Punitive, mean-spirited and often callous

That is what the United Nations have called the British government’s treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

You can read more on the site of The Independent and on the site of the BBC.

You can also read this pdf: 1 Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018

I discussed that in my book too (and I believe that it is linked to a British-designed approach to life called utilitarianism):

 

What’s being said in the BBC article about the, well, delusional focus of the ministers is excellently depicted by this photo I took on 29 October. The text in this government poster at a local bus stop contains not a promise but a threat, as wages in Britain aren’t particularly high (to put in an understatement). Universal credit is the new benefits system, by the way.

I found the tone of this poster mean-spirited. That’s why I took the photo.

What it means to be human

Do you agree with this? Don’t other species also have to respond to the circumstances around them, including being chased by humans, having been born in a zoo or as part of the pet trade or to droughts and food shortages, as well as the fact that humans take up more and more of their natural habitat and force them to live in our built environment?

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Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics

The above is the title of the 2018 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, which took place in June. I had registered for the event because the topic interests me greatly and I have so much to learn in this area. Unfortunately, I turned out to be away and unable to attend after all.

I am delighted that the Petrie-Flom Center not only decided to make some of the lecture materials available beforehand, but recorded the lectures and has made the videos shareable.

Prominent point of discussion at he conference was the question whether a disability is merely a difference, or a bad difference. Putting the question like this is an oversimplification but it is a good starting point. I will discuss this matter and these lectures in greater detail in coming posts.

For now, here are the opening remarks, and first talks.

“Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics” Opening Remarks and Panel 1: Theory and Definitions of Disability from Petrie-Flom Center on Vimeo.

 

 

 

Very severe animal cruelty at Mahard Egg Farms in the US

Last evening, I saw a video and photos that I found shocking. It concerns severe animal cruelty that occurs near Sulphur in Oklahoma. The farm is part of Mahard Egg Farms who appear to be headquartered in Texas. I searched LinkedIn and found nine accounts associated with the company, including that of its CFO, Kaitlin Mahard.

I believe that severe animal cruelty can be considered “violent crimes” which would mean that LinkedIn should remove the accounts associated with Mahard Egg Farms. The LinkedIn Professional Community Policies state that “those who engage in violent crimes are not welcome and not permitted on the Services”.

In 2011, Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., indeed a Texas corporation, was told to pay a $1.9 million penalty to settle claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/mahard-egg-farm-inc-clean-water-act-settlement

The latter apparently resulted in this:
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-09/documents/mahardegg-cd.pdf

That document includes the following:

C. MORTALITY MANAGEMENT
18. Defendant shall comply with the Mortality Management Requirements in Appendix D at the Vernon-Chillicothe Facility, the Springhill Facility, the Prosper Facility, the Boogie Hill Facility, the Nebo Ranch, and the Ravia Facility, unless such facility is not growing poultry.

Appendix D stated:

APPENDIX D:
MORTALITY MANAGEMENT

I. Texas
65.
No later than the Effective Date of this Decree, Mahard shall cease any transfer of
carcasses between Facilities unless a composting plan is in place that is consistent with 30 T.A.C. 332, Subchapter B, and has been approved by EPA and TCEQ.

66.
Mahard shall ensure that all carcass disposal at the Vernon-Chillicothe, Prosper, and
Springhill Facilities is conducted in accordance with TCEQ Regulatory Guidance, RG-326, Handling and Disposal of Carcasses from Poultry Operations (August 2009) and in accordance with 30 T.A.C. § 335.25. Mahard shall collect all carcasses within 24 hours of death and properly disposed of them within three (3) Days of death. Animals must not be disposed of in any liquid manure or process wastewater system. Disposal of diseased animals shall be conducted in accordance with Tex. Agric. Code § 161.004.

II. Oklahoma
67.
Mahard shall comply with the terms and conditions in Mahard’s 4/29/09 Carcass Disposal Plan, as amended and supplemented by the letter from ODAFF, dated May 7, 2009, to Mahard (both attached here as the Appendix D Supplement).

