Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? The red pill

Plus, cloning mRNA vaccines in Africa, climate victories around the world, and a new report shows record voter turnout among college students.

Brian Leli

Molnupiravir photo Copyright © 2009-2021 Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. All rights reserved.

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License to pill (and steps forward to vax)
From our newly established A Western Pharmaceutical Company Actually Did This department, Merck has agreed to a royalty-free licensing deal that will allow its Covid-19 pill, molnupiravir, to be made and sold cheaply in developing countries. The agreement with the United Nations-backed nonprofit Medicines Patent Pool, an organization that works to increase access to life-saving medicine for low- and middle-income nations, will enable companies in 105 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, to sublicense the formula for the pill and start making it.

With vaccines in frustratingly short supply in parts of the developing world, the deal should be a boon for the recipient countries. It also eases affordability concerns. “Generic drug makers in developing countries are expected to market the drug for as little as $20 per treatment (a 5-day course),” The New York Times reports, “compared to the $712 per course that the United States government has agreed to pay for its initial purchase.” Merck said previously that the antiviral drug cut hospitalizations by 50% in at-risk patients.

And while bottlenecks in getting vaccines to Africa remain (only around 5% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated, and 99% of its vaccines are imported), a few African countries are working to boost homegrown vaccine manufacturing. Most of those countries are carrying out an end-stage production process called “fill-and-finish,” where the vaccines are processed and shipped but not produced from scratch. In an ambitious effort in South Africa, however, scientists are working to reverse-engineer Moderna’s mRNA technology and manufacture shots to be prioritized for distribution on the continent. Crucially, the project has backing and funding from the World Health Organization, “so if the code is cracked,” GZERO Media reports, “the formula would be made available to all as a public good across the whole continent and the wider developing world.” South Africa also has plans, along with Algeria, to begin producing the pharmaceutical ingredients for making Covid vaccines from scratch.

Meanwhile, in the US, vaccinations are rising, Covid cases are falling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5–11 following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization, and the White House says that shots for kids are already being packed and shipped. (And if you’re just aching to know the story of the lead-up to the FDA’s authorization but are short on time, these cliff notes from Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, aka Your Local Epidemiologist, are here to help.)

Wall Street Journal White House reporter Sabrina Siddiqui shared two big vaccination achievements on Monday. See White House Covid-19 Data Director Cyrus Shahpar’s feed for the latest.

Tangible climate wins are cropping up around the world
Democratic Republic of Congo’s environment minister announced last week that the country will ban all log exports and take measures to reduce pressure on its carbon-capturing tropical rainforest. Congo is home to 60% of the 500-million-acre Congo Basin rainforest, which absorbs around 4% of global carbon emissions annually. Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba said the measures are aimed at achieving natural restoration and enabling a reforestation initiative.

In another victory for climate advocates and proponents of wind and solar energy, New York rejected upgrades of two gas-fueled power plants, suggesting a more aggressive shift by the state toward renewable energy sources and away from the fossil fuels driving climate change.

Suppose you have a lot of time on your hands but a daily travel budget of only $3.50 and you want to roam the whole of a country fighting climate change. What do you do? What do you do? You go to Austria. Unless you’re already in Austria. Then you stay there. In either case, you buy a Klimaticket, or climate ticket, which is priced at about $1,267 annually (or $3.50 a day) and offers “seamless travel across all modes of public transport” in the country, according to CNN. The plan is meant to encourage people to ditch their cars for more climate-friendly modes of travel, and it is central to Austria’s goal of becoming climate neutral by 2040. (Thanks to WCGR? reader Roger for sharing!)

Weather Rescue at Sea aims to better understand the changing climate by crowd-sourcing volunteers to transcribe historical ship weather logbooks. 

Not to be outdone in their climate commitments, goats are helping Pueblo tribes in New Mexico manage wildfire risks, and seaweed-eating sheep on the remote Scottish island of North Ronaldsay are offering clues about reducing methane emissions from livestock.

“But what do sperm whales think about this?” you’re probably now asking yourself. Good question! We may be on the verge of discussing it with them, thanks to an ambitious project that uses artificial intelligence to interpret the whales’ clicks and talk back to them.

Before we go
After 37 years, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof is leaving The New York Times to run for governor of Oregon. Kristof, who has spent his career covering the gamuts of both doom and gloom—including war, genocide, poverty, starvation, and climate woes—has more reason than many to see the world through Eeyore-colored glasses. But instead, he bids readers farewell with a message high in hope and calls for action. He makes the case that progress is a result of understanding how to make a difference and then making the effort: “Historically, almost half of humans died in childhood; now only 4 percent do. Every day in recent years, until the Covid-19 pandemic, another 170,000 people worldwide emerged from extreme poverty. Another 325,000 obtained electricity each day. Some 200,000 gained access to clean drinking water. The pandemic has been a major setback for the developing world, but the larger pattern of historic gains remains—if we apply lessons learned and redouble efforts while tackling climate policy.” Need some inspiration? Read Kristof’s full goodbye.

Rumble, young people, rumble: A record-high 66% of college students voted in the 2020 US presidential election, according to a new report. That’s a 14% increase (largest among Gen Z voters) from 2016, dwarfing previous voting records and marking a surge in civic engagement among young people.

Below in the links section, Norway pushes back against sexism, Chicago takes aim at poverty, Rwanda fights malaria with drones, and more.

Solar and wind are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels, but these intermittent sources need to be balanced with low-cost energy storage, says Our World in Data’s Hannah Ritchie. Enter lithium-ion batteries. And, well… ☝️

The pandemic be damned—despite border closures and lockdowns, humans are on the move more than ever. Climate change, government collapse, economic opportunity, and numerous other reasons are driving us toward what TPN member and global strategy advisor Parag Khanna understands will be an era of mass migration. As we become more and more mobile, what will the world map of the future look like? TPN founder Zachary Karabell speaks to Khanna about why the globalization naysayers are wrong and other themes from Khanna’s new book, Move: The Forces Uprooting Us. Watch the full interview or read an excerpt here.

Progress, Please

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Only one more year to go until the next “bipawtisan” Halloween dog parade. 👇

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Brian Leli is The Progress Network’s editorial assistant. Originally from the American Midwest, he is currently living in northern Thailand.