Ebola hemorrhagic fever affects much of the mammalian family tree: its spread should make us remember our intimate connection with other mammals and the environment
All animals sustain themselves on an ecological tightrope of sorts, delicately balancing so many needs, including water, food, space and safety, all tied to the habitat they live in. You kick over habitats, species go into chaos trying to adapt. We, the humans, inextricably interdependent with the environment and other mammals, are ultimately affected. In severely impoverished African countries, the people greatly widen their menu to encompass more animals’ meat than is acceptable in Western cultures. This means “bushmeat.”
In other words, bats, primates and other mammals bitten by bats, apes carrying HIV, and more end up on the dinner table, inevitably bringing new mammalian diseases to the plate at least once, and all an outbreak takes is that one infected meal.
Months before the Ebola epidemic spiraled out of control, there was Patient Zero, a not-quite-two-year-old girl in Guinea. She likely contracted the virus from an infected bat, in an impoverished village where bushmeat is a dietary staple. Because Ebola so often afflicts caregivers, the child’s pregnant mother was soon infected, then other family members, then the midwife who nursed the mother through a miscarriage. Within months, the virus had arrived in the capital, Conakry, and seeded even larger epidemics in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Still, the article makes important points about our environmental and animal interdependencies driving the infectious diseases we’re exposed to….
But the origins of the epidemic reach back further still. The virus may have been flushed out of the forest by multinational timber and mining operations that have clear-cut the (now misnamed) Guinea Forest Region, where the child was from. And population growth, partly driven by refugees from the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has driven settlements deeper into the remaining bush.
“As the forests disappeared,” writes Jeffrey Stern in Vanity Fair, “so too did the buffer separating humans from animals – and from the pathogens that animals harbor.” Zoonotic diseases like Ebola are on the rise worldwide, as habitat loss accelerates.
Zoonotic diseases are diseases transmissible from animals to humans or visa versa (“reverse zoonosis”). In Jared Diamond’s best-selling book Guns, Germs, and Steel,about the non-cultural geographic and ecological reasons Western civilization developed ahead of the “Global South,” zoonosis is cited as a key reason for the Western colonizers’ germs advantage. Europeans lived with and relied on a diverse stock of domesticated animals, so were packed with zoonotic diseases and immunities. This made early European settlers of the Americas typhoid marys as far as their impact on the indigenous peoples, effectively waging unintended (and sometimes intentional) apocalyptic biowarfare.
In this Mobile Register editorial cartoon by JD Crowe, “Airborne disease,” Ebola takes flight via a sprawling swarm of bats and an airplane.
Africans, unlike Europeans, were known for their hardy resistance to tropical diseases, and therefore were enslaved en masse and deployed especially heavily to die and work plantations in the hot climes few whites would go. But historically having little to no domesticatible animals in the dense jungles of West Africa, Africans didn’t do as well with zoonotic plagues.
Now they’re facing animal-borne infectious diseases like whoa, and it is bad! And environmental destruction in West Africa is a huge factor.
Will humans ever get it through our thick skulls that what harms our mammalian cousins will inevitably affect us??
Will My Dog Catch Ebola? | Psychology Today -good solid scientific info here: dogs can become asymptomatic carriers in the period before the disease cycles out of their system, but cats appear to not be susceptible to catching the virus
With New Forms of Toxic Waste from the Fracking Bonanza Piling Up, What Must Be Done?
I really like the PBS documentary mini-series Constitution USA, because it brings forward the constitutional arguments that are so relevant to the problems we face in our country today. It explores a worthy cross-section of important legal/constitutional debates with the depth that they deserve, and with refreshing honesty/even-handedness. All the while it stays firmly rooted in our history, frequently referencing the rich backstories of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, subsequent amendments and laws and the more controversial implementing actions.
The first episode gives an overview of jurisdictional conflicts that are ongoing between states, the federal gov’t and the individual citizens. Some of the issues covered are the more obvious and well-known legal problems between states and the federales, like medical cannabis: can states trump the federal drug laws and re-legalize it? (cannabis tinctures and the like being legal from your local pharmacy in the past)
The Commerce Clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal Congress power to “regulate commerce between the several states,” and that is the basis for so much of our legal and regulatory system, from drug laws and gun control, to water use regulations for toilets (which I blogged about here).