The Kroger chain has meanwhile dropped Mahard’s eggs and I’ve reached out on LinkedIn to it spokeswoman Kristal Howard to thank Kroger and ask her to ensure that Kroger will never be associated with such severe animal cruelty again.

Kroger’s 2018 Sustainability Report includes an animal welfare policy, which states:

“Kroger has a long-standing commitment to responsible business practices, including the humane treatment of animals,” Kroger says in its policy. “We require our suppliers to adopt industry-accepted animal welfare standards that we endorse, and we monitor our suppliers for compliance with these standards. We align with the Food Marketing Institute’s industry-adopted and industry-aligned animal welfare standards for the following animal proteins: beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs. For nearly a decade, Kroger has convened our own independent panel of animal science experts to make recommendations on how we can work with the industry to improve animal welfare.”

I’ve also contacted the EPA.

Why we need to talk about stuff that is hard to talk about

I quickly shot this with my mobile so the quality is not that great and you get to see my saggy wrinkly skin up close. Hey, I am no longer 20 or 30 and that’s perfectly fine!

Here is the article in the Atlantic that I mention in the video:
https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/you-really-dont-want-to-know-what-its-like-to-be-a-right-whale-these-days/566009/

Will designer babies dissolve the glue that binds society?

That is one of the questions I’ve been wondering about, as you’ll know if you read my latest book.

I just watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability again. I first saw it a few years ago. It turns out that her research appears to indicate that yes, the unbridled creation of designer babies would destroy our capacity for connection.

 

You thought animals we eat have no feelings?

Boiling water hurts them too.

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Illness and the social self (upcoming Uehiro lectures)

The annual Uehiro lectures will take place in Oxford next week. This year, they are by Richard Holton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Their topic interests me because I feel strongly that we need to start looking differently at various forms of illnesses. Continue reading

Dealing with empathy

Humans occur along vast ranges of characteristics and one of those ranges is the scale that has empaths and extreme altruists on one end and probably psychopaths on the other. They all have their pluses and minuses. Nothing is bad or good. Everything is both. There is good in bad and bad in good. Good and bad can’t even exist independently. They are expressed relative to each other, after all.

Do you know where on this spectrum you are? Continue reading

Time for a rethink?

There is no such thing as a dumb animal. Okay, with the possible exception of that one bee who currently keeps flying into my kitchen, again and again and again. But he always finds his way out again. Hm. Then maybe even this bee isn’t really that dumb… I haven’t figured out yet what smell on my windowsill could be attracting him. Or her.

The challenges of publishing a book

Well, of course, after I thought I had weeded out all the typos, added a reference that I was sure I had already added, and tweaked the new cover for the print version sufficiently, I still found a missing space, and one or two missing words in the proof. That’s how it goes! Continue reading

We need to reconsider our view of other species, urgently.

Read this story: https://www.thedodo.com/on-the-farm/starving-pig-shared-food-with-his-friends

Two pigs were rescued, one had piglets and was well and the other one was very thin. Rescuers were puzzled. Turned out that the latter had been giving most of the food he had to the other pig. To help the other pig survive.

We need to reconsider our views regarding other species, urgently.

Personally, I have seen small parrots stand up for cats.

How on earth did we “developed” humans manage to think for so long that other species have no cognitive abilities? No capacity for emotions? Mind-boggling. The more developed we become, the less wisdom we humans seem to have?

Traditional scientists have to stop being so damn pig-headed about this. To see the obvious does not make you stupid, silly or dimwitted.

“We need to talk about this”

Hi there!

Welcome to this website and blog. I am the author of “We need to talk about this“.

In this book, I discuss matters of life and death, such as abortion, designer babies and euthanasia, within the context of the new eugenics.

