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In France, American Scientists Are Trying to ‘Make Planet Great Again’

Carol Lee collaborates with University of Montpellier colleagues researching how tiny plankton cope in an ever-saltier Mediterranean sea and a freshwater-infused Baltic one. From the foothills of the French Pyrenees, Camille Parmesan experiments with cutting-edge climate modeling, hoping it may offer clues for future biodiversity conservation.Both biologists have pulled up stakes from previous posts, counting among U.S. scientists who are responding to the Trump administration’s upcoming withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement with their feet.  “I know quite a lot of really top-notch scientists who have just moved to other countries,” said Lee, citing colleagues who have headed to Europe and China. “And a big, alarming trend is there are a lot of very smart people who are not moving to the U.S.”  “I know quite a lot of really top-notch scientists who have just moved to other countries,” says Lee, pictured with a colleague. “And a big, alarming trend is there are a lot of very smart people who are not moving to the U.S.”Lee’s assessment follows numerous allegations that the U.S. government is undermining climate and other research on multiple fronts, from shrinking funding and shutting programs to diminishing science’s role in policymaking. Hundreds of scientists have left their jobs, according to a recent New York Times article, although it’s unclear how many have headed overseas.  U.S. officials offer a different picture. A State Department statement issued ahead of December’s climate talks in Madrid, for example, said the government remained committed to research and innovation. It credited advances, ranging from renewables to “transformational” coal technologies, for allowing the United States to simultaneously reduce emissions, protect the environment and grow the economy.  Yet these days Europe is more often seen as the climate leader. Still, it faces its own set of challenges. The European Union’s climate-fighting efforts vary sharply by member state, with countries like Poland still heavily reliant on coal.  Moreover, a recent study by the European Investment Bank finds the EU must invest massively more in research and development to a meet a new and ambitious 2050 goal of zero net emissions. Indeed, it finds Europe lags behind the US and China in climate change mitigation investments as a share of GDP.  French President Emmanuel Macron holds a sign with the slogan ‘Make our planet great again’ as he attends the ‘Tech for Planet’ event at the ‘Station F’ start-up campus ahead of the One Planet Summit in Paris on Dec. 11, 2017.French grantsIn France, Lee and Parmesan count among more than a dozen U.S. scientists benefiting from generous research grants under President Emmanuel Macron’s Make the Planet Great Again program, a direct rebuttal to Washington’s departure from the Paris pact. Yet Macron himself is criticized at home for failing to match climate-fighting rhetoric with action, while experts say French science overall is seriously underfunded.  “It’s very clear there isn’t enough investment in France, and we’ll need to concentrate on this in the years to come,” says Stephane Blanc, who heads the MOPGA initiative, pointing however to upcoming legislation aimed to significantly boost research funding.  Launched in mid-2017, Macron’s initiative — known more prosaically as MOPGA — offers three- to five-year matching grants of up to $1.7 million for cutting-edge environment research on areas that also include biodiversity loss and sustainable agriculture. American and formerly U.S.-based scientists dominate the 41 grantees, who also include French and other Europeans. Germany has rolled out a similar, but more modest initiative.  “When Macron made that announcement, I thought ‘I’m applying for that,'” says Lee, who had previously collaborated with Montpellier University.  Her grant of nearly $900,000 allows her to hire graduate students for research into how plankton can adapt to changes in salinity and temperature. Her two targets are witnessing diametrically opposite climate-affected impacts; while the Mediterranean is increasing in salinity, ice melt is injecting a mass of freshwater into the Baltic Sea that promises to decimate key local species like cod.  “I’m looking at the base of the food chain, because that’s so important for maintaining everything — that’s the little guys, the copepods,” she says of the plankton.  At home in Madison, Wisconsin, Lee launched a more personal climate change fight, going vegetarian and powering her house with wind. But she does not see enough action on a national level.  “I feel like scientists are getting ignored in the United States, that what we say doesn’t matter right now, and that is incredibly distressing,” she says.  In France, by contrast, she is confident her research will be published and widely disseminated.  “Somebody is going to listen to us,” she says. “In Europe and elsewhere.”  FILE – In this Sept.5, 2017 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot meet with NGOs to discuss climate and environment at the Elysee Palace in Paris.Modeling change  For Parmesan, France amounted a Eurostar train ride away from her previous research posting in Britain. During her career, she has given talks at the White House, testified before Congress and collected prestigious awards for her research, which includes helping to solidify the science behind the 2°C-degree global warming cap set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  “I think I’ve done my thing about the fact we need to reduce carbon emissions,” Parmesan says. “What I’m trying to do now is go more towards what we do about it.”Today, she works at a French research station in the tiny southwestern commune of Moulis, trying to apply economic-style simulations to biodiversity conservation under a rapidly changing climate.  “It’s really tricky, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” she says. “How do you come up with a conservation plan? What do you preserve and where to you preserve in the face of all this?”She describes a recent slew of emissions and global warming records as yet more grim data points on a now-clear trajectory.  But she is alarmed the United States is not leading the response.  “A lot of the best science has come out of the United States, but that’s going away,” she says.  While some U.S. colleagues are staying put in their jobs, mindful of family and financial constraints, others are not, she says.  “If they’re old enough they’re retiring, if they’re young enough they’re getting the hell out of there,” Parmesan said, adding a number are asking her about research options in Europe.  She is worried about the future, but energized by the rising tide of youth climate activists.  “Young people will see a tremendous degradation of their lifestyle — everyone who reads the science knows that,” Parmesan says. “So I’m really excited that age group is finally getting charged up, and demanding these older politicians do something.”

