Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whatever happened to old whats-his-face?

I've been trying to find some medical students and / or doctors who have been brave enough to publically debunk AGW alarmism, on the basis that I am far too chicken shit of the institution-wide backlash that would ensue if I were to do so.

I know there are lots of us out there, skulking around the hallways and hiding in corners during conferences. But the hysterical mass mania of AGW alarmism has made "coming out" as a skeptic such a bad career move in medicine that whenever I have had a hushed conversation with another skeptic re: climate science, we have been twitchy that someone would suddenly rappell down from the ceiling, smack us one and have a tussle with us over our stethoscopes.

So far, my not so exhaustive research has managed to turn up a whole two who have publically made a stand. One was a Christian missionary / medical student who may or may not believe in intelligent design, but still managed to come up with some fairly telling arguments against "An Inconvenient Truth" and the other was an endocrine surgeon and medical researcher called Klaus-Martin Schulte.

This guy is really interesting, and provides a cautionary tale of why it's not advisable to challenge alarmists if your expecting anything approaching a normal academic response. He had seen Naomi Oreskes original essay (essay - not peer reviewed) published in Science claiming that a review of the literature showed a scientific consensus on global warming. (This was the paper that The Goracle used to claim that no scientist refutes anthropogenic global warming and that there is such a thing as a "Scientfic Consensus", thus successfully combining a moron with an oxymoron.)

Schulte had an extensive medical research background in endocrinology and decided that he would use Oreske's own search terms and the same database to verify her results and further them (since he could include dates after her original study). Trying to duplicate the results of a study is a fairly normal thing to do in science. The scientific method is meant to entail "reproducibility" as far as I remember.

Without overtly criticising Oreskes method or final figures, Schulte came up with different results, and even if you included "implicit" agreement (i.e. not overtly stated) with AGW then the figure only got to around 45% in agreement with AGW (Oreskes claimed 75%). She had also appeared to not include, or did not know about, several studies that rejected AGW in her count. (Schulte was far too professional to draw conclusions from this omission, but I'm not - cherry-picking is clearly not just confined to the Mann et al. "Hockey Stick" graph.)

He submitted his results to Science and was rejected (no big surprise if you're a battle weary cynic like me, but I would love to know the actual cited basis, given that it was a well conducted study seeking to reproduce and further the results of something they had previously published), he then submitted it to Energy and Environment and before they could publish it, some details were leaked onto the web.

Naturally, normal scientific climate skeptics were interested, but unfortunately so were the loony fringe skeptics (e.g. intelligent design, space alien conspiracy theorists. Hey, the alarmists have their own loony fringe too, just look at desmogblog sometime). So misrepresentations of the as-yet unpublished paper were all over the web like bird-shit on a shiny car. On the basis of this, Oreskes launched a venomous, public, ad hominen attack on the guy before anyone had even read the real deal.

Schulte then wrote up a really excellent and very professional rebuttal of her attack, and also contacted the Chancellor of the university to which Oreske is attached to demand an apology for her professional discourtesy given that she had not read his paper before publishing an attack on him. He noted that:

“In every draft of my paper, I was careful to make no comment of any kind on the accuracy or reliability of [Oreskes’] research, still less on whether she regarded anthropogenic ‘global warming’ as serious enough to be potentially catastrophic ... I confined myself to citing figures from her essay merely as a point of comparison.”

Beyond that, his paper has been largely ignored or expunged from the record. An Ovid: Medline search doesnt even turn up his article, although it turns up Oreskes original, non-peer reviewed piece of quasi-scientific el dodgo. I had to use the way-back machine to access his rebuttal of Oreske, as its been taken down, although her rather infantile attack on his research is available all over the web.

Eventually I tried putting the authors name and "law suit" into google and for reasons unknown this turned up a copy of his study over at the Heartland institute, which can be accessed as a full-text article.

His whole rationale for checking her claims was that he felt that too many of his patients were suffering undue anxiety from global warming claims, and he felt that the scientific viewpoint was being misrepresented. Dr. Schultes, I feel you buddy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Its head explody time again...

Its that time of year again, when people in southern Australia are all battling the horrors of hayfever, seasonal allergic rhinitis, or, as I prefer to call it, Head Explody.

Australia got the arse end of the stick when it comes to seasonal allergies, we're definitely mixing it up with the big boys in the global sneezing stakes (ISAAC study, 1998):

Another article has worked out that: "Australia has a high prevalence of atopic disorders, ranking among the highest in the world". Oh, fab. We also know that atopy is increasing across the world, but that it appears to be a disease that is particularly a scourge of developed nations.

