaintances who sympathize with the concerns of the Tea Party, but who simply aren't interested in digging deeper than Fox News to find the facts about climate change. Rather, it is that Tea Partiers seem to choose to put themselves into a position where their capability to understand and accept the science is compromised by their political views - they don't even want to track down the data and study it closely because if they do it might demonstrate something incongruous with their political viewpoints. Until one reads the reports and makes an effort to understand the science, that person is "unskilled" in the sense that Dunning-Kruger posits, and is prone to overestimate his or her skill in assessing the "truth" of climate change - just as unskilled as I am at performing surgery or engineering the construction of a building.
John Cook actually posted about Dunning-Kruger over on Skeptical Science last year. The site is widely regarded as a respectable source that addresses the arguments for and against the human contribution to climate change. Cook states:
There are many with a cursory understanding who believe they're discovered fundamental flaws in climate science that have somehow been overlooked or ignored by climate scientists. Some take this a step further and believe they're being deceived . . .
Cook provides the following example:
In the discussion on whether CO2 is a pollutant, a graph was included to show CO2 levels over the last 10,000 years. The graph includes ice core data for CO2 levels before 1950. For values after 1950, direct measurements from Mauna Loa, Hawaii were used.
A comment was posted querying the data in this graph. Here is the comment in full:
"Whoa, hold on a minute here. CO2 readings from ONE LOCATION prove we have an enormous GLOBAL spike in CO2 levels? You've got to be kidding me. This is science? That would be like me taking hydrological readings at the bottom of Lake Superior and then declaring that the entire surface of the earth must be covered with water based on my readings.
By the way, isn't Mauna Loa an active shield volcano? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_Loa) Hmmmm, you don't suppose that's where all that extra CO2 came from, do you? C'mon, people, wake up. I find it shameful that this obvious manipulation is allowed to pass as "proof". This is certainly NOT an unbiased scientific conclusion."
The commenter is asking whether it's appropriate to take CO2 readings from one location. Particularly when situated near a volcano which are known to emit CO2. Surely a better metric would be a global average of CO2 levels? These are legitimate questions. However, I deleted this comment as our Comments Policy allows no accusations of deception, whether the attack is directed towards skeptics, scientists or myself. This restriction is necessary to keep discussion constructive and restricted to science. Unfortunately, the comment began with a commendable question and ended with a not-so-commendable personal attack.
If the comment had stayed on methods and not strayed into motive, I would have posted the following response. Mauna Loa was used is because its the longest, continuous series of directly measured atmospheric CO2. The reason why it's acceptable to use Mauna Loa as a proxy for global CO2 levels is because CO2 mixes well throughout the atmosphere. Consequently, the trend in Mauna Loa CO2 (1.64 ppm per year) is statistically indistinguishable from the trend in global CO2 levels (1.66 ppm per year). If I used global CO2 in Figure 1 above, the result "hockey stick" shape would be identical.
Unfortunately, this type of presumptive misunderstanding is seen all too often. Someone doesn't understand a certain aspect of climate science which is understandable considering the complexities of our climate. Rather than investigate further, they assume a flaw in the climate science or worse, an act of deception. This response is often more a reflection of the gap in their own understanding than any flaw in the climate science.
Perhaps most interesting when considering the Dunning-Kruger effect is that cross-cultural comparisons have demonstrated that Americans may be more prone to the effect than other cultures. If so, perhaps it is not surprising that American acknowledgement of the threat of climate change trails almost the entire rest of the world: "People nearly everywhere, including majorities in developed Asia and Latin America, are more likely to attribute global warming to human activities rather than natural causes. The U.S. is the exception, with nearly half (47%) -- and the largest percentage in the world -- attributing global warming to natural causes. Americans are also among the least likely to link global warming to human causes, setting them apart from the rest of the developed world."
Ultimately, I wonder if the Tea Party suffers from a politics-induced version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and simply does not want to dig deeper. Actually, maybe they do want to dig deeper, but only so they can continue to bury their head in the sand.
- Blake Hudson
August 29, 2011
Hurricanes/Heat = Global Warming, but Cold/Snow = Lunacy? How to Handle Isolated Weather Events When Discussing Climate Change?
As this is an issue that I have struggled with for some time now, I write this blog post to ask for advice, guidance, and the perspective of others - so please chime in with comments.
