GDPNow is not an official forecast of the Atlanta Fed. Rather, it is best viewed as a running estimate of real GDP growth based on available economic data for the current measured quarter. There are no subjective adjustments made to GDPNow—the estimate is based solely on the mathematical results of the model. In particular, it does not capture the impact of COVID-19 and social mobility beyond their impact on GDP source data and relevant economic reports that have already been released. It does not anticipate their impact on forthcoming economic reports beyond the standard internal dynamics of the model.
The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2022 is 3.9 percent on January 3, up from 3.7 percent on December 23. After last week’s Advance Economic Indicators report from the U.S. Census Bureau and this morning’s construction spending release from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcasts of fourth-quarter real gross private domestic investment growth and fourth-quarter real government spending growth increased from 3.8 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, to 6.1 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively, while the nowcast of the contribution of the change in real net exports to fourth-quarter real GDP growth decreased from 0.35 percentage points to 0.17 percentage points.
Astronomer Royal and best-selling science author, Martin Rees pioneering early work led to evidence to contradict the Steady State theory of the universe and confirm the Big Bang. His influence then spread to the wider public—knighted in 1992, elevated to Baron in 2005, then giving the Reith Lectures in 2010. Most recently his attention has turned from the early universe to the future of humanity. In this interview, Lord Rees discusses the ideas and experiences which led to such an illustrious career.
China is continuing with its tough zero-COVID policy. But the cracks in the economy and a discontent middle class mean that Xi’s Imperial-like governing style is under challenge, writes Kerry Brown.
China’s zero-COVID strategy operates in Chinese domestic politics a bit like Brexit does in the UK. Despite complaints from business networks and broader society about the negative impact on economic growth and citizens’ freedoms, it’s a policy commitment the government is sticking to no matter what.
Of course, no one voted for the draconian lockdowns implemented across China. And, unlike Brexit, the lockdowns are very much in line with expert advice in the country, rather than running against it. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), the main governmental body advising the government over crisis response in this area, said in a weekly update last November that without comprehensive restraints on people’s movement and quarantines on anyone testing positive for the virus, the national health system would soon be overwhelmed with cases, and find itself in the same bind as those in the US or Europe did.
That the words of the experts have been taken so much in earnest is striking for a regime that previously hasn’t been shy to dismiss them. The Xi leadership may be confident in the way it speaks to the outside world, but it seems that it has the same profound wariness in the robustness of the country’s public health as everywhere else. Things have not been helped by clinical trials showing the Chinese vaccines – the only ones accepted in China – are not as effective as foreign ones where the length of protection is in question). On top of this, vaccine take-up by the elderly, the most vulnerable group, has been poor. It is easy to see therefore why the central government might be very cautious. What is harder to understand, however, is why the cautiousness has bordered on obsessiveness.
The Xi way of governing is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness.
One scenario is simply about the structures of decision-making in China. This was an issue right from the moment the variant started to appear in late 2019, and local officials in Wuhan stood accused of trying to hush the issue up, delaying reporting to the central authorities till things had already gone on too long. As a result of this, in February 2020 key officials in the city were sacked. But this is unlikely to change the fact that provincial officials are very risk averse under Xi, and that any central direction to manage the pandemic will be interpreted in the purest terms and executed to the letter.
This explains the completeness of the Xian government’s virtual incarceration of its 8 million population after just a few COVID cases at the end of 2021, the first of the more recent lockdowns. It also explains why the traditionally more free-thinking municipal authority of Shanghai and its similarly liberal approach was fiercely knocked back by Beijing last February, to make an example for any other provinces thinking of going their own way. The absolute prohibition on people moving from their homes there, in one of the most dynamic and lively cities of modern China, was perfect proof that if the government could bring about this situation there, it could do it anywhere.
This case study also reveals some important things about the Xi way of governing. It is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness, which are then handed down to various levels of government to do as they will. Exactly how and when the discussion amongst Xi and his Politburo colleagues on the best response to COVID happened is unclear. In a world where almost every political system seems to leak incessantly, the Chinese one is unique in maintaining its opacity and secretiveness – no mean achievement in the social media era.
The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’
Rumors of clashes between Xi and his premierLi Keqiang on the effectiveness of the current response remain just that – rumors, with precious little hard evidence to back them up. Who in the current imperial system might dare to speak from the ranks and say that policy must change is unclear. Scientists should deal in hard facts – but we all know that science is susceptible to politicization. Experts in China have to offer their expertise in a highly political context. A declaration that the current approach is not fit for purpose can easily be reinterpreted as an attempt to launch an indirect attack on the core leader. With an important Congress coming up later this year, at which Xi is expected to be appointed for another five years in power, sensitivities are even more intense than normal. It is little wonder that the COVID strategy status quo settled on last year has not shifted.
Things, however, may well change, and change quickly. China is moving into tricky economic territory. The impact of the pandemic on global supply chains, along with the various stresses domestically on the housing market, and productivity, have shrunk expectations for growth. A predicted 6% in the earlier part of the year now looks overly ambitious. There is a real possibility China might experience a recession. At a moment like this, the government, which after all operates as a constant crisis and risk management entity, might do what it does best and prompt rapid, and dramatic, changes.
