The shots still largely protect people from developing severe symptoms, but there has been an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths among older age groups, Heather Scobie, deputy team lead of the CDC’s Surveillance and Analytics Epidemiology Task Force said at the meeting. And while it’s impossible to predict the future, we could be in for a tough fall and winter, epidemiologist Justin Lessler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said at the meeting. From March 2022 to March 2023, simulations project that deaths from COVID-19 in the United States might number in the tens to hundreds of thousands.
A switch to omicron-containing jabs may give people an extra layer of protection for the upcoming winter. Pfizer–BioNTech presented data at the meeting showing that updated versions of its mRNA shot gave clinical trial participants a boost of antibodies that recognize omicron. One version included omicron alone, while the other is a twofer, or bivalent, jab that mixes the original formulation with omicron. Moderna’s bivalent shot boosted antibodies too. Novavax, which developed a protein-based vaccine that the FDA is still mulling whether to authorize for emergency use, doesn’t have an omicron-based vaccine yet, though the company said its original shot gives people broad protection, generating antibodies that probably will recognize omicron.
Now, omicron subvariants BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 are the dominant versions in the United States and other countries. The CDC estimates that roughly half of new U.S.infections the week ending June 25 were caused by either BA.4 or BA.5. By the time the fall rolls around, yet another new version of omicron—or a different variant entirely—may join their ranks. The big question is which of these subvariants to include in the vaccines to give people the best protection possible.
BA.1, the version already in the updated vaccines, may be the right choice, virologist Kanta Subbarao said at the FDA meeting. An advisory committee to the World Health Organization, which Subbarao chairs, recommended on June 17 that vaccines may need to be tweaked to include omicron, likely BA.1. “We’re not trying to match [what variants] may circulate,” Subbarao said. Instead, the goal is to make sure that the immune system is as prepared as possible to recognize a wide variety of variants, not just specific ones. The hope is that the broader the immune response, the better our bodies will be at fighting the virus off even as it evolves.
Some members of the FDA advisory committee disagreed with choosing BA.1, instead saying that they’d prefer vaccines that include a portion of BA.4 or BA.5. With BA.1 largely gone, it may be better to follow the proverbial hockey puck where it’s going rather than where it’s been, said Bruce Gellin, chief of Global Public Health Strategy with the Rockefeller Foundation in Washington, D.C. Plus, BA.4 and BA.5 are also vastly different from the original variant. Both BA.4 and BA.5 have identical spike proteins, which the virus uses to break into cells and the vaccines use to teach our bodies to recognize an infection. So when it comes to making vaccines, the two are somewhat interchangeable.
There are some real-world data suggesting that current vaccines offer the least amount of protection from BA.4 and BA.5 compared with other omicron subvariants, Marks said. Pfizer also presented data showing results from a test in mice of a bivalent jab with the original coronavirus strain plus BA.4/BA.5. The shot sparked a broad immune response that boosted antibodies against four omicron subvariants. It’s unclear what that means for people.
Plenty of other open questions remain too. The FDA could authorize either a vaccine that contains omicron alone or a bivalent shot, although some data hinted that a bivalent dose might spark immunity that could be more durable. Pfizer and Moderna tested their updated shots in adults. It’s unclear what the results mean for kids. Also unknown is whether people who have never been vaccinated against COVID-19 could eventually start with such an omicron-based vaccine instead of the original two doses.
Maybe researchers will get some answers before boosters start in the fall. But health agencies need to make decisions now so vaccine developers have a chance to make the shots in the first place. Unfortunately, we’re always lagging behind the virus, said pediatrician Hayley Gans of Stanford University. “We can’t always wait for the data to catch up.”
In order to substantiate its abstention from voting, India felt compelled to issue a so-called “Explanation of Vote” (EoV). In it, India asked for a “return to the path of diplomacy” and an immediate cessation of “violence and hostilities.” Crucially, India stated in the EoV that “the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states…all member states need to honor these principles in finding a constructive way forward. Dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment.”
