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Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Disappeared Climate Politics in Europe? – Foreign Policy

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On Monday, in a live video address, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel restarted the European Union’s Franco-German motor by proposing that the EU disperse a total of €500 billion ($545 billion) in recovery money, borrowed by Brussels on financial markets, to the bloc’s hardest-hit nations and regions. The entire 27-member union must still approve the EU package, which is not guaranteed: Austria, the Netherlands, and Finland have complained that the borrowing program is a form of debt mutualization that they, unlike Germany, still oppose.

But Monday’s press conference at least offered some glimmer of reassurance to one increasingly anxious group in European civil society: climate activists. It’s just not yet clear how long that reassurance will last.

Climate experts have feared Europe’s climate goals could get drowned out in the cacophony of panicked calls amid the coronavirus pandemic for rekindling conventional industries. Macron explicitly underscored that the rescue program would buttress the European Green Deal, the sweeping program of economic reforms advocated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that would enable the bloc to go carbon neutral by 2050, a key target of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Macron and Merkel, but also other European leaders and even major industries, have recently professed a newfound commitment to a green transition at this most complex of times.

But the decisive battles are still to be fought, and Europe’s traditional economic forces are not backing down quietly. Across Europe, as lockdowns are cautiously being lifted, many businesses and industries are now reopening. But the economic fallout in Europe is vast—as many as 59 million jobs could be lost and trillions of dollars in revenue and taxes. There’s a broad consensus that economic stimulus of historic proportions—from the EU budget and European Central Bank, as well as from nation-states—will be required to fight recession and put devastated economies back on their feet. Less certain is to what degree the stimulus and recovery will take climate policy into account.

The most recent precedents are not encouraging. Though the post-financial-crisis measures lifted many European countries out of recession—and rescued others from insolvency, though burying them in debt—they did very little to accelerate the transition to more sustainable, climate-friendly economies. In many ways, they did the opposite, rewarding polluting industries that only caused Europe’s carbon footprint to swell. Case in point was Germany’s gift to its auto industry: a €5 billion ($5.5 billion) “cash for clunkers”—or scrapping bonus—program that refunded car owners €2,500 ($3,560) for selling their old cars and buying new ones. The result was a huge boon for carmakers, which sold record numbers of heavy luxury cars, including a new generation of SUVs, the kind of notorious gas guzzlers that Germany’s auto industry has specialized in for decades and continues to do so—and which for years left it lagging badly in the global electric car market.

This train wreck, though, happened before the Paris climate accord in 2015 and the mass climate protests last year led by Fridays for Future, among other events such as record droughts and wildfires, drove the climate crisis to the fore in Europe and beyond. Today in Germany, for example, even in those political circles that devised the clunkers program—namely those of Merkel and von der Leyen, though not the whole of their conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—there’s a growing consensus that a post-coronavirus recovery program must look much different than that during the debt crisis of 2009. The trillions of dollars in investment, grants, and loans will again go toward kindling economic activity and job creation, but this time they must have a “transformative” function, setting Europe on a new path of technical modernization.

Indeed, even in Northern Europe the recovery measures of 2009 are viewed more critically than one might assume. As upside-down as it might sound, the Europeans are even invoking the Obama administration’s post-Great Recession American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a much better model to follow. The measures directed $90 billion in investment toward sustainable sectors such as renewable energies and green tech, as well as research projects. And a new U.S. study shows the act’s renewable energy investments successfully stimulated job creation in the energy sector.

Aside from the lofty promises and high price tags of the various EU and nation-state recovery efforts, however, their content is still very much up in the air, said Olga Chiappinelli, an economist at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a Berlin-based research institute. “At the moment there’s really a lot that we still don’t know,” she said, though it’s expected that there’ll be more investment in green sectors than in 2009, when in Germany only 13 percent of the recovery funds went to green projects.

A DIW report on post-pandemic green stimulus efforts argues that the recovery packages must include clearly defined climate targets in order to motivate the private sector to invest and to leverage the impact of the fiscal stimulus. “This can lead to the creation of markets similar to those in the US renewable energy industry,” the report reads. “Furthermore, short-term stimulus measures should be integrated into a long-term energy and climate policy framework, so that the investments in climate-friendly technologies and businesses are attractive for the private sector.” A green recovery strategy “can not only give the economy a temporary bump,” said Chiappinelli, a co-author of the report, “but also set it on a low-carbon transformative path.” For this, significant carbon pricing has to apply across Europe’s economies, she said.

