Exploring catastrophic events that could wipe out humans
*Giant asteroid nicknamed apocalyptic ‘God of Chaos’ could hit Earth by 2029
*Doctors warn climate change putting hospitals at risk, endangering people’s health
*Study shows plants are going extinct 350 times faster than they have historically
*Moving to 5G wireless technology exposes customers to more cancer-causing radiation
Scientists are probing and exploring catastrophic events that could wipe out the human race from the surface of the Earth. They are also providing solutions to the imminent threats.Top on the list is the probability of a big asteroid hitting Earth by 2029; climate change is putting hospitals at risk and endangering human health; plants and animals are going extinct 350 times faster than they have historically; and people are exposed to more cancer-causing radiation as wireless technology moves from 2G to 5G.
Indeed, it is believed that if an asteroid 10 times as long and wide as the National Stadium struck Abuja, the impact would wipe out the city’s population, and the effects of the energy released would be thousands of times more than was unleashed by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, which was felt globally. It is believed that the thermal radiation would start fires around the world, boiling the oceans and kicking off a rapid change in climate that would probably kill off hundreds of species, humans included.A similar scenario played out about 66 million years ago when an asteroid is believed to have hit the Yucatán Peninsula and devastated the dinosaurs.
Science journalist, Bryan Walsh persuasively argued in his new book, End Times, that although the probability of such a big asteroid hitting Earth in any given year is a very small, 0.000005 per cent, there is no reason not to take the threat seriously, given the catastrophic consequences.
Walsh said an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, super-volcanoes, nuclear war; human-caused climate change, disease epidemics and bioengineered pathogens are among the greatest risks facing the future of humankind. These existential threats, he wrote, are “the disasters that could end the human story in midsentence.” He, however, argued that humans could eliminate or minimize those threats now.Asteroid warning: Apocalyptic ‘God of Chaos’ powering towards Earth in time for 2029
A decade from now, a huge potentially hazardous asteroid, named after the ancient Egyptian deity of evil and destruction, will whizz by the Earth with a one in 45,000 chance of hitting the planet.The United States National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) has already begun preparations for the impending arrival of asteroid 99942 Apophis, also known as the “God of Chaos”, which will pass within 31,000 kilometres of Earth’s surface on 13 April 2029.
Roughly the size of four football fields (approx 340 meters across), if the space rock were to hit Earth, it would smash humans with the force of 15,000 nuclear weapons detonating simultaneously.However, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Company, Elon Musk, rightly cautions that the entire Apophis narrative is a little overblown: during its close flyby in 2029, the asteroid will come within 37,600km (23,363 miles) of our planet, just a tenth of the distance between Earth and the Moon.
The scientists suggest while it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute when it screams past Earth on April 13, 2029, the giant asteroid will more likely provide a magnificent spectacle for stargazers than the doom of all life on Earth.While NASA scientists have been preparing to study the giant rock as it swings past Earth, one particular space connoisseur has been unfazed by the issue.
Under the so-called Double Asteroid Redirection Test, which is scheduled for June 2021, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets will launch in the direction of asteroid 65803 Didymos (or “Didymain”) and its tiny satellite Didymoon to see if it could redirect the rock from its intended path. To that end, the space agency has paid $69 million to Musk’s venture.
Aside from this, NASA announced earlier this year that it had teamed up with international partners to perform a “tabletop exercise” on how to handle a hypothetical asteroid on a collision course with Earth.time before coming back to Earth.”
Doctors warn climate change is putting hospitals at risk and endangering human health
With every passing day, the extent of the climate crisis worsens. Droughts, storms and rampant wildfires continue to ruin the world’s ecosystems.
Now, medical experts are warning that as the climate crisis worsens, it could threaten hospitals and the weak and vulnerable patients they treat.
James Dunk, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, penned an article for The Conversation on the back of a damning editorial piece published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
Last week, one of the world’s leading medical journals declared the medical community must act now to limit the health effects of climate change.
In a stark editorial, readers of the New England Journal of Medicine were reminded that hospitals, even air conditioned and sterilised, are not protected from “the environmental chaos unfolding outside”.
The effects of climate change are “frighteningly broad”, the editorial continued, including risks to medical supply chains, health infrastructure and all aspects of human health.
The special issue represents an important new focus for the journal and for the medical community: protecting human health in a changing climate calls for urgent, dramatic climate action. “Our contribution shows how doctors have taken up planetary-scale issues in the past, and helped shift the course of history.
