Canada sets aside its boreal forest as giant carbon vault

By banning logging, mining and oil drilling in an area twice the size of California, Canada is ensuring its boreal forests continue to soak up carbon

Suzanne Goldenberg – US environment correspondent – guardian.co.uk,

Canada’s boreal forest soaks up 22% of the carbon stored on the earth’s land surface … Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photograph: Karen Schwartz/AP

In the far north latitudes, buried within a seemingly endless expanse of evergreen forests, the authorities in Canada are building up one of the world’s best natural defences against global warming.

In a series of initiatives, Canadian provincial governments and aboriginal leaders have set aside vast tracts of coniferous woods, wetlands, and peat. The conservation drive bans logging, mining, and oil drilling on some 250m acres – an area more than twice the size of California.

The sheer scale of the forest conservation drive is somewhat of an anomaly for Canada, whose government has been accused of sabotaging the global climate change talks by its development of the Alberta tar sands and its refusal to make deep cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, a former adviser to Barack Obama urged Canada to do more to keep up with America’s moves towards a cleaner energy economy.

In the latest addition to the carbon storehouse, the provincial premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, this month announced a $10m (£5.6m) Canadian fund to protect a 10.8m acre expanse of boreal or evergreen forest. It was one of Doer’s last acts as premier; he took over as Canada’s ambassador to Washington this month.

The $10m will go towards efforts by indigenous leaders to designate boreal forest lands in eastern Manitoba as a Unesco world heritage site. The Pimachiowin Aki world heritage project, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, extends efforts by Canadian provincial leaders to protect the wide swaths of pristine forests in the north. It also ensures the survival of one of the best natural defences against global warming after the world’s oceans, environmentalists say.

A report by the International Boreal Conservation Campaign said the forests, with their rich mix of trees, wetlands, peat and tundra, were a far bigger carbon store than scientists had realised, soaking up 22% of the total carbon stored on the earth’s land surface.

“If you look across Canada one of [the boreal forest’s] great values to us globally is its carbon storage value,” said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign. “There is so much carbon sequestered in it already that if it escaped it would pose a whole new, very grave threat.”

Canada’s cold temperatures slow decomposition, allowing the build-up of organic soil and peat. The forest floors beneath its evergreens hold twice as much carbon per acre as tropical forests, such as the Amazon.

It is unclear how long Canada’s forests can continue to serve as carbon vaults. “As the climate warms, the place is going to dry up. There will be a problem with insect infestation. There is going to be increased natural carbon release due to fire or wetlands drying up,” said Sue Libenson, a spokeswoman for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

But she added: “The general premise is that there is still a hell of a lot of carbon in there.” Its release would be a climate catastrophe.

Canada’s 1.3bn acres of boreal forest store the equivalent of 27 years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions, a Greenpeace study found. The destruction of those forests, scientists warn, would be like setting off a massive “carbon bomb” because of the sudden release of emissions.

That threat appears to have concentrated the official mindset in Canada, which otherwise has a poor record on action on climate change. On a per capita basis, the country is one of the worst polluters on the planet, producing about 2% of the world’s emissions even though it has just 33m people. It holds one of the worst track records among industrialised states for living up to its commitment under the Kyoto accords. By 2007, greenhouse gas emissions were 34% above the target Canada agreed at Kyoto.

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is resisting doing much more, committing to just a 6% cut over 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. “I see Harper’s policy as a continuation of the Bush agenda,” said David Martin, climate director for Greenpeace Canada.

A key advisor to Obama made a similar point last week, comparing Canada’s current climate change policy to the inaction in America under George Bush. “The Canadians would be well served by keeping up with what’s going on in the United States with respect to this push towards clean technology,” John Podesta, who oversaw Obama’s transition team, told a conference in Ottawa.

Environmentalists also fear that Harper intends to exclude the Alberta tar sands – the heavy crude deposits that have fuelled the rise in emissions – from any future greenhouse gas emissions regime.

But the Harper government did relent on forest protection, working with the Sahtu and Deh Cho First Nations to set aside 40m acres in the Northwest Territories.

Canadian provincial leaders have moved even more aggressively in recent years, with Ontario committed to protecting 55m acres, or about half of its forest, and Quebec committed to protecting 150m acres. “Canada is torn between wanting to promote the tar sands and make money off it now, and wanting to live up to its promises under the Kyoto accord. But as far as protecting carbon rich ecosystems, particularly the boreal forest, Canada is a world leader,” said Kallick.

Pfizer in court again, this time for Wyeth’s menopause treatment Prempro

Melly Alazraki – DailyFinance

Pfizer Inc. (PFE) sure is no stranger to finding itself in court. The pharmaceutical giant is constantly defending its practices and drugs, often ending up paying millions if not billions in damages — even admitting to felony criminal charges. Pfizer has also inherited lawsuits with some of the companies it has purchased. It’s recent $68 billion mega acquisition of Wyeth is no different.

On Monday, a Philadelphia jury, which had earlier found a link between a woman’s breast cancer and the hormone-replacement drug she was taking, also found that Wyeth hid and ignored evidence of the drug’s potential cancer risk. The jury awarded Connie Barton an undisclosed amount of punitive-damages.
Barton’s case is one of 9,000 Prempro lawsuits across the country. About 1,500 are pending in Philadelphia alone, opening up the door to more potential liabilities for Pfizer, which just recently was ordered to pay a record $2.3 billion fine for illegally marketing painkiller Bextra, which is now off the market.

