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Trials of the first vaccine to show evidence of full protection against the deadly disease Malaria will take place at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, who are working with the developer of the new vaccine, the private company Sanaria. Some postgraduate researchers with IHRR who have also worked at Ifakara have concentrated on preventing the spread of malaria, (such as providing bed nets) including Christina Makungu, a Moyes Postgraduate Fellow who completed her dissertation on the health of young people in self-care in Tanzania. Prevention is still likely the best way in combating the spread of the deadly disease that has plagued less developed countries. A vaccine would be most welcome.
While researchers have expressed ‘cautious optimism’ about the results, this scientific advance is clearly great news. The new vaccine (PfSPZ) ‘uses a weakened form of the whole parasite to invoke an immune response’, something that was previously thought too difficult to achieve. It was produced from 850 mosquitoes that were dissected in about one hour by six researchers. Six subjects given five doses of the vaccine were completely protected against malaria, compared to three of nine who were given four doses. The vaccine must be given intravenously, which is not as efficient as injection or oral administration, but the dosage is small (.5 ml) and researchers are working on improving the delivery of the vaccine. Read the rest of this entry »
Hunger is widespread, especially in developing countries. Food crises often occur in the poorest countries and even communities in the most developed parts of the world deal with health problems related to lack of food, like malnutrition in children. But the world’s food supply is not at the root of the problem rather it is what is done with it. In fact, food production in terms of cereals is at far greater productive capacity than it’s ever been in the past (see also FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief); there is more than enough food to go around, even as the global population gets bigger and more people demand a varied diet as many people living in more developed countries do. The old philosophical argument originating from Robert Malthus in the 18th century that population growth will lead to global food shortage is overstated and incorrect at present. Malthus wrote:
‘The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race’. Thomas Malthus, 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population
Because of the technological means in place for planting and harvesting food there are often surpluses, especially in richer countries, but food is often wasted. Instead of becoming more conservative and conscious of the food resources available, many nations have become overly consumerist and wasteful. 1.2-2 billion tonnes of all food produced ends up as waste, which is 30%-50% of total food production in the world, and it is not only a waste of food but a waste of energy, water and other resources that go into producing it. Read the rest of this entry »
From 2001-10 there have been unprecedented extremes in global climate with more national temperature records broken than in any previous decade, according to a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization. For many this may not seem like news, it has been known for some time that the planet’s climate(s) has been changing radically for some years. Even people in their everyday lives are able to perceive with some accuracy changes in climate. What the report highlights is that these extremes have worsened in recent years, especially in regards to their impacts on human life and economy. During 2001-10 more than 370,000 people died as a result of extreme weather and climate conditions. This includes heat waves, floods, cold snaps, drought and storms.
Is every extreme weather event due to a changing climate? This is something that requires further research because of the complexities involved. What researchers can say is that it’s more likely for extreme weather events such as heat waves to occur more frequently because of climate change, and with increased intensity. This makes planning challenging, nevertheless it needs to happen. People can learn from extreme weather events that have taken place around the world in order to plan for the present and future. Climate adaptation, while less attractive in some cases to mitigation and more recently geoengineering techniques, has a major role to play in mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events. Read the rest of this entry »
The prospect of governing geoengineering is perplexing for a variety of reasons, many of which deal with the nature of the technologies involved and the scale at which they are intended to be deployed. While in some ways similar in scope to other technological innovations such as nanotechnology or synthetic biology, the methods used for SRM are not novel; nevertheless the end result may be the making of entirely new climate(s). One approach that has potential for mitigating the effects of climate change is Solar Radiation Management (SRM) – spraying large quantities of reflective particles into the Earth’s stratosphere to reflect solar radiation back out to space.
SRM has entered into mainstream science-policy debates only very recently, primarily due to the political expedience of climate change as a global environmental problem that threatens the existence of the human species itself, not to mention eliminating biodiversity on a scale never experienced before. The UK has a research project on SRM known as SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), which had its own problems including the question of patenting the technology that came to light as a result of its stage gate evaluation process. There are some examples of developing policy for geoengineering such as the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) and the Oxford Principles, ethical guiding principles for governing geoengineering. Read the rest of this entry »
The satellite image above is of the supercell storm in Oklahoma that caused over 20 deaths, hundreds of injuries and immense damage to residences and public buildings.
