The latest in push button warfare, hypersonic weapons have launched a new arms race among the big powers–emphasis on the race.
The Department of Defense recently awarded a $44 million contract to the Miltec Corporation, of Huntsville, Alabama. A low-key defense contractor located in the heart of American rocket country, Miltec produces very fast things: hypersonic weapons for the U.S. Army. Hypersonic weapons–missiles that can go five or six times the speed of sound–promise a uniquely American answer to warfare: a purely technological, pushbutton solution to the need to kill something. The U.S. isn’t the only power developing hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are the new arms race, with the United States, Russia, India and China all racing to develop them. Some hypersonic weapons are boosted to target atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the same missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads in a nuclear war. What could possibly go wrong? Hypersonic is the new supersonic, a frontier of speed dreamed of but not yet conquered. Hypersonic weapons travel at extremely high speeds, anywhere from 3,840 to 16,250 miles an hour. A hypersonic weapon launched from New York could reach Moscow in less than 40 minutes. (By comparison, a Boeing 777 would make the same trip in eight and a half hours.) Miltec’s contract is for development of the so-called Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW). The “weapon”–a cone-shaped object with winglets–is launched on top of a repurposed Poseidon nuclear missile. Using the “boost glide” method, the weapon is boosted 60 miles high, then glides at five times the speed of sound to within 30 feet of the target. A 2011 test flew 2,400 miles–from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands–and was considered a partial success. A new test is scheduled in August, and we can look forward to another in 2019. Washington’s hypersonic obsession–part of a larger concept dubbed Prompt Global Strike–is not new. Oddly enough, it was initially conceived as a weapon for the Global War on Terror. “PGS was conceived in the early 2000s to deal with a very specific problem,” explained Brian Weeden, technical advisor at the Secure World Foundation, “how to attack a high priority, time-sensitive target such as a meeting between high-level terrorists or theft of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.” The Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon is being developed under the Prompt Global Strike umbrella. There are problems operating at such incredible speeds. Friction between air and the weapon creates temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt steel. Air itself becomes an obstacle–as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency inelegantly puts it, “Air doesn’t travel around you–you rip it apart.” Finally, traveling at speeds of up to 3.6 miles per second makes guidance, navigation, and control tricky problems. Outside of Prompt Global Strike, NASA is developing a separate system for the Air Force that straps a hypersonic weapon onto a powerful jet engine and launches it from an aircraft. This is the technology behind NASA’s X-51A Waverider, which in 2010 reached Mach 5, or roughly 3,700 miles an hour for approximately 200 seconds. Hypersonic drones, like the drones before them, are the latest innovation in push-button warfare. Both kill the enemy remotely at long distances with minimal human involvement. A hypersonic weapon operator may be a thousand miles from the weapon he or she launches, and thousands more from the target. But like drones, there is a trade-off involved, one not as apparent to the operator than to those that risk becoming collateral damage. As convenient as drone warfare has been, the distance between the operator and the target is part of the reason more than 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in the last decade. Used in battle, hypersonics could exact a similar toll. The United States was the first to conduct large-scale hypersonic weapons research, but other nations are racing to catch up. The U.S. has shown that such weapons are technically feasible, but in doing so has also created a situation where rivals must research their own… or risk being outclassed in wartime. “Ultra-fast hypersonic weapons may be able to reach Russian territory virtually in no time to accurately hit strategic facilities, and we shall have nothing to fight back with,” a Russian deputy defense minister told Itar-TASS in 2013. Unsurprisingly, Russia has started work on hypersonic weapons. In 2012, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin stated, “I think we need to go down the route of hypersonic technology and we are moving in that direction and not falling behind the Americans.” Russia has announced that PAK-DA, Russia’s next-generation long-range bomber, will carry hypersonic missile, and Russia plans to develop a working model by 2020. That’s unlikely; hypersonics is a notoriously tough science to master; but the declaration speaks to Moscow’s ambitions. China has also entered the hypersonic race. On January 9, China tested a hypersonic boost glide system conceptually similar to the Army’s AHW, known to U.S. intelligence as the WU-14. China is already developing DF-21D “carrier killer” missiles, ballistic missiles modified to attack American aircraft carriers and create a “no go” zone for the U.S. Navy. Both