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Documentary ‘Gift’ Looks Into the History of Sharing

The more you give, the richer you become that’s the philosophical idea behine the gift economy.  It’s an idea that’s catching on. At the famous Burning Man festival in Nevada for instance money has no worth. In his book “The Gift”, Lewis Hyde described this model in detail. Misha Gutkin looked into the whole idea.

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Vaping Comes Under Fire

Amid an alarming surge in vaping among teenagers, Congress recently approved an unprecedented measure to curb tobacco and e-cigarette use nationwide, especially among teens.Congress voted to increase the legal age to buy tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21 as part of a major fiscal 2020 spending agreement. First introduced in May by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, the “Tobacco-Free Youth Act” has bipartisan support and aims to tackle youth vaping.President Donald Trump had signaled his support of the measure and signed the underlying legislation Dec. 20. However, under pressure from his own campaign manager and special interests, Trump appears to be reconsidering a plan he unveiled in September to reduce youth vaping by banning flavored e-cigarettes — an approach that experts say would be far more effective than raising the legal smoking age to 21.Despite warnings from government agencies and anti-vaping advocacy groups, the prevalence of minors using e-cigarettes has doubled since 2017, according to data compiled by the University of Michigan and released last September by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.Juul, the most popular e-cigarette in the U.S., controlled 75 percent of the market in 2018 and is at the center of what the U.S. Surgeon General has called an “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.” While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged that no one brand is responsible for the outbreak of illnesses, as an industry leader, Juul is the focus of most finger-pointing, including from the surgeon general.Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced a lawsuit against Juul on Dec. 12, echoing attorneys general in D.C., New York, California and North Carolina who have filed similar lawsuits this year. Multiple school districts around the country have also taken legal action against Juul.Juul did not return phone calls or emails from VOA.FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018.Big tobacco’s influenceOfficials have pointed to a forerunner — the tobacco industry — which they say provided a blueprint for the embattled company and others like it.”Juul basically took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook by marketing its products in a manner that was appealing to underage youth,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a press conference Nov. 19.Juul’s advertising in its first three years on the market was “patently youth oriented,” according to a Stanford study, contradicting Juul’s claim that their customers of choice are adult tobacco smokers. The study found that Juul recruited online influencers and focused its marketing on social media websites popular with youth.A memo from the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy accused Juul of deploying a “sophisticated program” to introduce its products to children. The memo revealed Juul paid $134,000 to a Baltimore charter school to organize a “holistic health education program” for low-income students. Emails obtained by the subcommittee showed that one Juul executive described the school programs as “eerily similar” to how tobacco companies market.Juul has repeatedly denied marketing its products to teens.”Put simply, Juul Labs isn’t Big Tobacco,” said Juul Labs co-founder James Monsees as he testified in a congressional hearing in July.However, Altria Group, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, whose subsidiary Philip Morris USA owns the popular Marlboro brand, invested $12.8 billion in Juul last year, acquiring a 35 percent stake and bolstering suspicions that e-cigarette and vape companies were influenced by major tobacco brands.Katy Talento, a former adviser to Trump on health care policy, said she experienced the tobacco effect firsthand.WATCH: Student Union: Former Trump Adviser Says Juul Mislead the White House “After some of these meetings took place in the White House between Juul and the Republican lobbyists and the White House staff who work on health care issues, they announced that they were being bought by Altria,” Talento told VOA. “So they were literally wedding planning with Big Tobacco while they were insisting to us that they were trying to rid the world of tobacco.”Juul isn’t the only e-cigarette maker backed by the large tobacco companies. Most of the top e-cigarettes and vape producers in the U.S. are owned by tobacco giants: Imperial Brand acquired Blu from its rival R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2014, whose subsidiary owns the popular Vuse vaporizers. British American Tobacco, second in the world only to Philip Morris International, launched Vype in 2013.White House meetingTop vaping representatives, tobacco executives and public health officials clashed in a televised meeting at the White House in late November. K.C. Crosthwaite, a former Altria executive who become CEO of Juul in September, was one of the executives in the room.During the meeting, Crosthwaite said Juul could not ignore the data that suggests youth vaping is a “serious problem” and that Juul was “a part of it,” and he expressed willingness to support the FDA’s determinations.Crosthwaite’s statements appear to fall in line with Juul’s recent actions. Following condemnation from the FDA and public outcry, Juul stopped selling its popular fruity and mint flavors and suspended all advertising in the U.S.Vaping representatives in the Cabinet Room meeting were quick to point out that not only did the flavor removals fail to hurt Juul’s business, it helped. When prodded by the president, Crosthwaite admitted that “business grew.”Anti-vape campaignAccording to the CDC, 54 people have died and 2,506 people have been hospitalized from EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) in the U.S. Previously identified as a likely culprit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that a recent study suggests vitamin E acetate is “closely associated” with EVALI.Most of the illnesses and deaths linked to vaping were caused by THC-containing products, especially counterfeit THC products and those obtained from second-hand or informal sources like online sellers. THC is a psychoactive element of marijuana.Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the cases of mysterious vaping-related illnesses have been declining since September.Some states and cities, including New York City, have restricted the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, although exceptions are generally made for tobacco and menthol flavors. Many states have also implemented taxes and raised the legal age to 21 to combat youth vaping. In Massachusetts, the governor implemented a temporary ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products starting Sept. 24. That ban ended Dec. 24.Uncertainty and confusion continues to persist in the vaping debate. A new study has concluded that the use of e-cigarettes increases the risk of developing chronic lung diseases, but less so than smoking.Following a 2016 ruling that placed vaping products under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, vape producers have until May 2020 to submit their products, many of which were largely unregulated, for review by the FDA.
 

