Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Dignity therapy: Making the last words count

Guided conversations with the terminally ill are popular with patients, families and doctors who’ve experienced them. But are they truly beneficial? Researchers are looking beneath the anecdotal appeal.


By Lola Butcher - October 08, 2021

This article was originally published in Knowable Magazine

In the mid-1990s, psychiatrist Harvey Max Chochinov and his colleagues were researching depression and anxiety in patients approaching the end of their lives when they became curious about this question: Why do some dying people wish for death and contemplate suicide while others, burdened with similar symptoms, experience serenity and a will to live right up to their last days?

Over the next decade, Chochinov’s team at the University of Manitoba in Canada developed a therapy designed to reduce depression, desire for death and suicidal thoughts at the end of life. Dignity therapy, as it is called, involves a guided conversation with a trained therapist to allow dying people to speak about the things that matter most to them. “It is a conversation that we invite people into, to allow them to say the things they would want said before they are no longer in a position to be able to say it themselves,” Chochinov says.

Dignity therapy is little known to the general public but it has captivated end-of-life researchers around the world. Studies have yet to pin down exactly what benefits it confers, but research keeps confirming one thing: Patients, families and clinicians love it.

These end-of-life conversations are important, says Deborah Carr, a sociologist at Boston University who studies well-being in the last stages of life and explored the topic in the 2019 Annual Review of Sociology. A key need of people who know they are dying is tending to relationships with people who are important to them. This includes “being able to communicate their wishes to family and ensuring that their loved ones are able to say goodbye without regret,” she says.

And the closer we get to death, the more we need to understand what our lives have amounted to, says Kenneth J. Doka, senior vice president for grief programs for Hospice Foundation of America. “As people reach the end of life, they want to look back and say, ‘My life counted. My life mattered. My life had value, had some importance,’ in whatever way they define it,” Doka says. “I think dignity therapy speaks to that need to find meaning in life and does it in a very structured and very successful way.”

A dignified ending

Chochinov’s search to understand why some people feel despair at the end of life while others do not led him to countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, where euthanasia and assisted suicide have long been legal. There he learned that the most common reason people gave for seeking assisted suicide was loss of dignity.

To learn more, Chochinov and his colleagues asked 213 terminal cancer patients to rate their sense of dignity on a seven-point scale. Nearly half reported a loss of dignity to some degree, and 7.5 percent identified loss of dignity as a significant concern. Patients in this latter group were much more likely to report pain, desire for death, anxiety and depression than those who reported little or no loss of dignity.

Dignity at the end of life means different things to different people, but in interviews with 50 terminally ill patients, Chochinov and his colleagues found that one of the most common answers related to a dying person’s perception of how they were seen by others. “Dignity is about being deserving of honor, respect or esteem,” Chochinov says. “Patients who felt a lost sense of dignity oftentimes perceived that others didn’t see them as somebody who had a continued sense of worth.”

Dignity therapy is tailored to enhance this sense of worth. In a session, a therapist — typically a clinician or social worker — carefully leads the patient through a series of nine questions (see graphic) that help a person express how their life has been worthwhile. “It’s not like a recipe, that you can just read out these nine questions and then call it dignity therapy,” Chochinov says. “We train therapists so that we can help them guide people through a very organic kind of conversation.”

The session typically lasts around an hour. About half is spent gathering biographical highlights, and the other half focuses on what Chochinov calls the “more wisdom-laden” thoughts that the patient wants to share. A few days later, the patient receives an edited draft for review. “There’s an ethos of immediacy — your words matter, you matter,” he says. “They can edit it and they can sign off on it to say, ‘That is what I want as part of my legacy.’”

Dignity therapy uses this standard set of nine questions as a starting point for discussion. The questions invite the dying person to evaluate their life and offer their wisdom to family and friends.


But does it work?

Miguel Julião, a physician in Lisbon, Portugal, specializes in helping patients who have difficult symptoms, which is why he was asked one day a few years ago to see a patient suffering with unbearable pain. “The minute I got into his room, he told me ‘I would like you to help me die soon,’” Julião says. “I told him, ‘I don’t agree with euthanasia and I don’t do it, but I would like to know about you as a person and what you are most proud of in your life.’”

In the next few minutes, Julião learned about the man’s pride in raising “two good human beings” and stories of their life as a family. And he received an invitation to return for more conversations, which continued until the man died a month later.

The encounter prompted Julião, who was pursuing his doctorate at the time, to pivot his research and focus squarely on dignity therapy. He has had lots of company. Chochinov estimates that nearly 100 peer-reviewed research papers, and at least four in-depth analyses — “systematic reviews” of the accumulated science — have been published so far, and more studies are ongoing. The largest study yet, of 560 patients treated at six sites across the country, is now being conducted by Diana Wilkie, a nursing professor at the University of Florida, and colleagues.