Nonetheless, it doesn't stop articles like this popping up every now and again:

Global Warming May Worsen Hayfever
Global warming could bring more hay fever, according to government research that shows ragweed produces significantly more pollen as carbon dioxide increases.

Now kids, can anyone spot the non-sequitur in that?

I will concede that CO2 fertilisation could crank up the pollen output, its plant food, after all, but buried in this is the logical fallacy that carbon dioxide levels are synonymous with global warming, ergo global warming is causing an increase in hayfever.

Another, more important issue is that rising pollen levels will only cause misery for those people who are already atopic, and increasing atopy in industrialised nations is far more likely to be attributable to such factors as the hygiene hypothesis. (In a nutshell, that early exposure to microbial infection at critical points in development helps to shift our immune system towards producing chemicals that are less likely to cause the inflammatory reactions of atopy. Wow, I can't believe I got that down to one sentence.)

So if you ever needed an excuse to explain why your children are in the backyard eating dirt mixed with possum poo, you now have a fairly compelling one. Additionally, CO2 fertilisation affects all plants, not just that pain-in-the-arse ragweed and rye grass, so there is an upside to this, somewhere, I just can't think of it right now because my head is exploding.

I don't do the big stuff...

You may have noticed that I don't bother trying to debunk the actual climate "science" (and I use the term loosely) of the AGW alarmist crowd. This is because I made a decision to try and talk about the issues that I felt I could directly comment on in my chosen field and am leaving the big stuff to those who have the time, inclination and learning to do it far better than I.
One who has done a pretty nifty job of it so far is Prof. Plimer, who isn't afraid to "call a spade a bloody shovel" * in the fine Australian tradition.
For anyone interested in where I get my pugnacious attitude from re: current climate science, its from following the work of people such as Ian Plimer. Here is a recent transcript of him defending the information presented in his book "Heaven and Earth".

FYI: Before the recent climate craziness led to every man and his pet monkey self-appointing themselves "climate scientists", there was no such specific thing. People who knew a thing or three about climate were mostly either geologists or meteorologists. Plimer is a geologist.

* As far as I know it was Sir Sydney Cotton, inventor of the Sidcot sheepskin flight suit and all 'round nutty guy, who first said "I'm an Australian, so I call a spade a bloody shovel". Or something like that.

Whether the weather: Climate schmimate

A few months ago, one of my kids (let's call him "Thing no. 3") decided to go all croup-y and respiratory distressed, thus necessitating a post-midnight trip to the local party-hard-capital-of-the-Universe, the Emergency Department.
Naturally, once the adrenalin and cortisol levels brought on by an exciting trip to the hospital had kicked in, and we were in the nice, warm, climate controlled hospital environment, Thing 3 immediately category 5-ed himself, which was both a relief and slightly embarassing. For those of you who haven't had to do any emergency triage lately, category 5 is the "running around yelling "wheeee"" category, as opposed to the "arriving dead - crap, we'd better do something about it right now" category 1 at the opposite end of the scale.
While Thing 3 ran around the paeds waiting room entertaining the other, distinctly un-sick looking kids, I had ample time to catch up on my television infommercials and think thoughts of health and climate.

Viral croup has long been recognised as cropping up in epidemics during the winter months, and often is most acute at night-time when children's bedrooms are colder. This is such accepted epidemiology that most guidelines and textbooks don't even bother referencing these factoids (but if you're really keen you can lit search it yourself if you don't believe me - or alternatively, Listen To Your Mother. She knows.) However, I would probably stop short of saying that Thing 3 got struck by the climate. He had a higher likelihood of getting croup because of the climate, but was probably more likely a victim of the weather. If he had the same viral infection on a warmer evening, he might not have gone all dramatically Sarah Bernhardt on me in the middle of the night.

There seems to be a bit of mis-use or mis-appropriation of the word climate in health care. Climate is a valid determinant of health but is not often a causative factor of mortality. Weather is much more likely to off you, but when can you blame weather and when can you blame climate? Climate is an average across a period of time or across a geographic span across time. Weather is what is happening right now in a given spot. So if you get caught out in a blizzard, I would probably say you got killed by the weather. Sure, you probably lived in a cold climate to have blizzards (or were spectactularly unlucky and should be written up in Fortean Times), but I would probably say the weather got you. If you got cataracts or skin cancer and lived in Australia, I would say that climate could be a part of what caused it (that and probably being caucasian), but skin cancer and cataracts are generally cumulative processes that occur over time, just like "climate". You couldn't definitively pick the one sunny day that did it, you can just extrapolate a bit from statistics.