It seems to be the bane of existence for those familiar with climate change science - the person who posts on Facebook or Twitter, or who boldly asserts in the classroom or office, "it was a record low in X city, Y state today - suuuurrreeee global warming is real. And there's been record snowfall to boot!" These types of misunderstandings of climate change science have resulted in a shift from "global warming" terminology to "global weirding" or "climate change" - a recognition that though the earth's overall temperature will increase over time, climatic conditions will be quite variable in any given location.
Stephen Colbert has parodied this thought process quite well in the following video:
When people make comments that cold weather days must disprove global warming, Colbert quips, "Folks, that is simple observational research: whatever just happened is the only thing that is happening . . . [Currently] it is dark outside. Now based on this latest data, we can only assume that the sun has been destroyed. The world has plunged into total darkness. Soon all our crops will die and it's only a matter of time before the mole people emerge from the center of the earth to enslave us in forever night....thanks a lot Al Gore."
Even though I agree with the silliness of such arguments, I cannot help but wonder what our responsibility is as educators, scientists, and other professionals in the field when it comes to isolated weather events that appear to support "our" position. Over the course of this summer I have seen numerous posts on Twitter and various news articles and blog posts from both environmental groups and professionals asserting what essentially sounds a lot like "See! Record heat! Climate change is real!" Also, I saw even more posts, and some articles, during recent Hurricane Irene that seemed to highlight this one hurricane event as proof of climate change. Don't get me wrong - I certainly trust the statistics on warming trends and increased hurricane frequency and intensity over the last few decades. There is little doubt that those trends reinforce and form part of the foundation of climate change science. But my question is more about framing the issue. It is really hard for me to criticize someone for arguing that cold weather events disprove global warming, and then turn around and say that a single hurricane or a hot month of July support my "position." This is despite the fact that some may say "well sure, of course it is ok to do just that, because we are right. The data is on our side. So of course it is ok to point to these events as proof." That may very well be true, but something about that approach just doesn't feel right. I think it may be one of those arguments we should consider dropping so as not to allow the delivery of the message to disrupt or confuse the message itself.
In the end, I believe that if those pointing out the reality of climate change do not want to sound exactly like those they criticize, it might be in our best interest to not use hyperbolic sounding arguments based upon isolated weather events. And trust me, this is hard for me - I like hyperbole. But maybe we should stick to the whole story, and not just parts of it? What are your thoughts?
- Blake Hudson
July 20, 2011
The Problem of the Prehistoric Refrigerator (and it's Neanderthal environmental law professor owner)
The other night I made my hourly (it seems) trip out to the garage to get some scholarly clarity....ah-hem....Pepsi Max or some other equally caffeinated drink (why are my teeth so sensitive, by the way?). See, in my benevolence and high-minded environmental consciousness (please note sarcasm) I decided to keep the previous homeowner's prehistoric refrigerator, seen to the right (literally, Neanderthals kept frozen dinosaur meat in this thing). It not only makes a great home for my summer stipend....er...caffeinated go-juice....but it also preserves the functionality of a still-working appliance and keeps it from unnecessarily entering the waste stream (why do we always feel we need "new" stuff anyway?). Forget the fact that I don't need two refrigerators, the amount of extra electricity it consumes....look, just leave me alone. Anyway, nothing brings the high and mighty environmentally unassailable down like reaching into the refrigerator for a Pepsi Max, only to discover that YOU - and YOU alone - are responsible for the Montreal Protocol. YOU kept the international community tied up with trying to fix the ozone layer during much of the 80's, rather than focusing on more important things like the harm caused to children by slap bracelets, or the amount of carbon fiber sequestered by Hammer pants, or [insert next cliche 80's joke here]. Alas, when I looked into the refrigerator, this is what I saw:
My heart sunk. No longer were CFC's a ghost of my youth or something "over there" in the less environmentally conscious developing world (sarcasm, again), but they were right there in my own d@!%, Bluebookin' garage. I was single-handedly harming public health and the environment by destroying the upper atmosphere. I felt like a villain in a Superman movie, and just knew he was going to swoop down, fly around the earth 100 times-a-minute to take us to a future where this evil dump truck of an appliance had finally blown a fuse. Or perhaps an upgraded "Refrigerterminator" would come BACK in time and eliminate the GE-1000 to save us all from a future ozone apocalypse.
In all seriousness - to the extent that this post can be serious - it did raise in my mind the issue of lag time on policies aimed at improving the environment. It is easy to wax poetic to students about how "we need to transition fast to energy star appliances....more fuel efficient vehicles..." and on and on. Even when the prices are competitive with less environmentally friendly products, this simply isn't always so easy. It's also not clear that when pitted against the problems of consumption it is always so desirable. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we need to buy less stuff and use what we have longer so that we can lower our consumption rates, which would require 5 earths to sustain if the U.S. per capita rate of consumption went worldwide. Yet buying a bunch of new stuff and discarding perfectly useable stuff is exactly what I promote when it comes to innovative new products that are better for the environment.