Air and water pollution, with its effects on multiple states and countries, seems an obvious place for federal intervention to me, and the number of federal regs waived during the past decade—the carte blanche given to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing—should concern all Americans. In many areas, there ought to be more and better regulation: for example, given ProPublica’s recent reporting, it sounds like Ohio will be dotted with radioactive Superfund sites like a constellation is dotted with stars if the legislature in Columbus doesn’t get serious about regulating the toxic (and sometimes radioactive, including content containing RADIUM) waste that’s unintentionally unearthed as a byproduct of the fracking boom.
Inevitably, the various waste byproducts generated by fracking are dangerous if safety measures aren’t followed [see the facts on the difficulties disposing of fracking wastes]. Not only does the fracking process involve inserting hydraulic fracking fluids®, proprietary mixes of chemicals to facilitate fracturing, some heavily depending on known health hazards like benzene, into the earth, the extraction process also unearths things that should stay earthed, like naturally occurring radioactive materials, richly accumulated over eons, especially so deep in shale. Radon, uranium, thorium, and especially radium have been confirmed living in the waste “brine” alongside the oil and gas (and the heady mixture of man-made chemicals, benzenes, et al, just injected) pulled from shale deposits, alerting all concerned to the risks associated with fracking wastewater.
gas production from the 400 million year-old, multi-state Marcellus shale formation, mostly from drilling in Pennsylvania and Ohio, is booming!
Reasonable monitoring and responsible handling is sorely needed, but the politicians that control how (and how much) these newer species of toxic wastes will be regulated see the state’s fracking bonanza as win-win-win-win, pumping in new jobs, new income/GDP, new tax revenue, and new troughs of campaign bribetributions to pig out on.
Politicians representing economically depressed post-industrial hell-holes tend to understand actually regulating fracking as putting speed limits on their state’s gravy train, or as outright flipping the railroad switch to turnout that gravy train onto a competing state’s track, so rival states profit more and more quickly. This may startle readers in not-America, but in the U.S., state governments are usually competing with other (especially neighboring) states to attract Big Business, including fracking operations, to start up in their state, often leading to a distressing “race to the bottom,” evidenced by things like the governor of Alabama meeting with German automakers to offer them more state-sponsored bribe money “incentives,” less costly labor, and fewer worker protections than other states where they could put down roots… this “jobs race” is deeply embedded in our political ecosystem. Even the more liberal representatives will likely prefer looking tough on polluters without actually regulating fracking in a meaningful way and risking accusations of “harming the district’s economy.” Political cowardice and faux populist outrage at the polluters is the norm.
Of course, once you understand what Ohio has been through, “post-industrial” meaning that industry has left, offshored production to China or wherever had won the jobs race that year, joblessness everywhere, cities just “gone,” it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to be as fracking-friendly and job-attract-y as possible. I think of Chrissie Hynde, singin’ “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone…” and that was the ’80s. Gone Ohio cities are even gonier now.
Shale gas is the closest thing to a gold rush this country’s seen since the initial oil boom nearly 100 years ago, and desperation for gas drilling jobs makes it really hard, societally, to regulate and enforce with a long-view toward the public health consequences of benzenes, radionuclides, and so on.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, where the economics and politics of fracking are similar, radium was found in rivers where fracking wastes were released, and “internal” studies leaked to the New York Times in 2011 detail the alarming data:
…state records indicate that the radium levels found in Pennsylvania wastewater are much higher than those used in this study. Radium, for example, was found in Pennsylvania at levels over 18 times the number used in the this study. It should be noted, however, that this study did not detail actual cases of increased cancer. Rather, it modeled potential increases in cancer rates as a result of radium-laced drilling waste being discharged into large waterways.
… Asked to review the study, an expert on human health and ecological risk analysis said that it clearly shows that the drilling waste is not sufficiently diluted in some cases. As a result, the radioactivity levels left behind in receiving waters come close to reaching the threshold at which the E.P.A., under federal Superfund rules, requires a cleanup, the risk expert said.
The revelations from the leaked studies raise some troubling, difficult questions… one is, if you’re at the radioactivity threshold that triggers the creation of a federal Superfund site, how would you turn part or all of a river into a Superfund site?
What unintended consequences will radium in the water have on freshwater sealife and the humans that depend on these freshwater ecosystems? If it’s a blend of radionuclides, benzenes and other horrors, what effects do these have on lifeforms
Invasive uber carp become biped super soldiers after too much river radium? (Actually the Hath, a Piscine humanoid species from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “The Doctor’s Daughter“)
This ProPublica exposé uncovers just how lax Ohio’s been about toxic waste. Regulation is “muted” to the point they’ve become a top destination for other states to dump radioactive fracking waste.
