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Climate change could kill off one in three plant and animal species within 50 years

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The common giant tree frog from Madagascar is one of many species under threat from climate change (Image: John J. Wiens)

Climate change could wipe out one-third of all the plant and animal species on Earth within half a century, scientists have warned.

In a new study, University of Arizona researchers analysed data on recent extinctions and compared it against weather predictions for the next 50 years.

Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens from the university’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology surveyed data from 538 species and 581 sites around the world.

They found that 44% of the 538 species had already gone extinct at one or more sites – which is known as local extinction.

‘By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct,’ Román-Palacios said.

‘We also estimated how quickly populations can move to try and escape rising temperatures. When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species.’

A dead alligator juniper from Arizona, which is unable to cope with heat increases (Image: Ramona Walls)

A dead alligator juniper from Arizona, which is unable to cope with heat increases (Image: Ramona Walls)

The study identified maximum annual temperatures – the hottest daily highs in summer – as the key piece of information that ‘best explains whether a population will go extinct’.

Researchers found that many species were able to tolerate some increases in maximum temperatures, but only up to a point.

They found that about half of the species experienced local extinctions if maximum temperatures increased by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius – but a 95% extinction rate if temperatures increase by more than 2.9 degrees Celsius.

The academics said that ‘projections of species loss depend on how much climate will warm in the future’.

‘In a way, it’s a “choose your own adventure,”‘ Wiens said.

‘If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070.

‘But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.”

The paper’s projections of species loss are similar for plants and animals, but extinctions are projected to be two to four times more common in the tropics than in temperate regions.

‘This is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics,’ Román-Palacios added.

VINCENNES BAY, ANTARTICA - JANUARY 11: Giant tabular icebergs are surrounded by ice floe drift in Vincennes Bay on January 11, 2008 in the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia's CSIRO's atmospheric research unit has found the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations' top climate change body, with harmful emissions exceeding worst-case estimates. (Photo by Torsten Blackwood - Pool/Getty Images)

Humanity could be teetering on the edge of catastrophe (Image: Getty)

Humanity is about to reach the climate change ‘point of no return’ and our attempts to save the planet have been ‘utterly inadequate’, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last year.

Speaking before the start of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, the UN chief said rising temperatures are already causing chaos around the world.

He suggested the world has the scientific knowledge and the technical ability to tackle global warming, but ‘what is lacking is political will.’

‘The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,’ Guterres told reporters in the Spanish capital.

‘It is in sight and hurtling toward us.’

Guterres said there was mounting scientific evidence showing the impact man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are already having on the planet, including record temperatures and melting polar ice.

But he insisted that his message was ‘one of hope, not of despair’.

He added: ‘Our war against nature must stop and we know that that is possible.’

‘What is still lacking is political will,’ he added.

‘Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from income to carbon. Taxing pollution instead of people.’

Global warming 'threatens the existence of human civilisations' and we need to cut emissions immediately, researchers warned (Picture: Getty)

Global warming ‘threatens the existence of human civilisations’ and we need to cut emissions immediately, researchers warned (Picture: Getty)

The warning came after scientists said nine climate change ‘tipping points’ have now been crossed and the ‘cascade of changes’ could spell doom for humanity.

They called for the establishment of a ‘state of planetary emergency’ and urged governments to take urgent action to stop the production of greenhouse gases and said global warming risked creating a ‘hothouse Earth’ that ‘could threaten the existence of human civilisations’.

‘A decade ago we identified a suite of potential tipping points in the Earth system, now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,’ said Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter and lead author of a new paper in the respected journal Nature.

‘The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see. The situation is urgent and we need an emergency response.

‘We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points.

‘However, the rate at which they progress, and therefore the risk they pose, can be reduced by cutting our emissions.’



Countdown to doomsday: If these nine natural

  1. Melting of Arctic sea ice.
  2. Loss of Greenland ice sheet.
  3. The disappearance of boreal forests.
  4. Thawing of Permafrost.
  5. Loss of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (currents which carry warm water from the tropics into the North Atlantic)
  6. Death of the Amazon rainforest.
  7. The demise of warm-water corals.
  8. Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
  9. Loss of parts of East Antarctica.

