Archive for the ‘Pandemics’ Category

Thinking about a thousand-year depression

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

– An excellent piece from The Automatic Earth; a Blog I’ve just started following.

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Cyclical terms like “recession” and “depression” are looking less appropriate by the day. It’s like calling the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance a “depression”.

I know the our situation is vastly different from the state of the world in Roman times, but the idea that we could be on the brink of a fundamental reset of civilization is intriguing, to say the least.

I’ve been convinced for several years that we are looking at the convergence of a set of wicked interlocking global problems — ecological problems (climate chaos, the death of the oceans, fresh water shortages etc.), energy shortages due to fossil fuel depletion, and overpopulation with the resulting pressure on the global food supply. This convergence is happening under the umbrella of the current global financial collapse that constrains our ability to respond to any of these problems individually, let alone any further problems that might emerge from interactions between them.

This unfortunate collision makes the future of our civilization very murky indeed. Writers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker and Sharon Astyk (along with people like Stoneleigh and Ilargi at The Automatic Earth) have been warning about the possibility of a generalized, unrecoverable collapse of modern civilization for a while now. They have generally been derided by the mainstream as millennialist prophets of doom — driven more by their own subconscious fears and dark desires, their research full of confirmation bias.

The events unfolding around us now, however, cast their optimistic mainstream critics in a somewhat different light. None of them — even the Roubinis and Krugmans – have fully appreciated the severity of the world’s financial predicament. Their comforting bromides (and even their more pessimistic utterances) have been overwhelmed by events on a weekly basis. It has become clear that for all their careful analysis of trunks and tails, nobody truly understood the shape of the entire elephant.

This evident failure of comprehension brings their entire analysis into disrepute. And that should make us ask – if they failed to comprehend the underpinnings of a calamity in their own domain, what does that say about the possibility that they also failed to understand the dangers being trumpeted by the doomers they have derided?

After all, we are seeing the same outcome in the climate crisis as in the financial one – the trends are uniformly negative, and are unfolding much faster than the professionals in either field predicted. There are new signs from world bodies like the International Energy Agency that the same situation is developing with respect to the world’s oil supply – the more pessimistic members of the Peak Oil crowd appear to be heading for vindication.

So, following a “major, rapid contraction” (aka collapse), could our civilization end up staying on the mat, unable to rise from the ashes of our former glory? That’s unknowable of course, but hardly inconceivable. Several factors give that speculation some foundation.

The first confounding factor is the spectre of irreversible climate change. That could irreparably damage the world’s food production capacity through shifts in rainfall and the reduction of snow and glacial cover that supplies much of the world’s fresh water for agriculture.

The second factor is the permanent depletion of the compact, high-density, transportable energy supply represented by fossil fuels. We’re putting a lot of effort into developing electrical alternatives, of course. There are two major challenges in the way, though. The first is the relative infancy of the industry, and the fact that it will require both capital and fossil fuels to enable its continued growth. The second longer term problem is that the use of electricity requires a higher level of technology in the infrastructure needed to manufacture, distribute, store and convert it into work. This may not seem like much of a a problem today, but if our global industrial civilization goes into a decline, growing parts of the world may find the maintenance of such infrastructure increasingly difficult.

A third factor that may get in the way of recovery is the depletion of easily-recoverable resources such as metals. The decline in the average quality of various ores being mined today is well documented, and is likely to continue. While recycling can recover much of the metal currently discarded as waste, recycling facilities capable of producing enough output to feed our civilization’s needs do not yet exist. They would face the same hurdles as the build-out of electrical supplies I described above.

You might think that such a situation will take so long to develop that we will be able to address the situation before it gets quite that dire.

One consideration that works against that hope is that human beings are not, for all their cleverness, fully rational creatures. Research has shown that most of our “rational” decisions are made at a deeply unconscious level, to be dressed up with rational justifications only upon their emergence into the conscious mind some time later. The truth of this proposition can be seen all around us in the competition between environmental remediation and economic imperatives, in the obstruction of alternative energy development, in our repeated creation of financial bubbles — in all the myriad ways in which we as a society work tirelessly against our own best interests as individuals and as a species.

Even worse, events have recently shown a terrifying ability to outstrip our expectations, in both speed and severity. We may not have nearly as much time left as we think. A lack of time coupled with an inability to respond rationally (or even to accept the evidence of our eyes) does not bode well for the future of this civilization.

It’s conceivable that our current civilization will never regain its feet after this storm has burst upon us. We will endure as a species no matter what happens, of course, and it’s even probable that we will rise to new heights. It’s also quite possible that the rebirth of this Phoenix will take a long, long time and that those new heights will be unrecognizable to someone raised in today’s world of 401(k)’s, Credit Default Swaps, automobiles and gigantic concrete cities.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kael for this.