Wilkie also helped conduct the first systematic review, published in 2015, which came up with a conundrum. When all studies were viewed together, the evidence that dignity therapy reduced desire for death was lacking. “The findings have been mixed,” she says. “In the smaller studies, you see benefit sometimes and sometimes not; in the larger studies, not.”

The most definitive study — Chochinov’s original clinical trial, completed by 326 adults in Canada, the United States and Australia who were expected to live six months or less — found that the therapy did not mitigate “outright distress such as depression, desire for death or suicidality,” although it provided other benefits, including an improved quality of life and a change in how the patients’ family regarded and appreciated them. A few years later, however, Julião conducted a much smaller trial in Portugal in which dignity therapy did reduce demoralization, desire for death, depression and anxiety.

Julião thinks that the different outcomes reflect differences in the patient groups: His study focused on people experiencing high levels of distress, while Chochinov’s did not. But Julião also notes that his study was small, with only 80 participants. “We still need more evidence,” he says. “But, on the other hand, you see a high interest among clinicians, because they see it work in daily practice.”

Positive and negative results also may depend upon how studies measure “success.” Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist at Cedars-Sinai Cancer in Los Angeles, worked at a San Diego hospice that introduced dignity therapy in 2009. “It was absolutely worthwhile — no question,” Irwin says. “Not only did the patients love it, but the nurses loved it and got to know their patients better. It was sort of a transformative experience for patients and the care team.”

Researchers reviewed the “legacy documents” — the tangible product of dignity therapy — of 27 patients at a hospice in San Diego to determine what they talked about with the therapist. These are the most common themes that emerged, shown with the percentage of patients who touched on that theme.


Indeed, Wilkie’s literature review reported “overwhelming acceptability, rare for any medical intervention.” Patients seem to get something out of it, even if that “something” isn’t captured by measures like reduced desire for death. In one study of 100 terminally ill patients who received dignity therapy, 91 percent reported feeling satisfied or highly satisfied; in another, 93 percent gave high ratings of satisfaction.

In Portugal, family members of dying individuals have prompted Julião to develop new uses for the therapy. He and Chochinov first adapted the interview to be appropriate for adolescents. More recently, two individuals told Julião they regretted that their loved ones had died without receiving dignity therapy, prompting the researchers to create a posthumous therapy for surviving friends and family members.

In a study of this interview protocol for survivors, “we have wonderful, wonderful comments from people saying, ‘It’s like I’m here with him or with her,’” Julião says. Doing dignity therapy posthumously could be useful in helping families deal with bereavement, he says — an idea he’d like to test.

Barriers to use

But for all its appeal, few patients actually receive dignity therapy. Though the tool is well-known among clinicians and social workers who specialize in caring for seriously ill patients, it is not routinely available in the US, Doka says.

A primary barrier is time. The therapy session is designed to last just one hour, but in Irwin’s experience at the hospice, patients were often too tired or pain-ridden to get through the entire interview in one session. On average, a therapist met with a patient four times. And the interview then had to be edited by someone trained to create a concise narrative that is true to the patient’s perspective and sensitive in dealing with any comments that might be painful for loved ones to read.

Julião says he transcribes each patient’s interview himself and also edits it into the legacy document. The entire process typically takes about eight days; he suspects this is why he is one of only two people who provide dignity therapy in Portugal. He says he has enthusiastic responses from clinicians and social workers attending the lectures and workshops he has conducted since 2011. “But they don’t do it clinically because it’s hard for clinicians to dedicate so much time to this.”

Dignity therapy is most widely available in Winnipeg, its birthplace, where all clinicians at Cancer Care Manitoba, the organization that provides cancer services in the province, have been trained in the protocol. If a patient expresses interest, or a clinician thinks a patient might be interested, a referral is made to one of the therapists, among them Chochinov.

“And then I see them, either in their hospital bed or more typically at their home,” he says.

A few months ago, he spent about an hour with a dying woman. She told him about her proudest accomplishments and shared some guidance for her loved ones. 

A few days after he delivered a transcript of the conversation, the woman thanked him by email for their discussion and for the document that “will give my family something to treasure.”

“Dignity therapy is part of the bridge from here to there, from living my life fully to what remains at the end,” she wrote. “Thank you for helping me to tell this story.”


Book Review: Meg Lowman's "The Arbornaut" Chronicles Her Pioneering Forest Canopy Research

Field biologist Meg Lowman, known as “Canopy Meg,” describes her pioneering research amid the world's forest canopies in "The Arbornaut."


