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Record Australian heat shows soaring cost of climate change

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A large bushfire burns in Tasmania, Australia. (AAP Image/Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • The effects of climate change are felt worldwide, but the cost of inaction in the face of growing scientific research is inspiring a new protest movement. 
  • Allowing some risky behaviour by seniors to give them independence is the approach one care home in Saskatoon is taking.
  • Parents and leagues are grappling with the issue of brain injuries and whether young people should be playing full-body-contact football.
  • The Super Bowl halftime show is stirring up controversy.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


The cost of climate inaction

As much of North America shivers through an extreme cold snap that has killed at least 21 people, Australia has just turned the calendar page on its hottest month ever. 

The country's Bureau of Meteorology confirmed Friday that the mean national temperature in January exceeded 30 C for the first time in modern history. And five 40 C-plus days last month now rank among the 10 warmest on record

The extreme summer heat, which contributed to mass deaths of fish and wild horses, sparked wildfires and heat emergencies and worsened an ongoing drought in New South Wales. 

And it has now been followed by another weather crisis — heavy monsoon rains in the north of the country. 

The municipality of Townsville in Queensland State received a year's worth of rain over the past week. A full 1.1 metres of precipitation that has unleashed flash floods, closed roads and schools, and has dams ready to burst. More rain is in the forecast. 

Scientists say the extreme weather events are linked to changes in climate that have already seen average temperatures in Australia rise by more than 1 C over the past century

Last year was the country's third-hottest on record, and 2017 was its fourth.  

A beachgoer sits in the sun on Glenelg Beach in Adelaide, Australia on Jan. 24, 2019. (Kelly Barnes/AAP Image/AP)

Those who try to tune out such findings, like America's climate-change-skeptic-in-chief Donald Trump, should note that the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting in this hemisphere is also a product of global warming

This week has brought plenty of bad news on the climate front. 

A paper from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, published in the journal Science Advances, reveals that Antarctica's giant Thwaites Glacier has been melting from the inside out at a rapid pace. Radar satellites have detected a 300-metre deep chasm beneath its surface, covering an area two-thirds the size of Manhattan. Caused, they calculate, by the disappearance of 12.7 billion tons of ice over the past three years — directly responsible for four per cent of the current rise in sea levels. And if the rest of the glacier goes, the world's oceans will end up 65 centimetres higher, they say.

Another new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, predicts a rise in congenital heart defects due to climate change. Research has already linked pregnancies during extreme summer heat to increased heart problems for newborns. But this paper quantifies the risk, saying the weather changes might create another 7,000 cases in the United States alone between 2025 and 2035. 

And researchers tracking HIV in Lesotho have released data that shows that severe droughts are driving up infection rates, as the accompanying economic hardships lead young women in affected areas to become more sexually active.

U.S. intelligence authorities included a stark warning about the "negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change," in a report tabled before the U.S. Congress this week. They ranked the changing weather alongside terrorism and transnational crime as a global threat to human security.

And a story from Bloomberg Friday reveals that the U.S. navy is quietly planning to build a 4.3-metre-high wall around Washington's historic Navy Yard to protect its buildings from an anticipated rise in sea levels. 

There are also more positive developments. 

Oil giant BP is pledging to set hard greenhouse gas reduction targets for its operations — and tie bonuses for 36,000 employees to the fight against climate change. The move, spurred by activist investors, follows a similar promise from Royal Dutch Shell in December.

And young people across Europe have found inspiration in a 16-year-old Swedish girl and started organizing demonstrations demanding more government action on global warming. 

On Thursday, more than 35,000 students took to the streets in Belgium, marching for the fourth Thursday in a row. Friday saw similar protests in Denmark and Germany, spurring a #FridaysForFuture social media hashtag. 

The movement is set to expand to the Netherlands next, with more than 7,000 kids already registered for a Feb. 7 demo.

Although not everyone is down with them missing a day of school to try and save the planet.

"Education is education and we are not going to give way to truancy," Arie Slob, the Dutch education minister, told a television program last night. 


The benefits of risk

Allowing some risky behaviour by seniors to give them a measure of independence is the approach one care home in Saskatoon is taking, reporter David Common writes.

Sylvia is probably going to fall.

It seems so likely, the staff at the long-term seniors care home we visited in Saskatoon has put a helmet on her head. But they're encouraging her to stand. To walk. To dance.

