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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 80234 times)
Upasika
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« Reply #1020 on: Apr 21, 2014, 02:30 PM »

The Cry of the Earth - a short and beautiful video ....

http://vimeo.com/42559334
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« Reply #1021 on: Apr 25, 2014, 06:33 AM »


Transition Streets: growing success for communities to conserve energy

An award-winning project has spread across the UK and abroad and is helping neighbours engage together in a greener lifestyle

Rob Hopkins   
theguardian.com, Friday 25 April 2014 10.00 BST   
       
When Gail Jackson put an invitation through every door on her street in St Albans, inviting her neighbours round to her house to discuss doing Transition Streets, she didn't really expect any of them to come.  "I ended up with 11 people crammed into my front room. I didn't know what to do with so many people," she recalls. She showed them a two-minute video about this community-level green initiative, and asked if they would like to try it on the street. Everyone put their names down.  "When do we start?" they said.

The government's flagship Green Deal has proven a flop, with 150,000 assessments turning into less than 1,000 people actually taking up the offer of a loan for energy-efficiency measures.  "A more effective Green Deal rollout would have started from the bottom rather than the top," commented Andrew Dobson, professor of politics at Keele University. That informal, tea-fuelled get-together in Gill's front room offers a powerful taste of what a genuine national push for energy conservation might look like.

Transition Streets began in Totnes in Devon, after the town was selected as one of 10 low-carbon communities by the Department of Energy and Climate Change in late 2010.  It went on to win the prestigious 2011 Ashden award for behaviour change.  Neighbours get together on their streets, meet seven times in each other's homes, work through an information pack, and take practical steps to reduce their energy, water use, travel and so on.

In Totnes, around 550 households have taken part, in 63 groups. Each household has, on average, reduced its carbon emissions by 1.2 tonnes, saving around £570 a year on household bills. Over half of those involved were on low incomes.  Yet a detailed evaluation of its impact found that the key benefit that people identified was feeling more connected to their neighbours. Many had so much fun they went on to set up other projects, such as a community cinema. Greg Barker, minister for energy and climate change, visited the town and enthused about Transition Streets, saying "community engagement and personal engagement are clearly the key". 

From Totnes, Transition Streets has spread. It is happening in Wiltshire, Dorset, Herefordshire and Berkshire.  It is being rolled out by local government in Brittany. In Australia, Transition Newcastle's Transition Streets Challenge was recognised in the New South Wales Sustainable City awards.  In January this year, Suffolk Coastal district council announced it would be funding Transition Streets locally. This week the Belgian lottery funded a substantial rollout of it there. It was also mentioned as best practice in the government's recent Community Energy Strategy.
Transition Streets: Members of the Fishpool Street group learning how to make compost Members of the Fishpool Street group learning how to make compost. Photograph: Gail Jackson

Ten Transition Streets groups ran in St Albans in 2013, and the plan is to do the same this year, to engage another 200 people.  Its first year was funded by Big Lottery, and this year by the Co-operative and local councillors. St Albans is also the first place to be running Transition Streets in a school, the local Sir John Laws School.

From Jackson's experience, why does she think it works?  "I love the community aspect," she says.  "I love working with neighbours to get results.  People loved meeting in each others' houses.  It provided a focus in order for us to get together and it built relationships that continue".

On a street, most people have the same kind of houses, and therefore the same challenges in terms of insulation, the same recycling challenges, the same sized gardens, the same immediate neighbourhood issues. A more top-down approach is unlikely to produce such shared interests.

What impact has Transition Streets had in St Albans?  An evaluation conducted at the end of the first year found that, among other things, participants had carried out insulation and other energy-efficiency measures, installed double glazing, reduced shower times, recycled more, and started growing food, cycling and walking more.  Participants saved around £380 a year and 0.8 tonnes of CO2.  One participant said: "It helps you have a sense of wellbeing and community, and helps you appreciate the street a bit more.

Can anyone do it?  According to Jackson, all you need is "a small group and a small bit of funding".  The small amount needed fits neatly with the starter level of grant support offered by Awards for All, which has enabled many Transition Streets initiatives to get started.

Could the government decide to roll it out nationally?  Its power though comes from the fact that it is genuinely bottom-up and led by the communities themselves.  "It would be a bit scary to think of government getting their hands on it," Jackson says. "It's a solid, old-style community engagement technique, and as a way of meeting government aims it's perfect.  But it needs to come from a community base".

Find out more about Transition Streets here.

Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month's Live Better Challenge here.


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« Reply #1022 on: Apr 26, 2014, 06:45 AM »


Indigenous protesters occupy Peru's biggest Amazon oil field

Around 500 Achuar protesters are demanding the clean-up of decades of contamination from spilled crude oil

Dan Collyns in Lima
theguardian.com, Friday 25 April 2014 17.28 BST   
 
Around 500 Achuar indigenous protesters have occupied Peru’s biggest oil field in the Amazon rainforest near Ecuador to demand the clean-up of decades of contamination from spilled crude oil.

The oilfield operator, Argentine Pluspetrol, said output had fallen by 70% since the protesters occupied its facilities on Monday – a production drop of around 11,000 barrels per day.

Native communities have taken control of a thermoelectric plant, oil tanks and key roads in the Amazonian region of Loreto, where Pluspetrol operates block 1-AB, the company said on Thursday.

Protest leader, Carlos Sandi, told the Guardian that Achuar communities were being “silently poisoned” because the company Pluspetrol has not complied with a 2006 agreement to clean up pollution dating back four decades in oil block 1-AB.

“Almost 80% of our population are sick due to the presence of lead and cadmium in our food and water form the oil contamination,” said Sandi, president of FECONACO, the federation of native communities in the Corrientes River.

Pluspetrol, the biggest oil and natural gas producer in Peru, has operated the oil fields since 2001. It took over from Occidental Petroleum, which began drilling in 1971, and, according to the government, had not cleaned up contamination either.

Last year, Peru declared an environmental state of emergency in the oil field.

But Sandi said the state had failed to take “concrete measures or compensate the native people” for the environmental damage caused.