Given that labelling "climate" as an actual directly causative factor of mortality (when you really mean "weather") is a bit on the fuzzy side, one would think that attributing deaths to "climate change" is plunging logic deep into hazy land. Pardon me my cynicism, but one suspects that the overall fuzziness of the association might be the point of the exercise. It often doesn't occur to anyone to question it, " said what, now? Exactly how do you figure this?"

Contrary to much popular belief, its actually pretty bad for your health to live in a colder climate. Sure, you get wa-ay more exciting parasites in the tropics, but much of the warm latitudes mortality can be attributable to the fact that that is where many of the world's poor people live. (Should I include Florida in that? I'm not sure...)

For instance, if you were worried about keeling over from heart disease, and hey, who isn't - ischaemic heart disease and cardiovascular disease are the top two causes of mortality in Australia, you are more likely to do so in winter. This could be for a variety of reasons, and the fact that spikes in overall mortality in developed nations in winter correlate with influenza rates is either part of the problem or at least doesn't help much.

Last year, the American Heart Association published a paper called "The "Sunshine Deficit" and Cardiovascular Disease", which neatly summarised some of the more recent research and thinking in this area. They noted that:

Vitamin D deficiency links to cardiovascular disease can be found in a number of studies demonstrating a 30% to 50% higher cardiovascular morbidity and mortality associated with reduced sun exposure caused by changes in season or latitude. Conversely, the lowest rates of heart disease are found in the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast and in southern versus northern European countries. Cardiac death has been reported to be the highest during winter months.

It would seem that these days you can blame Vitamin D deficiency for almost everything, and much of this began as a process of inquiry into why morbidity and mortality could be epidemiological correlated with latitude, season and weather. There is lots of fascinating biochemistry (if you're into that sort of thing) about the role of Vitamin D being discovered as a result, and we may get bored with the Vitamin D hypothesis in the future or figure out it's a bit more complicated than we thought. Be this as it may, the statistical relationship between morbidity, mortality and temperate climes still remains, regardless of the present explanation de jour.

So back up off of blaming everything on global "warming", or worse yet, climate "change", unless you can tell me explicitly in 150 words or less why you should be allowed to use the word "climate" as a causative factor for mortality in the first case. Then we can argue the "change" bit later...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aussie mozzie researchers agree that I was right all along...

A bunch of Aussie mosquito nerds or "entomologists" as they prefer to be called, have just looked at the constantly iterated claims that climate change will cause an increase in arboviruses like Dengue fever across Australia. They discovered that:

"...the dengue vector (the Aedes aegypti mosquito) "was previously common in parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and New South Wales," and that it had, "in the past, covered most of the climatic range theoretically available to it," adding that "the distribution of local dengue transmission has [historically] nearly matched the geographic limits of the vector."

They conclude that ...

The vector's current absence from much of Australia, "is not because of a lack of a favorable climate." Thus, they reason that "a temperature rise of a few degrees is not alone likely to be responsible for substantial increases in the southern distribution of A. aegypti or dengue, as has been recently proposed." ... "dengue activity is increasing in many parts of the tropical and subtropical world as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries and increased international travel, which distributes the viruses between countries."

(Russell, R.C., Currie, B.J., Lindsay, M.D., Mackenzie, J.S., Ritchie, S.A. and Whelan, P.I. 2009. Dengue and climate change in Australia: predictions for the future should incorporate knowledge from the past. Medical Journal of Australia 190: 265-268.)

For many of us climate skeptics, when we're not going to board meetings of Fortune 500 companies or relaxing on our country estates, there was a key moment when we thought "Wait a minute! That ain't right!" about a particular piece of information. Then we started to question the information being presented to us on climate change, asked some awkward questions, and before you knew it, the whole house of cards came tumbling down.

For me, that pivotal first moment was in a lecture on malaria. The lecturer was actually a well regarded malaria researcher who had been published in Nature (although I lost my faith in the peer review process right around the time they published a paper that predicted that all fish life would die out in 10 years time). He had displayed a slide of what they claimed was an Anopheles mosquito and then told us that due to global warming we would see an increase in mosquito borne diseases in Australia in the future.

