Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why Environmental Law Professors Should Watch "Through the Wormhole"

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

      Unfortunately, I am spending my day with a health issue. By way of a silver lining, that gave me the perfect excuse to catch up on episodes of "Through the Wormhole."  All of which has led me to conclude: If you're still a stranger to "Through the Wormhole," you shouldn't be. (And, by the way, the first two seasons are readily available through Netflix and probably a lot of other services.)

     So, why make the effort to watch?

(1) If you like environmental law, the chances are good that you have at least a passing interest in science. This is cutting-edge science, presented in a very intelligent format.

(2) Okay, it's mostly physics (and mostly of the quantum/cosmological type) -- but how often do we get to go there?

(3) Morgan Freeman hosts. 'Nuf said.

(4) But none of that would be enough on its own for me to feature the show on this blog. The real reason that I think "Through the Wormhole" is worth the effort for environmental law professors is that the show provides EXCELLENT examples of how to teach complex scientific concepts. Each episode starts with a plain English, common-sense explanation of why what you're about to learn is important. You then get some normal-life analogy to explain what the scientists are doing -- for example, smashing a watch becomes analogous to smashing atoms. But the best part of the show are the visuals it treats you to -- pictures, animations, special effects (aliens morphing into scientists being my favorite so far), and all manner of scientific illustrations and data displays -- while the scientists and Mr. Freeman explain (with excellent senses of humor all around) what the heck the scientists are doing.

     I can't say, after watching the episode on subatomic particles, that I can give you a physicist-quality explanation of what a Higgs boson is -- although, in my own defense, the physicists talking about it seemed a little blown away by the concept as well. On the other hand, the episode on the possibility of alien life certainly gave me some new perspectives on water and ecological principles that I plan to incorporate into class, and the discussions of alternate evolutions on Earth (with careful and understandable presentations of the scientific evidence) will have repercussions for how I teach students about deep-sea thermal vent ecologies in Ocean and Coastal Law. I recommend the episode to anyone who teaches biodiversity issues to students.

     More importantly, the series as a whole is giving me some great new perspectives on how to blend lecture, video, and graphics into much more effective presentations of hard-core science than I've been doing to date. I think that the examples from the series will be especially instructuve for how I teach the basic science of climate change in Environmental Law and the basic human biochemical reactions to toxins in Toxic Torts. I'm really looking forward to experimenting next year!

     Give the show a try!

     -- Robin Kundis Craig

July 4, 2013 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Science, Sustainability, Television, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Resources, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 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.

CO2 Levels

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? ( 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

September 7, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, US | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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 "ourposition.  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

August 29, 2011 in Climate Change, International, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 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 Refrigerator 2 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 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:

Refrigerator 1

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

July 20, 2011 in Air Quality, Food and Drink, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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 1 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 2 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. 3

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 COand 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 30, 2011 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ron Burgundy on Land-use-driven Contamination

Ok, not really. But, let's take the following exchange... Ron_burgundy

Brian Fantana: I think I was in love once. 

Ron Burgundy: Really? What was her name? 

Brian Fantana: I don't remember. 

Ron Burgundy: That's not a good start, but keep going... 

....and put it in the environmental context...

Brian Fantana: I grew up in a bucolic little town in Colorado. 

Ron Burgundy: Really? What is it's name? 

Brian Fantana: Leadville. 

Ron Burgundy: That's not a good start, but keep going... 

I had this strange thought as I passed a sign last week that seemed to indicate an exit for a town called Phosphate, Montana (though after a thorough review of Google Maps, I believe it merely demarks a Phosphate2 road).

Of course, just west of this location is a town called Mineral, Montana, and a bit further north is Arsenic Creek in Augusta, Montana. And I had just driven through Smelterville, Idaho before entering Montana. Then there is Nitrate City, Alabama, Zinc, Arkansas and Molybdenum Mountain in Alaska.  One also has the option to drive down Uranium Drive in Lewistown, Montana or Asbestos Road in Cleveland, Georgia. 

It is apparent that these locations are so connected with past land use activities - even activities damaging to both the environment and human health - that the descripters of those activities live on.  

Particularly interesting is the prospective and retrospective view of the federal/state balance of authority in addressing the ills brought on by mineral mining and other types of contamination associated with land uses.  Much of this contamination is due to land use decisions that are the constitutional purview of state and local governments.  In other words, state government land use laws are responsible for there being, even today, a thick layer of phosphorus on the bottom of Lake Apopka in Florida, a location where I recently fished.  Yet cleanup of these sites, after contamination has occured, is the responsibility of the federal government. 

The Upper Clark Fork River in Montana is the largest Superfund site in the United States, and includes an area stretching from Butte to Anaconda to Missoula, Montana. The mining and smelting activity in Butte Butte Mine resulted in significant contamination of the Butte Hill (pictured right), and contaminated land for a stretch of 120 miles.

One might say these activities, and the subsequent codification of these activities in the names of towns and roads, are from a time before we knew the ills of land use driven contamination. Yet land use activities associated with agriculture, for example, remain regulated (or not regulated) almost solely by state and local governments, and are channeling copious amounts of nitrates and phosphates into the streams and rivers of the Mississippi River basin.  This basin drains 40% of the U.S. land base. In the aggregate, this runoff contributes to a variety of ills, even dead zones in the gulf - the actions of a farmer in Minnesota affects the fishing operations of a Louisiana fisherman.

Ultimately, it would be far more efficient to have greater inputs representing the interests of the nation as a whole into decisions which pollute our environment, rather than national taxpayers later paying to cleanup sites contaminated due to the apathy of local authorities. These inputs do not have to be prescriptive, though that may be one approach, but can be horizontal between state and local governments or bilateral with cooperative federalism or incentives provided by the federal government.  

In the end, Clearwater, Florida, Clearlake, California, and Greenville, Alabama sound like far more appealing destinations than Leadville, Colorado or Arsenic Creek in Montana.  Perhaps going forward the former names will be the descripters of choice for the natural environment that makes up our towns, streams and mountains. That would be, as Ron Burgandy would say, a "great story. Compelling, and rich." 

- Blake Hudson

May 2, 2011 in Energy, Land Use, Mining, North America, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Dirt on Climate Change

Discover recently highlighted a new (and old) tool to combat climate change - dirt. The article, titled "Could Dirt Help Heal the Climate?," details new research demonstrating that better stewardship of agricultural soils "would have the potential to soak up 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today - the equivalent of scrubbing every ounce of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1980."

The research is focused on the benefits of "regenerative agriculture," which boosts soil fertility and moisture retention by increased use of composting, keeping fields planted year round and increasing plant diversity.  Not only do these methods have the potential to combat climate change, but they also can rejuvinate farmlands upon which a variety of developing societies depend for subsistence.

Agriculture has been one of the most disruptive forces interfering with the planet's carbon soil building process, both with respect to the planting of crops and grazing of animals. Land use changes associated with agriculture have "stripped 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon from the world's soils and pumped it into the earth's atmosphere, oceans, and lakes since the dawn of agriculture."

In one case study, the researchers determined that by adjusting agricultural methods to achieve 1.5 additional tons of carbon dioxide absorption a year - a task certainly within reach of agricultural practices - 28 million acres of California grazing lands could absorb nearly 40 percent of the state's total yearly carbon emissions from electricity generation.

This research further demonstrates the important role that land use practices play in combatting climate change. States and private actrors could certainly be more proactive in guiding agricultural practices on the nation's farmlands. Given that states are the primary arbiters of land use, however, the federal government and states should also be more proactive in seeking cooperative approaches to adjust land uses associated with agricultural soil retention and enhancement. When a few modifications to such a simple resource as dirt could have such profound impacts on carbon sequestration capabilities, failure to act should leave our governments and private actors feeling, well, down right dirty.  