He claimed Achuar communities were not receiving their share of oil royalties and the state had failed to invest in development programmes in the Tigre, Corrientes and Pastaza river basins that had been most impacted by oil exploitation.

He said the Achuar were demanding to meet with the central government to talk about public health, the environment and the distribution of oil royalties.

"We aren’t against oil exploitation or development we are calling for our rights to be respected in accordance with international laws," he said.

"Conversations are under way to bring a solution to the impasse," Pluspetrol told Reuters. "A government commission is there and we hope this is resolved soon."

Over the past year, the Peruvian government has declared three environmental emergencies in large areas of rainforest near the oil field after finding dangerous levels of pollution on indigenous territories.

Peru’s Environment Ministry said in a statement last week that a commission formed by government and company representatives has been assigned to work with communities to tackle pollution problems and other concerns.


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« Reply #1023 on: Apr 28, 2014, 05:37 AM »


South Africa's 'cancer alley' residents face new threat from port development

Decades of activism have made some gains, but the expansion of Durban port will wreak new devastation for many communities

John Vidal   
theguardian.com, Monday 28 April 2014 07.00 BST   
       
The smells drifting into the cramped office of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance range from sweet and sickly to stomach-churning. Volunteers and others who work with the small group can see oil and gas plants, refineries, landfills, agro-chemical works, shipyards, paper mills and a massively expanding port.

"We have high levels of air pollution which would be unacceptable in the US or anywhere in the rich world. Nearly 70% of all South Africa's industry is concentrated here. It stinks," says Desmond D'Sa, who co-founded the coalition of environmental, community and church groups in 1995 and who this week has won a Goldman award, the world's most valuable ($175,000) international prize for grassroots environment work.

D'Sa refers not just to the smells that waft around south Durban, but to the 300,000 people, including some of South Africa's most disenfranchised, who must live cheek by jowl with more than 300 industrial plants. Many, like D'Sa's own family, were forcibly moved there in apartheid days.

"I was 15 and we lived in Cato Manor, the biggest community of mixed folk in South Africa. It was a very radical place in the apartheid era. But mum and dad were brutally forced to move by the army and security forces. We were put in a truck, they bulldozed our house and suddenly the family of 13 had to live in four rooms in one of Africa's most polluted places."

Racial and environmental injustice went together, he says. "There were smokestacks everywhere, chemical works, emissions. We were gasping for breath. We began to understand something was very wrong."

By the 1980s, south Durban had become known as "cancer alley" and the toxic capital of Africa, with the highest rates of cancer and asthma on the continent. More than 100 smokestacks belched out over 50m kg of sulphur dioxide each year, children in local schools had three times the rate of respiratory diseases as those living outside the area and nearly everyone had skin ailments and diseases.

The area is still massively polluted, he says, with regular chemical fires and innumerable leaks in the oil and gas pipelines that crisis cross the communities.

"Leukaemia is 24 times the normal there. My mother was ill for years. My brother died of cancer, my daughter has asthma. Eleven of the 12 families in the council block where I live have asthma. In every block you have around 50% of people who have respiratory problems. I still look out of my window and see refineries. I am a victim as much as anyone. We pay the price," he says.

Perhaps because of the grim physical environment, Cato Manor and then south Durban, where people were dumped, became an extraordinary hotbed for political resistance to social and environmental injustice. Only streets apart lived human rights activist Kumi Naidoo, now director of Greenpeace International, fellow 1998 Goldman prize winner Bobby Peek, who went on to advise Mandela on environmental issues, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mandela's minister of health and now chair of the African Union Commission.

D'Sa, a former chemical worker and union leader, worked with Peek to organise the diverse south Durban communities to confront government and industry. He helped develop a "smell chart" to help people identify which toxic chemicals they were being exposed to, trained people to measure pollution and has taken companies to court and closed down hazardous waste sites. In 20 years of activism, D'Sa and his small army of local volunteers have forced government to introduce air pollution standards and got much of the industry in the area to switch from oil to gas.

Standing up to the authorities, however, has led to personal danger. His home has been firebombed by unknown people and because of constant threats, he lives apart from his family.

The biggest threat, he says, is the planned expansion of Durban port to a monster development able to handle 20m containers a year – nearly 10 times as many as today. It would mean south Durban becoming a construction site for decades, the devastation of several suburbs and an inevitable increase in crime, smuggling, prostitution and air pollution.

"It will bring major new roads, warehouses, railways. All the green space will go. We are not against development. We are against being bulldozed," he says. "We thought we were free after Mandela came into government. Now we see the Zuma government retreating into nationalism and conservatism. Environmental injustice fits into all of this. We are promised jobs and better health. But people are not fooled any more."


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« Reply #1024 on: Apr 28, 2014, 06:09 AM »

Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

By Henry Fountain.
April 27, 2014
IHT   

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

If all goes as planned, by 2017 the 32,000-ton arch will be delicately pushed on Teflon pads to cover the ramshackle shelter that was built to entomb the radioactive remains of the reactor that exploded and burned here in April 1986. When its ends are closed, it will be able to contain any radioactive dust should the aging shelter collapse.

By all but eliminating the risk of additional atmospheric contamination, the arch will remove the lingering threat of even a limited reprise of those nightmarish days 28 years ago, when radioactive fallout poisoned the flatlands for miles around and turned villages into ghost towns, filled with the echoes of abandoned lives.

The arch will also allow the final stage of the Chernobyl cleanup to begin — an arduous task to remove the heavily contaminated reactor debris for permanent safe storage. That this job will fall from international hands to those of Ukraine presents new worries, especially as Russia threatens the nation’s borders.

For now, though, the rising arch is a sign of progress.

“It’s an amazing structure,” said Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka, the consortium of French construction companies that is building it. “You can’t compare it to anything else.”

With nations debating the future of atomic power as one way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change, the arch is also a stark reminder that nuclear energy, for all of its benefits, carries enormous risks. When things go wrong, huge challenges follow.

Containment and cleanup push engineering capabilities to their limits, as Japan is also finding out since the meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant three years ago.