types of weapons are difficult to shoot down, and adding hypersonic glide weapons to China’s arsenal would make the U.S. Navy’s job of keeping carriers afloat much harder. Even India is developing hypersonic weapons, with the development of the Brahmos II missile. Brahmos II is expected to fly at speeds of up to Mach 7, but is limited by international agreements to relatively short ranges, making it primarily useful against ships and ground targets. The result of all this is a classic arms race. As the Russian defense minister noted, the big powers all have to either develop hypersonic weapons or risk becoming outclassed. Nuclear weapons could prove the only way for it to retaliate in-kind, and nobody wants that. Another worry with hypersonic weapons is that the launch of ICBMs carrying hypersonic weapons would–at least initially–look identical to the launch of ICBMs carrying nuclear weapons. A frightened country could be prompted to quickly retaliate with nuclear weapons. Proponents claim there are ways to distinguish a conventionally-tipped boost glide missile from a nuclear-tipped ICBM in flight, but asking a country to wait and observe the trajectory of a possible nuclear missile without retaliating, especially in a crisis, may be unrealistic. Hypersonic weapons are here to stay. Proponents claim that hypersonic weapons will eventually becomes “socialized”–that is, we’ll all get used to them and the new dangers they bring. It will be up to American people to reconcile the likelihood of innocents killed with the need for a speedy, time-critical weapon system. In the meantime, Miltec owes the U.S. Army a working missile by June 5, 2019.
I have just arrived back from Pomio, where the clear felling of the bush and subsequent oil palm planting are in full swing despite the fact that the vast majority of villagers oppose both. Villagers are powerless to stop these activities which continue even though SABLs have recently supposedly been revoked. This looks likely to have the same status as the police commissioners public order (Dec 2011) that police be pulled out of logging camp sites. The police never were removed, and it is only their continued presence, violence and intimidation that prevents villagers from setting up road blocks to protect their land, gardens and environment.
What is clear to me is that for most local villagers in Pomio the state has shifted away from them and is largely in the pockets of large Malaysian logging companies.
These companies control important governments departments and officials in crucial departments such as Lands, Forestry and the police force. The same applies to other officials in District administration, Local Level Government, Provincial Administration and national government departments. Nearly all sectors of the state have been co-opted into coercive pro-development policies that seek to privatise land and resources without villagers consent.
These logging companies were supported and gave support to the local national member for Pomio who is now in jail for corruption charges. The large funds of money these foreign companies provide at election time has transformed voting into a patron client relationship that supports local, provincial and national government politicians who support the Lease-Lease back schemes (SABLs).
Police and company directors often tell complaining villagers that the land is no longer theirs but belongs to the state which has leased it from them so as to lease it again to the Malaysian companies. The state has become the crucial intermediary in the forced process through which villagers lose control of their resources and especially their land. Much of this depends upon the production of dubious reports by the Lands Department that collects and produces lists of signatures that are highly selective in that they are not the signatures of major clan leaders and of those who represent the majority of villagers.
Through the SABLs and the Private, Public Partnerships, the Somare government created two interlocking policies that have institutionalised corruption in PNG to a point where villagers find it almost impossible to achieve forms of justice concerning the fraudulent nature of state processes that have been effectively dispossessed them of huge areas of land.
Officials in departments like forestry write reports that are not just wrong but are intentionally designed to conceal and legitimise the forced appropriation of land. For example one letter by the local forestry official concerns the late night visit of the armed riot squad to the village of Mu in 2012 where villagers were forced by police to sign English documents that they could not read. This was said to be not at all violent intimidation, but was simply the police correcting an administrative oversight. The riot squad had just gone to collect the names of villagers who had attended a recent meeting over logging, where record keeping had been poorly implemented. None of this explains the swearing and violent demeanour of the armed police and that the signatures were collected forcibly and from many who never went to the meeting. The state is not just incompetent buthas become the crucial instrument for foreign large scale capital, it is state officials who seek to manage and placate opposition to the loss of vast areas of customary local land. They produce the dodgy reports that seek to sanitise and obscure what is actually happening on the ground.
