Newsworthy

PLANET’S AXIS SHIFTS, OCEANS HEAT

Humana activity continues to influence our planet in significant ways.
This includes heating the oceans and even impacting the rotation axis of Earth. Prior to 2000, scientists observed the planet’s axis drifting southwards, away from the geographic North Pole and towards Canada. How- ever, since around 2000, the axis has shifted eastwards. This seems to be a result of the melting polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers, significantly the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet.

Another contributing factor is the unreplenished water being pumped from the ground, leading to land subsidence that damages infrastructure and reduces underground water storage capacity. The world’s ground water is currently depleting at a rate of about 75 tril- lion gallons per year, notably in India and California’s Central Valley. Though this has not yet significantly shifted Earth’s axis to affect seasons, it is crucial for satellite navigation systems, requiring scientists to predict these changes.

Shocking data have been reported from the ocean this year. The third warmest May was recorded in the 174 years of keeping records. Due to greenhouse gas emissions and the current El Nino, global temperatures are predicted to spike in the coming five years. The average temperature may even exceed 1.5 degrees beyond pre-industrial levels.

The most extraordinary warming is in the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. The aver- age sea-surface temperature surpassed 21C for the first time in April, primarily due to unprecedented warming caused by human activities. Record-breaking temperatures are being recorded in the North Sea and the north Atlantic. If these temperatures persist all summer, scientists expect mass mortality of marine life, including kelp, seagrass, fish, and oysters.

Sources: Raymond Zhong, “Something Was Messing with Earth’s Axis. The Answer Has to Do With Us,” New York Times, June 29, 2023; Oliver Milman, “Temperatures Spike Amid Signs of Record-Hottest Year,” The Guardian, June 23, 2023; Helena Horton, “Un- heard of Marine Heatwave,” The Guardian June 19, 2023.

BACK TO ARMS CONTROL

There are currently no ongoing talks to replace the last remaining treaty that limits the substantial U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. Despite China’s growing nuclear arsenal and its refusal to partake in bi- lateral talks with the U.S., the Biden administration has proposed a feasible path to- wards arms control. The U.S. is open to engage in nuclear arms talks without preconditions with Russia and other nuclear weapon states be- longing to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The New START treaty will expire in 2026, so it’s crucial for Russia and the U.S. to start developing the next generation of arms controls. The Kremlin has ex- pressed openness to explore U.S. proposals, which could include agreeing not to exceed the warhead limit set by New START until a new treaty is adopted. President Biden now sup- ports “new multilateral arms control efforts” involving all five of the NPT members that possess nuclear weapons. Sullivan proposed greater transparency, more effective crisis communications, com- mon rules for missile launch notification, and policies to keep humans in control of nuclear weapons. Such measures, though welcome, can- not overcome the tensions that lead to nuclear war. Only nuclear disarmament can eliminate the threat.

Source: Daryl G. Kimball, “A Plan to Reduce Nuclear Dangers in a Time of Peril,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2023.

THE KAKHOVKA DAM AND FOOD SUPPLY

The recent attack on the Kakhovka Dam has forced 17,000 people to evacuate and might severely impact agricultural production. Most experts agree that Russia probably caused the disaster and the EU has condemned it as a Russian attack.

The Ukrainian agricul- ture ministry anticipates that around 10,000 hectares of farmland on the right bank, the Ukrainian side of the Dnipro River, will be affect- ed, with a larger impact ex- pected on the Russian-con- trolled side. The interruption of the Black Sea grain deal between Kyiv and Moscow may cause further complica- tions once the Black Sea ports are unblocked. Olya Korbut, a fellow at the Center of European Policy Analysis (CEPA), said in a statement that this way, “the attack will affect not only Ukraine, but the rest of the Black Sea countries too”.

“Due to the destruction of the irrigation systems of the agrarian southern Ukraine, the already meagre export capacity of Ukrainian grain will decrease even more,” she added.
Additionally, the broken dam may pose a consider- able challenge to resuming exports. The ministry also predicts that fisheries will suffer significant losses due to falling water levels post the dam break, with an estimated 95,000 tonnes of adult fish at risk of dying.

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EUROPE TO RESTORE LAND

The European Union has agreed to a Nature Restoration Law that will require member states to begin restoring 20 percent of the bloc’s land and sea ecosystems by 2030.

More than 80 percent of European habitats are in “poor shape,” according to the European Parliament, but the law will help repair the damage and meet biodiversity and climate goals.

To accomplish this plan, member nations must restore at least 30 percent of the “poor condition” types of habitat to a “good condition” by the end of the decade, with an increase to 60 percent by the end of the following decade and 90 percent by 2050.