Meg Lowman climbing a tree
Meg Lowman climbing a tree
Photo by Dimossi at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
BY SARAH BOON - September 24, 2021
This article was originally published in Undark
Read the original article
When you consider that “upward of half of all terrestrial creatures live about 100 feet or more above our heads,” as biologist Meg Lowman notes in “The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us,” it makes sense for scientists to go to where the action is. But it’s only been in recent decades that researchers have systematically explored the canopies of the world’s tropical and temperate forests, in large part due to the efforts of so-called arbornauts like Lowman.

It’s daunting work, and often dangerous. And while there have been others in the past who have used ropes and climbing gear to conduct scientific research, Lowman in 1979 pioneered a simple method of rigging a tree for climbing using a slingshot. Essentially, from the ground she shoots a weighted fishing line into the upper branches of the tree, then attaches that fishing line to a nylon cord and hauls it over the same pathway. She then ties a heavier climbing rope to the nylon cord and pulls it up and over the support branch.

“The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us” by Meg Lowman (Allen & Unwin, 368 pages)


Lowman and an Australian colleague also did groundbreaking work building canopy walkways. During a field trip with Earthwatch, an organization that matches citizen scientists with researchers around the world, one of the volunteers got her hair caught on the climbing rope. She had to cut her hair without cutting the rope to free herself — a dicey situation, especially for a volunteer. So Lowman and the owner of the lodge at which they were working discussed how they could bring climbers safely into the canopy via an aerial path. This would also be a boon for research, as many researchers could work in the canopy at the same time. The next year, the world’s first canopy walkway was constructed in Lamington National Park in Queensland, Australia. Lowman has also accessed the canopy using construction cranes and an inflatable raft attached to a dirigible.

The book traces her scientific career, from her study of plants and bird eggs as a child in upstate New York, to her undergraduate years studying tree growth and her master’s research studying tree phenology (spring leafing), and finally to her Ph.D. work, where she got into her specialty: the effects of plant-eating insects on the leaves of tropical trees. The field was understudied because most researchers didn’t access the canopy to measure it — and it’s that access that Lowman developed.

She repeatedly notes that there is a research bias when scientific findings are based on studies done just on the forest floor or in the lower parts of trees, excluding the canopy. She likens it to looking just at someone’s big toe to diagnose an illness.

One of Lowman’s recurring themes is the importance of the scientific process, which she expresses as a series of iterative questions; indeed, the longest section of the book describes her Ph.D. research and the additional sub-studies she did to rule out bias in her main study. The reader is bombarded with experiment after experiment that Lowman conducted to answer smaller questions that arose during the course of her research, like whether insects are drawn to eat the water-resistant ink she uses to label leaves; whether they can find their way back to their food source if they fall out of the canopy; and whether young or old leaves are more toxic to the creatures.



This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.





Near Certain Extinction for the Northern White Rhino May Yet be Thwarted

Only two female northern white rhinos remain in the world, but owing to assisted reproductive technology and a little help from their southern relatives, the species might soon make a comeback.


Northern White Rhino
Photo by Karimi Ngore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
By Dr Daryl Holland, University of Melbourne - October 01, 2021
This article was first published on Pursuit
Read the original article

When Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino in the world, died in Kenya in March 2018, the species was as good as extinct. The two remaining female northern white rhinos, who are infertile, were doomed to live out their lives as the last of their kind.

Except maybe they won’t be the last.

Science has stepped in with a possible lifeline for the northern white rhino (NWR) and other critically endangered large mammals, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

An international team of researchers using assisted reproductive technologies (ART) has combined eggs from the southern white rhino (SWR) with the cryopreserved sperm of a northern white rhino to create viable embryos and embryonic stem cells.

There are five steps needed to get to the stage where we see a live birth of a hybrid northern-southern white rhino, and Professor Marilyn Renfree, from the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne, who was part of the team that developed the embryos, says the first step - harvesting eggs and sperm - was one of the most challenging.

Based on the lack of males, sperm would seem to be a major stumbling block, but forward-thinking researchers had already collected and stored sperm from four northern white rhinos.

“Over the past few years, the sperm from three bulls was sampled and put in cryopreservation. Samples were also taken from Sudan after his death and frozen,” says Professor Renfree.

It was the eggs that were more difficult to collect. Professor Renfree says the key to the project was new technology developed by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, who’s based at the Leibniz-Institut in Berlin, that for the first time allowed collection of eggs from the ovaries of rhinoceroses.

“He designed an ovum pick-up (OPU) device. This has never been done before with such a large animal,” Professor Renfree says.



The next step in the process was bringing the eggs to maturity, which was done under laboratory conditions, in much the same way as the eggs of many other species, including humans.