Recently RH has shifted tactics and there has been a movement away from using the violence of the riot squad to intimidate opponents. Instead there is a greater use of courts and restraining orders to prevent the organisation of protests. The cost of legal action has become another form of intimidation that is meant to penalise protesters and their leaders. The judiciary has now become co-opted into this realising a coercive development agenda that has little respect for people’s customary property rights.
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jun 15 2014 – A freak storm, followed by heavy floods in December 2013, will go down in history as the most destructive natural disaster to have hit the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with reported total damages and losses of at least 103 million dollars.
Six months later, the country, which is a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), is still in the recovery phase of this crisis, but Tourism Minister Cecil McKee said several lessons have been learned, making the country better prepared for future catastrophic weather events.
“Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions.” — Hela Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Green Climate Fund “We have been dealing with our river defences and our coastal defences,” McKee told GIP, adding that the government is not only repairing damaged homes but also “relocating a number of persons whose homes are situated on river banks in areas that are obviously going to put them at risk should we have a reoccurrence of such events.”
A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the Caribbean island states of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people.
Scientists have called the floods the worst disaster in living memory for the small countries, caused by higher-than-average rainfall of 15 inches, which overwhelmed the water systems’ ability to facilitate smooth run-off.
For Mckee, the Christmas disaster was a reminder that “climate change is going to be here with us for some time.”
“If we look at the events of Christmas Eve 2013, I think we can all agree that climate change is affecting not only St. Vincent and the Grenadines but the entire Caribbean in a significant way,” he asserted.
But simply understanding the problem is not enough – many of the island nations in the Caribbean are in dire need of financial resources to assist with mitigation and adaptation.
Caribbean looks to climate finance
Flooding is commonplace in the Caribbean, with Guyana, one of the most flood-prone countries in the region, recently benefitting from a multi-million-dollar credit scheme to guard against flooding. A statement from the World Bank said more than 300,000 people from the flood prone region of East Demerara will benefit from reduced flooding and climate risks as a result of an 11-million-dollar loan from the International Development Association (IDA).
Nearly 90 percent of Guyana’s population lives in this narrow coastal plain, largely below sea level and, therefore, highly vulnerable to climate change.
Extreme rainfall in 2005 resulted in flooding and damages estimated at nearly 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), or 465 million dollars at the time.
The impact on poverty was evident and many subsistence farmers, small business operators and vendors were affected.
Sophie Sirtaine, the World Bank’s country director for the Caribbean, said the funds would assist in providing opportunities for all Guyanese by reducing vulnerability to climate change.
“To boost competitiveness, it is essential to address the vulnerability to climate risks and ensure that the skills learnt in the classroom lay the foundation for future work-place success,” she told GIP.
Specifically, the project will upgrade critical sections of the East Demerara Water Conservancy dams and channels; improve drainage capacity in priority areas along the East Demerara coast; and increase flood preparedness by installing instruments to monitor hydro-meteorological data.
The IDA credit to the Government of Guyana has a final maturity of 25 years, with a five-year grace period.
During its annual board of governors meeting held in Guyana last month, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) President Dr. Warren Smith said the Caribbean was becoming more aware of the severe threat posed by climate change on a daily basis. “Seven Caribbean countries…are among the top 10 countries, which, relative to their GDP, suffered the highest average economic losses from climate-related disasters during the period 1993-2012.
“It is estimated that annual losses could be between five and 30 percent of GDP within the next few decades,” he added.
According to Smith, despite the region’s high vulnerability and exposure to climate change, Caribbean countries have failed to access or mobilise international climate finance at levels commensurate with their needs.
Caribbean countries are hoping that the South Korea-based Green Climate Fund (GCF) would prove to be much more beneficial than other global initiatives established to deal with the impact of climate change.
GCF Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou, who delivered the 15^th annual William Demas Memorial lecture during the CDB meeting, said that the concern expressed by Small Island Developing States all over the world finds a strong echo in the Caribbean, where the devastating effects of hurricanes have been witnessed by many.
“Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions,” Cheikhrouhou warned.
The GCF came into being at the 16^th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC) held in Cancun, Mexico.
Its purpose is to make a significant contribution to global efforts to limit warming to two degrees Celsius by providing financial support to developing countries to help limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
There are hopes that the fund could top 100 billion dollars per annum by 2020.
“Our vision is to devise new paradigms for climate finance, maximise the impact of public finance in a creative way, and attract new sources of public and private finance to catalyse investment in adaptation and mitigation projects in the developing world,” Cheikhrouhou said.
Selwin Hart, climate change finance advisor with the CDB, said the GCF provides an important opportunity for regional countries to not only adapt to climate change but also to mitigate its effects.
McKee said the region is also putting measures in place to mobilise financial support in events similar to what affected the three OECS countries in December 2013.
“Countries are being asked to place monies in regional holding systems that would allow the region to respond more [efficiently] and I think that we are looking more and more to the international bodies and the more developed countries”, which are largely responsible for climate change, for assistance, he told GIP.
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Jun 30 2014 (GIP) – The 1,800 residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda are learning to adapt as climate change proves to be a force to reckon with, disrupting not just the lives of the living but also the resting places of those who died centuries ago.
United States-based archaeologist Dr. Sophia Perdikaris said when Hurricane Georges hit in 1998, it did a lot more than turn the spotlight on the island’s shrinking coastline. “One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third lowland…so that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land.” — John Mussington
“In the early years when I first started coming to Barbuda, it was because hurricane activity had exposed a lot of archaeology and it was an effort to do rescue. A human skeleton from 450 AD was exposed in the area called Seaview,” Perdikaris told GIP.
“In fact, some of the archaeology [including the human skeleton] that we are now housing in the newly formed museum was excavated by Hurricane Georges.”
Perdikaris, a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, said some of the findings coming out of Barbuda point to climatic shifts in weather conditions at the same time that the northern part of Europe was experiencing the little Ice Age.
“Similar signatures are coming out of Barbuda that actually have the same stories in Greenland, Iceland and the North Coast of Africa,” she said. “Hence, Barbuda is not just a small island in the Caribbean but actually a major part of bigger weather events in the circum Atlantic.”
Perdikaris said one of the things that Barbudans are faced with today is “a big word, climate change – what does it really mean and how is it affecting people’s lives and what can they do to change it?”
But she noted that the residents are very adaptive.
“We do find solutions with the help of the amazing expertise of the local people because they are the best experts for their local environment,” she said.
“We are trying to gather enough information to see what our challenges are and how we move forward; and then find the funding resources and technology to make that happen.
“We are monitoring erosion in many parts of the island and we also have been testing the wells to see whether the water is safe to drink or whether the salinity has been changing; all of these efforts in order to assess the three aquifers that are under Barbuda,” she added. Another project being developed on the island is aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics (growing plants without soil), amid a growing realisation that climate change will likely seriously threaten food security in Barbuda.
“There are diminishing resources in the sea. It is problematic to grow crops if you have a drought or if you only have salty water to water them so we have developed an aquaponics facility,” said Perdikaris.
Dr. Perdikaris said climate change has forced the residents of the island with a single village to make changes to their way of life and also to put measures in place to secure their future.
“As glaciers melt because of high temperatures what it’s doing to the rest of us is actually increase the sea level, and by increasing the sea level a number of things are taking place,” she said. “With a low-lying island like Barbuda, one of our main concerns is how much of the island, how fast, will actually be under water.
“As the sea waters are rising, they are not only claiming land but they are actually claiming the coral reefs,” Perdikaris added.
Marine biologist and environmentalist John Mussington said the warning by scientists that the 62-square-mile [161-square-kilometre] island is becoming one of the most vulnerable spots due to the consequences of climate change is not being taken lightly.
“Barbuda is flat; the highest point is just over 100 feet. Now with climate change predictions they are talking about several metres in terms of sea level rise. When you look at the present topography of Barbuda, it is 62 square miles. A third of Barbuda is taken up by lagoons and wetland systems. “Another third is what we call the lowlands. One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third lowland to become two-thirds wetlands,” Mussington told GIP.