- Blake Hudson

April 25, 2011 in Climate Change, Land Use, Physical Science, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roy Gardner on "Lawyers, Swamps, and Money - U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics" (New Book)

Wetlands expert Roy GardnerStetson 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.

Gardner book cover



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 (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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 (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)

Sunday, May 3, 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,"
Meinshausen says.

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

Nature Abstract of Allen letter:

Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne

Myles R. Allen1, David J. Frame1,2, Chris Huntingford3, Chris D. Jones4, Jason A. Lowe5, Malte Meinshausen6 & Nicolai Meinshausen7

  1. Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
  2. Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
  3. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
  4. Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  5. Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
  6. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
  7. Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK

Correspondence to: Myles R. Allen1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.R.A. (Email: [email protected]).


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.

  1. Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
  2. Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
  3. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
  4. Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  5. Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
  6. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
  7. Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK

Correspondence to: Myles R. Allen1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.R.A. (Email: [email protected]).


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

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

Swine Flu World Map

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.

Monday April 27th Update

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 30, 2009 in Australia, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, Science, Travel, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

HHS Video on Swine Flu

April 29, 2009 in Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

AAAS Policy Alert

For those of you who try to stay current on science policy, I am a member of AAAS and receive its policy alerts. I encourage all of you to join and subscribe to Science.  Here is today's policy alert:

AAAS Policy Alert -- April 29, 2009 

President Addresses National Academies

President Obama addressed the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 27 and called for a renewed commitment to basic scientific research and education. During his speech he stated that his goal would be to increase our nation's share of federal investment in research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In recent years, the share has hovered around 2.6 percent of GDP. Furthermore, Obama announced the membership of the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST). Members include past AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson of RPI, as well as former Board member Rosina Bierbaum and current AAAS Treasurer David Shaw. They join former AAAS President John Holdren who is both the U.S. President's science advisor and co-chair of PCAST.

Budget News

The House and Senate have nominated the conferees to resolve the differences between their respective versions of the FY 2010 budget resolution. House members include: Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Ranking Member Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Reps. Allen Boyd (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Senate members include Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The conferees met today (April 27) to begin deliberating over a consensus document.

Other Congressional News

Congressional Climate Change Update. The House Energy and Commerce Committee held four days of hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, with much debate on the merits of moving ahead on the climate and energy package. Subcommittee markup of the bill has been pushed back to next week, with details such as how to allocate permits to emit greenhouse gases and how the revenues will be used yet to be determined. Meanwhile Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced the formation of five working groups to find compromises in several areas of concern: regional issues, cost containment, targets and timetables, market oversight and coal research and technology. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, who testified on the diplomatic cost of inaction on climate change and emphasized the need for all countries - developed and developing - to engage in negotiations with "common but differentiated responsibilities." Stern is leading the first session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate on April 27-28, a White House initiative to develop a dialogue among major developed and developing economies on climate change.

New Bill Promotes Science Envoys. Last week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation (S. 838) that recognizes the importance of international scientific cooperation and the work of organizations such as AAAS and the National Academies in this area. The legislation tasks the State Department to appoint Science Envoys to represent our nation and promote international collaboration.

Executive Branch

Presidential Memo on Scientific Integrity. OSTP issued a Presidential Memo on scientific integrity in the April 23 Federal Register and requests public comments on six principles for maintaining and protecting the responsible use of science in decision-making. The memo builds upon a March 9, 2009 memorandum from the President that called on OSTP to issue a set of recommendations within 120 days. OSTP has launched a blog on the subject and is seeking comments on the selection of scientists to serve in the executive branch, peer-review of science used in policy-making, access to scientific data used in policy-making, and whistleblower protection. Comments are due May 13, 2009.

NIH Stem Cell Guidelines Now Open for Comment. The NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research are now open for public comment until May 26.

NCI Director Speaks on Cancer Plan. National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber recently spoke of his institute's plans in the wake of President Obama's cited goal of doubling funds for cancer research. Included would be a boost in the NCI payline to fund more meritorious research grants, as well as more grants to first-time investigators and new faculty researchers. There will also be a focus on personalized cancer care.

EPA Examines Ocean Acidification. On April 14, EPA issued a Federal Register notice requesting information on ocean acidification, the changing of ocean chemistry from increases in carbon dioxide that affects coral reefs and other marine organisms. In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, EPA is trying to determine whether changes are needed to the water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act. Comments are due June 15, 2009.

Toxics Reporting Tightened. As mandated in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, EPA finalized changes to reporting requirements under the Toxics Release Inventory that will take effect July 1. The final rules restore more stringent reporting requirements than those from a Bush-era rule that raised the pollution threshold for reporting. In 2006, AAAS submitted comments stating that the increased threshold would "threaten the ability of researchers to identify and understand potential threats to the environment and public health in a scientifically rigorous manner."

FDA Widens Access to "Morning-After" Pill. The Food and Drug Administration will now allow 17-year-olds to purchase the Plan B "morning-after" pill without a prescription, following a recent federal court order that it do so. The decision has been labeled a "triumph of science over politics" because of widespread concern that the previous administration overruled scientific advice on making the pill available over the counter, leading the FDA's top women's health official, Susan Wood, to resign in protest in 2005.

Nation's First CTO: Clarification. Last week's Policy Alert reported on the President's selection of Aneesh Chopra to be the nation's first chief technology officer. It has since been reported that the CTO will also be one of the associate directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerned with overall technology policy and innovation strategies across federal departments. Chopra's position (which is subject to Senate confirmation) should not be confused with that of Vivek Kundra, recently named Chief Information Officer, who is located in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), overseeing day-to-day information technology spending and interagency operations.


Climate Risk Report Released. Led by the Heinz Center and CERES, a coalition of insurance, government, environmental, and investment organizations released a report, Resilient Coasts: A Blueprint for Action that listed steps the nation can take to drastically reduce rising coastal hazard risks and their associated economic impacts.

Texas School Board Chairman Up for Confirmation. Texas State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, a vocal opponent of teaching evolution, is up for Senate confirmation by the state Senate, and during a recent hearing some members of the Senate Nominations Committee expressed dissatisfaction with McLeroy's performance. One state senator said McLeroy has "created a hornet's nest" and noted that 15 bills filed during this legislative session would strip powers from the state school board. Even if McLeroy is not confirmed as chairman, he will still remain a member of the board. In other news, the Institute for Creation Research is now suing in U.S. District Court over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to deny its request to offer a master's degree in science education.

Animal Rights Activists Charged. Two animal rights activists have been arraigned on charges of conspiracy, stalking and other crimes, including attempted fire-bombing, against UCLA scientists engaged in animal research.

Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Joanne Carney
Contributors: Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Steve Nelson, Al Teich, Kasey White

NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest.  Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications.  Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and  private use of our members.  Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome.  Please write to [email protected].

April 29, 2009 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Check out Peter Gleick's blog on water issues

Gleick Joins the Blogosphere


Read and discuss everything water with internationally renowned expert Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, on his new blog.

GleickFeatured 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:

April 28, 2009 in International, Physical Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Bush Administration Midnight ESA Consultation Rule Revoked

  FWS Press Release:

Salazar and Locke Restore Scientific Consultations under the Endangered
             Species Act to Protect Species and their Habitats

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the two departments are revoking an eleventh-hour Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the two agencies that administer the ESA – before taking any action that
may affect threatened or endangered species.

