Brave new world of immunity

Brave new world of immunity

It's spring 2021. You have just sat through an hour-long interview for your dream job. The vibe is good, and you're pretty sure you crushed it. Yes, you have a work authorization, and of course you're willing to move to the city of X to take the gig. But before you walk out, your future boss asks one last question: "Do you have your COVID-19 immunity certificate?"

You don't, because the antibody test you took months ago turned up negative.

"Oh," she says, "well, I'm very sorry but, in that case, we can't move forward with your application. A shame, but do keep in touch and let us know when you have an immunity certification, ok?"


As societies around the world move cautiously towards reopening their economies without the benefit of a coronavirus vaccine that confers widespread immunity, dystopian scenes like this one aren't that far-fetched. Chile has already issued the world's first "immunity card." Governments in France, the UK, and the city of Los Angeles have floated the idea too.

If businesses are concerned about the health and economic impacts of the disease spreading in the workplace — or to clients and customers — bosses will be keenly interested to know if employees have immunity to COVID-19. That opens up several important problems.

We don't know enough about immunity. The WHO has warned that there still isn't enough evidence that people who have had COVID-19 develop long-lasting immunity to it. There may be more evidence in the coming months as experts monitor antibodies in people who have recovered, but concern about short-lived or lapsed immunity will become a challenge for any certificate system.

Oversight and responsibility. Developing a credible and standardized proof of immunity is not only an immense healthcare challenge, but also a political one. Who issues them and under what privacy conditions? A national immunity "passport" is potentially an option for countries with centralized political systems and high levels of trust in government. But it's hard to imagine something like that working in the US, for example, where opposition even to a national ID card has always been strong, from groups on both the left and right concerned about privacy and government overreach.

The Brave New World problem. Just as the world of Aldous Huxley's famous novel divided people into different, color-coded professional castes, a situation where some people have COVID immunity certificates and others don't could quickly split the labor force into people who can easily find jobs and those who can't.

There's a historical precedent for this: in 19th century New Orleans, the yellow fever immunity card requirements quickly amplified class and racial divides. Back here in the 21st century, with unemployment rates soaring around the world as a result of lockdowns, anything that makes it harder for people to find work is going to become politically contentious, and fast.

Perverse incentives. Lastly, given the high stakes of proving immunity, will non-immune people try to counterfeit certificates, endangering their future co-workers and customers? Worse, will people feel pressured to contract the virus just to develop the immunity that will help them find a job?

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

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