“So that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land for sustaining communities. That is the reality we are facing.”
Barbuda’s culture is firmly based in a “living off the land concept” that Mussington said is fast becoming a thing of the past with the advent of climate change.
“We want to sustain the fact that Barbuda has a tradition of its people living off the land and one of the things we are going to face in terms of challenges from climate change is we are not going to be able to do that,” he said.
“If we are going to survive we have to overcome those challenges, hence the direction we are taking in terms of being able to continue to feed ourselves protein wise and vegetable wise.”
The entire population is being educated in aquaponics technology, a method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system.
“We had a dream in 2012 of actually helping the situation in Barbuda by being able to guarantee that we can continue to get our protein source in the form of fish as well as to produce vegetables in spite of what was going to happen and what is happening from climate change,” Mussington said.
“In the aquaponics technology that we are pioneering we now house in our tanks 4500 tilapia.
“We have to find solutions in order to continue living on the island. That is why aquaponics turned out to be one of those things that we are pushing because the end result of the climate change consequences is that our coral reefs are going to suffer, our beaches are going to be shifting and changing,” Mussington added.
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jun 26 2014 (GIP) – The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change. But scientists are fighting back, developing drought-tolerant varieties which are then distributed to farmers in those countries most severely affected.
“We are mainly affected by issues of drought and…CARDI has been looking at methods of sustainable management of production using drought tolerant varieties. We are working with certain commodities and doing applied research aimed at producing them in the dry season,” Dr. Gregory Robin, CARDI representative and technical coordinator for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told GIP.
“We’re starting first with the crops that are more significantly affected by drought. We take, for example, dasheen, which is a crop that requires a lot of moisture and I’m working with that crop in St. Vincent and St. Lucia,” he said.
“Validation will serve Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic – all the islands that produce dasheen. Sometimes it’s not cost-effective to do activities in all the islands so some of the sweet potato work done here can be used in St. Kitts, Barbados and islands with similar agro-ecological zones and rainfall patterns,” he added.
The Trinidad-based CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute), which has worked to strengthen the agricultural sector of member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the research.
“CARDI has a body of professionals around the region so if we have any issues of climate change and drought, CARDI is a body of scientists that is available to all the islands of the CARICOM region,” Robin said.
Another crop being given special attention is sweet potato. Robin explained that for the Caribbean region, sweet potato is very important as a food security staple and foreign exchange earner.
“We’re working with the crops that we think are going to be affected most. Sweet potato can take a certain amount of moisture stress but dasheen and crops that require a high level of moisture are not going to be standing up so well to moisture stress, so we are starting with those with a high requirement of moisture first,” he said.
Noting that irrigation is key to productivity, the CARDI official explained that, “I have been working here for the past seven years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it so dry and it’s highlighting the point that we need to look at our rainwater harvesting systems.”
Climate change has also forced Guyana, considered the bread-basket of the Caribbean, to develop new varieties.
“We have also been growing different varieties of crops that are resistant to salt water because one of the impacts of climate change is that the salt water will creep more into the inland areas and so we are looking at salt-resistant rice for example; looking at crops that are much more resilient to dry weather and that can withstand periods of flooding,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told GIP.
“We’ve been doing things like shade technology, drip irrigation, using technology and methods and utilising animals and crops that are far more resilient to extreme weather conditions.”
In addition to developing drought-tolerant varieties, CARDI is also actively developing new technologies to assist farmers with irrigation.
“I remember when I started in agriculture probably 20 years ago farmers used to irrigate using a drum and a bucket,” Bradbury Browne told GIP.
But he said over the years CARDI has introduced drip irrigation technology and other types of irrigation technology.
“For example if I want to apply 3,000 gallons of water to an acre of sweet potato I can programme [the irrigation system] so that I don’t have to be there physically to be turning on a hose or a pipe and there would be no issue of flooding if I am called away on an emergency,” said Browne, who now serves as a field technician at CARDI.
Meanwhile, longtime legislator in Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer noted that more frequent and extreme droughts are expected to become a feature of Caribbean weather.
