Fungus Among Us

August 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Posted in Climate change, Dysfunctional Politics, Global warming | 2 Comments
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Mold overwhelming tomatoes

Mold overwhelming tomatoes. Photo by Schimmel (Netherlands), obtained via Wikipedia (

In a previous post, I mentioned that global warming is likely to cause fungal diseases to become a major problem at non-tropical latitudes, where they have hitherto been only a minor problem.  This post will explain why.

Early in 2011 I attended a talk by Arturo Casadevall, who is the Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in Bronx, NY.  (His talk was unrelated to my work, and was given in a city far from New York.)

Cryptococcus neoformans

Cryptococcus neoformans, photomicrograph, provided to Wikipedia ( by Dr. Leanor Haley of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The talk focused on cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus that presently causes over 600,000 human deaths per year.  But the talk also described in general how biological evolution and the typical temperature in a region jointly affect which organisms in that region are vulnerable to infection by many different types of fungi.

The most important factor is whether an animal’s internal temperature is or is not much warmer than the typical outdoors temperature.

Must species of fungi will evolve to thrive at the typical outdoors temperature.

That means that they will not thrive – and usually cannot survive – inside the body of an animal whose internal temperature is much warmer than is typical outdoors.

Toe nail fungus can grow under a human toe nail, but it cannot invade the interior of a human body, because we are warm-blooded, and our insides are too warm for the fungus to survive inside us.

The same is true of athlete’s foot.

Many colonies of bats in caves have been killed recently by white nose syndrome, which is caused by a fungus.  The bats are immune to the white nose fungus during the summer, when the bats are active, and the insides of their bodies are warm.  But infection by the white nose fungus can sweep a colony during the winter, when the bats hibernate, and the insides of their bodies are cool.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (Wikipedia)

Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont, March 26, 2009. Wikipedia.

Cold-blooded animals are much more vulnerable to internal infections by fungi.  One species of frog has recently become extinct due to fungal infection.  Insects are especially vulnerable.  A scratch on an insect’s body is very likely to lead to a fatal fungal infection.

Grasshoppers Killed By Beauveria Fungus

Grasshoppers killed by Beuveria fungus
Stefan Jaronski, via Wikipedia,

Those statements apply today, at non-tropical latitudes.

But as the typical outside temperature rises at those latitudes, the fungi will evolve, and will become adapted to the higher temperatures.  People who live at those latitudes – and all other warm blooded animals who live there – will then become more vulnerable to internal infection by fungi.

That will happen without any planning or effort on the part of the fungi.  Every new generation of a particular species of fungus will a have a few individual new colonies which result from spores or buds which, due to random errors when the parent’s genetic code was copied while generating the spores or buds, would thrive in a warmer environment than would be optimal for the parent colony.  There will also be a few new colonies which would thrive in a cooler environment than would be optimal for the parent colony.  If the environment has warmed, then – on average – more of the warm-happy colonies will thrive and produce offspring.  Generation to generation, in small jerky steps, the bell-shaped curve of the temperatures that are optimal for that species will  jerk slightly toward higher temperatures more often than it jerks slightly toward lower temperatures.  Without knowing it, that species of fungus will adapt to a warmer environment.

By the way, this process – biological evolution – is so effective that software engineers now mimic it on computers, to generate computer algorithms that can function in complicated environments, and in changing environments.  Examples are Genetic Programming, artificial neural nets, and cellular automata.

How fungal infection will be affected by global warming is analyzed in more detail in two articles (references 2 and 3) that are cited in the section “Advantages and disadvantages of an endothermic metabolism” in an article in Wikipedia.

The pain to infected individuals and the economic cost of the increased fungal infection of humans, livestock, and wild animals should be included when weighing the near-term and long-term net costs of delaying action on climate change.

The Green Parties of Australia and the US

August 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Climate change, Conceited, Global warming, Presidential election | 6 Comments
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Several posts (Jill Stein, Roseanne Barr, and the Green Party, Mr Belly Button and the Green Party) in this blog have pointed out the negative electoral effect of the Green Party, and its vagueness, impracticality and grandiose quality.  The US Green Party seems to be a self-indulgent hobby.  Its only effect on US politics so far has been to help Republicans win elections.  Of course, this unintended effect blocks the achievement of all of the goals of the Green Party, and of those who vote for its candidates.

But these criticisms apply only to the US Green Party.  Blogging on WordPress has acquainted me with the Australian Green Party.  It seems to be entirely different from the US Green Party.  I came to that view by following James Wight’s posts, in particular

Wight’s blog shows that the Australian Green Party, unlike the US Green Party, does the hard work of crafting detailed policies and justifies them with quantitative data and analyses.  Thus they really contribute something substantive and usable to discussions of policy, and their ideas can be cited and used even by the elected members of other parties, as well as by the Green Party itself.  Unlike the US Green Party, the Australian Green Party is constructive.

Australia’s Green Party shows how the US Green Party could change itself into something beneficial, and no longer inimical to its own stated objectives:
– It could propose detailed, quantitative proposed legislation and regulatory action.  This should be detailed enough to be used as draft legislation, and should be backed by quantitative data and assessments of impact.
– It could avoid siphoning votes away from the Democratic Party.

