Sunday, January 16, 2022

Last Call For The Vax Of Life, Con't

Lastly tonight, a preview of the fights ahead here in America this week from protests in Europe over vaccine mandates.

Before Covid-19, Nicolas Rimoldi had never attended a protest. 
But somewhere along the pandemic's long and tortuous road, which saw his native Switzerland imposing first one lockdown, then another, and finally introducing vaccination certificates, Rimoldi decided he had had enough. 
Now he leads Mass-Voll, one of Europe's largest youth-orientated anti-vaccine passport groups
Because he has chosen not to get vaccinated, student and part-time supermarket cashier Rimoldi is -- for now, at least -- locked out of much of public life. Without a vaccine certificate, he can no longer complete his degree or work in a grocery store. He is barred from eating in restaurants, attending concerts or going to the gym. 
"People without a certificate like me, we're not a part of society anymore," he said. "We're excluded. We're like less valuable humans." 
As the pandemic has moved into its third year, and the Omicron variant has sparked a new wave of cases, governments around the world are still grappling with the challenge of bringing the virus under control. Vaccines, one of the most powerful weapons in their armories, have been available for a year but a small, vocal minority of people -- such as Rimoldi -- will not take them. 
Faced with lingering pockets of vaccine hesitancy, or outright refusal, many nations are imposing ever stricter rules and restrictions on unvaccinated people, effectively making their lives more difficult in an effort to convince them to get their shots. 
In doing so, they are testing the boundary between public health and civil liberties -- and heightening tensions between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
Increasingly, the answer for the unvaccinated in Europe is turning to the old revolutionary ideas of defeating the "fascists" by becoming them. 
As controls have tightened, groups such as Rimoldi's have become increasingly disruptive; few weekends now pass without loud protests in European cities. And anger at restrictive Covid measures has led many who previously considered themselves apolitical to join in. 
Even before the pandemic, vaccine hesitancy in Europe was strongly correlated to a populist distrust of mainstream parties and governments. One study published in the European Journal of Public Health in 2019 found "a highly significant positive association between the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties and the percentage who believe that vaccines are not important and not effective." 
But leaders of anti-restriction movements are presenting their campaigns as more inclusive and representative than those studies would suggest. 
"We have farmers, lawyers, artists, musicians -- the whole range of people you can imagine," Rimoldi said. Mass-Voll is aimed specifically at Swiss young people, and boasts that it has amassed more followers on Instagram than the official youth wings of any of the country's major political parties. 
Christian Fiala, the vice president of Austria's MFG party, which was formed specifically to oppose lockdowns, mask-wearing and Covid passports, told CNN: "It's really a movement which comes from the whole population."

The Vienna rally was organized by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest political party in Austria, which experts say has used the pandemic to further its anti-establishment credentials and re-establish public support after a high-profile scandal.

“STOPP Impffaschismus,” (stop vaccine fascism) one sign in Vienna read. “Kontrolliert die Grenze, nicht euer volk,” (control the border, not your people) another said — just some of the slogans mixing vaccine skepticism with right-wing ideology.

At least one “Q” sign was on display in Vienna, signaling support for QAnon, the outlandish conspiracy theory associated with some supporters of former President Donald Trump and some participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Similar protests and signs could be seen in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Croatia.

Freedom Party Chairman Herbert Kickl has championed the anti-vaccine movement in Austria. Kickl himself tested positive for Covid in the days before Saturday’s rally, forcing him to stay home.

“He has politically mobilized against the Covid-19 vaccines,” said Katharina T. Paul, an expert on vaccine hesitancy at the University of Vienna. “He has disseminated misinformation, to put it mildly.”

“I think he and the Freedom Party play a significant role in the mobilization of the politicalization of the vaccine,” she added. “What’s particular about Austria, especially recently, is the relationship between populism on the one hand and vaccine hesitancy on the other. This is not specific to Austria — we’ve seen it in Italy and France — but Austria does stand out.”

Austria has a long history of vaccine hesitancy, but what’s happening now is unprecedented, Paul said.
It's going to be another long, ugly winter.