The costs are enormous — the Chernobyl arch alone will end up costing about $1.5 billion, financed largely by the United States and about 30 other nations.

And making the site of a radioactive disaster truly secure can take generations.

Engineers have designed the Chernobyl arch to stand for 100 years; they figure that is how long it may take to fully clean the area. But there have always been questions about Ukraine’s long-term commitment, and the political turmoil and tensions with Russia have raised new concerns. So even a century might not be enough.

The arch, though, is a formidable structure, said Vince Novak, the director of nuclear safety for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which administers the project’s financing. If necessary, he said, “it might be able to last 300 years or more.”


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« Reply #1025 on: Apr 28, 2014, 06:56 AM »

“Revolutionary” Advanced Battery Leaps Theoretical Maximum Boundary

CleanTechnica
04/28/2014

Just when you thought you knew everything about the theoretical maximum capacity of batteries, along comes the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to throw you for a loop. A team of researchers at ORNL has developed a pathway for “unprecedented energy density” in a battery that has already demonstrated a 26 percent increase over its theoretical maximum.

The ORNL team tested its concept on a lithium-carbon fluoride battery, which is considered “one of the best” batteries in the single-use (non-rechargeable) class for its high energy density.
advanced battery concept

Next generation battery concept courtesy of ORNL.
Hold Your Breath On That Next-Gen EV Battery

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s pause and underscore that the finding involves single use batteries, so the implications for rechargeable EV batteries are remote at best.

However, according to ORNL the discovery could stretch single use battery life by “years or even decades.” That has significant implications for medical devices, remote sensors and keyless systems, and other applications where recharging is not an ideal solution.

In terms of our clean tech focus here at CleanTechnica, the improvement in lifecycle translates into significant resource conservation opportunities, including the potential for eliminating battery replacement surgery for medical devices.

Now think about how the medical device field is set to explode and you can see how a longer-lived battery comes into play.

For the record, ORNL isn’t the only federal agency interested in extending the life of lithium-carbon fluoride batteries. Army researchers are also on the case, pursuing a cathode-based track.
Secret Sauce for Next Generation Batteries

The beauty of the ONRL advanced battery discovery is that it involves a total rethinking of the role that each battery component plays.

For those of us who already forgot all the chemistry we learned in high school, here’s a quick review. Batteries consist of a cathode (positive charge), anode (negative charge), and an electrolyte, which conducts the ions (the charged particles).

Conventional battery engineering relies on the principle that each of the three components functions independently. In this system, the electrolyte is inactive in terms of maximizing battery capacity.

The ORNL team discovered that they could get the electrolyte and the cathode to interact in such a way that the electrolyte gains a capacity function to supplement the cathode.

They did that by incorporating a solid lithium thiophosphate (thiophosphate is a compound of phosphorus) electrolyte, which ORNL’s Chengdu Liang describes thusly:

    As the battery discharges, it generates a lithium fluoride salt that further catalyzes the electrochemical activity of the electrolyte. This relationship converts the electrolyte — conventionally an inactive component in capacity — to an active one.

What’s All This About Lithium Thiophosphate?

If lithium thiophosphate doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll probably hear more about it soon. ORNL announced the development of a solid lithium thiophosphate electrolyte last year, the point being to replace the potentially flammable electrolyte in conventional lithium-ion batteries with a more stable electrolyte.

As for EV batteries, ORNL is running down a number of promising leads for next-generation technology including lithium-sulfur, possibly with the help of a new cathode developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (the University of Arizona is also hot on the sulfur trail).

Sulfur is considered a good bet for its killer light weight – high density – low cost combo.


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« Reply #1026 on: Apr 29, 2014, 05:53 AM »


France must dig deep for a solution to the problem of buried toxic material

A long-term waste repository licensed to hold 44,000 tonnes must close. But cleaning up the Alsace site could be dangerous

Audrey Garric   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 29 April 2014 10.00 BST   

In just 90 seconds, the pit lift-car drops 550 metres, to the sound of screeching metal and creaking timber. Wearing helmets and head-lamps, an oxygen emergency kit slung across their shoulders, the miners advance along the galleries of what was once the Joseph-Else potash mine at Wittelsheim in eastern France. But there are no plans to cut salt today. We are heading for the areas where mercury, arsenic, cyanide and asbestos are stored. This is Stocamine, the only long-term facility in France licensed to hold 44,000 tonnes of toxic waste.

It is a major environmental headache. After lying inactive for 11 years, the site is now to be finally closed. From 1 April, some waste began being taken back to the surface; the rest will be sealed. So there is plenty to do. A huge machine scrapes the floor of the gallery, raising a cloud of salty dust. Meanwhile a tractor-loader is moving ore and spoil. "We must enlarge the galleries, flatten out the floor, consolidate the structural elements, install lights and emergency telephones. Then we can start removing the waste," says Stocamine chief executive Alain Rollet. "All these operations are hazardous, combining mining risks with those associated with toxic substances. Added to which the mine is occasionally prone to wildfire."

Time is of the essence. Some of the galleries – 100km long in all – are subsiding under the pressure caused by neighbouring mine works. Ceilings have caved in, making it almost impossible to reach the containers, some of which may have ruptured. Others are corroding due to the heat.

"The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to recover the containers," says Yann Flory, the spokesperson for the Déstocamine collective, representing various NGOs and unions campaigning for the mine to be completely emptied. "Time is short."

But despite the urgency underground, many on the surface have no idea what to do with the waste next. Local residents see Stocamine as an environmental time bomb. In December 2012 Delphine Batho, the then French environment minister, ordered one-tenth of the waste to be removed, including over half the total mercury. The rest of the site was to be closed up. But under local pressure, a public inquiry was launched six months later.

Local residents had until 15 February to express their views. On the table were five options, ranging from removal of 11% of the waste – under the existing plan – to removal of almost the entire inventory. Depending on the scenario, the cost of the operation varies between €84m and €150m ($113m-$202m) over a seven- to 11-year timescale. "A substantial majority of residents asked for all the waste to be removed," says Henri Watissée, who oversaw the inquiry. Between now and the end of the year, when the full inquiry process ends, the two ministers in charge of the case – environment and industrial renewal – will have to take a joint decision.

