Utah Becomes Latest State To Ban Discredited LGBTQ ‘Conversion Therapy’

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Utah has become the 19th — and most conservative — state in the U.S. to ban “conversion therapy” for minors. The widely discredited practice, aimed at changing a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is now formally barred in the state after the new rule took effect late Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who directed licensing regulators to make the change, confirmed the move to NPR on Wednesday.

“We want to thank Governor Herbert and his administration for not allowing this issue to be politicized,” Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said at a Wednesday news conference celebrating the news. “He saw how polarizing this was becoming, and he made the decision to allow science to prevail over politics. He kept his word to the LGBTQ community, and we are deeply grateful to him.”

There are some key exceptions: The ban doesn’t apply to clergy, religious counselors, parents or grandparents, so long as they’re not acting as psychologists.

Still, the rule exists — a simple fact that, for a long time, was far from ensured.

An attempt to get a ban passed in the state legislature collapsed last year, after conservative lawmakers amended the bill so extensively that by the time it received committee approval, even its sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, had effectively disowned it. The measure stalled in the state House of Representatives.

So Herbert requested that state regulators review and propose new rules concerning the practice.

“I certainly have concerns about some of the abuse that I’ve heard talked about, but I’m not a psychologist,” Herbert said during a news conference last June, when he announced his request. “This is not my background. I’m going to rely upon the experts to tell us what should be done, or not be done, or how it should be done.”

A host of medical professionals — including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — has outright rejected conversion therapy as “futile and destructive.”

LGBTQ young people are already significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. But according to researchers at San Francisco State University, rates of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth more than double when parents try to change their sexual orientation. And those rates triple when parents and therapists and religious leaders try to do so.

“It was a lot of messaging of like, ‘The way you are right now is problematic, and people will not like you or accept you the way you are’ — which, as a 16-year-old, that’s the last thing you need to hear from adults,” Nathan Dalley, a student at the University of Utah and an outspoken conversion therapy survivor, told Nicole Nixon of member station KUER on Wednesday.

“I’m really happy to hear that youth are protected from this practice and that families in the future will not have to deal with the effects of conversion therapy,” Dalley added. “It’s hard to deal with. It’s hard to address. It’s hard to talk about, and it’s hard to heal from.”

Still, critics feel confident that lawmakers will push back on the move, which largely implements changes that conservative legislators sought to stifle.

“I’m sure something will be done,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

For now, at least, the new rule vaults Utah into some unlikely company. Currently, 18 other states and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy for minors — and the lawmaking bodies of all but a few have Democratic majorities. Utah is the only state with such a ban where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the state legislature.

Source: https://n.pr/2tYz5xs

Iran’s sole female Olympic medalist has defected.

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Iran’s sole female Olympic medalist has defected.

Iran’s sole female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, has announced that she’s permanently left her country for Europe.


“Let me start with a greeting, a farewell or condolences,” the 21-year-old wrote in an Instagram post explaining why she was defecting. “I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years.”
Alizadeh became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal after claiming bronze in the 57kg category of Taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Affectionately known in Iran as “The Tsunami,” Alizadeh announced she was leaving her birth country amid searing criticism of the regime in Tehran.
“They took me wherever they wanted. I wore whatever they said. Every sentence they ordered me to say, I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me,” she wrote, adding that credit for her success always went to those in charge.
“I wasn’t important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools,” Alizadeh added, explaining that while the regime celebrated her medals, it criticized the sport she had chosen: “The virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs!”
Reports of her defection first surfaced Thursday, with some Iranians suggesting she had left for the Netherlands. It was unclear from her post what country Alizadeh had gone to.
On Friday the head of Iran’s Taekwondo Federation, Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar, claimed Alizadeh had assured both her father and her coach that she was traveling as part of her vacation, a trip he claimed was paid for by the Iranian government. He dismissed the reports of Alizadeh’s defection as politically motivated rumors amplified by the foreign media.
Alizadeh confirmed the rumors Saturday, saying she “didn’t want to sit at the table of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery” and that she did not want to be complicit with the regime’s “corruption and lies.”
“My troubled spirit does not fit with your dirty economic ties and tight political lobbies. I wish for nothing else than for Taekwondo, safety and for a happy and healthy life, she said adding that she was not invited to go to Europe.
She said the decision was harder than winning Olympic gold. “I remain a daughter of Iran wherever I am,” she said.
Her defection came amid anti-government protests in cities across Iran Saturday and international pressure after Iran admitted it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner, killing all 176 people aboard.
Canada, Sweden and other countries whose citizens died on the plane have increased demands on Tehran to deliver a complete and transparent investigation against the backdrop of fresh US sanctions on Iran and a dangerous escalation with Washington.
“Iran will continue to lose more strong women unless it learns to empower and support them,” said US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus about Alizadeh’s defection.

Source: https://cnn.it/30I0for

New Cambridge Analytica leak shows global manipulation is out of control.

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New Cambridge Analytica leak shows global manipulation is out of control.

An explosive leak of tens of thousands of documents from the defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica is set to expose the inner workings of the company that collapsed after the Observer revealed it had misappropriated 87 million Facebook profiles.

More than 100,000 documents relating to work in 68 countries that will lay bare the global infrastructure of an operation used to manipulate voters on “an industrial scale” are set to be released over the next months.

It comes as Christopher Steele, the ex-head of MI6’s Russia desk and the intelligence expert behind the so-called “Steele dossier” into Trump’s relationship with Russia, said that while the company had closed down, the failure to properly punish bad actors meant that the prospects for manipulation of the US election this year were even worse.

The release of documents began on New Year’s Day on an anonymous Twitter account, @HindsightFiles, with links to material on elections in Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil. The documents were revealed to have come from Brittany Kaiser, an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower, and to be the same ones subpoenaed by Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Kaiser, who starred in the Oscar-shortlisted Netflix documentary The Great Hack, decided to go public after last month’s election in Britain. “It’s so abundantly clear our electoral systems are wide open to abuse,” she said. “I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the US election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testifies to Congress after it was reported 87 million Facebook users had information harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testifies to Congress after it was reported 87 million Facebook users had information harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Photograph: Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The documents were retrieved from her email accounts and hard drives, and though she handed over some material to parliament in April 2018, she said there were thousands and thousands more pages which showed a “breadth and depth of the work” that went “way beyond what people think they know about ‘the Cambridge Analytica scandal’”.

Steele made a rare public intervention to comment on the leaks. He said that while he didn’t know what was in them, the context couldn’t be more important because “on our current trajectory these problems are likely to get worse, not better, and with crucial 2020 elections in America and elsewhere approaching, this is a very scary prospect. Something radical needs to be done about it, and fast.”

He said authorities in the west had failed to punish those practising social and other media manipulation, and “the result will be that while CA may have been exposed and eventually shut down, other, even more sophisticated actors will have been emboldened to interfere in our elections and sow social divisions”.

Kaiser said the Facebook data scandal was part of a much bigger global operation that worked with governments, intelligence agencies, commercial companies and political campaigns to manipulate and influence people, and that raised huge national security implications.