(Incidentally, if you have the 1st edition – with the bright-blue baby on the cover – or a flawed early author’s copy of the current edition, with for example errors in the Table of Contents, typos, or a different photo on the back than the one on the left, contact me. I can send you an up-to-date epub or mobi file.)

 

Continue reading

We need a global guideline for eugenics – urgently

People are currently focusing on Trump and his silly comments, but perhaps they should be focussing on Britain.

A few days ago, British newspaper The Guardian reported about a eugenics meeting that allegedly had been convened in secret, involving someone who has previously advocated child rape. This meeting is supposed to have taken place at University College London and white supremacists supposedly were present at this meeting. Continue reading

Tony Blair on social engineering

Interview with Mark Easton, BBC. Date unknown, but near the end of Tony Blair’s premiership.

Keep in mind that “hooliganism” and “anti-social behaviour” are often labels used to indicate (and reject) people from a lower socioeconomic class in Britain and that this “hooliganism” for example gets expressed in graffiti.

Of course, causing (increased) financial hardship for parents by taking any benefits away is most definitely not “in the best interest of the child”.

Tony Blair did consider graffiti “anti-social behaviour”. During a photo-op as part of his crusade, he hosed down graffiti and said that older generations of his family would have abhorred such behaviour. It then turned out that his own grandmother had been a “commie” graffiti vandal.

There probably is a work by Banksy somewhere in response to all of this.

Tony Blair also criminalized a lot of behavior that is essentially merely human behavior. That too was in nobody’s best interest and probably did nothing toward decreasing inequality in Britain.

It did not enable (more) people to flourish.

Flying to Cyprus for a designer baby

A designer baby is any baby who is preferred over another baby, the way one might pick a handbag or a rug.

The only exception should be when the resulting baby ends up having a life not worth living. In my book “We need to talk about this“, I give a definition of “a life not worth living” that has held up so far. This definition does not represent what I feel, but what could be doable to work with in practice.

This also means, however, that parents should get all the assistance they need. This means that the baby (and child) should get all the assistance he or she needs to enable him or her to FLOURISH.

Society creates so many hindrances for anyone who isn’t mainstream. We should embrace diversity as it enriches society and we should address the artificial impairments so that they disappear.

I also believe that techniques like CRISPR should be used first to help remedy these “lives not worth living”. Why? Because it is a logical approach, based on the application of (generally globally accepted) principles instead of personal preferences.

Model and former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd is flying to Cyprus for a designer baby:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-42611687/danielle-lloyd-on-why-she-s-choosing-the-sex-of-her-next-child

 

“We need to talk about this” – updated version

I am wrapping up the much improved version of “We need to talk about this“. There is now a chapter on euthanasia, for instance, with a discussion of the Groningen Protocol.

I didn’t write this book to convince you that my views are the right ones, even though I hope you will agree with many of them. I wrote this book to encourage as many people as possible to develop their own opinions in these areas, to go beyond impassioned exclamations like “this is so wrong” or “this is very good” and to make their opinions known to their governments and  academics, and to discuss these issues with their friends, relatives and colleagues. Continue reading

In places where it’s legal, how many people are ending their lives using euthanasia?

 

Image 20170303 24331 15wkfi.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
One paper reported that between 0.3% to 4.6% of all deaths are reported as euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in jurisdictions where they are legal.
Flickr/Alberto Biscalchin, CC BY-NC-ND

Andrew McGee, Queensland University of Technology

The Victorian Parliament will consider a bill to legalise euthanasia in the second half of 2017. That follows the South Australian Parliament’s decision to knock back a voluntary euthanasia bill late last year, and the issue has also cropped up in the run-up to the March 11 Western Australian election.

With the issue back in the headlines, federal Labor’s justice spokesperson, Clare O’Neil, told Q&A that in countries where the practice is legal, “very, very small” numbers of people use the laws.

