Clamor as Greta Thunberg Joins Climate Activists in Madrid

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Madrid Friday to join thousands of other young people in a march to demand world leaders take real action against climate change.
After making it through a swarm of media cameras and microphones at the Spanish capital’s northern train station, the Swedish teen posted an ironic tweet saying that she had “successfully managed to sneak into Madrid.”
“I don’t think anyone saw me,” she added. “Anyway it’s great to be in Spain!”
Madrid is hosting two-week, United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at streamlining the rules on global carbon markets and agreeing on how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.
The talks came as scientific evidence mounts about disasters that could ensue from further global warming, including a study commissioned by 14 seafaring nations due to be published Friday predicting that unchecked climate change could devastate fishery industries and coral reef tourism.
Thunberg paid a surprise visit to the venue of the talks and joined a group of some 40 teens staging a sit-in there to demand real action against climate change.
Holding hands, the teens sang a version of John Lennon’s “Power To the People” and displayed banners with the logo of Fridays for Future, the global climate movement inspired by Thunberg.
Thunberg did not appear unsettled by the commotion surrounding her presence.
“It’s absurd. I laugh at it. I do not understand why it has become like this,” the 16-year-old was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, whose reporter rode with them in an electric car in Madrid.
“I don’t like being at the center of the focus all the time, but this is a good thing,” she told Aftonbladet. “As soon as the media writes about me, they also have to write about the climate crisis. If this is a way to write about the climate crisis, then I guess it is good.”
While Thunberg seemed bemused by the attention, her father Svante was startled, saying it was total madness.''
“I have never seen anything like this,” he told Aftonbladet.
The study commissioned by seafaring nations says climate change  could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2050, adding that limiting global warming would lessen the economic impact for coastal countries, but that they also need to adapt to ocean changes.
The presence in Madrid of Thunberg is expected to shift the attention to demands for greater action by non-governmental organizations and a whole new generation of environment-minded activists.
Past appearances have won her plaudits from some leaders and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.
An advocate for carbon-free transportation, Thunberg traveled by train overnight from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where she arrived earlier this week after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States by catamaran.
That became necessary after a sudden change of venue for the COP25 summit following a wave of anti-government protests that hit Chile, the original host.
Separately Friday, an alliance of American states, cities, academic institutions and companies opened its own venue at the U.N. climate talks, aiming to show that despite the federal administration's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, many Americans remain committed to the treaty's goal of curbing global warming.
Elan Strait, who manages the “We Are Still In” initiative for the environmental conservationist World Wildlife Fund, said the movement is
a short-term band-aid not only to get those carbon dioxide emissions down but also to encourage policymakers to lay the ground for further achievements.”
“And that, regardless of the color of the government that is in power,” Strait said.
Over 3,800 organizations and corporations representing 70% of U.S. economic output have joined the coalition, organizers claim, amounting to roughly half of the country’s emissions.
The U.S. Climate Action Center is hosting Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; Pat Brown, the chief executive of non-meat burger company Impossible Foods; Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh; and others.
The venue is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination to run in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

‘Cranky Uncle’ Game Offers a Vaccination Against Climate Disinformation

When it comes to climate change, deciding what facts you can trust and what’s fake news can be a challenge, particularly in an era of sophisticated misinformation campaigns and complex scientific data.But an ally is at hand: ‘Cranky Uncle,’ a gruff cartoon character and denier of climate change facts who, in a new game, helps you master the art of creating global warming disinformation — and makes you better at identifying it in the real world.From the use of fake experts to cherry-picking data, “you learn the techniques and then you’re able to spot them yourself,” said John Cook, an assistant professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and one of the creators of the online game.In one scenario, for instance, Cranky Uncle is falling, unconcerned, from a tall building while a white-coat-clad scientist leans out a window, warning he’ll hit the ground in 12 to 15 seconds.”Get back to me when you have more certainty!” Cranky Uncle demands.Such “impossible expectations” for predictions are one way of trying to undermine scientific data, the game notes, alongside techniques such as logical fallacies.In one of those, Cranky Uncle insists that a boat he’s in can’t be sinking — despite the stern being underwater — because the prow, where he’s standing, is still rising out of the water as the vessel, Titanic-style, becomes vertical.’Inoculate’ game playersThe idea, Cook said, is essentially to “inoculate” users against climate change disinformation and misinformation they might encounter by purposely exposing them to a small dose of it.”It basically stops misinformation from spreading, from people passing it on,” said Cook, a climate change communications expert born in Australia and now working in the United States.Both countries, he said, are widely seen as strongholds of climate denialism — alongside Canada and the United Kingdom — despite evidence of worsening droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.The idea for the game — currently still a prototype — comes from work by Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, who in 2018 created Bad News, a game designed to help players identify fake news by learning how to create it.Game played in 15 languagesThat online game, so far played by about a million people in 15 languages, “is non-political and non-judgmental. It gives people an environment to learn about these techniques regardless of what your prior views are,” van der Linden said.Now ‘Cranky Uncle’ “is using the same techniques that worked for us. It’s kind of silly and people can relate to it.”Cook, who has a background in drawing cartoons, said one of the appeals of Cranky Uncle is that most people have run into a character like him.That’s particularly true in the United States where just under 10% of the people say they are sure climate change is not happening and actively oppose action to reduce emissions, according to research published by Yale University.”Just about everybody says, ‘I’ve got an uncle just like this.’ I think it’s almost a universal human condition,” Cook said.Crowdfunding leads to prototypeHe hopes to raise $15,000, in part through crowdfunding, to turn the prototype — tested in university classes on the U.S. East Coast — into a phone app and launch it mid-2020.He said initial reactions from students have been largely positive, with many saying they had fun, and felt they could now better see through attempts to mislead them — and not just about climate change.”We found that playing this game about climate disinformation inoculated them against any kind of misinformation,” he said.

‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass

Scientists launched genetically modified mice into space December 5 as part of a study to find ways to help maintain the health of astronauts in space They have twice the muscle mass of their “ordinary” counterparts. As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, the research could provide insight into muscular degeneration in older populations and those with muscle-wasting conditions. 

Tiny Analyzer Promises Boost for Coffee Growers, Their Soil

A piece of paper no bigger than a business card could enrich struggling coffee farmers and their soil, a growing challenge as temperatures rise and prices fluctuate. 
Enveritas, a U.S. nonprofit, signed an agreement with International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) on Thursday to pilot the AgroPad, which analyzes soil samples remotely and quickly. 
Powered by artificial intelligence, the AgroPad can perform a chemical analysis in 10 seconds, reading nitrate or chloride levels from a drop of water or small soil sample, said IBM. 
Enveritas plans to provide the devices for free to farmers in coffee-growing regions of Latin America and Africa, and IBM said it aims to make them affordable for everyone. Its target production cost: less than 25 cents. 
The nonprofit, which works with 100,000 farms, mills and estates in Latin America and Africa, did not say how many would be in the pilot but, if successful, “the plan is to scale it out,” CEO David Browning told Reuters. 
Coffee farmers have been struggling with a slump in global prices while climate change is threatening vast swaths of land in Latin America, Asia and Africa. 
Enveritas, which verifies the sustainability of coffee farmers, said most of its growers live on less than $2 a day. 
Chemical analysis of soil is vital to improve yields but is complicated, expensive and time-consuming because it requires laboratory equipment, said Mathias Steiner from IBM Research-Brazil. 
AgroPad costs less and could reduce the use of fertilizers, which would save money and help the environment, said Steiner, one of its inventors. 
Last week, engineers from Britain’s Brunel University also unveiled an AI device for farming: small red pods, costing £92 ($118) each, that could be planted into the soil. The pods collect data hourly and would show farmers what the soil needs. 

WHO Decries ‘Collective Failure’ as Measles Kills 140,000

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as devastating outbreaks of the viral disease hit every region of the world, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.In figures described by its director general as “an outrage,” the WHO said most of last year’s measles deaths were in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.”The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.FILE – Signs posted at The Vancouver Clinic in Vancouver, Wash., Jan. 30, 2019, warn patients and visitors of a measles outbreak.The picture for 2019 is even worse, the WHO said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase compared with the same period in 2018.The United States has already reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years in 2019, while four countries in Europe — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain — lost their WHO “measles-free” status in 2018 after suffering large outbreaks.An ongoing outbreak of measles in South Pacific nation of Samoa has infected more than 4,200 people and killed more than 60, mostly babies and children, in a battle complicated by a vocal anti-vaccination movement.Globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade, the WHO said. It and the UNICEF children’s fund say that in 2018, around 86% of children got a first dose of measles vaccine through their country’s routine vaccination services, and fewer than 70% got the second dose recommended to fully protect them from measles infection.Highly contagiousMeasles is one of the most contagious known diseases — more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can linger in the air or on surfaces for several hours after an infected person has been and gone — putting anyone not vaccinated at risk.In some wealthier nations, vaccination rates have been hit by some parents shunning them for what they say are religious or philosophical reasons. Mistrust of authority and debunked myths about links to autism also weaken vaccine confidence and lead some parents to delay protecting their children.Research published in October showed that measles infection not only carries a risk of death or severe complications including pneumonia, brain damage, blindness and deafness, but can also damage the victim’s immune memory for months or years — leaving those who survive measles vulnerable to other dangerous diseases such as flu or severe diarrhea.The WHO data showed there were an estimated 9,769,400 cases of measles and 142,300 related deaths globally in 2018. This compares to 7,585,900 cases and 124,000 deaths in 2017.In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, the WHO said, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of global cases.Robert Linkins, a specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data were worrying: “Without improving measles vaccine coverage we’re going to continue to see these needless deaths. We must turn this trend around.”