The unpublished documents contain material that suggests the firm was working for a political party in Ukraine in 2017 even while under investigation as part of Mueller’s inquiry and emails that Kaiser says describe how the firm helped develop a “sophisticated infrastructure of shell companies that were designed to funnel dark money into politics”.

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent, said the failure to properly punish bad actors meant prospects for manipulation of the election this year were worse. Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent, said the failure to properly punish bad actors meant prospects for manipulation of the election this year were worse. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

“There are emails between these major Trump donors discussing ways of obscuring the source of their donations through a series of different financial vehicles. These documents expose the entire dark money machinery behind US politics.” The same machinery, she says, was deployed in other countries that Cambridge Analytica worked in, including, she claims, Britain.

Emma Briant, an academic at Bard College, New York, who specialises in investigating propaganda and has had access to some of the documents for research, said that what had been revealed was “the tip of the iceberg”.

“The documents reveal a much clearer idea of what actually happened in the 2016 US presidential election, which has a huge bearing on what will happen in 2020. It’s the same people involved who we know are building on these same techniques,” she said.

“There’s evidence of really quite disturbing experiments on American voters, manipulating them with fear-based messaging, targeting the most vulnerable, that seems to be continuing. This is an entire global industry that’s out of control but what this does is lay out what was happening with this one company.”

Source: http://bit.ly/3aoownZ

New Hacking Threat: Editing X-Ray Images to Add or Remove Cancer.

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New Hacking Threat: Editing X-Ray Images to Add or Remove Cancer.

Hackers trying to steal your data is one thing, but what if they tried to trick your doctors into thinking you had cancer? Or fooled them into ignoring it?

It’s a ruse that’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Security researchers in Israel recently duped real doctors into misdiagnosing patients by hacking a hospital X-ray scanning machine and altering the images it produced.

“In particular, we show how easily an attacker can access a hospital’s network, and then inject or remove lung cancers from a patient’s CT scan,” Yisroel Mirsky, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University’s National Cybersecurity Research Center, said in a statement.

Mirsky and his colleagues demonstrated the attack by getting the permission of a local hospital to secretly break in and hack a Computerized Tomography (CT) scanning machine. To pull off the attack, the researchers created a USB-to-Ethernet device, which can be connected to a hospital workstation to secretly take over a CT machine.

Three radiologists were then hired to examine the edited images. “When the scans of healthy patients were injected with cancer, the radiologists misdiagnosed 99 percent of them as being malign. When the algorithm removed cancers from actual cancer patients, the radiologists misdiagnosed 94 percent of the patients as being healthy,” the researchers said.

Editing the X-rayed images involved more than just Photoshop. The researchers used AI-powered computer algorithms to automatically add or remove medically accurate cancerous growths to images taken over the CT machine.

Hacking CT Scanner Research

The edited images were so accurate the radiologists and their own AI-assisted tools still had trouble diagnosing the patients when told the images had been doctored.”They still could not differentiate between the tampered and authentic images, misdiagnosing 60 percent of those with injections, and 87 percent of those with removals,” the researchers said.

The theoretical attack has the potential to unleash mayhem in a number of ways. “Consider the following scenario: an individual or state adversary wants to affect the outcome of an election. To do so, the attacker adds cancer to a CT scan performed on a political candidate,” the researchers wrote in a paper about their findings. “After learning of the cancer, the candidate steps down from his or her position. The same scenario can be applied to existing leadership.”

In a worst-case scenario, the same attack could lead to someone’s death by fooling doctors into thinking they’re healthy, when they actually need immediate treatment. The attack could also be used to generate money by perpetrating fraudulent health insurance claims.


“Another scenario to consider is that of ransomware: An attacker seeks out monetary gain by holding the integrity of the medical imagery hostage. The attacker achieves this by altering a few scans and then by demanding payment for revealing which scans have been affected,” their paper says.

The researchers published their findings to call attention to vulnerabilities in CT and MRI machines at a time when hospitals and clinics remain major targets for hackers, since medical records can be hugely valuable to cybercriminals wishing to commit identity theft or extortion.

It doesn’t help that some archiving systems for CT and MRI machines can be exposed to the internet, whether intentionally or accidentally, opening the door for hackers to get in, the researchers wrote. Another way to break in is by hacking a hospital’s Wi-Fi hotspots to gain entry into the internal network.

Using encryption to protect the data between X-ray-scanning machines and hospital workstations could help address some of the threat. But researchers also recommend hospitals use digital signatures and watermarking on the X-rayed images as a way to verify their authenticity.

Source: http://bit.ly/30wGWhP

Empathy Is Taught To Students Ages 6 To 16 In Schools in Denmark.

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Empathy Is Taught To Students Ages 6 To 16 In Schools in Denmark.

Every week, students aged six to 16 are following empathy classes during “Klassens tid”. The idea behind these classes is to teach kids to practice empathy, how to build relationships, how to succeed at work and how to prevent bullying.

Source: YouTube Screenshot

Students can talk about their struggles and issues during this hour

The problems the kids talk about can vary between personal problems or anything regarding to school. Along with the teacher, the other kids will discuss the problem and figure out a way to possibly solve it. They are taught how to really listen and understand one another.

Source: YouTube Screenshot

“Together, the class tries to respect all aspects and angles and together find a solution,” Iben Sandahl said. “Kids’ issues are acknowledged and heard as a part of a bigger community. [And] when you are recognized, you become someone.”

Iben Sandahl is a Danish psychotherapist, educator, and co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting together with Jessica Alexander who is an American author, and cultural researcher.

Source: The Danish Way

The book they wrote together discusses the real reason behind the happiness of the Danish people.

According to the book, the answer lies in the Danish upbringing. Happy children are raised by Danish parents who, in their turn, raise happy children and the cycle repeats itself and so on.

Klassens tid is the ultimate opportunity for the students to be heard and for them to receive support and encouragement from their peers. Mutual respect is one of the bonuses to these classes.

“The children are not afraid to speak up, because they feel part of a community, they are not alone,” according to journalist, Carlotta Balena.

Source: YouTube Screenshot

There are two ways the Danes teach empathy, according to Sandahl’s and Alexander’s study.

60% of the classes revolve around teamwork, which is an important part of the program. They try to teach children to not merely focus on being the best among their peers but to focus instead on improving the skills and talents of other students who are not gifted equally.

Source: YouTube Screenshot

You won’t find any prizes of trophies at a Danish school as they try instead to focus on “the culture of motivation to improve, measured exclusively in relation to themselves.”

Source: YouTube Screenshot

The second way of teaching empathy is through collaborative learning.

This is where the upbringing comes in, which is key to happiness according to the authors. With upbringing they mean a cohesive society that supports everyone.

“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age since no one can go through life alone,” Jessica Alexander said.

Source: YouTube Screenshot

The students learn more about the subject they’re talking about as well as learning new ways to communicate, at the collaborative learning course.

“You build empathy skills, which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works,” Jessica Alexander further explained.