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Violence Grows Against Women and Children in Economic Deprivation of Yemen’s War

A recent study has revealed an increase in violence against women and children resulting from the conflict in Yemen.   Research by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies shows women and girls in Yemen have been affected by rape, kidnapping and domestic violence, while boys face sexual violence and are forced to work. 
 
Yemen’s nearly five-year conflict is having disastrous consequences on its civilian population, according to the recent study, “A Gendered Crisis: Understanding Experiences of Yemen’s War.”
 
The qualitative research involving some 90 focus group discussions across Yemen’s political and socioeconomic classes found that unemployment has undermined men’s traditional role as breadwinner, driving many to seek a salary by fighting on the front lines. Rising poverty has left parents unable to educate their children.  The middle class has slipped into poverty and the poor into destitution.
 One of the authors, Shams Shamsan of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, says that the financial strain caused by the war has plunged the already impoverish nation at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula into a dire economic crisis making women, youth and children more vulnerable to exploitation and multiple forms of gender-based violence.
 
“Youth and kids are lured into sexual activity in exchange for money and sometimes materialistic things. Women report a lot of kidnapping and groping in the streets and they say there is a growing impunity towards predators who do that,” Shamsan said. “In the past, if a woman is harassed in the street, everybody would jump in to try to protect her, but now there is no such thing. People are usually scared.”
 UN: Yemen’s Children Suffer ‘Devastating Toll’ in 5-Year Conflict

        The United Nations said Monday that the five-year-old conflict in Yemen has taken a "devastating toll" on the country's children, with thousands killed, maimed and recruited to fight since the war began. "The impact of this conflict on children is horrific," Virginia Gamba, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, told a meeting of the Security Council. 

Shamsan says that Yemeni families forbid doctors to report cases of rape due to the social stigma attached to it in their culture.
Rights group Amnesty International also said recently that Yemen’s negative gender stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes, a discriminatory legal system, and economic inequality have compounded women’s vulnerability to violence.  Activists like Shamsan say that more needs to be done to protect children and women against the growing gender-based violence.
 
“We need to educate women and children on what is sexual violence. What does it mean when you get harassed,” Shamsan said. “Some kids get harassed and they don’t know they are being harassed. So, we need some sort of an awareness program to families and children and how to report. We have very little programs that work on psychosocial support. We need rehabilitation programs for those who experience sexual assault and sexual trauma.”
 