While these statements and the call for dialogue are in accordance with India’s professed stance toward the relevance and objectives enshrined in the UN Charter, the discrepancy between rhetoric and practice is still conspicuous. At first glance, a “good” relationship with Russia seems to be more significant than the expectations of the world-community as represented in the United Nations. And, more importantly, by abstaining, India seemingly violated one of its central foreign and strategic policies: to always strive for strategic autonomy.
Even though India has begun to reorient itself militarily toward other countries—the U.S., Israel, France and Italy—and has substituted foreign imports by slowly developing its own capabilities, a large number of new Indo-Russian projects are in the conceptual or implementation stages. In December 2021, in the frame of the so-called “2+2 Dialogue” (foreign and defense ministers), India and Russia began a new phase in their military–technological cooperation. Incidentally, India has used this very format for furthering cooperation in strategic, security and intelligence issues with four of its key strategic partners: Australia, the U.S., Japan and the newly added Russia. Russia and India agreed upon a further deepening of mutual military relations for ten years (until 2031). What is new is that next to the traditional purchase of Russian weapons systems, many common research projects and the development of new weapons systems—with their production taking place equally in both countries—have been agreed upon. This production includes new frigates, helicopters, submarines, cruise missiles and even Kalashnikovs.
The depth of this mutual engagement, and especially India’s dependence, highlights a huge dilemma that might not only have drastic strategic consequences, but also long-lasting regional repercussions. The worldwide sanctions issued against Russia aim at the Russian economy and military. When it comes to the procurement of such crucial components as microchips or airline parts, Russia is soon expected to face shortages, essentially crippling its capacity to repair, construct, or have spare parts available (let alone construct new equipment). Unless other countries, such as China, circumvent international sanctions and step-in, the expected Russian inability to take care of its own military will have a spill-over effect. Russia is unlikely to be able to fulfill its contractual obligations toward India, and the lack of spare parts also has the potential to cripple India’s own military with regards to the Russian weapons equipment. The procurement agreements and common projects are, hence, all in jeopardy and India, now more than ever, depends on Russian goodwill.
The Center for China and Globalization is proud to announce the full program of their upcoming 8th edition of CCG annual China and Globalization Forum 2022 to be held in online-offline hybrid format in Beijing. Everyone is cordially invited to join the events open to public virtually. All sessions open to public will be broadcast live. You will be able to access the sessions on Zoom:
10:30-12:30—Ambassadors’ Roundtable: Global Recovery in Post-Pandemic Times: Trends, Challenges, and Responses
WANG Huiyao (王辉耀), CCG President, Vice Chairman of China Association for International Economic Cooperation (CAFIEC)
LONG Yongtu, CCG Chairman; former Vice Minister of Commerce LIN Songtian, President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, former Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator, United Nations in China
(in alphabetic order) Joseph Cash, Policy Analyst, China–Britain Business Council (CBBC) CUI Hongjian, CCG Non-Resident Senior Fellow and Director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) Vivian Ding, CCG Senior Council Member, Founder and CEO of WeBrand Global FENG Zhongping, Director of Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Allan Gabor, President of Merck China Archil Kalandia, Ambassador of Georgia to China LENG Yan, CCG Senior Council Member; Executive Vice President of Daimler Greater China LIU Chang, Vice President of Knorr-Bremse Asia Pacific Steven Lynch, Managing Director, BritCham China Dario Mihelin, Ambassador of Croatia to China Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, Ambassador of Finland to China MIN Hao, CCG Senior Council Member; Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Nanjing Easthouse Electric Ltd. SUN Yongfu, CCG Senior Fellow; former Director-General of MOFCOM Department of European Affairs Joerg Wuttke, President of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China ZHOU Yanli, CCG Advisor; Former Vice Chairman of China Insurance Regulatory Commission Helen Zhu, CCG Senior Council Member; Vice President of Sanofi China
Oman shipyard Asyad Dry Dock is expanding its capacity by 20% with a new floating dock as its current facilities are fully utilized.
by Marcus Hand
The shipyard, formerly Oman Drydock Company, is now part of the Asyad Group, the logistics arm of the Oman government. Management of the yard has been combined with shipowner Oman Shipping Company, and overseen by Dr. Irbahim Al Nadhairi, Chief Executive Officer, Shipping & Drydock.