Source: http://bit.ly/38aLNry

The dark side of plant-based food.

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The dark side of plant-based food.

If you were to believe newspapers and dietary advice leaflets, you’d probably think that doctors and nutritionists are the people guiding us through the thicket of what to believe when it comes to food. But food trends are far more political – and economically motivated – than it seems.

From ancient Rome, where Cura Annonae – the provision of bread to the citizens – was the central measure of good government, to 18th-century Britain, where the economist Adam Smith identified a link between wages and the price of corn, food has been at the centre of the economy. Politicians have long had their eye on food policy as a way to shape society.

That’s why tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain were enforced in Britain between 1815 and 1846. These “corn laws” enhanced the profits and political power of the landowners, at the cost of raising food prices and hampering growth in other economic sectors.

Over in Ireland, the ease of growing the recently imported potato plant led to most people living off a narrow and repetitive diet of homegrown potato with a dash of milk. When potato blight arrived, a million people starved to death, even as the country continued to produce large amounts of food – for export to England.

The Irish famine. internetarchivebookimages/flickr

Such episodes well illustrate that food policy has often been a fight between the interests of the rich and the poor. No wonder Marx declared that food lay at the heart of all political structures and warned of an alliance of industry and capital intent on both controlling and distorting food production.

Vegan wars

Many of today’s food debates can also be usefully reinterpreted when seen as part of a wider economic picture. For example, recent years have seen the co-option of the vegetarian movement in a political programme that can have the effect of perversely disadvantaging small-scale, traditional farming in favour of large-scale industrial farming.

This is part of a wider trend away from small and mid-size producers towards industrial-scale farming and a global food market in which food is manufactured from cheap ingredients bought in a global bulk commodities market that is subject to fierce competition. Consider the launch of a whole new range of laboratory created “fake meats” (fake dairy, fake eggs) in the US and Europe, oft celebrated for aiding the rise of the vegan movement. Such trends entrench the shift of political power away from traditional farms and local markets towards biotech companies and multinationals.

Estimates for the global vegan food market now expect it to grow each year by nearly 10% and to reach around US$24.3 billion by 2026. Figures like this have encouraged the megaliths of the agricultural industry to step in, having realised that the “plant-based” lifestyle generates large profit margins, adding value to cheap raw materials (such as protein extracts, starches, and oils) through ultra-processing. Unilever is particularly active, offering nearly 700 vegan products in Europe.

Researchers at the US thinktank RethinkX predict that “we are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption” of agriculture in history. They say that by 2030, the entire US dairy and cattle industry will have collapsed, as “precision fermentation” – producing animal proteins more efficiently via microbes – “disrupts food production as we know it”.

Westerners might think that this is a price worth paying. But elsewhere it’s a different story. While there is much to be said for rebalancing western diets away from meat and towards fresh fruits and vegetables, in India and much of Africa, animal sourced foods are an indispensable part of maintaining health and obtaining food security, particularly for women and children and the 800 million poor that subsist on starchy foods.

To meet the 2050 challenges for quality protein and some of the most problematic micronutrients worldwide, animal source foods remain fundamental. But livestock also plays a critical role in reducing poverty, increasing gender equity, and improving livelihoods. Animal husbandry cannot be taken out of the equation in many parts of the world where plant agriculture involves manure, traction, and waste recycling – that is, if the land allows sustainable crop growth in the first place. Traditional livestock gets people through difficult seasons, prevents malnutrition in impoverished communities, and provides economic security.

Boys with their cattle, Tanzania. Magdalena Paluchowska/Shutterstock.com

Follow the money

Often, those championing vegan diets in the west are unaware of such nuances. In April 2019, for example, Canadian conservation scientist, Brent Loken, addressed India’s Food Standards Authority on behalf of EAT-Lancet’s “Great Food Transformation” campaign, describing India as “a great example” because “a lot of the protein sources come from plants”. Yet such talk in India is far from uncontroversial.

The country ranks 102nd out of 117 qualifying countries on the Global Hunger Index, and only 10% of infants between 6–23 months are adequately fed. While the World Health Organization recommends animal source foods as sources of high-quality nutrients for infants, food policy there spearheads an aggressive new Hindu nationalism that has led to many of India’s minority communities being treated as outsiders. Even eggs in school meals have become politicised. Here, calls to consume less animal products are part of a deeply vexed political context.

Likewise, in Africa, food wars are seen in sharp relief as industrial scale farming by transnationals for crops and vegetables takes fertile land away from mixed family farms (including cattle and dairy), and exacerbates social inequality.

The result is that today, private interest and political prejudices often hide behind the grandest talk of “ethical” diets and planetary sustainability even as the consequences may be nutritional deficiencies, biodiversity-destroying monocultures and the erosion of food sovereignty.

For all the warm talk, global food policy is really an alliance of industry and capital intent on both controlling and distorting food production. We should recall Marx’s warnings against allowing the interests of corporations and private profit to decide what we should eat.


Source: http://bit.ly/2Tl1lEQ

FCC Approves Plan For 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Number Similar To 911.

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FCC Approves Plan For 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Number Similar To 911.

It’s a lesson you learn as early as grade school: If you find yourself injured, threatened or otherwise in harm’s way, just break out your phone and dial a simple, three-digit number: 911. After more than five decades, the 911 emergency call system has become so memorable and ubiquitously known, it even has its own network TV adaptation.

But what if the danger is rooted less in the physical, and more in one’s mental health?

On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to proceed with a proposal to set up a new hotline similar to 911 — only, instead of dialing the police, the number would connect callers to experts in suicide prevention and mental health. The proposed number, 988, would link callers to an already existing network of crisis centers around the country set up by the Department of Health and Human Services.

That network, comprised of 163 such call centers around the country, is already accessible at 1-800-273-TALK or online right here. But the simplified alternative laid out Thursday would, in the words of an FCC report published in August, “make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


“Overall, the record supports the use of a dedicated 3-digit dialing code as a way to increase the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, ease access to crisis services, and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions,” the federal agency explained in the study, prepared in collaboration with HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

Congress requested the report as part of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, passed and signed into law last year in a rare display of bipartisan agreement.

Thursday’s FCC vote does not mean you can dial 988 today and be connected with the suicide prevention hotline. The move simply represents a major step forward in the process, opening a period of public comment on the proposal before the commission reaches the stage of finalizing the rules.

The notice proposes an 18-month time frame for making the number a reality.

“Our hearts go out to those who are struggling,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a recorded statement released Thursday, “and we hope to move as quickly as we can in order to help them get the help they need and deserve.”

Pai pointed to some alarming statistics, noting that the U.S. recently has seen its highest rates of suicide since World War II. To wit:

  • “More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide” in 2017, according to SAMHSA.
  • In a span of less than two decades, 1999 to 2017, the age-adjusted suicide rate rose about 33%, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year.
  • At-risk populations such as veterans, LGBTQ youth and American Indians have been shown to be particularly vulnerable.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24, who saw a stark 56% rise in suicide rates from 2007 to 2017.
  • Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

The FCC says that last year alone, counselors at the 163 crisis centers around the country answered more than 2.2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats. SAMHSA says its research shows that “callers were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful” by the end of their calls with counselors.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., on Thursday applauded the commission’s vote as a “historic action” toward boosting access to these kinds of services.

