Toxic emissions down, but people still dying from air pollution – it’s time for something radical


The UK has made much progress in its efforts to clean the air of toxic pollutants, but while the thick, dirty haze of the 1952 great London smog no longer fills the city streets, air pollution remains a silent killer. In the UK, poor air quality is responsible for some 40,000 deaths each year. It has been linked to diseases such as cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia. The health problems from exposure to air pollution are costing the nation more than £20 billion every year.

Dirty air also causes acid rain, which affects historical monuments, land and aquatic systems, and the excessive release of soil nutrients, which stimulates algae growth in lakes and water courses. It can even form a ground-level ozone gas that damages plants, crops and forests.

Getting clean

The latest update to the UK national air pollution statistics shows that there has been a long-term decrease in emissions from power stations, transport, household heating, agriculture and industrial processes.

Over the past four decades, emissions of key pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane organic compounds and particulate matter have fallen by between 66% and 92%. But emissions of ammonia from the agriculture sector rose by 3% between 2015 and 2016. This has been blamed on manure from larger dairy herds and using fertilisers.

Despite the decline in air pollutants, the UK remains in breach of European limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) in 16 cities, mainly due to diesel fumes from road transport. In 2018, London reached its legal air pollution limit for the whole year within one month: on Brixton Road, South London, NO₂ levels exceed average hourly limits 18 times – the maximum allowed under European air quality rules.

Health warning.

A decision on potential legal proceedings against the UK is expected from the European Commission in mid-March.

Trips for free

If air quality is to improve, people must change the way they move around their cities. The UK government intends to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. The rigging of emission tests by car manufacturers has already resulted in consumers ditching diesel – sale of diesel cars fell by 25% in January 2018 compared with the previous year.

In contrast, sales of electric vehicles are growing – though this trend will need to accelerate if 60% of all new cars and vans are to be electric by 2030, as the UK Committee on Climate Change hopes. While electric vehicles will improve air quality by reducing NO₂ emissions, they still produce half of all transport-related particulate matter emissions because of the fine particles released from their brakes, clutches and tyres, as well as the dust thrown up from the roads.

Having fewer cars on the roads would be even better than having cleaner cars. Attitudes may be changing, alongside the rise of the sharing economy. Younger people are using apps to take part in car club schemes, ride-sharing and car-sharing as a way of opting out of the expense and hassle of owning a car. But there’s also a clear need to provide infrastructure that encourages more walking, cycling and public transport.

If the British people want a more radical solution, then they could consider making public transport in cities free. This is already happening in Seoul on days with severe pollution. Germany is reported to be mulling over plans to make public transport free to address air pollution and reduce the number of private cars.

But this doesn’t always work as planned: one analysis of a fare-free public transport scheme in Tallin found that the increase in use was largely from people who normally walk, rather than drive a car.

While the overall drop in air pollutants is welcome, the UK needs to make further progress to ensure that everyone can breathe clean air.

​Hawking warns gifted disabled scientists could be left without financial support — RT News


Stephen Hawking (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett)

“I wonder whether a young ambitious academic, with my kind of severe condition now, would find the same generosity and support in much of higher education,” Hawking said at a dinner that marked his 50th year as a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge.

“Even with the best goodwill, would the money still be there? I fear not,” the 73-year-old professor added.

Suffering from progressing motor neurone disease (MND), he received support from the college. Hawking said that “Caius [college] gave me a home, literally and figuratively, and is a constant thread running through my life.”

“That fellowship [that Hawking received in 1965] was a turning point in my life, as the college made sure I could continue my research, despite my increasing disability.”

The college’s master, Alan Fersht, replied to the words of Hawking, saying “Stephen questioned whether a young academic in his condition would get the same level of support today? For Caius at least, I can say emphatically ‘yes’. The fellowship is a family, just as our students, our staff and our alumni are all parts of the Caian family.”

Fersht went on to say: “In 1965, none of us dreamt that we would be here, 50 years on, to celebrate this day. I say none, but I suspect I actually mean ‘all, but one’.”

Back in 2008, Hawking warned that £80m ($122m) of grant cuts could put Britain’s position in the international scientific community under threat. He said, “These grants are the lifeblood of our research effort; cutting them will hurt young researchers and cause enormous damage both to British science and to our international reputation,”according to the Guardian.