Source: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Eco watch, Nov. 13, 2023.

RUSSIAUNSIGNSTEST BAN TREATY

On November 2, 2023, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin revoked his country’s ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), saying that he did so to bring Russia into line with the United States, which had signed but not ratified the treaty. Besides the US, the treaty has not yet been ratified by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran and Egypt.

It is unclear whether the revocation will result in Russia’s resuming testing nuclear weapons. Putin explicitly declined to say, though Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had stated that Moscow would resume testing only if the U.S. does so.

With the abandonment of the CTBT, the last remaining bilateral nuclear weapons treaty between Washington and Moscow is New START, under which the two nations used to regularly inspect each other’s nuclear facilities and limit warheads. Russia suspended the treaty in February, and it will expire in early 2026.
Source: Aljazeera, Nov. 2, 2023

COUNTRIES SUFFERING MOST FROM FOOD CRISIS

According to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, fifteen countries have been areas of ‘highest’ and ‘very high’ concern as hunger hotspots in 2023. In these countries there are higher than usual levels of acute malnutrition. Some families stave off starvation with such coping strategies as selling off their livestock.

In Afghanistan, nearly 20 million people suffer food insecurity because of conflict in the region, high food prices, floods, and droughts. That country has been consistently classified among the world’s ten worst food crises since 2016. In 2023, 46 percent of the country’s population was experiencing crisis conditions.

In Nigeria, 25.3 million people experienced food insecurity or worse. The Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern states and banditry and conflict between farmers and pastoralists in the country’s northern and central states have been key factors in the crisis. A currency crisis and fuel shortage are making things worse, A currency crisis and fuel shortage were making things worse.

In Somalia, 6.5 million people were suffering from hunger because of recurring drought, high food and water prices, and conflict. The country has a. long history of food crises. A famine in 2011 caused nearly 26,000 deaths. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have been forced from their homes, with outbreaks of cholera and measles because of poor water, sanitation, and nutrition. Ongoing conflict is predicted to continue, hurting livelihood activities, access to markets and trade.

These three countries are comparable to twelve other states that are also undergoing the world’s worst food crises. They are South Sudan, with 7.8 million people suffering acute food insecurity or worse; Yemen, with 17.4 million people so affected; Haiti, with 4.9 million; the Sahel (Burkina Faso and Mali) with 4.6 million people; Sudan, with 19.1 million; Pakistan, with 8.6 million; Central African Republic with 3 million; Ethiopia, with 23.6 million people; Kenya, with 5.4 million; Democratic Republic of the Congo with 24.5 million people; Syria with 12.1 million; and Myanmar, with 15.2 million people experiencing acute food insecurity or worse.

Almost always, there are multiple, converging causes of these crises. Wars and other conflicts, combined with climate change to create shortages, high prices, and (inevitably) widespread hunger and disease.

Since the publication of the World Vision article to which we refer here, the war in Gaza has been raging. Journalists are reporting that the famine in Gaza is far worse than any of those described above.

Source: World Vision. Aug. 17, 2023.

COUNTRIES SUFFERING MOST FROM FOOD CRISIS

According to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, fifteen countries have been areas of ‘highest’ and ‘very high’ concern as hunger hotspots in 2023. In these countries there are higher than usual levels of acute malnutrition. Some families stave off starvation with such coping strategies as selling off their livestock.

In Afghanistan, nearly 20 million people suffer food insecurity because of conflict in the region, high food prices, floods, and droughts. That country has been consistently classified among the world’s ten worst food crises since 2016. In 2023, 46 percent of the country’s population was experiencing crisis conditions.

In Nigeria, 25.3 million people experienced food insecurity or worse. The Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern states and banditry and conflict between farmers and pastoralists in the country’s northern and central states have been key factors in the crisis. A currency crisis and fuel shortage are making things worse, A currency crisis and fuel shortage were making things worse.

In Somalia, 6.5 million people were suffering from hunger because of recurring drought, high food and water prices, and conflict. The country has a. long history of food crises. A famine in 2011 caused nearly 26,000 deaths. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have been forced from their homes, with outbreaks of cholera and measles because of poor water, sanitation, and nutrition. Ongoing conflict is predicted to continue, hurting livelihood activities, access to markets and trade.

These three countries are comparable to twelve other states that are also undergoing the world’s worst food crises. They are South Sudan, with 7.8 million people suffering acute food insecurity or worse; Yemen, with 17.4 million people so affected; Haiti, with 4.9 million; the Sahel (Burkina Faso and Mali) with 4.6 million people; Sudan, with 19.1 million; Pakistan, with 8.6 million; Central African Republic with 3 million; Ethiopia, with 23.6 million people; Kenya, with 5.4 million; Democratic Republic of the Congo with 24.5 million people; Syria with 12.1 million; and Myanmar, with 15.2 million people experiencing acute food insecurity or worse.