He and a bipartisan group of his colleagues introduced a bill in the Senate in October that would pursue the same aim of setting up 988 as a suicide prevention hotline. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act would also allow states to collect fees to support the plan’s implementation.

On Wednesday it received the approval of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which sent it along to the wider chamber for further consideration.
Source: https://n.pr/3a4ZQkn

Cervical pre-cancer rates down 88% since HPV vaccinations began 10 years ago.

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Cervical pre-cancer rates down 88% since HPV vaccinations began 10 years ago.

Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women in the UK under the age of 35 after breast and skin cancer. In the majority of cases, the cancer only develops if the patient is infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 or 18. This virus is mainly transmitted between people having vaginal, anal or oral sex. At some point in their lives, four in five people will be infected by HPV strains – as many as 14 can cause cancer in total. According to recent studies, other cancers heavily linked to HPV infections include head-and-neck, vulvo-vaginal and anal.

Green = gynaecological diseases. 

In an effort to reduce rates of cervical cancer, a number of countries launched immunisation programmes in the late 2000s, starting with Australia in 2006. The UK and its devolved governments launched a school immunisation programme in 2008 to vaccinate all girls aged 12-13. To speed up the time lag associated with achieving the benefits of vaccination, they also kicked off a three-year catch-up programme for girls aged up to 18 years.

A decade on, we are finally able to publish the first results. The data relates to Scotland, since it was cervically screening women from the age of 20 until 2016 – before falling into line with the minimum age of 25 used in the rest of the UK. This meant that Scotland obtained screening data for the 2008-09 cohort before the change in screening age. Scotland also has very detailed information about take-up rates, which have been very high: running to approximately 90% in Scotland for the routinely vaccinated girls and 65% for the older girls vaccinated as part of the catch-up programme.

For the first time, we can now confirm that the vaccination programme has begun to profoundly alter the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18 among Scottish women – and presumably elsewhere as well.

The study

My team performed an eight-year study of the women eligible for the Scottish national vaccination and cervical screening programmes. We looked at their vaccination status, year of birth, indicators of deprivation and whether they lived in urban or rural areas. Using complex statistical modelling, we were able to calculate the effect of vaccination on cervical pre-cancer. Though not all pre-cancer becomes cancer, all cancer requires pre-cancer. Cervical pre-cancer occurs quicker than cancer and therefore this focus has allowed us to see the impact of the vaccine earlier.

Among women born in 1995-96 – the first group to go through the regular vaccination programme in 2008/09 – there has been an 88% reduction in rates of cervical pre-cancer. This is a fall in incidence from 1.44% to 0.17%.

Not only that, women born in these years who had not received the vaccine were also less likely to develop cervical pre-cancer. This was because the high vaccine uptake meant that HPV incidence was much lower in their age group, thanks to a phenomenon known as “herd protection”. This is particularly good news, since this group is also less likely to attend cervical screenings.

UK vaccination programme is over a decade old. Image Point Fr

The findings clearly show that the routine HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 to 13 has been a resounding success. This is consistent with the fact that we have also seen a big fall in high-risk HPV infection in Scotland in recent years. The obvious conclusion is that we are going to see far fewer cases of cervical cancer in years to come.

From September, the UK is going to extend the vaccination programme to boys – becoming one of numerous countries to do so. This is in response to the fact that rates of head and neck cancer are rising in men: approximately 60% of head and neck cancer is associated with HPV16 infection, and should therefore be mostly preventable through vaccination. This programme should also mean that high-risk HPV infections among the population should be eliminated more quickly, which should have knock-on benefits for rates of HPV-driven cancers.

Meanwhile, in parts of Canada, HPV vaccinations are now being offered to uninfected women as part of the cervical screening process. This may protect older women from developing cervical cancer. This process may be adopted internationally, including the UK. When we look at the picture as a whole, eliminating the HPV virus, and making huge inroads into the various cancers that it helps develop, is now becoming a realistic possibility.

Source: http://bit.ly/35GGZby

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.

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Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.

I’m skilled at eluding the fetal crouch of despair—because I’ve been working on climate change for thirty years, I’ve learned to parcel out my angst, to keep my distress under control. But, in the past few months, I’ve more often found myself awake at night with true fear-for-your-kids anguish. This spring, we set another high mark for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: four hundred and fifteen parts per million, higher than it has been in many millions of years. The summer began with the hottest June ever recorded, and then July became the hottest month ever recorded. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany, which have some of the world’s oldest weather records, all hit new high temperatures, and then the heat moved north, until most of Greenland was melting and immense Siberian wildfires were sending great clouds of carbon skyward. At the beginning of September, Hurricane Dorian stalled above the Bahamas, where it unleashed what one meteorologist called “the longest siege of violent, destructive weather ever observed” on our planet. The scientific warnings of three decades ago are the deadly heat advisories and flash-flood alerts of the present, and, as for the future, we have hard deadlines. Last fall, the world’s climate scientists said that, if we are to meet the goals we set in the 2015 Paris climate accord—which would still raise the mercury fifty per cent higher than it has already climbed—we’ll essentially need to cut our use of fossil fuels in half by 2030 and eliminate them altogether by mid-century. In a world of Trumps and Putins and Bolsonaros and the fossil-fuel companies that back them, that seems nearly impossible. It’s not technologically impossible: in the past decade, the world’s engineers have dropped the price of solar and wind power by ninety and seventy per cent, respectively. But we’re moving far too slowly to exploit the opening for rapid change that this feat of engineering offers. Hence the 2 A.M. dread.

There’s good news, too: as the crisis grows more obvious, far more people are joining in the fight. In the year since the scientists imposed that deadline, we’ve seen the rise of the Green New Deal, the cheeky exploits of Extinction Rebellion, and the global spread of the school strikes started by the Swedish teen-ager Greta Thunberg. It seems that there are finally enough people to make an impact. The question is, what levers can we pull that might possibly create change within the time that we need it to happen?

Some of us have begun to change our own lives, pledging to fly less and to eat lower on the food chain. But, whatever our intentions, we’re each of us currently locked into burning a fair amount of fossil fuel: if there’s no train that goes to your destination, you can’t take it. Others—actually, often the same people—are working to elect greener candidates, lobbying to pass legislation, litigating cases headed for the Supreme Court, or going to jail to block the construction of pipelines.

These are all important efforts, but we need to do more, for the simple reason that they may not pay off fast enough. Climate change is a timed test, one of the first that our civilization has faced, and with each scientific report the window narrows. By contrast, cultural change—what we eat, how we live—often comes generationally. Political change usually involves slow compromise, and that’s in a working system, not a dysfunctional gridlock such as the one we now have in Washington. And, since we face a planetary crisis, cultural and political change would have to happen in every other major country, too.