Whether or not you agree with O’Neil’s statement depends largely on your interpretation of the subjective term “very, very small”, but there is a growing body of data available on how many people are using euthanasia or assisted dying laws in places such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada and some US states.

Assisted dying, assisted suicide and euthanasia

Many people use the terms “assisted dying”, “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” interchangeably. But, technically, these phrases can have different meanings.

Assisted dying (sometimes also assisted death) is where the patient himself or herself ultimately takes the medication. Euthanasia, by contrast, is usually where the doctor administers the medication to the patient.

Assisted suicide includes people who are not terminally ill, but who are being helped to commit suicide, whereas assisted dying refers to people who are already dying. Some reports do not, however, distinguish between assisted dying and assisted suicide, and I will not distinguish them here.

In some jurisdictions, the word “euthanasia” is used to refer to both assisted dying/suicide (where the patient himself or herself takes the medication) and to euthanasia (where the doctor administers the medication to the patient). So “euthanasia” can sometimes be used as a broad term to cover a range of actions.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide rates around the world

According to a peer-reviewed paper published last year in the respected journal JAMA:

Between 0.3% to 4.6% of all deaths are reported as euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in jurisdictions where they are legal. The frequency of these deaths increased after legalization … Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, remain relatively rare, and primarily involve patients with cancer. Existing data do not indicate widespread abuse of these practices.

The authors of that paper said that 35,598 people died in Oregon in 2015. Of these deaths, 132, or 0.39%, were reported as physician-assisted suicides. The same paper said that in Washington in 2015 there were 166 reported cases of physician-assisted suicide (equating to 0.32% of all deaths in Washington in that year).

Interestingly, the same paper noted that US data show that:

pain is not the main motivation for PAS (physician-assisted suicide)… The dominant motives are loss of autonomy and dignity and being less able to enjoy life’s activities.

The authors said that in officially reported Belgian cases, pain was the reason for euthanasia in about half of cases. Loss of dignity is mentioned as a reason for 61% of cases in the Netherlands and 52% in Belgium.

A 2016 Victorian parliamentary report has quoted from the UK Commission on Assisted Dying, which in turn referenced the work of John Griffiths, Heleen Weyers and Maurice Adams in their book Euthanasia and Law in Europe. The commission said:

There are no official data in Switzerland on the numbers of assisted suicides that take place each year, as the rate of assisted suicide is not collected centrally. Griffiths et al observe that there are approximately 62,000 deaths in Switzerland each year and academic studies suggest that between 0.3% and 0.4% of these are assisted suicides. This figure increases to 0.5% of all deaths if suicide tourism is included (assisted suicides that involve non‑Swiss nationals).

Around 3.7% of deaths in the Netherlands in 2015 were due to euthanasia. The Netherlands’ regional euthanasia review committees reported that there were 5,516 deaths due to euthanasia in 2015. That is out of a total of around 147,000 – 148,000 deaths in the Netherlands that year.

This figure represents an increase of 4% of deaths due to euthanasia compared to 2014.

A 2012 paper published in The Lancet reported on the results of nationwide surveys on euthanasia in the Netherlands in 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2010. The researchers said:

In 2002, the euthanasia act came into effect in the Netherlands, which was followed by a slight decrease in the euthanasia frequency … In 2010, of all deaths in the Netherlands, 2.8% were the result of euthanasia. This rate is higher than the 1.7% in 2005, but comparable with those in 2001 and 1995.

Another Netherlands-based study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported in 2015 that:

Certainly, not all requests are granted; studies conducted between 1990 and 2011 report rates of granting requests between 32% and 45%.

A 2015 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about euthanasia rates in the Flanders region of Belgium (the northern half of the country) noted:

The rate of euthanasia increased significantly between 2007 and 2013, from 1.9% to 4.6% of deaths.

Filling in the bigger picture

It can be hard to put these rates in context, but what is clear is that euthanasia is by no means a leading cause of death in countries where it is legal. For example, Statistics Belgium said that for the year 2012, cardiovascular disease was the most common cause of death (28.8%), and cancer was the second most common cause of death (26%).

