Archive | August, 2015

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We Must Practice Real Relief for Refugees

Posted on 29 August 2015 by Jerry

We can use 2015 as a test of the world’s ability and willingness to help millions of refugees as we practice our preparation for displacement due to global warming. So far the world has failed to satisfactorily resettle and accept the displaced millions from the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and numerous other abandoned homelands.

United Nation’s statistics from the end of 2014 pegged the level of the world’s refugees at 59.5 million people. Of these 19.5 million were refugees that have actually left their home countries, 38.2 million who have been displaced from their homes and 1.8 million that have formally applied for asylum in another country.

The displaced Syrian citizens represent some 7.6 million people. This total is how many people and families have lost their homes.   At least 4.3 million of the 7.6 million were forced to leave the country as refugees.

A July 2015 article in the Guardian identifies “Turkey is now the largest refugee-hosting country in the world, sheltering 1,805,255 Syrians. Lebanon has taken in 1,172,735 Syrian refugees, Jordan 629,128, Iraq 249,726 and Egypt 132,375. About 24,055 Syrians are refugees elsewhere in North Africa. The latest UN figures do not include the more than 270,000 Syrians applying for asylum in Europe.”

We have forced the neighboring countries to keep their borders open.   They provide temporary shelter and sustenance for these refugees.  This allows everyone to avoid opening their doors and actually helping these people resettle in other countries. Various articles have identified limitations placed on refugees who are largely being held in refugee camps set up in the various counties.

For example, because Turkey offers sanctuary but no permanent residency all refugees cannot work legally in Turkey. In the EU there is a “Dublin” agreement that all asylum seekers must remain in their country of entry into the E.U.  This causes Italy, Greece and Bulgaria to complain about their status as the countries of entry and has caused much criticism of their treatment of asylum seekers.

Many who cross lightly protected or patrolled country borders to go onward to more prosperous European Union countries complain of repeatedly being “pushed back” into Turkey. These refugees have been caught by police and have been returned to Turkey. This has most often happened at the hands of Bulgarian border guards.

This issue is fluid and very topical at this moment because of the flood of refugees coming out of Syria and looking for access and safe passage to various countries in the E.U. Violence has erupted in Germany because the country expects to accept and resettle some 800,000 refugees this year.   This has proven to be very controversial amongst Germany’s citizens.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was heckled in the town of Heidenau, Germany.  She said that xenophobia would not be tolerated.  Merkel was quoted as saying in a speech to the crowd, “There is no tolerance for those who are not willing to help where legal and human help is required.  The more people who make that clear…the stronger we will be.”

Her speech did not silence the Prime Minister of Serbia who has said he will not close the borders of his country to refugees.  Many are crossing through Serbia to Hungary where they can enter the EU if they get past the fence that Hungary is building along its border.  Prime Minister Alexander Vucic of Serbia stated, “What we want to hear tomorrow from Chancellor Merkel…from Frederica Mogherini…is what is the plan?”  Merkel and Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, are meeting soon in Vienna at a conference of Balkan leaders.

Some countries point to the money they have sent to help the refugee camps being set up by the neighbors of Syria. This is most common in countries that refuse to take the actual refugees as new citizens.

The most representative examples of this are the United Kingdom and the United States. The United Kingdom has maintained a policy of keeping its borders closed to refugees seeking asylum. It keeps pointing to the over £500 million pounds it has sent to the region.

The U.S. has just announced, as reported by the National Public Radio, that it will allow 5,000 to 8,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S. in 2016. It has repeatedly mentioned the over $4 billion in humanitarian aid it has sent to aid refugee resettlement. These pronouncements are meant to shift the focus away from the less than 1,000 Syrians it has accepted this year. The U.N. has identified the resettlement of refugees in the U.S. in 2014 as 73,000 people. Most of these refugees did not come from Syria but were rather from Afghanistan.