But what if there were an additional lever to pull, one that could work both quickly and globally? One possibility relies on the idea that political leaders are not the only powerful actors on the planet—that those who hold most of the money also have enormous power, and that their power could be exercised in a matter of months or even hours, not years or decades. I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas.

Following the money isn’t a new idea. Seven years ago, 350.org (the climate campaign that I co-founded, a decade ago, and still serve as a senior adviser) helped launch a global movement to persuade the managers of college endowments, pension funds, and other large pots of money to sell their stock in fossil-fuel companies. It has become the largest such campaign in history: funds worth more than eleven trillion dollars have divested some or all of their fossil-fuel holdings. And it has been effective: when Peabody Energy, the largest American coal company, filed for bankruptcy, in 2016, it cited divestment as one of the pressures weighing on its business, and, this year, Shell called divestment a “material adverse effect” on its performance. The divestment campaign has brought home the starkest fact of the global-warming era: that the industry has in its reserves five times as much carbon as the scientific consensus thinks we can safely burn. The pressure has helped cost the industry much of its social license; one religious institution after another has divested from oil and gas, and Pope Francis has summoned industry executives to the Vatican to tell them that they must leave carbon underground. But this, too, seems to be happening in too-slow motion. The fossil-fuel industry may be going down, but it’s going down fighting. Which makes sense, because it’s the fossil-fuel industry—it really only knows how to do one thing.

So now consider extending the logic of the divestment fight one ring out, from the fossil-fuel companies to the financial system that supports them. Consider a bank like, say, JPMorgan Chase, which is America’s largest bank and the world’s most valuable by market capitalization. In the three years since the end of the Paris climate talks, Chase has reportedly committed a hundred and ninety-six billion dollars in financing for the fossil-fuel industry, much of it to fund extreme new ventures: ultra-deep-sea drilling, Arctic oil extraction, and so on. In each of those years, ExxonMobil, by contrast, spent less than three billion dollars on exploration, research, and development. A hundred and ninety-six billion dollars is larger than the market value of BP; it dwarfs that of the coal companies or the frackers. By this measure, Jamie Dimon, the C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, is an oil, coal, and gas baron almost without peer.

But here’s the thing: fossil-fuel financing accounts for only about seven per cent of Chase’s lending and underwriting. The bank lends to everyone else, too—to people who build bowling alleys and beach houses and breweries. And, if the world were to switch decisively to solar and wind power, Chase would lend to renewable-energy companies, too. Indeed, it already does, though on a much smaller scale. (A spokesperson for Chase said that the bank has committed to facilitate two hundred billion dollars in “clean” financing by 2025, but did not specify where the money will go. The bank also pointed out that it has installed 2,570 solar panels at branches in California and New Jersey.) The same is true of the asset-management and insurance industries: without them, the fossil-fuel companies would almost literally run out of gas, but BlackRock and Chubb could survive without their business. It’s possible to imagine these industries, given that the world is now in existential danger, quickly jettisoning their fossil-fuel business. It’s not easy to imagine—capitalism is not noted for surrendering sources of revenue. But, then, the Arctic ice sheet is not noted for melting.

The last minutes of a football game are different from the rest; if you are far enough behind, you dispense with caution. Since gaining a few yards cannot help you, you resort to more desperate, lower-percentage plays. You heave the ball and you hope, and, every once in a while, you win. So a small group of activists has begun probing the financial industry, looking for chances to toss the kind of Hail Mary pass that could yet win this game. The odds are definitely long, but just talking with these groups has begun to lift my despair.


Around the turn of the century, a California-based environmental group called Rainforest Action Network (RAN) was trying to figure out how to slow down the deforestation of the Amazon. It found that Citigroup, then the largest bank on earth, was lending to many of the projects that cut down trees for pastureland, and so it ran a campaign that featured celebrities cutting up their Citi credit cards. Eventually, Citigroup joined with other banks to set up the Equator Principles, which the participants call a “risk management framework” designed to limit the most devastating lending.

At some point in the campaign, RAN started paying twenty-four thousand dollars annually to rent a Bloomberg terminal, the financial-information monitor that sits on any broker’s desk, allowing her to track stock prices, bond issues, and deals of every type. “Our Bloomberg rep is always flabbergasted when he visits us,” Alison Kirsch, a climate-and-energy researcher with RAN, told me. “Essentially, we use it backwards.” The terminal will spit out the current league tables, which rank loan volume: showing, for example, which banks are lending the most money to railroad builders or to copper miners—or to fossil-fuel companies. “The banks all want to be at the top of those tables,” Kirsch said. “It’s how they keep score.” But RAN turns the tables upside down. Every year, after six months of detailed analysis, it publishes a thick report called “Banking on Climate Change,” which ranks the financial giants according to how much damage they’re doing.

This year’s edition, the tenth, shows Chase in the lead, as usual, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America. Two Japanese banks and the British giant Barclays are also among the top ten, but it’s mostly a North American club—three Canadian banks round out the list. And the trend is remarkable: in the three years since the signing of the Paris climate accord, which was designed to help the world shift away from fossil fuels, the banks’ lending to the industry has increased every year, and much of the money goes toward the most extreme forms of energy development. In the lead-up to the Paris talks, a team of scientists published a big paper in Nature that listed the planet’s most catastrophic deposits of hydrocarbons, the ones that should be left in the ground at all costs. It included Arctic oil and the tar-sands sludge found in northern Alberta; Chase has aggressively funded the extraction of both. According to RAN, the bank’s largest single energy-sector client is TC Energy (until recently known as Transcanada), which is trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from the tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico—a project that President Obama rejected and that the NASA scientist James Hansen said would be the start of a “game over” scenario for the climate. (Chase would not comment.) Jason Opeña Disterhoft, RAN’s senior campaigner, told me, “It’s a climate moment. We’re in a process, as a society, of naming the actors most responsible for driving the climate crisis, and banks are absolutely on that list. And Chase—they’re No. 1 with a bullet, right at the top of the list of who should be held accountable.”

So what would happen if, tomorrow, Chase announced that it was going to phase out lending to the fossil-fuel industry—probably first by restricting loans for particular projects, and then by ending general corporate lending and banning the underwriting of new debt and equity for fossil-fuel companies? “Wells Fargo and Citi would follow within days,” according to Tim Buckley, a former managing director at Citi, who now serves as the director of energy-finance studies for Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (I.E.E.F.A.), a Cleveland-based nonprofit research group. In fact, “they’d look to go one step further, so as to pretend they weren’t really sheep. And this would have global ramifications—the music would stop, very suddenly.” Wall Street, Buckley said, “can be very deaf to warnings for years, but the financial-market lemmings will suddenly act in unison” once the biggest players send a signal. Everyone knows that the fossil-fuel era will come to an end sooner or later; a giant bank pulling back would send an unmistakable signal that it will be sooner. The biggest oil companies might still be able to self-finance their continuing operations, but “the pure-play frackers will find finance impossible,” Buckley said. “Coal-dependent rail carriers and port owners and coal-mine contracting firms will all be hit.”