And in the Netherlands – where 5,516 of deaths were due to euthanasia in 2015 – more than 12,000 Dutch people died from the effects of dementia in 2014, approximately 10,000 Dutch people died from lung cancer and nearly 9,000 died from a heart attack. In 2013, 30% (about 42,000) of Dutch deaths were from cancer and 27% (about 38,000) of Dutch deaths were from cardiovascular disease.


The ConversationIf this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 44.

Andrew McGee, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How seeing problems in the brain makes stigma disappear

 

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A pair of identical twins. The one on the right has OCD, while the one on the left does not.
Brain Imaging Research Division, Wayne State University School of Medicine, CC BY-SA

David Rosenberg, Wayne State University

As a psychiatrist, I find that one of the hardest parts of my job is telling parents and their children that they are not to blame for their illness.

Children with emotional and behavioral problems continue to suffer considerable stigma. Many in the medical community refer to them as “diagnostic and therapeutic orphans.” Unfortunately, for many, access to high-quality mental health care remains elusive.

An accurate diagnosis is the best way to tell whether or not someone will respond well to treatment, though that can be far more complicated than it sounds.

I have written three textbooks about using medication in children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems. I know that this is never a decision to take lightly.

But there’s reason for hope. While not medically able to diagnose any psychiatric condition, dramatic advances in brain imaging, genetics and other technologies are helping us objectively identify mental illness.

Knowing the signs of sadness

All of us experience occasional sadness and anxiety, but persistent problems may be a sign of a deeper issue. Ongoing issues with sleeping, eating, weight, school and pathologic self-doubt may be signs of depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Separating out normal behavior from problematic behavior can be challenging. Emotional and behavior problems can also vary with age. For example, depression in pre-adolescent children occurs equally in boys and girls. During adolescence, however, depression rates increase much more dramatically in girls than in boys.

It can be very hard for people to accept that they – or their family member – are not to blame for their mental illness. That’s partly because there are no current objective markers of psychiatric illness, making it difficult to pin down. Imagine diagnosing and treating cancer based on history alone. Inconceivable! But that is exactly what mental health professionals do every day. This can make it harder for parents and their children to accept that they don’t have control over the situation.

Fortunately, there are now excellent online tools that can help parents and their children screen for common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and more.

Most important of all is making sure your child is assessed by a licensed mental health professional experienced in diagnosing and treating children. This is particularly important when medications that affect the child’s brain are being considered.

Seeing the problem

Thanks to recent developments in genetics, neuroimaging and the science of mental health, it’s becoming easier to characterize patients. New technologies may also make it easier to predict who is more likely to respond to a particular treatment or experience side effects from medication.

Our laboratory has used brain MRI studies to help unlock the underlying anatomy, chemistry and physiology underlying OCD. This repetitive, ritualistic illness – while sometimes used among laypeople to describe someone who is uptight – is actually a serious and often devastating behavioral illness that can paralyze children and their families.

In children with OCD, the brain’s arousal center, the anterior cingulate cortex, is ‘hijacked.’ This causes critical brain networks to stop working properly.
Image adapted from Diwadkar VA, Burgess A, Hong E, Rix C, Arnold PD, Hanna GL, Rosenberg DR. Dysfunctional activation and brain network profiles in youth with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A focus on the dorsal anterior cingulate during working memory. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2015; 9: 1-11., CC BY-SA

Through sophisticated, high-field brain imaging techniques – such as fMRI and magnetic resonance spectroscopy – that have become available recently, we can actually measure the child brain to see malfunctioning areas.

We have found, for example, that children 8 to 19 years old with OCD never get the “all clear signal” from a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This signal is essential to feeling safe and secure. That’s why, for example, people with OCD may continue checking that the door is locked or repeatedly wash their hands. They have striking brain abnormalities that appear to normalize with effective treatment.