Fracking wastewater is collected in special trucks like these in Pennsylvania, and moved elsewhere (Ohio?). Source: NRDC Switchboard Blog
Yes, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been used to get to oil and gas since the late 1940s. Yes, the radionuclides are originally “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORMs), not a problem if left in their natural configuration, spread out, trace amounts. But once you inadvertently pump large amounts of these out of shale, concentrate them, mix them with other terrible things, it becomes something different—TENORMs (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials)—something you REALLY don’t want in your water supply. Refer to the horrible fate of radium’s discoverer Marie Curie if you doubt that radium is hazardous.
To my core questions, things that I’ve brought up again and again in recent bloggings, what, why, are the systems and rules that enable, or fix (or exacerbate) our problems?
Similar to the inaction around the multi-state + Canada invasion of Asian Carp, something I’d previously blogged about here, the constitutional system we have provides ways to deal with the issue, but no one is stepping up and adequately addressing the problem. The multi-jurisdictional nature of our system enables struggle, appropriate checks and balances, collaboration, but also gridlock and EPIC FAIL if the human beings at the helm of the different gov’t branches and agencies are corrupt and/or ineffectual shampoo models.
What must be done about the toxic wastes left behind by the shale gas rush?
One can easily imagine the preserved head of James Madison judging medical cannabis, and indeed all medicines and drugs, the province of the individual citizen and/or “the several states,” as centralized decision-making for the entire country, especially where commerce and a man’s personal habits are concerned, would be perceived as positively British and anathema to the whole constitutional project.
But it is much more difficult to envision the framers’ possible positions on environmental law. The founders, especially the Virginians, often distained the prospect of an industrialized United States, as debates over which ways of life were best, the most free, the most moral for the developing nation—profit was far from the only objective—were commonly considered as the Constitution took shape, and afterwards. Cities in general, and wage labor for Big Business industries in particular, were largely seen as part of an unfree, corrupt, dirty system, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” at odds with the Jeffersonian vision of a society of self-sufficient yeomen farmers, hyper-moral because they’re dependent on no man (except for all the slaves, though this is typically omitted from the sweeping “Empire of Liberty” narratives). The Constitution’s framers couldn’t hammer out a solution for phasing out the slave system that supported (and simultaneously threatened) the kind of economy they wanted—agriculture, shiny independent freeholds—much less did they legislate for socio-economic arrangements they hoped to avoid, factories and mills.
The consequences of large-scale industrialization, air pollution blowing cross-country, water contamination in one state affecting other states downstream, were inconceivable in the late 1700s. Our founding people don’t really offer us any guidance on these issues.
Madison tended to view state governments as unavoidably, intractably corrupt, and that was one of his main arguments for the Constitution and new, more robust federal government: that the people must have watchdogs to guard their rights and liberties against the corrupt excesses and overreaching laws of drunken state legislatures, another crucial check on the tyranny of the majority. But today, few would argue that the federal gov’t is less corrupt, or are better regulators. On the other hand, who else but the feds can deal with water pollution in a river shared by six states?
How can effective regulation and enforcement in the service of long-term public health outcomes be achieved in this time of corruption, deceit and regulatory capture? How can our constitutional system cope?
The Mississippi River watershed a post-aCARPalypse world, the Great Lakes fear Carpmageddon!
Verb: zerg (third-person singular simple presentzergs, present participlezerging, simple past and past participlezerged)
(slang, video games, strategy games) To attack an opponent with a large swarm of units before they have been able to build sufficient defenses.
From the game StarCraft (1998), in which the easily mass-produced Zerg units encourage such a strategy.
the aCARPalypse has come. The verb to zerg, originally coined as “to zerg rush” with the quickly and easily mass-produced Zerg soldiers in the PC strategy game StarCraft, fits perfectly the Asian carp invasion of North America’s freshwater ecosystems. No invasive species in recent memory is invadier than Asian carp—they have zerged up the Mississippi River and its tributaries—swarming everything with unbelievably-fast mass-reproducing carp, crushing biodiversity before our civilization is “able to build sufficient defenses.”
A comparison with a zombie apocalypse, or zompocalypse, is apt too, as everything in an ecosystem the Asian carp touch rapidly become all Asian carp, all the time. This brings to mind the old adage “90% of everything is crap carp,” though it has long been even carpier than that…
Think how overwhelming the zerg rush of carp must be now, 15 years after that study!
“The Midwest Faces Carpmageddon!” painting by Nick Dupree, July 22, 2014
Like most invasive species, and old monster movies, the monster was created (the alien invader carp introduced) via man’s folly and ignorance of potential unintended consequences. Asian carp, being super aggressive bottom-feeders, were imported to om-nom U.S. fish farms clean beginning in the 1970s, but with seasonal flooding chauffeuring fish over barriers, it was only a matter of time before the Asian carp escaped sequestered aquaculture and swarmed the natural freshwater ecosystems nearby!
Bighead and silver carp have been the most problematic of the invasive Asian carp species in the U.S., filtering plankton from the water, robbing native species of food and living space. And because of their bottom-feeding habits, they are difficult to catch with normal angling methods, so obvious counter-measures (giant fish fry) have been ineffective, though fishing efforts continue …the Natural Resources Defense Council has its Eat An Invasive Today! campaign.
It’s an ACARPALYPSE where everything becomes Asian carp, and our system of multiple state jurisdictions, state and federal regulatory agencies and “other agency’s job” inaction vs. the uncomplicated carp zerg rush upstream has been a total failure. Our gov’t has been outwitted by carp. Our system’s inability to mount a defense,
Wrath of Carp™
stop or slow the spread of one-fish-group supremacy (ecosystems becoming carp monocultures or carptocracies) has led to lawsuits by the upstream states and other parties who have LOTS to lose economically if/when the carp wave crashes into their ecosystems and wipes out biodiversity, wrecks local fisheries, implodes fishing economies and the dollars from angler tourism, fishing tournaments and all the fishermen there due to rich supplies of diverse indigenous fish would be gone.
The upstream states, especially the Great Lakes states so dependent on their native fish species, have understandably been pushing hard for the pertinent agencies to build defenses to protect the Lakes, specifically advocating “complete hydrological separation” of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin AKA closing the key link to Lake Michigan, the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS).
Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and affected indigenous tribes, all bordering the Great Lakes, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who are responsible for building defenses and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago who own the CAWS.
July 14, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court ruled again on the suit against the Corps of Engineers and CAWS operators in what’s being called the Asian carp II case. In this court opinion, the Appeals panel again upheld earlier denials of the Great Lakes states’ plea because of actively ongoing efforts to prevent the carp from getting through the CAWS. But the Court also (finally) ruled on the legal question of “public nuisance” definitively, holding that YES, federal agencies can create a “public nuisance.” I’m not entirely clear on the exact definition and limits of “public nuisance” in its legal sense as used here, but this concept could be an important precedent on which future cases might be built. As someone who was once a plaintiff against the state, I understand that the precedent of the federal gov’t itself causing nuisances and being held liable could be super important, though theoretical here.
The Seventh Circuit also rejected the feds’ rather… unique argument that the nuisance was solely carp “acting of their own accord,” and not their fault. That concept of carp as legal actors brought oddities like “Our decision does not depend on the fact that the Asian carp are advancing upstream of their own volition,” into it, not the sort of phrase that one would normally find in a federal court decision.
Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion in Asian carp II reiterated the previous rulings’ reasoning that the gov’t is doing enough to halt the carp from devastating the Great Lakes, but wholly rejected blaming the carp alone. “It is the defendants’ apparent diligence, rather than their claimed helplessness, that is key to our holding today…” the ruling stated.
For more about Asian carp II, and longer excerpts from the opinion, see Federal government action can be a public nuisance, Seventh Circuit holds – Eugene Volokh’s law blog
Competing interests are definitely the biggest barrier to a carp barrier, as shutting down the CAWS would upset the movement of millions of tons of vital shipments of iron ore, coal, grain and other cargo, totaling more than $1.5 billion a year, and contribute to the loss of thousands, perhaps bajillions of jobs. The Chamber of Commerce weighed in with an amicus brief against closing the CAWS, and of course Chicago and the region doesn’t want it closed.
Narrower interests than this have blocked action. The whole Chicagoland regional economy is a heavy player here with lots of clout.
But on the pro-hydrological separation side, there are five other Great Lakes states + the province of Ontario, and Indian tribes, and they have clout too and probably stand to lose even more economically, bazillions in income and countless jobs of multi-state economies, than the pro-defendant interests do if the carpocalypse wipes out the Great Lakes ecosystems. Economic impact on one or both sides of the dispute is a certainty because of inaction instead of action on the issue of invasive Asian carp in prior decades!
Carp jokes aside, I think that this long-standing dilemma raises deeply important questions about the American system itself and the sclerosis and decay afflicting the system:
when there are competing interests, who decides?
if the Judicial branch can’t force a decision on long-view ecological crises, who can?
what is the proper presidential role in the event of invasive species catastrophes?
why do none of the legislative solutions proposed in Congress pass?
At this late date, the CAWS may be a moot point as carp babies are evidently immune to the electric barriers and the carp have established footholds beyond the canal.
But the challenge of Asian carp and other invasive species, and the larger issue of good environmental stewardship and protecting our communities from toxins, won’t be going away.
Though Phillips might not have intended The Blob to have a political message, she did accidentally insert an environmental warning, which was reflected in the Blob Fest’s 2007 theme: “An Inconvenient Blob.” I thought it was just an attempt to ride the green bandwagon until I finally caught one of the three weekend screenings of the movie. At the end of the film, the Blob is imprisoned in the Arctic, where, as the narrator menacingly intones, it would remain as long as the North Pole stayed cold. Green activists should add the return of the Blob to the long list of global-warming-related dangers.
That’s right, folks.
In the bad 1958 sci-fi film The Blob, the monster was finally defeated by encasing it in the polar ice cap. The narrator says that this will stop the Blob as long as the arctic stays frozen.
With global warming melting the ice caps, the Blob may be unleashed, and start eating people again.
WASHINGTON – Animal and plant species have begun dying off or changing sooner than predicted because of global warming, a review of hundreds of research studies contends.
These fast-moving adaptations come as a surprise even to biologists and ecologists because they are occurring so rapidly.
At least 70 species of frogs, mostly mountain-dwellers that had nowhere to go to escape the creeping heat, have gone extinct because of climate change, the analysis says. It also reports that between 100 and 200 other cold-dependent animal species, such as penguins and polar bears are in deep trouble.
“We are finally seeing species going extinct,” said University of Texas biologist Camille Parmesan, author of the study. “Now we’ve got the evidence. It’s here. It’s real. This is not just biologists’ intuition. It’s what’s happening.”
Her review of 866 scientific studies is summed up in the journal Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.
We’re digging up fossil fuels and pumping them into the air like never before, and the government still denies mass carbon emissions are causing global warming. All the smog that’s increasing children’s allergies and asthma worldwide on a scale heretofor unimaginable, is being ignored.
I just clicked on Yahoo News, and this is what I saw:
This is about a new study in the prestigious science journal Nature that says Europe’s recent heat waves and flooding will become the norm.
As a result, central and eastern Europe will suffer a “positive feedback mechanism” — in essence, a vicious circle in which higher temperatures cause the soil to evaporate more and vegetation to breathe out more moisture.
In damp regions, more airborne moisture and warm air help to fuel the precipitation cycle, causing more and more rainfall and thus boosting the risk of flooding.
A recent study by a Chinese research institute found that 400,000 people die prematurely every year in China from diseases linked to air pollution.
Nor does China’s air pollution respect borders: on certain days almost 25 percent of the particulate matter clotting the skies above Los Angeles can be traced to China, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental experts in California predict that China could eventually account for roughly a third of the state’s air pollution.
This is a serious, serious crisis here.
To be fair, the Earth has handled much more carbon in the past, from huge volcanic eruptions. Three times in Earth’s history, the last one 640,000 years ago, nearly the entirety of Yellowstone National Park went up in the “Yellowstone Super Volcano” which caused a myriad of species to die off and the climate to drastically change, but Earth is still here. Of course, human beings didn’t exist then. Today, humanity covers the globe and we are precariouslydependant on a sensitive ecosystem. While the carbon we’re producing today is just a fraction of a percent of a catastrophic volcanic event, humans are so overpopulated and so reliant on the Earth’s climatic balance, as well as clean air and water, we cannot afford to accrue more and more micro volcanoes in our atmosphere each day. We cannot afford to monkey with Earth’s thermostat.
More and more Americans are realizing this, especially since Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth has been in theaters, and are speaking up that we need to be good stewards of our environment. Even Pat Robertson now says he believes. As does Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
So when will we get a government concensus not beholden to the fossil fuel industry who will believe, and do something about it? Not until the White House is beachfront property? lol!!
Dr. Jen Gunter
OB/GYN Jen Gunter wields the lasso of truth, reining in issues of women’s health, reproductive care and the insanities of American health care.
Health Care Renewal
Dr. Roy Poses blogs fearlessly against the corruption and lies in the halls of power of the medical industry.
Under the tagline “Thoughts from the Front Line of Physician Leadership,” Dr. Hein runs down the true issues in U.S. health care beyond the headlines and press releases.
Not Running a Hospital
Paul Levy deserves not only an award for blog activism against “preventable harm”-ing patients, but an award for blog journalism, as he expertly collects the facts on what health care corps are really doing…