The highlight of my law school career was having my 1994 Ford Ranger pick-up truck (I am from Alabama, after all) stolen right off the street. Of the 250 (seriously) cars stolen in Durham that month (no joke), I am certain this had to be the theft that generated the greatest ridicule for this thief by his professional colleagues. Why would anyone besides a broke law student want a 1994 Ford Ranger? Well, first it was paid for, and a second it still worked. When the thief finally had a moment of lucidity, a month later (who waits a MONTH before deciding a 1994 Ford Ranger is not the vehicle for them!?.....ahhh, besides me that is?), he graciously deposited my vehicle behind a crack house. I paid my $500 to the wrecker company to get it back (it's Blue Book value [Kelley Blue Book, that is] was $900 - thank goodness I didn't file an insurance claim), and guess what....I still drive it today. I'll be Bluebooked if I'm getting rid of it till it croaks, nevermind it's gas mileage is about 20 mpg's these days. As for the fossil of a refrigerator sitting in my garage, I'm still on the fence. Do I send it to the trash heap, for my kids to figure out what to do with it, or keep it and have them simply apply stronger SPF? Tough call.
- Blake Hudson
June 02, 2011
Electricity's Zombie App?
Picking up on Prof. McAllister's post Tuesday about top environmental law films, one recent movie should not be missed. Strikingly shot, beautifully conceived, Into Eternity traces the story of the construction of Onkalo, Finland's version of the United States' Yucca Mountain: a deep-beneath-the-earth, labyrinthine permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste.
The film is as much art as it is documentary, but at its core its mission is to ask the hardest questions there are about spent nuclear fuel: How is it that we continue to rely so heavily on nuclear power when no one has yet to find a politically palatable solution for the waste? How can humans conceive of, much less maintain, a structure that will last 100,000 years when nothing we have ever built has lasted even a fraction of that time? What are our obligations to future generations, whether from a theological or humanistic perspective, in terms of the planet that we all share? If power storage is likely to become electricity's "killer app," Into Eternity seems to be asking, is nuclear waste its "zombie app"? Is nuclear waste likely to come back years from now, undead-like, once gone but now resurrected, to haunt humankind and the planet on which we live?
The film is at its best when it asks these questions in its uniquely creative ways. Filmmaker Michael Madsen puts his own, indelible imprint on the long-debated issue of nuclear waste. Whether pointing out that "merely" 5,000 years later we hardly understand what the Egyptians were doing with their pyramids; asking if Edvard Munch's The Scream would be an effective, universal warning sign for Onkalo millennia or even centuries from now; showing the contrast between Onkalo's dark, underground tunnels and the gorgeous winter white forests they lie beneath, the film drives home both the difficulty of the task and the contrast between nature and the high-tech civilization we have erected.
Still, Into Eternity is rather one-sided. It zeroes in only on the problems of nuclear waste without highlighting the many benefits we garner from nuclear power. It emphasizes the temporal length of the waste's risk without discussing the likelihood. It, quite intentionally, elicits emotion, particularly fear, without exploring the social, economic, and political dimensions of the dilemma. True, the Scandinavian experts who are interviewed throughout the film are excellent, but they are used more as ornamentation to spotlight Onkalo's mind-boggling complexity than they are to explore it.
In the end, the choice of how to portray Onkalo is the artist's prerogative. Art, at its core, is all about perspective.
The vision of nuclear waste offered here may be a somewhat jaundiced one, but it is no less sobering -- or worthwhile -- for the wear.
May 30, 2011
When All Else Fails Bring Up the "Other" Carbon Problem
When confronted with friends or students who may be skeptical of the human role in climate change, I say "forget the temperature, let's talk about ocean acidification." Ocean acidification has been described as "the other carbon problem," and only recently have the implications of increasingly acidic oceans garnered much attention. Can we measure the increased concentration of carbon in the atmosphere when compared to pre-industrial levels? Check. Do we know that as a result of higher concentrations of CO2 the oceans have absorbed an increasing amount of carbon over time? Check. Do we know the scientific process whereby this carbon causes ocean water to become more acidic, and can that increasing acidity be measured? Check and check. In short, the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, and surface waters today are 30% more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
A recent article highlights that even conservative projections are that the oceans will be twice as acidic by the end of the century as they were in pre-industrial times. This increased acidity reduces the ability of a variety of important sea creatures to form and maintain shells or skeletons built from calcium carbonate - a result that would likely ripple all the way up the food chain. As these creatures are taken out of the food web, the negative impacts on fisheries and ocean life - and correspondingly the 1 billion humans that depend on those resources - will be profound. This is not to mention the damage that will continue to accrue to the ocean's dying coral reefs and other abundant biodiversity.