Letter to a young idealist

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


A few more thoughts along the same lines I talked about previously.

All of humanity’s history has been a series of incremental advances along multiple paths; business, social organization, military, agriculture, technological, etc. In all of this, the thought has primarily been to advance, empower and grow.

Now, for the first time in humanity’s history, we have filled the planet and have begun to hit various unyielding limits; water, food, oil, pollution, as well as limits having to do with how much impact we can have on the biosphere without causing huge shifts in the demographics of various species and even causing their extinctions.

It is clear, if humanity wants to continue to live indefinitely on this planet, that we are going to have to shift from a growth and advance strategy in all we do to one predicated on establishing a steady-state and sustainable balance with the biosphere around us.

We cannot use renewable resources faster than they can regenerate. We cannot occupy more of the planet’s surface than is consistent with allowing the rest of the planet’s biology to exist and flourish. These both imply that our population has to come down to some sustainable number and be held there. We have to come up with ways to govern ourselves that are consistent with establishing and maintaining these essential balances. Nation against nation, system against system is not compatible with long term survival. The ultimate goal and purpose of government in an enlightened world should be to secure all of our futures (we and all the rest of the planet’s biology) and maintain the balance.

We could, if we cut our population to sustainable levels and learned to live within a sustainable footprint on this planet, exist here for tens of thousands of years and maintain a decent quality of life for all those who are alive at any specific point in time. We do not have to give up comfort or technology – we just have to dial our impact on the planet back to sustainable levels and stay with in those levels.

Anything that the Gates Foundation or any other forward looking organization works on that does not include long term goals like these is likely in the big picture to just be a shuffling of our problems from one place to the other rather than a real indefinite-term planet-wide solution to how our species is going to solve the problem of learning to live here without fouling our nest for ourselves and all the other species that depend on this planet’s biosphere.

Extreme Weather Events Can Unleash A ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Infectious Diseases, Research Study Says

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

An international research team, including University of Minnesota researcher Craig Packer, has found the first clear example of how climate extremes, such as the increased frequency of droughts and floods expected with global warming, can create conditions in which diseases that are tolerated individually may converge and cause mass die-offs of livestock or wildlife.

The study, published June 25 by PloS (Public Library of Science) One, an online peer-reviewed research journal, suggests that extreme climatic conditions are capable of altering normal host-pathogen relationships and causing a “perfect storm” of multiple infectious outbreaks that could trigger epidemics with catastrophic mortality.


The Way Back Machine…

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

– I think the first time I was seriously alarmed about the world’s situation was back in 1992 when I received a copy of the WORLD SCIENTISTS’ WARNING TO HUMANITY from The Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to that, I’d paid attention here and there – but this warning woke me up. “If these people are alarmed“, I thought, “It’s time to take a look at this stuff.

– I present that original warning, below.

– Consider it and think to yourself how many years have gone by since their warning was issued, how very little we’ve done to respond, and what sort of shape our world is in today because of our denial. It is sobering stuff.

– In the end, no one will be able to say, “We didn’t know.” Anyone who says so, has a very selective memory indeed given all the warnings that have been issued over the years.

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Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.


The Atmosphere

Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth’s surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests and crops.

Water Resources

Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world’s surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40% of the world’s population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and ground water further limits the supply.


Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world’s food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste—some of it toxic


Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth’s vegetated surface has been degraded—an area larger than India and China combined—and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.


Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.

Living Species

The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world’s biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.

Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain—with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe—but the potential risks are very great.

Our massive tampering with the world’s interdependent web of life—coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change—could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threat.


The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today’s 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.


We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.


Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth’s systems we depend on.

We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to third world needs—small scale and relatively easy to implement.

We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.

We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war—amounting to over $1 trillion annually—will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required—a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convince reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere.

We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists—natural, social, economic, political;

We require the help of the world’s business and industrial leaders;

We require the help of the worlds religious leaders; and

We require the help of the world’s peoples.

We call on all to join us in this task.