“We have integrated the shipping and drydocking as the shipping service. The companies are still two legal separate entities but then we share the same executive team to be more efficient,” Dr. Ibrahim told Seatrade Maritime News in an interview at Posidonia 2022.
On the shipping side of the business the group owns a fleet of 65 ships with plans to increase the fleet to over 100 vessels over the next five years. He explains that with such a size of fleet the shipowner needed a quality shipyard so it made sense to work together.
Asyad maintains most, if not all its fleet at the shipyard in Oman, accounting for around 15% of its business. While part of the same group Dr. Ibrahim says it does not send its ships to the yard “by default,” and they have to make sure it is competitive as it needs to be for their third-party customers.
Business has been growing for the shipyard and it experienced a spike in the first half of this year as Chinese capacity has been taken out of the market by COVID restrictions pushing work to yards in other parts of the world. “So, we could see there was a big hike in the number of ships, not only for Asyad Dry Dock, but the entire region as well,” Dr. Ibrahim said.
“The next 12 months I believe the ship repair industry will still continue to flourish on our side.”
The shipyard’s two 600,000 DWTdrydocks are already operating at full capacity and this year sees it adding a floating dock with the capacity to handle vessels up to Panamax size.
“We’ve recently acquired a floating dock which is of Panamax size and we reckon that about 40% of the business in ship repair is within that Panamax size. The floating dock gives us around 20% extra capacity,” he said. It will increase the number of ships the yard can repair from 200 to around 240.
The floating dock is expected to arrive in Oman in the next six weeks, and following some dredging works be operational by the start of Q4 this year.
Greek owners are major clients of the shipyard and account for around 40% of business, and Dr. Ibrahim said they added two more Greek clients last week. “It seems we have a good reputation in the Greek market and between now and end of Q3 we have 27 ships in orderbook from the Greek market.”
Being able to deliver services efficiently and on time is of critical importance in the financially booming container sector.
“Today when you talk about bringing a container ship into a shipyard time really is money,” Dr. Ibrahim said. If a container ship owner says a ship will be in the yard for 15 days the owner will expect work to be completed in 12 days.
‘Further Action Is Needed’ As MEPC 78 Gets Underway
IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim hailed the 78th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee as an opportunity to be brave and lead by example on decarbonization.
At the last MEPC meeting, a revision process was agreed to strengthen the IMO’s initial GHG strategy which was adopted in 2018. A strengthened version of that initial strategy is due in mid-2023 at MEPC 80.
“Whilst progress has been made on many of the measures set out in the Initial Strategy, I am sure that we can all agree that further action is needed. Your discussions this week will chart the way forward for the decarbonization of international shipping,” said Lim.
“It is therefore of utmost importance that IMO continues to deliver concrete progress in transitioning international shipping from fossil fuels to low and zero-carbon alternatives.”
Member states at MEPC 78 will also consider adoption of guidelines to support short-term measures on GHG emissions, including correction factors for carbon intensity, EEXI calculation methodology and revised SEEMP.
Calculations on the GHG impact of fuels will be discussed, as ISWG-GHG 11 reports progress on developing lifecycle GHG assessment guidelines. Well-to-wake and tank-to-wake calculations are in scope, with the aim of giving fuel users a full picture of the impact of the production and use of the fuels they choose.
“Your constructive discussions on these topics will enhance the Committee’s evidence-based decision making when further considering proposals for mid-term GHG reduction measures,” Lim told Member States.
“I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to all Member States, and observer delegations, and especially the Chair of the Working Group on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, Mr. Oftedal of Norway, for the extraordinary effort and dedication in ensuring the successful outcome of both intersessional meetings.”
Houston Begins $1.1Bn Ship Channel Widening
The Port of Houston kicked off its the long-awaited billion dollar dredging scheme, the Houston Ship Channel Widening and Improvement Project 11 last week.
by Michele Labrut
The $1.1bn expansion of the Houston Ship Channel, which has been in planning for more than a decade is finally underway.
After more than a decade of planning, Project 11 will allow the ship channel to accommodate an additional 1,400 vessels per year and could generate up to $134bn more annually in economic impact once completed. The channel currently accommodates about 8,200 vessels and 215,000 barges each year, hauling more than 247m tons of cargo.