My first thought was "Wait a minute! Thats not an Anopheles mosquito. Im no expert, (but I am a nerd) and that looks like an Aedes." Which kind of called into question his expertise as a malaria researcher as far as I was concerned. The next few thoughts went a bit like this:

  • Hang on. Ive got suitable malaria and arbovirus vectors in my backyard here in southern Australia. The bloody agapanthuses (agapanthii?) are full of them.

  • All of the arbo viruses (and Australia has several endemic varieties of our own) are notifiable illnesses.[i] Not only do the public health mob keep close tabs on cases, but the mosquito boffins do, too[ii], and this widely available information would indicate that not only are mosquito vectors found in all parts of Australia, but an overwhelming amount of cases are found in suburban southern Australia. Even Tasmania has the odd case, and it is almost equidistant between Antarctica and the tropical north of the country. (Re: Mosquito scientists. These are serious insect pervs, they have web sites where you can listen to the wing noise made by different species of mozzie. They must be telling the truth.)

  • Australia was only declared free of malaria by the WHO in 1981[iii], and has had several locally contracted cases since then[iv] [v]. Climate in any of its guises did not rid Australia of malaria, good public health did.

  • Additionally, even the briefest familiarity with medical history would indicate that there have been massive mosquito-borne disease outbreaks throughout history, even approaching arctic latitudes. Anyone who denies that mosquitoes are happy in sub polar regions hasn’t seen those nature documentaries of caribou choking to death on summer mosquito clouds. Oliver Cromwell was unfortunate enough to have died of what was probably tertiary malaria in England in 1658, which corresponds to part of what climatologists frequently refer to as “the Little Ice Age.”[vi]

It’s fair to say that I am by no means an expert on these matters, so it was gratifying to discover that some of those who are actually qualified to comment on this have issues of their own. See this talk by Paul Reiter, a medical entomologist who withdrew from the IPCC. (The last bit of the talk is particularly worth it just to see him stick it to Al "The Goracle" Gore).

[i] Arbovirus and Malaria Surveillance, Department of Health and Ageing.
[ii] The NSW arbovirus surveillance and mosquito monitoring project.
[iii] World Health Organization. Synopsis of the world malaria situation in 1981. Wkly Epidemiol Rec 1983; 58: 197-199.
[iv] Locally-acquired Plasmodium falciparum malaria on Darnley Island in the Torres Strait. Communicable Diseases Intelligence, Volume 25, Issue number 3 - August 2001
[v] Brookes et al. Plasmodium vivax malaria acquired in far north Queensland. MJA 1997; 166: 82
[vi] Reiter, P. From Shakespeare to Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age. Emerging infectious diseases. Vol. 6, No. 1, January–February 2000.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A tangent of epic proportions...

Since I've managed to get through another day without putting my children up for sale on e-bay and / or convincing one of my large, Polynesian relatives to dropkick their father across the patio a few times, I think a glass of wine and a celebratory blog-post are in order. (If you think I'm possibly setting the bar of fun pretty low with a blog-post, just remember that while some of you have lives, I have basic misanthropy. Whatever gets you through the day.) Anyway, I may have to recant everything I've said re: anthropogenic global warming, because I have just been emailed definitive proof of it's existence:

You may laugh (I freakin' did), but others have taken this seriously, and had some deep and meaningful thoughts of how climate change may force us all into bamboo knickers. Polyester undies seem to be on the out, with some people suggesting we ban the slippery stuff in all its forms, due to (wait, I bet you can't guess) the percieved carbon footprint.
The AGW crowd aren't the only ones to have privately wondered about the knock-on (no pun intended) fertility effects of your tighty whities. So did my personal research hero, Dr. Ahmed Shafik:

The fearless Egyptian sex researcher, who asked the important and oft-wondered question: Does wearing polyester pants stop you getting laid? He answered this question (it was "Yes", in case you're wondering), by dressing lab rats in pants of various textiles.