_Anatole Abragam, Physicist; Fmr. Member, Pontifical Academy of Sciences; France
_Carlos Aguirre President, Academy of Sciences, Bolivia
_Walter Alvarez Geologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Viqar Uddin Ammad, Chemist, Pakistani & Third World Academies, Pakistan
_Claude Allegre, Geophysicist, Crafoord Prize, France
_Michael Alpers Epidemiologist, Inst. of Med. Research, Papua New Guinea
_Anne Anastasi, Psychologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Philip Anderson, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Christian Anfinsen, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
_How Ghee Ang, Chemist, Third World Academy, Singapore
_Werner Arber, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Switzerland
_Mary Ellen Avery, Pediatrician, National Medal of Science, USA
_Julius Axelrod, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Michael Atiyah, Mathematician; President, Royal Society; Great Britain
_Howard Bachrach, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
_John Backus, Computer Scientist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Achmad Baiquni, Physicist, Indonesian & Third World Academies, Indonesia
_David Baltimore, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_H. A. Barker, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Francisco J. Barrantes, Biophysicist, Third World Academy, Argentina
_David Bates, Physicist, Royal Irish Academy, Ireland
_Alan Battersby, Chemist, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
_Baruj Benacerraf, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Georg Bednorz, Nobel laureate, Physics; Switzerland
_Germot Bergold, Inst. Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas, Venezuela
_Sune Bergstrom, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Sweden
_Daniel Bes, Physicist, Argentinean & Third World Academies, Argentina
_Hans Bethe, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Arthur Birch Chemist, Australian Academy of Science, Australia
_Michael Bishop, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Konrad Bloch, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Nicholaas Bloembergen, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_David Mervyn Blow, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
_Baruch Blumberg, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Bert Bolin, Meteorologist, Tyler Prize, Sweden
_Norman Borlaug, Agricultural Scientist, Nobel laureate, Peace; USA & Mexico
_Frederick Bormann, Forest Ecologist; Past President, Ecological Soc. of Amer.; USA
_Raoul Bott, Mathematician, National Medal of Science, USA
_Ronald Breslow, Chemist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Ricardo Bressani, Inst. of Nutrition, Guatemalan & Third World Academies, Guatemala
_Hermann Bruck, Astronomer, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Great Britain
_Gerardo Budowski, Natural Resources, Univ. Para La Paz, Costa Rica
_E. Margaret Burbidge, Astronomer, National Medal of Science, USA
_Robert Burris, Biochemist, Wolf Prize in Agriculture, USA
_Glenn Burton, Geneticist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Adolph Butenandt, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Fmr. President, Max Planck Inst.; Germany
_Sergio Cabrera, Biologist, Univ. de Chile, Chile
_Paulo C. Campos, Medical scientist, Philippine & Third World Academies, Philippines
_Ennio Candotti, Physicist; President, Brazilian Soc. Adv. of Science; Brazil
_Henri Cartan, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, France
_Carlos Chagas, Biologist; Univ. de Rio de Janeiro; Fmr. President, Pontifical Academy of Sciences; Brazil
_Sivaramakrishna Chandrasekhar, Center for Liquid Crystal Research, India
_Georges Charpak, Nobel laureate, Physics; France
_Joseph Chatt, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Great Britain
_Shiing-Shen Chern, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, China & USA
_Christopher Chetsanga, Biochemist, Affican & Third World Academies, Zimbabwe
_Morris Cohen, Engineering, National Medal of Science, USA
_Stanley Cohen, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Stanley N. Cohen, Geneticist, Wolf Prize in Medicine, USA
_Mildred Cohn, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
_E. J. Corey, Nobel laureate, Chemistry, USA
_John Cornforth, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Hector Croxatto, Physiologist, Pontifical & Third World Academies, Chile
_Paul Crutzen, Chemist, Tyler Prize, Germany
_Partha Dasgupta, Economist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Jean Dausset, Nobel laureate, Medicine; France
_Ogulande Robert Davidson, Univ. Res. & Dev. Serv., African Acad., Sierra Leone
_Margaret Davis, Ecologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Luis D’Croz, Limnologist, Univ. de Panama, Panama
_Gerard Debreu, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
_Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Nobel laureate, Physics; France
_Johann Deisenhofer, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Germany & USA
_Frederica de Laguna, Anthropologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Paul-Yves Denis, Geographer, Academy of Sciences, Canada
_Pierre Deligne, Mathematician, Crafoord Prize, France
_Frank Dixon, Pathologist, Lasker Award, USA
_Johanna Dobereiner, Biologist, First Sec., Brazilian Academy of Sci.; Pontifical & Third World Academies, Brazil
_Joseph Doob, Mathematician, National Medal of Science, USA
_Renato Dulbecco, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, Mathematician, African & Third World Academies, Zimbabwe
_Manfred Eigen, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Germany
_Samuel Eilenberg, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, USA
_Mahdi Elmandjra, Economist; Vice President, African Academy of Sciences; Morocco
_Paul Ehrlich, Biologist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_Thomas Eisner, Biologist, Tyler Prize, USA
_Mohammed T. El-Ashry, Environmental scientist, Third World Academy, Egypt & USA
_Gertrude Elion, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Aina Elvius, Astronomer, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_K. O. Emery, Oceanographer, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Paul Erdos, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, Hungary