EU Transport Commissioner Focuses on ‘Solidarity Lanes’ and Sanctions
As the global food crisis deepens and millions of tons of Ukraine’s grain remain blocked in the Black Sea, EU Transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Vălean has declared that all transport modes will be considered in setting up new Solidarity Lanes that bypass the Black Sea.
Speaking to journalists immediately prior to yesterday’s opening ceremony at Posidonia, she said that trucks, tracks, trains, transshipment and storage facilities will all contribute to new supply chains to ensure that exports from one of the world’s largest grain exporters can resume, at least in part, as soon as possible.
She said that the setting up of Solidarity Lanes would have important commercial implications for shipping and could even lead to changes in the sector’s business models.
However, other sources pointed to the scale of the sanctions package that has severely impacted the Russian economy by disrupting key revenue generating sectors. Energy exports are the most obvious example and although Russian oil is still easily sold in India and China, for example, it is at deep discounts to global prices.
The tempo and rhythm of world events and world history are not captured in the linear and bland books one reads in schools and colleges where the sense of the stormy forward turbulence of the world is not communicated. Here’s an example that does communicate this “crazy dynamics”:
“The world supply of gold was diminishing, as the effects of the gold rushes in California and Australia in the 1850s and 1860s passed. This coincided with the decision in the 1870s of many of the leading countries to follow Britain’s example to use gold rather than silver as the basis of their currency — Germany in 1871, France in 1876 for example — so that the demand for gold rose just as the supply was temporarily declining. This in turn led to some doubt about the use of a gold standard and to much discussion about ‘bi-metallism’ and about the possibility of restoring silver to its place as the metal on which the world’s currency should be based, though this movement had more success in the United States than in Europe, where gold has now established itself firmly. By the 1890s however the discovery of new gold deposits in South Africa, Western Australia and Canada put an end to these discussions and uncertainties, as far as currency was concerned, for some fifty years.”
In other words, the de facto emergence of Britain/London as the world commercial and policy center and the relation of this emergence to empire and international tensions and rivalries, means it is very problematical for any country to steer a course other than staying in tandem with British moods and ideologies, such as free trade. Any country by itself would find it difficult to have a more independent policy. (Friedrich List of Germany, who died in 1846, wrestles with these difficulties somewhat.) The attempts to find “autonomy and autarky” in the interwar years (Germany, Japan, Italy) led to worse nightmares. The world seems like a “no exit” arena of ideologies and rivalries.
The “crazy dynamics” and the semi-anarchy of the system, which continues to this day and is even worse, means that policy-making is always seen through a “dark windshield.”
The researchers say 12 of the athletes’ brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition associated with a range of psychiatric problems, ranging from mood and behavior disorders to cognitive impairment and dementia.
“CTE was identified in the brains of older former professionals with long playing careers, but also in younger, non-professional sportsmen and in recent professionals who had played under modern concussion guidelines,” the authors found.
“Screening for CTE in all deaths by suicide is probably impractical, but our finding suggests it should be undertaken if a history of repetitive head injury is known or suspected,” the authors say.
The authors note that brains donated to the bank are more likely to show signs of trauma because donation is often done when an athlete’s family have concerns about the role head trauma may have played in a person’s death or condition.
Nonetheless, they say: “Our findings should encourage clinicians and policymakers to develop measures that further mitigate the risk of sport-related repetitive head injury.”
One Step Closer to Hydrogen-Fueled Planes
Airbus to Test Zero-Emissions Aircraft, but How Does It Work?
But while engineers have promoted hydrogen as a possible transport fuel since at least the 1920s, real-world technologies are still in their infancy, thanks to the destructive dominance of fossil fuels over the last century.
Airbus’ announcement, then, marks an important early step in a move towards making the sector compatible with net-zero.
“This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer, in a statement.
“Our ambition is to take this aircraft and add a stub in between the two rear doors at the upper level,” said Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus’ Vice President of Zero Emissions Aircraft, in a promotional video on YouTube. “That stub will have on the end of it a hydrogen powered gas turbine.”