“Rhinos are very large (2,000 kg on average), so they have a reproductive tract that is very hard to access. Professor Hildebrandt developed a 150 centimetre-long OPU device to guide the needle to the correct place using a trans-rectal route.”

“They showed that oocytes can be repeatedly recovered from live females by this trans-rectal ovum pick-up, matured, fertilised by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and, for the first time, developed to the blastocyst stage in vitro.”

The device developed by Professor Hildebrandt, who is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the paper, is currently awaiting patent approval and could also be used to collect eggs from other large mammals.

The southern white rhinoceros is a subspecies of the white rhino and its population is currently rated as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with about 21,000 individuals remaining.

It is also resident in several zoos around the world. Professor Hildebrandt and his team were able to collect viable eggs from both southern and from the remaining two female northern white rhinos.

The next step in the process was bringing the eggs to maturity, which was done under laboratory conditions, in much the same way as the eggs of many other species, including humans.

Step three is the in vitro fertilisation of the egg with the sperm. Understandably, given the lack of living subjects, the northern white rhino sperm were not the highest quality.

“The northern white rhino sperm, when they were thawed out, were not very good and had to be activated by an electrical stimulus,” says Professor Renfree.

Once fertilisation occurred, forming a zygote, the team stimulated the growth of the zygote for between seven and twelve days, to the developmental stage called a blastocyst – at which point it is ready to be implanted in the uterus.



Now that Professor Hildebrandt and his team have perfected the technique for egg retrieval from rhinos, they have started work to produce a pure northern white rhino embryo.


“The SWR and SWR x NWR hybrid embryos created by the team led by Professor Cesare Galli, who’s the senior author from the Italian reproductive laboratory Avantea, were very high quality and the stem cells created from two of them expressed all of the genes you’d expect them to express,” says Professor Renfree.

Two of the blastocysts have now been cryopreserved and these frozen embryos could soon be implanted into a southern white rhino surrogate to produce a baby hybrid rhino; preserving at least some of the unique genetics of its northern cousin.

Professor Renfree says the stem cells could hold the key to the survival of the rhinos, and other endangered species.

“The embryonic stem cells which are viable are potential candidates to create artificial gametes, both eggs and sperm, using a technique now being developed in mice.”

“If we could create a protocol for creating rhino gametes from stem cells, this is the most promising way forward.”

Now that Professor Hildebrandt and his team have perfected the technique for egg retrieval from rhinos, they have started work to produce a pure northern white rhino embryo.

“The team is going to harvest additional oocytes (immature eggs) from the last two female northern white rhinos who are currently in Kenya,” she says.

“They are infertile and never produced offspring, but they do have oocytes and these could be grown up in culture.”

She says this research also has the potential to help other large mammal species.

“This is a proof of concept project. These techniques have the potential to help the other endangered rhino species, including the Sumatran rhino and the Indian rhino and and other large mammals such as the Gaur, a large Asian cow that is also at risk of extinction.”




This article is republished from Pursuit under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0 AU) license/Title and subtitle have been reworded.
Pursuit publishes trustworthy and credible news, commentary and analysis to break through the jargon and give you more insight into the world around you.

Our intelligent ancestor, the Neanderthal

While the jury is still out as to why the Neanderthal, an ancient ancestor of modern humans, became extinct about 40,000 years ago, it has long been assumed that it was because they possessed a low level of intelligence. Pioneering research is challenging this idea, uncovering evidence to suggest that our ancient cousins were in fact much more like us than we thought.


Photo by hairymuseummatt, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
By Cecilie Jensen - September 30, 2021
This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation magazine

Try to imagine the modern human, Homo Sapiens, as just one of three species of humans coexisting on the planet Earth. That’s a difficult picture to paint by any stretch of the imagination. Yet this was the reality 60,000 years ago, when the first anatomically modern humans left Africa. It was a time when Europe and the Middle East were already populated by the Neanderthals, while the Denisovans spread across large parts of Asia.

Ever since the discovery of the Neanderthal 1, the first specimen to be recognised as an early human fossil in 1856, researchers have been trying to figure out what brought about the extinction of earlier species of humans. For a long time, paleoanthropologists viewed Neanderthals as being very distinct from our own species, and inherently incapable of sharing the “modern” characteristics that came to define our own evolution.

A substantial and rapidly growing body of research is putting this “dumb brute” conception of the Neanderthal firmly to bed: there is evidence to show that they were a sea-faring peopleskilled cooperative hunters, and possibly even capable of medical treatment and healthcare. These discoveries are adding to the complexity of understanding why Neanderthals died out and the modern human survived; if the differences between the two species were much smaller than previously assumed, what gave the modern human the competitive advantage over our ancient cousin?

