Archive for November, 2010

Scientists Quantify Global Warming’s Threat to Public Health

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

From heat stress to sewage overflows, climate change promises to bring extreme weather that will challenge the ill-prepared U.S. public health infrastructure.

Extreme weather induced by climate change has dire public health consequences, as heat waves threaten the vulnerable, storm runoffoverwhelms city sewage systems and hotter summer days bake more pollution into asthma-inducing smog, scientists say.

The United States – to say nothing of the developed world – is unprepared for such conditions predicted by myriad climate models and already being seen today, warn climate researchers and public health officials.

“Climate change as it’s projected will impact almost every aspect of public health, both in the developed world and – more importantly – in the developing world,” said Michael McGeehin, director of the Environmental Hazards and Health Effects division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A flood is a major public health disaster,” he added. “A flood takes us back to the 1890s as far as the public health system is concerned.”

Last week, as the East Coast stewed its way through the first heat wave of the summer, researchers at Stanford University published a study suggesting exceptionally long heat waves and extreme temperatures could be commonplace in the United States within 30 years – sooner than expected.

“I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades,” Noah Diffenbaugh, assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “It was definitely a surprise.”

The report was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Using some of the highest-resolution computer models to date, Diffenbaugh and Moetasim Ashfaq, a former Stanford postdoctoral researcher now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, were able to simulate daily temperatures across small sections of the country.

They found an intense heat wave – equal to the longest on record from 1951 to 1999 – could hit western and central United States as many as five times between 2020 and 2029.

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Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

– Drugs can be a real problem in our societies.  But I sometimes think that it is debatable whether or not our efforts to control them might be worse than the problems the drugs themselves cause.

– The U.S.’s War-on-Drugs has been in action for a long time now and the net seems to be that the U.S. prisons are overflowing with people serving sentences for smoking and selling pot.    And has all of this slowed the problems of drugs in the U.S.    I think not.

–  Meanwhile, the illegality of drugs can be seen as a driving factor for all the drugs produced south of the U.S. border and transported into the country.   Very big money’s involved and some of those narco-terrorist organizations are actually threatening to turn nation-states like Mexico into failed states.

– Portugal’s had a different idea and perhaps it is worth a look.

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Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled “coffee shops,” Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don’t enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal’s drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

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– Research thanks to Charles P.