Almost always, there are multiple, converging causes of these crises. Wars and other conflicts, combined with climate change to create shortages, high prices, and (inevitably) widespread hunger and disease.

Since the publication of the World Vision article to which we refer here, the war in Gaza has been raging. Journalists are reporting that the famine in Gaza is far worse than any of those described above.

Source: World Vision. Aug. 17, 2023.

CHINA BUILDS GIANT SOLAR PLANT IN UAE

In the desert outside Abu Dhabi, Chin has built the largest solar farm on earth, with 4 million panels. It has already produced 3.6 billion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity since it started full operations in April 2023. This was a project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and was successfully completed rapidly to be ready for the opening of the UN’s COP 28 climate conference in Dubai.

Source: South China Morning Post, 24 November 2023.

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REGULATING FACIAL RECOGNITION
Facial recognition technology – the new tool for verifying identity – seems to be advancing faster than most nations have been able to limit its use. The U.S. needs to act more rapidly, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The system uses trained AI models to extract facial features and create a biometric template which can be compared to the features of another image to produce a similarity score.

The accuracy and speed of these systems have advanced rapidly with the development of deep neural network-based machine learning. The report warns that a government’s failure to regulate the use of this technology would cede decision-making about an issue of great public concern entirely to the private sector and the marketplace.

Perhaps surprisingly, China is among the fast-reacting countries. Already in 2024 the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued rules stipulating that facial recognition can only be used when there is a specific and necessary purpose, accompanied by stringent protective measures. Indeed, the use of such technology must receive the consent of the individuals involved. If there is an equally effective alternative solution, it should be considered instead of biometic identification.

The Chinese rules prohibit capturing images or using other personal identification devices in private spaces such as hotel rooms, public washrooms, changing rooms and toilets. Such devices can only be installed in public areas strictly for public safety purposes and must be clearly marked with warning signs.

Any organization holding facial data on more than 10,000 individuals must register with a local branch of the CAC. This registration must detail the purpose of data collection.

EL NINO AND CO2 WARM 2024
February 2024 was the warmest February on record globally, marking it as the ninth consecutive month of record-breaking global temperatures. The current El Nino has been exacerbating the heat caused by human-sourced CO2 emissions and is predicted to continue doing so until this summer, according to modeling by international researchers. The situation brings marine heatwaves, wildfires, and other negative impacts, especially in areas like Alaska and the Amazon.

Now there is a potential 90% likelihood of surpassing historical global mean surface air temperature records from July 2023 to June 2024. There is a significant chance of surpassing the 1.5°C warming limit above pre-industrial levels for the first time, and scientists around the world have been vocal about the urgency of the situation. The UK’s Met Office has forecasted this potential milestone in climate history.

Over 1,000 scientists from 25 countries have participated in demonstrations organized by Scientist Rebellion following the release of a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This report underscored the necessity of rapid and profound reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to avert catastrophic climate effects.

In a recent paper, “Global Warming in the Pipeline,” James Hansen and his co-authors highlight the severity of climate change and the necessity of drastic measures to mitigate its effects. They argue for a global price on greenhouse gas emissions, East-West cooperation to accommodate the needs of the developing world, and interventions to address Earth’s radiation imbalance. To avoid more drastic transformations caused by inaction, these proposed geoengineering interventions include stratospheric aerosol injections and the spraying of salty ocean water to whiten clouds.

IS COVID OVER YET?
COVID-19 is still having an impact worldwide, but with variations in severity and prevalence. The World Health Organization’s epidemiological update from 15 March 2024 reported that the global number of new COVID-19 cases decreased by 44% during the period from 5 February to 3 March 2024 compared to the previous 28-day period. The number of new deaths also saw a reduction, decreasing by 51% in the same time.

Overall, there have been over 774 million confirmed cases and more than seven million deaths reported globally. JN.1 has become the most reported variant of interest (VOI), accounting for 90.3% of sequences in week 9 of 2024.

Like all viruses, COVID-19 will continue to mutate over time. Some mutations may lead to new variants that could be more transmissible, evade immunity from previous infections or vaccinations, or be more or less severe. Vaccines must be updated periodically to address new variants, similar to the flu vaccine.

Increasing vaccination rates worldwide will be crucial in controlling the pandemic, especially in low-income countries where vaccine access remains a challenge. Societies may see lasting changes in work, education, and public health practices, including more widespread remote work, digital education, and enhanced hygiene measures.

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