All nations of the world should be using this exodus to test the resettlement procedures they plan to use when global warming results in the displacement of many more citizens. We should be putting expectations on countries that will need additional citizens to cope with favorable weather conditions that will cause their countries to prosper.

Many of these countries are not under any pressure to accept today’s refugees and they should be. Where are Canada and the Soviet Union? How may refugees have been resettled in their territories? The money presently being spent by the U.S., U.K., and others to give temporary shelter and sustenance to refugees in camps is being wasted when it could be spent to offer refugees what they are seeking.

Resettlement could be offered to those who agree to work on public projects to build new infrastructure in their adopted countries. Countries of the world should cooperate to rebuild, or in some cases build for the first time, infrastructure for their citizens. This infrastructure could help them cope with the negative results of global warming. Countries that do not want to accept immigrants should pay others for resettlement.

At the same time these people should be trained to assume a productive job when their work on public works projects is completed. These people want a new place to settle that offers them meaningful employment and the training necessary to support their new future in their adopted countries. This is what we should be spending our dollars on rather than temporary shelter that has to be paid for year in and year out.

Frankly, no country should want to keep refugees out of their sight. This only enables them to ignore the problem. Refugees cannot be ignored when hundred of millions, yes I said hundreds of millions, migrate to areas of the world to escape climate change and just to stay alive. There will not be enough money in the world to keep the problem contained.

Present estimates of country commitments to contain climate change still allow the world’s temperature to climb between three and four degrees. This will force hundreds of millions to flee the large desert areas that will be created in southern Europe.

I cannot imagine a world in which citizens will find acceptable the total numbers of deaths from starvation just beyond their closed borders. I am hoping that today’s handling of their devastation is not indicative of the help the world will offer. I expect countries will change leadership until they have leaders who are willing to play a larger role on the world stage. In short, I am an optimist who believes we will not let our fellow man down in their hour of greatest need.

If we continue to refuse to control climate change, we must prepare to accept millions of fleeing human beings. They will be the refugees of tomorrow testing the methods, practices and statements of intent we implement and give evidence of today.

Use the following links to obtain more information on this topic or access the source documents used to write this article.

http://news.yahoo.com/migrants-head-north-hungary-decries-humiliating-eu-policy-112329065.html

http://news.yahoo.com/hungarian-government-discussed-using-army-help-handle-migrants-071801926.html

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/09/syria-refugees-4-million-people-flee-crisis-deepens

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/13/syrian-refugee-catastrophe-european-union-united-nations

http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

http://syrianrefugees.eu/

http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/lebanon/syria-refugee-in-lebanon-sets-herself-on-fire-at-un-centre-witnesses-1.1308797

http://borgenproject.org/worlds-top-5-largest-refugee-populations/

 

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Faster Glacier Retreat as Court & Scientists Speak

Posted on 21 August 2015 by Jerry

Two independent reports give separate results to explain away the lack of increase in the average world temperature beginning in 2000 and lasting about a decade.   They both come to the conclusion there was no long pause in the rise of the world’s average temperature – in other words it kept rising.

The first study that was conducted by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology said the apparent period of no growth was caused by a decade long shift of ocean heat collection to another area.  Their study found a heating of the top layer of water in the Indian Ocean with some residual heating still in the Pacific Ocean.  This heating offset a corresponding temperature stability or change in the rest of the Pacific Ocean.

This study shows the shifting heat from one region to another as cooler ocean water absorbed more heat to bring its heat into balance with the other oceans.  The research shows this phenomenon started in 2003 and lasted some ten years or so.  As a result you should conclude there was no pause in the rise of the world’s heat.  It was absorbed by another region of the ocean.

Researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and LMI in McLean, Virginia conducted the second study.  It re-examined data and estimates used by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It finds that the data trends used by the IPCC were less than was justified by what the data actually showed.  This was especially true for recent decades where “the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century.”  This data does not support the notion of any slowdown at all in the rate of global warming.