How “modern” is modern?

‘It is widely accepted that there is a difference in terms of modernity between Neanderthals and modern humans,’ said Guillaume Guérin, research scientist at Geosciences Rennes. ‘But I think the more we look at these different criteria and trends that could be characteristic for modernity, actually there is not so much difference between the Neanderthals and modern humans.’

Take the ability to fashion fully shaped objects out of bone material, for example. Dr Malvina Baumann of the University of Liege explains that the seeming lack of bone industry among the Neanderthals for many years was considered as a cognitive gap, another key difference that sets the modern human above the Neanderthal. However, a new analytical method developed by Dr Baumann has uncovered a rich bone industry that can be attributed to both the Denisovans and the Neanderthals. The discovery that our ancestors knew how to use both stone and bone tools  to cover a variety of needs opens up a whole new perspective on the richness and “modernity” of their technical systems.

For Guérin, “modernity” is best understood as a spectrum, rather than the sheer absence or presence of specific defining features. ‘We can find rock art, sea-faring technology or evidence that suggests that Neanderthals were able to navigate, as well as evidence of burials and even long-distance interactions; all of these actions that have been considered traits of modernity are present in the Neanderthal world to some degree,’ he said.


"When you look at Neanderthals, you have no map of their dispersal across Europe at a given time and you have little knowledge about their evolution. Although we have found many tools and artefacts specific to Neanderthals, we don’t know which came first and which came later, and if the fauna they hunted evolved over time following clear patterns or not. And that’s essentially because we have radiocarbon to work on modern humans, but we don’t have it to study Neanderthals."

- Guillaume Geurin, research scientist at Geosciences Rennes and PI of the QuinaWorld project

New dating methods could revolutionise our understanding of Neanderthals 

Until now, an obstacle to fully understanding the behaviours of Neanderthals is the fact that two critical parts of the equation have eluded scientists: time and space. 

‘When you look at Neanderthals, you have no map of their dispersal across Europe at a given time and you have little knowledge about their evolution,’ explained Guérin. ‘Although we have found many tools and artefacts specific to Neanderthals, we don’t know which came first and which came later, and if the fauna they hunted evolved over time following clear patterns or not. And that’s essentially because we have radiocarbon to work on modern humans, but we don’t have it to study Neanderthals.’

Radiocarbon dating is a traditional technique for dating fossils. It’s based on the presence of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon that accumulates in the bodies of animals throughout their lifetime, and gradually decays after they die. By measuring the amounts of carbon-14 left in a specimen, scientists can calculate how old it is. The problem with this method arises with samples that date back further than 50,000 years, by which time the carbon-14 remains will have completely decayed; and Neanderthals were around much earlier than that.

A physicist by training, Guérin uses luminescence dating as his main tool for analysing archaeological remains. While not as precise as radiocarbon, luminescence dating dates crystalline materials to the last time they were exposed to sufficient heat or sunlight, with a dating range of up to 200-500,000 years. 

‘With a mathematician colleague, we developed statistical models to better analyse the data and improve the chronology and resolution of luminescence dating to make it, not as precise as radiocarbon, but a lot more precise than it used to be,’ explained Guérin. Using this method, the team behind the QuinaWorld project, led by Guérin, is studying remains of the Quina Mousterian, a lithic technology associated with the Neanderthals. ‘It looks like there is something quite singular with this particular industry that could be linked with a particular climatic period,’ said Guérin. ‘The industry is associated with reindeer remains, and we’re talking about a huge number, implying that the Neanderthals killed dozens of reindeer at a time. And this gives us something quite specific to go on.’

Insights from Neanderthal hunting techniques

Gaining a better understanding of Neanderthals’ hunting strategies can provide important insights into their general social and behavioural patterns. ‘Reconstructions of early weapon technologies do not only allow assessing past hunting strategies, but also the technical and cognitive capacities of Palaeolithic hominins,’ said Dr Karen Ruebens of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. For example, the appearance of projectile technologies, such as stone-tipped spears, made it easier to hunt prey from a distance and increased the Neanderthals’ chances of surviving the hunting trip. That’s why the innovation of tools like the spear is considered a “tipping point” in human evolution and believed to have triggered major economic and social transformations, including the ensuing global success of modern humans.


"Reconstructions of early weapon technologies do not only allow assessing past hunting strategies, but also the technical and cognitive capacities of Palaeolithic hominins."