Which is possibly the cutest (and yet vaguely disturbing) thing I have seen in a long while. Dr. Shafik, I salute you! (And the rat that took one for the team, too).
Now compare the quality research of Dr. Shafik, who represents one of the last bastions of pure scientific inquiry unsullied by crass politics, with that of these bandwagon jumpers:
Who somehow got research funding to point out that in 19 industrialised nations:
"In general, birth rates declined markedly throughout the century except during the baby boom period of approximately 1940 to 1964."
Well, duh. Naturally, (probably because they missed the lecture in Statistics 101 on confounding factors) they correlate this with increasing surface temperatures and conveniently limit their sample to those years between 1900 and 1994, even though the paper was published in 2003, thus neatly excising those years after 1994 where global surface temperatures actually declined.
Somehow, it never occurred to them that the contraceptive pill was invented and rolled out to the masses in the 1960's in the aforementioned industrialised nations, which may account for some of that decline in fertility. Or that possibly the two World Wars might have been a bit of a procreative downer. Or, and bear with me on this, it wasn't the contraceptive pill at all that decreased fertility rates, but the fact that polyester budgy smuggler's became widely available at around the same time.
A note on layout: Sorry about the dodgy formatting, everyone. I tend to hasty postings, dodgy (and yet very fast) typing and am generally a bit of a neo-luddite when it comes to all things digital. My toddler had to show me what that little scrolling wheel thingy on the mouse does. One day I dream of a nice guy telling me I give good html, but until then it's lines through the middle of text and links to nowhere, I'm afraid.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Kiwis doctors will save you (by making you poor)...

Given their fine track record of having one of the few native peoples to ever get a treaty out of the British, I had high hopes for the rebellious spirit of our neighbours. Then I saw this article in the NZ Herald newspaper:

"Doctors attack climate change stance"

26 doctors have put their name to an article in the New Zealand medical journal calling for the government to rapidly halve the national greenhouse emissions. With a further 69 doctors listed in support of the article.

Given that the majority of New Zealand greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, I'm not convinced that the doctors writing the article have thought this through very well. Or have they:
The need to avoid global warming in it's own right justifies drastic action, they say, but mitigating climate change also presents "unrivalled opportunities" to improve public health. "Policies to reduce greenhouse gas emission could also bring about substantial reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, road deaths and injuries, and air pollution."

That sounds great on the surface, but since those disease are considered "diseases of affluence", one would expect that the way you reduce them is to be, well, poor. The authors suggest that this will be achieved by forcing people to use public transport and reducing consumption of animal products, fats and processed sugar. How they are going to make people stop is anyones guess. I suggest poverty is the best place to start, because if people haven't cut down on all of the above and signed up to ride their bike purely so they will be healthier and live longer, about the only way you will make this happen is to make those products unaffordable. Or take free-will out of the equation.

As usual:
"The authors urge health practitioners to...educate their patients on climate change action."

I've said it before, and before, and I'll say it again. Isn't this a little outside of our purview as doctor's? Should we give them religious advice as well, while we're at it?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

If you think I'm crazy, you should see the other guy

Given the long precedent set by (some, I said some, alright?!) psychologists of screwing things up royally, it has previously been put forward that climate change denial is a mental disease.
Luckily for global mental health, the head-shrinkers at the Bristol University of the West of England were on to it, and organised a conference to examine why the denialist response to the AGW threat is (and I quote) "tragically inadequate".

Not content to leave it at throwing around the adjective "tragic", lead organiser and all 'round caring guy Professor Paul Hoggett said:
"We will examine denial from a variety of different perspectives: as the product of addiction to consumption, as the outcome of diffusion of responsibility and the idea that someone else will sort it out, and as the consequence of living in a perverse culture (that) encourages collusion, complacency (and) irresponsibility."

Ever since signing a US visa waiver many years ago, I have wondered what "moral turpitude" is. I mean, I ticked the "No" box when asked if I had engaged in activities thereof, but deep down I always wondered. Maybe I had engaged in acts of moral turpitude and not known it. Do you think "collusion, complacency and irresponsibility" fits the definition? Please tell me it fits...

Bristol UWE is the same well adjusted mob that is helping to bring us the nowhereisland project, as
reviewed by Anthony Watts at his excellent blog.

Anyway, no news yet whether climate change denial will find its way into the DSM -V (thats the psych diagnosis bible for the uninitiated), but given that they included homosexuality as a mental illness of one form or another up until the 1980's, I'm not holding my breath.

Another related mental illness that may make its way into the DSM is "Climate Change Delusion" as incorporated into a major depressive disorder with psychotic features. First reported in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatric clinicians at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne treated a young man with apocalyptic delusions concerning climate change, that culminated in severe emotional distress and suicidal ideation and behaviour.

"The patient had also developed the belief that, due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of ‘millions of people’ through exhaustion of water supplies. He quoted ‘internet research’ to substantiate this. The patient described that ‘I feel guilty about it’, had attempted to stop drinking and had been checking for leaking taps in his home to prevent the catastrophe. He was unable to acknowledge that the belief was unreasonable when challenged."