“We show how, in the 20th century, doctors learned to apply environmental ethics to medicine, and to apply medicine to politics — and how these developments featured in the New England Journal of Medicine.”Doctor and former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, wrote a landmark report about how human activities were affecting the planet.
The Brundtland Report also helped produce a new research agenda. The first assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change addressed health effects, and in 1990, the World Health Organization and Australian National Health and Medical Research Council issued reports on the likely links between greenhouse gases and human health.Andrew Haines, at the London School of Tropical Medicine, began writing about the health effects of climate change.
And in Australia, Anthony McMichael took up the cause. The “bottom line”, he suggested, was threats to human health (not deforestation or species extinctions) would drive human responses to environmental degradation.As evidence grows of ever-greater disruptions to natural systems, the broader medical community is once again taking action to protect human health in a planetary crisis.
“Our research shows how the boundaries of medicine have shifted in the face of emerging threats, expanding to a planetary scale, to political advocacy, to new research directions and efforts to translate scientific evidence into powerful public messages.“It draws attention to the new ethical commitments realised in crises — commitments to current and future generations, other species, and to the planet itself.”
Plants are going extinct 350 times faster than they have historically, experts warn
Earth is seeing an unprecedented loss of species, which some ecologists are calling a sixth mass extinction. In May, a United Nations report warned that one million species are threatened by extinction. More recently, 571 plant species were declared extinct.But extinctions have occurred for as long as life has existed on Earth. The important question is, has the rate of extinction increased? A research, published Monday in Current Biology, found some plants have been going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical average—with devastating consequences for unique species.“How many species are going extinct” is not an easy question to answer. To start, accurate data on contemporary extinctions are lacking from most parts of the world.
And species are not evenly distributed—for example, Madagascar is home to around 12,000 plant species, of which 80 per cent are endemic (found nowhere else). England, meanwhile, is home to only 1,859 species, of which 75 (just four per cent) are endemic.Areas like Madagascar, which have exceptional rates of biodiversity at severe risk from human destruction, are called “hotspots”. Based purely on numbers, biodiversity hotspots are expected to lose more species to extinction than coldspots such as England.
But that doesn’t mean coldspots aren’t worth conserving—they tend to contain completely unique plants.An international team that recently examined 291 modern plant extinctions between biodiversity hot- and coldspots. They looked at the underlying causes of extinction, when they happened, and how unique the species were. Armed with this information, we asked how extinctions differ between biodiversity hot- and coldspots.
Unsurprisingly, they found hotspots to lose more species, faster, than coldspots. Agriculture and urbanisation were important drivers of plant extinctions in both hot- and coldspots, confirming the general belief that habitat destruction is the primary cause of most extinction. Overall, herbaceous perennials such as grasses are particularly vulnerable to extinction.
However, coldspots stand to lose more uniqueness than hotspots. For example, seven coldspot extinctions led to the disappearance of seven genera, and in one instance, even a whole plant family. So clearly, coldspots also represent important reservoirs of unique biodiversity that need conservation.Scientists have previously speculated that modern plant extinctions will surpass background rates by several thousand times over the next 80 years.
There is no doubt that biodiversity losses, together with climate change, are some of the biggest challenges faced by humanity. Along with human-driven habitat destruction, the effects of climate change are expected to be particularly severe on plant biodiversity. Current estimates of plant extinctions are, without a doubt, gross underestimates.
However, the signs are crystal clear. If we were to condense the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year-old history into one calendar year, then life evolved somewhere in June, dinosaurs appeared somewhere around Christmas, and the Anthropocene starts within the last millisecond of New Year’s Eve. Modern plant extinction rates that exceed historical rates by hundreds of times over such a brief period will spell disaster for our planet’s future.Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say.
That is the key finding of the United Nations’ (UN) first comprehensive report on biodiversity – the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat.The report – published on May 6, 2019 – says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. Changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said, can prevent many of the worst effects.
The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:
Red alert as wireless technologies expand boundaries globally exposing humans to more cancer-causing radiation As 5G wireless technology is slowly making its way across the globe, many government agencies and organizations advise that there is no reason to be alarmed about the effects of radiofrequency waves on our health. But some experts strongly disagree.
Why do some people believe that 5G technology may harm human health? A review by Medical News Today provides answers: The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile technology. With promises of faster browsing, streaming, and download speeds, as well as better connectivity, 5G may seem like a natural evolution for our increasingly tech-reliant society.But beyond allowing us to stream the latest movies, 5G has been designed to increase capacity and reduce latency, which is the time that it takes for devices to communicate with each other.