We have also begun a pilot study with a pair of identical twins. One has OCD and the other does not. We found brain abnormalities in the affected twin, but not in the unaffected twin. Further study is clearly warranted, but the results fit the pattern we have found in larger studies of children with OCD before and after treatment as compared to children without OCD.

Exciting brain MRI and genetic findings are also being reported in childhood depression, non-OCD anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD and schizophrenia, among others.

Meanwhile, the field of psychiatry continues to grow. For example, new techniques may soon be able to identify children at increased genetic risk for psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

New, more sophisticated brain imaging and genetics technology actually allows doctors and scientists to see what is going on in a child’s brain and genes. For example, by using MRI, our laboratory discovered that the brain chemical glutamate, which serves as the brain’s “light switch,” plays a critical role in childhood OCD.

What a scan means

When I show families their child’s MRI brain scans, they often tell me they are relieved and reassured to “be able to see it.”

Children with mental illness continue to face enormous stigma. Often when they are hospitalized, families are frightened that others may find out. They may hesitate to let schools, employers or coaches know about a child’s mental illness. They often fear that other parents will not want to let their children spend too much time with a child who has been labeled mentally ill. Terms like “psycho” or “going mental” remain part of our everyday language.

The example I like to give is epilepsy. Epilepsy once had all the stigma that mental illness today has. In the Middle Ages, one was considered to be possessed by the devil. Then, more advanced thinking said that people with epilepsy were crazy. Who else would shake all over their body or urinate and defecate on themselves but a crazy person? Many patients with epilepsy were locked in lunatic asylums.

Then in 1924, psychiatrist Hans Berger discovered something called the electroencephalogram (EEG). This showed that epilepsy was caused by electrical abnormalities in the brain. The specific location of these abnormalities dictated not only the diagnosis but the appropriate treatment.

The ConversationThat is the goal of modern biological psychiatry: to unlock the mysteries of the brain’s chemistry, physiology and structure. This can help better diagnose and precisely treat childhood onset mental illness. Knowledge heals, informs and defeats ignorance and stigma every time.

David Rosenberg, Professor, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Wayne State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rocket debris is a risk to Inuit food security

 

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Marine waters are an important source of food for Inuit.
(Judith Slein/Flickr), CC BY-SA

Tiff-Annie Kenny, University of Ottawa and Tad Lemieux, Carleton University

When the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a satellite into orbit on Oct. 13, it did so despite opposition from Inuit leaders in Canada and Greenland over its potential to contaminate an important Arctic area.

Most, but not all, of the rocket’s highly toxic fuel is burned during the launch. So, when the second stage of the rocket detached and fell back to Earth, it may have contained up to a tonne of unburned hydrazine fuel that was “deliberately deposited” into the North Water Polynya in northern Baffin Bay, between Nunavut and Greenland.

The polynya, or Pikialasorsuaq in Inuktitut, is an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. It is a critical habitat for Arctic species such as narwhal and seals, and is one of the Arctic’s most biologically productive areas. It is also considered to be an important part of the food supply for the Inuit communities who fish and hunt there.

Prior to the launch, the former Prime Minister of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist, called the deposit of potentially dangerous rocket fuel into the Pikialasorsuaq “unacceptable.”

According to a study published earlier this month, at least 10 similar launches have discarded rocket stages in Pikialasorsuaq or in the Barents Sea, off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia, since 2002.

Article 29 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples asserts that states must ensure hazardous materials are not disposed in Indigenous territories without their consent. However, last week’s launch — like the others before it — involved no prior consultation with Inuit.

For Inuit, the rocket launch transcends geopolitics. It strains their ongoing concerns over food safety and food security. It also raises tensions over the rights of Indigenous peoples in contemporary Canada, including their right to food.

In Nunavut, food security remains a serious public health issue. More than two-thirds of Inuit households lack reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Climate change, environmental contaminants, high food prices and low income all
affect food security.