- Dr Karen Ruebens of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and researcher on the TIP-N-POINT project

Yet, while we have ample faunal remains from hunting events to suggest that Neanderthals were skilled hunters, we find only sporadic occurrences of projectile weapons. This leaves us with a host of unanswered questions as to how Neanderthals brought down their prey. As part of the TIP-N-POINT project, Dr Ruebens and her team therefore wanted to get a better understanding of how Neanderthals used stone weapons in hunting. They analysed two collections of stone artefacts from a site in France, and when they compared the two assemblages, some interesting differences emerged: in one of the assemblages there was evidence that the Neanderthals had further retouched the edges of the points they produced out of stone, while in the other assemblage the points appear to have been used without further modification. Further study of the former showed that the retouched tools were associated with a diverse range of animals, while the unmodified points were linked predominantly with reindeer remains. This is an intriguing find that underscores the importance of continued research into the links between lithic variability and faunal diversity.

‘At a broader regional scale,’ says Dr Reuben, ‘it is clear that points are not ubiquitously present in the Neanderthal archaeological record in western Europe and hunting with stone-tipped spears was not practiced by all Neanderthal groups. Understanding regional differences in Neanderthal behaviour, acknowledging that they were doing different things at different times in different regions, is important in understanding their behavioural flexibility.’ This can ultimately shed light on how they responded to the arrival of modern humans in Europe.

The first regional cultural entity in the history of Europe?

For Guérin, important answers to open questions about Neanderthal behaviour and the species’ evolution could be found in studying the Quina Mousterian. Remains of this Neanderthal technology have been found across Europe, from Spain to Germany. If dating Quina Mousterian remains using the new luminescence dating techniques reveals that they are all from the roughly the same period, that could be an indicator that skills and knowledge were shared more broadly among Neanderthal groups than is currently thought; and that could be the sign of a culture that spread across our continent. ‘We are working under the assumption that perhaps the Quina Mousterian is a marker of what was quite an elaborate and developed culture,’ said Guillaume.  ‘And this could mean that the first Europe in cultural terms could have been the Europe of Neanderthals rather than modern humans.’


"We are working under the assumption that perhaps the Quina Mousterian was quite an elaborate and developed culture. And this could mean that the first Europe in cultural terms could have been the Europe of Neanderthals rather than modern humans."

- Guillaume Guérin, research scientist at Geosciences Rennes and PI of the QuinaWorld project

Rather than settle the question of how and why the Neanderthal became extinct, it seems likely that continued research into the lives of our lost cousins will only add more nuances to their behaviour and capabilities, opening intriguing questions about our own evolution and presence on planet Earth.



Rapid Shift to Clean Energy Could Save ‘Trillions.’ But Corporate-Backed Groups Are Fighting the Transition in US Budget Bill

Wind, solar, and batteries are already the cheapest source of electricity and an aggressive shift to clean energy makes more economic sense than a slow one, according to a new study. However, an enormous lobbying effort is underway to block climate policy in the $3.5 trillion budget bill under consideration.


Wind turbines
Public Domain image via Pixabay
By Nick Cunningham September 29, 2021
This article was originally published on DeSmog

A slow transition away from fossil fuels would be “more expensive” than a rapid shift to renewable energy, according to a new study, a conclusion that stands in sharp contrast to fossil fuel industry talking points aimed at heading off aggressive climate policy currently being shaped in Congress.

An accelerated clean energy transition would lead to “net savings of many trillions of dollars,” a calculation that does not even take into account the damages from unchecked climate chaos, the recently released study from Oxford University found. On economics alone, the logic of a rapid shift to renewable energy is obvious and necessary. 

“The belief that the green energy transition will be expensive has been a major driver of the ineffective response to climate change for the last forty years,” the researchers write. “This pessimism is at odds with past technological cost-improvement trends, and risks locking humanity into an expensive and dangerous energy future.”

The authors note that outdated thinking on renewable energy — that it comes with tradeoffs like higher electricity prices, for instance — has long dominated policy discussions. Echoes of this idea can be found today in mounting attacks by a network of lobbyists and think tanks on the climate provisions in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package.

But that line of argument has been inaccurate for years, and the Oxford study says it is now decisively wrong. “Our analysis suggests that such trade-offs are unlikely to exist: a greener, healthier and safer global energy system is also likely to be cheaper,” they write [original emphasis].

The U.S. has a chance to solidify an accelerated track towards cleaner energy. The Democrats in Congress are working on legislation that would push the U.S. electricity system to roughly 80 percent carbon-free power by 2030, a definition that includes hydro and nuclear power, up from around 40 percent today.

The so-called Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) is complex, but it essentially rewards utilities that move quickly to add renewable energy to their portfolios with each passing year, while imposing fees on laggards who move slowly.


As the Washington Post reports, the largest corporate entities in the country, including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, and powerful lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, are pulling out all stops to prevent passage of the budget bill.

