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As Two Australian States Declare Emergencies, Scientists Warn that Climate Change is Making the Country’s Fire Season Worse

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  • Fires raging in Australia have forced officials to declare a state of emergency in New South Wales and Queensland.
  • The greater Sydney area is facing a “catastrophic” level warning, the highest level in the country and the first time it has been issued in the city since implemented after the 2009 Black Saturday fires.  
  • While scientists have said the fires are a result of worsening climate change, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister has said the concern should be on people losing their homes, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city Greenies.”

States of Emergency Declared

Nearly 90 fires are raging in New South Wales, Australia, with more than half of them considered uncontained, promoting Australian officials to declare a state of emergency Monday.

Fear mounted on Tuesday over a concern that a cold front might shift the direction of the fires that span along 620 miles of Australia’s eastern coastline. 

The fires, which began in early September, have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes with more being warned to be prepared to leave, if necessary. More than 150 properties have been destroyed since the beginning of the fire season.

Over the weekend, the death toll rose to three people.

According to the BBC, authorities called this week “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.” 

Alongside New South Wales’ state of emergency, around 600 schools have shut down. Planes are spraying some homes and trees with flame retardant. 

On Tuesday, as the fires encroached upon Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. The city’s skyline sat under a blanket of smoke as some of the fires reportedly reached suburbs as close as nine miles away from the city center.

Experts compared the day’s forecast to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, which killed 173 people.

The greater Sydney area is now under a “catastrophic” level-warning, which is the highest level warning for fires. It is also the first time Sydney has been hit with such a grave warning since the system was implemented after the Black Saturday Fires.

Queensland, which has also declared a state of emergency, reported 55 fires on Tuesday. While its fires were not considered as severe at the moment, officials warned that could change with little notice.

Bushfires Start as Bad “Omen” in September

While the bushfires started as part of Australia’s expected fire season, they were exacerbated by drought and high winds. 

This season’s drought is particularly bad, but Australia’s east coast has actually seen below-average rainfall over the past two years.

In Queensland, more than 50 fires burned in early September.

Reports estimated more than 20 buildings destroyed within days of the start of the season. The destroyed property also included the historic Binna Burra Lodge in Lamington National Park.

“We’ve never seen this before in recorded history, fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring,” Andrew Sturgess, an inspector with Queensland emergency services, said in September. 

Sturgess also called the fire a potential omen for worse to come, which proved to be true. 

How Are the Fires Related to Climate Change?

Climate scientists have associated Australia’s worsening fire season with climate change. Those scientists predict Australia’s bushfires will only continue to become more frequent and more intense as climate change worsens.

They also say that Australia is particularly susceptible to climate change because of its vast interior desert combined with rapidly-heating ocean currents surrounding the country.

“There’s a human fingerprint on the temperature increases since 1950 — all the weather patterns are occurring in a planet that is warming and warming because of human activity,” Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University, told the New York Times.

“We’re really missing the opportunity to prepare for future life in Australia. It’s going to be a lot warmer, and we’re going to see a lot of prevalence of extreme fire conditions,” she added. “The further we kick the can down the road and avoid these conversations, we’re really missing the opportunity to get the Australian public ready for what is upon us.”

Australia’s Reliance on Coal

On top of climate change, Australia is at odds with its deep ties to coal, with the country’s primary energy consumption still being dominated by coal.

According to the Australian government, the country still relies on coal for 40% of its energy. It’s also the largest coal exporter in the world and has fallen behind on its promise in the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.

Because of that, Australia has seen a number of dramatic protests over the last couple of months. In October, a man chained himself to railroad tracks while holding a sign reading, “Australia has the worst record of species extinction in the whole world.”

A couple of weeks ago, protesters locked arms to stop people from entering a mining conference. They were then forcibly dispersed by police using pepper spray.

Speaking with ABC Radio National on Monday, however, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack denied that these fires are related to climate change. 

“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance – they need help, they need shelter,” he said.

“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlighted, and woke capital city Greenies at this time when they’re trying to save their homes,” he added after he was asked why it was wrong to discuss climate change while the fires raged.  

Following McCormack’s interview, the mayor of the New South Wales town of Glen Innes challenged his statement. 

“It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” Mayor Carol Sparks said. “I think that Michael McCormack needs to read the science.”

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Weather) (Sydney Morning Herald)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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