The Great Canadian Trucker War

Canada has followed through on its threat to require all truckers incoming from the US to be vaccinated, as of this weekend, and only half of them are. With the US Supreme Court killing the OSHA vaccine mandate, it now looks like a massive trade war will be brewing on the northern border. 
Industry experts and leaders remained concerned about the country's supply chain as the federal government's new vaccine mandate for truck drivers came into effect Saturday following days of confusion around the rules.

The mandate, which will require Canadian truckers to quarantine if unvaccinated when crossing the border into Canada, led to a number of questions and corrections around who would be exempt and how.

Now, with the vaccine requirement in place, concerns persist about the impact this mandate will have on the North American supply chain.

"I think you probably won't see that movement … that the government's looking for," retail expert Bruce Winder told CTV News Channel on Saturday when asked if the effort will encourage truckers to get vaccinated.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has said between 10 and 15 per cent of cross-border commercial drivers could be lost if the mandate takes effect.

American Trucking Associations has argued that a misapplied mandate would fuel a surge in driver turnover and attrition, with fleets losing as much as 37 per cent of their current workforce.

There are 120,000 Canadians and 40,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. who operate cross-border, the Canadian Trucking Alliance says, while about 70 per cent of the $648 billion in trade between the two countries moves by truck.

Under the vaccine mandate, unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated non-Canadian truckers will be turned away if they aren't able to show proof of vaccination or a valid medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. plans to have a similar mandate come into effect for drivers crossing into the country starting Jan. 22.

"I know what the government's trying to do with managing the hospital capacity, but they could find themselves with a very tough situation if Canadians rise up with inflation and food insecurity, or major manufacturers slow down, lay off people," Winder said.

The mandate throws a "major wrench" in the Canadian and North American supply chains, he added, with grocers, food producers, the auto parts industry and building materials among the sectors expected to be most affected.

If the Biden Administration keeps the mandate requiring Canadian truckers to be vaccinated, then things could get potentially very dicey in the weeks ahead.

Keep an eye on this story.

Sunday Long Read: Buggin' Out

This week's Sunday Long Read comes from The Guardian's Oliver Milman, with a story on how the effects of climate change are already showing up in insect populations in 2022, with more aggressive species of invasive insects migrating to new homes and causing major problems with the ecology.

The climate crisis is set to profoundly alter the world around us. Humans will not be the only species to suffer from the calamity. Huge waves of die-offs will be triggered across the animal kingdom as coral reefs turn ghostly white and tropical rainforests collapse. For a period, some researchers suspected that insects may be less affected, or at least more adaptable, than mammals, birds and other groups of creatures. With their large, elastic populations and their defiance of previous mass extinction events, surely insects will do better than most in the teeth of the climate emergency?

Sadly not. At 3.2C of warming, which many scientists still fear the world will get close to by the end of this century (although a flurry of promises at Cop26 have brought the expected temperature increase down to 2.4C), half of all insect species will lose more than half of their current habitable range. This is about double the proportion of vertebrates and higher even than for plants, which lack wings or legs to quickly relocate themselves. This huge contraction in livable space is being heaped on to the existing woes faced by insects from habitat loss and pesticide use. “The insects that are still hanging in there are going to get hit by climate change as well,” says Rachel Warren, a biologist at the University of East Anglia, who in 2018 published research into what combinations of temperature, rainfall and other climatic conditions each species can tolerate.

Some insects, such as dragonflies, are nimble enough to cope with the creeping change. Unfortunately, most are not. Butterflies and moths are also often quite mobile, but in different stages of their life cycle they rely on certain terrestrial conditions and particular plant foods, and so many are still vulnerable. Pollinators such as bees and flies can generally move only short distances, exacerbating an emerging food security crisis where farmers will struggle to grow certain foods not just due to a lack of pollination but because, beyond an increase of 3C or so, vast swaths of land simply becomes unsuitable for many crops. The area available to grow abundant coffee and chocolate, for example, is expected to shrivel as tropical regions surge to temperatures unseen in human history.

The climate crisis interlocks with so many other maladies – poverty, racism, social unrest, inequality, the crushing of wildlife – that it can be easy to overlook how it has viciously ensnared insects. The problem also feels more intractable. “Climate change is tricky because it’s hard to combat,” says Matt Forister, a professor of biology at the University of Nevada. “Pesticides are relatively straightforward by comparison but climate change can alter the water table, affect the predators, affect the plants. It’s multifaceted.”