Shamsan says children and youth being sent to the frontlines also badly need psycho-social support and rehabilitation centers to help them integrate into society, otherwise they transfer their battlefield trauma into domestic violence.

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Measles Outbreaks Make 2019 a Record-Setting Year

The year 2019 saw a totally preventable disease claim the lives of more than 140,000 people, mostly children and babies. It happened as unvaccinated children created a pathway for measles outbreaks globally. Some of the outbreaks are still continuing.Samoan Emite Talaalevea lost her daughter. She says she never expected to see such grief.”I was shocked, it was very hard to me to accept what happened,” she said.Measles claimed the lives of some 81 people on the island, mostly children and infants. Robert Linkins, an expert on measles in the Global Immunization Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the deaths were completely preventable.”Two shots of a vaccine could have saved those children’s lives.”The vaccination rate in Samoa dropped to about 30% after two children died from a measles vaccine that was mistakenly mixed with a muscle relaxant. People wrongly attributed the deaths to the vaccine, stopped vaccinating their children, then measles exploded on the island.Samoa has a population of 200,000. Some 5,600 people caught the virus. Linkins said because measles is so highly infectious, the disease spread rapidly.”The hospitals and health clinics were overrun with very sick children, and there weren’t enough health care workers and hospital beds to adequately deliver the services that they needed,” Linkins said.Medical teams went door-to-door with the vaccine. The goal was to get 95% of the population vaccinated. The Samoan government, Linkins said, turned to the CDC for help in stemming the epidemic.”[The] CDC also was asked to do training of health care workers to ensure safe vaccine delivery, as well as to monitor the quality of the immunization campaign that took place,” Linkins said.FILE – Children, their faces covered with masks, wait to get vaccinated against measles at a health clinic in Apia, Samoa, Nov. 18, 2019.In 2019, more 400,000 cases of measles were reported globally, with an additional 250,000 cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.In the first three months of 2019, the number of measles cases tripled over the same period of 2018. Dr. Kate O’Brien, an immunization expert with the World Health Organization, cites many reasons children are not getting vaccinated.”The main reason for failure to vaccinate against measles is families, communities are not having access to the vaccine,” O’Brien said.Conflict and poor health systems in low income countries prevent families from vaccinating their children. But in rich countries, some parents are opting out of immunizations. The United States tops the list with 2.5 million children missing their first dose of the measles vaccine. Two doses are essential for immunization.
The CDC reported more than 1,200 cases of measles in 31 U.S. states by late December, the highest number in 25 years. Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist at Baylor College of Medicine, says the numbers are alarming.
“In the United States now, measles epidemics are becoming the new normal in this country, after we eliminated measles in 2000,” Hotez said.
 
In 2019, four European countries — Britain, Albania, the Czech Republic and Greece — lost their measles eradication status, meaning measles is now considered endemic in these countries.”In other words, we’re backsliding,” said Kate O’Brien with the WHO.Samoa ended its state of emergency over its measles outbreak just days before 2019 ended. But the resurgence of measles is still a global health problem. Some parents are complacent about the vaccine. Others have come to fear it more than the deadly virus itself. Unless this changes, experts say, there will be more deaths, and more outbreaks in 2020. 

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In New York, New Year’s Eve Isn’t Complete Without the Ball Drop

This New Year’s Eve, an estimated 1 million people will pack the streets of New York City’s Times Square to watch the famous ball drop. It’s a tradition that dates back to 1907, as visitors from around the world gather to count down the final seconds to the New Year. VOA’s Tina Trinh heads to the rooftop of One Times Square for a look at the New Year’s Eve ball, the centerpiece of one of the world’s most anticipated New Year’s Eve celebrations.

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China Investigates Respiratory Illness Outbreak Sickening 27

Chinese experts are investigating an outbreak of respiratory illness in the central city of Wuhan that some have likened to the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.The city’s health commission said in a statement Tuesday that 27 people had fallen ill with a strain of viral pneumonia, seven of whom were in serious condition.It said most had visited a seafood market in the sprawling city, apparently pointing to a common origin of the outbreak.Unverified information online said the illnesses were caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged from southern China and killed more than 700 people in several countries and regions. SARS was brought under control through quarantines and other extreme measures, but not before causing a virtual shutdown to travel in China and the region and taking a severe toll on the economy.However, the health commission said the cause of the outbreak was still unclear and called on citizens not to panic.

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