Republicans versus Reepos

August 17, 2012 at 8:06 am | Posted in Climate change, Disinformation, Dysfunctional Politics, Enemies of Freedom, Enemies of Planet Earth, Fairness, Global warming | 1 Comment
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I used to vote mostly for Republicans.

I contributed to the campaign of our local Representative, a thoughtful Republican who considered each issue on its merits, was pragmatic rather than ideological, and did not toe any party line.

The 1994 Contract With America delighted me.  (Does anyone remember it?)

But then the Republican Party zombified itself.  The change became noticeable in 1994.

Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, and their ilk elevated ideology and party loyalty over pragmatic choices.  They sneered at compromise and bi-partisanship, as if they had a monopoly on truth.  Their policy was to stay on message, never revising their positions, regardless of the facts.  Thus they became rationalizers for what would benefit the rich, and purveyors of disinformation.

They ignored the data on climate change.  They saw no need to protect the public against unsafe food, or unscrupulous financiers.  They forgot the great economic lesson of the 20th Century: that an economy can grow stably and generate abundant jobs only when income is widely distributed, so that the many have the means to buy.  They systematically sought to dismantle labor unions.

They became ethically and politically repulsive.  They were no longer Republicans.  They had become Reepos.

The Grand Old Party became instead the Greedy Old Pricks.

Perhaps it would be more polite to replace GOP by POG, for Party of Greed.

The GOP complains about class warfare, but the only class warfare right now is that waged by the Reepos against everyone else.

I grudgingly realized that however much I liked the work done by my local Representative, as long as my Representative was a Republican, that person would have to vote for a dishonorable Speaker of the House.

It is even worse now.

After President Obama’s election, the leading Republicans in the Senate and House said out loud that they would do everything possible to make Obama a one-term President.  They would vote against anything that Obama and other Democrats proposed, regardless of its merits.  In other words, party took priority over patriotism.  For the sake of attacking President Obama, they opposed the very features of his health care plan that he had learned from them.  The elected Republicans became the Party of No, the party of obstruction, the party of no compromise.

Opposition to even the possibility of compromise is un-American, because it is contrary to the goal of an open society, which is the most fundamental principle of the original United States.  An open society was the goal because of its greatest strength, which is the self-correcting ability it derives from give and take, loyal dissent, and compromise, rather than winner-take-all.

The Republican party has lost its previous understanding that a large and growing middle class was essential, both economically and for political stability, that robber barons are bad, that capitalism has to be regulated for its own good, and that – as the Founders so clearly understood – essential functions that benefit all must be funded by all, via the government, and therefore that government and taxes are indispensible.

What the Republican Party has become fulfills George Washington’s worst fears about what partisanship would do to the country.  In his Farewell Address  (December 19, 1796) Washington said that partisanship “serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against the other, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”  That accurately describes us, today.  (As for the last phrase in that quote, think of the right wing demogogues on TV, and how their message affects racial purists and the unstable.)

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Not a Republican”.  But the old Republicans were honorable and contributed beneficially to the civic dialog.  “Not A Reepo” would have more accurately represented the thought underlying the bumper sticker.

Should the Democrats Talk About Climate Change?

August 16, 2012 at 9:22 am | Posted in Climate change, Disinformation, Global warming | 1 Comment
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Climate change has long been a divisive issue.  For that reason the Democratic Party has shied away from talking about it before the election.

But this year has been the tipping point for public opinion about climate change.

Drought, fires, and record temperatures this past summer have convinced many who previously doubted global warming.  (Although global warming does not account for all of the present drought, it does contribute to it, and will contribute more importantly to future droughts.  Here is a concise summary of the relative contributions to drought from natural cycles and from human-induced warming.)

The reports of ice melting and the margins of glaciers disintegrating in both the Arctic and the Antarctic have added to the change of heart. The steady drum beat of dramatic changes has cumulatively built up a convincing mass of evidence.

There are probably few farmers in the midwest and southwest who still do not believe in global warming.

The drought is going to push up the price of food.  The melting of the permafrost in formerly cold regions will force hugely expensive replacements of buildings and roads.  There will also be an enormous human and medical cost from fungal  infections, as I’ll discuss in a later post.  It is now clear that the cost of not reducing global warming will eventually dwarf the cost of reducing it.

By the way, what do the Pee Party and Paul Ryan think about the Federal role in drought relief? If they are for it, how do they expect the government to pay for it?

That brings us back to the question in the title of this post.

In the pre-election arguments, the Democrats should point out that, of the two parties, only they are willing to do something about global warming.

If Republicans are elected,
– action will be further delayed
– the problem will be much harder when we finally get around to dealing with it
– the impact on you, your children and your grandchildren will be much more severe.

If Democrats are elected,
– action starts right away
– the problem will not be as hard or as costly
– the impact on you and yours and on the economy will be less severe.

Al Gore was right.  Global warming is an inconvenient truth.  But we cannot avoid having to deal with it eventually.

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