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink: Climate change delusion. Wolf J and Salo R.

Since this initial presentation, the Royal Children's reported more cases of climate change being incorporated into delusions, and an increasing number of children presenting with nightmares of apocalyptic climate change scenarios. Perhaps the inevitable upshot of this issue discussed previously.

Whilst the young man in question undeniably suffered from an acute mental illness, it is telling that the form his psychosis took is not that far removed from what is commonly propagated in the media, including a palpable sense of personal guilt. In the words of the authors:

"Clinicians caring for psychotic patients have long noted that delusional systems are determined by ideas and beliefs to which the individual has been exposed."

Strippers for Industrialisation and other types of stupid

Since my recent post on "sustainable vegetarians", I came across a related and poorly concealed opinion piece from Australian group Doctor's For The Environment. This is a bunch of folk who are going to keep me busy for awhile.
  • First off, the name. I take one look at it and I have the overwhelming urge to start a group called "Medics for Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" or something. Its kind of a redundant non-sequiter in Zen koan form. Makes about as much sense as "Fishermen for Breathing". ("Hey, I ike breathing. Do you like breathing? We'd better listen to these guys...")
  • Secondly, they publish recommendations that doctors tell their patients to stop eating animals because of the "health dangers of red meat", as a way of curbing carbon emissions.
"As doctors we are in an influential position to educate our patients into healthy lifestyles and to implement preventative medicine in our clinics. To our advice on smoking, alcohol, exercise and drugs, we must surely add advice on meat. This is an issue that will have a significant impact on the health of the individual and at the same time the on health of the planet by reducing greenhouse emissions."

I tend to doze off a little in medical ethics and jurisprudence class, but I'm sure this violates primum non nocere, (first, do no harm) if not a hundred other medical ethical and legal guidelines.

You may die en route, but you'll be doing it for the planet

If you've ever worried about off-setting an energy hungry ambulance trip to the ED, worry no further:

Medic! Spanish bifuel ambulances curb emissions, disappoint drivers

In a bid to go green, a Spanish ambulance company has trialled natural gas / petrol vehicles. Unfortunately, they have a limited range (250 km), don't go as fast as the regular diesel vehicles, and you can't find anywhere to fill them up.

Given that Spain has an "opt-out" organ donation policy (everyone is a donor unless specifically stated otherwise), and most beating heart donors result from motor vehicle accidents, the delayed transit time might work out OK in the long run. At least for the folks on renal dialysis.

Yet another reason to be glad you're not English...

Well, technically we are, sort of, but that's not the point. This is:
The NHS has pledged to become one of England's leading sustainable and low carbon organisations and to meet the Government's target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Oh, yay. Apparently the thinking went something like this: Since the NHS is the biggest single public sector carbon emitter in the UK, and since "climate change is arguably the biggest threat to health in the medium and long term", and theres some wierd thing called the Climate Change Act in the UK, they figured they had to somehow not just stabilize their emissions, but go backwards.

To those who aren't etomologically inclined, one of the definitions of backwards is:

"...retarded in physical, material, or intellectual development ." 'Nuff said, really.

According to Dr David Pencheon, Director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit:

"Everyone who works for the NHS should be thinking about reducing their carbon footprint as part of their day job."

Wow, and here was me thinking that working in healthcare was about, oh, I don't know, saving lives or something. (Or at least in my case, trying not to kill people accidentally). The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe, that's alot of scut-monkeys. Maybe they can start to power hospitals by chucking some of those numerous staff onto treadmills?

Methinks I will talk more on this issue, later...

Friday, October 23, 2009

BOOBS! (Now that I've got your attention...)

I've been thinking of boobs lately. Not that long ago a dear old friend of mine went to prison on an extended sentence (it's a long story, involving a bikie gang, off-licence pharmaceuticals and no fault of his own... etc. etc.). Anyway, before he was due in court for his sentencing, I went to a farewell party, and *might* have slurred some ill-concieved promise that if he got more than a 2 year sentence I would send him a photo of my tits. To cut a long story short, it appears I now owe him a photo of my mammaries, which I feel a solemn obligation to provide before his sentence is up. Im sure when I do deliver on my promise it will one day find pride of place on the wardens tea-room wall.

So, with thoughts of boobs in hand (hand?), I thought of this rather topical letter printed in the British Medical Journal:

"Breastfeeding tackles both obesity and climate change" (proving, yet again, that the BMJ will publish anything).