In the late-1980s, when the idea of an underground waste repository was raised, few people opposed the project. At the time potash mining, once a pillar of the local economy, was declining. Employment in the mines had fallen from 12,000 at its peak in the 1960s to only 2,000.

"The project was an opportunity for workers to retrain and prevented them all ending up unemployed," says Etienne Chamik, a former miner and union representative. He lists the promises made by Stocamine at the time: 250 new jobs, renovation of the village hall and even the launch of an environmental research centre. "The repository was set up without any difficulties," he adds. "People felt grateful towards the mine."

The example of their German neighbours, just across the border, seemed reassuring too. They had started storing long-term waste in their potash mines 20 years earlier. Furthermore, these mines seem particularly well suited to the purpose: over time cavities in the salty rock tend to close up, naturally encapsulating any toxic waste they contain. To win over public support, the government order issued in 1997 authorised storage for 30 years maximum and introduced the concept of reversibility. If standards were not met or a serious incident occurred, the waste must be removed.

Stocamine opened in 1999, as a subsidiary of the publicly owned Mines de Potasse de l'Alsace. Over the following three years, 19,500 tonnes of class 0 waste (the most hazardous) were deposited in the mine, contained in 250kg steel drums and one-tonne "big bags". To prevent any uncontrolled chemical reactions, another 24,500 tonnes of class 1 waste (asbestos and incineration residue) were also carted down to the bottom of the mine.

But the dream of a "clean" repository was soon shattered. In September 2002 a fire broke out in section 15. "About 470 big bags containing highly inflammable fertiliser and sulphur waste had been left there without permission," Flory recalls. It took three days to bring the fire under control and another three months to extract all the fumes. Although 74 miners were exposed to toxic emissions, the then CEO received a four-month suspended sentence. Stocamine was fined €50,000. It signalled the end for the enterprise. The facility, which had never shown a profit, closed in 2003, bringing down the mine company. It had created just 24 jobs.

This was a serious blow to the confidence of the local community too. "We no longer believe what they say," says Raoul Schmitt, a car mechanic who has lived most of his life on a housing estate next to the old mine. Almost everyone there has at least one former miner in the family. The accident came as a physical shock to residents. "I had been getting recurrent headaches, then suddenly I saw a plume of green and blue smoke wafting out of the pit. When I asked what was going on, I was told it wasn't dangerous; they were just burning pallets," Schmitt adds. "My brother-in-law was working underground at the time." Since the accident he has joined many of his neighbours campaigning to get all the waste removed.

"I'd feel much safer if they took out all the waste and cleaned up the site," says François Elsaesser, one of the estate's oldest residents, pointing to the pithead machinery visible from his window. Looking at his youngest child, aged four, who is playing in the sitting room, he explains that he is concerned about "toxic emissions", but above all the "risk of groundwater pollution".

In 2010, after several years' inertia, the environment ministry suddenly reopened the case, commissioning studies on closure of the facility. It also set up a steering committee of 13 expert scientists who highlighted the hazards of prolonged storage. "Measurements showed that every year 100,000 cubic metres of water seep through the outside walls into the 15 pits," says Jean-Claude Pinte, head of the Stocamine project at the National Institute for the Industrial Environment and Risks (Ineris). "Over the next 300 years the water will flood the mine then reach the aquifer, loaded with toxic substances." At the same time, the walls, ceiling and floor of the galleries are closing in at the rate of 2cm a year. Despite these findings, the experts cannot agree on how to go about closure. Ineris favours permanent internment of the waste. Pierre Toulhoat, the scientific head of the institute, explains: "By positioning bentonite [a mixture of sand and clay] plugs at the entrance to each pit, we can delay the release of contaminated salty water for 700 years. The most dangerous substances, in particular mercury, will only enter the aquifer very slowly, at concentrations lower than the limit set by the regulations."

According to Ineris, the risks involved in completely emptying the repository are much higher: intoxication of workers, atmospheric contamination, accidents during transport and pollution around the German repository. Waste from Stocamine would be taken to eastern Germany.

"It's quite possible to clean up a site without putting workers at risk," says Marcos Buser, a Swiss geologist and a specialist on toxic and nuclear waste. A dissident voice on the steering committee, he claims to have done just that at Saint Ursanne, in the Swiss Jura, adding that he is the only expert working on Stocamine to have such experience. "On the other hand," he adds, "you can't produce credible models for the scale of long-term pollution of the aquifer. There is no guarantee of safety for future generations."

His views, which have strong support from local communities, NGOs and policymakers, are not shared by the other experts. "The waste [at Saint Ursanne] was less hazardous and it was limestone, not a salt mine. It's quite different," says an engineer. "It's dangerous, foolhardy and above all expensive to want to remove everything," says Rollet. "I'm proposing the cheapest scenario to the authorities. After all, it's you, the taxpayers, who'll be footing the bill."

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde


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« Reply #1027 on: Apr 29, 2014, 06:37 AM »


Nigerian community fights Shell in UK court over oil spills

High court hearing comes ahead of case due to be brought next year by Bodo community in fight for compensation

AFP
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 April 2014 09.15 BST   

Britain's high court will on Tuesday hold a pre-trial hearing ahead of a court case due to be held next year brought by around 15,000 members of Nigeria's Bodo community against oil giant Shell.

The residents are seeking compensation from the British-Dutch company over two oil spills in 2008, having failed to reach a compensation deal last year.

London-based law firm Leigh Day, which represented Bodo residents in the talks and will do so in next year's court case, called Shell's initial offer "insulting."

Sources familiar with the talks said Shell proposed a settlement of 7.5 billion naira ($46 million, 35 million euros).

Lawyers for the villagers say the local environment was devastated by the two spills, depriving thousands of subsistence farmers and fishermen of their livelihoods.

Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, said each individual would end up with around 275,000 naira (1,300 euros, $1,700) after subtracting a lump sum to be paid to the community.

