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Globally, climate change drives a willingness to change lifestyles



Enlarge / Climate change is increasing the incidence of extreme rainfall, ensuring that more people are going to directly notice its effects.

This year has seen a huge number of climate-related disasters, from hurricanes to drought and from fires to floods. In the middle of the chaos, the IPCC dropped the first installment of its latest climate report, mapping out how our current choices will shape the planet’s future. All of this would seem to make now a great time to check in on public views of climate change.

Unfortunately, one of the best sources of such check-ins, the Pew Research Center, did its most recent polling on the topic way back in February. The survey of industrialized economies shows a strong and growing worry that climate change will affect people personally and a willingness to make changes to avoid the worst of its impacts. Still, because of the timing, it’s likely that opinion has shifted even further since.

Around the world

Pew surveyed people in 17 different industrialized economies in North America, Europe, and around the Pacific Rim. Obviously left out are the developing economies, which may have the most impact on the trajectory of the future climate, as well as China. But the survey does provide some perspective on public opinion in the countries that are actively pursuing policies intended to address their carbon emissions.

Most of the questions of the survey were done on a four-option scale, with people able to express degrees of agreement including “not at all,” “not very,” “somewhat,” and “very.” Typically, each of the two positive and negative options were grouped together.

The top line results are pretty clear. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed were somewhat or very concerned that they’ll experience personal harm due to climate change. And an even higher percentage (80 percent) were willing to make changes in their lifestyles to limit the impacts of climate change. On average, however, there are mixed feelings about whether global society is doing everything it should, with only 56 percent feeling that we’re doing a good job and 52 percent lacking confidence that we’ll end up doing as much as we need to.

Not everybody is convinced climate change will be a noticeable problem in their lifetime.

Not everybody is convinced climate change will be a noticeable problem in their lifetime.

Pew Research

As you can see from the chart, however, there was considerable variability among the countries. European countries were among the most and least concerned, while the US, Canada, and most Pacific Rim countries fell within these extremes. (The exception being South Korea, which has the most concerned population anywhere.)

In a few countries, Pew had data from five years earlier to compare. This data indicated that Germany saw the highest growth of concern about the climate (up 19 points), and all other EU countries where data was available also saw growth. In contrast, the concern that you’ll be personally affected dropped in the US and Japan, although only slightly.

In all countries but Greece and South Korea, those in the 18-29 age bracket were the most concerned about experiencing personal harm from climate change. The gap between them and the over-65s was highest in Sweden (40 point gap) and New Zealand (31 points). Meanwhile, the gap was lowest in the UK (11 points). Women were about 10 points more likely than men to worry in most countries, as well.

There was also a left/right split, with liberals being more likely to expect to suffer harm. You’d be shocked to hear that the gap was highest in the US, with a 59-point difference between the left and right, followed by Australia, where the gap was 41 points. The smallest difference was seen in South Korea, where only six points separated the left from the right.

Let’s do something

As a result of these worries, most people were somewhat or very willing to make changes in their lives that would help lower carbon emissions. Within the EU nations, Italy saw the greatest willingness (93 percent), and the absolute low was 69 percent, seen in the Netherlands. The US, Canada, and most Pacific Rim countries were somewhere in between these extremes, with the exception of Japan, where only 55 percent were willing to make any changes. As before, the youngest age group was typically more likely to be willing to change, as were those with higher levels of education.

It should be noted that, in many countries, more people were willing to make changes than felt that they were likely to be personally affected, suggesting that a degree of altruism is involved here.

When asked who’s doing a good job of addressing climate change, high marks were generally given to the EU (63 percent felt it was doing well) and the UN (56 percent). Most people surveyed, however, felt that the US wasn’t pulling its weight (61 percent rated its performance as bad), and only 18 percent said that China was doing a good job. The US public had the highest ratings for its performance, but even those were underwater, with only 47 percent suggesting the US was doing a good job of responding to climate change.

A lot of people are convinced their own country is doing a decent job regarding climate change.

A lot of people are convinced their own country is doing a decent job regarding climate change.

As the chart here shows, most countries had a mixed and fairly realistic view of how well their country was doing in addressing climate change. In general, conservatives were more likely to say that their country was doing a good job, with the gaps between conservatives and liberals again being largest in the US and Australia.

While many people were confident that the international community was doing well, most people lacked confidence that it was going to be able to do enough. Four countries—South Korea, Singapore, Germany, and the Netherlands—saw fewer than half those polled doubt our collective ability to get things under control. In every other country, the number was half or more.