_Richard Ernst, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Switzerland
_Vittorio Ersparmer, Pharmacologist, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Italy
_Sandra Faber, Astronomer, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Nina Federoff, Embryologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Herman Feshbach, Physicist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Inga Fischer-Hjalmars, Biologist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Michael Ellis Fisher, Physicist, Wolf Prize in Physics, Great Britain & USA
_Val Fitch, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Daflinn Follesdal, President, Norwegian Academy of Science; Norway
_William Fowler, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Otto Frankel, Geneticist, Australian Academy of Sciences, Australia
_Herbert Friedman, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
_Jerome Friedman, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Konstantin V. Frolov Engineer; Vice President, Russian Academy of Sciences; Russia
_Kenichi Fukui, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Japan
_Madhav Gadgil, Ecologist, National Science Academy, India
_Mary Gaillard, Physicist, National Academy of Sciences. USA
_Carleton Gajdusek, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Robert Gallo, Research Scientist, Lasker Award, USA
_Rodrigo Gamez ,Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica
_Antonio Garcia-Bellido, Biologist, Univ. Auto. Madrid, Royal Society, Spain
_Leopoldo Garcia-Collin, Physicist, Latin American & Third World Academies, Mexico
_Percy Garnham, Royal Society & Pontifical Academy, Great Britain
_Richard Garwin, Physicist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Georgii Georgiev, Biologist, Lenin Prize, Russia
_Humam Bishara Ghassib, Physicist, Third World Academy, Jordan
_Ricardo Giacconi, Astronomer, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
_Eleanor J. Gibson, Psychologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Marvin Goldberger, Physicist; Fmr. President, Calif. Inst. of Tech., USA
_Maurice Goldhaber, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
_Donald Glaser, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Sheldon Glashow, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_James Gowans, Wolf Prize in Medicine, France
_Roger Green, Anthropologist, Royal Society, New Zealand
_Peter Greenwood, Ichthyologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Edward Goldberg, Chemist, Tyler Prize, USA
_Coluthur Gopolan, Nutrition Foundation of India, Indian & Third World Academies, India
_Stephen Jay Gould, Paleontologist, Author, Harvard Univ., USA
_Roger Guillemin, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Herbert Gutowsky, Wolf Prize in Chemistry, USA
_Erwin Hahn, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
_Gonzalo Halffter, Ecologist, Inst. Pol. Nac. ,Mexico
_Kerstin Hall, Endocrinologist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Mohammed Ahmed Hamdan, Mathematician, Third World, Academy, Jordan
_Adnan Hamoui, Mathematician, Third World, Academy, Kuwait
_A. M. Harun-ar Rashid, Physicist; Sec., Bangladesh, Academy of Sci., Bangladesh
_Mohammed H. A. Hassan, Physicist; Exec. Sec., Third World Academy of Sciences; Sudan & Italy
_Ahmed Hassanli, Chemist, African Academy of Sciences, Tanzania & Kenya
_Herbert Hauptman, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
_Stephen Hawking, Mathematician, Wolf Prize in Physics, Great Britain
_Elizabeth Hay, Biologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Dudley Herschbach, Nobel laureate, Chemistry, USA
_Gerhard Herzberg, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Canada
_Antony Hewish, Nobel laureate, Physics; Great Britain
_George Hitchings, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Roald Hoffman, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
_Robert Holley, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Nick Holonyak, Electrical Engineer, National Medal of Science, USA
_Lars Hormander, Wolf Prize in Mathematics, Sweden
_Dorothy Horstmann, Epidemiologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_John Houghton, Meteorologist; Chairman, Science Working Group, IPCC; Great Britain
_Sarah Hrdy, Anthropologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Kenneth Hsu, Geologist, Third World Academy, China & Switzerland
_Kun Huang, Physicist, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
_Hiroshi Inose, Electrical Engineer; Vice President, Engineering Academy; Japan
_Turner T. Isoun, Pathologist, African Academy of Sciences, Nigeria
_Francois Jacob, Nobel laureate, Medicine; France
_Carl-Olof Jacobson Zoologist; Sec-Gen., Royal Academy of Sciences; Sweden
_Dorothea Jameson, Psychologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Daniel Janzen, Biologist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_Cecilia Jarlskog, Physicist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Louise Johnson, Biophysicist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Harold Johnston, Chemist, Tyler Prize, USA
_Victor A. Kabanov, Chemist, Lenin Prize in Science, Russia
_Jerome Karle, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Robert Kates, Geographer, National Medal of Science, USA
_Frederick I. B. Kayanja, Vice-Chnclr., Mbarara Univ., Third World Academy, Uganda
_Joseph Keller, Mathematician, National Medal of Science, USA
_Henry Kendall, Nobel laureate, Physics; Chairman, Union of Concerned Scientists; USA
_John Kendrew, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Elisabeth Kessler, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Maung-U Khin, Pediatrician, Third World Academy, Myamnar & USA
_Gurdev Khush, Agronomist, International Rice Institute, Indian Natl. Sci. Academy, India & Philippines
_Susan Kieffer, Geologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Klaus von Klitzing, Nobel laureate, Physics; Germany
_Aaron Klug, Nobel laureate, Chemistry, Great Britain
_E. F. Knipling, Agricultural Researcher, National Medal of Science, USA
_Walter Kohn, Physicist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Janos Kornai, Economist, Hungarian Academy of Science, Hungary
_Aderemi Kuku, Mathematician, African & Third World Acads., Nigeria