He claims most of the fishermen affected by the spills earn $5,000 to $8,400 per year.

"Our clients know how much their claims are worth and will not be bought off cheaply," Day said in a statement.

He called this week's court deliberations a "highly significant hearing".

According to Leigh Day, experts estimate the spills in the cluster of fishing communities in Rivers state to be between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels.

Shell admitted liability for the spills in 2011 but disputes the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the damage.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest crude producer, but much of the Niger Delta oil region remains deeply impoverished.

Decades of spills have caused widespread pollution in the region.

Shell, the biggest producer in Nigeria, says sabotage and oil theft are the main causes of spills, but activists allege the firm has not done enough to prevent such incidents and clean them when they occur.

In a statement Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) acknowledged the company's liability.

"From the outset, we've accepted responsibility for the two operational spills in Bodo in 2008," he said.

"They're deeply regrettable operational accidents, and they absolutely should not have happened.

"We want to fairly compensate those who have been genuinely affected as quickly as possible and clean up all areas where oil has been spilled from our facilities, including the many parts of Bodo which have been severely impacted by oil theft, illegal refining and sabotage activities."

According to Sunmonu, this week's hearings will address certain "technical, but highly important, legal questions regarding the interpretation of Nigerian law", adding they believed the case should be heard in Nigeria.


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« Reply #1028 on: Apr 30, 2014, 06:58 AM »


Yasuni campaigners claim oil drilling petition results are being manipulated

Civil society groups say enough signatures have been gathered to force a referendum but authorities are interfering

John Vidal   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 April 2014 11.46 BST   
 
Indigenous people, environment groups and others hoping to force a national referendum on whether one of the world's most biodiverse regions should be exploited by oil companies fear that the Ecuadorean government is manipulating the results of a petition in order to support the president.

Ecuador's proposal to leave an 846m barrels of oil in the ground under the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) area of the Yasuni national park in the Amazonian rainforest and ask the world to compensate it with half its monetary value was hailed as a revolutionary new conservation idea when it was agreed by President Rafael Correa in 2007.

But when only around $300m had been formally pledged by August 2013, Correa reversed his decision, saying the estimated $7bn that the country could eventually earn from the oil was needed to alleviate poverty.

However, Correa accepted that under Ecuador's constitution, a referendum would be triggered if 5% of the country, or 584,000 people, signed a petition within nine months. To the surprise of the authorities, a loose alliance of civil society groups calling themselves the YASunidos, claimed two weeks ago to have secured more than enough signatures.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa reverses his 2007 Yasuni Amazon reseerve initiative Ecuador's president

"When we officially handed over almost 760,000 signatures on 12 April, we knew we had gained more than enough signatures legally needed. Sadly the National Electoral Council (CNE) manipulated [some] parts of the materials we submitted. The box containing the IDs of all the collectors required to verify each page of signatures, was illegally opened by the CNE without our presence and the IDs of many signature collectors have mysteriously disappeared," said Josephine Koch, an activist working with the alliance.

Kevin Koenig, Ecuador programme director of Amazon Watch, said: "It is extremely troubling to see these kinds of irregularities so soon into the verification process. It calls into question whether the CNE can indeed be objective and non-partisan. The eyes of the world are watching – this is a critical moment for Ecuador's democracy and the credibility of Correa's administration."

The YASunidos now fear that the government is using technicalities to eliminate many of the signatures that an army of more than 1,000 volunteers collected from the internet, social media and public meetings.

"It is very alarming, because missing or illegible IDs could cause the invalidation of hundreds of thousands of signatures. Also, the verification of signatures began without observers of the YASunidos alliance. This is a serious violation of the constitution and a fraud to the Ecuadorian citizens. We are outraged about the untransparent and undemocratic methods being used to avoid a national referendum against the government's plans," Koch said.

The signatures, say the YASunidos, are being verified in a military base to which the public has only limited access. "We are truly under-represented. There are about 250 persons from the CNE there but just 10-25 of our observers every day. It's totally arbitrary who can go in. Sometimes we wait the whole day outside. We are not allowed to go inside with cameras or phones and they don't answer our questions. It's impossible to monitor what they are doing, and one can't see what happens behind the screens of their computers. They cancel signatures and we can't do anything. We think the president doesn't want this referendum, because he fears to lose it."

President Correa has openly discounted the likelihood that the required support can be mustered, saying he expects up to 40% of the submitted signatures to be illegitimate.

"There are all kinds of technicalities that can be used to disqualify signatures, even as petty as the colour of the ink used to sign the petition – it must be blue. Even if the minimum number of signatures were surpassed by thousands, when detailed scrutiny is applied to each entry, it may be simple to discard a huge proportion of them due to technicalities. He's also stated that probably a huge portion of the signatures have been falsified, essentially saying that there simply isn't enough support and that environmentalists are unethical liars and cheats,", said Kelly Swing, director of the Tiputini biodiversity station in the Yasuni national park and who helped collect signatures.

The YASunidos say that they went to extreme lengths to ensure that the signatures are all valid. "We organised brigades of signature collectors in all provinces and established collection points where the people could sign or handover filled-in forms. For over six months over 1,000 volunteers dedicated their whole free time to collect signatures for the referendum. They did this without any help from the state - neither logistical nor financial - although it is a constitutional duty to defend the rights of nature and a constitutional right to convoke a national referendum," said one activist.

Correa, who has said that Ecuador will not continue to be a "beggar sitting on a sack of gold" just because a few environmentalists are not willing to accept some "minor sacrifices" has maintained that the oil money will overcome poverty.

In a recent interview with the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia, he said that approving oil drilling was "the hardest decision" of his seven years in office.

According to the Ecuadorian constitution, the result of a national referendum would be a binding decision meaning the government would not be allowed to exploit the oil in the Yasuni-ITT, without violating the constitution.

The Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, where the oil has been found, is considered the heart of the Earth's most biodiverse ecoregion, western Amazonia. Yasuni is inhabited by 150 species of frogs, around 200 species of mammals, more than 120 different kinds of reptiles, 600 species of birds and over 2,000 species of trees.