Uploading human brain for eternal life is possible .


Reuters/Michaela Rehle

“People could probably live inside a machine. Potentially, I think it is definitely a possibility,” Dr Hannah Critchlow of the Cambridge Neuroscience said at the popular Hay Festival in Wales, as quoted by The Telegraph.

Although the human brain is enormously complex, scientists are beginning to better understand its separate parts’ functions, Critchlow said, describing the brain as a complex circuit board. The scientist claimed it “would be possible” to recreate it as a computer program: “If you had a computer that could make those 100 trillion circuit connections – then that circuit is what makes us us.”

“We are about 100 billion nerve cells and the most complicated circuit board you could image,” the neuroscientist, who produces and presents brainy interactive experiences for the public and has been named among the UK’s Top 100 scientists by the Science Council, told the audience.

She also debunked a common myth that humans only use some 10 percent of their brain, explaining the whole thing is constantly running in idle mode to save energy and certain areas are only powered up when needed. She noted that despite only weighing about 1.5 kilos and taking up just two percent of the body’s mass, the brain “takes about 20 percent of all energy consumption.”

The neuroscientist confirmed that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are different, and that there is some evidence to support the belief that left-handed people are more creative.

It is known that the right hemisphere of the brain, which is more active in left-handed people, is linked to creativity. Recent studies have shown that creative thought can be externally improved by special devices stimulating that part of the brain. It is now possible to buy hats containing electrodes to stimulate the area for around $80, the scientist said.

‘Breakthrough’ malaria vaccine developed, but only partially effective – scientists — RT UK


Reuters / Ina Fassbender

Although the drug has only shown a partial effect, it nevertheless represents the most clinically-advanced vaccine against malaria to date.

“We finally have in our sights a candidate vaccine that could have a real impact on this terrible disease that affects many children during their first years of life,” principal investigator Kwaku Asante said in a statement released ahead of World Malaria Day on Saturday.

“The large number of children affected by malaria, sometimes several times per year, means that this vaccine candidate, if deployed correctly, has the potential to prevent millions of cases of malaria,” Asante added.

The British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has spent 30 years developing RTS,S.

During trials, 15,500 children in seven African countries were given the vaccine. The results showed that Malaria cases were halved in the first year.

Although, as time passed, protection wore off (dropping to 28 percent after four years), cases were still reduced by almost a third.

Children who received a booster – meaning an extra dose – showed a significant defense against the disease. The extra dose increased the protection rate in the fourth year to 36 percent, the study claims.

The final results indicate the World Health Organization (WHO) will recommend routine use of the vaccine as early as this year, if regulators approve. The results were published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases reports.

Study co-author Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Reuters: “The results are not quite as good as we would have hoped, but it still works.” However, he is still hopeful the new vaccine could prevent numerous deaths.

“Given that there were an estimated 198 million malaria cases in 2013, this level of efficacy potentially translates into millions of cases of malaria in children being prevented,”he said.

“Unfortunately, this is not as big an effect as that seen with some other vaccines,” like that against measles, he told AFP.

The mosquito-borne disease kills some 600,000 people each year, of whom more than 75 percent are children under the age of five, according to WHO. The disease kills about 1,200 children in sub-Saharan Africa on average per day.

Often, people die of malaria because they don’t have access to quality healthcare.

Last year’s Ebola outbreak has drawn renewed attention to malaria and the lack of sufficient health care in many developing countries.

Emotional toxicity of austerity eroding mental health, say 400 experts


“Malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures are having a detrimental effect on Britons’ psychological and emotional wellbeing, hundreds of psychotherapists, counselors and mental health practitioners have warned.

Reuters / Dylan Martinez

An open letter, published by the Guardian on Friday, said the “profoundly disturbing” implications for Britons wrought by the coalition’s austerity policies have been ignored in the general election campaign so far.

The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.

They warned people are plagued by increasing inequality and poverty as a result of the government’s austerity policies, and this reality is generating distress across the nation.

The 400 signatories, from all corners of Britain, said the government’s welfare reforms have caused emotional and mental trauma to Britons – forcing families to relocate against their will and burdening disabled, ill and unemployed benefit claimants with an intimidating benefits regime.

On a broader level, they warned British society has been ruptured by a neoliberal dogma that has serious socio-economic impacts.