It might seem like they're not doing everything possible to minimize the risks, but that's the idea.

"Our residents live at risk," says Sylvia's nurse, May Abigania. "Let them lead their life according to how they want to live."

While some seniors homes sedate or restrain patients with a history of falling, Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon offers things like dance sessions involving residents and caregivers. It's all part of giving people more independence and personal choice. (David Common/CBC)

At other homes, to prevent Sylvia from falling they might take measures to keep her from standing at all. Or confine her to her room. Perhaps even sedate her.

At the Sherbrooke Community Centre, Sylvia is given the freedom to do what she wants, even if there is a risk of injury. She has dementia and is kept on her floor by locked doors, but otherwise has free rein.

Like all residents here, she wakes up when she wants to, bathes at the time she chooses. The thinking is that if she isn't being told what to do, she is more likely to be happy and not feel confined. Otherwise, like many dementia patients, she could lash out aggressively, even violently.

Emma may be the only dog at Sherbrooke Community Centre, but she's not the only animal. Many cats and birds live at the facility and are all part of efforts to make it a home. (Melissa Mancini/CBC)

Some staff and family members aren't OK with the approach at Sherbrooke. Some leave as a result. And there have been incidents, including a vulnerable senior getting outside in frigid temperatures.

But that doesn't discourage Sherbrooke's CEO from the path the facility is on with its 263 residents.

"Traditionally, the philosophies that have been used in long-term care have been kind of patriarchal, where we say we know what's best for you," says Suellen Beatty, the longtime CEO of Sherbrooke. "But the bulk of suffering for people who are frail or disabled is really due to a malaise of the spirit, to the loneliness, the helplessness and the boredom."

Sherbrooke CEO Suellen Beatty says she considers some risk acceptable if it ensures elderly residents are given greater personal freedom. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

It's one of just a handful of homes recognized by the Alzheimer's Society of Canada for promoting this type of independence. Inside, there are cats, birds and a dog. Staff don't rotate between floors, they are assigned to one area. Residents get to know them and count some of them as friends, not just care-workers.

"It's all about choices here," says Kari Prodahl, as she makes pizza and salad for a handful of residents. "Which makes it easy, because it is like a home-like atmosphere."

The home and its staff seek to be a model for the rest of the country — and the CEO is frequently asked to talk to other facilities.

Sherbrooke is publicly funded and receives an amount of money similar to other seniors homes across the country. It has basically the same number of staff. But it takes a substantially different approach to care.

That involves risk. And that can mean injury.

But the people running the facility prefer that to a loss of freedom. Many of the residents we talked to agree.

- David Common

  • WATCH: David Common's story about the Sherbrooke Community Centre tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


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Is football safe for kids?

Parents and leagues are grappling with the issue of whether young people should be playing full-body-contact football, writes the Los Angeles bureau's Kim Brunhuber.

The story started with a question: Would I allow my four-year-old son to play tackle football?

It might seem too early to even contemplate that question, but at several of my neighbourhood parks here in the Los Angeles area, boys as young as five are already strapping on helmets and pads. Watching them practise, I can't help but cringe every time those tiny little heads collide.

A youth takes a hit during an under-14 tackle football practice in El Segundo, Calif. The team plays in a league run by Pop Warner Little Scholars, the largest youth football program in the U.S. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Most of the media's focus surrounding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is on NFL players, not the young athletes who make up the vast majority of the players in Canada and the U.S.

I played football in high school in Ottawa, and simply put, I loved the sport and wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't become one of the city's skinniest outside linebackers. But "putting a hat on someone" and "getting your bell rung" were daily rituals of practice, and with the growing body of research on the effects of repetitive blows to the head, I was on the fence about whether my son should play at all, let alone at such a young age.

But then I visited two mothers who claimed they'd lost their sons to youth football and are now suing the largest league in the country.

When I met them, they were keen to insist they weren't "typical" anti-football crusaders. Both came from staunchly Republican football-supporting homes, and one, as a girl, had even been a cheerleader in the very league they were now suing. They'd happily signed their sons up and became avid fans — until their sons died years after they'd hung up their cleats. The autopsies showed their boys' brains had been affected by CTE.

