Drought Map for 4-15-2014

H5N1 tweaks that boost airborne spread could kill half the planet

(Ed note: CIDRAP buried the lead – if modified h5n1 escaped the result could well be catastrophic. And my alarmist headline doesn’t do justice to just how horrendous the event could be. There are better ways to do this work and ways that don’t involve creating Frankenstein variants.)

From CIDRAP News Study: H5N1 tweaks that boost airborne spread

Filed Under: Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Biosecurity Issues Dual-Use Research Robert Roos | News Editor | CIDRAP News

Apr 14, 2014

Influenza Virion CDC 1

Image: Transmission electron micrograph shows the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle. CDC / Erskine Palmer, PhD, & M.L. Martin

In a controversial study published 2 years ago Dutch scientists described a lab-modified strain of H5N1 influenza virus that was capable of airborne transmission among ferrets. Now the same researchers say they have identified five specific mutations that gave the virus this ability, a claim that is renewing debate about the risks of conducting and publishing such experiments.

Writing in Cell, the scientists said they identified two combinations of five mutations that affected specific characteristics of the virus and collectively enabled it to spread by air. They assert that the findings will help in the effort to detect early warning signs of flu strains that could cause a pandemic.

But other experts question the scientific value of the findings and argue that they are not worth the risks involved in conducting such experiments and publishing the full details. They assert that the research poses a risk of either accidental or intentional release of dangerous viruses.

Building on 2012 study

The new study builds on a US-government funded study that was published in June 2012 in Science. In that case, Ron Fouchier, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues described how they used a combination of genetic engineering and serial infection of ferrets to create a mutant H5N1 virus that could spread among the animals without direct contact. Continue reading

n 1: What Happened to Canada?

(Ed Note: Just in case, I’m repeating this post from n+1 because I don’t want this to just ‘disappear’, a stunt the Harpercons might do more than daydream about.)
HARPER-STEPHEN-CANADIAN PM HEADSHOT-154X215-02“You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it.”
  –  Stephen Harper

 What Happened to Canada?

The left has long admired Canada as an enclave of social democracy in North America: for its openly socialist electoral parties, its robust welfare state, and its more moderate policy profile. Recent developments, however, have thrown that reputation into question. The country is helmed by a prime minister, Stephen Harper, known for his brazenly right-wing views and executive unilateralism. Both federal and provincial governments have embraced austerity and eroded public services. And Canada’s newly aggressive exploitation of its natural resources has it trampling on civil liberties and reneging on its international obligations like, as Foreign Policy put it, a “rogue, reckless petrostate.”

These are not changes born in the hearts and minds of the Canadian people, but an agenda designed and implemented from above, articulated in an imported conservative ideology, to abet the interests of private industry. Some of that agenda, like the shocking attack on Canada’s environmental research community, has been implemented so swiftly and unilaterally that the public is just now catching up. Other aspects, like the undermining of the country’s universal health care system, have been imposed more gradually, a death by a thousand cuts combined with a relentless propaganda campaign.

What is happening in Canada is part of a much larger trend: the formidable disciplinary forces of late capitalism are exerting themselves everywhere, including in other western democracies, where governments are scaling back social programs while lavishing tax concessions and subsidies on industry. The European Union and the United States are similarly absorbing market shocks on behalf of business while allowing downturns to undermine the poor and working class. If Canada is becoming indulgent of, even slavish toward, its resource industry (the biggest contributor to GDP), it is arguably no more so than the United States in relation to its banking sector, which was never brought to heel despite causing the 2008 collapse.

Still, the drastic turn in Canadian politics and policy raises some urgent questions. Why hasn’t the population stopped the attack on its public services? Why have left-leaning parties lost ground at the polls while Harper and his ilk continue getting reelected? Why, in a society with a more collectively oriented spirit, has the political discourse taken a sharp turn to the right?

The answers to those questions tell a story to which the left should pay heed, for the hijacking of Canada’s social democracy was made possible in part by the utter failure of its left parties, and the prospects for wresting the country from the current conservative agenda depend on the success of grassroots movements of resistance.

Canada’s public services, including health care and post-secondary education, the post office and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are generally quite beloved. Unlike in the United States, where the government is viewed with some suspicion, in Canada government-administered and -funded institutions are understood to play an important nation-building role by servicing a population dispersed across a vast terrain. And the fact that all Canadians’ needs are provided for has become a point of pride.

Over the past few decades, however, private business interests and their neoliberal allies in government have led a concerted push to expand the role of the market and shift government expenditure away from social need. The assault on public services hasn’t been conducted by criticizing them on principle, but by manufacturing crises and then suggesting that the only solution is to expand the role of the private sector.

Such is the strategy playing out right now at the post office. Last December, it was announced that Canada Post would have to phase out home delivery within five years, requiring residential customers to retrieve their mail from nearby community boxes. The change would come along with a significant increase in the cost of postage (from 63 cents to one dollar for a single stamp) and the layoff of 8,000 postal workers.

The announcement was shocking, but calculatedly so. The recommendations were prepared by a think tank arguing for privatization. It claimed that the post office is unsustainable and uncompetitive, a burden to taxpayers, and poor at meeting consumers’ needs. In reality, Canada Post has netted a profit for sixteen of the last seventeen years, and, despite occasionally suffering losses, has yet to receive a single dollar in taxpayer bailout. All of the report’s recommendations were part of a larger and often-used strategy to “restructure” services so that user costs increase while services deteriorate, and then, in response to public frustration, suggest market-based solutions.