British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking”and the grueling effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms, they said.

“This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organizations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.

Fit to Work: A call for reform

The letter was particularly critical of the government’s benefits sanctions scheme, which has been condemned by human rights advocates across the state as unjust, ill-conceived, ineffective and inhumane.

In particular, the mental health experts said the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable.

The measure, casually coined “get to work therapy,” was first mooted by Chancellor for the Exchequer George Osborne during his last budget.

But the letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, argue it is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic” and damaging.

Although the government’s much criticized Fit for Work program will no longer be managed by disgraced contractor Atos, the letter said the new company set to manage the nation’s work capability assessments is an “ominous replacement.”

The mental health experts called upon the sector’s key professional bodies to “wake up to these malign developments” and categorically denounce this “so-called therapy” as destructive.

The signatories called upon Britain’s political parties running for election, particularly Labour, to offer a resolute pledge to “urgently review” these regressive practices and prove their “much trumpeted commitment to mental health” if they enter government.

Among the groups represented by the signatories were Britain’s Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, Disabled People Against Cuts, Psychologists Against Austerity, the Journal of Public Mental Health, and a range of academic institutions including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, the University of London, the University of Amsterdam, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton and others.

Although the coalition claims austerity is essential if the nation’s high levels of debt are to be eradicated and the disastrous economic legacy of the previous Labour government is to be addressed, progressive economists argue otherwise.

According to UK think tank the New Economics Foundation, austerity is a smokescreen for advancing a neoliberal agenda characterized by privatization, outsourcing and radical socio-economic reforms.

The think tank suggests Britain’s social and economic ills stem from an economic crisis created by banks and paid for by ordinary taxpayers.

It says Britain desperately requires a shift from the tired austerity narrative that dominates mainstream British politics, and must move towards more progressive and sustainable economic policies that will free the nation from casino capitalism, boom-bust cycles and the erosion of the welfare state.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party told RT the party believes mental health should be treated in the same manner as physical health.

“But for too long, that was not the case – so we legislated for parity of esteem, meaning they’ll be treated with equal priority,” he said.

“Our long-term economic plan means we’ve been able to increase spending on the NHS by £12.9 billion. This has meant that we can put £400 million into improving access to psychological therapies.”

“We are also investing £1.25 billion into funding service improvement, particularly for children. And from April 2016 we are introducing the first waiting time standards for mental health treatments so no one should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for talking therapies.”

A spokesperson for Labour said mental health “is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.”

“It’s essential that we give mental health the priority it deserves if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future,” he said.

He argued it was Labour that forced the coalition government to “write parity of esteem between physical and mental health into law,” and that the party is committed to implementing this policy if elected in May.

The spokesman pledged Labour will bring an end to the “scandal of the neglect of child mental health.”

“It is simply not right that when three quarters of adult mental illnesses begin in childhood, children’s mental health services get just six per cent of the mental health budget,” he said.

1,000 British soldiers given psychiatric help after consuming ‘zombie drug’ – new figures


The British military is accused of failing to protect its soldier’s mental health. Figures show nearly 1,000 have sought psychiatric treatment after being given the MoD’s budget price anti-malarial drug Lariam.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed the figure is much higher than previously thought, with 994 service personnel being admitted to mental health clinics or psychiatric hospitals since 2008.

The figures only go back to 2007, so the true number may be much higher, as Lariam, also known as mefloquine, has been in use for much longer.

The MoD has consistently defended the drug, which is one of several it issues to troops, amid concerns that Lariam is contributing to an Armed Forces mental health epidemic. This is despite growing pressure from senior military figures, campaigners and relatives of those affected.

The drug, banned by US Special Forces two years ago, and which the UK military avoids giving to pilots or divers, is still issued to UK troops.

Its use continues despite evidence linking the anti-malarial to the 2012 Panjwai Massacre, in which a US soldier slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians after taking the drug.

Sergeant Robert Bales has since been sentenced to life imprisonment.

In an internal report, Roche, the drug’s manufacturer, described the killings as an “adverse event.

Roche themselves have conceded that the side effects can include “hallucinations, psychosis, suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-endangering behavior” and may induce “serious neuropsychiatric disorders.

Reuters / Nigel Roddis

The figures come as it was revealed a retired British general, who took the drug during service, is currently in a secure psychiatric unit.