Researchers have recently set out to investigate the potential implications of rising ocean
acidity. These researchers have monitored a variety of viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, and zooplankton, introducing varying levels of acidity into their local environment (mesocosms) to predict future impacts on these organisms.
It certainly seems clear that since we can measure the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we know it is humans who released (and continue to release) it, and we know the basic workings of the "greenhouse effect" when there are higher higher concentrations of CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere, then we should see the need to, at the least, proceed cautiously by reducing carbon emissions and attempting to mitigate against climate change. But until that exercise of logic becomes as mainstream among the populous as it currently is among scientists, the case of ocean acidification is a more tangible example of how increased levels of carbon dioxide damage our environment. My approach is to challenge people to go measure it themselves, rather than wallowing in uninformed denial.
For a compelling introduction to the issue of ocean acidification, see this documentary produced by NRDC:
- Blake Hudson
May 21, 2011
A New Environmental Law Journal
Cambridge University Press has announced a new environmental law journal: Transnational Environmental Law.
The journal will begin publication in Spring 2012. The journal will be peer-reviewed and "strive to develop a new generation of environmental scholarship which bridges geographical, generational, disciplinary and academic-practitioner divides," according to an announcement.
Its editorial team includes:
- Thijs Etty, VU University Amsterdam (editor-in-chief)
- Veerle Heyvaert, London School of Economics (editor-in-chief)
- Cinnamon Carlarne, University of South Carolina
- Daniel Farber, UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall Law School
- Jolene Lin, Hong Kong University
- Joanne Scott, University College London
The journal's website is http://journals.cambridge.org/TEL.
And here is a bit on their submissions and publication policies:
The Editors of TEL warmly invite the submission of manuscripts from scholars, lawyers and professionals active in fields related to environmental law and governance. Prospective authors may also contact the Editors with proposals for planned submissions. The Editors will also consider revised versions of previously released working papers, provided that such publication is clearly acknowledged upon submission of the paper for consideration to TEL.
All contributions in the journal are peer-reviewed (double-blind), and will be evaluated on their:
• Analytical thoroughness
• Affinity with the mission and scope of the journal
• Conformity with the highest standard of scholarly presentation
TEL will strive to respect a turn-around time of under 6 weeks between receipt of the manuscript and notification of acceptance, rejection or need for revision. All accepted work will be scheduled for publication in print and online. To reduce time between acceptance and publication articles will appear online as FirstView publications in advance of their scheduled publication in print.
April 11, 2011
Roy Gardner on "Lawyers, Swamps, and Money - U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics" (New Book)
Wetlands expert Roy Gardner, Stetson University College of Law, has recently published a fascinating book on U.S. wetland law and policy. The book, Lawyers, Swamps, and Money, U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics has recently become available for purchase (Island Press), and you may purchase a copy here. You can read the press release for the book below.
Professor Gardner is one of the nation's leading experts on wetland law and policy. His book reflects not only his expertise, but also his special ability to make the details of wetland law and policy accessible to all - even despite the complex web of constitutional, administrative, and environmental questions raised. I recommend this book to anyone interested in wetlands, and think it would be great supplementary reading for Natural Resources Law and Policy or related courses.
Professor Gardner is the director of Stetson's Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, and was instrumental in Stetson University College of Law becoming the first school in the country to gain membership to the US National Ramsar Committee, which supports the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in the United States. Stetson students worked with the site manager of Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to seek its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and it was successfully designated as such in the spring of 2010.
Lawyers, Swamps, and Money
U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics
By Royal C. Gardner
Washington, D.C. (April 2011) — A leading expert on wetlands law and policy has written an engaging guide to the complex set of laws governing these critical natural areas.
Lawyers, Swamps, and Money explains the importance of America’s wetlands and the threats they face, and examines the evolution of federal law, principally the Clean Water Act, designed to protect them. Royal Gardner’s writing is simultaneously substantive and accessible to a wide audience — from policy makers to students to citizen activists.