And he said the impact of such drought conditions will increase heat stress, particularly for the more vulnerable, such as the elderly.
“Despite the decline in the production and export of major agricultural commodities from the OECS, agriculture remains an important sector in the economic and social development of the region from the stand-point of food security, rural stability and the provision of input to other productive sectors,” said Spencer, who served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from March 2004 until Jun. 12 this year.
“These benefits are at risk from climatic events and this risk only increases as the climate continues to change,” he said.
Experts project that decreased production levels of major crops combined with increasing food demand will pose large risks to all aspects of food security globally and regionally including food access, utilisation and price stability.
The World Bank said food security is consistently seen as one of the key challenges for the coming decades and by the year 2050, the world will need to produce enough food to feed more than 2.0 billion additional people, compared to the current 7.2 billion.
It said most of the population growth will be concentrated in developing countries, adding pressure to their development needs.
The World Bank added that to meet future food demand, agricultural production will need to increase by 50-70 percent, according to different estimates. And this will happen as the impacts of climate change are projected to intensify overall, particularly hitting the poorest and most vulnerable countries.
Fiji has been under the control of a military dictator since Rear Admiral Bainimarma seized power during a military coup in 2006. The island nation of Fiji has had a troubled political past with four military coups in the past decade. The international community has since put pressure on Fiji in order to push it toward democracy. Fiji is heavily reliant on tourism as a source of income and a stimulus for their economy. Both Australia and New Zealand introduced travel bans on Fiji in order to motivate political change in the country. The United Kingdom suspended Fiji’s Commonwealth Status, denying it the benefits of association with Great Britain.
In March Bainimarma announced that he would be stepping down as dictator and stating that he will run for re-election as a civilian and a member of Fiji’s ‘First Party’, which he now supports. Bainimarma claims that his coup in 2006 was necessary to ensure the restoration of democracy and to purge the rampant corruption that plagued the previous Fijian government. He says that he now looks to implement his plan for a better Fiji by holding open elections. In the wake of these statements the international community has reacted positively, praising Bainamarma for his decision. The government’s of Australia and New Zealand have lifted the travel bans on the island nation. The United Kingdom has also said they will reinstate commonwealth status if elections are successful.
However, there are still many issues with the upcoming elections, while Bainimarma announces they will be free and democratic there are some troubling events that have happened behind the scenes. Fiji has a history of restraining human rights and free speech; after recent constitutional change the military government heavily restricted these freedoms. There were incidents last year where protesters protesting the new constitution were arrested for failure to have a permit. There are many other stories of the regime arresting human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders. Critics in the press are skeptical of the upcoming elections and say that Bainimarma’s actions have no real teeth and will not effect change.
Despite the many instances of limiting the freedoms of the Fijian people, Bainimarma is extremely popular amongst the voters. He has implemented policies such as free education, free transportation for children and price controls on staple foods, all of which have made the military leader popular amongst the lower socioeconomic classes. In addition to these policies he has greatly improved the infrastructure of the islands making him popular amongst the rural population as well. It remains to be seen whether the elections will affect change in Fiji but Bainimarma has stated his intentions, his campaign is popular and the election in September will show whether he is sincere or not.
The popular idea that Northern Europeans developed light skin to absorb more UV light so they could make more vitamin D vital for healthy bones and immune function is questioned by UC San Francisco researchers in a new study published online in the journal Evolutionary Biology. Ramping up the skin’s capacity to capture UV light to make vitamin D is indeed important, according to a team led by Peter Elias, MD, a UCSF professor of dermatology. However, Elias and colleagues concluded in their study that changes in the skin’s function as a barrier to the elements made a greater contribution than alterations in skin pigment in the ability of Northern Europeans to make vitamin D.
Elias’ team concluded that genetic mutations compromising the skin’s ability to serve as a barrier allowed fair-skinned Northern Europeans to populate latitudes where too little ultraviolet B (UVB) light for vitamin D production penetrates the atmosphere.
Among scientists studying human evolution, it has been almost universally assumed that the need to make more vitamin D at Northern latitudes drove genetic mutations that reduce production of the pigment melanin, the main determinant of skin tone, according to Elias.
