Tag Archives: climate change

Bruno Latour on climate change and inequality

Here’s an idea I found interesting. The author, Bruno Latour, calls it a “plausible fiction.” (emphasis added)

The enlightened elites—they do exist—realized, after the 1990s, that the dangers summed up in the word “climate” were increasing. Until then, human relationships with the earth had been quite stable. It was possible to grab a piece of land, secure property rights over it, work it, use it, and abuse it. The land itself kept more or less quiet.

The enlightened elites soon started to pile up evidence suggesting that this state of affairs wasn’t going to last. But even once elites understood that the warning was accurate, they did not deduce from this undeniable truth that they would have to pay dearly.

Instead they drew two conclusions, both of which have now led to the election of a lord of misrule to the White House: Yes, this catastrophe needs to be paid for at a high price, but it’s the others who will pay, not us; we will continue to deny this undeniable truth.

If this plausible fiction is correct, it enables us to grasp the “deregulation” and the “dismantling of the welfare state” of the 1980s, the “climate change denial” of the 2000s, and, above all, the dizzying increase in inequality over the past forty years. All these things are part of the same phenomenon: the elites were so thoroughly enlightened that they realized there would be no future for the world and that they needed to get rid of all the burdens of solidarity as fast as possible (hence, deregulation); to construct a kind of golden fortress for the tiny percent of people who would manage to get on in life (leading us to soaring inequality); and, to hide the crass selfishness of this flight from the common world, to completely deny the existence of the threat (i.e., deny climate change). Without this plausible fiction, we can’t explain the inequality, the skepticism about climate change, or the raging deregulation.

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Going extinct

Red-eyed tree frogs
Red-eyed tree frogs
Animal species are going extinct at a rate thousands of times faster than was the case before there were humans. And this is a conservative estimate.

At least half the tortoises and turtles, a third of the amphibians, a quarter of the mammals, and an eighth of the birds on this planet face a risk of extinction in the near future. What’s worse, these numbers apply only to the small fraction of known species whose conservation status has actually been assessed. The overall picture is likely to be much worse.

This from a review of the book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. The reviewer is columnist and author Verlyn Klinkenborg (The Rural Life).

It’s not just climate change. It’s our way of life.

It’s not just climate change that accounts for the increased rate of species extinction. (emphasis added in the following quotations)

The general tendency of our species—a tendency that seems to be intensifying all the time—is to decrease biological diversity on this planet. We do so by destroying habitats, overconsuming natural resources, and spreading invasive species, willingly or not. It’s tempting to say that this is the cost of consciousness. We like to imagine that cultural diversity is an adequate substitute for biological diversity—for ourselves, if not for other species. It isn’t.

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Climate change and deconstruction

Home in Union Beach, NJ after Hurricane Sandy
A home in Union Beach, NJ after Hurricane Sandy
In a recent essay on climate change, Zadie Smith touches on matters not usually mentioned in connection with this topic. “What’s missing from the account,” she says, “is how much of our reaction is emotional.”

Smith is the mother of two young children. She imagines how, in the year 2050, she would explain to a hypothetical granddaughter why previous generations failed to act. (emphasis added)

I don’t expect she will forgive me, but it might be useful for her to get a glimpse into the mindset, if only for the purposes of comprehension. What shall I tell her? Her teachers will already have explained that what was happening to the weather, in 2014, was an inconvenient truth, financially, politically—but that’s perfectly obvious, even now. A global movement of the people might have forced it onto the political agenda, no matter the cost. What she will want to know is why this movement took so long to materialize. So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we’d just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes—and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat.

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Andrew Wakfield: The integrity and validity of science

Andrew WakefieldAndrew Wakefield has received a great deal of negative publicity over the past few weeks, ever since journalist Brian Deer, writing in the British Medical Journal, presented evidence that Wakefield faked the data in his study linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Deer also made the case that Wakefield’s motive was financial gain: Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who planned a highly lucrative lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers and investors were promised millions.

Wakefield has publically responded to the charges. In a story from Bloomberg he asserts that his study was “not a hoax.” He also says: “I have lost my job, my career and my country.”

Given the stressful nature of Wakefield’s situation – some accuse him of a moral crime, others feel he should be prosecuted – it’s both eerie and fascinating to watch him defend himself. He appeared on “Good Morning America,” where he was interviewed by George Stephanopolous. In that interview, Wakefield claims his accuser committing a fraud by selectively omitting data.