The collapse of major ice sheets on Greenland, West Antarctica and part of East Antarctica would cause roughly 10 metres of irreversible sea-level rise.

If rainforests, permafrost and boreal forests die off, huge amounts of greenhouse gases will be released into the air and amplify global warming.

We could stave off this disaster by reducing emissions, but this would only ‘allow more time for low-lying populations to move’ to another part of the world.

And once we’ve reached several tipping points, a cataclysmic ‘cascade’ could begin which accelerates climate change to terrifying proportions.

‘If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization,’ the scientists wrote.

‘No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.’

Co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: ‘It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels.

‘It is also that as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming.

‘This is what we now start seeing, already at 1°C global warming.

‘Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.’



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You Can Now Lock Your Netflix Profile With a PIN

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Netflix has added new parental controls to help families get along. This includes the option to protect your Netflix profile with a PIN, which will prevent your children (and/or your partner) from accessing your profile and messing up your watchlist.

The Problem With Sharing Netflix With Others

Like all streaming services, Netflix can be a great option for families. However, setting up profiles for individual members of a family is vital. That way, the adults can keep their movies and shows seperate from the kids’ endless repeats of Peppa Pig.

The problem is there has been nothing stopping kids from logging into their parents’ profiles and watching whatever they want to watch. Until now. Now, you can set a PIN code to protect your Netflix profile, whether from prying kids or anyone else.

How to Lock a Netflix Profile With a PIN

To protect a Netflix profile with a PIN, sign into Netflix on your phone or laptop. Then, hover over the Profile icon in the top-right and click Account. Scroll down to Profile and Parental Controls, and click on the down-arrow to reveal more options.

Scroll down to Profile Lock and click Change. When prompted, enter your password and click Continue. Tick the box to “require a PIN,” enter a 4-digit code, and click Save. To stop requiring a PIN to access your profile, go through the steps again and untick the box.

This is just one of a number of parental controls Netflix has introduced. The others, as outlined on the Netflix Media Center, are the option to filter out titles by age ratings and remove individual titles. You can also turn off autoplay to prevent binge-watching.

All of these new parental controls can be accessed via the Profile and Parental Controls hub within your account settings. This is also where you can see what your kids have been watching on their profiles (or yours) to ensure everything is as it should be.

Tips and Tricks to Become a Netflix Pro

These new parental controls are all fairly basic, but they could prove invaluable for families all sharing a Netflix account. Especially in these strange times when lots of families are being forced to spend all day, every day together. Which is… fun.

We’re big fans of Netflix here at MakeUseOf. So much so that we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips and tricks to help you become a Netflix pro. This runs the full gamut from tips for beginners to recommendations for which movies to watch.

Read the full article: You Can Now Lock Your Netflix Profile With a PIN



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Stop covid or save the economy? We can do both

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In the first employment report after social distancing measures had taken hold in many US states, the Department of Labor announced that 3.3 million people had filed jobless claims. A week later, in the first week in April, an additional 6.6 million claims came in—almost unfathomable compared with the previous record of 695,000, which was set in 1982.

As bad as those numbers are, though, they greatly understate the crisis, since they don’t take into account many part-time, self-­employed, and gig workers who are also losing their livelihoods. Financial experts predict that US GDP will drop as much as 30% to 50% by summer.

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In late March, President Donald Trump warned against letting “the cure be worse than the problem itself” and talked of getting the country back to business by Easter, then just two weeks away. Casey Mulligan, a University of Chicago economist and former member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, warned that “an optimistic projection” for the cost of closing nonessential businesses until July was almost $10,000 per American household. He told the New York Times that shutting down economic activity to slow the virus would be more damaging than doing nothing at all.

Eventually the White House released models suggesting that letting the virus spread unchecked could kill as many as 2.2 million Americans, in line with the projections of other epidemiologists. Trump backed off his calls for an early reopening, extending guidelines on social distancing through the end of April. But his essential argument remained: that in the coronavirus pandemic, there is an agonizing trade-off between saving the economy and saving lives.

Evidence from research, however, shows that this is a false dichotomy. The best way to limit the economic damage will be to save as many lives as possible.