For integrated applications, such as robotics, self-driving cars, and medical devices, these changes will play a big part in how quickly we adopt technology into our everyday lives.The mainstay of 5G technology will be the use of higher-frequency bandwidths, right across the radiofrequency spectrum.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has auctioned off the first bandwidth — 28 gigahertz (GHz) — that will form the 5G network, with higher bandwidth auctions scheduled for later this year.But what does 5G have to do with human health? In this Spotlight, Medical News Today looked at what electromagnetic radiation is, how it can impact human health, the controversy surrounding radiofrequency networks, and what this means for the advent of 5G technology.
What is electromagnetic radiation? An electromagnetic field (EMF) is a field of energy that results from electromagnetic radiation, a form of energy that occurs as a result of the flow of electricity.Electric fields exist wherever there are power lines or outlets, whether the electricity is switched on or not. Magnetic fields are created only when electric currents flow. Together, these produce EMFs.Electromagnetic radiation exists as a spectrum of different wavelengths and frequencies, which are measured in hertz (Hz). This term denotes the number of cycles per second.
Power lines operate between 50 and 60 Hz, which is at the lower end of the spectrum. These low-frequency waves, together with radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, and some of the ultraviolet spectrum — which take us into the megahertz (MHz), GHz, and terahertz spectra — make up what is known as nonionizing radiation.Above this lie the petahertz and exahertz spectra, which include X-rays and gamma rays. These are types of ionizing radiation, which mean that they carry sufficient energy to break apart molecules and cause significant damage to the human body.
Radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs) include all wavelengths from 30 kilohertz to 300 GHz.For the general public, exposure to RF-EMFs is mostly from handheld devices, such as cell phones and tablets, as well as from cell phone base stations, medical applications, and TV antennas.The most well established biological effect of RF-EMFs is heating. High doses of RF-EMFs can lead to a rise in the temperature of the exposed tissues, leading to burns and other damage.
But mobile devices emit RF-EMFs at low levels. Whether this is a cause for concern is a matter of ongoing debate, reignited by the arrival of 5G.
Radiofrequency waves ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’.In 2011, 30 international scientists, who are part of the working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), met to assess the risk of developing cancer as a result of exposure to RF-EMFs.The working group published a summary of their findings in The Lancet Oncology.
The scientists looked at one cohort study and five case-control studies in humans, each of which was designed to investigate whether there is a link between cell phone use and glioma, a cancer of the central nervous system.The team concluded that, based on studies of the highest quality, “A causal interpretation between mobile phone RF-EMF exposure and glioma is possible.” Smaller studies supported a similar conclusion for acoustic neuroma, but the evidence was not convincing for other types of cancer.
The team also looked at over 40 studies that had used rats and mice.In view of the limited evidence in humans and experimental animals, the working group classified RF-EMFs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).” “This evaluation was supported by a large majority of working group members,” they wrote in the paper.
Despite the classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans, other organizations have not come to the same conclusion.The IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, the WHO is undertaking a separate “health risk assessment of [RF-EMFs], to be published as a monograph in the Environmental Health Criteria series.”
The International EMF Project, established in 1996, is in charge of this assessment.According to the International EMF Project brochure: “The project is overseen by an advisory committee consisting of representatives of eight international organizations, eight independent scientific institutions, and more than 50 national governments, providing a global perspective. The scientific work is conducted in collaboration with the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). All activities are coordinated and facilitated by the WHO Secretariat.”
The results of the project have not been published yet. At present, the WHO state that “To date, no adverse health effects from low level, long term exposure to radiofrequency or power frequency fields have been confirmed, but scientists are actively continuing to research this area.”
What is the controversy? Dr. Lennart Hardell, from the department of oncology at Örebro University, in Sweden, is an outspoken critic of the WHO’s decision not to adopt the IARC’s classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic.
In a 2017 article in the International Journal of Oncology, he explained that several members of the EMF project’s core group are also affiliated with the ICNIRP, an organization he describes as “an industry-loyal NGO.”“Being a member of ICNIRP is a conflict of interest in the scientific evaluation of health hazards from RF radiation through ties to military and industry,” Dr. Hadrell wrote. “This is particularly true, since the ICNIRP guidelines are of huge importance to the influential telecommunications, military, and power industries.”
