Climate Change Poses Grave Threat to a Healthy Planet

An expert group of 270 climate scientists warns the dire impacts of climate change soon will be irreversible unless governments act decisively to tackle these imminent global threats.

Hoesung Lee, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, does not mince words. He said the stakes of our planet have never been higher.

“Human activities have warmed the planet at a rate not seen in at least the past 2,000 years. We are on course to reaching global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades and temperatures will continue to rise unless the world takes much bolder action,” said Lee.

He said the action governments take today will shape how people will be able to adapt to climate change and how nature will respond to increasing climate risks.

Debra Roberts is co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II, which produced the report. She said the scientific evidence that climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet is unequivocal.

“Climate change combines with unsustainable use of natural resources. Habitat destruction, deforestation, and growing urbanization as well as inequity and marginalization … 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in global hotspots of high vulnerability to climate change,” said Roberts.

These include parts of Africa, as well as South Asia, Central and South America, small islands, and the Arctic. The report warns that people living in these hotspots will likely experience severe food shortages, leading to malnutrition, should global temperatures rise by two degrees Celsius by 2050.

Despite these dire predictions, scientists say the report presents a reality check on what has been done to stem global warming and what remains to be done. They say the report offers solutions on how to adapt to climate change and mitigate their worst effects.

Scientists say some challenges can be addressed by creating a more equitable and sustainable world, by moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and by using indigenous knowledge to protect nature.

These steps, along with adaptation and mitigation projects, can help create change, but poorer countries will need wealthier countries to help finance them.

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Twitter to Reduce Visibility of Russian State Media Content 

Twitter announced Monday that it will start labeling and making it harder for users to see tweets about the invasion of Ukraine that contain information from Russian state media outlets like RT and Sputnik.

“For years we’ve provided more context about state-affiliated media while not accepting ad $ or amplifying accounts,” Twitter said in a tweet. “With many looking for credible info due to the conflict in Ukraine, we’re now adding labels on Tweets linking to state media & reducing the content’s visibility.”

 

Twitter said it had seen over 45,000 tweets a day from people sharing links to Russian state media, much more than coming from state-sponsored accounts.

Twitter began to de-amplify Russian state media accounts in 2020 and had earlier banned Russian state media from advertising.

The announcement Monday will impact individuals sharing links from those entities.

The move is the latest spat between U.S. social media companies and Russia.

Twitter has been slowed down in Russia several times, most recently on Saturday, and last week, Russia said it would limit Russians’ access to some features of Facebook, saying the company was involved in censorship.

Google and Facebook have also banned Russian state media from monetizing their accounts.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

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Rapid Testing for Malaria and COVID Set to Roll Out in Kenya

Kenya has ramped up its efforts to control the twin challenges of the coronavirus and malaria by introducing locally made testing kits for the two diseases. Kenya’s Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) says the kits offer quicker detection and will soon be exported to the region. Brenda Mulinya reports from Nairobi. Videographer and producer: Amos Wangwa

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Capitol Ditches Mask Requirement Ahead of State of the Union

Face coverings are now optional for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, as Congress is lifting its mask requirement on the House floor after federal regulators eased guidelines last week in a rethinking of the nation’s strategy to adapt to living with a more manageable COVID-19.

Congress’ Office of the Attending Physician announced the policy change Sunday, lifting a requirement that has been in place for much of the past two years and had become a partisan flashpoint on Capitol Hill. The change ahead of the speech will avoid a potential disruptive display of national tensions and frustration as Biden tries to nudge the country to move beyond the pandemic.

The nation’s capital is now in an area considered low risk under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new metrics, which place less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening in community hospitals. The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Healthy people in those risk areas can stop wearing masks indoors, the agency said.

Mask-wearing will still be a personal choice in Congress and special precautions will be in place for Biden’s speech, which unlike last year’s joint address will be open to all members of Congress. All attendees will be required to take a COVID-19 test before entering the chamber ahead of Biden’s address.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced initial guidelines earlier this month from the Office of the Sergeant at Arms that included a threat that violation of guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing during the event would “result in the attendee’s removal.”