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Health care, climate change, and the myth of the free market

Opponents of the Patient Protection Act label it socialized medicine. They argue that the health care industry will perform at its best when government involvement is reduced to zero. Free market/neoliberal ideas are behind much of climate change denial and opposition: Let the various sectors of the energy industry compete, and may the most profitable one win. Republicans newly elected to Congress want to cut government down to size on all fronts.

Similar arguments these days are behind much of the West’s current criticism of China: China does not engage in free trade; it practices state capitalism rather than market capitalism; the government invests in the country’s industries, which puts its competitors at a disadvantage. China must follow our example if it wants to play in the free world market.

In an article in the New Yorker, John Cassidy points out the hypocrisy of such complaints. Great Britain went to war with China over trade policy (the Opium Wars), and the US has a long history of using tariffs to protect its industries. Read more


Updates: Commercialization of infidelity, medical rivalry, conservatives on climate change, football concussions

Some interesting things I found today that relate to previous posts. Emphasis in quotations has been added by me.

Re: Are married people happier? Are parents?

Ashley Madison websiteAn amusing discussion by Will Davies on the economics of selling infidelity. Ashley Madison is a discreet dating service for people who are already in a relationship.

Of course infidelity is as old as fidelity. But it is interesting to consider what happens once it is administered and economised. Firstly, it must surely become considerably less fun, as its taboo is lifted. I don’t doubt that there are people many years into marriage who seek out infidelity in a mundane way, to rival the search for other consumer goods; they may be the initial target of Ashley Madison. But beyond these people, infidelity is being parcelled up as safe and predictable, for those who presumably did their best to steer clear of it, until (for whatever unforeseen reason) they couldn’t resist it. Like hipsterism, the promise of administered infidelity is to have one’s cake and eat it, to experience the rush of living on the margins without any of the risks that once went with that.

Source: the creative destruction of marriage (potlatch) Read more


Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of DoubtIt’s easy to understand – if not condone – the behavior of politicians who are financed by tobacco and oil companies. They oppose the regulation of smoking or pollution because they benefit from the financial contributions of those industries.

But what motivates certain scientists to relentlessly cast doubt on peer-reviewed scientific evidence that’s inconveniently contrary to financial interests? A new book, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, attempts to answer this question.

To some extent, the motivation for certain scientists is the same as that of politicians. Those who opposed the issues covered by this book – nuclear winter (could we survive a nuclear war), Star Wars, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming, DDT, cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke – are frequently members of “institutes” or think tanks heavily funded by tobacco and “dirty” energy donations.

The answer is much more complex than money, however. And much more interesting. Read more


Climate change and mass migration

Fence between India and BangladeshThe New Republic article, “Will Climate Change Lead to Mass Immigration from Mexico?,” is timely, given the prominence in the news of Arizona’s immigration law. The migration that will follow climate change is certainly an issue that should be kept in the public’s awareness.

The author, Bradford Plumer, points out that most climate-change induced migration will happen within developing countries – country folks from villages will move to urban centers. Historically this is nothing new.

Migration from one country to another is harder to predict. A powerful symbol of what to expect is the fence along the 2,500 mile border between India and Bangladesh. The majority of land in Bangladesh is less than 20 feet above sea level. By the end of the century, more than a quarter of the country will be under water. The fence will prevent migration to India.

Right-wing seeks common cause with environmentalists

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A financial expert argues: Global warming is real

Obama on climate change: I'm sorry
Jeremy Grantham is an expert on investing – stocks, bond, commodity markets. The asset management fund GMO, where he’s Chairman of the Board (the ‘G’ stands for Grantham), was responsible for $107 billion at the end 2009. He has a reputation for predicting market bubbles, valuing history, and giving advice that’s worth listening to.

So when Grantham tells investors the equivalent of “you better believe climate change is for real,” this gives me hope. If greed got us into this mess, maybe greed can get us out of it. Ultimately it’s the American way, right?

Unfortunately for investors, Grantham thinks it’s too soon to profit from attempts to stave off global warming.

Global warming will be the most important investment issue for the foreseeable future. But how to make money around this issue in the next few years is not yet clear to me. In a fast-moving field rife with treacherous politics, there will be many failures. Marketing a “climate” fund would be much easier than outperforming with it.