New Biogen Data Showed no Major Safety Issues for its Alzheimer’s Drug

Biogen Inc on Thursday presented new data on its experimental Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab that eased concerns raised by some experts but still left many questions unanswered as the company made its case about why it plans to seek U.S. approval after declaring the drug a failure in March.Experts had been watching closely for any statistical abnormalities or excess safety issues that would affect how the drug is reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), likely in the second half of 2020.It has been at least 15 years since the FDA has reviewed an application for a new Alzheimer’s treatment, and an agent that can slow progression of the mind-wasting disease is desperately needed.Alzheimer’s experts on a panel organized by the company, who had seen the data previously, expressed confidence that the complicated study did show that the drug was able to slow progression of the disease.“All of the data suggests this is a disease modification. That means the impact of the treatment will continue to accrue with time,” said Dr. Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s expert from the University of Southern California.Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s expert from Mayo Clinic who moderated the panel and has been a paid adviser for Biogen, said while one of the two studies, known as Emerge, was “overwhelmingly positive,” the twin study known as Engage, was not. “Overall, I think it’s more positive than negative,” he said of the results.Petersen was not too worried about the rates of a brain swelling side effect, known as ARIA-E, which occurred in 33-35 percent of patients in the high-dose groups.“The side effects are there. They’re not zero. They’re to be expected. But I think they’re manageable.”Others, however, acknowledged that the affected sample size was small and the trials were cut short early. Only one of the two phase 3 trials showed a statistically significant benefit.“This reinforces what I thought before. That we need a third study. The data are encouraging, but there are still questions about whether the drug has a clinical effect,” said Dr. Howard Fillit, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, who was at the meeting.Fillit said the company only measured one timepoint – 78 weeks after treatment. “It still remains to be seen if this effect is sustained. It could be an anomaly.”Dr. Eric Siemers, a former Alzheimer’s researcher for Eli Lilly and a consultant on drugs for neurodegenerative disease who was not involved with the study, said based on his read of the data, the patient responses are not happening by chance.“The regulators will have a very difficult job. Do you look at the totality of the data, or require more study, which would be years away,” he said.Stifel analyst Paul Matteis said in a note to clients that he saw aspects that were both “incrementally better and worse than expected,” and puts the probability of the drug winning approval at less than 50%.Biogen’s shares had been halted prior to the presentation at a Alzheimer’s meeting, reopened lower, and then rose as investors tried to parse the meeting from the complicated study.Biogen has partnered with Japan’s Eisai Co Ltd to develop aducanumab as well as BAN2401, which works in a similar way.