“By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law,” Salazar said. “Because science must serve as the foundation for decisions we make, federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened and endangered species will once again have to consult with biologists at the two departments.”

“For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected threatened species and their habitats,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “Our decision affirms the Administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment.”

April 28, 2009 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CDC Health Advisory

This is an official CDC Health Advisory CDC Link Distributed via Health Alert Network April 25, 2009, 3:00 EST (03:00 PM EDT) CDCHAN-000281-2009-04-25-ALT-N Investigation and Interim Recommendations: Swine Influenza (H1N1) CDC, in collaboration with public health officials in California and Texas, is investigating cases of febrile respiratory illness caused by swine influenza (H1N1) viruses. As of 11 AM (EDT) April 25, 2009, 8 laboratory confirmed cases of Swine Influenza infection have been confirmed in the United States. Four cases have been reported in San Diego County, California. Two cases have been reported in Imperial County California. Two cases have been reported in Guadalupe County, Texas. Of the 8 persons with available data, illness onsets occurred March 28-April 14, 2009. Age range was 7-54 y.o. Cases are 63% male. The viruses contain a unique combination of gene segments that have not been reported previously among swine or human influenza viruses in the U.S. or elsewhere. At this time, CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment of infection with swine influenza viruses. The H1N1 viruses are resistant to amantadine and rimantadine but not to oseltamivir or zanamivir. It is not anticipated that the seasonal influenza vaccine will provide protection against the swine flu H1N1 viruses. CDC has also been working closely with public health officials in Mexico, Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO). Mexican public health authorities have reported increased levels of respiratory disease, including reports of severe pneumonia cases and deaths, in recent weeks. CDC is assisting public health authorities in Mexico by testing specimens and providing epidemiological support. As of 11:00 AM (EDT) April 25, 2009, 7 specimens from Mexico at CDC have tested positive for the same strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) as identified in U.S. cases. However, no clear data are available to assess the link between the increased disease reports in Mexico and the confirmation of swine influenza in a small number of specimens. WHO is monitoring international cases. Further information on international cases may be found at: Clinicians should consider swine influenza infection in the differential diagnosis of patients with febrile respiratory illness and who 1) live in San Diego or Imperial counties, California, or Guadalupe County, Texas, or traveled to these counties or 2) who traveled recently to Mexico or were in contact with persons who had febrile respiratory illness and were in one of the three U.S. counties or Mexico during the 7 days preceding their illness onset. Patients who meet these criteria should be tested for influenza, and specimens positive for influenza should be sent to public health laboratories for further characterization. Clinicians who suspect swine influenza virus infections in humans should obtain a nasopharyngeal swab from the patient, place the swab in a viral transport medium, refrigerate the specimen, and then contact their state or local health department to facilitate transport and timely diagnosis at a state public health laboratory. CDC requests that state public health laboratories promptly send all influenza A specimens that cannot be subtyped to the CDC, Influenza Division, Virus Surveillance and Diagnostics Branch Laboratory. Persons with febrile respiratory illness should stay home from work or school to avoid spreading infections (including influenza and other respiratory illnesses) to others in their communities. In addition, frequent hand washing can lessen the spread of respiratory illness. CDC has not recommended that people avoid travel to affected areas at this time. Recommendations found at will help travelers reduce risk of infection and stay healthy. Clinical guidance on laboratory safety, case definitions, infection control and information for the public are available at: • Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Biosafety Guidelines for Laboratory Workers: • Interim Guidance for Infection Control for Care of Patients with Confirmed or Suspected Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infection in a Healthcare Setting: • Interim Guidance on Case Definitions for Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Human Case Investigations: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports Dispatch (April 24) provide detailed information about the initial cases at For more information about swine flu:
Additional information is also available by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) ____________________________________________________________________________________ Categories of Health Alert messages: Health Alert conveys the highest level of importance; warrants immediate action or attention. Health Advisory provides important information for a specific incident or situation; may not require immediate action. Health Update provides updated information regarding an incident or situation; unlikely to require immediate action. ##This Message was distributed to State and Local Health Officers, Public Information Officers, Epidemiologists and HAN Coordinators as well as Clinician organizations##

April 25, 2009 in Current Affairs, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Local flu preparedness planning

As of 4:30 pm PDT, 11 cases of H1N1 swine flu have been confirmed in the US -- now including Kansas.

U.S. Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
State # of laboratory
confirmed cases
California 7 cases
Texas 2 cases
Kansas 2 cases
TOTAL COUNT 11 cases
International Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
See: World Health OrganizationExternal Web Site Policy.
As of April 25th, 2009 7:30 p.m. EDT

Oregon Flu Plan 

Marion County Pandemic Flu Resource Page

Marion County Family Preparedness Brochure

April 25, 2009 in Current Affairs, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Swine Flu with Pandemic Potential Hits US and Mexico: Previous Study indicated that the only way to delay spread of an epidemic is to contain the local epidemics and to prevent international travel

WHO warned today that it may be too late to prevent the spread of the swine flu that has been reported in three places in Mexico as well as California and Texas.  WHO Swine Flu Home page WHO Swine flu fact sheet  Mexico is currently conducting health screening of international air travelers.  However, that precaution, according to the Caley study published on this blog two years ago with respect to the pandemic flu threat, will be ineffective at even delaying the spread of the flu. 

The most recent news from WHO on the Stage 3 pandemic alert is WHO link.

Experts at WHO and elsewhere believe that the world is now closer to another influenza pandemic than at any time since 1968, when the last of the previous century's three pandemics occurred. WHO uses a series of six phases of pandemic alert as a system for informing the world of the seriousness of the threat and of the need to launch progressively more intense preparedness activities.  The designation of phases, including decisions on when to move from one phase to another, is made by the Director-General of WHO.  Each phase of alert coincides with a series of recommended activities to be undertaken by WHO, the international community, governments, and industry. Changes from one phase to another are triggered by several factors, which include the epidemiological behaviour of the disease and the characteristics of circulating viruses.  The world is presently in phase 3: a new influenza virus subtype is causing disease in humans, but is not yet spreading efficiently and sustainably among humans.

WHO reported this after today's Emergency Committee meeting:  

In response to cases of swine influenza A(H1N1), reported in Mexico and the United States of America, the Director-General convened a meeting of the Emergency Committee to assess the situation and advise her on appropriate responses. The establishment of the Committee, which is composed of international experts in a variety of disciplines, is in compliance with the International Health Regulations (2005). The first meeting of the Emergency Committee was held on Saturday 25 April 2009.  After reviewing available data on the current situation, Committee members identified a number of gaps in knowledge about the clinical features, epidemiology, and virology of reported cases and the appropriate responses. The Committee advised that answers to several specific questions were needed to facilitate its work. The Committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.  Based on this advice, the Director-General has determined that the current events constitute a public health emergency of international concern, under the Regulations.

Concerning public health measures, in line with the Regulations the Director-General is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.  The Committee further agreed that more information is needed before a decision could be made concerning the appropriateness of the current phase 3.

WHO currently considers this phase 3 of a pandemic. You might want to read the Global Influenza Preparedness Plan to see what happens in phase 3 and look at phase 4 and 5, which is probably where we are heading.  WHO Global Influenza Plan

From my research, the only effective measure is to contain the local epidemic and prevent international travel, especally air travel.  The occurrence of the same flu in California and Texas suggests that the Mexico flu has already escaped to the US.  Now, internal travel restrictions  within the western US and Mexico as well as international travel probably need to be implemented.  To quote the conclusion of the Caley study:

The delay until an epidemic of pandemic strain influenza is imported into an at-risk country is largely determined by the course of the epidemic in the source region and the number of travelers attempting to enter the at-risk country, and is little affected by non-pharmaceutical interventions targeting these travelers. Short of preventing international travel altogether, eradicating a nascent pandemic in the source region appears to be the only reliable method of preventing country-to-country spread of a pandemic strain of influenza.