In related activities a top court has ruled that a country must increase its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.  The government of the Netherlands was ordered by a court in The Hague to increase its commitment to cut at least 25% of its greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2020 from levels in the year 1990.  The upcoming European Union (EU) obligations would require the government of the Netherlands to target a 17% reduction.  The Court has ruled this level is not enough in response to a lawsuit brought by an environmental group named Urgenda.

Two more studies of glaciers have not given us any good news.  One study conducted by scientists at the World Glacier Monitoring Service completed an analysis of more than 47,000 separate observations dating back to the 1600’s.  They conclude that glaciers are shrinking almost twice as fast as they were during the late twentieth century.

A second study offers an explanation at least for glaciers in Greenland that explains their rapid rate of disappearance.  It appears these glaciers are more susceptible to global warming than was thought.  This is because the use of sonar under the surface of the ocean has shown that the glaciers go hundreds of meters farther down under the water than previously thought or reflected on maps.  This allows their ice to come into greater contact with the warmer layers of water in the Atlantic Ocean.  This produces more melting of the glaciers than previously thought.

All of this shrinkage does not bode well for coastal areas around the world that are concerned about rising ocean levels.  They were hoping for at least some refuge from global warming and its negative effects.  This does not appear to be the case and will prompt continued monitoring of melting ice and the resulting sea levels around the world.

Of course the solution to this problem is to decrease temperature rise by putting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words we must slow the rate of global climate change.

Use the following links to access additional information or look at the original documents used to prepare this article.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6247/532.abstract?sid=8561f70d-3348-4558-9014-aaf361a2fb57

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6242/1469.abstract?sid=d0f4aa33-6a47-45a9-ad7e-9cfc12a808f9

http://www.nature.com/news/landmark-court-ruling-tells-dutch-government-to-do-more-on-climate-change-1.17841

http://www.nature.com/news/the-week-in-science-7-13-august-2015-1.18155 (scroll down to Trend Watch)

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v524/n7563/full/524009a.html

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“CRISPR”, Breakthrough or Trouble?

Posted on 16 August 2015 by Jerry

No, the new CRISPR is not a better way to hold fresh produce in refrigerators.  Instead it is a new gene-editing tool that has been described as “Jaw dropping” by Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for medicine.  A June 3, 2015 article in Nature Magazine goes on to say it will “allow researchers to quickly change the DNA of nearly any organism – including humans.  CRISPR is turning everything on its head.”

It allows researchers to alter the DNA of almost all organisms. This is undoubtedly good because it dramatically accelerates experimentation.  It should lead to many medical breakthroughs.  But are there risks?

To some extent CRISPR is a breakthrough that threatens all of us.  It revolutionizes an area that has no direct government regulation.   Researchers can now mix and match the genetic code of any set of disparate animals and do it cheaply.  Unfortunately, it only takes one mistake to create a new organism that we struggle to control.

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.  CRISPR uses a part of a bacteria’s immune system.  A bacteria keeps copies of the dangerous viruses that prey on it so it can recognize and defend against those viruses should they try to infect it again.  This ability has been borrowed from the bacteria so genetic engineers can take a normal sequence of DNA and define it as the target that is to be cut out – the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA.

Its process involves a set of enzymes called Cas or CRISPR-associated proteins, which allow the bacteria to precisely cut out a section of DNA and cut it up as it would an invading virus.  The best-known enzyme, of a number of Cas enzymes, is called Cas9.  It is from the Streptococcus pyogenes or the bacteria that causes strep throat.   It forms the CRISPR/Cas9 system that is most often used.

This tool and new technique dramatically simplifies the ability to edit genomes or genetic chromosomes and has been “likened to editing the individual letters on any chosen page of an encyclopedia without creating any spelling mistakes.”