The Ecuadorean government was contacted but has so far declined to comment.


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« Reply #1029 on: Apr 30, 2014, 07:02 AM »


Antibiotic resistance giving killer diseases free rein: WHO

AFP
By Jonathan Fowler
04/30/2014

Geneva (AFP) - The rise of superbugs, stoked by misuse of antibiotics and shoddy hospital hygiene, is enabling long-treatable diseases to once again become killers, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

In a hard-hitting study of antimicrobial resistance -- when bacteria adapt so that existing drugs no longer beat them -- the UN health agency said the issue was a global emergency and urged all players to wake up.

"Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill," warned Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security.

Antibiotics have enabled people to live longer, healthier lives and benefit from medical advances, but this is now under threat, Fukuda said in a statement.

"Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating," he said.

The WHO combed through data from 114 countries in the study.

It focused on seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as sepsis -- bloodstream infections -- diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.

Even so-called "last resort" antibiotics are losing their ability to fight such bacteria, with half of patients showing resistance in some countries, the report said.

- Spectre of E.Coli, gonorrhoea -

Among the key findings were the global spread of resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, the last-resort treatment for life-threatening infections caused by the common intestinal bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Known as K. pneumoniae, it is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, often hitting newborns and intensive-care patients.

Resistance to fluoroquinolones, one of the most widely used antibacterial medicines for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E. coli, is also widespread.

Resistance was virtually zero when the drugs were introduced in the 1980s, but now hits half of patients in many part of the world, the WHO said.

The problem is a particular concern in Africa, the Americas, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

Resistance to third-generation cephalosporins -- the last resort for tackling gonorrhoea, which infects more than a million people every day -- has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden.

Antibiotic resistance also has a knock-on effect by causing people to be sick for longer and making them more likely to die, the WHO said.

A case in point is MRSA -- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- which has grabbed headlines due to a rash of outbreaks at hospitals.

Patients with MRSA are 64 percent more likely to die than those with a non-resistant form, the WHO said.

In parts of the Americas, resistance to MRSA treatment had reached 90 percent, while levels of 60 percent were seen in Europe, the study found.

Resistance also raises health costs because of longer hospital stays and more intensive care.

Efforts to tackle antibiotic resistance have lagged behind its growth, the WHO said, flagging weak or totally absent monitoring in many countries.

It urged policymakers to raise their game by strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity, and by regulating and promoting appropriate use of drugs.

They should also do more to stop infection in the first place, with better hygiene measures, access to clean water, infection control in health-care facilities, and vaccination, to reduce the need for antibiotics, it said.

Health workers and pharmacists can help tackle resistance by boosting infection prevention and control measures, by only prescribing antibiotics when truly needed and by ensuring the right drugs are given.

The medical and pharmaceutical industry should step up efforts to develop new diagnostics, antibiotics and other tools to allow the health sector to stay ahead of emerging resistance, the WHO said.

Patients, meanwhile, should only use antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor, complete their treatment even if they feel better and never use leftover drugs, it said.

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« Reply #1030 on: Apr 30, 2014, 07:34 AM »

Half of all Americans — 148 million — live with unhealthy levels of air pollution

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 5:39 EDT

Report finds 148 million living in areas where smog and soot particles are health risk with climate change likely to worsen conditions

Nearly half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report released Wednesday.

Nearly 148 million people live in areas where smog and soot particles make it unhealthy to breathe the air, according to the ALA’s annual study on US air quality.

The report, which is based on data collected between 2010 and 2012, found smog, or ozone, had worsened in 22 of the 25 biggest US metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Houston, Washington-Baltimore, New York City and Chicago – and said there was a high risk of more high-ozone days because of climate change.

“Weather played a factor,” the report said. “The warmer summers in 2010 and 2012 contributed to higher ozone readings and more frequent ozone days. Sunlight and heat create conditions that increase the risk of high ozone levels.”

Smog, or ozone, which is the most widespread air pollutant, forms more readily in hotter temperatures, and is expected to increase under climate change. “It’s going to make it harder to clean up air pollution,” said Janice Nolen of the ALA. “Days that wouldn’t ordinarily have high ozone levels are going to have them.”

She added: “It’s going to be much harder to keep ozone pollution down to the levels that we should be breathing.”

There is growing concern globally – including in the US – about the health risks of air pollution. The report’s release comes a day after the supreme court endorsed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to deal with smog and soot that travel across state lines. The ALA had joined that case on behalf of the EPA. The group has also been pushing hard to tighten air pollution standards, and has supported the EPA’s moves to force power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Scientific research shows that smog and soot are far more harmful at lower levels than previously thought. A growing body of research over the last decade has connected air pollution to increased deaths from heart disease and respiratory illnesses. The World Health Organisation said last autumn that particulate pollution causes lung cancer.

Air pollution in New Delhi rose to record levels in winter, triggering a debate about whether the Indian capital had now caught up with Beijing. Britain was on smog alert earlier this month after recording very high levels of air pollution.

Meanwhile, California’s pollution control officers warned this month that extreme heat and wildfires could set back decades of improvements in air quality, boosting smog formation and spewing dangerous smoke into the air.

Eighteen of the 25 US cities with the worst particulate pollution saw a drop in year-round particle pollutants because of cuts in emissions for coal-fired power plants and other measures. Thirteen of them, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, registered their lowest ever levels. But the report said those cities still failed to meet national standards for year-round particle pollution.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

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Supreme Court Says Clean Air Trumps State’s Rights in Upholding EPA Rule

By: Keith Brekhus
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, April, 29th, 2014, 4:57 pm   

In a victory for environmentalists and the Obama administration, the Supreme Court today ruled to uphold the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule set by Obama’s EPA in 2011. The rule requires 28 states to reduce power plant emissions that can negatively affect the air quality in neighboring states. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in the case. The Court ruled 6-2 in favor of the rule with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagen, Roberts and Kennedy joining Ginsburg in supporting the  EPA mandate. Justices Anton Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the majority, arguing that the court’s decision ”feeds the uncontrolled growth of the administrative state at the expense of government by the people.”