The US and Mexico have not even advised people not to travel to Mexico, California, and Texas, much less prevented travel:

CDC has NOT recommended that people avoid travel to Mexico at this time. If you are planning travel to Mexico, follow these recommendations to reduce your risk of infection and help you stay healthy. CDC travel recommendations

In my judgment, it is irresponsible to travel into or out of these areas at this time.  I also believe the governments need to respond more strongly to what is obviously a virulent strain of communicable flu.  But, if they're doing what they are supposed to in phase 3, I admit they are probably busy.

WHO press release yesterday:

24 April 2009 -- The United States Government has reported seven confirmed human cases of Swine Influenza A/H1N1 in the USA (five in California and two in Texas) and nine suspect cases. All seven confirmed cases had mild Influenza-Like Illness (ILI), with only one requiring brief hospitalization. No deaths have been reported. The Government of Mexico has reported three separate events. In the Federal District of Mexico, surveillance began picking up cases of ILI starting 18 March. The number of cases has risen steadily through April and as of 23 April there are now more than 854 cases of pneumonia from the capital. Of those, 59 have died. In San Luis Potosi, in central Mexico, 24 cases of ILI, with three deaths, have been reported. And from Mexicali, near the border with the United States, four cases of ILI, with no deaths, have been reported.Of the Mexican cases, 18 have been laboratory confirmed in Canada as Swine Influenza A/H1N1, while 12 of those are genetically identical to the Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses from California.The majority of these cases have occurred in otherwise healthy young adults. Influenza normally affects the very young and the very old, but these age groups have not been heavily affected in Mexico. Because there are human cases associated with an animal influenza virus, and because of the geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, these events are of high concern. The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans. The viruses so far characterized have been sensitive to oseltamivir, but resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine.

The World Health Organization has been in constant contact with the health authorities in the United States, Mexico and Canada in order to better understand the risk which these ILI events pose. WHO (and PAHO) is sending missions of experts to Mexico to work with health authorities there. It is helping its Member States to increase field epidemiology activities, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management. Moreover, WHO's partners in the Global Alert and Response Network have been alerted and are ready to assist as requested by the Member States.  WHO acknowledges the United States and Mexico for their proactive reporting and their collaboration with WHO and will continue to work with Member States to further characterize the outbreak.

CDC Information: CDC link - Human Swine Influenza Investigation

April 25, 2009 1:00 p.m. ET

Human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been identified in the U.S. in San Diego County and Imperial County, California as well as in San Antonio, Texas. Internationally, human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been identified in Mexico.

U.S. Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
State # of laboratory
confirmed cases
California 6 cases
Texas 2 cases
International Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
See: World Health OrganizationExternal Web Site Policy.
As of April 25th, 2009 11:00 a.m. ET

Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the infection and whether additional people have been infected with similar swine influenza viruses.

CDC is working very closely with state and local officials in California, Texas, as well as with health officials in Mexico, Canada and the World Health Organization. On April 24th, CDC deployed 7 epidemiologists to San Diego County, California and Imperial County, California and 1 senior medical officer to Texas to provide guidance and technical support for the ongoing epidemiologic field investigations. CDC has also deployed to Mexico 1 medical officer and 1 senior expert who are part of a global team that is responding to the outbreak of respiratory illnesses in Mexico.

Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. There are many things you can to do preventing getting and spreading influenza:

There are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

  • Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Topics on this page:

General Information

Swine Flu and You
What is swine flu? Are there human infections with swine flu in the U.S.? …

Swine Flu Video Podcast
Dr. Joe Bresee, with the CDC Influenza Division, describes swine flu - its signs and symptoms, how it's transmitted, medicines to treat it, steps people can take to protect themselves from it, and what people should do if they become ill.

Key Facts about Swine Influenza (Swine Flu)
How does swine flu spread? Can people catch swine flu from eating pork? …

Swine Influenza in Pigs and People

Information in Spanish
Datos importantes sobre la influenza porcina…

Summary Guidance

CDC has provided the following interim guidance for this investigation.

Residents of California and Texas

CDC has identified human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in people in these areas. CDC is working with local and state health agencies to investigate these cases. We have determined that this virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, we have not determined how easily the virus spreads between people. As with any infectious disease, we are recommending precautionary measures for people residing in these areas.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

There is no vaccine available at this time, so it is important for people living in these areas to take steps to prevent spreading the virus to others. If people are ill, they should attempt to stay at home and limit contact with others. Healthy residents living in these areas should take everyday preventive actions.

People who live in these areas who develop an illness with fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, and possibly other symptoms, such as body aches, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, should contact their health care provider. Their health care provider will determine whether influenza testing is needed.


Clinicians should consider the possibility of swine influenza virus infections in patients presenting with febrile respiratory illness who:

  1. Live in San Diego County or Imperial County, California or San Antonio, Texas or
  2. Have traveled to San Diego and/or Imperial County, California or San Antonio, Texas or
  3. Have been in contact with ill persons from these areas in the 7 days prior to their illness onset.

If swine flu is suspected, clinicians should obtain a respiratory swab for swine influenza testing and place it in a refrigerator (not a freezer). Once collected, the clinician should contact their state or local health department to facilitate transport and timely diagnosis at a state public health laboratory.

State Public Health Laboratories

Laboratories should send all unsubtypable influenza A specimens as soon as possible to the Viral Surveillance and Diagnostic Branch of the CDC’s Influenza Division for further diagnostic testing.

Public Health /Animal Health Officials

Officials should conduct thorough case and contact investigations to determine the source of the swine influenza virus, extent of community illness and the need for timely control measures.

Guidance Documents

Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Biosafety Guidelines for Laboratory Workers Apr 24, 2009
This guidance is for laboratory workers who may be processing or performing diagnostic testing on clinical specimens from patients with suspected swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, or performing viral isolation.

Interim Guidance for Infection Control for Care of Patients with Confirmed or Suspected Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infection in a Healthcare Setting Apr 24, 2009

Interim Guidance on Case Definitions for Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Human Case Investigations Apr 24, 2009
This document provides interim guidance for state and local health departments conducting investigations of human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus.  The following case definitions are for the purpose of investigations of suspected, probable, and confirmed cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection.

Travel Notices

Outbreak Notice: Swine Influenza in the United States
April 25, 2009 12 p.m. ET

Travel Health Precaution: Swine Influenza and Severe Cases of Respiratory Illness in Mexico
April 25, 2009 12 p.m. ET


Unedited Transcript of CDC Briefing on Public Health Investigation of Human Cases of Swine Influenza
April 24, 2009 2:30 p.m. ET

CDC Briefing on Public Health Investigation of Human Cases of Swine Influenza
April 23, 2009 press briefing…

Reports & Publications

Update: Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Infections --- California and Texas, April 2009
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) April 24, 2009 / Vol. 58 / Dispatch;1-3

Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Infection in Two Children – Southern California, March—April 2009
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) April 21, 2009 / Vol. 58 / Dispatch

Related Links

WHO - Influenza-Like Illness in the United States and MexicoExternal Web Site Policy.