This doesn’t mean that China’s COVID-19 bind gets any easier. Like the country’s serious demographic challenges, with a rapidly aging population, the only thing the government will be picking an argument with is reality as it proceeds into the future. As with Europe and the US, being more liberal about facing COVID-19 will involve accepting some of the harsh consequences – rising fatalities, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable, and health systems put under enormous stress. In such a huge, complex country, and of enormous geopolitically importance, a misstep could easily lead to huge and unwanted consequences, generating discontent and triggering mass protests in a way reminiscent of 1989. The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’ One such spark – the introduction of Marxism into China in the 1910s – led to its gaining of power three decades later.
Faced with a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, the Party can throw out injunctions and claim it has been the victim of bad luck. But an ailing economy and no clear signs of the government knowing how to manage this will prove a toxic mixture for it. Xi and his third term in office will be all about delivery. The question is whether, even with the formidable suite of powers he has, he can do this. Governing China has always been the ultimate political challenge. COVID-19 has made that even harder.
Dr. Kuppalli was previously awarded the NIH Fogarty International Clinical Research Fellowship and conducted research in Southern India to understand barriers to care and how emerging infections impacted persons living with HIV/AIDS. She was the medical director of a large Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, helped lead the development and implementation of pandemic response preparedness activities in resource limited settings, and has consulted on the development of therapeutics for emerging pathogens. Her clinical and research interests focus on health systems strengthening in resource limited settings, research and clinical care for emerging infections, outbreak preparedness and response, and policy. She has worked in numerous countries including Ethiopia, India, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Haiti.
Transfer learning refers to a collection of techniques that apply knowledge from one prediction problem to solve another, often using machine learning and with many recent applications in domains such as computer vision and natural language processing. Transfer learning leverages a model trained to execute a particular task in a particular domain, in order to perform a different task or extrapolate to a different domain. This allows the model to learn the new task with less data than would normally be required, and is therefore well-suited to data-scarce prediction problems. The underlying idea is that skills developed in one task, for example the features that are relevant to recognize human faces in images, may be useful in other situations, such as classification of emotions from facial expressions. Similarly, there may be shared features in the patterns of observed cases among similar diseases.
For each of these disease pairs, we collect time series data from Brazilian cities. Data on the target disease from half the cities is retained for testing. To ensure comparability, the test set is the same for all models. Using this empirical data, as well as the simulated time series, we implement the following transfer models to make predictions.
Neural network with re-training and fine-tuning: We then retrain only the last layer of the neural network using data from the new disease and make predictions on the test set. Finally, we fine-tune all the layers’ parameters using a small learning rate and low number of epochs. These models are examples of parameter-based transfer methods, since they leverage the weights generated by the source disease model to accelerate and improve learning in the target disease model.
Aspirational baseline: We compare these transfer methods to a model trained only on the target disease (Zika/COVID-19) without any data on the source disease. Specifically, we use half the cities in the target dataset for training and the other half for testing. This gives a benchmark of the performance in a large-data scenario, which would occur after a longer period of disease surveillance.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The models are described in more technical detail in Section 2. Section 3 shows the results of the synthetic and empirical predictions. Finally, Section 4 discusses practical implications of the analyses.
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 the early weeks of the 2020 U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, guidance from the scientific establishment and government agencies included a number of dubious claims—masks don’t work, there’s no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and the risk to the public is low. These statements were backed by health authorities, as well as public intellectuals, but were later disavowed or disproven, and the initial under-reaction was followed by an equal overreaction and imposition of draconian restrictions on human social activities.
In a recent paper, LML Fellow Harry Crane examines how these early mis-steps ultimately contributed to higher death tolls, prolonged lockdowns, and diminished trust in science and government leadership. Even so, the organizations and individuals most responsible for misleading the public suffered little or no consequences, or even benefited from their mistakes. As he discusses, this perverse outcome can be seen as the result of authorities applying a formulaic procedure of “naïve probabilism” in facing highly uncertain and complex problems, and largely assuming that decision-making under uncertainty boils down to probability calculations and statistical analysis.
This attitude, he suggests, might be captured in a few simple “axioms of naïve probabilism”:
Axiom 1: more complex the problem, the more complicated the solution.
This idea is a hallmark of naïve decision making. The COVID-19 outbreak was highly complex, being a novel virus of uncertain origins, and spreading through the interconnected global society. But the potential usefulness of masks was not one of these complexities. The mask mistake was consequential not because masks were the antidote to COVID-19, but because they were a low cost measure the effect of which would be neutral at worst; wearing a mask can’t hurt in reducing the spread of a virus.
Yet the experts neglected common sense in favor of a more “scientific response” based on rigorous peer review and sufficient data. Two months after the initial U.S. outbreak, a study confirmed the obvious, and masks went from being strongly discouraged to being mandated by law. Precious time had been wasted, many lives lost, and the economy stalled.