Until recently, Macron has been more forward thinking than his cautious colleague in Berlin on Europe’s low-carbon transformation. But Merkel has of late been ever more outspoken on climate crisis issues. “Like a lot of politicians in the twilight of their careers,” said Toby Couture, the director of E3 Analytics, an energy consultancy in Berlin, “Merkel seems to be thinking about her legacy, and she wants to go down as a leader on climate change. There’s a shift in her positions that you see in Germany’s schedule to phase out the coal industry and new laws to encourage the expansion of wind and solar energy, which had been on hold for years.”

In Germany, Merkel’s rekindled interest in the climate crisis has an unlikely new ally in the form of Foundation 2°, an initiative of German businesses and CEOs, including the likes of Deutsche Bahn, Puma, Deutsche Telekom, and others committed to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. In April, 68 large German and international companies signed a letter drafted by the organization committing themselves to the Paris climate agreement and urging governments to supply “urgently needed investment security with climate friendly long-term economic stimulus programmes.”

There also remain vocal naysayers, mostly in the free market wing of Merkel’s own CDU. They, backed by Germany’s powerful industrial lobby, the Federation of German Industries, say that given the proportions of the crisis, the more ambitious climate goals should be set aside for the moment and traditional Germany industries supported as directly and quickly as possible. Pushing the emissions reduction target from 40 percent up to 50-55 percent, the CDU parliamentary group charged, would cause Germany massive damage.

But the chancellor has thus far stuck to her guns, even in the face of fierce lobbying, for example, by Germany’s automobile sector, an employer of 840,000 and until now the coddled liebling of Merkel and her party. Not surprisingly, German carmakers—as do their French counterparts—want another scrapping bonus like that in 2009. But Merkel turned them down. Germany’s major airline Lufthansa, too, was denied a no-strings-attached bailout. The French government’s aid to Air France commits the airline to slashing its carbon emissions for domestic flights by 50 percent by 2025. Austria’s demands go even further: Air Austria must cut its domestic flights, cooperate better with the rail system, and sink emissions using alternative fuels.

This time around, it seems, Europe’s recovery funds will be used to transform the economy, not reinforce bad habits.

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Virus spread, not politics should guide schools, doctors say – KSTP

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KSTP’s Complete COVID-19 Coverage

Still, health experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.

Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?

Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.

“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday during an online briefing.

Children infected with coronavirus are more likely than adults to have mild illnesses, but their risk for severe disease and death isn’t zero. While a virus-linked inflammatory condition is uncommon, most children who develop it require intensive care, and a few have died. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk. 

“The single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe has nothing to do with what happens in school. It’s how well we control COVID-19 in the community,” Frieden said. “Right now there are places around the country where the virus is spreading explosively and it would be difficult if not impossible to operate schools safely until the virus is under better control.”

Zahrah Wattier teaches high school in Galveston, Texas, where cases and deaths have been spiking. Until the state recently said schools must reopen to in-person classes, her district had been weighing options many others are considering, including full-time online teaching or a hybrid mix.

Wattier’s school has mostly Hispanic and Black students, many from low-income families; almost 70% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches and many have parents who work in “essential” jobs that increase potential exposure to the virus. Online education was hard for many with limited internet access, and Wattier knows in-person classes can help even the playing field.

But she’s worried.

“My school has over 2,000 students. That’s over 2,000 exposures in a day,” said Wattier, whose parents live with the family and are both high-risk. “It’s a lot to think about. It’s my job. It’s something I choose to do, it’s something I love. Now it comes at a really high risk.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidance the Trump administration has cited to support its demands, says the goal is for all students to be physically present in school. But, it adds, districts must be flexible, consult with health authorities and be ready to pivot as virus activity waxes and wanes.

“It is not that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks this is a done deal because we have put out guidance,” said Dr. Nicholas Beers, a member of the academy’s school health council. “But what we do know is that we need to have a more realistic dialogue about the implications of virtual learning on the future of children. We have left whole swaths of society behind, whether it’s because they have limited access to a computer, or broadband internet,” or because of other challenges that online education can’t address.

DeVos said local school officials are smart enough to know when conditions are not right.

“There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”

Following CDC and academy guidelines would mean big changes for most schools. Mask-wearing would be strongly encouraged for adult staff and students except the youngest. Desks would be distanced at least 3 feet apart; the CDC recommends 6 feet. Both suggest limiting adults allowed in schools, including parents, and canceling group activities like choir and assemblies. Staggered arrival and dismissal times, outdoor classes, and keeping kids in the same classroom all day are other options.

President Trump has threatened federal funding cuts for districts that don’t fully reopen.