Readers will first learn the basics of administrative law: how agencies receive and exercise their authority, how they actually make laws, and how stakeholders can influence their behavior through the Executive Branch, Congress, the courts, and the media. These core concepts provide a base of knowledge for successive discussions of:
• the geographic scope and activities covered by the Clean Water Act
• the curious relationship between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency
• the goal of no net loss of wetlands
• the role of entrepreneurial wetland mitigation banking
• the tension between wetland mitigation bankers and in-lieu fee mitigation programs
• wetland regulation and private property rights.The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.
The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.
- Blake Hudson
April 11, 2011 in Biodiversity, Constitutional Law, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Physical Science, Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 28, 2011
Hari Osofsky on Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change
Hari Osofsky, Minnesota Law School, has posted a thoughtful and engaging article titled "Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration" on SSRN. The article is forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review and can be downloaded here. The abstract can be read at the bottom of this post.
Osofsky provides a clear view of the complexity of crafting climate change solutions, specifically noting that:
"The complex interactions between and among governments around the world at an international level, other branches of government at a national level, and multiple governmental entities at subnational levels—all of which also interact with nongovernmental organizations, corporations, international organizations, and private individuals—pose an ongoing governance challenge for the Obama Administration."
Osofsky describes how these complexities in the U.S. manifest through a "diagonal federalism" framework, which incorporates public and private actors vertically at all levels of government (local, state, national and international) and horizontally within specific levels of government. Her article targets how the Obama administration can approach diagonal federalism in a way that "leads to the most effective climate policy," and how to structure the above-described complex interactions in a way that most effectively addresses climate change.
All too often, discussions of climate change response are focused on forging political will for regulatory action on climate or fleshing out what types of climate change responses would be most effective to curb carbon emissions (regulatory v. market-based, top-down v. bottom-up, e.g.). Osofsky's article highlights an often overlooked aspect of climate change response; that is, how to navigate complex domestic legal structures to effectively implement climate change policy if and when it is forged. It is easy to say that "nations should enter into an international agreement on climate" or "nations should establish markets to foster unilateral nation-state initiatives to reduce carbon emissions." It is another thing altogether to assess the much more difficult questions of how to achieve those policy goals on the ground. Osofsky's article takes an important and much-needed step toward tackling the latter, and often more difficult, question.
"Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration"
The Obama Administration’s efforts on climate change continue to face daunting challenges domestically and internationally. This Article makes a novel contribution by exploring how the Obama Administration can meet these challenges more effectively though systematically addressing the multiscalar character of climate change in the areas where it has greater regulatory control. Mitigating and adapting to climate change pose complex choices at individual, community, local, state, national, and international levels. The Article argues that these choices lead to many diagonal regulatory interactions: that is, dynamics among a wide range of public and private actors which simultaneously cut across levels of government (vertical) and involve multiple actors at each level of government that it includes (horizontal). After assessing the Obama Administration’s progress on climate change and energy issues, this Article develops a theory of diagonal federalism to explore how the Obama Administration might engage in more effective crosscutting regulatory approaches. It proposes a taxonomy for understanding how these diagonal interactions vary across multiple dimensions over time. Specifically, the taxonomy includes four dimensions: (1) scale (large v. small); (2) axis (vertical v. horizontal); (3) hierarchy (top-down v. bottom-up); and (4) cooperativeness (cooperation v. conflict). The Article then applies this taxonomy to the case example of the Obama Administration’s efforts at reducing motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions to demonstrate how it can be used as a tool in policymaking. The Article argues that existing diagonal efforts to regulate what cars we drive tend to be predominantly large-scale, vertical, and top-down, in line with their direct impact on automobile companies. In contrast, approaches targeting how we drive those cars, which affect those companies less directly and are grounded in land use planning, are more likely to be small-scale, horizontal, and bottom-up. This divergence creates an opportunity for normative reflection. The Article argues that the Obama Administration should consider whether these skews are appropriate by taking into account the benefits and limitations of such skews in particular contexts. It then proposes ways in which the Administration could create more balance in the dimensions and argues for the value of that balance. Specifically, the Obama Administration could explore additional opportunities for (1) greater smaller-scale governmental involvement in technology-oriented financial incentives programs; (2) federal-level, top-down, vertical initiatives connecting federal approaches to highways, railroads, and gas prices with smaller-scale efforts to have people drive less in their communities; and (3) litigation, which often has a rescaling effect, by interested individuals, nongovermental organizations, corporations, and government.
- Blake Hudson
March 07, 2011
Lions, Tigers, and Bears...All Gone?