Axiom 2: Until proven otherwise, assume that the future will resemble the past.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, there was at first no data that masks work, no data that travel restrictions work, no data of human-to-human transmission. How could there be? Yet some naïve experts took this as a reason to maintain the status quo. Indeed, many universities refused to do anything in preparation until a few cases had been detected on campus—at which point they had some data, as well as hundreds or thousands of other as yet undetected infections.
Crane touches on some of the more extreme examples of his kind of thinking, which assumes that whatever can’t be explained in terms of something that happened in the past is speculative, non-scientific and unjustifiable:
“This argument was put forward by John Ioannidis in mid-March 2020, as the pandemic outbreak was already spiralling out of control. Ioannidis wrote that COVID-19 wasn’t a ‘once-in-a-century pandemic,’ as many were saying, but rather a ‘once-in-a-century data-fiasco’. Ioannidis’s main argument was that we knew very little about the disease, its fatality rate, and the overall risks it poses to public health; and that in face of this uncertainty, we should seek data-driven policy decisions. Until the data was available, we should assume COVID-19 acts as a typical strain of the flu (a different disease entirely).”
Unfortunately, waiting for the data also means waiting too long, if it turns out that the virus turns out to be more serious. This is like waiting to hit the tree before accepting that the available data indeed supports wearing a seatbelt. Moreover, in the pandemic example, this “lack of evidence” argument ignores other evidence from before the virus entered the United States. China had locked down a city of 10 million; Italy had locked down its entire northern region, with the entire country soon to follow. There was worldwide consensus that the virus was novel, the virus was spreading fast and medical communities had no idea how to treat it. That’s data, and plenty of information to act on.
Crane goes on to consider a 3rdaxiom of naïve probabilism, which aims to turn ignorance into a strength. Overall, he argues, these axioms, despite being widely used by many prominent authorities and academic experts, actually capture a set of dangerous fallacies for action in the real world.
In reality, complex problems call for simple, actionable solutions; the past doesn’t repeat indefinitely (i.e., COVID-19 was never the flu); and ignorance is not a form of wisdom. The Naïve Probabilist’s primary objective is to be accurate with high probability rather than to protect against high-consequence, low-probability outcomes. This goes against common sense principles of decision making in uncertain environments with potentially very severe consequences.
Importantly, Crane emphasizes, the hallmark of Naïve Probabilism is naïveté, not ignorance, stupidity, crudeness or other such base qualities. The typical Naïve Probabilist lacks not knowledge or refinement, but the experience and good judgment that comes from making real decisions with real consequences in the real world. The most prominent naïve probabilists are recognized (academic) experts in mathematical probability, or relatedly statistics, physics, psychology, economics, epistemology, medicine or so-called decision sciences. Moreover, and worryingly, the best known naïve probabilists are quite sophisticated, skilled in the art of influencing public policy decisions without suffering from the risks those policies impose on the rest of society.
Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, following an increase of 2.3 percent in the third quarter. The increase was revised down 0.1 percentage point from the “second” estimate released in February. The acceleration in the fourth quarter was led by an acceleration in inventory investment, upturns in exports and residential fixed investment and an acceleration in consumer spending. In the fourth quarter, COVID-19 cases resulted in continued restrictions and disruptions in the operations of establishments in some parts of the country. Government assistance payments in the form of forgivable loans to businesses, grants to state and local governments, and social benefits to households all decreased as provisions of several federal programs expired or tapered off.
Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments) increased $20.4 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with an increase of $96.9 billion in the third quarter.
Private goods-producing industries increased 5.4 percent, private services-producing industries increased 8.5 percent, and government increased 0.1 percent. Overall, 19 of 22 industry groups contributed to the fourth-quarter increase in real GDP.
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.
Authors: Daniel Fricke, Stefan Greppmair, Karol Paludkiewicz
Money market funds (MMFs) are an important part of the growing segment of non-bankfinancial intermediaries. This paper contributes to this literature by analyzing the cross-border effects of the 2014 U.S.MMF reform, which was implemented several years prior to the EU Regulation. We study whether euro area MMFs received inflows as a consequence of the reform and investigate the (unintended) economic effects on the basis of the non-synchronized implementation dates of the regulatory changes in the U.S. and the EU.
To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to examine the cross-border effects of the 2014 U.S.MMF reform. Prior work has shown that the reform led to a substantial decline of the institutional prime segment in the U.S. (MMFs that invest primarily in non-sovereign debt instruments). Moreover, these funds increased their risk-taking due to the increased competition and newly imposed liquidity restrictions left these funds more prone to large outflows (run risks).
We document both positive and negative effects of the U.S. reform on institutional MMFs in the euro area. These funds, particularly those from the prime segment, experienced substantial inflows from foreign investors around the implementation of the U.S. reform and we show that these cross-border flows were largely motivated by the search for money-like instruments. While euro area MMFs reduced their risk-taking, the industry as a whole has become more concentrated and possibly more exposed to run risks. This risk materialized in the COVID-19 induced stress period during which these funds faced large outflows by foreign investors.