DeVos defended that stance, saying, “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families.”

“If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called DeVos’ comments “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”

“They’re messing, the president and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” the California Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

While most funding typically comes from state and local sources, experts say schools will need more federal funding, not less, to reopen safely. Masks, extra cleaning supplies or janitors, additional classroom space, and mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the pandemic are among potential costs. And with more parents out of work, more children will qualify for federally funded school lunches.

Lynn Morales, 49, teaches 8th grade English at a high-poverty public school in Bloomington, Minnesota, that is considering several options including in-person classes; a final decision is expected Aug. 1.

Some colleagues are considering not returning to the classroom because their children’s day care centers aren’t reopening. Some say they won’t come back until there’s a vaccine.

“I am concerned and it’s because of the age group,” Morales said. ”Middle school students … are lovely and I love them, but they touch, they get close, they roughhouse. It is their nature. They’re 13 years old. They are defiant.”

“If masks are required and a kid isn’t wearing a mask, is my job description going to be to chase down this kid and insist they wear a mask? And what if they don’t?”

Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist, is helping the university and a campus preK-12 school decide how to reopen safely.

“Things are evolving from, ‘We can’t do it unless it’s perfectly safe’ to more of a harm reduction model, with the caveat that you can always step back” if virus activity flares, Landon said.

Single-occupancy dorms, outdoor classes, socially distanced classrooms and mask-wearing by students and faculty are on tap for the university. Face coverings will be required at the school too. Policies may change depending on virus activity.

She dismisses complaints from some parents who say masks are a loss of personal freedom.

“It’s not harmful for your child,” she said. “If you see wearing masks as a loss of personal freedom, then you have to think the same of pants.”

Dr. Tina Hartert of Vanderbilt University is leading a National Institutes of Health-funded study to determine what role children play in transmitting COVID-19. Almost 2,000 families are enrolled and self-test every two weeks. The idea is to find infected children without symptoms and see how easily disease spreads within families. Results may come by year’s end.

“If we don’t see significant transmission within households, that would be very reassuring,” Hartert said.

She noted that in other countries where schools have reopened, evidence suggests no widespread transmission from children.

In France, public schools reopened briefly before a summer break, with no sign of widespread virus transmission. Masks were only required for upper grades, but students stayed in the same classroom all day. A better test will be when the new school year starts Sept. 1.

In Norway, schools closed in March for several weeks. Nursery schools reopened first, then other grades. Children were put in smaller groups that stay together all day. Masks aren’t required. There have been only a few virus cases, said Dr. Margrethe Greve-Isdahl of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, but she noted virus activity is much lower than in the U.S.

Kati Spaniak, a realtor in Northbrook, Illinois, says her five teenage daughters have struggled to cope with pandemic fears, school closures and deficits of online learning. She strongly supports getting kids back in the classroom, and all her girls will return to some form of that in the fall.

It’s been hard for her high school senior, Kylie Ciesla. Prom, graduation and other senior rituals were canceled, and there were no good-byes. “Just to get ripped away from everything I’ve worked for 12 years, it’s really hard,” Kylie said.

At college, classes will be in person, masks mandated and a COVID-19 test required before she can move into her dorm. Kylie isn’t sure all that is needed.

“I hate that this thing has become so political. I just want the science. I want to know what we need to do to fix it,” she said.

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After 50 years in politics, Richmond councillor Harold Steves says he won't seek re-election – CTV News

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VANCOUVER —
After 50 years of serving as a Richmond city councillor or a provincial MLA, Harold Steves says he will not seek re-election in the next civic election.

The politician made the announcement on Twitter, adding that this June 30th also marked his 60th wedding anniversary with his wife Kathy, and the occasion seemed like a good time to announce his retirement.

B.C.’s next civic election takes place Oct. 15, 2022.

“I joined the CCF [Co-operative Commonwealth Federation] party to fight to save farmland in 1960 and was elected the first president of the BC NDP Youth in 1961,” Steves wrote, adding that Kathy has always “quietly shared my workload.”

The Steves family have farmed in Richmond for decades, and the couple still run the family farm and live in the 103-year-old home on the property.

Steves first got interested in politics over a fight to save the farm in the 1950s. A university student at the time, and said he came home one day to find his father saying they would have to go out of business.

That’s because the city had denied his dad a permit to build a new dairy – a requirement during that period because Canadian regulators were requiring dairies to update to modern equipment. The Steves family found out their land and the land of many other farming families had been quietly rezoned for residential use.