_Ikuo Kushiro, Geologist, Japan Academy, Japan
_Devendra Lal, Geophysicist, National Science Academy, India
_Gerardo Lamas-Muller, Biologist, Museo de Historia Natural, Peru
_Torvard Laurent, Physiological chemist; President, Royal Academy of Sciences; Sweden
_Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate, Physics; Chr., Amer. Assn. Adv. Sci.; USA
_Sang Soo Lee, Physicist, Korean & Third World Academies, Rep. of Korea
_Yuan T. Lee, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; USA
_Susan Leeman Pharmacologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Jean Marie Lehn, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; France
_Wassily Leontief, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
_Luna Leopold, Geologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Louis Leprince-Ringuet, Physicist, French & Pontifical Academies, France
_Vladilen Letokhov, Physicist, Lenin Prize in Science, Russia
_Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA & Italy
_Li Chang-lin, Environmental Sciences, Fudan University, China
_Shan Tao Liao, Mathematician, Chinese & Third World Academies, China
_William Lipscomb, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Jane Lubchenco, Zoologist; President-Elect, Ecological Soc. of Amer.; USA
_Christopher Magazda, Limnologist, African Academy of Sciences, Zimbabwe
_Lydia Phindile Makhubu, Chemist, Third World & African Academies, Swaziland
_Khursheed Ahmad Malik, Microbiologist, Pakistan & Third World Academies, Pakistan & Germany
_Lynn Margulis, Biologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Paul Marks, Oncologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_George Martine, Inst. for Study of Society, Population, & Nature; Brazil
_Frederico Mayor, Biochemist; Dir. Gen., UNESCO, Spain & France
_Ernst Mayr, Zoologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Maclyn McCarty, Wolf Prize in Medicine, USA
_James McConnell, Physicist, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Ireland
_Digby McLaren, Past President, Royal Society of Canada; Canada
_James Meade, Nobel laureate, Economics; Great Britain
_Jerrold Meinwald, Chemistry, Tyler Prize, USA
_M. G. K Menon, Physicist; President, International Council of Scientific Unions; India
_Gennady Mesiatz, Physicist; Vice President, Russian Academy of Sciences; Russia
_Jan Michalski, Biologist, Polish Academy of Science, Poland
_Hartmut Michel, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Germany
_Brenda Milner, Neurologist, Academy of Sciences, Canada
_Cesar Milstein, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Argentina & Great Britain
_Franco Modigliani, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
_Andrei Monin, Oceanologist, State Prize, Russia
_Marcos Moshinsky, Physicist, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Mexico
_Nevill Mott, Nobel laureate, Physics; Great Britain
_Teruaki Mukaiyama, Chemist, Japan Academy, Japan
_Walter Munk, Geophysicist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Anne Murray, Ethnographer, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Joseph Murray, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Noreen Murray, Biologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Lawrence Mysak, Meteorologist; Vice President, Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada; Canada
_Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, Astrophysicist, Indian & Third World Academies, India
_Anwar Nasim, Biologist, Third World Academy, Saudi Arabia
_Kim Nasmyth, Biologist, Royal Society, Great Britain & Austria
_James Neel, Geneticist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Louis Neel, Nobel laureate, Physics; France
_Yuval Ne’eman, Physicist, Natl. Acad. of Sci. & Humanities, Israel
_Oleg M. Nefedov, Chemist; Vice President, Russian Academy of Sciences; Russia
_Erwin Neher, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Germany
_Marshall Nirenberg, Biochemist; Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Yasutomi Nishizuka, Biochemist, Lasker Award, Japan
_John S. Nkoma, Physicist, Third World Academy, Botswana
_Paul Nchoji Nkvvi, Anthropologist, African Academy, Cameroon
_Howard Odum, Ecologist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_Bede Nwoye Okigbo, Agricultural Scientist; Dir., U.N. Unv. Pgm. Natrl. Res. in Afr.; Nigeria & Kenya
_Ayub Khan Ommaya, Neurobiologist, Third World Academy, Pakistan & USA
_Cyril Agodi Onwumechili, Physicist, Fmr. Pres., Nigerian Acad. of Sciences, Nigeria & Great Britain
_Mary Jane Osborn, Microbiologist, National Academy of Scientists, USA
_Yuri Ossipyan, Physicist; Vice President, Russian Academy of Sciences; Russia
_Autzr Singh Paintal, Physiologist, Fmr. President, Indian National Science Academy, India
_George Pake, Physicist, National Medal of Science, USA
_George Palade, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Mary Lou Pardue, Biologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate, Chemistry & Peace, USA
_Barbara Pearse, Molecular Biologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Muhammed Abed Peerally, Biologist, Third World Academy, Mauritius
_Manuel Peimbert, Astronomer, Univ. Nac. Aut. de Mexico, Mexico
_Roger Penrose, Mathematician, Wolf Prize in Physics, Great Britain
_John Philip, Agricultural Science, Australian Academy of Science, Australia
_Lilian Pickford, Physiologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_John R. Pierce, Electrical Engineer, National Medal of Science, USA
_John Polanyi, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Canada
_George Porter, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Ilya Prigogine, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Belgium
_Giampietro Puppi, Physicist, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Italy
_Edward Purcell, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Atta ur-Rahman, Chemist, Pakistani & Third World Academies, Pakistan
_G. N. Ramachandran, Mathematician, Inst. of Science, India
_Tiruppattur Ramakrishnan, Physicist, Indian & Third World Academies, India
_Chintamani Rao, Inst. of Science, Indian and Pontifical Academies, India
_Eduardo Rapoport, Ecologist, Third World Academy, Argentina
_Marianne Rasmuson, Geneticist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
