Newsdesk – April 30, 2021

Red Cross volunteers assembling gauze masks for use at Camp Devens, near Boston, during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. Credit…Vintage_Space/Alamy

How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life.  Between 1920 and 2020, the average human life span doubled. How did we do it? Science mattered — but so did activism.  In September 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) spread around the world. In the United States, it would cause nearly half of all deaths over the next year. In some populations in India, the mortality rate for those infected approached 20 percent. The best estimates suggest that as many as 100 million people died from the Great Influenza outbreak that eventually circled the globe. To put that in comparison, roughly three million people died from Covid-19 over the past year on a planet with four times as many people. The H1N1 outbreak of 1918-19 was unusually lethal among young adults, normally the most resilient cohort during ordinary flu seasons.  Since the average human life span has doubled after the Great influenza outbreak, It looks as human beings have been increasingly protected by an invisible shield, one that has been built, piece by piece, over the last few centuries, keeping us ever safer and further from death. It protects us through countless interventions, big and small: the chlorine in our drinking water, the ring vaccinations that rid the world of smallpox, the data centers mapping new outbreaks all around the planet. A crisis like the global pandemic of 2020-21 gives us a new perspective on all that progress. How did this great doubling of the human life span happen? When the history textbooks do touch on the subject of improving health, they often nod to three critical breakthroughs, all of them presented as triumphs of the scientific method: vaccines, germ theory and antibiotics. But the real story is far more complicated. Those breakthroughs might have been initiated by scientists, but it took the work of activists and public intellectuals and legal reformers to bring their benefits to everyday people. From this perspective, the doubling of human life span is an achievement that is closer to something like universal suffrage or the abolition of slavery: progress that required new social movements, new forms of persuasion and new kinds of public institutions to take root. And it required lifestyle changes that ran throughout all echelons of society: washing hands, quitting smoking, getting vaccinated, wearing masks during a pandemic – The New York Times

  • Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat – The New York Times
  • Citizen assembly takes on Germany’s climate pledges – Made for Minds
  • Whales Face New and Emerging Threats – The Revelator
  • The Top 11 Climate Actions of Joe Biden’s First 100 Days – Mother Jones
  • Poland clinches ‘historic’ deal to phase out coal by 2049 – Made for Minds
  • Bolsonaro abandons enhanced Amazon commitment same day he makes it – Mongabay
  • Greta Thunberg or Bill Gates? – Project Syndicate
Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end.Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap. Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action. If you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative titled “The Sky’s the Limit.” It begins by declaring that “solar and wind potential is far higher than that of fossil fuels and can meet global energy demand many times over.” Taken by itself, that’s not a very bold claim: scientists have long noted that the sun directs more energy to the Earth in an hour than humans use in a year. But, until very recently, it was too expensive to capture that power. That’s what has shifted—and so quickly and so dramatically that most of the world’s politicians are now living on a different planet than the one we actually inhabit. On the actual Earth, circa 2021, the report reads, “with current technology and in a subset of available locations we can capture at least 6,700 PWh p.a. [petawatt-hours per year] from solar and wind, which is more than 100 times global energy demand.” And, because costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. The renewable energy is the biggest gift of all for some of the poorest nations, including in Africa, where solar potential outweighs current energy use by a factor of more than a thousand. Only a few countries—Singapore, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and a handful of European countries—are “stretched” in their ability to rely on renewables, because they both use a lot of energy and have little unoccupied land. In these terms, Germany is in the third-worst position, and the fact that it is nonetheless one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy should be a powerful signal.  A wonderful leftover from Earth Day: Tia Nelson, the daughter of the late senator Gaylord Nelson, who launched the April day of action, in 1970, wrote about how her father helped welcome Joe Biden to the Senate, in 1973, comforting him after his wife and infant daughter had been killed in a car crash. Nelson said, of her father, “It would delight him to see that something he started so long ago, to shake the Washington establishment out of its lethargy, still playing such an important role these many years later. And he would be moved to see that the heartbroken young man he helped recover from despair is carrying his legacy forward.” It’s remarkable how long Biden has been around—one good effect is that he’s known some superb people – The New Yorker

Xiye Bastida, 19, was a featured speaker at the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, Our Planet, Our Future. Photo submitted by Xiye Bastida

Nobel summit predicts ‘transformative decade’ on climate. It’s incumbent on us all to use our knowledge and power to prevent runaway climate change, a teen climate activist from Mexico told a global gathering of climate experts and Nobel Prize winners on Monday. But it’s also critical those experts and world leaders question generally accepted knowledge and start listening to women and Indigenous groups, said Xiye Bastida, 19.  “Instead of always striving to move forward it is time to look back at our ancestral wisdom that teaches us to live in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with each other,” Bastida said, speaking at the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, Our Planet, Our Future.   Bastida was one of several speakers, including former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry, at the virtual three-day conference that began Monday. The conference drew together Nobel laureates and leaders in the sciences, policy, business and the youth movement to mobilize action on climate change, inequality and technology.  Optimism was expressed, but so was trepidation and concern over everything ranging from the gender imbalance in decision-making to countries that still use coal as a power source to whether empathy makes a better political leader. Bastida also spoke last week at U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate summit, during which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was upping its greenhouse gas reduction target to reach 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Biden announced he plans to cut U.S. coal and petroleum emissions in half by 2030. “I want us to have the heart and the courage to love the world. This is perhaps the most challenging task of all because it means that we have to shift from individualism to coexistence, from competition to co-operation,” Bastida said. “We have been blinded by greed and power.” Gore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007 for environmental activism, including the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, told the summit he’s never been more optimistic about the environment, even though humanity is still spewing pollution into the atmosphere “as if it were a global sewer”. “We are living in the early stages of a sustainability revolution empowered by machine learning, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the biotechnology revolution,” Gore said. “It has the magnitude of industrial revolution coupled with the speed of digital revolution.” We are poised at the precipice of the biggest business opportunity in the history of the world, Gore said. “This moment in which we gather is filled with abundant and, I believe, with legitimate hope that we are right now crossing the long-awaited political tipping point on climate” – Canada’s National Observer