Industry Ramps Up Misinformation  

Building the more than 600 gigawatts of solar, wind, and batteries needed to get to the 2030 target would put a lot of people to work. One study from the Analysis Group finds that the CEPP would help create an estimated 7.7 million net new jobs over the next decade as the electricity sector moves rapidly to scale up renewables. 

But the win-win logic of creating jobs and cleaning up the electricity sector is not the message that industry front groups and their lobbyists are engaging with.

In the past few weeks, a constellation of right-wing think tanks, front groups, and trade associations have mobilized to defeat the CEPP, as well as the broader $3.5 trillion budget package — nicknamed the Build Back Better bill — under consideration by the Democrats in Congress.

Many of the misleading talking points being pushed by these lobbyists take the familiar form of outdated notions that renewable energy is expensive. They also opportunistically try to link the proposed bill to electricity blackouts, which have occurred in various parts of the country this year, including from soaring temperatures in California and extreme winter storms in Texas, while conspicuously ignoring the fact that these disasters are made worse by climate change.

For example, the Institute for Energy Research and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliancewarned that the CEPP would lead to “skyrocketing costs and rolling blackouts,” and that it will “kill the U.S. economy.” Both groups have extensive ties to Koch Industries and regularly push pro-fossil fuel rhetoric.

Other groups have sought to revive well-worn arguments about wasteful spending, while adopting a new campaign warning about inflation. Indeed, raising the dangers of inflation has become one of the central attack lines by right-wing groups in recent months as the budget negotiations drag on.

For example, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a group founded by David Koch, has held public events in August and September that put pressure on Congress to “end Washington waste,” and warn about inflation, an echo of the Tea Party events from 2009, which in many ways was an astroturf phenomenon.

In one September 17 post on its website, AFP linked to an analysis by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which recently launched an Inflation Tracker. IWF says the “inflationary” $3.5 trillion plan would “hurt poor, elderly, minorities.” IWF also has extensive Koch ties.

The Wall Street Journal looked at AFP’s recent attempts to drum up anger at federal spending and found that the front group is struggling to break through with conservatives who are more animated by culture war issues related to mask mandates and vaccine requirements. In an effort to appeal to people, AFP has been “name-checking” mask mandates, and then trying to connect them to the dangers of big government in general, and urging people to oppose the budget bill.

In September, the purportedly non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders as their “Porkers of the Month,” a derisive award it hands out to government officials who “endanger America’s financial stability.” CAGW, which has received funding from tobacco companiesExxon, and right-wing foundations, uses similar talking points: the budget bill is costly, will push up inflation, and will result in taxes on American families.

Right-wing groups don’t oppose all government spending on energy. The National Taxpayers Union, which claims it fights for free enterprise and against government waste, recently defended oil subsidies while criticizing incentives for renewables.

But these are all small examples of what has become a massive corporate lobbying blitz to kill the budget bill. As the Washington Post reports, the largest corporate entities in the country, including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, and powerful lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, are pulling out all stops to prevent passage of the budget bill.

As the Post reports, the Chamber is spending heavily on ads targeting the handful of wavering corporate-friendly Democrats, and has vowed to cut off support for any member of Congress that votes in favor. 

DeSmog reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for Energy Research, the Independent Women’s Forum, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Prosperity. IER responded but did not provide comments in time for publication.

Only AFP answered questions. When DeSmog cited the Oxford study and the cheap cost of renewable energy, Lorenz Isidro, an AFP spokesperson, said: “Top down energy mandates like the Clean Electricity Standard do little if anything to actually improve the environment but would increase energy rates, make everything we buy more expensive, and leave everyone worse off, particularly the least fortunate.”

But as the Oxford study shows, renewable energy is the cheapest source of power generation, and a faster transition results in more economic benefits. The corporate ad and lobbying campaign currently underway is full of misinformation.

“I am not surprised to see the oil & gas industry lobbying to water down efforts to replace their energy product with renewables + storage,” Matthew Ives, one of the authors of the study, wrote in an email. “They have been actively lobbying to reduce investment in renewables for a long time but I don’t think they, even with their wealth and influence, could hold back the tide of technological advance that is happening in these new clean technologies,” he wrote, adding: “I’m afraid the train has left the station.”

Arguments about inflation also appear opportunistic; economists are debating whether inflation is a temporary phenomenon related to the pandemic. In any event, the suite of social and economic programs included in the budget reconciliation bill — paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, an expansion of Medicare, free community college, to name a few — are aimed at lowering the largest expenses in most people’s lives. 

In fact, an analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that most of the benefits of the budget bill are concentrated on the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, and just about every American would receive a tax cut except for the richest 5 percent.