A novel recession

Part of the difficulty with setting policy now is that the situation is unprecedented in living memory. “It’s impossible to know how the world is changing,” says David Autor, a labor economist at MIT. “It isn’t like anything we’ve seen in a hundred years.” In any past recession or depression, the economic solution has always been to stimulate demand for labor—to get workers back on the job. But in this case, we’re purposely shutting down economic activity and telling people to stay at home. “It’s not just the depth of the recession,” Autor says. “It’s qualitatively different.” 

One of the biggest fears is that those least able to withstand the downturn will be hit hardest—low-wage service workers in restaurants and hotels, and the growing number of people in the gig economy. For the last two decades, service workers have become an increasingly large part of the labor force as many of the midlevel office and manufacturing jobs previously open to people without college degrees have dried up, says Autor. It’s people in these service jobs, already low paid and often with few health and other benefits, who will struggle the most.

“On a good day they are vulnerable, and on a bad day they are even more vulnerable,” Autor says. “And this is a very bad day.”

Provisions included in the $2 trillion legislative package passed by Congress in late March were meant to give affected workers and businesses the means to weather the shutdown and, once the outbreak is under control, help restart the economy. Each adult earning less than $75,000 will be given $1,200, and for the first time, gig workers and self-employed people will qualify for unemployment benefits. Hundreds of billions of dollars will also go to helping businesses stay afloat.

But it almost certainly won’t be enough, especially in the hardest-hit areas of the country. Cities like Las Vegas and Orlando, “places with gargantuan leisure hospitality economies,” will be badly affected, says Mark Muro, coauthor of a report from the Brookings Institution analyzing the numbers. But any region with a large service economy is vulnerable. Muro points out that many of these places never recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.

The people losing these low-wage service jobs were already experiencing skyrocketing mortality rates from what economists have begun calling “deaths of despair,” caused by alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. The coming crash could make things much worse.

The value of a life

Yet shutting down businesses is the only real choice, given that an unchecked pandemic would itself be hugely destructive to economic activity. If tens of millions of people become sick and millions die, the economy suffers, and not just because the workforce is being depleted. Widespread fear is bad for business: consumers won’t flock back to restaurants, book air travel, or spend on activities that might put them at risk of getting sick. In a recent survey of leading economists by Chicago’s Booth School, 88% believed that “a comprehensive policy response” will need to involve tolerating “a very large contraction in economic activity” to get the outbreak under control. Some 80% thought that “abandoning severe lockdowns” too early will lead to even greater economic damage.

Meanwhile, any measures to slow deaths from the virus will have huge downstream economic benefits. Michael Greenstone, an economist at the University of Chicago, finds that even moderate social distancing will save 1.7 million lives between March 1 and October 1, according to disease-spread models done at Imperial College London. Avoiding those deaths translates into a benefit of around $8 trillion to the economy, or about one-third of the US GDP, he estimates, on the basis of a widely accepted economic measure, the “value of a statistical life.” And if the outbreak is less severe than predicted by the Imperial College work, Greenstone predicts, social distancing could still save some $3.6 trillion.

“Our choice is not whether we intervene or whether we go back to the normal economy,” says Emil Verner, an economist at MIT’s Sloan School who has recently looked at the flu pandemic of 1918 for insights into today’s outbreak. “Our choice is whether we intervene—and the economy will be really bad now and will be better in the future—versus doing nothing and the pandemic goes out of control and really destroys the economy.”

Overall, Verner and his coauthors found that the 1918 pandemic reduced national manufacturing output in the US by 18%; but cities that implemented restrictions earlier and for longer had much better economic outcomes in the year after the outbreak.

Verner points to the fates of two cities in particular: Cleveland and Philadelphia. Cleveland acted aggressively, closing schools and banning gatherings early in the outbreak and keeping the restrictions in place for far longer. Philadelphia was slower to react and maintained restrictions for about half as long. Not only did far fewer people die in Cleveland (600 per 100,000, compared with 900 per 100,000 in Philadelphia), but its economy fared better and was much stronger in the year after the outbreak. By 1919 job growth was 5% there, while in Philadelphia it was around 2%.

Today’s economy is much different—it’s geared more toward services, and far less toward manufacturing than it was 100 years ago. Nevertheless, the cities’ stories are suggestive. Verner says that even a conservative interpretation of the data suggests there is “no evidence that interventions are worse for the economy.” And most likely they had a significant benefit. “A pandemic is so destructive,” he says. “Ultimately any policy to mitigate it is going to be good for the economy.”