There will be instruments and sensors around the hydrogen storage unit and engine, to monitor how the system functions both in ground tests and in-flight. Up in the cockpit, instruments will need to be modified with a new throttle to change the amount of power the engine operates at, and a display for pilots to monitor the system.
Why Hydrogen Fuel?
Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe, burns cleanly, and can be produced using renewable energy through the electrolysis of water (though it can be produced using fossil fuels, too).
Given that it’s so abundant, can be made from water, and combusts to produce water vapor, it can be a closed-loop energy system; the definition of renewable.
It’s also highly reactive: hydrogen gas, made up of two hydrogen atoms, can combust at extremely low concentrations. It can combust in response to a simple spark, and it’s even been known to combust when exposed to sunlight or minor increases in temperature. That’s why it’s a suitable replacement fuel for kerosene, but it’s also why the system needs to be tested for safety.
“Aviation is one of these things that everyone agrees needs hydrogen for decarbonization, because it’s not going to be possible to electrify long distance air travel in the next few decades,” explains Fiona Beck, a senior lecturer at ANU and convener of the Hydrogen Fuels Project in the University’s Zero-carbon energy for the Asia Pacific grand challenge. “We just don’t have the battery technologies.
“One kilogram of hydrogen has 130 times the energy of one kilogram of batteries, so in something like air travel, where weight is really important, there’s just no way you’re going to get batteries light enough to directly electrify air travel.”
That’s a very high-profile incident in which hydrogen proved deadly, but a proverbial boatload of hydrogen gas encased within a fabric covering is nothing like the fuel cells proponents of hydrogen fuel are creating in the modern era.
Nonetheless, the incident demonstrates why it’s important to ensure the safety and impregnability of fuel storage; a single spark can prove fatal (though that’s the case with existing fuels, too).
“The key will be to have really good storage containers for the hydrogen, and you’re going to have to re-engineer all the fuel delivery lines,” says Beck, “because you can’t assume that the systems that deliver kerosene safely to an engine are going to be suitable for delivering hydrogen.”
Ultimately, Beck says pre-existing, sophisticated hydrogen technologies, even if they aren’t derived from aviation, mean engineers aren’t going into this blind.
“We already use quite a lot of hydrogen in industry, which is very different than flying a plane full of hydrogen, but still, we know how to handle it relatively safely.
“So, it’s just about designers and engineers making sure that they consider all the safety aspects of it. It’s different, but not necessarily more challenging.”
Two Paths to a Hydrogen Fueled Future of Flight?
Beck notes that Airbus aren’t the only commercial entity exploring hydrogen as a fuel type. In fact, Boeing are incorporating hydrogen into their vision of a cleaner future, but in a different way.
“There’s a difference between just getting hydrogen and burning it in a modified jet engine and what Boeing are doing, which is using sustainable air fuels,” she says.
“The difference is that instead of getting fossil fuels and refining them, you start with hydrogen, which you would hope comes from green sources, and then you take some carbon dioxide captured from another industrial process, and you’re cycling the carbon dioxide one more time before it gets released.”
So, CO2 is still released into the atmosphere, but the individual flight is not adding its own new load of greenhouse gases to the amount. Instead, it essentially piggy-backs off a pre-existing quantity of emissions that were already produced somewhere else.
The type of fuel that wins out remains to be seen.
“It’ll be really interesting to see which approach we go for in the longer term,” Beck muses. “With synthetic air fuels, your plane engine doesn’t need to change at all, nothing about the demand side needs to change–it’s just kerosene.
Some commentators see Boeing’s bet on SAFs as a more pragmatic approach that may help us usher in a less polluting age, quicker. On the other hand, if successful, the Airbus system can be fully carbon-neutral from fuel production through to combustion.
“Climate Adaptation by Itself Is Not Enough”: The Latest IPCC Report Installment
The Second of Three Reports Shows Our Vulnerabilities and How We Can Protect Them.
In the next part of its Sixth Assessment Report, released today, the IPCC has examined the world population’s vulnerability to climate change, and what must be done to adapt to current and future changes.
It’s the second of three sections of this report (Working group II)–Working Group I’s section, released last August, demonstrates that anthropogenic climate change is continuing, while Working Group III’s component, on mitigation, will be released in April. An overall report is coming in September.