_Peter Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden; National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Martin Rees, Astronomer, Royal Society & Pontifical Academy, Great Britain
_Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, Anthropologist, Columbian & Third World Academies, Columbia
_Tadeus Reichstein, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Switzerland
_Frederick Reines, Physicist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Alexander Rich, Biologist, National & Pontifical Academies, USA
_Burton Richter, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Ralph Riley, Wolf Prize in Agriculture, Great Britain
_Claude Rimington, Inst. for Cancer Research, Norwegian Academy of Science, Norway
_Gustavo Rivas Mijares, Engineer; Fmr. President, Academy of Sciences, Venezuela
_Frederick Robbins, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Wendell Roelofs, Entomologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Betty Roots, Zoologist, Academy of Sciences, Canada
_Miriam Rothschild, Biologist, Royal Society, Great Britain
_Sherwood Rowland, Chemist; President, American Association for the Advancement of Science; USA
_Janet Rowley, Physician, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Carlo Rubbia, Nobel laureate, Physics, Italy & Switzerland
_Vera Rubin, Physicist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Yuri Rudenko, Energy Research Inst., State Prize laureate, Russia
_Elizabeth Russell, Jackson Laboratory, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Albert Sabin, Virologist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist & Author, USA
_Roald Sagdeev, Physicist, Russian & Pontifical Academies, Russia & USA
_Ruth Sager, Geneticist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Farrokh Saidi, Surgeon, Third World Academy, Iran
_Abdus Salam, Nobel laureate, Physics; President, Third World Academy of Sciences, Pakistan & Italy
_Frederick Sanger, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Jose Sarukhan, Biologist, Third World Academy, Mexico
_Berta Scharrer,Neuroscientist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Richard Schultes, Botanist, Tyler Prize, USA
_Melvin Schwartz, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Julian Schwinger, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Glenn Seaborg, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_Michael Sela, Weizmann Inst., Pontifical Academy of Science, Israel
_Arne Semb-Johansson, Entomologist, Norwegian Academy of Science, Norway
_Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, Chemist, Pontifical & Third World Academies, Pakistan
_Kai Siegbahn, Nobel laureate, Physics; Sweden
_Thomas Silou, Biochemist, African Academy of Sciences, Congo
_Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
_Alexej Sitenko, Physicist, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Ukraine
_Jens Skou, Biophysicist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Denmark
_Charles Slack, Agricultural Science, Royal Society, New Zealand
_George Snell, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Roger Sperry, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Alexander Spirin, Biologistn Lenin Prize, Russia
_Earl Stadtman, Biochemist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Thressa Stadtman, Biochemist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Ledyard Stebbins, Geneticist, National Medal of Science, USA
_Jack Steinberger, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA & Switzerland
_Janos Szentgothai, Fmr. President, Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Hungary
_Tan Jia-zhen, Geneticist, Shanghai Univ., China
_Andrezej Tarkowski, Embryologist, Polish [text missing]
_Valentine Telegdi, Wolf Prize in Physics, Switzerland
_Kirthi Tennakone, Physicist, Third World Academy, Sri Lanka
_Walter Thirring, Physicist, Austrian & Pontifical Academies, Austria
_Donnall Thomas, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Jan Tinbergen, Nobel laureate, Economics; Netherlands
_Samuel C. C. Ting, Nobel laureate, Physics; USA
_James Tobin, Nobel laureate, Economics; USA
_Alexander Todd, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Susumu Tonegawa, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Japan & USA
_Cheng Kui Tseng, Oceanologist, Chinese & Third World Academies, China
_Hans Tuppy, Biochemist, Austrian & Pontifical Academies, Austria
_James Van Allen, Physicist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_Simon van der Meer, Nobel laureate, Physics; Netherlands & Switzerland
_John Vane, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Great Britain
_Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Martha Vaughan, Biochemist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_George Wald, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Henrik Wallgren, Zoologist, Society of Science & Letters, Finland
_E. T. S. Walton, Nobel laureate, Physics, Ireland
_Prawase Wasi, Hematologist, Third World Academy, Thailand
_Gerald Wasserburg, Geophysicist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_James Watson, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Victor Weisskopf, Wolf Prize in Physics, USA
_Thomas Weller, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Diter von Wettstein, Physiologist, Royal Academy of Sciences, Denmark
_Fred Whipple, Astronomer, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Gilbert White, Geographer, Tyler Prize, USA
_Torsten Wiesel, Nobel laureate, Medicine; USA
_Jerome Wiesner, Physicist, Fmr. President, Mass. Inst. of Tech., USA
_Maurice Wilkins, Nobel laureate, Medicine; Great Britain
_Geoffrey Wilkinson, Nobel laureate, Chemistry; Great Britain
_Richard Willems, Geneticist, Estonian Biocentre, Estonia
_Edward O. Wilson, Biologist, Crafoord Prize, USA
_Lawrence A. Wilson, Agricultural Science, Third World Academy, Trinidad
_Evelyn Witkin, Biologist, National Academy of Sciences, USA
_Yang Fujia, Physicist, Chinese & Third World Academies, China
_Alexander L. Yanshin, Geologist, Karpinsky Gold Medal, Russia
_Yongyuth Yuthavong, Biochemist; Director, National Sci. & Tech. Devl. Agency, Thailand
_Zhao Zhong-xian, Physicist, Chinese & Third World Academies, China
_Zhou Guang-zhao, Physicist; President, Chinese Academy of Sciences;, China
_Solly ZuckerInan, Zoologist, Royal Society, Great Britain