Insects are under fire from the poles to the tropics. The Arctic bumblebee, Bombus polaris, is found in the northern extremities of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. It is able to survive near-freezing temperatures due to dense hair that traps heat and its ability to use conical flowers, like the Arctic poppy, to magnify the sun’s rays to warm itself up. Rocketing temperatures in the Arctic, however, mean the bee is likely to become extinct by 2050. Species of alpine butterflies, dependent on just one or two high-altitude plants, are also facing severe declines as their environment transforms around them.

Further south, in the UK, glowworm numbers have collapsed by three-quarters since 2001, research has found, with the climate crisis considered the primary culprit. The larvae of the insects feed on snails that thrive in damp conditions, but a string of hot and dry summers has left the glowworms critically short of prey.

These sort of losses in Europe have challenged previous assumptions that insects in temperate climates would be able to cope with a few degrees of extra heat, unlike the mass of species crowded at the world’s tropics that are already at the upper limits of their temperature tolerance. A team of researchers from Sweden and Spain have pointed out that the vast majority of insects in temperate zones are inactive during cold periods. When just the warmer, active, months of insects’ lives were considered by the scientists, they found that species in temperate areas are also starting to bump into the ceiling of livable temperature. As Frank Johansson, an academic at Sweden’s Uppsala University, glumly puts it: “Insects in temperate zones might be as threatened by climate change as those in the tropics.”
We're already starting to see the complete reshuffling of insect populations worldwide, and those species that can adapt to climate change will not only survive, but thrive. But those species left behind, facing imminent extinction, could take all kinds of flowers, crops, fruits and vegetables with them as pollination becomes more and more difficult. 

As goes the insect world, so goes us.

Meet Your New Boss, Virginia

Boy, Virginia sure is lucky that they voted in a moderate Republican like Glenn Youngkin instead of awful Democrat Terry McAuliffe...oh wait, I'm being told that Youngkin's "moderate stance" didn't even survive the first hours after his inauguration on Saturday.

Governor Glenn Youngkin signed 11 executive actions on his first day in office, including orders allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates in Virginia schools, withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and ending "the use of divisive concepts, including critical race theory, in public education."

The list of executive orders and directives Youngkin signed is as follows, per his office:
  • Executive Order Number One delivers on his Day One promise to restore excellence in education by ending the use of divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, in public education.
  • Executive Order Number Two delivers on his Day One promise to empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school.
  • Executive Order Number Three delivers on his Day One promise to restore integrity and confidence in the Parole Board of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Executive Order Number Four delivers on his Day One promise to investigate wrongdoing in Loudoun County.
  • Executive Order Number Five delivers on his Day One promise to make government work for Virginians by creating the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer.
  • Executive Order Number Six delivers on his Day One promise to declare Virginia open for business.
  • Executive Order Number Seven delivers on his Day One promise to combat and prevent human trafficking and provide support to survivors.
  • Executive Order Number Eight delivers on his Day One promise to establish a commission to combat antisemitism.
  • Executive Order Number Nine delivers on his Day One promise to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • Executive Directive Number One delivers on his fulfilling his Day One promise to jumpstart our economy by cutting job killing regulations by 25 percent.
  • Executive Directive Number Two delivers on his fulfilling his Day One promise to restore individual freedoms and personal privacy by rescinding the vaccine mandate for all state employees.

Youngkin was sworn in as governor Saturday, January 15 during a noon ceremony in Richmond.
So the end of masks in schools and for vaccines for state employees even though Virginia has reported nearly a quarter-million new COVID-19 cases since January 1, removing the state from an important climate change compact, ending "critical race theory" which isn'y actually being taught in schools but hell if anyone in the Virginia GOP can define it other than "and oh yes, officially ordering his Attorney General to investigate Loudoun County by executive fiat.

We're not sure, we have to investigate though!

It's for the children, you see.

Not often you get to see a Republican be racist, sexist, authoritarian, climate denying, and anti-vax all in one afternoon, but that's the GOP for you.

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