Finally, people were asked whether addressing climate change would be a net economic gain, loss, or make little difference. Overall, the plurality were for climate change being neutral, with those thinking it would be a benefit edging out those who expected economic harm. The responses here were complicated. France saw the lowest expectation of benefits but was middle of the pack in terms of expecting harm. Meanwhile, the US had the greatest expectation of harm but was middle of the pack in terms of the size of the population expecting economic gain.

The right time?

A growing number of studies is now indicating that we have to make rapid progress over the next two decades if we still hope to keep atmospheric carbon levels below the point where they’d drive two degrees of warming. The results of the survey show some indications that the public is close to being ready to support tackling that challenge, with younger generations substantially more willing than their elders.

But that readiness isn’t uniform, and there’s some political polarization that may make doing so challenging in countries like the US and Australia.

And again, the polling came before a number of dramatic weather events, some of which have been directly linked to climate change. It’s possible—though sadly not guaranteed—that having more people directly affected by climate change will actually result in an increase of their feeling of risk.

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As Florida punishes schools, study finds masks cut school COVID outbreaks 3.5X



Enlarge / A second-grade teacher talks to her class during the first day of school at Tustin Ranch Elementary School in Tustin, CA on Wednesday, August 11, 2021.

Schools with universal masking were 3.5 times less likely to have a COVID-19 outbreak and saw rates of child COVID-19 cases 50 percent lower in their counties compared with schools without mask requirements. That’s according to two new studies published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new data lands as masks continue to be a political and social flash point in the US. And children—many of whom are still ineligible for vaccination—have headed back into classrooms.

In one of the newly published studies, health researchers in Arizona looked at schools with and without mask policies in Maricopa and Pima Counties. Together, the counties account for more than 75 percent of the state’s population. The researchers identified 210 schools that had universal masking requirements from the start of their school years. They compared those to 480 schools that had no mask requirements throughout the study period, which ran from July 15 to August 30.

The researchers tallied 129 school-associated COVID-19 outbreaks in all of those schools during the study period. About 87.5 percent of the outbreaks were in schools without mask requirements. The researchers then ran an analysis, adjusting for school sizes, COVID-19 case rates in each school’s zip code, socioeconomics measures, and other factors. The researchers found that the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak were 3.5 times higher in the schools without mask requirements compared to those with universal masking.

In a separate study, CDC researchers tried to assess if schools’ mask policies have broader impacts for their communities—and they do. The researchers looked at county-level data on the rates of pediatric COVID-19 cases in 520 counties around the US. They compared rates of child COVID-19 cases in the week before and week after schools started their terms.

Though all counties generally saw increases in pediatric COVID-19 cases after schools started up, the counties with universally masked schools saw smaller bumps. For counties with school mask requirements, the average increase in case rates after schools started was 16.32 cases per 100,000 children per day. Counties without school mask requirements saw an average rate increase about twice as high—34.85 cases per 100,000 children per day.

Mask safety

The US continues to see a patchwork of mask use and other protective measures in schools as the 2021-2022 school year gets underway. Many schools in many states do not have universal masking requirements even though the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in schools. In some states state leaders have prohibited schools from issuing mask requirements—and even penalized them for requiring masks.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is among the leaders who have banned mask mandates in schools. And, although the ban is being challenged in court, DeSantis is withholding money from school boards that have issued mask mandates anyway.

On Thursday, the US Department of Education announced that it had granted the school board of Florida’s Alachua County $147,719. The money is intended to “restore funding withheld by state leaders—such as salaries for school board members or superintendents who have had their pay cut—when a school district implemented strategies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.”

In a statement, Alachua County Public School Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon: “I’m very grateful to [US Secretary of Education Miguel] Cardona, President Biden and the federal government for the funding. But I’m even more grateful for their continued support and encouragement of our efforts to protect students and staff and to keep our schools open for in-person learning.”

Alachua is the first county in the nation to receive such funding, provided through the new Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) grant program.

In a separate statement, education secretary Cardona said: “We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities.”

Public health experts say that masks are a critical tool to help protect children, teachers, and staff from the spread of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Masks are intended to be one key layer of a multi-layered approach that also includes vaccination for those eligible, physical distancing when possible, improved ventilation, testing, quarantining, improved hygiene, and disinfection and cleaning.