UN Climate Talks Aim to Pave Way for Global Carbon Market

On a cold afternoon in late November, Jan Gerrit Otterpohl eyes the chimneys of Berlin’s Heizkraftwerk Mitte, a state-of-the-art power plant that supplies the city with heat and electricity. It’s not the billowing steam he’s interested in, but the largely invisible carbon dioxide that the power station exhales as it burns natural gas.Under European Union rules, the plant’s operator, Vattenfall, needs a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide it emits. Otterpohl’s job is to keep costs low by making sure the company buys only as many permits as necessary, at the current market price.Economists say that carbon markets like the one Otterpohl uses can become a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, by giving emitters a financial incentive to reduce greenhouse gases. But despite making progress in other areas, governments have for years been unable to agree on the rules that would allow truly global trade in carbon permits to flourish.Negotiators at a U.N. meeting in Madrid this month are aiming to finally tackle the issue, after last year agreeing on almost all other parts of the rulebook governing the 2015 Paris climate accord.“There are reasons to be optimistic and to think that there could be some progress because of the political attention that it’s getting,” said Alex Hanafi, a lead counsel at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.Many governments are struggling to make the emissions cuts necessary to meet the Paris accord’s goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.The hope is that putting a price on carbon will unlock billions of dollars in investments as countries and companies seek the most cost-effective way to cut emissions. By capping the number of permits in the market and reducing it steadily, the incentive to save on emissions would grow over time.“There is tremendous potential for carbon markets to contribute to the achievement of the Paris agreement goals,” said Hanafi.But he warned that a bad deal on carbon markets, known in climate diplomacy parlance as ‘Article 6,’ would be “worse than no deal at all.”That would be the case, for example, if airlines find it cheaper to offset their emissions than reduce them; or if countries protect large areas of carbon-absorbing forests, sell the resulting permits to other nations and simultaneously count them toward their own emissions-reduction efforts.Brazil has long pushed back against some of the stricter accounting rules demanded by the EU and the United States. The Latin American nation, criticized by environmentalists for failing to properly protect the Amazon rainforest, also insists that it should be allowed to keep vast amounts of carbon credits amassed under a now-discredited system, a stance shared by China and India.“It’s very important to really avoid these kind of negative impacts,” said Claudia Kemfert, a senior energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research.Kemfert noted that it took more than a decade to tweak the emissions trading system that so far only covers the power and heavy industry sectors in 27 European Union countries— all, except Britain — plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — a region with well-functioning markets and low levels of corruption.Otterpohl, who oversees emissions at Vattenfall’s Berlin power plant, agreed.“As far as the EU (emissions trading system) is concerned, there’s now a mature and functioning market in the areas it covers.”Expanding that market to cover other sectors in the EU, such as transportation and home heating, or linking it up with other existing emissions trading systems in China, California and elsewhere should be possible, said Daniel Wragge, the director of political and regulatory affairs at the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig, Germany.“Technically speaking, it’s not a challenge,” said Wragge, whose company manages the marketplace for European emissions, where a ton of carbon dioxide is currently traded for about 25 euros ($27.70). “But, of course, there are certain conditions and the key is, of course, that the certificates are mutually recognized.”Kemfert cautioned that putting a price on emissions alone won’t stop climate change.“What we need are many, many activities to reduce emissions,” she said. “If we reach a carbon market, that’s fine. But we should go for other solutions very urgently.”

Cameroon Launches Vaccination Campaign to Contain Measles Outbreak

Cameroon has organized a national vaccination campaign to stop a measles outbreak that has infected more than 3,000 people, especially children, this year. The most-affected area is the central African state’s northern border with Nigeria and Chad, where 17 children have died this month. Health officials believe many more people are infected, since barely 30% of the population visits conventional health facilities.Dr. Edzoa Brice, coordinator of the vaccination teams dispatched to towns and villages around Cameroon’s capital city, Yaounde, says vaccination teams are stationed in all road junctions, churches, schools, markets and popular spots, and will not be visiting homes as they have always done in the past. He says back the teams found that few parents and children were at home as they had gone to schools, farms, offices or markets.Nurse Theresia Mabuh, a member of the vaccination team from Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry, says the vaccination campaign is aimed at saving millions of lives threatened by the outbreak.”It is efficient, it is simple and it is free for all the children, so I am calling on all the parents, all the mothers to [have their children vaccinated]. We also have the deworming of children from 1 year to 5 years. We have vitamin A that is given [to children aged] from 6 month to 5 years,” Mabuh said.The Public Health Ministry reports that  the northern regions, where more than 2,000 of this year’s 3,000 reported cases have occurred, have higher birth rates and lower routine vaccination coverage, as barely 3 out of every 10 mothers visit conventional health facilities. They prefer African traditional medical practitioners, who are more accessible and available than hospitals which are often very far away, understaffed and lack medication. Fear and misinformation make some distrust vaccinations. Some parents either refuse or forget to have their children vaccinated when they are 9 months old, as recommended by the World Health Organization.Twenty-three-year old mother of two Loveline Tossam says it was after she lost her 2-year-old daughter shortly after she arrived at the Biyem Assi district hospital in Yaounde that the medical staff informed her that she had to vaccinate her children.”She was coughing. She was very weak and she was vomiting ceaselessly. Twenty-four hours afterwards, we lost her and it is now that I am learning that we had to go for vaccination,” Tossam said.The WHO lists vaccination hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health that have  been leading to the resurfacing of measles is some countries.Dr. Phanuel Habimana, WHO resident representative in Cameroon, says people should trust the vaccines’ ability to save lives.He said people should be informed that the vaccines given to their children are efficient and certified by the WHO. He says he was also vaccinated when he was young and is calling on community, religious, opinion and political leaders and everyone in authority to educate all parents to allow their children to be vaccinated. He says after the campaign, the knowledge of the need for routine vaccinations for newborns should be reinforced.Two injections of a vaccine can prevent measles, and the WHO says treatment is safe and effective, and has been in use since the 1960s.Cameroon reported its last massive measles outbreak from February 2010 to July 2011 when 37 out of the 179 health districts in the country were affected.