“No one knew how to fight city hall,” Steves told CTV News Vancouver. “The taxes were going up and nobody knew what to do about it.”

The fight to protect farmland has motivated Steves throughout his long political career. He joined the CCF, the precursor to the New Democratic Party, and pushed for the creation of a land bank for farmland, an idea that would eventually become B.C.’s Agriculture Land Reserve.

Steves was first elected as a City of Richmond alderman in 1968, a post he held until 1973. From 1973 to 1975 he served as a B.C. NDP MLA, then returned to Richmond city council in 1977. He’s served as a city councillor continuously ever since.

Steves said his wife has been the backbone of his political career, doing all his filing and also reading countless reports. They met at the University of British Columbia, where Harold was studying agriculture and Kathy was studying nuclear physics.

“She does this all behind the scenes – basically it’s been the two of us together for 60 years,” Steves said.

The couple have five children and eight grandchildren.

Steves has been a stalwart critic of the B.C. government’s decision to build the Site C dam in the Peace region, warning that with the anticipated effects of climate change, the province couldn’t afford to lose valuable farmland.

In recent years, he’s fought to bring in changes to the size of houses allowed on farmland in Richmond, arguing that the large mansions that are currently allowed have led to rising land prices.

Steves said he plans to continue with his activism work, which is centred around protecting farmland and promoting the importance of strong local food systems.

He’s looking forward to continuing work on a plan to create 300 allotment gardens on some of the Garden City lands in Richmond, and ongoing work to create community garden plots in some city parks and develop incubator farms.

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Doctors: Virus Spread, Not Politics, Should Guide Schools – Bay News 9

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NATIONWIDE — As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.


What You Need To Know


They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.

But U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doubled down on President Donald Trump’s insistence that kids can safely return to the classroom.

“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

Still, heath experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.

Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?

Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.

“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday during an online briefing.

Children infected with coronavirus are more likely than adults to have mild illnesses, but their risk for severe disease and death isn’t zero. While a virus-linked inflammatory condition is uncommon, most children who develop it require intensive care, and a few have died. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk.

“The single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe has nothing to do with what happens in school. It’s how well we control COVID-19 in the community,” Frieden said. “Right now there are places around the country where the virus is spreading explosively and it would be difficult if not impossible to operate schools safely until the virus is under better control.”

Zahrah Wattier teaches high school in Galveston, Texas, where cases and deaths have been spiking. Until the state recently said schools must reopen to in-person classes, her district had been weighing options many others are considering, including full-time online teaching or a hybrid mix.

Wattier’s school has mostly Hispanic and Black students, many from low-income families; almost 70% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches and many have parents who work in “essential” jobs that increase potential exposure to the virus. Online education was hard for many with limited internet access, and Wattier knows in-person classes can help even the playing field.

But she’s worried.

“My school has over 2,000 students. That’s over 2,000 exposures in a day,” said Wattier, whose parent live with the family and are both high-risk. “It’s a lot to think about. It’s my job. It’s something I choose to do, it’s something I love. Now it comes at a really high risk.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidance the Trump administration has cited to support its demands, says the goal is for all students to be physically present in school. But, it adds, districts must be flexible, consult with health authorities and be ready to pivot as virus activity waxes and wanes.

“It is not that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks this is a done deal because we have put out guidance,” said Dr. Nicholas Beers, a member of the academy’s school health council. “But what we do know is that we need to have a more realistic dialogue about the implications of virtual learning on the future of children. We have left whole swaths of society behind, whether it’s because they have limited access to a computer, or broadband internet,” or because of other challenges that online education can’t address.

DeVos said local school officials are smart enough to know when conditions are not right.

“There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”

Following CDC and academy guidelines would mean big changes for most schools. Mask-wearing would be strongly encouraged for adult staff and students except the youngest. Desks would be distanced at least 3 feet apart; the CDC recommends 6 feet. Both suggest limiting adults allowed in schools, including parents, and canceling group activities like choir and assemblies. Staggered arrival and dismissal times, outdoor classes, and keeping kids in the same classroom all day are other options.

President Trump has threatened federal funding cuts for districts that don’t fully reopen.

DeVos defended that stance, saying, “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families.”

“If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”

U.S. House Speaker Nanci Pelosi called DeVos’ comments “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”

“They’re messing, the president and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” the California Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

While most funding typically comes from state and local sources, experts say schools will need more federal funding, not less, to reopen safely. Masks, extra cleaning supplies or janitors, additional classroom space, mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the pandemic are among potential costs. And with more parents out of work, more children will qualify for federally funded school lunches.

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