Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Zika Virus, Our Changing Planet & Climate Mobilization


Former Iowa politician, radio host and climate champion Ed Fallon at a Climate Mobilization protest of an Iowa Trump event (source). There is a Mobilization model caucus on January 29 (see below).

by Gaius Publius

"But at my back I always hear
The climate's wingèd chariot hurrying near."
—with apologies to Andrew Marvell

This piece is about a new virus with no known cure, which originated in the heat and humidity of Central and South America, is spread by mosquitoes, and is moving north as the planet inexorably warms. But this is also about something much more important. The Zika virus is just one instance of which there are dozens — and soon, of which there will be hundreds — all posing sudden and deadly threats to the seven billion people living together on this planet. [UPDATE: The origin of the virus is thought to be either Africa, Asia or French Polynesia, from where it migrated elsewhere, including Central and South America. My thanks for the emailed correction.]

Will the Zika virus takes us all down? Highly unlikely. But one of these days there will be a virus like this, a bacteria, a toxin, that could. We've already created a gene that makes bacteria resistant to the "last resort" antibiotic. We are destabilizing life on this planet at a ferocious and accelerating rate. The reason we're doing it is greed, of course, the greed of a small handful of women and men. But one of the major tools of that destabilization is rapidly and permanently changing climate.

First, a taste of the Zika story. Then, a tool that can stop that tool (click to go there now).

Zika Virus Foreshadows Dystopian Climate Future

Bill McKibben writes at The Guardian:
The Zika virus foreshadows our dystopian climate future

The mosquito-borne disease shows that pushing the limits of the planet’s ecology has become dangerous in novel ways

I’ve spent much of my life chronicling the ongoing tragedies stemming from global warming: the floods and droughts and storms, the failed harvests and forced migrations. But no single item on the list seems any more horrible than the emerging news from South America about the newly prominent Zika disease.

Spread by mosquitoes whose range inexorably expands as the climate warms, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms. But pregnant women bitten by the wrong mosquito are liable to give birth to babies with shrunken heads. Brazil last year recorded 4,000 cases of this “microcephaly”. As of today, authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women to avoid getting pregnant....
McKibben notes, "Eventually, of course, the disease will reach these shores – at least 10 Americans have come back from overseas with the infection, and one microcephalic baby has already been born in Hawaii to a mother exposed in Brazil early in her pregnancy." We'll likely survive the invasion, since our resources are so great, but many of the poor will not, since most people with the infection have no symptoms. (Watch the video at the link for more.)

Mobilize to Stop Climate Change

The more I read and listen, and the more climate dithering I watch, the more I think "time's wingèd chariot" is almost upon us and we have our backs turned to it. If we knew that, in five or ten years, an asteroid visible to our telescopes today were due to crash into the earth, we'd (a) start mobilizing against it immediately, and (b) not listen to the whiners who ask, "But how are we going to pay for it?" Those whiners would be kicked to the curb, especially if they were well-known worshipers at the "Church of the Giant Asteroid".

Yet here we are, with maybe five to ten years at most to start mobilizing against a world all of us will hate, and ... nothing.

It's an emergency. The response to emergencies to mobilize. And we know how to do that.

There are actions you can do while you're waiting for others put two and two together. For example, on January 29 there is an Iowa "model caucus" hosted by one of the climate mobilization groups, groups that have put two and two together. The purpose of the model caucus is to
support the presidential candidate they believe is best-suited to stop the Bakken Pipeline and lead a full-employment, WWII-scale mobilization to rapidly retire all fossil fuel infrastructure, drive the U.S. economy to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and restore a safe climate for humanity.
Care to join them? Care to support them? If you're in Iowa already (caucusing for Bernie Sanders, the most climate-friendly candidate in the field, I hope), you can attend and hear former Senator Tom Harkin and Keystone hero Jane Kleeb speak, and party with others like you. The press release is below.

If you're not in Iowa, or reading this after the event, you can still help. You've put two and two together. You know that the only way to act in an emergency is to marshal all resources and act with all speed — to mobilize. You can help others to see that too. The only way mass mobilization happens is for enough people make a decision to make it happen. That starts with you and your encouragement to everyone you have contact with. Sometimes all it takes for a crowd to act, is for the first person to act. You can be that person in the small crowd you're part of, your group of friends and associates.

About the Iowa event (my emphasis):
11:30 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016
Ed Fallon at (515) 238-6404 or
Ezra Silk at (860) 916-8964 or

Iowans to hold Climate Emergency Caucus to push presidential contenders toward WWII-scale climate mobilization

Former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and “Keystone Killer” Jane Kleeb to Speak

DES MOINES — Hundreds of Iowans will stage a model caucus Friday, Jan. 29 to support the presidential candidate they believe is best-suited to stop the Bakken Pipeline and lead a full-employment, WWII-scale mobilization to rapidly retire all fossil fuel infrastructure, drive the U.S. economy to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and restore a safe climate for humanity.