“At the higher latitudes of Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltic States, as well as Northern Germany and France, very little UVB light reaches the Earth, and it’s the key wavelength required by the skin for vitamin D generation,” Elias said.
“While is seems logical that the loss of the pigment melanin would serve as a compensatory mechanism, allowing for more irradiation of the skin surface and therefore more vitamin D production, this hypothesis is flawed for many reasons,” he continued. “For example, recent studies show that dark-skinned humans make vitamin D after sun exposure as efficiently as lightly-pigmented humans, and osteoporosis which can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency is less common, rather than more common, in darkly-pigmented humans.”
Furthermore, evidence for a south to north gradient in the prevalence of melanin mutations is weaker than for this alternative explanation explored by Elias and colleagues.
In earlier research, Elias began studying the role of skin as a barrier to water loss. He recently has focused on a specific skin-barrier protein called filaggrin, which is broken down into a molecule called urocanic acid the most potent absorber of UVB light in the skin, according to Elias. “It’s certainly more important than melanin in lightly-pigmented skin,” he said.
In their new study, the researchers identified a strikingly higher prevalence of inborn mutations in the filaggrin gene among Northern European populations. Up to 10 percent of normal individuals carried mutations in the filaggrin gene in these northern nations, in contrast to much lower mutation rates in southern European, Asian and African populations.
Moreover, higher filaggrin mutation rates, which result in a loss of urocanic acid, correlated with higher vitamin D levels in the blood. Latitude-dependent variations in melanin genes are not similarly associated with vitamin D levels, according to Elias. This evidence suggests that changes in the skin barrier played a role in Northern European’s evolutionary adaptation to Northern latitudes, the study concluded.
Yet, there was an evolutionary tradeoff for these barrier-weakening filaggrin mutations, Elias said. Mutation bearers have a tendency for very dry skin, and are vulnerable to atopic dermatitis, asthma and food allergies. But these diseases have appeared only recently, and did not become a problem until humans began to live in densely populated urban environments, Elias said.
The Elias lab has shown that pigmented skin provides a better skin barrier, which he says was critically important for protection against dehydration and infections among ancestral humans living in sub-Saharan Africa. But the need for pigment to provide this extra protection waned as modern human populations migrated northward over the past 60,000 years or so, Elias said, while the need to absorb UVB light became greater, particularly for those humans who migrated to the far North behind retreating glaciers less than 10,000 years ago.
The data from the new study do not explain why Northern Europeans lost melanin. If the need to make more vitamin D did not drive pigment loss, what did? Elias speculates that, “Once human populations migrated northward, away from the tropical onslaught of UVB, pigment was gradually lost in service of metabolic conservation. The body will not waste precious energy and proteins to make proteins that it no longer needs.”
Tanabata, also called the `star festival,’ is a romantic holiday based on an ancient legend from China that falls on the seventh day of the seventh month. According to the legend, Hikoboshi (`Starboy’; Altair) and Orihime (`Weaver Girl’; Vega) fell in love and spent all their time together, losing interest in their work. Enraged by their negligence, the king of heaven banished them to opposite sides of the Milky Way. Since Tanabata then, the two lovers have been allowed to cross the Milky Way only once a year to meet each other on Tanabata. This is why people pray for a clear night on July 7th, so that the heavenly lovers will be able to meet. The history of Tanabata in Japan is very old. Manyoshu, the oldest existing book of poetry, contains many poems featuring this legend. Around the Tanabata festival, bamboo trees decorated with colorful strips of paper are a common sight. Each strip of paper bears a wish written on it. Many towns and cities in Japan host a Tanabata festival around July 7th, and the streets are festive with decorative bamboo displays.
It is said that if the weather is cloudy and the stars can not be seen then the two lovers can not make the journey across the Milky Way to see each other in their once a year rendezvous.
With Typhoon Neoguri already ushering in cloudy conditions in the southern Japanese islands and the rainy season front over mainland Japan this year I think there will be little hope for the couple this July.
If anything we can take some advice from them though. Dont travel during this Typhoon.