The same strategy has been exercised repeatedly in health care: crises are brought on by underfunding, and the alleged only solution is to expand the role of private profit. Services are “delisted,” i.e. taken out of universal medicare coverage, but private supplemental insurance becomes available to cover them. Public hospitals are closed but private clinics allowed to open. Wait times for services increase due to budget cuts, but patients are permitted to “jump the queue” and pay out of pocket for their own MRI. The public is thus softened for market-based solutions, although on an ideological level it remains staunchly committed to medicare and vocally resistant to efforts to introduce parallel private health insurance and private hospitals. The CBC, itself constantly menaced with cuts, recently held a months-long contest to select “The Greatest Canadian.” The population chose Tommy Douglas, the architect of Canada’s medicare system, ahead of Wayne Gretzky, Alexander Graham Bell, and Pierre Trudeau.

Continue reading

Drought Map USA 20140408

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Greenland’s Northeastern Ice Sheet Starting To Melt

Greenland’s Northeastern Ice Sheet Melting

18 Mar 2014

by Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

A new study suggests that Greenland’s northeast ice stream, located 600km to the interior of its ice sheet is thinning because of warming temperatures. The study used data from several dozen GPS  locations along Greenland’s coast.

Greenland’s previously stable northeastern ice sheet is starting to melt, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

While Greenland’s melting ice sheet has contributed to an increase in the world’s sea levels over the last 20 years, the recent study suggests that Greenland’s northeast ice stream, located 600km to the interior of the ice sheet is also thinning because of warming temperatures.

Greenland is believed to contribute 0.5 mm per year to the 3.2mm annual rise of the world’s sea levels.

VIDEO: How ice melt in Greenland is affecting its Inuit population

Longterm implications

The study used data from several dozen GPS locations along Greenland’s coast.

“The Greenland ice sheet has contributed more than any other ice mass to sea level rise over the last two decades and has the potential, if it were completely melted to raise global sea level by more than seven metres (22.75 feet),” Jonathan Bamber, a professor at Britain’s University of Bristol and one of the study’s co-authors, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) this week.

“About half of the increased contribution of the ice sheet is due to the speedup of glaciers in the south and northwest. Until recently, northeast Greenland has been relatively stable. This new study shows that it is no longer the case.”

David Suzuki – Citizen scientists can help monarch butterflies

David Suzuki Foundation

Citizen scientists can help monarch butterflies

Child with Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

From the age of five, Fred Urquhart was fascinated by monarch butterflies in his Toronto neighbourhood. Born in 1911, he spent hours watching the orange and black insects flutter about, wondering: Where did they go in winter? At school, he read voraciously about nature, especially monarchs and other insects.

He eventually became a zoology professor and married Norah Patterson, who shared his love of butterflies, as did their son, Doug. To answer the question that had nagged Fred since childhood, in 1940 they found a way to attach tiny labels to individual butterflies that read, “Send to Zoology University of Toronto Canada.” They started the Insect Migration Association, now known as Monarch Watch, enlisting “citizen scientists” to tag butterflies.

They finally solved the mystery in 1975 — with the help of two citizen scientists in Mexico. Ken Brugger and Catalina Aguado had come across millions of butterflies in the mountains west of Mexico City. The couple took the Urquharts there in 1976 and, miraculously, Fred found one of his tagged insects within hours. Their fascinating story is told in the documentary film Flight of the Butterflies and in an episode of CBC’s The Nature of Things, The Great Butterfly Hunt.

Now, monarchs are in trouble, their numbers drastically reduced from the days when the Urquharts pursued their passion. And once again, experts and others are calling on citizen scientists — and politicians — to help.

Monarch populations in Mexico plummeted to a record low of about 33.5 million this year from an annual average over the past 15 years of about 350 million and highs of more than one billion. Causes include illegal logging in Mexico, herbicide use on genetically modified crops in the U.S. and climate change.

In February, in response to a letter by Mexican poet Homero Aridjis, signed by more than 100 scientists, writers and environmentalists — including Canadians Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and John Ralston Saul — U.S. President Barack Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to “establish a working group to ensure the conservation of the monarch butterfly, a species that symbolizes our association.”

The letter to leaders said, “As Mexico is addressing the logging issues, so now must the United States and Canada address the effects of our current agricultural policies.” Those problematic practices are mainly associated with large-scale planting of corn and soy genetically modified to resist the herbicide Roundup, or glyphosate. It doesn’t kill crops — just pretty much everything else, including the milkweed monarchs need to lay their eggs and that is their caterpillars’ main food.

We can only hope our leaders live up to their commitment, and we can speak up to hold them to it. But we can also become citizen scientists to help researchers better understand the butterfly’s breeding, migrating and overwintering cycles and help monarchs survive. Monarch Watch offers classroom resources, student-scientist research projects and information about building monarch way stations, raising your own monarchs and planting milkweed and butterfly gardens. The U.S. Monarch Joint Venture website offers resources for citizens to track migration, count butterflies and monitor larval populations and disease for monarchs — as well as other butterflies.

The David Suzuki Foundation website also offers a range of resources and activities to help protect these pollinating insects. And, as part of its Homegrown National Park Project, the foundation is launching a Toronto-based campaign in April to crowd-source a milkweed corridor through the city.

Helping monarch and other butterflies and insects is a fun way to get kids interested in nature’s wonders. Planting milkweed and nectar-producing native flowers on balconies and in gardens, parks and green spaces will beautify the area around your home and bring bees and butterflies to the neighbourhood.

Scientists still don’t know everything about monarchs and their migration, but we know they play an important role in ecosystems. And we know everything in nature is interconnected. When something that travels such long distances through a range of habitats is removed, it can have cascading effects on those environments.

The world wouldn’t know where North American monarchs travel if it weren’t for the Urquharts and the continent-wide battalion of citizen scientists they inspired. We can all help ensure monarch butterflies continue this wonderful journey every year.

By David Suzuki with contributions from with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

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Drought Map USA 20140325

How’s your greenhouse? Lettuce up yet?