By enabling more women than currently do so to exclusively breast feed their children for the first six months of life, we could reduce the number of children requiring attention for overweight (sic). There would be less need for the diversion of foodstuffs through dairy animals to produce breastmilk replacements, and less need for the use of materials and energy to fuel the processes required to modify, package, and distribute animal milk to make it less unsafe for human infants. Breasts do not require scrupulous washing with detergents in hot water between feeds. Families would have more of their income available to purchase better food for their older members, many nations would be less reliant on the import of essential foodstuffs, and population fertility would be reduced when fewer children are weaned from the breast prematurely.

Oh, my aching sides. I'm not even going to dignify this with a full rebuttal, but some key bits that could do with some pointing out are:

  • I thought we were "enabling" as many mums to breastfeed as possible already? Maybe we could put a tax on formula, like cigarettes, to discourage people from using it?
  • Ever heard of infant mortality? Sometimes the boob+baby=happy equation doesn't work, and we need to feed the little sproglets somehow. Wet nurses are hard to find, and people get all funny about hiring people to feed their babies in this age of blood borne diseases.
  • Population fertility reduced? Ha! You try using breastfeeding as contraception. Go on, I dare you. The average time from parturition to resumption of ovulation across our population is something like 3-4 months. Just because some hippy friend didn't get their period for 2 years after breastfeeding little Birckenstock, doesn't mean you won't end up with kids 1 year apart and a ripped-off attitude.

As someone who has breastfed for far too many years of my life, I am as pro-boob as anybody who now has no boobs left because of breastfeeding can be. However, I think telling mothers who need to formula feed that they are destroying the planet is possibly going a little far. They are already being told that their babies will grow up to be atopic, sneezing, allergy-ridden little fatties with a higher incidence of leukaemia, maybe we could refrain from pinning the impending demise of our coastal cities on them, too.

Sustainability: Possibly the stupidest reason for vegetarianism, ever.

Even stupider than my own reason for being a vegetarian for a few years there back in the ‘90’s, which was that it was trendy and seemed like a good idea at the time. This ended rather abruptly when I got drunk one night and my overweight, lesbian flat-mate fed me up on rump steak marinated in soy sauce. Then a few years later I was pregnant, and all pretences of cutting down on dead animal went right out the window. I would have happily called up one of those companies that live-exports animals to Saudi Arabia and asked them if they accepted cash-on-delivery.

One of my annoyingly smug classmates has for some time being pulling his own whotsit about how he’s a vegetarian “for sustainability reasons”, and relies on mostly dairy products for protein. I finally got the irrits today, as this was detracting from the mince meat party-pie I was eating, and asked him (nicely, I’m not a bitch or anything) if by “sustainability” he meant the carbon footprint? (He is also militantly AGW alarmist, so I couldn’t work out which way he was going with this.) To my surprise, he said that No, he means all the other sustainability issues.

Hmm, how to say nicely how retardedly misinformed that idea is.

Now, I’m mostly looking at an Australian context, but one suspects that people who feel this way must be fairly far removed from the realities of primary industry. (Unfortunately, this is most of the Aussie population, we have a predominantly urban population clustered around the coast). For those of you not au fait with Australian farming practices, the Aussie method of raising lamb and beef is largely to shoo them off into the bush for awhile and round them up with a helicopter later. You know that beautiful Australian lamb you buy in Los Angeles that is labeled “organic”? Its not. Or at least it didn’t intend to be, it’s just that it wound up that way by default because we don’t use feed-lots as a general rule.

If asked to pick the main non-carbon “sustainability” issue we have in Australian farming today, it would have to be water. Australia is the driest continent on the planet, put quite simply, we don’t have that much of it to go around.

According to the National Water Commission the main use of water in agriculture is by far the dairy industry, followed by irrigated pasture. “But wait a minute!” You say. “Don’t meat animals use pasture?” Apparently, most of the irrigated pasture in Australia goes right back into the dairy cows, and out of 445149000 ha of agricultural land in 2004-2005, the total irrigated was 2408200 ha. **Does maths in head** That’s, um, that’s….not much… and its dropping all the time due to farming being abandoned and loss of water usage rights.
Beef cattle farming is also the largest agricultural sector, at around 28% of all agricultural businesses, so factor this into the information from the water commission data on water use by sector and some perspective starts to be formed.