Over 1,500 members of national, regional, and international science academies have signed the Warning. Sixtynine nations from all parts of Earth are represented, including each of the twelve most populous nations and the nineteen largest economic powers. The full list includes a majority of the Nobel laureates in the sciences. Awards and institutional affiliations are listed for the purpose of identification only. The Nobel Prize in medicine is for physiology or medicine.

A WORLD SCIENTISTS’ WARNING BRIEFING BOOK is available from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It provides the citations to support their WARNING.

Union of Concerned Scientists, 96 Church Street, Cambridge, Mass 02238-9105, USA Phone: 617-547-5552; FAX: 617-864-9405

[Warning issued on November 18, 1992, transcribed by Jay Hanson—apologies for any typos]

The times they are a changin’

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I got a letter from our insurance company. They wanted to let us know about changes to our policy.

Let me quote:

“Added a virus exclusion to protect against a catastrophic epidemic.”

“We have added an endorsement to your policy to exclude farming and business-related liability arising out of any biological or chemical terrorism.”

“Expanded the water damage definition to exclude losses caused by storm surge, break, breach or leak of a levee, dam or canal.”

The politicians and the pundits can deny and obfuscate all they like but at the end of the day, the folks who put their money on the line selling insurance against risks might be our best canarys-in-the-mine indicators of where the real risks lay.