This time-lapse video shows how the storm evolved over time:
While this part of the US is not unfamiliar with deadly tornadoes (see this map of killer tornados), further preparations could be made to help prevent loss of life and injuries. If extreme weather events continue to happen more frequently then ways to manage and strengthen infrastructure is essential. Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to controversial scientific research many scientists can be dismissive or evasive when it comes to dealing with the public. But when it comes to looking at the bigger picture of how the research could interface with policy and in turn governance, it is actually non-scientists that may hold some of the answers, and not necessarily those in high positions of political or financial power either. Public dialogues about geoengineering seem like a model example of this, showing that engaging with non-scientists can lead to productive assessments of the actual risks involved and judging whether or not the science or technology is even appropriate at all. Now this may seem problematic to some, but it could actually bring science, technology and democracy a little closer together.
The problem of granting patents for geoengineering technology was what prevented the project SPICE from continuing research beyond computer modelling, ending an experimental trial that could have one day led to engineering the Earth’s climate at a scale never before seen. Prof Phil Macnaghten at Durham University, who was an advisor on the SPICE project, oversaw the stage gate process for the project, which was in place to ensure that it met the criteria for engaging with public values. Some puzzling questions arose during the stage gate panel. If geoengineering did become mainstream and worked who would own it? Would it stay in the public domain or fall under intellectual property laws and therefore be subject to commercial interests? Read the rest of this entry »
The term resilience is ambiguous, but is popular enough to spread widely throughout culture. Resilience literally means to ‘bounce back’. It is used virtually everywhere, from sport to science, environmental, economic and global policy. As far as science is concerned, it seems to have been used in physics and ecology first (C.S. Holling), but it is also used frequently in the social sciences (see ‘Putting a Face on Resilience’ in HRR magazine). Psychologists and psychiatrists talk about examples of personal resilience, especially in young people (see Norman Garmezy).
One big question about resilience is whether it actually means something universal or has its repeated use reduced it to nonsense? During times of disaster, a radically changing climate and global financial crisis, it seems resilience allows people to talk about methods of recovery that were either unknown, not thought about as much, or never existed.
I thought it would be interesting to check on how often resilience has been used in books using Google’s Ngram tool. Researchers with the Tipping Points project use data from Ngrams in many of their studies on the use of emotion words for example as well as the use of climate science terms, both of which are on downward trends at the moment. The term ‘tipping point’ itself has also been studied by researchers and reached its peak in academic publications some years ago. Read more
While climate takes place over much longer periods of time than weather people can still perceive it with some level of accuracy. A range of recent studies have shown that climate knowledge can spread through communities within a number of different settings. Indigenous communities for example, many of whom live most of their lives outdoors, likely experience changes in climate much differently from people who spend most of their time indoors within more controlled settings (see Making indigenous voices on climate change heard).
The context of climate change is important for communicating its impacts on the planet and society. If climate change science can’t relate to people’s everyday lives it makes it seem less important, even though we may have only a small glimpse of what climate change actually means for the planet as a whole and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.
In many cases people’s ideas about climate change may come primarily from the mass media, but to see this problem of climate communication as the responsibility of the media alone seems rather unrealistic. The fact remains that most media organisations have their own values embedded within their respective institutions and they normally succumb to market demands, rather than social or cultural values that are much wider ranging and long-term including those of science. Reportage of climate change is often influenced by political orientation especially for publications that give ‘climate scepticism’ equal footing with scientific consensus on climate change. Read more
Air pollution is a problem in many parts of the world, but especially India, China, Bangladesh and a number of other countries in Asia. During the World Economic Forum it was announced that India has the world’s worst air quality. Is the air pollution experienced in these countries primarily due to human activities such as heavy industry? Likely. A combination of emissions from vehicles, coal power plants and other sources is enough to make populations vulnerable to diseases caused by breathing in polluted air. But it’s not like this is a new problem, many of the more developed countries have had similar if not the same problems with poor air quality and in many cases still do. For example, London’s air decreases the life expectancy of its residents. Read more
Desertification is not only a problem for the countries that experience it, but for the entire planet. In this talk given by Allan Savory on TED, he explains how managing grasslands ‘holistically’ can reduce desertification, namely ‘by keeping cattle more densely packed on small plots of land and moving them frequently‘. This keeps herds from overgrazing and fertilises the land at the same time, restoring its nutrients. And if you can prevent grasslands from turning into desert they can remove carbon dioxide from the air, helping to mitigate carbon emissions that cause climate change. Simple, yet effective and cattle grazing, often viewed as ecologically destructive, becomes an environmental solution, not a problem. It also seems a great way to assist pastoralist communities in Africa.