The BioInitiative report, issued by 29 medical and scientific experts — of which Dr. Hardell is one — states that “Bioeffects are clearly established and occur at very low levels of exposure to EMFs and radiofrequency radiation.”The report, part of which was updated earlier this year, highlighted links to Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material damage, oxidative stress, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, sperm morphology, and fetal, newborn, and early life development. They also propose a link between RF-EMF exposure and a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.
The group urges governments and health agencies to establish new safety limits to protect the public.What do the latest studies say about cancer risk? Writing in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Dr. Agostino Di Ciaula from the division of internal medicine at the Hospital of Bisceglie, in Italy, reviewed the latest studies on the effect of RF-EMFs in humans, animals, and microbes.
In his article, he wrote: “Evidences about the biological properties of RF-EMF are progressively accumulating and, although they are in some case still preliminary or controversial, clearly point to the existence of multilevel interactions between high-frequency EMF and biological systems and to the possibility of oncologic and non-oncologic (mainly reproductive, metabolic, neurologic, microbiologic) effects.”
“Biological effects have also been recorded at exposure levels below the regulatory limits, leading to growing doubts about the real safety of the currently employed ICNIRP standards,” he continued.“Further experimental and epidemiologic studies are urgently needed in order to better and fully explore the health effects caused in humans by the exposure to generic or specific […] RF-EMF frequencies in different age groups and with increasing exposure density.”
The ICNIRP have published their take on two of the most recent studies that have investigated whether RF-EMFs can cause cancer in rats and mice.A National Toxicology Program study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services looked at high exposure levels at 900 MHz. The team found “clear evidence of tumors in the hearts of male rats,” “some evidence of tumors in the brains of male rats,” and “some evidence of tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats.”
The second study, published in the journal Environmental Research by a group of researchers from the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, at the Ramazzini Institute, in Bologna, Italy, found an increase in tumours in the heart in rats exposed to an RF-EMF equivalent of a 1.8-GHz base station.
“Overall, based on the considerations outlined below, ICNIRP concludes that these studies do not provide a reliable basis for revising the existing radiofrequency exposure guidelines,” the ICNIRP wrote.
Will 5G expose humans to more radiation? The arrival of the 5G network promises to improve connectivity. What that means, in reality, is wider coverage and more bandwidth to allow our multitude of data to travel from A to B.To build out networks at the higher end of the RF-EMF spectrum, new base stations, or small cells, will appear around the globe.
The reason behind this is that high-frequency radio waves have a shorter range than lower-frequency waves. Small cells that will allow data to travel relatively short distances will form a key part of the 5G network, particularly in areas of dense network usage.But while faster browsing, integrated e-health applications, driverless cars, and real-life connectivity may transform our lives across the “internet of things,” will this make a significant impact on the amounts of RF-EMFs that we are exposed to?
The short answer is, no one really knows, yet. Writing in Frontiers in Public Health earlier this month, a group of international scientists, including Dr. Hardell, comment on the potential risks of 5G technology.“Higher frequency (shorter wavelength) radiation associated with 5G does not penetrate the body as deeply as frequencies from older technologies, although its effects may be systemic,” they explained.
“The range and magnitude of potential impacts of 5G technologies are under-researched, although important biological outcomes have been reported with millimeter-wavelength exposure. These include oxidative stress and altered gene expression, effects on skin, and systemic effects, such as on immune function,” the authors continued.
The teams maked several recommendations, which include more rigorous testing and collecting data to identify links between RF-EMF exposure and health outcomes, sharing health risk information with users, and limiting exposure in under-16s. The last point on their list states the following: “Cell towers should be distanced from homes, daycare centers, schools, and places frequented by pregnant women, men who wish to father healthy children, and the young.”
There is certainly evidence that ties RF-EMF exposure to a small increase in the risk of developing certain cancers and other adverse health outcomes.But the jury is still out on how serious a threat RF-EMFs in general — and 5G bandwidths in particular — pose to our health.To reduce our exposure to RF-EMFs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggest cutting down how much time we spend on our cell phones, as well as using speaker mode or a hands-free kit to create more distance between our devices and our heads.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend limiting the time that kids and teenagers spend on mobile devices.Long-term studies that investigate the effects of exposure to digital networks are ongoing. One of these is the COSMOS study, which started in 2007 with the aim of following at least 290,000 people across six European countries for 20–30 years to assess their cell phone usage and health outcomes.
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