Past Updates

Caley study:

Bird Flu Blues: Source Country Suppression is the Only Viable Means to Prevent the International Transmission of Pandemic Strains

Peter Caley , Niels Becker, and David Philp of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia have modelled the impacts of various pandemic preparedness efforts on the timing of international spread of pandemic strains.  The bottom line is that "[s]hort of preventing international travel altogether, eradicating a nascent pandemic in the source region appears to be the only reliable method of preventing country-to-country spread of a pandemic strain of influenza."PLoSOne link The entire article is available courtesy of a Creative Commons license:


The time delay between the start of an influenza pandemic and its subsequent initiation in other countries is highly relevant to preparedness planning. We quantify the distribution of this random time in terms of the separate components of this delay, and assess how the delay may be extended by non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Methods and Findings

The model constructed for this time delay accounts for: (i) epidemic growth in the source region, (ii) the delay until an infected individual from the source region seeks to travel to an at-risk country, (iii) the chance that infected travelers are detected by screening at exit and entry borders, (iv) the possibility of in-flight transmission, (v) the chance that an infected arrival might not initiate an epidemic, and (vi) the delay until infection in the at-risk country gathers momentum. Efforts that reduce the disease reproduction number in the source region below two and severe travel restrictions are most effective for delaying a local epidemic, and under favourable circumstances, could add several months to the delay. On the other hand, the model predicts that border screening for symptomatic infection, wearing a protective mask during travel, promoting early presentation of cases arising among arriving passengers and moderate reduction in travel volumes increase the delay only by a matter of days or weeks. Elevated in-flight transmission reduces the delay only minimally.


The delay until an epidemic of pandemic strain influenza is imported into an at-risk country is largely determined by the course of the epidemic in the source region and the number of travelers attempting to enter the at-risk country, and is little affected by non-pharmaceutical interventions targeting these travelers. Short of preventing international travel altogether, eradicating a nascent pandemic in the source region appears to be the only reliable method of preventing country-to-country spread of a pandemic strain of influenza.


The emergence of a pandemic strain of influenza is considered inevitable [1]. Provided the emerged strain is not too virulent, it may be possible to eliminate a nascent influenza pandemic in the source region via various combinations of targeted antiviral prophylaxis, pre-vaccination, social distancing and quarantine [2], [3]. If early elimination in the source region is not achieved, then any delay in a local epidemic that a country can effect will be highly valued. To this end, countries may consider introducing non-pharmaceutical interventions such as border screening, promoting early presentation of cases among arriving passengers, requiring the use of personal protective equipment during travels (e.g. the wearing of masks), and reducing traveler numbers. While the case for believing that measures such as these can not stop the importation of an epidemic from overseas has been argued strongly, whether it be SARS or influenza [4][6], the extent to which such interventions delay a local epidemic is currently not well quantified, and hence of considerable interest.

In this paper we demonstrate how the delay to importation of an epidemic of pandemic strain influenza may be quantified in terms of the growing infection incidence in the source region, traveler volumes, border screening measures, travel duration, in-flight transmission and the delay until an infected arrival initiates a chain of transmission that gathers momentum. We also investigate how the delay is affected by the reproduction number of the emerged strain, early presentation of cases among arriving passengers, and reducing traveler numbers. As noted in previous simulation modeling [7], many aspects of this delay have a significant chance component, making the delay a random variable. Therefore, the way to quantify the delay is to specify its probability distribution, which we call the delay-distribution.

Some issues of the delay distribution, such as the natural delay arising in the absence of intervention and the effect that reducing traveler numbers has on this delay has been studied previously [6][8]. Specifically, if the originating source is not specified, and homogeneous mixing of the worlds population is assumed, then the most likely time to the initial cases arising in the United States is about 50 days assuming R             0 = 2.0 [7]. The additional delay arising from travel restrictions appears minimal until a>99% reduction in traveler numbers [6][8].

This paper adds to previous work [5][8] by simultaneously including a wider range of epidemiological factors and possible interventions, such as elevated in-flight transmission, flight duration, the effect of wearing of mask during flight, early presentation of cases among travelers, and quarantining all passengers from a flight with a detected case at arrival.



Consider a region in which a new pandemic strain of influenza has emerged, and a region currently free from the infection. We refer to these as the source region and the at-risk country, respectively. Travel between these countries is predominantly via commercial air travel and/or rapid transport which could potentially be subject to border screening and other interventions. We restrict our discussion to air travel. The aim is to assess the effects that a variety of non-pharmaceutical border control measures have, individually and in combination, on the time it takes before the epidemic takes off in the at-risk country. An epidemic is said to have “taken off” when it reaches 20 current infectious cases, after which its growth is highly predictable (i.e. nearly deterministic) and the probability of fade-out by chance is very low, if intervention is not enhanced. The source country of origin will undoubtedly have a large impact on the natural delay until importation of an epidemic, although this is difficult to quantify [7]. An alternative is to fix the originating city, for example a highly connected city such as Hong Kong [6], with the obvious effect that results are highly dependent on the choice. We adopt no specific source region, but assume that the number of international travelers originating from it is reasonably small (see Methods), suggestive of a rural or semi-rural source region [2]. It is further assumed that the current heightened surveillance for pandemic influenza is continued and that a nascent pandemic with human-to-human transmission is identified and the pandemic is declared when there are 10 concurrent cases in the source region.

For an epidemic to take off in an at-risk country, a series of events need to occur. First, the epidemic needs to get underway in the source region. Second, an intending traveler needs to be infected shortly before departure. Third, the infected traveler must actually travel and successfully disembark in the at-risk country. Fourth, the infected traveler, or fellow travelers infected during the flight, must initiate an epidemic in the at-risk country with the infectiousness that remains upon arrival. Finally, the epidemic needs to reach a sufficient number of cases to begin predictable exponential growth.

Infected travelers

International spread of the emerged pandemic strain of influenza may occur when a recently infected person travels. By ‘recently infected’ we mean that their travel is scheduled to occur within ten days of being infected. We assume that the number of individuals traveling from the source region to the at-risk country each day is known. The probability that a randomly selected traveler is a recently-infected person is taken to be equal to the prevalence of recently-infected people in the source region on that day. The incidence of infection in the source region is assumed to grow exponentially initially, with the rate of exponential growth determined by the disease reproduction number (the mean number of cases a single infective generates by direct contact) and the serial interval (the average interval from infection of one individual to when their contacts are infected) (Figure 1A).

Figure 1.  

The process through which a pandemic is imported. (A) The prevalence in the source region, which determines the probability that a randomly selected traveler is infected at scheduled departure. (B)–(D) Density functions of the time since infection during the early stages of the epidemic in the source region for infected travelers (B) before and (C) after departure screening, and (D) after arrival screening for clinical symptoms. In (B), the step illustrates the probabilistic removal of travelers who have completed their incubation period. In (D), the distribution of time since infection in (C) will have shifted to the right by an amount equal to the flight duration, and cases incubated in-flight may be detected by symptomatic screening, as will those symptomatic cases that were not detected previously. Screening sensitivity for this illustration is 60% on both departure and arrival. (E) Upon entering the community undetected, an infected traveler may initiate a minor (inconsequential) or major epidemic, depending on the characteristics of the disease and public health policy.


The time since infection of a recently-infected traveler is a key component of the calculations, because it affects the chance of positive border screening, the chance of in-flight transmission and the infectivity remaining upon arrival in the at-risk country. The time since infection at the time of scheduled departure is random and the dependence of its probability distribution on the exponential growth rate of infection is illustrated by Figure 1B (see also Supporting Information). The higher the epidemic growth rate in the source region, the greater the probability than an infected traveler will have been infected more recently.