Total live-stock water consumption is less than that of grains, and about half that of dairy farming.

The CSIRO (that’s our government sponsored agricultural / science boffins) have recently calculated the water usage per kilo of beef cattle to be 50,000 litres (which is half that used in the USA), however this is calculated by taking into account all the rainfall over the pasture-land and dividing that by beef produced. This doesn’t account for run-off, tree roots etc., and if you took the cows off the land, the water usage woud actually go up, wouldn't it? This method may apply to the USA where beef is farmed in feedlots and pasture and grain must be grown for them, but doesn’t apply to Australia where most beef is farmed over extensive rangelands.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates water use by the “diverted water” method. i.e. water that has to be taken out of the environment or storage to be used, water falling on pasturage is not taken into account unless its deliberately taken from the environment to irrigate it. If the Meat and Livestock Australia people are to be believed, this then gives us the figure of 60-320 litres of water per kg of beef.

Either way, it’s still less water than dairy and cereals. Alternatively, the annoying “sustainable” vegetarians could just shut the f*ck up, eat some kangaroo and do everyone a favour.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Think of the little children...

As a climate denier, I find it hard to find time between my usual skeptic activities of reputedly drowning live puppies and raping your grandma. However, when I do get a free moment, I am also a parent.

A 2007 survey of 600 Australian children between the ages of 10-14 years old discovered that:

"...44% are nervous about the future impact of climate change."

I wonder how those kiddies would poll now, after such advertising campaigns as the recent UK Government climate change ad? This advert told a heartwarming, cautionary tale about a cute cartoon puppy who drowns because the little kid's parents are bastards and don't want to pay extra on their energy bills. Although arguably not as disturbing as kiddy classics like "Blue Beard" and "Little Red Riding Hood" (which features cross-dressing, violence and an underage love interest), its still not really prime-time viewing.

The advertising campaign has attracted 350 complaints so far (and counting), and is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

According to an article in The Times:

Ministers sanctioned the campaign because of concern that scepticism about climate change was making it harder to introduce carbon-reducing policies such as higher energy bills.

The same article mentions that a study by The Department of Energy and Climate Change found that:

When asked how they would react if they knew climate change were going to have a serious effect on their children’s lives, 74 per cent said that they would be willing to change their lifestyle. Fifteen per cent said that they would not make any changes.

Ulterior motives, much.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Climate change and Mosquitoes

The medical entomologist Professor Paul oh, my god he's so hot I want to have his babies Reiter gives an excellent presentation on AGW and vector borne diseases.

Bite me, Bears

Today I discovered that coffee and cake tastes EXTRA good if you walked out of a talk on climate change alarmist crap to go and get it. Excuse me for getting my cranky on here, but I honestly cannot sit through another grassroots handy-cam clip of medical students dressed up in polar bear suits doing cute stuff in a bid to save the world. ("Oh, look, Captain Planet is giving the polar bear a digital rectal exam before diagnosing it with a broken heart from habitat loss.")

They wanted me to get excited about an execrable piece of hooey, Code Green: A climate Emergency. The organisation that is supposed to represent me (ME!) as a medical student has released a policy on climate that says, among other things:
The Climate Code Green Advocacy Campaign hopes to demonstrate that climate change and health are inseparable, and that it is impossible to advocate for better health without simultaneously advocating for meaningful action on climate change.
There are already way too many minutes of my life I am never getting back that were taken up by my classmates (and occasional faculty members who should know better) making sure I feel suitably outraged by climate change. Oh, I feel outraged, alright. But not for the reasons they want.

Somewhere between mistaking a pregnant woman's butt for her vagina (hey, it happens) and learning how to wear a stethoscope without feeling like a total retard, the medical profession seems to buy into their own superiority complex. (Like you guys never noticed).
When did learning how to lance an abscess suddenly bestow not only a moral superiority, but a moral imperative? There is nothing doctors feel they dont have a right to comment on.

This is somewhat wierd in a profession so obsessed with "credentialling". When was the last time a general practitioner was allowed to direct his surgeon colleagues on the finer points of kidney transplants? When, for that matter, was a medical student allowed to direct anybody on the finer points of anything? We're barely qualified to breathe, and on some rotations (e.g. private obstetric wards), even that is sometimes discouraged.

Mention gobal warming, though, and all of a sudden half my classmates suddenly have a moral duty to save the world from my profligate use of ducted heating. Good for you guys, mind if I step out while you watch your video?

Damn, but I enjoyed that cake.