Done badly, this halt could wreak chaos: the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned four years ago that the “stranded assets”—the coal, gas, and oil that need to be left underground—amount to a twenty-trillion-dollar “carbon bubble” that far exceeds the housing bubble that sparked the 2008 financial conflagration. Carney has been diligently trying to deflate the bubble ever since, in hopes of avoiding another crisis. That’s why it might make sense for Chase and the others to first announce that they were ending loans for the expansion of the fossil-fuel industry, while continuing to extend credit for ongoing operations. “If Chase does what we’re asking for and other banks follow,” Alison Kirsch said, “the impacts of that social signal would be significant immediately, while the economic impacts from transitioning off of fossil fuels would happen over time.”

And it must be said that, even if bursting this bubble did short-term damage to the economy, that damage would pale next to the kind of wreckage forecast for the planet if the fossil-fuel industry continues on its current path for another decade. Even in economic terms, twenty trillion dollars is paltry compared with the sums that experts now think unabated global warming would consume. At the moment, the planet is on track to warm more than three degrees Celsius by century’s end, which one recent study found would do five hundred and fifty-one trillion dollars in damage. That’s more money than currently exists on the planet.

Is there any chance that Chase might halt its fossil-fuel lending? Perhaps not. The bank grew into a global giant under the leadership of David Rockefeller, the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, who established the country’s original oil fortune, by founding the Standard Oil Company, one of whose successor companies is ExxonMobil. For many years, the Chase board’s lead director has been Lee Raymond, who served as the C.E.O. of Exxon during the years when it was working hardest to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. (In 1997, Raymond gave an infamous speech, in Beijing, in which he claimed that the planet was probably cooling, and that, in any event, it was “highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or twenty years from now.”) However, in 2016, the Rockefeller Family Fund announced that it would divest from fossil fuels, singling out Exxon’s conduct as being “morally reprehensible” and adding that “we must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead.”

The director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, Lee Wasserman, says that it’s time to take on the reputations of the bankers, in much the same way that the Sackler family has increasingly been shunned for its role in the opioid crisis. “When the neighborhood tavern serves up several rounds to an already drunken patron, and the inebriated person rams into a minivan loaded with Little Leaguers, it’s not only a tragedy—the bar may be sued out of business, and the bartender could face jail time,” he said. “How much morally worse is it to enable the expansion of a deadly fossil-fuel industry, whose business model is certain to cause the death and suffering of millions of people and the loss of much of the earth’s diversity? Big, sophisticated banks such as Chase and Wells Fargo understand climate science and know that our current path is leading towards climate catastrophe. Yet their machine of finance cranks along.”

Some activists have begun to envision a campaign to pressure the banks. Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others. “One of the major risk factors going forward for these guys is generational,” Disterhoft said. “You have a rising generation of consumers and potential employees that cares a lot about climate, and they’re going to be choosing who they do business with factoring that into account.” In 2017, when Twitter-based activists accused Uber of exploiting Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, rather than protesting it, it took just hours for downloads of the Lyft app to surge, for the first time, past those of the Uber app. Switching banks is harder, but, given the volume of credit-card solicitations that show up in the average mailbox every year, probably not much.

A few of the big European banks have begun taking steps away from fossil fuels already. In June, the French giant Crédit Agricole announced a change that Disterhoft calls the “gold standard to date”: the bank said that it would no longer do business with companies that are expanding their coal operations, and that, by 2021, its coal-business clients in the developed world would have to produce a plan for getting out of the business by 2030; its clients in China by 2040; and its clients everywhere else by 2050. BankTrack, an N.G.O. headquartered in the Netherlands, called the announcement a “welcome first step,” and, indeed, the restrictions have clearly begun to bite. In late June, an Indonesian power-company executive said, “European banks have said they don’t want to finance coal projects for a while. Japanese followed and now Singapore. About eighty-five per cent of the market now don’t want to finance coal-power plants.” He added, “Coal-power-plant financing is very challenging.” According to the I.E.E.F.A.’s Buckley, Crédit Agricole’s move helps explain why, for instance, Vietnam, which was supposed to be a key market for new coal-fired power plants, instead grew its “solar base tenfold in the twelve months to June, 2019.” At this point, the coal business is already on its heels, so campaigners are increasingly focussed on gas and oil, but C.A.’s move shows that big, quick shifts are possible.

Every year, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, writes a letter to the C.E.O.s of the companies in which his company invests. This year, his letter was about capitalism with a “purpose.” Along with making a profit, he counselled, the C.E.O.s should be running their businesses to help “address pressing social and economic issues.” Given that the rapid heating of the planet would seem to meet that criteria, some have suggested that Fink should look at his own operation; BlackRock is the world’s largest investor in coal companies, coal-fired utilities, oil and gas companies, and companies driving deforestation. No one else is trying as diligently to make money off the destruction of the planet.

And no one else has as powerful a remedy at hand. Most of the money that pension funds and endowments and individuals invest at BlackRock goes into passive funds, which track a stock-market index, rather than trying to beat the averages. BlackRock, in essence, just buys the market. If the firm simply decided to exclude fossil-fuel stocks from its main funds—or if it even just decided to underweight the stocks—it would send a message like no other. (According to the I.E.E.F.A., it would also produce better returns for its clients. A study that the group published in early August notes that BlackRock investors lost ninety billion dollars over the past decade by staying heavily invested in fossil fuels, even as that sector dramatically underperformed compared to the rest of the market.)

The firm couldn’t make this change overnight. Casey Harrell, a senior campaigner at the Australia-based Sunrise Project—a nonprofit that coördinates a campaign called BlackRock’s Big Problem, which aims to pressure the firm to change its investing strategy—concedes that BlackRock simply holds too much stock: nine per cent of BP, seven per cent of Exxon. “If they had to sell it all at once, they’d get a bad price, and that would open them to legal exposure. But five years is absolutely doable,” Harrell told me. Tom Sanzillo, the finance director at the I.E.E.F.A., told me that he made just that suggestion at this year’s BlackRock shareholders’ meeting, in Manhattan. Sanzillo is not a rain-forest activist or a typical climate campaigner; he is a rumpled sixty-four-year-old veteran of the finance industry, who once served as the acting comptroller in charge of New York State’s two-hundred-billion-dollar pension fund. Here’s his account of what would happen if BlackRock decided to take an aggressive stand and announce that it would slowly start to exclude fossil-fuel stocks from the basket of equities in its biggest funds: “The stock market would react by driving oil- and gas-stock prices down for both private companies and those state-owned enterprises on the stock market to new lows—institutional investors would understand that continued investment in the fossil-fuel sector meant more volatility, lower returns, and negative future outlook.”