Traveler screening at departure

It is assumed that individuals detected by departure screening are prevented from traveling. To be detected by screening an infected traveler must be symptomatic and positively screened. An individual is assumed to become symptomatic 48 hours after being infected (cf. [3] who use 1.9 days). The probability of being symptomatic when presenting for departure screening is computed from the curve in Figure 1B. The distribution of the time since infection immediately after departure screening, given that the infected traveler was not detected, is given by the curve in Figure 1C. It contains an adjustment for the probability of being detected at departure.

In-flight transmission

The instantaneous rate at which susceptible contacts are infected depends on the time since infection, and is described by an infectiousness function ([9], page 45). We use a peaked infectiousness function, motivated by viral shedding and household transmission data [2], which has a serial interval of 2.6 days. The basic reproduction number (R                0), namely the reproduction number when there is no intervention in place and every contacted individual is susceptible, is given by the area under the infectiousness function. However, our concern is with the effective reproduction number R that holds when various interventions are in place. We obtain any R by simply multiplying the infectiousness function by the appropriate constant (to make the area under the curve equal to R). This keeps the serial interval the same. In the absence of suitable data we assume for most scenarios that the aircrafts ventilation and filtration systems are functioning properly, and that infected travelers transmit the infection at the same rate during a flight as they would while mixing in the community. We examine the sensitivity of this assumption by increasing the in-flight transmission by as much as 10-fold (as could potentially happen if air-circulation and filtration systems malfunction, e.g. see [10]). The in-flight transmission rate is set to zero under the optimistic scenario that all travelers wear 100% effective masks during transit. In terms of a sensitivity analysis this illustrates what would be achievable in a best-case scenario. The number of offspring that an infected traveler infects during a flight is a random variable, taken to have a Poisson distribution with a mean equal to the area under the infectiousness function over to the flight duration.

Traveler screening at arrival

Travelers infected during flights of less than 12 hours duration are asymptomatic at arrival and will not be detected by screening. The probability that an arriving traveler who was infected in the source region is detected on arrival is computed from the distribution of the time since infection on arrival. This distribution is obtained from the curve in Figure 1C by shifting it to the right by an amount equal to the duration of the flight. The distribution of the time since infection for an individual infected in the source region, who passes through arrival screening undetected has a further adjustment for the chance of being detected at arrival (Figure 1D). This curve shows that an infected traveler who escapes detection at departure and arrival is highly likely to enter the at-risk country with most, or all, of their infectious period remaining.

Authorities are assumed to implement one of two control options when detecting an infected traveler by arrival screening. Under option one (individual-based removal), all passengers who test negative are released immediately and only passengers who test positive are isolated. Under the second option (flight-based quarantining), authorities prevent all passengers from dispersing into the community until the last person has been screened from that flight. Should any one passenger be detected as infected then all passengers will be quarantined, as previously recommended [5].

Transmission chains initiated by infected arrivals

Transmission chains can be initiated in the at-risk country by infected travelers who mix within the community upon arrival. Suppose now that a flight arrives with one, or more, infected passengers who mix within the community. We classify these infected arrivals into those who are ‘pre-symptomatic’ and those who are ‘symptomatic’ at entry. It is assumed that the ‘symptomatic’ infected arrivals do not recognize their symptoms as pandemic influenza and will not present to medical authorities. In other words, they spend the remainder of their infectious period mixing in the community. On the other hand, the ‘pre-symptomatic’ infected arrivals, including all individuals infected during flight, are assumed to mix freely in the community only from entry until they present to medical authorities after some delay following the onset of symptoms.

Probability that an undetected infected traveler initiates a major epidemic

Not all infected travelers entering the community initiate a ‘major’ epidemic, even when the reproduction number (R) exceeds one. Quite generally, the distribution of the size of an epidemic initiated by an infected arrival is bimodal, with distinct peaks corresponding to a major epidemic and a minor outbreak (Figure 1E). In the latter event the outbreak simply fades out by chance despite there being ample susceptibles in the population for ongoing transmission [11]. The number of cases in an outbreak that fades out is typically very small compared to an epidemic.

The probability that a typical infective generates a local epidemic is computed by using a branching process approximation [12] for the initial stages of the epidemic, and equating ‘epidemic’ with the event that the branching process does not become extinct. This calculation is well known (e.g. [13], page 473), but is modified here to allow for the fact that the process is initiated by a random number of infected arrivals and some of them have spent a random part of their infectious period before arriving in the at-risk country. The distribution for the random number of individuals infected by an infected individual when all their contacts are with susceptible individuals is needed for the calculation. The lack of data prevents a definitive conclusion for the most appropriate offspring distribution for influenza transmission [14], and we use a Poisson distribution with a mean equal to R, discounted for individuals who spent only some of their infectious period mixing in the at-risk country. A Poisson offspring distribution is appropriate when the area under the infectiousness function is non-random (i.e. all individuals have the same infection ‘potential’). We assume that R is the same in the source region and the at-risk country. For an undetected infected traveler and all their in-flight offspring to fail to initiate an epidemic on arrival, all of the chains of transmission they initiate must fail to become large epidemics (see Supporting Information).

The delay until an epidemic gathers momentum in the at-risk country

We calculate the probability distribution of D, the total delay until an epidemic gathers momentum by noting that it is given by D = D                1+D                2, where D                1 is the time until an epidemic is first initiated and D                2 is the time from initiation until the local epidemic gathers momentum. For an epidemic to be first initiated in the at-risk country on day d, it must have not been initiated on all previous days. Hence the probability distribution of the time delay (D                1) until the epidemic is first initiated in the at-risk country following identification in the source region is described by:

where pd                 denotes the probability that the epidemic is initiated on day d , and                                    denotes the probability that the epidemic is not initiated on day d (see Supporting Information for calculation of pd                ).

Once successfully initiated, an epidemic may initially hover around a handful of cases before reaching a sufficient number of cases for its growth to become essentially predictable. As mentioned, 20 concurrent cases is our criterion for an epidemic to have gathered momentum. We determine the distribution of D                2, the time to this occurrence, from 10,000 stochastic simulations and approximate this empirical distribution by a shifted gamma distribution. Our criterion of 20 concurrent cases is conservatively high, as results from the theory of branching processes shows that the probability of a minor epidemic (and hence no take-off) starting from 20 concurrent cases is about 3×10−8 when R = 1.5, and even smaller for higher values of R. Finally, the distribution of the total delay (D = D                1+D                2) from the pandemic being identified in the source region until 20 cases in the at-risk country was calculated by the convolution of the distributions of D                1 and D                2.

Parameter values

For the illustrative purposes, we chose values of 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 for R, which encompass estimates proposed for previous pandemics [2], [3], [15]. The number of people within the infected source region was assumed reasonably small (5 million), and there was one flight per day traveling from the source region to the at-risk country carrying 400, 100 or 10 passengers. A higher number of travelers affects the delay only marginally, assuming the epidemic takes off in the source region (see Results). We assume a typical travel duration between attempted departure and possible arrival of 12 hours, but also examine the effect of varying this from 0–48 hours. The time to presentation following symptom onset is varied from ‘immediately’ to ‘never presenting’, with a time of 6 hours considered likely in the presence of an education campaign. The sensitivity of symptomatic screening is varied from 0–100%, with results presented for 0, 50 and 100% sensitivity.