While Thomas and Scalia may support the right of one state’s power plants to pollute downwind states with pollutants that cause respiratory illnesses and increase the risk of heart attacks for the downwind residents, the courts other justices disagreed. The Court majority determined that the EPA rule was a reasonable mandate consistent with the EPA’s mission, and that upholding the rule would improve the air quality for the American people.

The states of Texas, Ohio, and Michigan opposed the ruling. Some companies that operate coal-fired power plants including Xcel Energy and American Electric Power Company, also opposed the court’s decision. Environmentalists and proponents of clean air on the other hand were pleased with the outcome. Fred Krupp, speaking on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded the ruling, stating:

    The Supreme Court’s decision means that our nation can take the necessary steps to ensure healthier and longer lives for the 240 million Americans at risk from power plant smokestack pollution near and far.

While this particular Supreme Court has not been friendly to proponents of the environment, today’s ruling is not only a victory for environmentalists, but it is a win for all Americans who want better health and cleaner air.


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« Reply #1031 on: May 03, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Worse than AIDS: Antibiotic resistance the next world health crisis, experts say

By David Ferguson
Friday, May 2, 2014 8:57 EDT

The World Health Organization issued another warning on Friday about the dangers posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria. U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph said that without new drugs to fight them, common infections will surge as a leading cause of death in a health crisis that will eclipse the AIDS epidemic.

In the organization’s first global overview report on antibiotic resistance, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director General for Health Security, wrote, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”

The “achievements of modern science” are at stake, Fukuda said, as everything from current treatments for urinary tract infections to pneumonia in infants to kidney dialysis become obsolete.

“This is not an abstract problem,” he wrote. “We have a big problem now and it is going to get bigger.”

Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong, Senior Adviser Antimicrobial Resistance at WHO Europe, said to the Telegraph, “A child falling off their bike and developing a fatal infection would be a freak occurrence in the U.K. but that is where we are heading. Antibiotic resistance travels with infectious diseases and infectious diseases travel around the world. Whatever good is being done in the UK and elsewhere it can be made redundant by a lack of action elsewhere in the world.”

Science magazine reported, “WHO asked its 194 member states to contribute information on how common resistances to these drugs are and how they survey them; 129 countries provided information, but only 114 of those could provide data for at least one of the nine combinations of pathogen and drug.”

More than half of the nations surveyed showed that the majority of tested strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae — a common environmental pathogen that wreaks havoc if it reaches the lungs — have evolved resistance. The bacteria are a leading cause of hospital infections and can also infect the urinary tract and bloodstream. Currently the resistant strains only respond to one class of drug called carbapenems. When strains of Klebsiella become resistant to those drugs, there will be no other treatment options.

Drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea have been reported in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the U.K., while some countries may not even realize yet that they have a problem.

“I think it’s scary how bad the antibiotic surveillance is, given the seriousness of the problem,” said Andrew Read to Science. Read directs the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

Jennifer Cohn, medical director of the Access Campaign at Doctors Without Borders, said in a written statement, “We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look in our field operations, including children admitted to nutritional centers in Niger, and people in our surgical and trauma units in Jordan. Ultimately, WHO’s report should be a wake-up call to governments to introduce incentives for industry to develop new, affordable antibiotics that do not rely on patents and high prices and are adapted to the needs of developing countries.”

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« Reply #1032 on: May 03, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Centers for Disease Control confirms first U.S. case of deadly MERS virus

By Reuters
Friday, May 2, 2014 16:44 EDT

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – The first U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS), a viral respiratory illness, has been confirmed within U.S. borders, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday

A SARS-like virus, MERS was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Dr Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call the first U.S. case of the virus was “of great concern because of its virulence,” noting that it has proven fatal in about a third of the cases of infection.

She said the case represents “a very low risk to the broader general public,” but MERS has been shown to spread to healthcare workers and there are no known treatments for the virus.

Schuchat said on the call the patient was a healthcare provider who had been working in Saudi Arabia.

The patient, later identified by the CDC as a male, traveled by airplane on April 24 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London and then to Chicago, where he then took a bus to an undisclosed city in Indiana.

On April 27, he experienced respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, and was admitted to a hospital the following day. Because of his travel history, Indiana health officials tested him for MERS, and sent the samples to the CDC, which confirmed the presence of the virus on Friday.

Schuchat said the patient was now in stable condition and there are no other suspected cases of MERS at the current time.

The CDC declined to identify the patient by name or say where he was being treated. It also declined to say on which airlines or bus line the patient traveled. Schuchat said the CDC was working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to contact individuals who may have been exposed to the patient during his travels.

Although the vast majority of MERS cases have been in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, the discovery of sporadic cases in Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Malaysia and elsewhere have raised concerns about the potential global spread of the disease by infected airline passengers.

Scientists are not yet sure how the MERS virus is transmitted to people, but it has been found in bats and camels, and many experts say camels are the most likely animal reservoir from which humans become infected.

The virus is similar to the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which emerged in China in 2002-2003 and killed some 800 people.

(Reporting by Michele Gershberg and Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by James Dalgleish, Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

[Image: "Woman Lying Down In Hospital Bed," via Shutterstock]
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« Reply #1033 on: May 03, 2014, 06:00 AM »

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Humans aren’t killing the planet, just all the people on it

By Tom Boggioni
Friday, May 2, 2014 13:52 EDT

In a video published Thursday by Business Insider, astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson explained that the human propensity for burning carbon fuels was warming the Earth, but not to worry about Earth since it will be here “long after we are extinct.”

Saying that “science is true whether or not you believe in it,” Tyson addresses the politicization of the science of climate change saying, “It’s odd because I don’t see people choosing up sides over  E=mc2, or other fundamental facts of science.”

He explains how humans, by taking carbon that was previously underground and burning it, put that carbon into the atmosphere, creating greenhouse gases which are warming the Earth.

“We are warming, and that comes with consequences,” Tyson explains. “By the way, Earth will survive this. People say ‘save the Earth.’ No, don’t worry about Earth. Earth will be here long after we have rendered ourselves extinct.”