The average cost of healthy foods in Nunavut is considerably more than the average in Canada, including chicken ($13.54 vs. $7.17 per kilogram), apples ($6.70 vs. $3.85 per kilogram) and carrots ($5.93 vs. $2.03 per kilogram). Meanwhile, employment income in small Nunavut communities such as Arctic Bay is less than half the median income of $32,800 that is the norm across Canada.

What if something goes wrong?

Hydrazine is an extremely toxic chemical now rarely used by space programs due to its immediate dangers. Researchers know little about how humans may be affected by long-term exposure to hydrazine, nor have they studied its behaviour in Arctic marine environments.

Hydrazine was used in last week’s ESA atmosphere-monitoring satellite launch from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. The ESA has denied the rocket stage presents any threat to the Arctic environment and Global Affairs Canada deemed risks to the marine environment as “very low.”

Yet Micheal Byers, Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia, has highlighted that no information currently exists on how much unused hydrazine actually hits the water.

The Sentinel-5P satellite was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on Oct. 13, on a rocket using highly toxic hydrazine fuel.
(ESA/Stephane Corvaja)

In theory, debris from the rocket will burn up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and never reach the surface. But what if something goes wrong?

The Government of Nunavut has said the likelihood of fuel reaching the Earth remains low. But there should be no risk at all. The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) has demanded that space agencies use less toxic alternatives.

When governments evaluate risk, they must evaluate the probability of an event and its potential consequences. History shows they could do better.

When Nunavut Justice Susan Cooper struck down the Eastern Canadian Arctic Seismic Experiment in August 2010, she acknowledged these consequences. Inuit communities feared irreparable harm to the animals vital to their food system if the experiment went ahead. In her decision, Justice Cooper wrote that while only the “potential for harm” was established by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, such potential was sufficient to grant an injunction due to the degree of harm, which equated to a “loss of culture… no amount of money” could compensate.

As Inuit have repeatedly pointed out, any risk associated with the Arctic environment may have an impact on their food security, nutrition and health, as well as on their livelihood and culture. To what extent have the potential harms to Inuit food systems been taken into account when governments evaluate the risks associated with falling rocket debris or other industrial activities?

‘This is our home’

Even though much of the Arctic is far removed from the world’s industrial centres, global pollution is having a profound effect on the North. Contaminants can travel long distances along ocean currents, rivers and streams, and in the atmosphere, reaching high levels in Arctic ecosystems.

Inuit generally prefer to eat food obtained through fishing, hunting and gathering, collectively called country foods. It is mostly through these country foods that Inuit are exposed to environmental contaminants such as persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals such as mercury. Studies show that Inuit living in Nunavut have higher levels of contaminants in their blood than the general Canadian population.

Contaminants are among many contemporary pressures on Inuit food systems.

In July 2017, the Nunavut hamlet of Clyde River won a bid against the National Energy Board (NEB) in the Supreme Court of Canada to halt a seismic survey in Baffin Bay. The hamlet’s lawyer argued that the potential impacts of the seismic survey on food security, which had been dismissed by industry representatives and the NEB as minimal, were a central concern.

“Hunting and gathering, this is how we live. This is our humanity,” said Jerry Natanine, the former mayor of Clyde River. These mounting pressures on marine ecosystems highlight how country foods are an existential matter for Inuit.

Inuit food systems can no longer simply be an afterthought to international sovereignty disputes and risk assessment. Indigenous Peoples in Canada and globally have drawn attention to the false imagination of their homes, lands and waters as a terra nullius – an empty no-man’s land.

The ConversationAs Okalik Eegeesiak, former chair of the ICC, has said of previous launches: “This rocket will not be falling into no-man’s land… This is our home.”

Tiff-Annie Kenny, Nereus Program Fellow; Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Ottawa and Tad Lemieux, PhD researcher in sovereignty and rhetoric, Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.