The sell-off in fossil-fuel stocks would be only half the story, though, Sanzillo says. Money would instead pour into renewable energy, and, since solar and wind power will be increasingly cheaper than fossil fuels, that shift would, in turn, “prompt substantial gains economy-wide, with manufacturing and other energy-intensive stock prices increasing.” The public-finance desks at every major bank in the world would issue economic-outlook alerts for every country whose economy depends on producing fossil fuels. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Australia, and Canada would risk seeing their bonds downgraded. But four-fifths of the world’s population lives in nations that currently pay to import fossil fuels, and their economies would benefit, as ample financing would allow them to transition relatively quickly to low-cost solar and wind power. It wouldn’t just be a market signal, Sanzillo said; it would be a “glaring red rocket,” a signal that the “fossil-fuel industry has the wind in its face and been kicked in the ass.” How large would that signal be? The assets under BlackRock’s management are worth nearly seven trillion dollars, making it, by some measures, the third-largest economy on earth, after the United States and China, and ahead of Japan.

If the damage to BlackRock’s core business from fossil-fuel divestment would be manageable—how many people are going to go out of their way to demand some climate destruction in their passive index funds, after all?—why isn’t the company already moving (and Vanguard and Fidelity and State Street with it)? BlackRock grew to its mammoth size in the years after the financial crisis, in part because it wasn’t designated by the government as a “systematically important financial institution,” and so it was spared some of the regulation that big investment houses loathe. That, obviously, could change. And Harrell referred me to a 2017 report from 50/50 Climate, an N.G.O. now called Climate Majority, which noted that, as of 2015, BlackRock handled the pension and other welfare funds for BP, Exxon, and Chevron, earning millions of dollars in fees. “You can imagine the impact on that business if BlackRock started marketing fossil-free funds as the default option,” he said.

BlackRock’s corporate-communications department would not confirm if the company handles those pension funds. But a spokesperson pointed out that customers, if they so choose, can already buy “no-carbon, low-carbon, and energy-transition investments,” which currently make up forty-four billion dollars, less than one per cent of BlackRock’s business. Company representatives also offer a wonderfully circular defense: a spokesperson said that BlackRock holds investments only in funds that “our clients choose to invest in.” He added, “Our obligation as an asset manager and a fiduciary is to manage our clients’ assets consistent with their investment priorities.” So the customers buy the product; BlackRock is just the middleman. Which is true, but there’s no reason that BlackRock couldn’t construct its own index, and market it in such a way as to make a fossil-free fund the default option for investors. It’s as if the firm were saying, The buffet at our restaurant has always included arsenic. It’s part of what makes it a buffet. But wouldn’t it be a nicer restaurant if you actually had to go out of your way to order the arsenic?

That’s what Amundi, one of Europe’s largest asset-management funds, has decided to do. Earlier this year, it committed to phasing out coal stocks from its passive index (along with investments in chemical and biological weapons and cluster bombs). As climate concerns grow, the pressure for American companies to do likewise, and to extend the ban to oil and gas, will also mount. In January, for instance, the Yes Men satire collective released a hoax version of Fink’s annual letter to C.E.O.s, the day before the real one was due to be released. “Within 5 years, more than 90% of our 1000+ investment products will be converted to screen out non-Paris compliant companies such as coal, oil, and gas, which we see as declining and endangered,” the fake letter said. What’s interesting was how believable the idea was—even the Financial Times tweeted out the “news.” And why not? If you think about it for a moment—just as a person, not as a cynical and knowing sophisticate—why would anyone invest in companies that can’t even meet the modest commitments we made at Paris?

In some ways, the insurance industry resembles the banks and the asset managers: it controls a huge pool of money and routinely invests enormous sums in the fossil-fuel industry. Consider, though, two interesting traits that set insurance apart.

The first is, it knows better. Insurance companies are the part of our economy that we ask to understand risk, the ones with the data to really see what is happening as the climate changes, and for decades they’ve been churning out high-quality research establishing just how bad the crisis really is. “Insurers were among the first to sound the alarm,” Elana Sulakshana, a RAN campaigner who helps coördinate the Insure Our Future campaign for a consortium made up mostly of small environmental groups, told me. “As far back as the nineteen-seventies, they saw it as a risk.” In 2005, for instance, Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, sponsored a study at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, at Harvard Medical School. The report predicted that, as storms and flooding became more common, they would “overwhelm the adaptive capacities of even developed nations” and large areas and sectors would “become uninsurable; major investments collapse; and markets crash.” As a result of cascading climate catastrophes, the day would come when “parts of developed nations would experience developing nation conditions for prolonged periods.” In April, Evan Greenberg, the C.E.O. of Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurer, said in his annual statement to shareholders that, thanks to climate change, the weather had become “almost Biblical” and that “given the long-term threat and the short-term nature of politics, the failure of policy makers to address climate change, including these issues and the costs of living in or near high-risk areas, is an existential threat.” To its credit, Chubb soon took a step that no other big U.S. insurer has managed, and announced that it was restricting insurance and investments in coal companies. But it still invests heavily in oil and gas, and so does virtually every other major insurance company.

The second thing that makes insurance companies unique is that they don’t just provide money; they provide insurance. If you want to build a tar-sands pipeline or a coal-fired power plant or a liquefied-natural-gas export terminal, you need to get an insurance company to underwrite the plan. Otherwise, no one in his right mind would invest in it. “You can’t even survey a pipeline route without some kind of insurance,” said Ross Hammond, a senior strategist with the Sunrise Project, which began looking at the insurance industry in 2016, while fighting plans for an Australian coal mine. “If you have a crew in the field, they need to be covered, Hammond said. “They break their ankle, they’re going to sue somebody.”

The insurance industry, in other words, has become the perfect embodiment of the axiom, attributed to Lenin, that “the last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.” (In fact, for a price, it would protect you against the risk that the rope might break.) James Maguire, before he joined a renewable-energy investment and advisory firm, spent the past quarter century as an insurance broker, much of that time in Hong Kong, where he led teams arranging reinsurance for vast fossil-fuel power plants. There’s no way they can be built without insurers, he explained: “You want to build a power plant in Vietnam? We’d get a lead insurer in Vietnam, and then arrange the reinsurance behind it. You could have twenty different companies involved.” And if a bunch of those companies, in essence, were to go on strike, refusing to underwrite new fossil-fuel projects? “Things would absolutely slow,” he said. “A project is typically not bankable until it is insurable.” Just as Exxon might be able to survive without bank financing, and might be able to buy back its shares if BlackRock put them on the market, it and a few other giant companies might be able to self-insure their ventures. But “it would absolutely create a more challenging financial process,” Maguire said. Insurance is so ingrained in our economy that it could work the same trick from many different angles—Mark Campanale, who directs the London think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, says that just limiting the standard indemnity policies that cover a company’s officers and directors, to exclude coverage for those who don’t take climate change seriously, would be a big step. Insurance implies caution—but, in a rapidly deteriorating world, our only chance may be bold action. “There was five feet of hail in Guadalajara ten days ago,” Maguire said, when we spoke in July. “No company had a model that predicted that.”

