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Medicine And Climate

Globalization is often thought of as primarily an economic phenomenon. In Thomas Friedman’s flattened world, anybody can do business anywhere. That’s not always been greeted warmly by U.S. chemists, who see manufacturing and R&D jobs being shipped abroad.

For other components of the chemistry enterprise, globalization has broader and more complex implications. Research in chemistry and related disciplines has been global for decades and is becoming ever more so. A study from Thomson Reuters released last week “shows explosive growth in research output from China, far outpacing research activity in the rest of the world,” according to a press release. The study shows that China will overtake the U.S. in research output within a decade.

Two stories in this week’s issue also illustrate the complexity of globalization, which is a reflection of the ever-increasing interconnectedness of human activities around the globe. In one positive instance, novel collaborations are being forged to improve the health of poor people in developing nations. In the other, not-so-uplifting situation, politics and the stinginess of developed nations are stymieing progress in climate-change negotiations.

In the cover story, “Partnering for Global Health,” Senior Editor Lisa Jarvis provides an in-depth look at collaborations between drug companies and nonprofit organizations to develop drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases that primarily affect the poor.

A decade ago, few large pharmaceutical companies were interested in developing drugs or vaccines for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, or dengue fever. Most of the people who contracted and died from such diseases couldn’t afford to pay for treatments against them.

Mostly through the efforts of philanthropies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, that’s changed dramatically, Jarvis writes. These institutions have played key roles in bringing together organizations such as the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development with companies such as Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline to make striking progress in bringing drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases into clinical trials. Hurdles remain before medicines reach the people who need them, but the partnerships represent a sea change in the developed world’s relationship with the developing world in the area of drug development.

Climate change is the quintessential global issue. Every country’s greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the problem humanity faces. In the Government & Policy Department story “Politics, Money, and Climate,” Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue examines why two years of negotiations probably won’t result in a new climate-change treaty at the United Nations meeting set to take place in Copenhagen in December.

Global politics plays a role. The U.S. and China are engaged in a certain level of gamesmanship. The U.S. Senate is dithering over climate-change legislation. China, now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is promising only to reduce its “CO2 intensity”—CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product—not its actual emissions of CO2.

“A catch-22 seems to be at work,” Hogue writes. “The Senate is reluctant to act until it has assurances that China … will curb its greenhouse gas releases. But China appears to be holding back on doing so until the U.S. offers specifics.”

The other stumbling block is money, specifically how much the developed world will commit to help the developing world adapt to climate change. We’re not talking about the more prosperous developing economies like China, India, and Brazil. It’s the really poor countries that need help.

I don’t pretend to know the right amount of money that should be going to these countries, but it should be a large number. They have contributed next to nothing to climate change and have reaped no benefits from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they stand to get hammered by the effects of climate change.

It’s going to cost a lot of money to cope with climate change. Let’s get on with it.

Thanks for reading.

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