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The earth’s scars

I came across this poem today. I remember receiving it from Cathy Edgett in the days following 9/11. As we collectively watch oil rise from a gash in the ocean’s floor, it seems appropriate again. The tragedy is not so much the literal mutilation of the earth as it is the ratcheting up of our collective disillusion with politicians and corporate executives, whose financial interests take precedence over the common good.

Try to Praise the Multilated World

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.

Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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Having wounded the earth, we watch as she bleeds out

Obama at oil spillFor Father’s Day, an exchange between Tony Judt and his son Daniel on BP, Barack Obama, and our collective lack of political will.

From Tony:

The gush of filth is a reminder that we have surrendered our independence to a technology we cannot master. … The challenge goes beyond oil slicks and moral revulsion. In the bigger picture, big oil has no long-term future: sooner or later the contemptible little sheikdoms that have arisen upon a pool of liquid greed will sink back into the desert. But why should BP and the emirs script the endgame?

From his son, who is in the ninth grade:

Look, we are powerless and will be for a while to come. In fact, we are in the worst possible position: we are old enough to understand better than you what has to be done, but far too young to do it.

Although this has no bearing on the ideas expressed, this exchange on Father’s Day is especially poignant in view of Tony Judt’s illness.

Related posts:
The earth’s scars
The oil spill: Why did it happen?
Tony Judt and the Move for ALS bike ride
A generation obsessed with material wealth
Tony Judt: On the edge of a terrifying world
This mess we’re in – Part 3


Photo source: TriCityHerald

Daniel Judt and Tony Judt, Generations in the Balance, The New York Times, June 18, 2010


The oil spill: Why did it happen?

Oil spill birdThere’s a nice piece in The Atlantic on risk-taking behavior – something that applies to many aspects of life, not just how we treat the environment. (Emphasis added)

How do such management disasters occur? The easy answer is, there’s a financial incentive for going forward, and a financial disincentive for holding back. Program managers are rewarded for meeting budget and schedule milestones and obtaining results. Safety generally works in opposition to all that.

In addition, risk is always theoretical until an accident occurs. It’s harder to argue for something that hasn’t occurred before, and might never occur at all. So safety sometimes gets short shrift against more tangible commercial gains and public image. … But the reason we’re so bad at risk management goes far beyond that. …

[E]ven when we’re dealing with known risks, we do a poor job of managing them. For one thing, humans have a propensity to alter our behavior in ways that negate attempts at risk management …. When seat belt laws got passed, people started driving more aggressively. Likewise, when there’s a safety or back-up system in place, people are often willing to push further into riskier territory (like drilling five miles beneath the ocean). And we often misconstrue luck (at having nothing go wrong) for proof that an activity actually contains an acceptable risk — a belief that gets stronger the longer we go without an accident. What’s more, risk taking is tangibly encouraged and rewarded in American culture and business. Just look at the bonuses given out on Wall Street, and the way we idolize entrepreneurs and the risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit.

More people are injured in crosswalks than when jaywalking because they assume they’re safe. Wearing a motorcycle helmet may encourage riskier driving. Doctors worry that if a genetic test tells you you’re not at risk for a disease, you might indulge in unhealthy behavior.

We know this is human nature, but will we be able to put this knowledge into practice?

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Does astrology make predictions about climate change?

Polar Bear on Melting Iceberg in the Svalbard IslandsThe South Dakota state legislature recently passed a resolution urging public schools to teach global warming as merely one of many scientific theories, definitely not a proven fact. The resolution cited a number of significant, interrelated dynamics affecting “world weather,” including “climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological” factors.

It’s a good thing they pointed out that at least some of these dynamics are speculative, since there’s not much evidence lately that astrology affects the weather.

Same goes for thermology, which admittedly sounds like it would have to do with heat. There’s a lot we can learn about temperature distribution from infrared images of the earth, but the term thermology is reserved for the medical diagnostic technique that analyzes infrared images of the human body.

Meanwhile, polar bears will suddenly starve to death

Meanwhile, BBC Earth News reports that polar bears will experience a dramatic “tipping point” due to climate change and suffer a sudden decline in population.