The new policy eases the fears of some Biden allies who had been gearing up for potentially disruptive protests from Republicans to the policies. Some GOP lawmakers have racked up thousands of dollars in fines for violating mask-wearing mandates on the House floor.

The relaxed guidance comes as Biden aims to use his remarks to highlight the progress against COVID-19 made over the last year, including vaccinations and therapeutics, and guide the country into a “new phase” of the virus response that is not driven by emergency measures and looks more like life pre-pandemic.

Seating for Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, last April, was capped at about 200 — about 20% of usual capacity for a presidential presentation — and White House aides fretted that a repeat would be a dissonant image from the message the president aimed to deliver to the American people.

“I think you’re going to see it look much more like a normal state of the union than the president’s joint address,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Saturday. “It’s going to look like the most normal thing people have seen in Washington in a long time.”

The Capitol move comes just a day before Washington’s mask mandate expires on Monday, and as a host of states and local governments have begun implementing the new CDC guidelines and lifting mask-mandates indoors and in schools.

Caseloads across the country have dropped precipitously since their early January peak, with the omicron variant proving to be less likely than earlier strains to cause death or serious illness, especially in vaccinated and boosted individuals.

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YouTube Blocks RT, Other Russian Channels From Earning Ad Dollars

YouTube on Saturday barred Russian state-owned media outlet RT and other Russian channels from receiving money for advertisements that run with their videos, similar to a move by Facebook, after the invasion of Ukraine.

Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” YouTube said in a statement that it was “pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions.” Ad placement is largely controlled by YouTube.

Videos from the affected channels also will come up less often in recommendations, YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said. He added that RT and several other channels would no longer be accessible in Ukraine due to “a government request.”

Ukraine Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted earlier on Saturday that he contacted YouTube “to block the propagandist Russian channels such as Russia 24, TASS, RIA Novosti.”

RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. YouTube did not name the other channels it had restricted.

For years, lawmakers and some users have called on YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, to take greater action against channels with ties to the Russian government out of concern that they spread misinformation and should not profit from that.

Russia received an estimated $7 million to $32 million over the two-year period ended December 2018 from ads across 26 YouTube channels it backed, digital researcher Omelas told Reuters at the time.

YouTube previously has said that it does not treat state-funded media channels that comply with its rules any differently than other channels when it comes to sharing ad revenue.

Meta Platforms Inc, owner of Facebook, on Friday barred Russian state media from running ads or generating revenue from ads on its services anywhere in the world.

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World’s Oldest Known Stone Structures Discovered in Jordan

Archaeologists in Jordan’s southeast desert have discovered a 9,000-year-old ritualistic complex. It’s the earliest known large human-built structure involving Neolithic hunting communities. Experts say it points to civilization in the Middle East much earlier than originally thought.

Jordan’s antiquities ministry recently announced the discovery of huge human stone structures believed to be the oldest known to date from 9,000 years ago in its southeastern desert plateau area of Jabal Khashabiyeh. 

Jordanian archaeologist Wael Abu Aziza told reporters that “they’re the oldest huge human structures known to date.” He said Neolithic hunters living 9,000 years ago used huge stone enclosures to trap wild animals en masse. Also, one structure, thought to be a shrine, contained objects the experts believe to be related to ancient rituals. 

Commenting on the discovery, archeologist Pearce Paul Creasman of the American Center of Research in Amman said it was likely older than other similar structures, also found in Jordan, known as the Ain Ghazal statues.  

“Absolutely, no question that this is a significant find. The Ain Ghazal statues have been traditionally considered some of the oldest and the most significant of human occupation and so this could possibly be pushing that back, a little bit older,” Creasman said.  

A team of international archaeologists—including those from the United States—say the discoveries show how hunting communities in Neolithic times, predating Iraq’s sophisticated Assyrians by several thousand years and who were far less developed, displayed early signs of civilization. At the site were also found children’s toys made by these hunters who etched human faces in stone between hunting trips in the Arabian Desert.  

“This is absolutely evidence of complex activity from a date doing a level organization that we don’t see all over the place at that time and is kind of a predecessor to what we would generally think of as civilization today,” Creasman.   

Archaeologists said this major find could change perceptions of early human civilization in the Middle East.

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