None of this is new, really. Back on November 3rd, 2006, I wrote about Lloyd’s of London releasing their full 360 Climate Change report which also essentially put the lie to claims by the deniers that nothing is wrong. You can read about the Lloyd’s report here:

WHO: Climate Change Threatens Millions

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Millions of people could face poverty, disease and hunger as a result of rising temperatures and changing rainfall expected to hit poor countries the hardest, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and floods cause an estimated 150,000 deaths annually, with Asia accounting for more than half, said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes represent the clearest sign that global warming has begun to impact human health, he said, adding they are now found in cooler climates such as South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Warmer weather means that mosquitoes’ breeding cycles are shortening, allowing them to multiply at a much faster rate, posing an even greater threat of disease, he told reporters in Manila.



Fresh bird flu outbreak in India

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Veterinary workers in India have begun culling tens of thousands of chickens in an attempt to combat a fresh outbreak of bird flu in West Bengal.The disease surfaced in the region in January. More than one million birds were slaughtered.

But about a month ago officials said the situation was under control.

Both outbreaks involve the potentially fatal H5N1 virus, although so far there have been no reports of humans being infected in India.

Scientists fear that the virus could eventually mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.


Why bird flu has been kept at bay

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

– This is good news. Perhaps the idea that we are only one or two small mutations away from Bird Flu evolving so it can jump from human to human is incorrect.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Scientists say they have identified a key reason why bird flu has so far not posed a widespread menace to humans.

So far, the H5N1 strain has mainly infected birds and poultry workers, but experts fear the virus could mutate to pass easily from human to human.

However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that to enter human respiratory cells the virus must first pick a very specific type of lock.

The study appears in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The researchers say their discovery may help scientists better monitor changes in H5N1 – and find better ways to fight it.

Flu viruses attack by binding sugar chains, called glycans, that line the airways and lungs.

Latching on

The chemical linkages between the sugar molecules in these chains differ between humans and birds.

Until now it has been assumed that bird flu viruses would be adapt to humans simply by acquiring mutations that enable them to attach to the human types.

But Dr Ram Sasisekharan and colleagues found this step depends on the shape assumed by the flexible sugar chains rather than the type of linkage.

Bird flu viruses currently require cone-shaped glycans to infect birds, so the umbrella shape found in humans has protected most of us from avian flu.


India culls 3.4m birds but fails to contain avian flu outbreak

Friday, February 8th, 2008

India is struggling to contain its worst avian influenza -epidemic, in spite of culling 3.4m birds and setting up a 5km poultry exclusion zone round the state of West -Bengal, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The government’s failure to reassure farmers that they will receive fair compensation for birds culled by rapid response teams has left experts scrambling to stop the disease entering the crowded markets of Calcutta and Delhi and led to a crisis of confidence in India’s -poultry industry.

The latest outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, confirmed on January 15, is proving more difficult to contain than earlier manifestations at large poultry farms in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 2006 and, last year, in Manipur.

Roughly 80 per cent of rural households in West Bengal keep hens and ducks in their backyards to supplement their incomes, a practice encouraged by the state government, which distributes millions of chicks to poor communities each year.


A Pandemic That Wasn’t but Might Be

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Last year, for the first time since avian flu emerged as a global threat, the number of human cases was down from the year before. As the illness receded, the scary headlines — with their warnings of a pandemic that could kill 150 million people — all but vanished.

But avian flu has not gone away. Nor has it become less lethal or less widespread in birds. Experts argue that preparations against it have to continue, even if the virus’s failure to mutate into a pandemic strain has given the world more breathing room.

There were 86 confirmed human cases last year compared with 115 in 2006, according to the World Health Organization, and 59 deaths compared with 79. Experts assume that the real numbers are several times larger, because many cases are missed, but that is still a far cry from a pandemic.

Dr. David Nabarro, the senior United Nations coordinator for human and avian flu, recently conceded that he worried somewhat less than he did three years ago. “Not because I think the threat has changed,” he quickly added, but because the response to it has gotten so much better.”

The world is clearly more prepared. Vaccines have been developed. Stockpiles of Tamiflu and masks have grown. Many countries, cities, companies and schools have written pandemic plans. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, created in Stockholm in 2005, just estimated that the European Union needed “another two to three years of hard work and investment” to be ready for a pandemic, but that is improving because previous estimates were for five years.

In the worst-hit countries — all poor — laboratories have become faster at flu tests. Government veterinarians now move more quickly to cull chickens. Hospitals have wards for suspect patients, and epidemiologists trace contacts and treat all with Tamiflu — a tactic meant to encircle and snuff outbreaks before the virus can adapt itself to humans.

Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, recently called the virus “extremely stable” and, thus, less likely to mutate into a pandemic form. Many prominent virologists would vehemently disagree. But others who argued three years ago that H5N1 would not “go pandemic” are feeling a bit smug.


– Ah yes, I believe they were quite smug on the Titanic as well.

– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.