It was clear where they placed the blame. They claimed the hundreds of football hits the boys had sustained each year had damaged their brains, and that the league had done little to mitigate or warn parents about the risk. They told me that signing my son up for youth football would be like "playing Russian roulette" with his brain.

But surely the link between youth football and brain damage couldn't be so clear cut?

To find that out, I sought one of the country's leading experts, Dr. Christopher Giza, a neurologist at UCLA's Brain Injury Research Center who specializes in sport-related brain injuries. His opinion: there are physiological reasons why playing football at a young age might be more harmful to kids' brains.

Dr. Christopher Giza, a neurologist at UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center, says a young person has less natural insulation protecting the connections in the brain than an adult does, making them more susceptible to some types of head injuries. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"The insulation on the wires in the brain is called myelin, and the young brain has less of that insulation," Giza says, "so that's a vulnerability of being young."

He pointed to the changes Hockey Canada made, prohibiting body-checking under the age of 13, in part to help lower the chance of brain injury in young players.

After the interview was over, I told him about what had precipitated this story and asked his advice.

"When I work with parents, a lot of it comes down to how can we make the different sports as safe as they can be — and for each individual player, how can they decide what's the best risk-benefit for them," he told me. "There's no black or white answers in these things."

But from what I've seen and heard, my kid probably shouldn't be doing hitting drills while he's still obsessed with Paw Patrol. And if in Grade 9 he chooses to become a 100-pound linebacker like his dad, I probably won't stop him.

- Kim Brunhuber

  • WATCH: Kim Brunhuber's story about youth football and brain injuries Sunday night on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Halftime hate-on

This weekend it's Super Bowl Sunday, and it seems like this year more than ever the game and its halftime show are mired in controversy, writes producer Tarannum Kamlani.

Super Bowl Sunday is much like Thanksgiving — love it or hate it, it's a day many people plan around.

For some the fascination is with the intricacies of the game. For others it's the snacks. And for many, it's the halftime show.

That halftime stage has helped propel the performers chosen to grace it to icon status: The Rolling Stones, U2, Michael Jackson, Prince, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. But this year's headlining act is a sign to some that the show, like everything else these days, has become politically charged.  

The Super Bowl is taking place in a city that many consider the epicentre of southern black culture and hip hop … and the NFL chose Maroon 5.

Maroon 5 members Adam Levine, left, and James Valentine are seen performing in March 2018. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Both Rihanna and rapper Cardi B — who had a hit song with Maroon 5 — turned down what was once a highly coveted platform. They rebuffed the NFL in solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose peaceful protests against police brutality became a lightning rod, exposing the systemic issues around racism in America and indeed the NFL itself.  

Joining us to break it all down on the Pop Panel tonight with host Andrew Chang are Donnovan Bennett, staff writer and host at Sportsnet, Flare.com senior editor Ishani Nath, and writer Katie Underwood. Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

  • WATCH: The Pop Panel on tonight's The National on CBC Television and streamed online


A few words on ... 

Agave enthusiasts. 


Quote of the moment

"I'm not a vindictive person because I told them where it was."

The woman now known as Lorena Gallo recounts the June 1993 night when she infamously took her revenge on then husband John Wayne Bobbitt, cutting off his penis and tossing it out a car window.


What The National is reading

  • No 'imminent' military intervention in Venezuela, says Trump adviser (Reuters)
  • Asia Bibi reunited with family in Canada: German lawyer (Deutsche Welle)
  • Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization, study finds (Associated Press)
  • Margaret Thatcher's hometown fears new statue will be vandalized (The Times)
  • The Dutch historian who savaged the Davos elite (Guardian)
  • Woman steals wallet, buys winning lotto ticket, gets arrested, policy say (CBC)
  • Hong Kong find record haul of pangolin scales in shipping container (BBC)
  • Iguana-sized cousin to the dinosaurs discovered in Antarctica (CBC)

This weekend in history

Feb. 2, 1969: Inside racism protest at Montreal's Sir George Williams University 

It took administrators the better part of year to start taking a discrimination complaint from a group of black students against their white professor seriously. But as the investigating committee squabbled, the residual goodwill dissipated and activists staged a computer lab takeover. What started out with singing, dancing and limbo contests ended in a riot on Feb. 11. Almost 100 people were arrested, and the damage was pegged at $2 million in 1969 dollars.

Black students occupy a computer centre to protest discrimination at a Montreal university in 1969. 8:41

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.