Professor Mello continued by saying “It’s one of things that you have to see to believe.  I read scientific papers like everyone else but when I saw it working in my own lab, my jaw dropped.  A total novice in my lab got it to work.  The CRISPR technique dramatically ‘lowers the threshold’ for carrying out ‘germ line’ gene therapy on human IVF embryos,” Professor Mello added.

A June 2015 article in Nature magazine quotes James Haber, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, as saying “That (CRISPR) effectively democratized the technology so that everyone is using it,” says Dr. Haber.  “It’s a huge revolution.”

The article offers another summary of the CRISPR technique,  “It relies on an enzyme called Cas9 that uses a guide RNA molecule to home in on its target DNA, and edits the DNA to disrupt genes or insert desired sequences.  Researchers often need to order only the RNA fragment; the other components can be bought off the shelf.  Total cost: as little as $30.”

An added benefit is the technique takes far fewer cycles than the earlier technology to make a genetic change in a species.  An article on gizmodo.com that ran 5/6/2015 states, “Researchers inject the CRISPR/Cas9 sequences into mouse embryos.  The system edits both copies of a gene at the same time, and you get the mouse in one generation.  With CRISPR/Cas9, you can also alter, say five genes at once, whereas you would have to had to go that same laborious, multi-generational process five times before.”

An article in the June 8, 2015 issue of Nature states about Jennifer Doudna, a CRISPR pioneer at UC Berkeley, that “Her worries began at a meeting in 2014 when she saw a postdoc present work in which a virus was engineered to carry the CRISPR components into mice.  The mice breathed in the virus, allowing the CRISPR system to engineer mutations and create a model for human lung cancer4.”

The article continued “Doudna got a chill; a minor mistake in the design of the guide RNA could result in a CRISPR that worked in human lungs as well.  ‘It seemed incredibly scary that you might have students who were working with such a thing.  It’s important for people to appreciate what this technology can do.’ ”

A June 25, 2015 bloomberg.com article stated, “CRISPR could encourage editing of all kinds of genomes that, if unsupervised, may present unanticipated risks,” says Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine.  “The technique could be used to try to amplify genes thought to boost intelligence in adults.”  Use on animals and insects could also lead to ecological havoc, Caplan says.  “You could have a disaster on your hands, and you don’t have to touch a human to do it,” he said.

As documented in a previous article, see “We Need Worldwide Regulation of Synthetic Biology” http://iamaguardian.com/1680/we-need-worldwide-regulation-of-synthetic-biology/, regulation of Synthetic Biology and Genetic Engineering is split amongst five different federal government departments.  Depending on the development, the organizations that have partial responsibilities are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

There needs to be absolute regulatory responsibility for genetic engineering and synthetic biology.  When we have small researchers and venture funded startup companies articulating opportunities and experimenting with alterations to life’s genetic codes with only self-regulation or murky departmental responsibility, we must call a halt.  There should not be the freedom to take all of these risks in the name of profit.

We should be writing letters to the editor and letters to our elected representatives to tell them of our expectations.  We need to speak out against self-regulation and murky, conflicting regulations by multiple government departments.  We need to lobby for new legislation and a single department to assume regulatory oversight.

Use the following links to gain additional information or access the original documents used in this article.

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-the-disruptor-1.17673

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/exclusive-jawdropping-breakthrough-hailed-as-landmark-in-fight-against-hereditary-diseases-as-crispr-technique-heralds-genetic-revolution-8925295.html

http://gizmodo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crispr-the-new-tool-1702114381 (scroll down)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-25//the-promise-and-peril-of-crispr

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-science-can-t-solve-it-1.17806

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-move-beyond-differences-1.17805

http://www.iamaguardian.com/1680/we-need-worldwide-regulation-of-synthetically-biology/

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Reid Retires, Yucca Safe, WIFF or Boreholes Options

Posted on 01 August 2015 by Jerry

Soon we will have another point at which we can decide how and where to store our nuclear waste.  Senator Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, is to retire in 2016.  He has, with President Barack Obama’s support, politically blocked the U.S. from moving forward on the Yucca Mountain storage of this nation’s nuclear waste.  With his retirement and the time clock running out on Mr. Obama’s presidency, we have another chance to reinstitute Yucca Mountain if we want to.