The IPCC reports represent a phenomenal amount of work from hundreds of researchers and government officials. It synthesizes information from over 10,000 studies, with over 62,000 comments from expert peer reviewers.
Literally every sentence of the summary for policymakers has been agreed upon by consensus from a group of experts and government delegations–the line-by-line approval process alone takes a fortnight. The report in its entirety is a product of several years.
Given the time and expertise involved in making the report, its conclusions aren’t revelatory: the world is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, poorest people are often the most at risk, and adaptation to these effects will force changes in our lifestyle, infrastructure, economy and agriculture.
While adaptation is necessary, it’s also insufficient. “It’s increasingly clear that the pace of adaptation across the globe is not enough to keep up with climate change,” says Professor Mark Howden, Working Group II’s vice-chair and director of the Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University.
“Depending on which of those trajectories we go on, our adaptation options differ,” says Howden.
On our current, business-as-usual trajectory, we can’t avoid the crisis, no matter how much we change our human systems to prepare for or recover from the ravages of climate change.
“Climate adaptation, risk management, by itself is not enough,” says Howden.
The report comes at a pertinent time for Australia, as southern Queensland and northern New South Wales experience dramatic flooding from high, La Niña-related rainfall.
“One of the clear projections is an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events,” says Professor Brendan Mackey, director of National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, and a lead author on the Australasian chapter of the report.
Mackey also notes that he has extended family members in Lismore, NSW, who today needed to be rescued from their rooftops as the town floods.
Howden says that while it’s hard to link individual disasters to climate change as they occur, he agrees that there are more floods projected for northern Australia.
“I think we can say that climate change is already embedded in this event,” adds Howden.
“These events are driven by, particularly, ocean temperatures, and we know very well that those have gone up due to climate change due to human influence.”
He points out that flooding is a common side effect of a La Niña event, of which more are expected as the climate warms.
Flooding is not the only extreme weather event that can be linked to climate change.
“Interestingly, [we’ve observed] more rainfall in the north, less winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast, and more extreme fire weather days in the south and east.”
All of these trends are expected to continue, especially under high-emissions scenarios.
For Australians, the predictions the IPCC has made with very high or high confidence include: both a decline in agricultural production and increase in extreme fire weather across the south of the continent; a nation-wide increase in heat-related mortality; increased stress on cities, infrastructure and supply chains from natural disasters; and inundation of low-lying coastal communities from sea level rise.
The final high-confidence prediction is that Australian institutions and governments aren’t currently able to manage these risks.
“Climate change impacts are becoming more complex and difficult to manage,” says Professor Lauren Rickards, director of the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT, also a lead author on the Australasian chapter.
“Not only are climatic hazards becoming more severe–including, sometimes, nonlinear effects such as, for example, tipping over flood levees that have historically been sufficient–but also those climatic hazards are intersecting in very, very complex ways. And in turn, the flow-on effects on the ground are interacting, causing what’s called cascading and compounding impacts.”
She adds that many local and state governments and the private sector have both recognized the importance of changing their practices to prepare for or react to climate extremes.
“We’ve seen a really significant reduction in the research into what actions different individuals, communities, sectors, can take,” says Howden.
“And what that means is we don’t have the portfolio of options available for people in a way that is easily communicable, and easily understood, and easily adopted.”
Without this research, as well as work from local and Indigenous experts, some adaptations can even risk worsening the impacts of climate change.
“The evidence that we’ve looked at shows really clearly that adaptation strategies, when they build on Indigenous and local knowledge and integrate science, that’s when they are most successful,” says Dr. Johanna Nalau, leader of the Adaptation Science Research Theme at Cities Research Institute, Griffith University.
While the risks Australia faces are dramatic, things are much worse for other parts of the world. Nalau, who was a lead author on the report’s chapter on small islands, says that “most of the communities and countries are constrained in what they can do in terms of adaptation”.
In April, we will have access to the IPCC’s dossier on mitigating climate change and emissions reduction. But in the meantime, Working Group II’s battalion of researchers advocate for better planning for climate disaster, more research into ways human systems can adapt, sustainable and just development worldwide, and rapid emissions reduction.