The cure, then, isn’t worse than the disease. But for every day that normal economic activity is shut down, a huge number of Americans won’t be earning an income. Many already live paycheck to paycheck. Many may in fact succumb to diseases of despair. Families will fall apart under the stress. Hard-hit cities will feel abandoned. The urgency to open the economy will only grow.

However, a number of influential economists and health-care experts are saying there’s a way to get America quickly back in business while preserving public safety.

Reviving the economy

These days Paul Romer sounds exasperated. “We’re caught up in the trauma: kill the economy or kill more people,” he says. There is so much “learned helplessness, so much hand-wringing.” The New York University economist and Nobel laureate believes he has a relatively simple strategy that will “both contain the virus and let the economy revive.” 

The key, says Romer, is repeatedly testing everyone without symptoms to identify who is infected. (People with symptoms should just be assumed to have covid-19 and treated accordingly.) All those who test positive should isolate themselves; those who test negative can return to work, traveling, and socializing, but they should be tested every two weeks or so. If you’re negative, you might have a card saying so that allows you to get on an airplane or freely enter a restaurant.

Testing could be voluntary. Romer acknowledges some might resist it or resist isolating themselves if positive, but “most people want to do the right thing,” he says, and that should be enough to snuff out the spread of the virus.

Romer points to new, faster diagnostic tests, including ones from Silicon Valley’s Cepheid and from the drug giant Roche. Each of Roche’s best machines can handle 4,200 tests a day; build five thousand of those machines, and you can test 20 million people a day. “It’s well within our capacity,” he says. “We just need to bend some metal and make some machines.” If you can identify and isolate those infected with the virus, you can let the rest of the population go back to business.

Indeed, in an early April survey by Chicago’s Booth School, 93% of the economists agreed that “a massive increase in testing” is required for “an economic restart.”

In a piece called “National Coronavirus Response: A roadmap to reopening,” former FDA director Scott Gottlieb also argued for ramping up testing and then isolating those infected rather shutting in the entire population. Likewise, Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of medical ethics and health policy, called for increasing testing in a New York Times piece called “We Can Safely Restart the Economy in June. Here’s How.” Harvard medical experts, meanwhile, have outlined similar ideas in “A Detailed Plan for Getting Americans Back to Work.

The proposals differ in details, but all revolve around widespread testing of various sorts to know who is vulnerable and who isn’t before we risk going back to business.

There is, however, little evidence that massive and frequent testing will be implemented anytime soon. Despite the appearance of new tests, screening is still largely unavailable for anyone but the most severely ill or those at the medical front lines. Test kits and equipment to perform them are still in short supply. Many hospitals and doctors complain they can’t get needed tests; and Roche’s CEO said at the end of March that it will be “weeks, if not months” before there is widespread coronavirus testing in the US.

It’s the type of inertia that clearly frustrates Romer. He calls the $2 trillion legislation passed by Congress “palliative care” for the economy. If you took $100 billion and put it into testing, he says, we would “be far better off.”

One day we will have to reopen the economy. Perhaps we’ll be able to hold out until the pandemic is showing signs of receding, or perhaps the economic suffering will prove intolerable both to those in charge and to those living in hard-hit regions. When that day comes, if we do not have widespread testing, we will be sending people back to work without knowing if they’re at risk of getting the virus or spreading it to others. “We’re thinking about this the wrong way,” Romer says. The idea that one day you will be able to restart the economy without massive testing to see if the outbreak is under control is just “magical thinking.” 

It could be a gradual process—those who are found to be free of infection or immune might be allowed back first. But without testing we won’t know how to manage this transition. In that case we will in fact be left with the Trumpian choice: between salvaging the economy and risking countless deaths.



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The Real Lessons About 3D Printed Face Shields: Effective Engineering Response in Times of Crisis

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3D printed face shields and other health equipment is big news right now. Not long ago, Prusa Research rapidly designed and manufactured 3D printed face shields and donated them to the Czech Ministry of Health. Their effort is ongoing, and 3D printers cranking out health equipment like the NIH approved design has been peppering headlines ever since.