The caucus will take place from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Central Campus at 1800 Grand Avenue in Des Moines. Speakers will include Tom Harkin, a U.S. Senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015, and Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska activist who fired up the national effort to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and was subsequently dubbed the “Keystone Killer” by Rolling Stone, will speak. The caucus will be hosted by Ed Fallon, the Iowa progressive talk-show host and former state lawmaker who hosted the 2011 Occupy Des Moines People’s Caucus that aired on C-SPAN and received national media attention.

With representatives from all of the Democratic campaigns scheduled to appear, the Climate Emergency Caucus is set to be the strongest intervention into presidential politics yet made by America’s nascent “Climate Emergency Movement,” which calls for WWII-scale emergency action to save civilization from catastrophic climate change and ecological decline. The model caucus has been organized by the national grassroots group The Climate Mobilization, in conjunction with a growing list of sponsors, including Citizens’ Climate Lobby Des Moines, Iowa, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter.

Following speeches from Fallon, Kleeb, and the leaders of The Climate Mobilization, model caucus-goers will suggest climate and pipeline planks for their respective political party’s platforms and discuss the presidential candidates’ positions on the Bakken pipeline and climate change. Finally, they will break into preference groups to support the presidential candidate they believe can best lead America through the growing climate emergency. ...

Fallon and the growing climate emergency movement expect the caucus will make clear to the presidential candidates and the American public that the time for “carbon gradualism” has expired and the need for emergency action to save civilization has arrived.
More here.

If you're not yet convinced, no problem. You soon will be (and the rest of us hope that it's not too late when you are).

But if you are convinced, act. Pledge to support mobilization, then support it. You may think you have just a little reach, but that's true of us all. We're only responsible for doing what we can do, but we are responsible for that.


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At 10:44 AM, Blogger VG said...

This is such an excellent article- well researched, and well written.


At 11:18 AM, Blogger VG said...

This, btw is a link to the text of the Andrew Marvell poem

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to the reference you post in support, you were incorrect to say "We've already created a gene that makes bacteria resistant to the 'last resort' antibiotic."

A gene that confers resistance to "last-resort" antibiotics was identified not created. That it exists on an circular DNA easily transferable among different strains of bacteria in not a new feature by any means but a well known bacterial mechanism for acquisition of drug resistance.

This fits the pattern of other "lower level" drug resistance and it is a relief in the sense that at least one gene responsible "last resort" drug resistance fits neatly into a well-known mechanism.

We certainly have blundered along favoring the selection of resistant strains but, in this case, the identification of a resistance gene allows strategies to be employed that 1) can rapidly confirm/deny it presence in problem situations and 2) will eventually be used to counteract it.

John Puma

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Query said...

Thank you, John Puma, for the information. That was the one point in the piece that left me scratching my head.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

Thanks for the comments, John and Query.

I thinks it arguable (or in my view, likely) that the gene evolved in China due to the heavy use of antibiotics and in particular, colistin, which usage tends to create resistance in bacteria. One of the outcomes was, it seems, a gene that was not only resistant but transferable to other bacteria.

I'll let you draw your conclusions, but here are just a few sources for my thinking.

The Lancet, which reported the finding:


Until now, polymyxin resistance has involved chromosomal mutations but has never been reported via horizontal gene transfer. During a routine surveillance project on antimicrobial resistance in commensal Escherichia coli from food animals in China, a major increase of colistin resistance was observed. When an E coli strain, SHP45, possessing colistin resistance that could be transferred to another strain, was isolated from a pig, we conducted further analysis of possible plasmid-mediated polymyxin resistance. Herein, we report the emergence of the first plasmid-mediated polymyxin resistance mechanism, MCR-1, in Enterobacteriaceae.

Another piece:

Perhaps the absence, at least so far, of the colistin-resistant gene in the U.S. has to do with the fact that colistin is not used on domestic livestock. However, the drug is used — for non-therapeutic reasons — on farm animals elsewhere in the world. [link at the source] ...

Some argue that newer drugs are the answer, while others contend that fancier pills is just a way to kick the can down the road and that the only way to combat superbugs in the long run is to end the non-medical overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.


In a study, published Wednesday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers in China report first finding the mcr-1-containing plasmid in Escherichia coli bacteria isolated from a pig. The plasmid was solely responsible for the bacteria being resistant to colistin, a type of polymyxin commonly used in animals in China, but less so in the US and Europe. On further examination, the researchers also found mcr-1-containing plasmids in E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae isolated from a small number of patients in hospitals in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces.

There are more pieces like this. It's hard for me to escape the conclusion that we create antibiotic-resistant bacteria by our overuse of antibiotics in agriculture. Also, that the gene is just the mechanism.

Again, it's at least plausible, and in my view likely, that the gene evolved as a mutation/adaptation in bacteria treated heavily with colistin — out antibiotic of last resort — almost guaranteeing an adaptive response.

One may disagree, but this is not an out-of-the-ballpark conclusion.


At 5:20 PM, Blogger andrew morton said...

I'd actually argue it wasn't that well researched. The virus originated in Africa not South America. Pretty basic fact to get wrong:

Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.


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