Based on what is known of polar bear physiology, behaviour and ecology, [research] predicts pregnancy rates will fall and fewer bears will survive fasting during longer ice-free seasons. …

Southern populations of polar bears fast in summer, forced ashore as the sea ice melts. As these ice-free seasons lengthen, fewer bears are expected to have enough fat and protein stores to survive the fast.

“…as the climate warms, we may not see any substantial effect on polar bear reproduction and survival for a while, up until some threshold is passed, at which point reproduction and survival will decline dramatically and very rapidly.”

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Scientists confront political attacks on climate change

three-polar-bears-climate-changeThere’s a wonderful letter (PDF) in Science signed by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s titled “Climate Change and the Integrity of Science,” and it’s not simply about climate change. It argues that politically motivated attacks on climate change threaten the very integrity of science.

As the lead signer points out, since it’s unusual to get 255 scientists to agree on anything, the endorsement of this statement by so many scientists is important and significant.

Here are some excerpts that address political issues and the attacks on scientific integrity:

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet. …

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. …

We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively.

It’s about time someone other than a columnist said this. I certainly hope this statement receives the wide publicity it deserves.

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Climate change: A few signs of legislative hope

Climate change sea otter on ice

Source: U.S. News

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the House bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, was passed by the House last June. The Senate bill, called The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, has been languishing in the Senate since its introduction last September. Now that health care has passed, we may see some action.
Steven Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post, points out that the passage of health care reform may have convinced Democrats that the perfect really isn’t the enemy of the good (a Voltaire phrase now associated with Ted Kennedy). Republicans may be ready to acknowledge that if they attempt to kill another piece of important and historic legislation simply to be ornery, they will miss out on significant concessions they could have won. Pearlstein puts the chances of passage at only 50-50, however.

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Daily Dose: Climate change: How bad can it get; FDR's death; Yawns; Facebook

Penguins fight back on climate change

Source: Sacramento for Democracy

Climate change

Copenhagen climate summit: Five possible scenarios for our future climate (The Guardian)
Concise summary of what we can expect for each increase of one degree Celcius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in global temperature. Here are a few of the health implications.
1C: “Most of the world’s corals will die, including the Great Barrier Reef. Glaciers that provide crops for 50m people with fresh water begin to melt and 300,000 people are affected every year by climate-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea.”
2C: “The heatwaves seen in Europe during 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people, will come back every year. … More than 60 million people, mainly in Africa, would be exposed to higher rates of malaria. Agricultural yields around the world will drop and half a billion people will be at greater risk of starvation. … Glaciers all over the world will recede, reducing the fresh water supply for major cities including Los Angeles.”

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Health Culture Daily Dose #18

Baby ducks

Source: Wunderground

When did we start calling the whole day before Christmas “Christmas Eve?” I thought Christmas Eve was the evening before Christmas. But no. Senators voted on health care reform at 1:00 AM on Thursday December 24th. To me, that’s still Wednesday night, but it was widely reported as happening on Christmas Eve. Perhaps publishers want to save ink. Or we live in such fast times that it takes too long to say “The day before Christmas.”
Anyway, here’s a flock of interesting stories I’ve come across recently.

Aging, end-of-life, and death

The Breadth of Hope, Selling Hope, and More on Quelling Thanatophobia, (Pallimed: A Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog)
One unspoken message behind the “sell hope for a cure” ads is “we will not only cure your cancer so that you can avoid death, but we’ll also make it so it’s a non-issue in your life so that you can return to the way things were before. It’ll kind of be like getting your car’s air conditioner recharged.”

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Penguins as canaries

magellanic-penguinPenguins, like canaries in coal mines, are a leading indicator of climate change and other environmental hazards. Their frozen habitat is getting smaller. A warmer ocean means the migration patterns of fish have changed, so penguins are forced to travel much farther for food. The Magellanic penguins of South America now need to travel 25 miles farther than they did just a decade ago. Overfishing and oil pollution also contribute to the plight of penguins.

In honor of Thanksgiving – when we eat another bird – the Washington Post featured a story on a penguin rehabilitation center, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Most of SANCCOB’s rescue efforts focus on birds who suffer from oil spills.