“Adaptation can’t be divorced from mitigation, conceptually or in practice,” says Rickards.
“We need adaptation to enable effective mitigation. We need effective mitigation to enable adaptation to give it a chance of succeeding. At present, we’re not on track and we need to pivot quickly.”
Piecing Together Pandemic Origins
New Research Asserts Market, Not Laboratory, Is the “Unambiguous” Birthplace of SARS-CoV-2
by Jamie Priest
Now in our third year of woe, most of us are naturally focused on the end of the pandemic. The global death toll is approaching 6 million, and the world is desperately searching for signs the ordeal’s over.
But amid the future watching, a team of researchers have turned their attention back to the beginning, tackling the question that was once on everyone’s lips: where did SARS-CoV-2 originate?
Outlining their evidence in two preprints, researchers assert an “unambiguous” origin in the Huanan market in Wuhan, spilling over not once, but twice into the human population and kicking off a global health crisis.
The paired papers, which have yet to undergo peer review and publication in a scientific journal, critically undermine the competing, and controversial, alternative origin story that involves a leak–intentional or otherwise–from a nearby Wuhan virology lab where scientists study coronaviruses.
The Huanan market was an immediate suspect when COVID first emerged in late 2019. Workers at the market were amongst the first individuals to present with the pneumonia that was quickly linked to a novel coronavirus, and Chinese officials, fearing a repeat of the 2002 SARS epidemic that killed 774 people, were quick to close the market down.
But by the time Chinese researchers descended on the Huanan market in 2020 to collect genetic samples, they found no wildlife present at all. Although they were able to detect traces of the virus in samples taken from surfaces and sewers in the market, the lack of direct evidence of infection in market animals sparked a debate over whether this truly was the epicenter of the outbreak. Alternative theories centered around the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the face of this absence of evidence, researchers working on the new reports turned to alternative information sources.
Using data pulled from the Chinesesocial media app Weibo, they were able to map the location of 737 COVID-positive Wuhan residents who turned to the app to seek health advice during the first three months of the outbreak.
Plotting the geographic concentrations of cases through time, the researchers clearly identified the market as the centre of origin, with the virus spreading radially through surrounding suburbs and across the city as time progressed. Through statistical analysis, the researchers demonstrated that the chances of such a pattern arising through mere chance was exceedingly unlikely.
However, the pattern alone was open to interpretation, with questions remaining about pathways of introduction to the market–was the virus carried in inside a caged animal, on the coat of an unwitting scientist, or via some as-yet unidentified vector?
To dig further into the mystery, the researchers looked at the genetic samples obtained from market surfaces in January 2020 by Chinese scientists, tracing the locations of individual positive samples to their exact location within the market complex.
This second map revealed a strong concentration of positive samples in one corner of the market, a sector that had been previously documented to house a range of wild mammals that are considered potential coronavirus hosts.
Finally, the researchers created an evolutionary family tree of the earliest coronavirus lineages that emerged in the first few panicked weeks of the pandemic.
Even in its very earliest stages SARS-CoV-2 was a variable beast, with evidence of two distinct lineages, dubbed A and B. Looking closely at the mutations that separate the two, the researchers found something surprising–rather than one descending from the other, it appears that they had separate origins and entries into the human population, with lineage B making the leap in late November and lineage A following suit shortly afterwards.
Initial studies of the Huanan market genetic samples found only lineage B, but this latest investigation detected the presence of lineage A in people who lived in close proximity to the market–a finding corroborated by a recent Chinese study that identified lineage A on a single glove collected from the market during the initial shutdown.
Questions remain about the identity of the intermediary animal host species. But by narrowing research focus to the most likely centre of origin, this research will significantly aid efforts to understand the process that saw COVID-19 enter the world, and hopefully help avert future pandemics.
Fake Viral Footage Is Spreading alongside the Real Horror in Ukraine—Here Are 5 Ways to Spot It
Manipulated or Falsified Videos and Images Can Spread Quickly—but There Are Strategies You Can Take to Evaluate Them.
By TJ Thompson, Daniel Angus and Paul Dootson
Amid the alarming images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past few days, millions of people have also seen misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.
One example is this video of military jets posted to TikTok, which is historical footage but captioned as live video of the situation in Ukraine.