The Important Part Isn’t 3D Printers

The implied takeaway from all the coverage is that 3D printers are a solution to critical equipment shortages, but the fact that 3D printers are involved isn’t really the important part. We all know printers can make plastic parts, so what should be the real takeaway? The biggest lessons we can learn about Prusa’s ongoing effort are related to how they’ve gone about it.

The situation was that health workers were short on face shields (among other things) and the usual supply couldn’t meet the demand for items that were needed yesterday. Prusa Research was able to create a design, and validate it with experts and end users in record time. Confirming that a design meets actual needs is an important step, but it’s not the only one.

Just as important is ensuring that a design’s execution is appropriate for the environment, and that meant conferring with experts and getting their buy-in and approval. In the case of the face shields, manufacturing them needed to go hand-in-hand with proper handling and packaging. Josef Prusa spells it all out carefully in his original blog post, along with making it clear that making face shields wasn’t the only solution explored, but it was identified as the one that was most appropriate at the time.

It’s one thing to run some 3D printers and drop off the resulting box of parts if all one is interested in are high fives and congratulatory selfies, maybe a triumphant social media post on the side. But if solving a problem meaningfully is the real goal, then the bar is set somewhat higher.

How to Make Sure a Solution Actually Solves Something

Prusa Research did many things besides design and 3D print face shield parts. They coordinated closely with end users and experts, validated the design with them, and delivered something that met a specific need in a very short time. It’s a brilliant story, but it’s an even better example of how to make certain that an engineering solution actually solves a real problem.

How does one make sure a problem-solving effort is appropriate? Follow these three simple (but not necessarily easy) steps:

  1. Ensure the solution is addressing a problem that actually exists in the first place.
  2. Verify that the solution meets the needs of the people who are actually involved.
  3. Execute the solution in a way appropriate to the environment for which it is destined.

How does one judge whether a solution does in fact accomplish those things? The only judges that matter are the people and experts on the receiving end, so it ultimately must come from them. Otherwise, as our own Jenny List observed, swooping in with an engineering solution may feel good, but probably won’t accomplish much besides a boost to one’s ego.

The 3D Printing is Solved, But Other Problems Exist

Besides what Prusa Research is doing, there are other organizations eager to leverage 3D printing to help with equipment shortfalls and a lack of headlines. Running 3D printers is a solved problem and a workable design is out in the wild, but that still leaves other problems such as:

  1. How best to get 3D printed devices into the hands of people who need them, and
  2. Who picks up the bill after the news organizations have gone and everyone else at the table looks elsewhere and fidgets nervously.

Here are two different efforts that try to focus on those connected problems.

Covidstop.ca

A Canadian initiative acting as a portal to connect people who volunteer to make things with the people and organizations requesting those things. It’s being spearheaded by Shop3D who aims to provide pre-paid shipping labels and, as necessary, refund material costs for volunteers able to turn excess filament into face shield parts. (Volunteers need only make the 3D printed parts; other components such as clear plastic sheets are being donated by other suppliers.)

This approach is interesting because the problem being addressed is that the two groups involved — makers on one side, and medical personnel on the other — are not normally the same people. By providing a portal to allow volunteers to make and users to place orders free of charge, it removes the need for the two groups to have to know each other.

Covid-19 Manufacturing Fund

This nonprofit fundraiser by 3DHubs also aims to cover the costs of manufacturing medical equipment (at the moment, only face shields) and provide a way for people and organizations worldwide to request them free of charge. Their approach is to use crowdfunding (and 3DHubs’ global network) so that the funding part can be completely separate. As a result, the locations of the makers, the end users, and the ones picking up the tab don’t matter very much.

How well either of these initiatives succeed will probably be clear sooner rather than later, but what’s clear right now is that they both demonstrate trying to solve problems for which the 3D printing is really only a small part, and that’s good to see.

Things Are Changing Rapidly

Every day brings change and news. If you have read the blog post I mentioned from Prusa in the past, it has probably been updated since you last read it. If you saved their 3D printable face shield design, it has probably been revised more than once since you downloaded it. 3D printing is agile enough to keep up with rapid change, but it’s ultimately only one piece of the problem.

Do you know of any other efforts to solve problems around this issue? Let us know in the comments.



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