The drug, Prempro, from Pfizer’s unit Wyeth, is a combination of hormones estrogen-progestin (Premarin and Provera) and is taken as a menopause treatment.

Barton took Prempro for five years before she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2002. Wyeth’s lawyer George McDavid had argued that Barton had breast cancer before she began taking Prempro. The jury was not convinced and found that Prempro caused Barton’s breast cancer. She was awarded $3.75 million in compensatory damages in September. The punitive award was sealed pending another verdict in a second Prempro case in the same courthouse.

Once again, this case highlights the reasons for the public’s longstanding distrust and mistrust of pharmaceutical companies. The AP reports that Esther Berezofsky, one of Barton’s lawyers said, “They knew back in the 1970s that these drugs had the potential to cause breast cancer, so they didn’t have the studies done.” Wyeth, the lawyer added, consistently downplayed bad results.

Only on Monday, Booster Shots reported that a new study by French researchers examined how clinical trials are being reported in medical journals. They found that even though “The reporting of harm is as important as the reporting of efficacy […] harm is frequently insufficiently reported.” Often hard data is not being provided in the publications, and when it is, it is often distorted.

It is interesting that in the editorial to this study, Dr. John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, attributed some of the under-reporting to companies intent on “silencing the evidence.” He singled out Merck’s (MRK) Vioxx — the painkiller that doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke, and Pfizer’s Neurontin — an epilepsy drug that the FDA linked to an 80 percent increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior. “In these cases,” Dr. Ioannidis wrote, “marketing needs prevail over scientific accuracy and clinical prudence.”

During its court case, Wyeth, told jurors that women are now fully informed of the risks and benefits of Prempro. Further, in arguing against the punitive damages, a lawyer, on behalf of Wyeth, said the drug maker changed its practices and policies such as letting its consultants ghostwrite medical journal articles, promoting off-label drug use and giving gifts to doctors. Attempts to reach the company were not immediately answered.

Sales of the drug have plummeted since 2002 when a large federal health study, the Women’s Health Initiative, linked the therapy to breast cancer and cardiovascular risks. The study was stopped as a result. Another study this year also showed that lung cancer seems more likely to prove fatal in women who are taking the combination drug.

Berezofsky claims that 200,000 women who got breast cancer could have avoided it had they not taken Prempro. However, Prempro and the combination hormones remain on the market. More than six million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.

So far, Wyeth has lost five of eight trials regarding this matter since 2006. All cases are on appeal. In cases in Arkansas and Nevada, some damages were set aside or reduced.

ADHD Drug May Cause Suicidal Thoughts

By Judi Ketteler

A new report from Australia is raising alarm about potentially dangerous side effects of drugs used to treat ADHD. The report states that 30 children have had suicidal thoughts (some attempting suicide), while taking drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), causing the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia to upgrade the guidelines for prescribing ADHD drugs, such as Ritalin. A 7-year-old boy taking Ritalin attempted suicide, and an 8-year-old had hallucinations that spiders were crawling all over him, reports “The Sydney Morning Herald.” The same “Herald” article reported that serious reactions from ADHD drugs had doubled within three years in Australia.

ADHD drugs are closely regulated in the United States, but are widely prescribed for kids. Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall (amphetamine), and other drugs used to treat ADHD are stimulants, which are thought to reduce hyperactivity and help children focus, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). They come with risks, however — and that’s where the controversy ensues. Known side effects for kids include decreased appetite, problems falling asleep, tics and dampened emotional reactions (often called a “flat” feeling). Since these drugs are stimulants, there are also cardiovascular risks. For some kids, many pediatricians recommend that you have an EKG for your child before he or she takes one of these drugs.

Beginning in 2007, the FDA required warnings about side effects on ADHD medications. In fact, risk of suicide is a stated side-effect of the non-stimulant drug atomoxetine (Strattera). Studies have shown that kids and teens who take this drug are more likely to think about suicide than kids and teens who also have ADHD, but don’t take the drug, the NIMH reports. The NIMH cautions that children taking this drug should be very closely monitored.

The concern appears to be worldwide. A recent report from the Center for Paediatric Pharmacy Research in London, published in the November 2009 issue of “Drug Safety,” looked at almost 19,000 kids and teens who took stimulants and/or atomoxetine from 1993 to 2006. While the risk of sudden death (such as from cardiac issues) was low, they did see an increased suicide risk. However, the study authors also pointed out that other conditions, likedepression, sometimes co-exist with ADHD, so they couldn’t rule those out as contributing factors.

The suicide risk from any ADHD drug is rare, says psychiatrist Ned Hallowell, M.D., founder of the Hallowell Centers in New York and Boston and author of “Delivered From Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life With Attention Deficit Disorder” (2005). “If a drug changes your child’s personality in any way, you stop it. Otherwise, these drugs are safe when used properly,” he says. Hallowell appears to have the balance of the current science on his side, but there are some dissenting voices, such as Ithaca psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., author of “Medication Madness” (2008) and the leading critic of the use of psychiatric drugs in children. “Initially, these drugs make children easier to manage in a classroom,” Breggin says. But they reduce spontaneity, he adds, which can feel like depression for a kid. He said that he sees this all the time and that, “It can be very hard to monitor.”

Hallowell doesn’t agree. He does, however, feel that parents and doctors should closely monitor children on ADHD drugs. And, given that many pediatricians aren’t trained to deal with ADHD, he also recommends seeing a child psychiatrist or someone with specific training in treating ADHD.