Hantavirus and climate change

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When I first came to NSF to head up the Biological Sciences Directorate, I learned about a very interesting connection between climate change and human disease. Now hantaviruses are carried by rodents. In the Western Hemisphere, they cause serious cardiopulmonary disease in humans. In the Eastern Hemisphere, these viruses result in haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. The point is that their rodent hosts as migrating as the climate changes, so there are places in the US that now have the human disease that previously didn’t. You can read about that here.

Why am I writing about hantaviruses? Because it is a clearcut example where a viral-borne diseases affects a new, previously naive human population as a result of climate disruption. When species that act as reservoirs for viruses change their habitat to escape a warming climactic temperature, they act as vectors. Just as significant to public health as infected humans jumping on commercial airliners. For more on this notion in the context of COVID19, see here.

Another White House science appointment…

Princeton emeritus professor Will Happer, more here.

I’ll simply note his views on climate are at variance with the global scientific consensus. His question about whether increases in CO2 result in the carbon sink of plant life on the planet is interesting.  Since the Carbon Cycle is coupled in various complex ways to plant growth (e.g. through the Nitrogen Cycle), I’d say the answer is not obvious.

Douthat on the Humanities and Small Liberal Arts Colleges…

Today’s Douthat Column in the NYT is excellent. My readers may know that I attended Amherst College (mentioned in the column) during the 1970’s and can attest to the popularity of the humanities there, at that time. He points out the statistics that show the trend towards the other of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures. Indeed, when I was at Amherst, I very much wanted to major in political science. It was my parents who pushed me to major in chemistry.

But….it strikes me that Douthat, in despair at the moral crisis of the West, is really just urging us to return, metaphorically, to the modern version of monastery retreats, as the Irish monks did during the Dark Ages when they purportedly saved western cultural tradition.

I don’t think that this will do. Climate Change will not wait for a future Renaissance to arrive. Neither will the thousands of nuclear warheads that sit on alert. It is vital that science and engineering thrive for the future of the planet and the humanities.

Mountain Top Plant Species Richness: An Effect of Climate Change?

As my colleagues know, I read the paper version of Nature every week while reading Science on-line. I find that with the hard copy of the journal on my desk, I read (or at least skim) every article rather than skipping around to what’s in my discipline. So, from Nature, last week, this article popped up. It’s a European finding with what looks like several scores of authors—they looked at plant species diversity data from mountain tops across Europe from a time series of 145 years. The results were striking—an acceleration in “richness” (diversity) with 5X species enrichment during the last decade as compared with the decade 50 years ago.