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NASA seeks a new ride for astronauts to the Artemis launch pad



Enlarge / NASA first began using the 1983-model Airstream for space shuttle missions in 1984.


NASA has asked industry for ideas to develop an “Artemis Crew Transportation Vehicle” that will take its astronauts from suit-up facilities to the launch pad on launch day.

The space agency, of course, has not launched its own astronauts on a NASA-built vehicle since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. From 1984 through the end of the shuttle era, the agency used a modified Airstream motor home, known as the “Astrovan,” to ferry crews to the launch pad. This iconic vehicle had a shiny, silvery exterior but a fairly spartan interior. “The current vehicle’s appeal is rooted in its tradition rather than its décor,” the agency acknowledged in 2011.

Now, NASA is gearing up for a new era of deep space exploration, and it plans to launch four astronauts at a time inside the Orion spacecraft, on top of a Space Launch System rocket. The first human flights on these vehicles could occur in late 2023 or early 2024, NASA administrator Bill Nelson recently said.

While it has taken literally decades and tens of billions of dollars to develop the spacecraft and rocket, NASA is hoping its launch pad ride can be furnished a little more quickly. In its solicitation, released Friday, NASA says its “Artemis CTV” should be delivered no later than June 2023.

NASA is considering three different options for the new vehicle. A provider can custom-build a vehicle, modify a commercially available vehicle, or repair and refurbish the venerable Astrovan.

As part of its solicitation, NASA has a lengthy list of requirements for its Artemis transport vehicle. Among them:

  • It must be a zero-emission vehicle, such as battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric
  • It must have a carrying capacity of eight passengers, including four fully suited astronauts
  • It must have extensive capacity for equipment, including large bags for helmets, ice-based cooling units, and more
  • Have sufficiently wide doors of 24 to 36 inches for ingress and egress by suited astronauts

According to Ars automotive editor Jonathan Gitlin, it is unlikely that any existing zero-emissions vehicle meets these requirements, even with modifications. Ford’s forthcoming electric Transit Van may come close, Gitlin added.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Chris Ferguson, and Sandy Magnus inside the Astrovan in 2011.
Enlarge / NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Chris Ferguson, and Sandy Magnus inside the Astrovan in 2011.


The best option, in fact, may be renovating the old Airstream. This is because the vehicle will not be called upon for particularly long journeys—it’s only a few kilometers to and from the launch pad—and this demand would be well within the capabilities of a couple Tesla drive units and a slab of batteries.

With the Artemis program, NASA is going back to the Moon like it did in the 1960s. It’s using a capsule design, not dissimilar to Apollo, and a large rocket with space shuttle main engines designed in the 1970s. So, why shouldn’t astronaut transport be retro, too?

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CDC director overrules experts, allows Pfizer boosters for health workers



Enlarge / CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate committee hearing in July 2021.

Just past midnight last night, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overruled a committee of independent advisers, allowing for use of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine booster dose in people with increased risk of occupational and institutional exposure to the pandemic coronavirus. That includes health care workers, front-line workers, teachers, day care providers, grocery store workers, and people who work or live in prisons and homeless shelters, among others.

Hours earlier, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) concluded a two-day meeting on booster recommendations—and voted 9-6 against recommending boosters for this group.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

She further noted that the inclusion of people at high risk of COVID-19 from occupational and institutional exposure “aligns with the FDA’s booster authorization.” The Food and Drug Administration last Wednesday issued an amended Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which allowed booster doses for people 65 and older as well as people ages 18 to 64 who are at high risk of COVID-19 either from underlying medical conditions or occupational and institutional exposures.

Though the CDC’s advisory committee was torn over endorsing that use, they ultimately decided that the need was not there—vaccine effectiveness against severe disease and hospitalization remains very strong in those under age 65. And recommending boosters for anyone with a conceivable occupational or institutional risk could create a booster free-for-all.

By taking the unusual move to overrule the ACIP’s decisions, Walensky puts the booster efforts more in line with the Biden administration’s preliminary plans to offer booster doses to all vaccinated adults, starting this week.

Still, the current recommendations only apply to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and those who received that vaccine for their two-dose “primary series.” Those who initially received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are advised to wait for further booster data and recommendations.

For now, here are the CDC’s official recommendations of who should get a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine booster—to be given at least six months after the primary Pfizer/BioNTech series. (Emphasis added by CDC).

  • people 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
  • people ages 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series,
  • people ages 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks, and
  • people ages 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.
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