Archive | March, 2014

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More Signs of Climate Change

Posted on 18 March 2014 by Jerry

Scientists in the U.S. and U.K. have concluded the lack of change in the world’s annual mean temperature, is only a short-term phenomenon.  In an earlier posting, see the September 2013 article “Stable Temperature Stokes Climate Controversy”, we discussed the controversy this lack of further warming has caused.

Scientists have settled on the Pacific winds as the likely culprit for a slower warming trend.  Their explanation is that their models show that stronger trade winds help to cool the Pacific Ocean driving warmer water into the deeper ocean in the west.  This cools global temperatures enough to explain the plateau the world’s temperature has experienced since 1998.

In the meantime numerous changes support that climate change alterations are still occurring.  Examples include an increase in the intensity of tornadoes in the United States leaving bigger paths of destruction in their wake, before and after photos in the Arctic showing scrubs have increased their sprouting due to warmer weather, and an “unprecedented rate” of increased acidity of ocean waters.

A report that was issued at the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World gave some statistics on the acidification of the ocean.  It reported:

Ocean Acidification in Numbers

  • 40% – The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since the start of the industrial revolution.
  • 26% – The increase in ocean acidity from preindustrial levels to today.
  • About 170% – The projected increase in ocean acidity by 2100 compared with preindustrial levels if high CO2 emissions continue (RCP*8.5).
  • 10 times – The current rate of acidification is over 10 times faster than any time in the last 55 million years.
  • 24 million – The number of tonnes of CO2 the ocean absorbs every day.

One of the more disturbing findings, based on a study conducted by New Zealand and Australian scientists, is that Antarctic ice sheets of East Antarctica contributed more sea level rise during a period some 135,000 to 116,000 years ago, during the last interglacial, than previously thought.  Today’s models have spent considerable effort to look at the West Antarctic ice sheet thinking it was more vulnerable.  This study suggests the East sheets are more critical than previously thought.

This is significant because the Antarctic ice sheets represent enough water to raise sea level by approximately 60 meters (~196 feet) if all the ice melted.    Quoting from the January 24, 2014 issue of Science magazine, “The implication is that the EAIS (Eastern Antarctic ice sheet) may have made a significantly greater contribution to sea-level rise over that period (the last interglacial) than currently believed, with the implication that projected changes in the climate of the southern hemisphere may constitute a more serious threat to the future stability of the EAIS than has generally been appreciated until now.”

These changes coupled with a disturbing shrinkage of the Himalayan glacial areas, a 26% change between 1977 and 2009, reinforce that the effects of climate change continue even without a rise in the world’s annual mean temperature.  This should give us an increasing impetus to call our leaders out to do more about climate change.  The actions to date from the largest contributor nations have been too little.  Let’s just hope they are not too late.

Use the links below for more information or to access the source documents for this article.  – Scroll down to “Download full pdf” and select.

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Book Chapters are Posted in Reverse Order – See Categories, The Book and Scroll Back

Posted on 06 March 2014 by admin

I have received complaints that only the last chapter (16) of Beyond Animal, Ego and Time is posted on this blog.  In fact all of the chapters are posted if you keep scrolling back under Categories under The Book.  This is because they are in reverse order in the files under Categories.  I invite everyone to read the book from the beginning chapters even if this involves quite a bit of scrolling back.  I promise it is thought provoking if nothing else.

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Helping Them Go Peacefully Into the Night

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Jerry

As the baby boom generation ages with illnesses and depression overtaking them, we need to reevaluate the laws that restrict how they die. There were an estimated 308 million people in the United States in 2010.  There were also over 38,000 suicides or roughly 0.000123% of the population.

The Pew Research Center reports that in 2010 of the over 38,000 suicides, 19,392 were committed with guns.  A Forbes article published in June of 2013 points out that “Suicide is not painless. The lifelong grief and disruptions it causes in other peoples’ lives are unspeakable.  Far too many of us have seen the traumas that suicide wreaks on individual families and communities”.

A 2009 article that was published in The Economist entitled Going gently, stated in part, “In most of the Western world, suicide is not a crime, but helping another to commit it is.  But not all the incapacitated, or terminally ill, or permanently despairing are willing to wait for a natural death, or to take messy and uncertain measures to kill themselves without medical help.”

Switzerland has arguably the most liberal laws covering assisting suicide.  Switzerland only labels assisting suicide as a crime if it is done for gain.  Other countries – Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – have also adopted legislation that permits some form of assisted suicide.