On top of that, the tax hikes on the rich are intended to offset the cost of the overall package, so claims of enormous deficits are inaccurate. Finally, the spending is spread out over ten years, not all at once.

Whether or not the claims are accurate, Republican politicians and right-wing groups have seized on inflation as an intentional messaging campaign to scare the public away from the budget bill.

Their sky-is-falling rhetoric about renewable energy is part of a longer pattern of behavior of manipulating economic data, says Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director for climate and energy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, told DeSmog.

“Fossil fuel companies are not reliable economic messengers,” she said. “They seem to be just all-in on delaying the transition in a way that might protect quarter-to-quarter returns to shareholders, but the evidence is mounting that it could prove financially ruinous for everyone and for the economy.”


“It gives us an opportunity to jump start clean energy in West Virginia. We’re still 91 percent coal-fired, and our electricity customers have paid massive rate increases over the last 10 to 12 years because we’ve doubled down on coal unlike most other states,”

All Eyes on Manchin

The language used by corporate lobbying outfits on costly renewables, inflation and debt appear carefully crafted to appeal to one senator in particular: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the pivotal vote in the Senate. At times, the language used by corporate lobbyists very closely echoes Sen. Manchin’s own arguments.

In a widely circulated op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in early September, Sen. Manchin expressed his opposition to the budget bill, warning of excessive spending and inflation. He also argued how spending today could leave the country ill-positioned for some future crisis.

Notably, the Chamber of Commerce seemingly adopted Sen. Manchin’s argument as its own, although it repurposed it to warn against the Chamber’s chief concern, the proposed higher corporate tax rates. “[T]ax increases will lessen the resiliency of our economy when crisises [sic] hit, making it more difficult to recover when the next inevitably does come,” the Chamber’s senior economist Curtis Dubay wrote.

Whether they are sharing talking points is unknown, but the Chamber very explicitly says that it is rewarding Sen. Manchin with campaign contributions, along with Democrats wavering on the budget bill.

On September 22, the Chamber launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting a handful of Democrats, urging them to block the entire budget bill, calling it an “existential threat to America’s fragile economic recovery.”

Sen. Manchin holds outsized influence over the final outcome. While he has expressed concerns about the CEPP, what he seems to ignore is the enormous opportunity that his home state of West Virginia could see from the budget bill in general, and the CEPP in particular.

“It gives us an opportunity to jump start clean energy in West Virginia. We’re still 91 percent coal-fired, and our electricity customers have paid massive rate increases over the last 10 to 12 years because we’ve doubled down on coal unlike most other states,” James Van Nostrand, a law professor at West Virginia University and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, told DeSmog. “Coal is not a cost-effective way to generate electricity anymore.”

A new study from RMI, a sustainability think tank, finds that compared to other regions in the U.S., Appalachia would see the biggest economic benefit from the growth of renewable energy over the next decade.

Van Nostrand agreed. “West Virginia would benefit disproportionately from all the money that would come out of the Clean Electricity Payment Program,” he said.

Sen. Manchin has repeatedly questioned why there is urgency around the budget bill, an odd claim given the accelerating climate crisis and the policy programs addressing it within the bill. The United Nations said on September 17 that unless the world dramatically accelerates climate policy to speed up the energy transition, the world is on track to warm to a catastrophic 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “climate alarm bells” are “ringing at fever pitch.” If emissions are not cut drastically, Guterres says the world is in for a “hellscape of temperature rises.”

In early September, a group of 94 organizations, including environmental, faith, justice, and labor groups, sent a letter to Congress, calling on them to stand up to corporate lobbyists and pass the budget bill. “Now is not the time to let deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists stand in the way of vital public investments in an economy that works for all of us,” they wrote.

“Manchin knows better. He clearly knows better. He could deliver such huge benefits for West Virginia … Why would you say no to this? This is a no-brainer,” Van Nostrand told DeSmog.

Recently, the Intercept reported that Sen. Manchin continues to earn more than a half million dollars per year from his personal stake in his coal business. The New York Times pointed out that Sen. Manchin will preside over the Senate Committee in charge of writing the CEPP, while also being the Senator who has received more campaign donations from the oil and gas industry than any of his colleagues last year. Sen. Manchin did not respond to a request for comment.

Van Nostrand hopes that Sen. Manchin will realize the monumental opportunity that he has at the moment. “What is your legacy going to be? What are you going to put on your tombstone?” he said. “You’re the guy who blocked massive amounts of money that could have come to West Virginia because it wasn’t good for the coal industry and your own personal financial interest?”



This article is republished from DeSmog under a Creative Commons license.
DeSmog was founded in January 2006 to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science and solutions to climate change. Their team quickly became the world’s number one source for accurate, fact-based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns.


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