Visuals, because of their persuasive potential and attention-grabbing nature, are an especially potent choice for those seeking to mislead. Where creating, editing or sharing inauthentic visual content isn’t satire or art, it is usually politically or economically motivated.
Disinformation campaigns aim to distract, confuse, manipulate and sow division, discord, and uncertainty in the community. This is a common strategy for highly polarized nations where socioeconomic inequalities, disenfranchisement and propaganda are prevalent.
How is this fake content created and spread, what’s being done to debunk it, and how can you ensure you don’t fall for it yourself?
What Are the Most Common Fakery Techniques?
Using an existing photo or video and claiming it came from a different time or place is one of the most common forms of misinformation in this context. This requires no special software or technical skills—just a willingness to upload an old video of a missile attack or other arresting image, and describe it as new footage.
Another low-tech option is to stage or pose actions or events and present them as reality. This was the case with destroyed vehicles that Russia claimed were bombed by Ukraine.
Using a particular lens or vantage point can also change how the scene looks and can be used to deceive. A tight shot of people, for example, can make it hard to gauge how many were in a crowd, compared with an aerial shot.
Taking things further still, Photoshop or equivalent software can be used to add or remove people or objects from a scene, or to crop elements out from a photograph. An example of object addition is the below photograph, which purports to show construction machinery outside a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. The satirical text accompanying the image jokes about the “calibre of the construction machinery”—the author suggesting that reports of damage to buildings from military ordinance are exaggerated or untrue.
Close inspection reveals this image was digitally altered to include the machinery. This tweet could be seen as an attempt to downplay the extent of damage resulting from a Russian-backed missile attack, and in a wider context to create confusion and doubt as to veracity of other images emerging from the conflict zone.
Journalists and fact-checkers are also working to verify content and raise awareness of known fakes. Large, well-resourced news outlets such as the BBC are also calling out misinformation.
Social media platforms have added new labels to identify state-run media organisations or provide more background information about sources or people in your networks who have also shared a particular story.
They have also tweaked their algorithms to change what content is amplified and have hired staff to spot and flag misleading content. Platforms are also doing some work behind the scenes to detect and publicly share information on state-linked information operations.
What Can I Do about It?
You can attempt to fact-check images for yourself rather than taking them at face value. An article we wrote late last year for the Australian Associated Press explains the fact-checking process at each stage: image creation, editing and distribution.
Here are five simple steps you can take:
Examine the metadata
This Telegram post claims Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a sewage facility in an attempt to place a tank of chlorine for a “false flag” attack.
But the video’s metadata—the details about how and when the video was created—show it was filmed days before the alleged date of the incident.
To check metadata for yourself, you can download the file and use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Bridge to examine it. Online metadata viewers also exist that allow you to check by using the image’s web link.
One hurdle to this approach is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often strip the metadata from photos and videos when they are uploaded to their sites. In these cases, you can try requesting the original file or consulting fact-checking websites to see whether they have already verified or debunked the footage in question.
If old content has been recycled and repurposed, you may be able to find the same footage used elsewhere. You can use Google Images or TinEye to “reverse image search” a picture and see where else it appears online.
But be aware that simple edits such as reversing the left-right orientation of an image can fool search engines and make them think the flipped image is new.
Look for inconsistencies
Does the purported time of day match the direction of light you would expect at that time, for example? Do watches or clocks visible in the image correspond to the alleged timeline claimed?
You can also compare other data points, such as politicians’ schedules or verified sightings, Google Earth vision or Google Maps imagery, to try and triangulate claims and see whether the details are consistent.
Ask yourself some simple questions
Do you know where, when and why the photo or video was made? Do you know who made it, and whether what you’re looking at is the original version?
Using online tools such as InVID or Forensically can potentially help answer some of these questions. Or you might like to refer to this list of 20 questions you can use to “interrogate” social media footage with the right level of healthy skepticism.
Ultimately, if you’re in doubt, don’t share or repeat claims that haven’t been published by a reputable source such as an international news organization. And consider using some of these principles when deciding which sources to trust.
By doing this, you can help limit the influence of misinformation, and help clarify the true situation in Ukraine.