Major General Alastair Duncan commanded British troops in Bosnia. His wife, Ellen, told the Independent: “Like others, I believe that this is a scandal. If 1,000 troops have reported the effects then you can be sure there are others who have not. I know personally of several, and anecdotally of many more.

The long-term effects of this will be more and more in evidence over the coming years.

She said the MoD was “staggeringly unprepared to deal with the fallout.

In 2012, Dr Remington Nevin, a US Army epidemiologist whose research found the drug could be toxic to the brain, told the Daily Mail: “Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It’s dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago.

He said Lariam was “probably the worst-suited drug for the military,” adding that its side effects closely matched the symptoms of combat stress.

Considering why the drug remains in use, one former general speculated that it was a matter of economics over welfare.

Former marine Major General Julian Thompson led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War. He told the Independent: “I can only come to the conclusion that the MoD has a large supply of Lariam, and some ‘chairborne’ jobsworth in the MoD has decreed that as a cost-saving measure, the stocks are to be consumed before an alternative is purchased.

Larium is significantly cheaper than comparable anti-malarials, such as Doxycycline and Malarone.

An MoD spokesperson said: “All our medical advice is based on the current guidelines set out by Public Health England.

Based on this expert advice, the MoD continues to prescribe mefloquine (Lariam) as part of the range of malaria prevention treatments recommended, which help us to protect our personnel from this disease.

The Labour Party responded to the revelations by promising to fully address the impacts and use of Lariam if the party comes to power in the May general election.

Shadow Defense Secretary Vernon Coaker told Channel 4: “Given the growing evidence of the potential damage caused by this drug we are committed to immediately reviewing its use should we form the next government.

Safer than riding a bike? Scientists promote medicinal use of psychedelic drugs .


The therapeutic or experimental use of psychedelic drugs is safer than taking legal substances such as nicotine or alcohol, two leading members of a drug research organization have said.

(Reuters/U.S. DEA/Handout via Reuters)

The two Norwegian scientists penned a letter in the Lancet journal claiming the ban on drugs like MDMA (ecstasy) and magic mushrooms are “inconsistent with human rights.” They add that there is “not much evidence of health problems” associated with the hallucinogens.

Tony Krebs and her husband, Pål-Ørjan Johansen, who founded EmmaSofia, a group looking to expand the controlled use of MDMA, wrote that some psychedelic drugs could be used to effectively wean addicts off other damaging substances.

Based on extensive human experience, it is generally acknowledged that psychedelics do not elicit addiction or compulsive use and that there is little evidence for an association between psychedelic use and birth defects, chromosome damage, lasting mental illness, or toxic effects to the brain or other organs,”they wrote.

They added that although psychedelics can cause temporary confusion and emotional anxiety, “hospitalizations and serious injuries are extremely rare. Overall psychedelics are not particularly dangerous when compared with other common activities.”

National and international policies should respect the human rights of individuals who choose to use psychedelics as a spiritual, personal development, or cultural activity.”

Johansen, who worked to provide treatments for anxiety disorders, even claimed that taking psychedelic drugs was as safe as riding a bike.

“Psychedelics often produce profound experiences while at the same time having a safety risk profile comparable to many activities of daily life, such as riding a bike or playing soccer.”

He claims he was able to treat his own alcohol addiction through the medicinal use of MDMA. In an interview with Newsweek he said he believed the drug could also be useful in the treatment of heroin addiction.

“The commonality is that addiction and drug abuse have a function which is to escape from stress and difficult emotions like shame, loneliness, fear, guilt or shyness,” he said.

“Recently our colleague, Matthew Johnson, completed a pilot study which with psilocybin for smoking cessation, also with encouraging results.”

The couple set up EmmaSofia to promote access to therapeutic MDMA and continue to campaign for the human rights of people using psychedelic drugs.

Their crowdfunding appeal raised $30,000 for their campaign to legalize such drugs. They believe certain psychedelics could be used not only to treat people battling addictions, but other medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

EmmaSofia’s campaign has found support among a number of academics, including Professor David Nutt, a former drugs adviser to the UK government.

However, a spokesperson for Public Health England told Newsweek it was unethical to treat addiction to illegal substances with other illegal substances, adding such a program would not have support in the UK.