Evading traveler screening

The probability that a recently infected traveler evades screening is substantial even if screening reliably detects symptomatic travelers (Figure 2A), because the typical travel duration is shorter than the 2-day incubation period. In addition, during the early stages of the epidemic a high R in the source region acts to increase the probability that an infected traveler has been infected quite recently and hence will escape detection due to being asymptomatic during their travels (Figure 2A). For example, assuming 100% sensitivity for detecting symptomatic infection, we calculate that during the early stages of the epidemic the proportion of infected travelers that evade both departure and arrival screening after 12 hours of travel is 0.26, 0.45 and 0.59 for disease reproduction numbers 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5, respectively.

Figure 2.  

Effects of border screening and early presentation. (A) The effects of screening sensitivity andon the probability of escaping detection on both departure and arrival during a 12 hour transit. (B) The effects of screening sensitivity and travel duration on the probability than an infected traveler escapes detection during transit and initiates an epidemic after arrival (assuming no other symptomatic individuals on the same flight are identified). R = 3.5 with no early presentation. (C) The effects of R and the time from symptom onset to presentation on the probability that an infected traveler, having entered the wider community following arrival, will initiate an epidemic. There is no screening.


As the duration of travel approaches the disease incubation period, effective symptomatic screening substantially reduces the likelihood that a traveler evades screening and initiates an epidemic (Figure 2B). Reducing the time from the onset of symptoms to presentation (and subsequent isolation) for each infected arrival also reduces the probability that a major epidemic is initiated, however the best case scenario of infected travelers and all their in-flight offspring presenting immediately following the onset of symptoms still poses a substantial risk of epidemic initiation arising from pre-symptomatic transmission (Figure 1C).

The time until an epidemic gathers momentum in the at-risk country

The delay contains a fairly substantial natural component, primarily due to the time it takes to increase the number of infectives in the source region sufficiently to make the chance of a recently infected traveler appreciable (Figure 3A), and the time (D                2) it takes for a local epidemic in the at-risk country to gather momentum following successful seeding (Figure 4A). In the absence of any interventions, the number of infected individuals who successfully enter the community of the at-risk country initially increases exponentially (Figure 3A). With individual-based removal of infected travelers, the number of individuals entering the at-risk country undetected by screening is proportionately reduced over the course of the epidemic (Figure 3A). With flight-based quarantining, the number of infected individuals entering the at-risk country undetected is dramatically reduced over the course of the epidemic, even for relatively insensitive screening (Figure 3A). With flight-based quarantining, the number of infected passengers slipping through undetected is bimodal, with the first peak occurring when the number of infected travelers attempting to travel is still in single figures.

Figure 3.  

Components of delay until initiation and effects of border screening. (A) The number of infected people successfully arriving and entering the community of an at-risk country (KA                      ) on each day following the identification of an outbreak of pandemic type strain influenza, assuming a source region population of 5 million, 400 intending travelers per day, R = 1.5, and three levels of symptomatic screening (solid line = nil, dashed line = 50% sensitivity with individual-based removal, dotted line = 50% sensitivity with flight-based quarantining). (B) Corresponding daily probability of initiation (pd                      ) as a function of time since pandemic identified. (C) Distribution of the delay time until the initiation (D                      1) of an epidemic in an at-risk country by an infected traveler from a source region.

Figure 4.  

Components of the delay in at-risk country following initiation. (A) Results of 10,000 simulations (bars) and fitted shifted-Gamma distribution of delay time (D                      2) until 20 concurrent cases occur in the at-risk country, given that an epidemic has been initiated, andequals 1.5 with a serial interval of 2.6 days. (B) The total delay distribution until there are 20 concurrent cases in the at-risk country from when a pandemic type strain of influenza outbreak is identified in a source region with a population of 5 million, 400 intending travelers day−1, an R of 1.5, and three levels of symptomatic screening (solid line = nil, dashed line = 50% sensitivity with individual removal, dotted line = 50% sensitivity with flight-based quarantining).


Without screening, the daily probability that an epidemic is initiated (pd                ) increases, and becomes near certain once the number of infected travelers arriving undetected exceeds about 10 (Figure 3B, solid line). With screening and individual-based removal of infected individuals, pd                 follows a similar pattern only reduced somewhat. With screening in combination with flight-based quarantining, this probability is changed dramatically. After an initial rise it dips, to become essentially zero during the height of the epidemic in the source region (Figure 3B, dotted line). This arises because once a flight has several infected travelers, the probability that at least one is detected approaches one (even if screening is imperfect), and all passengers on such a flight are quarantined. Once the epidemic starts to wane in the source region (assuming the unlikely event of the pandemic strain is restricted to the source region), the probability of initiation rises once again. The corresponding distribution of D                1, the delay until the epidemic is first initiated in the at-risk country, is bi-modal in the presence of screening (Figure 3C).

Although flight-based quarantining is effective in preventing the entry of infected travelers during the height of the epidemic, a substantial cumulative risk of initiation has already occurred before this from the handful of infectives that have slipped through undetected (Figure 3B). Hence, whilst the effect of border screening, particularly in conjunction with flight-based quarantining, on the daily probability of initiation is dramatic, its effect on the delay to initiation is much less pronounced (Figure 3C). Border screening, even with perfect sensitivity for detecting symptomatic cases, tends to increase D                1, the time to an epidemic being initiated, by a matter of days to weeks. The time (D                2) from initiation (the arrival of the index case) to an epidemic reaching 20 concurrent cases within the at-risk country is adequately modeled using a shifted Gamma distribution (Figure 4A). The convolution of this right-skewed Gamma distribution with the left-skewed delay-distribution of D                1 (Figure 3C) yields the distribution for D, the total delay until the epidemic reaches 20 cases in the at-risk country (Figure 4B). The distribution of D is approximately symmetrical. The effect of border screening on the total delay D is quite modest, though sensitive to how screening is implemented. For example, with R = 1.5 and 400 travelers per day, 100% sensitive screening with individual-based removal increases the median delay from 57 to 60 days (Figure 4B). Flight-based quarantining would extend the median delay to 70 days. In general, the added delay arising from flight-based quarantining is about four-fold that arising from individual-based removal.

The natural component of the delay is highly sensitive to the disease reproduction number (Figure 5A). For example, with 400 passengers per day departing the source country and in the absence of any interventions, the median delay ranges from a low of 17 days for R = 3.5 to 57 days for R = 1.5 (Table 1). The delay is less sensitive to the number of intending travelers, with little appreciable increase in the median delay occurring until traveler numbers become very low (Figure 5B). For example, if R = 1.5, with no other border control measures, decreasing the number of intending travelers departing the source region from 400 to 100 per day increases the median total delay D from 57 to 66 days. A further decrease in the number of intending travelers to 10 per day increases the median delay to 83 days (Table 1).

Figure 5.  

Effects of interventions on the total delay D. (A) The effects of R on delay-distribution. (B) The effects of daily traveler number on the median delay for different values of R. (C) The effects of the time from symptom incubation until presentation and isolation (tSP                      ) on the delay-distribution. (D) Additive effects of implementing 100% sensitive border screening (individual removal), the wearing of masks during transit, immediate presentation following symptom onset, and flight-based quarantining on the median delay, assuming 400 travelers per day attempting to depart the source region.

Table 1. Summary measures of the expected time until an epidemic of pandemic strain influenza in an at-risk country reaches 20 cases, for three values of R and three values for the number of intending travelers when the source region contains 5 million people.