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The clothesline debate: Drying for Freedom

Clothes drying on outdoor lines

Source: Treehugger

In the “old days,” there were no electric clothes dryers. Laundry was hung outside to dry, weather permitting. Today almost everyone has access to an electric dryer. They’re said to consume at least 6 percent of household electricity, at a cost of $5 billion a year in the US.
As we become more environmentally aware, it seems like a good idea to hang clothes outside whenever we can. Get that genuine fresh air smell and feel from Nature rather than from chemicals added during the wash and dry cycle. The problem is, though, most communities have outlawed outdoor clothes lines. Seems it’s a “low class” thing to do and brings down property values. Kind of like rusting junked cars sitting next to the driveway.

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Have fun. Help the environment. Sell cars.

Volkswagen E-Up! eco-friendly

Source: Virgin Media

The Volkswagen E-UP! model is not only electric. It has over 10 square feet of solar panels. And it comes with an electric scooter that folds up and fits in the back. That way you can park at a recharging station, as long as it’s not too far from your destination. Clearly VW wants to position itself with consumers as eco-friendly.
VW’s ad agency has come up with a supporting concept: If you increase the fun quotient of something that’s good for the environment, people will change their behavior. They call this The Fun Theory.
In one Fun Theory video, technicians worked overnight to turn subway stairs into a functional (sound-producing) piano keyboard. Reports are that 66% more people took the stairs rather than the power-consuming escalator. Good for the environment and good for health.

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Doctors and the health crisis of global warming

Let’s look at the facts. Global warming inevitably leads to a global health crisis. Health and disease are the province of the medical profession. Shouldn’t doctors be speaking out on the health crisis of global warming?

Last month the two leading British medical journals – The Lancet and the British Medical Journal — published an open letter to doctors on climate change. In the US, the Journal of the American Medical Association also published a commentary on this subject. Both the US and UK arguments drew on the same evidence and made the same dire predictions.

The US commentary concluded with an appeal to the public health profession: “This is a critical time for public health advocates to demand that political leaders safeguard the health of the world’s population, with particular attention to the survival needs of the most disadvantaged.”

The British publications appealed directly to doctors: “Doctors are still seen as respected and independent, largely trusted by their patients and the societies in which they practise. … We call on doctors to demand that their politicians listen to the clear facts that have been identified in relation to climate change and act now to implement strategies.”
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Climate crisis. Health crisis. Same difference.

global-warming-health-crisis-smoke-stacksClimate change is a more serious problem than we thought it was just a few years ago. A big rise in global temperature may not happen for another 40 years, but other changes are “imminent,” according to Science magazine. A permanent drought, with Dust Bowl-like conditions, could become the “new climatology” of the American Southwest in a matter of years.

Next December, 190 countries will meet in Copenhagen to discuss a solution. It’s very difficult for politicians, who represent the financial interests of the status quo, to tackle the problems of climate change. As Paul Krugman said recently, a response to global warming would “shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.” Read more


Global warming makes me sick

pollution-sun-landscapeThere’s an unfortunate parallel between the politics of climate change and the politics of US health care reform. They differ in scale — global vs. domestic. But consider this: Who suffers the most from the lack of universal health care in the US? The poor and unemployed. Who will suffer the most from climate change? The poor and unemployed. There are many reasons for this, but largely it’s a matter of where the poor live: the tropics, underdeveloped countries, overcrowded slums.

The world’s poorest populations will be the first to suffer from climate change. When they can no longer survive where they currently live, they will leave their homes and migrate. The Indian government is presently constructing a seven-foot-high fence made of double-thickness razor wire and steel. It will be 2,800 miles long (4500 km) and line the entire border between India and Bangladesh. Its purpose? To keep out terrorists, yes, but according to the BBC, it’s also meant to keep out immigrants who will flee the impact of climate change. Read more


Climate change: Bad news for children’s health

children-and-pollutionClimate change has a much bigger effect on our health than we realize, and it’s possibly the greatest public health threat of the coming century. This is the opinion of pediatrician Aaron Bernstein, quoted in a recent issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Consider infectious diseases. As the climate changes, birds, insects and other “disease vectors” are forced to move into new habitats. The incidence of Lyme disease, for example, increases as deer ticks change where they live and become more abundant. “Lyme disease is a disease of ecology,” says Dr. Bernstein. “We tend to think that we get infectious diseases from other people, but it turns out that the majority of infectious diseases are diseases that we share with other species.” As infected species move into our neighborhood, we can expect an increase in the diseases they transmit. Read more