Alec Connon is a soft-spoken Scotsman in his early thirties, who left home to shear sheep in New Zealand, and then went to Canada, to plant trees, before settling down in Seattle, where he has become a stalwart of the climate movement in the Pacific Northwest. (He is a leader of the local affiliate of 350.org.) He’s fought the construction of natural-gas terminals and has sat on railroad tracks to block oil trains. In 2016, he joined a flotilla of “kayaktivists” who blockaded a giant oil rig that Shell hoped would open the Arctic to oil drilling—a fight that ended in victory for the activists, late that year, when Shell announced it was withdrawing from the region.

Since the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline erupted, at the Standing Rock Reservation, in 2016, Connon has been focussed on the role of the banks that underwrite such projects. Working closely with indigenous-led groups, such as Mazaska Talks (Lakota for “Money Talks”), he helped launch one of the first campaigns to encourage consumers and communities to switch banks. Seattle—with plenty of money and plenty of environmentalists—has been a natural testing ground for such efforts. Two years ago, the groups organized their first civil disobedience, shutting down thirteen Chase branches for the better part of a day, with everything from pray-ins to picnics with live music. Last December, they laid a giant inflatable pipeline through the lobby of Chase’s Northwest headquarters and staged a black-clad human “oil spill”; in May, ten roaming “affinity groups” shut down each of the forty-four Chase branches in the city for a few hours.

“We worried at first that it might be a cognitive leap for people,” Connon said. “That it wouldn’t be as clear to people as going directly at the fossil-fuel companies. But that’s not been my experience on the ground. It’s pretty clear. You can tell the story in one sentence: they’re funding the fossil-fuel industry, which is wrecking the planet.” In fact, he says, it’s easier to take on the whole issue than small parts of it: “We’ve found it much easier to talk about fossil fuels in general, not coal or particular projects.” Could the idea scale? “Every town has a bank,” he pointed out, not to mention an insurance agent and a stockbroker. “If you could protest at forty-four Chase branches, you could do it at all five thousand across the country.”

Carolyn Kormann reports on what happens to the plastic that enters the world’s oceans.

It’s all but impossible for most of us to stop using fossil fuels immediately, especially since, in many places, the fossil-fuel and utility industries have made it difficult and expensive to install solar panels on your roof. But it’s both simple and powerful to switch your bank account: local credit unions and small-town banks are unlikely to be invested in fossil fuels, and Beneficial State Bank and Amalgamated Bank bring fossil-free services to the West and East Coasts, respectively, while Aspiration Bank offers them online. (And they’re all connected to A.T.M.s.)

This all could, in fact, become one of the final great campaigns of the climate movement—a way to focus the concerted power of any person, city, and institution with a bank account, a retirement fund, or an insurance policy on the handful of institutions that could actually change the game. We are indeed in a climate moment—people’s fear is turning into anger, and that anger could turn fast and hard on the financiers. If it did, it wouldn’t end the climate crisis: we still have to pass the laws that would actually cut the emissions, and build out the wind farms and solar panels. Financial institutions can help with that work, but their main usefulness lies in helping to break the power of the fossil-fuel companies.

Most of the N.G.O.s already at work taking on the banks and insurers, which include many indigenous-led and grassroots groups, are small; often they’ve had no choice but to focus their efforts on trying to block particular projects. (The vast Adani coal mine planned for eastern Australia has been a particular test, and at this point most of the world’s major banks and insurers have publicly announced that they’ll steer clear of involvement.) Imagine, instead, this financial fight becoming a fulcrum of the environmental-justice battle.

Even if that happened, victory is far from guaranteed. Persuading giant financial firms to give up even small parts of their business would be close to unprecedented. And inertia is a powerful force—there are whole teams of people in each of these firms who have spent years learning the fossil-fuel industry inside and out, so that they can lend, trade, and underwrite efficiently and profitably. Those people would have to learn about solar power, or electric cars. That would be hard, in the same way that it’s hard for coal miners to retrain to become solar-panel installers.

But we’re all going to have to change—that’s the point. Farmers around the world are leaving their land because the sea is rising; droughts are already creating refugees by the millions. On the spectrum of shifts that the climate crisis will require, bankers and investors and insurers have it easy. A manageably small part of their business needs to disappear, to be replaced by what comes next. No one should actually be a master of the universe. But, for the moment, the financial giants are the masters of our planet. Perhaps we can make them put that power to use. Fast.

Source: http://bit.ly/2MZOHXY

Ikea to Use Mushroom Packaging That Will Decompose in Weeks.

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Ikea to Use Mushroom Packaging That Will Decompose in Weeks.

The furniture retailer is looking at using biodegradable mycelium “fungi packaging” as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling.

It’s no secret polystyrene is devastating to the environment. But, do you know how exactly that is so? According to a fact-sheet provided by Harvard, polystyrene – which is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable, non-renewable, heavily polluting and fast-disappearing commodity – is not biodegradable, as it takes thousands of years to break down. In addition, it is detrimental to wildlife that ingests it.

Despite this well-known data, humans continue to toss more than 14 million tons of the stuff into landfills every year, according to the French ministry of ecology.

Sadly, until every individual decides to “be the change” and live consciously, styrofoam pollution will continue to be a problem. In fact, it’s already estimated that by 2050, 99% of birds on this planet will have plastic in their guts.

This is unacceptable. Thankfully, the Swedish company Ikea clearly agrees.

Aware of the environmental devastation polystyrene creates, the furniture retailer is looking to use the biodegradable mycelium “fungi packaging” as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling.

Ecovative-B1.pngImage: Ecovative

Mycelium is the part of a fungus that effectively acts as its roots, reports National Post. It grows in a mass of branched fibers, attaching itself to the soil or whatever surface it is growing on.

The American company Ecovative is responsible for developing the alternative styrofoam. “Mushroom Packaging,” as it’s called, is created by letting the mycelium grow around clean agricultural waste, such as corn stalks or husks. Over a few days, the fungus fibers bind the waste together, forming a solid shape. It is then dried to prevent it from growing any further.

Ecovative-B2.pngImage: Ecovative

The ingenious, eco-friendly packaging is truly a revolutionary invention, and it is one Ikea is intent on utilizing.

Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the U.K., relayed to the press that Ikea is looking to introduce the mycelium packaging because a lot of productsthat traditionally come in polystyrene cannot be recycled with ease or at all.

Mushroom Packaging, on the other hand, can be disposed of simply by throwing it in the garden where it will biodegrade within weeks.

The mushroom-based packaging was invented in 2006 and is manufactured in Troy, New York. Already, Ecovative is selling its product to large companies, including Dell – which uses the packaging to cushion large computer servers. In addition, it is working with a number of companies in Britain.

Ecovative-B3.jpgImage: Ecovative

“The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mould that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging,” said Yarrow.

Ecovative-B4.jpgImage: Ecovative

In the past, Ikea launched a vegetarian substitute for meatballs as a more eco-friendly alternative to the Swedish dish served in its cafes. The incentive to do so wasn’t purely to please more consumers but to reduce carbon emissions caused by supporting animal agriculture.

Source: http://bit.ly/3044UAH

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