In early 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined Yucca Mountain would be safe if we chose to operate it as a nuclear waste storage facility.  Finally, the Commission completed its last two volumes of its five-volume safety evaluation.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was instituted by the federal government to store weapons related nuclear waste (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/nuclear-weapons/ published on this website on June 29, 2014).  This repository, outside Carlsbad New Mexico, was designed for another level and is presently frozen at one storage level.  We could store twice as much nuclear waste at this facility if we opened up another storage level.

We could decide that a distributed storage option should aggregate present storage sites into a regional use of individual boreholes.  The notion of using boreholes punched into layers of granite has been around a long time but has been discarded many times as less feasible than a single repository.

Boreholes up to 5,000 meters deep could hold multiple types of waste with the most critical waste stored the deepest, between 3,000 and 5,000 meters with successive layers of clay, rocks and cement to seal the boreholes.  It would take 700 to 950 such boreholes to house the nation’s entire amount of high-level waste.

Each borehole would cost about $40 million dollars.  This is inexpensive however, recognizing we have already spent over $15 billion dollars assessing the suitability of Yucca Mountain.  So far, estimates range has high as $90 billion in the total amount spent on Yucca Mountain so far.

The final option is to leave the nuclear waste materials in water pools near the nuclear reactors that have generated the waste material.  Of course this nation’s use of nuclear reactors remains way down.  In fact, the number of nuclear power plants that are active in the U.S. fell below 100 with the closure in late 2014 of the Vermont Yankee plant that shuttered its operations.  This gives us less that 100 active storage sites or water pool installations to worry about.

The risks of these options are well documented, for instance, in terms of the vulnerability to terrorists, the risks incurred in moving large quantities of radioactive materials to a single national or several regional storage sites, or the contamination of ground water no matter which methodology is used.

While many pundits will argue the various pros and cons of these options, the solution will still boil down to a decision that must be made.

If you assume that all options have their shortcomings and that each shortcoming can be worked around using additional safety measures, we will still need someone’s final word.  We each need to decide which is the best option, whether the siting of storage is open to constituent or voter decisions or whether the federal government should just make an arbitrary decision.

Is the decision a popular one to be made by each electorate, is it to be left to politicians who will use their process to decide what should be done or should it be left to the scientists the government chooses to listen to?  We believe this entire issue will boil down to this one element, which is who gets to decide?

We believe nuclear power must be increased if the U.S. is to fulfill the commitments President Obama made to the rest of the world.  The March 25, 2015 issue of Scientific America had an article entitled Nuclear Letdown that states, “Without nuclear power, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants will become increasingly more costly to implement.  And if states cannot meet the plan’s requirements, the U.S.’s promise to China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025 may fall through.”

Of course more nuclear plants will create more waste that we must deal with.  This storage decision must be made and each of us must formulate a position that we should communicate to others.

Our position is the decision should not be made on the basis of some vote taken in a territory or a political decision by politicians. We believe the federal government should make a decision based upon the best judgment of their scientists.  The decision should be made on the basis of which is the safest alternative for the nation and its citizens.  A decision should be made and soon.

Use the following links to access more information or the original documents used in our research.

http://pvtimes.com/news/nevadas-chief-attorney-yucca-retiring.html

http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2015/03/13/yucca-mountain-declared-safe-nuclear-waste-storage

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/us-seeks-nuclear-waste-research-revival1/

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6244/132.summary?sid=d375fa1b-ed0b-4530-9e3d-aff5d7247ad0

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sorry-state-u-s-s-nuclear-reactor-fleet-dwindles/

http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2014/07/how-nations-are-tackling-nuclear-waste-storage.html

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