Four states in the U.S. (Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont) have assisted suicide laws.  In all cases, physicians can at least issue a prescription for or prepare a fatal drug cocktail for terminally ill patients under a variety of limitations.  Fears that these laws would spur a rash of assisted suicides have not materialized.

In Oregon in 2012 there were only 77 deaths from prescription cocktails.  Of interest is that the number of prescriptions written for the fatal drug cocktails was 115 in 2012.  This means that 38 people who were approved for assisted suicide decided against it.

In Washington State, during the three years after its law became effective in March of 2009, only 255 prescriptions for the lethal cocktail were written.   A study showed that even in patients with terminal cancer only 24 of forty chose to use the prescription to end their life.

Quoting once more from the article in The Economist, “It is perfectly possible to frame a law that allows suffering people who are close to death to die quickly and peacefully, if they wish, without declaring open season on old folk.  The suicide-seeker declares he is not being pressured to kill himself; two doctors agree, and testify he is terminally ill and of sound mind.  A waiting period before lethal drugs are dispensed ensures that the desire for death is a settled one.”

All that is needed is that we remove the requirement for a person to be terminally ill and we could pass legislation that takes most of the pain out of suicide.  Obviously this is very controversial.  It would however, provide a humane death, procedurally involve others in the decision to end one’s life and insert time to allow a person to change their mind.  This is an issue that needs to be brought out of the closet and debated in public forums.

Use the following links to gain more information or read the source documents for this article:

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Approval Near for GM Three Parent Babies

Posted on 03 March 2014 by admin

Now the FDA in the U.S. has joined the U.K.’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in being very close to approving trials of human genetic modifications that would create three parent babies.  Both countries have formal and informal rules that forbid germ-line modification where embryos have their DNA modified and the alterations can be passed on to future offspring.

Fortunately, even if the Authority in the U.K. approves the trials, the issue will have to be debated and approved by Parliament before it can move forward.  This is not the case with the FDA in the U.S.  FDA approval is the only requirement to begin the trials.

Many ethicists believe this is the beginning of a trend toward designer babies.  This is where prospective parents decide what characteristics they want their offspring to have and genetic modifications are made to order.

In an August 2013 post entitled Chimeras for Transplant and Third Parent Immunity, we raised the issue of genetic modification of a woman’s egg with genes from a second woman’s egg with the resulting egg being fertilized by a man.  This was identified as the newest approach to protect babies where the biological mother had mitochondrial disease.

The framing of the proposal is that it allows a woman with mitochondrial disease to have children without any fear of passing on mitochondrial diseases.  This creates a very sympathetic public reaction.  Ethicists and geneticists point out however that no one knows what effects there will be on future generations from having the additional genes of the third parent.

According to Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, the concern is that the genes involved “have pervasive effects on development and metabolism.  And the permissive record of the UK regulatory authorities raises the prospect that inheritable mitochondrial changes would be used as a door-opening wedge towards full-out germ-line manipulation, putting a high-tech eugenic social dynamic into play.”

The fear is of unpredicted outcomes in the children whose genes have been modified or in subsequent generations of direct descendants.  Also, Dr. Darnovsky stated these trials would be “the first time a government body had okayed genetic changes for humans and their descendants.”

Even researchers who are generally supportive of the procedure have their doubts about proceeding to human trials.  An article issued by Reuters said that Dr. Evan Snyder of the Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who chaired one of the committees queried by the U.S. FDA, said “there was probably not enough data in animals…to move on to human trials without answering a few additional questions” about safety.

The United States has a long history of supporting genetic engineering and modification.  This would be its first experiment approved with human beings but the precedent has been set with its long history of approving and giving worldwide support to genetically modified plants and crops.

The FDA’s support has typically benefitted the U.S. agribusinesses that have commercialized these products and have strong lobbies.  It appears there is not an organized lobby that would put pressure for approval of these trials.

For this reason, public pressure, domestic or foreign, might work to halt a positive decision to go ahead. I would recommend that readers who oppose germ-line modifications contact their congressmen or senators if they are U.S. residents.  Opponents, in other countries should send correspondence directly to the U.S. FDA at 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland 20993 or call 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).  Unfortunately, approval by the U.S. will be used as an example of ‘international competition’ to spur the UK to approve as well.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents for this article.


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