The delay is quite insensitive to the rate of transmission in-flight. For example, with R = 1.5, a 12-hour flight, 400 travelers per day and no other interventions, preventing in-flight transmission altogether increases the median delay from 57 to 58 days. Conversely, doubling the rate of in-flight transmission reduces the median delay from 57 to 56 days. A 10-fold increase in the rate of transmission in-flight only decreases the median delay from 57 to 53 days. Encouraging the early presentation of cases among travelers following the onset of symptoms has a limited effect on the delay distribution (Figure 5C). For example, for R = 1.5, 400 intending travelers per day and no other interventions, reducing the time to presentation from ‘never presenting’ to 6 hours increases the median delay from 57 to 61 days. Immediate presentation at symptom onset only increases the median delay a further day in this scenario.

In general, the additional delay achieved by introducing non-pharmaceutical border control measures is generally small in comparison with the natural delay (Figure 5D). For the scenario with R = 1.5 and 400 intending travelers per day, a combination of 100% flight-based quarantining, 100% compliance with mask wearing during travel and immediate presentation at symptom onset extends the estimated median delay from 57 to 79 days (Figure 5D). This added delay diminishes in absolute terms as R increases. For example, if the same interventions are applied with R = 3.5, the median delay is extended from 17 to just 20 days (Figure 5D). The one exception to this generalisation is when travel numbers are reduced dramatically. The added delay achieved when a drastic reduction in travel numbers is combined with other border control measures appears to be greater than adding the delays each achieves on its own. For example, if R = 1.5, and we reduce the number of intending travelers from 400 to 10 per day, implement 100% flight-based quarantining, implement compulsory mask wearing during travel and presentation at 6 hours following symptom onset then there is a substantial probability (0.74) that the pandemic strain will never be imported (assuming the epidemic is confined to the source country). The estimated quartile delay (the median in this case is undefined) to the start of a major epidemic in an at-risk country is extended from 50 to 125 days. Again, the added delay decreases rapidly as R increases, and if the above interventions were applied with R = 3.5, the estimated median delay is extended from 17 to 26 days, and the importation of the epidemic is certain (Figure 5D).


We have formulated a model of the importation of an infectious disease from a source region to an at-risk country that permits a comprehensive analysis of the effect of border control measures. Our results are most relevant to the early stage of a pandemic when most cases are contained within a single source region. Once the pandemic has spread to several countries, models with greater complexity and ability to more realistically model global mixing patterns [6][8] are required. Our model is developed with a pandemic-strain of influenza in mind, but could apply to any emerging infectious disease that is transmitted from person to person. We have assumed a Poisson distribution for the number of secondary infections, which a natural choice when each infected individual has the same infectivity profile. A distribution with a larger variance is appropriate when individuals vary substantially in their infectiousness. Our results are conservative in the sense that they give an upper bound for the probability that an infected traveler manages to initiate an epidemic, compared to an offspring distribution with a greater variance but the same reproduction number [14].

The nature of the next pandemic influenza virus, and particularly its reproduction number, is uncertain. If its reproduction number is low (R<2.0), our results indicate that at-risk countries receiving a reasonably small number of travelers (say 400 per day) from the infected source region can expect a natural delay until importing an epidemic of the order of 2 months. This is quite variable and under favourable conditions it could be 4 months. However, the natural delay decreases rapidly as R increases.

The additional delay from isolating individuals detected by border screening is merely a few days under most plausible scenarios, even if both departure and arrival screening is introduced and screening detects every symptomatic traveler. While the extra delay is more than quadrupled if flights with a detected case(s) are quarantined, the effect remains modest (weeks at most) and it is questionable whether the extra delay achieved warrants the disruption created by such a large number of quarantined passengers.

In-flight transmission is a commonly raised concern in discussions about the importation of an infection, so inclusion of in-flight transmission is an attractive feature of our model. Events of substantial in-flight transmission of influenza have been documented [10], [16] and modeling of indoor airborne infection risks in the absence of air filtration predicts that in-flight transmission risks are elevated [17]. However, it difficult to estimate the infectiousness of influenza in a confined cabin space, as there is undoubtedly substantial under-reporting of influenza cases who travel and fail to generate any offspring during flight. Provided the aircraft ventilation system (including filtration) is operational, it is considered that the actual risk of in-flight transmission is much lower than the perceived risk [18]. Our results indicate that the delay is relatively insensitive to the rate of in-flight transmission, making in-flight transmission less of an issue than commonly believed. A highly elevated transmission rate in-flight will hasten the importation of an epidemic only marginally. Consistent with this, eliminating in-flight transmission by wearing protective masks increases the delay only marginally.

Early presentation by infected arrivals not detected at the borders was found to add only a few days to the delay. To some extent this arises due to our assumption that pre-symptomatic transmission can occur, for which there is some evidence. In contrast, Ferguson et al. [2] assume that the incubation and latent periods are equal, with a mean of 1.5 days. In their model pre-symptomatic transmission is excluded and infectiousness is estimated to spike dramatically immediately following symptom onset and declining rapidly soon afterwards. Under their model assumptions, immediate presentation at onset of symptoms would reduce transmission effectively. However, as presentation occurs some time after onset of symptoms and the bulk of infectivity occurs immediately after onset of symptoms the results on the effect of early presentation of cases are likely, in practical terms, to be similar to those found here. Given the variable nature of influenza symptoms, there is likely to be a difference between the onset of the first symptoms as measured in a clinical trial (e.g. [19]) and the time that a person in the field first suspects that they may be infected with influenza virus. To fully resolve the issue of how effective very early presentation of infected travelers is in delaying a local epidemic we need better knowledge about the infectiousness of individuals before and just after the onset of symptoms.

Of the border control measures available, reducing traveler numbers has the biggest effect on the delay and even then it is necessary to get the number of travelers down to a very low number. An equivalent control measure is to quarantine all arriving passengers with near perfect compliance.

Our results indicate that short of virtually eliminating international travel, border control measures add little to avoiding, or delaying, a local epidemic if an influenza pandemic takes off in a source region. All forms of border control are eventually overwhelmed by the cumulative number of infected travelers that attempt to enter the country. The only way to prevent a local epidemic is to rapidly implement local control measures that bring the effective reproduction number in the local area down below 1, or to achieve rapid elimination in the source region, in agreement with other recent studies [6][8]. Preventing the exponential growth phase of an epidemic in the source region appears to be the only method able to prevent a nascent influenza pandemic reaching at-risk countries.

Supporting Information

Text S1.

Estimating the daily probability of epidemic initiation

(0.08 MB PDF)


We thank James Wood, Katie Glass and Belinda Barnes and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: NB PC. Performed the experiments: PC DP. Analyzed the data: NB PC DP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: PC DP. Wrote the paper: NB PC.


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January 18, 2007 in Governance/Management, International, Physical Science | Permalink


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Friday, April 17, 2009

EPA to issue endangerment finding

The NY Times reported that U.S. EPA will issue a formal endangerment finding today, declaring carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare.  This will cause EPA to begin the process of regulating these substances from vehicles, require the technology-based New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for stationary sources to cover greenhouse gases (GHGs), and require Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and New Source Review (NSR) permits for new and major modifications of large stationary sources to cover GHGs. 

In briefing Congress in advance of the ruling, EPA said the science supporting the endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling triggers a 60-day comment period before any proposed regulations governing emissions of greenhouse gases are published.  The endangerment finding is issued somewhat over two years after the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA ordered EPA to make a determination about whether GHGs are harmful to human health or the environment.  

By issuing the finding, EPA will force Congress to grapple with and enact global warming legislation, or face the prospect that EPA will use the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs.  The Clean Air Act regulatory structure is far less tailored to GHGs than global warming legislation would be and is arguably far more draconian than global warming legislation proposed to date.

April 17, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)