Tyson explains that climate change is melting the ice caps, raising water levels, “Not inches, not feet, but tens of feet,” threatening the coastlines which, historically, have “been the very foundation of our civilization.”

Tyson goes on to use Venus as an example of a “runaway greenhouse effect.”

“It’s 900 degrees on Venus, not simply because it’s closer to the sun than us – it’s not that much closer, a little bit closer – it’s got nearly 100% CO2 in its atmosphere, and that atmosphere is one hundred times as dense as ours,” he says, adding, “So heat comes in, it does not come out.”


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« Reply #1034 on: May 04, 2014, 05:37 AM »

World health at risk if drug companies don’t invest in new low-profit antibiotic research

By The Guardian
Saturday, May 3, 2014 22:27 EDT

We could now be entering an alarming “post-antibiotic era”, warned the World Health Organisation last week. The relief that humanity has won through antibiotics that fight off attacks on our health seems to be running out, as bacteria are developing ever better defence mechanisms. We thought the era of infectious diseases lay behind us; instead, is it coming back?

Already 25,000 people die every year in the European Union from diseases of the blood and urinary tract, from pneumonia, TB and diarrhoea, all of which could have been treated by effective antibiotics. And this is in a region where there is widespread vaccination against infections and where public health is strong.

The bugs behind TB or gonorrhoea now routinely fight off antibiotics ever faster, and these mutating bugs travel globally. Everywhere people are having to stay in hospital for longer and face a growing risk of infection by others. Death rates are beginning to rise rather than fall.

Nor is the situation likely to get any better. Part of the problem is that people are too casual over how antibiotics are prescribed and used so the bugs aren’t eliminated, but instead develop better defence mechanisms. On top, over the past 30 years the drug companies have developed no new major antibiotic types. The last one was carbapenem – a so-called last resort antibiotic – back in 1980. Now more than half the cases of K pneumoniae that used to be treatable by carbapenem drugs no longer respond. Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director general for health security, spelled out the danger: “Without urgent, co-ordinated action by many stakeholders,” he said, “common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill.”

The impact is felt across all of medicine. The effectiveness of drugs is interdependent. Cancer patients undergoing expensive chemotherapy need cheap antibiotics to handle the otherwise potentially fatal side effects as their immune systems reel from the impact of the poison to kill the cancer.

We are used to the notion that medical science is getting better; there is no need to fear an infected finger, let alone the diseases that traumatised earlier generations. Now it seems science is losing the battle we are accustomed to it winning.

But the crisis is much less in science than it is in the ways it is directed and organised. It is no accident that the failure to develop any major new antibiotics over the past 30 years has coincided with the roll back of the state and the accompanying collapse in self-confidence in public initiatives or in the beneficial affects of public spending.

Drug discovery, and with it the evolution of the entire complex medical ecosystem along with the science that supports it, has been driven by profit signals in the commercial marketplace. Because the easy to find antibiotic chemical compounds have been discovered, new research is complex and expensive – yet antibiotics are priced as low-margin commodity drugs. Worse, regulators – especially the FDA in the US which, as the gatekeeper to the richest drugs market in the world, is of pivotal importance – only license antibiotics for particular rather than generalised uses.

For a profit-maximising drug company such as Pfizer, there is an obvious conclusion. Don’t waste valuable R&D on low-margin antibiotics that are never going to become super-profitable blockbusters. Instead, develop, say, Viagra (as it has), which is a high-margin, global money spinner. Exploit your financial muscle by avoiding as much tax as possible – other mutts can fund the infrastructure from which you directly benefit – and try to buy up other drug companies, such as AstraZeneca, which has been foolish enough to invest in drugs that are more integral to the entire medical ecosystem. You can harvest the results of their efforts, pocket your vast meta-bonus and buy an island in the Pacific. You may even be lucky enough to encounter a misguided, weak government – like the UK’s – that believes this is the way to do business.

In the 19th century, one of the biggest catalysts to end laissez-faire was the lived experience of infectious diseases, lack of sewers, dirty air, contaminated food and unregulated quack medicine. The upper middle class built their pavilions on the windward west of English cities to try to limit their exposure not just to the stink but the risk of infection: is it no accident that the working class lived downwind on the east of cities?

But infectious disease does not respect the boundaries of class and wealth. Beginning with the 1840 Vaccination Act, the Victorians decided that public health had to come before individual freedom, and launched the interlocking efforts to build sewers, vaccinate infants and marshal ever better science to support their efforts. Anti-vaccination movements protesting against the extension of the state – the equivalent of today’s Ukip – had to drop their resistance before the health need and weight of the evidence.

The WHO is invoking that same spirit today. Antibiotics are precious and the gains to public health precarious. Our culture does not respect these life-giving drugs enough; we use them like aspirin, not completing the courses we are prescribed or even giving unused drugs to friends or family for whom they were not diagnosed.

Nature is wreaking its revenge. Now we need a new collective effort to respond. It begins with each individual recognising and treasuring the miracle of antibiotics, but it also means that new antibiotics have to be developed faster and more effectively. We need smarter, more open forms of research collaboration between a multiplicity of drug companies around health strategies that understand that drugs are global public health goods, and that the medical ecosystem stands and falls as a whole. Antibiotics are as important as drug blockbusters to our health, if not to drug companies’ profits. Governments need to reset the incentives and drug companies their priorities. The best scientists and universities know this and want their science to be deployed in that way.

Britain could take a lead but over the next few weeks we are to be robbed of one of our major pharmaceutical assets, AstraZeneca, which will probably be taken over by Pfizer, one of whose prime strategic objectives is tax avoidance. The WHO must call for changes in not just how antibiotics are used, but how they are researched and produced if the world is not to confront devastating consequences. Dangerous bacteria even infect the ideologues in Number 10 so anxious to sell out to US interests, and the AstraZeneca shareholders who declare no loyalty except to the highest, short-term share price. Our health demands a new seriousness of intent, and a recognition that it is a public good not a private plaything. Saying no to Pfizer would be a wake-up call for everyone.


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