A recent CNN article described the plummeting population of big cats in Africa, noting that populations have dropped from 450,000 fifty years ago to as few as 20,000 today. Worldwide tiger populations have experienced similar drastic declines, with an estimated 95% drop in population over the past one hundred years - from 100,000 tigers at the turn of the 20th Century to as few as 3,200 today. Of course, scientists are similarly concerned about the implications of climate change for polar bear populations, not to mention numerous other bear populations around the world. These scenarios raise interesting questions about the significance of "charismatic megafauna" in either spurring environmental protection (cute and cuddly panda bears) or in exacerbating species decline due to the "prize value" of the animal (ivory elephant tusks, tiger meat in Asian markets).
Charismatic megafauna are often described as species that people "really care about," such as pandas, whales, and bald eagles, to name a few. So what does it say about the status of global biodiversity when we continue to witness precipitous declines in populations of charismatic megafauna? Perhaps the problem is jurisdictional: lions and tigers are distributed in developing countries with far less stringent environmental protections and where the animal's economic value is far higher when it is dead rather than alive. The case of mountain lions and wolves in the U.S. lends evidence in this regard, as each (the western mountain lion, at least) is recovering in population size and regaining portions of former habitat presumably due to the (relatively recent) focus on environmental protection throughout their habitat range. But as the polar bear and a variety of other species demonstrate, economic growth and habitat fragmentation also play a key role in the decline of these species. So, if lions, tigers, and bears are charismatic megafauna that people "really care about," what happens to global resources that people hold in far less regard?
- Blake Hudson
September 14, 2009
The Changing Shape of the World EconomyTake a look at this chart available at Visualizing Economics You can also click the image to see it in a pop-up window. It shows China, India, Russia and Brazil with rapidly growing GDPs between now and 2050.
September 09, 2009
Are Speculators Driving Up Oil Prices?
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
Sustainable Fisheries Law
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
September 03, 2009
World Council of Churches Statement on Eco-Justice and Ecological Debt
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
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
May 03, 2009
Total emisions approach - accurate but not novel and a flawed basis for policy
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
April 30, 2009
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.
April 29, 2009
How this virus developed and why it may be a killer
The Mexican swine flu virus is a swine influenza A/H1N1 virus hybridized (mixed) with human and bird viruses. We have some immunity to human flu and to some strains of swine influenza A/H1N1; We don't have immunity to bird flu, which is why that virus is so virulent - with a kill ratio of almost 50% -- and why so much pandemic planning and preparedness focused on bird flu.
But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.
By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus. All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.
But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes. This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.
While researchers focused on livestock problems could see the threat developing, it is not one that medical researchers focused on human flu viruses seemed to have been aware of. "It was confusing when we looked up the gene sequences in the database," says Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London, who has been studying swine flu from the recent US cases. "The polymerase gene sequences are bird and human, yet they were reported in viruses from pigs."
So where did the Mexican virus originate? The Veratect Corporation based in Kirkland, Washington, monitors world press and government reports to provide early disease warnings for clients, including the CDC. Their first inkling of the disease was a 2 April report of a surge in respiratory disease in a town called La Gloria, east of Mexico City, which resulted in the deaths of three young children. Only on 16 April - after Easter week, when millions of Mexicans travel to visit relatives - reports surfaced elsewhere in the country.
Local reports in La Gloria blamed pig farms in nearby Perote owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US hog giant Smithfield Foods. The farms produce nearly a million pigs a year. Smithfield Foods, in a statement, insists there are "no clinical signs or symptoms" of swine flu in its pigs or workers in Mexico. That is unsurprising, as the company says it "routinely administers influenza virus vaccination to swine herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza." The company would not tell New Scientist any more about recent tests. USDA researchers say that while vaccination keeps pigs from getting sick, it does not block infection or shedding of the virus.
All the evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen. But it got little research attention, perhaps because it caused mild infections in people which didn't spread. Now one swine flu virus has stopped being so well-behaved.
April 29, 2009 in Agriculture, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, North America, Religion, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack
April 28, 2009
Check out Peter Gleick's blog on water issues
Featured on City Brights, San Francisco Chronicle's luminary blogger site, Gleick explores the water challenges facing California, the West, and our world. Follow along as he discusses the threats to our freshwater resources and viable solutions to those threats, drawing from not only his experiences and viewpoint, but also by way of numbers: each post will include an important, unusual, or newsworthy "water number" that will highlight some piece of the water issue.
Click to check it out or join the conversation: