Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Ya gotta laugh: Those dratted pesticides
The death and illness described below is no laugh but the Green/Left diagnosis of the causes is. See my comment at the foot of the article
What is killing sugar-cane workers across Central America? Chronic kidney disease has killed tens of thousands of young men and is becoming more deadly. But nobody knows exactly what it is, or what to do about it
It is stage five they fear the most. Stage five is the mysterious sickness in its deadliest form. "I'm entering stage five," Edilberto Mendez tells me as his wife looks on fretfully. I'm in their small home on the floodplains of Lempa River, in the dank sugar-lands of rural El Salvador, where they live in a community with about 150 other families. "How many others in the village have died of this?" I ask.
"Three close friends, just last year," says Edilberto. His wife interrupts, counting out on her fingers. "And my nephew, my brother, and Ramon, Carlos, Pablo…" She pauses. "I know three Pablos who have died of this."
Edilberto's kidneys are beginning to fail. It means dialysis. "This is what they've told me," he says with a defensive shrug. "But I'm still walking around. I've seen many people have dialysis. As soon as they try it, they die. I don't want it." Edilberto has his wife to support, his deaf-mute 27-year-old son, and his six-year-old granddaughter.
"If you don't have dialysis you'll die," I say. "And then what will happen to your family?"
"They will be homeless."
Behind him, Edilberto's wife has started to cry. Holding a tissue to her face, she weeps: "He's the only one I have."
"Of those you know who have already died of the disease," I ask, "how many have worked in the sugar fields?"
"All of them."
It goes by many names, but around here they call it "the malady of the sugar cane". It's a quiet epidemic that has been preying on Central America for at least 20 years, killing impoverished landworkers in their tens of thousands across Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. And it is becoming ever more deadly. Between 2005 and 2009, incidents in El Salvador rose by 26%. By 2011 the chronic kidney disease (CKD) that is killing Edilberto had become the country's second-biggest killer of men.
That year the health minister, María Isabel Rodríguez, made a dramatic appeal to the international community for help, telling them: "It is wasting away our populations." But nobody knows what to do about it, because nobody knows what exactly it is. In the wealthier west, CKD is largely caused by hypertension or diabetes, but most of the victims here have neither. And it attacks the kidneys in an unusual way. Rather than damaging the filtering system, as in ordinary CKD, this disease seems to have an impact on the tubules – the part of the kidney where the composition of the urine is determined. At the moment, the only scientific consensus is that it's real, and unexplained. I have travelled to El Salvador to investigate the mystery of the malady.
In the rutted streets and chicken-pecked yards of rural El Salvador, I hear many theories. Something in the air or something in the water. Something in tyres, in painkillers or in Chinese herbal medicine. Leftover DDT from the prewar years, when the land in the region was all cotton fields. There is a common belief that modern agrochemicals, as used by the sugar companies, are responsible. The health minister believes this – she has told a press agency so – as does Edilberto. Now 46, he worked the sugar fields for 15 years, where his job was to plant seeds and to spray pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser. "I took the risk, always the risk," he tells me, shaking his head.
But academics in the US who have been trying to solve the mystery believe these El Salvadorians to be mistaken. Professor Daniel Brooks, of Boston University's School of Public Health, tells me: "It's natural to think that, on the one hand, workers have been exposed to pesticides and on the other they have this disease, therefore pesticides must have caused the disease. It's very human to make that connection. But that doesn't necessarily mean they are causing CKD. While I'm aware that the group in El Salvador has this hypothesis, and I'm always open to being convinced, our data just don't seem consistent with it."
Brooks's team began studying the disease in 2009. In the Nicaraguan sugar fields they found rates of CKD in cane cutters and seed cutters – the most strenuous jobs – to be higher than in pesticide applicators, who have greater exposure to agrochemicals. In short, it's more heat that seems to correlate with more disease, and not more chemicals. "We also tested construction workers, stevedores and miners, excluding people who had ever worked at a cane company," he says. "They had elevated levels, too. And what do they all seem to have in common? They're high manual-labour jobs." A further study, published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease, found increased levels of kidney damage in El Salvador's hot, low-lying areas but not in its cooler high-altitude sugar plantations, despite similarities in agrochemical use. But is it really heat that's killing the thousands?
We are speeding along the storm-wet roads of Bajo Lempa, on El Salvador's low-lying western coast, past roadside pineapple sellers and one-storey dwellings of brick and wood when I see them, a fleet of them, disappearing into a field. The immature sugar cane grows up past their shoulders, rows and rows of it, the narrow leaves forming spiny corridors whose ends are so distant they are impossible to see. The workers have blue containers strapped to their backs. They are spraying.
I ask the driver to stop, and we climb our way delicately over the barbed-wire fence. To my surprise the boss, the jefe, nods permission for me to photograph the process. A tractor is pulling a flatbed trailer along the plantation's edge. On it, two workers mix a livid-yellow potion in huge plastic barrels. They wear no protection. One of the men stirs the mixture with a tree branch. He has a wounded finger tied in a rudimentary bandage. Soon the sprayers emerge from cane, sodden from the rain-drenched foliage. They refill their packs, pouring the thick, acrid-smelling liquid from buckets. There's no drinking water in evidence, nor any for washing skin. They have yellow stains on their clothes and on their bare fingers.
Even being close to the barrels gives me a spinny, achey pressure in my temples, of the kind you might experience when sniffing too much amyl nitrate. They wear trainers, cotton shirts and tracksuit trousers, old football tops tied around their faces. One has a baseball cap with a big black dollar sign.
I learn that the mixture is of five chemicals: amine, terbutryn, pendimethalin, 2,4-D and atrazine. I don't know what they are, but can Professor Brooks's theory really be correct? That they have nothing to do with the disease in all these sugar workers?
The Green/Left often talk about the planet but they are very unworldly. Am I the only one who knows that you can easily make alcohol out of sugarcane? That is where rum comes from, after all. So I will eat my hat if the poor workers above are not making hooch from it. And the sort of hooch they produce in poor countries has a long track record of damaging and killing people. Do I need to say any more? But I suppose it is politically incorrect to suggest that poor people might be responsible for their own misfortune
Health concerns over sustainable fuel
BIODIESEL made from soy and canola produces compounds that can cause serious respiratory disease, researchers say.
A team from the Queensland University of Technology says the discovery could lead to restrictions on the use of biodiesel as an alternative to fossil fuel.
The team looked at a range of biologists made from soy, tallow and canola.
They found that burning diesel fuels with a high percentage of biodiesel - up to 80 per cent - produced higher emissions of compounds linked to respiratory disease.
The compounds, called reactive oxygen species, form on surface of small soot particles in exhaust emissions.
Reactive oxygen species can lead to the cell damage called oxidative stress which, over long periods of time, can progress to serious respiratory disease.
Postdoctoral fellow Dr Nicholas Psoriasis says care must be taken to guard against respiratory illness that could result from new fuels.
"Now we've identified a component of the emissions that causes the problem we can start to look for solutions," Dr Psoriasis said in a statement on Wednesday.
The team is now trying to understand the way the reactive oxygen species in the emissions are generated, and how to remove them.
Their work is aimed at providing the transport industry with fuels that have a favourable environmental impact and are acceptable from a human health perspective.
Warming 'not direct species threat'
The writers below have to spin their results in a Warmist direction but their basic finding is that no species can be shown as adversely impacted by global warming.
Global warming is more likely to cause extinctions by disturbing the balance of nature than by the direct effect of higher temperatures, a study has found.
Warmer conditions could upset species interactions by reducing prey numbers or spreading disease, said scientists. But there was little evidence that hotter conditions in themselves threatened species survival.
US researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B
They reviewed 136 studies that suggested a link between climate change and local loss of species. In only seven cases focusing on extinction could a primary cause be identified.
Of these, none showed a straightforward link with higher temperatures. Instead, most pointed to interactive factors such as loss of prey species or increased disease spread.
Seven other studies of population declines related to climate change showed a similar pattern.
Lead author Professor John Wiens, from Stony Brook University, New York, said: "Dozens of studies have shown local extinctions and declines that appear to be associated with recent, human-related climate change.
"For most of these cases, the primary cause of the declines has not been identified, highlighting our worryingly limited knowledge of this crucial issue. However, where causes have been identified, changing species interactions have been found to be key in the majority of cases.
"Because many of these impacts have already happened and climate has changed only a little so far relative to the predicted changes in the next 100 years, our results suggest that these shifting interactions may make even small climatic changes dangerous for the survival of populations and species."
Examples of species made locally extinct because of the knock-on effects of climate change included a planarian worm, a bighorn sheep and coral-living fish. Population declines associated with climate change were seen in three bird species and a family of tropical frogs.
Public Misperception of Climate Change Is a Function of Too Much TV
Yale and George Mason University recently released a poll detailing public perception of weather and climate change. Judging from the results, it can only be concluded that Americans watch too much TV, and have no problem being tricked by trick questions.
The survey is long, cumbersome, and sometimes asks things guaranteed to get answers full of sound and fury with little significance, i.e., the trick ones.
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How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements [sic]:
“Global warming is affecting weather in the United States?” (strongly agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, don’t know/no answer).
The correct answer has to be a completely meaningless “strongly agree”, but the public—perhaps sensing the irrelevance of the question, generally toned it down to “somewhat”.
Why is this a certainty, and why is it irrelevant?
Greenhouse gases alter the flow of radiation in the atmosphere, resulting (generally) in a slightly warmer surface and slightly cooler temperatures far aloft. Such a change must affect the weather, in the same way that pouring a glass of water into a small pond must affect the pond. You can’t escape that.
But is this at all relevant? The fine folks at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) have this thingy called the “Climate Extremes Index” (CEI), which counts really hot days, big storms (rain and snow), tornadoes, etc…It does not include tropical cyclones (hurricanes and tropical storms) because there are other pretty good metrics to gauge their severity. (Hint: global hurricane power is near its lowest ebb, and the U.S. hasn’t seen a major hurricane hit for the longest period in at least 150 years). Here is the CEI:
NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index shows that we have pretty much returned to the level of extreme events we experienced early in the last century, before we emitted many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Yale/GMU survey then goes on to demonstrate our national scientific illiteracy.
Some people say that global warming made each of the following events worse. How much do you agree or disagree?(strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, somewhat agree, strongly agree).
•The current drought in the Midwest and Great Plains?
That one is best tested by actually looking at the numbers, to examine the relationship between global temperature and U.S. drought. The correlation is zero. Please look here for the gory details.
71% of the public somewhat or strongly agree. Well, since they can’t be expected to actually run the numbers, they have to be gaining their perception from something other than reality. People watch too much TV.
•The severe storm (known as a “derecho”) that knocked down trees and power lines from Indiana to Washington DC in June of 2012?
This time, 64% of the respondents somewhat or strongly agree.
Yet another case for a bit of research. Derechos are thunderstorms with damaging straight-line winds, as opposed to tornadoes, which are thunderstorms with a strong rotational component. They’re different expressions of the same phenomenon, i.e. strong thunderstorms. So, examining tornado data yields the answer to this question.
This has been done so many times by so many people that I am ashamed to manfully rap this dead equine. Yeah, new Doppler radar sees more tornadoes than before, but you don’t need a radar to know when there’s been a category 3 or higher twister. Depending upon how loose you want to be with your statistics, the frequency is either staying the same (conservative stats) or actually in decline (loosey-goosey stats).
The perception of increasing wind storm severity may have to do with The Weather Channel’s endless variations of the “my cat Missy almost blew away when a cold front came through” story (queue the Da-dum, Da-dum, Dad um music). People watch too much TV.
The list goes on through forest fires, high temperatures, this year’s pleasant spring and (horrors!) mild winter. In some of these cases, there is a scientific case—particularly during the cold seasons—that this is where the human warming signal should first escape from year-to-year climate noise, but the CEI shows that this hasn’t happened—yet.
The survey then goes on to ask quite a few other questions. A most telling disconnect is between the public’s perception of droughts and reality. Pretty much around the country, people say they are becoming more common.
Here’s the reality, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Percent of the U.S. wet or dry. Anyone who sees global-warming related trends here probably thinks Congress will produce a balanced budget.
There’s simply no overall trend. Divided geographically, drought has become recently more frequent in the Southwest while the Northeast has become wetter. None of this shows up in the Yale/GMU survey data.
People perceive increased drought because this is a big country and usually about one-sixth of it is experiencing some level of drought, making it easy for a camera to find a shriveled cornfield every summer. People watch too much TV.
It would have been nice if the Yale/GMU survey would have asked folks how much money they would spend to stop all these misperceived horrors, but Stanford has beaten them to that punch. The answer is–not very much.
Monbiot doing his best to keep the flame of fear alive
He has actually learnt a lot by now but he still manages to think of a "what-if" that gives him a horn
I believe we might have made a mistake: a mistake whose consequences, if I am right, would be hard to overstate. I think the forecasts for world food production could be entirely wrong. Food prices are rising again, partly because of the damage done to crops in the northern hemisphere by ferocious weather. In the US, Russia and Ukraine, grain crops were clobbered by remarkable droughts. In parts of northern Europe, such as the UK, they were pummelled by endless rain.
Even so, this is not, as a report in the Guardian claimed last week, "one of the worst global harvests in years". It's one of the best. World grain production last year was the highest on record; this year's crop is just 2.6% smaller. The problem is that, thanks to the combination of a rising population and the immoral diversion of so much grain into animal feed and biofuels, a new record must be set every year. Though 2012's is the third biggest global harvest in history (after 2011 and 2008), this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume 28m tonnes more grain than farmers produced. If 2013's harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble.
So the question of how climate change might alter food production could not be more significant. It is also extremely hard to resolve, and relies on such daunting instruments as "multinomial endogenous switching regression models". The problem is that there are so many factors involved. Will extra rainfall be cancelled out by extra evaporation? Will the fertilising effect of carbon dioxide be more powerful than the heat damage it causes? To what extent will farmers be able to adapt? Will new varieties of crops keep up with the changing weather?
But, to put it very broadly, the consensus is that climate change will hurt farmers in the tropics and help farmers in temperate countries. A famous paper published in 2005 concluded that if we follow the most extreme trajectory for greenhouse gas production (the one we happen to be on at the moment), global warming would raise harvests in the rich nations by 3% by the 2080s, and reduce them in the poor nations by 7%. This gives an overall reduction in the world's food supply (by comparison to what would have happened without manmade climate change) of 5%.
Papers published since then support this conclusion: they foresee hard times for farmers in Africa and south Asia, but a bonanza for farmers in the colder parts of the world, whose yields will rise just as developing countries become less able to feed themselves. Climate change is likely to be devastating for many of the world's poor. If farmers in developing countries can't compete, both their income and their food security will decline, and the number of permanently malnourished people could rise. The nations in which they live, much of whose growth was supposed to have come from food production, will have to import more of their food from abroad. But in terms of gross commodity flows the models do not predict an insuperable problem.
So here's where the issue arises. The models used by most of these papers forecast the effects of changes in averaged conditions. They take no account of extreme weather events. Fair enough: they're complicated enough already. But what if changes in the size of the global harvest are determined less by average conditions than by the extremes?
800.000 German Households Can No Longer Pay Their Energy Bills
Germany’s consumers are facing record price rises for green energy. Social campaigners and consumer groups complain that up to 800 000 households in Germany can no longer pay their energy bills.
Over the last few days, it has become obvious that the Green Energy Levy will rise to record levels next year. The first thing Peter Altmaier, Germany’s federal environment minister, would say is this: consumers should save electricity. After a meeting with local authorities, the energy industry, consumer advocates and charities he announced that to achieve this he wants to send free energy consultants to all households in Germany.
His proposal, however, was met by massive criticism: the chief executive of the Joint Welfare Association, Ulrich Schneider, said: “It would be naive to think that growing poverty caused by rising energy costs can be solved by free energy-saving advice.” The environment minister of Lower Saxony pointed out that energy advice was already available. What was needed now was an immediate response to the rising cost of electricity.
A few days later, Altmeier finally said that he wanted to shake up the Renewable Energy Act and thus get any further expansion of the renewable energy under control.
Electricity and heating costs overwhelm German households
The fact remains that as of next year electricity will be more expensive for Germans than ever before. This is all the more frustrating as they have to pay increasingly more for other things too. Yet energy costs are turning into a so-called ‘second rent’, making life for Germans ever more expensive.
Some years ago the tariffs for water, sewage, refuse collection and street cleaning were regarded as a nuisance, but looming price increases for energy are focusing Germans’ attention, says the Association of German Tenants in Berlin. “The disproportionate rise in electricity and heating costs makes living costs a growing problem for many households,” said DMB director Lukas Siebenkotten.
On average 34 percent of net household income are spent on rent and energy. That is more than ever. And it is only partly because housing rents are rising: The Association of House and Apartment Owners has found that energy prices have increased far more than rents in the past 15 years. According to the Association of Energy Consumers, heating and hot water costs now comprise 41 percent of bills on average - and rising.
Hundreds of thousands cannot pay their bills
Especially for small household budgets – with real incomes more or less stagnant for many years – energy costs are becoming increasingly intolerable. In 2009, Germans spent about 100 billion Euros for energy – an average of 2,500 Euros per household. Social campaigners and consumer groups complain that up to 800 000 households in Germany can no longer pay their electric bills. If the rise in energy prices continues, this “second rent” could soon exceed the main rent in some parts of Germany.
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Preserving the graphics: Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here and here
Posted by JR at 2:25 PM